What I wrote at Lib Dem Voice

August 31, 2007

A decade to forget

It’s 10 years since we woke up to the news Diana, Princess of Wales had died. I suspect that, apart from the dwindling necro-band of Daily Express readers, many of us are somewhat fatigued by the wall-to-wall media coverage of an event which, though located firmly in the past, seems still to have a visceral presence.

Last year, when speculating how Diana’s death might have been covered differently in an age of the Internet an
d blogging, I gave my own perspective:
No sentient being could have been unmoved by the cruel despatch of a glamorous young woman in her prime; nor by the sad prospect of two young boys destined to grow up with ever-fading memories of a loving mother.

And those of us with any empathetic sensibilities will have also appreciated quite what a mixture of conflicted emotions must have intermingled in the hearts and minds of Prince Charles, the Queen and Princ
e Phillip. To lose someone you love is hard enough; to lose someone you used to love can be even harder.

At such times, you need space and privacy for your family to try and make sense of it all. What you absolutely do not need is a baying press demanding you expose your guilty grief to the masses to satis
fy some mediaeval pain-lust which has momentarily taken grip of a minority, and been projected in real-time onto the soul of the nation.

In the claustrophobic week which smothered us all between Diana’s death and her funeral there was scant space for such reflections. Media coverage
was driven not by those, like me, who spared a thought or prayer for her and her family, and then moved on; but by those who queued to exhibit their ersatz anguish in full view, to assert their über-humanity, and show the rest of us how grief ought to be done.
An alternative take is provided here by the comedian Eddie Izzard, who lost his own mother, aged six:

This diversity of perspective simply goes to prove that journalism’s lazy, glib and clichéd short-hand of assuming a nation will find itself united either by grief (at the death of a public figure) or joy (when a sporting team wins a trophy) is far from the truth. The complex swirl of human emotions cannot be so easily condensed and distilled into such neatly-labelled bottles.

It was a point made by a BBC documentary, The People’s Princess (1998), which filmed 68 hours of public reaction to Diana’s death in the immediate aftermath. The reporters, such as Adam Alexander, discovered, unsurprisingly, that “there were many motives for joining the crowd and a wide array of emotions at play”:
What was there was not simple. People wept, applauded and threw flowers at the hearse. But there were also people who took snapshots and enjoyed the day out, socialising in the pubs, arguing and expressing many different opinions.

"It was a fantastic weekend. I'd pay double to do it again. I've got history on tape," said one woman. A drinker in a pub in Bedminster, a working class Bristol suburb, did not agree. "I didn't expect to see it on in this pub," he said, stabbing a finger towards the television screen in the corner. "I came here to get away from the f******* funeral."

While many people evidently and genuinely wanted to pay their last respects, many others were tourists enjoying a great event, or were people who wanted to see and be part of a bit of history, or were just plain curious. …

One thing is certain. The way the media covered the event was far from representative. For a short while we forgot to question. Instead we latched on to a very one-dimensional reaction to the tragedy of Diana's death.

We don't live in a country where we all have to think and feel the same thing. So it's surely about time we acknowledge the fact, as one viewer does in the film Even Diana Doesn't Matter to Everybody.
It says much about the amazing pressure exerted on, and by, the media to conform to the settled view of the time that it took a year for the documentary - which after all was simply reflecting back to the public what the public had said to the film-makers - to be broadcast.

When Private Eye published its famous front cover pointing out the dual hypocrisy of the media and public, it provoked a storm of outrage, and the typically supine WH Smith banned it (while happily continuing to stock porn mags).

A decade on such a heavy-handed response seems bizarrely misplaced and reactionary.

Indeed the claustrophobic conformity which engulfed us is itself deeply ironic, given that the week of mourning following Diana’s death, has been hailed as a progressive catharsis, even by such a normally sane commentator as Andrew Marr: “we are a more relaxed and more emotionally healthy people th
an we used to be, and the ‘Diana moment,’ for all its weirdness and excess, marked this change.”

For myself, I think this week’s Economist gets much closer to the real truth:

With hindsight, the public seems to have lamented Diana as much because she was one of the royals as because she was estranged from them. At a distance, the masses look less insurrectionist than conservative—and were quickly salved when the queen walked amongst them. (Only a traditional people could have got quite so worked up about how high a flag flew over a palace.) Seeming to challenge the status quo, the moment ultimately reinforced it.
Maybe next year, and in the years to come, we can leave it simply to Diana's family and friends to remember her; and the rest of us can let it go.

August 29, 2007

The EU Treaty: should we play the Yes/No game?

I’m not much of a one for havering on the big issues of the day, and still less for then writing about my havering. But the rights and wrongs of whether the Lib Dems should back Tory and Labour-rebel calls for a referendum on the EU reform treaty - the mini-me successor to the defunct EU constitution - leaves my precariously perched on the fence.

A large part of me yearns for the direct democracy of the Landsgemeinde of a handful of the Swiss cantons. There is something rather glorious about the notion of citizens openly debating and voting on the issues that will directly affect them, and national referendums are an über-expression of that ideal.

There is also - and it shouldn’t be lightly dismissed - the issue of Realpolitik for the Liberal Democrats. We are, by collective instinct, an internationalist party, perhaps the only one left in the British political mainstream. Labour’s reputation lies in tatters thanks to its support of the invasion of Iraq without a UN mandate, while the Tories have always tended towards isolationist gut-nationalism. This has led the Lib Dems, at least post-merger and the split from the extant Liberal party, to be seen to be enthusiastically pro-European.

Unfortunately, the public (and, too often, the party itself) has assumed our embrace of Europeanism to mean we are married to the European Union. Though the Lib Dems, and especially Vince Cable, have been critical of the arcane protectionism of the EU - in particular it’s scandalous preservation of the CAP boondoggle which helps keep the Third World in poverty - we have never dared to shout too loud lest we are perceived to be undermining the European ideal.

Our identification as a ‘pro-Brussels’ party by our right-wing opponents in politics and the media might be considered by us to be unfair - we are, after all, the most decentralising and localist party - but we shouldn’t be too surprised that the label has stuck.

It was partly to distance ourselves from this taint of ‘Euro-fanaticism’ that the Lib Dems - alone among the political parties - called for a referendum to settle the UK’s view of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992.

Political opponents might call this opportunism - and perhaps there’s a sliver of truth in that. But let’s not forget that the Lib Dems also took the brave decision (once our call for a referendum had been voted down by the Tories and Labour) consistently to support the treaty, even while John Smith’s Labour Party was hypocritically using it as Parliamentary knock-about to score cheap partisan points to embarrass John Major.

Which begs the question: why not now support a referendum on the EU treaty? If it were good enough for Maastricht, why not for this? Especially when it will get the Lib Dems off the hook: we can call for a referendum to give the public their say - in itself a Good Thing - and then campaign for a Yes vote, underscoring our pro-European credentials. Why am I havering, even for a second?

It’s the tokenism of it which troubles me. If this country regularly held referendums - whether on constitutional matters, such as Europe, or other non-party issues - it would be less of a problem: this poll would be simply another one, and the public would view it in that light, judging the issue on its own merits.

But this would be only the second national referendum in this country’s history. It would be a Big Thing (though the turnout would likely be pitiful), which would imbue the verdict with significance.

And, here, it’s only fair to ask: what would we, the public, be voting about? Few of us - any of us? - really know. We would, of course, be a lot wiser as a result of the focus which a referendum would bring to bear on the Treaty issues. Referendums certainly have educational value (a good reason for holding more of them). But what would it actually settle?

If there were a Yes vote - unlikely, but possible - it would, I guess, at least temporarily silence those obsessive nut-jobs so prevalent in right-wing circles who regard Europe as the root of all evil. I might gain some small satisfaction from that… but not much. Because it would be that pleasurable prospect which would ultimately have determined my vote in favour of the Treaty, regardless of what I actually think about it. And that isn’t something of which to be proud, nor does it make for good, rational decision-making.

And if there were a No vote? What would that achieve? Well, it would stymie the Treaty, causing the EU wheels to grind to a halt yet again, which may or may not be a good thing. But would it mean the nation had achieved closure? Absolutely not. The gander of the anti-Europeans would be priapically up, but they would have little to show for it: one treaty down, but the one that counts - the Treaty of Rome - would remain in force. It would simply spur them on to demand another referendum, this time to re-decide whether the UK should be in or out of the EU.

My havering done, I remain undecided.

In principle - and so long as it is seen to set a precedent that future constitutional changes should also be tested by the will of the people - I see little harm in holding a referendum on this latest Treaty.

But I suspect it would simply be regarded as a cipher for the question it resolutely won’t determine: should the UK continue to be a full participant in the European Union?

So why not put that question to the vote, instead?

Liberal Drinks hits Oxford

Yes, one month today the inaugural Oxford Liberal Drinks event takes place in my adopted hometown, the city of spying dreamers dreaming spires.

Details are: 26th September, 2007, from 7.00 pm, at The Mitre, High Street, Oxford. (Naturally the event has its own Flock Together page, which you can visit here.)

If you live in the OX environs, or happen to be passing through, or simply fancy an excuse to visit, do drop by. Hope to see you there.

August 27, 2007

More blogging lists, and the ultimate Lib Dem Golden Dozen headline

Even in the three weeks I was away, the lust for lists continued unabated:
  • James Graham, over at the essential-reading Quaequam Blog!, has been totting up which Lib Dem bloggers appear most regularly in Lib Dem Voice’s top-of-the-blogs Golden Dozen feature (I came second) - to which I shall return;
  • and my fellow Oxford city councillor Richard Huzzey (who has, frankly, done too good a job of keeping my Lib Dem Voice Golden Dozen seat warm in my absence - a little more mediocrity would have been, y’know, polite, Richard) has compiled a comprehensive list of all elected Lib Dem bloggers in preparation for the second Lib Dem blogging awards in September.
So here’s my list. Like a lot of people I’m registered with Bloglines, which alerts me when new posts appear on blogs to which I subscribe. I didn’t check it while I was away, and here are the top five most frenetic bloggers during that period:
  1. Tim Worstall - 200
  2. Comment Central (Daniel Finkelstein & co.) - 105
  3. Dizzy Thinks (Phil Hendren) - 96
  4. Liberal Democrat Voice (Mark Pack & co.) - 88
  5. Iain Dale’s Diary - 72
(I don’t subscribe to many Lib Dem blogs, as we have the Aggregator for that… so apologies to Jonathan Calder, Paul Walter or Nich Starling - the most ubiquitous Lib Dem bloggers - if you’ve missed out as a result.)

Returning to James’s post... this gives me an opportunity to confess a couple of misgivings I have about the Golden Dozen.

When I started it, I deliberately split the dozen into two unequal halves. The first seven postings are always the most popular stories of the week, according to click-throughs from the Lib Dem Blogs Aggregator. (And as the list is compiled at the weekend, this generally means the best day to post something is Tuesday or Wednesday. A brilliant, popular post which goes up on Friday or Saturday is unlikely to attract enough hits to make it into the Golden Dozen.)

The second half of five postings is my personal choice, which was my attempt (i) to make compiling the list more enjoyable for me; and (ii) to highlight articles which might have slipped under the radar, or which - owing to the vagaries of the ratings system - wouldn’t otherwise have made the top seven. I’ve also tried, not always as well as I would have liked, to introduce new blogs to a wider readership pour encourager les autres.

But the most important reason for balancing the Top 7 with My 5 is that those stories which are most popular in the Lib Dem blogosphere tend to be more introspective, even cliquey.

This is not a criticism: it’s inevitable that the stories which rise to the top of the Aggregator, with its primarily Lib Dem readership, will tend to be about Lib Dem concerns - whether that’s party personalities, internal rows, or barracking our opponents.

There are seven stories pretty much guaranteed to catapult any Lib Dem blog posting to the top of the ratings:
  • Attacking Ming Campbell’s performance as party leader
  • Defending Ming Campbell’s performance as party leader;
  • A defection to/from the Lib Dems;
  • Any party selection infighting;
  • Taking the piss out of David Cameron;
  • An opinion poll, good or bad;
  • Any mention of top Tory blogger, Iain Dale.
If we feed all this into my interweb scrambulator, we get the ultimate Lib Dem blog headline, guaranteed to top the Golden Dozen:
Ming Campbell should resign and force leadership contest, as new poll shows David Cameron’s defection to Lib Dems will send our ratings plummeting - what will Iain Dale say??!!
A bit long, and it lacks something in the scansion, I admit.

Terror firma

I would apologise for my three-week absence from this gaff, but I would be knowingly perjuring myself.

I had worried that such a long time away from my laptop would provoke cold-turkey withdrawal symptoms; that I might awake in the night sweating with fear that I had deprived the world of my essential thoughts on gun crime, NHS closures and the latest shenanigans from the
goldfish bowl of world of Facebook.

But, no, I acclimati
sed pretty quickly - logged on a couple of times from foreign climes, and was happy to leave it at that.

I promise (with my fingers firmly crossed) not to bore you with any excruciating ‘what I did on my holidays’ back-to-school essays. So here’s a few snaps instead (in order, depending on in what order the Blogger template spews them out):

- rooftop view of the Koutoubia minaret in Marrakech, Morocco, at sunset;
- panoramic of Marrakech's, erm, vibrant Jemaa El Fna square;
- J
emaa El Fna by night;
- posing as an Englishman abroad in the ruins of the El Badi palace;
- on top of the world in our riad;
- the Marrakech souks (we did a lot of haggling);
the Ouzoud waterfalls, in the Grand Atlas village of Tanaghmeilt;
- and, finally, two beaches in the Pontevedra region of Galicia a province/principality in the north-east of Spain. (Or an independent country to many of its citizens, still understandably bitter at local boy General Franco's decades of brutal, centralist repression).

August 06, 2007

Lovin’ summer

Hague, Dawkins or Campbell? Not for me.

And on that note, and on the high of doing a number two over at the redoubtable Norfolk Blogger’s blog, see you all again soon…

'Nuff respect. Not

Ron Brown - who served the people of Leith as their MP for 13 years, until 1992 - died last week of liver disease, aged 69.

BBC Online chose to headline his death, Former MP 'Red' Ron Brown dies. Quite why they felt it necessary to repeat his nickname so prominently even beyond death is a little beyond me. To me, its refusal of dignity shows a casual lack of respect.

Even the most anti-BBC right-wing bloggers might accept that Auntie would be pretty unlikely to come up with equivalent obituary headlines for the Tory dear-departed come the time: ‘Former MP Norman ‘Polecat’ Tebbit dies’ or ‘Former PM Thatcher ‘The Milk-Snatcher’ dies’.

And I suspect most people would find it just a little tasteless if Geoffrey Howe’s departure were to be memorialised as ‘‘Dead Sheep’ Howe dies’. (The same applies of course to David ‘Dr Death’ Owen.)

Everyone deserves a bit of respect in death.

The law is an ass, No. 93

So I’m buying a new set of cutlery, when the sales assistant tells me there’s a problem: he can’t serve me. Erm, why not, I ask: I’ve brought money with me and everything.

Turns out he’s 17, and so cannot sell a knife to me. Even knives whose power of serration will scarcely trouble poached salmon. He calls over a colleague, who keys in her number to his till, and he then sells me my new set of cutlery.

Thank goodness for the protections afford by that law. Imagine the chaos that might rein if 17 year-olds were freely able to sell cutlery?

He’s old enough to join the army and die for his country, mind.

August 04, 2007

My top 100 Lib Dem blogs

Have you got any salt handy? Okay, take a pinch, take two - hell, get a wheelbarrow.

A few weeks ago, Iain Dale e-mailed me and a handful of other Lib Dem bloggers asking us to rate and rank the Lib Dem blogs in preparation for the 2007 Guide to Political Blogging in the UK, to be published by Harriaman House. After a bit of umming and ah-ing, I chose to do it, if only to avoid the repeat of the superb Millennium Elephant Diary trailing in 77th, as it did in 2006.

And, actually, I’m pretty damn glad I did it, as I discovered a number of terrific blogs, which, though I might have glanced at previously , had scarcely taken the time and trouble to read properly. Almost without exception I found it well worth the effort.

But I still want to enter a number of massive caveats for what follows.

First, any attempt to rank blogs is utterly doomed - taste is so subjective, and I have no doubt that, given I ranked the Lib Dem blogs over several days, my ratings were subtly different each time. Second caveat: there are miniscule differences between the blogs: my top-rated blog, Lib Dem Voice - of which I am commissioning editor - scored 85 (out of 100); the 50th placed blog scored only 20 fewer, at 65%. Unsurprisingly, a load of blogs tied, for which I make no apology.

Thirdly, I marked according to the 10 categories Iain gave me: design, frequency of posting, writing style, personality , humour, commentary, popularity, independence of thought, range of posts, and interaction with readers.

Some of my favourite blogs were ranked lower, overall, than I would have anticipated because they scored poorly according to one or two of these measures: for example, some of those bloggers whose posts are essential-reading (eg, Alex Wilcock, Iain Sharpe, Joe Otten) post sporadically. Tom Papworth’s blog, one of the best around, is currently unavailable. Others say what they want to say terrifically, but have poorly designed blogs, or don’t attract many comments. Et cetera, et cetera.
(I ranked my own - it seemed equally silly to do so, or not to do so. On this ocasion, I followed my ego...)

As you’ll have gathered from this post’s undue length, I’m slightly trying to postpone the moment when I lay out my top 100 (though I realise you’ll already have scrolled down), precisely because I realise quite how imperfect it is, and quite how unfair I might have been. Whatever, I’ve already sent it to Iain Dale, so it seems only fair to post it here.

Genuinely, if you feel I’ve cocked-up dreadfully, over-looked your blog (or someone else’s), or been too harsh/favourable, please do let me know.

1. Lib Dem Voice http://www.libdemvoice.org
2. Quaequam Blog! James Graham http://www.theliberati.net/quaequamblog/
3. Liberal England Jonathan Calder http://liberalengland.blogspot.com/
4. Liberal Burblings Paul Walter http://paulwalter.blogspot.com/
=5. Peter Black AM http://peterblack.blogspot.com/
=5. Millennium Dome, Elephant http://millenniumelephant.blogspot.com/
=7. Norfolk Blogger Nich Starling http://norfolkblogger.blogspot.com/
=7. Jock Coats http://www.jockcoats.org.uk
9. A Liberal Goes A Long Way Stephen Tall http://oxfordliberal.blogspot.com/
10. Love and Liberty Alex Wilcock http://loveandliberty.blogspot.com/
=11. Hot, Ginger & Dynamite Paul Evans http://gingeranddynamite.blogspot.com/
=11. The Posh Sounding Northumbrian Rob Fenwick http://www.northumbrian.org.uk/
13. Jonathan Fryer http://jonathanfryer.wordpress.com/
14. Andy Mayer http://andymayer.blogspot.com/
=15. Ed Maxfield http://owersby.wordpress.com/
=15. Niles's Blog Alex Foster http://www.alexfoster.me.uk/
=17. Jonathan Wallace http://jonathanwallace.blogspot.com/
=17. Liberal Legend II Toby Philpott http://www.liberallegend2.blogspot.com/
=17. Matt Davies http://mattdaviesharingey.blogspot.com/
=17. Liberal (Not so) Alone Tristan Mills http://www.eridu.org.uk/blog/
=17. Jonny Wright http://hugahoodie.blogspot.com/
=17. Cicero's Songs James Oates http://cicerossongs.blogspot.com/
23. No Geek Is An Island Will Howells http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog//
=24. Mike Barker http://www.cllrmikebarker.blogspot.com/
=24. Lynne Featherstone MP http://www.lynnefeatherstone.org/blog.htm
=24. Duncan Borrowman http://duncanborrowman.blogspot.com/
=24. The Diary of Chris K. Chris Keating http://clickeral.blogspot.com/
=28. Liberal Bureaucracy Mark Valladares http://liberalbureaucracy.blogspot.com/
=28. All Along the Watchtower Stephen Morgan http://strmrgn.livejournal.com/
=28. Greengauge Stephen Gauge http://stevengauge.wordpress.com/
=28. Liberal Mafia Don Liberali http://liberalimafia.blogspot.com/
=28. David Nikel http://davidnikel.wordpress.com/
=28. Adrian Sanders MP http://blog.myspace.com/adriansandersmp
=34. Lindyloo's Muze Linda Jack http://lindyloosmuze.blogspot.com/
=34. Jeremy Hargreaves http://www.jeremyhargreaves.org/blog/
=34. Republic of Hyde Park David Morton http://republicofhydepark.blogspot.com/
=34. Liberal Leslie Christopher Leslie http://www.liberalleslie.blog.co.uk/
=34. Agent Mancuso http://agentmancuso.wordpress.com/
=34. What You Can Get Away With Nick Barlow http://www.nickbarlow.com/blog/
=34. Mary Reid http://www.maryreid.org.uk/
=41. The Webb Log Steve Webb MP http://webbsteve.blogspot.com/
=41. Young British & Liberal http://youngbritishandliberal.wordpress.com/
=41. Whiskey Priest Gavin Whenman http://oberon2001.blogspot.com/
=41. Hunting for Witches Leo Watkins http://huntingforwitches.blogspot.com/
=41. Bernard Woolley http://www.cttlom.blogspot.com/
=41. Anders Hanson http://andershanson.wordpress.com/
=41. Forceful & Moderate http://forcefulandmoderate.blogspot.com/
=41. Stodge Salim Fadhley http://blog.stodge.org/
49. Hapless Band of Staff and Regulars Ryan Cullen http://blog.artesea.co.uk/
=50. Liberal Review Apollo Blog http://www.liberalreview.com/blogs/apollo
=50. Paula Keaveney http://www.paulakeaveney.blogspot.com/
=50. de moribus liberalibus David Rundle http://liberalibus.blogspot.com/
=53. A Radical Writes John Dixon http://aradicalwrites.blogspot.com/
=53. Process Guy Andy Strange http://processguy.blogspot.com/
=53. Long Despairing Young Something Gareth Aubrey http://auberius.blogspot.com/
=53. Disgruntled Radical David Grace http://disgruntledradical.blogspot.com/
=53. Brian Sloan http://sloanerf1.livejournal.com/
=58. Rick's St Mary's Diary Richard Baum http://richardbaum.blogspot.com/
=58. Letters from Letterman Carl Qulliam http://www.fromletterman.blogspot.com/
=58. Barcharters Anonymous http://barcharter.blogspot.com/
=58. Blunt & Disorderly http://paswonky.blogspot.com/
=62. The Yorkshire Guidon Stewart Arnold http://theyorkshireguidon.wordpress.com/
=62. Moonlight over Essex Chris Black http://essexmoonlight.blogspot.com/
=62. Colin Ross http://www.colin-ross.org.uk/
=62. Mindrobber Andrew Hinton http://mindrobber.blogspot.com/
=62. Caron Lindsay http://carons-musings.blogspot.com/
=62. And Then He Said Andy Darley http://www.andthenhesaid.com/blog/
=62. Sajjad Karim MEP http://sajjadkarimmep.blogspot.com/
=69. Mike Bell http://mikebell.wordpress.com/
=69. Eaten by Missionaries Iain Sharpe http://eatenbymissionaries.blogspot.com/
=69. Joe Otten http://joeotten.blogspot.com/
=69. On Liberty Online Joe Taylor http://onlibertyonline.blogspot.com/
=69. Free Think Centre Forum http://www.freethink.org/blog/
=69. Arwen Folkes http://arwenfolkes.blogspot.com/
=69. The 3 P's Dave Radcliffe http://radders73.blogspot.com/
=69. Belsize Lib Dems http://www.belsizelibdems.org.uk/
=69. Simon Jeram http://blog.biscit.me.uk/
=69. Chris & Glynis Abbott http://www.chrisandglynisabbott.blogspot.com/
=79. A Liberal Dose Neil Fawcett http://liberalneil.blogspot.com/
=79. Ming Campbell MP Ming Campbell MP http://www.mingcampbell.org.uk/
=79. The Sandals are Off Steve Guy http://www.sguy.net/
=79. 5tracks Ryan Morrison http://www.5tracks.eu/

=79. Pink Dog http://pinkdogster.blogspot.com/
=79. Progressive Politics Barrie Wood http://leftleaningpolitics.blogspot.com/
=79. Combe Down Ward Roger Symonds http://www.combedown.blogspot.com/

=79. David Watts http://cllrdavidwatts.blogspot.com/
=79. My tale of me Chris Jenkinson http://mytaleofme.blogspot.com/
=88. Justine McGuinness http://justinemcguinness.blogspot.com/
=88. Jo Hayes http://johayes-wire.blogspot.com/
=88. Jo Christie-Smith http://www.jochristiesmith.blogspot.com/
=88. Graham Watson MEP http://www.grahamwatsonmep.org/pages/blog.html
=88. Ballots, Balls & Bikes Tony Ferguson http://ballotsballsandbikes.blogspot.com/
=88. Anything Caron Can Do Iain Dale http://anything-caron-can-do.blogspot.com/
=88. Weblog of a liberal George Beevor http://georgebeevor.typepad.co.uk/
=88. Richard Allan Richard Allan http://www.richardallan.org.uk/
=96. Politically Restricted Southwark Lib Dem Group http://politicallyrestricted.blogspot.com/
=96. Richard Stevens http://www.richardstevens.blogspot.com/
=96. PoliticalDom Dominic Tristram http://politicaldom.blogspot.com/
=99. Bart Ricketts Bart Ricketts http://www.bartricketts.co.uk/
=99. Liberal Action Austin Rathe http://liberalaction.typepad.com/liberal_action/

UPDATE: Paul Evans' excellent Ginger & Dynamite blog got relegated owing to an Excel error on my part; he's been restored top his rightful position, joint 11th. With sincere apologies to him (and to everyone below 11th who finds themselves relegated one place!).

Coup de grace

It’s almost 20 years since A Very British Coup was first shown on Channel 4, and a quarter of a century since the book from which it was adapted, by Labour MP Chris Mullin, was published.

In some ways it is unbelievably dated. It portrays the election of a socialist Labour government, and the battles of its charismatic Sheffield ex-steel-worker leader, Harry Perkins - fantastically played by Ray McAnally - to implement a left-wing manifesto of nationalisation, huge public spending increases, and nuclear disarmament against the machinations of the right-wing establishment. Somewhat ironically, it is set in 1989, the year of the collapse of Communism.

If you’ve seen Defence of the Realm (with the excellent Gabriel Byrne) or Edge of Darkness (with the superb Bob Peck) you’ll know the drill - the little, honest man must face down the big, evil forces of conservatism. But it doesn’t make it any less compelling.

Scripted by Alan Plater, AVBC zips along at a whip-crack pace quite unusual among 80s’ dramas (so many of which luxuriate in their own somnambulance, with lengthy tracking shots and huge tracts of expository dialogue). It is also more than a little scary to see an oh-so-young Keith Allen appear as the PM’s press secretary, playing John the Baptist to Alastair Campbell.

You can buy it (or rent it) at Amazon, and doubtless many other retail outlets. If you want a flavour of the treat you have in store, here’s the opening few minutes of the film, courtesy of YouTube. There’s some smokin’ dialogue to relish, and watch out in particular for some fantastically ‘80s electronica graphics about 4½ minutes in.

August 01, 2007

Oh, so this is how you boost your blog stats

There was me naively thinking it had something to do with posting regularly, and writing the occasional bit of intelligent political commentary.

Well, I'll let you in to a secret... Actually, all you need to do, it seems, is write an article about the gay subtext in the Harry Potter books - here are just a few of the search terms which led folk to my gaff today:

sirius remus subtext
harry potter gay character
gay characters in harry potter
harry potter gay character
harry potter subtext
coded gay remus lupin
harry potter lupin and tonks

Oh, and to the person who arrived at this blog via the search term “i love stephen tall”, can I just say: thank you.

So, how many Lib Dems did the BBC phone to get an anti-Ming quote?

On BBC Radio 4’s The World at One this lunch-time, the programme featured an end-of-term report on the Lib Dems - how the party’s doing, how Ming Campbell’s doing. And, in particular, if the Lib Dems would do better under a new leader.

I knew it was happening because I received an e-mail this morning from one of the BBC’s WatO producers asking to speak to me. Other Lib Dem bloggers got the same e-mail. Then the BBC phoned me, and asked me some questions to gauge my perceptions of the party’s fortunes at the moment.

I answered, giving - I hope - a reasonably fair-minded picture. Yes, a few Lib Dems are distinctly unimpressed by Ming’s leadership, though the Ealing Southall and Sedgefield by-elections have settled some nerves. But I don’t detect any mood among the vast majority of activists or members in favour of a second defenestration in as many years. Most of us (I think) would regard that as (i) destructively counter-productive; and (ii) a pointless distraction.

I suspect those sentiments kaiboshed my hopes of appearing on WatO. What they wanted was a Lib Dem activist who would be content to go on the record calling for Ming to go. (I guess they knew they wouldn’t find an MP, a tribute at least to Ming’s leadership of the Parliamentary party.) Lib Dem blogger and Federal Policy Committee member, Linda Jack, stepped up to the plate.

No reason why she shouldn’t, and Linda has staunchly defended her decision to do so on Lib Dem Voice here. She’s just as entitled to call for a new leader - and she did it in the nicest possible way, I should add - as I am to view the prospect with a queasily sinking stomach.

But, equally, it’s only fair to ask: how many Lib Dems did the BBC speak to, and how many agreed with Linda’s assessment? Was her view one the BBC felt, having spoken to a number of us, best represented the membership; or was it that her view best fitted the BBC’s pre-ordained agenda?

Because this gets to the heart of journalistic balance, of real impartiality. Was the BBC’s aim truly to take the temperature of the party, or was it simply to whip up a mini-storm-in-a-teacup? Call me a cynic, but I suspect the latter.

Yesterday, I posted an article to Lib Dem Voice attacking the media’s obsession with personality politics, in part a response to the depressingly juvenile reporting of David Cameron’s recent woes: “Mr Cameron needn’t worry so much,” I wrote, next month it’ll be someone else’s turn.”

For “next month” read “next day”.

I went on to argue that the media’s fixation on the personal-cult of leadership, as opposed to the hard-graft of policy-making and the tough choices of decision-taking, is the public’s fault; that we prefer the froth of soap opera to the steel of current affairs. In their comments, Paul Walter and Leo Watkins more optimistically suggested the British public is more high-minded than I gave credit for. I’d like to believe they were right.

But when I come to compile the Lib Dems’ Top of the Blogs Golden Dozen this weekend, I can make a pretty shrewd guess which will have been the most popular postings on the Lib Dem blogs Aggregator - those focusing on whether Ming might be for the chop.