Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I've Worked Out The Smile

It has been quite a day for Gordon Brown. Other, better people have already speculated on what the consequences might be, so I'm not going into that. But I was fascinated by Brown's response when he left Mrs. Duffy's house. Guido has a great screengrab of the smile he displayed here.

Why would you smile like that? A poster on Political Betting described it as 'the sort of face you'd see on a little kid who has just stolen his sister's ice cream and got away with it'. And it has long been speculated that Brown's smile is forced and put-on. However, I'm starting to become convinced that by forcing himself to smile more, it has inadvertently become his 'I don't know what to do with my face' look.

Remember this story from last July? It's exactly the same thing going on; Brown probably wants to look sad, solemn, serious but perhaps a bit proud and patriotic as well. Yet because his face has become trained to betray his emotions, this is what he ends up looking like.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Foreign Office Notices Big Volcano

I'm grateful to the folk at Political Betting for bringing this to my attention. Below is a snapshot from David Miliband's Twitter page:

Now, just how long has this volcano been spewing out ash? And just how long has it been causing problems? Several days, and yet the Foreign Office only seems to have noticed sometime yesterday. How long does it take to setup a hotline? After plane crashes and national disasters, I've seen them operating within hours.

I also gather Gordon Brown had his first meeting on the subject around an hour ago. There's nothing like quick and decisive action in Government, is there?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Conversations On A Train

Overheard on a train from London to Hertfordshire this morning; a man trying to explain to his wife why the legal aid-claiming Labour MPs annoyed him so much:

"Imagine that I stole your purse, and that I then took money out of the purse to pay for an expensive lawyer to argue that you had no right to accuse me of taking it in the first place. Wouldn't that piss you off?"

"I suppose." *sigh*

Clearly some people find political sleaze more infuriating than others.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

More Blog Fantasticness

Labour's daily blog thing is like a gift that keeps on giving. First of all, there's Gordon's really quite disturbing use of a sausage shop as a metaphor for the economy:

"...Netta Martin, who runs a cafe and take away in Alloa. Her business was under real pressure during the recession, and she saw a big fall in sales of her speciality – rolls with hot sausage (which as she rightly pointed out – should not be confused with her hot sausage rolls). But now that we are on the road to recovery, sales of Netta’s rolls are back on the increase and she is confident her business will grow this year. That’s the reality behind the statistics of the recession and recovery; sales of rolls and sausage in Alloa are up..."

And then there's Sarah's delight that, in a campaign where her husband has only met old Labour supporters in their houses or union-vetted shop workers, everyone she meets on the streets seems to be supporting Labour:

"Waking up in our house in Fife was today’s special treat, followed by a walk down Kirkcaldy High Street. We met voter after voter after voter – and all of them Labour."

Then there's a passage where Gordon, the master of detail and analysis, can't tell the difference between a two-year-old and a seven-year-old:

"Gordon has a lovely conversation with a little girl and her Mum when he asks how old she is and she says 'seven' and Gordon talks to her about all the best bits about being seven; her Mum interrupts 'but she is only two!' and Gordon says 'I’m not going to tell a girl she is not the age she wants to be! Seven it is'."

But the best bit is where Sarah crushes Ed Balls's black little heart by making it abundantly clear that Gordon has better friends:

"Good to see Pete Livingstone too – one of Gordon’s very oldest friends from school and someone who isn't sure what’s more exciting – his best friend being up for re-election as Prime Minister, or his home football team being in the semi-final of the Scottish cup tomorrow."

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Fly Away Brown - Or Not

From the BBC's election tracker:

"The Labour leader's flight back from Scotland to Stansted was delayed for half an hour on the tarmac at Edinburgh after the plane's computer system needed to be re-booted. On the tannoy during the flight, the pilot said: "This is probably the most high-profile flight I have ever done and right now I'm really embarrassed by the delay, but safety must come first."

In the light of today's sad events in Russia I'm not going to say anything nasty; it just seems that Brown isn't having the best of luck with his planes - one recently carrying as reading material an edition of the Spectator about why people should vote Conservative.

Who Is Writing Gordon's Blog?

Since the start of the election campaign, the section of Labour's website dedicated to reporting Gordon Brown's speeches and statements has been turned into a kind of blog diary. And it's not a very good one; not just because most of the entries are boring, but they're also ineptly written. You can say a lot of things about Gordon Brown, but poorly educated he is not. And while I wouldn't necessarily expect Brown to write these things himself, it's a fairly golden rule of press releases that nothing is sent out in somebody's name when they haven't checked it first. So either Brown isn't checking things being written in his name, or he doesn't care what they say. Some choice examples:

"I spent the afternoon in something with a strange name, but a big impact."

"I spoke to an audience of economic thinkers, people involved in business and Labour supporters about what it was like having the job I do during the financial crisis, and about what we do now to secure Britain’s recovery and build an economy that's online, high-tech and green."

"This is Sarah and me walking down the room for my politics speech earlier and these were in the green room, preparing with Oona King, the host of the question session at Microsoft."

"Yesterday when I came back from speaking with Her Majesty the Queen I gathered the Downing Street staff to thank them for the continuing friendship they’ve shown to our family and particularly to say how much I appreciate all they’ve done to ensure Sarah and I can give the boys an ordinary childhood as far as possible."

I'm no grammar Nazi, but if I were a teacher there would be red pen all over these short extracts.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Ed's Scary Defence Of Rubbish Scheme

So today saw another day of campaigning; the Tories launching their National Citizen Service and Labour telling successful businessmen to go and roger themselves with sharp sticks. Of course, with the Tories launching a policy, Labour's attack dogs couldn't wait to get their teeth stuck in. Ed Balls, Gordon Brown's favourite ugly puppy, said:

"Despite today's announcement, the truth is that David Cameron's Conservative Party still stands for opportunities only for some young people and not all.

All we saw today is a flaky plan to cut the Prevent programme which is a key part of Contest, the UK’s counter terrorism strategy."

Leaving aside the word 'flaky', the second sentence there appears to be true. However, what Ed Balls has conveniently forgotten is that the Prevent programme is an utter pile of shit. In fact, not only is it an utter pile of shit, it has actually been making the problems it was supposed to tackle even worse. And that's not me talking, that's the opinion of Parliament's Communities and Local Government Select Committee, chaired by Labour MP Phyllis Starkey. The committee concluded just over a month ago that that:

"As delivered so far, the Prevent programme has stigmatised and alienated those it is most important to engage, and tainted many positive community cohesion projects, says a cross-party committee of MPs. Moreover, the government’s strategy to limit the development of violent extremism in the UK sits poorly within a counter-terrorism strategy."

There is an issue that looks set to come up a lot during this campaign, and that is Labour trying to scare people into thinking the Tories are going to savage and slice all the most precious things the government does. So today he decided to claim the Tories would cut vital funding for preventing terrorism, and that in a way this attack comes as no surprise. But it also makes the choice at this election very clear; by stressing the apparent importance of this scheme, what Balls has actually said is that Labour know it's a load of crap but are going to continue funding it anyway. Much like with the National Insurance issue, they have identified waste, but have no intention of diverting the money into something more useful. What people need to ask themselves is whether that's a sensible approach for government to take, because there's a very clear answer to that question.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

And So We're Off

Okay, so I know posts around here have been slow recently - but did you really think I'd miss the calling of a General Election? Actually, thanks to my work's very annoying firewall - that blocks Blogger the majority but not all of the time - I very nearly did.

But I'm back now, and with a pledge that during the month ahead I plan to blog far more frequently than I have of late. I don't want to put a number on it because whenever I do that sort of thing it never works out for me.

But I'll be around more - both on here and on other blogs I enjoy reading - to add thoughts, discuss stories, and do all that other stuff we only get to do every 4 or 5 years.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Exclusive - BBC Denies Brown's Question Time Record

Last week, I submitted the following Freedom of Information request to the BBC:

"The number of appearances (with a breakdown by year) that Gordon Brown MP - current Prime Minister and former Chancellor of the Exchequer - made on the BBC's political panel programme 'Question Time', between 18th July 1992 and 27th June 2007."

Perfectly reasonable you might think, since the BBC would certainly be in the best position to tally the number of times any guest appeared on their show. But it seems I was to be denied by both the BBC's decision to hide behind FoI legislation and their own apparent incompetence. They responded:

"Please note that your request is outside the scope of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and unfortunately this information is not readily to hand.

The information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’ Part VI of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters is only covered by the Act if it is held for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature. The BBC is not required by the Act to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities; however, on this occasion we’re happy to provide the above information in response to your request."

There are so many issues to take with this response. First of all, to claim they have 'provide[d] the above information in response' is absolutely taking the piss. What they've told me is that they don't have it to hand - which is pretty irrelevant, since the Act requires them to compile it even if there are costs involved, which can then be passed on to the requestor - and that, even if they did have it to hand, they still wouldn't give it to me anyway. But more fundamentally, how on earth does this handy 'journalism, art or literature' exemption possibly extend to a question like mine under any reasonable circumstances? The question is no more probing or secretive in nature than asking them how many episodes of Gardeners' World have been made, or who decided the Tardis should be blue.

The BBC have something of a track record of hiding behind this tidy section of the FoI Act. This is a great example; all this person wanted to know was how much the BBC spent on programme pilots that were never commissioned. Essentially, he wanted to know how much public money had been thrown down the toilet, and the BBC hid behind the Act to deny him the information.

According to the IMDB, Brown was on Question Time 11 times between 1988 and 1996. That's actually more than I expected, though it's no surprise that he stopped appearing once he became Chancellor and would actually be confronted on some of the decisions he made. This information might not be accurate, but at this stage it looks like the best we're going to get. And also isn't it rather odd that IMDB at least has enough data to take a stab at the appearance numbers, but the BBC don't apparently have it to hand?

I will be appealing this to the Information Commissioner's Office, since I do not believe that the Act should extend to the very peripherals of programme-making. Since the ICO is part of the Ministry of Justice I doubt I'll get anywhere, but I'll report back on any developments.