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Archive for January, 2011

24
Jan

The King’s Speech.

I’m just back from seeing The King’s Speech at the cinema. It’s a brilliant, funny, engaging, hugely enjoyable period-drama, well deserving of its wide plaudits and acclaim. Based on a true story, it follows the relationship between the stammering, stuttering Duke of York then King George VI (Colin Firth) and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Both Firth and Rush are superb (as is Helen Bonham Carter in her role as the spirited Duchess of York then King’s wife, the future Queen Mother).

The film essentially follows two parallel plots – Logue’s attempts to help the Duke deal with his chronic speech impediment, and the developments of the constitutional crisis that was King Edward VIII’s relationship with Wallis Simpson and ultimate abdication. Both are gripping, with the former becoming increasingly crucial as the latter results in the Duke unexpectedly becoming King. The film’s denouement comes at the point at which he has to give a nine-minute radio address to the country at the start of the Second World War.

It’s always hard to do a great film justice in a couple of hundred words. I’ve certainly come nowhere close. Let me put it this way, instead: if you haven’t seen it already, get yourself to a cinema.

23
Jan

No to AV? Yes to AV? Meh to AV.

Having always considered myself to be pretty strongly against AV – the ‘Alternative Vote’ method of voting, in which voters rank the candidates on the ballot paper rather than recording a solitary ‘X’ against their preferred choice – I have, on a number of occasions, sat down to write a blog-post on why I think everyone should vote ‘no’ in the forthcoming referendum on the matter. On each occasion, I’ve found myself weirdly unenthusiastic about writing it. I’ve started it then deleted it, or I’ve found something else to write about, or I’ve sat staring at the blank screen, completely lacking in any inspiration. It’s dawned on me over the last few days why this is. I just don’t care.

People with political views are expected and trained to have strong opinions on everything, to be passionate one way or other about every topic. That’s even more the case when you’re involved in more ‘tribal’ politics. Notice, for example, how every Tory seems absolutely resolutely certain that cuts and immediate deficit reduction is the way to sort out our economy. And notice how every Labour supporter seems to be just as certain that such an approach is doctrinally evil. Yes, I’m generalising, but the point stands. It simply can’t be genuine. Are there really no halfway houses on matters? Are there actually no ‘undecideds’? Is there really no-one who takes a step back and thinks ‘Well, I’m really not sure.’ or ‘I see both sides to the argument.’ There must be.

Apply that idea to the AV debate. The majority of Tories seem absolutely convinced that the AV proposal is an abhorrent, doom-bearing assault on our democracy. The majority of lefties (and all Lib Dems, it seems) are convinced that AV is the shining, transforming, flagship beacon of ‘new politics’. Is there really not a group of people out there who don’t think it’ll make much difference? Are there not people out there who think that replacing one majoritarian electoral system with another is neither revolutionary nor worthy of major debate? Again there must be, but we are taught to take a firm view and to attack that of our opponents, so we refuse to admit the futility of the argument or the faux-ness of the passion with which we argue.

Well, I’m not doing it. Don’t get me wrong – if a proportional electoral system was being proposed, I’d be genuinely concerned, I’d be morphing this blog into a ‘No2PR’ site and I’d be out knocking on doors, explaining the perils of permanent coalitions. But, although I will still be voting ‘no’ in the referendum, I genuinely don’t think a change to AV would have much effect (apart, possibly, from giving the Lib Dems a few extra seats) and I certainly don’t think it’s an important enough issue to waste time debating. I’m no longer ‘No to AV’. I’m ‘Meh to AV’.

[NOTE: Thanks to Joe Anderson for the above logo. You can follow him on Twitter here.]

23
Jan

Labour heading for 20-point lead in the polls.

There’s an engaging article in the Telegraph today, by Tim Montgomerie of ConservativeHome fame, outlining the five biggest challenges that Cameron’s new director of communications will have to deal with. The point that interested me most was that Tim expects Labour to have a 20-point lead in the polls by Christmas. I couldn’t agree more. It’s been my opinion for a while now. Taking into account people’s instinctive unease at the cuts programme, the job losses and individual ‘heart-rending’ stories like the one last week of the mother who no longer felt able to care for her disabled daughter, I expect the polls to look absolutely disastrous for the Tories and the Lib Dems by Christmas. To say that it could be limited to a 20-point Labour lead might even be optimistic. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see something like a 54-26-10 split by the end of the year – that, after all, is the kind of polling regularly seen in the 1997-2001 parliament, the last time the Tories were as unpopular as we’ll be within a year.

That prompts four thoughts. Firstly, it takes courage for a government to continue with something that is so badly damaging them in the polls. Cameron, Clegg et al must hold their nerve and play the long game. If they sort the deficit out by 2014, I’m still confident that the electorate will thank them in 2015. Secondly, I’m actually surprised that Labour aren’t already doing better in the polls. Their supporters crow madly whenever a poll shows them to be 4 or 5 points clear, but is that actually a good return for an opposition with a ‘fresh, new leader’ and a government carrying out historically big cuts to the public sector? That ties into the third point, which is that Ed Miliband faces a make-or-break year – if he’s anything other than miles clear in the polls by Christmas, he’ll be facing questions about his leadership. Lastly, these predicted figures show how hard it’ll be for Boris to win in May next year. He needs to continually show himself to be independent from, and not intrinsically connected to, the government, or he’ll struggle to avoid a voter backlash.

23
Jan

Quote of the day: Lord Coe.

“I remember delivering a vision about a generation of young people being inspired to take up Olympic sports, I remember talking about young people in a poor community in East London fashioning their future through sport. I’m prepared to revisit my words but I don’t recall a whole heap about bulldozing down a publicly-funded community facility, replacing it with a football club and inspiring a generation of Tottenham season ticket holders, however many there may be on a waiting list.”

(Lord Coe, on the ludicrous idea that Tottenham might be allowed to demolish the Olympic stadium.)

23
Jan

Bewildered by Miranda’s popularity.

Being a bit of a comedy buff, the British Comedy Awards is a show that I normally really enjoy. Instead, as I watched it last night, I found myself venting a mixture of irritation and shock at the results. Let me explain. As much as I understand that people’s judgements on comedy are entirely subjective, my humour threshold is so barrel-scrapingly low that it’s rare that I don’t find a comedy funny. It’s even rarer that I don’t find a hugely popular comedy funny. So it was that I was increasingly bewildered by the success enjoyed by Miranda Hart and her sit-com ‘Miranda’ – the show won ‘Best New TV Comedy’, while Hart won ‘Best Female Comedy Actress’ and the ‘People’s Choice Award’.

I’ll make an assumption that everyone’s seen at least a bit of the show, rather than lowering my editorial standards even further [note to self: is that even possible?] by posting clips of the ‘best bits’. I mean, I wouldn’t know what to show anyway, such is the wealth of material. Perhaps I’d show Miranda tripping over something, as apparently happens – hilariously – in nearly every episode. Or maybe I’d show one of her impromptu soliloquies in which she exaggerates her poshness in a kind of squawky voice for brilliant comedic effect. Actually, wait, perhaps I’d show that widely-trailed scene from the last series in which she gets her skirt caught in a car door, resulting in side-splittingly funny consequences.

Yes, I’m being sarcastic, for which I apologise, but rarely has there been a more over-hyped British comedy. Honestly, I’ve laughed more at Matilda – the kids’ film with Danny Devito as a used car salesman – than I have at Miranda. Using poshness, height (Hart is 6’1″, apparently) and social awkwardness to generate laughs is really resorting to some of the lowest common denominators available to a comedian. In fact, if I was a tall woman, I think I’d be mildly offended that the show’s humour is derived not from a clever script (the script is dire) or well-constructed characters, but from – at a basic level – a person who struggles to maintain normal relationships because she’s a couple of inches taller than average. Hart has essentially negatively stereotyped herself for cheap laughs, portraying both herself and her character as bumbling, clumsy and awkward. That in turn means that she gains a kind of sympathy-popularity from viewers. I refuse, for example, to believe that the public voted for her to win the ‘People’s Choice Award’ because they actually thought she was the funniest nominee. She simply wasn’t.

22
Jan

Cowen and Brown: when exit signs spell the end.

As if we hadn’t had enough political resignations in the last few days, Brian Cowen today quit as leader of Fianna Fail, after the party’s Labour-esque mismanagement of the Irish economy. Some recent photos of Cowen have prompted a couple of (not entirely serious) thoughts. Firstly, whoever included ‘Fail’ in the party’s name must have been an absolute joker. Yes, I know it’s Irish (I believe ‘Fianna Fail’ translates as something like ‘Soldiers of destiny’) but it’s just asking for problems – especially when your man stands in front of ‘Fianna’, leaving ‘Fail’ perfectly visible:

Secondly, I’ve always enjoyed the symbolism of a politician being pictured near an exit sign as they near their departure from the political scene.

There is, of course, a precedent here…

21
Jan

Andy Coulson quits.

Andy Coulson today resigned as David Cameron’s director of communications, thereby ending (hopefully) one of the dullest political soap operas Westminster’s seen in quite a while. Don’t get me wrong: if he did actually encourage a culture of rampant and incessant phone-hacking when editor of the News of the World, he deserves to be punished accordingly. But do people really care as much as they’re making out? Are his opponents genuinely shocked, horrified and up in arms in disgust about something which the police have investigated and found no reason to pursue? I suspect not. What’s more, Coulson’s professional performance of the role for Cameron makes him look positively virtuous when compared with the Labour years (particularly under Gordon Brown) of Damian McBride et al. This has been nothing more than a politically-motivated storm intended to hurt David Cameron.

20
Jan

Quote of the day: Ed Balls.

“It is tough – Alan is a great loss.”

(Ed Balls, grinning from ear to ear, after replacing Alan Johnson as shadow chancellor.)

20
Jan

Ken’s homophobic, anti-semitic employers.

Fortunately, we don’t have homosexuals in our country. We don’t have that phenomenon. Indeed, homosexuality is against the human spirit. The holocaust is based on an unprovable and mythical claim. Jews have played up Nazi atrocities during the Holocaust in order to garner sympathy for Israel from European states. Israel should be wiped off the map.

Not my views. They’re the repulsive views of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and, ergo, a significant proportion of Iranians. Not then, you’d have thought, the sort of people you’d typically choose to work with. Except, of course, Ken Livingstone doesn’t possess ‘typical’ morals or ‘typical’ ethics or ‘typical’ levels of integrity. It emerged yesterday that he has been paid thousands of pounds to work on Iranian state television, presenting shows on the ‘Press TV’ channel – a channel formally launched by Ahmadinejad in 2007, and run by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting company. According to Wikipedia, Press TV “broadcasts reports and analyses which are close to the official position of the Iranian government.”

Ken Livingstone is quite literally working for anti-semitic homophobes and, whether he likes it or not, is by association condoning homophobia and anti-semitism. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised – remember the investigation into his conduct when he compared a Jewish reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard? He has at least always talked the talk on homophobia, but this evidence suggests that he’s increasingly disinclined to walk the walk. He once said:

“…homophobic hatred and violence remains a global phenomenon with state institutions fanning the flames of homophobic violence against their own citizens, most recently in Israel, Iran, Jamaica and Nigeria.”

Yet it’s emerged that he is now working for, and receiving money from, one of those very state institutions which he’s previously so forcefully criticised. This is truly utter hypocrisy of the highest order. The Iranian regime is one of the most despicable, discriminatory, unethical regimes in the world, with an utterly woeful record on human rights. That Ken has chosen to associate himself with such sorts is a damning reflection on his character. Toby Young’s argument is forceful:

“Thanks to the recent batch of Wiki-Leaks, we now know that much of the insurgency in Iraq – an insurgency that has cost the lives of British servicemen – is funded by the Iranian regime. Livingstone is broadcasting on behalf of our nation’s sworn enemy. Ed Miliband should move to expel him from the Labour Party immediately and replace him as Labour’s candidate for Mayor, just as David Cameron would expel Boris Johnson from the Conservative Party if, God forbid, it emerged that he was a paid employee of the mouthpiece of a fascist regime that denied the Holocaust and murdered British servicemen.”

Of course, Ed Miliband will do nothing of the sort. If he wouldn’t expel Ken when he campaigned for Lutfur Rahman – a guy with extremist links himself, allegedly – then he certainly won’t now. Ken should know, however, that this story isn’t going away. How he can reasonably expect to appeal for the LGBT or Jewish vote in next year’s election is beyond me. Anyone with a moral compass – from whichever party – should condemn him for the company he keeps and the depths to which he’ll plumb for a bit of cash.

18
Jan

The day Jack, David and I agreed on prisoners’ votes.

Rare is the day when I agree with either Jack Straw or David Davis. Even rarer is the day when I agree with Jack Straw and David Davis. Even rarer again is the day when I agree with Jack Straw and David Davis, and they too agree with each other. Today, you’ll be beginning to establish, is a rare day.

In a sadly uncommon display of bipartisanship, they’ve today secured a Commons debate on plans to give prisoners the vote. I’m delighted, and hope that it leads to the coalition being forced to re-think its plans. I wrote a few months ago of my irritation that the coalition had decided that it could no longer afford to contravene a European Court of Human Rights ruling on the matter. My fury was merely exacerbated at the time by a video of John Hurst – a guy who hacked his landlady to death with an axe – celebrating that “murderers, rapists, paedophiles, all of them, will be getting the vote because it is their human right.” I don’t want to re-write the post I wrote in November, but I’m just as certain in my conviction now as I was then, that those very people he mentioned absolved all their human rights at the point that they murdered, raped or committed paedophilia. They do not have, nor do they deserve, nor should they ever have for as long as they are serving their sentences, basic freedoms.

I understand the point that the government say they’ll only give the vote to prisoners serving terms of under four years in duration, but that strikes me as just the sort of halfway house which ultimately leads to a full implementation further down the line. What’s more, who does that actually benefit? It irritates people like me, by giving some prisoners the vote, whilst still not protecting the government against the significant compensation claims about which they’re apparently so concerned. That the coalition is so readily bowing down to the ECHR ruling, on a matter as loathsome and abhorrent as this, is truly a shameful way to govern a proud nation-state.