All entries for January 2006

January 30, 2006

Hustings…

I'm sat at the Hustings meeting for the Union elections.

And oh god it's boring…

There's the usual array of idiot candidates, combined with the fact that we're essentially sat in a corridor. And we can't hear them because the sound is rubbish.

And why are there only four less-than-visible Sabbs here?

Questions, questions, but I'm not getting any good answers.


January 25, 2006

Education policy: the mysterious disappearance of two–party politics?

Tony Blair is probably having some mental issues at the moment. For 8 years, the Tories have acted like his worst enemy. And then suddenly, they're threatening to back him to the hilt over education reforms which a number of his backbench colleagues are opposed to.

So what's going on? Is this the end of two- or three-party politics? Very simply, no. Normal service will be resumed. But David Cameron is very happy embarrasing Mr Blair by showing him that his education policy is inherently Conservative.

Again, Labour's presentation of a major policy has been poor. Much of the government's opposition will come from backbenchers who were put off by the arrogant style of policy-making which Number 10 has adopted.

Charles Clarke today said that the education policy didn't need adjusting, because it was part of Labour's manifesto which got them elected. But didn't they get elected in spite of much of their manifesto? If you could only vote for a political party if you agreed with everything they said in their manifesto, then we would either have a plethora of parties to choose from, or very low turnout.

So David Cameron is playing a very clever game. By showing outright support for Labour's education policy, he is driving a larger wedge between Mr Blair and much of his own party (indeed, even his predecessor).

And while this might become a regular occurence if Dave thinks it works to his advantage, don't expect the parties to be quite so closely aligned when it comes to the 2009 election. The two parties do really have different policies, even if it serves Cameron to pretend otherwise – for now.


January 24, 2006

A News Vacuum?

The Boar have caused controversy again by running a story which the Union has called "misleading…alarmist…inaccurate". Their front page story was about a girl who – it says – was stabbed with a drug-laden needle during last week's Top Banana.

I have no idea whether the story is true or accurate, but I think it's safe to call it 'alarming', because as the article says, the Union is considered to be relatively safe.

But this has got me thinking about the quality of 'news' on campus. Not the quality of reporting, but the quality of the 'stories' that are there to be told.

I had an unscientific look at the news sections of newspapers at other universities. Exeter and York are similar universities in many ways, and their papers are also similar. But their news sections are up to double in size, and the stories covered are just as 'student-related' as the Boar's.

First, lets discount the possibility that this is a fault of journalism. I'm biased (RaW's News Editor), but I'm fairly sure that there are plenty of people chasing campus stories. There's the Boar, RaW and WTV all trying to find out what's going on, and doing a good job of reporting it.

Rather, I think there's a lack of stories to be reported. The argument that we're a campus Uni doesn't hold much water, as York's packed newspaper demonstrates, and I know it's not because student journalists are lazy.

So why are news stories on campus so sparse? Is it because the Warwick environment is uninspiring? Is it because we're wallowing in bureaucracy? Is it anything to do with class or background of students? Is it because the most controversial stories tend to be about one Union hack versus another?

I'd be interested to know what the news-makers and news-reporters think. Because I'm not sure why we have so many slow news days (or weeks!). It's great to research an issue and ask questions about whether that issue is relevant to students. But it would be good if something eventful happened a bit more often!


January 22, 2006

The End.

Brace yourself TV connoisseurs of the world… The West Wing is to end. NBC have announced that Season 7 (currently showing in the United States) will be the last, ending with the election result.

Also, the death of John Spencer will be dealt with when his character dies just five days before the election, meaning he can't be taken off the ballot. But what affect will it have on the result?

Personally I'm going to be devastated when the series ends. It'd damn well be the best episode they've ever made, with a full-blown send-off for all the characters. Hey, Josh and Donna might even get together!

But at the same time, it's good that the show is ending now. A second life, with (presumably) Santos as President, just wouldn't have worked as well as the Bartlet years. The writing had become slacker, the direction slower and the freshness had just worn off. It was also becoming occasionally over-patriotic.

If you're still on UK-time, then you'll have a long wait before the end arrives. But for anyone 'acquiring' The West Wing as it comes out in the United States, you've only got 11 more episodes, so make the most of them!


January 09, 2006

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

Afraid of whom?

Of American evangelicals, that's who.

Having just watched the first in a series of programmes by Professor Richard Dawkins about religion (called The Root of All Evil?), I've yet again been scared by the extreme views that some people hold. Dawkins' examined Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and was amazed at some people's completely blind faith in views which are thousands of years old and often completely at odds with modern society and scientific evidence.

Even scarier than the divide between Israel and Palestine, was the arrogance of an American evangelist, who claimed that evolution thought "miracles such as the eye and the ear…were just 'accidents'" (which is patently untrue). Amusingly, Dawkins said his sermon was something Goebbels would have been proud of. Worryingly, the reverend didn't seem to get Dawkins' full meaning.

Dawkins' programme was illuminating and altogether scary. Throughout, I found myself agreeing with his arguments. But I thought his approach was problematic. While criticising the fundamentalists of arrogance, Dawkins sometimes skipped a few steps of his methodology, meaning he defended science 'for science's sake'. This itself smacked of arrogance (albeit enlightened arrogance!), and some of the balls he threw were too easy to hit back.

The programme seemed to be addressing atheists rather than believers, which seems somewhat futile. Also, he failed to address some philosophical conclusions. For instance, he said the world could not continue with such completely-opposed religions, for it would fall apart. But he failed to show how this could be avoided. Maybe he will do this next week.

Next week, Dawkins will tackle the issue of children who are brought up with fundamental beliefs, an issue that is maybe even more worrying. Because if the 'myth' of religion is being perpetuated through breeding, then the cycle of endless conflicts between people with utterly opposed views will endure.


Tony Banks, 'man of the people'?

The obituaries of Tony Banks, or Lord Stratford as he's been more recently known, have described him as "forthright", "a firebrand" and "a man of the people". But I wouldn't use any of those words to describe him.

One of the few useful things about death is that the laws relating to libel and slander don't apply any more.So I can say pretty much what I like about him, and make accusations that he can't refute.

Not that he could refute certain allegations at the time. You see, back in 2002, myself and a few friends were at a conference in Paris, where Tony Banks was speaking alongside people such as Michael Howard and Simon Hughes (a very nice man, by the way, shame he won't be Lib Dem leader).

After the conference, we bumped into Tony and my friends began talking to him about fox-hunting (they're active hunters, I'm broadly anti). They challenged him about his views of fox-hunting, saying that he didn't understand rural issues.

His response:

You w*nkers! make me sick! F***ing b*stards!

Before storming off in a huff. I wouldn't say my friends took a particularly aggressive tone, so his response was something of a shock. And given it was at a conference of sixth-formers, it was pretty inappropriate.

By the way, he couldn't have refuted the allegations at the time, because we'd been filming him. Whoops.

As if that wasn't bizarre enough, my friends took the decision to leak the video to the Daily Mail. As you do. We were told later that they couldn't print the story (despite wanting to) because he had threatened to take out an injunction against them!

Telling the Daily Mail may have been one of the most ridiculous things I've ever been involved in, but Lord Banks' behaviour in Paris was pretty bad considering who he was talking to. However his later actions just made us think he was slightly self-important and downright weird. So I have to say that my personal experience of Tony Banks wasn't one of him having "a sharp and witty tongue" (David Mellor) but of having a foul and offensive mouth.


January 06, 2006

Hmm….. so much for my…

… prediction of "he'll be gone by 6pm".


Charles Kennedy – who sealed his fate?

George Pascoe-Watson, the new Political Editor of the Sun made the point on Sky News today (in a cosy interview/chat with his wife, Kay Burley, incidentally) that it wasn't the media's fault that Charles Kennedy had to leave his job. In his words…

we just report the facts!

But is this strictly true?

For a start, it's the pressure of 24-hour news channels (albeit only two of them now) that means the story has turned around so quickly. In the space of 24 hours, Kennedy has gone from being in the same weak position where he's been for months to one where his position is utterly untenable.

For instance this morning on the Today programme, the leader of the Lib Dems in the European Parliament said Kennedy was a "dead man walking". This led to more calls for him to resign, followed by the confirmation from Vince Cable that he believed he should leave immediately and finally the 'threatened' resignation of one of Kennedy's top team. All of this in under 5 hours!

Also, is the decision of Liberal Democrat MPs to challenge Mr Kennedy not directly as a result of the poor coverage that he has received in the press? Every newspaper today says he should go quietly, and his policies have not broken through the glass ceiling for months now.

What's more, Lib Dems know that the coverage that Kennedy gets is only going to get worse, especially given the very open in-fighting which is now taking place. See Iain Duncan Smith's slow exit of the Conservative party as an example of a political leader being on a one-way street to the backbenches.

So while it is Lib Dem MPs who have forced Kennedy into a position from where he must surely resign (by 6pm tonight, I predict), it is the media which has churned and spat out this story in 24 hours, rather than several weeks.

—-

Incidentally, if Winston Churchill lived in a world of 24-hour instant news, would his alcoholism have been tolerated? I doubt it very much.

—-

And also incidentally, a very good article about 24 hour news and its effects on the 'news cycle' by Mark Lawson in today's Guardian.


January 05, 2006

Great news!!!

Jon Stewart is to host the 2006 Oscars. Fantastic! For once it might be worth sitting through the marathon, if only for his witty putdowns at anyone who gets over-emotional in their acceptance speech.

Charles Kennedy calls time

Charles Kennedy has followed the advice of many of his MPs (huh, was forced anyway!) and is holding a leadership election. He's angry because it'll detract from talking about important issues. But then when was the last time you heard Kennedy talk about important issues?

Take today. The main story put out about the Lib Dems was about a 12-year-old who has been named Chairman of his local constituency party. Yup. Luckily he said he was a Kennedy fan and thought he should stay. Handy, that.

Charles Kennedy has chosen an all-out leadership election because he knows no-one will beat him, that's if anyone else even runs. What Lib Dem MPs wanted was a vote of confidence, which he would have been far more likely to lose.

But it is not the 'distracting' leadership election which should be making Lib Dem supporters angry. It is Charles Kennedy's refusal to submit himself to a rigourous test of his leadership. A leadership election might sound great, but realistically, it's going to massively favour the incumbent. John Major used the same tactic in 1995 when John Redwood (yeah, who?) ran against him.

If Charles Kennedy wanted to do the best thing for his party, he should hold a snap vote of confidence, saying to his MPs "I want to carry on. Do you want me?"

Because it is better to be sure you have a solid leader than one who is holding on by a thread. Kennedy is doing his party no favours by holding his own position in a higher regard than his party's chances at the next election.

This leadership election will not kill off Kennedy's critics, and while he almost certainly will win, I'll be amazed if he's still around at the time of the next election.


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