All entries for May 2007

May 11, 2007

GB4B.com – not very inspiring

GB’s launched his new website to win over… er, GB. GordonBrownforBritain.com isn’t the most inspiring website ever seen, for the following reasons:

1) There’s a blog written by Oona I love you Gordon, can I have a seat in the Lords, pretty please King, who if you need reminding, was beaten in the general election by George Galloway. The second staged contribution comment came from ‘skabucks’ who thanks Gordon for doing so much to help in the Welsh Assembly elections in Cardiff North. That’s the same Cardiff North that Labour lost to the Tories, despite it being quite a winnable seat.

2) As part of Gordon’s Big Conversation (oh no, we can’t call it that, Tony tried it and gave up) we can have our say on the important issues of the 21st Century in Gordon’s poll. So this week, the question is: What should this site be talking about this week? Is it a) The NHS, b) Education, c) International Development or d) The Economy. Obviously Gordon’s decided to tackle his least confident topics first. Strangely absent are e) Iraq, f) House prices, g) Tax and h) Immigration.

3) The front page features a poorly compressed photo of Gordon surrounded by adoring kids. Well, mostly adoring. One or two look scared witless, but they’ve probably just been told how much their university tuition will cost.

4) In a brilliantly original feature, you can Follow Gordon around the country. This is remarkable similar to Guido Fawkes’ Where’s Gordon? feature which asked the same question during the elections when he was remarkably quiet.

5) My favourite page is the Policy one. It benefits from Gordon’s signature, some ‘values’, and a warning about how bad the Tories are. But seemingly no policies…

6) I LOVE the Terms and Conditions. They’re a hotbed of irony. Especially this bit: “Also, we want the debate to be civil, so posts that use offensive, racist or homophobic language won’t go up.” I wonder why they singled out racist and homophobic but not sexist or xenophobic…

Apart from that, it’s lovely. Completely devoid of anything useful, but lovely nonetheless.


Gordon Brown's Leadership Announcement: Live Blog

Yesterday, Tony left the stage. Today, Gordon enters stage right (or left?). He’ll be announcing his candidacy in a few minutes time at the ‘Imagination Gallery’ in London. Will it be as fluffy as Tony’s speech was, or will he actually say something new? We’ll see.

10:56 A girl on BBC News 24 has just made thousands of Labour students look very very daft. Apparently Gordon Brown will be “a new face”...”he hasn’t run his own show before”. Not sure who she’s got Gordon Brown confused with. Now she’s talking more vacuous nonsense. Get her off.

10:57 The weatherman’s excited. He’s just told us it’ll rain in East Angular. I didn’t know Jade Goody had a new career. And a sex-change.

11:00 Anyone want to place a bet on Gordon announcing he’s creating a new Super Home Office, incorporating the police and justice functions in one department? No, didn’t think so.

11:02 Do we think Gordon is ‘bovvered’ whether Tony endorses him or not? It’s all a little late now, isn’t it?

11:04 How much does graphic design tell you about Gordon’s campaign? In the backdrop – presumably the motif for the next seven weeks – is a blurred Union Jack with: “Gordon Brown for Britain” written in a fancy modern font. Very British Airways. Not Blairways.

11:10 Blair’s the ultimate conviction politician, right? He could give a speech telling us that the sun was blue and some of us would believe him, right? Well why is his endorsement of Brown so stuttered, so unbelievable, so carefully worded that it’s fairly apparent he doesn’t mean it. Is he deliberately trying to trip Gordon up? Iain Dale said the same thing.

11:11 Brown’s being introduced by a well-spoken twelve year-old girl. And there’s a major logistical cock-up. The autocue screens are in the way of the cameras.

11:13 “Today I announce I’m a candidate to lead the Labour Party and a new government”. Didn’t see that coming.

11:14 “Britain is a great country that can become greater still”. Not very on-message. Blair said we were ‘best’ yesterday.

Gordon Brown11:15 A little more substance than Blair yesterday, but we still can’t see his face.

11:16 “Your priorities will be my driving purpose”. Does that mean he’ll run a government by plebiscite?

11:17 Ah I see how he’s going to be driven by ‘our priorities’. He’s going to tell us what they are. So far, no answers as to how though.

11:18 “The way we must govern must change too…When you fall short, you listen, you learn and then are confident enough to set new priorities…For me, this starts with governing in a different way”.

New Policy: Greater power to Parliament. A code of conduct for MPs and Ministers.

11:19 I tell you what, I wasn’t expecting this. I’m actually impressed. I actually think he could win the next election. He also looks a little bit younger – maybe because he’s not talking about economics.

11:21 He’s going to engage on a big tour of the country, finding out what people want. Tony Blair did the same thing a few years ago, calling it ‘The Big Conversation’, but it got canned soon after being announced.

11:22 There’s clear red water emerging between Blair and Brown. Gordon’s suggesting mistakes have been made in the past ten years and he’s the man to correct them. But they still have something in common – education, education, education…

11:23 “I’ll lead a government of all the talents” – Erm, is he suggesting a cross-party cabinet or just using fancy words? (Newsnight’s Political Editor, Michael Crick, asked Brown to clarify this later: Brown says he’s ruling nothing out. Lord Ashdown for the cabinet???)

11:24 A draft Queen’s Speech will be announced over the Summer, to allow for public consultation. It sounds new, but it’s basically a non-election manifesto.

11:25 “I will listen and I will learn. I want to lead a government humble enough to know its place… on people’s side.” And that’s it.

11:27 Fourteen minutes – a bit shorter than Tony Blair was yesterday. Questions from the media now. Nick Robinson threw him a fairly easy one.

11:28 “You can’t meet challenges merely by legislating” – erm… I thought legislation was what government was for? Will the Brown era be government as pressure group?

11:29 Ah, that’s more like it. Adam Boulton throws him a tougher question about Blair. Jack Straw won’t reveal how many nominations Brown has, but Brown quips he got at least one this morning – from the incumbent.

11:35 Tony Blair seems to be trying to bury bad news. He’s over at Wembley Stadium opening his white elephant legacy.

So he gave us one policy to chew on for a while – increased powers for parliament. He’s not been specific, but I think he might mean Parliament would always be given a vote on whether to go to war. The end of Royal Prerogative, perhaps?

He also promised a consultation on the Queen’s Speech. While this sounds fantastic, it’s merely Brown’s attempt to seek a mandate without having to go through an election. Just like the consultation that goes before a manifesto, without the vote at the end.

A well-judged speech, I thought. Within a few months he might just seem Prime Ministerial.


Worth sharing

In my last blog entry, I pondered whether Britain really is the best nation in the world. But then I saw this, and remembered: “Who cares? We’ve got the best sarcasm in the UNIVERSE!!! And that’s all that really matters.”


May 10, 2007

'This is the greatest nation on earth'

Britain I can tell you what a number of newspaper op-ed pieces will ask over the next few days: Is this the greatest nation on earth?

Tony Blair says it is. And he says we know it, and the rest of the world knows it too. It’s a grand statement, unlike anything he’s ever really said before. And unlike anything most of us have said before.

You wonder if he’s been caught up in the euphoria of leaving one of politics’ great offices, knowing there’s more chance of him getting a Sainthood than becoming UN Secretary General.

But you also find yourself wondering if he’s right. We’re not a nation for posturing. “We’re best” almost seems to be an unfashionable, American motto, but it’s not a notion the British are very comfortable with. A Kiwi colleague of mine laughed when he heard Blair say it. No-one in the room defended our PM. But no-one vocally disagreed with him either.

New Zealand and Canada are two countries who always seem to be in with a shout of being a ‘nicer’ nation than Britain. Given the cultural and language similarities, many of us have probably thought for at least ten seconds about moving there for a while.

And you can hardly blame many of them for thinking they’re better than us. Just look at Johnny Foreigner – our ambassador in T-shirt and shorts, wearing sandals with socks on, and drinking a can of Stella in countries where they actually brew their own lager.

Weakening our claim for ‘best nation’ status is our lack of nationalism. The Union Jack has been hijacked by racists, our cultural institutions seem to acknowledge their continental equivalents are superior, and few of us seem to know what it means to be British.

It’s ironic that Blair believes we’re the best, when if most people were asked, they’d probably say it was he who had made it worse. But outside of politics, is there much that is completely and deep-seatedly wrong?

We are, perhaps, the most upwardly mobile nation on the Earth, and yet few of us try to leave, to try bigger and better things than Britain alone can offer. Is that lack of imagination or satisfaction with what we’ve got?

It’s unnaturally patriotic for most Britons to suggest, but is it true? Is ours the greatest nation on earth?

I’m not sure. But I know I wouldn’t want to leave.


Tony's Resignation Speech: Live Blog

Tony Blair gives his resignation speechSo, he’s going, and it might be even sooner than we thought. The atmosphere at Trimdon Labour Club is pretty hysterical – there’ll probably be tears and there’s already dancing by one woman. Nutter.

11:57 Philip Gould, Blair’s polling expert, is ignoring the idea of “lowering expectations”. Apparently after this speech the whole country will be moved, and start to wonder what we’re missing out on. Wishful thinking, I think. Intriguingly he says: “I think people will be surprised”. Ten more years! Ten more years!

11:59 Anyone know how many people are allowed in Trimdon Labour club according to the fire regulations? I reckon they’re on the upper limit.

12:00 Blair’s agent John Burton introduces the Prime Minister.

12:01 Caption of the morning was on BBC News 24: “Blair: Today is a special day”. Someone suggested there might be 26 hours or something.

12:03 And the PM’s on the stage.

12:04 Joke #1: The person shouting ‘four more years!’ outside Trimdon Labour Club wasn’t on-message for today. He’s paying tribute to his agent.

12:05 And here’s the shock announcement: He loves Cherie. Nope, that’s not it.

12:06 “Today I announce my decision to stand down from the leadership of the Labour Party… On the 27th of June [Wednesday] I will tender my resignation… I’ve been Prime Minister for ten years – I think that’s enough.”

12:08 “I was born almost a decade after the Second World War. I was a young man in a social revolution. I reached political maturity as the world was ending and the world was going through a revolution. I looked at my own country… strangely uncertain of its future. All that was symbolised by the politics of the time. You stood for individual aspiration and getting on in life or social compassion and helping others. You were liberal or conservative. You believed in the power of the state or the power of the individual. None of it made sense to me. It was 20th Century ideology in a world approaching a new millennium.”

12:09 In my opinion, he’s done better speeches than this before. It’s better suited to a Labour Party Conference than a small hall of 300 people.

12:10 “No country attracts overseas investment like we do”. I think China would have something to say about that. And they wouldn’t be alone.

12:11 “Britain is not a follower. Britain is a leader” – So far, the tone’s been fluffier than a set of furry dice.

12:13 Blair’s bearing his soul to the country now. How he put the country ahead of himself, and sometimes even his party.

12:17 He’s moved on to talking about Iraq, terrorism, and how he had to make the decisions he did.

12:19 “I ask you to remember one thing: I did what I thought was right. I may have been wrong – that’s your call. But believe one thing if nothing else. I did what I thought was right for the country”

12:20 “I’ve been very lucky and very blessed. This is a blessed country. This is the greatest nation on earth” – he’s saying things he daren’t have said before.

12:21 And his last words? “Good luck”. That’s it. Less than eighteen minutes. His conference speech last year was probably a little more emotional, but in this one he really showed his colours.


Hmm… I wonder

Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/

At 9.12am, I wonder to myself: “I wonder if the Guardian will use today to change the ten-year old look of their website…”

At 9.13am, I wonder to myself if I’m psychic.


Ten years and ten days later…

Blair waves goodbyeIt’s time for Tony Blair to leave the stage. It’s been ten very interesting years, starting so well, but ending so badly.

This week saw a ray of light at the end of five years of difficulties. Northern Ireland will hopefully be Tony Blair’s legacy in office – he’ll probably try and achieve a similar feat in the Middle East once he leaves it.

His other legacy is to leave his successor a clone in opposition. David Cameron is Tony Blair in blue clothes, and this could be his Achilles Heel in the 2009/10 election.

For his party, Blair leaves behind a group of people who will find transition difficult. Despite the lack of real opposition, Gordon Brown will find he needs to get his party behind him while reaching out again to the centre ground that elected him and his friends in 1997. This week it was suggested David Miliband is holding fire until after the next general election. Others may be less patient.

Blair’s reputation was irretrievably damaged by Iraq and its aftermath. It’s a war he probably still doesn’t regret, but might come to in the years to come.

The next few years will be a time of great reflection for Mr Blair, as well as for the party he leaves behind.

Translate: Translate into French


May 09, 2007

The beauty of trespassing

I’ve just been revising the law of trespass ahead of my exciting Law exam next week. I probably should have revised this topic before this morning.

It turns out I’m fairly safe – I can only be sued for trespassing by the landowner himself, and seeing as he’s not likely to read this blog (nor am I likely to identify him!) I think I’ve got away with it. I also didn’t cause any damage, except a few muddy footprints.

I’m working on an exciting (can you hear the sarcasm?) story set in the middle of nowhere. Literally. The GPS system I’ve borrowed got as lost as me. I spent about two hours driving around, looking, quite simply, for an empty field which I needed to film in the pouring rain. It turned out to be at the end of a dark, muddy track and completely invisible from any man-made road.

Eventually, with a bit of help from the knowledgeable locals I found it. I didn’t trust them to begin with. I’ve heard that people with English accents will often find themselves given completely the opposite direction to the one they require while in parts of Wales. I could see on their faces a look of ‘ooh… well… shall I give him the Welsh answer or the English answer?’. Luckily the two locals both gave the same answer and it turned out they sent me the right way. Without them I would never have found it.

Not even Google Earth helped – I checked that out yesterday and it bore no relation to the roads I was looking for. Utterly useless. Maybe it was out-of-date.

Hopefully the fruits of my labour will be finished in a couple of weeks – I’ll upload them here, just so long as a certain landowner doesn’t find me first…


May 08, 2007

The news after Virginia

At 7.15am, Seung-Hui Cho walked into Emily Hilscher’s room and shot her and another student dead with a semi-automatic handgun. He then walked across the Virginia Tech campus to post a parcel to the New York offices of NBC, post-marked 9.01am. Inside was his ‘multimedia manifesto’. He then murdered another thirty people, before killing himself.

Even during the most appalling atrocity, the perpetrator found time to contribute to news bulletins around the world and make himself a star. Even after they asked ethical questions of the material – Should we show it? When should we show it? – most news organisations showed the tape. Even while dead, the killer took the credit, and offended the victims’ families even more.

It’s probable no-one has questioned the benefits of the modern news more than those families.

Cho’s video was a clear sign of the times. Broadcasters now compete for user-generated material, each keen to better reflect their audiences and imbue a sense of belonging with one outlet rather than another.

Not all of the material broadcasters use is sent to them directly. During the Virginia shootings, broadcasters relied on social networking sites like Facebook and YouTube for first-hand accounts of what was happening.

Media commentator Jeff Jarvis believes that the role of the journalist in the event of breaking news is to ‘link’ between reports, some of them from newswires, many from the public. But does this require more skill or less? Jarvis suggests that in time, citizen journalists will be capable of broadcasting live to the internet. Under what circumstances would broadcasters use this material live?

These changes set the scene for rolling news channels to become news aggregators. As the number of potential news feeds grows to include every person on every street, the role of the traditional broadcaster might be little more than to choose between them, rather like the now-unpopular concept of users choosing ‘alternate angles’ on a DVD. Bulletins, in turn, might become the place for a ‘best of’ compilation of the day’s best bits, with senior journalists behaving as ‘analysts’ of the day’s events rather than ‘reporters’. The appointment of Roger Harribin as BBC News’ Environment Analyst symbolises the trend.

Many traditions continue though. Hundreds of satellite trucks rolled into the Virginia Tech campus, transporting news anchors to the heart of the story. As much as the public wants to see every angle, every nugget of information, from every source, they also want it packaged together by someone that they trust.

But where does all of this leave the investigative story? The citizen journalist doesn’t have the resources to investigate the news in any depth, and is less likely to check their facts properly. Political blogger Guido Fawkes has found this out the hard way after suggesting the BBC’s political editor was one of his sources, when he was anything but.

CNN has been most explicit in its wooing of potential citizen journalists. Its ‘i-Report’ project has received hundreds of videos and photos from viewers who want to be on the cable news channel. The project’s TV trailer boasts of how you can say “I-Report for CNN”.

Many students at Virginia Tech did just that, sending in many of the most iconic images of the media ‘event’. But in the days that followed the tragedy, families and friends grew increasingly tired of the media’s gaze. Psychologists spooled through every frame of Cho’s words, and the relative anonymity of the internet was invaded as the media sought to ‘cover’ people’s emotions.

But it seems there are lines that still can’t be crossed.

Viewers expect quality as well as quantity. Few would be comfortable with the intrusion that the media’s stare brings, and audiences seem to rebel against invasion of privacy almost as often as the victims of it. And surveys of viewers’ opinions often suggest they want more foreign affairs, suggesting that they tune in to learn about the unknown rather than to hear about the mundane. It is up to editors to mediate between what people say they want, and what they actually expect.

When participatory politics is little more than a concept in a textbook, participatory media should be a good thing for society. Except neither broadcasters nor viewers quite know the parameters of this dialogue yet. Only through events such as the Virginia shootings is this new relationship being tested to its limits. And based on the evidence from Virginia Tech, broadcasters need to proceed with great caution. An unfortunate slip, and they could easily lose the trust of the audiences they pursue.


May 06, 2007

What's he up to?

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6629877.stm

John Reid will stand down as Home Secretary within weeks and return to the backbenches.

Umm… Why?


United's title in doubt?

Man United just can’t win when it comes to goalkeepers. Ever since Peter Schmeichel retired, they’ve struggled to find a replacement. They’ve gone through some stinking keepers who’ve made utter howlers, but now they might have gone and made one themselves.

Several newspapers this morning claim that a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ existed between United and Everton, stating that if United sold Tim Howard to Everton, they wouldn’t play him against them this season.

The deal went through, and so apparently did the little agreement. Everton played their substitute goalkeeper and lost 4-2.

But the Premier League are now investigating, because such an agreement would break transfer rules, and could see either club fined, or even deducted points. United’s title hopes could be – possibly – broken by a cock-up.

Russell Brand wrote in the Guardian yesterday how the threat of legal action against West Ham was ludicrous. Relegation through the courts isn’t in the interest of any football club or supporter. The same is true of Championship winners too.

If I’m honest, it wouldn’t surprise me much if this story was correct. But did it make a big difference? Not really. Was anyone really hurt by it? Not really. Would it harm the game if the title was decided by some archaic rule? For sure.

Fine them, highlight it, make it clear that if it happens again there’ll be hell to pay. But don’t ruin the season because of some silly slip-up between two otherwise sensible clubs.


Clutching at Straws?

From today’s Sunday Times:

David Cameron would win a general election by 54 seats, based on voting patterns in last week’s local elections, according to a study published this weekend.

The world and his dog know that local elections are used as protest votes and are always worse for the Government than a general election.

There’s not much here for Tories to crow about.


Lib Dem Failure = Lib Dem Power

It’s a strange quirk of the electoral system in Britain nowadays that the Lib Dems can do fairly poorly at an election and come out of it with so much power. In both Wales and Scotland, they hold the keys to power for Labour and the SNP respectively. The only difference this time round is that they’re considering rejecting the easy option in both cases.

In Wales, leader Mike German, under a great deal of pressure from his members (a leadership election is more than likely) has to decide, perhaps within a week, whether to prop up an unpopular Labour administration headed by Rhodri Morgan. He seems keen, but he could be deposed before he has a chance to sign off on it.

In Scotland, Nicol Stephen has a similar decision to make for the Lib Dems, although they would at least be propping up the SNP, who are on the up themselves. Even then, the SNP would still need the Greens to form a majority. The Greens support independence. The Lib Dems do not, and it could be a deal breaker.

Even in Westminster, it’s an open secret that the Lib Dems could have to do a similar job for Gordon Brown (or Cameron) after the next election.

It’s almost becoming the case that the Lib Dems are the bland, faceless party of coalition. They don’t seem to be threatening to lead any coalition in the near – perhaps even distant – future. And when elections become closer between the top two parties, their share of the vote often collapses.

There’s something to be said for coalition governments. But when the Lib Dems are so predictably the partner in any coalition, is there any value in voting for them?

-

My view is that there’ll be another election in Edinburgh within the year. The SNP’s majority is so flaky they’ll struggle to govern. Hold a new election and they’ll probably do even better. In Wales, Labour and the Lib Dems are going to struggle to come to a deal. Many in the Labour party are dead against joining with Plaid, and the Tories are of course a complete no-no. It’s going to be iffy here too.

-

I (honestly) wrote this before reading Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer. He makes the exact same point.


May 05, 2007

Never work with children, animals or…


Scheduling

ITV have scheduled an exciting episode of Emmerdale Family Album this Thursday at 7.30pm.

If they show it, I’ll eat my hat.


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