All entries for July 2006
July 30, 2006
Bizarrely, I wondered this morning what would happen if filming on the new James Bond film Casino Royale was delayed. Only because they've got the release date set in stone and yet very little time between filming and it coming out.
Maybe I'm psychic, because literally a whole hour later…
July 29, 2006
"Iran is omnipresent in Lebanon, not only with Hezbollah," said Ridwan al–Sayyid, an adviser to the prime minister and a professor of Islamic studies at Lebanese University. "They are strong, not like Syria, but they shape their presence in different ways. They are helping many, many organizations — Sunnis, Shias and Christians. They are benevolent." (March 2006)
"If there is an Iranian–American clash, it will be played out here," Ahmed Fatfat, the acting Lebanese interior minister (March 2006)
“Tehran and Damascus have strong incentives to turn Lebanon into a battleground to deflect attention from their own problems.” (Washington Times, February 2006)
Or a bolt out of the blue?
"There is without any doubt a growing Iranian influence not only in Lebanon but in the whole region," said Nassib Lahoud, a Maronite Christian who is a former ambassador to the United States and a legislator. "We are trying to build normal relations with everyone, and we refuse to turn Lebanon into a battlefield for regional and international powers." (March 2006)
"In the power vacuum left by the sudden withdrawal of Israeli troops and the flight of many of their allies in the South Lebanon Army, Hezbollah has started to operate in the south much as it does in the rest of Lebanon, as a kind of parallel government offering social services, development loans and reconstruction aid. Although it is still considered by the United States and other nations to be a terrorist group that bombed embassies and kidnapped Westerners in the 1980's with the help of radical patrons in Iran and Syria, Hezbollah has developed a different image in Lebanon… Sheik Nasrallah, who does not hold a government or parliamentary post, has acted deferential toward the official government, saying his organization has no intention of setting up a parallel or competing structure in the south." (NY Times, May 2000)
July 28, 2006
This week's ICM/Guardian poll wouldn't have made happy reading in Cowley Street, headquarters of the Lib Dems.
Ming's party have had a turbulent year following the removal of Charles Kennedy and Ming's subsequent election (not forgetting Mark Oaten's problems inbetween). But to be 4 points down compared with the last poll (at 17%) is pretty disastrous.
Ming himself accounts for a large part of the problem, but not all of it. Welsh Assembly member Peter Black has pointed the finger, arguing that "Ming has made little impact with the public at large", a fairly substantial criticism from an elected member of his own party.
But Peter is wrong when he says "if things go wrong then there is nobody else to blame". Because the party as a whole is partly culpable for its poll ratings.
While Cameron's Tories have managed to do very well without actually announcing any policies, the Lib Dems haven't managed to pull off the same trick. This is mainly because they don't appear to have any fixed principles with which to challenge the government. The Conservatives have carved out a 'message' without having to set anything in stone. Ming meanwhile is too involved in sorting out his own house to be able to set out what his party is.
The Lib Dems are an awkward coalition struggling to come to terms with the continued obsession with left–right politics in which they don't really fit. There's the right–wing 'Orange Book' group and the more socially conscious lefties in the party. Each is determined that the party needs to move in their direction to succeed, and in one way they're correct. Because for the Lib Dems, the middle ground isn't working.
Labour and the Conservatives are set to engage in a game of "who can best mimic the enemy" until the next election, where they set out policies which are remarkable alike, if not plain stolen.
So the Lib Dems need to be the real opposition, a term which they bandy about but don't seem able to fully grasp. While there is a fair amount of consensus in Britain at the moment, there's probably quite a strong current in the press and in current opinion which believes there's too much government. It's the traditional U.S. Republican stance, and one that is well suited to the Liberalism of the Liberals.
This is an area which fits well with many of their policies: ID Cards especially, diplomacy over military engagement, scrapping the council tax etc.
It would sit well with much of the public, and potentially out–Tory the Tories, without necessarily adopting the characteristics of the 'nasty party'.
There's no ground left to be fought for on the centre of British politics. For the Lib Dems to stand a chance, they need to have a stand and a message. In some ways they have it already, but haven't made it in the terms which would be attractive to the British public.
Ming probably isn't the right man to present this message, but until the party comes up with some idea of what it's about, it won't be able to find a leader who can do much better.
"I've been a singer, a TV presenter, a single mother and now I'm just plain desperate for work so I'm advertising double glazing because that twat (see right) realised the gig was shite!"
Poor woman. Someone give her a decent job to do.
One down, two (Vernon Kay and Sara Cox) to go…
BBC Radio 1 presenter DJ Spoony is to leave the station after six years to explore other offers. The DJ, who currently hosts the Radio 1 weekend breakfast show, will leave the station in September – at the same time as the station has a schedule overhaul.
The fact that accusations about the one–sided nature of the "special relationship" between Britain and the United States should arise during a conflict in the Middle East is interesting. Because from where I'm sitting it often looks more like Israel is the United States' poodle, engaged in the same relationship as the client states of the US and the USSR in the Cold War.
Rather than get involved in a war with Syria or Iran (which six months ago wasn't an entirely impossible notion), the current conflict in the Middle East is effectively between the proxies of the United States and Islamic Extremism. Cold War II, if you like.
This puts a different spin on the "Yo, Blair" problem. Certainly, it seems as if Condi Rice is more senior in the global hierarchy than Blair after Bush told him to stay out of the region and leave it to his Secretary of State. And yes, we're the only state who joined the U.S. in avoiding calls for an immediate ceasefire. And true, we went to Iraq because we wanted to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the United States after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
But – so far – the relationship remains special because the Bush Administration isn't sending British troops out on a limb in conflicts that the U.S. wants to personally avoid. It's true that we're of secondary importance, but also true that we have the only government who has the full support of the world's only superpower. We do benefit, both politically and economically, from the special relationship. Sitting between two continents has massive benefits (just look at where all of the US's FDI in Europe goes), but requires us to make big sacrifices – one of which is an independent foreign policy.
We're not a poodle to the same degree as Israel is, but when we fail to push strongly for a ceasefire in the Middle–East, we do at best look like a wet–behind–the–ears Labrador.
July 27, 2006
According to an ICM/Guardian poll out today:
The most obvious observation is that people who supported the Lib Dems over the Iraq War are drifting back to the two major parties again following what has been a disastrous year and quiet few months for Ming Campbell.
But here's some other thoughts:
- Labour is clearly banking on their new leader (assume it to be Brown) to take the lead back from the Conservatives when they take power. I think this strategy's a bit risky and Brown ought to be setting out his stall already, even if he's not in Number 10. There's a danger that he won't have long enough to impress the public before he's forced to call an election. Plus, he's about as charasmatic as cabbage soup, so needs all the help he can get.
- Labour's rise (up 3%) also suggests that voters are forgiving the government for the many problems they've got themselves into recently. This raises the question of whether people care about or understand the cash–for–honours scandal. Until it directly smacks Blair in the face, I'm not sure voters will fully associate it with the government.
- The Conservatives are continuing to do well under Cameron, although he still hasn't had much to do so far. When he starts talking about substantive policy issues people might see him as a turn–off. So far they've only heard him talk about bicycles, underwear and solar power.
- Ming is doomed. While extremely competent with the Lib Dems' foreign affairs brief, he's clearly not got the right skills to lead the party on other issues. If the Conservatives can do well while not talking about policy, how come the Lib Dems are finding the exact opposite happening to them?
- The Conservatives think they need 40% of the vote in order to get a majority. With Labour likely to receive a boost under their new leader, Cameron will know he hasn't done enough yet to avoid the possibility of a hung parliament.
- Overall, there's cause of optimism here for the Tories and Labour. But the Lib Dems have got a problem. If they lose seats at the next election, which looks likely given how close the other two parties are likely to be, then they could enter a decade of soul–searching which could cripple the party.
Andrew Lloyd–Webber (creator of the hit musicals) said yesterday:
Stage schools tend to turn out performers with a certain patina. There is a certain sameness. You can almost tell which school they have come from.
Isn’t that a little rich from the man whose musicals all sound identical and can be spotted a mile away for their schmaltz? If anyone’s to blame for musical performers sounding the same, it’s Webber himself.
From page 2–3 of today's Guardian:
[according to Israel] more than 200 Hizbullah fighters [have] been killed since the conflict began.
and Israel's northern command chief said:
in a number of weeks we will be able to declare a victory
this in spite of the statistic (on p3):
Hezbullah (sic) has 6,000 elite fighters and 20,000 trained fighters.
Based on those statistics, at the current rate it will take Israel precisely 130 weeks to come half-way to total victory. In the same amount of time they would kill 50,700 Lebanese citizens.
They seem to have fallen into the trap of the United States' War on Terror in believing that complete victory is even possible when dealing with a terrorist organisation.
I should add that my statistics are based on the Israelis' estimates. The independent figure is 31 confirmed Hizbullah deaths. Meaning it would take over 1700 weeks to kill all of the Hizbullah fighters…
Spot the difference. In February 1997, the Daily Mail declared that five men who were acquitted of the murder of Stephen Lawrence were in fact his killers. They challenged the men to sue them, and they never did.
Today, following a documentary which has raked over the case and uncovered alleged corruption in one of the investigating officers, the Mail has repeated its assertion and its challenge to the men to sue the newspaper.
There's a little more going on here than simply trying to cause a stir. If one of the five men were to sue the Mail, the civil case would almost certainly have to examine the evidence for the Mail's assertion, and would very probably find that the five men did indeed commit the crime. However being a civil case (and under the rules of double jeopardy, which the government has considered scrapping), the men would essentially be found guilty but would not face prosecution. At the moment this would seem to be a best worst option.
But there's a danger in the Mail's use of repetition. Their article notes that at least one of the men has young children and that his neighbours knew nothing of his past until this week's revelations. While it's arguable his neighbours should know who they're living next to, it's very regrettable that his child may face repercussions either at school or in the local community generally. Given the hatred felt towards the five men – probably rightly – it's unwise for their children's identity to be too widely known. Some will argue the men should have thought about that before committing the crime, and realising the effect it would have on their kids, but others will rightly add that their children did nothing wrong and deserve protection.
The Daily Mail is, I'm sure, 100% certain that 1) the men will not sue, and 2) if they did, they'd lose. In which case I wonder if today's headline is a little unnecessary. It will bring unwarranted attention to the men's children while offering practically no chance of a conviction being brought. It's a powerful way to bring the story to people's attention, but by now the court of public opinion knows the men are guilty anyway.
July 26, 2006
I made a grave error a few weeks ago by saying that Annually Retentive was the funniest comedy of the year.
For we seem to have a new contender in the form of Armando Iannucci's Time Trumpet, a series devoted to nostalgic television. The twist being that it's nostalgic about TV from 2007–2025.
Check out the preview clips here and you can see the first full episode on August 3rd on BBC Two.
P.S. The website's got a bit of a nod to internet geeks – the source code says the following:
And the tagline seems to be: "Do you remember petrol? The 2012 Olympic hoax?"
So Parliament has retired for a Summer in Cliff Richard's Barbados home (alright, not all of them), and with the exception of the Middle East Crisis so too have the flow of news stories. Government ministers have taken to silly attacks on the Opposition link (well, there's nothing else to do, is there?) and the Opposition have batted them right back link .
Should we eagerly anticipate the silly season for the lack of domestic conflict between the major political parties, or hate it for bringing us front–page headlines that are as woolly as a sheep?
As someone who blogs about the news, I fear the Summer will bring a drought of things to write about which will rival the more literal drought that newspapers have been promising us for weeks. Sure, there's the Israel–Lebanon stuff, but I think it's safer to keep out of that because it's almost impossible to maintain an opinion without offending one side or the other. Simon Jenkins of the Guardian believes we should keep out of it altogether and leave it to those whom it really concerns. I'm inclined to agree, although there's also truth in the fact that had we kept out of other conflicts in the past, far more people would have died than eventually did.
Meanwhile the tabloid newspapers will come up with fantastical stories with which to entertain us. The Daily
Royalist Mail had a great one today:
TV AND FRIDGE PRICES TO RISE
That was their front–page headline. Seriously. And they admitted it was only a matter of £10 per item in order to pay for the future recycling costs when that product came to the end of its life. I'm not sure how that story is more important than the deaths of Lebanese and Israeli citizens and the potential involvement of other states in a region–wide crisis, but the Mail seems to have long ago abandoned news in favour of selling dead trees and ink.
I'll miss the big and meaty political stories over the next two months. In retrospect they really should have scheduled The West Wing during the Summer to fill the gap, but it's a little too late for that (the final episode airs in the UK on Friday). But inbetween the fluff and nonsense, I'm sure there'll be a few things to get our teeth into during the silly season, maybe starting with this.
July 25, 2006
Got an unusual e-mail from the Evening Standard yesterday asking me to write them something about John Prescott's latest travails. Bashed out 200 words and they rang me asking for more! The image on the right is the version that they printed, while below is the original. Thanks to Jimmy and Adam for advice on the first drafts! Here's the article in full:
But it got us thinking about which albums of the 21st Century would be in our Top 10. Jimmy threw in Muse's Absolution, which I was a bit surprised with.
So here's my own:
10. Streets – A Grand Don't Come For Free
9. Blur – Think Tank
8. Delays – You See Colours
7. Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand
6. Paul Oakenfold – Bunkka
5. Coldplay – X&Y
4. Killers – Hot Fuss
3. Sigur Ros – Takk
2. Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
1. Coldplay – A Rush of Blood To The Head
July 23, 2006
The National Housing Federation reported this week that the average house will cost £300,000 in five years' time.
With few houses set to be built in that timeframe and there being no lack of demand which would bring about a fall in prices, we are pretty much buggered.
This generation of students – and seemingly the next one too – will find it impossible to own a house of their own, and only the very rich will be able to prosper by buying–to–let. The gap between the rich and poor will inevitably grow, with the poor becoming a bigger group.
So the adage that "money can't buy you happiness" is set to become false. Maybe it's a bit extreme to say that without a mortgage you can't be happy, but until you own something as fundamental as a house, many people will feel unfulfilled. Moreover, those who want to build their dream home (and they need not be loaded to do so), will in the future find their dreams evaporate.
This causes other problems. Younger homeowners are more likely to desire an environmentally–friendly home, are more likely to put solar panels on their roof and wind turbines in their garden. But if the vast majority of young people are renting until well into their 30s (as looks probable) then the move towards more sustainable housing will slow.
There's been much talk about the 'politics of happiness' recently, helped by a TV series on BBC Two and mention of it from David Cameron. The former was a bit drawn out while the latter sounded like opportunism, but the 'happiness formula' will become far more important as a whole generation finds it can't afford somewhere permanent to live.
Money might not be the be–all–and–end–all, but the gap between the haves and have–nots is becoming ever–larger as affordable housing becomes more and more invisible.