All entries for December 2005

December 27, 2005

Union breaks its own rules….again!

The Union looks set to break another of its policies, as according to its website:

"between 5–7pm each night you can take them [meals] back up to Cholo, and watch Neighbours, Simpsons and Hollyoaks on the big screen"

Hmm…. no more RaW and WTV then? Seems odd considering:

"Believes 7.Promoting student talent is more important than being able to watch Neighbours or QVC."
and
"Resolves 2.To play RaW around Cholo during the hours of 9am – 7pm each day, unless there are special circumstances, e.g. an event starting earlier than said time, except for at least one hour per day which will be for the use of WTV."

[in policy 541]

An explanation needed, I think.


December 20, 2005

BSkyB: "Freeview not up to the job"?

Writing about web page http://media.guardian.co.uk/broadcast/story/0,7493,1671450,00.html

Several executives from BSkyB and another pay-TV operator have told a government committee today that Freeview – the digital terrestrial platform with nearly 40 TV channels and 25 radio stations – is bunk.

Mike Darcey, BSkyB's director of strategy went as far as saying "Freeview is for the elderly and economically inactive".

Now lets clear up the blatant conflict of interest. BSkyB execs want people to hand over money every month to watch hundreds of TV channels, bet on interactive gambling channels and use their set-top-box to bank, shop and yes, spend more money.

Freeview is the antithesis of this model. You pay £30–200, and that's it. You never pay anything again. In return, you get all of the digital channels from the BBC, ITV and currently most of Channel 4's and soon Channel 5's too. You even get three Sky channels! Every genre is covered except for a sport channel (apart from Sky Sports News) and a film channel (although FilmFour is rumoured to be going free in 2006).

The technology isn't really any less clever (as Sky make out), but the channels are simply trapped in a certain amount of frequency, a fact that satellite broadcasters don't have to worry about so much. The picture quality is slightly poorer as a result (but still much better than analogue) and admittedly, not everyone can get Freeview.

But the fact is, by 2012, virtually everyone should be able to receive Freeview. At the moment, the transmitters are turned down so as not to interfere with the analogue signal. But turn off the analogue, and you've got almost perfect reception across the country. At the moment it's a bit like a Virgin Pendolino that isn't allowed to tilt because the lines aren't ready.

Yes, you get far fewer channels on Freeview, but you've got to be a sports or movies fanatic, or an incredibly niche viewer to need Sky. Year after year, the channels on Freeview get better, and you can't say the same of Sky's offering.

So keep your money in your pocket. Get Freeview, or even get Sky's free satellite option (with worse channels than Freeview), or wait a bit longer and just download all of your favourite programmes using the BBC's Interactive Media Player which should be out next year.

In the meantime, don't believe a thing that Sky says about its technological superiority. Not until HDTV, at least.


December 19, 2005

My Scrooge Moment

I'm fed up with Christmas, and it's till only December 19th! Why?

Bloody East 17!

I'm singling them out for their dreamy single 'Stay', but really my hatred is for all Christmas music, and former Christmas number ones which get dragged out every year.

How about the banning of all Christmas-themed music until December 25th (you know, actual 'Christmas') and then allowing it for 12 days (being, duh, 'Christmas').

Otherwise I'm going to live in a Muslim country every November and December just to escape the sickening sounds of Aled Jones et al.

P.S. I should add I do actually like Christmas, and have bought lots of presents for people I care about. And no, that doesn't include you! Bah, humbug.


December 18, 2005

Time, Charlie Boy

My take on half the Lib Dems' calling for a leadership election?

What took you so long!? The signs were there at the Party Conference, where Kennedy's speech was more of a begging letter than a path for the future. He's clearly lost his way, whether he thinks he has or not.

But the Lib Dems are almost scared of holding an election for a new leader. Why? Because they have no idea who to choose. Do they go for a centrist such as Ming Campbell or Simon Hughes, who will lead them chasing after Labour's disenfranchised voters. Or do they go the other way, and chase after Cameron.

Purely in terms of elections, I know which way I'd go. You can take your chances against a wounded government, not particularly popular with the public, and who got to power with the consent of only 22% of the population.

Or alternatively, you could go after a modern, attractive-sounding party who seem certain to increase their support in the 2009(?) election.

Duh.

The Lib Dems aren't going to take votes away from David Cameron, who looks set to be 'Britain's saviour' at the next election (even if he doesn't win), but stand a good chance of beating Labour at a game they invented many moons ago.

Never mind the ideological reasons for avoiding the right-wing route, the Lib Dems need a moderniser like Hughes or Campbell, just because that's where the voters are waiting for them, even if it does mean far more hits on www.libdems4cameron.com/

P.S. Loving the effort at www.libdems4cameron.com


December 17, 2005

John Spencer

Any fans of The West Wing will be upset to hear John Spencer, who played Leo, died of a heart attack this evening. Ironically, his character had a horrific heart attack in the last series of the show.

Who knows how they're going to continue the show without him? He'll be very sorely missed.

CNN: link


December 16, 2005

Why the EU will never work – a relatively optimistic assessment

Tony Blair is frantically trying to apply a sticking-plaster to the European Union in the form of a budget. I call it a sticking plaster, because the EU's budget is a bucket full of holes, with money leaking to a number of useless and morally reprehensible projects which have no justification at all. Step forward the Common Agricultural Policy for one.

But whatever the size of the budget, it won't solve the problem at the heart of the EU - an organisation which in principle I am in favour of.

The key problem with the EU is its inability to decide between 'One Europe' and the 'National interest'. What we're seeing at the budget negotiations is national interests coming out ahead.

France won't consider even a 'review' of the CAP because it fears losing €bns in subsidies to its farmers. There is no justification for the CAP (at least in such an over-sized form) that goes along the lines of building a stronger Europe. Its only justification is that it preserves jobs in an outdated and inefficient industry.

Britain is characterised as the Beast to France's Beauty, accused of taking a selfish approach to Europe, with reference to its rebate. But Britain seems to me to be a proponent of 'Justice', and fears that if it surrenders its rebate, it will never again have a bargaining chip with which to force reform of the CAP. Remember that by surrendering any rebate, Tony Blair is making himself the majority of the press' most-hated figure.

If Britain could engineer a system whereby the money allocated to the CAP was instead spent on structural funds to more worthy recipients than France, then I'm certain it would happily surrender its rebate. Maybe it's subconscious nationalism on my part, but I don't see any way in which Britain is being particularly selfish at the budget talks.

Incompetent, maybe. But selfish? Only in the sense that it is threatening to veto any budget proposals made during the next two Presidencies, which I see as a bargaining tactic. After all, European leaders love leaving a decision until the last minute, when the negotiators are becoming desperate for a deal.

But the CAP will never be reformed, let alone the rest of the budget, even if it is the only future for the EU. France created the Union for two reasons:
1) to keep Germany at arm's reach
2) to strengthen its coal, steel and agriculture industries.

The first aim is fairly irrelevant now, and coal and steel too have lost their potency. But France will never give up its agricultural subsidies, because it is almost the only reason they are still actively involved in the EU. They weren't heavily in favour of enlargement – their primary purpose of the Union is simply to ensure a large market in which to flog its goods, even if they could be produced more cheaply in African nations.

The only solution for the European Union is to abandon a country's right to veto matters which it considers have an adverse impact on its national interest. Yes, it will lead us down a more federal path, but it will also create a more equitable Europe, where decisions are made not because of which member-state is the best negotiator or who is most likely to wave around its magic veto, but instead decisions are made because they are right for Europe.

Note today, for instance, how Britain, Germany and France will thrash out a deal, and then present it to the other 22 members of the EU, telling them to take it or leave it. How is that equitable?

And if Europe was more equitable, had a more clearly defined and united purpose, would critics of the EU such as the Conservatives have such reason to be Eurosceptic? Is their quarrel with the EU per se, or the bureaucratic nonsense that is created when you have nation states constantly having to find a 'compromise' solution that suits no-one?

The only future the EU has is to abandon its 25 divergent national interests and adopt a common one. If it fails to do this – and rest assured, it will fail – then it will break apart.


December 15, 2005

Genius

Writing about web page http://blogs.bbc.co.uk/nickrobinson/

It's only been online for about a week, and already it's my favourite bit of t'internet.

What am I talking about? Nick Robinson's blog. He's the Political Editor of the BBC (like Andrew Marr, with less ears) and once or twice a day he fills my world with all the political hackery I need. It's what he would say if his live reports on the 10o'clock news weren't only 30 seconds long. And he's not bothered about playing to the mainstream audience. Which makes it perfect for politics geeks such as myself.

P.S. This blog entry should not be seen as sucking-up in case I ever get a job interview at the BBC, and they Google me…


December 14, 2005

David Cameron

It's taken me a while to get round to welcoming David Cameron to the leadership of the Conservative Party. It's taken me this long because – honestly – I had him down as the new William Hague – ahead of his time, bound to fail.

Well now I'm starting to worry I was wrong.

Cameron's just made a speech in the City of London, which doesn't seem to have been very widely reported. He was, after all, talking about economics, and who gives a toss about that? Sky News seemed to be the only people covering it, and it's not even appeared on BBC News Online.

This is despite the possibility that it contained the birth of one of Cameron's best policies so far. It can be summised as this: "Independent setting of interest rates. Great, but not very sexy. So how about changing the role of the Treasury so it can't fiddle the figures as Gordon's done so well. Much better."

Sounds like small fry, aimed only at pleasing the city financiers. But I think it's much more than that. Cameron wants to keep the Bank independent, but let an independent body make sure that the Chancellor keeps to his own economic policy. (As when Gordon Brown realised he couldn't meet his economic cycle, so moved it). Cameron would also make the statistics office independent, meaning no more 'burying bad news'. Statistics would come out when they're ready, regardless of what it means for the government.

The latter idea is well overdue. The former one is more interesting – and let's hope that this 'independent body' will have the teeth to make sure the Treasury keep to their self-imposed rules.

It's all about de-politicising the economy, and seems to be a more genuine attempt to do so than when Labour came into power in 1997. While they gave interest-rate setting powers to the Bank of England, they kept enough controls so that it wouldn't really matter. When it came to spending, they could do what they pleased. And that's exactly what they've done. To take one example – the debt owed because of PFI Hospitals doesn't appear in the Treasury's balance sheets. Neither does the cost of owning and running Network Rail, or the civil service's pension obligations. Making things seem a bit rosier. Even if it amounts to fibbing about the state of government spending.

What Cameron's said today is so blindingly pragmatic, that it makes me think we might at the least be seeing a different type of political leader. But in order to stop the accusations that he is Blair Mk.2, Cameron needs to let this pragmatism flow through all of his policies, keeping special interests out of policy, and the real public interest* well and truely in.

If he does that over the next 3–4 years, maybe we'll at last be able to believe that a Conservative leader will do what he says when he gets to Number 10.

*Selection by ability in schools not being an example of this.


December 13, 2005

Separation of Powers…..My Arse!

Writing about web page http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/12/politics/12cnd-scotus.html

For a country built so explicitly on a separation of powers, its amazing how a politicised judiciary can screw up a country so much…

Twitter Go to 'Twitter / chrisdoidge'

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