Tuesday 30 December 2008


The others have gone out for a country walk, but I've decided to stay behind. (It's cold, I have a cough). Only four of us here so far, with more arriving this afternoon. I am under instructions to get a log fire started, but I don't know how. Besides, men love doing that sort of stuff so it seems wrong to deprive them of the pleasure. Signal here is very bad, and I will be in trouble anyway if I spend lots of time on my laptop, so probably won't blog much for the next few days.


On the situation in Gaza, which was raised by a couple of people in comments on the previous post... Tempting though it might be, I can't blog on controversial international issues, particularly not where there is a DFID element. (In the same way Tom Harris didn't blog about Transport issues when he was a Minister).

I've had maybe 10 emails so far from constituents, all along the same lines, and have replied to them all. I don't think it would take a genius to work out what I think, given my past record on this subject, but I'm not going to blog about it. I have also spoken to some colleagues who are concerned about the situation, and to Douglas, and will be writing to the Foreign Secretary as soon as I'm back from Dorset.

All I can say is that I expect David Miliband will make a statement to the House when we return on January 12th. We also have Defence Qs on the 12th, FCO Qs on the 13th, and PMQs on the 14th, which will provide an opportunity to raise the issue, but that is obviously some way off, and much will be said and done behind the scenes before then.
You are of course welcome to comment on here, or you might want to look at Andy Reed's site - from what he's said on Twitter, I think he's been blogging about it. But I won't post comments which mispresent my position, as I'm not able to respond and put things straight.

Monday 29 December 2008

Someone else's end of year poll

Iain Dale has been running an end of year poll on his website. The result for speech of the year* tells you all you need to know about his readership. No. 1. was George Osborne's PBR reply (25%). No. 2. was Obama's acceptance speech (18%).

In years to come I will be able to tell my little great-nieces and nephews as they gather round my knee that Great Aunt Kerry was in that very Chamber, on that momentuous occasion, to hear the great man himself. I will hold them spellbound as I recite passages from memory in my very best squeaky voice...

*That, and the fact that 45% voted for Frank Field as Labour MP of the year. And Bob Marshall-Andrews came second. I did a murder trial with Bob once. But that's another story.

Sunday 28 December 2008

And more...

Have now got permission to post this, and I think given its length and the serious issues raised, it's worth putting it in a separate post, rather than the comments on an old post.

"I was very disappointed to learn about your blog on animal experimentation (the Wrong Way of Going about Things). Whilst I agree that the tactics used by the SHAC activists seemed to have worked counterproductive in terms of a negative public attitude towards critically questioning the utility of animal experimentation, the sentences that await them seem disproportionately high compared to other (serious) crimes committed.

The question every politician should be asking themselves is why these activists felt this was their only way of campaigning. After years of law-abiding peaceful protests, letter writing and other legal methods aimed at trying to influence public perception and policy, nothing much has changed. In fact, animal use is going up each year. How can you (and Labour) be so complacent about the effectiveness of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act?

You commented: “But when it comes to finding cures for devastating illnesses, then - reluctantly - we think vivisection might play its part.” However, ‘think’ in this context is not good enough. In order to justify animal experimentation, you have to be absolutely certain that their use will not be in vain. And this issue is usually ignored by most politicians and scientists. There is no scientific evidence that demonstrates that animal use is essential in combating human disease. To the contrary, these claims rely on anecdotes and hand-picked examples of where animal use has played a role in the development of therapeutic or diagnostic methods.

True, when doing millions of animal experiments, some will be effective; they are bound to be. But the question is whether the use of animals is efficient (as well as effective and ethical). A recent article in the ‘USA Today’ argued that this is not the case:
http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2008/12/opposing-view-1.html (and please click on the link to ‘numerous reports’ within the article). I am attaching a draft of my latest scientific paper about alternative methods which has been accepted by a Japanese scientific journal, and will be published within the next few weeks.

Being vegan, I would have thought that you would know more about the scientific arguments that underpin the lack of utility of animals for human disease. I would urge you to read up on these arguments before deciding to defend animal research.

Finally, Animals Count would seek the following policies to be implemented by the government:

· To immediately ban the harmful use of all non-human primates in experiments.
· To ban all harmful use of animals in scientific research, toxicity testing and education.
· To establish an independent transparent scientific inquiry to thoroughly review the ethical, scientific and economic implications of scientific research, toxicity testing and education.
· To facilitate increased funding for the development, validation and implementation of non-animal alternatives.

Animals Count hopes to contest the 2009 European Parliament elections, and think we will be able to draw votes from across the political spectrum, including Labour, as has been shown by the successful Dutch political Party for the Animals, which now has 20 representatives in national and local government, and which is set to win at least one EP seat next year.

Kind regards from a fellow vegan,
Jasmijn de Boo
Chair, Animals Count"

Saturday 27 December 2008

More on animal testing

On the SHAC convictions, I've had an email from an animal rights group expressing disappointment with my (partial) support for vivisection, as discussed in the previous post.

I've suggested they post their email on my blog, as I have no problem with them making their criticism of me public. What I do object to, however, is the suggestion that my position must be based on ignorance of the scientific arguments.

The email writer says "Being vegan, I would have thought that you would know more about the scientific arguments that underpin the lack of utility of animals for human disease. I would urge you to read up on these arguments before deciding to defend animal research." Well, how do they know I haven't?

The fact is, I have. Over many years.

As I've mentioned several times on this blog, I think there's always a danger that people (and politicians in particular) will sniff out the science that confirms their prejudices, and focus on that at the expense of other scientific research which doesn't back up their point of view. (And yes, smokers, that does include you, and no, I'm not going to let this turn into another debate on smoking).

In this instance, my prejudices would lead me to support a total ban on all animal experiments. When I read the research I'm wanting to be convinced that such experiments are a complete waste of time, that the differences between humans and other species render them completely irrelevant and of no scientific validity. But - sorry - I'm just not convinced by what I've read.

And that means I don't feel I can turn round and say to, for example, parents of kids with chronic genetic illnesses that I don't think scientists should be allowed to continue their research. Limit the research as much as possible, cut out all the unnecessary testing and the duplication, ban the use of primates, develop alternatives to animal testing - yes, yes, yes. But I can't go the whole way yet. And it's not because I haven't done my homework.

Wednesday 24 December 2008

The wrong way of going about things

Despite my determination to be festive and jolly this week, I feel obliged to say something about the Shac convictions on blackmail charges.

The Guardian, in a brief biog of one of the campaign's leaders describes her thus: "A committed vegan, the 41-year-old once said she ­followed the strict dietary requirements because she didn't wish to "contribute to the murder, suffering and exploitation of animals". Well, that's why I'm one too.

I don't claim to speak for the estimated 250,000 vegans in the UK (and I suspect that figure's a bit over-stated) but I think it's important to make clear that I, for one, think that these people are idiots, dangerous idiots. No matter how strongly they feel about vivisection, this is not the way to go about trying to change things. In fact it's counter-productive, in that it's far easier then for the political and scientific establishment to dismiss them as idiots.

I'm not 100% anti-vivisection, and neither are the two other vegans I'm closest to (my sister and one of my best mates). We'd much rather there were far fewer animal experiments, starting with the complete phasing out of cosmetic testing, testing of household products, testing of recreational drugs, etc, and with compulsory data-sharing so that you don't get different companies duplicating experiments. We want more research into finding alternatives to vivisection, and support the intention behind the 3Rs - the Refinement, Reduction and Replacement of animals in research. (Although we think it's not moving fast enough in that direction). But when it comes to finding cures for devastating illnesses, then - reluctantly - we think vivisection might play its part.

Even if I was 100% anti-vivisection though, I still wouldn't support the likes of Shac for one moment. I remember attending a BUAV event at Labour Party Conference a couple of years ago, about whether there was any common ground between animal welfare groups and Muslim groups, i.e. in challenging extremism. A documentary maker - who I'm pretty sure must have been David Modell, who has made films about the BNP and animal rights extremists - was one of the speakers. He said that the animal rights activists he'd met saw the world through a distorting prism. They saw cruelty to animals everywhere; it was almost as if they saw the blood dripping off people's leather shoes.

I have no doubt they feel incredibly passionately about their cause. But by seeking to promote their cause by such aggressive and intimidatory means - hoax bombs, criminal damage, accusations of paedophilia, vandalism and threats - they do their cause a grave disservice.

Message to Bristol Blogger

Told you! Did we have a bet on it? How much do you owe me?

Tuesday 23 December 2008

I object again!

The Daily Mail is at it too, and has nicked Sky's headline. The Mail has recently introduced a new feature on its comments, whereby readers can mark a comment 'up' or 'down' according to whether they agree with it or not. Anyone have any idea how I can do that on here?

I like the fact that at least 255 men* so far agree with Charles, UK, who says that: "The women that are drooling over Obuma [sic] don't have very high standards as he's at best very average. And don't forget his 10 inch thick pencil thin neck that makes him look like a victim of some disease. Come on girls, you can do better than that!" And at least 501 men* disagree with Akos from London, who drools: "Wow!!! I love it. After 20th Jan I bet we wont see much of these pics anymore. HE is tres gorgeous!!!!"

* Of course they're men.

I object to male objectification

Can I be the first (probably not) to complain about Sky News' shameless objectification of the male physique, with its round the clock coverage of President-elect, Barack Obama, "topless" in his swimwear in Hawaii. The leering sexism (not to mention disappointing inaccuracy) behind its 'Commander in briefs' headline. The fatuous 'expert' analysis of 'how Barry got his beach body'. The totally gratutious use of shots of other important people without their shirts on to pad out the item to a respectable length and give them an opportunity to show the presidential pecs yet again. All entirely unnecessary and not what we expect of our national media.

PS Is this a chance to show my pics of Boris again?

Bees on drugs*

Forget my story about Government buildings producing more C02 emissions than Kenya, the real ‘hold the front page’ story in today’s Guardian was the revelation that scientists have discovered that bees on cocaine ‘behave like humans’. Or rather, ‘behave like humans do when they have taken cocaine’, which is marginally less interesting.

According to the Guardian, “Anyone who has spent time with cocaine users will know the symptoms… But few imagined the effects of the drug would be similar in other animals”. Well…. I wouldn’t claim to be an expert in what is undoubtedly a highly important field of scientific research, but if you’d asked me what effect cocaine would have on them I think I could have worked it out.

A while ago there was an EDM about the testing of recreational drugs on animals, calling for it to be stopped. Apparently scientists had discovered that giving rats cannabis caused an increase in appetite (presumably leading to them raiding the 24 hour garage in the early hours of the morning for packets of Monster Munch and four-bar Kit Kats).

*When questioned about his experience afterwards, a bee said, 'It was a buzz!'

Hallelujah - the verdict

Whilst doing stuff in the office I am also listening to various versions of Hallelujah on Youtube, in order that I can give the definitive end of year verdict on which is the best version. I am beginning to find them all rather, dare I say it, annoying? There are just a few too many hallelujahs in there for my liking. I like the other words, but that one's a bit over-used. So there you have it - Hallelujah - bet it will be driving you mad before the year is out.

Tom's guide to being safe at Christmas

See, Tom cares about you and your family, and wants you all to be safe this Christmas. And at least he appreciated my Patricia Hewitt scam 'exclusive'!

Christmas Card competition winner

Here's my 'official' Christmas card for those of you who didn't make it onto the mailing list. It was designed by 10 year old Lois Bryant, a pupil from Two Mile Hill school in Bristol East. I've been trying to post it on my 'official' website, but technology has defeated me. Well done Lois, and I hope you enjoy the bowling trip with your mates.

Nick Clegg - your verdict

It's been a year since Nick Clegg took over as Lib Dem leader. How do you think he's been doing? Is he going to be remembered as the man whose answer to every question was "about 30"? Or has he made his mark in other ways?

Government buildings worse than Kenya

Tomorrow's Guardian (well today for most of you reading this, but as ever, I'm on the ball, ahead of the game, etc, etc) has a piece on energy efficiency in public sector buildings, headed "Government Buildings emit more Co2 than all of Kenya".

This is not surprising. My office in Westminster (in the 1, Parliament Street building) is usually freezing, with the air conditioning on full blast, and my staff's office (opposite mine) is so hot I can't stay in there for more than ten minutes at a time. We complain all the time, and they supposedly do things, but it never makes any difference.

The Guardian also reports that plans to 'green' the Palace of Westminster have been put on hold. But it doesn't mention the amendment to the Climate Change Bill that Labour MPs pushed through recently which doesn't go as far as some of us would have liked, but at least nudges things in the right direction.

Message for the Bristol Blogger

How could we have both forgot John Lennon's 'Merry Christmas, War is Over'?

Tony Benn Twitters! (Or do I mean Tweets!)

It took me a while to work out what was going on here. Thankfully I followed the link before I started babbling on about how impressed I was by his superior grasp of technology.

The Telegraph
has a feature on Twitter today (well, Monday), which goes a little way towards explaining the why, if not the how. Useful in earthquakes, apparently. It strikes me it would be useful at Party Conference when people are trying to arrange meet-ups, or to let people know what reception they've popped into. Although at conference there is always someone you're desperately trying to avoid who keeps turning up in the same place as you, and they'd be bound to be the sort that would be following absolutely everyone's tweets. (Is that the correct term? Using it feels a bit stupid).

Monday 22 December 2008

Season of goodwill to all men

The Pope has - according to Channel 4 News and now I've just found it on the Times website - compared homosexuality to global warming, in that they are doing the same damage to the human race. To quote the Times article... "Saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour was just as important as saving the rainforest from destruction." And to quote the pontiff himself: "The tropical forests do deserve our protection. But man, as a creature, does not deserve any less."

This reminds me of the Tyson Gay/ Tyson Homosexual story. "It means a lot to me," the 25-year-old Homosexual said. "I'm glad my body could do it, because now I know I have it in me."

However, on a more positive note, you can now get the Vatican prayer book on iTunes. Couldn't they just give out ipods to the congregation and do without the priests altogether? (At which point I remind myself that thankfully my Catholic grandmother is not an internet user. Otherwise I would never hear the end of it).

A normal guy with a sense of humour

One of my regulars mentioned recently that he'd said something nice-ish about me on the F2C site. For those of you who weren't immediately seized by curiosity and felt compelled to follow it up by feverish searching, here it is, in its entirety.

Posted: Tue 16 Dec 2008 12:35 am

I think it is brilliant the way all these comments are going onto Tom Harris' blog. Dastardly, I really appreciate your articulate comments which I have seen in many places. I hope you and others realise that my own way of commenting on blogs and newspaper articles may sometimes seem odd. OK, it may not always work, and sometimes what I say may seem peculiar, but I am just using my own methods that's all. Don't quote me, it might ruin it, but I have been commenting on Kerry McCarthy's blog about all and sundry, but I tell you what, Kerry McCarthy knows who I am, and she puts everything on (she has started moderating).

One of my own personal tasks is to get people like McCarthy and Flynn and Harris to realise that timbone, a freedon2choose member, is a normal guy with a sense of humour who wishes no harm on anybody and likes to have a fag sometimes.

PS - I think Kerry McCarthy is an important person to 'get into' (nooooo not like that) seriously, I think she could climb the ranks in nuLabour, especially when they are practically wiped out in 2010.

Timbone, I am prepared to tolerate you and your poetry and your trombone playing (or whatever it was you were doing on Youtube). But one of you is more than enough. Please don't encourage the others!

The places to be in 2009

Just had an email telling me this...
The world’s bestselling city guidebook publisher, DK Eyewitness Travel, has named its pick of the best cities to visit next year...

Vilnius – European Capital of Culture in 2009, the Lithuanian capital is planning 120 art and culture projects, and over 900 cultural events. Highlights include the Vilnius Book Fair in February, Street Musician Day in May, Culture Night on Midsummer Night, and the LUX Festival of Lights in November which brings socially deprived groups into the ‘lighted’ city, using science, nature and art to ‘light’ Vilnius at its darkest period of the year.

Buenos Aires – The old port district of La Boca will feature a major exhibition of France’s surrealist master Marcel Duchamp at the recently revamped Fundaci├│n Proa art gallery in February. In June the Puerto Madero docklands district opens the first-ever Fosters & Partners (led by Sir Norman Foster) design project in Latin America. The uber-hip residential space will be the centrepiece of a new cultural district.

Gdansk – Reputed to be the new Krakow in 2009, Gdansk’s old town has been spruced up and the picturesque Bergher houses that line its streets are interspersed with an influx of new hotels, restaurants and shops. With direct flights from Liverpool, Stansted and Birmingham with Ryanair, Poland’s coastline could see a new influx of visitors to this part of the Baltic Sea.

Seattle, USA – With a new Four Seasons hotel just unveiled, a new Hyatt at Olive 8 opening in January 2009 from the Hyatt brand, and a large new “eco-friendly” hotel called “1” scheduled to open mid 2009, a good nights sleep in Seattle is scheduled for next year. Something you need in a city that can see you catching a rock show or taking in the sleek downtown area by kayak, all in one trip. A truly modern American city surrounded by acres of stately redwoods, misty coastline, and glacial caves makes for intriguing juxtaposition.

Bristol – Dita Von Teese recently opened a new Harvey Nichols store alongside a Cinema de Lux and a wealth of luxury apartments at Cabot Circus - a long awaited boost to the Broadmead shopping district. Not long after, Bristol’s robust eco-appeal got stronger as it was named the ‘most sustainable city in Britain’. Luxury consumerism and environmental sustainability look set to coexist in 2009.

Fes – With new direct flights from Gatwick starting in December 2008, with the low cost airline Atlas Blue, it won’t take long before the tourists turn east from Marrakech’s crowded souks, to explore Morocco’s spiritual and cultural hub. The narrow streets of Fes are alive with commerce, and all lanes lead to the Karaouiyne mosque, established in 859, one of the oldest and most illustrious mosques in the western Muslim world.

Washington DC – Fresh with reinvigorated patriotism, tour the Eastern Seaboard by train or bus, heading south from New York to the home of the founding fathers in Philadelphia, then on to the seat of American government. With the largest library in the world (Library of Congress), the National Museum of American History and Arlington National Cemetery, not to mention the White House, Washington DC is a vision of marble and light, with icons and monuments at every turn.

Copenhagen – With 12 Michelin stars awarded in 2008 (that’s more than Vienna, Rome, or Madrid) plus a clutch of new boutique hotels and minimalist designed budget hostels, Copenhagen has become the ultimate gourmet and style destination. Its green-credentials aren’t bad either, recently becoming the world’s first ‘Bike City’ with 36 percent of all Copenhageners cycling to work, school and university.

Cape Town – The hosting of the world cup in 2010 means that visitors in late 2009 will see an upgraded Cape Town Station and the arrival of the One&Only Cape Town luxury resort, complete with Africa’s first branch of Nobu. Cape Town looks set to raise its tourist game in 2009 as it gears up for the sporting events of the following year. Add this to the world famous vista, outdoor activities, and affordable prices due to the exchange rate, and it’s a good time to visit.

Vienna – Vienna’s festival calendar is a true ballroom blur, kicking off with the city’s glittering New Year balls and the annual splendour of the Vienna Opera Ball on 19 February 2009. Come mid-May the city’s greatest festival, the Wiener Festwochen, comes into play with operas, theatre, music and performing arts, and Mozart’s operas are performed in the beautiful Sch├Ânbrunn Park until late August.

Would have thought they'd have mentioned a certain event taking place on January 20th in their reasons to visit Washington DC... 5 million people expected, and partying round the clock.

And then a hero comes along...

As it's Christmas I am on a mission to find heart-warming, it's-a-wonderful-life stories, starting with this one from today's Guardian, about a man who has invented spectacles which don't need an optician to adjust them. He now plans to distribute a billion pairs, at a dollar apiece, to people in the developing world, which will boost literacy, boost employment... He tells the story of a tailor in Ghana whose eyesight had deteriorated so by the age of 35 that he was forced to retire; with these glasses, he can now work again. (And please note, dear readers - who funded this pilot? Yes, the British Government).

Of course, a billion dollars isn't that easy to find. But it occurs to me - if we had a scheme whereby everyone in the developed world paid an (optional) extra dollar whenever they went to the opticians, which went into the '2020' fund - it would help, wouldn't it?

Anyway, Josh Silver is his name, he's a hero, give him a knighthood. (And Blogger, don't you dare be cynical about this. Don't. You. Dare.)

Some people appreciate my importance

I got a text from my sister at the weekend, as follows:

"Just been 2 London 4 the evening.
At the Mall, Martin said 'the most important lady in England lives down there'.
Oliver said 'do you mean Auntie Kerry?'"

That's my boy! (He's six). I used to be a councillor in a ward where two other nephews lived, and they used to tell people that Auntie Kerry 'ruled' their estate.

Exposed - senior politician in email scam!

A constituent has forwarded me an email she has received, headed 'Humanitarian Help Required'

"Dear Friend,

I am Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt MP. Leicester's first woman MP in 1997 when I was elected Labour MP for Leicester West, held a variety of top ranking roles in the Cabinet, including Cabinet Minister for Women and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and my last appointment was the Secretary of State for Health under Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom.

I actually got your contact info via your country’s national directory and intend introducing a project that has to do with charity in your country and neighbouring countries around you. Before my retirement, I personally made an over estimation, and stacked the sum of Six Million Three Hundred Thousand Great Britain Pounds which I totally intend for the purpose of charity and none other which will be supervised by an Attorney as he will also be the one in charge of securing these funds into your custody. This transaction will result to you being paid a commission of 11% of the investment capital and the balance, distributed to charity organizations of your choice or reinvested and the net income, used for rehabilitating charity organization in and around your country through you/your agency annually for the period of five years or a little more.

The last time I orchestrated this sort of Grant, the individual in Australia succeeded in successfully setting up three standard orphanage homes in less than a year. I have never been so proud of such a noble individual. If you are willing to execute this Humanitarian Project, You must understand that I desire absolute confidentiality and professionalism on this issue.

Please respond urgently if you are interested as the fund are getting overdue, so I can equip you with the necessary details, along side my Attorney’s contact information, so as to commence the transaction properly; on the other hand, if you are not, please let your intentions be known or better still, Kindly relent from replying this email.You could get personal info. on me via the Parliament sites or on my official website, but do not try to contact me via any personal information you may lay your hands upon on the internet as almost all my contact info are connected to the British House of Parliament data base except the ones I personally sent to you; as I don’t want our effort and my reputation, jeopardized."

And then it gives contact details...

I particularly like the 'Before my retirement, I personally made an over estimation, and stacked the sum of Six Million Three Hundred Thousand Great Britain Pounds' bit. Plus the carefully-researched reference to Australia.

Sunday 21 December 2008

Credit unions and social fund

I suppose as Chair of the mighty APPG on Credit Unions I should add my bit on the social fund story that's doing the rounds today. At the last meeting of the All-Party Group we touched on the social fund issue, and whether credit unions could play a role in administering it.
Obviously it's better for applicants if they can get loans from the social fund, rather than having to borrow from credit unions, but if, say, they can only get part of the money from the social fund, it's surely better that they look to a credit union to lend them the rest, rather than relying on doorstep lenders like Provident, who can charge up to 1000% interest. See also logbook loans (on here, I think, or the main website).
So if they're using the credit union for part of the funding, then perhaps the credit union could play an administrative role with the social fund element too? Although then the temptation might be for the DWP to point people towards credit union loans instead of the social fund loans... but that might mean the social fund goes further, i.e. meeting the essential needs of more people rather than running out around this time of year as it usually does!
Certainly my impression at the meeting though, which was attended by lots of credit union insiders, was that this was only a bit of kite-flying by both sides and no firm proposals were being made. And finally, I think Kitty's right in her comments to the BBC that we need to remove the deception surrounding social fund applications, where people feel they have to say they desperately need a new bed or a fridge, whereas they really need money to buy the kids Christmas presents. Although I think that's a classic example of where a credit union - either with loans or with its savings schemes - could fill the need.

Bare cheek

My almost brother-in-law (sister's partner) works for Amazon. So Andrew - any truth in this story?

Football's coming home

So what do people think about the idea of having a GB football team for the 2012 Olympics? An SNP MP, Pete Wishart, almost exploded with fury at the idea in the Commons the other day.
At the risk of being accused of not understanding the fierce tribal passions aroused by football (I do, my father lived in the UK for fifty years but still phoned me up from Ireland to gloat when Germany knocked England out on penalties; I was not impressed), can I say that I think we ought to have a GB national team all the time? Because then we might win something?

It's fashion Friday!

OK, it's Sunday, we're running late on everything this week. I feel a need for a break from all this boys techno talk. Going away for New Year with a whole bunch of people, including O'Shea, who has a first in computer science and specialised in AI, and Dan, who used to be his tutor. So, provided the 3G data card works in Dorset, and I remember to take all the bits and bobs I will come back an expert. (We're miles from nowhere, so apart from the obligatory after lunch walk in a galeforce wind, there will be nothing else to do).

Anyway - onto fashion! This week brings the alarming news that it is possible to purchase an Ugg boot/ Croc hybrid, i.e. with a Croc foot bit and then an Ugg up the leg. I was told this over a curry on Friday night. Sounds like a hideous invention to end all hideous inventions, doesn't it?

In the Guardian weekend magazine a reader writes: "Just once I'd like to see Jess Cartner-Morley look like an arse in the latest silly fashion craze, and Alexis Petridis look fabulous while demonstrating how best to interpret the latest silly fashion craze. Please?" Is that not exactly what I said last week?

I am very, very reluctant to talk about other MPs' dress sense (apart from MPs' ties - coming in 2009!) but let's just say that a certain outfit worn by a certain person always attracts negative comments. I was sitting next to a male MP in the Chamber, who was making such a point, but he then went on to say that said female was wearing a very elegant grey suit last week, possibly 50% silk, slightly over-fussy bow at the neckline, accessorised with nice purple shoes.... I had no idea they paid so much attention. I assumed it was only low necklines and short skirts that registered on their radar, but I suppose we spend a lot of time staring at the opposition benches. I have been working the 'shapeless grey dress' look this session. I have four. Sometimes accessorised with slightly scruffy grey cardigan. I don't suppose the Tories are impressed.

All this techno talk is frying my brain

Have just realised that Andy Reed MP not only has a blog, but all sorts of other things going on. I feel quite Luddite by comparison. I think I should set up Flickr, if only to post embarrassing pictures of me falling out of rafts in the Zambezi.

You will note I have progressed slightly up the Twitter scale, tho' still no idea really what the hell I'm doing. The invite I've just replied to was re this open studio Friday in Bristol.

Something else I'm not very good at

I just tried playing the Sock and Awe game. I scored one.

Nobody does it better

Memo to self... you are not living in Greenwich Village Mean Time. Going to bed at 5am is not a good idea. Anyway, here are the good ones (N.B. not just good cover versions... better than the original ones):

1. Talking Heads - Take Me to the River
2. Marvin Gaye - Heard It Through the Grapevine
3. Aretha Franklin - I Say a Little Prayer
4. The Four Tops - Walk Away Renee
5. Johnny Cash - The Mercy Seat (with a hon. mensh to U2's One)
6. The Flaming Lips - Bohemian Rhapsody (because I am, of course, 'a ghastly snob')
7. Aztec Camera - Jump (when they did this, the Van Halen song, the NME said that the original was by Leonard Cohen - and I believed that for a long time)
8. Patti Smith - Because the Night
9. Soulwax - Wouldn't it be Good?
10. Teenage Fanclub - The Ballad of John and Oko. But then I'd go for almost anyone doing anything by the Beatles. I don't like the Beatles.

I really, really am going to bed in a moment

But just spotted this on Tom's blog, which, as he does so often, says exactly what I would have said if I'd ever got round to it.

Review of the Sunday Papers

While I wait for the invitation that never comes....

The Sunday Times: the Hokey Cokey is a 'faith hate crime'; News of the World: Triple Trouble - Britain's Youngest Dad of Three in Love Split; Mail on Sunday: Sarah Palin's pregnant daughter's future mother-in-law is arrested on drugs charges; Sunday Mirror: Fury as OAPs are given egg sandwiches and crisps for council Christmas dinner; Indy on Sunday: results of the Most Ludicrous Briton poll

Have to say, Indy readers seem a rather bizarre lot, unhealthily obsessed with Radio 4 announcers and operating on a rather loose definition of 'ludicrous'. The strapline says "It was never going to be easy, deciding who or what winds us up the most", which basically means it's more Grumpy Old Men stuff:

No. 403 - 'Rap–rapping, pose–striking, knife–wielding, gun–toting, homophobic urban yoof'
No. 132 – 'Personal stereo owners who broadcast to the rest of the train'
No. 129 – ''EastEnders' characters who scream and shout all the time'
No. 59 – 'Golf spectators who shout, "Get in the hole!"'
No. 54 – Head of Service – Inclusion and Participation Strategy and Commissioning. (What?)

And then there's No. 75 – 'Middle–aged 'Doctor Who' fans'..... Do we know any?

As for Bagpuss at No.4. Poor old baggy old saggy old Bagpuss - what's he done to deserve that?

Coming tomorrow... nobody does it better

Cover versions which are better than the originals. I should probably go to bed now, or I won't get up in time for my 4am ice-cold bath.

There ought to be a law against it

OK, being a 'ghastly snob' about such things, here's my Top Ten of cover versions that should never, ever have been attempted.... In no particular order.

1) 'White Lines (Don't Do It)' - Duran Duran
From a covers album. Thankfully I've not heard any of the other tracks. Perfect Day? Ball of Confusion? Watching the Detectives? 'Stunningly wrongheaded', as the critic said.

2) 'Positively 4th Street' - Simply Red.
Mick - if someone has done something mean to you, just send them a copy of Dylan's version. They will get the message. No-one can sneer like Bob.

3) 'American Pie' - Madonna
Sheer lunacy. What was she thinking? Although at least she didn't do all the verses. Or did she? I never quite got to listening to more than a minute of it.

4) 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' - Paul Young
I almost have a bit of a soft spot for Paul Young, being a Luton lad and all that, and I like 'Everything Must Change' because of the backing singers, but this is..... aaarrrggghh!!!!!Especially when he pronounces 'tear' as 'teer'. Does he think it's a play on words? Is he trying to give it a double meaning? Wrong, wrong, wrong. (And while I'm at it... Bono - it's wrong).

5) All those Abba songs - the cast of Mamma Mia
Just read today that My Worst Film of 2008 (I saw it on a plane) has overtaken Titanic as the best-performing film in the UK ever. I knew it was going to be awful from the trailer, when 'I've been cheated by you since I don't know when' was changed to 'I've been cheated by you and I think you know when', which - at the risk of sounding a teensy bit pretentious - completing robs the opening line of all its poignancy. And I Abba doesn't work without the Swedish accents.

6) 'Light my Fire' - Will Young
The only time I have ever voted in a TV talent show was in the Pop Idol final when Will Young beat Gareth Gates, and this song was one of the reasons. Especially the way he said 'Fire', like Fiy-ya. (The other being the absolutely adorable puppydogness that was Gareth Gates at the time, which he has now spoilt by growing up. Although I still wanted him to win that ice-skating show).

7) Any cover version they've ever attempted - Boyzone/ Ronan Keating
Not only did they misguidedly try to emulate the Godlike Genius that is Billy Ocean, with 'When the Going Gets Tough', they also made the magnificently doomy 'Seasons in the Sun' sound like a holiday camp sing-a-long. And that's not to mention 'Words', 'Baby Can I Hold You', 'Love Me For a Reason' (I'm rather partial to the Osmonds' original), 'Father and Son', 'You Needed Me' and of course the absolute raging travesty that was 'Fairytale of New York'.

8) 'I Will Always Love You' - Whitney Houston
The scene in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas when Dolly Parton sings it to Burt Reynolds on the stairs is enough to bring a tear to anyone's eye. Whitney's bellowing just makes your ears bleed.

9) 'Dancin' in the Streets' - David Bowie and Mick Jagger
The unutterable smugness of it all. And the pulling of faces at each other in the video. Covering Motown generally is not a good idea. Why tamper with pop perfection? Although I did like the Beat's 'Tears of a Clown'.

10) 'My Way' - by virtually anyone except Sinatra and Sid Vicious, and especially Ray Quinn.
Sid's version, or the film clip, still makes me laugh. Ray Quinn's version is the work of the devil.

I'm sure I've missed some really obvious ones, so over to you now. And I won't be accepting any comments that are OT. Especially those from libertarians who take issue with the post's title. It's Christmas. You must join in the fun or leave the party. That's an order!

It's nice to be wanted... me neither.

Just been catching up with Tom Harris' blog, and his complaint about not being invited to Derek Draper's Labour blogathon. Well as you can see from the list of invitees on Guido, I wasn't invited either. I shared a cab with Derek Draper and David Lammy at Labour's last National Policy Forum, having all arrived separately on the same train. He now says hello to me when he sees me, which always seems to be when I'm going up and he's going down the escalator to/from Portcullis House. But that's it.

And I was wrong about Fairytale of New York inevitably being Tom's number one... So now I'm betting on Slade. (Someone will now tell me he's already done them, but if so I haven't noticed). Then again, he said his wife, Caroline, shares the same number one as him, and she likes 'Christmas Wrapping' by the Waitresses so obviously is a woman of taste and refinement. Hmmm...

Comment of the week

Sorry, bit late with Comment of the Week, which you have no doubt been eagerly anticipating... There were three serious contestants in the race this week, starting with:

Window Licker: "I'm amazed you're speaking about Olive Oil as if it's of any interest to me. Me being a traditional Englishman who has roast beef on Sunday and Cod 'n' chips on Friday. I'm sure you're not too familiar with my type."

Disqualified because he sounds exactly like my Dad, and is describing exactly what my family did pretty much every week while I was growing up. And also because I've been carrying out an informal survey ever since this comment, and shops in Stapleton Road - Britain's "Most Dangerous Street" - sell olive oil. The shop round the corner from me which keeps the coffee stored behind the counter so the junkies don't nick it, sells olive oil. So I don't think this 'olive oil as the epitome of poncey middle-classness' shtick quite works.

"Is it a pre-requisite to be absolutely barking in order to become the MP for Bristol east?"

Well, my predecessors include Stafford Cripps, a vegetarian teetotaller who started each day with a ice-cold bath at four in the morning, and Tony Benn, a vegetarian teetotaller who as far as I know, doesn't. I mentioned the vegetarian teetotaller stuff in my maiden speech, but chickened out at the last moment of mentioning Stafford's cold baths, or owning up to being a vegan (as it was, I still got boo-ed by Stephen Pound).

So the winner is - cue fanfare!!!!!!

"Alexandra is a better singer than you are an MP, in fact, Chico is a better singer than you are an MP. You ghastly snob."

Not intended to make me laugh, but it did.

Thursday 18 December 2008


I hope everyone's downloading the Jeff Buckley version. Coming soon, Same Difference doing 'So Long Marianne' and Ray Quinn tackling 'Chelsea Hotel No. 2'.

Last day of term

Been round a colleague's flat tonight, for a little end of session soiree. Curry, crisps and karaoke, except the machine had broken so we resorted to playing party games, including 'Secrets' where someone confessed to have a Labour rose tattooed on their left buttock (I guessed Pat McFadden, but I was wrong), someone else to not being able to say the word 'strategy' without stuttering (which must make life very difficult for them as a Govt minister and no, that wasn't Pat either) and John Denham confessed to having staged a one man sit-in in his headteacher's study at the age of 16 over the state of the school cricket pitch. He got what he wanted, but then had to run the lunchtime cricket club every Friday for the next two years. Oh, and someone else owned up to having appeared on Blockbusters (and I still have the dictionary and sweatshirt to prove it. My mother has it on the same video tape as a recording of Jesus Christ Superstar.)

Anyway, tomorrow is officially the last day of term but we're on a one-liner so lots of people went home tonight. I'm number 16 at Treasury questions, 'though last time I checked I was gradually creeping up the order paper as others pulled out. Asking about a fiscal stimulus. Do we need one? Yes. I may have to give a bit more thought to that tomorrow.

Then the PM will be doing his statement on Iraq, and then it's the end of term debate when we can talk about whatever we like, and I'm going to talk about welfare reform. And then some poor PPS has to wait around for the adjournment debate at 6pm, on Sri Lanka. (That would be me, and actually it isn't DFID but I just agreed to do it to be nice. Which is the second time in just over a week. Those FCO boys owe me big time).

Wednesday 17 December 2008

Nice comment on blog alert!

I was pleased to see this comment when I arrived in the office this morning...
"I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often."
And then she goes on to link to what is presumably her online business... knew it was too good to be true.

Best places to breed

Here's the Economist on the launch of the Save the Children report which I chaired last week. (And yes, the headline is a bit dodgy). Few of those commenting seem to have actually read the article properly first! The report only measured child mortality (under-5's), education and nutrition, and they're all going on about fresh air and green spaces (which are important, but not relevant in this particular case) and youth suicide in Japan...

Sorry, should have included a link to the report. Here it is.

Tuesday 16 December 2008

If you're bored with me... and you probably are

When too tired to blog... link to someone else's instead. Here's Hopi's idea for a party political broadcast. Which I like. Also worth reading his views on Cameron's flip-flopping on welfare reform, which I was thinking of commenting on. (Start off trying to appeal to traditional Tory voters, Daily Mail readers, etc, then realise there might just be a Labour left rebellion which would give you the chance to vote down the Government's proposals so decide you don't like them after all and come up with a tenuous reason to vote against...)

And also worth reading Tom Harris' views on IDS' proposals on asylum seekers. (Which annoyed me no end - not because I disagreed with him, although I kind of did, kind of didn't - but because I'd got halfway through drafting a post on the same topic, and then clicked over to Tom's site for a break and realised he'd got there at least 24 hours earlier. He does that a lot. Which is why I end up talking about seals and salmon and beavers instead.)

Goals for 2008

Just been looking at the Times' Red Box blog. It's got a promo for the Times Health Club: "Achieve your diet and fitness goals for 2008". I suppose if your diet and fitness goals are to eat lots of turkey and mince pies, drink far too much and barely move from the sofa... you could just manage it.

Olive oil

For those of you who might have missed it, there's been an announcement that the first Palestinian olive oil has been awarded the fairtrade mark. Very important to the olive growers out there, and will no doubt be welcomed by the people from east Bristol who go out to the West Bank each year to help them pick the olive harvest.

Manchester says No

Been talking to a few Greater Manchester MPs over the past couple of days - from the Yes and the No camps - about the congestion charge vote and the knock-on implications for other cities bidding for TIF money to invest in public transport. From what I gather, the Yes campaign didn't put its case together very well - most people were left with the impression they'd be paying for something without seeing any benefit themselves.

This was true in some areas. Some boroughs, or parts of boroughs, would have been hit by the charge but weren't getting any public transport improvements, but in other areas, such as Ian McCartney's seat in Wigan it would have made a huge difference to the rail infrastructure, with plans for a new station in a part of his seat that isn't served by rail or buses at the moment, and more. He's now doing his best to push for that investment to go ahead anyway.

Another Labour MP told me that the campaign wasn't localised until the last moment, so some people didn't even realise they wouldn't be affected by the charge. Pensioners were voting against the proposals, even though they didn't drive cars and would have benefitted from the Metrolink extension. Also, it just wasn't the right moment to propose introducing what was seen as a tax by any other name.

Can't see any other city holding a referendum or pushing for a congestion charge now... So where does that leave the funding that was not quite conditional on having a congestion charge, but linked the availability of money for investment in public transport with measures to reduce congestion at peak times, on busy roads? No-one's too sure at the moment.

I think I'm right in saying that only Cambridge and Greater Bristol (sorry, I mean C.U.B.A.) are still actively looking at this... Nottingham is going for workplace parking schemes instead. There's a lot riding on it, for Bristol and the other three authorities.

Incidentally my blogging colleague Andrew Gwynne had a poll on his website, which almost perfectly predicted the results in the two boroughs straddled by his constituency. Also interesting to note that the turnout was higher than in the last two General Elections in his seat.

Oh Mandy

When I was in the HoC library yesterday I printed out some emails, and it was only when I got into the Chamber that I realised I'd inadvertently picked up someone else's printing too - some lyrics about Peter Mandelson, set to the tune of Mama Mia. Here's a sample:

"Mandy, Mandy, here we go again/ My, my, look at our poll rating/ Mandy, Mandy, help us win again/My, my, keep the Tories waiting. Polls left us broken-hearted/ blue since the day you parted/ Why, why did we ever let you go?"

Not very good, is it? Trying now to remember who else was in the library at the time...

Christmas cards

Just received a Christmas card from Nick Brown, the Chief Whip... with a painting of the Bullingdon Club on the front and the slogan 'Unity is Strength'. Nice one Nick.
Until now I haven't commented on the Cameron Christmas card, which I found almost offensive (not sure that's the right word, and I guess it's up to him how he uses his family, but I think 'use' was the right word in this instance. Not quite as shameless as being snapped doing his pre-Christmas shopping in Woolies 'though.

Monday 15 December 2008

Interesting report out tomorrow

Following is lifted from a media briefing, based on reports and an interview in today's Guardian...

A Cabinet Office report ... will identify a deep-seated problem of low aspiration in specific communities. It will say the govt has lacked a systematic ‘cultural or behavioural’ approach to raising horizons in these communities.

[Liam] Byrne: ‘In the medieval days we built communities around the manor house & then in the 19th century we built communities about the factory & in the 21st century we need to build communities around schools. This could well have big consequences for the way we take forward public service reform. There is a big opportunity. Over the years to come we’re spending £35bn on Building Schools for the Future & we are spending hundreds of millions on renewing the fabric of the health service so in many low-income communities we are revolutionising public institutions. We have to think afresh about how those institutions become the ‘power supply’ for aspiration in the communities they serve’.


Interesting article from the Washington Times about Somaliland and the piracy issue.

Douglas said at the DFID meeting today he'd read an article which mentioned that "piracy paraphenalia" had been confiscated from Somali fishermen... presumably parrots, eyepatches and the Jolly Roger?

Speaking and not speaking

Well, I gave up... there were 12 people waiting to be called, a ten minute time limit on speeches and only 1 hour 10 minutes to go before wind-up speeches, which I make 7 speeches (and it's amazing how MPs manage to finish bang on 10 minutes). The trouble with such scenarios is that you can't get a proper debate going because no-one wants to intervene on another member as it will eat into the remaining time, so it ends up with just one speech after another, with all the other members in the Chamber just willing the speaker to shut up and sit down so that they can get their chance. And 10 minutes just isn't time to develop an argument of any complexity.

There will be other opportunities, possibly this Thursday when it's the last day before recess and we can talk about whatever we like. Usually used by members as an opportunity to talk about potholes in their constituency so that they make the front page of their local paper (if they live in the sort of place that puts potholes on the front page). I was going to talk about food. But maybe I will talk about blogging (or rather, blogging as a form of political engagement) and then weave a tortuous thread which takes me from seals and fishing and flatulent cows, through lone parents and welfare reform and Jeremy Kyle, and then back again.

Sunday 14 December 2008

Some creatures are cuter than others

Following on from my 'Shooting Seals' post... the case for shooting them in Scotland is that they eat salmon, which could otherwise be caught and eaten by humans (who would, of course, then starve to death without salmon). Charlie Whelan, political supremo at Unite, has been speaking this week on a related issue, opposing the reintroduction of beavers into Scotland, because they will 'upset the ecological balance' and eat the salmon too.

I wonder how many people in the UK would eat seal if it was served up? I suspect not many. So what's the difference between that, and allowing seals to be killed just so that you can eat your salmon? (Echoes of the dolphin-friendly tuna debate too, which always made me wonder, what about tuna-friendly tuna?)

I can see the problem with the beavers if they eat all the salmon, though I suspect Charlie's interest is more about preserving his right to catch salmon than the salmon's right not to be eaten by beavers. [Ignore this paragraph, I am talking complete nonsense. Should have stuck to talking about seals. What do I know about beavers anyway? Etc, etc.]

Saturday 13 December 2008

Kite-flying on the 'underclass' issue

For those of you who have been showing an interest in the welfare debate, Hazel Blears' interview in today's Times is worth a look.

On a minor point, far be it from me to challenge the veracity of a Cabinet Minister's words, but I think Hazel (4'10") is being a teensy bit economical with the truth when she claims to be the same height as the Queen (officially 5'4"). For those who care about such stuff, I've spent many an hour on this website, Celeb Heights, which is totally addictive.

Twittering AND Facebook

I think I'm right in saying that I can use Twitter to do Facebook status updates, can't I?


I quite like this Twitter thing. Saves having to construct a whole blog post when all you want to do is make a trivial comment, like - 'watching Newsnight, isn't George Obsorne getting a mauling?' - or - 'why is snooker so boring when Ronnie's not playing and so gripping when he is?'

Will no doubt come in very useful when watching the X Factor final - 'OMG what's that on his head? Oh, it's his hair' - or - '16 year olds singing "My Way": wrong, wrong, wrong'.

Just haven't worked out how to do it by phone yet, although I think I'm getting there.

MPs and their pagers

The BBC is reporting that the amount paid out by the Parliamentary Labour Party* to Vodafone for messaging services has doubled over the past year, which must mean that pagers are back. No, they're not, not exactly. We all handed over our pagers (in my case, retrieving it from the desk drawer where it lived, buzzing away unnoticed) earlier this year, and we now get text messages on our phones telling us if a vote is expected, or if someone important is speaking at the PLP, or if there's a statement coming up in the Chamber. Which is actually quite useful.

If you're in a meeting you know whether you need to get to the point quickly, because you will have to rush off to vote soon, or whether you have the luxury of talking around the issue and going off at a bit of a tangent for a while. And if you're in the office, you know it's time to take off the scruffy cardy and put the boots back on.

*MPs pay for this, they contribute 2% of their wages each year.

MPs' ties

Yes, I missed out Friday's fashion slot. Which is very poor seeing as I only initiated it last Friday.

Germaine Greer wrote an article about high heels this week but it was a bit boring. And G2 has a 'best dressed people of 2008' list, which didn't have anyone very interesting in it, except the Obamas and someone whose main claim to fame is that he was 'employed' by his father, a Conservative MP, while he was a fashion student.

I'm thinking of initiating a feature in the New Year on MPs' ties, and going armed with my camera into the division lobby, getting below the neck shots. And then having a poll. I think John Bercow's red rose tie, which he wears whenever he's thinking of defecting*, would be the winner.

(That's our little joke - and thanks for the Christmas card John).


When I first got onto Facebook, earlier this year, I was hooked for a short while. Now I barely remember to look at it once a month and when I do, there's usually two or three emails I should have looked at, and loads that I can instantly delete.
It worked for me when Facebook friends were people I knew, then I started accepting requests from anyone who asked (including people with no obvious connection to UK politics, or indeed, the UK, other than the fact they had persuaded lots of other MPs to become their friends already). I'm now bombarded with invites to join groups campaigning against a tree being chopped down somewhere in Northumberland, or to attend events that there is absolutely no possibly of me making.
For example, I've joined a number of 'XXXX for XXXX' groups, to show support for Labour candidates, several of whom I know quite well, but that means you get invited to every single canvassing session, when they live hundreds of miles away. (By some of them, others are more discerning in who they email, for which, thanks. And Paul Smith is allowed to, seeing as I live in what will hopefully be his constituency after the next election, but is mine at the moment).
I also don't like this Superwall business, and I don't want to hug, kick, give hearts to, slap, or do anything like that with anyone online, thank you very much. Nor do I particularly want to do quizzes, although I did do the 'Are you a chav?' one many months ago (calling my grandmother 'Nan' was my downfall. They should have just asked 'Is your name Kerry?' as that rapidly seems to be becoming the chav* name du jour, if Jeremy Kyle is anything to go by.)
So... is it worth MPs having a Facebook site? Is there any MP out there who makes good use of it? I'm thinking of maybe having two sites, one for people I know so that it's easy to keep in touch with mates, and one for anyone else who wants to join. But then what do you do if someone asks to join the A team, when you think they're only really a B?
*I accept there is a debate about whether this is an appropriate term to use, and I don't usually. But that's what the quiz was called.

Something more interesting going on somewhere else

Interesting debate on copyright issues going on over at Tom's blog, sparked by him posting a Mariah Carey YouTube video. (Some would think liking Mariah Carey is by far a more serious 'crime'). Don't want to hijack his issue, so comment over there if you're interested (and be nice!) Just thought it was a subject worth drawing to people's attention.

While we're talking about other MPs' blogs, Lynne Featherstone has come in for a bit of stick after mentioning on her blog that she called out the fire brigade when her boiler started making horrendous noises. I know nothing about boilers (though I did change a fuse in the plug-in radiator the other day, which deserves a second mention on here, and may well get a third). So I have no idea whether she was right to panic. But I like the fact she blogs about her life, rather than just pontificating on issues of the day (John Redwood, take a bow). And when the Tory who is trying to make this a big deal says 'She advertised the fact she is dizzy on her blog, which is even more stupid' I'm even more inclined to take Lynne's side. For obvious reasons.

A lawyer writes...

Elton can't sue the G for "an attempt at humour". The decision was obviously right, but does anyone else agree with me that her stuff is a bit lame?
BTW - OH, if you think persistence will pay off in getting me to post comments which link to your site, you're wrong.

Friday 12 December 2008

Hello Sadie

This week I met Sadie of Sadie's Tavern fame. If I had an anonymous blogging alter-ego who didn't have to observe the niceties and decorum by which MPs are bound, not to mention the risk of having our every utterance twisted and served up on the front page of the Daily Mail (or in my case, tucked away in the diary column), she would be something like Sadie, albeit without the sausage obsession. Although come to think of it, that would be a good way of disguising my identity so maybe I am her and the sausages are just an artful device to throw you off the scent?

As you can imagine, we bonded over a mutual appreciation of the many, many virtues of our delightful readership. She mentioned that the last time I linked to her blog, she got loads of abuse and then realised it was my fault (obviously a crude attempt on my part to deflect the abuse to someone else, in the days before I came to my senses and started using the 'Reject' button).

On which point, I got an email the other day from someone. He said my decision to start moderating comments proved (and I paraphrase) that I simply couldn't hack it as an MP and should stand down and let someone else take over who was able to engage with the voters, etc, etc.. Presumably that means the 90% of MPs who don't blog at all, and all the others who moderate their comments should go too... Which would leave...?

Anyway, back to Sadie. I now see that Tom Harris has linked to her latest, highly entertaining, post. So I might as well do the same. Be nice to her boys! I am off for a curry with Doug and Sam.

Message to my little helper

Thanks, been trying to work out how to centre that 'welcome message' for weeks!


Tomorrow I'm going to see how the new computer 'bidding' system for council housing works, then speaking at a carers event, then having a roundtable about the welfare reform proposals with people from Job Centre Plus and other organisations, then visiting St. James' Priory, then meeting trade unions with other Bristol Labour MPs, and then - possibly - having a curry with Doug Naysmith MP and Sam Townend, the guy who's looking to replace him at the next election.
Which means that on Saturday I get to go into the constituency office to look at all my letters. And if I say here that I will get round to updating my main website with all the news stories I've missed from late November and December, then maybe I just might.

Thursday 11 December 2008

If it's Thursday...

It must be time to announce this week's 'Comment of the Week' winner. You have till midnight to beat the current frontrunner. (Actually there isn't a current frontrunner. That's what happens when you start moderating!) Someone say something funny... please.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Shooting seals

I've heard a rumour there might be some welcome news on seals very soon. Might be related to this campaign? Don't know.

Have to admit, despite my involvement in campaigning against seal clubbing, I had no idea that it was deemed OK to shoot seals in Scotland. There's a campaign to end this slaughter in the Marine Bill for Scotland, which is sister legislation (if such a concept exists) to the Marine and Coastal Access Bill announced in the Queen's Speech. Need to check out the extent to which it's a devolved matter, but certainly seems to be almost totally a Scottish issue. Here's some more info from Protect our Seals, including details of their 'seal friendly salmon' campaign.

And of course, it's an excuse to include a cute photo.

Boris on telly again

How come when I'm blogging - about I admit fairly trivial matters - at 1.30 in the morning I get accused of wasting taxpayers money because 'we're all paying your wages and we don't pay you to witter on about X Factor' but when Boris Johnson - who is on telly again even as I type - or Ann Widdecombe present television documentaries they don't?
I suppose they get paid for it by the television companies... so if I got someone to pay me to blog (unlikely, I know),, then it would be a waste of his/ her money, not yours?

More on PMQs

Was slightly surprised today that Gordon said he'd, on balance, always been against assisted suicide. I belong to the All-Party Group on Assisted Dying. I accept there would be a huge need for safeguards, especially to stop people taking the decision simply because they feel they've become a burden on their family, but I remember my grandmother, who died a prolonged and painful death from lung cancer asking 'how long does it take to die?' She'd had enough but had to endure an undignified, drugged-up decline.

Welfare reform

Straight after PMQs we had a statement from James Purnell on the Welfare Reform White Paper. I was sitting next to Rob Marris, and as we were the last two people to be called the House was treated to the spectacle of the two of us bobbing up and down for an hour, trying to catch the Speaker's eye and looking absolutely ridiculous; he's a good 18 inches taller than me.

Yesterday (Tuesday) lunchtime I got a call from a journalist, saying the Tories were going around telling the press that there was going to be a sizeable Labour rebellion on this and only the Tory votes would save them. Strange then that the Tory spokesman, Chris Grayling, asked a senior Labour backbencher Tuesday night if he thought there was going to be a rebellion and looked very disappointed when he was told no. Not that we have rebellions - or votes - on White Papers anyway.

The White Paper is in part based on the Gregg review. That would be Professor Paul Gregg of Bristol University's Institute of Public Affairs. It would also be the same Paul Gregg I last saw at UK Decay's reunion gig in Luton last summer. Funny to think that the lad who lent me his Scritti Politti picture disc of 'Jacques Derrida' twenty-five years ago is now a Professor. He'd probably say the same about me becoming an MP.

Anyway, the statement is good stuff, although I share the concerns expressed by Roger Berry that some vulnerable people - e.g. people with mental health problems, or people with serious disabilities or illnesses - might be alarmed by the press coverage which gives the impression they'll all be frogmarched into work, no matter what their problems. Also concerned about people with fluctuating illnesses, like ME. And what happens if people simply won't be 'better off' in work, because of a host of complicating factors. Lots of detail to be thrashed out, and much of it depends on the sensitivity and competence of Job Centre staff (and there being enough of them to have time to display their sensitivity and competence). I'm meeting Job Centre staff and other people working in this sector in Bristol on Friday to discuss, and am going to get really stuck into this. I want us to get it right.


I hesitate now to say anything about PMQs, in view of the previous post, but it was great fun today. OK, it was slightly unfortunate for Gordon to declare that 'we saved the world', (Tony would have turned that into a joke, saying something like, 'No, that on tomorrow's To Do list'). But Cameron simply can't sustain six questions in a row on the economy, and Gordon's 'let me teach you something' is very effective. Speaking of which, did anyone see Boy George being Paxmanned last night? Painful.

Funniest moment at PMQs though was when Nick Clegg absolutely walked into it, starting his first question with 'A single mother and her two children came to my surgery....' He should know by now not to mention women. At all. Ever.


Iain Dale is running a vote on his blog for Government toady of the year, and Tom wants your votes. I get a hon mensh in the comments on ID's blog: 'Trots out the Government spin faithfully, and generally behaves like the weedy kid following the bullies around. ' Can I also just remind people that I was very complimentary about Gordon's haircut recently? Surely that counts for something?
Paul Flynn - and by the way, those out there trying to paint Paul as a NuLab spinmeister ought to have a look at his voting record! - tells me he got an email recently saying (and I paraphrase) 'all Labour MPs are going to hell in a handcart at the next election, except you and Kerry McCarthy who'll be fine, because you're both mad'.
Weedy? Mad? That's vegans for you.

Food stuff

Just by way of follow up to the 'Feeding our Food' campaign, here's the answer to a PQ I asked just before prorogation.

Christmas Number One?

I just got an email asking me to help make this Christmas Number One... I have listened to it. I think it might be more Tom's cup of tea. But you can make up your own mind!

After the year we've had of insane knife-crime and lives ruined by the economic downturn, surely this is the message we need for Christmas:Think About Love for 10 Minutes Every Day.'If We All Think About Love' is a song is by an unknown singer-songwriter from the UK called Mosko. This video of the song is absolutely beautiful, makes me cry every time I watch it:


Tuesday 9 December 2008

Other things I did today

So, the rest of the day including chairing a meeting of the APPG on Credit Unions, with a Treasury Minister as guest speaker. Part of our discussion was about whether credit unions could work more closely with post offices to help them offer more services and ensure their survival. I later discovered that the APPG on Post Offices had been meeting at exactly the same time, with a DWP Minister in attendance, to discuss way in which post offices could expand their range of services.... Typical example of joined-up working!

As for my stint in the Chamber - I actually managed to arrive only 30 seconds before Bill Cash sat down, which is about the right length of time to listen to Bill Cash on Europe, and got to hear an excellent speech from Natascha Engel, about how growing up in West Berlin, till she came to England at the age of nine, shaped her views on 'the European project'. Some of it - the interaction with the Euro-sceptic Tories on the benches opposite - was really funny, but Hansard will probably tidy all that up.

Also made the tail end of a meeting today at which Friends of the Earth were launching their new 'What's Feeding our Food' campaign, which is really good stuff and hopefully I'll be working with them on it in 2009. They want people to put pressure on MPs... you might be pushing at an open door in my case, but feel free to push!

Save the Children event*

Trouble with blogging and websites is that the busier you are, the less time you get to blog or post website items and therefore the less busy people think you are... Or maybe no-one notices?

Today was a really interesting, mixed day. Got in fairly early for some time in the office, but then chaired an event with Save the Children; they're launching a report tomorrow, which is embargoed till 00.01 so can't say much about it unless I type this post very, very slowly...

Basically it looks at child deprivation across 137 countries, as measured according to three factors: enrolments in primary education, child mortality (deaths before the age of 5), and nutrition. Britain comes out pretty well, in the top ten. Cuba comes out better than the USA! (Both quite a bit further down).

Interesting discussion about what statistics show, and how careful you have to be in interpreting them - e.g. they've given equal weighting to each of the three categories, but if a country manages to bring down its child mortality rate, it could actually see an increase in its malnutrition rating, as fewer children have so little food they starve to death but they then move into the 'not enough to eat' category.

Nutrition is measured according to whether a child is underweight, which in itself raises interesting questions: is being malnourished synonymous with being underweight? I wouldn't have thought so. Also discovered that 'underweight' is judged based on the median of American children. It was suggested that it might be better to pick a country where kids are maybe a little healthier? (I'm now trying to work out what it means for the USA's scores on nutrition if US kids are used as the benchmark. But I guess I can just leave that to someone else to answer... Try looking up median on wiki - that will really make your brain hurt). Anyway, the report makes interesting reading and will be on their website tomorrow, I'm sure.

* I really am going to have to go back to song titles soon.

Going to the ball

So... Tom Harris is off to the Palace, and Cinders here is waiting to do a 90 minute slot on the green benches PPS-ing in a European Affairs debate, covering for one of the Foreign Office PPS's who is otherwise engaged.

There aren't many speakers around today, as it's a one line whip, but that just gives licence to those in the Chamber to speak for as long as they want. Bill Cash started three minutes ago, so by the time my presence is required in half an hour, he'll just be getting into full flow.

I may not have been invited to the Palace but I was, however, in a lunch meeting today with the Earl of Sandwich, who asked me if I wanted a sandwich. I will probably wake up at 4am having thought of something funny to say about that.

Plea for help from a fellow blogger

Please take a look at this, from Labourhome.

Monday 8 December 2008


Well the first full day of moderating comments didn't get off to a good start as my server was down in the office for most of the day. Some might suspect that special branch had been tampering with my computer over the weekend. I prefer to believe the cleaner accidentally unplugged it. Normal service will be resumed tomorrow. Having gone to bed at 3.45am last night, and just got in now, don't feel quite up to blogging tonight...

Plastic eating pigs

I suppose no-one's going to pay much attention to my views on the pig industry, but surely I'm allowed a little 'I told you so?' Not only do we have plastic eating pigs in Ireland, we also have pigs trying to eat each other. Some of my longer-serving readers may remember that I campaigned on the latter issue with Heather Mills round about the time she was getting divorced. My aunt sent me a picture from the Daily Mail saying 'is that you in the pig suit'?

Great minds think alike...the resumption of an occasional series...

On Tuesday it's Oral Questions to the Secretary of State for Justice. Here's just a selection from the 25 questions which have made it onto the order paper.

*1 James Duddridge (Rochford & Southend East): If he will make an assessment of the effectiveness of the common law offence of misconduct in a public office.

*3 Mr Andrew Mackay (Bracknell): If he will make an assessment of the effectiveness of the common law offence of misconduct in a public office.

*4 Mr Desmond Swayne (New Forest West): If he will bring forward proposals to place on a statutory basis the common law offence of misconduct in a public office.

*10 Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough): If he will make an assessment of the effectiveness of the common law offence of misconduct in a public office.

*14 Mr Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): If he will make an assessment of the effectiveness of the common law offence of misconduct in a public office.

*19 Mr David Jones (Clwyd West): If he will make an assessment of the effectiveness of the common law offence of misconduct in a public office.

*21 Mr David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells): If he will bring forward proposals further to define in statute the law relating to parliamentary privilege.

*24 Mr Andrew Robathan (Blaby): If he will make an assessment of the effectiveness of the common law offence of misconduct in a public office.

Oh, and there's also these two:

*22 Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): What recent discussions he has had with HM Prison Service on increasing the amout of purposeful activity for prisoners.

*23 Tony Baldry (Banbury): What recent discussions he has had with HM Prison Service on increasing the amount of purposeful activity for prisoners.

OK, I admit - we sometimes do it too. But we usually manage to be a little more subtle about it!

Child labour in the NHS

Given my recent post about the War on Want campaign against Primark I suppose I should post this story from tomorrow's Guardian before anyone else gets a chance to bring it up. As to what I'm doing reading online papers at 2.30am... it's been one of those nights.

Broken windows

Despite what his/ her name might lead some of you to conclude, I have no idea who the person who posted a comment as 'labourparty' is. But I think his/ her 'broken windows' link is excellent, and worth drawing to wider attention rather than just languishing in the comments. Here's an extract:

"Much of the tone of discourse online is governed by the level of moderation and to what extent people are encouraged to "own" their words. When forums, message boards, and blog comment threads with more than a handful of participants are unmoderated, bad behavior follows. The appearance of one troll encourages others. Undeleted hateful or ad hominem comments are an indication that that sort of thing is allowable behavior and encourages more of the same.

Those commenters who are normally respectable participants are emboldened by the uptick in bad behavior and misbehave themselves. More likely, they're discouraged from helping with the community moderation process of keeping their peers in line with social pressure. Or they stop visiting the site altogether.

Unchecked comment spam signals that the owner/moderator of the forum or blog isn't paying attention, stimulating further improper conduct. Anonymity provides commenters with immunity from being associated with their speech and actions, making the whole situation worse...how does the community punish or police someone they don't know? Very quickly, the situation is out of control and your message board is the online equivalent of South Central Los Angeles in the 1980s, inhabited by roving gangs armed with hate speech, fueled by the need for attention, making things difficult for those who wish to carry on useful conversations."

I don't know about reading 1984; maybe everyone should be reading Lord of the Flies instead?