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Friday, 30 April 2010

Leaders Debate, Round 3

The third debate was a disappointing anticlimax.

Perhaps my expectations had been too high giving way to an overwhelming feeling of boredom. Regardless of the questions asked the session became a re-run of the same over-worked lines, the main variations coming from the party leaders’ deliveries.

At last David Cameron delivered as people had expected him to in the previous debates having observed his performance since becoming leader of the Conservative Party. A polished act, far better than before but I thought it weaker on substance. “Change” is all very well and captures the public mood but change to what? Change for change sake could simply result in us being out of the frying pan and into the fire. If he had demonstrated clearly how his vision for change would be for the better, he may have retained his previous higher poll ratings.

Cameron’s lack of clarity has resulted in the momentum for ‘change’ being transferred to Nick Clegg enabling him to offer the electorate a complete change from the two-party system. The Liberal Democrats had been largely ignored until the Clegg bombshell shook the two main parties, and the media, out of their complacency. He had it all to play for last night but failed to deliver a decisive blow and appeared the least confident of the three. Nevertheless he presented a new, clean image which will appeal to many especially the younger voters.

That leaves Labour's Gordon Brown. Once an image of ‘the Joker’ came to mind, probably as a result of his attempts to appear less dour, I was stuck with it despite the fact that he is the Prime Minister and spoke with the authority of experience in office and an obvious passion for what he believes in. But if people have decided they want a change as the polls imply, he has an up-hill struggle even if John Major did manage to surprise the pollsters. So ‘change’ in one form or another appears almost inevitable.

I applaud the BBC for their staging of the final event but illuminating I think not. The TV debate innovation gave Nick Clegg the opportunity to burst the bubble which will no doubt prick the Cameron conscience for ever if he fails to win an outright majority. The irony of it all is that the mood for change that was latched onto by the opposition looks likely to be expressed in a manner none of the leaders could have anticipated.

Don’t forget to vote for the common good.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Former Archbishop Prophesises Doom

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, has warned that Judges risk sparking riots by making ‘disturbing and dangerous’ rulings in religious discrimination cases. What? Christians causing civil unrest in Great Britain!

Other religions perhaps but surely not Christians, especially Anglicans, a significant minority of whom are used to being walked over even within their own church by their so-called brothers and sisters in Christ. To be fair, if it had not been for Mrs Thatcher and her strict Methodist upbringing we would never have heard of George Carey but after she plucked him out of relative obscurity in Bath and Wells he managed to upset just about everyone including his own evangelical friends. So should we take the retired Archbishop seriously?

Gary McFarlane, a relationship counsellor, challenged his sacking by Relate in 2008 for refusing to give sex therapy to gay couples because the service had refused to accommodate his Christian beliefs. In another case last year it was ruled that Lillian Ladele, a Christian registrar, was breaking discrimination laws by refusing to conduct civil partnerships ceremonies. More recently there was the case where B&B owners wanted to turn away gay couples.

The 2001 census for England and Wales in which people were invited to indicate their religious beliefs resulted in 167 religions being recorded including 390,127 Jedi Knights. No system can make exemptions to take account of the huge variety of beliefs people say they hold. Even if it were possible there would be problems dealing with the significant differences that exist just within Christianity, particularly on the subject of homosexuality.

Some would argue that the Established Church should have special privileges, a view many will have sympathy with after the judgements against the wearing of Christian crosses in a Christian country but to allow people to opt out of professional obligations on religious grounds is not in the same league and would result in chaos.

Sorry Lord Carey, I fear that civil unrest would be more likely if people were permitted to refuse to perform their duties because of their religious beliefs.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Campaign castrated

Before dinner I was watching the George Alagiah show at 6 o’clock on BBC1. He referred to today’s Gordon Brown ‘bigot’ gaffe four times. First in his preamble, then in the main story which was again summarised after the mid-show break (during which gesticulating George as the star of the show shuffles and sometimes signs his papers, pretending that he is not reading the idiot board), then finally in his closing summary. This from the BBC which the Right claim has a Left wing bias!

Having dealt reasonably deftly with a chance encounter with a certain Mrs Duffy, she and Mr Brown went their separate ways on good terms. Mr Brown climbed into his official car with his microphone inadvertently switched on and effectively castrated his new ‘communicating with the people’ campaign with a careless aside made in private, so he thought.

One might argue over whether the Prime Minister should have made such comments but leaving that aside, what did broadcasting a private conversation achieve? The effect on Mrs Duffy being forced to listen to hurtful comments eagerly egged on by one of Murdoch’s Sky reporters was devastating judging from her televised reaction. A struggling widow concerned about the future of her grandchildren, she had been justifiably pleased that she had done her best for them by expressing her concerns directly to the Prime Minister. Now she is left dazed at the centre of a media scrum with policemen guarding her door.

As ever The Telegraph has been at the forefront reminding the public of previous gaffs by public figures but let’s face it, many of us make comments which we wouldn’t want broadcast, sometimes in vain attempts at humour, other times out of sheer annoyance just to let off steam. Things said in the heat of the moment rarely add anything meaningful to debate. The issues remain the same and, in this instance, with the same question: Who is best placed to sort out the problems we all face? If it were Gordon Brown (I am not suggesting that he is) what service has been provided by divulging information that should have remained private? We are no wiser, nothing has been solved and a poor widow has been reduced from elation to despair. What a good show!


Round 2

From yesterday's Fabian Society Blog, Next Left:

"The Sun's political editor has been reported saying "It is my job to see that Cameron ****ing well gets into Downing Street”.

Despite earlier rumours, BBC political editor Nick Robinson has suggested tonight that The Sun did not, after discussions, buy the story or any exclusive interview with Mrs Gillian Duffy after today's political storm after Gordon Brown's insult, because they did not think it was "interesting" enough."

Need one say more?

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Over 120,000 children killed during election campaign

Readers of The Independent may have spotted that April 25th was World Malaria Day, the only British sourced reference I have managed to find.

While our politicians squabble over which party is better placed to deliver the fat of the land to British citizens, in other countries over a million people die every year from malaria. Every 30 seconds a child dies, killed by a mosquito bite. During the six weeks of the election campaign over 120,000 children will have died even though these deaths are preventable. http://www.rollbackmalaria.org/worldmalariaday/index.html

Thanks largely to the efforts of the charity WaterAid all three main political parties have pledged to increase efforts to tackle the water and sanitation crisis. Whichever party wins the election it is one pledge that must be kept. http://www.wateraid.org/uk/default.asp

Monday, 26 April 2010

A sense of proportion


Righteous indignation has greeted the Foreign Office memo which suggested some outrageous activities for the Pope during his forthcoming visit to Great Britain in September but from the coverage by the BBC one would have thought it were Government policy rather than the silly ideas of a junior official produced in a brainstorming session.

The ideas were not very bright especially coming from an Oxford graduate but neither was the idea of circulating the memo which appeared to give it greater credence nor the decision by The Sunday Telegraph to publish it. However, brainstorming sessions force sometimes apparently ridiculous ideas into the open for consideration although on this occasion it should have been obvious that some of them would be considered gratuitously offensive. But to talk of the Pope cancelling his visit over the issue as suggested in the press goes too far. As the Vicar of Christ on Earth, the Pope will be well aware of the wounds people suffer for their faith.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Leaders Debate, Round 2

This time I watched the debate on the TV – until my wife found me dozing and transferred me to the computer. I don’t think I missed much so I was surprised at the result of the first poll for the Sun showing that Cameron was the clear winner with 36% of the votes, a result not sustained in other polls I should add. This time I thought the combatants more evenly matched indicating that there had been much hard work in the background since last week.

Again I thought the debate illuminating, not for what was said, but watching the facial expressions and body language when the leaders were not speaking. I thought Cameron looked the least confident, though much better than last week, while Clegg looked the most assured and Brown rather awkward. Most of the audience looked bored stiff with one member desperately trying to conceal a huge yawn.

The ‘get Clegg’ campaign fell badly after the Telegraph’s shameful attempted smear with ‘Twitters’ picking up the thread and blaming Clegg for everything from the death of Kennedy to responsibility for Samantha’s pregnancy. The desperation of the press may be explained by David Yelland, a former editor of the Sun, who explained that previously the Liberal Democrats were deliberately ignored by the press.

Yelland said, “Make no mistake, if the Liberal Democrats actually won the election – or held the balance of power – it would be the first time in decades that Murdoch was locked out of British politics. In so many ways, a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote against Murdoch and the media elite.” Hmmm!


Postscript

More than 100 viewers have complained to the broadcasting regulator (Ofcom) accusing the debate Moderator (Sky News political editor Adam Boulton) of breaking strict impartiality rules by raising newspaper reports about political donations paid directly into the Liberal Democrat leader's bank account. There is no suggestion Clegg broke any rules and bank statements were produced to prove it.

Boulton -> Sky -> Murdoch - Hmmm again!

There's another interesting take on the broadcast in this Blog: http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2010/04/sky_leaders_deb.html

PPS

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/michaelcrick/2010/04/polling.html

- Hmmm yet again.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Sex offender wins appeal against deportation on human rights grounds


"A Pakistani man who abducted and had sex with underage girls is to be allowed to stay in the UK because deporting him would breach his human rights.

Zulfar Hussain, 48, was due to be sent back to Pakistan on his release from prison where he is serving a jail term for giving vulnerable girls drugs and alcohol before having sex with them." - The Times On Line

But the bloke is inhuman!

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Goodbye to Girlhood

“As Pop Culture Targets Ever Younger Girls, Psychologists Worry About a Premature Focus on Sex and Appearance.”- A quote from the Washington Post back in 2007. Today in Great Britain we read of padded bras being sold by Primark to seven year old girls. Perhaps they have done us a favour. The outcry has been such that they have been withdrawn from sale and highlighted a sickening trade.

The Scotsman reported that several other stores including Next, Tammy, Tesco and Peacocks were selling similar items and that Primark was also stocking underwear aimed at young girls bearing the slogan "You've scored".

From yesterday’s Guardian, “Retailers came under increased pressure today to take sexualised clothing for young girls off their shelves, after it emerged that shoes for eight-year-olds with three-inch heels were being sold on the high street. A survey by the Guardian found an array of items available in major chains, from a T-shirt for a three-year-old bearing the slogan "Future WAG" to a top for a toddler with a pink bikini appliquéd on the front.”

From the Mail OnLine, “Young girls are being targeted with a shocking array of overtly sexual clothing and accessories by High Street stores. Products on offer include a 'first make-up' kit for five year-olds, high heels for three-year-olds, and T-shirts that boast 'future footballer's wife' for a two-year-old.” Even “Marks & Spencer offers a particularly skimpy green wave bikini with a halterneck top, string ties and high leg briefs for girls of six and up. All of these bikinis are very close to the product that Primark has decided to remove from shelves, but for the fact they do not have padding.”


From The Guardian Magazine, “Twenty-five years ago, children wanted to be teachers, bankers, doctors. Now they want to be celebrities.” The tragedy is that many parents are already trapped in the same culture. As a “mum of 2, in a quiet room” commented on the Mail article,Just because these items are on sale does not mean that anyone who will be 'shocked' or 'horrified' by them has to buy them. I wish that some people would just lighten up a bit.


Penny Nicholls of the Children’s Society sums up the problem admirably when she said “There is a big distinction between children dressing up for fun and retailers producing items of clothing that target children and encourage premature sexualisation.” But who are worse? The sick retailers who put profit before the wellbeing of children or the people who buy this rubbish in dumbed down Britain?

Friday, 16 April 2010

Losers

Yesterday evening I struggled through the first live debate between the main party leaders and avoided dropping off by keeping an eye on the ITV1 website watching viewers’ comments and their ever changing score card.

Those who said that David Cameron had most to lose were proved correct. Denied his well rehearsed brief he looked distinctly uncomfortable as he listened to what his opponents had to say. Gordon Brown suffered the ‘Nixon effect’ nervously grinning and laughing uncharacteristically in the wrong places while viewers consistently put Nick Clegg ahead with his assured performance.

More surprising though was the Party reactions afterwards. On the BBC News Vince Cable said it as it had appeared while Alan Johnson gave his considered smart response but the ex-boy-star William Hague actually claimed his man the victor. Back on ITV George Osborne was speaking from the same script, perhaps on the basis that if you say the same thing over and over people will begin to believe it. Not this time. The media have seen to that.

But at the end of the day these ‘X’ factor performances should not be about personalities and their delivery but about policies. One of the ironies following the outcome of the debate is that we should now hear more about them and be better able to make an informed judgement thus making the Great British voter the clear winner.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

For God's sake


If I had read this article in the established press on April 1st I would have thought it a joke:
Ah well, it's not a Christian wearing a cross so that's alright is it? What about the human rights of patients being exposed to silent killer germs? Aren't they entitled to expect minimum risk from germs while in hospital? What has happened to this country? Will someone get a grip for God's sake.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

What people want to hear

Recently the shadow Home Secretary found himself in hot water for his secretly recorded anti-gay comments which were contrary to party policy. Similarly former notables oversold themselves in a Channel 4 Despatches sting while attempting to earn more than a few extra bucks for themselves. It is a tempting device.

The general election campaign provides a golden opportunity for telling people what they want to hear. But can the parties deliver so much? Giving “All things to all men” is an impossible task but no doubt we will be treated as idiots and expected to believe it to be possible. Much sadder though are those who hear only what they want to hear making a complete nonsense of the whole process.

Postscript: Gay “Marriage” (2)

In previous blogs on this subject I have suggested that describing Civil Partnerships as “marriage” struck the wrong note. Whether or not civil partners are ‘joined together’ is not a matter with which others need concern themselves so should not be implied.

However, it appears that following the shadow Home Secretary’s boo boo, the Tories are so desperate not to lose pink votes that they had a meeting with Pulpit-crasher Tatchell: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ukpress/article/ALeqM5gjjrw_a-7904Aq0Cy8jE6I2g0xLQ

As Tatchell said afterwards, "The best he [George Osborne] could do on gay marriage was say he would consider it." Not quite what he wanted to hear and certainly not what I wanted to hear but clearly what Osborne thought they wanted to hear.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Death and a Cross

Around two thousand years ago Jesus of Nazareth was hung on a wooden cross to die after being severely beaten because he preached the difference between right and wrong.

Today, those who believe Jesus to be the Son of God and wear the cross around their necks are condemned by people who don’t know the difference between the sign of redemption and jewellery.

The latest reason for not allowing a Christian nurse to wear the cross she has worn in complete safety for thirty years is that a patient may grab it making it a danger on health and safety grounds. On the other hand, a Muslim may wear the hijab as a mark of faith.

If any of this modern day ‘Pontius Pilot’ tribunal are hospitalised and ministered to by Muslims I hope they remember not to grab them by the hijabs thus making a mockery of their judgement.

They’re Off

On 6th May 2010 we will be asked to elect a new House of Commons consisting of 650 honest and true members, up from the current mainly honest and true 646 members. Of those currently sitting, 144 (22%) will not be seeking re-election, an unusually high number, some through disgrace, some taking the opportunity to secure attractive redundancy payments before a likely reduction, and others who have become completely brassed off with the whole thing.

Much has been made of the ‘expenses in lieu of pay’ problem. An interesting historical perspective on this appeared in the Telegraph in November 2009: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/mps-expenses/6629911/MPs-expenses-system-created-in-pact-between-Thatchers-ministers-and-Opposition.html

But we the public must take our share of responsibility too. If we were to accept the advice of independent panels set up to consider fair and reasonable remunerations for people in public life instead of giving way to political expediency resulting in changes which, by definition, are less than fair we should avoid many of the troubles we find ourselves in. The ‘What’s in it for me?’ brigade will continue to howl their protests but politics should be about the common good not narrow self interest. A system that is open and fair must benefit us all in the long run avoiding the sort of mess we find ourselves in now.