Showing posts from September, 2005

Hypocrite of the Year

I have just watched The Prime-Minister-Elect make his acceptance speech to Labour Party conference. Gordon Brown’s certainly wasn’t making a chancellor’s speech – there was precious little there about the economy. Neither was it the speech of a contender in a contested election for the party leadership – he made no attempt whatever to placate those within the Labour party who had hoped that a Brown premiership would mean the end of New Labour. He obviously considers that he has the succession in the bag and was setting out his stall to the country for the next general election. And judging by the sour looks on the faces of some left-wing delegates even as they forced themselves to give Mr Brown a standing ovation, most of the Labour party has reached the same conclusion. From a technical perspective, ignoring my own opinions about the validity or otherwise of what was said, it was a better speech than any other I have heard him make. But was really stood out about the speech was the tr

Reflections after a trip to Newcastle

A couple of days ago I had occasion to drive to Newcastle and back to visit a work colleague. I was already well aware at an intellectual level that getting from West Cumbria to the North East was quite a slog, but intellectually understanding this is not the same as doing the journey. I went by the A66 to Penrith and M6 to Carlisle: it took well over three hours to get from Gosforth to Carlisle and my colleague, who used to live in Whitehaven, tells me this was par for the course. I came back via Scotch Corner: this also took more than three hours and took me through the most dangerous stretch of road in Britain, where there are signs warning that nearly 200 people have been killed or injured in the last few years. And the train journey is no easier. Overall the round trip from West Cumbria to Newcastle took longer, and was more tiring, than a one-way trip between West Cumbria and London. I’m sure this isn’t news to any native Cumbrian and that everyone born here or who has lived here

Double book review: "Incompetence" and "Jennifer Government"

“Incompetence” by Rob Grant “Jennifer Government” by Max Barry The two funniest books I have read this year have both been satirical black comedies set in extreme near-future worlds. In each book the author has taken some trends he perceives in modern society, extrapolated them ad absurdum, and had fun seeing how ludicrous he can make the consequences. In this the two books are very similar, but in the targets they take aim at they are diametrically opposed. “Incompetence” takes the mickey out of big government, the nanny state, and the European Union. By contrast “Jennifer Government” satirises America, and that version of free market libertarianism which is so extreme that it is sometimes called anarcho-capitalism. The preface to “Incompetence” reads as follows: “Article 13199 of the Pan European constitution: ‘No person shall be prejudiced from employment in any capacity at any level by reason of age, race, creed, or incompitence’” (Yes, the spelling mistake is deliberate – I wonder


One of the issues which regularly came up in Copeland during the recent election was the impossibility of finding a dentist. This is becoming an increasingly acute problem in many parts of Britain, and Cumbria is one of three or four rural counties where the lack of access to dental services has become totally unacceptable. During the run-up to the election WHICH asked candidates to support a pledge to work for improved dental services: I was happy to endorse this and would have made it a priority had I been elected. Over the past few months the number of dental practices in Cumbria which are taking on new NHS patients has varied between three and nil. As of yesterday I was advised that there is not a single practice taking on new NHS patients in the county. And even if you are prepared to pay, many practices are not taking on new private patients either. If you are not fortunate enough to find one of the exceptions, the only way to get dental treatment short of an emergency is to trav

Don't tell me what to believe

One of the most irritating things in political discussion is people who tell you what your own views are. Usually this is a variant of a debating trick – the people who are taking one side in a debate want to be up against the most extreme form of the opposing position and claim the middle ground, so they try to paint the other side into the corner of adopting the strongest possible position. Tony Blair is a past master at this. For example, until very recently – to be precise, until French and Dutch voters killed both the European constitution and any realistic chance of British entry to the Euro - he was always playing this game on Europe. Mr Blair and his acolytes would suggest that we had two choices with regard to the European Union – sign up to the constitution, or leave altogether. (Before that, they suggested that the two choices were to scrap the pound and replace it with the Euro, or leave altogether.) Like the majority of British voters, who are neither federalist eurofanat

A week is a long time in Northern Ireland ...

I keep two versions of this blog - one on the News and Star website and one at Usually I post the same items on both in the same day. Owing to a slight misunderstanding between myself and my long-suffering staff, there was a delay in posting some of this month's entries on the blogspot site. So when I came to post here a piece which I had written immediately after the World Cup qualifier between England and Northern Ireland, the senseless violence of the last few days made the optimistic tone of that entry seem wholly inappropriate. I am convinced that my basic point was right, but I have rewritten the piece to reflect more recent events. Last week when the final whistle blew, with the score at one goal for Northern Ireland to none for England, the cameras zoomed in on the scene where two types of flag were being waved in close proximity by jubilant supporters. Some were green flags belong to ecstatic Irish supporters, from Ireland's Catholic community – the


I drafted this blog entry on my laptop yesterday while sitting in front of the TV and unable to tear myself away from the final afternoon of the Ashes. I had been at the Oval 20 years ago when England last won the Ashes at home. This has been the most fantastic test series – one of the Australian commentators described it as one of the best of all time. And after some stunning close finishes and fiercely fought matches a magnificent century from Pietersen was bringing England within sight of regaining the trophy. It has been an emotionally charged occasion: as Richie Benaud was saying farewell in the commentary box on his last afternoon at the end of many years as a test cricket commentator, Kevin Pietersen’s innings was finally concluded by an unplayable delivery from McGrath. As Pietersen left the field, Shane Warne shook his hand, and we saw one of the greatest bowlers of all time - finishing his test career with yet another ten-wicket haul and as the leading wicket taker of the ser