Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Miliband misses the point

This is the wrong answer:

He [Ed Miliband] also wants to change Labour's culture by allowing the public a vote when the party chooses its leader. He plans to give 25 per cent of the votes to non-party members who register as Labour supporters. MPs, trade unionists and party members would also each have a quarter of the votes in Labour's electoral college. At present, MPs, union and party members each have a third of those votes.

The problem with an electoral college such as Labour’s is that it can give split results. We had one this year, allowing critics to say (correctly) that Miliband wasn’t wanted by the members of his own party. A little embarrassing.

The way to avoid this is to abolish the electoral college, not to increase the number of sections.

We could let MPs keep their special role in nominating candidates, but beyond that it would be better to have a single electorate of equals. We could do this by restricting the franchise to party members only; we could have party members plus union members who choose to pay an affiliation fee – but treated as a single bloc (perhaps by simply giving the union supporters standard party membership for their fee).

Or we could set up a register of party supporters, potentially a millions-strong section of the public, who would then vote for the leader. But please, let’s not make these people into a new category in the electoral college. That would just magnify the problem that embarrassed Ed Miliband.

Not only would it mean that the party membership could still have its verdict outweighed by that of union members (and/or MPs); it would also mean that the registered supporters, who had signed up to join a new era of mass democracy, could find their verdict outweighed by the other, smaller, established sections. The other parties would crow that the ‘old politics’ had triumphed, and the press would merrily sneer that the party machine had crushed the public voice.

And the new leader would start his or her job by having to explain why this didn’t really matter.

Friday, December 24, 2010

God is a Lib Dem

Either that, or the Pope has been getting spin lessons from Nick Clegg:

God is always faithful to his promises, but he often surprises us in the way he fulfils them.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Uxbridge English Dictionary

From time to time, I like to play Uxbridge English Dictionary. It’s a game from ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue’ (new series starts on Radio 4 next Monday), taking an educational look at our mother tongue.

English is a rich and varied language, but there’s often confusion between apparently similar terms. For example, a lot of people don’t know the difference between adverse and averse. But anyone who takes the trouble to look them up will discover that adverse means harmful or unfavourable, whereas averse is the less catchy bit between choruses.

But meanings are constantly changing, so here are some new definitions I’ve spotted recently:

  • Abominable – practice frowned upon by all but the most aggressive of matadors
  • Accomplish – one who aids and abets Sean Connery
  • Admin – contribute the least
  • Apollo – Roman god of chicken
  • Appearing – an iPhone app that pierces your ear while you talk on it
  • Balderdash – the rapid receding of a hairline
  • Canada – a snake in a tin
  • Category – an allegory about a cat (q.v. Allegory – a category of alley)
  • Cauterise – what I did just before she looked away with disdain
  • Cognac – to trick a long-haired Himalayan beast
  • Dysentery – what the seeds of dissent eventually grow into
  • Exist – person who is prejudiced against their former lovers
  • Hackney – IRA punishment before the invention of guns
  • Hammersmith – the legend of Mj√∂llnir, weapon of the mighty Thor
  • Laxity – a rural area
  • Lymph – mythical woodland seductress with a sore leg
  • Mailbag – scrotum
  • Phobia – not real ale
  • Polymath – if Janet has two parrots and John has three parrots…
  • Post-it – girl who was once fashionable, now of very little note (q.v. Exit – recently fashionable girl now on her way out)
  • Psychotic – nervous twitch that makes you stab people
  • Pumpkin – commit incest
  • Rampart – part of a ram
  • Rueful – a traffic jam in France
  • Seamstress – the consequence of an over-generous lunch
  • Transsubstantiation – providing evidence of one’s sex change
  • Treacle – deforestation
  • Unleavened – the condition of trees in autumn
  • Vagrant – taxi driver’s conversation
  • Watershed – outdoor water closet
  • Wednesday – ‘At what hour does the sun rise?’

Your turn...

Monday, December 20, 2010

I want to ban Christmas

Are you one of those people who says things like: “Raaagh burble splutter NOW THEY WANT TO BAN CHRISTMAS it’s disgusting political correctness gone mad multicultural thought police our proud nation liberal elite great traditions militant atheists historic freedoms nanny state two world wars am I alone in thinking snort harrumph froth”?

If so, I always feel a bit sorry for you. My instinct is to tell you that the people who want to ban Christmas don’t really exist, but I fear that that might spoil the festive magic for you. In fact, I suspect many of you (the older ones) have secretly worked out that there is no Christmas Abolition Brigade, but you still like to play along because it makes it all so much more fun and magical.

Well, I have a gift for you. I hereby declare that I want to ban Christmas. And you can quote me on that.

I demand that laws be passed forbidding the use of the C-word and that this time of year be called ‘the holiday season’, ‘the festive period’, ‘Winterval’ or ‘Seculetide’. (I just made Seculetide up just now all by myself and I’m spankingly proud of it.)

I want carol singing to be replaced by readings from The Selfish Gene, I want nativity plays to be dumped in favour of re-enactments of the founding of the European Union, and I want shopping centres to be enlivened by children’s entertainers dressed not as Santa but as Harriet Harman. I will stop at nothing to achieve this.

OK, I don’t want any of this. This is a string of clumsy lies (apart from the ‘stop at nothing’ bit – I will indeed do nothing and then stop). But let’s face it: you people have no interest in truth. You just like to have a bugbear to shout about. And I hereby offer you my services.

Whenever anyone turns around to you and says: “Oh come off it, nobody really wants to ban Christmas,” you can smugly retort: “Ah, but that bloke off of the internet does, HE ADMITS IT! So you see, I’m not a loathsome bullshitter pandering to the paranoia of the ignorant, I’m a BRAVE CRUSADER FOR TRUTH AND OUR VERY WAY OF LIFE can I have some mince pies and a rabies shot now please?”

Merry Seculetide one and all!

(Come on, it’s clever wordplay: secular and yuletide, they both share a ‘ule’ syllable, so you can – oh, never mind.)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What’s in a name?

I’m glad to see Ed Miliband doing this:

Miliband has banned the shadow cabinet from using the word "coalition" to describe the government because it sounds too moderate and reasonable, and fails to convey what he says is its true "ideological, rightwing agenda". …the Labour leader's director of policy, Greg Beales, says that from now on they must use the term "Conservative-led government"

And it’s only taken him three months since I suggested it:

What better way to suggest [the Lib Dems’] inability to tame the Tories than disregarding their existence? Refer to ‘the government’ or even just ‘the Tories’ – not ‘the ConDems’, which is cute but maybe a bit too pleased with itself, nor even ‘the coalition’, which sounds too much like ‘the consensus’, and who wants to be against that?

I am confident that he’s shaping up to be a better leader of the opposition than Iain Duncan Smith or even William Hague.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A poverty boom? Wait for the real expert

The claims from the Institute for Fiscal Studies – that the government’s tax and spending plans will increase the number of people in poverty – are eye-catching and alarming. But as with all such superficially striking headlines, we should reserve judgement.

Within a day or two, we can expect an independent analysis of the merits of these claims to be issued by the non-partisan Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, headed by the independent academic Nick Clegg.

The ODPM proved at the time of the Budget and the Spending Review that it has the rigour, expertise and impartiality to provide reliable and honest assessments of the many politically motivated statements, produced by the IFS and other third-rate Marxist outfits, about the effects of government policy on poor people.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Offended? Ram it up your pimhole!

This is very simply the most brilliant opinion poll I have ever come across. Anthony Wells and colleagues at YouGov surveyed people on whether they thought particular swearwords were acceptable to broadcast.

Included among the 20-30 words was the made-up ‘pimhole’, which comes from a 1990 Fry and Laurie sketch about them not being allowed to use proper swearwords.

And? 14% of people said pimhole should be allowed on telly at any time, 38% said it should only be used after the watershed, and 23% said it should be totally banned. 25% of people said they didn’t know.

Anthony speculates:

I expect the main reason was context. The question was all about bad language on television, and pimhole was included in a list of swearwords including some that are considered extremely offensive. It’s likely many respondents assumed that pimhole must, therefore, be a swearword.

Probably that’s some of it. I think it also illustrates the common desire simply to have an opinion, any opinion, as well as the fear of admitting ignorance. It also warns us that polls on things people don’t know about can produce useless answers.

But the point about context can be cast in a different light.

Whether the subject is cartoons of Mohammed or a spoof paedophilia documentary or radio presenters leaving rude answerphone messages or a TV talent show featuring skimpily clad performers, there are a lot of dubious claims of people being ‘offended’ by things in the public domain.

People’s fulminations about things that have caused them offence often seem to be based on what they think they’re expected to find offensive, rather than any genuine, independent judgement about how something makes them feel. This poll suggests that a good amount of any given spasm of public outrage is likely to be empty, bandwagon-jumping bluster.

Am I alone in being disgusted by this state of affairs???

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Comparative media studies

One story, two newspapers, two angles.

The Guardian: Poorest councils will face biggest cuts

The Telegraph: Cuts in council services to be deeper in wealthy areas as Coaltion diverts millions into poorer towns and cities

Hmm. It’s almost as if the two publications have some sort of inherent political bias. But that’s crazy talk.

Anyway, I want to make another point: when you see headlines like these, using comparative words (“biggest”, “deeper”), you have to ask yourself: relative to what? What’s the other side of the comparison?

The Guardian story explains:

The poorest councils face the biggest cuts next year … Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, today allocated a last-minute emergency £85m fund in an attempt to insulate the poorest areas from the worst cuts next year. But despite his efforts, deprived inner-city areas of London and large cities in the north are facing the most drastic reductions of up to 8.9% this year alone, with the shires and county councils relatively protected by their burgeoning council tax revenue.

And the Telegraph does too:

Ministers have been able to limit the cuts with a special “transition grant” to divert £99milion of central Government funding from richer to poorer areas over the next two years. The extra cash will mean that spending cuts in areas like Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Doncaster, South Tyneside and Hartlepool will be limited to 8.9 per cent in each of the next two years.
People living in more prosperous areas will see cuts almost as big. Residents in Woking in Surrey will see cuts of 7 per cent in each of the next two years, while residents in Tunbridge Wells will see cuts of 5.9 per cent.
While the cuts in urban areas are larger than those in wealthier parts, they would have been bigger if the transition fund had not been set up.

So the Guardian is right to claim that poorer areas are having bigger cuts than richer areas, and the Telegraph is also right to claim that richer areas are having bigger cuts than they would have had were it not for this transition grant. Which is the more important comparison is up to the reading public.

(Oh look, I’ve written a post nominally about the media that in the process manages to illustrate a way in which the government is shafting the poor. It’s almost as if I have some sort of inherent political bias.)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A palpable hit

I may not be blogging properly right now, but other people are. Go and read this by Cathy Relf, on the media use of “hit by” to jazz up abstract noun phrases, because it’s right and because it’s well-written.

(I’m just very busy at work at the moment, and quite drained the rest of the time. It’s annual financial report season, and I’m struggling to prevent a small band of fanatical yet shambolic illiterates from sabotaging it. Yesterday’s only light relief came when I took a short break to proofread a Christmas menu that included “mice pies”.)

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


So, things have been getting pretty quiet here over the last couple of months. I’ve just not had a whole lot to say lately – or at least not a whole lot of time to think of things that are worth saying. Soon as that changes, I’ll let you know.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

A party political broadcast on behalf of the Liberal Democrats

Some time ago, I tried to persuade my party to support X rather than Y, but I failed, so I then went around saying that Y was right and that we would do it and I would definitely oppose X. Now I’ve agreed to do X.

I’m sorry about all that Y business, but things have changed, you see. There’s another party that likes X too and I’ve made a deal with them, and I’m sure my party and the public will understand that I couldn’t possibly break my word on that. Plus, of course, I’ve thought all along that X was right.

However, I realise that my party still supports Y and opposes X, and so just to make them happy, I’m thinking about not voting for X, even though I’m the individual who’s personally in charge of doing it. But I’ll still publicly support it, and certainly won’t vote against it, and will encourage my party colleagues not to vote against it either, so that we guarantee X happens even while making an incoherent gesture in the vague hope that someone might think it leaves our hands clean.

Thank you and goodnight.

In fairness, this sort of thing goes on in politics all the time. But it’s happening rather more publicly than usual at the moment.

Update: Chris has a good post on this.