The title is a little misleading, as part of Isabel Hardman's argument is that the popular perception (if she sets it up accurately) that the United Kingdom has the wrong politicians is mistaken, and that to some extent politicians are trapped in a system which too many people have vested interests in not changing. The bias towards people able and willing to fund their own campaigns - both to become a candidate, and then to be elected to parliament - and against women - with conservatism over women's roles rife in all parties. The book is rich in anecdotes about selection, election, bill committees, select committees, and the combined results of the efforts of the whips and the sheer weight of government business to ensure that bad bills reach the statute book. Few pages - indeed, only a few lines - are devoted to comparisons with other legislatures, and only a little more space is devoted to reform. Ideas include reviving bill committees after the passage of a bill so that members can hear evidence on how a bill works in practice, but it's difficult to see how this would provide a constructive method to improve on legislation. More concrete suggestions include salaries for parliamentary candidates, and salaries for members of select committees, as well as dedicated staff.

This isn't an apologia, even though Hardman did fall in love with one of her MP case studies which I'm sure isn't recommended practice. There is a lot of reporting of situations in recent years where MPs off and on the front benches should have done much better, being distracted by the legality of a proceeding - such as the invasions of Iraq and Libya - over the practicalities and details of the post-invasion plans, or in the case of Andrew Lansley's Health and Social Care Bill allowing it to career into the Commons without either of the Coalition government party leaders understanding what was planned. However, while entertaining it leaves one more frustrated with the state of affairs than confident about solutions.
With Chiltern having withdrawn open return with network railcard, my preferred ticket, I'm experimenting on this week's London journey with Oxford Parkway to Oxford and then Oxford to Paddington, as GWR are still offering the network railcard discount on their servicee, and seeing if my expenditure on Oyster today balances out or whether Day Travelcard plus advance ticket for the return is the way to go.

I can report that the electric wires are up west of Didcot at least. Otherwise outside work it's politics and the UK's detached election campaign, where one is either for Mrs May or against her and issues are being pushed aside.
sir_guinglain: (Default)
( Jul. 16th, 2015 11:30 pm)
I intend to complete the BBC charter review questionnaire, but was struck by how little I really know about the principles guiding (or purporting to guide) the BBC and how they have changed over time. The BBC Trust website maintains a handy archive of past and present BBC charters to chart this process and help provide some (but my no means all) of the answers to the (admittedly largely rhetorical) questions raised in the media in the last few days.

As readers might have seen elsewhere, I approved of this letter to The Guardian from David Hendy.
Election 2015: Your complete guide to predictions about Scotland and the SNP
Depressing stuff for all manner of reasons, and not necessarily the obvious ones.

Vince Cable says LibDem-SNP deal is inconceivable
Better to lock your enemy into an agreement, I'd have thought, other than antagonise probably half if not more of the Scottish electorate.

Scotland's deficit is now at the heart of the general election fight
Or it might be. My reading of SNP policy beneath the anti-austerity headlines is much as Magnus Gardham writes here.

Last week, Kenneth Baker called for a Tory-Labour coalition to stop the end of the United Kingdom
Firstly, that's really the kingdom of Great Britain (in its parliamentary aspect)[1] Baker supposedly wants to save (though it has little institutional trace beyond legislation passed between 1707 and 1800, unlike Scotland, England-and-Wales, England, Wales and Northern Ireland and variations of the above) as one of the constituent elements of the United Kingdom, not the end of the United Kingdom itself which would presumably continue with smaller component parts. I suspect that a Tory-Labour coalition, facing an SNP with the largest possible share of Scottish seats envisaged by the first link in this post, might just confirm SNP voters' suspicion of the Anglocentricity of Labour and the Conservatives and confirm the sort of proprietorship of 'Tory shires' assumed as natural by John Major in this speech last week. Proportional representation can't come soon enough to the United Kingdom parliament, and it might save the broad but in many crucial parts very thin bases of the Conservative and Labour parties and transform them into more effective advocates of their constituencies; but we seem further away from it than ever.

SNP will not contest Berwick election seat
Apologies for any overenthusiastic advertising Johnston Press foist upon readers if they follow this link. Announced back in December, and pity in a way, as Christine Grahame's appearance ("Oh, we won't stop being British...") on BBC North East [England] and Cumbria's pre-referendum special illustrated how complicated the SNP and broader Yes campaign's approach to the political relationships of the people of these islands can or could be. I'm glad as a near-contemporary of mine from my school is inheriting the defence of the seat from the retiring MP and she has a hard fight which an SNP candidate in Berwick upon Tweed (a constituency which covers a larger slice of Northumberland than its name suggests) would make harder.

[1] Interesting point. In the period 1603-1707, Scottish and English commentators alike wrote of the king or queen of Great Britain (having stopped James VI and I declaring himself Caesar and British Emperor) and there were periods in the seventeenth century, particularly when monarchical power was at whatever zeniths it could reach, that the kingdom of Great Britain seemed a real political entity with an emerging class of Scoto-English courtier administrators. The Union came about in part because after the revolutions of 1688-90 the Scottish parliament and elite found it had little leverage on royal foreign policy, in contrast to the parliament of England, and the political nation (more regularly organised and in some senses broader than the English) was susceptible to foolhardy exercises like the Darien venture, which came across to the more cosmopolitan part of the elites as a doomed exercise in saying 'Let's have a war with Spain and embarrass the king and his English friends'[2] but which could easily be interpreted in Scotland as an example of England repressing Scottish imperial aspirations.

[2] Some of what I've termed the cosmopolitan elite thought this was a very good idea, of course, especially if they were called Hamilton. Or so it sometimes appears; but Scottish political alliances were complicated, shifted often, and were not to be taken for granted, especially by remote Londoners. A lesson for the present.

ETA A characteristically cleverly boorish Salmond column reacting just as I'd expect him to the Kenneth Baker proposal - but even with votes his party enjoys the SNP is not Scotland, just as Margaret Thatcher forgot (if she ever knew) that the Conservative Party did not equal England which was not the same as Britain or the United Kingdom. However, the move present in some SNP utterances in recent months to adopt a pan-British agenda, as leaders of an insurgency against 'Westminster', is present in the column and shows that this party has learned some of the lessons Conservative and Labour seem never to have known, and which the Liberal Democrats appear to be forgetting.
I'm about to fly south (on wheels) for the rest of the winter, but first, some links:

Where will we live?
James Meek surveys the background to the current British housing crisis and looks at the competing interests making a bad situation worse today, in the London Review of Books

2015: An Ugly Stramash
The post-independence vote scenarios which Westminster isn't thinking much about, but Scotland is. With thanks to [ profile] nwhyte

Doctor Who at the Lord Mayor's Show, 1981
A brief clip from the BBC coverage of the Lord Mayor (of London)'s Show, voiced by Eric Robson, is followed by some of Kevin Davies's own recording of Peter Davison's first public appearance in costume as the Doctor, accompanied by what we'd now call cosplaying fans, but didn't then.
[ profile] 0tralala linked to the Hansard report of this speech in the House of Lords by Lord Lucas (Ralph Palmer, twelfth Baron Lucas, a hereditary peer, accountant and publisher of The Good Schools Guide) concerning Amazon's business model and its effect on publishing. An informative read. The rest of the debate - including contributions from Lord (Michael [House of Cards]) Dobbs and Baroness (Ruth) Rendell of Babergh - I've only skimmed, but there's more of interest, including concerns about open access publishing and the application of a model designed for STEM academic publishing on the humanities.
sir_guinglain: (Default)
( Jan. 22nd, 2013 07:14 pm)
Improving London's transport
The National Archives have a Flickr set of photographs from a 1946 edition of The Railway Gazette, illustrating improvements made to the London Underground between the late 1930s and mid 1940s. Areas covered include the construction of the present Kings Cross St Pancras Metropolitan and Circle tunnels and platforms, opened in 1941; the extension of the Bakerloo tubes to join the Metropolitan above ground at Finchley Road, opened in 1939; changes to the Central Line in west, east and central London during the 1940s; and some of the new station buildings on the Metropolitan Line in north-west London.

Self-employed struggling with debts beyond their earnings - The Guardian
I empathise with this, though my position in this regard seems not so bad contextualised.

The Secret Mansion - History Needs You
Matthew Ward's pictures of a ruined country house on Anglesey.

England Under the White Which, by Theodora Goss - Clarkesworld
A story of one empress's search for the perfect winter, and those who serve under her. As recommended by [ profile] gervase_fen
sir_guinglain: (salmon)
( Jul. 10th, 2012 09:16 pm)
I'm not usually one for linkspam, but here are a few items which have distracted me today:
  • For sale: Bush House. A landmark of BBC World Service history.
    • Christopher Middleton at The Telegraph mourns the end of an era; but how often is 'Lillibulero' played on the BBC World Service these days? Its associations are questionable to say the least.
  • Auction for BBC World Service
    • Here is the flysheet for the online auction mentioned in Middleton's article. If you want to set up your own worldwide broadcasting service, now is your chance.
  • Baroness Fauconberg and Conyers
    • The blog post is about the death of Lady Wendy Lycett, but peerage-spotters can welcome back the baronies of Fauconberg and Conyers to the extant peerage as Lady Wendy and her elder sister Lady Diana Miller were co-heirs to those titles. At the age of 92, I think it's unlikely that Diana, the new Baroness Fauconberg and Conyers (once she has had the automatic termination of the abeyance recognised by the Crown Office, and been added to the Roll of the Peerage) will be seeking election to the House of Lords, but you never know.
  • Lords reform: this will be our last chance for a generation
    • With the vote on Lords reform dropped, the elected hereditaries look as if they will be hanging on alongside the life peers and bishops for a little while yet. Peter Hain doesn't I think have all the details right on the measure the government had intended to put before the Commons tonight, but as he says it could have been amended.
  • Before Adam, by Jack London
    • Project Gutenberg e-book of Jack London's 1906 novel about an early homo species, possibly in the literary geneaology of the first Doctor Who story.
Despite my best intentions, I didn't leave my flat today until early evening, and even then that was only a shopping trip to a different town and a different supermarket to the ones I normally buy from. This was not only a consequence of the weather, but that the splitting headache I'd developed on Friday had not gone away. Exactly why I decided one of the most notorious Doctor Who stories of the third Doctor's tenure might have a medicinal purpose is lost to time and the unfathomable workings of my mind.

Invasion of the Dinosaurs is the only story of Jon Pertwee's last season where UNIT play a consistent and substantial role in the action; they are also returned to the streets of London for the first time in several years, since (I think) The Mind of Evil in 1971. This return to quasi-realistic spectacle shakes some of the cosiness out of the UNIT set-up, but in doing so it shows how much Doctor Who had changed within Jon Pertwee's tenure as the Doctor. The hard-edged near-future of most of his first season could not be returned to, and instead the deserted London under martial law is a self-consciously allegorical landscape, where order is maintained under emergency powers. Looters are detained in the expectation of a revival of old norms, but those norms didn't include prehistoric monsters roaming the streets, nor allow that authority figures are actively working to erase the very society which authenticates their power and status.

The DVD's picture quality is remarkable, and the colour restoration on part one (the videotape of which was mislaid, presumed destroyed, probably not long after transmission in 1974, leaving only a black and white film print presumably made with the intention of being exported to non-colour markets outside the UK) impressive even if it's of variable quality; the colours of the location scenes on part one bring out the dry grass of a hot summer evening in mid-1970s England when the sun is low in the sky, and is fitting for this London forced into a twilight existence. Throughout the story the film exterior sequences have more vibrant colours than 1970s telecine often manages, and the model shots of the foam rubber puppet dinosaurs are well served. The dinosaurs are not that bad, with the apatosaurus in particular well-realised; but then, large, placid and stupid is probably easier to achieve than fierce and terrifying. It's to be regretted that too much is demanded of the weakest of the models, the tyrannosaurus rex, and that some of the angles chosen during the model sequences expose the artificiality of monsters and their miniature sets.

Matthew Sweet's visual essay puts the contributions of the production team in context and points out just how hard the political allegory is made. The films in the 'Reminder Room' on the 'spaceship' on which the self-deluded colonists believe they are travelling to New Earth (though no cat-nuns will they there find) represent the selective, alarmist hand-wringing of sometime bien-pensants who have given up on the vast majority of their fellow human beings. Matthew Sweet observes that writer Malcolm Hulke was a longstanding member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and in the 1960s many on the established left looked on askance as ecologist politics previously associated with fascism became adopted by their comrades. There's definitely something of the crisis of the social democratic state in Invasion of the Dinosaurs, from the political new directions offered by Charles Grover to the misguided idealism of Mike Yates and the drive for efficiency of General Finch, to the petty grandiose dreams of Professor Whitaker, a salutary tale of what can happen when the grant application of an Oxford don is rejected. This isn't so frivolous an observation as it might seem - Oxford has had a reputation as a more political university than its fellow ancient university Cambridge, educating several shapers of the so-called post-war consensus. Malcolm Hulke and script editor Terrance Dicks were perhaps inclined to reflect wryly on this, as they were Cambridge men.

Jon Pertwee might have resolved to leave the role of the Doctor, but he was still the consummate showman at this stage, seizing the opportunity for comedy when arrested as a looter, deploying a couple of variants of his Cockney accent, and convincing as a man of action through sheer authority despite - as David Brunt's production notes remind us - suffering from a long-term back injury that meant most of his falls were performed by Terry Walsh. Elisabeth Sladen observes in a 2003 interview included in the set that on this, her second story, she found herself playing a gentler, less assertive character than she did in her debut, The Time Warrior. Even there, Sarah was perhaps less dominating than she would have been had she been played by April Walker, whose casting, and sacking following objections from Jon Pertwee, was revealed in David Brunt's infotext in this set and is perhaps the greatest coup of the production notes. Lis Sladen describes her resolve to keep putting her all into the part despite its becoming a more passive companion role than expected with her usual smiling, positive demeanour, and it was not really a surprise that it was while watching this interview that my headache disappeared.
sir_guinglain: (UKPolitics)
( Nov. 16th, 2011 01:57 am)
It's just like old times - I'm writing in the middle of the night. This is because I'm only fairly recently back from London after a family-and-friends trip to see A Walk On Part at the Soho Theatre Downstairs, adapted from the diaries of Chris Mullin, MP for Sunderland South 1983-2010, by Michael Chaplin. I was told by one who has read the diaries that Chaplin's drastic abridgement successfully represented content and flavour. I thought the performances tended towards over-caricature at first, but they settled down, with John Hodgkinson displaying great skill in his portrayal of Mullin, effectively a two-hour monologue with interjections from the other four cast members, who shared ninety-six parts between them, from the prime minister of Ethiopia and a Northumberland landowner to a Ukrainian refugee schoolboy and a Sunderland newsagent, via Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and other players of the New Labour era.
There's a meme going around urging support for LiveJournal after the recent DDoS attack. While I post from Dreamwidth, it remains really a back-up journal, and most of my interactions remain on LJ. The meme links to this Moscow Times article which emphasises how important LJ is in the distribution of opinion in Russia, in a fashion which the security apparatus does not seem to like. It's worth reading for a reminder of the contexts in which LJ has to operate.
sir_guinglain: (UKPolitics)
( May. 5th, 2011 12:49 am)
Lots of people have made better arguments than the one which I am about to advance. They include [ profile] strange_complex, [personal profile] rhaegal and Alex Wilcock. Look at their posts to find out more.

For as long as I have lived and longer, British politics have been seen through the distorting lens of the plurality voting system known erroneously as 'First Past the Post'. The Alternative Vote will not remove all the distortions, but in allowing voters to rank candidates in order of preference it offers a better way of taking the political temperature of a constituency in a multi-party system. I'd rather have the Single Transferable Vote in multi-member constituencies on the Irish model, but it's not on offer; so if you are in the United Kingdom and have a vote in today's referendum, please vote 'Yes' and take a step towards a broader reform which I hope I'll see in my lifetime.
I've just watched some of yesterday's Lords debate on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. If Ed Milliband was looking for examples of Liberal Democrats held hostage in the Conservatives' car boot, there were no better ones than Lords Wallace of Tankerness and McNally, huddled close on the government front bench without a Conservative in sight, while opposition peers - led by former lord chancellor and present shadow justice minister Lord Falconer of Thoroton - laid into the lack of research behind the government's proposals for the equalization of representation and the flaws in the government case, drawing on research by (among others) Lewis Baston published at the LSE politics and policy blog. Wallace, speaking for the government, was unable to refute many of Falconer's charges. A sad state of affairs for the party of democratic reform.
This news will please [personal profile] naraht:

Margaret Beckett almost certain to stand for Speaker of the House of Commons.

The article doesn't fill in as much detail as one might wish on the contest to be speaker: Conservative MPs actively pursuing the post include the former cabinet minister Sir George Young, who missed out on the chair last time round, the respected maverick tory backbencher Richard Shepherd - who sometimes seemed to spend as much time in the opposition lobbies as the government ones when Margaret Thatcher was in power - and Sir Patrick Cormack.
sir_guinglain: (UKPolitics)
( Jun. 5th, 2009 02:03 am)
I have never warmed to James Purnell as a person when seeing him on television, nor am I impressed by his background as John Birt's consultant at the BBC in the 1990s - the sort of job I can't imagine anyone so young with so little experience of the world doing, yet thousands of twentysomethings do this every day - and helping to wreak morale-sapping havoc on an already beleaguered institution. He seems to recognise (whatever the unworldly Matthew d'Ancona thinks on his Spectator blog) that he is not the person to lead the Labour Party at the moment. The resignation of someone without an obvious base of either power or sympathy in the Labour Party is not having anything like a uniform effect, with at least one critic of Brown also attacking Purnell as a careerist. Gordon Brown is nevertheless damaged by this resignation, but it's not in itself a killer blow to his premiership; just another suggestion of encroaching chaos.
This morning on Radio 4, I heard the nineteenth-century followers of Jane Austen referred to as a "fandom" in Book of the Week: Jane's Fame. That the reader was Star Trek: First Contact's Borg Queen, Alice Krige, added a little to the effect. It's probably been some time since 'fandom' left the SF ghetto, but I first encountered it in a list of SF fan jargon and it still surprises me to hear it outside that context.

Meanwhile, The Sun has tagged Gordon Brown's enemies, co-ordinating their activities through an anonymous Hotmail account, as cybermen, though the use of 'delete' suggests that they are of Cybus vintage rather than the 'silver giants' of yore.
sir_guinglain: (Default)
( Oct. 15th, 2007 11:08 pm)
I always felt that the LibDems were making the wrong decision in electing Sir Menzies Campbell as their leader; it seemed that they were choosing someone who might have made a better job of presenting the party's case in the 2005 election than Charles Kennedy, rather than the person best placed to respond to the changing situation in the ensuing parliamentary term. Campbell seems to have left because he could see the whispering campaign getting worse; his leadership immediately takes on something of a caretaker character in retrospect, but that impression might pass depending on where Nick Clegg or Chris Huhne or whomever takes the party. I agree with Peter Hyman, speaking on Newsnight, that the party needs to be more 'interesting', but what that interest will be requires hard work on policy, image, and communication with voters.


sir_guinglain: (Default)


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