Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Mukhtaran Bibi

GNUS INTERNATIONAL

I mentioned Mukhtaran Bibi in a previous post.

You can keep up with more news via the blog of Tom Watson (not the MP).

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Change of identity

GNU LABOUR

I wasn't going to blog today, as I am busy, but I couldn't let the passing of the ID Cards Bill go by without comment.

The government got the Bill through, which came as no surprise to anyone as the lobby fodder in the PLP had been whipped or bribed into compliance. Fatboy Clarke announced a number of concessions: the price of the cards will be capped (but could still be as much as £100), there will be a re-examination of the information needed for the National Identity Database (although he didn't specify how), private companies will not be able to access the database and banks (and suchlike) will need the cardholder's permission to access information (although we all know that banks are very good at finding ways to dupe people into giving permission - 'PLEASE TICK THIS VERY, VERY TINY BOX AT THE END OF A FULL PAGE OF SMALL PRINT IF YOU DO NOT WANT US TO HAVE ACCESS TO YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION NOW AND AT ALL TIMES IN THE FUTURE WITHOUT ASKING YOU AGAIN' should do it). He admitted that "if the card eventually became compulsory, it would be ridiculous to force people to pay for a very expensive one" (Guardian).

Anyway, some Labour MPs were bold enough to vote against, so here's the hall of heroes:

Diane Abbott (Hackney North & Stoke Newington)
Katy Clark (Ayrshire North and Arran)
Frank Cook (Stockton North)
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington N)
Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe & Nantwich)
Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent Central)
Paul Flynn (Newport West)
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North)
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead & Highgate)
Lynne Jones (Birmingham Selly Oak)
John McDonnell (Hayes & Harlington)
Bob Marshall-Andrews (Medway)
Linda Riordan (Halifax)
Clare Short (Birmingham Ladywood) - nice to see she's rediscovered her conscience recently
Alan Simpson (Nottingham South)
John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)
Bob Wareing (Liverpool West Derby)
David Winnick (Walsall North)
Mike Wood (Batley & Spen)

David Taylor (Leicestershire North West) voted in both the Aye and No lobbies. I still don't know how this is possible.

Naturally, my spineless MP, Andrew Slaughter, remained loyal to the government. Anyway, with the DUP MPs voting in favour of the Bill (perhaps they're looking forward to spying on all the suspected IRA members in Belfast and Derry), there was little chance of its being defeated.

The Bill will now go into Committee where, with any luck, it will be savaged.

Keep up with the campaign against ID cards here, and REMEMBER TO SIGN THE PLEDGE - over halfway there already!


EDIT; More here. And here. And here. And here (thanks to NoseMonkey for that last one). And probably loads of other places in the blogoworld.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Good words

GNU BRITAIN

I know you lot must be tired that I constantly cite Justin McKeating, but the man really is a brilliant writer. Do yourselves a favour and read his latest, on political language here.

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Monday, June 27, 2005

Another hiatus

TECHNOGNU

This blog won't see a huge amount of activity over the next month. Not because I'm on holiday, but because I'm about to start work on a feature film. More later. In the meantime, go and visit one of the blogs on the left, because they're all worth reading.

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Grrrr!

GNU BRITAIN

I think there is some kind of conspiracy going on, as I just wrote (for the second time) a lengthy post about ID cards, pressed 'Publish' and watched the whole thing disappear...

Anyway, go here and here, and read all about it. Then go here and sign the pledge!

EDIT: I have made amends, by writing to Andrew Slaughter, my MP. Click on 'more' to see the letter.

"Dear Mr Slaughter,

I am writing in connection with the Bill to introduce ID cards to the UK. Or, perhaps that should be RE-introduce, since they were abolished after the Second World War on the grounds that there was no need for them.

The government has informed us that ID cards are necessary. This would be more credible if they did not keep changing the reason why they were necessary. First we were told that they were necessary to combat terrorism. Then we were told that they would help combat benefit fraud. The third reason given was that they would help to control illegal immigration.

Not one of these reasons stands up to scrutiny. For example, the 9/11 hijackers carried legitimate IDs - terrorists often have no history of terrorist activity before they carry out an attack. ID cards did nothing to prevent the attack on the World Trade Center. The benefit fraud argument falls down on two counts: the cost of the ID scheme would far outweigh the income saved in fraudulent benefits paid out; and, in any case, benefit fraud occurs because people lie about their circumstances, not about who they are. As for controlling illegal immigration, is this really the best use of £6 billion?

In addition to the fact that ID cards will not fulfil the functions the government has promised, there are several other reasons for opposing their introduction. First, the introduction of a national database of people's identities will be necessary. The government has not given us sufficient reassurance as to the security of this database - what is to prevent my details falling into the wrong hands, through deliberate or erroneous action (or even for commercial gain, which I know the Home Office has been considering)? Second, as has been widely reported, the cost of the scheme is phenomenal and there is no evidence that the expenditure will be worth it (as noted above). Third, the cost to individuals is ridiculous - even if we accept the lowest predicted figure, £93 is a lot of money for what is effectively a compulsory document (in addition to the other documents we need which are de facto compulsory, such as passports and driving licences). Fourth, the 'sophisticated' technology which will be built into the cards has been shown in tests to be ineffective as much as one-third of the time (and, as it happens, the scanning technology tends to mis-read the faces of non-white people most frequently, which has implications of its own). Fifth, the technology will need constant renewal, and I have seen it reported that this could be as often as every five years. Sixth, the database, like all databases, will itself need constant updating and is liable to be at least 10% inaccurate all the time. There are other reasons for questioning the scheme, but these are the main ones.

I simply cannot believe that Labour backbenchers are willing to put their own careers, and the future of the government, at risk for this unproven, unwelcome and unreliable idea. I do not believe talk of 'New Labour's Poll Tax' is premature. I have been campaigning against the Conservatives for almost twenty years and do not wish to give them easy ammunition.

I urge you to bear in mind the above considerations when you come to vote on the issue this week. I appreciate that you will probably be unable to reply to this letter (I apologise for its length); however I would be keenly interested in any response you can make."


This was sent courtesy of WritetoThem.com. I'll let you all know if I get any response. He's a government loyalist so don't hold your breath, y'all.


EDIT: I see that, according to Backword Dave, Blair actually said yesterday (Monday 27 June): "No government is going to start introducing something that’s going to cost hundreds of pounds to people — that would be ridiculous."

I'll repeat that: "No government is going to start introducing something that’s going to cost hundreds of pounds to people — that would be ridiculous."

I'll take that as a promise, Tony.

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Sunday, June 26, 2005

My Life, apparently

TECHNOGNU

Someone arrived at this site from here. I can only assume they arrived via the 'Next Blog' button, because I cannot imagine a blog that could have any less connection with mine than that one. Weird, this interwebnet-thingy.

EDIT: Hooray! Have just discovered that someone arrived here by Googling "gnus of the world". I truly have arrived. Thank you, whoever you are.

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Friday, June 24, 2005

It had to happen

THE BEAUTIFUL GAME

Well, here we go. Depressingly, we're back to business as usual.

After being humilliated for approximately 10 days, Australia's cricketers have recovered and finally beaten England in a one-day match.

We had lost the match from the moment Trescothick said "we'll field". It was a stupid decision. As soon as I heard we'd won the toss, I punched the air. A second later, my shoulders drooped as I heard we'd put Australia in.

We didn't perform all that badly; our bowling was adequate - Tremlett recovering well after being battered in his first two overs, and Gough, Giles and Flintoff all producing economical spells. If we missed out anywhere, it was our failure to break partnerships. It seems the key to reducing the Aussies to tears is a burst of quick wickets, of the sort Harmison managed at Bristol.

And we did salvage some pride - we weren't bowled out. An unbeaten last-wicket stand of 50 between Gough and Harmison put some smiles back on English faces. Considering we were 6-3 at one point, finishing on 209-9 isn't all that bad an achievement. However, apparently it's not enough to secure a bonus point (anyone know how these things are allocated?).

The real problem is that Australia's bowling is back on form. Tresco and Strauss seem to have no idea how to cope with the fast inswinging yorker from Lee and McGrath, and that's going to be a real concern in the Test series. In fact, that could be the one thing that will definitely lose us the Ashes, because if we can't get a decent opening stand we haven't got a hope.

This is all beginning to look like 1997 all over again, when we beat Australia in the one-day series then won the First Test. The chants of "Ashes coming home" soon fell silent, as they won three of the next four matches. We're in for the same treatment again this year - the difference is that we have a better team, and will probably put up a better fight than we did back then. But put your money on Australia (if you can get any decent odds - it's probably too late for that already), because this Ashes series has been decided before it's begun.

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Election Olds

GNU BRITAIN

The Staffordshire South election has finally come to an end, after it was delayed for a month because of the death of the LibDems' original candidate.

Unsurprisingly, the Tories held the seat comfortably, with Labour's share of the vote collapsing by 16.63% (almost halving it, in fact). Despte this, Labour still finished second.

The victor, Sir Patrick Cormack, has said he will ask the Electoral Commission to look into the rules governing the death of a candidate. This makes sense. Although the delay is only a month, it seems ridiculous that the voters can't vote at the same time (and therefore on the same basis) as everyone else. On this occasion it doesn't affect the overall result in terms of who's in government - but what if we'd had a hung parliament?

Quite what the solution is, though, is anyone's guess. Have the vote anyway, and hope the dead candidate doesn't win? Wasn't there a case like this in a Senate race in the US recently, when a dead Senator was re-elected? If the deceased wins, do you immediately hold a by-election? Daft, innit?

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At last! He can speak!

GNU LABOUR

Perhaps my MP, Andrew Slaughter, has been reading this blog (dream on, Oscar), for he has finally made his maiden speech in the Commons.

As convention dictates he introduces us to the constituency, in a lengthy description which anyone could have looked up in a geopolitical text but which is nevertheless mildly interesting. I did agree with this assertion:
What distinguishes my constituency most—and is, in my opinion, its finest feature—is the sheer diversity of its population. There are 50 major first languages spoken there, and another 75 significant minority communities. It has third or fourth generation Irish and Caribbean residents, Polish and other eastern European communities, Bengali and other Asian groups, and Arab and African nationalities, including a large Somali population. Almost every country and continent is represented. As a model for integrated living, I recommend it.
Quite rightly, he goes on to point out that:
The view of London, and west London in particular, as a wealthy region is not an accurate one and it needs to be challenged, particularly in regard to allocating public funds. It is more true to say that this is an area of extremes—of wealth and poverty, and of opportunity and barriers to success. That the cost of living is so high and the stress on services so great is in itself a reason why those who struggle have a lower quality of life than they might do elsewhere.
Just as Slaughter is hitting his stride, he stops. He's been talking in the debate on the Regulation of Financial Services (Land Transactions) Bill: a dull-looking Bill, the major point of interest being legislation to improve the availability of sharia-compliant home loans ("murabaha" products - which are regulated by the Financial Services Authority - and "ijara" products - which are not, until this Bill passes) for Muslims. It's a pretty uncontroversial Bill (anyone who knows different, please contact me), and a safe place to make a maiden speech. No doubt he picked it because of the significant proportion of Muslim voters in the constituency (most of whom live up the Shepherd's Bush end of the seat, if the shop fronts along Goldhawk Road are anything to judge by).

Having shown that he is capable of the power of speech, I do hope Andrew Slaughter will be making some significant contributions to Commons debates, working in the interests of his constituents and not just toeing the party line. His neighbour, Greg Hands (Tory MP for Hammersmith & Fulham), has been tabling written questions left, right and centre about education in the borough, crime and policing figures and, of course, Charing Cross Hospital. Whatever his drawbacks, his energy in this regard has been admirable (if perhaps leaning towards over the top). I hope Slaughter will be challenging the government over many of the controversial policies it seems determined to put into place, despite its weak mandate. He's already let a few opportunities go by. I'll be watching, and of course I'll update you all.

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Still Cross

GNU BRITAIN

A report in West Side (a posh-looking publication for West London, which purports to be a lifestyle magazine but is actually a glorified estate agents' brochure - what the hell, it's free) reinforces fears about the future of Charing Cross Hospital. There's not much new in the article on top of what we already know, but the article references a report that Hammersmith & Fulham Council debated an emergency motion, demanding that the local NHS Trust (Hammersmith Hospitals Trust) should guarantee the retention of emergency and specialist services (specifically cancer) at Charing Cross.

In response, Labour produced a carefully-worded leaflet, guaranteeng that "emergency and specialised services will be provided locally" (my italics). Now, both Hammersmith and Chelsea & Westminster Hospitals could - in a manner of speaking - be considered 'local' to Charing Cross. In other words, there has been no promise from Labour that Charing Cross will not be closed, and nothing to make us suspect anything other than that the services will be moved to Hammersmith and/or C&W. I don't feel any confidence that the hospital which gave me serious and life-saving help when brain fluid was leaking out of my nose will still be standing a few years from now.

I should warn anyone thinking of buying one of the luxury flats (that it's rumoured are going to be built on the site when the hospital is knocked down), that the view anywhere below the sixth floor is utter crap - either the traffic-choked Fulham Palace Road, or the congested rooftops of West Fulham. Still, some people seem to be prepared to pay anything to live close to a Zone 2 Tube station - nothing else could explain the high flat prices in Brixton.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Did you say something?

GNUFOTAINMENT

The American Film Institute has released a list of the top hundred movie quotations (or 'quotes' as they refer to them - sigh...).

It's easy to knock such events. It's easy to pick out 'obvious' things that 'should' have been included (why was there no room for Samuel L Jackson's contributions in Pulp Fiction? - of the several candidates, my personal favourite is "this is a tasty burger!" but I imagine most would go for his quotation from Ezekiel, or possibly "I'm gonna get medieval on your ass" - anyway, take your pick from here).

In the end, though, such exercises merely extend the pointlessness of polls, awards, and any attempt to try and categorise art (and cinema is an art) in order of merit, when it's the subjectivity of the experience, the attitudes brought by the viewer and the viewer's perception of the experience, which is the essential element - and that's something that can't be reproduced in a situation like this. But perhaps it's reflective of our need to know who's the best, our need to agree or disagree with someone else's opinion, our need for guidance in our own choices which is most exposed by the vogue for Top Tens and Best Ofs. As another famous movie quotation (also not on the list) goes: "There can only be one winner, folks, but isn't that the American way?" (from They Shoot Horses, Don't They?).

I have a list of favourite films and a list of what I consider to be the best films from each decade. There's a lot of overlap, but also a lot of distinction (no one would claim that the Marx Brothers' Monkey Business was a great film, but I find it hysterical). My list of quotations would be quite different, but that only illustrates the point that movie history is too big to squeeze into the tiny Hollywood box (notice, for example, that none of the quotations is from a film not in English).

Still, things like this do no harm, perhaps, and help to fill up column spaces in newspapers, magazines and ... er... blogs...


UPDATE: Paul Hamilos in the Grauniad also finds the list rather odd.

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Monday, June 20, 2005

Embarrassment of riches

THE BEAUTIFUL GAME

I was in the mood this morning to produce a very long post about England's thrilling victory over Australia yesterday, not to mention Bangladesh's even more thrilling victory over them on Saturday. But there has been oodles of this stuff all over the press and, in any case, it's hot today and I'm busy, so a short one will have to suffice.

I'm quite sure Australia will bounce back from this poor start (as they did in 1997), but they look pretty shattered at the moment. Watching Ponting's face sink into crumpled despair as his side lost again yesterday was a joy for any Englishman (or Welshman, we seem to have disappeared when it comes to international cricket, swallowed up by the gobbling English giant which won't even acknowledge us as a separate nation - still, with Simon Jones on such good form, who cares?).

Much as the Australians have been making excuses and promising better things to come, the engine isn't firing on their vehicle at the moment. What's more, we've been able to enjoy the spectacle of the Australian media laying into the team (more here... and here*). Times like this don't come around very often, so let's enjoy the fun of watching the arrogant giants of cricket humbled by teams they really should have beaten.

The real question for England is - regardless of how the remaining games go - what to do about team selection? We have an amazingly solid top order, but also an embarrassment of choice. Graham Thorpe has always (well, usually) been an automatic selection for the No. 5 spot but Pietersen's performance yesterday gives him a momentum that may be unstoppable. Sentimentally satisfying though it would be to see Thorpe end his Test career in a blaze of Ashes glory (and he's capable of it), the fear that Pietersen must be striking into Australian hearts at the moment - fear he seems to be unable to feel himself - gives him a psychological advantage not shared by any other England batsman.

Picking Thorpe would be the safe choice. He's the determined, back-to-the-wall batsman who pulls us out of trouble and saves us when things are going badly. He has an excellent record against Australia, and his recent form has been superb (especially in the Test arena). He is immensely experienced, whereas Pietersen has never played a Test match.

But, if experience were everything, Henman would win Wimbledon this year. Pietersen is the dangerous choice, both for England (what if he fails?) and Australia (if he succeeds). English cricket has too often opted for the safe bet, the unadventurous choice, the known quantity. Like the nation it represents, it has appeared sober, restrained, cautious, perhaps a little dull. It's managed to rebuild its reputation from the dark days of the nineties, to the extent that it can now look the world's No.1 team squarely in the face and refuse to be bullied any more. But there is a difference between not losing - and winning. Pietersen's magic - which has also been on display in first-class matches, so he's not just a slogger - may be the vital ingredient that England need to take back the Ashes which they last won almost twenty years ago.

There's no point in getting carried away. This is only one week out of many on a long tour. We may find, in the middle of August, that we've got our backs to the wall again - in which case, we might be foolish to drop Thorpe. But we have among us, qualified to play for us, a man whose ability seems beyond the human, who seems to have been capable of producing gold from dirt. If it were my choice, today, I would stick with Thorpe. But in a dream world I would play them both (and Ian Bell, whose place in the line-up must surely be guaranteed at the moment).

(For what it's worth, Dickie Bird would pick Pietersen and Bell, and drop Thorpe.)



* And here. Rub salt into the wound - moi?

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Not napalm - honest

GNUS INTERNATIONAL

Apparently, it wasn't napalm after all. Well, that's a comfort.

(Thanks to Justin again.)

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Health scare

GNU BRITAIN

An interesting Guardian article by Ben Goldacre about the way health scare stories are reported. He argues that it's nonsense to say that such-and-such increases your risk of dying by x%, if you don't know what the baseline figure is. For example, saying ibuprofen increases your risk of a heart attack by 50% may be true, but we're talking one extra person in every 1005 people, which is much less scary.

Goldacre's article merely reinforces what I already believe about scare stories - that they're there to sell papers. This doesn't mean that the threat isn't real; just that one always needs to read behind the figures, and maintain a sense of perspective.

(Of course, health scare stories do form part of the evidence I use when talking about reasons for converting to vegetarianism. Luckily, they're not the only thing I rely on.)

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Sunday, June 19, 2005

Bollocks to cancer

GNU BRITAIN

John B finds an interesting commercial online. Nicely done, but I'm with Justin - that bite at the end brought tears to my eyes.

Must go, the England innings is starting.

(PS Way to go, Bangladesh!)

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Saturday, June 18, 2005

Napalm Death

GNUS INTERNATIONAL

Both Tim Ireland and Justin McKeating have some excellent articles about the American military's use of napalm in Iraq. The use of napalm was banned by a UN convention in 1980, but the Americans refused to ratify it (here's everything you wanted to know about napalm).

What's more, the Americans led the British government to believe that it had not been using napalm in Iraq, according to the Independent (see Tim's site for an extract of the article). However, the British government had plenty of eyewitness accounts of this and other atrocities carried out by US forces in Iraq, which they seem for some reason not to have been interested in pursuing.

Follow the links for Tim and Justin's sites to find out more, including why the BBC has failed to report any of this.

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Friday, June 17, 2005

More silent protest

GNU LABOUR

An excellent little fairy tale by Jamie at Blood & Treasure.

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Silent protest

GNU LABOUR

Tim at Bloggerheads has helpfully drawn a map of the areas of London in which you are no longer allowed to protest. At all. For any reason. If I were standing outside, say, Channel Four's headquarters in Horseferry Road and I decided to say in a loud voice how much I despise this government's attempts to stifle free speech, I could probably be arrested (actually, will the exclusion zone mean that Channel Four can no longer interview anyone who wishes to disagree with the government?). I can't - in theory, at least - even wear a political wristband.

It seems we can't even protest at St Thomas's Hospital or the London Aquarium.

The text of the 'statutory instrument' can be found here.

Did anyone notice this happening? No, nor me. Say goodbye to those Stop the War rallies. Say goodbye to Brian Haw, who peacefully protested single-handedly outside Downing Street. Say goodbye even to the Countryside Alliance marches (OK, I won't be shedding too many tears over that one). There was no Home Office press release. There was no 'public consultation' about the area covered by the zone. The Mayor of London's blog reports that their request for guidance about these regulations (under the Freedom of Information Act) has been delayed by the Home Office. Thank God for Tim, Anthony, Justin, Robin & co., who deliberately keep an eye out for these things.

Unless this entire legislation has been introduced in order to be able to remove Brian Haw (which is not impossible*), then I don't see why the police couldn't just have checked the ID cards of everyone turning up for a protest, logged them on their super-database, then banned them from being part of any future public assembly.

Good God, this legislation would have criminalised me, Mrs Gnu (who is in all other respects completely non-political), my two disabled friends, my ex-wife and dozens of children, all of whom turned up to march against the Iraq war in 2003. Is this what New Labour is about? Criminalising one and a half million of its own citizens, many of whom voted for it anyway? Even Mao didn't do this (he just shot them, instead).


* See above.



UPDATE: Mayor of London's blog announces a public meeting on 29 June on this very subject.

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Cook's recipe

GNU LABOUR

Excellent article in the Grauniad today by my neighbour, Robin Cook (he seems to have taken up residence in Chiswick; I have already seen him in the pet shop, and he was jogging on Acton High Street a week or so ago, Walkman plugged firmly into ears - if he'd been New Labour it would have been an iPod - sadly looking nothing like the Foreign Secretary he was once proud to be).

Anyway, Cook's article focuses mostly on the absurdities of New Labour's embrace of the private sector in its so-far abysmal attempts to bring 'efficiency' to public services. He writes:
The justification repeatedly advanced for inviting the private sector to invade the public services is that this will result in greater efficiency. This is contestable on two counts.

First, on an issue of principle. It is naive to imagine that the results of inviting the private sector in will be limited to the efficiency of the outcome and neutral as to the impact on the egalitarian, shared character of public services. A democratic public service marches to a value system that is different to a commercial, private operation, and imposing commercial means will change its end result. It is no coincidence that the rise of private providers in state education has resulted in a growth in selection.

Second, on grounds of practical evidence. The belief that private provision is necessarily more efficient than public is not the result of scientific study but of a collective loss of nerve by those in charge. Private companies that have won contracts for educational services under this government include Serco, which builds missile-warning systems, Jarvis, a construction-engineering consultant, and Group 4, the prison specialists. The factor that unites all these companies is that they brought no knowledge of education to their new business and began by hiring the expertise of the very public-service staff whose alleged inefficiency they were supposed to remedy.


However, what struck my attention most about the article was its opening discussion. Cook observes that the key to a successful business is "product differentiation". He goes on to point out that this is one approach New Labour has singularly failed (indeed, refused) to follow:
[New Labour] has repeatedly stolen the clothes of the Tories, consistently kept quiet about Labour's progressive achievements, such as social justice, and generally tried to narrow the extent to which there is any centre ground left between Labour and its major opponent.

The election result exposed the limits to such political cross-dressing. We ended up convincing a dangerously large number of our supporters that we are to the right of them, and a million of them jumped ship to vote Liberal Democrat on polling day. They will not come back unless they see us embark now on a serious process of renewal of Labour as the natural home of progressive voters and a party with a coherent value-based philosophy.

Before I saw the light, decided to do what I'd always wanted to do and gave up my white-collar day job, I was a market researcher. This exposed me to new products still in development, advertising still at storyboard stage, and goods and services which were about to launch but needed positioning. Time and time again, the quest was for a 'point of difference' which would stimulate the consumer and give the brand or product a distinct location within the marketplace. Sometimes this 'point of difference' could appear quite subtle (can anyone tell me the point of difference between Coke and Pepsi?), sometimes it was quite overt (Channel Five - 'nuff said).

New Labour may think it's as successful as, say, Pepsi but its problem - and Cook* is on the right lines here - is that the danger is of its losing all distinctive identity. Pepsi is always breathing down Coke's neck, but the truth is that the term 'coke' has become generic. Even when you're drinking Pepsi, you think you're drinking Coke - in fact, even if you do know which one you're drinking, you don't care. By moving into Tory territory, New Labour has 'Pepsified' itself. "It doesn't matter which brand you drink, you're getting the same product - just with a difference can" becomes "it doesn't matter which party you vote for, you'll get the same government - just with different faces". All those backbench Labour MPs with wafer-thin majorities over the Tories have a lot to fear from New Labour's quest to out-Tory the Tories. Far from destroying the opposition, it merely validates the ground it stands on. In the end, faced with one crap product or another, and no alternative except to buy something more expensive (mineral water/LibDems), the public stops giving a flying monkey's and picks the first thing it sees on display - or goes home thirsty.

Let's continue with this analogy. Having a point of difference of the type Cook outlines doesn't have to involve an outrageous identity of the sort Channel Five gave us in its early days (although it's now moving into Channel Four's territory, a fight which neither channel will win). BBC1 remains both distinctive and popular - in fact, the attribute most strongly associated by viewers with BBC1 is 'trust'. If New Labour could own 'trust' as a value - just as it seemed to in those heady early days in 1997 - it would deserve every election victory it won, and wouldn't be squeaking home with the support of only 22% of the electorate.


* I'm not going to do a Coke/Cook joke, I can't be bothered.

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Thursday, June 16, 2005

Marginal difference

GNU BRITAIN

Anthony of UK Polling Report has very helpfully posted the first findings of the Boundary Commission review for England and Wales.

The upshot is that the Tories notionally gain 14 seats, Labour lose 11 and the LibDems gain two. But these are notional results based on the last election and have very little grounding in reality.

The bad news is that it looks like I shall have to vote Labour in 2009, in order to keep the Tories out in my area...

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Film bore

GNUFOTAINMENT

The Guardian also reports today that the Film Council has been "told to investigate how [British] movies are funded and produced" as part of a re-examination of its role.

As a worker in the industry in my day (and often night) job, I could tell them. Most 'British' films are funded by the big American studios with an eye on the American (not the international) market. The remainder of British films are funded by wealthy individuals (in a small number of cases) or the producers' credit cards (in the remainder).

The government has also hinted that the BBC would be required to invest in British film as part of the licence fee mechanism. The Beeb won't buy this for a minute, not when so much of its budget goes on ratings-chasing blockbusters at Christmas, Easter and Bank Holidays. And, frankly, even if the BBC comes up with a 'British film budget' to support domestic productions, it'll be eaten up by Pride and Prejudice-style costume dramas (co-funded by North American backers, no doubt) or 'socially relevant' kitchen sink dramas that won't have half the ingenuity or wit of something like Vera Drake.

The script for my vampire biker film will have to stay in the drawer...

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Old and past it

LIBEWAL DEMOCWATS

The LibDems have attempted to seize the headlines (ha ha) by unveiling a 10-point pension plan (yeah, that'll grab 'em). They propose "the introduction of a citizens' pension paid to all with personal pension provision."

Cheers Kennedy added: "Our vision is that as many people as possible should have their own additional pensions, on top of the citizens' pension."

So it seems the LibDem proposals are that everyone gets entitled to a pension supplied by the government (as is the case now) and, to supplement this, people are advised to take out a private pension (as is the case now).

Set the world alight, Charlie.

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Down on the farm

GNUS INTERNATIONAL

I've deliberately refrained from commenting on the current European ding-dongs, simply because my own thoughts about Europe are in a state of transition, and because other people cover the issue so much more comprehensively than I could. But my attention was caught by this opinion piece in the Guardian by Jackie Ashley. She makes one point which I thought was fair comment (more than one, in fact, but this is the one which caught my attention):
But there is a logic in the French position, too, never reported in the British press. France has twice our landmass, with the same number of people. It has 28m hectares of agricultural land, compared to our 16m.
I'd been thinking Blair was right (tactically, if nothing else) to hit back at France's farming subsidies in response to demands to give up Britain's EU rebate. Besides, bashing the French can often be fun. But Ashley's observation had been lost on me until now.

Just a little drop in the ocean of pro- and anti-European debate crashing its way across the blogs of our land.

(Also I didn't want to have to type too much today, as I have sliced one of my fingers open with a breadknife.)

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Bowelled over

GREEN GNU

My fellow vegetarians will be joining me in noting with some satisfaction (and perhaps a weary raising of the eyebrow in an "I told you so" manner) the report that eating red meat has been linked to cancer.

I particularly liked the comment from the spokesman for British Meat: "If you eat meat, you are not going to get cancer" [sic].

I look forward to evidence from British Meat of the anti-carcinogenic nature of a meat diet. If we can avoid cancer by eating sausages, surely the government should be promoting this new healthy diet?

(More on vegetarianism soon. A post is being prepared.)

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STILL no ID-er

GNU BRITAIN

Perhaps an early nail in ID cards' coffin, reported by Will.

UPDATE: The government continues to struggle.

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Gorgeous, pouting Justine

LAND OF HOPELESS TORIES

The number of people who arrive here having Googled 'Justine Greening' increases every day.

Look, I know some of you chaps aren't exactly getting enough, but aren't you scraping the bottom of the barrel a little? I mean, what's Ms Greening got that other celebs haven't? Or do you restrict your scope of reference to Tory MPs, in which case you've been having to make do with Julie Kirkbride all these years - I pity you.

Justine may be blonde, single and under 40, but she's got a mouth like Zippy from Rainbow (hmm, do we know someone else like that?) and SHE'S A FUCKING TORY, FOR GOD'S SAKE! AND - WORSE - AN ACCOUNTANT! Have you no shame?

Anyway, she's a rotten politician: campaigning for a 'better District Line' service to Wimbledon, she's missed something, according to this chap.

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Jury trial

GNUS INTERNATIONAL

I understand some of today's papers have been calling for jurors in this country to be allowed to speak out about trials in which they have been involved, as they are allowed to in the US.

This is why it's a bad idea: "One juror, Raymond Hultman, told CNN he felt 'Michael Jackson probably has molested boys' but the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to convict him" (from Yahoo News/Reuters).

Right, so that's "we've just found him innocent, but he's probably guilty", then?

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Another unsung hero

GNUS INTERNATIONAL

Norm of that blog draws our attention to Mukhtaran Bibi.

(I really must stop directing people to other blogs. What are the odds they ever come back here?)

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Bastards database

GREEN GNU

I have discovered that someone has kindly put together a site detailing which evil corporate bastards own which other evil corporate bastards, and what bastard things they're doing with our money.

Find it here.

I'll never buy Shredded Wheat again (owned by Kraft, owned by Philip Morris).

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Paper Tiggers

LIBEWAL DEMOCWATS

Following yesterday's post about the state of the parties, I notice that Steve Richards has an article in today's Independent about why Labour and the Tories fear the LibDems (registration/subscription required, sorry).

Interesting though the article is, Richards makes one basic error. He writes:
At the next election, [the LibDems] will be in second place in a greater number of marginal seats than at the last election, breathing down Labour's neck as well as the Conservatives'. Here is the key figure from the last election: the Liberal Democrats are now in second place in 189 constituencies. They are chasing Labour in 104 of those seats.
Frankly, I don't know who's been doing Richards's sums. He seems to be conflating marginals with non-marginals. The figures, as I reported in yesterday's post, show that the real fight is still Tory-Labour in the marginals.

In seats where Labour's majority is 5% or less, the LibDems are in second place (or a strong third place, in the case of three-way marginals) in seven out of 44 seats. If we extend the definition of a marginal to a 10% majority, which is generous but not entirely unreasonable, the LibDems are in second place (or in a three-way fight) in a total of 15 out of 89 seats. If we throw in seats held by the Tories, the LibDems are in second place (or in a three-way fight) in 17 out of 45 seats. Let's be kind and throw in Moray (a four-way marginal, held by the SNP). That means that the LibDems are in a winnable position in a total of 33 out of 135 seats (remember, they're not always in second place in these constituencies). To reach Richards's magic figure of 189, we're going to have to extend the definition of a 'marginal' to a majority of over 15% and include seats like Wokingham and Aberdeen North - no one's seriously suggesting that they're going to fall (in Aberdeen North, for example, Labour polled 42.5%, the LibDems 23.9% and the SNP 22.3% - it would take a spectacular collapse in both the Labour and SNP votes for the LibDems to take the seat).

The LibDems, of course, are famous for being able to overturn huge majorities. After all, isn't this exactly what they did in Withington and Hornsey? Didn't they win from third place in Falmouth & Camborne? Yes, of course. But they'd have to repeat this trick in every one of Richards's constituencies to pose a serious threat to the main parties. And, next time, they won't have Iraq to help them (they might still have tuition fees, but this'll only be an issue in the university seats - they can probably count on holding Cambridge and Bristol West, boundary changes permitting). What's more, they'd have to hold on to all their existing seats, almost a quarter of which are held with a 5% majority or lower.

All this geekiness is merely evidence to show that Richards's claim that Labour and the Tories should be scared of the LibDems just doesn't add up. There is no "threat posed by the Liberal Democrats" which "must be addressed urgently", to quote Richards - certainly not for the next Election.

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HA HA HA HA HA

THE BEAUTIFUL GAME

We were all mentally preparing ourselves, getting our low expectations in early. It won't tell us anything about how the summer's going to unfold. It's only a one-day match - in fact, it's barely a half-day match. It's Mickey Mouse cricket, the kind of thing they play in schools and indoor arenas. It's a slugfest, and no one does batting better and quicker than the Australians. All in all, this match will tell us nothing about the Ashes, the other one-day internationals, or indeed anything at all about the teams' performance, preparation, talent or mental strength.

Well, bollocks to that. Not having Sky, I couldn't watch the game and I preferred to listen to I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue on the radio rather than the live coverage. I did have CricInfo ticking away with the live scorecard (much better than Ceefax, who were about three hours behind, showing England two wickets down just as the match was ending). I thought our first innings total was respectable, but no higher than one would expect from a tip-and-run form of the game. The Aussies will easily surpass that, I thought, especially with Gilchrist opening the batting, and I went and had my dinner and put Baby Gnu in the bath.

Leaving Junior with his mother and a bottle of bedtime milk, I nipped downstairs to clear up and switched the radio on, expecting the worst (ie business as usual). When I heard Aggers say: "it's always a shame when it's obvious how the match is going to end half-way through", I groaned inwardly - they're going to overtake us in the space of ten overs, I thought. Then I heard "Harmison comes in to McGrath".

McGrath? He wasn't doing that thing he did earlier this year in the charity match when he came in at Number Six as a joke, was he? No, indeed he wasn't, and three balls later Australia were all out for 79.

I'm going to repeat that, because it's so lovely: AUSTRALIA ALL OUT FOR 79.

Of course, everything I wrote in the first paragraph is still true. No doubt the smile will be off my face by the third day of the first Test. The Ashes are not coming home. I still predict a 3-1 defeat (assuming one lost to the weather). It's just that I'm a little bit more confident that it'll be 3-1, not 4-0, now.

BY THE WAY: Apparently, there is a portrait of Shane Warne going up in the Long Room at Lord's. The portrait has been painted by Fanny Rush. Couldn't make it up, could you?

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Monday, June 13, 2005

It would be good to be a Tory now - perhaps

GNU BRITAIN

I'm working my way very slowly towards an approximate prediction of the result of the next General Election.

Bit early, you might think. Well, yes, but there are certain factors which have generally held true throughout the history of post-war elections, predominant among which is the pendulum. In a two-party political system, the pendulum has tended to swing either more or less rapidly from Tory to Labour and back again. I see no reason why this should not continue (not even the rise of the LibDems, on which more in a moment). We can reasonably expect the pendulum to swing back in the Tories' favour next time.

Another factor which generally holds true is that governments get more unpopular the longer they are in office. It's easy to see why this is the case. No government can solve all the problems it claims to want to solve (and those claims are getting more and more ambitious as parties try and make a stronger case for themselves to an increasingly cynical electorate). As a consequence, there is always likely to be net dissatisfaction among the electorate over the long term. And so people look for a change - and they have always looked to the other party (ie the Opposition) to provide it. Even if a government is initially popular (like Blair's, and Thatcher's before it), disappointment inevitably sets in. More good news for the Tories, there.

Third, Labour has partly been kept in power over the last eight years by an extraordinary lack of substance on the part of the Tories. There are signs that this is beginning to resolve itself. No one really believes that David Davis is not going to win the leadership election, even if a reasonable number of people are going to try to stop him*. Davis is even more popular in the country than he is in his party. If he's still up against Blair, he will look fresh, inspired and tempting to the voters.

It might be different if he's up against Brown, but a lot depends on when Brown takes over. At the moment, Brown's stock is rising rapidly. He was a major contributor to saving Blair's bacon in the last Election (look how quickly the Tories pulled their "vote Blair, get Brown" message when they realised it was playing into Labour's hands), and his conjuring trick over Africa (which isn't as good as it sounds) has made him look, in one stroke, compassionate and statesmanlike. He has a large measure of support in the parliamentary party (many of them passed over by Blair and thirsting for revenge). His track record as Chancellor is perceived as excellent, and he can elicit voter sympathy through both the recent birth of his son and the earlier death of his daughter. This would be a good time for him to take up the reins of power inside Number Ten. But Blair shows no sign of giving up, and has stated his determination to serve a full third term (I suspect he secretly wishes to outlast Thatcher's record**). If the timing of the handover is wrong, Brown will either have lost a lot of his credit or will be insufficiently prepared for the next Election - or both. And it's hard to see who, other than Brown, would make a suitable successor to Blair - unless a real surprise is awaiting us (Miliband, anyone?).

Another factor working in the Tories' favour is the precarious position in Labour marginals. The swing to the Tories in the last Election was something in the order of 3.5% (on average, with considerable variation in certain regions). At the moment, there are 72 seats in the Commons which are held by a margin of under 4% - in other words, a swing of 2% would be enough to unseat the holder. 30 of them are held by Labour with the Tories as the challenger (or as three-way marginals). Five more have the LibDems or a Nationalist party as the challenger. If all those seats changed hands on this small swing, Labour's majority would disappear.

Boost the swing to 3% (still less than this last Election) and a further 16 Labour seats fall to the Tories (and another one to the LibDems).

But won't the LibDems break the mould of British politics, as they have always been promising to do? After all, they had their best election since whenever, didn't they? Yes, but they had a lot of impact from protest voting. Everyone knew Labour was going to win (despite their idiotic braying that they were in serious trouble, and that the Tories could sneak a victory - it's a bad tactic to cry wolf, guys, it won't work next time which is when you'll really need it), so people felt safe in voting for another party. The LibDems were the recipient of many of these votes, partly because of their stand on the war, but also because they're not the Tories. There are still a lot of people around who can remember the Thatcher-Major years with horror, and can't bring themselves to vote Tory. Disgusted by Blair, the LibDems were their natural home. But these people's vivid memories of Howard as Home Secretary won't be so vivid next time round, and voting Tory might be something they can bring themselves to do once again.

Electorally, too, the LibDems are highly vulnerable. Eight of their seats are vulnerable to a swing back to the Tories of 2%, plus three more if it's 3%. Bang goes one-sixth of their representation. They don't seriously challenge Labour in enough seats to make up this shortfall. Nor is there any evidence that they will challenge the Tories in their vulnerable seats.

Of course, marginals don't always fall (the retention of Dorset South must be of particular pride to Labour and the MP there, Jim Knight). But safe seats aren't always safe, either (Solihull, Withington, Hornsey?). The effort required to hold onto their marginals and super-marginals will stretch Labour to the limit next time round. Who knows how many activists will have the stomach for the fight, especially when it's so much easier to attack than to defend?

And I haven't even mentioned the England and Wales boundary changes, which give the Tories a kick-start of about 12 seats they would have won, had this last Election been fought under the new boundaries.

So we're left with a situation where history is against Labour and a small swing to the Tories will put them out of business. But I'm not predicting a Tory victory, yet. They still have a long way to go in terms of making up the gap in the number of seats. A Labour defeat does not equal a Tory victory. And if people are fed up with Blair, replacing him with Brown could - assuming the timing is right - solve half of Labour's problems at a stroke (look how the Tories suddenly began to prosper as soon as Thatcher was replaced by Major). The Tories have to bear in mind that they had a great opportunity for a resurgence in their support, in response to an unpopular government, and they fluffed it.

A hung parliament is genuinely on the cards, this time. 2009 will be very, very exciting. Not if you're Laura Moffatt or Paul Clark or Celia Barlow, just three of the Labour MPs currently clinging onto 'super-marginals'. But for the rest of us.

I'm pleased to see, by the way, that John Curtice agrees with my prediction.


* Recess Monkey says that there are rumours of a 'killer story' waiting in the wings which will scupper Davis, but I don't have any more information - yet.
** Technically not a record, since she was not Prime Minister as long as Lord Liverpool, who managed 15 years. Even Blair isn't going after that one.



UPDATE: Peter Preston on why Davis is too old for the job, and why it would be good for David Cameron to get it. Well, it's going to be one David or another, isn't it? I'll comment more on Preston's article another time.

MORE: Baron M writes on another of Gordon Brown's conjuring tricks.

EVEN MORE: George Monbiot on the moral corruption at the heart of the G8's agreement on debt relief.

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Still no ID-er

GNU BRITAIN

The PledgeBank pledge refusing to get an ID card has been updated. Log on and pledge to (a) refuse to register for an ID card and (b) contribute £10 to a legal defence fund. The target is a more realistic 10,000 people this time.

MORE: PledgeBank's profile is rising.

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Friday, June 10, 2005

What is it MPs do, exactly?

GNU LABOUR

One of the Andrews mentioned below is my MP, Andrew Slaughter.

Manic over at Bloggerheads takes his MP to task for doing bugger all since being elected.

Andrew Slaughter has no website (although Labour's website has finally replaced the photo of Clive Soley with a - squished - pic of Slaughter), and has said not one word in Parliament (within the hearing of Hansard) since being elected. Be assured that you'll be informed should any of this change.

I'm watching you, Slaughter.

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Thrones of David

GNU BRITAIN

I don't know how many of you are interested in this sort of thing, because it's seriously anoraky*, but I was looking through the election results, trying to work out the number of ultra-marginals (more on this soon), and I kept thinking, "there seem to be an awful lot of Davids in the House".

Well, as a labour of love, and as a service to you, dear reader(s), I sat and counted the most often occurring names of current MPs (South Staffordshire by-election not included, but there aren't that many Patricks anyway). The most common names are:


  • David: 41 (plus Wayne David, MP for Caerphilly)

  • John: 36 (although I should have included Jack Straw, whose real first name is John, so it's really 37)

  • Michael/Mike: 24 (not inluding Alun Michael)

  • Andrew/Andy: 21

  • James/Jim/Jimmy: 18 (not including Sian James, MP for Swansea East)

  • Mark: 16

  • Alan/Alun: 13 (which, of course, does include Alun Michael)

  • Ian/Iain: 13 (the only 'Iain' is Duncan-Smith)

  • Stephen/Steve: 13


The above names account for over 30% of MPs. Which says to me what a boring, conservative bunch they are (or their parents were). I mean, where are the Ebeneezers? Even boring names like Simon and Matthew hardly get a look in (there are two Simons, plus one Matthew; and, guess what, two of them are LibDems).

Little points of interest along the way: both the MPs for Dudley are called Ian, and both the MPs for Warrington are called Helen. The new MP for Monmouth is called David Davies, and he must be feeling tremendously popular at the moment (at least until people realise they've spelt his surname wrong).

There are MPs called Short, Humble, Begg, Burden, Goodman, Law (and Laws), Keen, Hope, Breed, Stoate, Slaughter, Love, Blackman (who is a white woman), Mole, Battle, Leech, Balls, Crabb, Borrow, Kidney, Hogg, Cash and Gray - any of which could be taken as amusing or ironic, if you were in the mood (and didn't have much of a sense of humour). Two of the Norfolk MPs are called Lamb and Bacon.

To my surprise, there are only eight MPs called Smith. Of whom two are called Angela Smith (Basildon, and Sheffield Hillsborough).



* I do own an anorak, but I have never worn it.

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Thursday, June 09, 2005

Bloody ridiculous

GNUS INTERNATIONAL

Also from John B (who is getting a lot of coverage from yours truly, lately, but he seems to have a nose for interesting stuff) comes this appalling story from Texas. (Warning: details will be disturbing to all parents and, well, anyone with any sensitivity.)

Oscar was once a Pro-Lifer (more on this another time, I'm still living with the guilt) but he would never have supported this lunacy.

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Oil be damned

GNUS INTERNATIONAL

John B's blog, Shot By Both Sides, directs me to this critically important article by Jim Bliss, which is basically about how the world's going to end soon because our fuel's going to run out.

It sounds silly when I put it like that, but read the article because it's enormously persuasive (if rather depressing).

(By the way, worth reading the comments on John's site, just to get a sense of perspective.)

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Racial intercourse

GNUS INTERNATIONAL

There is a thoroughly splendid post over at The Sharpener by John B about the racial breakdown in the Dutch population, and how this compares to the situation in the UK. It's worth reading his post, and all the comments (well, most of them) in what is a fascinating debate.

John tries to establish why Holland is now regarded as the most 'Muslimified' (I believe 'dhimmified' is the vogue, but silly, term) state in the EU. He notes that only 4.3% of the Dutch population are "immigrants" (undefined), compared with 3.5% in the UK and a whopping (relatively) 9% in Germany. He wonders whether this is because immigrants are concentrated in big cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, etc. - but the statistics suggest the opposite, if anything. This spurs him to wonder if this is the problem - immigrants are so dispersed throughout the country that the indigenous people (for want of a better term) fear being swamped by a rise in their numbers. John suggests that "there aren’t any majority-ethnic-minority areas that people can look at and view as shining successes in the same way that there are in London or New York" (I'm not sure which places in London he's thinking of - certainly I don't think anyone in London would regard Brent, Hounslow or Tower Hamlets are "shining successes", just dumpy ghettoes of poverty).

The comments attached to the post are themselves worth reading, a mixture of support and disdain for John's views. I was alarmed to find myself particularly liking this comment by Tim Worstall, with whom I don't normally agree on matters political: "There is a third possibility about the dispersal of immigrants throughout the population [...] That most Dutch have in fact met immigrants, albeit never in any concentration, and have decided they don’t like them."

Perhaps both John and Tim have hit on partial versions of the truth. Clearly, Holland is not swamped with immigrants (nor is the UK - nor is any European country except perhaps Switzerland, where a good many of the 'immigrants' are rich, white people*). However, immigrant dispersal in Holland may be so successful that every part of Dutch society has been touched by it, so that every area has people in it who see newcomers (with obviously different skin colour and language) in their streets. Although the Dutch are a traditionally welcoming and tolerant people (albeit sometimes wilfully pedantic, in my experience), the fact that so many of them have been exposed to a small number of immigrants may have made it easier for the likes of Pim Fortuyn to stir up fear of swamping ("you've all seen these people arrive in your area - soon there could be thousands of them!" would be how the message would be interpreted).

Although the same process seems to be happening in certain parts of the UK (someone in the comments section on John's post refers to race riots in Wrexham, where there are only a very small number of refugees**), the fact that Muslim/Asian immigrants are so concentrated in areas such as Burnley, Bradford and Oldham may actually help to mitigate against a general countrywide feeling of irrational fear.

In the end, as John comments, living in London may make one complacent about race relations. We have our problems here, too, but I think we're not doing too badly.


* More on Switzerland in another post.

** Isn't part of the problem that the term 'refugee' (which implies someone in genuine need of help) has been replaced by the term 'asylum seeker' (suggesting, to many people, someone with a case to prove)?

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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Personality Defect Test

TECHNOGNU

Here's one of those online personality test thingies; the difference being that it rates your personality in entirely negative terms.

Apparently, I am a smartass. Which I take as a compliment.

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More on electoral reform

GNU BRITAIN

Further to my comments (and my exchange with Jarndyce) relating to electoral reform, I see Murky has received a letter from Michael Gove (MP for Surrey Heath) confirming that he, at least, has no interest in reforming the current voting system for parliament.

This may be only one Tory MP, but I imagine Gove's views are widely represented across his party. The Tories still believe they are the natural party of government, and that they don't need to tinker with our non-existent constitution just to give them an electoral advantage.

I still say what I said before - we will never get PR for parliament unless a Labour government introduces it; and it won't be this one.

(Oh, courtesy demands that I give due credit to Tim Worstall's Britblog round-up for this one.)

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Ah, that's good gnus

GNUS INTERNATIONAL

In case anyone's wondering (yeah, right), this site has no connection with the apparently defunct blog, Daily Gnus. I only came across it by accident - there hasn't been a post there for six months.

However, the last post the author did make was a fairly amusing imaginary interchange between President Bush and John Ashcroft, on the occasion of Ashcroft's resignation as US Attorney General. What I didn't know, until I read it on this blog, was that Ashcroft's resignation letter contained the following sentence (quoted verbatim):
The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved.

Go figure, as they say in the States.

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Talk them up, why don't you - like they needed it

THE BEAUTIFUL GAME

For God's sake. The Australians are on the horizon, we have the best chance in 20 years of taking back the Ashes, and members of our own side talk them up. First, it's Nasser Hussain (or whoever writes his column); then, worse, it's a current member of the team, Andrew Strauss (or whoever's writing his column).

No doubt they'd tell me it's a cunning ploy (cunning stunt, more like, or something that sounds like it) to make the Aussies complacent. All I can say is that they have very good reason to feel complacent, and just adding to that isn't helping one little bit.

(Thanks to my friends at TMS 24/7 for drawing my attention to these articles.)

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Gorgeous - or not?

GNU BRITAIN

Harry cites this article by Johann Hari in respect of George Galloway's relationship with Saddam.

Personally, I'd answer 'no' to all the questions, although I'd be tempted to answer 'possibly' to No. 6.

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A real hoot, mon

GNU BRITAIN

Rhetorically Speaking has been noting some excellent attempts at journalism by the Scotsman and its bedfellow papers, in respect of the G8 protests. Apparently, the whole of Scotland is going to be embraced in anarchy.

Better tell my brother. He lives in Edinburgh, and votes Tory. He'll be first against the wall.

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Poxfam

GNU BRITAIN

I was right not to buy a wristband, after all.

No sooner have I learnt that the acts at Live8 are not giving their time free, and (from the Evening Standard) that 02 have refused to pass on the money they'll make from all those text messages to the MPH campaign, then I discover (courtesy of Pessimistic Leftist) that Oxfam is colluding with New Labour to "water down" the MPH campaign. Similarly, Bloggerheads reduces the MPH campaign to "gesture politics". It all chimes with my deepest fears.

Maybe I just got up too early this morning...

(Do read the referenced posts. They're terribly good.)

UPDATE: Damon Albarn gets in on the act - or, rather, not. What the hell does the Live8 spokesman (unnamed) mean when he says, "we don't want to preach to the converted"?

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Monday, June 06, 2005

On the dotty line

GNU BRITAIN

Just seen this excellent wheeze, courtesy of Bob Piper (sorry, CouncillorBob Piper), who got it from Doctor Vee, who doesn't say where he got it.

Anyway, I fancy it would work in this country, and I intend to try it.

(Of course, it'll be irrelevant once ID cards come in. These PIN machines are already taking the fun out of things. Incidentally, has anyone ever found a shop where these machines actually work?)

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Charing Cross? Furious!

GNU BRITAIN

I don't want to go into tedious personal history, but I once spent two months in Charing Cross Hospital, West London. The standard of care I got there was reasonably good, considering it was the NHS. I've been going back there regularly for check-ups, since.

So I was perturbed to find that there were plans to close the hospital. It's a bloody enormous thing, for those unfamiliar with it, and I can't imagine what would happen to the site. Besides, it's got one of the only A&E departments in the area.

On a visit this morning, I was puzzled to see a letter posted on a wall from Derek Smith, the Chief Executive of Hammersmith Hospitals Trust (which runs Charing Cross), stating categorically that the hospital would not close. Then I discovered this report which states that consultants were warned in April (by the same Chief Executive) that closure was a certainty but that "[the plans] would be denied if they leaked out in the run-up to the general election".

Interestingly, the facilities of the closed Charing Cross Hospital would be transferred after closure to ... Hammersmith Hospital. Those who are not familiar with the area might like to know that Charing Cross Hospital (which is nowhere near Charing Cross station) is about 40 minutes by bus from Hammersmith Hospital (which is not in Hammersmith, but in East Acton).

So, a long-established hospital with an excellent record of research and teaching (just ask anyone from Imperial College), one of the only A&E departments in West London, some state of the art scanning equipment (I know, I've been under it) and a convenient location is allowed to go £5 million into the red, until the Trust running it decides to close it and transfer its facilities to a smaller hospital which is not even in the same part of London, and doesn't have an A&E department, and (into the bargain) decides to muzzle the embarrassing news until after the election (and is still denying it).

The new Tory MP for Hammersmith & Fulham, Greg Hands, has vowed to fight the closure, but I would have hoped any MP for the area would do so. In any case, this is merely the logical consequence of the policies his party put into place when they were in power. So I don't expect too much from him except posturing.*

According to the Guardian, who also ran the closure story in April, the Trust's financial difficulties are connected with its purchase of Ravenscourt Park Hospital. Ravenscourt Park was a private hospital, and Hammersmith Hospitals Trust bought it with a view to carrying out more hip and knee operations - however, GPs preferred to carry on sending their patients to private facilities, and the hospital was left with empty beds. (Incidentally, the Guardian reports rumours that the Home Office may sell off Wormwood Scrubs Prison in order to accommodate the extra patients from Charing Cross - I know being in hospital feels like being in prison, but this is ridiculous).

There is, apparently, a public consultation due to be held this month (June) about the plans to move the site. But it also appears that this is yet another case where the decision has already been taken.

Where is Dr Richard Taylor when we need him?


POSTSCRIPT: It's worth reading here the speeches made by Clive Soley and Matthew Carrington, then MPs for (respectively) Hammersmith and Fulham, in relation to proposals made to close Charing Cross Hospital back in 1993.

* POST-POSTSCRIPT: Possibly I have been slightly unfair on Greg Hands, who has been a busy little bee since entering the Commons, firing off written questions about Charing Cross Hospital. In one answer, Jane Kennedy (Minister of State for Health) states that "Hammersmith Hospitals National Health Service Trust is currently exploring options about how it will manage its estate over the next 10 years. As yet, the trust has no clear plans, but I understand that the process will involve a range of internal and external partners in drawing up a solution, which would then be subject to a full and thorough public consultation." (My emphases)
We'll see, won't we?

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Shopping city

GNU BRITAIN

A report by the New Economics Foundation (which sounds like a sinister Thatcherite thinktank, but is virtually the opposite) reveals that retail chains are turning UK towns into clones of each other.

The Foundation defines 'clone towns' as urban areas in which indepdendent businesses have been driven out of town centres by national retail chains. In other words, the usual Starbucks, McDonald's, Gap, Woolworth's, Boots, etc.

The policy director of the NEF, Andrew Simms, states:
Clone stores have a triple whammy on communities. They bleed the local economy of money, destroy the social glue provided by real local shops and steal the identity of our towns and cities. Then we are left with soulless clone towns. The argument that big retail is good because it provides consumers with choice is ironic, because in the end it leaves us with no choice at all.

Exeter comes up as king of the clones, with Dumfries, Stafford, Middlesbrough, Weston-super-Mare, Winchester and Cheltenham among other prime offenders. The most 'local' towns include Hebden Bridge and Peebles.

Interestingly, however, in London there were 13 high streets regarded as 'clones' (out of 27 surveyed). These included Wimbledon and Hammersmith. Shepherd's Bush and Bethnal Green were cited as areas with a 'local' identity.

While I'm entirely in agreement with the principle of the report's findings, I can't help feeling that I'd rather live somewhere like Exeter - which may not have an individual high street, but has a beautiful cathedral and green, not to mention some pubs which ooze character - than Shepherd's Bush, which is a total shithole (and only a couple of miles from my house). Retail 'individuality' may be one way of assessing an area's desirability, and we should strive to ensure our high streets maintain their own identity instead of becoming mini-malls, but there are others. The Gnu local, Chiswick High Street, just about manages to keep a local flavour despite the intrusion of the chains (mind you, you have to nip into the side streets to get the best quality local retailers - places like Devonshire Road and Turnham Green Terrace, although the latter is now threatened by the imminence of Crossrail).

Of course, there are other reasons to stay in London, rather than move to Devon...

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Complete and utter makeover

TECHNOGNU

As no one felt forthcoming enough to tell me how to remove the horrid brown wallpaper, I have called in the team from 'Property Location Designs SOS' to remake the entire page from scratch.

I think it's much more readable, now - I prefer the plainer background. Please tell me what you think. If you preferred the old version, I shall listen sympathetically to your appeals before ignoring them completely (that nice Mr Blair taught me everything I know).

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No demo

GNU BRITAIN

Oh, sod. I have just discovered that the Make Poverty History demonstration in Edinburgh is on the same day as Baby Gnu's first birthday.

It's a tough call, but I expect I'll have to spend the day videoing the little one instead of bashing policemen over the head and making V-signs at international leaders.

It's tough when real life intrudes on your dreams...

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Sunday, June 05, 2005

Second Test: Embarrassing

THE BEAUTIFUL GAME

The Second Test ended today, a day later than it need have. Somehow England's bowlers managed to allow Bangladesh (officially the worst Test team in the world, remember) to score over 300 in their second innings, and come perilously close to making England bat again.

The victory was never in doubt, of course. The only question, going into this Test, was - would England crush the Bangers under their heels like the insects they are (figuratively speaking); or would they lose focus, given that the odds were so heavily stacked in their favour?

We have to allow for the fact that the pitch was clearly better suited to batting than bowling, but England's figures in the second innings were almost as pathetic as the Bangladeshi bowlers' were in their first. Harmison - hit for five an over on his home track (and only one wicket into the bargain); Jones - hit for a similar run rate, and not even a wicket to show for it; Batty - the fact that he was even brought into the attack at all says a lot; and Hoggard - well, how he could bring himself to accept the Man of the Match award after eight no-balls and a wide, spraying it all over leg and off sides, and only ending up with eight wickets in the match because no one else seemed bothered about taking them (not that he seemed bothered much, either)...

Easy though the batting was, a more serious contender for the MotM would have been Ian Bell, who is repaying the selectors' faith, scoring his first ever Test century, managing to avoid losing his wicket for the second match in a row, and ending the day with a Test average of 297.00. However, I think I would have been tempted to give it to give it to Aftab Ahmed who, even though faced with a diet of pies from the England bowlers, succeeded where many times his fellow countrymen have failed by not giving away his wicket, top-scoring for Bangladesh with 82*, hitting 13 fours and a six, and making Tresco and Strauss nervously wondering if they really would have to go out and dispense with the formality of hitting the winning runs.

Speaking of Strauss - what in blue blazes is wrong with the man? Nobody seriously expected that his golden run of 2004 would continue indefinitely, but his 69 at Lord's looked insecure, and his feeble eight runs (off 30 balls, for heaven's sake) before getting trapped in front (again) in this match will be something he will want to expunge personally from every scorebook and match record he can lay his hands on. He is having a miserable season with Middlesex, as well, averaging only 14.75 (only from four first-class games, admittedly, but he's a shadow of himself). I do hope he's saving the good stuff up for July.

(Speaking of July, Steve Waugh reckons the Ashes series will be a close-run thing. Bring it on.)

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Phwoar

LAND OF HOPELESS TORIES

Someone arrived on this site having Googled 'Justine Greening'.

Here you are, you Tory perv:

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Electoral reform - not a chance, sorry

GNU BRITAIN

In the aftermath of the General Election, there has been considerable activity in the media and among fellow bloggers, demanding a change to the British electoral system. Indeed, the Who Should You Vote For? site has put up an FAQ of the various systems that might replace FPTP. They've even invented one called 'cellular constituencies', which is as convoluted and difficult to understand as all the others.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm completely in favour of changing the voting system so that it's more representative and doesn't deliver comfortable majorities to parties which only attract 35% of the vote. But let's be realistic. Blair's against the scheme (he's had two commissions look at it, and done nothing to implement their findings) so it's not going to get anywhere in this parliament. The Tories have always been against it, despite a few rumblings recently in the party, because they know they'll eventually get back in under FPTP and be able to be in a similar position to the one Labour are in now. Only the LibDems and other minor parties are in favour of it, and they are in no position to influence the government on it.

Only if the LibDems get somewhere under FPTP, by truly 'breaking the mould' (ie end up holding the balance of power), will the issue of electoral reform be on the agenda. There's no other way. Let's face it, does anyone imagine there's going to be a popular uprising about this? Can you see the people of Britain marching on parliament or manning barricades, demanding a change to Single Transferable Vote? War, yes. War is easy to understand, easy to see who's right and who's wrong (or, at least, it always looks that way). But voting systems?

And, frankly, even if the LibDems do make it into a power-sharing arrangement, electoral reform will be the first thing to be jettisoned. Blair doesn't support it, Brown doesn't support it. The Tories don't support it. The LibDems can't make it a bargaining tool, because no minority government will give it to them, and they won't want to squander their one chance of power by holding out over something that few people understand and even fewer care about.

So, those of you wasting column space blogging about your preferred system, or insisting (like Polly Toynbee) that the case for electoral reform is now beyond challenge - you're pissing into the wind. However morally justifiable it is, however strong the case for it, however it may benefit all those people in safe seats who are convinced their vote doesn't matter, it just ain't going to happen. Not ever. Get used to the fact, and move on. Be thankful we have it for the Euro elections and the Scottish parliament, and save your breath.

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Friday, June 03, 2005

Popularity contest

TECHNOGNU

According to my Stats Counter, over 100 people have visited this site since I installed the counter two days ago.

It really is jolly nice of you all to come and visit. I hope you've all found something interesting to read here, or at least found some good links.

It's early days, of course - I'm nowhere near the over 32,000 hits enjoyed by Emerald Bile, for example. Perhaps I should say 'fuck' more.

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Shoot the frog

GNUFOTAINMENT

About bloody time.

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Thursday, June 02, 2005

Star Bores

GNUFOTAINMENT

The people at Emerald Bile have some interesting things to say about Star Wars. Do not attempt to eat or drink while reading this post, because you may choke while laughing.

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It's all me, me, me

TECHNOGNU

I have been sent, as I mentioned earlier, a meme.

This is my first meme. I don't know how 'meme' should be pronounced. Does one say, "meem"? Or does one repeat the word "me" (which seems more appropriate)?

A more narcissistic activity I can't imagine; nor can I believe that anyone has the slightest interest in what I have to say. But it seems to be part of the furniture of blogging, so I will try and make my answers as enlightening and entertaining as possible.

Curious Hamster has already answered five questions, and he invites me to answer five more before passing it on to other bloggers. So, here goes. CH's answers marked in red, mine in blue:

If I could be a scientist... I'd invent cool stuff to save the planet (and grow a big beard).
If I could be a painter... I'd paint the living room. It really needs freshening up.
If I could be a doctor...
If I could be a farmer...
If I could be a gardener...
If I could be a missionary...
If I could be a lawyer...I'd defend the McLibel Two and not demand a penny. Pro bono, as they say.
If I could be an athlete...
If I could be an innkeeper...
If I could be a professor...
If I could be a writer... I'd have something more useful to write here.
If I could be a llama rider...I'd probably be arrested for bestiality.
If I could be a bonnie pirate...Who's Bonnie?
If I could be an astronaut...
If I could be a world famous blogger... what do you mean, if?
If I could be a justice on any one court in the world...
If I could be married to any one famous political figure...
If I could be a circus star...
If I could be a poet...I'd Make Poetry History
If I could be a musician... I'd be a drummer.
If I could be a chef...I wouldn't allow any meat in my kitchen. I wouldn't allow any of those bloody vegetarian meat substitutes, either. More on this another time.
If I could be a rodeo star...
If I could be a spin doctor... I'd be filled with doubt and self loathing.

Now I have to find some other bloggers to pass this onto. Anyone care to volunteer?

UPDATE: Kay Ballard has kindly taken up the reins, and has said a few rather nice things about me, to boot. How kind.

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What would you do?

GNU BRITAIN

Oscar faced an ethical dilemma yesterday.

Walking down the street to go to the Post Office in order to send my letter to the Chinese Ministry of Justice (47p, to save the rest of you the trip), I noticed a £20 note lying in the street.

Twenty pounds is a difficult sum. Five pounds is neither here nor there. Forty pounds I would have handed into the police without hesitation. But twenty pounds... well, it would mean nothing to some people (in my part of Chiswick they shit more than that). But to others it could be a significant amount. And I had no clue as to how it got there. The broken bottle nearby might have had something to do with it. Or not.

There was no one around to ask, no sign of someone having dipped his hand in his pocket for an Extra Strong Mint and lost a multi-coloured piece of paper in the process. There was no frantic mother, toddler in one hand, valium in the other, scanning the ground desperately muttering, "where is it?" The street was, in fact, deserted but for me.

Of course, I looked round to see where the hidden cameras were, but there was no obvious place to put them (in any case, surely they'd have tried this sort of stunt on a high street, not a residential avenue in wealthy West London). Since the money was outside a house, I rang the doorbell and asked the woman who answered if it was hers. She denied it (bit slow-witted there, madam).

After a telephone consultation with Mrs Gnu, I decided to hand it in at the police station where the desk officer was equally ambivalent about the point of surrendering it. But it becomes mine after a month if it's unclaimed, at which point it will be passed on straight away to one of the good causes in the sidebar on the left (the 'other links' bit, obviously - I'm not giving it to another blogger). Perhaps this would be a suitable donation to the 'Make Poverty History' campaign?

So, there you are. A crisp £20 note awaits whoever among you is sharp-witted and conscience-free enough to go and claim it. Of course, you have to guess where I found it...

What would you have done in my circumstance?

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Makeover time

TECHNOGNU

I've decided I don't like this brown wallpaper. Anyone know which piece of code I need to delete in order to get rid of it? Please get in touch. Thanks.

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Risk banned

GNU BRITAIN

I am indebted (not in a Third World sense, obviously) to Curious Hamster on several counts.

First, he observes that the wristband campaign may serve to raise awareness of the issue, which is a fair point. I didn't tackle this in my earlier post, partly because I think the whole 'raise awareness' issue is unproven (all advertising is unproven, believe it or not, which makes me wonder how a global multi-billion dollar industry has arisen over something which has no more definitive proof behind its effectiveness than swallowing frogs to cure sore throats... but I digress). My other reason for not commenting on raising awareness is that my post was intended to focus on the self-congratulatory element of public displays of charity.

Second, the whiskered one directs me to this article by Justin McKeating over at Chicken Yoghurt (yes, it's that man again!). Apparently this Live8 thing isn't a fundraiser after all, except insofar as the money raised goes to PAY THE STARS WHO ARE TAKING PART (apart from a measly £1.5m, which is going to the Prince's Trust, which has as much connection with famine relief as I have with snowmobiling). Read that bit back to yourself (the bit about paying the stars, not the bit about snowmobiling) and stagger at the hypocrisy of it all.

Third, CH has sent me a meme. More on this in a bit.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Howzat? Not sure

THE BEAUTIFUL GAME

Ken over at Militant Moderate muses on the use of technology in cricket, with specific reference to umpiring decisions.

He argues that the use of the third umpire has diminished the quality of umpiring in general, on the grounds that umpires are no longer forced to adjudicate on very close decisions and therefore no longer have to apply the same concentration they used to. He adds: "I am not yet convinced that the technology is nearly accurate enough yet to be used as a substitute (even if more accurate than human error); nor do I believe that it is desirable for the game to be held up constantly for further TV adjudication." His overall fear is of a diminution in the authority, and ultimately the usefulness, of the umpire.

I wonder if we have to ask the question, what is at stake? As Ken rightly comments, an umpiring decision can change the course of the entire game. In terms of winning or losing the match, correct decisions are critical - which would imply throwing every single decision over to the techno-umpire (the logical extension of Ken's argument, as he admits). That would, of course, be silly if the only thing at stake was whether 'justice' had prevailed. If no other factor were involved, players would have to grin and bear it if a decision went incorrectly against them, just as they used to in the mythical 'good old days'.

Sadly, there is another factor: money. While cricket may not command the fortunes thrown at and received by football or other high-profile international sports, there is a lot of cash flowing around the game. A team's earning potential is directly or indirectly connected to its progress on the field (notwithstanding subsidies). There's no doubt that the modest, if enthusiastic, crowd I sat amongst at Lord's last week for the Test against Bangladesh will be multiplied several times over when the Australians play at the same venue in July. The reason? Australia win more matches, are more exciting to watch, and present the prospect of a more evenly-balanced game with England than the so-called Tigers.

Since poor umpiring decisions can swing a game, and since television (and the cash associated with it) is becoming ever more sophisticated and powerful, how long before the gentlemanly, amateur attitude of "the umpire's decision is final" is replaced by "better let the computer judge that one - if Australia win/lose the game on the basis of this single decision, the gate receipts for the next match will go through the floor"? (There's probably a more appropriate example in that quotation than Australia, but it would depend on the context.)

Naturally, I hope I'm wrong. Cricket, despite the advent of overtly commercial stunts such as Twenty20 (spit) remains relatively unsullied by the rampage of commercialism, at least in comparison with some other sports. But Ken's article rightly raises the question: now that the Hawkeye genie is out of the bottle, can anyone expect it to be put back in? And, if not, what's to stop it taking over the running of the game completely?

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