Monday, October 31, 2005

Hallowe'en Special: Be eaten first!


H. P. Lovecraft fans with a sense of humour will appreciate this (via Nick Barlow).


Chomsky speaks


Speaking of America (and the Guardian), here's an interview with Noam Chomsky by Emma Brockes in said paper. Though brief, I feel it manages to expose some of both the strengths and the weaknesses of the man. Lenin, on the other hand, finds Brockes's interview shameful, as does Mark of Interbreeding and many others who leave comments.

For more on Emma Brockes, see here - and see also here for Mark's less flattering portrait.

(By the way, credit to Lenin for increasing my vocabulary by one word. Never heard of "anfractuous" before, but I'll try and slip it into conversation at the first opportunity.)

[UPDATE: Chomsky's pithy response to the article is here.]

[FURTHER UPDATE: This one won't lie down. Although a lot of the criticism of Brockes comes across as "you insulted my hero" posturing, Alexander Cockburn's article for CounterPunch is worth reading in terms of how not only Chomsky's views of the war against Serbia, but also those of other journalists, have been misrepresented by a media too keen on demonising the Serbs.]

[FURTHER FURTHER UPDATE: One month on, I discover I was wrong to praise this interview. Even the Guardian has virtually disowned it. Bugger. That'll teach me to believe what I read in the papers...]


Bush picks a fight


Dubya has picked his new nominee for the Supreme Court, Samuel Alito (BBC profile). An anti-abortion conservative. There's a bloody surprise.

In helping to throw out Harriet Miers, who (like her would-be predecessor Sandra Day O'Connor) was an unknown quantity, the Left may have made things worse for themselves. If Alito is confirmed, he will line up with Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas against Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer and Souter, balancing the court 5-4 in favour of conservatives (although Kennedy is something of an unknown quantity, as O'Connor was).

It would be a welcome, sweat-wiping breather for the president who is now in freefall.


A welcome return


Let's welcome back, which has issued a special David Cameron commemorative bank-note. Easy to roll and insert, presumably (I mean insert in one's wallet, of course).


Saturday, October 29, 2005

Poxfam again


I've been meaning to write about this for weeks, but only now have I got the time and clarity of thought to do so.

Some time ago, a little leaflet popped through the letter box. I've got it in front of me now. It's entitled 'The Art of Self-Defence' and pictures a young woman doing a high kick with her arms stretched above her head. At first I thought it might be a useful guide to fending off muggers offered by a concerned Metropolitan Police (perhaps on the grounds that they no longer have any interest in helping you deal with street crime, not when there are so many people to shoot). But, no. In the corner of the front page is the Oxfam logo. When I saw this I was both confused and intrigued.

Here's what it says inside the front cover (verbatim):

We've all been there - harangued by a cynic who says outrageous things about Oxfam, or charities in general.

So here's the answer - well several in fact. Answers to some of the most annoying myths, in one handy place.

And it fits in your pocket too.

Well, the last bit's indisputable, but I'm not so sure about the rest of it. For one thing, I don't remember ever being harangued by a cynic about charities, although I've done a bit of haranguing myself. But this leaflet arrived before I wrote that post, so it obviously wasn't a response to anything I'd said. Perhaps (more likely) it was a response to the growing criticism of Oxfam (voiced by Lenin and others) for its increasingly cosy relationship with ZaNuLabour, and its attempts to shut out any meaningful political dimension to its work.

But, no, it wasn't that either. It was a set of paper tigers, tired old clichés about charities conveniently set up so that Oxfam could knock them down like coconuts at a fairground (excuse the mixed metaphor). More on this if you click "More".

"Oxfam spends most of its money on admin." "Actually," the booklet says, "we only spend 4p in every £1 on managing and administering Oxfam." Fair enough, except they then undermine their own argument with a picture of Sidibe Fanta Keita, admin secretary of an Oxfam-funded urban development programme in Mali. "Sidibe's in admin," says the caption, smugly. No, Sidibe's not in admin, not in the sense in which the 'myth' means it. In any case, the "only 4p" claim is a little disingenuous, as the back page of the booklet shows. A little pie chart reveals that "For every £1 given to Oxfam, 79p is used to support our emergency, development and campaigning work." 79p? Well, it seems that "a further 17p is invested to generate future income." So one-fifth of the money you give Oxfam is not spent on aid (and none of it is spent on any meaningful sort of campaigning, as Lenin's post points out - one wonders how much of the 79p is spent on such 'development and campaiging' work as the silly white MPH wristbands and Live8 concert which made me feel so uncomfortable back in June).

"Oxfam bosses go to work in limos." I've never heard anyone say this. Still, never mind, it gives Oxfam Director Barbara Stocking a chance to show how intact her conscience is: "[she] drives her own Toyota Avensis and always travels economy when flying abroad." The Toyota Avensis, though sold with 'green' credentials, is one of the less environmentally-friendly cars, according to the Department of Transport. Accompanying this section is a photo of Oxfam staff travelling through Albania - in a 4x4.

"Oxfam threw our tsunami cash down the toilet." Again, not a claim I've ever heard anyone make. No matter, Oxfam use this as an opportunity for a real side-splitting laugh. "We did, actually," they claim, showing a picture of an emergency toilet provided in Sri Lanka after the tsunami.

"There's no point giving to Africa - everyone's dying of AIDS." I don't know which pubs the writers of this booklet have been going into lately, but this is yet another daft proposition that only the most trenchant beer-fuelled reactionary would come out with from the corner of his local snug. Still, they manage to 'answer' the myth, but only by dodging the central premise - preferring to focus on the children left orphaned by parents who have died of the disease. Even then, the booklet doesn't go into any detail about what Oxfam is doing for the children, assuming that a picture of an "Oxfam-funded community school [...] for AIDS orphans and children from poor families [my emphasis]" in Zambia will be enough to satisfy the reader. In an attempt to bulk out the section, the writers choose to state the bleedin' obvious: "Lack of proper health education, no medication, and slow-to-act governments [remember that bit, we'll be coming back to that] have turned a bad situation into an epidemic." Goodness, I would never have known that. "[Oxfam] is campaigning for improved access to essential medicines, debt cancellation, and more and better aid," concludes the section on AIDS. Debt cancellation - that has a familiar ring. Now that the MPH campaign has proven so successful, no doubt we'll hear no more about Africa from Oxfam, right?

"Not all the money gets there." Well, they've already admitted that 21p in every pound doesn't get there. Never mind, blithely ignoring this contradiction, the authors plough on. "Let's just ask Getrudis about that shall we?" (Note: all punctuation is as per the original booklet - I know there should be a comma after "that".) 'Gertrudis' turns out to be a Honduran woman whose women's soap-making group was launched with the help of Oxfam money. Grand - good work. But they probably could have given us more than just one example of where Oxfam's money has actually been spent fully and wisely, couldn't they?

"All African leaders are corrupt." This is where the booklet comes seriously unstuck (not literally: its glossy pages are held together by two strong staples). A photo of Nelson Mandela is featured with the words "Er, hello..." over it. Apparently Nelson Mandela is an African leader who is not corrupt. Whether you agree with this or not, it seems strange that he is used to stand for all African leaders, rather than (say) Sani Abacha, Mobutu Sese Seko, Idi Amin, Samuel Doe, Milton Obote, Laurent Kabila, Hastings Banda or our old friend Mugabe. Of course, you can argue that most of the names I've listed are no longer in power in their respective countries. Trouble is, nor is Mandela - so not the finest example to use, is he? The authors could have used the opportunity to point out the role of American, British, French and other Western governments in establishing and propping up corrupt African leaders during the years of decolonisation and afterwards. But they are strangely silent on this point.

Never mind, brave Oxfam is still doing its bit: "Oxfam supports independent local organisations which enable poor people to press for an accountable government and a better deal for their families." Several problems with that. First, this indicates that there are clearly still unaccountable governments in Africa who are not delivering poverty relief to their citizens. Second, why is it only poor people who have an interest in "accountable government"? Third, "supports local organisations" is about as political as this booklet dares get.

Anyway, this section sinks all its credibility by ending with a quotation by ultimate hand-wringer Richard Curtis, talking about going to Johannesburg for "a meeting of leaders of the Make Poverty History campaign". In the typical white-guilt patronising style which characterised his dreadful Girl in the Café TV drama, he gushes: "Interestingly, it was the representatives from Africa and the poorest countries who were most passionate about forcing their governments to clean up their act." Really, Richard? These dark people are actually aware of their own oppression? Crikey! Better sweep that under the carpet - they're supposed to wait for help from us white folks, and be jolly grateful when they receive it.

"Oxfam's director earns a small fortune." Well, it seems Barbara Stocking earns £87,000 a year according to the booklet, a figure which I'm sure would impress many readers managing on the minimum wage (beginning to see where that 21p goes?). But it's OK, because "that's around £600K below the retail industry equivalent." Gosh, that's all right, then. And what does Barbara do for this pittance? The booklet helpfully describes a typical week, which includes "flying to Darfur to see latrines being dug", "briefing Tony Blair on the Make Poverty History campaign" and being "nabbed" for photo shoots. Sounds like a tough old job. She's flying economy, remember.

"What a waste of money putting a pen in an envelope!" The booklet suddenly turns all serious, trying to persuade us of the benefits of putting pens in donation requests. Apparently, they only cost 1.5p each (the 'myth' should have read "what a waste of money putting a crap pen in an envelope", shouldn't it?), "Every time we send pens out in our mailings, we get a lot more money back than we would if we didn't." Rather than offering evidence for this claim, the booklet again beats us over the head with the painfully obvious: "We couldn't respond to emergencies such as Darfur, the Tsunami, and West Africa as quickly as we do, or carry out our other vital work, without the support of the people who respond to our letters."

"Oxfam is too close to the Government to criticise its policies. Ah, now we're getting somewhere. Except we're not. Rather than admit its closeness to ZaNuLabour, Oxfam bleats that "we're not puppets of ANY government - and we're not afraid to slam them when they get it wrong (as we did over the Iraq war)." Oh, how very big of you. The world and its wife slammed the government over the Iraq War. Is that really the best you could come up with? How about castigating the government for its slow response to major humanitarian crises, of which the tsunami was only one? Well, the authors once again fall back on the repetitive MPH campaign: "our hard-edged campaigning [I'm not making this up] gets results. The Make Poverty History coalition, of which Oxfam is a member, has already helped persuade world leaders to take vital first steps to overcome poverty."

So an umbrella organisation, of which you are a member and not the sole representative, has persuaded world leaders to cancel the debt of some poor countries? Is that the best example available? Yes, it probably is. Let's face it, the MPH campaign was tacitly endorsed by ZaNuLabour anyway. Hardly a damning indictment of the government's policies. Why aren't they highlighting this government's inability to commit more to overseas aid (targeted to be 0.7% of Gross National Income, but not until 2008)? Hard-edged campaigning? More like soft underbelly.

Oxfam shop staff just take the best stuff for themselves. There's our man in the pub again - I've never in my life heard anyone say this. Never mind, because yet again the authors of the booklet assume that one single example will act as an appropriate counter-argument: "Shop volunteer Alma Barnes spotted what turned out to be a very rare silver tea caddy. She took it to the auction house (they waived their fees) and it made £3,600 for Oxfam!" Well, that proves it then. Obviously every single Oxfam volunteer has the same ethics as Alma Barnes - that stands to reason, doesn't it?

Incidentally, the entire booklet is illustrated on every other page with a photo of a senior Oxfam worker self-consciously striking a martial arts pose ("self-defence", you see - geddit? Oh, how I laughed).

I hate to carp at one of the country's biggest charities. There's no disputing that Oxfam has done a lot of wonderful work over the years and that its contribution to poverty and disaster relief should not be underestimated. What's rocked my boat on this occasion is this booklet, which smacks so strongly of a PR firm lazily cobbling together - well, a load of cobblers - and throwing it out at the general public. How much the booklet cost to put together and send out I don't know, nor how much the consultancy charged for compiling this toss. But if Oxfam is trying to defuse the criticism that it's snugly in bed with ZaNuLabour, this bland, smug, condescending, glossy, unpersuasive and overall naff document can only create the opposite impression.


This is your money, remember


Tim Worstall has pointed us to a Guardian report about how officials at the DTI are spending our money.

I know I've been critical of charities, but this really is going too far.

I suggest we withhold a percentage of whatever income tax we pay until the whole of the DTI agree to go on an AA programme.


Friday, October 28, 2005

Libby takes the fall


No, Libby Purves hasn't had an accident. Don't worry - her smug tones will be gracing the airwaves next Wednesday morning on Midweek as per usual.

No, this is Cheney's aide, Lewis 'Scooter' Libby (is he called Scooter because he wears glasses and has a floppy mop hairstyle? Thought not; there's no logic to these American names. It took me years to discover that Jesse Helms wasn't a woman). He's been charged with perjury by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald for revealing the name of a covert CIA agent. Or, rather, for lying about it. In other words, he told the truth, then lied about telling the truth. Or so the allegation goes.

This is bad news. Not because someone's copped it for undermining Joseph Wilson, one of the few Americans of stature to criticise Bush over the Iraq War - that's very good news, although let's remember that Libby may still get off - but because Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and Bush himself have not been indicted (Rove remains "under investigation" but, let's face it, if anything were going to happen it would have happened today). What's more, Bush's ratings can hardly sink any lower. I'd rather he'd have had a good kicking when he was on his way down, not when he had hit bottom, as he seems to have.

(And I'd rather they'd have got Rove. Nothing would give me more pleasure than seeing the smile wiped off that fat fuck's face.)

There'll be no resignation this time, folks. Anyway, the one thing that would be worse than President Bush would be President Cheney (this is called "the Dan Quayle principle").

More over at Think Progress, Democratic Underground, Steve Clemons, Blogenlust (links via Kathy) and the other usual places, like Kos.

Oh, and having believed myself to be the first British blogger to comment on these developments, I go and find that Curious Hamster has beaten me to it by over four hours, damn his eyes!

(Incidentally, Kos also has anecdotal evidence that the Republicans are taking a big hit from all this.)

[UPDATE: On this last point, Gary Younge in the Guardian agrees that the Republicans are in trouble, but reckons the Democrats are in no position to do anything about it. I think he's right.]


Thursday, October 27, 2005

ID cards - Lord(s) save us


I was away from my blog when the ID Cards Bill passed through Parliament (assisted by my supine soon-to-be-ex-MP Andrew Slaughter), otherwise I would surely have commented on it. We can only hope the Lords organise to crush it out of sight - they've done this for most of the government's loopy schemes, so they can damn well do it for this one. After all, one advantage of being a Lord is that you're never up for re-election so you're free to tell a government of your own colour to go and stick their ideas where the Sun don't shine. Never before have I been so relieved that we have unelected representatives passing (or, with luck, in this case rejecting) legislation. Oh, the irony!

Luckily, Alex the Yorkshire Ranter has plenty to say on the matter, including why the very reason to have the cards has just been ditched by Fungus the Home Secretary, and why none of this matters because Brown won't let him have the money, anyway.

See also this lengthy but important refutation of some of the arguments in favour of ID cards at Talk Politics.

And also this from Chris Lightfoot (via Devil's Kitchen).


What's wrong with these people?


It's now reported that the government is planning to privatise the UK's border control services.

Not content with having thrown away long ago Labour's commitment to public ownership, conveniently forgetting the disasters that occurred when private security firms were put in charge of guarding convicted prisoners, blindly believing that a border check service can be run with profit as the guiding factor, ignoring the potential for corruption and lapses in security arising from cutbacks, disregarding notions of accountability, the Home Office merely bleats something vague about "flexibility" and "extra resources" (oh, so the new private operators are going to pay the government for the privilege of running the service, are they?).

Is there anything safe from the collective madness that has overtaken Blair and his craven, spineless cabinet - who are quite happy to argue in public about a smoking ban that most people want (not including Yours Truly, even though I'm a non-smoker), but who put up only the weakest protest about reforms which will re-introduce selection into state schools (for an excellent article about ZaNuLabour's education reforms, see Simon Jenkins in the Guardian).

Listen to me, Prime Minister - you will never be Thatcher, and no one wants you to be. How do you shave? Because I can't imagine that you can bear to look at yourself in the mirror in the morning.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

And we're back!

Sorry about the appallingly long gap in blogging. Mind you, I'm not the only one. Blimpish hasn't written anything for almost a month, which is a shame as I was looking forward to his take on the Tory leadership election. And NoseMonkey's gone to Japan to get married, so that'll be the last we hear of him for a bit. What a dull life that man leads.

Anyway, things have been happening in the world of blogs while I've been away. Tim Worstall and friends have set up yet another blog listing site. This one's called WikiBlog and its USP is that you can go in and comment on the blogs you read. As you can see from the button on the bottom of the sidebar (left), yours truly is already listed but if you're one of my regular readers (hello, you three!) do go in and add something objective but complimentary.

[EDIT: Bollocks, it's Wikablog, not WikiBlog. Sorry.]

Incidentally, for any of you who are interested, our offer on the house has been accepted. Now we just have to wait for them to finish refurbishing it...


Thursday, October 13, 2005

Yet another gap in transmission

House hunting at the moment, not to mention an important deadline coming up in my work. Blogging will be light or non-existent for a short while.

Do keep checking in, in case I have a moment free or a flash of inspiration.

Thank you for listening and understanding. I feel your pain.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Be afraid - no, really, be afraid


Somehow I missed this story, but it shows how very scared we should all be. Yes, all of us.

[UPDATE: David Mery's story, to which I have here linked, is (it turns out) only one out of thousands of cases in which ordinary, law-abiding people have fallen victim to the government's increasingly paranoid and loopy anti-terror legislation. Section 44 of the 2000 Terrorism Act allows the police to stop and search anyone in certain designated areas - whether they believe that person to be acting suspiciously or not. It turns out that the whole of London is one of these 'designated areas'. Parts of Hampshire (Hampshire!) are another. Trainspotters have been arrested for writing down train numbers. A student was stopped and searched for photographing a motorway. Annie Mole, of the famous London Underground Tube Diary, was stopped for taking pictures of a Tube station for her blog (not, admittedly, under Section 44 - or, at least, the police didn't say so - but still...). Lord Carlile, in his review of the Terrorism Act, has said that at least 50% of these searches are unnecessary.

Today I took a video camera in a big black case onto the Tube, as well as my black rucksack which was full to bursting with videotapes and DVDs - why? Because I had a meeting with a director whose film I had been cutting, and I wanted to hand the stuff over to him. While I waited for him in Leicester Square, I was passed by several policemen. I was more nervous of being asked to account for all the material in my possession than I was of having it nicked by a thief. That can't be right, by any stretch of the imagination. I was just glad I wasn't wearing a jacket as well...

The BBC has a good report on how the police are mis-using their new powers. Frankly, if you're stopped by the police for any reason at all, I recommend you immediately put your hands in the air and request that they not shoot you. Just to be on the safe side.]


Rifkind makes my job harder


So, the no-hoper Malcolm Rifkind has dropped out of the race to be Tory leader.

Bugger. He was my only hope of a correct prediction - I knew for certain he would be the only one I could guarantee wouldn't get the job.

Rifkind is now backing Clarke, but was cagey about 'delivering' votes to the fat old fool (only seven votes, anyway). I'm sure all his supporters had their second choice worked out well in advance, anyway. They knew this moment would come.


Monday, October 10, 2005

Beware the Merkon


By George (or should that be Georg?) she's got it!

Like a celebrity marriage, I give it six weeks. But I'm usually wrong about these things. To begin to conceive how difficult it is, imagine that the Tories were to go into coalition with New Labour, with Blair begging for a post in the cabinet.

About the only thing the CDU-CSU and the SPD will agree on will be the welfare and labour reforms. All those Germans who were opposed to such reforms will find themselves in a situation where they either get what they didn't want (if the SPD get their way) or get it much worse (if the CDU get theirs).

Still, it's just as likely that the whole of government will be so trapped in deadlock that nothing will happen - the status quo (no, I don't think I want to talk about Status Quo after their recent revelations, or I'll start to feel ill) will prevail and the German economy will continue to sink slowly down the toilet (which a Polish plumber will come and unblock at some point). Perhaps those Germans aren't so daft after all...

My biggest sadness is that we are now once again in a situation where no Greens have a share of any government in Europe.

(NoseMonkey doesn't know what to make of it, either. Fistful of Euros comments that no one can see Schröder just walking away and adds that the Grand Coalition "might bring the worst of both worlds". We shall see. As for Merkel, I wonder how long her humourless, strident character will prevail when she is forced to negotiate and compromise all the time. Imagine Thatcher having to do that... Actually, I'm quite enjoying that thought...)


Saturday, October 08, 2005

Samantha wants to kill you...


Who the hell thinks up names for hurricanes, storms, etc.? After Katrina and Rita, we now have Tropical Storm Stan.

I'm sorry, but 'Stan' sounds like a bloke who comes round to fix your skirting board and ends up hammering a nail into his own thumb, not a massive hurricane which kills 250 or more people.

Quite why giving innocuous names to devastating natural phenomena came about, I'm not sure. It seems to undermine the whole gravity of the situation. I mean, if I was told that Samantha (say) was coming my way, I'd probably buy some more teabags and maybe a cake from M&S. I wouldn't expect her to rip the roof off my house and deposit me on a mudbank which used to be the Barnes Wetland Centre.

If you're going to have a catastrophic visit from a hurricane, typhoon or storm, let it be called something evil and mean, which reflects its full awfulness. Something like Mordor or Barad-Dur. Or Jim Davidson.


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Crap year students


Must direct you to this accurate and enjoyable post by Gary at Coffee and PC about gap year students.

Nice work!


Rock musicians are wankers


Good God, for any number of reasons I hope this is a joke...


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

I've got an ad ache


Everyone who works in marketing is stupid - that was something I learned while working in market research.

Everyone who works in advertising, on the other hand, is quite bright but believes that everyone else is stupid.

Hence we end up with things like this. I'm just glad I was spared a visit from Barry Scott, although I suppose there's always time. Ironically, I have conducted research for Reckitt Benckiser in the past (before I acquired a conscience) though, luckily, I was never asked to research Cillit Bang. I am forwarding Tom's experience to my former boss, however, who is presumably still helping out RB with their marketing puff.

(Via Tim at Bloggerheads.)


Lack of charity


The charity Scope has announced that it is £8m in the red. The organisation blames the deficit on a much lower trading income than expected; a shortfall in the pension fund; delays in the sale of some of its properties; and - get this - "management and support costs running over budget by £800,000" [sic].

Scope is one of the biggest charities in the UK. In a manner of speaking it's a business, just as M&S is a business, or Virgin, or the excellent Giraffe restaurant chain. It employs 4000 people (not for much longer, it seems). You would have thought that they could employ someone to tidy up the books.

But it's not as simple as that, is it? My experience of charities is that they are almost always run by well-meaning individuals who have virtually no clue how to handle finances, or by power-crazy but inadequate people getting off on the pleasure of being a big fish in a small pool.

Naturally, Scope have blamed the government for "under-funding some services it provides, such as residential and school places, which means it has to spend an additional £4m a year." Fair enough - any government can always do more. But that's what charities are there for - making up the shortfalls left after government funding has come and gone. If they over-reach themselves, they have only themselves to blame. It goes without saying that people should give more to charity. But there is unlimited need out there, and it has to be accepted that people won't go dipping into their pockets for ever.

Sorry to sound like a Tory - I have been spending too much time musing on the leadership contest and reading Tory blogs to get their take on it. But charities are notoriously untidy ships and I have long felt they contribute to their own difficulties.


Monday, October 03, 2005

Bald men fighting over a haircut


The Tory leadership election yawns into action today, as the five candidates get to strut their stuff at the party's conference. So, who's going to have the pleasure of leading the Tories into a hung parliament (as predicted by Yours Truly some time ago)? Is it going to be the The Fat One, The Posh One, The Nasty One, The Boring One, or The Other Boring One? (The Other Other Boring One, David Willetts, has pulled out to back his near namesake, David Davis.) Here's Oscar's handy cut-out-and-throw-away guide to those Tory hopefuls, for those of you who still have the energy to care.

Kenneth Clarke
Pros: The most recognised of all the candidates. Charismatic, with his yawning delivery and brown shoes. Experienced in government. Seen as approachable and jovial. Effective Commons performer.
Cons: Seen by many as arrogant. Those with long memories will recall how he managed to upset, in turn, teachers, doctors and the police (sadly not enough to get himself arrested) while in government. His long-held pro-Europe views will alienate him from the rank-and-file, and probably cost him the job the last couple of times (his recent attempts to distance himself from Europhilia may not convince the party electorate). Strong links with British American Tobacco, which makes him morally bankrupt to some, and is already causing him trouble. Not many friends in the Commons - he may win the support of the public only to find his colleagues stabbing him in the back all the time. One more thing: he's older (slightly) than Michael Howard, who resigned because he would be too old to lead the party at the next election.

David Cameron
Pros: Young, likely to appeal to a broader electorate (but see below). Intelligent and quick-witted. Has set out his stall as a moderniser, trying to drag the party into the 21st century. An ICM poll has marked him down as (just) the most popular candidate. Most likely to do the 'Compassionate Conservatism' thing without looking stupid.
Cons: May be seen as too young (although this didn't stop the same voters picking Hague as leader). Eton-educated, which may cancel out the appeal of his youth. Has hardly got his seat on the green benches warm. Barely known outside the political world. May have lost his impetus with Clarke joining the race.

Liam Fox
Pros: Solidly right-wing, which may appeal to the membership.
Cons: Seriously lacks charisma - not boring, but hardly a man you'd want to share a tent with.

David Davis
Pros: Seen as the front-runner. Good credentials - brought up on a council estate, went to a state school, time in the army. Backed by representatives of both the right and the left.
Cons: His early surge means he has everything to lose. Seen as somewhat uncharismatic. May also be too old (he will be sixty at the next election). His position as front-runner may win him enemies as well as friends. People may struggle to place him on either wing of the party, making him suffer a sort of 'LibDem' effect.

Malcom Rifkind
Pros: Erm... look, someone's got to make up the numbers.
Cons: Practically everything. Seems a nice enough chap, but can you see anyone taking his bid seriously? (He'll go and win it, now I've said that...) His biggest impact may come when he decides whom to support after giving up the contest.

Oscar's opinion (don't worry, I'm not always going to refer to myself in the third person): none of the candidates looks ideal - all right, it doesn't take a genius to work that out. Labour might fear Clarke the most because of his popularity in the country in general (I've heard non-Tory voters express an interest in the party if he wins). However, Clarke is well known as a divisive figure, and he could cause the party to self-destruct even further. Davis looks like the safe choice, but he may end up looking like the boring choice as well - and the last thing British politics needs is even more boring people. Rifkind doesn't stands a chance, Fox looks like he's in a perpetual fit of pique, and Cameron looks like all the bad bits of Blair put together without any of the saving graces (I'm sure Blair must have some saving graces - I just can't bring myself to look hard enough for them).

There isn't a right choice among them. Which would be great news for Labour, if the economy weren't on the point of nose-diving, Blair wasn't so universally despised and the whole New Labour bunch hadn't so obviously run out of ideas about six years ago. The LibDems lack credibility in their leadership (Kennedy's only delaying the inevitable), and no other party is close to power. If the Tories get it wrong yet again, however, it may be the end of their pole position in British politics, and we might even expect to see Labour officially fragment into Government Labour and Opposition Labour. But that's looking rather far ahead. History teaches us that the most likely thing is another swing of the pendulum and a Tory Prime Minister looking smugly over his natural domain.

[FOOTNOTE: Worth reading Blimpish's take on the leadership contest.]

[UPDATE: Ho, what fun. The contenders are now comparing themselves to brands of soft drink. An apt analogy, I would say - fizzy, very bad for you, forgotten as soon as you've finished with them. Good God, Big Brother has more integrity than this...]


Tune in, turn on, become thick


The news that TV stunts brain development in children is hardly surprising. What I can't get my head around is the fact that the average Briton watches four hours of TV per day.

When? I hardly have time to do four minutes of anything. And another question - when so much of TV is acknowledged to be utter crap - why?