Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Queues at the Commons

I should know better I know, but bear in mind I am a Hertfordshire rural lad who works at a bookshop in a village in Cambridgeshire, so I was not to fully know this would happen.
To explain, one of the events at the House of Commons I was invited to was a talk by Jim Murphy MP and hosted by Progress. The talk was on Faith and Politics and Labour's Fourth Term, and, as a Christian, Labour Party member, and CSM member I was intrigued enough to accept.
I finished work as per usual at 4PM, by quarter to five I was on a train for King's Cross, I got to King's Cross at about twenty-five to six, made a dash on the Underground for Westminster Tube Station and arrived just after Six PM, only to find to my horror that there was a large queue outside St Stephen's Entrance. I agree that it is a wrong idea for bloggers to have passes, but just this once I was momentarily impressed with the idea and if I lived in London I would have turned around and set off back immediately. As it was that would have made a waste of a train journey (even including the Network Rail Card I use) and reluctantly queued, whilst ruminating on the argument that people are turned off by Westminster politics because the physical evidence before me said otherwise.
According to one Security Guard this is happening more often and after arriving in Committee Room 7 forty minutes late and apologising to everyone concerned, I spent twenty minutes observing the Q and A session, before the meeting finished at 7PM.
Chatting with others about it afterwards, it seems this is getting fairly common, although it doesn't often happen at Portcullis House, which makes one wonder how this whole thing is handled! Either more effort is needed to be made to improve entry standards to the Palace of Westminster, or else the Commons Authorities and MP's need to make use of buildings nearby, subject to security issues. In any case I have now decided not to attend any evening event at the actual Palace of Westminster unless it's my day off and I feel that other members of the public have also felt deterred from visiting and this is not good nor healthy.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bullying in Westminster

First of all my apologies for the sparse blogging. A weekend with Ruth, attending Alex HIlton's fab wedding party, and being busy last night and attending a Progress meeting tonight are the reasons.
I have been following the latest accusations of bullying in Downing Street with some interest, but to be honest I find the whole thing sickening and degrading. As for Ms Pratt, I am shocked that (Tory or not) the woman doesn't seem to know the meaning of the word confidentiality.
But if we are going to have a debate about bullying, let us be honest and wide ranging about it. Lets talk about the behaviour of MP's on all sides of the House, let's start asking questions of front benchers in the other main parties. And whilst we are at it, perhaps we can talk about Margaret Thatcher and the way she used to bully some of her cabinet.
If the PM is an unpleasant bully, he deserves this attention, but let's be honest and non selective about how such accusations are handled. Especially when, because it is less than six months before an election one smells a rat!

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Friday, February 19, 2010

The Pope on Thought for the Day

Check out this amusing piece by Jonathan Bartley in The Guardian. The best satire has a ring of truth to it somewhere ;-)
Right then, am off to spend the weekend in London, including attending Alex Hilton's Wedding Party, so you may not hear from me until Monday

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Relationships Across the Political Barricades

It's not often I mention my personal life on this blog. Burnt fingers from my past have taught me that, but Tom Harris's latest meme has reminded me that my love life at the moment is something that is pertinent and perhaps worth sharing (and mentioned with my girlfriends full approval).
Put simply, for the past month I have been seeing Ruth Skinner after an acquaintanceship of several months, following our first meeting at a Karaoke evening that Alex Hilton hosted. Apart from noting to myself that I found her attractive, I wasn't really interested and if anything I found her a bit intimidating. Ruth worked for MessageSpace at the time and certainly knew her stuff about blogs and online politics. We got in touch via Facebook and, apart from a rare chat, that was that.
Then in the New Year we found ourselves chatting and the sparks flew for both of us and as I was humming and haring about whether to ask her out, Ruth invites me on a date. Shortly afterwards our first date took place at the Texas Embassy and it was immediately clear something was going on, and before long we were boyfriend and girlfriend.
We have only been together for a month, so it's early days if nothing else, but we get along well, find we have much in common, and seem to work as a team.
There is however one political hiccup, if it is a hiccup, and it is this. Ruth is a Liberal Democrat activist.
This did involve some concern at first, advice was discreetly asked for to our respective peers and, by and large, given the circumstances it's been okay and others approve.
I know we are not alone, but how do others do it! How do you comfort each other when your Party defeats your girlfriend/boyfriend/partner's in an election, when part of you is happy at the result? How do you know where the line is drawn? As it is Ruth and I have formed some ground rules. "No campaigning against each other in the same Ward/Constituency where one of us is standing", being careful to be vague when mentioning that you went canvassing (depending on situation), being able to separate politics and emotions (so for example if Labour do brilliantly in Islington on May 7th. Political me will text my congratulations, whilst personal me will sit and listen to Ruth if any of her friends do badly and she is a bit down about it as a result, though for some silly reason she thinks it is going to be the other way round ;-) ). In any case, as Ruth has stated, we can be united in our hurt if the Tories win anywhere significant.
A number of us in party politics are not so tribal as to not have friends across the political divide, and indeed we are able to separate the personal from the political. I am sure Ruth and I will be able to do the same. Just because I admire Ruth enough to go out with her, does not mean I am any less Labour in my blood, nor that I think the Liberal Democrats will make a poor fist of things as a Party (vice versa for Ruth), plus we do like the idea of being involved in political things outside party politics, but these kind of relationships are not mentioned much and there seem to be few examples, so the immediate future may well turn out to be interesting and definetly fun :-)

Conservatives, Goalposts, and Iain Dale

If you have a moment, please look at a piece I wrote on LabourList about the Conservatives tending to cry foul at mild criticism and yet throwing all kinds of mud at Gordon Brown. Certainly worth a debate.
Incidentally, whilst I mentioned my disappointment in Iain Dale over his comments on Twitter yesterday, he at least has a sense of humour over his own political predicament, which you can see here :-)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Brown Mentions the Piers Morgan Interview

It's rather a good defence and certainly I think the Tories are making a storm in a teacup about this. It just shows how jittery they are about the forthcoming general election

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Tories Co'Operatives

Yes, like many I did a double take when I first read about this, but I fear it's yet another "Policy by Gimmick"
For one thing, not only are Cameron and Osborne totally vague about details, they hardly have anyone in their own co'operative movement. I mean, the Tories are hardly One Nation Macmillan types anymore, let alone Social Democrat or Socialist! I know the Conservatives are feeling the heat, especially over the elephant in their room, one Lord Ashcroft, but this smacks of desperation!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Party Leaders' Characters Called Into Question

First look at Iain Dale's comments on Gordon Brown

To be fair, Cameron is more of a ruthless spin doctor than charming man, and Gordon Brown is hardly the most charismatic or nicest of leaders, but this is an issue that bothers me. There are some within the Conservative front bench who I really take a personal and political dislike to(as regular readers of this blog know). Equally, I have to reluctantly admit, there are some within my Party who I would not be sorry to see retire from politics (thankfully one of them seems to have made such a move today). That said, "character assassination", whether intended or otherwise and no matter how much the attacker believes what he or she says, is not a route that is healthy.
I know how easy it is to write a blog post denouncing an opponent one despises. God knows how often I have mentioned my contempt for George Osborne and have had to sometimes censor myself. With that in mind I honestly believe that Iain and Paul truly believe what they have said about Brown and Cameron respectively and if they feel that these leaders damage the fabric of British politics then they are right to call certain things into question, but it needs to be done delicately and carefully and thoughtfully (take the brilliant example of the "Camera on/Camera off" campaign), or else it becomes part of the kind of politics that turns people away from the Polling Booths.

Mandela's Twenty Years of Freedom

It doesn't seem that long ago. I remember that Sunday afternoon, watching it happen live on the BBC, straining for the first glimpse of a man who came to help symbolise all the arguments against South Africa's brutal apartheid regime.
It hasn't all been good. The moral downfall of his then wife Winnie, the struggles that continue to plague South Africa with regards to HIV/AIDS, poverty, and crime, but significant progress has been made and Mandela deserves the respect and admiration for his invaluable contribution towards peace and prosperity and opportunity for all in a multi-racial South Africa.
The downfall of apartheid was also part of a greater change for good in the World. One of the best stories concerning this was former Beirut hostage John McCarthy's account of being allowed to watch the 1990 Oscar's ceremony with Brian Keenan (watching television was okay, but news was forbidden) and their jaws dropping when they heard one celebrity say "Who would have thought six months ago that the Berlin Wall would come down and Mandela would be released from prison!" The late 80's and 90's saw some long standing brutal governments either topple or face the beginning of the end, whether in South Africa or Eastern Europe and we should never forget what those freedoms mean

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

That AV Result

A pleasant surprise given how some Tories were gleefully mentioning how some Labour MP's felt jittery. Now they have a good chance of putting their case directly to the electorate as to why they feel AV is unfair. That's a dialogue I'd be interested to watch, especially with facts like these

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Tories and AV

In case you haven't followed the political news over the past fortnight, this evening the House of Commons is going to vote on a Bill which might herald a major change in the voting system in the UK.
Put basically, if the Bill on electoral reform passes in the Commons we may see a Referendum on the use of AV as a voting system in the country as opposed to "First Past the Post". Note that it's a Referendum that would take place if the Bill is passed, not AV itself becoming law. That would be a matter for the British public direct.
But the Tories are opposed to this! Why because they are scared. After a week of vindictive personal sniping and indulging in old petty prejudices it is clear they are scared, as some Opinion Polls suggest they are not doing well.
Thing is! As Jack Straw has said, what are they afraid of! The issue will go to a Referendum, then they can put their case to the British people. Are they that scared of the public?
Tonight is definetly a night to keep an eye on Westminster

Monday, February 08, 2010

McCartney's Latest Song

It's called "(I Want To) Come Home". It's a lovely piece for Robert De Niro's film, "Everybody's Fine".
The thing I like about Macca is that, after nearly fifty years and having written a no of classics over the decades, he still writes good stuff that is good on the ear and feels like work has been put into it. Yes he hasn't always succeeded in that but he has managed overall and this is a good example of why he is still very good.

(MPL Communications/MIRAMAX)

Sunday, February 07, 2010


For some reason Blogger is not letting me reply to comments left on my blog. Most annoying, but what I will do for now is to reply to a few via this blog post

With regards to a comment left on my open letter to the Pope:

"That is not my place, but I would suggest that homosexuals are human beings and too often they are patronised, or treated as evangelism fodder. A persons sexual identity, their sexuality, is a fragile thing that affects the whole person. We are called to love our neighbour as we love ourselves and perhaps if more people imagined what a world where heterosexuals were treated the way a lot of homosexuals were treated, there would be more thoughtfulness and understanding"

Plus my response to comments left on where Labour have been succesful and where they have failed:

"Man in a Shed, isn't the church's idea on civil partnerships discriminatory? What makes a gay couple involved in one sexual activity different from another gay couple? That is a slippery slope and disrespectful to others, no matter what we think of them! The minimum wage covers all, that includes those whose jobs are not under threat or immediate threat, plus it's the principle that counts. Where Labour has made some success is to try and help the vulnerable in society, are you suggesting that the Conservatives make cuts in public services so as to help cut the deficit?

"Anon. I support civil partnerships for gay couples because for one thing they legally protect both individuals should the relationship sour, or should one partner be unfairly and badly treated by family and friends when the other dies"

Friday, February 05, 2010

An Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI

Your Holiness

First of all I would like to say how much I am looking forward to your visit to the UK later this year. Many on the Left, plus some Christians are not, but I think it would be a good thing for a no of reasons. For one thing I hope it will encourage Catholic relations within the UK, it will help dialogue, and you will get to see what a wonderful and inclusive country we are, as well as getting to meet some great people and see some interesting sites. I have no doubt that your visit may well include Canterbury Cathedral, where St Thomas a Beckett was murdered, as well as Walsingham where many pilgrims have gone armed with a strong faith in God which we both share, although I suspect with your status, years, and experience, your faith is much better than mine.
Given all of this I have one favour to ask of you. I have no right to ask it and I have no doubt that if by some small miracle you read this it may well be dismissed as the ignorant views of someone who does not understand, but please bear with me. It is simply that I ask you to re-evaluate your view of the Equalities Bill.
Please note I am not asking you to change your views on homosexuality, that would perhaps be a miracle too far, but I humbly ask that whilst I appreciate that there is a strong feeling that there must be no compromise, no dilution of the faith, however you see it, and whilst I appreciate many "Hate the sin but not the sinner", I wonder if to deny homosexuals senior positions takes into account notions of celibacy, a sense of calling, equally exacting standards on heterosexuals, equality (given that we are all sinners), the fact many homosexuals have felt alienated, shut off, cast aside by a Church whose love and support they feel has been withdrawn from them when they desperately need it. The Bible talks of many things, but in the midst of what it does and does not say I know that we are firmly called to love our neighbour as we love ourselves and to be there for those who feel alienated and maginalised, no matter how uncomfortable we find that to be. I speak as someone who, whilst heterosexual, has a no of gay friends, Christian and otherwise, who will have been hurt and disappointed by your views on the Equalities Bill, no matter how well meaning you meant it to be.
I am sure you know this, that in your many years, first as a Priest, then as an Academic, as Archbishop, Vatican Civil Servant, and as Pope you have seen some of this first hand. I am equally sure you know better than me in how to deal with this awful situation, but wouldn't it be great if you could show some love and affirmation, some acceptance that you love these people unconditionally, as Christ loves all unconditionally. I am sure you feel you have done so, but wouldn't it be great to be more open and to use more broad language.
Your Holiness, some look down on the Roman Catholic Church as hypocritical and corrupt, I honestly don't. I don't think I could ever be a Catholic, but there is much that I love about the Church, such as some of it's traditions, it's history, the examples of many such as, in recent times, Mother Theresa of Calcutta and Pope John XXIII. I think though, how great it would be if many could see what I see and learn to at least respect such a wealth of tradition and joy, irrespective of the foul abuses of those within who have helped pollute that image. I believe God has called you to be Pope, simply because, as a Christian I cannot believe that the prayers of many since the death of your predecessor were in vain. I don't know why God has called you to be Pope, but there must be some reason, so it is that I hope that one of the reasons is that you are able to show some of Christ's unconditional love to the World in a way that is seen by all.

With genuine and great respect

Paul Burgin

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Sunny Hundal Strikes out at Rod Liddle

Well done to Sunny Hundal for laying into Rod Liddle regarding his legal threat against the Facebook group If Rod Liddle becomes editor of The Independent, I will not buy it again'.
Put basically I don't think Liddle hasn't got much of a leg to stand on, other than being understandably hurt about the cost to his reputation, plus as Sunny points out, why pick on Alex Higgins (the creator of the said Facebook group) rather than the main media outlets from whence the stories first came. This strikes me as basic bullying and moral cowardice and doesn't exactly encourage one to feel sympathetic to Rod Liddle or being prone to believing any protestations he may make on this matter.

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Half of all MP's to Repay Expenses

The No of MP's caught up in this is still shocking to me and a sure sign if anything, that Westminster is too insular, too incestuous, and that it's bubble needs to be burst if we are to continue to enjoy any confidence from the electorate.
Hopefully a line is now being drawn over this whole sorry affair, but it is shocking still how many MP's are appealing against this, clearly unaware of just how angry the electorate are and especially given how close we are to a general election. An approaching event all political parties should look at with trepidation.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Why Labour Need to Win in 2010

Lets face it, we have a strong armada of disaffected people who are angry with us and, quite fairly, ask why we deserve another chance!
Well aside from the simple answer; "Cos the Tories will be worse!", I think we should be bold in equally assessing publicly our failures and successes. If we hide our failures then we insult the electorate who can see them, if we hide our successes we not only let ourselves down, but also those vulnerable members of society who have much benefited from the last thirteen years.
So here it is, an assessment of where Labour is:

1/ Lessons the Labour Party has learned from its mistakes in the last years of government

First of all we have screwed up on Iraq. Big time! Esp on matters of trust. We also were too timid in putting forward strong Social Democratic ideas, too slow in looking at electoral reform (although there is some hope), too critical of opposition to New Labour, too bullying, too afraid to be radical and frail in what we need to do. We also should have kept distance with the Bush administration and for that we are truly sorry. However...

2/ Why another five years of Labour rule is still preferable to a Tory rule

For a start there are more civil rights for gay couples, we have helped bring stability to Northern Ireland, have brought in the New Deal, the National Minimum Wage (which the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats opposed), the banning of Fox Hunting, substantially increased child benefit, introduced the disability rights commission, free TV licences for over-75s and more.
If Labour win, added to that will be electoral reform, a continual move away from the recession (we are now at 0.5%), and no cuts to Education and Health, which the Tories will bring in because, given past records, when they have made cuts, they have always slashed away at areas where people are in desperately vulnerable situations.
I know I have touched on this before, but let us be honest, let us be penitent, but let us also be confident and put forward our case as to why a Labour Government is better than a Conservative one.

Short at Chilcot Enquiry

I have to say that in the small space of time I had available, I was somewhat riveted by Clare Short giving evidence at the Chilcot Enquiry today.
It wasn't so much what Short said (although I enjoyed her combat with Sir Martin Gilbert), it was her comments about the lack of cabinet consultation in the run-up to the Iraq conflict and Blair's disdain for the full need of collegallity in government. Put simply it's been mentioned before where Tony Blair is concerned.
That's not a good state of affairs to be in and hopefully Iraq is a classic example of why it is wrong. Some Prime Ministers, such as Margaret Thatcher, saw cabinet run by dictatorship as a virtue (and I can understand the mentality behind that), but this is wrong. You have to work on trust and you have to be aware that you are human and that sometimes your own instincts may not be right on a certain matter. It's all to do with human nature and living in a Democracy.
If the last few years have shown anything, it's the need for a return to cabinet government and a stronger House of Commons. We cannot allow a system to continue (irrespective of political parties), where blind loyalty is rewarded and criticism, however constructive, leads to punishment and political isolation. Yes troublemakers need to be brought up short, yes we need fellow comrades we can depend on, but not to the extent of blindness where Common Sense can sometimes be ignored. As Callaghan said in Peter Hennessey's book on Prime Ministers, cabinet by dictatorship comes to an end sooner or later, and Callaghan was a very canny political operator.