Monday, January 31, 2011

Crisis in Egypt

These kind of situations tend to brew for a very long while before exploding. Definitely Mubarak's big mistake was to call for heavy curfews and banning online services such as Twitter and Facebook. The no of protesters filmed and the fact that many of them are from the professional middle classes add weight to Tony Blair's comment that Mubarak's leaving office is inevitable, in spite of tacit support from China. Only with a firm timetable for leaving office can Mubarak's pledges for a Democratic Egypt be believed and if he moves now it prevents the situation getting so out of hand that there is a vacuum and Islamic extremists getting a foothold.

John Barry 1933-2011

Saddened and slightly surprised, although one gets the impression he was not in the best of health. I have mentioned my love of John Barry's music before, but in tribute today I thought I'd share three of my favourites.

The first is from the 2001 film Enigma, his last film score

The second is from the 1985 film Out of Africa, for which he won an Oscar

and the third is from the 1965 film The Ipcress File, the first in the Harry Palmer trilogy

And that's not including the twelve Bond movies to which he added his genius, or The Lion in Winter, or Born Free, or Midnight Cowboy among many others

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Campbell and Phone Hacking

Alastair Campbell has been on Radio Five Live this morning, stating he'd be surprised if his mobile hadn't been hacked. In fact he has written to the police about it but has yet to receive a response.
I agree with him, and one gets the uncomfortable feeling this story will grow and grow until there are some major scalps. Some will survive, the abuse may well be too widespread, but some examples will be made and some targets will be attacked with vigour for past misdemeanour's, but expect a major scalp or severe damage at least within the next twelve months

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Gerry Adams' Dilemma

Michael Crick has come up with an interesting point, has Gerry Adams actually resigned under UK Constitutional Law? I can see the distaste for applying to something like the Chiltern Hundreds, even if it is a post in all but name! It might look good to try and sit in the House of Commons, I suppose it may be possible for a Bill to go through Parliament asking for Gerry Adams' removal and that might work and I would suggest that but it creates a potentially bad precedent, but all in all it just shows how archaic the unwritten British Constitution is

Monday, January 24, 2011

Labour United

Totally agree with Douglas Alexander. The Labour Party have a no of talents at their disposal and this is our chance to take Osborne on, rip apart his economic agenda and show it for the shallow façade it is, and bring forward a coherent alternative. Right now, given the savagery of the cuts and the Coulson scandal, there is an opportunity to take on the Tories and we need to show strong alternatives to Cameron's increasingly obvious poor judgment. Not only with hiring Coulson, but allowing Osborne to influence his judgment and thereby hiring his fellow Bullingdonian in the first place!
In terms of hiring Coulson, Osborne is alleged to have said; "This guy stitched me up like a kipper - let's hire him.""  This was following Coulson's exposure of Osborne's alleged immoral antics whilst at Oxford. Given that, and his alleged smearing of Nick Clegg and his nasty autistic comments regarding Gordon Brown, what does this say about the suitability of this individual to be Chancellor? Given his praising of Ireland as an economic role model some years ago, and his problems over properly querying a £487.000 office donation when he was Shadow Chancellor, it's not as if he is good at finances anyway, or at least cannot keep a proper eye on them. It's not only bad politics, it is bad for the country as well

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Andy Coulson's Resignation

Actually I agree with Coulson, he was becoming the story, but doesn't this say a lot about Cameron's judgement that he hired someone to work in a politically sensitive role where there was, at best, a cloud of suspicion that everyone knew about over the said individual. Doesn't this say much about the desire among senior Tories to play Machiavellian games with political strategy rather than dealing with detail and policy! The mere sadistic joy many felt at Coulson's resignation may well have been ill placed at times (and I admit my contribution as well), but it says much about people's loathing for the more seamier side of Murdoch's empire that has been uncovered and Cameron should have known better.
I have a feeling that this kind of embarrassment is by far not the last for the Prime Minister.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Learning at the Feet of Rahab

In a guest spot, Rachel Stalker blogs on the recent furore surrounding the owners of a Bed and Breakfast who refused to house a gay couple, and refers to some of the standpoints taken by some Christians on this:

On the one hand, I am a great believer in freedom of speech, conscience and thought. There are many things that many people believe that I find blatantly offensive. "Jerry Springer: Opera" is a very good example of theatre that makes me queasy just thinking about - and I wouldn't dream of actually buying a ticket to go and see it - but if the principles of liberty mean anything at all, I should defend the freedoms of those behind such productions.
Some of the strongest defenders of religious liberty were the staunchly conservative New England Puritans, whose ancestors, having escaped persecution in Europe, went on to establish Brown University. This university's founders stated that "into this liberal and catholic institution shall never be admitted any religious tests, but on the contrary, all the members hereof shall forever enjoy full, free, absolute, and uninterrupted liberty of conscience." Quakers, Congregationalists, Baptists, Anglicans, Catholics and Jews could study alongside each other – a radically liberal concept in its day.
Of course, the question is: where does religious liberty end and human rights begin? No human being should be treated as second class whoever they are or denied services because of it. Actually this is a biblical principle. St Paul in his letter to the Galatians says

"There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

It's really important to remember that, contrary to popular belief, the bible doesn't treat homosexual people as second class citizens. It is not the people who are the problem – and all Christians except extremists such as Westboro Baptist Church – would be quick to emphasise this. No Christian hotelier should deny a bedroom to a homosexual person simply on the grounds of that person's sexual orientation.
Quite the contrary: Christians have a strong biblical mandate to offer hospitality.
The writer to the Hebrews says:

"Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it"

Entertain strangers – and one might add that we would not normally know the sexual orientation of those who we have never met. And I've met more than my fair share of LGBT orientated angels in my time!
There is then the account of Rahab the Prostitute from the Old Testament Book of Joshua.. The Israelites are about to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Joshua sends two spies as an "advance party". These spies find refuge with a hospitable prostitute called Rahab. When the King of Jericho finds out, he sends a message to Rahab to hand over the spies. Rahab responds by pretending the spies had already left. Rahab tells the spies that she will protect them as long as they show kindness to her family and spare their lives.
So here we have a woman who is a) a prostitute b) lied to the king and c) feared for her life and that of her family by offering hospitality to spies from a foreign country. Many people throughout history have been tried, convicted and put to death for much less obvious examples of high treason. Yet, this woman is revered in the New Testament as both a biological and legal ancestor of Jesus – and as a great hero of the faith who provides an example to Christians of how to live the Christian life! In this context, how should Christians respond when people with a homosexual orientation come looking for hospitality?
The issue for some - but not all – Christians is not the person but the sexual act. By offering a double room to a homosexual couple, are they not condoning behaviour that the bible condemns? They might also add that they'd feel the same way about heterosexual sex if it happens outside of a marriage relationship (I note that the gay couple in this case were in a civil partnership). Indeed, some Christian groups have ground rules for heterosexual relationships that would seem almost medieval to those outside of the church. A lovely Christian lady who I adore, and who has offered me a great deal of hospitality over the years, once said to me

I appreciate this will sound like it comes from the time of Noah but I really don't think a couple should hold hands until they are at least engaged.”

Her son recently contacted me to ask if I could offer hospitality to his fiancé who was coming to stay. This engaged couple in their mid-twenties wouldn't dream of sharing a building let alone a room or – God forbid – a bed before the wedding day. It reminded me of just how counter-cultural Christian relationships can be.
But all sorts of things can happen in a bedroom that a host wouldn't necessarily know about. Most hotel rooms have "No Smoking" signs but that doesn't cover the injection of heroin. The woman who has signed in as "Mrs Smith" may in fact be a mistress, and with the aide of a laptop and WIP all manner of evil can be plotted – and I'm not just talking about pornography.
I once lived in a parish where the vicar was a single, unmarried man who lived in the rectory alone. It would have been inappropriate for him to offer hospitality to either a single woman or a single man – and certainly not to anyone under 18 - for fear of creating scandal – yet this meant that he was often unable to help people in serious need. Nevertheless, people respected his position – and his office.
It is in THIS context that I think the LGBT community could help their cause immeasurably if they were to think about perhaps acting more sensitively towards those who may well be discomforted by their sexual behaviour. When my university flatmates were "at it" every night, it didn't really matter whether I thought it was immoral: the fact was, it was discourteous. Similarly, if a Christian couple asks me for hospitality, I would always ask them if they wanted one bedroom or two. If we are hosts, we should be good hosts; if we are guests we should be good guests.
Neither do we help our cause when we make unfair generalisations about those with whom we disagree. While I have sympathy with many of Ben Summerskill's sentiments, he is wrong to say that Mr and Mrs Bull know nothing about persecution. Barely a week goes by in any church when the persecution of Christians around the world is not mentioned or prayed for. Many of us wish it was more newsworthy. Yet precious few countries have anti-Christian laws that would seem unreasonable to the outside world. In Islamic countries, many Christians who are persecuted have fallen foul of seemingly innocuous anti-blasphemy laws. It is precisely BECAUSE Christian persecution is so talked about in Church circles that laws inhibiting Christian freedoms in this country cause so much fear amongst Christians. People are genuinely terrified that we're on a slippery slope to a situation where Christians WILL be murdered in this country for their faith.
Neither is it fair for Ben Summerskill to say:

The Bulls' shadowy supporter, the Christian Legal Centre, suggests it may turn to the law again. If so, it might reflect that, for the estimated £30,000 this court case has cost it, Oxfam or Save the Children could have vaccinated 100,000 people against meningitis in sub-Saharan Africa. Now that would have been a genuinely Christian way to spend its money.

It wasn't Mr and Mrs Bull who brought this matter to court: it was the gay couple, Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy. Should they and Stonewall consider how many children could have been vaccinated against meningitis had they chosen to take their custom – and their money - to another hotel instead of taking the matter to court?
Perhaps we could all do with spending some time studying at the feet of Rahab.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Royal Line of Succession May Be Changed!

I don't think this is an if, given the positive changes in society over the past few decades, rather a when! It will take time to come about (inc for the practical reasons of seeing this ratified in Commonwealth countries, although Edward VIII's abdication was dealt with in almost no time at all!), and there will be some resistance, some for the sake of keeping tradition for the sake of tradition. But as with the rules on Roman Catholics and the rights of succession, it cannot be justified and it's not too soon that we shall see these changes take place

Kennedy's Inaugural Speech: One of the Best?

Further to my blogpost the other day about US Presidents, apparently it is 50 years ago tomorrow that President Kennedy delivered his inaugural address.
Considered one of the finest political speeches of the Twentieth Century, Dr Max Atkinson has been explaining to the BBC why that is.
It is certainly one of my favourites and for three reasons. One it is revealing a fresh renewal of the US's role at home and abroad in a positive way, two it is inclusive, speaking to those abroad as well, and three it appeals to Mankind's better nature, reminding us that we all have an important role to contribute and that it is not the individual's place to expect everything to be handed to them on a plate and for society to revolve around them. Something that we need to remember well in today's society.
Whilst the US has another statesman in the positive Kennedy mould in President Obama, it would be good for the UK, and indeed several other nations to have a Prime Minister or President with a similar approach.

Compromise on AV Bill?

As this report suggests, I do hope so because this issue is too important to play Party-politics with as the Tories are doing. As for Lord Strathclyde's assertion that the Conservatives are not necessarily going to benefit from the boundary changes, well 1) they don't want independent scrutiny, 2) of course he would say that, and 3) In what way will the proposed boundary changes not necessarily benefit the Conservative Party?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Are Labour Peers Time-Wasting?

If it is purely to slow down the Referendum Bill going onto the statute books, then I agree and it is unfair and insulting to the electorate, but if as I believe, and as Lord Falconer says, that it is to deal with the amendment regarding boundary changes, then it is fair and just and a brave attempt to stop Tory/Lib Dem gerrymandering. In which case Ed Miliband is not guilty of weak leadership as Baroness Warsi disingenuously says, but rather allowing an opportunity to separate the thistles from the plants.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Best US President?

A UK Poll of experts has placed Franklin D. Roosevelt as the best US President since George Washington.
The Poll, which was recently conducted, was fascinating because most US Pollsters put Lincoln first (Obama was not included BTW as he is the incumbent, and neither were William Harrison and James Garfield, as they both died shortly before taking office).
But what particularly fascinated me was that John F. Kennedy was at No 15, whereas his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson (unfavourably compared at the time) was at No 11.
I am not shocked by this as such, as I tend to rate Johnson higher than others do. If it wasn't for Vietnam, he would have been an excellent President, but to be seen in a Poll as more regarded as President than Kennedy sort of justifies such a view.
That said, Johnson was able to complete some of Kennedy's reforms, and as people, whilst Kennedy was perhaps not the most moral person, he had a charm about him which inspired more personal loyalty, or to put it another way, JFK inspires affection, LBJ inspires respect.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Tea Party's Reactions To Arizona Shootings

Like any other decent person I find some of the responses here disgusting. If there is one thing that angers me, and it doesn't matter if it's from the Right or indeed the Left, it's people using a tragedy to get defensive, use it to justify questionable vitriolic attacks, and to forget that people actually died as a result of said tragedy. To those involved in the Tea Party please, search your conscience, ask yourselves whether the rhetoric used was wrong, and that maybe the response to such a tragedy is not to get defensive and lash out, but rather the bigger response is to apologise and look at ways to help heal your divided country. In a similar way I would like to use my blog to apologise again, for anything I may have said or done which could have done the opposite to encouraging a positive debate and discussion  to the issues that are around us.

Nick Clegg's Reaction to the Oldham By-Election Result

This morning Nick Clegg said:

"It was always going to be a big ask to take this seat from Labour, given the circumstances. We are undertaking some enormously difficult decisions because Labour left Britain's economy in a mess and we are now forced to clean up after them."

Just one question to that statement Nick. What are you saying about the voters of Oldham East and Saddleworth given Labour got an increased majority there?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Return of James Bond

It wasn't really a doubt he would come back, just the length of time and whether Daniel Craig would do a Timothy Dalton and move on as a result, but filming will commence later this year for a 2012 release and we look forward to what that has to offer

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Coalition of the Left: Netroots?

On many occasions there have been attempts to build a coalition amongst the Left, more recently there was the Euston Manifesto for those on the Right of the Left, but, as my last sentence has indicated, such coalitions can be doomed to failure given that the Left, like the Right, is a broad church, and many people, myself among them, have as much dislike of the hard left as they do the hard right.
So it is that there seem to be some problems with Netroots, as Sunny Hundal has indicated. It's one of those arguments where I can see all sides. Some see the need to be aggressive with the Right given the recent formation of the Coalition government, some feel that Labour should lead any Left Coalition (understandable given our electoral success in comparison with others), some feel that we need to concentrate on working together.
I know how much this means to Sunny, the last time we were both interviewed on 18 Doughty Street we shared the same sofa and he spoke of his ideas for such a group even back then (see the last thirty minutes). Personally I think we need a coalition of the Left, if only to countenance this current coalition which will hang on to power until their nails break. But that coalition of the Left must be run from the Centre, as that is the most mainstream, and therefore has the most support and success. Whether it is successful remains to be seen, but if we are to succeed we must learn from the mistakes of thirty years ago and work together and stick together.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Standing Together Against Bigotry

I received an email from someone in Churches Together in Hertfordshire, which had a link to this story.
It's basically about Muslims helping protect Christians in Egypt during the Christmas festivities and it is a heartening tale that works as a counter weight to the bigotry that we all too often see in the World.

Recipe For Irish Coffee

On a lighter note, I promised a chap called David Caldwell that I'd mention a recipe he has for Irish Coffee, so here it is, and it makes me remember how I love them as well :-)

1 cupful of strong, hot, black coffee
1 tsp sugar
1 measure Irish whiskey (Preferably “Tullamore Dew”)
1 small carton double cream
1. Take a wine glass and pour enough of the coffee to fill it just over half way.
2. Add the sugar and stir until it dissolves.
3. Add the whiskey and stir.
4. Slowly pour a thick layer of double cream, over the back of a teaspoon, on to the top of the coffee so that it floats on top.

And here is the blogpost about how it came about

Congresswoman Giffords

Words fail to describe accurately, the shock of what happened here, but if anything it shows that sometimes in politics, and sometimes in particular US politics, there never seems to be a cauldron of hatred far from the surface. Sometimes both left and right get angry to the point of lacking reason on issues. The do or die, the last ditch (one thinks for example of equating Obama's Healthcare to Nazi Germany), we see on blogs, trolls leaving vicious and nasty little personal messages which are out of proportion. Then you get some who take things a step further and use violence, sometimes fuelled by the vicious abuse going on elsewhere.
Those of us who are politicians, political activists, bloggers, and journalists have a duty not just to be forthright and assertive in our arguments, but to also dampen the vicious abuse that goes on under the surface. It's tough and sometimes we fail, but we must. It's understandable that Sarah Palin is quick to distance herself from some of her comments, but I find it cold that the first thing her team does is to clear her site from some of the comments she made about Congresswoman Giffords. It's understandable, but an apology for some of her comments, such as this one would have helped a great deal. Her comments certainly bothered Congresswoman Giffords, whose offices were attacked when she backed the Healthcare Bill.
I for one agree with the editorial on  MSNBC. And naming names on Right and Left. We must stop, we must think, we must be responsible, and aim to be virtuous in our politics and spurn hatred.

Friday, January 07, 2011

The Redoubtable Barney Frank

Remember Barney Frank! He who took on the woman who equated Obama's healthcare proposals with Nazi Germany! Well here he is again, showing up one of the arguments against the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell!" for what it is. Silly and narrow minded.

Norman Tebbit Letting His Party Down

Having read this yesterday, I am surprised hardly anyone has picked up on it. Tebbit has pulled stunts like this before and if I were David Cameron I wouldn't tolerate it.
But this is the thing. Tebbit has frequently made attacks on the Tory leadership, and yet seems to be popular with some of the grassroots for it. Who can remember his anti-European speech at the Conservative Party leadership and the braying support from the delegates at the 1992 Conservative Party Conference! However heretical Tebbit has been, Cameron hopes that silence will make his views ignored and he daren't touch him for fear of how the Tory grassroots will react. Courage indeed!
And Lord Tebbit know it.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

RIP Gerry Rafferty

Much missed, and sad that he found fame difficult to handle, but he leaves a musical legacy many would envy