Bush’s surge strategy – are its days numbered?

Richard Lugar has been US Senator for Indiana for 31 years and is a former Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This week he created a major stir by being the first leading Republican to break ranks on Iraq. He warned that he might not support Bush’s funding request for Iraq in September. His words were strong:

In my judgment, the costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved. Persisting indefinitely with the surge strategy will delay policy adjustments that have a better chance of protecting our vital interests over the long term.

US TV newscaster rips up lead story about Paris Hilton

This is worth watching. The newscaster on MSNBC, Mika Brzezinski (daughter of Zbigniew – for political anoraks), refuses to read the lead story about Paris Hilton. She tries to burn the script on air, before ripping it up and then shredding a second copy given to her.

It looks a bit staged to me. If it is real, you can understand the lady’s feelings. The “second” story, which had been demoted in favour of Paris Hilton, was the news that leading Republican Senator Richard Lugar said he might not support Bush’s Iraq policy when it comes up for its next funding vote in September.

Worrying Turkish "plans" to invade Iraq

Turkey is warning of plans to invade northern Iraq.

This is a worrying escalation of international military action. Goodness knows what impact it will have on Turkey’s application to join the EU.

An EU member country, the United Kingdom, has already invaded Iraq, with highly questionable justification.

So criticism of the Turkish stance would seem rather hypocritical, particularly if it comes from the UK or the USA.

What the Sam Hill is going on?

Balderdash and Piffle, BBC2’s word origins programme is going from strength to strength.

It never ceases to amaze me how we use phrases without even thinking for a second what they mean or how they originate.

Last night’s edition about people’s names, which have become well-used terms, was fascinating.

Gordon Bennett. He was a famous media magnate, sportsman, and playboy in the early 1900s.

Bloody Mary. Although this is usually thought to be named after Queen Mary I, there is a school of thought that it was named after a girl at the Bucket of Blood Club in Chicago, where Fernand Petiot, the inventer of the cocktail had once worked.

Take the mickey. Thought to be connected to Mickey Bliss, whoever he was.

The programme didn’t feature Sam Hill….as in “What the Sam Hill is going on?” (A particular favourite of mine, by the way). The expression is thought to be connected to Colonel Samuel Hill of Connecticutt. It’s not clear why.

Where are all the Conservative expert peers advising Gordon Brown?

When the issue of Shirley Williams’ offered advisory role on nuclear proliferation came up, Menzies Campbell issued this statement:

There will be no Liberal Democrats in Brown’s Government. I have no objection to and indeed welcome an initiative which results in Liberal Democrats acting in an independent advisory capacity or participating in an independent commission or investigations which make independent recommendations on policy to the Government. The conditions for taking part which must be satisfied are that participation is not token, there is a proper remit which allows for independent analysis and conclusions, and that there is a reasonable prospect of their advice being accepted and their conclusions being implemented.

I am perfectly happy with that. So, I look forward to confirmation that the roles offered to Lord Lester and Baroness Neuberger comply with those conditions. I am surprised that I can find no statement from the party on those two latter names.

The Norfolk Blogger asks: “Does anyone in their right mind believe that Baroness Neuberger or Lord Lester will hold sway or influence Gordon Brown in their advisory capacity?”

If we assume that the answer to that question is “No”, then that means that they or the LibDems cannot be held responsible for Gordon Brown’s governmental actions, doesn’t it? So that confirms their position as “independent” advisers, doesn’t it? Pointless advisers, yes, but also very independent advisers. There is nothing more independent than an adviser who is obviously ignored.

The fields of nuclear proliferation (Williams) and volunteering (Neuberger) are so narrow as to be microscopic in the overall scheme of government.

What I am concerned about is Lord Lester’s advisory brief on the constitution. This needs urgent clarification. The Independent says he “is expected to play a leading role in all-party talks on the constitution.” If that is the case, I am reasonably comfortable with it, but why isn’t there a Conservative adviser in a similar position?

I am very nervous that the LibDems could be blamed for Brown’s wilder constitutional reform botch-ups. Even if he makes a good job of constitutional reform, the kudos for the LibDems would be drowned out by the brickbats aimed at us for other Brown mistakes, with which we would also be seen as complicit (even if they have nothing to do with us).

I am concerned that I see no Conservative names on the list of government non-Labour advisers. Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington is a crossbencher. Digby-Jones will take the Labour whip. I look in vain for Conservative advisers to balance off the LibDem ones.

That makes me feel very nervous.

Having said that, the public will be heartily sick if political parties refuse to co-operate where they have experts in specific fields. Williams, Lester and Neuberger are universally acknowledged experts in specific fields. It would be wrong to prevent their advice being given for tribal reasons, but the LibDems and Labour do not have a monopoly on experts. Believe it or not, there are some experts in the Conservative party.

Groundsman’s nightmare at Worcester

Earlier this week I enjoyed an excellent game of Twenty20 cricket at the Rose Bowl near Southampton. It was great to see newcomer Adam Voges score a brilliant 66 not out. Also, Hampshire’s Chris Tremlett clean bowled (one of the stumps flew out of the ground) Murray Goodwin for a duck in the first over.

But whereas Hampshire had an average of seven runs an over, Sussex had a ten run average from early on. Hampshire’s wicket keeper missed a catch and it was all down hill from there.

But it was great to go to the Rose Bowl for the first time and also witness the Twenty20 format, which is an excellent way to attract good crowds to cricket.

The announcements at the interval (almost typed “half time” but that wouldn’t do) included the news that there would be no game at Worcester due to the ground being under several feet of water (left).

You have to feel for the ground staff. They spend their lives meticulously caring for the pitch. They spends months getting the square ready and in tip-top condition. To see it under several feet of what must break their hearts. But, as the Chief Executive of Worcestershire County Cricket Club writes:

I have repeatedly said to the media over the last few days that what we are suffering is nothing compared to the family of Eric Dickinson who recently died when his car was swept away near Pershore (Eric was a Club Member) or those who lose their homes in the floods.