There's something about Mary

A couple of comments from the latest Liberal Democrat Voice survey typify many reactions to the idea of an elected Head of State:

Can’t stand the idea of a President since he/she would be political, therefore divisive


Better than a possibly political and corrupt president

There’s a simple answer to those points. There is only one country connected by land to the UK. It’s called Ireland. They have a President. You may know the last two office holders. Mary Robinson. Mary McAleese.

They have been quite successful.

I love it when a green travel plan comes together…


The other day we parked in Shaw Church car park, Newbury, to visit couple of our daughters’ teachers at nearby Trinity School. When we came back to the car, this little notice had been put under the wipers. It may seem a small thing but it meant a lot to me. What it means is that, well over a decade after agreeing to a green travel plan, in order to build their HQ at Shaw, Vodafone are still very energetically sticking to their commitments.

Let's celebrate! It's Save the Frogs Day

And here is Archie, one our frogs, on look-out duty (our cats keep up a vigil around the pond).

Other things to celebrate: The anniversary of James Cook making landfall in Botany Bay, Australia. It’s Duke Ellington’s birthday. It’s World Dance Day, National Shrimp Scampi Day, Abor Day (a holiday in Nebraska,USA), the Feast Day of St Catherine of Sienna, World Wish Day and the World Day of Immunology (that latter one is perhaps the most significant. Many, many of us wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for progress in immunology.

PMQs: Calm down dear, Lansley's going through the shredder

Cross-posted from Liberal Democrat Voice

During an answer on the NHS, David Cameron made his now infamous “Calm down, dear” remark to Angela Eagle (available via Channel4News on YouTube). He followed it up with the words “Calm down” repeated several times, including to “the most annoying man in politics” (Cameron’s words), Ed Balls. It was a relatively inconsequential, if ill-advised, remark. However, I don’t get the “it’s a joke from an ad” defence here. The full catchphrase is “Calm down dear – it’s a commercial”. “Calm down, dear” on its own is only half a catchphrase.

The reason why the remark is, quite rightly, causing a fuss is because it typifies the worst of Cameron’s dispatch box style: arrogant, bullying, petulant and rather old-fashioned.

David Cameron used a very interesting phrase about the NHS reforms: “…that is the whole point of pausing the reforms and then trying to get them going again with greater support from doctors and nurses.” Note the words “then trying to get them going again” and, particularly, the word “trying”. Interesting. Andrew Lansley is going through the political equivalent of a slow shredder. Very painful.

After all that excitement, the House of Commons needed a bucket of cold water thrown over it. Bill Cash duly obliged with the question about zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Earlier, we were launched into competitive descriptions of the economy. As background, The Guardian reported: “A preliminary estimate released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Wednesday showed that gross domestic product (GDP) – a broad measure for the total economy – grew by 0.5% in the first quarter of the year”. The BBC’s Stephanie Flanders commented that “the figures show a relatively slow moving economy, not a stagnant one”.

Ed Miliband described this as a “flatlined” economy. But if you’ve gone from -0.5% to +0.5% then you haven’t “flatlined”, technically speaking. Miliband also said: “Six months ago, what did he tell us? He told us that we were out of the danger zone. Since then there has been no growth at all in the British economy.” Well that’s a strange thing to say when the estimate is of +0.5% growth in the last quarter, though it is technically correct if you look at the last six months. Doesn’t Ed Miliband recognise the relatively well-established periodic division of quarters? Does he do everything over six months?

We are not in a PIGsty, was Cameron’s answer (Portugal, Ireland, Greece), coupled with this corker: “The economy has grown by 1.8% over the last year, but let me tell the right hon. Gentleman this. I did a little research, and all the time that he was in the Cabinet, there was not a single quarter when the economy grew more than 0.5%—not one. That is his great record.”

Other snippets:

  • Adrian Sanders (Lib Dem) called for a judicial inquiry into the relationship between News International and the Met Police, relative to phone hacking.
  • Nick Clegg, by the way, has now devised a way of looking serious and potentially supportive of Cameron, while dispensing with the worst excesses of the “nodding donkey” technique of earlier PMQs.
  • Stephen Gilbert (Lib Dem) asked an excellent question about housing: “Across the country, 2 million families are on waiting lists for social housing. Nearly 1 million homes lie empty, and the average age of a first-time buyer is 37. Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that there is a housing crisis in Britain, and will the Government publish a strategy to tackle it?”.
  • Ian Swales (Lib Dem) asked a superb question: “The Prime Minister is a vociferous opponent of the alternative vote system and reserves special disdain for the idea that someone might win after coming second in an early round. Will he therefore stand aside in favour of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), who beat him to the post in 2005? “

Does the AA qualify as a much-loved national institution?

Creative Commons License photo credit: didbygraham

I normally apply the “much-loved national institution” tag to the likes of the NHS and the BBC. I have a particular soft spot for the BBC. They drop their clangers. But from the numerous people I have met from the BBC and, in witnessing their daily output, I am firm in the view that the BBC is special. The people there take a a very professional and caring approach to their work. You can rely on and trust the BBC.

But perhaps the AA hasn’t ever been called a “much-loved national institution”. I hasten to add that the RAC, GreenFlag etc may well also qualify for such an accolade. However, I have never experienced their service.

Over the last year I have had to use the AA roadside call out three times. On each occasion, their mechanic has been an absolute godsend and got us, as a family, out of a nasty fix, quite promptly and with a friendly word or two. Their mechanical know-how was exceptional.

The most recent example was on Monday evening when something punctured our tyre on the M5 near Bristol. Our “man who can” was there within 30 minutes and sorted us out very quickly. You could call me a wimp for phoning the AA to change a tyre. Indeed, my wife implied as much (to later retract said accusation and praise my good sense in phoing them). But it’s extremely dangerous on the hard shoulder and even Arnold Schwarzenegger would be sensible to get the AA to shelter the scene of operations with their flashing van. It also turned out that our wheel was slightly “fused” to the axle assembly, as so often happens these days. Never fear, our “man who can” judiciously applied a sledgehammer.

Well done the AA!


"Calm down, dear" – big mistake

PM David Cameron
Creative Commons License photo credit: UK in Italy

I think so, yes. David Cameron may have thought he was parroting Michael Winner in his insurance ad, but unfortunately he didn’t have “it’s a commercial” or equivalent tag. And, in any case, Michael Winner is hardly a role model for a Prime Minister.

In fact, this aside to Angela Eagle at Prime Minister’s Questions is significant because it is emblematic of Cameron’s Flashmanesque approach to Parliament. If in doubt, he patronises and insults.

Hopefully lots of people will be voting “Yes” in the referendum because of this condescending and arguably sexist remark.

AV Indie poll: Just two points in it. High turnout likely and Labour voters hold the key

Yes2AV flickr (4)
Creative Commons License photo credit: Steve Punter

Phew! After a couple polls showing the Noes a country mile ahead, an Indie poll by TNS today shows No at 34, Yes at 32,Don’t knows 21 and Won’t votes 13. The poll indicates a high turnout with two-thirds saying they will vote in the referendum. The survey also indicates that Labour supporters may well hold key to the result:

According to TNS, one in four people who voted Liberal Democrat at last year’s general election oppose AV (26 per cent), while 74 per cent support it. In a mirror image, one in four people who backed the Conservatives last year favour AV (23 per cent), with 77 per cent opposing it. Labour voters are against a switch to AV by a margin of 53 to 47 per cent. The rival camps believe that this group could hold the key to the result. The pro-AV organisation will mount a major push to win over Labour supporters.

Welcome aboard Charles!

It’s remarkably wonderful to read that Charles Kennedy has come on board the Coalition Express a year after abstaining in the vote on it.

He explains his move in Prospect magazine here in an article entitled “I’ve learned to love the coalition”:

Plenty of commentators are busy trying to paint the Liberal Democrats into a crisis. We would be well advised to ignore them. Personally, I’m not of the meltdown mentality. Politics is a marathon, never a sprint. But there are other reasons for optimism, too.

I admit that this coalition wasn’t exactly my preferred option. I’ve always considered myself in the reforming, centre-left tradition, so a centre-right arrangement puts my compass in a spin. I also worried that Liberal-Conservative tie-ups, historically, have not tended to end up happily for Liberals. But those of us who genuinely wanted to explore other routes—from a rainbow coalition to a minority Tory administration—were sunk when figures like David Blunkett and John Reid were so against it. I’m in no doubt that a sizeable swathe within Labour were happier in the luxury of opposition, knowing how hard economically things would be. Much of their outrage at coalition decisions they would have probably taken themselves is synthetic at best.