Time to lambast the economic stupidity of Tory posturing on immigration


The main headline in today’s Sunday Times (£) is something of a milestone. (Helpfully, the Murdoch empire make most of the story available on Sky News without a paywall). Continue reading

Mrs Robinson by Simon & Garfunkel – #3/3 of classic songs one takes for granted

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Yes, I know. You were in for suspenders for nearly a month, weren’t you?. What on earth would I go for, for number three in this series? Well, wait no longer.

Mrs Robinson by Simon & Grafunkel is a beautifully produced recording. The guitar work is superb. And there is a sort of moaning in the background. I like that. Very distinctive.

This tune reminds me of when I was lucky enough to enjoy the summer of 1976 being occasionally driven around the North Devon countryside by our music teacher and a couple of friends from the Upper Sixth. Our music teacher had a red Triumph Vitesse convertible with an eight track, on which we played Simon & Garfunkel’s greatest hits and the Beatles blue and red albums at full blast as we accelerated out of Filleigh. Happy Days! Oh, cocha-choo Missus Robinson!

Question Time – the one which showed that men can be arseholes* and women can be brilliant

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OK. Apologies for being patronising or condescending or an inverse sexist (?), but I enjoyed Question Time last night, speaking as what I regard as an aspirant or humble candidate for male feminist (if they’ll have me) – Lenny Kravitz fan, the token male in an all-female household and Liberal Democrat Women member.

You can imagine the programme planning meeting:

Hey – why don’t we do a special women’s edition. Get two TOTAL ARSEHOLES of men on and then have three really brilliant women to show that women can be totally brilliant and that men can be TOTAL ARSEHOLES.

This was not Farage versus Brand. This was man versus woman. Woman won.

Just so you know, the panel on last night’s Question Time was:

Russell Brand
Nigel Farage
Mary Creagh
Penny Mordaunt
Camilla Cavendish

Russell Brand’s heart is in the right place. I like him. He is a great comedian and works well as a sort of one-man “ginger group” to mix things up a bit. But his entreaties to people not to vote are just stupid and irresponsible. And his labelling of politicians as “them” is absolutely ridiculous. Politicians aren’t “them”. They are us. And if more of us haven’t got the guts to be politicians, then more fool us.

Nigel Farage is Nigel Farage. The M4 is full-up because of immigration. If people fall for that one, then good luck to them. Oh, but of course, we should be having a real debate on immigration. The debate which the professional politicians and media wallahs won’t let us have. BOLLOCKS. We’ve been having that debate since 1968 (at least – doesn’t anyone remember Alf Garnett or Enoch Powell?) and on virtually every edition of Question Time since its inception.

Mary Creagh is one of the few Labour politicians who doesn’t say “What we have said is…” all the blinking time. She is clear and intelligent. A great model for women.

Penny Mordaunt. I was surprised by her. She is remarkably grounded and knowledgeable about issues which are deserving of focus.

Camilla Cavendish is a journalist who knows what she is talking about.

Can I just say this? One of the questions last night was about ya-boo politics. Listen carefully. I will say this only once. It is our responsibility as citizens of this country to realise that the three minutes of PM v Oppo leader of PMQs is about 0.01% of the debates/exchanges in parliament each week. The tweets which showed empty benches versus full chambers “for MP’s salaries debates” (cheap point, Russell Brand, use your brain!) have been exposed as lies. The majority of parliamentary time is spent by earnest, marginally anally-retentive, people talking earnestly about dry, important subjects on behalf of the nation. They then, in the case of Commons MPs, have to travel all the way back to their constituencies (in most cases) to see if they have still got a family and/or a seat left. It is your responsibility as citizens of this country, oh bleating “yaboo politics” and “politicians are all in it for themselves” man and woman, to use your God-given loaf and do sufficient research (like watch BBC Parliament for five minutes other than for PMQs) to realise that you are talking out of your collective arses.

*includes me. I don’t often get that potty-mouthed, so enjoy it while you can. Thank Shepherd Neame’s Bishops Finger.

House of Lords champagne – the other side of the story

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Rather like applying electrodes, my post this morning suddenly sent a surge of life into this blog. I got two responses!!!!

The post itself was blogging at its most classic. That is, a rant banged into an iphone on my knee on the train to London at 7am with the most cursory glance at any basis of “facts”.

So I am grateful for those two responses for reminding me that it is always a good idea to spend a few minutes actually looking for both sides to the story.

First of all, thanks to my good friend and neighbourhood attack sea otter, Mark Valladares, for gracing this site with its first comment since Bruce Forsyth still had his own hair:


On the other hand, the people who drink the champagne may rather want to drink champagne rather than cava. That is their choice, if they wish to pay for it. And, given that catering for outside groups in the Lords generates a profit of about £1 million a year – and they drink quite a lot of that champagne – it strikes me as rather a false economy.”

Thanks also to Baroness Hussein-Ece for putting me right on Twitter:

So, thank you very much, Meral and Mark, for adding greatly to my education today. Not only are peers paid to put in the hard yards on our legislation for life, but I now know that they have enterprisingly taken it upon themselves to provide an excellent service for the nation as an off-licence for over-priced and over-rated French produce without having to interrupt the proceedings of this hothouse of business activity for elections.

What efficiency! We can all be proud of them!

I particularly like the way they earn money for the hard-pressed tax payer by cashing in on the old world snob value of the “House of Lords” label attached to the bottles. Meanwhile, other sparkling wines (and indeed many and varied delicacies) are available, even from the United Kingdom.

And of course, quite rightly the crazy idea of doing anything as sordid as merging the Lords catering operation with the Commons catering operation to save money has been rejected because, in the words of Sir Malcolm Jack, former clerk of the Commons on December 2nd:

The lords feared that the quality of champagne would not be as good if they chose a joint service

The stupid snobbery of the House of Lords refreshment committee*

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It was recently reported that the House of Lords refreshment committee purchased 17,000 bottles of champagne costing £260,000 from 2010 onwards. Suggestions of buying cheaper champagne fell on deaf ears.

A few years ago, loved ones once treated me to a wine tasting with famous wine and drink expert Oz Clarke. OK, it was in a big room with a hundred other people but I was down the front and treated to the full gamma rays of Mr Clarke’s wonderful wit and wisdom. Plastic corks or screw tops are better than cork corks – was one of his pearls of insight.

But old Oz reserved particular venom for a full-on rant about champagne. The gist was: you can spend (2000 prices) £30 on a bottle of champagne or £3 on a bottle of cava. They are exactly the same. So why pay £27 extra for exactly the same thing? You are paying £27 for a hundred years of advertising which has convinced people that sparkling wine from one region is better than another sparkling wine from elsewhere. More fool you. By all means buy it for a special birthday or anniversary but, otherwise, don’t waste your money.

So, the House of Lords refreshment committee have wasted a pile of our dosh (at £15.29 a bottle) simply for the snob value of seeing (or not seeing) the word “champagne” on a label. They could have bought any sparkling wine, my preference would be for British sparkling wine, saved a fortune, and no one would have known the difference.

*UPDATE 12/11/14: Please also read this post which gives the other side of this story. My headline and article above are misleading on their own. The champagne is bought and resold through the extensive House of Lords private catering operation. The peers are not swigging this stuff, I am informed. I apologise for misleading in this single post above but hopefully I have now reflected the whole story on this and the second post.

Scotland – "alas, poor country! Almost afraid to know itself"

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On Thursday I returned, with she who must be obeyed, to my old school, West Buckland School, for the second time this year. After some very convivial conversations in what was the Headmaster’s Living Room (but is now the “Downward Room”) we were privileged to watch “Macbeth” performed by the students. It was in the wonderful 150 building in the theatre, which is an excellent, modern space for drama. The cast and production team can be very proud of themselves. They gave us an entertaining and moving production in the finest tradition of Shakespeare.

The line above, from the play, captured my attention. With apologies to Scots, I think one could be forgiven to think that it applied somewhat to the recent referendum campaign. – Such is the remarkable knack of Shakespeare to supply apposite quotes for the present day.

Jeremy Thorpe – a life in pictures

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There are a host of fantastic photographs of Jeremy Thorpe in the archives. He had a real sense of showmanship to which photographers responded. Here are a few images which reflect his life. Continue reading