Friday, May 15, 2015

Another of life's little mysteries solved

Thanks to the BBC I finally know why one of the performers with the well known popular beat combo U2 [Never heard of them: Ed] has his colourful soubriquet. He's called "The Edge" because he keeps falling off them.

Perhaps he should be renamed "The clumsy oaf" or "The bruise".

Actually I used to have a U2 album, "The Joshua Tree". It was not in my possession for very long. 'Nuff said.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Election 2015 - Farage Lives!

A celebratory ode as Nigel F. puts his leader's hat back on after his party refused to let him go.

So welcome back then Nigel Farage
You only took the weekend off
Perhaps you sorted out your garage
Or took a stroll on Southend Pier

Your party threw you out of triage*
Refused to let you hibernate
Though power still remains a mirage
It's time to sink another beer

*yes, I know, you try finding a decent rhyme for "Farage" that hasn't already been used

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Election 2015 - Trying to make sense of it all

The dust is still settling on the amazing result of the general election. This column, like everyone else, accepted the opinion polls verdict that the votes would be split between Labour and Conservatives and a hung parliament would result. The real vote put some 6% between those parties and far from a swing against the Government, the Conservatives achieved a absolute majority in the House of Commons. This result was even greater than the BBC's exit poll predicted and that poll, announced at the stroke of 10pm as voting ceased, was regarded by everyone as rogue and overstating the swing to the Tories (until the first dozen results were in).

Therefore not only did the very many polls taken over the weeks up to the election fail to predict correctly but the exit poll, based on a very large sample and taken from people with no reason to conceal their preferences, was unable to gauge the full impact on voting patterns in key marginals. Does this tell us something about poll methodology or about voter decision making? Either the polls are based on false assumptions or many voters changed their minds in the final hours. If the latter, this has been seen before in UK elections but not on the scale of last Thursday.

The polls did get it right in Scotland where a social democratic bloc that can genuinely claim to represent the whole country now faces a conservative government that cannot make the same claim, not even for England where the Tory vote was 41% of the total cast. Did the English vote harden to the right in the face of the predicted landslide north of the border? Can most of the UKIP votes (14% in England) be treated as straying Tories who will return or has there been a shift to UKIP from Labour as well? If so, this, coupled with the LibDem wipeout, suggests a very serious problem for the left wing in England. How long can the union survive with the two main regions so opposed? Two generations ago the Tories were as strong in Scotland as in England - now they have almost ceased to exist.

It is fair to point out that the SNP gained just 50% of votes in Scotland. Is this their high tide? If they begin to fall back, and it is recognised that many of their voters do not support their fundamental policy aim of full independence, maybe the union can stagger on for a while. But if the forthcoming referendum on the EU results in a British withdrawal, surely the Scots will put every effort behind independence so that they can remain in, and the result of Cameron's victory will be the breakup of the UK and its isolation from European partners, massive loss of influence with the USA (which most definitely wants the UK to stay in the EU) and a diminishment of the whole of what used to be the UK.

This blogger supports UK membership of the EU, believes in the UK as a real force for good in the world and that British values of tolerance, freedom and fairness are vital. The 2015 election has put much of this in the hazard.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Election 2015 - an elegy for Nigel

So farewell then Nigel Farage
Thumped in Thanet, marred in Margate
Deflated by a heavy barrage
as Tory voters stood their ground.

Perhaps you should have tried in Harwich
but then again, it always was
going to be an awkward marriage
It's time to drink that final round

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The Battle for Uxbridge and Ruislip South - 7: Isn't it quiet in here?

You wouldn't think there was an election on. Hardly a poster or placard in sight. No candidates patrolling the streets with posses of rosetted supporters and no mysteriously crackly and undecipherable loudspeaker announcements that always seem to come from the street round the corner but never your own street. No new leaflets through our door in the last week.

The winner, B. Johnson, continues to make national news as he positions himself carefully near to, but somehow a step away from, the man whose political career he may shortly terminate, if results do not go to plan. Consequently he has not been much in evidence around here but, then again, he doesn't have to do a damn thing locally and he will still get a thumping majority.

Meanwhile the polls show no movement at all. Labour and Conservatives locked at about 32% each and, depressingly, UKIP the next most popular party. For twenty years before the American Civil War there was an "American Party", commonly known as the "know-nothings". It was anti-Catholic and anti immigration, and especially anti-Catholic-immigration. There is a parallel with UKIP and its "I don't really understand all this but I know I'm against it" gut reaction to most political questions. I hope UKIP's longevity matches that of the know-nothings and it fades into the sunset after tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Election 2015 - Coalition looms

Because the UK had a stable two-party system for so long, it has become difficult to contemplate a future in which coalition government is normal. Yet a wider historical perspective would show that there have been frequent times when the two main parties splintered and deals had to be struck to keep a majority afloat or a third party managed to prevent one of the others from gaining a majority; going further back, the very concept of a party was unknown back in the 17c and 18c when faction and personal interest dominated and political alliances were formed as much from individual likes and dislikes as from a broad agreement on policy.

We have a parliamentary system. The vote this Thursday will allow us to choose our representatives. We do not get a vote on who is to become Prime Minister, nor on which parties may form the next government. No party is entitled to claim a right to form the government unless they can show they have a working majority in the Commons. Any group of parties that can do so are entitled to vote down any government lacking such support and to claim the right to form the government themselves. For parties to disdain the idea of coalition is a form of contempt for democracy. If most of us vote for several parties who are able to work together then this is a very good expression of democracy.

Furthermore, although politicians will say that coalitions inhibit them and they dislike the horse-trading, as much of this goes on within the parties as between them. Both Labour and Conservatives have had searing internal rows on divisive issues, including our future in the EU, trade union rights,immigration, privitisation and others. There are special interest groups within the parties that have to be appeased, sometimes going against mainstream policy, although one could argue that with party membership way lower than it used to be, the parties are less broadly representative. But coalitions within the parties produce a broad consensus that makes them appeal to a wide range of voters and the same principle should apply between the parties.

In short, there is no reason why my political interests should be the same as yours, but in most cases it makes sense for us to work together to secure the most reasonable result.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The ever-changing London

An afternoon at Belsize Park led on to an evening concert at the stunning Tudor Hall at the Middle Temple in central London. To get there I took the tube part way then walked from Warren Street through the heart of theatreland. That London constantly reinvents itself is a bit of cliche but even so, I was surprised at the extent of changes to areas I thought I knew.

 Tottenham Court Road used to be the hub of the electronics business with dozens of specialist shops selling cameras and computers, phones and hifi, even telescopes in the old days. I bought my first computer, an Apple II, there in 1981. Today there are barely five, all fairly small, outlets which together could have fitted into one of the big stores twenty years ago. At its end Centre Point looks quite different from what I used to know, with all the buildings on side ripped away and a great gap at the top of Charing Cross Road where a cluster of Victorian (?) properties await demolition. A new station front has been shoehorned across the street from the massive hole where Crossrail will pass underneath in the near future.

At least there are still musical instrument shops in Tin Pan Alley (Denmark Street) and some specialist bookshops in the area but where did all the coffee shops and restaurants come from? My wife, who worked there in the 1970s, remembers the area around Fleet Street as a culinary desert in the evenings. Not any more - the city is far more alive at night than it used to be.