Sunday, September 30, 2007
I don't usually do that sort of thing, but it sounds rather good:
There was an interview with Nick Edwards - or "Nick Edwards", as it is a pseudonym - in the Guardian last month.
Dr Nick Edwards is an Accident and Emergency (A&E) doctor working in the UK and a passionate believer in the NHS. However the reforms, political correctness and the Anglo-Saxon culture of binge drinking and fighting and the resulting A&E visits are a strain on his sanity. So to keep up his morale, he began writing down his feelings - a form of literary cathartic therapy - the results of which make up this book.
From dealing with cardiac arrests and car accidents, to people with 'Arrest Avoidance Syndrome' and others who hadn't quite read the big red sign above their heads as they walked into A&E, In Stitches paints a vivid picture of what it's really like working at the sharp end of the NHS today. It's funny, it's heartbreaking and it's infuriating. It's also more informative than any government press release.
This year there have been many events held to celebrate the two-hundredth anniversary of the passing of the Slave Trade Act, which had the effect of ending the wretched trade within the British Empire. (At the same time Napoleon was busy reintroducing the odious practice into France’s dominions - something of which you should remind your Socialist acquaintances next time you hear them talk lightly of "revolution".)
I am proud to say that members of my family were to be found at Wilberforce’s side speaking in favour of his bill and against this abnegation of all that is noble and generous in the human spirit that slavery represented. Nearer to home, slavers’ ships were denied the use of any harbour on Rutland Water even before it was passed.
Slavery itself, of course, was not abolished until 1833. I spend the afternoon at the Bonkers’ Home for Well-Behaved Orphans which, funnily enough, was opened the very next year.
Back to Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and, indeed, Saturday.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
In 1959 the body of a 12-year-old girl called Lynne Harper was found. She had been raped and strangled. Suspicion fell on Steven Truscott, a boy of 14, who admitted giving her a lift on his bike the evening she disappeared. His story was that he had taken her to a nearby main road and seen ber accept a lift as he cycled home.
He was tried for her murder, convicted and - unbelievably - sentenced to hang. His death sentence was not commuted for almost four months, after his appeal had failed. Truscott later recalled this period for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporaton programme Fifth Estate:
"I woke up one day and somebody was building something outside the wall. You could hear the hammering, and I thought they were building a scaffold. And it's just kind of living in terror, and every day you expect it to be your last."
Isabel LeBourdais's book argued that he had been the victim of a miscarriage of justice. Reading it, it was clear that there had been a rush to judgement: once the police had decided he was the culprit there had been no further attempts to investigate the crime and their efforts were concentrated on gettng him to confess - something he refused to do.
Most importantly, it was clear the prosecution had placed far more weight on the forensic evidence than it could possibly bear. An analysis of Lynne Harper's stomach contents was used to "prove" that she died within the narrow 30-minute window when she was alone with Steven Truscott. If she had died any later than that, when Truscott was home with his family, then he could not have been her killer.
There was a further appeal in 1966, inspired by LeBourdais's book, but it was dismissed. One judge did enter a dissernting judgment, taking Truscott's side.
And there the story seemed to have ended. Truscott was released in 1969 and lived quietly under a different name.
In 2000 Truscott emerged from obscurity. He gave an interview to the CBC programme Fifth Estate. He maintained his innocence and hoped the new DNA fingerprinting technology could be used to prove it.
It turned out there was no useful forensic evidence left from the original investigation, but the renewed interest in the case led to important developments.
In November 28 2001, lawyers for the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, led by James Lockyer, filed an appeal to have the case reopened. In January 2002 a retired Quebec Justice was appointed to review the case - a process which even involved the exhumation of Lynne Harper's body. And in October 2004 the case was retured to the Ontario Court of Appeal.
The press reports I saw of the appeal suggested that it was widely accepted that the forensic evidence produced at the original trial was not anything like as damning as the prosecution had argued at the time. There were also some undisclosed witness statements from other children who had seen Truscott and Harper on the evening she disappeared, and these were generally helpful to his case.
I followed these developments for a time, but had forgotten about the case when the court took a long time to reach its decision. Then a few days ago I came across this report from Reuters:
Truscott acquitted of 48-year-old murder conviction
A Canadian man who was sentenced to hang for murder nearly 50 years ago was acquitted on Tuesday by an appeal court, which described the original sentence as a miscarriage of justice.
The Ontario Court of Appeal overturned Steven Truscott's 1959 conviction in the rape and murder of a 12-year-old classmate in small-town southwestern Ontario. He was 14 at the time, and became Canada's youngest death-row inmate.
"The court unanimously holds that the conviction of Mr. Truscott was a miscarriage of justice, and must be quashed," it said. "We are satisfied that if a new trial were possible, an acquittal would clearly be the more likely result."
According to Reuters he told reporters after verdict:
"I never in my wildest dreams expected, in my lifetime, for this to come true," the soft-spoken Truscott told reporters in Toronto after the ruling. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm cleared."
People walk free out of Canadian courtrooms every day with a great deal more evidence against them than Truscott faced. We accept that because any standard less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt will only produce a parade of miscarriages of justice.
The least we can expect, if accused of a crime we didn't commit, is a fair trial. As the Truscott decision makes clear, he did not receive one years ago and it took almost 48 years for the justice system to right that wrong.
First, I inspired Tampon Teabag (I know, I know) to write a much longer post dissecting the awful spectacle.
Second, according to the BBC:
The report goes on to say:
The government-backed sponsors of The Jeremy Kyle Show have cancelled their £500,000-a-year deal over concerns about its content.
Ufi, which runs the Learndirect adult learning service, said continuing the deal would not "protect and enhance" its reputation.
A spokesperson for the government's communications body, the Central Office of Information (COI), said: "The criticism of the show - sparked by Judge Alan Berg's remarks earlier this week - means that both Ufi and the COI consider it no longer appropriate for Learndirect to be associated with the programme."But why was public money being used to sponsor crap like this in the first place? It was never appropriate. It didn't suddenly become inappropriate when a case originating out of the show came before a judge and he said what is obvious to anyone who has watched it.
Didier Drogba was sent off and John Terry suffered a suspected fractured cheekbone as Chelsea made it four games without a Premier League victory.If you can hear sardonic laughter, it probably comes from Portugal.
Here is Carr in yesterday's Independent:
There was a game I used to play with the children when they were young. They'd cower at the top of the stairs while I took on the role of the neighbourhood child molester. "Come here little boy," I'd coo up at them and they'd be tempted down the stairs step by step. "Come here, because I love you little boys and your lovely little toes-ies!" Then when they were just out of reach, the tone would change and I'd fling myself at their dangling feet roaring with predatory, voracious laughter.It may or may not reassure you to know that Carr has written a book about bringing up his sons alone and that it is shortly to be a film with Clive Owen.
I thought it wasn't legal to play "Come Here Little Boy" any more, what with England as it is but it's exactly the game Gordon Brown is playing with the Tories. Except if he does catch them they'll be molested like billy-oh.
Browsing in Mr Patel’s shop in the village this morning I come across a moving video called The Queen. Assured that it does indeed deal with our the monarch, I take it home to watch.
I have to report that, if Helen Mirren does not quite succeed in portraying Her Majesty’s raucous sense of humour, she nevertheless delivers a sterling performance.
As to the fellow who plays Tony Blair, it is a patently insincere performance combining ham acting with the most unconvincing crocodile tears. In short, he has captured the man to a tee and deserves to win an Oscar.
Back to Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Well, I know I have.
If you do find yourself in this predicament I recommend a visit to Duncan Murray Wines in Adam & Eve Street. They conduct wine tastings every Saturday, and today I came away with a couple of bottles of very drinkable Portuguese wine.
You drink just enough to loosen your purse strings, so everyone is happy. And you have to admit its a great street name too.
When Iain published the first (much slimmer) edition last year he ranked the blogs himself and Liberal England was ranked at no. 30. This time it is no. 53.
As Iain was kind enough to name me as the third most underrated political blog in Britain recently, this is actually rather higher than I thought this blog would appear.
He mounts a spirited defence, but I do think this is where Iain's trick of gracefully riding two horses at once - being both a Conservative polemicist and the arbiter of all things related to political blogging in Britain - begins to fall apart.
For wouldn't you expect the readers of a right-wing blog to vote for other right-wing blogs in a poll like this? As Iain says, out of the Top 20, 14 of the blogs are on the right and only two are on the left.
Still, as far as I can see I am the second Lib Dem Blog in the list. Norfolk Blogger, who rather oddly failed to get a nomination in any category in the party's own awards, is ranked at an impressive no. 17. Though how proud we should be of being the most popular Lib Dem blogs with Tory readers is an interesting point for discussion.
Reader's voice: Would you have gone on like this if you had done better than no. 3o this time?
Liberal England replies: I'd love to answer that, but I am afraid I have run out of pixels.
Friday, September 28, 2007
Matthew Taylor arrives at the Hall to pick my brains about rural housing. I am pleased to be able to tell him that there is a good turnover of properties hereabouts, with the result that people seldom have to wait long for a cottage. Only yesterday, for instance, I had to evict a labourer and his family after he been heard making favourable comments about David Cameron in the Bonkers‘ Arms, and I am sure that my Bailiff will have seen to it that someone else is occupying the property by now.
How times passes! Taylor a member of the great and good, and asked to chair some sort of Government inquiry! It seems only yesterday that he was sitting in parliamentary party meetings doing his maths homework. Nowadays, of course, one would simply toss it over to Cable or Webb or Laws for them to dash off in a moment, but when young Matthew was first elected it fell to me to help the poor child wrestle with the internal angles of a penhaligon.
Before he returns to Cornwall I take him on a tour of the Hall, and when we reach the kitchen Cook insists on presenting him with a long spoon ("I hear you are working with that Gordon Brown," she says. "You’ll be wanting this.") and I daren’t record what Meadowcroft says when we surprise him in the Orchid House. I thought the gift of a pitchfork was a nice touch, though.
Back to Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
A majority of Scottish Labour MP backbenchers do not want the prime minister to call a general election this year, BBC Scotland has found.It quotes Jim Devine, MP for Livingston, as saying:
A survey has found they are against autumn poll by a margin of two to one.
They cited reasons including voter fatigue and concern over the strength of the SNP.
"I remember the last October election in 1974. It is cold, it is dark, we are liable to have a foot of snow from Aberdeen to Aberystwyth. This is not the time for an election.
"What's the rush? We only had an election two years ago. I think he should wait at least until next May."
Thursday, September 27, 2007
One promising line would be to say that he is playing a cheap trick because of a temporary blip in the opinion polls and because he knows that much worse economic weather is on the way. We could say that this makes him look rather shabby and not at all the statesman he likes to pretend to be.
Except that we can't say that.
Because when Brown first became prime minister the Liberal Democrats greeted him with the following press release:
Menzies Campbell today called for a general election as Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair as Prime MinisterI could not see any sense in this at the time. The British constitution is not a presidential one. If someone becomes prime minister between elections and enjoys majority support in the Commons he is under no compulsion - legal or moral - to call an immediate general election. Indeed, the more thoughtful voices in the party have been rediscovering our support for fixed-term parliaments.
The Liberal Democrat leader said that Brown ‘does not have a mandate’ and that the country needs more than just a change in personnel.
In fact I have some sympathy for the commentator who suggested that if Brown turns up at the Palace asking for a dissolution, the Queen should point out that he has a comfortable Commons majority and more than two and a half years for the parliament to run, and then tell him to get on with governing.
Nor do I get the impression that we Lib Dems are particularly keen on an early election or feel that it will be in our interest.
I do hope that this gimmicky press release will not come back to haunt us in the weeks ahead.
To Parliament Square for the unveiling of a statue of my old friend Nelson Mandela. I first met him when, as an aspiring young lawyer in Johannesburg, he helped me after my scheme to import zebra meat into Britain had led to a series of unfortunate misunderstanding with the South African authorities. (The Bonkers Zebraburger did not prove the success that I had hoped, but in the course of our work with the stripy beasts my business associates and I did invent the barcode reader, which was later to revolutionise British retailing.)
I was impressed by Mandela’s eloquence and followed his career thereafter. Chatting to him after the ceremony this afternoon, I am sad to learn that the cake containing a file that I had sent to Robben Island never reached his cell.
Back to Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Carnival of the Liberals is a fortnightly round-up of the best in liberal blogging. It usually contains postings from North America, though I have had a couple included myself and I have seen other British bloggers there too.
I volunteered to host it because I wanted to
The picture comes from one of my favourite films, A Matter of Life and Death, which is centred around an Anglo-American romance. Except it is known in the US as Stairway to Heaven. This transatlantic stuff is more complicated than I thought.
The convention for this Carnival is that you choose the best 10 of the postings submitted. I received lots of submissions, sorted them into Yes, No and Maybe, found I had about 20 in the Yes folder.
I finally got the list down to the 10 you find below.
It would have been nice to list all the honourable mentions too, but I had already decided that I would include a bonus list of 10 postings from Britain after the usual Carnival.
So thank to everyone who nominated a posting and I am sorry I could not include more of you. Both the quantity and the quantity of submissions were impressive.
Enough explanation already. On with the Carnival.
Let’s start with a posting that rather plays up to British stereotypes of life in America. Tiffany Washko writes on Our Priorities - Big Oil, Junk Food, and Wal-Mart. In fact it is a thoughtful look at the most successful US companies and what they tell you about life there in general.
Here in Britain we have publicly funded healthcare. We are devoted to our National Health Service, even if we think it is too centralised and too bureaucratic. daveawayfromhome shows us that the sort of private insurance-based system you have is just as bureaucratic. Imagine having to ensure yourself with one of a number of compteting police forces.
Then on to Alex Landis and something that affects us all: the threat that commercial exploitation will lead to a two-tier Internet. Enjoy the wonderful near-anarchy of what we have at the moment while it lasts.
Now for some serious American politics. First, The Agonist asks “Can we talk Greenspanism?” and concludes:
Good to Greenspanism, that belief that by back room intransparent manipulation of the system that the great dictatorship of the propertariat can be brought about.Then Karl Weber writes:
We had the reverse problem with Tony Blair over here: people seemed determined to project all the things they liked best on to him. To me he was just an actor - and a bad actor at that - but he got away with it for a decade.
It's becoming increasingly clear that, for the mainstream media, Hillary Clinton scarcely exists in her own right. She is solely an inkblot onto which reporters feel free to project whatever fantasies lurk in the most sordid corners of their unconscious.
Finally, and more light-heartedly, Mad Kane offers some sound but unsolicited advice to Rudy Giuliani.
Now let’s get all philosophical.
Trust Matters worries about the cancer of short-term thinking. His conclusion:
The Primate Diaries looks at more short-term thinking: the ethical corners scientists can cut in their eagerness to get results.
You can’t fake trust; trust is a paradox; motives matter. The act of justifying trust by its economic value destroys not only trust, but its economic value. The best economic results come as byproducts, not goals.
And Greta Christina’s Blog introduces us to the Galileo Fallacy:
Or to put it another way: “They said Galileo was made. They said Einstein was mad. They said my Uncle Albert was mad. (Mind you, he was mad.)"
Great thinkers throughout history have had unpopular ideas that everyone disagreed with.
I have an unpopular idea that everyone disagrees with.
Therefore, I must be a great thinker.
And to finish off, Jon Swift suggests that we are not tasering half enough people. Between you and me, I think he is being satirical.
And now for that bonus 10 from this side of the Atlantic.
I don't expect the people who write these blogs would all call themselves liberals, but I hope you find them interesting and that they give a picture of political life over here.
My party, the Liberal Democrats, held its annual conference last week. I was there, and so was Geoffrey Payne. Writing at Liberal Democrat Voice he gives out his conference awards. Note in particular his first award - Best Fringe Meeting - because if tells you about Craig Murray and help make sense of the next item.
Craig recently made some serious accusations against the Uzbek magnate Alisher Usmanov, who is currently trying to buy one of London's top soccer clubs. They were repeated by another British political website called Bloggerheads.
Mr Usmanov's lawyers responded by threatening legal action against the company hosting those websites and the company took them offline as a result. Several other websites, which have never mentioned Usmanov, disappeared at the same time.
The result has been an extraordinary act of solidarity by British bloggers. The story is now all over the blogosphere and Mr Usmanov and his record is far better known than it would have been if his lawyers had kept schtum.
The best guide to this developing saga is at Chicken Yoghurt. Now Bloggerheads is back with a temporary blog. To learn more about Craig Murray read his Wikipedia entry. He is one of my heroes.
If you are interested in how the net is used for political campaigning here in Britain. read Sunny Hundal on the Guardian newspaper's Comment is Free Uberblog.
Back at the Lib Dem Conference, the six of us short-listed for the party's Blog of the Year award got to interview the party's leader Sir Menzies Campbell. James Graham, who won the award, wrote up the event on his Quaequam Blog!
One complication of being a Liberal here is that we have the Labour Party to contend with. These days it is pretty right-wing, but Labour ministers are not above playing the class card when it suits them. Hug a Hoodie takes one of them to task.
If you want to understand our new prime minister, Labour's Gordon Brown, journalist blogger Paul Linford will help you.
If you want to understand why we Liberal Democrats oppose him, read Dr Rays Focal Spot on a phoney consultation on health that Brown was involved with.
Stumbling and Mumbling compares political activism to Progressive Rock - and does not think much of either. Me, I have just rediscovered my copy of Genesis's Selling England by the Pound and I think it is great.
Mick Hartley launches a powerful attack on Sigmund Freud for his treatment of his daughter Anna:
It's difficult to conceive of a more thoroughgoing example of the betrayal of a child - of, indeed, child abuse.Finally, Unmitigated England is not political: it's an attractive blog run by a photographer. Enjoy this atmospheric shot of a country house.
The next Carnival
Will appear at Tangled Up In Blue Guy in two weeks' time. Please make your nominations via the Carnival of the Liberals homepage.
Thanks for visiting Liberal England.
I gather from my friends in the Green Liberal Democrats that this summer’s rain is the strongest possible evidence for global warming, just as last summer’s drought was. Indeed our predicament is now so great that it is impossible to conceive of anything that would not be strong evidence for the existence of global warming.
Disappointing though the weather has been, it has not prevented the hardier holidaymakers thronging the beaches of Rutland Water. I myself insisted that the Well-Behaved Orphans’ swimming gala went ahead and was there in a warm woollen coat to cheer them on.
Some disquiet was expressed when a photograph of a great white shark in those very same waters was published in the more sensational newspapers, but I was quick to reassure everyone that there was no need to worry and that they should continue bathing, surfing and so forth. My instincts were proved right when a naughty prankster admitted that he had taken the picture at Staines Reservoir.
Back to Monday and Tuesday.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
The Canadian Press says:
Abramovich is under pressure to please Chelsea's disgruntled fans after manager Jose Mourinho's departure and a 2-0 loss to Manchester United on Sunday. The Russian billionaire has long wanted to see a more attractive style of soccer, and The Sun said he's willing to pay Ronaldinho 58 million pounds (C$117.2 million) for a five-year contract.This sounds to me like a divorced father trying to keep his child's affection by buying him the latest Xbox.
It will end in tears.
The entire board of BAE Systems and several former directors including Michael Portillo, a former UK Secretary of Defence, are being sued by a US pension fund over bribery and corruption claims at the defence group.The blog run by the makers of the film Taking Liberties suggests things may get even more entertaining:
The City of Harper Woods Employees’ Retirement Scheme, a public pension fund in Michigan, has accused the board and former directors of intentional, negligent and reckless breaches of their duties as company officers.
The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court in Washington, DC this morning, is seeking unspecified damages and calls for BAE to implement sweeping corporate governance changes.
Even though Tony Blair shut down the serious fraud office enquiry into BAE Bribes with the laughable excuse of "National Security", it seems that the authorities on the other side of the pond are less corruptible in their corruption investigations.
The US department of Justice has been investigating the BAE bribes to Prince Bandar, which he freely admits taking. As the £1 billion bungs were covertly facilitated by the Ministry of Defence, there is an increasing list of civil servants, MP's and Ministers (from both the Tories and New Labour) who are facing indictments in the US for bribery.
Now if there was any sensible barriers to extradition from the UK to the US - for example having to provide evidence in a British Court - then New Labour would be spared the embarrassment of having several mandarins, ministers and BAE executives hauled off to the US in chains. However, thanks to the 2003 Extradition act, the US no longer has to provide any evidence to extradite a British National, and all they have to do is fill in a form and off they go.
The outbreak of foot and mouth disease earlier in the summer made it impossible to send any livestock to market, with the result that I had to keep all mine indoors. (‘It’s an ill-wind…’ as a ewe remarked to me with mordant wit.)
Obviously, one has to keep the beasts occupied somehow, and my first thought was to encourage them to read improving books; but then I discovered that a copy of Animal Farm was circulating amongst them, whereupon I decided that board games and jigsaws might be a safer bet.
I have to say that playing Scrabble with cows is of limited interest – unless they have an M and a couple of Os in their hand they are generally baffled – but I did lose a game of draughts to one. I still maintain, however, that it moved one of its pieces out of turn whilst I was away from the board recharging my glass of Auld Johnston.
Back to Monday.
Here he is, as quoted by the Daily Telegraph, sentencing someone who head-butted a love rival during filming earlier this year:
"The circumstances of this case are exceptional and the provocation involved seems to be paramount. I have had the misfortune of viewing The Jeremy Kyle Show and I feel bound to make some observations in that regard.A great piece of judging there.
"It seems to me that the whole purpose of The Jeremy Kyle Show is to effect a morbid and depressing display of disfunctional (sic.) people who are in some kind of turmoil.
"It is for no more and no less than titillating members of the public who have nothing better to do with their mornings than sit and watch…a human form of bear baiting which goes under the guise of entertainment."
... "The people responsible for this– namely the producers – should in my opinion be in the dock with you."
Monday, September 24, 2007
For one reason or another the nomination did not reach me, but I am happy to draw your attention to it here. It is a good posting with some useful links.
It is therefore time to begin passing on his lordship's thoughts and adventures to readers of this blog.
One of the finest sights I have ever seen upon the athletic track is the young Menzies Campbell. Like a Greek god, albeit one clad in singlet, shorts and plimsolls, he bestrode the cinders of the White City.
His continued victories there were particularly impressive, for he frequently competed against Jeffrey Archer, who was known for his uncanny ability to anticipate the starter’s pistol – often by several seconds. Once Archer hid a bicycle in the long jump pit and set off riding it, but Campbell still overhauled him.
Is it any wonder that when the future Liberal Leader wed the lovely Elspeth it was widely remarked that the fastest white man in the world had married the fastest woman?
And Liberal England is number one in the list.
Jonathan writes the Lord Bonkers column in Liberal Democrat News, but he is anything but bonkers himself! His blog carries a mixture of Lib Dem commentary, general political comment and a few personal observations thrown in for good measure. He deserves his pole position.In fact, Lord Bonkers' Diary appears in Liberator and my House Points column in Liberal Democrat News. But thanks very much all the same. Thanks also to whoever it was who served on the panel.
Iain has some interesting things to say about several other Lib Dem blogs too. His top 10 is:
1 Liberal England
2 A Liberal Goes A Long Way
3 Quaequam Blog!
4 LibDem Voice
5 Peter Black
6 Liberal Burblings
7 Millennium Dome Elephant
8 Cicero's Songs
9 Andy Mayer
10 Love & Liberty
The full list runs to 100.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Bloggerheads and Craig Murray's blog have been down for several days following action by lawyers acting on behalf of the Uzbek billionaire Alisher Usmanov. A number of other notable blogs, including those written by Bob Piper and Boris Johnson, have also disappeared, as action has been threatened against the server hosting the blogs rather than the individual writers.
The best place to keep up with developments in this sorry affair is Chicken Yoghurt. The Yoghurt carries a list of the people who have blogged about it. It currently totals 193:
Curious Hamster, Pickled Politics, Harry’s Place, Tim Worstall, Dizzy, Iain Dale, Ten Percent, Blairwatch, Davide Simonetti, Earthquake Cove, Turbulent Cleric (who suggests dropping a line to the FA about Mr Usmanov), Mike Power, Jailhouse Lawyer, Suesam, Devil’s Kitchen, The Cartoonist, Falco, Casualty Monitor, Forever Expat, Arseblog, Drink-soaked Trots (and another), Pitch Invasion, Wonko’s World, Roll A Monkey, Caroline Hunt, Westminster Wisdom, Chris K, Anorak, Mediawatchwatch, Norfolk Blogger, Chris Paul, Indymedia (with a list of Craig Murray’s articles that are currently unavailable), Obsolete, Tom Watson, Cynical Chatter, Reactionary Snob, Mr Eugenides, Matthew Sinclair, The Select Society, Liberal England, Davblog, Peter Gasston Pitch Perfect, Adelaide Green Porridge Cafe, Lunartalks, Tygerland, The Crossed Pond, Our Kingdom, Big Daddy Merk, Daily Mail Watch, Graeme’s, Random Thoughts, Nosemonkey, Matt Wardman, Politics in the Zeros, Love and Garbage, The Huntsman, Conservative Party Reptile, Ellee Seymour, Sabretache, Not A Sheep, Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion, The People’s Republic Of Newport, Life, the Universe & Everything, Arsenal Transfer Rumour Mill, The Green Ribbon, Blood & Treasure, The Last Ditch, Areopagitica, Football in Finland, An Englishman’s Castle, Freeborn John, Eursoc, The Back Four, Rebellion Suck!, Ministry of Truth, ModernityBlog, Beau Bo D’Or, Scots and Independent, The Splund, Bill Cameron, Podnosh, Dodgeblogium, Moving Target, Serious Golmal, Goonerholic, The Spine, Zero Point Nine, Lenin’s Tomb, The Durruti Column, The Bristol Blogger, ArseNews, David Lindsay, Quaequam Blog!, On A Quiet Day…, Kathz’s Blog, England Expects, Theo Spark, Duncan Borrowman, Senn’s Blog, Katykins, Jewcy, Kevin Maguire, Stumbling and Mumbling, Famous for 15 megapixels, Ordovicius, Tom Morris, AOL Fanhouse, Doctor Vee, The Curmudgeonly, The Poor Mouth, 1820, Hangbitch, Crooked Timber, ArseNole, Identity Unknown, Liberty Alone, Amused Cynicism, Clairwil, The Lone Voice, Tampon Teabag, Unoriginalname38, Special/Blown It, The Remittance Man, 18 Doughty Street, Laban Tall, Martin Bright, Spy Blog The Exile, poons, Jangliss, Who Knows Where Thoughts Come From?, Imagined Community, A Pint of Unionist Lite, Poldraw, Disillusioned And Bored, Error Gorilla, Indigo Jo, Swiss Metablog, Kate Garnwen Truemors, Asn14, D-Notice, The Judge, Political Penguin, Miserable Old Fart, Jottings, fridgemagnet, Blah Blah Flowers, J. Arthur MacNumpty, Tony Hatfield, Grendel, Charlie Whitaker, Matt Buck, The Waendel Journal, Marginalized Action Dinosaur, SoccerLens, Toblog, John Brissenden East Lower, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Peter Black AM, Boing Boing, BLTP, Gunnerblog, LFB UK, Liberal Revolution, Wombles, Focus on Sodbury…, Follow The Money, Freedom and Whisky, Melting Man, PoliticalHackUK, Simon Says…, Daily EM, From The Barrel of a Gun, The Fourth Place, The Armchair News Blog, Journalist und Optimist, Bristol Indymedia, Dave Weeden, Up North John, Gizmonaut, Spin and Spinners, Marginalia, Arnique, Heather Yaxley, The Whiskey Priest, On The Beat, Paul Canning, Martin Stabe, Mat Bowles, Pigdogfucker, Rachel North (193).
As Tim Worstall observes, if his lawyers were aiming to keep Mr Usmanov and his record out of the limelight, their action has not proved an unqualified success.
Green Banana and Ministry of Truth offer thoughtful accounts of why this affair matters. If you want to join the campaign on your own blog, Poliblog Perspective has produced some campaign buttons you can use.
It happens that I heard Craig Murray speak at the Lib Dem Conference last week. Geoff Payne was there too.
Another good way of fighting back would be to buy Craig's book Murder in Samarkand.
Settle down school. Tompkins, see me afterwards.
Tim Worstall's blog has moved home and can now be found here.
Clairwil is doing a roundup of her very own. You can find the first one here.
What is the most graceful way to handle things when you decide to close a blog down? Matt Wardman tells you.
And Media Influencer takes on Andrew Keen, a prominent critic of blogging.
A Chelsea fan since I was so high, I am typing this section through my tears.
Arserant pays generous tribute to the Special One, but Blood and Treasure is less impressed.
K T Dodge crows that Mourinho's departure will be good for her team, Arsenal. I wish her joy with Mr Usmanov.
Liberal Democrat Conference
For the second time a Liberal Democrat Blog of the Year was made at Conferernce. And for the second time this blog was nominated but failed to win it. A total of six awards were made: Millennium Elephant gives a characteristically idiosyncratic account of the event.
The six short-listed bloggers for the top award also got to meet Ming the Merciless. The Emperor's own site has some pictures and Blog of the Year Quaequam Blog! wrote up the occasion.
Curious Snippets from a Cynical Optimist asks what the point of the Lib Dems is, showing how divided the party is on policy. Well, with that and continuing grumbling about the leadership, we look like a proper party to me.
Dr Rays Focal Spot attended an NHS "consultation" exercise featuring Gordon Brown, Alan Johnson and Ara Darzi. He was less than impressed:
I can only say that the way the voting was done makes the "Blue Peter" voting fraud seem like, well, "Blue Peter".The Devil's Kitchen writes about this too.
The Yorkshire Ranter suggests a better way of developing healthcare computer systems than the one the NHS uses at present. Squander Two Blog finds the British Heart Federation and the Daily Mail talking bollocks on peope's willingness to take exercise. No surprise there, in one case at least.
Rhetorically Speaking has no doubts about genetic screening for Alzheimer's disease.
Mind the Gap! finds two Guardian articles taking a simplistic view of sexuality. Stroppy Blog offers a qualified defence of Tarantino's new film Death Proof.
Guesting at Humaniform, Ruthie Zaftig reports how she broke up an anti-abortion demonstration.
And Mick Hartley puts the boot into Dr Freud magnificently:
As a good well-educated girl, shy and obedient, it may be doubted that the young Anna did in fact spend so much energy fiercely masturbating over fantasies connected with her father, only to forget all about them. Freudian dogma, however, demanded that such was the case. It is, of course, a happy male fantasy that women, underneath the demure exterior, are really sex-crazed. How much more exciting for Freud, then, to slowly force these supposed memories from his daughter's Unconscious, revealing that the old goat himself, her father, was the everlasting object of her lust. And, crucially and most disgracefully, poor Anna was in no position to do as Dora did, and walk away in disgust. As Freud's daughter she was trapped there. It's difficult to conceive of a more thoroughgoing example of the betrayal of a child - of, indeed, child abuse.
Investigations of a Dog looks at the developing historiography of the English Civil War (part 2 is here).
Elizabeth Chadwick: Living the History visits Wymondham (pronounced "Windham") Abbey in Norfolk and finds that English Heritage has got Roger Bigod all wrong.
Matters of fact seem harder to establish in Sri Lanka, where the story that Lord Ram used monkeys to help him build a bridge from the Indian mainland is suddenly a topic for controversy. Pickled Poltics reports.
Finally, Diamond Geezer on a bit of London history: the closure of the New Piccadilly Cafe.
The first one in this section is really on economics. Virtual Economics is your guide to the wisdom of, er, Terry Pratchett.
Pickled Politics (again) asks whether referendums are good or bad. Most impressively, the writer (Rumbold) uses the correct plural.
Shane Greer (who recently took over the Diary whilst Iain Dale was on holiday) thinks that Miranda Grell, the Labour candidate who smeered her Lib Dem opponent as a paedophile, is "stupid". That is a rather charitable view.
Gray Monk is not impressed by the political class which leads us these days. Burning Our Money is no more impressed by the rates for clearing up crime that the police claim. A nice bit of Sherlock Holmes parody there.
And to complete our trio of unimpressed people, read Mr Eugenides on the new Scottish cabinet.
At least someone is pleased: Earthquake Cove celebrates the Lib Dem and Green condemnation of the academic boycott of Israel.
There is a better than average meme circulating at the moment: as you would expect, Miserable Old Fart has a longer memory than most of us.
Finally, the f word marvels at Croydon Conservatives' website:
Interestingly today’s “main story” ... isn’t the arrest of their MP (and London Assembly member) but that the council tax rise is the lowest in five years.
That's all for this week. Next week's Roundup will be hosted at Philobiblon. Please e-mail your nominations to britblog [at] gmail [dot] com.
And please support Bloggerheads and Craig Murray.
This is in support of Ros Scott's candidacy for President of the Liberal Democrats. You can get one yourself from Duncan Borrowman's blog.
The other candidates are likely to be John Smithson and Lembit Opik.
So I decided to write something else instead, and this article on Mill was the result. You can find it in Liberator 321 - the issue that was on sale at Brighton.
A few days later Comment is Free offered to pay me to review Reinventing the State in 400 words. Magically, I found it was possible.
Grist to the Mill?
More than 200 years after his birth, John Stuart Mill remains the most important philosopher for Liberal Democrats. It is fashionable to name check L.T. Hobhouse and T.H. Green, but I suspect that few who do so have really read their works. Hobhouse’s Liberalism is approachable, but hardly profound when set against Mill, while Green is next to unreadable. In part this is because Green’s heyday came during that brief period in the late nineteenth century when Idealism was the dominant force in British philosophy, and it is hard for we 21st-century realists to make much of him as a result. Equally, however, there was a tension in Green’s thought between his espousal of liberty and the enthusiasms, such as Temperance, which he derived from his religious views. The suspicion must be that he sometimes found it convenient to take refuge in obfuscation.
The greatest 20th century liberal thinkers are Karl Popper and Isaiah Berlin, and both are splendidly lucid. It would be wrong to dismiss either as a Cold War philosopher, but the fact that (perhaps unwisely) we no longer feel the same urgent need to defend democracy against tyranny means that their work is not as compelling as it once was. More recently Richard Rorty made an attractive attempt to reconcile the most avant-garde postmodern theory with a defence of the institutions of the Western liberal democracies, but the Mill of On Liberty still reigns supreme.
Yet something strange has happened to the way we remember On Liberty. Reading the new collection Reinventing the State, for instance, I came across two references to the work, and from them one could be forgiven for thinking that Mill was chiefly concerned with delineating the ways in which liberty must be circumscribed.
Writing on liberal environmentalism, Ed Randall cites Mill’s harm principle. This holds that what individuals do, as long as it does not harm others, should go unregulated by the state. He then argues that our modern understanding of the effects of economic activity on the environment means that the boundaries of the area of life that can be left to individual decision must be drawn more tightly than Mill imagined, but he seems unsure as to whether to claim Mill’s blessing for this new interventionism or to dismiss him as naive.
It is true that there are good reasons for seeing Mill as an early advocate of environmental politics. In his Principles of Political Economy he looked forward to the coming of the "stationary state" - not to be confused with the stationery state, which would be a dictatorship run by manilla envelopes - where the expansion of the economy would cease. He wrote:
I am inclined to believe that it would be, on the whole, a very considerable improvement on our present condition. I confess I am not charmed with the ideal of life held out by those who think that the normal state of human beings is that of struggling to get on; that the trampling, crushing, elbowing, and treading on each other's heels, which form the existing type of social life, are the most desirable lot of human kind, or anything but the disagreeable symptoms of one of the phases of industrial progress.Yet we should remember that there are those in the green movement who never much liked liberty in the first place and are happy to seize upon anything which gives them a pretext for curbing it. In an earlier generation they would have been Marxists and preached the need for centralised planning as capitalism was bound to collapse through its internal contradictions.
A second author in Reinventing the State quotes John Stuart Mill. Writing of the tolerance that liberalism has inherited from its Nonconformist roots, David Boyle says:
It is a tolerance that believes people’s conscience, and therefore their freedom to act, is sacrosanct - limited as always by the philosophy of John Stuart Mill.This is only a throwaway remark, and it comes from one of my favourite modern liberal writers, but it is odd to see Mill’s philosophy remembered for prescribing limits to liberty.
It seems we have become obsessed by Mill’s harm principle. Yet it is only a small part of On Liberty: the essence of that work is not concerned with curbing liberty at all but is a glorious hymn in favour of its expansion.
Writing in Prospect magazine last year, Richard Reeves put it well:
Or as The Levellers said more recently: "There's only one way of life, and that's your own, your own, your own."
for Mill, liberty consists of much more than being left alone. It requires choice-making by the individual. "He who lets the world… choose his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation," he writes. "He who chooses his plan for himself employs all his faculties." For Mill, a good life must be a chosen life.
The other problem with the harm principle is that it is often not clear which decision it should lead us to in practice. We have already seen that Ed Randall thinks it can be extended to justify wider government intervention in the economy, and Reeves notes that Simon Jenkins appealed to it while arguing against a ban on smoking in public places and Chris Huhne appealed to it while arguing in favour of one.
So let’s set the harm principle aside and look at Mill’s arguments in favour of an expansion of liberty.
He first looks at liberty of thought and discussion, and offers two pragmatic arguments in favour of it. The first is that the opinion the authorities wish to suppress may be true, and that even if it is true only in part then its assertion and the subsequent debate will help move prevailing opinion nearer to the truth. Karl Popper made this insight the basis of his philosophy, arguing that the institutions of a free society and the growth of human knowledge are intimately connected.
Mill’s second argument is that a failure to examine and argue for the beliefs we hold can render them mere dogma and lead to their meaning becoming enfeebled or lost. This shows great practical insight. A large part of the reason that the Labour Party was never able to mount an effective challenge to Thatcherism was that in the 1970s it had become impossible in Labour circles to question the party’s programme without being called "anti working class" or "racist" or insulted in some other way. It was an early form of what we now lazily call political correctness. When the Conservatives directly challenged Labour’s views, the party’s members found it difficult to argue for them. Those views had become, in Mill’s eloquent language, "a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience".
In a similar vein, Nick Cohen has written:
When conservatives complain about the undoubted liberal bias of the BBC, they assume some kind of socialist plot when it is geography not ideology driving attitudes. A young middle-class BBC type in London is unlikely to meet anyone socially who is, say, against abortion or pro-war. Because they don't confront opposing ideas, they can't put themselves into the minds of people outside their consensus and ask questions from another point of view.Mill then moves on to argue the need for individuality of character, with the emphasis on the freely chosen life that Reeves notes. Here the arguments are less pragmatic: for Mill, as they should be for all liberals, authenticity and autonomy are good in themselves:
If it were only that people have diversities of taste, that is reason enough for not attempting to shape them all after one model. But different persons also require different conditions for their spiritual development; and can no more exist healthily in the same moral, than all the variety of plants can in the same physical atmosphere and climate.And in the third of the substantial theoretical chapters Mill looks at the collision between individuality and wider society. He looks in particular at questions around the sale of alcohol and is critical of those who seek to curb its sale because of the disorder it causes and the costs it imposes on the taxpayer. He accuses them of holding the view that
it is the absolute social right of every individual, that every other individual shall act in every respect exactly as he ought; that whosoever fails thereof in the smallest particular violates my social right, and entitles me to demand from the legislature the removal of the grievance.As Mill says, "So monstrous a principle is far more dangerous than any single interference with liberty; there is no violation of liberty which it would not justify."
You can see that behind the rolling Victorian prose, which it is so tempting to quote at length, lie very contemporary concerns. Mill’s suspicion of social rights can be taken far beyond questions of licensing laws and seen as a condemnation of Labour’s current authoritarianism.
There is another aspect of On Liberty which has contemporary resonance. We are inclined to think of the Victorian age as one of great confidence and perhaps the last in which it was possible to believe in "Great Men" in an uncomplicated fashion. Was it not an age of mighty public intellectuals - Ruskin, Carlyle, Mill himself - who have no equivalent today?
Yet if you read On Liberty, you find a very different tone. Mill is deeply pessimistic about the way the times were heading and feared the extinction of individuality altogether. He wrote of the tendency of public opinion in those times to prescribe a standard of conduct and expect every one to conform to it:
And that standard, express or tacit, is to desire nothing strongly. Its ideal of character is to be without any marked character; to main by compression, like a Chinese lady’s foot, every part of human nature which stands out prominently, and tends to make the person markedly dissimilar in outline to commonplace humanity.The Victorians were a lot less "Victorian" than we moderns believe - they did not cover up piano legs out of a concern for decency and they were a lot more relaxed about male nudity, at least, than we are in the 21st century - but maybe Mill was right in that he was seeing the passing of the more relaxed Georgian era. It was, after all, Melbourne, Queen Victoria’s first prime minister, who said "This damned morality will be the death of us all."
And there is no doubt that Mill speaks to us today in a world of mass culture, chain stores and reality television when liberals are again tempted to be pessimistic about the prospects for individuality. So read Rorty, Popper and Berlin. Read L.T. Hobhouse if you want and pretend to have read T.H.Green if you must. But above all read the Mill of On Liberty. Then you will see how wrongheaded it is to plead his name in aid of attempts to curb our liberty. Mill’s is the most powerful voice ever raised in support of the expansion of liberty.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Read Chicken Yoghurt for the latest on Mr Usmanov's attempt to silence Craig.
Best Fringe meeting:
The Liberator/ Lib Dem peace group “War on Terror”, with Craig Murray, former ambassador to Uzbekistan. There were some terrific fringe meetings this year, but this one was breathtaking.
Craig Murray was sacked from his position in Uzbekistan because he was determined to speak out against the appalling abuses of human rights in this country.
Uzbekistan is an “ally” in the war “against” terror and an important strategic country for the mining and transportation of important natural resources. It is also a totalitarian state with an appalling human rights record that easily compares with Iraq under Saddam Hussein or North Korea.
Craig spoke of how the government there claims that the opposition is part of Al-Qaeda. The government uses torture to force alleged opponents to admit they know a list of people they have never heard of before, and this “intelligence” is used by western intelligence agencies to “prove” that Al Qaeda is operating in Uzbekistan, and hence we support the government there. The “intelligence” services even know this is the case – because Craig told them - but they prefer the narrative to the truth.
There is still time to nominate a post to appear there. Please send an e-mail to britblog [at] gmail [dot] com giving the link.
Any posting from a British-based blog or British-born blogger made this week can be be nominated. And, yes, you can nominate something from your own blog.
Friday, September 21, 2007
Catherine Furlong appeared as Nigella Lawson, and I was involved in a Two Johns sketch and an episode of Round the Ming.
I also gave an explanation of our leader's policy on a European referendum in the guise of Professor Jonathan Calder:
Round the Horne? Stanley Unwin? You don't think we are getting old, do you?
I have been asked – all polite and requesty – by Ming the Merciflold to explain to you our new polytito on the European Unibode.
Though confdentimost, conference, if there’s a mercifold one in that marriage, it’s Elspeth. Indeedy-ho!
Now historibold, which is of the oldest, we have the European wars. Schlesswig versy Holstein. Alsace versy Lorraine. And all huffalo dowder until the Congress of Viennit with the replay at Villy Park next Tuesday.
In 1945 there is a new thorcus. All the natiomost of Europe join together in a peacy.
And from this we have the joy of the Eurovision song contest. All boom and bangit with Sandy Shore, Cliff Richibold – there’s a falolloper – and the Bucksy Fizz.
This, of course, is the home of the Norveige nul points – and sulky up the fijord ever since.
Fundamold to this new Europe is the swap and trade it. At first we have it all back and forward across the borders with “please have your passy portit open for inspection”.
And this is of a great waste of time, with estimate have it and 20 billion Euro a year – and that’s without the countit and the declimly point in the wrong place!
Unfortumost – all shame and sobit – the Britly people are not keen and soldy. What they ask of the Britly passport? What of the pound and perch and of the Queen and reignit herself?
Hear their cryimost: give me bendy bananas or death and end it!
For this Ming has a new thorcus – ingenimost though it is. We have the referendium.
A refererndium – moreover and extramost – not on the Constitutioner but on the whole goddam Euroimost shooting match.
In or out, matey? That’s the question. We can’t shakeabout any longer, despite the poply song with the knees up and bunting.
So how is run and work it, this referendium? All puzzlibod, I hear you.
Here in Britly we have a tradition of the firsty past the post. Or as we say, the cross and stuffit.
We Libby Dems have a prefer of the PR. And not only that, but the single and transfer it in the multimember too.
Here we have the long ballot and the placey of the one with the favourite and two and threep – and add 07 if you want Brian to stay in the kitchy, indeedy ho!
With the referendium the words on the bally paper – the precise and askit of the question – becomes of the importimost.
And conference I can reveal to you – alone and exclusimost – the verbatim and word for word of it.
And I quotey:
“Have you stopped beaty of the wife and stay in Europe. Or do you want to lose your job and employit with the folly of a no?”
If we don’t mention of the bendy banana we’ll be home and squeakit with that one.
No questions? Deep joy.
Anyway, last year Professor Jonathan Calder explained our new taxation policy.
You don't know any Uzbek magnates who could be persuaded to have his site taken down do you?
Unfortunately, you cannot visit Craig Murray's website at the moment. But you can still buy his book.
The joy of fame
It can be dangerous to make generalisations about Conference. I remember sitting in the bar of the Metropole Hotel in Brighton one evening last year and chatting to a distinguished Liberal Democrat. We agreed there were more young people in the throng of Conference attenders than there used to be and that this was an encouraging sign for the party.
Then a third person joined us and explained that everyone was looking younger to us because we were getting older.
And this year I called in at the Metropole on the first evening and was shocked at how quiet it was. Was the party in terminal decline? No, because I then found out that it is not the main Conference hotel this year.
Even so, I think there are some things you can safely say about the way Conference is changing. One of these is that something odd has happened to the fringe meetings.
At one time these were largely organised by internal party groups with the aim of raising their profile or changing party policy. Now they are organised by outside charities and pressure groups with the aim of signing up the Liberal Democrats to their agenda.
This has its positive side: it shows we are taken seriously by all these lobbyists. And the free refreshments are welcome too.
But the danger is that we will stop thinking for ourselves and just buy in policy from these outside. At its worse this could lead to a ‘rainbow coalition’ view of politics where we will win if only we can stitch together enough interest groups.
That didn’t work for Labour or the American Democrats in the 1980s, and it won’t work for us.
One thoroughly old-fashioned fringe meeting I attended – the speaker arrived late and there was not a refreshment in sight – was organised by Liberator and the Lib Dem peace and security people.
Craig Murray was certainly worth waiting for. He is the former ambassador to Uzbekistan who stood against Jack Straw in Blackburn at the last election, and he gave a riveting talk about his experiences. If you want to know more about him then seek out the lively website he runs or buy his book Murder in Samarkand.
The latest news is that the director Michael Winterbottom is planning to film the book with Steve Coogan playing Craig. There can’t be many former chairs of Dundee Liberal Students who have had a movie made about them.
This is a developing story, so read the Yoghurt for the latest news.
Tim Ireland’s Bloggerheads site is currently down after his webhost pulled the plug. You can thank the latest Russian (that should be Uzbek) billionaire to reach the UK. The details will come out in due course.
Tim’s currently also without email so if anyone needs to get hold of him, I’m happy to be the go-between and pass on any message by phone. My email address is at the top of the page.
This also means that the family of websites that Tim and Clive (whose site is also down) look after are also currently AWOL. So if you’re missing the online presences of Craig Murray, Bob Piper or prospective candidate for London mayor Boris Johnson, now you know why they’ve gone.
... only Craig Murray and Tim Ireland made blog posts concerning Alisher Usmanov. It is these blog posts that were objected to by Usmanov’s lawyers.
Boris Johnson, Bob Piper and Clive Summerfield have lost their sites for the simple reason that they were hosted on the the same server as Craig’s and Tim’s sites and went the same way when the plug was pulled.
Now he has written for Fabian Review:
Lib Dem Mark Oaten says there are some persuasive arguments for Lib-Lab co-operation, but there are some big stumbling blocks.
It begins to look as though Mark Oaten is more interested in promoting Mark Oaten than in persuading the party to adopt a particular strategy.
The article is not online, but you can read Sunder Katwala's call for the Alternative Vote system to be adopted for Westminster elections as part of a package of constitutional reform.