Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Faith in Glasgow

Tony Bayfield makes the case for faith schools in CiF, drawing on the decline of Glasgow's Jewish population as evidence that faith schools are essential for preserving a people's religious heritage:
"I've not always been a supporter of faith schools but experience has converted me. Such is the pressure on small minorities, such are the forces of assimilation (Scottish Jewry "peaked" at 14,000 and now barely musters 5,000) that only day schooling gives you any chance of providing a rooting in your particular tradition, a firm basis of knowledge and experience with which to face a largely secular society."
His argument seems to be that faith schools are essential to the preservation of religious tradition against the onslaught of secularism - the experience of Glasgow's Jewry being an example of what happens when you don't have religious schooling:
"I look at the contribution that Glasgow Jewry has made to the City of Glasgow since the first Jew settled there in 1812. It would be very sad if the faith that has contributed so much that is of value to western society were to vanish from Glasgow - and Cardiff and London come to that - because government has more important things to worry about and secularists have no time for any faith other than their own."
Leaving aside his assumption that it is the role of education to preserve religious traditions, the evidence does not support his conclusions.

First the idea that faith schools are under threat from the forces of secular militancy:
"Sitting at the meeting at the DfES, I became aware of a number of things. First, the strength of secular fundamentalism which would sweep away faith schools as a matter of ideological principle. We are in for a very tough time."
As an outside observer, I don't really get the impression that the forces of secularism have the upper hand down south at the moment but since Bayfield used Scotland as an example, shouldn't he have shown some awareness that the DfES has no jurisdiction in Scotland? Because the idea that faith schools up here are under threat from 'secular fundamentalism' could only have been suggested by a tourist.

And as the census figures show there isn't any relationship between the size of Glasgow's religious minorities and the existence or otherwise of faith schools. I can say this with confidence because in the public sector we do not have now, nor have we ever had, any Jewish, Seikh, Hindu, Buddhist, or Muslim schools in Glasgow.

As the Jewish population has declined, so have most others. All but three religious categories showed a dip in their membership over the last 10 years. These might surprise you. No prizes for guessing that Islam is one of the religions experiencing growth but I doubt many people would have guessed this has only been by 0.7%. A pathetic performance compared to the Buddhists, who either by breeding or by gaining converts, have grown by a considerable 28.5%. But the fastest growing religion in Glasgow is, erm, "Another religion". The tenets of this particular creed(s) is unclear but we do know that whoever they are, they're doing a better job than the Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Seikhs at gaining converts because over ten years they've grown at a rate of 258.1%.

Conclusion: Traditional religion is in decline in Scotland. Despite controlling around 35% of the schools in Glasgow, the Roman Catholic Church is losing members. Despite having a nominal influence on the rest of the system, the Church of Scotland is losing members. The Jewish congregation is Glasgow has never controlled any schools in Glasgow and is losing members. People are more willing than they used to be to either switch, or dispense with altogether, religious allegiances and those gaining converts are the unusual, the exotic and the heterodox. Adherents to the traditional faiths might want to ask why this is, rather than expecting the tax-payer to bale them out and sustain their position in society. Because apart from anything else, the evidence would suggest that this a futile exercise anyway.

(Cross-posted at DSTPFW)

Back later

I've got a shit-load of marking to do...

Friday, October 27, 2006

Unlikely ministerial quote of the year

Alan Johnston - in this administration - has said:
"We don't need the blunt instrument of legislation".
Funny, because on most other occasions, the 'blunt intrument of legislation' is the first thing this shower reach for.

This has to do with the government's caving in to the religious lobby who don't want their pristine believing kids mixing with the unwashed, and worse, the irreligious unwashed.

Vincent Nichols, the Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, said that Mr Johnson understood it was "quite unacceptable to force into a new Catholic school 25% of people who were not particularly sympathetic to that faith".

It's also quite unacceptable to fleece the tax-payer to pay for schools that can exclude their children if they are not 'particularly sympathetic' to the 'ethos' of the school.

Secular schools - never gonna happen. Not with our present political class.

The most expensive MP in Britain

Is Eric Joyce.

As if you needed another reason to dislike this oleaginous yes-man.

Eric Joyce: "Because I'm worth it".

Hewitt: "Hit the young with alcopop tax"

From the Grauniad:
"A swingeing increase in tax on alcopops and other alcoholic drinks favoured by teenagers is being demanded by the health secretary, Patricia Hewitt, in an attempt to stop young people damaging their health by binge drinking.

She has written to the chancellor asking him to ratchet up the cost of alcohol in his next budget, to price it beyond the reach of youngsters' earnings or pocket money."
Young people today - don't know they're born. We had to make do with cider and evo-stick.

Thing is, if it's their 'pocket money' they're spending, aren't they too young to drink? So it's a problem of getting access to it in the first place. Still, might work. How about a tracksuit tax too?

Not that I'm being classist - Goths would get it too, with a tax on Kurt Kobain t-shirts and piercings.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Spelling annoyances

Lenin does it. So does Pootergeek. As does Norm.* Politically different, yet the same problem; they all spell 'defence' with an 's'.

Which is an Americanism.

I'm happy for the Yanks to do this but they can't spell, can they? You lot have no excuse.

Other annoyances: Christopher Hitchens spelling Labour party as 'Labor party'. Damn it all, man - even the Americans know to render it Labour party, with a 'u'.

And he has used 'gotten' in the past.

Taken the assimilation thing a bit far - in more ways than one, if you ask me.

Sorry, but it's been annoying me - can't even concentrate on your articles because you spell defence with a goddam 's'. Stop it at once.

Regional usage annoyance: Scottish school teachers calling the headteacher the headmaster. English people call teachers 'masters', which frankly I think is a bit weird. In Scotland we refer to them as teachers, regardless of their rank. Ok, so that's often a misnomer these days but I'm talking tradition here...

*Correction: Ok, so only when he's quoting Pootergeek.

Children's tsar probes PPP impact on pupils

Because contrary to popular belief, the involvement of the private sector in the refurbishment and maintenance of school buildings doesn't seem to have improved the quality - nor has it reduced bureaucracy:
"The Scottish Executive's £2.3 billion flagship school-building programme will result in 300 schools being rebuilt or refurbished by 2009, with most of it funded through PPP.

But in recent months, parents, teachers and construction experts have cast doubt on whether PPP is providing top-quality facilities for pupils.
A survey of teachers in 2004 found that only 30 per cent believed PPP was value for money. It also found many projects were beset with problems - including overheating classrooms, leaking roofs and lack of storage space."
Yep - classrooms are too damn hot; had a leaking roof in my last place; and the lack of any storage that can be locked has resulted in all my stationery being pinched. The last I don't blame on the pupils - I think the RE department are conducting raids into our corridor and stealing our pens. Bastards.

So it's time to call in the 'tsar'. We have a tsar for everything in Scotland. There's a mountain bike tsar. There's even a squirrel tsar. The tsars will sort it out. Any suggestion to the contrary is just cynicism. After all, in the unlikely event that the tsar should prove less than excellent in the execution of their duties, we even have a tsar's tsar. This is what makes us - as our Leader Jack McConnell says - the 'best small country in the world'.

Update: Apparently there was also a 'spam tsar' who gave up 'the war on spam' with the admission that he was unable to even stop his own computer being spammed. We know a song about that, don't we?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Religion and fertility

Religious people have more sex. Or at least of the kind that produces children. This is the finding of Eric Kaufmann in this piece for Prospect. Among the points of interest in the article is the observation that it is religiosity per se - and not just the expression of it through formal membership of a confessional group - that makes people more likely to make babies:
"Throughout the world, the religious tend to have more children, irrespective of age, education or wealth. "Secular" Europe is no exception. In an analysis of European data from ten west European countries in the period 1981-2004 I found that next to age and marital status, a woman's religiosity was the strongest predictor of her number of offspring."
There's a number of obvious reasons why this is so. Religious people are more likely to get married than non-religious people. Moreover, all other things being equal, they do so younger; stay together longer; and are less likely to use contraception or have abortions. So they have more babies.

In the case of the United States, Kaufmann argues that breeding is responsible for around 75% of the growth in Evangelical Protestantism in recent years. He suggests that a similar trend could be felt in Europe too:
"Over the longue durée, the fundamentalist component of Europe's population may begin to increase for the same demographic reasons as in America. The diversity of religious groups in Europe will guarantee a separation of religion and state, but this cannot protect secular public policies from being eroded by a coalition of religious groups who have agreed to submerge their differences. Religious lobbyists, couching their claims in the rhetoric of relativism and diversity, will ask why the secular point of view on issues like abortion, blasphemy, pornography and evolution is the only one taught, aired or "respected."
I'm not sure about some of Kaufmann's conclusions. Establishing that the religious have more children is straightforward enough - but since he's already pointed out that it is religiosity as such that has this effect, it can't follow that this should necessarily translate into a growth in 'fundamentalism'. Nor does it explain the increasing tendency for the religious to become politicised in the first place.

Still, anyway you slice it, this demographic phenomenon has to be a problem for people who favour the Dawkins-style monist application of evolutionary biology to all matters of human conduct, surely?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

On Jacobins and theocrats

Matt Murrell, in an excellent piece in defence of secularism, wrote:
"It's increasingly common to see secularism portrayed as anti-religious, with talk of 'Secular Fundamentalists' intent on imposing their materialistic philosophy on the rest of the, God-fearing, country. However, it's wrong to confuse secularism with atheism (or, more accurately, anti-theism), and it's important to realise that establishing a secular state is in almost everyone's best interest."
He's quite right, although when you read articles like this one by Harry, it's not difficult to see how the confusion arises. Harry's argument is based around the age of consent and suggests that participation in religious institutions should be included in the range of activities that are proscribed by the state for the under 18s.

While I share his opposition to faith schools, there's little in his five year point 'progressive' plan that anyone of a liberal disposition could possibly agree with. Take point 2, for example:
"The introduction of an age of consent for participation in religious organisations, which I suggest should be 18. In order to enforce this it will be necessary for indoctrination of children to become an offence."
The authoritarianism here is breath-taking - especially when you consider what Harry means by 'indoctrination'. Infant baptism would be out, since this would constitute forcing a child to be a member of a 'theological group'. And it goes without saying that sending a child to Sunday school would also become a criminal offence.

Harry doesn't say what penalties should befall those who persist in bringing their children up in the faith of their fathers. Fined perhaps? What if they refuse to pay? Would they then be jailed and the children become wards of the state? The Kulturkampf was never like this.

The Jacobins and theocrats are twin sides of the same authoritarian coin, minted from claims to cognitive infallibility. Both believe that it is the proper function of the state to 'force people to be free'. Both are inimical to the cause of negative liberty. It is to this tradition that secularism, properly understood, belongs. It did not grow out of certainty but scepticism. Historically it has had a number of different forms but it has always and everywhere been characterised by the distinction between a crime and a sin, and the refusal to believe that anything good can ever come from dabbling in the stuff of other people's souls. For liberty, if it is to mean anything, involves the state leaving people in peace.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Hatred of nations

Ahmadinejad's been at it again:
"TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned Europe on Friday it was stirring up hatred in the Middle East by supporting Israel and said it "may get hurt" if anger in the region boils over.

"You should believe that this regime (Israel) cannot last and has no more benefit to you. What benefit have you got in supporting this regime, except the hatred of the nations?" he said in a speech broadcast on state radio.

"We have advised the Europeans that the Americans are far away, but you are the neighbours of the nations in this region. We inform you that the nations are like an ocean that is welling up, and if a storm begins, the dimensions will not stay limited to Palestine, and you may get hurt," he said."
Translation: We of course understand that Europe doesn't support Israel in the way that the United States does but if you will go doing outrageous things like recognising its right to exist, understand that Europe has the advantage of being quite handy for travelling.

Breaking point

Johann Hari, by his own admission, pelts the mentally-ill with fruit. Not as a matter of routine, you understand - this is just one isolated incident.

Being of a liberal disposition, he's all conflicted and guilty about it, of course. But good for him, I say. What is the point of buying fruit at all, if not to lob at some maniac shrieking outside your window?

It's about 'Noise Rage', y'see. Car alarms, for example. Who hears one of them going off and thinks, "A crime is in progress! I must alert the authorities!"? You think, "Fuck - someone must have sneezed next to that BMW."

A militant wing of the Noise Abatement Society is what is needed:
"One friend admitted that he recently responded to a car alarm that kept him awake for three hours in the night by smashing in the headlights on his way to work."
Outstanding! More of that sort of thing.

More from the Department of the Bleedin' Obvious

The Nuffield Foundation has found that teenagers are not 'engaged' by school. Amongst the problems it identifies are:
"The "unprecedented" amount of policy initiatives such as national targets, new qualifications, short-term funding and new regulations was "unlikely to produce significant improvements to the education and training system as a whole"."
Doh! I want a job conducting this kind of research. You'd never have to leave the house.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Home of the timid, land of the unfree

Here's one from the Scotsman:
"A NEWLYWED couple received a £300 bill from police because their car was broken into while on honeymoon.

Nigel and Fiona Boothman's car was uplifted after it was broken into while they were in Argentina. The Volkswagen Golf GTi - an "old banger" worth only £200 - had been uplifted by police because it was "unsecure" after the break-in.

Officers posted a note through their door in Grange Loan, Edinburgh, to say it had been impounded and they were liable for a £150 along with £20 a day in storage charges and VAT."
And the Guardian has news of an environmental crime:
"Environmentalists yesterday criticised a council for prosecuting a man who put the wrong kind of rubbish into a recycling bag. Friends of the Earth said the case of Michael Reeves, who has been ordered to pay £200 for putting a single sheet of paper in a bag reserved for glass and tin, could put others off recycling."
Putting the right waste into the right bags may not be, as a spokesman for Swansea council said, 'rocket science' but this seems a little harsh. You don't even get that for the crime of smoking indoors, which everyone now agrees is an outrageous thing to do.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh City Council is planning an attack - a 'two-pronged' one, no less, on 'nuisance drinkers' making a noise outside pubs and clubs. This spiraled' of late since our Executive thought it a good idea to herd smokers onto the pavements like lepers. City licensing leader Phil Attridge said:
"We didn't want to go down the same road as Glasgow, where the offence is committed as soon as you drink outside..."
So if you're ever visiting Glasgow, please remember to get it the right way round: you can't drink outside and you can't smoke inside. Get this wrong and you could end up doing a custodial sentence.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A house divided against itself

Cannot stand, according to Matthew's gospel. David Osler has a story I missed about the possibility of Galloway challenging Sheridan in the 2007 Scottish Parliamentary elections:
"'George Galloway’s party is preparing to challenge Tommy Sheridan in the Scottish parliament elections, following tabloid allegations about the former Scottish Socialist party leader’s private life.

'The London MP and leader of the Respect party has long been a supporter of Sheridan and struck a deal not to challenge him in Scotland. But if Sheridan is charged with perjury after claims by the News of the World that he lied in court, Respect will stand against him.'

Given that the Socialist Workers' Party is the core component of both Respect and Sheridan's new vehicle Solidarity, it will be interesting to see how they square this circle. For, as the Bible makes plain in Matthew 6:24, no man can serve two masters."
Not a particularly edifying choice - but not a difficult one either. I sincerely hope the story isn't true because otherwise I'd find myself in the uncomfortable position of rooting for Sheridan.

But I'm sceptical about this story. Would someone with an ego of George Galloway's proportions see a Holyrood seat as a suitable goal? We'll see - but I doubt it.


Secularism again

From the Scotsman:
"TONY Blair, the Prime Minister, took on the head of the Catholic Church in Scotland yesterday, insisting that Cardinal Keith O'Brien's newly-declared support for Scottish independence should carry no weight with his flock.

Cardinal O'Brien infuriated Scottish Labour figures by saying at the weekend he would be "happy" for Scotland to become independent and that he could see growing public support for the move.
"I wouldn't have thought it is a matter of religious faith, at least I hope not," Mr Blair said when asked about the cardinal's views on independence."
Alex Salmond, the SNP leader said:
"While obviously I agree with the Cardinal, I also share the Prime Minister's view that this can hardly be considered a matter of faith."
No, of course he didn't - slimy creep that he is. What he actually said was:
"Blair sounds like a man in a state of total panic as Scottish opinion moves steadily toward independence... Any attacks from Blair on this issue will only strengthen support for independence even further."
Army generals, clerics - regardless of constitutional niceties like the separation of church from state or civilian control of the military, it seems any public contribution is welcome from them if our politicians think they can gain some partisan advantage from it.

On secularism

Matt Murrell:
"Segregated schooling, on whatever lines, will ultimately prove divisive and bad for social cohesion. Educating children from different backgrounds together is the best way to create the sense of an inclusive, united society which the government seems to desperately desire. They also breach the right to freedom of religion, with the government colluding in the imposition of beliefs onto children not yet old enough to make rational choices about their life. While parental (and community pressure) in religious matters will always exist, it’s another matter altogether when the state actively encourages it."
Polly Toynbee:
"Meanwhile, segregation gets worse, with a third of schools now religious. The Young Foundation's study, The New East End, warns that in Tower Hamlets white parents have taken over four church secondary schools, making them virtually all white, so neighbouring secular schools have become 90% Bangladeshi. Church schools aid segregation: the Institute for Research in Integrated Strategies finds that the number of children taking free school meals at C of E and Catholic schools is lower than the average in an area. That means nearby schools take more, magnifying the difference. Selection is the secret "ethos" of church schools."
Ken Baker, former Tory education secretary:
"The Conservative former education secretary told the House of Lords he saw some faith schools as "divisive", saying: "I just think it's wrong to divide children by religion at the ages of five and 11.""
Some? All faith schools are divisive by definition; they divide the children of those who believe from those who do not.

If people want schools like this, they should pay for them themselves. The state has no business funding religious segregation.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Democracy, partisanship and the environment

James Crabtree has a piece in openDemocracy concerning the, to him, curious lack of impact environmental issues are likely to have in the forthcoming mid-term Congressional elections.

He argues that partisanship is a contributing factor.

Only around a quarter of Republicans believe the environment is a pressing issue, falling behind obsessions such as gay marriage, abortion and the other preoccupations of those presently engaged in the 'culture war'.

Since the Republicans in this form appear to be able to win elections on an agenda that appeals only to Republicans, Crabtree argues, the Democrats push to the right and lose the environment in the process:
"And there is a sense in which Democrats have become so electorally cautious that they fear the consequences of speaking up. One Capitol Hill staffer told me: "If you're a Democrat, the first half of every sentence you speak has to convince people you aren't a pussy. Once you've got past being tough on terrorists, or whatever, the issue you care about is always an after thought.""
There is no question that partisanship seriously disfigures the American political system so have no difficulty in believing that it gravely distorts this issue too.

However, I thought Crabtree was avoiding a more fundamental problem here. He notes that European politicians, whilst public in their piety where environmental issue are concerned, rarely deliver anything of substance to match their lofty rhetoric. The environment doesn't play significantly in elections either side of the Atlantic.

But this may be because our representative democracies are intrinsically ill-suited to issues such as these that require a view that is longer than the normal electoral cycle.

Because environmental measures such as stopping melting glaciers by reducing carbon emissions are an economic public good in the sense that no-one can be excluded from their benefits. But it is a public good which is to be deferred for some considerable time and the benefits are therefore bound to seem less tangible than more immediate ones they could be taxed for, or indeed the option of being taxed less.

In other words, environmental issues suffer from the 'Hague effect'. It wasn't that people didn't agree with him when he based his election campaign around banging on about the Euro and asylum seekers; it was just that they didn't care about them that much. Not compared to the key issues of the economy, health, education and crime.

Is environmentalism in some ways a 'post-materialist' value in the sense that people tend to worry about where their food came from or where their t-shirts came from only after they have both in abundance? And this is why it can't be sold to the electorate as the most important - or even the fifth or sixth most important - issue of the day?

Are our representatives right to assume we would always prefer to pay tax for more health care staff we could see within the lifetime of a Parliament rather than one on environmental 'bads', the benefits of which we might not see in our own lifetime?

If so, how can this problem be overcome? Not by diluting democracy - but would a system that incorporated more direct democracy be more or less able to deal with the difficulties that stem from the need for immediate electoral gratification?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Ashdown rebukes army chief over Iraq

As Matthew Parris rightly pointed out on Saturday, the question is not whether one agrees with General Dannatt's views on the presence of British soldiers in Iraq or not - because a constitutional principle, one of profound significance, had clearly been violated.

While agreeing with everything Dannatt said, Parris suggested that he should be sacked for his comments - something, given the Prime Minister's weakness, that isn't going to happen.

Parris also justly lambasts the ridiculous behaviour of the opposition on this matter:
"The opposition parties' response has been pathetic. Sir Menzies Campbell, who ought to know better, seemed yesterday to be siding with the general. How would Sir Menzies have felt if the general had lambasted Liberal Democrat defence policy? I rather think that Sir Menzies would have taken issue not only with the criticisms themselves, but with the appropriateness of a Service chief's having entered the fray at all.

Sir Menzies, at least, may plead that the CGS was echoing Liberal Democrat concerns. Liam Fox, the Shadow Defence Secretary, can make no such claim. Except that, incredibly, he now seems to be doing so. Until yesterday we understood Tory policy on Iraq to be four-square with the Government's: 'Tough it out', 'Stay for the duration', 'As long as it takes' etc. But Dr Fox is now claiming he reached similar conclusions to the general's when he himself visited Iraq."
I don't know if it's better to assume that both Menzies and Fox are merely ignorant of the constitutional principle rather than being willing to compromise it opportunistically - but as Parris says, Menzies Campbell at least really should know better.

Perhaps a belated realisation of this has lead Menzies Campbell to back-track somewhat. That this seems to have been prompted by an intervention by his predecessor does not reflect well on him at all:
""[Dannatt] may be accurate in what he said, he may be cheered to the echo in the army, but he certainly shouldn't have said it," said Lord Ashdown, an ex-soldier. "It's a clear constitutional breach. It opens up a massive division between him and the government, who have been saying very, very different things."

Lord Ashdown told Sky News that military personnel who opposed British policies had a choice of doing so in private or resigning. He added: "I don't like the chief of general staff calling it 'my army' and 'my soldiers' ... in democracies armies belong to the government, to the people.""
Indeed. And that quite so many people have shown themselves to be either ignorant of, or indifferent to, the principle of civilian control of the military is telling - and rather depressing, really.

Woolas has irony by-pass operation

Phil Woolas has put his oar into the 'veil debate' by declaring that a teaching assistant that has been suspended for wearing the full-veil should be sacked.

The criticism that lessons were difficult to understand is perfectly reasonable, but that isn't the point. The irony lies in the fact that Mr Woolas is the minister for "communities and local government".

Has it ever occured to him that "communities" might get on better if they were left to sort this sort of thing out for themselves without the intervention of central government?

I'm increasingly of the opinion that my fourth year boys (Standard Grade History for the criminally-insane) could do with wearing a get-up like this...

Saturday, October 14, 2006

A menace to children

Oliver Kamm writes:
"In the Scopes trial, creationists secured legal victory at the price of national ridicule. Their descendants stress the ostensibly scientific notion of Intelligent Design, and the superficially democratic demand that it be granted equal time with the teaching of evolution. A liberal education certainly includes knowledge of the religious doctrines that have shaped Western civilisation. But the myths of the Creation and the Fall have no place in science education. Evolution, wrote the biologist Ernst Mayr, is not just a concept but "the name of a process in nature, the occurrence of which can be documented by mountains of evidence that nobody has been able to refute". Its deniers – there is no polite way of putting this - are a menace to children."
Quite. For to allow even the mention of 'intelligent design' in any other context but an RE class would be an injustice. A liberal education can afford to give no space to those preaching cognitive infallibility disguised as scepticism.

The Lancet report

As everyone is now aware, the Lancet has published a survey on the mortality rate in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, which estimates that there have been in over six hundred thousand 'excess' deaths since the invasion of 2003.

I have no wish to contribute to the current "must necessarily/can't possibly be true" debate currently being conducted across the blogosphere so I'll limit this to a couple of observations.

One is that the obvious partisanship of the editor of the Lancet cannot be taken as reason for believing, as some seem to suggest, that the manner in which this data was collected is in some way suspect. One's political position will obviously determine the interpretation that is put on this data; it does not follow that the data itself has been compromised by this - and given the absence of any evidence to the contrary, it is wrong to make this accusation.

Neither, regardless of the application in this case, is there any reason for saying, as Bush apparently did, that the methodology used here "is pretty well discredited." By whom? Certainly not by Michael White, as you can see in this toe-curling attempt:
"I am not competent to judge the methodology of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, other than to note that it is a pretty solid university. The study group of 50 clusters of 40 households in 16 provinces, 12,801 people interviewed by Arabic-speaking medical teams from al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, all sounds thorough and sensible: at least up to the point where they extrapolate nationwide."
The extrapolation technique is not in and of itself controversial. It is routinely used to predict the results of elections based on the insight that the representativeness of a sample is more important than its size. This is why a MORI survey is a better source than a telephone opinion poll in the Sun.

The accuracy of the survey in this case depends on the representativeness of the sample and, obviously, the veracity of the accounts received. While it is clearly possible for one or either of these in the present situation to be wrong and therefore skew the results of this study, again in the absence of any evidence of this, it doesn't seem reasonable to assume as a default position that the survey is wildly wrong.

To say that those currently making professions of faith about statistical estimates are not adding to the sum of human knowledge involves no understatement. And they are, as Daniel Davies says, missing the point:
"Point estimates are almost never the important results of statistical studies and I wish the statistics profession would stop printing them as headlines.

The question that this study was set up to answer was: as a result of the invasion, have things got better or worse in Iraq? And if they have got worse, have they got a little bit worse or a lot worse. Point estimates are only interesting in so far as they demonstrate or dramatise the answer to this question."
And the answer, which everyone understands, is that Iraq is sigificantly more violent than it was three years ago. And whatever the death-toll, Davies is also surely right to describe this as a humanitarian catastrophe.

But the assumptions that Davies, Horton et al make about what should have been done in the first place and what should happen now do not follow. Horton in particular takes the view that the escalation of violence is largely a function of the presence of coalition troops in Iraq. Yet the situation described in the report is essentially one where violence is increasing because no one group in society has the capacity to monopolise its legitmate use. It is, in other words, a function of the fact that Iraq presently does not have, post-Saddam, a properly functioning state. Specifically the report records an increase in the casualty rate but a decline in the proportion that can be attributed to the actions of coalition troops.

It is clearly the absence of government that is the problem, which leads directly to the positions taken by those currently using these statistics as a basis to analyse recent history and prescribe future solutions. For one, since the accusation of denial - not always unjustified - has been spread abroad, it is worth considering whether there isn't another kind working here. Pre-2003 was preferable, is the argument, because while Saddam Hussein was violent in the extreme, because he enjoyed the monopoly over it, there was less of it. If one, as very thinking person should, dispenses with the happy and convenient notion that other forms of regime-change would have necessarily left Iraq free from the sectarian consequences we see now - this is an argument for actually-existing statehood.

The idea that the first virtue of a polity is order is by no means absurd but it a conservative argument. Those who are currently making this should either acknowledge this is so or concede that there is no reasonable grounds for believing that any imagined 'bottom-up' revolution in Iraq would have avoided this kind of civil conflict. And those arguing for a maintenance of the pre-2003 status quo should also give some kind of indication of how long it could have realistically been expected to endure.

Moreover, if the basis for criticising a political action is that has increased civilian deaths as a result of overthrowing a state, no matter how bad it might have been - there is absolutely no credible reason for supporting the 'resistance', since their very existence and actions are inimical to the establishment of a functioning state of any kind. Its character should be enough to make one recoil at the idea it somehow represents a progressive future for Iraq but beyond this, surely even the notion that it represents one thing, that it represents a coherent force capable of bringing order to Iraq, will be dismissed by everyone apart from children and adults in denial?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Ignorance is bliss

It means you don't have to worry about this sort of thing. Apparently people called 'metrosexuals' are under attack by 'hummersexuals'. But it's ok - the hummersexuals will lose because they are not in fact 'retrosexuals':
"Despite his best efforts to convince you, the hummersexual is not retro-sexual. Since when did "regular guys" need several tons of military hardware, or "new macho" lifestyle magazines such as Best Life, or books such as the bestselling Alphabet of Manliness and Men Don't Apologise, to be "regular"? The hummersexual is clearly, hilariously, faux-retrosexual. He's an off-the-peg, drag-king idea of "real" masculinity: stuffed crotch and joke beard included at no extra charge."
I don't understand any of this but it has something to do with a crisis in heterosexual identity:
"Hetrosexuality is in crisis. There is nothing that can be done about it. I'm not even sure what a straight identity might look like."
Isn't "doesn't shag people of the same sex" usually a signifier here? All the other stuff, like one's position on football, cars, the Sound of Music etc. is open to negotiation. Or am I missing something?

Curse the season

Everyone I know, me included, seems to be suffering from a bit of this.

Grey pissy weather heralding the beginning of the long march through the tunnel that is the Scottish winter.

Dark when you get up for work, dark when you come home - soul-tired and fucking freezing.

Just anticipating this has led many people of my acquaintance to head for the duvet for a day or two in preparation for the journey.

The weather is why Calvinism took so well here. Alternatives with a more cheerful deity seemed less plausible given the circumstances.

Waco goes nuclear

You couldn't have failed to have come across the news that the country with the dead guy as president has acquired nuclear weapons.

The extent of this development is unclear and the future unpredictable - except what people will say about it.

A couple we have in already show the now familiar tendency for some to interpret events of this nature in almost complete insularity. For them the significance of a nuclear North Korea lies not in the intrinsic nature of this reality but only in terms of how Bush and Blair will respond.

For the comrades of the Socialist Worker, for example, the primary danger lies in the possibility that the United States would use it as a rationale for attacking Iran.

To complete the sinister tale of sabre-rattling and planned attacks, the Socialist Worker informs us darkly that:
"The US is now pushing for the United Nations to impose sanctions against North Korea."
That Russia, Japan and China have too appears to have escaped their attention. Thing is, they may well be right to argue that sanctions would be ineffectual, punishing the people rather than the regime - but what would they suggest as an alternative?

I think the plan might be something along the lines of more demonstrations since for them this problem only exists as a function of the "US's war drive".

This and highlighting hypocrisy. That'll work. CND have come to the same helpful conclusion:
"Kate Hudson, Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said, "North Korea has the mistaken idea that having nuclear weapons will increase its security. This is wrong - nuclear weapons do not make a country safer. Unfortunately this is also a view taken by many of our own political leaders, hence their desire to replace Trident, but it is as wrong for Britain as it is for North Korea"."
By acknowledging we are wrong, everything will be all right. Nice idea but not very practical, is it?

North Korea's nuclear ambitions would have never existed had it not been for Western imperialism? One would have thought the extent to which one could blame the US for the character of this crazed Stalinist outpost would be rather more limited than usual, to say no more than that.

But anyway, that's besides the point because nuclear ambitions it has, and has clearly come closer to achieving this. A situation I doubt will be made any less dangerous by adopting the most impeccably 'anti-imperialist' version of its origins.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Comment is strange

Over at CiF. Here's a couple I just don't get.

First from Simon Hoggart:
"People find wine rather intimidating, and wine experts even scarier."
Eh? I like wine and find 'wine experts' ridiculous. Doesn't everyone?

And never one to disappoint, Our Maddy of the Sorrows on the whole veil thingy:
"Does it not occur to men opining on their sense of "rejection" at the niqab that it could be equally prompted by separatist lesbians?"
Um, dunno - are they likely to? And this would be a Good Thing? And what's a 'separatist lesbian' anyway?

This intriguing thought has been woven into an argument about the tendency of all religions to practice some degree of separation to the fallen world. I don't know what this has to do with lesbians either but here's the bit anyway:
"The point is that within all religious traditions there are trends emphasising the corrupting influences of the world and how one must keep them at a distance. Catholicism and the celibate monastic tradition of Buddhism interpret this in one way. Salafi Islam interprets it in modes of dress and behaviour in public places. Since when has secular Britain become so intolerant that it can't accommodate (no one is asking them to like) these small minorities of puritanical piety?"
Serious point. All religions - or rather the religious - seek to differentiate themselves from the world in various ways but the two expressions Maddy uses here have got nothing much to do with each other.

Adherence to dress codes, ritual and diets are features of all religions everywhere but have nothing much to do with asceticism and everything to do with custom and the social function of religion.

But it is only when the spirit of religious asceticism is very strong does it drive an individual to the cloister.

The latter complete retreat to the other-worldly piety of the cloister is open, as our Mads says, to Buddhists and Catholics. The innovation of protestantism was to abolish this option.

Public displays of puritanism are entirely consistent with this mode of religious expression and it's often struck me that Islam shares many features in common with Calvinistic protestanism.

Thing is, since both traditions have a tendency for the zealous to urgently impress on the community the necessity and possibility of everyone being a religious virtuoso, has it never occurred to Maddy & Co. to admit the possibility that - 'separatist lesbians', nothwithstanding (?) - just maybe, somewhere in the world, there are perhaps one or two for whom conformity to this particular social custom might not be entirely voluntary?

Which is not to say Maddy's article wasn't thought-provoking. For example, when she mentioned the "celibate monastic tradition of Buddhism", I realised that I was completely ignorant of the non-celibate tradition amongst Buddhist monks. Sounds a lot better - can you drink and stuff too if you join this tradition? You could sell me on the idea...

Are private schools a waste of money?

Tom Hamilton thinks so:
"[S]o far as I'm concerned, private education is a waste of money. You can get a perfectly good education - indeed, probably a better one - for free."
Chris Dillow's observations reminded me of an article I read years ago that argued that parents would be better to invest the money and give it to their children when they were of age to pay for further education, start a business or invest in property:
"So why do so many parents prefer private education? Is it really so superior to state education? Could it be that they regard education as a positional good, and one worth paying through the nose for? Are they paying to get their children social contacts rather than education per se? Or is the chance of a marginally better education really valuable in winner-take-all economies?"
Thing is, whether private or state, education is not a homogeneous good, so these questions will never have one answer. In Scotland at least the best comprehensives compete with private schools and are better than the poorer performing ones. So Tom is quite right to say one can get as good an education for 'free'.

However, the range is extraordinary and the worst comprehensives are absolutely hellish: here the difference between the worst private schools and the worst comprehensives is very far from being marginal.

I used to teach in what has a reasonable claim to be the worst school in Scotland. One of my present colleagues also taught there, having through no fault of her own, inherited my job when I left. She told me the other day that from a range of pupils we both taught, four of them are now dead. The actual building itself has also been the scene of two fatal stabbings. A less extreme fate awaits the overwhelming majority, of course, but a citadel of learning it is not.

Parents buy mortgages they can barely afford for the same reason they purchase private education if they can; to avoid this sort of school. I'd argue then that while Chris is right to say that education for many parents is a 'positional good' and while this often involves a fair amount of unpleasant snobbery, in this sort of context I can scarcely blame them.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Street Games

Nick Cohen has an item in his Observer slot today about class in sport.

In a nutshell, while upper-class weans are more likely to play rugger, those from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to get their exercise being chased by the opposing Real Fleeto from the next estate, if the conversations you overhear in class are anything to go by.

Street Games is a charity that seeks to help more disadvantaged kids into sports in timing for the Olympics.

I'm a stranger to sport myself and don't really care about the Olympics but lend your support, should you feel so inclined. Teachers, think how much more docile your classes would be if a larger proportion were perpetually exhausted from chasing a ball around in a field or something.

[That's the best I can do, Will. I mean, all this business of getting underprivileged kids to play sport; that's how Celtic FC started. It's a slippery slope.]

Straw man arguments

Veil wearing - for or against?

Ruth Kelly's in favour.

So's Alex Salmond.

And Tommy Sheridan thinks Jack Straw is:
"clearly a very insensitive man..."
English readers may be unaware that Tommy's nickname is Mr Sensitivity.

And John Prescott is in favour too:
"Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has defended the right of Muslim women to wear veils which cover their faces."
In the interests of equity, we would also like to point out that we support Mr Prescott's right to wear a veil too.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Child obesity

A team of researchers in Glasgow has concluded that eating fewer pies is the solution to child obesity:
"The study, published in the British Medical Journal this week, was led by John Reilly, a professor in paediatric energy metabolism at Glasgow University. His team set out to establish whether greater physical activity would prevent children from becoming overweight. They recruited 545 children in their last year at 36 nursery schools.

Half the schools instituted three extra half-hour sessions of physical play and activity every week, and parents were given information packs encouraging them to give their children more activity and less television. The other half had no extra activity or information.

All the children were regularly weighed and measured and their body mass index (BMI - the relationship between weight and height used to check for obesity) was calculated, and there was no difference between the groups."
It's not quite the Department of the Bleeding Obvious; I confess I'm surprised that exercise in this case appeared to make no difference.

At the risk of being lumped in with climate-change deniers and other Evil People, I have to say I'm a little sceptical about this 'obesity time-bomb' we're supposed to be facing as a society.

Leaving aside the question of whether it is the state's proper role to make people thinner, there's surely doubt as to whether it is competent to do so?

And I hope you don't think I'm being contrarian for its own sake when I express a little scepticism as to the nature of the Problem:
"Yet the problem is serious: in Scotland in 2001 at least 10% of children aged four to five and 20% of children aged 11 to 12 were obese. "Children in Scotland establish a physically inactive lifestyle before school entry," they wrote."
My understanding is that one is classed as 'obese' when you are twenty per cent over your ideal body weight. Fat central, in other words.

I'm also led to believe that this is a problem particularly associated with lower income families.

Taking all of this together, this means in an inner-city Glasgow school, one should expect on average to be confronted with at least six fatties in a first year class of thirty.

I've seen more than my fair share of such classes and while my impressions are purely subjective and anecdotal, unless the schools I've been in secretly stream their classes according to girth and have kept the larger ones away from me, I can't help being a little sceptical.

Drawing a veil

Jack Straw's remarks that he feels more comfortable in conversation with Muslim women if they remove their veils has attracted a good deal of comment - almost all of it of it in opposition.

And most of it doesn't compare like with like.

Asking a Muslim woman if they'd mind removing their veil during a conversation is not like asking them to 'get their tits out', as Jamie K says and George Galloway implies.

Neither is Jack Straw's 'discomfort' akin to that which might be experienced when talking to a woman wearing too little, or Sikhs wearing turbans, or Jews wearing yarmulkes, or neds wearing Burberry caps or sporting tattoos, as suggested by Mike Marqusee and Chris Dillow.

Because the latter examples to not interfere with face-to-face communication, whereas the veil does.

And to compare it to other instances where we communicate with others without seeing their faces, as Norm and Chris do, isn't right either because in telephone or email conversations, the inability to see the face of the person you're talking to is a reciprocal experience.

Nevertheless all the above are right, I think, to suggest that it is not really tolerable for a senior politician to lecture people about what they should wear.

I suppose Jack Straw is entitled to make the request in private - provided those he is addressing feel equally free to decline.

But writing an article about it comes rather too close to a sort of Peter the Great hacking off people's beards for my liking.

And the suspicion that the normally more careful Jack Straw is making these remarks in the context of his apparent desire for the post of DPM - in much the same way that John Reid set out his stall for the leadership - makes me feel, well, uncomfortable.

Update: The Telegraph conflates the issues that are the subject of the two previous posts:
"Mr Straw is to be commended for brushing aside the politically correct nostrums that have inhibited such discussion among senior politicians.

What a contrast to the supine behaviour of the Metropolitan Police when Pc Alexander Omar Basha sought to be excused duty outside the Israeli embassy – and was allowed to do so."
What a porous concept 'political correctness' is. I don't see what these have to do with each other. The state is perfectly entitled to tell its employees what their duties are, which includes where they are stationed and of course what they should wear. But Jack Straw's constituents are not his employees. In a democracy the relationship is supposed to be the other way around.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

On duty, morality and 'political correctness'

The Met have insisted that PC Alexander Omar Basha was not excused from guarding the Israeli embassy during the height of the conflict in Lebanon for reasons of 'political correctness' but on the grounds of safety.

Whether the Met's version of events is true I'm not qualified to judge; I dare say the Sun over-hyped the story. Rather, what I am concerned about is the notion, which is implicit in both the BBC and the Guardian piece, that had officer Basha requested an exemption for reasons that had nothing to do with safety - this could be considered either a properly 'moral' or a 'politically correct' stance to take.

It reminded me of the case of those in the Strathclyde fire-brigade who were disciplined for refusing to hand out fire prevention leaflets at a gay pride march on 'religious grounds'.

While a number of commentators were probably right to claim their 'religious objections' were thinly-veiled prejudice, I thought that this rather missed the point. As much as it may grate for those of us who are secular, it is possible to have genuine moral objections against homosexual practices if one bases one's morality on religion.

But there is no moral or religious basis to argue that because one disapproves of homosexuality, those who practice it should not therefore be afforded the same fire-safety advice as everyone else - and personally I think it was disgraceful that the firemans' union reps were prepared to put the opposite case.

Same with this, only more so, for reasons that should be obvious. Regardless of whether this actually happened or not, the very idea that one can have a personal 'moral objection' against providing protection to Israeli diplomats under any circumstances is utterly offensive.

Different yet the same, both of these cases reveal a modern malaise; moral conflict is seen as arising when one's personal preferences (prejudices, I would argue) collide with one's professional duties - and the idea that personal morality might lie within carrying out one's vocation appears out of kilter with the spirit of the age. No-one asks what the 'the done thing' is anymore. All that remains is one's own thing and a measurement of the extent to which one is able to bend social institutions to accommodate this.

Update: Sarita Malik takes the opposite view:
"My own thoughts are that PC Basha's stand should be applauded, although the precise reasons for his decision (moral? welfare?) may determine the level to which it should be supported. But he has exercised his right to choose, and making choices in the workplace is an act of integrity. PC Basha has also been honest about what he finds unacceptable within a professional capacity; he has admitted his personal/political bias."
The first thing to note is that Sarita Malik does not doubt, contra the Met, that officer Basha made the request he did as a "stand." (People always stand these days, don't you find?) Let's consider what his 'stand' might have meant in practical terms.

One assumes that Israeli diplomats, like other bureaucrats that represent their nations, receive protection from our police services against those who might wish to harm them or kill them.

This is surely right and proper?

For to do anything less would be the very antithesis of diplomacy.

Understanding this would lead some to conclude that Britain should not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

If that is someone's view, I would defend their right to hold it and to express it.

What is indefensible, though, is the idea that a public servant should be 'applauded' for expressing their disapproval in the form of refusing to do their duty to protect.

If they are unable, for reasons of conscience, to execute their professional duties - the only decent thing is to resign.

And if their conscience tells them that indifference to the possibility of an attack on the Israeli embassy is a moral sentiment that should supercede one's duty to protect, the only decent thing is to be ashamed.

Because I do not believe this sort of rationalisation would be used for the embassy of any other country on the face of the planet.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Sheridan victim of MI5 plot

Tommy Sheridan has mooted the possibility that MI5 have joined the global conspiracy against him, claiming that a dastardly alliance of the SSP executive committee, the evil Murdoch empire, and the best man at his wedding have fabricated a video tape in order to "overthrow his crusade for an independent socialist Scotland.":
""I said I was the victim of the mother of all stitch-ups," he said. "I don't think there is anyone in Scotland who can doubt that this has been an attempted stitch-up from day one.""
Indeed not. Because an independent socialist Scotland is very likely to happen soon. You could say it's imminent. Tommy Sheridan went on to compare himself to another victim of a tabloid character assassination:
"Just as Freddie Starr did not eat his hamster, then the video has been concocted, manufactured and presented."
You can see how seamless is the web of deceit that the Murdoch press has spun. First Freddie Starr, now Tommy Sheridan. Your granny could be next. No-one is safe.

Vote Solidarity, by the way.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Easy top ten

Usually find this sort of thing difficult. You know, your top ten favourite books/films/songs/electrical appliances sort of thing.

This one from Doctorvee isn't, though.

Ten worst Radiohead songs?

Pick any - because they're all shite in a, "My dad owns Suffolk but I'm full of existential angst" sort of way.

I mean at least Coldplay fans - like the disgraced faction in our society that actually confess to liking U2 - often have the grace to be embarrassed.

This, I find, is not so with Radiohead fans.

They're like Morrisey fans in that respect.

They're so serious.

This is what happens when Guardian-readers listen to music.

It's not big and it's not clever.

More Tory madness

Courtesy of Boris Johnsons. Not so much his remarks about Jamie Oliver but rather his contribution to the West Lothian Question, which indicate a return to the Tories' relatively new-found joy of opposition:
"Mr Johnson also called for Scottish politicians to be banned from voting on English matters.

"I have no wish to be disrespectful to the Scots. But it is outrageous that I as an English MP can be out-voted on issues such as Oxfordshire's NHS without corresponding powers the other way.

"The Scots should not get free university education subsidised by us in England. They shouldn't get free nursing care.

"As a Scot Gordon Brown will find it hard to convince people in England he should be prime minister."

Mr Johnson told the meeting he would be "doing no more apologising" following his high profile acts of contrition when he offended Liverpool and Papua New Guinea.

It later emerged that at another fringe meeting, Mr Johnson had been reported as saying: "Supposing Tower Hamlets or Bradford were to become governed by religious zealots.

"Are we ready for complete local autonomy if it means imposing sharia law?""
Sound familiar? That's because it seems this constitutional problem is shaping up to be the Tories' new Maastricht. It's not that there aren't questions to be addressed; it's that this represents the belief, one shared by not a few Tories, that Joe and Josephine Public are as obsessed with constitutional matters as Mr Johnson and his friends. An unbecoming and most unconservative preoccupation. As Edmund Burke put it:
"It has been the misfortune (not as these gentlemen think it, the glory) of this age, that everything is to be discussed, as if the constitution of our country were to be always a subject rather of altercation than enjoyment."
And if they can't even conserve the Union, what are the Conservative and Unionist party for, exactly?

Drugs worse than drink say Tories

From the beeb:
"Conservative activists have voted overwhelmingly against a motion claiming that alcohol does more harm than drugs."
Do they mean qualitatively? Because quantitatively this simply isn't true. The General Registar estimates that there were 336 drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2005 and falling, whereas for alcohol there were 2,052 (2004) and rising.

This would seem to suggest that on this bare statistic alone, alcohol is roughly three times more harmful than drugs. I'm not advocating some hippy shit about drugs not being harmful; it's just that more people consume alcohol.

Or perhaps the 'Conservative activists' have the wider problem of the criminal activity that is associated with the illegal drugs trade in mind. The rate of alcohol-consumption means that the drinks and hospitalities industry is Scotland's largest employer, whereas the illegal drugs trade tends to employ, well, gangsters. As Jim Doherty, who runs the Gallowgate Family Support Group in Glasgow's East End, told the conference:
"[D]rug dealers were controlling Glasgow."
I have to say it's news to me that anyone is controlling Glasgow and if this is true, I'd have to say they're not doing a very good job.

And if it's true, this is a function of the product's illegality - rather than any intrinsic chemical properties of the narcotics they are selling.

But I don't think the Tories are really interested in any of this; we have instead an example of the culture war going on in the Conservative party at the moment. Amusing for opponents of the Tories, perhaps - but I don't think Labour at the moment would even allow themselves to even consider these ideas.

Speaking of realities that tend to impinge on cultural stereotypes, reading Chris Dillow's piece on manufacturing reminded me of another employment fact concerning the Scottish economy: did you know that the Indian food industry employs more people in Scotland than steel, coal and shipbuilding put together? It's related to our high rate of alcohol-consumption for reasons that should be obvious.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Do Labour supporters have reasons to be cheerful?

Because the Cameron effect does not appear to be all it was cracked up to be.

For one, the Tories' run of opinion poll leads are not anything like as large as those enjoyed by Labour from 1987 - and Major still won in 1992.

The other is that the 'Cameron effect' doesn't seem to be working on his own party quite as well as expected, as Max Hastings points out.

But there's another possibility, which Hastings - due to his rather obvious crush on Cameron - doesn't consider, which is that maybe Cameron himself is a bit crap.

You don't have to be Norman Tebbit to find all the posing with huskies and guff about 'sunshine winning the day' a bit embarrassing.

And while it may not be electorally wise to heed John Redwood's call for tax cuts, to advocate them is not in and of itself insane, as Hastings suggests. Anyway, how sensible was it to appoint John Redwood and expect him to say anything different?

And is it just Tory voters that need a reason to support Cameron's new model Tories? Hastings writes:
"Cameron knows that Britain is now a social democratic country. Only a catastrophe will make it anything else in the foreseeable future. He must adopt a social democratic agenda to win an election, and he will certainly lose it if he embraces an old Conservative one."
Is it? And does he? If the answer to these is yes, embracing the Cameron agenda may not be the solution for the Tories but the heart of their problem. Because they are not a social democratic party, they never will be and any attempt to make them seem so will appear fake to the electorate. Indeed if Hastings is right, the Conservative party has no reason to exist at all.

Finally - and this is a trivial point - but if Cameron is supposed to be so slick and media-savvy, why did he appoint George Osbourne as Shadow Chancellor? As well as being about fourteen and having about as much presence as an annoying poodle - the end of his nose, through no fault of his own, looks like a penis - and this can only become more defined with age.

The photo doesn't bring it out too well - wait 'till the next time you see him on the telly, you'll see what I mean.

More Sheridan lunacy

Read this.

Then this.

Is this man jail-bait or what?

Blog Archive