Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Thursday, 30 October 2003

A brief 'hiatus'

I won't be posting anything here until late Sunday or more probably Monday. I'm going away for the weekend to Pitlochry where I'll be participating in a conference. The National Trust for Scotland holds an annual weekend meeting for representatives from Members' Centres throughout Scotland and for a number of years this has taken place at Pitlochry - apart from being a pretty Highland village (or small town), it is geographically fairly close to the centre of the country, making it easier for most people to get to.
The Holyrood costs fiasco - is the truth beginning to emerge?

Sir Russell Hillhouse, a former civil servant, today told the inquiry:

Making reference to Donald Dewar, former Secretary of State for Scotland and the first First Minister of Scotland

"I said to him 'wouldn't it be better to go for a temporary solution and let the parliament decide'. He said - and I'm paraphrasing here - 'that of course is correct in principle but my fear is that unless we get ahead and do something now the parliament will find it extremely difficult to get round to it, there will always be something else that has higher priority for them'."

Sir Russell said Mr Dewar told him:

Donald Dewar wanted his place in posterity - or infamy!

"I think it is my duty to endow them with a really good building which is fit for purpose and which will enable them to operate effectively."

Donald Dewar's grand gesture, with other people's money, and his failure to ensure that systems were put in place to control costs, may have landed Scotland with a legacy one must hope he did not intend - a level of public debt that will take generations of Scots to pay off.
Michael Howard announces his leadership candidacy formally

In what most observers would have to agree was a lively and entertaining way, Michael Howard about half an hour ago announced his candidacy for the leadership of the Conservative Party. He dealt with some barbed questions from journalists with humour and wit.

Whilst I am by no means convinced, yet, that this particular leopard has changed his spots, he made a lot of the right noises:
- I will lead from the centre of the Conservative Party;
- there will be no no-go areas for Conservatives around Britain;
- I will draw together all strands of Conservative opinion, both inside and outside the Party.

He also said a number of things which perhaps may convince me that he has finally 'got it': he talked about 'diversity' and announced he will be meeting with Kenneth Clarke (one of the leading 'moderate' Conservatives), who has already announced he will not be putting his own name forward as a candidate. I want to know, however, how he will react the next time legislation is proposed to allow co-habiting couples of mixed or single genders to have some of the same rights and obligations as married couples - has he fully appreciated the changes within British society which have so far largely passed the Conservative Party by? If so, will he be prepared to put his fine words into action by resisting attempts by the right-wing diehards within the Conservative Party to thwart such legislation?

The list remains open until Thursday 6th November for additional candidates to put their names forward, but it appears there is a strong mood within the parliamentary Party that they should unite behind Michael Howard. The only possibility I can see of anyone else putting his or her name forward is after consultation with local constituency parties over the weekend, but this seems to me to be a remote possibility.
Who will succeed as Leader of the Conservative Party?

There are strong indications that Michael Howard may be the sole person to put his name forward for the post - although he has not so far formally announced this. There have been 'trails' all morning on the media that an announcement will be made by (or for) him at around 3.30 this afternoon.

However, several of the other potential candidates have already ruled themselves out - David Davis, Tim Yeo and Michael Ancram and perhaps one or two others I've overlooked. Assuming Michael Howard is the sole candidate, he will likely be 'crowned' as the new Leader fairly quickly - by about mid-November or thereabouts, from what I hear.

Despite Michael Howard's reputation as a politician of the 'hard right', I have always had a sneaking liking for him. He is of a high calibre, in my view, both intellectually and managerially, something that I don't think could be said for his immediate predeccessor as Leader, or the last but two Leaders.

Whilst I, perhaps bizarrely, think positively about him, it is a fact that his voting record in the House of Commons has, over many years, been antipathetic to the cause of homosexual equality. For example, his opposition to the equalisation of the 'age of consent, expressed in the vote taken on 21st February 1994:

Michael Howard's blatant homophobia

"homosexuals are still set apart from society and young men must be protected from an unhappy lifestyle"

He has voted against most of his Conservative parliamentary colleagues on only a few occasions; there is a very good website I discovered recently courtesy of Slugger O'Toole, which allows the voting record of any MP since 1997 to be easily looked into - the Public Whip is an invaluable resource.

If he becomes Leader I will wait until I see whom he appoints to his Shadow Cabinet and listen attentively to any relevant comments he makes in the first few months of his leadership before making any decision about re-joining the Party. I have not become affiliated with any other Party since I left the Conservative Party in September 2000.

Addendum: I notice that there have been some web searches alighting on my website, concerning the fact that Michael Howard is Jewish; I can't recall having written about him in this context before (but perhaps I have mentioned it in passing), but for the record I consider this matter entirely irrelevant in whether I might decide to re-join the Conservative Party in due course - it is quite simply of no importance to me in making my decision either way. Further, I disassociate myself completely from the "something of the night" remark made about Michael Howard by so-called colleague Anne Widdecombe some years ago and reiterated this morning on BBC News24.

Wednesday, 29 October 2003

Iain Duncan Smith is defeated in the vote of confidence

The vote was 75 for and 90 against. He wasn't 'humiliated', which even I am grateful for, but I will make no attempt to conceal my relief that this man has been given his 'marching papers'.

Nonsensical talk by some constituency parties that they planned to 'punish' those who voted against IDS will look pretty silly. Do they really think it will be feasible, or sensible, to try and de-select 90 of their 165 remaining MPs?

My sentiment is not one of glee just yet. I will reserve that, if it comes, until it becomes clear who is actually elected to be the new Leader of the Conservative Party.
From those nice people at Blogger / Google .... a little gift

A couple of months ago, perhaps a little more, I had an e-mail from Blogger advising me that since the firm had been acquired by Google, they were changing their policies in some respects. Where this affected me is that they advised they were abolishing charges for the level of 'blogspot' site I had been paying for. This was possible because as part of Google they were no longer so short of bandwidth and resources generally as they had sometimes been as a fledgling independent company - hence the requirement to pay for certain things beyond the basic 'blog'.

Anyway, today I received the hooded 'Blogger' sweatshirt they offered as a token of thanks for my past financial support; I assume it must have come by air and sea. It is not very often, in my experience, that companies spontaneously offer their customers something effectively for nothing, simply as a gesture of goodwill. So I thought it only appropriate to say a big 'Thankyou!' here.

New Link Added

I've added Healing Iraq to my links of weblogs; Zeyad is an Iraqi now living and working in Iraq and writes in a forthright manner about what he sees and hears going on around him in Baghdad. A valuable addition for anyone wanting to understand present-day Iraq better.
Scottish Parliament building over-spend: the truth begins to emerge

The inquiry into the spiralling cost of building the new Scottish Parliament Building at Holyrood (the Holyrood Inquiry) began yesterday.

This was set up by Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell in the wake of the announcement shortly before that the cost had spiralled to £375m , an announcement made just after the Scottish parliamentary elections, when it was of course too late for the electorate to punish those responsible. Now, and as any fool could have predicted, the cost has further escalated to more than £400m, and the building is not now due to be completed until after the end of this year's parliamentary session, when the previous best estimate (just before the Scottish Parliament elections) was that it would be ready by November 2003. Nobody, and certainly not me, believed that target and I'm not sure if I believe the latest either.

Yesterday Sam Galbraith, a retired labour MSP and MP of long standing, gave his evidence to the inquiry. Amongst other statements, Mr Galbraith said the following:

The desire for 'new', not a hand-me-down

"I didn't want a second-hand building for a new Scottish parliament," he told the inquiry.

He worried that the budget of £50m (actually the Scotland Bill, the propsal for the Scotland Act which set up the Scottish Parliament, mentioned a figure of £40m!!) would have been "disappointing" and had feared that the late Mr Dewar would have favoured the "cheap" alternative. This seems to indicate that the figure of £40m (or shall we say, just between friends, £50m - what's another £10m!!), was never intended to be taken seriously. Was it included only to pull the wool over the eyes of the Scottish people prior to the referendum on Scottish devolution?

The Labour-run Scottish Executive (of which Mr Galbraith was a part until his retirement) are no doubt patriotic Scots who love their country, but it is clear they have no idea how to manage a commercial project. The arrogant comments of Sam Galbraith yesterday, demanding like a small child not to have a “second-hand building” and worried that the late Mr Dewar was going to favour a “cheap” alternative, illustrate perfectly the unreconstructed socialist desire to make free with other people’s (the taxpayer’s) money; I expect Mr Galbraith is considerably more careful when dealing with his own personal expenditure than he seems to have been in stewarding the spending of ‘mine’!

Tuesday, 28 October 2003

Fires in Southern California

Over the past several days huge fires have been running out of control over large areas, specially around San Diego and threatening now Los Angeles, too. I heard just a while ago on the television that San Bernardino is now affected also. Apart from the news media, I've been following this closely on the weblog of a resident of San Diego, Scott of IndePundit, who has been posting frequent updates about what is happening locally.

Despite the wealth of California, it is a salutary reminder that nature cannot always be overcome. I hope the eventual death toll will not rise too much further beyond its current levels, although I am not totally sanguine in this regard. The cost of the destruction in material terms is already huge - estimated at present as in excess of US$100bn. Almost mind-boggling!
Atkins Low Carbohydrate Diet - Week 19

Another good result this week. I lost a further 0.9kg (1.9lb) in the past week and my weight is now (as at Sunday 26th October) 72.0kg, a reduction of 26.0kg since I began (or 57.3lb) - I now have 7.0kg (15.5lb) to reach my target of 65kg. Measurement indicators for the week continue to show moderately good reductions:
- waist down a further 0.2 inches to 33.5 inches (total reduction so far 11.5 inches);
- hips down 0.2 inches to 48.8 inches (total reduction so far 7.7 inches);
- thighs down 0.1 inches to 23.3 inches (total reduction so far 5.2 inches).

As predicted last week, I moved on Thursday last from 'Induction' to 'Ongoing Weight Loss', as on Wednesday evening I had reduced by 0.4 kg so I had only 7.5 kg (about 16.5 lb) left to reach target. My task now is not to lose weight too quickly over the coming eight or so weeks, when I want to lose only about 8 pounds; I am still feeling my way with adding more carbs back into my diet. I am certainly enjoying having come more salads and some of the cooked vegetables I haven't been able to have for several months. Next week I have the prospect of enjoying small portions of nuts, too - can't be bad! The remaining 8 - 9 lbs (when I move onto the 'Pre-Maintenance' stage) will be lost, assuming this all works, over the following 3 1/2 months to about end-March 2004.
Conservative leadership contest triggered

BBC News24 is reporting strong rumours that [at least] 25 Tory MPs have now indicated they want a vote of confidence to be held on Iain Duncan Smith's leadership of the Party, so very probably triggering a leadership contest - unless he wins the vote of confidence, of ocurse.

Basically, this is wonderful news. Just awaiting a statement from the man himself shortly.

UPDATE: Mr Duncan Smith has announced that he will put his name forward in the vote of confidence, scheduled to be held tomorrow with the result becoming known around 7pm.

Monday, 27 October 2003

For Iain Duncan Smith, is this week 'crunch time'?

This week may mark Iain Duncan Smith's final days as leader of the Conservative Party , even though only two MPs have so far openly admitted to having written letters calling for a vote of confidence in his leadership. If all the 'unattributed' briefings are true, though, this is probably the tip of the iceberg; what is probably holding them back is the fear of de-selection by their own constituency parties.

His appearance yesterday morning on 'Breakfast with Frost' on BBC1 showed him, outwardly, to be confident that he will still lead the Conservative Party at the time of the next general election. To me, though, his demeanor indicated that he is in fact behaving like a hunted animal, as do many of the outbursts from him over the past couple of weeks (his references to weapons, and who he might point them at).

A word of caution though. An ego as large as his seems to be could very easily collapse suddenly when he has to face the truth - the Party he leads, and wants to continue to lead, no longer wants him. The Parliamentary Party, of course, never did. Iain Duncan Smith only became leader because of the system introduced by his immediate predecessor, William Hague, which allowed the whole Party membership to vote between the two candidates remaining after the Parliamentary Party had eliminated the others in a series of ballots. This method seemed good and 'democratic' at the time, but what it has in fact achieved is to lumber the Party with a man whom the bulk of the British population (in my opinion) are never likely to view as credible prime ministerial material - not unless they completely take leave of their senses, that is (again, my 'objectivity' here may be open to question, although not much I venture). The main reason for this having happened is the unrepresentative nature of the Party membership when contrasted with the British population as a whole, in terms of age and socio-economic level, for example.

If Mr Duncan Smith is ousted in the near future, the last thing we need is another David Kelly (the weapons expert who probably committed suicide recently) on our hands, though. I do not wish to be melodramatic, but I hope that commentary about this whole matter in coming days can remain within the bounds of normal public discourse and not descend into unseemly sensationalism. I will try to do my best, for my part, to follow this advice. I have never made any secret of my desire to be rid of Iain Duncan Smith as leader, indeed I resigned from the Party immediately after his election to the post.

Sunday, 26 October 2003

Home Office'tried to axe' BBC police race exposé

In today's Observer newspaper my suspicions of a few days ago, about whether the government would have attempted to have prevented or delayed transmission of the BBC programme revealing 'institutional racism' in several police forces, seem to have at the very least some substance.

The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, in his usual faux-savant style, tried to denounce the programme as a 'stunt' prior to its transmission, but since the broadcast he has been back-pedalling furiously in the light of the fiasco that his earlier comments, and the Home Office letter the Observer reveals, both represent.
Spring Forward - Fall Back

Clocks go back one hour tonight in the UK, from BST (GMT+1) to GMT. So that's it for another summer! More information about time-keeping in the UK is available here.

This change will have no effect on the time-stamps used in this website as GMT is used throughout the year.

Saturday, 25 October 2003

Paul Burrell and Diana, Princess of Wales - the book and the reaction of the Royal Family

Paul Burrell, butler to the late Diana, Princess of Wales, will shortly publish his book “A Royal Duty”, but for the past several days extracts have been published in the British tabloid newspaper The Daily Mirror. I do not read this newspaper so have not read the extracts, but I have heard and read a lot of comment about them.

It seems to me that it would have been better had Paul Burrell refrained from exploiting the memory of the late Princess of Wales in this way, but to balance this I do find the outrage expressed by the 'establishment' and by the Royal Family to be somewhat disingenuous, not to say hypocritical - they after all were quite prepared to allow criminal charges to be launched against Paul Burrell for alleged theft, and stepped in only at the last moment to halt the trial. I am perfectly happy to give the 'benefit of the doubt' to Her Majesty the Queen, for it was She who "came through for me" in the words of Paul Burrell, that this happened because of Her sudden recall of a conversation She had with Paul Burrell soon after the untimely demise of Diana. Less trusting souls than me, however, might well [and perhaps with some justice] argue that Her intervention was to prevent the perceived disaster for the Royal Family of Paul Burrell being required to give evidence in open court. The Royal Family seems to expect unquestioning loyalty of its servants, which is fair enough, but it does not always seem to reciprocate this loyalty. Loyalty is, or certainly should be, a two-way street.

The heir to the throne, Prince Charles, undoubtedly behaved deplorably before and throughout his marriage to Diana; whether her own behaviour was prompted by this or quite independent of it, I have no way of knowing.

What is clear though is that the hurt and upset caused to the Princes William and Harry is genuine and that their joint statement issued yesterday was justified. They after all are quite innocent - they were simple bystanders to the behaviour of their parents, which in one way or another led to the tragedy of the Princess of Wales' death at such a young age.

Wednesday, 22 October 2003

Police racism in Britain glaringly exposed

Last evening, the BBC aired a documentary in which an undercover reporter, Mark Daly, joined Greater Manchester Police as a probationary police officer and spent seven months undergoing training and gaining work experience, and secretly filming and recording much of his interaction with his fellow trainees.

The programme revealed an alarming level of racism amongst some new recruits, which has resulted, so far, in the resignation of five officers and the suspension of a further three. In the immediate aftermath of the programme, only one officer resigned (Pc Robert Pulling of North Wales Police), with the other seven facing suspension - presumably the other four chose to resign during today.

Pc Robert Pulling, from North Wales Police, was certainly the most blatant racist of those shown yesterday evening, his racism being pretty freely expressed. For example, donning a mock-up Ku Klux Klan mask and suggesting openly that he would like to murder a 'Paki' if he thought he could get away with it, as well as stating that he had dealt with two very similar and minor motoring offences in completely different ways, based solely on one driver having been white and the other 'a Paki'.

In the wake of these revelations, there is a major damage limitation exercise being mounted by the three police forces directly implicated in the programme (North Wales, Greater Manchester and Cheshire), and two of these police forces (Greater Manchester and Cheshire) have already placed statements on their websites deploring the sordid reality of the racism present in their midst and pledging to do their best to eliminate it.

North Wales Police held a major press conference this morning (shown on BBC News 24 - I watched most of it), during which the Deputy Chief Constable said he had felt "physically sick" whilst watching the programme last evening. As well he might! (see below)

When I checked North Wales Police website this morning, there was no change at that time to the somewhat 'apple pie' statement of their policy on racism:

North Wales Police Race Equality Scheme

North Wales Police is committed to delivering a service which through fairness meets and is seen to meet the diverse needs of all the communities in North Wales.

It is pretty clear, however, that this policy at present is just so much meaningless drivel, if the revelations in respect of their employee Pc Robert Pulling are a guide.

Update: Since then, North Wales Police have posted a statement on their website by the Deputy Chief Constable, referred to above.

Despite the obvious sincerity of the Greater Manchester Police website statement, though, it was reported by the BBC last August that a BBC reporter had been arrested whilst working undercover, in a bid to investigate claims of institutional racism in the police force at the Greater Manchester Police Stockport division, on "suspicion of obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception". He was released on bail the following day, after the BBC issued a statement that his police wages had been kept in a separate account and would have been handed back to the police at the end of his undercover assignment. It is not entirely clear that this refers to Mark Daly, as the reporter was not named in the August incident. (Addendum: [added on 8 November 2003] - I have just been watching my video recording of this programme again and realise I must have not listened carefully enough to Mark Daly's programme introduction explaining that he was the person in the August incident - in the light of this I have added an additional sentence after the first sentence in the following paragraph)

This needs to be borne in mind when reading the section of the North Wales Police statement this morning, during their press conference, in which they criticise the BBC for not having brought most of the matters revealed in the documentary yesterday to the immdediate attention of the police. (Added sentence which reflects my present sentiments [see Addendum dated 8 November 2003 above]: It is quite clear to me that the Police, in Manchester at least, realised that a public relations disaster was heading their way and their attempts, and those of Home Secretary David Blunkett, to claim ignorance prior to the broadcast and to dismiss it as a 'stunt' were simply clumsy attempts to divert attention and needs to be dismissed entirely. In the light of this, what I wrote in the first part of the sentence which follows no longer represents, in any way, my view - I no longer agree with the Police sentiment in any way.) In an ideal world, I would tend to agree with the police sentiment, but in the real world in which we all must live I consider that the action of the BBC was not only necessary, but the only procedure that would have ensured that the true situation within these three police forces, at least, could be revealed. I do not have the absolute confidence that efforts would not have been made to try and prevent the documentary being broadcast had the police been kept more fully informed at an earlier stage.

It would be naive to assume that these are the only three police forces where such racism lurks, in my view. I suspect it exists to some extent in ALL police forces throughout the UK, so none of the others can afford to be complacent. It is perfectly clear that it is not always easy to identify those police recruits, or serving officers, who have unacceptable attitudes which may affect the way they deal with people they come into contact with in the course of their professional activity. It is also perfectly clear, however, that the undoubtedly sincere efforts presently made in most police forces to tackle the problem are not proving effective.

Very depressing.

Tuesday, 21 October 2003

Bush tells unrepentant Mahathir his 'Jews rule the World' remarks are "wrong and divisive"

An unrepentant Dr Mahathir Mohamed, speaking during an interview with the Bangkok Post today said that "The reaction of the world shows they (Jews) control the world."

US President George W Bush pulled Dr Mahathir aside yesterday (Monday) at the Apec summit in Bangkok and told him his remarks were "wrong and divisive", a White House spokesman is reported to have said.
Shareholders really do call the shots - capitalism in action!

Putative boss of the new ITV merged company (between Carlton and Granada), Michael Green of Carlton, is to stand down as chairman designate.

This follows several days of stand-off between the Board of Carlton, which initially wanted Green to have the top job at the new merged firm, and major institutional shareholders who were determined to choose their own person.

I have no particular feelings one way or the other about Mr Green; I know too little about the broadcasting industry to comment intelligently. What is clear, however, is that the owners of a company have the right, ultimately, to choose whom they wish to manage a company on their behalf. A Board of Directors can certainly voice its opinion, but it must bow to the wishes of the owners if there is a forcefully expressed disagreement by the latter. This is the very essence of the capitalist system - and it is good occasionally to see it in action so vividly.

Monday, 20 October 2003

Atkins Low Carbohydrate Diet - Week 18

A better result this week than the week before. I lost a further 0.8kg (1.8lb) in the past week and my weight is now (as at Sunday 19th October) 72.9kg, a reduction of 25.1kg since I began (or 55.4lb) - I now have 7.9kg (17.5lb) to reach my target of 65kg. Measurement indicators for the week continue to show moderately good reductions:
- waist down a further 0.2 inches to 33.7 inches (total reduction so far 11.3 inches);
- hips down 0.3 inches to 41.0 inches (total reduction so far 7.5 inches);
- thighs no change at 23.4 inches (total reduction so far 5.1 inches).

During this week (probably on Wednesday or Thursday) I plan to move from 'Induction' to 'Ongoing Weight Loss' as I will by then I hope have only 17lb remaining to target. Over the roughly 8 weeks to mid-December, I hope to lose 8 or so pounds, and the remaining 9lbs (when I move onto the 'Pre-Maintenance' stage) over the following 3 months until about end-March 2004.

Friday, 17 October 2003

Barclays' Matt Barrett has his "Ratner moment"

Barclays Bank Chief Executive, Matt Barrett, yesterday told the unvarnished truth about borrowing on credit cards:

"It is too expensive."

"I do not borrow on credit cards," Mr Barrett replied. "It is too expensive. I have four young children. I give them advice not to pile up debts on their credit cards."

Mr Barrett was giving evidence to the House of Commons Treasury Committee yesterday and was responding to questions posed by an already mainly sceptical and antipathetical group of MPs.

It brings to mind the gaffe by Gerald Ratner, scion of a major jewellery retailing chain, who in 1991 described a silver decanter sold by his firm as "total crap". True, of course, but it really shouldn't have been said - and the effects on the business were dramatic.

As for Mr Barrett, his comments are spot-on. As a former banker, I never use my credit cards to borrow - there are much cheaper ways of borrowing money, if the need arises. But he still shouldn't have stated this quite so baldly - at least no-one can say he doesn't tell it like it is, and it shouldn't detract from the beneficial changes he has brought to Barclays since taking over.

Thursday, 16 October 2003

Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamed: Jew-hater and Homophobe

The latest outburst from this deluded, but influential, individual:

"Jews rule the world"

" … today the Jews rule this world by proxy... 1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews,"

He was speaking at at the opening of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference in the Malaysian administrative capital Putrajaya.

He is due to stand down as Malaysian PM in a few weeks, but will no doubt remain outspoken in retirement. His homophobic outbursts, and action against opponents, are already well known.

Monday, 13 October 2003

Atkins Low Carbohydrate Diet - Week 17

Last week was not as good as for some time in that I lost only 0.3kg (0.7lb) in the past week and my weight is now (as at Sunday 12th October) 73.7kg, a reduction of 24.3kg since I began (or 53.6lb) - I now have 8.7kg (19.2lb) to reach my target of 65kg. Measurement indicators for the week show moderately good reductions, however:
- waist down a further 0.3 inches to 33.9 inches (total reduction so far 11.1 inches);
- hips down 0.3 inches to 41.3 inches (total reduction so far 7.2 inches);
- thighs no change at 23.4 inches (total reduction so far 5.1 inches).

I'll remain on 'Induction' for at leasr another week before moving on to 'Ongoing Weight Loss' as I want to have only about 17lb left to target before making the change.

Saturday, 11 October 2003

IDS' attempts to silence his critics may fail - I hope!

Attempts since the close of the Conservative Party conference on Thursday to intimidate critics of the leadership of Iain Duncan Smith look as if they may well fail. The outrageous utterances of David Maclean, Chief Whip, threatening to punish those who dare to speak out and those thought to be responsible for sowing dissent in the Party, are almost Stalinist in tone. The so-called "career development interview" to which some MPs are to be subjected is a pretty crude attempt to silence opposition - and I cannot believe that it can possibly succeed, but perhaps my belief in the fundamental decency and moral backbone of at least some Conservative MPs is misplaced. No doubt this will become clearer in the coming days and weeks.

Meantime the Independent's analysis, in an article to be published tomorrow, seems to indicate that there are at least some who will refuse to be cowed. I hope they are correct.
The modern and inclusive Conservative Party

ITV report two Tory aides 'held over assault' said to be 'a homophobic attack on a gay policy adviser'.

It is also reported that the 'Conservative Party said it was not prepared to comment on the allegations'.


(UPDATE: Added on Monday 13 October 2003 - There is a fuller story on this in Rainbownetwork)

Thursday, 9 October 2003

Iain Duncan Smith is not a man capable of being Prime Minister

I've now had an opportunity to study the text of the Conservative Leader's speech in full and to watch some video clips of parts of it. It is clear to me that whilst it was most certainly a rousing speech, its effect will be merely to reinforce the faith amongst many already-existing Conservatives. I cannot see it will attract people who have not voted Conservative before.

Or attract back people like me who used to vote for them.

The Conservative Party still appears to want to talk only to its own supporters. You can read the full text here. It still seems to believe that if something is repeated often enough that people will be won over. Well, under this Leader at least, it ain't ever gonna happen (in my humble opinion).

Granted there is growing disillusion with Tony Blair's 'New' Labour government, but the Conservatives seem to have nothing genuinely new and credible to offer. For example:

Promises on tuition fees and police numbers

Students won't leave university saddled with a £30,000 debt… We'll scrap Labour's tuition fees and we'll stop top-up fees, too. Violent crime and disorder have rocketed under this Government… And the asylum system is a disaster – spiralling out of control. While Tony Blair travels the world, the world is travelling here.

As Oliver Letwin has pledged, under the Conservatives there'll be 80,000 fewer asylum seekers – and 40,000 more police officers. That's twelve more police forces the size of the Lancashire Constabulary.


Promises on pensions

So we will raise the basic state pension, in line with earnings…to ensure that future generations of pensioners never have to go begging for social security. The abolition of the means test is supported by the savings industry. It's supported by millions of pensioners. And it's supported by me. Most important of all, it's the right thing to do.

Now I can't say I quarrel with any of this.

There is just this nagging doubt, though. How is it to be paid for? Well, here's how:

Promises to cut taxes and spend money better

The greatest cause of increasing tax is increasing waste. 70% of taxpayers think Labour wastes their money. And they're 100% right. This Labour Government will never give taxpayers value for money. But Conservatives will.

In local government, Conservatives already deliver better services for less tax. As Michael Howard said yesterday in his excellent speech, Conservatives believe in low taxes. We will always be a lower tax government than Labour. And yes… We plan to cut taxes.

Now I am very sure that there is a great deal of waste in the public services, most notably in the grotesque over-manning (and over-management) in the National Health Service. The NHS exists primarily to provide health treatment to citizens, not for the purpose of providing employment for over a million people - a fact socialists seem to overlook.

However, the pretence that ALL the additional expenditure the Conservatives are promising can be paid for by more efficient use of the resources supplied, whilst STILL cutting taxes seems far-fetched to me. And it doesn't take into account the fact that many recipients of Blair's grotesque 'tax credits' (families and more recently, pensioners) are hardly likely to vote for a Party which is promising to cut or abolish such things.

The political reality is that we live in a country where everyone has a vote - and I wouldn't want it any different! But a consequence of this is that those parts of the population that generate net wealth are electorally hugely outnumbered by those who are net consumers of assets, in tangible financial terms. The 'right to buy' very successfully tapped into the self-interest of many council home residents who had aspirations to own their own homes - quite apart from the other seemingly minor, but hugely important, factors such as the complete abolition of exchange controls soon after the Conservatives last came to power in 1979, which allowed ordinary people to escape from the socialist straitjacket of strictly limited spending money whilst on holiday abroad.

There is nothing equivalent in IDS's speech today to galvanise the support of wide swathes of the population in support of the Conservatives.. Just scare tactics designed to appeal to the xenophobes who lurk amongst us:

Appeal to xenophobia

Think about it. Our country: no longer able to control immigration. No longer able to choose its allies. No longer able to use British soldiers to defend our interests abroad. Unelected Commissioners would have the final say in almost every government department – affecting every aspect of our daily lives.

The fact that we've been members of NATO for over fifty years? The fact that, in the successful Falklands campaign, the discreet satellite reconnaissance intelligence supplied by the US was invaluable. Not to mention the technical information discreetly supplied by the French about the sophisticated missiles they had supplied to Argentina, and which represented a real danger to our ships.

And I'm afraid that Mr Duncan Smith simply doesn't have the charisma to carry it off. It's all very well having a carefully-crafted speech delivered with the benefit of extensive rehearsal to a largely supportive audience at a Conservative Party conference. It's a different matter being able to cope with the cut and thrust of lively House of Commons debate and Prime Minister's Questions - situations in which he has shown little credibility. I suspect the Conservative Party is doomed to stick with Duncan Smith until the next election, though, if only because like ferrets in a sack they will never agree on who might more sensibly lead them and I doubt very much if Michael Portillo or someone like him could be tempted back whilst illiberal social thinking still seems to govern the Party's parliamentary agenda, whatever it may try and say in speeches by Theresa May.
The 'quiet man' turns up the volume - but is it enough?

The Conservative Party Leader's keynote address turned out to be quite a performance, certainly the best and most 'relaxed' I have ever seen from him. It seems that the media training he is said to have had over the summer has had a positive effect.

Obviously the faithful gathered in the hall gave Iain Duncan Smith a prolonged standing ovation. The question which remains, though, is whether anyone else other than the media and political junkies such as me will care very much. I have to say I am uncertain about this because I think he did strike some chords which have the potential to attract voters who do not consider currently voting Conservative. For example, I am a committed pro-European, but I too want to see a referendum on whether the prosposed EU Constitution Treaty should be ratified by the UK - I do have a strong belief in democracy and would accept the verdict of the electorate to a fairly presented referendum question, whatever it is. Our Prime Minister, Tony Blair, seems to have decidedly equivocal views on this and many other matters.

I want to study the text of Iain Duncan Smith's speech more closely before I make any further comment about his prospects of remaining Leader.
Is this the end-game for Iain Duncan Smith, present Conservative Leader?

Iain Duncan Smith will deliver his keynote speech to the Conservative Party conference at Blackpool tomorrow (Thursday). If all the media (broadcast and newspaper) are to be believed, he will have to deliver a blockbuster of a speech to stifle, even temporarily, the growing chorus of discontent with his leadership. As this article in tomorrow's Independent confirms, even grass-roots Conservatives are now prepared to say in public what would until recently have been unthinkable - that they are not happy with their Leader's performance and don't think they can ever win an election with him in control.

The Party seems now finally to be catching up with my own views. I resigned from the Party within days of him become Leader, seeing him as an electoral liability - quite apart from the fact that I consider him to be a reactionary homophobe. Nothing I have heard or seen of this man since he became Leader in September 2001 has caused me to have the slightest doubt of my earlier assessment. This desperate individual is, however, unlikely to go quietly - he was a divisive influence on the Party during the last Conservative government (1992-97) and is unlikely to be any different if his Leadership is openly challenged. Depressed as I am about this whole situation, the membership of the Party has only itself to blame for their foolhardiness and short-sightedness in electing this mediocre man to be their Leader. What a farce!

Tuesday, 7 October 2003

Conservatives and 'inclusivity'

Yesterday Theresa May, Chairman, gave what I thought was a reasonably good speech, if a little didactic at times, on the opening day of the Party's annual conference, this year being held in Blackpool, although Andrew Gimson said in an article in The Daily Telegraph today that it was "beyond parody". In particular one small section, quite near the beginning, caught my attention when she said that the Conservative Party welcomed people as individuals on their own merits: "Rich or poor. Straight or gay. Black or white." I think the Party genuinely does try to do this, but there are still members who do not share this inclusive approach and who are permitted to remain members, or in one very recent case to stand under the [Scottish] Conservative banner at a major parliamentary election.

Even more recently Baroness Blatch, Deputy Conservative Leader in the House of Lords, tried to delay abolition of the hateful 'Clause 28', by introducing a 'spoiling' clause. Luckily she and the Conservative Party were unsuccessful.

So is the Conservative Party inclusive? In many ways it probably is, or at least has the intention of trying to be so. But they still have some considerable way to go before I will believe they really mean what Theresa May said yesterday is their policy - there are simply too many facts stacking up against them.

Monday, 6 October 2003

Atkins Low Carbohydrate Diet - Week 16

Last week was 'better' than for some time (two months approx.) in that I lost 1.5kg (3.3lb) in the past week and my weight is now (as at Sunday 5th October) 74.0kg, a reduction of 24.0kg since I began (or 52.9lb) - and I now have only 9.0kg (19.9lb) to reach my target of 65kg. Measurement indicators for the week show pretty good reductions, too:
- waist down a further 0.3 inches to 34.2 inches (total reduction so far 10.8 inches);
- hips down 0.3 inches to 41.6 inches (total reduction so far 6.9 inches);
- thighs down 0.1 inches to 23.4 inches (total reduction so far 5.1 inches).

I had planned to move on to the next stage of the Atkins diet, 'Ongoing Weight Loss', in two weeks, but as I have progressed a little faster than forecast I may move to it next Sunday (when I hope to have about 8kg or 17.7lb left to lose, assuming all goes well this week. It is important, according to the diet guidelines, to lose the final amount as slowly as possible and not to try and do it too quickly, as one might instinctively wish. This is to allow me to learn exactly what foods, and in what quantity, my body can tolerate whilst still continuing to lose weight very slowly. Accordingly, if the next week works out, I plan to lose about 9lb over the following eight weeks and the remaining 8 or 9lb (in 'Premaintenance') over the following three months - toward the end of that period I hope to be losing negligible amounts on a weekly basis - then I will know what I can eat, safely, so as not to lose or gain in future - more or less for the rest of my life. For the first time in my life I have control over my eating and appetite and it is not a gain I intend to give up lightly.

Saturday, 4 October 2003

New link added

A couple of weeks back I noticed that Jay DeKing ("The Council of Lemurs") had visited. Since then I've been taking a 'peek' at his site occasionally and whilst I can't say I agree with all he writes (which is the same for many of the few others I link to), he does write in a level-headed and pretty fair way. It's always useful to have a variety of views available for study, I think.

Friday, 3 October 2003

Gay 'hate law' protection to be extended to Northern Ireland

The Daily Telegraph reports that Paul Murphy, the Northern Ireland Secretary, announced at the Labour Party conference that he will effectively leapfrog other parts of the UK by introducing hate crime legislation covering racial and religious (or sectarian) prejudice, and prejudice relating to sexual orientation.

Whilst 'hate crime' relating to racial and religious prejudice already exists in other parts of the United Kingdom, this was not extended earlier to Northern Ireland because of the perceived difficulty of enforcement in such a fractious atmosphere, where religious secatrianism has been so widespread.

However, at present, there is no protection in any part of the UK for 'hate crimes' committed against persons because of their [perceived] sexual orientation. Only in the very near future will legislation come into force protecting gays and lesbians from discrrimination in employment (unless you happen to work for a religious body, as such bodies have [quite inexplicably and outrageously] gained exemption from compliance).

There will now, quite rightly, be pressure upon the Home Secretary and the Scottish Executive to follow the lead of Northern Ireland to give protection against 'hate crime' to all citizens throughout the United Kingdom, irrespective of their sexual orientation.

Thursday, 2 October 2003

Year of 'jinxed' holidays

I discovered yesterday afternoon that my planned vacation (to northern Tenerife) beginning next Monday is not now to be. The parent company of the travel firm I booked with has gone bust. My money is (touch wood) ATOL protected. I could have rebooked the same holiday immediately, but would have had to pay again. The refund from ATOL apparently takes about two or three weeks to appear, so I prefer to wait until this is safely achieved before committing more funds to this company; call me cynical or at the very least just careful. I've already cancelled hotel bookings in London before and after this holiday, but unfortunately I cannot do anything about a refund on the flights to and from London on EasyJet; the holiday would have commenced from and ended at Gatwick. So I'll just have to write that off, but luckily it's not a huge amount.

A holiday earlier this year, in March, also came to nought - it was to have been a week at a self-catering lodge on the west coast of Scotland. The lodge offered when I arrived was considerably different (and smaller) than I had booked and paid for, so I didin't go through with it.

On the positive side, today being 1st October, I can now walk on the beach here again with my dog; from April to September the part closest to where I live (i.e. less than 100 metres) is off-limits to dogs because it is a popular bathing beach in the summer. I have to go about a mile to the east or half a mile to the west to get onto the beach in summer with my dog - hardly a crushing blow, but in the winter it's just that little bit more convenient. And today was a glorious sunny autumn day and the sea was almost mirror smooth.