Thursday, 31 December 2009

Worst lyp-synch in history?

Perry Como on US television in 1954. He looks to be drunk. I suppose they got away with it because the picture is so fuzzy anyway. Or maybe that's just a function of ancient videotape.

Nice latin orchestra though. I wonder who it is.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Tramway unfairness

Tramways & Urban Transit reports that Nottingham is to have no fewer than nine new tram routes.

In Manchester, Birmingham and other cities, too, new tram schemes seem to be going ahead.

Meanwhile, here in London the number of new tram routes we are getting remains firmly stuck at zero, since B. Johnson brutally cancelled the cross-river tram project, on which so much preparatory work had already been done, and which was strongly supported by all the boroughs affected.

What have we done to deserve this?

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Circle/teacup line problems continue

I noted yesterday that all seemed not to be well with the new configuration of the Circle line, which, we were told, was to bring a five-minutely service on the Hammersmith branch for the first time ever (adding the new Circle service to the existing Hammersmith & City one). Now the Evening Standard has published New improved Circle line is 'rubbish', say delayed passengers. Admittedly this is only week 1, and teething troubles were to be expected. One also takes with a pinch of salt anything the Evening Standard prints about transport, and notes that this article is written by some hack who clearly hasn't taken the trouble to understand the new pattern. She writes:

Circle line trains now start in Hammersmith, run along the Hammersmith & City line to Edgware Road then do a clockwise lap of the Circle line and head back to Hammersmith. They then do the journey anti-clockwise.
which makes it sound as if Hammersmith itself is part of a new, larger circle, which is entirely wrong.

Nevertheless, it was always going to be the case that the Circle itself would only run every 10 minutes under the new regime, giving 6 trains per hour (tph), a slight reduction on the previous (highly theoretical) 7 tph. Transport for London glossed over this in its publicity for the change, so it arguably deserves opprobium now.

Meanwhile, the long-suffering people on the Hammersmith branch still don't appear to be getting their promised train every 5 minutes:

UPDATE: The Londonist has this: Circle Line Not So "New" or "Improved" (A Passenger's Lament)

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Teacup Line problems

Could it be that all is not going well with the new teacup line? You will recall that the new Circle/Hammersmith arrangements were supposed to produce a train every five minutes on the Hammersmith branch. Yesterday's Evening Standard had a letter from somebody complaining that they had to wait 25 minutes at Edgward Road for an eastbound train on Monday. And here is the departure board for westbound trains at that station a couple of minutes ago, as the evening peak gets under way:

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Sloppy language

I wish people would stop saying "in terms of" when they just mean "as regards" or "concerning".

And I wish people would stop using the word "incredibly" as a mere intensifier. David Cameron is now doing it in almost every other sentence.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Train of the day

This is the ICN, the Swiss tilting train. The boyf and I recently took a short break in Locarno, where we once went quite often but this was the first time for about 15 years. A delightful lakeside resort in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. We took an ICN from Basel to Bellinzola and it was 40 minutes quicker than the last time we did the journey.

Friday, 20 November 2009

My blog has been discovered

Something called -- claiming to be "the UK's leading dedicated political news website", which is a new one on me; aren't there more than enough political news websites already? -- has, I have just discovered, done a review of my blog.

The anonymous reviewer says "There are a great many problems with this blog", (huh? such as what?), "but the writing is entertaining". Well thank you for that. Apparently "Some of the writing borders on offensive" (huh?) and "the site is ugly to look at" (huh? It is just a standard blogspot layout.)

Despite these terrible errors of which I was hitherto unaware, "Peezedtee is saved from oblivion by fiery prose and trenchant opinion. This makes the blog an enjoyable enough diversion, rather than an abject failure." Thank you. Thank you so much.

Xenophobia not just wrong but also impractical

To the hospital out-patients today for a small thing. I am seen by a Caribbean receptionist, an East European female nurse, an African male nurse, and an Indian doctor.

How on earth does the BNP suppose the National Health Service would function if its crazed ideas were applied?

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Rail companies have their heads in the sand

The London Evening Standard frequently carries letters to the editor griping about transport issues in the London area. Often these letters are silly and unreasonable -- as also were, in reality, many of the complaints once made about British Rail. But not always. Here is one from earlier this week:

The complaint in this case seems entirely reasonable, and yet South West Trains is generally regarded in the industry as one of the better operators. There appears to be a huge gap between the reality as perceived by most passengers and the fantasy world inhabited by the TOCs, who in the trade press always seem to be congratulating themselves on how well they think they are doing.

Until lately, among the specialist press, only Barry Doe in RAIL and Alan Williams in Modern Railways have expressed, from the passenger's point of view, a suitable degree of irritation with the train companies' many failings. It is good to see that in recent weeks the editor of RAIL, Nigel Harris, has started pointing out that we cannot go on like this. He doesn't agree with the above letter-writer's view about renationalisation, but he is calling loudly for root-and-branch reform of, in particular, the absurd and inequitable fares structure.

Myself, I think Harris is wrong to perpetuate the myth that nationalisation is obviously a bad idea. Not all state-owned organisations are inefficient. BR got a lot of things right, within the constraints under which it had to operate. Paradoxically, there was less direct government control then than there is now: BR in many ways had an arms-length relationship with government, rather like the BBC. But it is probably true that in terms of practical politics, renationalisation is a non-starter. If it was going to happen, it needed to happen when Labour came to power in 1997 on precisely that promise, on which they immediately reneged.

But there is a lot that could be done to improve things. One excellent suggestion, from Roger Ford of Modern Railways, is to reconstitute a single InterCity, albeit as a private-sector franchise. It was a great brand and mostly quite a good product. But that won't help Sarah of Shepperton, of course.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

London Underground's new Teacup Line

Transport for London has a new leaflet out explaining the forthcoming changes to the Circle Line (from 13 December). They are still going to call it the Circle Line, though it will be in the shape of a teacup, not a circle.

I hadn't previously quite understood that the Hammersmith and City line will still exist as a separate entity. When TfL says there will now be a train every 5 minutes between Paddington and Hammersmith, I take it to mean a Teacup train every 10 minutes and a H & C train every 10 minutes. This is certainly a remarkable increase in overall frequency on that section, which used to be notoriously unreliable and sporadic, at least it was in the early 1980s when I was living in Shepherds Bush.

Chaos can, I think, be expected on 13 December at Edgware Road. The leaflet makes a lot of the fact that, although some passengers will have to change trains there who up to now have had a through service, it will be an easy cross-platform interchange. In fact, this is not always the case. If you are going from, say, Great Portland Street to High Street Kensington (a direct journey by Circle train at present), your Teacup or H & C train will arrive at platform 4. The next High Street train might be across the platform at platform 3 (for Wimbledon) but it might equally be over the footbridge at platform 2 (an anti-clockwise Teacup train).

This is a good example of the iron rule that every transport improvement silver lining has a cloud for certain users.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Fifty years ago, we never had it so good. Possibly.

It is just 50 years since Harold Macmillan's Tories were re-elected in the "You never had it so good" election. For my part, in October 1959 I was at school in Yorkshire and, for reasons I have long since forgotten, I found myself the Liberal candidate in my school's mock election. It was my first-ever political involvement and almost the only time I have ever won any kind of contest.

I suppose I chose to be a Liberal because my parents were. They were News Chronicle readers; the title folded the following year, whereupon they switched to the Guardian. I don't remember having anything you could really call a clear political stance at the time, except that I didn't like the Tories because I felt, more intuitively than intellectually, that they represented the wealthy, and looked down their noses at the less well-off. I remember having a vague feeling that they were snobby and that the world was all rather unfair, so it must have been their fault, since they had been in power for ever, as it seemed at the time. I suppose I must have unconsciously picked up these rather crude views from my parents.

I cannot have been very familiar with the campaign or the party leaders, because we didn't have a TV at the time so I would not have seen any of them in action. Gaitskell made no impression at all. Grimond, I think, came across as a very attractive character, though I may be saying that with hindsight.

It is rather paradoxical that I took against Macmillan's Conservatives so strongly in 1959, because in much later years I became secretly quite fond of him, or anyway of his no doubt somewhat artificially constructed persona -- Edwardian, languid and patrician, a one-nation type in stark contrast to Thatcher and her grasping, selfish, shrill, narrow, suburban estate agents and similar vulgar arrivistes.

In fact 20 years later I actually travelled some distance to hear Macmillan speak at a European election meeting. (The only Conservative election meeting I have ever attended, by the way.) He was well into his eighties, but he turned in an absolutely sparkling performance; astute and witty, and conjuring up an inspiring vision of the European future with Britain playing a key role. Sadly that was not to be.

Why did I win the mock election in 1959? It is a mystery. I doubt if there was any particularly strong support for Liberal ideology. I can only think that I must have run a livelier campaign. I do remember putting yellow fliers up (all laboriously hand-written) on lamp-posts and telegraph poles everywhere, and my mother insisting I go round and take them all down after it was over. I have no memory of any hustings meeting, though we must surely have been required by the headmaster to say something or other. I also can't remember who were my Tory and Labour opponents, or the size of my "majority".

This past weekend, BBC Parliament has been showing absolutely fascinating archive stuff from that election, including Richard Dimbleby presenting the results show from Lime Grove, with David Butler going on about percentage swing, and Bob Mackenzie at the swingometer; and several hustings programmes, involving the likes of Ian Mikardo, Barbara Castle, Jo Grimond and Julian Amery, and a really rather impressive Liberal called Baker that I have never heard of and who must I think have left politics shortly afterwards.

The PPBs were hilariously stilted, and absolutely everybody talked with an unimaginably plummy accent, even Mikardo; but much of the actual political debate seemed amazingly similar to now. The same arguments about fairness and tax; the same arguments about the role of the state vs. the role of the market; the same arguments about ill-considered foreign military adventures (then Suez, now Iraq). Truly there is almost nothing new under the sun.

Sunday, 23 August 2009


God, what an idiotic fuss about this Libyan fellow. The reason he should be set free is BECAUSE HE IS INNOCENT and neither he nor any other Libyan had anything to do with the bombing. For heaven's sake, haven't people read Paul Foot or Private Eye over many years on this case? Tam Dalyell is right and it is depressing that hardly anyone else is saying so. This whole business is a major international scandal.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Ken says: Renationalise the railways!

This just in, on the Grauniad blog this afternoon: Ken Livingstone explains why the privatisation of the railways has been a catastrophe, and how the East Coast Main Line fiasco provides the opportunity to start renationalising the whole network, and why that would be a good thing.

Every word is spot on. No need to add anything. Just read the piece.

UPDATE: And see also this from the Campaign for Public Ownership.

Let Ronald Biggs die in jail

I have never held Jack Straw in very high regard, but I'm with him on this one.

The way that the popular culture tends to venerate hardcore professional criminals has always sickened me. If society had its moral compass right, such people would be more vilified even than paedophiles, rapists and passion killers. Many of the latter, it can always be argued, are sick. There is something wrong with them: they are psychopaths, or their brains don't work properly; they are mentally ill, whether temporarily or permanently.

No such defence is available to the professional criminal, who is perfectly sane, knows exactly what he is doing, and is motivated by sheer greed.

I remember that, at the time of the Great Train Robbery, at least part of the gutter press evinced a sort of grudging admiration for its perpetrators. It was as if stealing vast sums of money was somehow an activity in which anyone might like to engage, if only they thought they could "get away with it". This mood changed only slightly when it was pointed out that, in this particular operation, the train driver had been physically attacked and injured.

We have seen the same kind of nauseating attitude in the case of several other such ruthless scum. I have seen grovelling, laudatory interviews in the media with such people as "Mad Frankie" Fraser, as if "going straight" for a period of time, and writing a book about it, somehow wiped out the bad things they had done in the past. Even the monstrously evil Kray twins, in the east end of London at least, continued to be worshipped by some.

In the case of Ronald Biggs, we have long been invited to admire the fact that he managed to escape from jail and live a life of luxury in South America, as though it were all just a harmless game. Good old Ronnie, he succeeded in hoodwinking the authorities, what fun. Well, he hasn't yet served his time. And how much has he repaid of what he stole?

The reason why such people should be locked away is a different reason from why we lock up murderers, rapists and perverts. These latter need to be locked up to protect society from any further such activities on their part. In the case of the professional criminal, the main reason for locking them up, in my view, is to send a message that being a gangster and stealing other people's money is not a morally acceptable profession and that society will punish it severely.

My proposal is that professional gangsters should never be let out of jail until they have paid back everything they stole. They should certainly remain locked up until they have said where the loot is stashed and allowed the authorities to recoup it. It makes me sick to hear of criminals who are let out after a few years and who can then access the hidden money.

I feel, too, that films and TV have a lot to answer for. It may all just be fiction, but there is a fantastic amount of it every evening and the relentless message it sends out is that crime is a normal activity, that the battle between criminals and the police and justice system is a sort of morally neutral cat-and-mouse game. It is no wonder that so many people seem to have a laid-back attitude towards stealing. We need to get back to the realisation that stealing, and greed, are morally evil.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Scrap Trident and save a lot of taxpayers' money

I have all along been one of those who believes that renewing the Trident missile system would be completely without purpose and a huge waste of public money.

For the UK to go on having its own supposedly "independent" nuclear weapon is just idiotic macho posturing. This would have been so even were it not going to cost us £20 billion or more. It's a particularly expensive example of hollow gesture politics.

Everybody knows perfectly well that the thing would never be used independently of the US, and would be useless in the face of the kind of threat nowadays potentially facing us.

It is excellent news that the Liberal Democrats have come round to my view on this, with Nick Clegg now announcing a clear policy of opposition to Trident, replacing their previous fudged approach.

As previously on the Iraq war, the LibDems are adopting a progressive, commonsense line in sharp contrast to the two backward-looking conservative parties, Lab and Con.

I was already in very little doubt that I was going to vote LibDem when the general election comes round, and now I am in even less doubt. I'm sure I am not alone in this.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

The uphill struggle for sensible debate on reform

It is a measure of the desperately low level of debate on constitutional issues that this from yesterday's BBC Daily Politics is the nearest thing on TV I have seen for a long time that comes even faintly near to a sensible discussion on electoral systems.

Notice how Brillo Pad takes it as read that the whole subject is sleep-inducingly boring, and the implication that any debate, even the very idea of a debate, on the relative merits of different voting systems is hilariously abstruse and something only for nerdy anoraks.

Interestingly, only the man from the SNP -- where they already have some experience of these things -- seems to know what he is talking about.

Later in the day, a studio guest on the BBC News channel brought the issue up, and the anchor rushed to change the subject, saying oh dear, let's not go there, ha ha ha. This dumbed-down attitude towards an important political question is a major dereliction of duty by the BBC, in my view.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Good riddance!

Good riddance to:

(1) Jacqui Smith, who was quite happy to abandon all sorts of ancient liberties and move us towards even more of a totalitarian police state. And quite happy also to send Iranian homosexual men back to Iran where they are likely to be publicly hanged.

(2) Caroline Flint, who has made herself completely ridiculous. That this gormless slut (described by Alan Watkins at the weekend as "a person of the utmost insignificance") could ever have been thought a suitable person to be in government can be explained only by a desperate attempt to include more women, just for the sake of it, however useless and stupid they might be.

(3) John Hutton, a man who apparently believes in all seriousness that we should be building more coal-fired power stations.

(4) Geoff Hoon, a timeserving lackey who appeared to have no particular beliefs but was prepared to do anything he was asked to do in furtherance of his career, now mercifully brought to an end.

(5) Hazel Blears. It is pleasing to learn that her constituents in Salford, noting her attempts to evade paying a large amount of tax, have seen her prattling on about her working-class roots for the self-serving humbug that it is.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK, from Tony Benn: "When people are losing their jobs or worrying about whether they can pay their mortgage, the last thing in the world they want to know about is whether or not James Purnell is in the Cabinet".

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Railway electrification and the Tories

Like (it seems) practically everyone else in the country, I wish Gordon Brown would go. It now looks as if that might happen next week, if some commentators are to be believed.

But there is a problem. If somebody (say, Alan Johnson) replaces Brown as PM, there will soon have to be a general election. Or so runs the conventional wisdom at the moment. There is no constitutional necessity for this; but in practice, we are told, the public would not tolerate another PM without a "popular mandate". On this view, the new regime would have to commit itself immediately to holding an election no later than the autumn (in fact, as soon as the parliamentary reforms to be proposed by Sir C. Kelly can be completed).

(UPDATE: That conventional wisdom has now been challenged by Steve Richards and Matthew Parris, both of whom think that if the new leader quickly set a definite date for an election, that date could be some time off.)

And if there is a general election, Labour will lose and the Tories will come into power. One of those who would then be out of power is the Railway Minister, Andrew Adonis.

Lord Adonis is probably the only minister left in the present regime who is doing any good at all. He wants to get on with electrifying the main lines out of St Pancras and Paddington. This is long overdue. It is an urgent and essential project if we are to have any claim to a sustainable transport system.

But the plans aren't going to be ready until the autumn. The incoming Tory government might abandon the plan on the usual short-sighted "public expenditure cuts" grounds. Whereas if the election were held off till next spring, the project could be under way, some of the major contracts already let, and it would be more difficult for the new regime to cancel it.

The best solution would be if Adonis could carry on under the Conservatives. He can stay in the House of Lords and does not have to worry about being re-elected. Peers can cross the floor more easily than MPs. He is, arguably, more of a technocrat than a politician. His allegiance to the Labour Party per se does not appear to be particularly visceral: he was previously a member of the LibDems, and having changed party once, he could do so again. But sadly he has categorically ruled this out. It is all very unfortunate.

Our only hope, it seems, is that the Tories turn out to be as green as David Cameron claims. This seems highly unlikely.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Fraudulent Lib Dem election literature

There has been a bit of a fuss about a BNP leaflet turning out to be fraudulent in various respects -- hardly, I should have thought, a very surprising state of affairs. See for instance this by Danny Finkelstein.

But how honest is the election literature of the respectable mainstream parties?

Through our door comes a remarkably dishonest leaflet from the Lib Dems. Its entire purpose is to persuade us to vote for their list in the Euro elections, headed by incumbent MEP Sarah Ludford, who, I hasten to add, is a Good Thing.

We will leave aside the fact that the leaflet contains more pictures of Simon Hughes and Vince Cable (both also Good Things, in my book; that's not the point) than of Ms Ludford. They are popular London MPs at Westminster, neither of whom has anything at all to do with the European Parliament. But all the parties do this sort of thing.

What is shocking is that the leaflet urges us to vote tactically for the Lib Dems, though this is a proportional election by party list for the whole of London, in which tactical voting is completely irrelevant.

Thus, the leaflet says "Only the Lib Dems can stop Labour here", and quotes the statistics for the last general election in this constituency, in which the Tories came a poor third. The implication is that a Tory vote is a wasted vote. The message is rubbed in with a picture of Winston Churchill, captioned "The Conservatives haven't won here since before World War II. Every Tory vote helps Labour win".

There is no mention of the fact that this election is for a London-wide list, in which the Westminster constituencies play no part at all. Those of us who happen to be well-informed about these matters know perfectly well that neither a Tory nor a Labour vote would be wasted in this election. But many voters who pay less attention to these things will be confused by this deliberate attempt to mislead. So far from "every Tory vote helping Labour to win", every Tory vote in this particular election will help to elect a Tory MEP for London as a whole (of which, as it happens, there are three in the outgoing parliament to the LibDems' one).

In fact, the only certain wasted votes here will be those for independents that nobody has ever heard of and for tiny no-hope crackpot parties such as the soi-disant "English Democrats" or the SPGB.

I find it particularly disappointing when the Lib Dems turn out, as sadly they often do, to be ruthless and dishonest in their local campaigning. At a stroke they thereby lose any claim to the moral high ground that many of their worthy policy positions at national and international level might otherwise seem to justify.

As it happens, the most recent polls suggest that Lib Dem hopes of gaining a second London seat in Brussels are vulnerable to a possible Tory surge, especially as the total number of London MEPs is being reduced from 9 to 8. No doubt that is the real reason why they are desperate to hoodwink people into not voting Conservative who might otherwise have considered doing so.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Aaargh! God help us all

If the repellent, ego-tripping humbug Esther Rantzen is the answer, remind me what the question was again?

As for the idea of Ann Widdecombe as Speaker - I gather she was one of those who voted to prevent the expenses claims from being published in the first place, and according to The Public Whip she has voted strongly against transparency in Parliament. Surely she must be a complete non-starter.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Alan Johnson, Polly Toynbee and political meltdown

Almost a year ago, I wrote in 14 things Gordon Brown should do now that, if we had to have Gordon Brown in charge, he should at least make Alan Johnson "the main public voice of the government, since he is one of the few present members of the cabinet who seems like a human being and actually answers the questions put to him".

In a response to that post, Neil Harding said: better still, make Alan Johnson PM and be done with it. Neil later enlarged on the point with a post of his own plumping for either Johnson or John Denham, both of whom support proportional representation. At all events, it was certainly hard to see how either of them could do any worse than Brown.

Then last September, in Further thoughts on leadership, I noted that Polly Toynbee had finally admitted that she'd been wrong about Brown; she now realised he was an incompetent fraud (I paraphrase slightly). The question then arose, was it now too late to make a change in the leadership? I wrote: "For what it's worth, I say give it a go, preferably with Alan Johnson".

Nobody paid much attention, and Johnson himself went around saying he didn't want the job, anyway. Since then the whole financial system has suddenly collapsed; and the economy, supposedly Brown's one strong point, has gone down the toilet with astonishing speed.

And in the last couple of weeks, Westminster politics itself has gone into complete and surely unprecedented meltdown, in a tumultuous series of unforeseen events that I think has taken everybody's breath away.

Meanwhile, Polly Toynbee has really been putting the knife into Brown lately. On 11 May she wrote, in Gordon Brown must go – by June 5:

"It's all over for Brown and Labour. The abyss awaits. As long as he remains leader, there is nothing that wretched Labour candidates can plausibly say on the doorstep (....) Labour made the rich richer and poor poorer: growth for the few, not the many. (...) Gordon Brown has been tested and found in want of almost every attribute a leader needs."
She went on, countering the view that the main problem was that Brown was hopeless on the telly: "It wasn't the medium that did for him, but the message. There wasn't one".

This is remarkable language from somebody who spent so long during the previous regime telling us that, if only Blair would go, the situation would be incomparably transformed with Brown at the helm. But there is more. Returning to the fray only four days later, Ms Toynbee wrote in Only Alan Johnson can prevent catastrophe:
"There are few Brownites left, only MPs anxiously calculating if the upheaval of regicide might precipitate a worse disintegration or whether Alan Johnson might save a hundred extra seats and restore Labour's political verve. 'If the execution was swift, they would do much better with Alan Johnson,' says the Ipsos Mori pollster Ben Page."
I and others have often written that there is no point in just changing the Labour leader: there must also be, at the same time, a bonfire of wrong-headed, unpopular, right-wing New Labour policies, and a clear definition of an entirely new political approach based on fairness and commonsense. Here too, Polly Toynbee has come round to my way of thinking:

"It may be too late for mighty swerves in political direction before next year's election, but it's easy to sweep away the self-laid landmines in Labour's path. No ID cards, but free passports for all instead. Devise a better plan for the Post Office – Johnson knows it well – and abandon anything that's more trouble and cost than it's worth. Ed Miliband's good green policy deserves a high profile, only achieved by revisiting Brown's disastrous third runway decision. Postpone Trident and open a public debate on nuclear arms and Britain's future place in the EU and the world. On inequality, set up a social justice commission to map a long-term path to fairer shares in pay, wealth and tax. In 12 years Labour has never debated these fundamentals ...."
Many of us can easily agree with all of that. Labour still isn't going to win, which, as I wrote the other day in Labour is an utterly busted flush, may not be such a bad thing, even from the party's own point of view, since winning the next general election could be a poisoned chalice. But it can still make a real difference if the Tories win by only a smallish majority, rather than win by a landslide. What we are asking Alan Johnson to take on is a thankless but noble task: to lead the party to defeat and into opposition, where it might have some chance, however slim, of rediscovering its purpose and its soul.

Train of the day

A Thalys high-speed train on its way from Paris to Brussels, a trip which now takes only 1 hour 20 minutes. I can remember when this journey took over 3 hours even on the Trans-Europe Express L'Etoile du Nord, which in any case only ran twice a day. Thalys runs half-hourly through much of the day, and has been so successful that Air France has given up bothering to fly between the two cities.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Eurovision: the best man won

As soon as the boyf and I saw Alexander Rybak's picture in the Radio Times we knew we were supporting Norway. Phwoar! (The song is quite good, too.) I never thought he would actually win, least of all by such a landslide.

Of course I am delighted, but it is a little unnerving to have backed the runaway winner. I am much more accustomed to being in a tiny minority on these as on many other issues.

I'm pleased also that the UK did not do all that well. In fact it didn't deserve to do as well as it did, with a very dreary and vapid song by the wholly talent-free "Lord" Andrew Lloyd-Webber -- who, as my friend Jamie reminds me, promised to leave the country if Labour won the 1997 election, so why is he still here?

I thought it was a bit mean of Iain Dale, on Adam Boulton's show this morning, to seem to imply that there was something fishy or fraudulent about the fact that Alexander came originally from Belarus. His parents moved to Norway when he was four, so he has spent 83% of his life in Norway. Aparently that's not good enough for "Tory blogger" (as he is always announced) Dale.

Still, however dull and self-obsessed Dale sometimes seems, he has one good post today, about the ghastliness of the BNP.

As he points out, the BNP is now trying to look "respectable" on TV, all sharp suits and ties, but behind the facade they are still the same nasty, racist, dangerous thugs.

(But he's still wrong about the Norway Eurovision song.)

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Please get out and vote

Neil Harding makes a very pertinent point in For Once, Maybe We Should Listen To Tebbit.

Remarkably, the loathsome Norman Tebbit has said something useful, which is to urge people to go and vote in the (proportional representation) European elections and to point out that they can vote against both Lab and Con without "splitting the vote" as is the risk with any first-past-the-post contest.

Obviously, what Tebbit is really saying to his Europhobic/xenophobic supporters is that they should vote UKIP, though as a Tory peer he can't actually spell that out. From their point of view, UKIP is essentially a ginger group aimed at pushing the Tories even further towards narrow nationalism and leaving the EU. They can all vote UKIP this time round, without endangering the prospect of a Tory government next year, which we are clearly going to get anyway.

But, as Neil Harding notes, the rest of us can draw similar conclusions in other directions - in particular, people can vote Green in this election without "wasting their vote". That is what I plan to do.

Neil also reminds us that not bothering to vote in this election is tantamount to voting for the BNP. So please, everybody, get out and vote for somebody, even if it is UKIP. It is your moral duty!

Friday, 1 May 2009

Sir Clement Freud

I was sorry to read of the death of Sir Clement Freud. I met him a few times in the middle 1970s when he was a Liberal MP and I had the thankless task of trying to co-ordinate political lobbying for homosexual law reform on behalf of CHE.

Behind the dog food adverts and the silly panel games, he was a highly intelligent and serious man. Meeting the rich and famous can be daunting, but he was kindness itself, and seemed a very nice person. He warmly supported our cause, despite being 110% heterosexual himself. He told us that a gay constituent of his had committed suicide and this shocked him into action. He did what he could for us in the House in unpropitious circumstances, and we were grateful for his help.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

You've NO messages

How I love it when I dial 1571 and the bimbo at the other end says "WELCOME to BT Answer. You've NO messages." Thank goodness for that, I say.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Labour is an utterly busted flush

The Independent on Sunday reports today that Alice Mahon, Labour MP for Halifax for 18 years until 2005, has left the party. She says Labour has broken many of its election manifesto commitments, and adds:

It is not a party I recognise. I have lost faith with it ..... I am very, very sad: the Labour Party has been my life. I have reached the conclusion that there is not any avenue left in the structure of the Labour Party for people like me. Any threat from anybody marginally from the left and... the party machine comes down on them like a ton of bricks.
This comes top of a little-noticed piece on the Guardian website (though for some odd reason not printed in the paper) by Bryan Gould (remember him?) titled I disown this government, in which he refers to "shameful episodes at home and abroad which cumulatively are a complete denial of what a Labour government (or any British government) should have been about".

There have been some achievements, Gould writes, but these have been "molehills, judged against the towering peaks scaled by New Labour in its rejection not only of Labour, but of any decent and civilised values". It is a piece well worth reading.

Of course, to the ruthless New Labour machine exemplified by thugs like Damian McBride, people such as Alice Mahon and Bryan Gould do not matter a toss.

For me, and I am sure many others, the latest appalling revelations merely underline what I was already thinking, which is that I don't want to have anything to do with this loathsome gang ever again. I have reached the point, for the first time in several decades of political involvement at one level or another, where I am not merely resigned to the prospect of the Tories taking over, but actually looking forward to it -- not because I want the Tories, of course, but because I now feel an overwhelming desire to be rid of New Labour whatever the cost.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Another election looms

How time flies! One will soon have to start thinking about how to vote in the European elections.

I am not contemplating voting Labour. In fact, as things stand at the moment, I find it difficult to imagine ever voting Labour again in any election. What a gang of sleazy, incompetent, immoral, self-serving ratbags New Labour have turned out to be. It seems the only minister doing any good at all at present is an unelected one, the railway minister Lord Adonis.

So for the European Parliament it is either the Lib Dems or the Greens. Here in London there are MEPs of both parties and both seem quite good on the issues (mainly transport) that I have contacted them about, e.g. opposition to airport expansion. And it's nice to have an election in which, for once, a Green Party vote is not a wasted vote, because of the party list system used in the European elections.

On the other hand, the Greens sometimes seem a bit Eurosceptic. I wish I could get a bit more of a handle on what they would be positively in favour of, because I might agree with it, but their website is quite vague on the issue. But there is no doubt that the overall Green group in the EP has done some very good and useful things.

The Lib Dems are excellent on Europe and relatively clear, I think, about how they would like to improve the present increasingly dysfunctional structure (not that there there is any prospect of a wider consensus on that issue). On the other hand, the wider Liberal group in the Parliament is not an outfit that one particularly wants to boost. Some of its other member parties, like the Belgian PRL, are a long way over to the right.

So at the moment I think I am leaning towards the Greens. But we shall see.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Train of the day

A look back to the era when London tube trains weren't painted red, but just trundled around in bare aluminium. I suppose it saved money on paint. This is, I think, 1962 stock, so it was pretty new when I took this picture at White City, on the Central Line, in August 1963.

These trains were fairly spartan inside, but they served us well for some 40 years.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

South America take it away

visited 32 states (14.2%)
Create your own visited map of The World

Just back from Montevideo and Buenos Aires. My message to the world for today is this: If you can avoid travelling with Iberia, do so.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Train of the day

This is what we used to call (and I still do) a Thameslink train, until the idiotically and meaninglessly named First Capital Connect took over the franchise. I have rather a soft spot for these dual-voltage electric units, even though they have never been enormously reliable. They were produced by British Rail in the 1970s 1980s for the then new route through the Thameslink tunnel, crossing London from north to south for the first time. (They were needed because of the two different electrical systems north and south of the Thames -- yet another of those technical nuisances bequeathed to us by history.)

This one is setting off from Bedford for Brighton. This clip captures what I love about these sets -- the distinctive whining noise they make when picking up speed, which reminds me very much of the old Southern Region electric units with slam doors that I remember finding so exciting when I first came to London as a schoolboy in 1957 (when they were all painted green).

Thursday, 12 February 2009

British jobs for Japanese workers

See this: Anger over new UK trains contract from the BBC.

Ha ha ha! The Supreme Leader must really be regretting making that silly promise at the Labour Party Conference about British workers.

Of course we must all unite against protectionism and nationalism. WTO rules, level playing field, and all that. But have the Japanese bought any European trains? Er, no. Have the Japanese bought any European anything? I think we should be told.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Putting ill-informed people right

It can get rather dispiriting sometimes, the frequency with which people write such ignorant tosh that one feels obliged to write in with a correction.

The Economist website has a new (rather superficial) piece comparing the commuting experience in four world cities. The London section of the report includes this:

(.....) "bendy buses", an incomprehensible waste of precious road real estate (.....)
I wrote in the comments section as follows:
Absolutely wrong. The bendy bus is very suitable for certain high-density routes, where it uses the road space very efficiently. Having three wide doors, it can empty and load large numbers of passengers quickly. With a low floor and no stairs to climb, it is also much more accessible than a double-decker, especially for anyone with impaired mobility or who has luggage, pushchairs, etc. They carry considerably more people than ordinary buses, saving on operating costs. London TravelWatch calculates that the number of ordinary buses needed to match the capacity of bendy buses would be so much greater that the road space taken up in total, if bendy buses were withdrawn from the routes they currently operate, would be more, not less. See London TravelWatch's response to Transport for London's consultation at
On a different topic, someone else wrote in the comments:
"...the train was repeatedly delayed for days on end due to leaves on the tracks. And by delayed I mean it took three hours to make the journey. LEAVES on the track? What century are we living in?????..."
After all these years in which this silly canard has been repeated and rebutted, wouldn't you think people would have got the message by now? (I largely blame dim-witted hacks in the gutter press.) I wrote in as follows:
Leaf mulch, actually. Leaves fall; rain falls; the leaves get wet; the train wheels grind the wet leaves into a sticky mush, which makes the tracks very slippery. So the wheels slide and the train can get going only very slowly. Once it is going again, the driver has to make sure the train doesn't skid. So he/she goes slowly and the train is further delayed. Not at all peculiar to Britain, in fact. It happens every autumn wherever there are deciduous trees next to railway lines. This has been explained so many times, yet people still won't believe it.
I wish there was a law against writing nonsense.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Heathrow: Is there still hope?

I have been depressed and outraged in equal measure by the announcement that the third runway at Heathrow is to go ahead. I'd earlier been resigned to this as the most likely outcome, given all governments' unerring instinct for taking the wrong decision about anything to do with transport.

But more recently Christian Wolmar, among others, revealed that the Cabinet was deeply split on this issue, with the Millibands and Hilary Benn thought to be strongly against. Indeed, Benn went further than Cabinet ministers are normally supposed to go in openly questioning whether the third runway was compatible with Britain's air pollution commitments. (And in my view he should now resign; but people don't seem to resign on principle any more.)

This news of splits at the top level of government gave short-lived hope that Brown and Hoon might just do the sensible thing after all. But it was not to be.

The environmental and social reasons why the third runway is such a catastrophically bad idea have been gone into at length by so many others that there is no point in rehearsing the arguments again here, except to note that the village of Sipson is an extremely minor aspect of the case and not, as some affect to believe, the main point. I don't mean to say that I have no sympathy with the people who live there, only that the many arguments of principle against expanding the airport would still be just as powerful even if it could be done without destroying homes and communities.

The political arguments are a whole other thing, and were well put by Polly Toynbee in This craven airport decision hands Cameron a green halo, in which she describes the decision as "a crass error" purely from Labour's own narrow party point of view, quite aside from any other consideration. In one fell swoop the government has thrown away what green credentials it had, when, as Ms Toynbee points out, there was absolutely no reason why this decision had to be made before the election:

By 2015, when the first sod is cut on the runway, Gordon Brown will be no more than a pub quiz question. Plunging towards depression with air travel slumping, what was the rush?
"In order to be seen to be decisive", is her answer, and that just sums up the whole superficial approach that has always characterised New Labour -- all short-term deviousness and tactical calculation, no long-term strategy or overarching vision, still less anything resembling principled leadership.

All this is depressing enough, but what made me feel ill was that Ms Toynbee also pours cold water on any idea that the incoming Tory government will cancel the thing, despite their present rhetoric against it:
But how green is Cameron really? Only this week he opposed the compulsory switchover to new light bulbs. Few think that once in power the Conservatives will cancel the runway ...
I just hope she is wrong about that. Would a Tory government really take refuge behind a claim that it was now too late to stop it, having been so vocal against the idea? I have been quite surprised by how vehement Theresa Villiers has been on this subject from the Opposition front bench, even while we keep being told that a lot of decidedly non-green Tory backbenchers are secretly appalled at their party's public stance. We should note also that in London itself, Conservative activists, councillors and MPs form a significant part of the almost universal local campaign of opposition, as suggested by the event reported in this post by the Tory Troll.

There are of course those who have all along said that the runway isn't going to get built in any case, whoever is in power in the future. One of them is Vince Cable, as I have noted before. The Plane Stupid campaign also takes this line.

And finally, so does Christian Wolmar:
Either the proposal will be thrown out by the Tories or, by concerted opposition or, when serious money finally needs to be invested in it, the rationale will have disappeared. As one of my correspondents put it, no runway decision has ever survived a general election. This one will be no exception.
The interesting question is why does Labour do this? Why is it so in hock to business? My theory from talking to ministers is that they have no understanding of the private sector, only a fear that it will turn against them. So they feel compelled to give into them at any turn.
I hope these commentators are right, I really do. This is just such a hugely totemic issue for the future shape of our society.

UPDATE: The Campaign for Better Transport says in its February newsletter, "A final decision about Heathrow expansion is many years away". This is very reassuring, if true.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Will the USA become more civilised?

Here is some very good news, if it is true: The Tide Shifts Against the Death Penalty, says TIME Magazine.

It seems DNA evidence is the main reason for a recent fall in US executions. Apparently, various cases in which suspects were able to prove their innocence beyond doubt by means of DNA have made people realise that there really is such a thing as the conviction of the innocent.

Some of us knew this 40 or more years ago. Still, better late than never.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Train of the day

It is a myth that there are no proper regular train services in America. Not many by European standards, but there are some. Here, the 13.45 from Santa Barbara to San Diego calls at Fullerton, California. This push-pull double-deck diesel train, the Pacific Surfliner, is hourly between Los Angeles and San Diego, and rather less frequent north of LA. A few per day go as far north as San Luis. Here is the timetable.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Boris "emperor with no clothes", say experts

"The direction of the mayor's transport policies is becoming depressingly clear", says the latest newsletter of the London group of the Campaign for Better Transport. It is a pdf document which you can download here.

Johnson has adopted a misguided notion of 'mode netrality', abandoning the progressive road user hierarchy, which puts the needs of pedestrians and cyclists first, public transport users in the middle and car traffic last. Now TfL is required to develop plans to pursue Boris's impossible dream of reducing congestion by smoothing traffic flow. Increasing capacity at traffic light and other junctions will increase traffic -- this is road building without building any roads. It can only make congestion worse. Will no-one tell the emperor that he's wearing no clothes?

The report goes on to note that, as well as the cancellation of various tram and DLR schemes, "even Boris the cyclist has started to disappoint", with the halving of funding for the (so far woefully inadequate) cycling network.

In conclusion,
Time after time increasing capacity has been shown not to work as a means of tackling congestion; now it is to be tried yet again. In the last few years London had shaken off its reputation as the laggard among major European cities and had become one of the pioneers. Now it's losing its status as a leader in progressive transport policies.
I feel increasingly vindicated in my decision to spend a lot of time campaigning for Ken Livingstone last spring.