The new faces of Europe
Say hello to Finland's own Lordi, this year's Eurovision Song Contest winners.
Dear God, I love this continent sometimes...
(It was also nice seeing the people of Belarus being allowed to vote without having their faces stamped on or their families threatened with torture...)
More Gordon Brown subtlety
From today's Metro freebie:
Chancellor goes on a power trip
Gordon Brown plunged a car into a stunt pool yesterday and joked: "A great sense of power - you don't get that as Chancellor." Mr Brown made the crack as he opened a new underwater film stage at Pinewood Studios, near Slough. He was shown the £1.5 million set-up used to film The Da Vinci Code. The 6m (20ft) deep pool will be used for stunts in the new Bond film, Casino Royale.
Oh no, he's not getting increasingly desperate to become Prime Minister, is he?
Brown, not bitter...
Missed this - interesting interview with Gordon Brown in last Sunday's Washington Post. Some edited highlights:
Many in the Labor Party say Blair should announce a date to leave office. Your response?
We have just had very difficult elections. People want to look at how the Labor Party can best prepare for the future. Tony Blair has said he does not wish to stand at the next election and that he wants to organize a stable and orderly transition.
Are you satisfied with the way Blair is handling the transition?
You've got term limits in the U.S. We have no term limits. It's a matter for him and the Labor Party. It's not really a matter for me at all.
What's the next step for you? It sounds like there is a lot of pressure for the prime minister to set a date to go.
He has said he wants a stable and orderly transition, and people from the party are asking him: What does that mean?
Some say Blair is setting up a candidate against you.
These things are said. I've just got to get on with my job. I think things will work themselves out.
But you want to be prime minister, right?
I've been in this job long enough to know, first of all, that it's what you do rather than which position you hold that matters. And equally, that you don't tempt fate by making rash announcements.
It's getting fairly tricky to avoid tripping over all these hints Brown keeps dropping... When is the move going to be made, and who - considering Brown is desperate to keep his hands clean and avoid Heseltine's fate - is he going to get to make it for him?
Following my earlier highlights, check out Spyblog on the second day -
"If you thought that yesterday's debates on controversial Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill were difficult to follow, then today's list of Amendments is even more obscure.Hello? Any proper journalists out there? You guys should be all over this.
"What is clear is that since all the Government Amendments were 'programmed' or 'guillotined' to be dealt with yesterday, somehow, as if by magic, the one Government amendment which we saw as a partial concession, New Clause 26, which would have prevented the Human Rights Act 1998 from being amended or repealed , by Order, and which would partially have prevented the new legislation from being used to self-modify itself, has been dropped!"
Update: It's passed. 259 votes to 213. It's now up to the Lords and then a united front alliance of the Tories and Lib Dems in the Commons on the third reading. After that, a stroke of a ministerial pen is all that stands between us and dictatorship. Hyperbolic? No, not really.
Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill debate highlights
Late with this, but there was some top-notch attempted liveblogging of yesterday's parliamentary debates over the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill over at the Save Parliament Blog - attempted, because the whole thing was typically impenetrable, and is continuing today.
A brief selection of some of the better points raised from the earliest stages of the debate, which came from MPs from all parties (at least, of the 40 or so who bothered to turn up). The whole thing is worth reading though:
John Redwood (Con): "Can he tell the House what kind of measures he will want to bring forward for repeal or amendment under these clauses, as his predecessor seemed to find it difficult to give us a list of examples?"
David Howarth (Lib Dem): "new clause 19... subsection (3) would still allow the Government to remove by secondary legislation the right to jury trial. Jury trial might be considered to impose 'a financial cost' on employers or to be 'an administrative inconvenience' to a number of different bodies."
David Heath (Lib Dem): "This is very early in the debate and in his ministerial career, but I urge him not to fall into the trap that his predecessor fell into when discussing the Bill, which is simply to assert that something will not happen or that he could not conceive of it happening or that it is not the Government's intention for it to happen, rather than actually expressing in statutory form that it cannot happen.... although the Minister may be absolutely convinced that he has no intention of using the Bill for an inappropriate cause, a future Government may"
David Howarth (Lib Dem): "The problem all along with clause 3 is that it is drafted in subjective form—what matters is what the Minister considers to be necessary, and the Minister might consider the abolition of jury trial to be necessary to achieve a ministerial objective."
Ken Clarke (Con): "Although the new clause is well-intended, its terms are still amazingly broad. Am I right in believing, looking at subsection (3), that these powers could be used to abolish a tax, to relieve an interest group or trade from a burden of taxation, or to abolish a crime, to make something lawful that was previously unlawful under the criminal law? Those may be very desirable things, but they are subject to more safeguards than consultation and Select Committees. They should be subject to parliamentary debate, before any such step is contemplated."
Mark Fisher (Lab): "Does the Minister accept that a burden on one group in society may well be a freedom for another group? I do not understand how the interpretation of subsection (3) of the new clause would relate to, for instance, employment rights. From the point of view of the employer, which may be the state or a private company, employment rights are undoubtedly a burden on efficiency and productivity. According to my reading of the new clause, it would appear that employment rights could be removed by order of a Minister."
Edward Garnier (Con): "The great thing about Report is that one can have these to-ing and fro-ing debates. That is important and I am grateful to the Minister for entering into the debate in that spirit. This point is most important. We are dealing with primary legislation that gives a Minister huge powers to make legislation. If the Minister is telling me that I, as a representative of my constituents, will have to rely on some as yet unformed Select Committee to exercise its judgment in a way that would be helpful to me and my constituents, that is extremely worrying. He must surely be able to understand that the making of criminal law should be dealt with here, right the way through every stage."
As I say, read the rest
A constitutional note to Tony Blair
The way the British system works is that the legislature makes the laws, and the judiciary then applies them. If, as head of the executive (and therefore the person responsible for ensuring that new laws that pass through the legislature are well-written and clear in intention) you fail in your duty of providing good laws, then blaming the judiciary for applying them in the way set out in the legislation you are responsible for having drawn-up is pathetic buck-passing.
In other words, Tony, if the Human Rights Act is flawed (which it arguably is), then it is not the judges' fault - it is yours. And after nine years of successive bad laws having been orchestrated by you and your government, one might argue that rather than reforming the judiciary it is instead time to make changes to the executive which has given the judges so many bad laws to apply. Starting at the very top.
It is certainly not an indication that new laws are necessary, when it is in fact perfectly feasible - not to mention significantly faster and cheaper - merely to amend the laws which you cocked up when passing in the first place.
With such a basic lack of understanding of the British legal system you have to wonder just how our dear Prime Minister ever managed to qualify as a lawyer.
Update: Forgot to mention - the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill remains one of the very worst of all Blair's bad laws - even after the supposed concessions. Its broad wording and lack of any real specificity, backed up as this is by government assurances that the bill will not be used in dangerous ways when passed (without incuding any such safeguards in the wording of the bill itself) are typical of Blairite legislation. Judges, when faced with such vague legislation, have no choice but to interpret it to the letter. So despite the assurances, the judiciary would have no choice but to back any minister who decided unilaterally to abolish elections or the right to trial as, thanks to the current vague wording of the bill, this would be entirely within the law.
Tony Blair: "I'm crap at drawing up legislation - so what we need is even more legislation that I'll draw up to counter the bad legislation I passed a few years ago!"
Labour's latest slogan: If in doubt, chuck more laws at it until it goes away.*
* Warning, though having been tested against terrorism, protestors, criminals, foreigners, and the entire population of Great Britain, tactic has yet to prove even slightly effective...