Saturday, April 09, 2005

Side-project self-promotion

I've started another new blog, currently full of some fairly dodgy film reviews I've been getting paid to do for the last few months (my journalistic career, for those who don't know, started off in film criticism).

The USP? I hadn't seen any of the films when I wrote the bloody things. Could be fun for any movie buffs out there to rip me to pieces about my wrong judgements, and I may well end up expanding its remit - after all, the name's The Unseen Movie Review, so it could end up spreading to all sorts of things - films that were never made; alternative versions of movies (with preferred stars - Tom Selleck for Indiana Jones, Tom Cruise for Edward Scissorhands etc.); films that should be made.

Let me know what you think, and whether it's worth pursuing.

(Oh, and there are some "reviews" there of films not released until later this month - don't worry, they are all spoiler free)

Friday, April 08, 2005

Is Kos going to join the fray?

Martin Stabe has a good roundup of how US "liberal" bloggers are beginning to respond to the UK election. In short - they can't decide between backing the Lib Dems or Labour. Much like many on the left on this side of the pond...

Perhaps the most intriguing link from Stabe's post, however, is this post from major lefty US blog the Daily Kos, which seems to suggest that the blog's editor Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, who managed to raise over $500,000 for the Democrats in the 2004 Presidential elections (more details here), may be heading over to the UK.

Labour have already recruited one of John Kerry's former webmonkeys (as m'colleague reported here), and claim to have raised upwards of £50,000 in 24 hours after an email appeal - where might the mighty Kos with his hundreds of thousands of daily readers chuck his weight, and will US tactics translate for the UK market?

(Also posted on the General Election Blog)

The political power of the internet - or not...

Robin Grant of has a nice summary of the way the campaigning potential of the interwebnet seems finally to have been picked up on by the parties for this election in a piece over at Brand Republic.

It's not just the parties, however. The traditional media (I hate that "MSM" thing us bloggers are apparently meant to use - nearly as bad as "txt spk") are also getting in on the act, with election blogs from The Guardian, The Times, Channel 4 News, Red Pepper and the BBC, with more to follow.

Because - hey! The web's where all the cool kids hang out, right?

Everyone seems to be getting very excited about the internets, largely because of the widely-reported victories of various US political bloggers. But whether their excitement is in any way justified remains to be seen, and many Britbloggers are probably inclined to agree with Martin Stabe's analysis of why the US bloggers' successes are unlikely to be replicated in the UK. And in any case, the fact that even media behemoths the BBC and The Times are cottoning on to blogging as a cheap way of publishing should be an indication that the British use of the interweb is a very different one to that of America, where most blogs are genuinely trying to uncover the distortions of the press (often while creating their own).

And in any case, the whole thing can easily backfire - the internet is a double-edged sword. Googlebombing and spamming can rapidly destroy a reputation, or just be used for a cheap joke (searches for "liar", "fuckwit" and "swivel eyed loons" for example). And lack of web/legal savvy could ensure that for some MPs - once parliament is dissolved and they are simply candidates once more - their web presence could cause far more harm than good.

(Also posted at the General Election Blog)

Thursday, April 07, 2005

General Election to be delayed?

Via The Returning Officers and The Honourable Fiend comes news that Birmingham council Liberal Democrats leader John Hemming wants a judicial review of electoral procedures following the Birmingham vote rigging scandal. This could potentially delay the general election.

Hemming says: "What I'm asking for is for small changes to the law of procedure for elections.

"I'm not trying to defer the General Election but if the judge determined it was unlawful and ordered the Prime Minister to change the law and he didn't and that started bouncing around ... there are a lot of interesting constitutional implications.

"If it is declared unlawful, the question is 'what happens?'."


(Also posted on the General Election Blog)

The French EU constitution referendum

For a good overview of the various problems facing the Yes campaign in France, you could do worse than check out this post by Jérôme à Paris at Moon of Alabama.

Alternatively, for an optimistic take from a French "Yes" campaigner (in French), try this post from a couple of weeks ago at the Yes Campaign blog.

EU budgetary belligerency

I'm still trying to keep one eye on the other side of the Channel while following the election run-up in the UK. Thusly:

Yesterday the European Commission made a pitch for its budget, asking for 1.14% of the combined gross incomes of all EU nations. Some countries - unsurprisingly those with the biggest economies (including Britain, France and Germany) want to limit this to just 1%. As such, it's time for another clash:

"The differences in billions of euros between these two positions are not large, especially when compared with the size of national economies. At one level, the debate is about politicians playing to national galleries, engineering disputes to deliver victories down the line.
"But there is also a more substantive clash between those whose vision of Europe is one where national barriers fall and where economies of scale are best served and cross-border problems are best solved by working together - on the environment, transport, crime, immigration, even defense - and those who are resisting the transfer from national capitals of money, and power, to Europe's center.
"'There is a discrepancy between the bulk of legislation that the European Union is now responsible for, the many projects, the many ambitions, and the small budget it is given to deliver the goods,' said Guillaume Durand, a policy analyst at the European Policy Center, a Brussels think tank that is generally pro-integration. 'There is no willingness to give the EU the financial means.'"
In other words, as we all know, we all want the potential benefits, but we're not willing to pay for them. Germany, with its increasingly poorly-looking economy and insane levels of unemployment, is increasingly getting pissed off at the amount of cash it has to bunk to Brussels. France is also beginning to worry about loss of influence since enlargement - part of the reason for the increasing anti-constitution trend there. Britain... well, Britain simply remains as it's always done - a tad wary, and worried about losing its entirely unfair rebate.

In any case, if an agreement cannot be reached there could be all sorts of problems which would only give further fuel to the anti-EU brigade:
"Without an agreement in June for the 2007-2013 budget round, preparing the legal bases for the new programme could run late meaning 'these programmes will come to a halt and money cannot be spent'.

"Practically, that would amount to 40 per cent of the EU budget not being able to be used - the only payments being made would be to farmers and for administration, part of the so-called compulsory spending category in the EU.

"'That means' said Mrs [Dalia] Grybauskaite [EU budget commissioner] summing it up 'direct payments and salaries for bureaucrats'."
Hurrah! If that doesn't get our dear Eurosceptic friends pissed off, nothing will. But at the same time, they'll probably be fairly satisfied: Cut the EU down to just CAP subsidies and eurocrats, it finally becomes what they always claim it to be. It also makes it impossible to support or defend.

In other words, they need to sort this out, pronto - but there'll only be a month post-election for Britain to stop pissing around (no one's going to be stupid enough to risk an EU debate pre-election again, surely?), and France is holding its referendum on the constitution on 29th May, giving no time at all over there. A concession from Chirac to give more cash to Brussels just before that referendum will be the final clincher for the French "No" campaign. So this will be going to the wire. Fun fun fun!

In other EU news, Italy has ratified the constitution. Which wasn't much of a surprise, really.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Blair's message to Britain (probably)

(sorry - saw the pic here and couldn't resist - and yes, I know it's a bit shit...)

BNP leader faces race hate charges

About bloody time. This follows this.

Could make his plans to stand as an MP in West Yorkshire a tad buggered.


(For more on that particular constituency, see Ilkley Rocks.

More election nonsense

A re-edited splice of a couple of posts of mine from the General Election Blog:

The Times has now launched its own election blog. Considering the current confusion about which way Times owner Rupert Murdoch will swing, it could prove interesting - even if there don't appear to be comments yet.

The BBC's Today Programme will apparently also be launching an election blog soon - perhaps even today. And we all know how the government feels about the Today Programme...

There's also the BBC Election Blog and Red Pepper Election Blog, as well as the previously-mentioned Election 2005 Blog from The Guardian. Let me know if you spot more.

In other blog news, after the success of Thank You Tony, I'm on the lookout for previously unlikely supporters of a "Labour" leader who are coming out in support of our Tony for this election. A couple of examples:

  • The American Patriots, who announce "Ladies and Gentlemen, This is a historic moment, I am supporting a leftist for the first time in my entire life." This coming from a blogger who, in another recent post, announces very simply that "I don’t like liberals". Not exactly Old Labour...
  • Then Daimnation! - "Because of Blair's brave support for the ouster of Saddam and the war against Islamofascist terror, this is the first British election I can remember in which I, an unrepentant Thatcherite, would likely vote Labour."
If you spot any more, let me know - I simply love the idea of a bunch of people who would have been calling Blair a Communist if they'd been aware of him twenty years ago suddenly thinking he's a hero...

Also, for any dear readers from across the Channel, I'd be grateful if you could point me in the direction of any interesting opinion pieces (blog or otherwise) from the European continental press - I'm keen to get an idea of how this little bit of democracy is going down overseas. Either email me on my nosemonkey AT address, or whack a link in the comments, or get in touch with the team at the General Election Blog at Ta.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Election Blogging

A quick plug - Nick Barlow has set up a General Election Blog, to which I (along with some other familiar metaphorical faces from the Britblogging world) will be contributing. Here we are again -

The plan is to do regular roundups of blog coverage, so if you spot anything particularly pertinent, amusing or whatever from the blog world about this election nonsense, bunk us an email to - and get in touch if you fancy helping out and all, the more the merrier!

In other news, The Guardian are trying to steal our thunder with their own really rather good Election 2005 Blog - on which this site's latest posts will also be appearing in their "Blogwatch" section. It's got me, they've plugged my fellow General Election Blog contributor Chicken Yoghurt's site - it can't be bad. Even if they do seem to be a tad behind with some of their posts (I mean, that Alastair Campbell thing's been knocking around for weeks...)

Now that I've bored you enough, read Steve's thing below this - it's far more interesting. He should post here more often (hint hint...)

Liberal Democracy

I'm basically a philistine, and have only just returned to the UK after a month in John Howard's Australian utopia so appear to have completely missed the Newsnight referred to in this article from The Times (thanks to the always great Political Wire)

It tells of a focus group case-study carried out in a marginal constituency (Milton Keynes North East), and contains some interesting points on the challenge confronting Tony Blair (and his considerable electoral strengths), but my attention was drawn to two of Frank Luntz's other conclusions.

Firstly, was the sheer level of contempt raised among voters by images of Blair and George Bush working together (perfectly understandable as this, admittedly tired, internet viral shows). More importantly, was his belief in the potential strenghts of the Liberal Democrats.

It is perhaps going a bit far to read too much symbolic importance into today's defection of a Labour parliamentary candidate to the Lib Dems (especially as Luntz also gives weight to Conservative campaign tactics) but some additional support of this point of view has come from the normally staid pages of The Economist (once again, thanks to Political Wire).

This sober analysis backs the view of the Lib Dems as a 'troublemaker' party, with enough potential clout to rob influential Tories of their seats and chip away at Labour's majority in a way that could have an impact on the legislative agenda of the next parliament. It's well-argued stuff, though the piece ends on an appropriately pessimistic note. Despite Lib-Dem protestations, the main appeal of their party lies to the left. It is difficult to imagine the attraction of this party to those dissatisfied by the Tories (especially given Lib-Dem attitudes to key issues of "race, asylum and immigration"). In addition, if the opinion polls go on showing the Conservatives creeping up on Labour, it seems likely that those lukewarm Labour supporters preparing to register a protest vote against the war may well lose their nerve in the face of a potential Howard government.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Peter Mandelson - oath breaker?

If this story is true, disgraced ex-minister and current European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson could be in a spot of bother again. Apparently Mandelson has been in Downing Street to discuss Labour's election tactics - which surely is in direct contravention of the oath he took on becoming a Commissioner to remain entirely independent from domestic politics?

It has already been pointed out that Mandelson's membership of the Privy Council and position as a Commissioner are technically incompatible, but becoming involved in party politics on a domestic level while a serving Commissioner must surely be cause for some kind of ticking off? Then again, Commission President Barroso seems to have got away with his not so subtle intervention in favour of his old party in the Portugese elections back in February, so maybe Mandy's going to get away scott free and all.

Still, Labour must be getting worried if they're willing to risk bringing Milburn, Campbell AND Mandelson back for this election. You'd think they'd realise that those three are among the most unpopular Labourites in the country, but still...

Update: Downing Street refused to comment on what Mandy's visit was for when asked at this morning's press briefing. Which would tend to suggest that he wasn't there to discuss EU trade.

Update 2: I've heard a very vague rumour which may explain all this. If true, there's nothing dodgy going on. But whether any confirmation will be forthcoming is another matter entirely...

Books etc.

I appear to have been nominated by Phil Hunt at Cabalamat Journal to do the bloggers' book questionnaire thing that's been doing the rounds. As it doesn't look like it'll take long and I'm rather busy, here goes:

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

Due to my awful memory, I should probably go for something short. As I'd also be liable to alter things by mistake, it's probably best to go for something which has been altered a load of times already, so I'll opt for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Someone else can handle the sequels.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

I will confess to having a bit of a thing for Jennie Lynn-Hayden, aka Jade, the daughter of the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott. I think it's the green skin thing... Other than that I'll probably opt for the fairly unimaginative choice of Becky Sharp.

The last book you bought is:

Two, both second hand:

Death in Midsummer and other stories, a collection of short stories by Yukio Mishima intended to keep me in a Japanese mindset while I try to learn the language.

Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco - because I haven't read it for a few years and realised I didn't have a copy. For those who haven't read it, this is probably Eco's best - basically an intelligent conspiracy thriller which that God-awful Da Vinci Code nonsense ripped off like an absolute bastard (and ripped off very, very badly to boot).

The last book you read:

Cover to cover, probably War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, as it was about time. Well worth it - now one of my favourites.

What are you currently reading?

Just finishing off Ulysses - again, because it was about time. It's not as "difficult" as I'd been led to believe, although I will confess there were chunks where I got utterly lost. Also flicking through Parliament in the 21st Century, edited by Nicholas Baldwin, which I would heartily recommend to anyone interested in British politics for its broad range of interesting essays from leading parliamentarians, academics and journalists. Thanks to the day job, I am also reading John Sudgen's Nelson: A Dream of Glory, following the naval hero's life up to 1797, and N.A.M. Rodger's superb two volume naval history of Britain - The Safeguard of the Sea, 660-1649 and The Command of the Ocean, 1649-1815.

Five books you would take to a desert island.

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust, which I am also chugging through at the moment.
The Invisibles by Grant Morrison - preferably all the collected trade paperbacks sellotaped together to make one book...
November 1916 by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (because I read August 1914 years ago, and it was brilliant, but haven't got around to this one yet.)
Life: A User's Manual by Georges Perec - because I never got around to finishing it, and I'm intrigued to see if I can work out the puzzle.
Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges. No explanation necessary.

If you can't tell, I'm assuming I'll be on the island a fair while...

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

Tim/Manic at Bloggerheads to give him a chance to plug his new book project again, and because I don't think he's done it yet.
Chicken Yoghurt, because I also don't think he's done it yet, and his rage over the current state of British politics could probably do with a break for a bit...
Guy at Non Tibi Spiro to get a multilingual perspective, and bunk it across the Channel for a while.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Pope and British politics

It is possible that the death of Pope John Paul II may delay the announcement of the UK general election, expected tomorrow. So far, all three major parties have decided not to campaign today as a mark of respect. I mean, you know - it's only the Sabbath... The heir of St Peter has only just died and stuff... They can't risk banging on a mourning Catholic's door and stirring up bad headlines, can they?

In other news, there seems to be some confusion among the press. Is Tony Blair willingly abandoning legislation to introduce ID cards and laws against incitement to religious hatred in order to call a general election, or is it the opposition's fault, as Home Secretary Charles Clarke seems to think? After all, there's nothing to say that Blair HAS to call the election now - he's got until June next year. Maybe he should hang on, pass his ID cards bill, piss us all off, and lose like a regular bastard... In short, if Blair misses out on any legislation, or pisses any Catholics off for being insensitive, he's only got himself to blame.

One thing's for certain, the Pope's death is going to make further campaigns on supposedly "moral" issues like abortion rather hard for any of the parties to pull off - the Archbishop of Canterbury has already told them all to grow up, and no one knows what direction the Catholic Church is going to take next. Is anyone going to risk second-guessing the new Pope?

(Oh, and can anyone tell me the difference between the Pope deciding he didn't want to go back to hospital, knowing that he would die without full medical attention, and making a living will saying you don't want to be kept alive in a vegitative state?)

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