Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Fast Cars & Women

The title of this post is what supposedly every red-blooded male lusts after. So how does Birmingham measure up in these two departments?

According to the news, not too well in the female department. A model from Stoke-on-Trent was chosen to represent Brum because beauty contest officials claim there was no-one gorgeous enough to represent us from the City itself. Surely nonsense. I think it is well known that Brummie women are amongst the best in Britain for their looks. Come on girls; if anyone thinks they could represent Brum why don't you send some photos to me and I will, ahem, promote you on my website. Can't fault a guy for trying, eh?

Not doing as badly in the fast cars stakes however. MG restarted production today under its new owner Nanjing Automotive. It is great to see car production restarted at Longbridge again. Wouldn't it be great if 10 years from now Longbridge was famed for its efficient production of competitive cars rather than the redundancies and union versus management battles that have plagued the factory for the last 30 years.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Edgbaston Lord's it Over the Rest

Just over a week ago I was at a sporting event in our "glorious capital". No, it wasn't the 3rd/4th place play-off for the Champions League, which was held at a new stadium they've apparently built in the area. I went to the traditional home of cricket; Lords.

Now being a big cricket fan I was very excited to see a Test Match at Lords on Saturday against the Windies of all teams. Unfortunately, as usual, one of the capital's main attractions failed to live up to the hype. Some bright spark decided that most of the seating at Lord's should be covered. Completely pointless at a cricket stadium given that if it is raining there will not be any play. So despite the fact it was a sunny day, we were left freezing as the wind blew under the concrete tier above us; it was like watching cricket under the Spaghetti Junction.

The play was not up to much either. The West Indies may not be half the team they used to be, but apart from Monty Panesar the bowling was rather tepid. We watched the Windies bat all day with the loss of 6 wickets. To be fair, I was comparing this to my Test match experiences at Edgbaston, the last of which was the Sunday of the 2005 Ashes. Not really a fair contest. However, I did watch the West Indies on the Sunday in 2004 where I saw both sides bat and the loss of 17 wickets.

If any further evidence is needed that Edgbaston is a better Test ground, guess which English ground has the best record for the home team? And 1902 - present has not exactly been a golden age of English cricket.

It was not all bad in the capital however. We walked around Regent's Park which is quite nice for London. Walking around North London, we found a shrine to the people who had been killed by the Edgware Road bomber which was saddening. A couple of things that I noticed since I last went to London (which was nearly 10 years ago) was that you now have to buy tickets before you board the bus there, and the amount and variation of foreigners that one can meet in the city, which obviously gives it a cosmopolitan feel. Not a complete waste of time all-in-all, but I was glad to leave the police-saturated Euston (or New Street without the charm as I call it), to get back to good old Brum.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Far-Right to Offend

Iain Dale wrote an article today regarding The Right to Offend. It repeated the right-wing myth, also proposed by the liberal hawks of Harry's Place that freedom, if anything, means the right to tell people what they don't want to hear. Interestingly enough, this is a position they share with those "great defenders of free speech", the BNP.

This is nonsense. Freedom of speech means the right to say anything you want without fear of persecution from the government. With that freedom comes responsibility. This means that although you can in theory say anything, some things are better left unsaid. If freedom of speech is not used with discretion, pressure mounts on the government to take it away in certain circumstances; and as soon as a government starts legislating on a certain area, they have a habit of not stopping.

A great example is holocaust denial. In my opinion it should not be an offence to deny the holocaust, because there should be the opportunity to have a full debate on the history if new evidence emerges. Unfortunately though, most, if not all people who deny the holocaust are idiots. Despite the overwhelming evidence that it occurred, they claim it is part of a Jewish conspiracy of one sort of another. So several European countries have made holocaust denial a criminal offence, and it is difficult to argue against it given the type of person who actually make these statements in public.

Freedom of speech is not an excuse to persecute minorities verbally, because they do not have any legitimate way of stopping you criticising them (although they can take the law into their own hands of course). The only organisation that can stop you saying something is the government, who can legislate against statements they do not like. I repeat then that freedom of speech is not the right to make offensive statements, but the right to criticise the government without fear of persecution.

To be fair, Iain's article is not about something as serious as holocaust denial. It is about a state-regulator criticising Jeremy Clarkson for calling something "a bit gay". It is not a surprise with this kind of ruling that more and more people are starting to confuse freedom of speech with the right to offend.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Brown Crowned

Gordon Brown will be crowned the next leader of the Labour party, and therefore Prime Minister of the UK after his left-wing rival John McDonnell failed to get the requisite amount of nominations. This means the next Prime Minister will not be elected, either by the public or even his own party. I find this quite astonishing. With six people fighting it out for the deputy leader, it appears the Labour party is now full of rather spineless politicians who are not prepared to fight as the underdog.

Of course, part of this is because Blair systematically got rid of anyone in his cabinet who dared to speak against him (or more conveniently they resigned), instead promoting yes-men who have said yes to GB. Robin Cook has died; David Blunkett was embroiled in too many scandals; Charles Clarke failed at the home office; Iain Dale announce the reasons why Reid did not stand. and presumably Alan Milburn has been out of the circle for too long. Alan Johnson and David Milliband were the last genuine chance for a contest but bottled it, the former looking at the easier deputy leadership instead.

I remember speaking to some Germans last year who I advised not to bet on Brown, because the favourite often falls short in the end (Heseltine/ Clarke/ Davis; maybe it's a Tory thing). I could not have been more wrong. I hope he leads Britain in a better direction than his predecessor, but I won't be holding my breath.

Does anyone know why Blair should continue to hold office now the party has spoken coup has taken place?

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Rise of Social Mobility

Current affairs seemed to come to me this week. First of all in the terror swoops on Wednesday, along with the widow of one of the July 7th bombers, two people were arrested in Birmingham, one in Lozells and one in Victoria Halls on Grange Road, just around the corner from Birmingham University. I myself used to have a couple of friends living in these halls of residents and was surprised to here it was being searched in connection with terrorism. The rooms are not cheap, all being on-suite and tend to attract the richer students in the University, hardly the kind of clientele associated with terrorism.

Meanwhile, David Cameron has moved in with a Muslim family for a couple of days in Balsall Heath, where I have recently bought a house. I hope he does not stay too long.

I don't want the property prices to drop.

Update 13/05: An excellent post by the West Brom Blogger notes that Cameron's visit was not exactly all that it appeared to be.

Monday, May 07, 2007

When Two Tribes Go to War

Birmingham did not win the Championship, but West Brom and Wolves both made the playoffs and will face each other in the semi-finals.

It was not all bad news last week however, as Manchester and London both failed to get representatives in the champions league final. As for us brummies, we are just happy to have two teams in the top flight.

As Birmingham is twinned with Milan, I claim we will have representation in the Champions League final. There is a growing breed of latte-drinking football fan who will claim I am being unpatriotic by not supporting English teams in Europe. It is a club competition. Every red-blooded working-class football fan understands that football is tribal, and we fight against other tribes in our country.

Like Wolves and West Brom. The loser will not wish the winner good luck and hope that the Black Country has some representation in the Premiership next season. They will cheer on the winner of Derby-Southampton, even though it will be to the detriment of West Midlands football.

However, I'm a Brummie first and then an Englishman. I hope at least one of them gets into the Premiership so that the West Midlands has something to shout about again.

Update 13/05: I should be shot for not mentioning Walsall's excellent League 2 Championship win. The appointment of Dicky Dough was truly on the money.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Politics and the Real World

That was a party political broadcast by the Labour/ Conservative/ Liberal Democratic Party. (Delete as applicable)

I wish.

The People's Republic is currently relocating (that is arrogant blogger speak for I've bought a new house). Unfortunately, as the United Nations do not currently recognise my independent status, I am still forced to pay taxes to the old country. Hitherto, I have managed to avoid paying council tax my claiming political asylum in my parents house, but that is now going to change. On the same day I cast my last vote in Moseley & Kings Heath, I received a council tax bill for my new address (in the Respect stronghold of Sparkbrook if you are interested). Funnily enough, I actually welcomed it (along with my water and energy bills; they do not waste any time do they?). It means I am now contributing to society/ my community and I am only paying the tax because I now own a pretty expensive asset, so it can be regarded as a mark of success (I appreciate not everyone will agree with this analysis, particularly pensioners and those on low-incomes who struggle to pay this badly-collected tax). It has also brought home the reality that my vote in a council election will from now on directly affect me, and my vote seems to matter more. Of course, council elections do affect me in less obvious ways, but there is nothing like a tax to focus the mind.

Of course, thanks to Margaret Thatcher's ridiculous obsession with centralisation, the only important issue now at stake in local elections is how frequently the bins should be collected. My opinion is that if it is going to involve the council, I suggest never. Let us contract our waste disposal from the private sector. We could decide how often we want our rubbish collected rather than have it decided for us, and we could choose exactly how to get rid of our waste e.g. some private companies might decide to provide a service (for a fee of course) where they take all our trash and sort it for recycling. I suspect recycling rates would improve dramatically, and if we did not want our binman to work on Bank Holiday's or pay them £900 for the privilege, we would have the choice to switch our waste removal services to someone else, or stump up the extra cash for the extra service. After all, our gas and electricity is provided by private companies; isn't it ridiculous that garbage collection is still provided by the state?

Of course, this would then leave us paying large amounts of poll tax for very little governing. If we elected a mayor, we would have even less for our councillors to do. Presumably we could then sack two-thirds of our councillors and have an election every 4 years (after all, one councillor per constituency is surely enough?). This will not be a very popular idea amongst councillors, or amongst people who aspire to be councillors, so I guess they will oppose the mayor and keep garbage collections under their responsibility.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, democracy simply doesn't work.

There has been a lot of analysis about what the local election results in England, and the devolved assemblies of Scotland and Wales actually mean. The Conservatives believe they are on the path to power, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats are playing down what are generally considered to be disappointing results.

The reality is that council elections prove very little. Everyone know we all vote differently in general elections. It matters little what percentage of the vote the Conservatives got, how many seats that will translate into, who won the popular vote, or all the other party political bickering we have seen on the pages of the political blogosphere. The reality is the biggest winner by far was apathy. The I-could-not-care-less-one-way-or-the-other party romped home with about 75% of the (non-)vote. And I can't even remember them campaigning in my area.

My personal opinion, not necessarily born out by the election results, is that the next general election will result in a hung parliament.

I'll start building the gallows...