Thursday, November 29, 2007

St Andrew's Day

No-one was more surprised than me when yesterday the big eck swapped the nation of St Andrews for the club based at St Andrews, where he will resume his cross-city rivalry with Martin O'Neill which previously took place in Glasgow.

Although he undeniably produced some fantastic results at Scotland, I am not convinced his managerial record is as good as it is reputed to be. Nonetheless, Alex McLeish signing for Birmingham City is a massive coup for both the club and the city.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Howard's End

There was delight in the People's Republic at the victory of Kevin Rudd's Labour party over the coalition in Australia, not least because it brought to an end the ten year rein of error of John Howard's coalition.

John Howard epitomised the gutter politics of Anglo-Saxon conservatism, constantly spreading lies in order to promote his indefensible policies. These ranged from persecuting asylum seekers to ignoring Australia's moral obligation to the Aboriginal peoples, from failure to ratify Kyoto (despite originally agreeing wit it), to bombing a defenseless third-world country in order to protect Australia's economic wealth. He never missed a chance to attack those who struggled to defend themselves, and it just shows how illiberal (in the classical sense) the so-called Australian Liberal party were.

At the time of writing, it looks like he has also lost his seat. As the Aussies would say, good riddance. It is just a pity a few other western conservative leaders never succumbed, or indeed have the chance to succumb, to the same fate.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

School of Terror

All I can say is this is outrageous. It is generally known that an A level chemistry student can manufacture ecstasy and certain other banned drugs, and as part of the course will make aspirin and paracetamol. So, in order to strike a blow in the war on drugs as well as the war on terror, why doesn't the government go the whole hog and ban chemistry altogether? Then we can all do mickey mouse degrees in law and politics, like our Glorious Leaders.

Why has this story not been more widely reported?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

You May Take the P*ss, but You Will Never Take Our Freedom

Nick Huhne and Chris Clegg have both pledged to lead a campaign of civil disobedience against the dreaded ID card should they be elected leader of the Liberal Democrats, but according to the Stirrer fellow Birmingham Yardley MP and failed prospective leader candidate John Hemming is planning a rather different form of civil disobedience against a particularly vicious attack on our civil liberties. He is planning a pub crawl to protest against police spying on pubs where they make astonishing claims that people are breaking the law - by getting drunk.

In a letter to the landlord of the Prince of Wales in Moseley, where JRR Tolkien reputedly used to court his wife, the police confirmed

"there is clear evidence in the premises…of numerous people who are drunk/intoxicated."

People getting drunk in a pub? Never!

Now, recently we have been getting used to the police taking the p*ss. But getting p*ssed to take on the police? Only on Broad Street on a Saturday night.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Football and Geography

"I'd like to play for an Italian club, like Barcelona"
Mark Draper, formerly of Aston Villa

I found myself like most of the country in the strange position of being a supporter of Israel on Saturday night and they did not let us down (unlike certain national football teams a little closer to home). Did anyone else notice the irony that the result of a football match between Israel and Russia had the potential to decide whether England would qualify for the European Championships? This crime against geography is presumably because UEFA and FIFA allow countries to join continental federations based on history and politics rather than actual physical locations.

Of course, Israel is also in UEFA because a few countries in the Asian federation do not recognise its right to exist. Which got me thinking: if the People's Republic actually got independence from the old country and was recognised by the United Nations, but not Westminster could we then apply for membership of CONCACAF and play World Cup Qualifiers against the might of Mexico, USA and Canada? It is one benefit of independence that we could sell to the people of Birmingham

But let's not give Alex Salmond any ideas.

Friday, November 16, 2007

W-Huhne Will Be Next Leader of the Lib Dems?

Can someone explain to me why Nick Clegg is the clear favourite to be the next leader of the Liberal Democrats? As I write on Betfair Clegg is 1/3 while Huhne is 13/4.

There are three reason why I think the race is a lot closer than this.

1) Huhne comes across better than Clegg
2) Huhne already has experience at contesting a leadership election
3) Huhne is reaching out to the left of the party (who make up the majority of the grass roots) on the issue of Trident

In the last Lib Dem leadership election Huhne was favourite on Betfair despite all the polling evidence that Ming Campbell was ahead. There were claims that someone was deliberately keeping Huhne's price down to make him the favourite, the point I guess being that members of the Lib Dem party who are undecided will go with the majority so it seems the winner has the clear backing of the party. Is someone doing the same thing this time for Nick Clegg? I simply cannot believe that Huhne is so far behind.

Update 17/11/07: The political punters blog bible Political Betting has just written a very similar article

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Finally Moving On

Some long awaited good news regarding Birmingham's transport network finally arrived this week like buses in two's. On Monday Digbeth Coach Station finally closed for its long overdue revamp, hopefully giving future passengers who come to Birmingham by coach at least a better first impression of our city. The day before on Sunday, Central Trains were replaced with the new franchise responsible for the West Midlands network, branded London Midland.

Is this an indication that our city has stopped competing with London and is now trying to leech of the London brand? I bet there will not be any trains in London being branded Birmingham South-East.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

PRoBrum Right-Leaning?

I love these kind of quizzes which map out your position on a two-dimensional political spectrum and compare you with current parties and political leaders past and present. I find them useful because I struggle to find a mainstream political party I fit in with These quizzes give me an opportunity to find out what the differences are. I am surprised to be right-leaning in this version, but I think part of the problem is that it defines neo-liberal politics as being right-wing, an opinion I disagree with (I believe free-markets are a centrist position that have been adopted by the right due to the success of socialist economics during the middle part of the twentieth century). A previous version on an American Scale had me as a Democrat.

Comparing myself with the 2005 UK political spectrum I am closest to the Liberal Democrats which I have always suspected, but this can be misleading due to the fact that the party is polarised between the Liberal and Social Democratic founding traditions. Thankfully, I am on the opposing side of the quadrant containing the BNP.

Interestingly nearly all modern political leaders are in the same quadrant as the two main parties, authoritarian neo-liberals. Is this because this is the most practical form of politics? I hope not. I think it shows that politicians are inclined to award themselves too much power as it keeps them in work. I believe most people who take this test will find themselves in the libertarian half of the chart, indicating to me that the growing chasm between electorates and their leaders does not involve positioning on the traditional left-right political spectrum, but is instead a failure by current governments to recognise that most aspects of life do not need to be legislated over, and that citizens must be given the freedom to live the lives they choose to live.

Hat-tip to Some Random Thoughts.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

New St Pancreas

Why is it that we can spend £800 million on largely cosmetic changes that will improve the connection between London an Paris /Brussels, but we cannot spend £550 million to improve the state of Birmingham New Street, a pivotal station in Britain's railway infrastructure and a terrible eyesore in the middle of our city.

I think we all know the answer by now.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Eleven Plus... Three?

Some people may claim I took part in a form of child abuse yesterday morning. I invigilated at an 11+ exam. Ironic, as I generally oppose selective education despite working at a grammar school.

It is not quite as simple as that however. I think that education should be tailored to the individual pupil. Children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) should be educated in environments that are targeted to these needs. I am a firm believer that disruptive pupils would benefit from special schools staffed by teachers who are experts in dealing with behavioural problems, where they cannot disrupt the majority of students who are not disruptive. Similarly, in my opinion students with above average intelligence should go to schools staffed by teachers who are experts in dealing with academically gifted children where they will benefit from the competition with other similar students.

My problem is that 11 is not a good age to do this. Children develop at different rates and the 11+ is prejudiced against late developers. Not to mention pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds. At 11, we just end up with an educational apartheid where intelligent middle-class students end up in well-staffed, well-funded grammar schools and those who aren't as intelligent or come from the wrong background have to hope they can get into a decent less discerning school. It may not be the case any more that failure to get into grammar school means you are destined for a life of low-paid manual labour, but the reality is that you are a lot more likely to get into a top university if you go to a grammar school. Indeed, most of the relatively low proportion of students who get into Oxbridge from state school actually come from grammar schools, where they are used to coaching pupils in the Oxbridge admissions process (which is different from that of other universities). It is possible for those who failed to get into a grammar school at eleven to get a place at the sixth form later on but most students do not even consider this option and in any case the places are few.

My solution? Adopt the American model of elementary school, middle school and high school. Selection at 14 is a lot more sensible than selection at 11. By that stage it is pretty obvious whether a student is academically oriented or more suited to vocational qualifications. In practice, even under the comprehensive system, streaming is rife after 14 as teachers decide whether the student in a certain class should sit the higher or middle tier examination papers, determining the maximum grade a student can get at GCSE. The Government plan for diplomas could even fit quite well into this situation, although it is really designed for a comprehensive school model.

We are not there yet however. Yesterday I saw a room full of young students who had the hopes and dreams of their parents on their shoulders. And the background of the parents would be a major factor in whether those hopes and dreams came through.

Why not let those eleven-year olds keep their innocence for a few more years? They are too young to be victims of a socially divided national joke of a discredited education system.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

H&S Training for Office-rs Overdue

The Metropolitan Police have been convicted of breaching Health and Safety Law when they killed Jean Charles de Menezes in the wake of the failed July 21st bombings.

I propose we send Gareth from the office give them some much needed Health and Safety training. Learning how to correctly place a hot cup of coffee next to a monitor will clearly reduce the probability of accidentally shooting an innocent person in the head seven times.

An excellent summary of the court case has been presented here.

Personally, I think anyone who defends the police on the grounds of stopping potential suicide bombers in future is advocating legalised terrorism. By the police. On anyone they do not like the look of.

Ian Blair has so far refused to resign.

Time for democratically elected Police Chiefs?