Monday, 28 February 2011
Forget the Oscars. It seems to have been a foregone conclusion that The King's Speech would win most of the big awards at a ceremony only a few weeks ahead of a royal wedding for which America is going crazy. I accept that Colin Firth's performance is the stand out one of the year, but the film itself, though certainly very good, is not the best. But it seems that the enduring fascination with royalty will always bring its rewards in Hollywood. The allure of royalty and religion will forever be a mystery to me.
The allure of football however is much easier to explain. Who cannot have had a smile brought to their faces by Birmingham's unlikely victory in yesterday's pulsating and riveting League Cup Final? Even if you are not a Brummie like me, this was an inspirational performance by underdogs, and precisely the sort of story cup football is all about. They played out of their skins, the fans sung their hearts out - how nice to hear Keep Right On sung for the whole country to hear - and they prevailed just when it looked as though Arsenal were about to overwhelm their tired legs.
Okay they won thanks to a mistake but then they were denied a stonewall penalty in the opening moments by a linesman's errant flag. After that they were frequently the better team and made up for the class divide with application, hard work and determination. It produced one of the all time great Wembley finals.
This was famously the Blues first win in over 50 years and their first ever win at Wembley. I know only too well how much Blues fans suffer, I gave up being one many years ago because I could stand it no longer. I went out on Saturday night for a drink with some of the most loyal and battle hardened fans of them all including my brother. They richly deserve their moment of glory, the silly smiles they will wear all week and the hangovers they are suffering today.
Sunday, 27 February 2011
The Government has lately been making some U turns, some embarrassing and others less so. At times it has even managed to make a virtue of such U turns, presenting itself as the face of a sensible administration which listens and is willing and able to admit mistakes.
Perhaps then it should use the opportunity that the situation in Libya presents and have a rethink over the scrapping of our Harrier fleet and of the Ark Royal. If nothing else this can be presented as a humanitarian exercise, an attempt to impose a no fly zone on Gaddafi in order to prevent bloodshed.It would not take much intervention on the part of the west to end the Gaddafi regime and bring about real change. It might also win us some much needed credit in the Islamic world. Surely this is an opportunity not to be missed.
Even if we cannot save the Ark Royal, perhaps this is an opportunity to have a rethink of the recent defence review which seems to have been hurried and botched. A letter in yesterday's Telegraph made a strong argument for a rethink and sets out a number of choices and alternatives. The Government, which has been very busy in its first year for good reason, should not be afraid to admit that perhaps it might have been over hasty in some decisions. Current events which nobody foresaw (although actually the unpredictable nature of the world is one thing we can foresee) are a perfect excuse to re-examine the decisions made. I for one am unhappy at defence being cut as much as it is, since it is one area the Labour spending splurge never touched. Good government's react to world events. The present astonishing events in the middle east represent an opportunity in so very many ways.
Saturday, 26 February 2011
Earlier this week, the BBC made a lot of fuss about having a correspondent in Tripoli who was reporting on the spot and could not be named for her own safety. She filed a report for the 10 0 Clock News.
Eagle eyed viewers however noticed that her on the spot report was exactly the same, word for word, as a report on the earlier 6 0 Clock News filed by the BBC's Ian Pannell who is not in Tripoli. The on the spot reporter had just re-recorded his words. She was being imperilled just so that the BBC could broadcast a dramatic on the spot reporter, even though what she told us was gleaned from news wire reports and other sources that could just as easily be accessed by me on a computer in London.
We are accustomed to the ridiculous world of television reporting, which must have reporters with the background of breaking news events in the background, even if they get their facts from phoning the newsroom. But why endanger someone's life just to make a recording of someone else's words down a line? She had no pictures to accompany it, she might as well have been sat next to me at this computer. It was done purely for effect. The reporter, who still hasn't been named, has now been withdrawn for her own safety.
Friday, 25 February 2011
The last mission of Discovery, the oldest of the Space Shuttle fleet is a sad moment, a little like the end of Concorde which moved me and many others to tears at the time, but at least it will be sent to the Smithsonian where it can be seen and marvelled at by future generations.
But one thing this is not is the end of an era in space exploration as some in the media are saying. The shuttle was never about space exploration, since it has never, for all the millions of miles travelled, left the Earth's orbit. It was always a clever and at times flawed utilitarian vehicle, designed to put satellites into orbit, service them and perform similar duties. The most important of these has been its role in building the International Space Station and the space telescopes, starting with Hubble.
The shuttle was and is a stunning engineering achievement, regardless of its well known and fatal flaws. But then space travel, even within Earth's orbit, is a dangerous business. The saddest part of its demise, and that of its sister vehicles later this year, is that they seem to denote, at least for now, the end of America's ambitions for such mighty projects. Perhaps this will change in the years to come. Or perhaps the time has come for the costs of such projects to be shared internationally. As man reaches for the stars and beyond Earth's orbit, shouldn't the whole of humanity be playing a part and not just those nations with the money to do so or a political point to prove.
There is, quite rightly, a lot of fuss in the press today about the failures of the Foreign Office with regard to getting people out of Libya, although nobody mentions that this is a story which developed out of the blue and is being dealt with at a similar speed to most countries, including the U.S, even if we have lagged a little behind one or two of our European neighbours.
But the biggest story of the week to my mind has been the revelation of the ongoing disaster that has been UK immigration policy over the last decade or more. The figure of 3 million made the headlines earlier this week. Why is there not fury about this? When did the last government ask the people's permission to allow in that number of people? How do they reconcile their record on the issue with their protests now about unemployment and the problems of housing, particularly in London? We should remind them of this issue the next time they complain that the present administration is implementing policies for which they have no mandate. Labour studiously avoided talking about it and often accused those who wanted to of racism. Yet the greatest impact has been on the poor and the poorly paid.
The latest figures out yesterday showed just what an ongoing problem we have and how out of control our system is. There was a net increase in immigration last year of 226,000. 572,000 people came to the UK. 166,000 working visas were issued. How can that possibly be justified? Employers say they need staff. This may be true of some specialists and those with rare skills. But 166,000 of them? Are they really saying that they cannot find such people in a nation of 60 million or indeed from the wider EU population of 300 million who don't needs visas?
Politicians and the media, in particular the BBC, still fight shy of this subject. The BBC in particular, when it does cover the subject, tends to use illustrations of immigrants which ignores the abuses we all know go on. A few weeks ago, when the subject of student visas was raised they sent a reporter to interview a student studying engineering at Imperial College in London. That is not the nature of the problem and they know it. Such students are very welcome and represent a boost for the economy as advertised. It is the bogus or corrupt colleges that are the problem, which the BBC simply ignored.
So let me provide another case to redress the balance. This is a real one, which came to my attention just this week. I am withholding names for obvious reasons.
X is an immigrant to this country from Albania, a poor country for sure but a stable one with ambitions to join the EU. Yet X has been granted leave to remain in the UK and has been granted benefits including sickness and Housing Benefits. X, you see, is HIV positive and thus is here to avail himself of the NHS. He has now also been granted a council flat - in London. London, as we all know, has a shortage of social housing for which the word chronic is inadequate.
Now your reaction to this may be that we are just doing the humane thing. But where are we to draw the line? X is not from a third world country or a war zone where his life would be in danger. He has had the good fortune to end up in a country which has lost all sense of perspective of what its responsibilities are and what rights should mean. He is also, it should be noted, an individual with a chequered history and not a very nice reputation since he arrived in the UK, including partaking of the services of prostitutes neglecting to mention his health problems.
This is by no means an unusual case. It is well known to most people who have to claim benefits or who try to access social or housing services. As the cuts bite more such cases are bound to crop up and the anger of those who feel sidelined and ignored is going to get worse. For all that the problems in Libya have been worrying this week, it is this serial blindness amongst those who govern us but are unaffected and even benefit from immigration and which has often seemed deliberate which is the real scandal in a Britain facing up to these austere times.
Wednesday, 23 February 2011
If you want to know why economics is called the dismal science just take a look at the minutes to the latest meetings of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee. On deciding, wrongly, to leave interest rates at their record low rate for the 14th successive month, the members split as is inevitable. But take a look at how they split. Reading the same data, one of them argued for a 50 basis points rise in the rate, two wanted 25 basis points, five wanted no change and another was actually arguing for more quantitative easing.
The pressure for a rise in interest rates is only going to grow now, not least because the Bank has been telling us for over a year that inflation is just a blip and only temporary. They have at least stopped telling us that they are surprised.
But is there a mechanism for the Government to intervene? What happens if this deadlock continues with these supposed experts unable to agree on what the problem is let alone the cure? Is the independence of the Bank and of an evidence based, apolitical system for monetary policy failing its first real test and if so what can be done about it?
Bank of England independence is the one part of Gordon Brown's appalling legacy that is almost universally acknowledged as positive. Is even that about to unravel?