Family Debate

I have just had a new experience – I was a judge in a School’s debating competition.

To make it even better, the teacher organising the competition was my daughter Ellen. And one of the other judges was my younger son Graham. Another was Prof. Richard Norman (any relation, Liz? Wink).

There were three debates in the morning and two in the afternoon. The topics were:-

“Euthanasia should be made legal”

“A law banning Incitement to Hatred has no place in a Liberal Democracy”

“Soap Operas have no artistic merit.”

“If Global Warming is happening, there is no evidence that it is man-made”

“There is no room for ethics in British foreign policy”

I was one of 3 judges in nos 1, 4 & 5.

I think my proudest moment was during debate 2, when Ellen took the Chair, and Prof. Norman and Graham were 2 out of the 3 judges, and Graham’s mate Steve was the other. Watching Ellen chairing the debate as though she had been doing it all her life, and listening to Graham asking really searching questions of the two teams, totally confident in front of an audience, brought a tear to my eye.

Of debate no. 2, after we were at Ellen’s house eating Chinese food, Graham summed things up succinctly: “Quoting John Stuart Mill and Utilitarianism when you are in the Lower Sixth is pretty fucking impressive!”

Probably just as well that he saved that one up for when the Head Teacher was out of earshot!

Television Licences

When my dad lived with us, we didn’t have to pay for a TV licence because he was over 75. He went into a home on 1/9/05 but didn’t take his TV with him.

I felt pretty sure that the licence would expire on the date he moved out, but I wanted to be certain. I emailed Capita explaining the situation. A reply asked me for my father’s new address so that his licence could be transferred.

I replied, repeating that he did not take his TV with him therefore hsi address was none of their business.

That elicited a reply from someone more senior, demanding the same information.

Meanwhile I had made a phone call and had spoken to a very efficient woman who explained clearly that far too much admin was involved to chase up dead people / old people who had gone into homes and in situations such as ours, the free licence was valid until its stated expiry date.

My response to the second email was that Capita were deliberately misleading me with the intention, had I told them my father’s new address, of transferring his TV licence and then demanding that I immediately renew. I didn’t mince words and didn’t get a reply.

A month or so later I received a “Quality Control” phone call asking me to give a mark from 1 to 10 on a series of points about my dealings with Capita. I gave them the lowest mark possible on each occasion.

When I was asked what they could do to improve their service, I said something along the lines of “Take TV licensing out of the hands of duplicitous private companies only intent on making a quick buck and renationalise it, thereby putting it in the hands of people who want to supply a public service”.

It so happens that Capita are the self-same company that now administers the Civil Service Pension Scheme. They have just awarded me my pension early.

I wouldn’t hear a word said against them.

On Tony Blair

It took me a while to realise it (2 general elections, I think) but Blair has absolutely no principles. That is to say he is a pragmatist through and through. He works to expediency. How could anyone with any principles whatever move so seamlessly from a close relationship with Clinton to an even closer one with Bush?

He would sell his own grandmother for a bit of influence.

He used the Labour Party to get to power. Last week he enacted his Education legislation leading the Tory party, with the Labour party in opposition. He has completely sidelined the Trade Unions and embraced privatisation, even where nationalisation would clearly make more sense and would be extremely popular (railways). He took us into a war which the vast majoriy of the country has always been against. He managed to get Student Loans on the statute book without ever getting them into a manifesto, by so doing setting this country’s debt culture in concrete. He continues to make noises about climate change while doing absolutely nothing about it other than to make it easy for big business to pollute.

He now has no credible opposition in his own party other than the Chancellor. Neither has strong allies – everyone else is a pygmy by comparison. I think it was Andrew Rawnsley who wrote that when Labour came to power, Blair had only three really able politicians in his cabinet. Robin Cook is dead, Peter Mandleson is in Europe, Gordon Brown is his enemy (compare Trotsky / Stalin). Even Prescott, who wielded a lot of power and could have made life difficult for Blair if he had wanted to, is now just a shell of a man after his recent scandal.

Blair seems to me to be one of the most brilliant politicians this country has ever had. He is a disaster as a Prime Minister, but an absolute master as persuading enough of the people that matter to support him when it matters.

On Civil Liberties


“I also strongly disagree that our liberties are being eroded. They have been greatly increased since the adoption of the European Convention of Human Rights.”
So wrote a cycling acquaintance. My response:-
How many examples do you want?

Someone got arrested for reading out a list of 100 Iraq war dead at the Cenotaph.
You are not allowed to demonstrate within 1 km of Parliament.
I remember when members of the public could walk down Downing Street.
The Home Secretar has given himself unprecedented powers of arrest and detention without recourse to judiciary.
People are banged up in Belmarsh without trial.
This country is complicit in the illegal hostage camp at Guantanamo.
There has been a cover-up regarding “extraordinary rendition” flights in UK airspace.
The Government are hell-bent on the introduction of ID cards.
3 cyclists were arrested in Southend for cycling on the road (charge was “Obstructing the highway with a non-motorised vehicle”)
An innocent Brazilian was shot 8 times because the incompetent police thought he was a terrorist. Then they lied about what happened.
A member of this forum, is being prosecuted for cycling on the road.
Perfectly ordinary demonstrators have been held under the Terrorism act when demonstrating against the World’s biggest arms fair (how ironic is that?)

Oh, and the two biggest parties in this country want to scrap the ECHR.

And that’s without even looking anything up.

We live in a society in which the Police are being given more unfettered powers to do what they want and I am sure it is changing their attitude to their job. Everyone’s a victim of that.

Pox-ridden Bastards

At Christmas, my family invented a new game.

In the game, you have to write a list of people upon whom you wish a painful and disfiguring disease. To keep it topical, we decided that only people in the news in 2005 would count. We called the game “Pox-ridden Bastards”.

Five of us played, myself, three of my children and my daughter’s boyfriend. Mrs. Wow is too sweet-natured and doesn’t wish a curse on anyone.

The rules are simple. If everyone writes down the same name, 1 point each (Tony Blair was the only one chosen by all of us). If 4 out of 5 of you write a name down, 2 points, 3 / 5 three points. To keep it snappy, we limited ourselves to 20 names each.

If you are in a minority, you have to argue the case for your choice. 2 / 5, if subsequently endorsed by the others, means 4 points. 1 / 5 means 5 points. If the others don’t agree with you, nil points.

It actually turned into a very surreal and quite alarming experience.

I got 5 points for Arial Sharon ….

My son got 5 for Tony Banks…

Two of us chose Arnold Schwarzenegger, who very quickly fell off his motor bike and was injured: 4 points.

Unfortunately, one of my 5 pointers, Jeremy Clarkson, is still walking around unscathed.

Would someone else like a game just to see if we can get him?