Month: July 2008

Just read… Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

Admittedly the main reason I read Faceless Killers was because it was set in Sweden.  Although Henning Mankell seems to be getting a following way beyond Sweden, as shown by the decision by the BBC to dramatise some of his books – apparently they see it as the new Inspector Morse.

The comparison with Inspector Morse is valid to some extent.  Kurt Wallander is a moody old-fashioned detective who likes his drink and his opera.  But that is about as far as it goes really.  The relief to me is that unlike Colin Dexter, Henning Mankell’s style of writing is a little less academic, which is what I want for my light reading.  The story though did have the same sort of twists and turns and hidden family secrets, but whilst I enjoyed it and will no doubt read many more of his books, the ending came all too suddenly and the killers turned out to be what had been assumed most of the way through.

Lib Dems ‘gain’ council seat in Derby

The Liberal Democrats have won the Darley Ward by-election in Derby tonight, taking back a seat that they had held until the outgoing councillor became an Independent.

I am so pleased for them, as this was yet another tough by-election under difficult circumstances.  The previous councillor Wendy Harbon had been suspended and then thrown out of the Liberal Democrats following allegations about her partner misusing council resources.  After months of non-attendance (having apparently moved to Blackpool in the meantime) she was finally kicked off.  Although the Lib Dems took action as soon as the allegations were made, these things do of course damage the party.

Last Saturday I went down to Derby and helped the team there deliver some leaflets.  After spending three years on Derby City Council before moving away, it was nice to be back there giving the team a hand.  I also saw party members that I hadn’t seen for years ever since I went away.  It’s astonishing to see how far the party in Derby has come since I was there.  I would never have thought when I was elected and we went from four to six councillors that by now we would be the biggest party on the council (with my former ward colleague Hilary Jones as leader) and have a real chance of winning Derby North at the general election.

Party Reform Commission

After considerable debate and conspiracy theories from party anoraks, I finally have my hands on a copy of the Party Reform Commission report.

Last night I only read a small part of the document but I have to get it all read by Saturday as that is when I have an English Council Executive (ECE) meeting.  ECE is one of many party committees that is being asked to vote to voluntarily hand over its powers on finance, strategy and staff management to a new “Chief Officers Group” (which surely will prompt jokes about COGs, and it being the big cog in the process etc etc) so they can then get on with running the party in a different way without the other decision-making bodies in the party getting in the way.  They will then try and neuter/scrap these committees formally after the next general election when they see how things have run in the meantime.  I paraphrase of course, but that is the jist of it.

I welcomed the idea of the Party Reform Commission (or Bones Commission as it has become known) when it was set up.  I think the party does need to be run much more professionally and with a clear long-term strategy.  My fear though was that the Bones Commission report would either end up very bland and nothing would change or that it would end up as an opportunity for people to whinge about certain bits of the party or people within it that they don’t like.  What I have seen so far is a good comprehensive report on how the party works and a genuinely fair overview of what works and what doesn’t work in the party.  So far there are parts that I definitely agree with and some parts that I don’t.

What concerns me though is that the party committees who are considering it feel as though they are being presented with a fait accomplis without any chance of commenting on the individual parts of it.  It’s a bit little like the Lisbon Treaty vote where all committees have to agree it or it falls.  However I understand that the Federal Executive (FE) has voted to set up a small working party that would consider the individual recommendations in more details and consider how or whether to put them all in to practice.  It has been said that the FE voted by 16 votes to 1 to approve the report, but in reality it was agreeing to set up this working party to consider it further that was agreed by that margin instead.  I know there are a number of members of FE who would have voted against it otherwise.

As I said, I am still in the middle of reading it, and I will give a more considered response later.

Government calls for people to work for their benefits

…and quite right say I.  But I would probably go further than the Government has and make it a standard part of being unemployed rather than it only applying to long-term unemployed.

What surprises me in the Government’s latest plans is the way they talk about people taking ‘personal responsibility’ for finding work when you are unemployed.  That is exactly what I have tried to do when I have been unemployed, but instead I have ended up spending a considerable amount of time explaining to someone in Job Centre Plus why a job they are suggesting isn’t really suitable and why they completely misunderstand my previous experience.  Not the best use of their time or mine, when I can take personal responsibility for finding a job myself.

To me there seem to be three categories of people who are unemployed:

  • Those people who have a long record of employment who should be allowed more time and flexibility just to get on and find themselves a job.  That would mean that Job Centre Plus wouldn’t need to spend their time with those people who probably don’t need their help.  If my experience is anything to go by, they are probably the same people who will end up finding a job by going through newspapers and magazines elsewhere, rather than in the Job Centre.  This is exactly what personal responsibility should mean, and it should be fairly easy to tell from someone’s employment record whether they are going to be conscientious enough to find their own job.
  • People who are genuinely not well enough to work, and these people need financial help to support them.
  • People who cannot find a job or are unwilling to find a job.  This will cover a multitude of circumstances, ranging from those who want to work but either don’t have the right skills or qualifications to those who have a disability that makes it harder to find work to those who are simply lazy.  All of these will need to be dealt with in different ways, but that is where the Government should be directing its resources and everyone in this group will need their own tailor made way to get them in to work, which will range from extra training to employer incentives to a bigger stick.  No one solution will suit everyone, but if Job Centre’s stopped wasting their time on those people who can find a job on their own, then that they could do this.

But regardless of your circumstances, I think everyone can do some form of voluntary community service whilst being unemployed.  It keeps you in the habit of getting up and going to work (even if it is only once or twice a week that you do it) and it helps put something back in whilst you receive your benefit.  This shouldn’t be seen as a punishment as the Government seem to be making it.  It should simply be a way of contributing.

I am pleased though that Jenny Willott has highlighted that far from it just being the unemployed who are the worst off financially, it is many of those who are in employment.  Although the minimum wage has increased quite a bit over the last few years, it is still a small sum of money on which to live, and yet you are also taxed on it.

I get a mention in Total Politics

I had it pointed out to me this weekend that I get a very brief mention in the latest issue of Total Politics magazine.  I wish I could say it was an analysis of star campaigners in the Liberal Democrats, but it isn’t.  In fact I don’t even get mentioned by name, but I am there.

The context is in a story about politicians and cars, and a case study of one of my friends in the Liberal Democrats who did historic car rallies.  I have been his co-driver or navigator a couple of times and so I get a brief mention as “Nick Clegg’s agent” for that reason.

Rallying was both fun and terrifying all at the same time.  I enjoyed the sense of achievement afterwards, and even more so when we did well in tests, (which once I’d got in to the spirit of it was the part that I was best at), but I hated going off to do it.  They were very odd mixed feelings.  Afterwards you want to sleep for days because doing it takes so much out of you, and all I was doing was reading a map and shouting out instructions to the driver.  The proudest moment though was when in my first race we won our category in the Berwick Classic, although we were a long way back in the overall standings.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Currently listening to…

It’s ages since I last wrote about the music I’ve been listening to, which is a shame as I’ve been listening almost obsessively to the same album ever since I bought it at the start of May – Everything’s The Rush by Delays.

I’ve been a huge fan of Delays ever since they first appeared and I still find it amazing that they haven’t had more commercial success, despite their music being played quite extensively and used as backing tracks on TV programmes.  Everything’s the Rush continues where the last album left off with more substantial tunes that are perfect indie-rock but with the catchy hooks of pop.  They are now on to their third brilliant album, but my regret is that owing to elections I missed their latest tour.  I just hope they do another one soon.  As a taster for this album then I urge to watch the video for their next single – Keep it Simple.  It isn’t one of my favourite tracks on the album but it stars Keith from The Office.

Apart from Delays my other listening habits lately have become quite Sheffield-orientated with tracks that I keep listening to including:

Shock News: Russell Howard has become funny!

Stand-up comedian Russell Howard suddenly seems to be on every TV programme that I watch.  Actually that’s not strictly true but over the last few days I have watched a lot of Never Mind the Buzzcocks and Mock the Week.  Both are two of my favourite TV programmes, but then most comedy quizzes (or quizcoms as the TV channel Dave has labelled them) are.

Russell Howard has been on a lot of these but despite him winning countless awards and being hyped as one of the best new comedians around I have never found him funny.  I’ve tried hard to see what it is in him that people think is even vaguely amusing, but I’ve just never discovered it.  Even some of his co-guests seem to find it hard to laugh at his jokes.  Until now that is.  I don’t know what transformation has come over him, but suddenly in this series of Mock the Week he is genuinely funny.  One of the funniest on the show. It seems as though I will have to change my view that he is nice to look at, but not much good as a comedian.

Which reminds me, another thing that has changed my view on the world of TV comedy is Never Mind the Buzzcocks.  There is an unwritten rule in the world of television that all entertainment shows are never as good when the original presenter leaves.  Simon Amstell taking over from Mark Lamarr in Never Mind the Buzzcocks has changed all of that.  I had always liked the programme, but since Simon Amstell took over two years ago it has just got better and better.  Definitely one of my favourte programmes.