OmniFuck

All the important things in life – football, relationships, football – can be planned to within a gnat’s crotchet only to be knocked off course by something completely unexpected. The mother-in-law popping round for a cup of tea, the discovery of suspiciously worded text messages, the hitherto reliable centre-forward hacking the ball with such force in another context it could have been a hole-in-one along a tricky par 5….

As you may be aware, Gordon Brown today plunged himself into a controversy which would have made Malcolm Tucker turn the air twenty shades of puce. Predictably called “Bigotgate”, Brown made one of his “meeting ordinary people” trips into a great clunking fist of a disaster when he labelled a housewife “a bigot” for her views on immigration.

Clearly the media went batshit mental over his comment rather than her views (although, let us be honest here, Labour’s record on both immigration and assisting the unemployed is somewhat lacking…). Brown is entitled to his views, of course, but to call a potential elector such a word, at such a time in the election period, with Labour in third place in some opinion polls shows a total and complete lack of understanding of the greater picture.

It shows Brown has a lack of understanding and empathy, and a complete lack of control over his emotional outbursts.

Ms Duffy thought she had the chance to tell the Prime Minister exactly what she thought on the subjects close to her heart. That those views were somewhat lacking in facts and heavy in opinion would have been handled far better by most other political leaders (Blair would not have been anywhere near this level of knee-deep controversy).

Did he need to apologise ? Once, yes. So many times? And with Hallmark card sincerity?

Tomorrow is the third, and final Leaders Debate. With quite unfortunate timing, Brown has ensured any chance of Labour Party spin leading up to tomorrow will be shadowed by this event. Like Prescot’s Punch all those years ago, this whole affair will eventually become nothing more than a curiosity, a footnote. In the glare of the cameras, it is typical of a Prime Minister whose luck tends to last mere hours.

Tomorrow is the last chance for Brown, Cameron, and Clegg, to sell their Parties before polling day. As I was told many years ago by LibDem campaign experts, the last week of any election campaign is “repetition, repetition, and repetition”. For the next week, Labour will doubtlessly crawl out of this saga, just as the country is struggling to recover from the longest, deepest recession in modern times (thanks again, Gordon…)

Older readers may remember what happened, some decades ago now, when television chef Fanny Craddock was asked to judge ‘ordinary people’ on a precursor to modern programmes like “Masterchef”. Craddock – never one to quite understand the way ‘real people’ lived – laid into housewife Gwen Troake for her menu with such force and condescension that while Troake was speaking, she pretended to retch and vomit. Craddock’s career was finished, her contract terminated early, never to be seen again.

For all his will and strength, Brown appears to have a similar problem with interacting with ‘ordinary people’. His unease and awkwardness, his social anxiety, has shown itself in ways throughout his Prime Ministerial career – from not understanding why low income earners would be upset at the loss of the 10p tax rate, to this recent outburst.

A Craddock-like axing from public life is not likely to happen…but something very similar must be on its way after polling day.

Lives of Others

Nick Griffin MP, anyone?

Already further down the rabbit hole than previous General Elections, this year appears to be glaring out towards us from somewhere beyond the looking glass. It’s the least predictable, most unusual campaign for generations.

And it could get awfully more weird…

The British National Party are standing candidates in more seats than at any previous election including here in Lancashire a candidate called Rosalind Gauci, who becomes the first candidate for the BNP in South Ribble since that seat’s formation. “Did she marry into the Gauci’s?” I have been asked by curious folk. I could not possibly comment.

The BNP manifesto is full of quotes no mainstream news channel would dare broadcast for fear of reprisals. Bring British is, “to belong to a special chain of unique people who have the natural law right to remain a majority in their ancestral homeland“, says their policy document. It gives the impression of these British Isles lifting from the oceans some three or four hundred years ago without a single brown or black face among the population. Or indeed the Welsh, or anyone with a passing knowledge of Gaelic. As most broad minded individuals note, the economic wellbeing of this nation is on dodgy ground enough without the sudden mass expulsion of every working immigrant or third-generation British Asian to their “home country”.

However – and this point is more true today than usual – the national opinion poll ratings showing the BNP flatlining on 3% or 4% does nothing to hide the possible (probable?) success of their leader Nick Griffin in Barking. His party is the official opposition on the Barking & Dagenham council; his main opponent is Margaret Hodge, a woman with a tarnished reputation. The mood of the country, if it is any guide to this specific seat, is of a rock solid Labour vote turning away from their party; no more certain bloc votes of the working class, for whom “New Labour” turned out to be an affront to their morals and expectations.

Griffin must be defeated. His presence in the House of Commons would be a dark day for this country’s democracy, however salient a lesson he may present to the commentariat already bruised by his MEP victory last year. For Barking he would be a disaster, encouraging division where none currently exists. It would do no good for voters to assume that a UKIP or LibDem vote would defeat him. The only person able to defeat him here is Hodge; a vote for Labour in Barking is the best advice anyone there can take.

Why Griffin is treated as a genuine threat in Barking is worth acres of analysis. All mainstream parties have failed to deal with immigration, job security, the alleged democratic deficit in England compared with Scotland and Wales. These are not points to be whispered or tip-toed around; exactly that kind of misunderstood, mishandled ‘liberalism’ has enhanced the BNP into the current, unwarranted, status of credible party.

It is worth noting that Griffin is the only possible BNP victory anywhere in the country; all other 300-odd candidates will struggle to save their deposits. A far-right Party whose Leader goes for the winnable seats? I could not possibly comment.

A few hundred miles away in deepest Buckinghamshire is the Speaker John Bercow, in a typically British struggle against former UKIP leader Nigel Farage. In the seat of Buckingham “convention” means sitting Speakers do not face any mainstream opposition. Hence Farage turning up, who knows how to attract media attention if not exactly reason to his arguments. Anyone who has witnessed his “speeches” in Brussels will acknowledge that Farage has brains and political savvy…but the 10-year old “YouTube Been Framed” clips on Russel Howard’s Good News have more lasting effect.

You may recall my attempt to cover the UKIP manifesto launch some weeks ago. The Party has not exactly made much of a serious dent in the election since. UKIP, like their distant cousins in the BNP, suffer from being a one-man band, with hundreds of foot-soldiers standing with shallow pockets and no chance of victory (or for that matter, support from the party command).

UKIP are as deluded about their place in the country’s affections as most “major minor” parties. The fact that they came second in the European Elections misses the point; the General election is not voted on in the same way: and in 2005 they managed just over 603,000 votes across the country, finishing fourth overall, just about 4 million short of the third placed LibDems.

Farage could win, of course, proving that national opinion polls mask such one-off results thanks to the unique way the nation elects its MPs. Bercow is neither a traditional shire Tory, nor the kind of MP who can walk away from the expenses scandal with his reputation unscathed. Farage – who shakes off claims about his £2million Euro expenses without being awfully convincing – could attract enough protest votes and traditional C/conservatives under the current circumstances. One MP from UKIP will not drag the country out of the EU (not a single UKIP MEP has managed that yet, despite that being thier only policy), but again, what a sign to the ‘establishment’ if the Speaker was defeated in his own back yard.

The third likely win from the “others” in this election – no, not Esther Rantzen in Luton South – is the Green Party in Brighton Pavilion. Caroline Lucas – now the sole leader of her Party following years of inexplicable “duel leadership” – has steered the Greens from mavericks to mainstream, proving that they are more than just environmental mouth-pieces.

Her victory in Brighton – now favourite with some bookies – would be more of a significant blow than either Farage or Griffin. No, her presence would not herald a sudden reversal in environmental policy in Westminster. No, one Green MP would not alter the course of the country. However, unlike BNP and UKIP, no mainstream media coverage has ever frothed at the mouth whenever their name is mentioned. No breathless coverage a la Griffin whenever Lucas appears on Question Time.

Are the Greens more likely to be elected elsewhere, unlike the one-man-bands of the “others” ? It’s not likely at all, such is the problem of having so little resources, so much faith in the once in a lifetime chance of our electoral processes. Green policies are not without their faults – the total cost to ordinary people has not been worked out at all. It is refreshing to think that our perverse, unfair voting system could yet suffer a minor flesh wound.

It is worth noting that this 2010 election has broken all records – more candidates than ever before, more registered Parties, more “independents”. Despite everything thrown at the election from the duck houses of Westminster, democracy in this country appears more alive and compelling than ever. The Leaders Debates have changed the face of the election campaigns for ever. Now all this event needs is some guests. There is no truth in the lazy observation “they’re all the same”. Voting in 2010 really isn’t an optional extra among the hours of your lazy Thursday, I would be awfully pleased if you went out and did so…

Clegg Factor

God damn, it’s a good time to be a Liberal Democrat.

Above most serious and considered reasons, we’ve got the Daily Mail spitting feathers. I will warn you, it’s Daily Mail at about Level 5 on the “Palin Scale”, so if this is against your current medication, allow me to summarise their complaints about Nick Clegg and our party;

1) The LibDems are going to enforce socialism onto this great nation of ours (like Barack Obama did, FACT).
2) All LibDem MPs are so incompetent and untrustworthy that not a single one of them flipped their homes (the only thing we could drag up was claims for lipstick and a trouser press, how CORRUPT and TWISTED must these LibDems be?)
3) Despite claiming they want to clean up politics, not once has the LibDem party been successful in forcing through reforms past a stubborn and corrupt Labour Party and a solidly establishment Tory opposition (Clegg is dripping with principle, it STINKS)
4) They were actually against the Iraq War long before we all twigged that it was pretty much an illegal turkey shoot (so what else do they know that we haven’t been told yet, HMM?!?)
5) Apart from Liverpool, Bristol, Sheffield, Newcastle, and countless other places, oh, and Scotland for a time, they couldn’t run a whelk stall.

So, anyway, the Daily Mail is shit scared. And shit. Also, scared.

There shouldn’t be a surprise to any of this, of course, for the red/blue consensus has been sleepwalking into exactly this kind of disaster for years. If any of them thought the expenses scandal would slap them around the face for a bit, they haven’t learned a thing about the British peoples’ ability to hold a grudge.

The Leaders Debates, which began last week with Dave “I met a black man, once” Cameron failing to shake off his Blairite “Look….” sentence structures and public school smugness, and Gordon “I agree with Nick” Brown, have clearly shaken up the 2010 general election in a manner nobody really expected.

If “Jennifer’s Ear” and “Prescott’s Punch” did anything to their respective elections, the media seemed to have declared Eyjafjallajökull and Lord Adonis’ game of Texas Hold ‘Em with the Civil Aviation Authority as the game changers for this one.

Not so fast, news media. For Nick Clegg had something up his sleeve; personality and policies. Tomorrow night should be even better for him, for the Sky News Debate is right up the LibDem street – on international affairs and terrorism, our party holds almost every trump card. From the like-for-like renewal of Trident, through to ID Cards, DNA Database and the truth on MoD spending, it’s the LibDems winning here, and here, and over there too.

David Cameron will fail to argue the point on his relationship with Europe after leaving the EPP for a group of RATHER dodgy extremists; while Brown will suffer from being forever associated with holding the purse-strings while Tony Blair marched into Camp David for a good session of one-sided instructions.

I am under no illusions; the LibDems cannot sustain over 30% in the opinion polls for the entire election. Now, however, is the best chance we have had since the first reawakening of the Liberal Party under Grimond to shake the tired old Establishment from its very high but rotten tree.

The Daily Mail telling voters to “wake up” to the LibDems proves that we’re doing something right. It’s a very good day to carry the membership card of such unconventional troublemakers.

3D in the round

“…and you don’t get Andy Gray as a commentator…”

The marketing bods at SKY are doing an alright job pushing their 3D television coverage of Premier League football, seeing as the technological limitations are still quite notable.

(Not least, I must say, the fact that the Guinness branded shaded glasses caused the 40 of us watching the single television screen look like we were hanging around for the first rehearsal of the “television scene” from Willy Wonka…)

The negative points first, then. Unless you’re one of those rabid anti-everything types, SKY are not to blame for the Manc derby being such an underwhelming match, notable only for the midfield keep-ball and plentiful Zamorian chances on goal. Well, okay, maybe in the broader sense they are, but that’s a topic for another day…Negative points, then, and I start with the general selling point of 3D broadcasting; that an entire ninety minutes of football can be viewed as though the sci-fi futurists of the 1960s have finally been proven right.

More often than not the effect did not work. Some people have suggested it may have something to do with my short-sight, or the difference in shape between the Guinness branded 3D specs and my own, so there’s a technological issue right there that could be more prohibitive than the developers imagined. I am not entirely convinced, however, for I cannot put my hands on acres of newsprint from similarly disadvantaged glasses wearers moaning about not getting the full Avatar experience, so until then, I reserve judgement…

Football has never suited single fixed-cameras (I’m looking at you, ITV FA Cup coverage directors). It became pretty obvious that swift and often camera movements took away some of the effect; for example just when I saw a group of players on the left wing float above the screen, an unconscious correction of my eye-line took the image away. The only very impressive effects came from fixed camera shots of corners and free kicks taken just outside the penalty area, with the goalposts and corner flags seemingly aiming themselves at pint-glasses and within door frames.

The positive conclusions come from all these decently received experiences – above all, the team sheets and team layouts, which floated above the screen looking more decent and convincing than just about anything else until the final whistle.

(No, I don’t mean that ruddy kiss…)

3D broadcasting has not made any great strides. More a few uncertain side-steps. It seems to currently be at its best with static and slow tracking shots. Any sudden and swift movement loses the magic (and how many times has that been a problem in my private life…)

To ensure 3D doesn’t go the way of Minidiscs and Sodastream, I would suggest more work be done to improve both static and swift motion camera movements. And with a the Leaders Debate coming up on Thursday, SKY have a great chance to try it out this week.

We’d all tune in to see Gordon Brown appear to float under our front room lights like a hanged banker….wouldn’t we ?

Election Fever, part 94…

Nick Clegg emailed me today. Well the address was from “LIBDEMLEADER-SUBS2010@emarketing…”, but with the Leaders Debates starting tomorrow, appearance is everything. He’s a very busy man.

Yesterday was the launch of the UKIP manifesto. Never knowingly intentionally hilarious, the basement venue meant the quad of joint leaders – for that is how it looks – squashed together like naughty schoolboys outside the head’s office. I concede very well tanned, wrinkled schoolboys, although it has to be said their current down with the kids leader Lord Pearson of Rannoch closely resembles Monty Burns on ether…

It was “Honest Malcolm” who seemed to get the most laughs yesterday. He bumbled along with pretty heavy handed delivery of every over-rehearsed line – something about not wanting to order the octopus at a Brussels restaurant, or at least not to claim expenses for it – then tangled himself in knots over the policy on tactical voting.

In short, UKIP would prefer voters to choose the Tories, but not too many Tories, because that would cause a Conservative victory, thus causing the end of the nation as we know it. I assume, therefore, that m’Lord would prefer UKIP voters talk to each other by means of telepathy to ensure that, like Goldilocks, the number of votes given to each Conservative candidate is “just right”.

Lord Malcolm of Used Cars then had a manifesto blank. On the proposed burqa ban, a journalist asked about the intention to extend the ban to private buildings. “We haven’t said private buildings,” protested Malcolm. “Yes we do, it’s on page 15,” whispered one of the joint leaders. “I will hand you over to our policy chief,” blustered Lord Octopus.

It was this “policy chief” – Duncan, a normal name to offset his double barreled surname – who turned up on SKY News later in the evening to sink into a quicksand of interview failure.

“You say in the first line of your manifesto that, in year one, you will reduce public spending to 1997 levels…?” barked the interviewer
“Yes” answered Duncan
“Can you tell me what public spending levels were in 1997?”
“No”.

There will be no UKIP hilarity tomorrow during the first ever Leaders Debate, live on ITV1. Despite the constraints strapped onto the debates by the 76-point rule book – which includes, bizarrely, one rule indicating exactly when the three men can shake hands – I remain optimistic that something good will come from this new curiosity to our election campaigns.

Lord knows this has been a pedestrian campaign so far.

“I’d rather watch paint dry,” comments my mate on the prospect of watching tomorrow night. “No, actually, I’d even watch dry paint, just stare at the walls for an hour, to be honest…”

Nick Clegg, having successfully seen off a petulant Jeremy Paxman on Monday night, is in the strongest position. He needs to polish off a few soundbites, otherwise all is well. Gordon Brown has the most to lose, given how disastrous he is during live television, with his almost autistic preference for answering with pre-prepared lists of statistics.

David Cameron needs a good showing after a rather ho-hum reaction to the hard-backed “power to the people” manifesto on Tuesday. If he can avoid starting every sentence with the very Blairite “Look…”, he could be onto something…

It’s not looking good, though, this election. Still seems distant and abstract. It’s missing a vital policy difference – National Insurance contributions just ain’t snappy enough – or an incident around which the campaign can turn. Unlike American elections, from which the Leaders Debates have been adopted, an election over here happens in shorter, sharper bursts. We’ve just been lacking the burst so far…

Is it a measure of the election – or your humble Doktorb – that the excitement could come when the 90 minute interview starts tomorrow night ?

City licking

Awarding city status to Preston has had the long term effects similar to giving the OBE to a dinnerlady; welcome recognition with no tangible improvement.

Preston is a great place, and I defend it whenever up against the usual insults (nobody gets within pen throwing distance of criticising the Bus Station when I’m in ear-shot, and don’t get me started on the Football Museum…).

However, most Prestonians with an ounce of realism to them knows the market town outside their walls has not made anything like the significant strides towards fitting the presumed look or feel of a “city”. And furthermore, these people welcome that fact. I certainly do. Preston is not Manchester, nor should our councillors and unelected “vision board consultants” pretend otherwise.

A new report suggests that Preston is “boring” before the neon strip kicks in at nine, and that the town…place…has not much to attract families.

There is quite a lot I agree with.

Preston has always had a great and vibrant nightlife. My memories of boozy college nights and similarly liquid weekends after work all go back to pubs and clubs around Preston. The Black Horse is one of the best pubs I’ve ever been to, and not just for the Double Hop. Pub Quiz anoraks must know why it is one of the only buildings of its kind, too…?

One suggested improvement is a “late and live” style initiative to attract people into the city. I shudder at the management speak used, but agree with the sentiment. Preston used to have far more live music venues for people with only a couple of bank-notes in the backpocket; they have almost all closed or had a change of management. The Guild Hall should not be the only place in the city to see live theatre. The Frog and Bucket has been a surprise hit – I admit to suggesting it would close down without much notice within weeks – although its future is somewhat compromised by the mythical Tithebarn rejuvenation project.

Preston has a lot going for it; from the Continental pub’s theatre and music, to 53º with is superstar roll call of live acts, the easily accessible green bits including (just, boundary fans!) Beacon Fell, the Millennium Canal Link, and apparently a Championship level football club….

There is an elephant in the room, of course. Improvements to one part of the town cannot be made without looking at the wider picture. Tithebarn – the multi-million pound fairy story cooked up by “development agencies” – would be a disaster for those on low and middle incomes living in the immediate surrounding areas for whom John Lewis and high-end restaurant eating comes pretty low on the list of priorities. Demolishing 1,100 car parking places in addition to the 80-gate bus station would do nothing to encourage families to visit. All these “improvements” remain high on the list of Preston Council’s vision for the future; all of them are completely blinkered, short-termist nonsense.

Preston needs far more than shiny buildings if it truly wants to fit into the new city clothes. A transport system fit for the last century would be a start. Acknowledging that thousands of people would prefer money spent outside the city centre wouldn’t go amiss either.

Preston is a great place to live and work and drink, but years of political short-termism has dragged progress to a complete standstill. Like Mavis Dinnerlady OBE with her daily routine, Preston seems satisfied and comfortable without any major cosmetic changes. I would much prefer to bring a new sense of renewal to Preston in stages, bit by bit, sector by sector. Mavis would not serve Masterchef dishes the day after meeting the Queen; Preston should not start swinging the demolition ball the day after this “boring” report.

Change That Works For You

May 6, 2010. The next United Kingdom general election.

I’ll be voting for the Liberal Democrats, the only credible choice this year to offer a real alternative from the red/blue consensus that for over 65 years has pushed the country from one side of the road to the other. I genuinely believe the country can be pushed along that road towards a better future rather than constantly tripping up into the verges along the side.

Locally and nationally, people cannot afford to vote Labour on May 6th.

Many claims are made by Labour supporters in the run up to the closest, least predictable election since 1974.

“More school buildings, more teachers, higher standards!” come the cries, like so many tractor manufacture statistics. “Higher levels of truancy, increased education mortgages suffered by University students, continued lack of standards in English and mathematics amongst boys” hint and splutter the statistics under so much spin. It’s Balls, you see, Ed Balls, he of the Department for Chaos and Stupid Fads, the government ministry responsible for asking children to interview teachers to give the impression of improving standards.

Nearly 13 years after Tony Blair was elected in 1997, the nation slowly reaches out from the longest, deepest recession in modern times, optimism remains low and forecasts bleak.

The red/blue consensus were rightfully shamed into silence by Vince Cable, MP for Twikenham, and the man whose warnings against ‘casino banking’ years before the British economy slumped into near catastrophe went unheard by the so-called ‘big two’ experts in Alistair Darling and George Osborne.

Across Great Britain, the Liberal Democrats have proven themselves at local and national level. We delivered our promises working with other parties in the inaugural Scottish Parliament, disproving the lies about unworkable coalition governments. Right here in Preston, it is the Liberal Democrats keeping the minority Conservative administration in check which ensures continued value for money for Preston’s tax payers. Labour continue to sneer and insult.

From your doorstep to your tax bill, the change that works for you comes from the alternative to over 65 years of ‘one last chances’, ‘devils we know’, ‘fresh new leaders’.

In 1979, the people of Britain voted for Thatcher’s Conservatives as the broom to sweep away a discredited, bankrupt, exhausted Labour government.

In 1997, the UK chose Blair’s Labour Party to run out the discredited, sleaze ridden Conservative Party.

In 2010, the choice seems so depressingly familiar. Choose David Cameron to end the tired, discredited, bankrupt Labour Party?

Why run the same broken record every 5 years?

I’m voting Liberal Democrats – for fairer taxes, for increased funding for public transport, for a fair, transparent, and local politics relevant to you, a sustainable economy (proven by our record at local level with frozen and low-level council tax increases).

See more at http://www.libdems.org.uk