Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Irish election reaction

Via Iain Dale, I came accross this rather interesting rant (warning - language alert) about the result of the Irish general election.

However, while the rant is not surprising, neither is the fact that large numbers of people voted for Fianna Fail (indeed, as a former member, it would have been the party I would have voted for, though I should also add that the two Fianna Fail TDs in my constitutency have never had their integrity questioned).

Michael Moore, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the Bush administrations mis handling of the crisis, posted a long rant, aimed at those who had voted for him, asking how they could now justify that decision and if they would still do it. The answer in many cases has to be "John Kerry". In much the same way, the Irish electorate were faced with two choices - keep Fianna Fail and Bertie Ahern as Taoiseach, or replace them with a Fine Gael led Rainbow Coalition led by Enda Kenny (a man by the way who is insisting that he can still form a government, but that almost certainly means he's either very bad at maths or he's keeping open the possibility of inviting Sinn Fein into government, neither of which reflects well on him).

To express surprise at the fact that the Irish electorate didn't punish Fianna Fail for their "corrupt" behaviour is to affect a total ignorance of how Irish politics has worked for years - especially outside Dublin. The fact that Michael Lowry has been returned for three successive elections despite being expelled from Fine Gael for corruption, and that Beverly Cooper Flynn was returned in Mayo after being slung out of Fianna Fail when she lost a libel case against RTE means that even today Irish voters will accept corrupt politicans assuming they look after their constituents (in addition, both have been able to play the Dublin elite trying to put down the culchies card). This is nothing new - it is a fact that Charles Haughey used to be met by his constituents as they left Mass on Sunday morning with the comments "Charlie, you're a corrupt man, but we love you anyway".

With all that in mind - its then no surprise that Fianna Fail held up its vote and its number of seats. They've always been good at "managing" the vote (a concept foreign to the UK political system where we have the First past the vote system - parties don't try to split their vote between your three candidates to maximise the effect). More to the point, despite the many issues identified in the rant, they've presided over one of the best periods of economic growth in Irish history - when I did my Leaving Cert 15 years ago, Ireland was still exporting people to the UK and the US, and there was concern about the knock on effect to Ireland of German reunification, which had effectively closed off one popular destination for Irish emigrants. Now, it's immigration that is the issue - the streets of Dublin when I left three years ago were filled with Chinese, Filipinos and Nigerians, and in the three years since EU enlargement Ireland has become 5% Polish. The alternative to Fianna Fail was the Rainbow coalition, led by Fine Gael. Plenty of people had reservations about Enda Kenny as Taoiseach (though to be fair, not as many as had them about Michael Noonan who led FG to their worst result in decades in 2002), but those with long memories would also remember that one of the worst periods for the economy in recent Irish history coincided with the FG/Labour coalition of 1982-1987 - one of only two periods in the last 30 years that Fianna Fail have not been in government. FG would have been leading a coalition made up of the Labour party and possibly the Greens. Its possible that many people thought that a coalition including left wing parties could be more damaging to the economy than the existing government.

If the answer to why lots of people voted for George Bush in 2004 was "John Kerry", then equally, the answer to why lots of people voted for Fianna Fail last Thursday is almost certainly "Rainbow Coalition".

Monday, May 28, 2007

Race and schooling

I'm just back from a long weekend attending a friend's wedding in Poland - tips on how to survive to come later - and while browsing Conservative Home, I notice a report on the BBC saying that David Willetts is proposing a policy that will allow schools to choose their pupils on the basis of race. (The report adds that "Government figures in the Observer show some schools in England have a pupil majority from one ethnic group." - really and truly it's time the BBC got some decent editors - the statement taken literally is hardly a shock as England has a majority from one ethnic group - white English).

Comments about the BBC aside, I would strongly urge the party not to go down this line. My wife is Singaporean, which means that my son is of mixed race. I do not want him to be defined in terms of his race, but simply in terms of him being what he is - a British citizen, who I hope will grow up to be a credit to this country. I want him to be given the education he deserves - not because he's mixed race to suit some equality or integration, but because it's his birth right as an Englishman. The first step to ensuring that he feels different is to draw attention to his "difference". So please - lets not go down that road.

(Just to note - the boy actually started walking more than a step over the weekend - including a fairly good walk during the wedding party itself. Being a Polish wedding, he was actually walking better and falling over less than some of the adults at the end of evening!)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Korea, dogs and football songs

It was the one, incredibly predictable fact about last weeks cup final was that the Man United fans would sing a song on the subject of Jose Mourinhio and his dog. What was nearly as predictable was that references to Man United's Korean striker, Ji Sung Park, would be made in the song.

Like most Man United players, Park has his own song which can be regularly heard from the Stretford End at Old Trafford. The lyrics are (to the tune of Lord of the Dance):

Park, Park, where you may be,
you eat dogs in your home country,
but it could be worse, you could be Scouse,
eating rats in your council house.

The lyrics are aimed at United's old rivals from down the M62 - but the fact remains that part of the lyrics touch on a subject which is rather sensitive for the Koreans. I don't know if Park's English is up to understanding the song (it's not always possible to make out the lyrics to songs like this at football grounds) or if anyone has explained it, but he's probably also managed to work he's rather popular with the United fans.

For the cup final, predicatably there were a couple of songs - the one I heard quite regularly while queuing for the programs was another ditty to the tune of the Lord of the Dance:

Jose, where ever you may be,
Ji Sung ate your dog for tea,
Special One, your dog is dead,
maybe you should get a cat instead.

Jim White in his report on the FA Cup final also reported this variation on Winter Wonderland:

Mourinho are you listening
You know your dog went missing
Well we heard it bark
So we fed it to Park
Eaten in a stir-fry wonderland

The thing about all these chants is they, are by the standards of football chants, vaguely funny and pleasantly free from the sort of language and aggression that is often typical of the average football song. But, in all cases, they rely for their humour on a blatant stereotyping of Koreans - so it begs the question "why aren't these chants covered by the anti racist chanting rules that are now in place in football?"

Faith schools and marraige

The Telegraph reports today that some faith schools are using "intrusive methods" such as asking parents for copies of their marraige certificate. This apparently is a form of "social selection".

Actually, it isn't. Assuming that faith schools are in fact attempting to ensure that they are in fact taking kids whose parents are serious about raising them in the relevant faith, its actually quite a reasonable question to ask. If a child's parents are cohabiting rather than married to each other, the chances are they aren't particularly serious about the faith in the first place.

This leads to a wider point about faith schools - their whole purpose is recognising that education is about more than how many GCSEs and A levels a child gets, and recognising it's about a more holisitic approach, which covers such things as values and personal development. Faith schools do that development in the context of the faith they teach - this is true regardless of whether the school is Catholic, Church of England, Jewish or Muslim. That has to include the teaching of the relevant faith in the home. And an over subscribed faith school is being quite reasonable when it says it wants to choose kids who parents want them to attend because it's a faith school, rather than because it gets better A level results than the "bog standard" comprehensive down the road.

One other comment was "In Roman Catholic schools, more than 90 per cent of children were found to be Christian". Well there's a shock. Catholic schools have long had a selection criteria that said "Catholics first, then other church going Christians". In any case, the Telegraph report isn't clear, but given that the sentence is then followed with "in Jewish schools all pupils subscribed the faith." it must mean this is true for some schools rather than an assessment of all Catholic or Jewish schools. It's certainly not true that all Jewish schools are 100% Jewish - as David Cameron recently reminded us.

Monday, May 21, 2007

New Wembley

We had the good fortune to get tickets for the FA Cup Final - so it was a most impressive sight. Rather disappointing however that the loos were over flowing by the end - a couple of comments were over heard along the lines of "somethings at Wembley never change".

Getting away afterwards wasn't too bad - as Man United fans, we decided to leg it on the full time whistle as we didn't want to hang around feeling miserable and then get stuck in the middle of the Chelsea queuing for the tube. Quite impressed we were back at Shenfield by 7:30 considering we only left Wembley at 5:45.

One comment on the match - I was rather disgusted at the cynical behaviour of the Chelsea players for what was left of the game after Drogba's goal - three bookings inside six minutes means they also accrued enough bookings for an automatic disrepute charge.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Zimbabwe and the UN

So it's confirmed that Zimbabwe have been elected to chair the UN Commission on Sustainable Development.

Isn't this the equivalent of asking Iain Huntley to chair a committee on Child Protection?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Whats a bad result?

I've just noticed that the local LibDems are claiming that they had a "successful night" in the recent local elections.

Considering they lost two seats, including their deputy leader getting beaten by a chap studying for his A levels, I wonder what they'd regard as a "bad" night.

West Ham, Southend, Tevez and injustice.

Here's an interesting point that was made by someone on the Southend United mailing list.

It has been suggested that the compromise made by the Premiership over the Tevez affair would be to allow Sheffield United and West Ham to stay in the Premiership, making a 21 team league affair next week.

If this happened, the knock on effect could be that Southend are "saved" from their relegation, in order to keep the Championship at 24.

It's probably wishful thinking, but given that Leeds deliberately went into administration before the end of this season so their ten point penalty didn't affect their League 1 campaign, it would be tempting for the League authorities to say to the Blues to stay up. With my Man United hat on - great news. With my Southend hat, better news.

Value for money

I saw Hazel Blears yesterday - briefly - on Sky News as she was discussing her campaign for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party. She was arguing her job should be about the party and campaigning, and not neccessarily a ministerial post.

She was then asked if that meant she'd refuse the Ministerial Jag and the perks of office. Obviously she didn't want to answer, so she started waffling on about the importance of the public seeing value for money.

While value for money has never been a strong point of the current Labour government (NHS, IT, the Dome, the Olympics) is this Blears admitting that maybe Labour made a mistake allowing John Prescott to cost the tax payer two million per annum for his non job?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Classic FM

Apparently, lots of under 15s are listening to Classic FM. And when I say lots, I mean half a million.

Probably won't make Simon Heffer very happy though.

Ruth Kelly and majorities.

Ruth Kelly was asked a question in Parliament earlier this week by Brentwood MP Eric Pickles, in which she was asked about the implementations of the Lyons recommendations.

Her response was a classic piece of New Labour denial, in which she claimed that Labour "increased our majority" in Bolton, and took seats from the Conservatives, and this was a sign that the Conservatives were failing to make progress.

Funny, that's not what the BBC report. I'm not familiar with the individual ward results in the Bolton area, but according to the BBC, the Conservatives made a net gain in Bolton (albeit one seat, but its important to allow for the fact that only one third of the seats were up for grabs to start with). Labour also gained two seats, but both parties gained at the expense of the LibDems.

But it does rather beg the question of what she means by a majority when her local Council is a No Overall Control council.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Interest rate increases.

It is hard not to feel a slight amount of smugness at our decision two years ago to get a fixed rate mortgage - as of today, we're now at a rate lower than the Bank of England's base rate.

Watching the 10 o'clock news, which has been mostly focussed on the (long overdue) departure of Tony Blair, they did only a short piece on the rate increases. But couldn't the BBC have found a slightly more sympathetic person amongst the millions of home owners for whom the increase is not good news. They interviewed a young woman, who owned what looked like a very nice house in Hertfordshire. She had borrowed five times her salary and the report said that she had an increase of 150 pounds per month over this time last year (there's been a full percentage increase since last August). A quick calculation based on this article indicates that her mortgage must be about 230,000 - or her annual salary is about 46,000. She's worried because shock horror, she might have to take in lodgers.

Funnily enough, I'm not really that sympathetic that she might have to take lodgers - I did it myself in my single days as a deliberate strategy to get a slightly bigger property. And frankly, as a single woman earning that sort of money she's hardly the typical first time buyer. Surely the BBC weren't so distracted by the non news story of Blair's resignation* to not be able to find a better human interest/sob story about the rate rises.

Having said all that, it's faintly ironic the Gazette was carrying a front page article this week about how Brentwood was the most expensive borough in Essex, and expressing concern about the ability of first time buyers to get onto the ladder in the area - and the fact that the lack of first time buyers could be bad news for those of us who already own houses in the area.

* It's not "news" when the papers have been saying all week he's going to resign today.

Young councillors....

Haven't had a chance to blog for a few days, but I should say congratulations to William Lloyd, who has become one of the country's youngest councillors. And extra brownie points for taking his seat off the LibDems.