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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Raw Spirit

I am currently reading this excellent book by Iain Banks regarding my favourite (alcoholic) drink - single malt whisky.

It is a book about whisky, but also about this pre-eminent British (Scottish) author, a semi-autobiography. It is certianly not a conventional book, more of a conversational ramble. For pro-war people like me his occasional diatribes against GWB or Tony Blair are irritating, and a perfect example of how otherwise incredibly intelligent people can be unbelievably stupid (while I find the pacifist opposition to the war understandable on some level I find the anti-American, specifically anti-Bush, point of view to be utterly insensible - which is the view to which to which Banks jettisons his brain cells and seeminly subscribes to). But ignore those, and you have an excellent portrait of Scotland, of whisky, and of why this man is simply one of the best British writers today.

Full disclosure: this entry was typed while under the influence of Isle of Jura and cask strength Laphroig. I can heartily recommend these two very fine malts.

Monday, May 23, 2005

A complete life

On last Saturday evening, that is the 21st, at about twenty to eleven, my grandmother died. My mother looked up from me at the other side of the bed, set in a little side-room in the hospital, and said that she thought I ought to get a nurse as Granny's hands were going very white very quickly. The nurse came in, and could feel a faint pulse. He went to take Gran's blood-sugar levels, but the machine did not seem to be giving him a clear reading. He went around the other side of the bed to take the pulse again, and just as he was doing that the drip stopped, and he could not find it. God had called a good and faithful servant home.

We are very fortunate. Granny had only really become seriously ill on the previous Thursday evening, when she complained of a bad tummy ache. She had a difficult Friday, and my Mum decided to bring forward a planned visit one weekend. On Saturday morning my Gran was not precisely well, but had not declined, and so all of us in the family went about our plans, though with the knowledge that this could well be the beginning of the end. But by lunchtime Gran had deteriorated rapidly, and was being admitted to hospital as an emergency. My brother, the practical one (and out of us three brothers the only one who drives) went down to Cornwall at some speed, and met up with a family friend and her daughter - whom Gran had known her entire life - to be with her in hospital. My Mum was, in a fashion typical for our family, an hour or so north of Birmingham without her car. At this stage though, we simply did not know about how serious this was.

That changed by late afternoon, when it had become clear that Granny had reached the final portion of her life here on earth. My mum had since been able to be in contact with the hospital, and given the order to not resucitate, in line with my Gran's wishes. The only question now would she - and me (picked up en route) - arrive before she went. In the event we were, and on reflection it is clear to us that Providence was at work here.

Obviously we have been on the 'phone a lot since, and the thing people have said again and again is that they had spoken to Gran in the last few days. Some very old friends popped in to see her recently, or others rang or wrote a letter. I recall Gran saying how busy a week it had been that Wednesday.

We will miss her terribly, for all that she was. And yet, of course, she is not truly gone. In the words of the hymnwright “Death, where is they sting? Where grave thy victory?” Christ has dissolved that barrier, and all that has merely happened is that my Gran’s earthly existence has come to a close. She remains part of the great Christian Community past and present. That is what I believe, so this is no good-bye, it is “until we meet again”. I am in no doubt that she has begun her journey to Christ, and also to be reunited with her husband, my grandpa, who died when I was four months old.

Granny was born in the fateful spring of 1918 in London, and she lived in London until twenty years ago when she moved to Cornwall. She lived a very full life, although myself of course I only know those final decades. She married my grandpa in the summer of 1941. After his death, of a heart attack, she embarked on a new stage of her life, a stage that would last just over twenty-five years. Her widow-hood was not simply an addendum, it was a whole new volume.

When she moved to Cornwall she threw herself into the life of the village, becoming one of its many pillars. She gave of her time to many things, the Royal British Legion, the Royal National Lifeboat Association (our Coastguard service), Meals on Wheels for the elderly (at one point everyone on her round was younger than her), and in countless ways with the local Parish, and a bunch of other organisations I will have forgotten. For all this she will be missed by many more than just those of us that were her family, or close friends. She touched so many lives, and touched them for the better.

In her last years my Gran’s boundaries contracted, as she first became unable to drive, slowly lost her mobility, until at the beginning of this year she had to go to a Nursing Home. She was never one to complain, there was always a certain steely determination that one always associates with those who lived through the Blitz. Resolutely cheerful she faced the loss of this independence with the same fortitude that she faced her entire life, and I do not believe she was unhappy there. Within a few weeks she had made friends with all the staff, and her birthday in particular was an occasion of joy.

I have, this last week, kept returning to the language of completeness. As I was there when she slipped away I was struck by how right the ending was. There was no sense of struggle, and no sign of pain, only of gentle rest. The sense of restfulness after finishing a mighty task, of a job well done. It was her time, and her work on this earth – her life – was done. She stayed with us until she was sure her daughter was there, and then she packed her bags, and went. She was always a great one for travelling. She had completed her life, and that is another reason why I cannot be overly sad. Rather I feel to have been enriched beyond measure by the blessing of knowing her. Christ is in each of us, and in her Christ shone.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Episode III

Well, as the title suggests I have now seen Episode III. This is a short post as it is 1am over here, and I need to go to bed!!!

My overall impression is that the whole story arc I-III is, in many respects, a grander and more compelling story than the one told in IV-VI. Alas, it seems that Lucas only had one masterpiece in him. I very much enjoyed the film, but moments that would have been iconic in IV-VI simply do not match that quality. Maybe it is the audacity of (relative) youth, or maybe it is because Lucas is now very much part of the establishment that he originally challenged. Star Wars has always been known for its special effects, and they do not disappoint, but now there seems to be a pointlessness to them, something done out of habit for the lack of something better.

And that is, in a nutshell, my basic opinion.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Manchester United

I have something of an antipathy to soccer, and so the stories of outraged Manchester United fans protesting at the takeover by Malcolm Glazer brought a nice glowing feeling to my stomach.

However, as I have read, the English aren't necessarily opposed to foreign owners. Ramon Abromovich seems to have won the hearts of Chelsea fans - if only because at matches he looks the role of a fan (a cousin of mine is a Chelsea supporter, so I have found myself on occasion watching - well mostly ignoring - a soccer match from time to time on the telly).

Personally though I think in 3-4 years time people will be asknig what all the fuss was about.

A good example

As British readers will doubtless remember a few days into the election campaign Abigail Witchalls was left paralysed after being attacked and stabbed with a knife.

Today there are two articles on her, the first saying that she has began to regain some feeling - a very hopeful sign. As for the second article, let me just except the first line:

The husband of stabbing victim Abigail Witchalls has said her attacker needs help and insisted both he and his wife feel no anger towards him.

Another line, for a little further down:

Asked if he could appreciate that some people would find it remarkable he felt no anger, Mr Witchalls said: "Maybe it will come."

Today when people speak of justice what they often mean is vengeance. Forgiveness is, I feel, the hardest part of the Christian religion. Our anger is so important to us, it speaks to us of our perceived rights, of all that is precious to our selfish selves. It is a remarkable thing that these two brave young people feel no anger, and a remarkable example of how to approach these extreme and surely terrifying situations, whatever the particulars might be.

Hating Blogger

OK it's only taken me 24 hours to realise that the post I had the French somehow only got half-posted. No idea why, but I've deleted it now. I may or may not get around to re-writing out something similar, but I though a half-post just looked stupid.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The BBC riles the SNP

This story about how the BBC's new weather map has gotten the SNP's collective back-up is just priceless.

It's a damn weather map after all. Besides, in a faux-democracy of course more attention is going to be paid to England, 'cause there are more people there (10 times more people, or thereabouts).

Well, at least it'll keep the SNP happy.

Labour minority?

One of the future pub quiz's questions will most likely be "In which election did a government get into power with the smallest share of the vote?" The answer is of course 2005 with 36.3% for the Labour Party (unless it gets beaten next time around of course). This has caused a great deal of hot air, and calls for Proportional Representation.

To which I basically say "tosh".

If Tory complainers cast their minds back only a little, Maggie Thatcher never got in with a majority of the popular vote either. Indeed, in recent times I think only Labour in 1997 managed to break the 50% margin. Assuming the system worked for Maggie Thatcher then it works for Tony Blair. All the howling is about the fact the Tories lost for a third time. I'm sure there were plenty of complaints about how the system favoured the Tories back in 1987. The fact that both Tories and Labour have managed to maintain sizeable majorities with minority votes is a sign that the system works.

All in all I find myself in complete agreement with DM Andy.

I also happen to think PR is absolutely what we must avoid. Political Parties are mostly unaccountable as things stand. No need to give them complete control of the political system. Or, in other words, three independents won in seats in this election. While I have an antipathy for George Galloway, the system that allows independents to stand in a constituency with a reasonable chance of winning if they can motivate local feeling is a sign of a healthy democracy. That is all.

Edit: corrected the % figure. Cheers Andy.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Baseball blogging

And a final post for tonight, just to note that the Baltimore Orioles tied the recent 4-game series against the White Sox, winning the last 2 games. What makes this of note is that they are two front-men down at the moment. Oh, and the White Sox also happen to be the hottest team in baseball at the moment. This means we are again 11 games above .500, and we will have a chance to go better when we go to Kansas city tomorrow.

Now if only Seattle could wreck the Yankee train that once again has gotten its boiler fired up...

Right to Life

On the Today Programme this morning I heard a little about this case where the General Medical Council is appealing against a decision in which a man with a brain disorder won the right to prevent doctors deciding whether it was time to stop any possible future nutrition. He originally went to court because he foresaw a time when he would be needing nutrition - but not life support - to still live, when doctors might decide to pull the feeing tube, and he would therefore be concious of starvation.

The General Medical Council are appealing apparently for 'clarification'. There may or may not be a good argument there, but personally I imagine the real reason the GMC is appealing is because they resent the fact someone took them on and won.

I am, of course, prejudiced against the GMC in this as that august body seems to take a dim view of peoples' right to life. Also, from a on-the-ground perspective it seems a willing conniver in the view that elderly patients, or those with advanced conditions, are not worth treating. The phrase "appropriate treatment" to me hides a number of medical sins. After all, most people follow their doctors' advice. They trust them, on the whole. As I heard one doctor, for whom i have a great deal of respect, quite openly say (I paraphrase) "95% of the time a patient will arrive at the decision you want them to, because of what and how you tell them".

An example of what I mean, on the Today Programme there was one pro-GMC doctor who was saying that providing of a feeding tube could have side effects, and possible cause heart failure in at risk patients. I accept that, but what the interviewer did not ask, and what seemed blindingly obvious to me, is that surely one should weigh the possible risk of heart complications next to the certain result of starvation? Or, in other words, that doctor is not one I would ever want to be in charge of my care, or the care of any of my friends of relatives.

Of course, what can one do? The NHS at the moment - hopefully Tony Blair will manage to get some changes through in this regard - remains a prison system to which we are forced to subscribe and obstacles are littered in your path if you try to break out. Now, if patients start being able to decide which doctors/hospitals to go to, and if they do away with the ridiculous geographical restrictions on getting certain treatments, then I might start to view the NHS in a more positive light.

Catholic-Anglican agreement on Mary

Via The Corner it appears that the Catholic Church and Anglican Communion have come to an understanding about the role of Mary, in a document called Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ, which in a cursory look on the web I cannot at the moment find.

At particular issue here are the Catholic doctrines of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin (incidentally these are the only two matters on which the process of infallibility has been used in the last couple of centuries - which is slightly odd when you consider that the Feast of the Assumption has been going since the time of the Emperor Maurice in the late 6th century). The Anglican objection here - as is the usual Protestant objection to the Catholic Tradition - is that there is no scriptural basis. Of course, Catholics do not believe is sola scriptura, and that is the real root of the conflict.

According to the article though the Anglicans have essentialy agreed that nothing in these doctrines contradicts Anglcan teaching. However, hints of the deeper problem show through with the following little sentance:

The only remaining question between the faiths is the authority on which those dogmas are based, he said - a question to be tackled in future discussions.

I am not entirely sure what to make of that, save that the underlying difference of course remains.

Of course, I say all this not having read the document in question, because I cannot at the moment find it. If/when I do, I will read and may even post a follow-up.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Answer to a question

In a comment to a post below Rythin asks me:

At CIA Factbook, under 'Religion' headline they wrote:

Anglican and Roman Catholic 40 million

I am wondering how many of them are Catholics and how many Anglicans? Do you have such info?


Now, I'm making an educated guess Rythin means the UK entry in the CIA factbook, where the full breakdown religion breakdown reads:

Anglican and Roman Catholic 40 million, Muslim 1.5 million, Presbyterian 800,000, Methodist 760,000, Sikh 500,000, Hindu 500,000, Jewish 350,000 .
As regards the Catholics here is the information of the Catholic Church for England & Wales. That shows an estimated Catholic population of 4 million, with a weekly mass attendance of just under 1 million.

I can't find it at the moment, but it is generally thought there are probably more regular churchgoing Catholics than Anglicans, but as I recall the difference isn't very great. So on that basis there would be about 36 million Anglicans, with again about 1 million weekly attendance.

In both cases that 1 million under-estimates the number of regular churchgoers somewhat because it does not accurately count those that attend only 1-3 services a month, and especially not those who attend less often than that.

In any event I hope that helps to answer the question.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

John Paul the Great on the path to beatification

Benedict XVI has agreed to allow the process of beatifying John Paul the Great on the to begin.

For most the history of the Church saints were not proclaimed by councils or cardinals, but by popular acclamation. Though John Paul the Great, if he is in fact proclaimed Blessed, will go through the modern system nonetheless this harks back to earlier days in the history of the Church.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The second election contest

Back at the start of the election campaign I blogged about how I felt this was really a two contest election. The headline one between the Tories and Labour, and the second one between the Lib Dems and the Tories. With a week since the result I am more convinced that this second contest is indeed more important than the main one. I wrote back then:

Why is this contest important: because it will determine if the current Lib Dem numbers are sustainable, or merely the result of anti-Tory feeling occasioned by the long spell in government that existed in the 1997 and 2001 elections. This is one of the most important questions for the long and medium term political landscape, and in some respects is far more important than who wins this election.

Well, the results in showed that the Lib Dems were able to maintain their place. Maintain, but not significantly advance. We remain in a two-and-a-half party system regardless about what the Lib Dems say for themselves.

Looking into the details of the Tory-LD campaign though there were some interesting little details that bear remembering, in case they should lead to anything in future years.

The first thing to remember is that the Lib Dems explicitly went after a 'decapitation' campaign of prominent Tories, including Michael Howard. It was spectacularly unsuccessful - almost all their targets increased the size of their majorities (Dorset North and Maidenhead - the seats of Oliver Letwin and Theresa May respectively - were two of the most talked about).

The second thing is to look at the eight seats that changed hands between the Tories and Lib Dems. The Lib Dems won three seats from the Tories, Taunton (1%), Westmoreland & Lonsdale (0.5%), and Solihull (0.5%) (majorities in terms of share of vote in parentheses). In comparison the Tories won from the Lib Dems Devon West & Torridge (5.5%), Guildford (0.7%), Ludlow (4.4%), Newbury (6.3%), and Weston-super-Mare (4.2%). A quick look will see the Tories won their seats with generally far greater majorities.

This means I think that, in the traditional LD-Tory battlegrounds of the more rural parts of England - especially in the South West - the Lib Dems look as if they may be vulnerable. However, in 2005 the Tories may have come ahead on points, but there was no clear victor.

Let me be clear however, the maintenance of Liberal Democrat numbers was no small achievement, especially in historical terms. But it reinforces a point I was making on election night. The Tories had a net loss of two seats against the Tories. Their surest games came at Labour's expense, and hopefully now the Lib Dems will realise this. They made a fundamental miscalcuation in going after the Tories this year. They are to the left of New Labour, and they should have known they did not have a gnat's chance of converting the Tory core vote to their way of thinking. Neither the tories or Labour have long managed the balancing act of winning big in both city and shire. Now it appears to be the Lib Dems' turn to see if they can bridge that divide.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Yalta

Lots of noise being made about President's Bush's comments on Yalta. Yalta is, along with Versailles, one of the most disasterous interntional summits in human history, for just as Versailles led to Hitler Yalta was the foundation of the Cold War and the post-WW2 Soviet Empire.

For Britain (since France was out of the picture at that point) Yalta represents the purest form form betrayal. We entered war with Germany, on the 3rd September, to protect the freedom of a nation called Poland. At Yalta, confirmed subsequently at Potsdam, we gave the Poles over to another 45 years of servitude to an Empire just as evil as the one we had just crushed. If that is not a betrayal, a betrayal of ourselves as much as a betrayal of the Poles, I do not know what is.

Now, it is quite possible that the post-WW2 division was the best that could possibly be hoped for. It may well be that the result of Yalta was simply the least evil choice of many infernal options. It still remains that Yalta (and the other WW2 conferences) led to great evil, and we in the West should not be proud of our history there. Even Churchill had his dirty slip of paper, the envelope on the back of which he basically divided Europe.

Remember this, it is the great shame of Churchill's memory, that cannot take away from all the great good that he did but acts as a stark warning for those of us who follow.

I simply do understand those who think that Yalta was anything other than the coffin of democracy and freedom in Eastern Europe for more than a generation.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

A few Benedict XVI thoughts - more or less

Looking on the Vatican website I note that the first public Letter that Benedict XVI has written is "to Rabbi Elio Toaff on the occasion of his birthday." I can't imagine a more prosaic, yet more profound statement of the legacy of John Paul the Great, and others.

Also, in his address to the Sri Lankan bishops on their Ad limina apostolorum visit included the following comment:

"We can recognize further signs of God’s goodness in the partnership and collaboration of so many diverse elements of society in the relief effort. It was heartening to see members of different religious and ethnic groups in Sri Lanka and throughout the global community coming together to show their solidarity towards the afflicted and rediscovering the fraternal bonds that unite them."

One of the great, yet wonderful, myseteries of our existence is that great catastrophes are so often also the basis of great good. No matter how transitory the unity in the days immediately after the earthquake, the fact of our universal humanity is a shining memory, and it will be repeated.

In a similar vein, and returning to my first point, these days mark the end of a regieme based upon racial hatred. It is a sad thing to say, but without the Nazis it is unlikely that the Catholic Church would ever have been moved to address and confront the issue of anti-Semitism as forcefully as it has done these last 40 years. There would simply have never been perceived to be the need. It took that great tragedy to make the Church realise where it stood, and to realise the need to proclaim it.

A final Benedict XVI comment, in this audience on April 27th he refers to the late Pope as "my Venerable Predecessor John Paul II". Venerable is a title probably most famously associated with the Venerable Bede, and I think a clear sign that Benedict does hold his predecessor in a special honour.

Labour will miss Tony Blair when he is gone

That is the title of an article in the Guardian (via RCP) by Martin Kettle, and it is a very good piece of opinion at that, and I agree with the basic argument.

In this, as in so many other things, the parallels between Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher are almost scarily similar. Thatcher was, of course, in her way just as controversial a reformer of the Tory party as Blair has been of Labour. She was just as divisive, and remains so today. She was also basically forced out of office by Tory MPs finally fed up with her, yet her legacy remains central to understanding not just the Tory Party, but all of Britain today. In some respects it is quite proper to call the election the 7th victory of Thatcherism. I would not be at all surprised were Blairism to leave this country with a similar legacy, or for Tony Blair to remain highly controversial 15 years from now. Also, without a doubt, when the electoral wheels turn again many Labour supporters will look back the these last 8 years with misty eyes, as many Tories think wistfully back to the 1980s.

Slightly interesting statistic

Looking at the standings in the NL West right now (that is before any games played today) three teams - the Padres, Diamondbacks, and Giants - all of which are over .500, also all have had more runs scored against them than they themselves have scored. As of this moment they seem to be the only major league teams to be in that amusing situation, and for some reason they are all in the same division.

In contrast I can only see two teams under .500 scoring more then their opponents: Milwaukee and Detroit, both of which are just 1 game under .500, and also happen to be in different leagues (albeit both in the central division - another fun co-incidence).

I do love it when stats throw up fun things like this.

Monday, May 09, 2005

More than just the war

One of the rather irritating things about the media is they way they try to reduce complicated events to just one headline. It is a seductive theory of current events, as it is a seductive theory of history, the One Big Thing. In both realms it is probably one of the best signs that the editors/writers are of inferior quality.

Iraq was not the torpedo that sunk the HMS Tony Blair. Partly because the ship remains resolutely un-sunk, but mostly because outside of a few selected seats Iraq, by itself, was not important. Only when combined with a number of other issues such as concerns of the New Labour's reform of the public services (ie foundation hospitals), crime and order, immigration, student top-up fees, house prices, and fuel prices along with a passel of other stuff, in addition to an 8+ year reputation of being spinner-in-chief and bending to the wind does Iraq at reverberate. People easily forget that Tony Blair was never particularly trusted in the sense of telling the truth. People may well have trusted him to run the country reasonably, and in particularly better than the Tories, but he was always seen as something of an epitome of a politician with a fairly casual relationship with the truth. Iraq is simply the issue that seems to have confirmed this for most people.

There was a reason why a lot of fuss was made about ID Cards, foundation hospitals, and student top-up fees to mention just three of the more contentious issues in the previous Parliament. And I imagine very quickly the headline writers and readers will remember all those other one-dimensional reasons why they dislike Tony Blair.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

The 60th anniversary

Today of course is the 60th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. But what, I wonder, does it mean today when a man like George Galloway gets elected? A man who would, on the basis of his current actions, have opposed the war against Hitler with equal fervour, and who would have denied the reality of the concentration camps.

Of course, there were many such in Britain in 1939, and before, and it is a useful thing to remember. Mosley and Halifax, in their different ways, are representative of Galloway today. This nation survived their machinations then, and I reassure myself that we will emerge from Galloway's tenure as well.

For it is precisely because of the commemorations today that there are elections for people like Mr Galloway to stand in. Democracy is not a panacaea for all ills, nor is it in any way a perfect system. It is a human system, with all that implies. Mr Galloway stands as a warning, but also in a peculiar sense a sign of triumph. As this day makes us remember there are precious few systems in the history of our race that have tolerated such traitorous dissent. It is a triumph of the freedom of speech, of the freedom of voting that confirms and affirms our democracy.

That is all.

Horrible Saturdays

Washing machine broke, kitchen flooded twice, new washing machine, and to top it all over had some boiling water sprayed over me (not serious).

All in all, yesterday was not a good day.

Friday, May 06, 2005

A brief round-up

I do intend some more detailed posts over the next few days, but now that it is almost over bar the shouting (some Northern Ireland seats still coming in, and it looks like 2 English seats are not yet declared). Labour have a reduced majority, the Tories and the Lib Dems did some horse-trading to the Tories' net gain, and there was a lot of regional variation. The Scottish Nationalists did well, but Plaid Cymru were disappointing. And a total of 3 independent MPs are elected to Westminster, something that probably has not happened since the first decades of the 20th century. The Ulster Unionists in Northern Ireland seem to be doing badly, the Democratic Unionists are doing well.

In the local elections it is looking like the Tories have picked up some more of their traditional shires, but about a third of Councils are yet to declare.

Overall a national swing of about 3% to the Tories, and the Labour government has broken the record for having the lowest share of the vote yet still able to form a majority.

Signing Off

Need to get a couple of hours of sleep before tomorrow. I may well not have a post up tomorrow - might well be sleeping - but I'll try to post something vaguely intelligent on Saturday.

My constituency

Taunton has been won by the Lib Dems. So it looks like the LDs and Tories might well do a little bit of horse-trading. A very small swing to the LDs - they have a majority of about just 1%. My guess is that there was a better ground game from the LDs, and that they managed to persuade just enough Labour voters to vote their way.

Irritated though I am at the thought of being represented by the Lib Dems I have to say I feel no great loss at Adrian Flook's defeat. A typically odious politician.

What will intersting me particularly are how the local election in Somerset will go, but that won't be counted until tomorrow.

starting to flag

Well in the last half-hour I have started to feel really tired. I haven't heard anything yet of Taunton, whether there is a recount or anything. Unless matters change I am going to stay up for another half-hour, and then hit the sack. Got to go to work tomorrow after all!

Currently Labour have 289 seats, and the BBC is predicted a majority in the 70s, with about 200 Tory MPs and the LDs in the high 50s. About 420 seats in total are now in, so about two-thirds. It is of course the rural seats that take the longest.

My feelings at the moment are that Andrew Marr was right at the very beginning of the night - this is a night of surprises. The biggest surprise is probably some of the LD gains at Labour's expense.

London

One of the stories of the night so far are the Tory gains from Labour in the London area. They have picked up 5 seats from Labour there so far, and the average swings are far higher than in the rest of the country.

Tory hold in Somerset

In Bridgwater. A safe Tory seat, now with an increased majority. LD lost 7% share of vote. This is the consistuency that shares a huge border with my own. Hopefully it will not be long until Taunton.

Tory gain in Somerset

Weston super Mare is a gain from the LDs.

I await news of my own seat with interest.

Second Somerset seat

Somerton & Frome a LD hold. It was a top Tory target. Virtually no change in share of vote from 2001. Without a doubt a good hold the LDs, and again in contradiction with the Torbay swing.

In other south-west news they also held onto Teignbridge in Devon, a seat they picked up from the Tories in 2001.

Tories in Wales

The Tories have taken Monmouth in Wales, which I think is their first Welsh seat since 1997, and ensures that there will be at least one non-English UK seat!

Wyre Forest

An independent won this seat in 2001, he has held onto it in tonight. I think this is a very good result. It will mean there are a number of other independents in this Parliament.

Voting LD, getting Tory

Shrewsbury and Atcham a perfect example of this. The Tory vote barely changes, Labour loses 10%, the LD gets 10%, the Tories can the seat from Labour.

More south-west

Cheltenham with an interesting result. The LD vote went down by 6% and there is an independent with 6% of the vote. I don't know what that is about, but I find it interesting.

Tory northern gain

At Shipley. What is interesting the Tory share decreased from 2001 by 2%, just the Labour share decreased by nearly 6%. The LD's share went up by 4%, but the BNP went up by 4% as well. An interesting result. Close result, and I think the first Tory gain in the North.

Manchester LD gain

A second Manchester LD gain at Rochdale, from Labour.

Reliving 1997

One of the most iconic moments of 1997 was the defeat of Michael Portillo in Enfield South. Well, it looks as if the Tories have the seat back. It was held by Stephen Twigg, the Schools Minister. That might be the first proper scalp.

It does look like London is being its own region. Tories doing very well.

Battersea

Labour has just held onto Battersea with a majority of 163 unless my maths is completely out.

Also Labour is now apparently saying they think Oona King has lost to George Galloway. That is a sad day for British democracy. Hitler, and bin Laden, will be proud.

LD gains from Labour

Birmingham Yardley - this is probably the fallout of the collapse of Rover.

Manchester Withington with a huge swing to the LDs. I would guess an anti-war vote, but that is a guess.

Cardiff Central - this was a LD target, no.4 on their list, so 'should' have fallen on the basis of what is happening elsewhere, and has.

On the basis of these I think it is plain that the LDs should have aimed more aggressively at Labour. I think they still have a sentimental attachment to rural voters, but their policies are now more urban, more socialist, so I doubt they will have as many seats as they could have done.

Yeovil

Yeovil has been held by the Lib Dems with an increased majority. A fairly safe LD seat, this is I think the first Somerset result. The Tory vote share reduced slightly, it looks like the LDs picked up a lot of votes from the Labour party.

This is in contradiction to the earlier Torbay result. So, the west country is still an open book.

Oh, and Tony Blair just got elected again in Sedgefield.

Plaid Cymru

Plaid Cymru is the nationalist party in Wales. So far not a good particularly good night. They failed to take Ynys Mon, one of their targets, and have now lost Ceredigion to the Lib Dems.

What makes this interesting is that in Scotland the SNP are doing seemingly ok. Usually these two parties walk in tandem. Looks like nationalism is for the moment a dubious proposition in Wales.

A very interesting result

Blaenau Gwent, a ridiculously safe Labour seat where the national Party tried to impose an all-woman shortlist. The local party rebelled, set up a rival candidate, who has swept the floor.

A victory for the forces against political correct snubbiness.

Second BBC Forecast

Labour majority 76, so nudged up slightly.

Misdirected LD strategy?

Anthony King has just pointed out something interesting on the BBC. The Lib Dems really targeted the Tories, but seemingly have failed to make headway there so far. In contrast they are doing well against the Labour party. If they redirected resources who knows about how things might have turned out.

Of course, I live in a seat they were targetting so my view is perhaps skewed.

BBC Forecast

The BBC first forecast based on results for far.

LD: 59
Con: 201
Lab: 357

For a Labour majority of 68, so just about in line with the exit poll

Scotland: LD gain from Lab

Dunbartonshire East is a gain for the Lib Dems.

It does look like the LDs are doing well in Scotland.

Recounts

In Battersea - a London seat - they are onto their second recount. That is interesting, beceause it means its close, a hopeful sign for the Tories. Also rumour of a Lab-LD recount in Manchester - bad sign for Labour.

2 Tory-LD

The Tories have gained Newbury, and the LDs hold Cheadle. The Tories hoped to gain Cheadle. I guess a regional reason here - Cheadle is in the North East where the LDs are doing well, and Newbury is in the south.

So - developing.

Second Tory gain

Peterborough with a swing to the Tories of 7%.

This could turn into an interesting night of this sort of result is repeated across the English Con-Lab marginals. On the swingometer this is roughly the region of swing needed for a hung parliament - that is when there is no party with an overall majority. I personally do not think this could happen, but it certainly has to be encouraging for the Tories.

SNP Gain

The SNP has taken the Western Isles from Labour. A good sign for Alex Salmond.

LD claims

The BBC keep reporting that the LDs are claiming various seats, but the Tories in comparison are not. An interesting difference, I think.

Second Tory-LD seat

Torbay a Lib Dem hold, but with a narrowed majority.

The LD vote went down 10%, UKIP went up 5%, Labour went up 5%. I suspect this means LD votes went Con, and some Con votes went UKIP. The Labour rise is interesting and bucks the trend so far.

This one interests me as the first south-west result. We'll need a few more to see if there is a sout-west regional flavour to this election.

Note to Jeremy Paxman

Having just said to Malcom Rifkind it's "just a collapse of the Labour vote" perhaps we might also say on 1997 that is was not an endorsement of Labour but a collapse of the Tory vote. The man is an imbecile (Paxman, not Rifkind).

Early analysis

Lots of safe Labour seats showing a 4-6% swing to the LDs. In the last few days there has been a lot of talk about how a swing like this would get seats for the Tories. It appears that people are happy to give Labour a bloody nose.

Listening to Gordon Brown giving his victory speech. He is speaking very positively.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

SNP hold

onto Angus, one of the top Tory targets in Scotland. The Tories lost 2% of the vote, looks mostly to the LDs. So it looks like there will not be a Tory revival in Scotland. Not at all surprising, I have to say.

First LD-Con seat

In Southport a LD hold, a small swing to the LDs.

My old seat

North East Fife has just returned Menzies Campell (LD) to Westminster. I was living in this constituency back in 2001. Completely expected result.

Early Turnout

Looks mostly like a 1-3% increase in the early going, with some variation.

More on Putney

A further observation now I can see the figures is that UKIP went nowhere compared to 2001. The Tories picked up about half the Labour fall in share, the Lib Dems and Green party each got about a quarter. For a Con-Lab marginal this is a very good result for the Tories and a bad one for the Lib Dems. However, it's only one seat, and a London seat, so to pretend it might be representative without any other similar results would be madness.

PS - Eccles Another safe Labour hold shows the same story as the other safe Labours.

First Tory gain

It looks as if Putney is the first Tory gain, and an encouraging one for the Tories. It was target 52, and a 6% swing to the Tories. Importantly they got more of the Lab vote than the LD.

(There have been a couple more safe Labour holds)

Three more safe Labours

Three more safe Labour seats, all showing a reasonable swing to the Lib Dems. If this holds the Tories benefit.

Hull West & Hessle
Vauxhall
Rotherham

Another seat

Barnsley Central is another safe Labour hold. A 4% swing to the Tories, though the BNP did semi-well. Labour vote down, but unlike in Scotland the Lib Dems were not the main beneficiars (though they are technically second in this seat - at 16% compared to Labours 61%).

Still waiting for something resembling a marginal.

Tactical Voting

One of the big questions of this election is how much tactical voting will be going on. How many people will vote against party A because it had no chance in their constituency and vote for Party B, in the hopes of defeated Party C? For example, as a supporter of Tony Blair in matters such of Iraq I wanted to vote Labour, but Labour is a wasted vote in Taunton, so I voted Tory because I view the Lib Dems as the worst choice.

In 1997 and 2001 tactical voting was used against the Tories. Will it this time be used against Labour? I know at least one family member has voted tactically this way today up in Birmingham, but that is hardly a representative sample!

Postal votes

A few rumours about disputes over postal votes. Bound to happen. I would not be surprised if there were a large number of seats disputed in the courts come tomorrow. I think a lot of people over here who made jokes about Florida in 2000 or Ohio in November are going to have to eat a healthy dose of humble pie.

First Scottish seat

Rutherglen & Hamilton West is another safe Labour seat, but is the first of the Scottish seats.

I should have mentioned that in Scotland it is really mostly a Labour-LD contest in many respects - though with many safe Labour seats with no one else in sight. This seat is typical of this.

If there s a similar swing from Labour to the LD nationally though the Tories will win a fair few seats by default. It will be very interseting to see how these matters progress.

Third result

Houghton & Washington East another safe Labour hold with quite a clear swing to the Lib Dems. Again in the North East, next door to the Sunderlands, so presuming nothing yet.

The BBC has put Paxman back on so I've muted them. Personally I think Jeremy might be one of the few people held in lower esteem that the average politician.

Sunderland North

Sunderland North is the second seat in, another safe Labour. Again about a 5% swing to the Tories. Turnout here just up slightly.

Of course, until we get a marginal, or for that matter anywhere out of the North-East nothing can really be assumed or presumed.

Scotland

Scotland is an interesting place. The main reason is that there have been some fairly substantial boundary changes as the number of Scottish seats has been reduced in answer to the so-called West Lothian question (namely, that now they have their own Parliament why should scottish MPs vote in Westminster on English matters - the answer given is to reduce the overall number of Scottish seats). The other intersting reason is the SNP - Scottish National Party, whose long-term aim is Scottish independence.

The SNP had a high-water mark in 1997 with 6 Westminster seats, but got hammered in 2001. Their veteren leader - Alex Salmond - had retired and Albert Swinney took over, and was an unmitigated disaster. Mr Swinney is now ousted and Mr Salmond is back in. I would expect the SNP to claw back a seat or two.

The Tories lost all their seats in 1997, and got back only 1 in 2001. Any Tory gains here are noteworthy.

Turnout

Rumours are that turnout is up in the more marginal seats. Turnout nationally in 2001 was just under 60% - a historic low (as in, the lowest turnout since universal suffrage was introduced). Turnout of course in the european elections in 2004 was up, and where people think their votes matter the early signs are that this might also be true.

But as Andrew Marr has just said on the BBC, most of what we're going on at the moment is rumour.

Sunderland

Reported first for 4 times. Well done Sunderland south.

Almost there...

Sunderland is going strong, expecting to declare in the next few minutes. A safe Labour seat, but still fun.

Exit Poll

BBC/ITV exit poll shows LAB 37 CON 33 LD 22 for a 66 seat Labour majority.

Staying Orthodox

Well, now the BBC has started I've gone back to the Old Ways. One reason: Andrew Marr. He is one journalist for whom I have tremendous respect, and whose insight I found very valuable.

Of course, it does mean I will have to cope with Jeremy Paxman and so on.

Also currently David Dimbleday is interviewing John Prescott. I have to say I rather like him - would never vote for him, but he strikes me as "real". Also got a sense of humour.

Go Sunderland

One of the great things about Election Night is seeing which constituency manages to get its results in first. All eyes are on Sunderland South which is hoping to make it four in a row. I remember when they snuck in unexpectedly in 1992, the first on their run (it was the first Night I stayed up).

Oh, and so far I'm with Sky's pre-election broadcast.

Voted

Well I was one of the first people to vote today at my polling station, as I tramped in at about 07:03 on my way to work. Voting in the local elections was easy, Tory over Lib Dem. The LDs don't, in my opinion, don't deserve a chance to further ruin Somerset (it is the Tories' turn).

That was the simple ballot. Then I turned to the General election ballot, and paused. I was very, very tempted to spoil it, in some sort of electoral distemper. The pencil hovered over the Labour mark, as Michael Howard's harping has made me even less enamoured of the Tories nationally, but eventually I marked that Tory box. While I would not be surprised if Taunton fell to the Lib Dems - it is a very close seat - I decided I didn't want to contribute to that. Plus the fact that I believe the Tories don't have any chance of winning nationally, so no guilt on my concience there.

I might well write a note to the Labour candidate though and thank him for standing, or something.

Anyway, now all's set for the Big Night. The Biq Question is, stay true to the BBC or apostasise to Sky News?

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The False Promise of Gordon Brown - The Lefty Illusion

Over at Crescat Sententia my friend Raffi Melkonian writes on the likely outcome of a Gordon Brown premiership sometime in the next few years:

But Brown cannot equal Blair's achievement. If he does live up to the advertising, and goes left, then the tories will simply re-take the center.

Of course, Raffi is right, but what I think is quite interesting about this all is the big "If" in the second sentence, and here the old left are sucking on a pipe dream. They have forgotten that Gordon Brown was one of the chief modernisers' of the Labour Party in the mid-1990s. He, rather than Tony Blair, cast off a lot of the old baggage. This is also the man who is rather more anti-European than Tony Blair, at least in part because he dislikes the idea of shackling Britain the socialist train wreck that are the French and German economies.

Also, for those who dislike Blair's centralisation need to look elsewhere. The Treasury is the most centralised and power hungry of all the Whitehall Departments. Gordon Brown has shown himself to be very keen on keeping control of the money there, and it is notable that he generally opposes plans for minimal decentralisation in the health service and education. The notable exception that proves the rule was the indepdence of the Bank of England, more or less the first thing he did in 1997.

Finally people have bought into the Brown-Blair myth. This is probably one of the greatest creations of UK politics these last few years. I have no doubt that the war between the Brownites and the Blairites is real, but that is quite a different thing than war between Blair and Brown. Or, put it another way, every married couple I know have arguments. Just because one has an argument does not signify a divorce, except in the inimical atmosphere of the Press.

There is a further point to consider here. There are rather a lot of Blairite MPs, and there likely will be after tomorrow as well. Gordon Brown can perhaps win the leadership without them, but he cannot govern without them. A shift too far to the left would lead to sizeable Parliamentary revolts just as surely as things like tuition fees and ID cards have for Tony Blair.

Why do people delude themselves that Gordon Brown will be substantially different? I honestly don't know. Personally I don't really like him, but a socialist he is not.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Election apathy

Over at TKS Jim Geraghty has a good series of posts on the general state of apathy in these elections (just scroll down). Unlike Westminster here in Taunton there are a fair few election placards. In general the Tories dominate the outskirts, and the Lib Dems seem stronger in the suburbs - according the placards anyway. I've also seen a few UKIP signs, but no Labour or Green party. As for the stuff that comes through the letterbox - and pretty directly into either the bin or the recycling box, whichever is handier - the Lib Dems and Tories have both stuffed me 20+ items, mostly multiples of the same, UKIP had delivered I think 4 times, and Labour has only managed the one deposit. The Green Party have not dropped off anything - is this because they are trying to save the trees I wonder?

In any event I'm absolutely fed up with it all. Charles Kennedy was apparently walking around Taunton yesterday. I didn't know, but equally I didn't care. Two people in my office were about in town at the time (yesterday was a Bank Holiday for us) and both mostly complained about the inconvenience. Likewise, although few people are fond of Tony Blair few people seem that enthused by Michael Howard or Charles Kennedy either.

Despite all this I will be staying up on Thursday night to watch the results come in. Of course, what I'll mostly be watching is the increasingly aged Peter Snow as he prances about in front of his swingometer. The first election I watched was 1992, and the BBC front team seems basically not to have changed in these 13 years. Perhaps they need to get a successor to dear old Peter otherwise they may soon need to be reaching for those grimoires on corpse-raising.

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