Random Thoughts 9: The Killing and The Hour

There is a bit of a TV theme to this collection of ‘Random Thoughts’.

I was pleased to see that BBC4 are repeating ‘The Killing’ (available on iPlayer here) which means that Dectective Sarah Lund and her extraordinary jumpers are back on our screens. This is not the US remake that Channel 4 have been showing, but the original Danish series where the hunt for the killer of a young girl gets mixed up with political intrigue, difficult personal relationships, and chunky scandanavian knitwear. Despite it being a thoroughly enjoyable drama I’ve not decided whether I want to rewatch the series, with 20 episodes it is a bit of a time commitment, but if you didn’t see it first time around it is well worth catching now, and not just for the jumpers.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Hour which finished it’s run on BBC Two last week. Apparently it received a rocky critical reception, including complaints about historical accuracy. It certainly wasn’t perfect. I thought the plot relied a little too much on coincidence and unlikely connections between the characters. It also may have suffered from it’s description as “the British Mad Men”, which it wasn’t. Still it looked good, had interesting things to say, and brought us into a world, TV news in the 1950s, that was both new and familiar at the same time. I thought that world was evocatively realised.

Thinking about it, the plot was in some ways curiously old fashioned. Given our current preoccupations with the role and behaviour of the media it was a reminder that in some stories journalists can be brave seekers after truth confronting a secretive establishment.

As to the historical accuracy of that world – well a bit of research told me how it was inspired by real life. The late 50s are an interesting time in the history of British news broadcasting. It saw the beginning of the change from the deferential “London calling the Empire” era to a style of reporting we are much more familiar with today. This changed would be typified by the beginning of Panorama and the rise of Richard Dimbleby to the role of national icon. It seems the character of Bel is partly based on Grace Wyndham Goldie who sounds like a fascinating and formidable pioneering woman and was at the centre of those changes.

The restrictions imposed on reporting the Suez crisis depicted in the series are also solidly based on fact. The history of Panorama on the BBC website has this;

“At the time, the BBC was working under a 14-day rule which meant that nothing due for debate in Parliament in the next fortnight could be discussed on television.

Dimbleby and the team got around this by broadcasting the reaction to the crisis from around the world, omitting Britain. The programme came under attack from politicians in favour of the invasion, but a BBC investigation found in favour of Panorama and the 14-day rule was suspended for a trial period by Parliament. It was never applied again.”

The Hour also had some fantastic performances from a great cast. I did like the brief appearances of Hetty Baynes who was perfect as Bel’s blonde bombshell mother. But the stand out one was Oona Chaplin as the wronged society wife.

Talking of great TV performances I was a few days ago, for reasons I now no longer remember, searching for information on Victoria Wood’s classic series “as seen on TV” and was reminded of the fantastic Susie Blake’s role as the announcer. Sadly her famous apology to “viewers in the North” is not on YouTube but I did find this which is almost as good:

Now, for some politics.

Good news as Liberal England reports on the promotion of two of the new intake of Liberal Democrat MPs. Particularly pleased for my good friend Simon Wright who becomes PPS to Children’s Minister Sarah Teather. Simon is a former teacher so he will bring real experience of the ‘chalkface’ to the governments’ education policy.

Also very pleasing was Nick Clegg’s clear statement on his approach to the human rights last week. In his article in the Guardian he gave a strong defence of the Human Rights Act. This was a realistic and sensible defence. After all “There is no human right to fried chicken”. But it was a clear single to the more rabid parts of the Conservative party that the Liberal Democrats will work to ensure that the proper rights of the British people will remain protected. If you want to know why, despite its difficulties and uncomfortableness, I continue to support the Liberal Democrats role in the coalition government then it is for things like this.

Conference to vote on changes to the Liberal Democrats internal election rules

As we move towards the end of August thoughts inevitably turn towards the agenda and issues to be debated at the Liberal Democrats’ Autumn Conference. Well they do for me anyway.

So this seems like a good moment to update my post from April about the proposed changes to relax the restrictions on campaigning in internal party elections.

Back then I welcomed the fact that the Party’s Federal Executive had agreed to support these proposals. In particular, I welcomed the removal of the ridiculous ban on electronic campaigning. Well these changes have made it on to the agenda for the Conference in Birmingham and will be debated and voted on first thing on the morning of Wednesday 21 September.

To get into the details for a moment; the changes to the rules for the federal committees, the area I am most concerned about, includes the deletion of Rule 4(d) which states:

“Candidates or their supporters must not use e-mail, e-groups, cix conferencing or websites during these elections to promote their candidacy,”

It is more than a little embarrassing that it has taken us until 2011 to get rid of this silly and unenforceable rule, but I am glad that it is going. Indeed, the changes suggest we will be taking further steps in a positive direction with the new provision that the returning officer “may carry out electronic communications with the electorate to facilitate the election”. Exciting cutting edge stuff!

The serious point is that this is a step that improves the health of the Party’s internal democracy. As I said in April;

“I want the Liberal Democrats to have a healthy and vibrant internal democracy that encourages debate, challenge and accountability and the use of online communications is an essential method of encouraging that. So I hope the proposals will be supported when they come to conference for approval.”

More on the Electoral Reform Society elections

There are only a couple of days left before the ballot closes for the election to the Electoral Reform Society‘s governing council. Since I wrote about my take on the elections I’ve been interested to read what other have been saying about the elections.

There was a good summary of the issues from Simon McGrath. Also on Liberal Democrat voice Stephen Tall has pulled together a collection of blog posts on the elections (kindly including my post among them) which gives a good flavour of the debate. Finally Mark Pack has written about the five questions you should ask before voting.

Having read through these I am more convinced that the best result for ERS would be a mix of established figures and new reformers to be elected to the council. If the could respect and learn from each others positions then the society will be strengthened. The danger is that the election results in divisions and discord which I hope those elected will actively guard against.

Voting in the Election of the Electoral Reform Society Council

Today I have been deciding who to vote for in the Electoral Reform Society’s ballot for it’s governing council.

I’ve been a member of the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) for several years now, but a very inactive one. My main involvement has been to pay my subs each year and vote in the council elections.

It was actually that ability to vote in those elections that was one of the main motivations behind why I joined. At the time ERS was going through a bit of a crisis. To put it crudely the Society had become factionalised between a group of STV die hards and a group of modernisers who wanted to give the organisation a more outward looking and campaigning focus. To my outsiders view the rows that were resulting from this factionalism had become silly, petty and destructive and were damaging an organisation the aims of which I very much supported.

So I decided to join the Society so that I could give my vote to those I regarded as the sensible people within it’s leadership. Each year I would dutifully fill in my ballot voting for those candidates that I thought appeared most in touch with the real world. I would also fill in the form that gave my proxy vote for the resolutions at the organisation’s AGM to be used at the discretion of my nominee. In this way I hoped I was doing a little bit to support those who were working to secure the growth and development of a valuable organisation.

In time it seemed, again to my outsiders view, that the sensible people had gained the upper hand and that a leadership team had developed that was giving a clear and positive direction to the Society. So for the last few years my participation in the elections has seemed less important. In fact I think I may even have forgotten to complete and send in the paperwork one year.

But then the AV referendum happened.

The pro reform campaign in that referendum has been widely seen as an embarrassing failure. The reasons for that failure have been gone over and written about elsewhere, but what seems obvious is that the campaign and its result has been a source of great frustration to a group of new, and often younger people, who were involved in the campaign or have become interested in issues of political reform as a result of it. To their credit, rather than getting disillusioned, they have chosen to take action to sort out what they see as the failings within the wider political reform movement.

It seems that this group want ERS to shoulder it’s part of the blame and reform itself. So in this round of ERS council elections a slate of candidates, and some others who are not part of the slate but are making roughly the same points, are running on a ticket of change and reform. I imagine that this has made the current members of the ERS council a little nervous, particularly given the votes of the new members who have joined following the Society’s free membership offer are up for grabs. While I expect that they would be happy to admit mistakes, I doubt that they would accept that they have done such a bad job that they should be chucked out and replaced.

In the past few days I have received two emails, both circulated by one of the organisers of the referendum campaign in my area, which neatly sum up two contrasting views. The first asks for me to vote for the new people who will make the ERS much more of a campaigning organisation. The second asks me to vote to keep in office the current team given their successful record in making the ERS much more of a campaigning organisation.

At first glance these views look deeply contradictory, but I am not sure that this is necessarily the case. It can both be true that the organisation has improved significantly from what it was and that it is also currently not fit for purpose. You can answer those with frustrations about the current state of the ERS by saying; “well you should have seen it ten years ago”. But that doesn’t mean that those frustrations do not have some merit. I’d be surprised if some aspects of the ERS didn’t need some reform. It certainly has a huge amount of untapped potential it has yet to realise. So it is good that there are those who want to bring fresh impetus to an organisation the cause of which is very important to me. Although, it does seem a little ironic that several of those that I saw as being the sensible campaigners opposing the die hards ten or so years ago are now themselves being painted as the conservative forces getting in the way of today’s modernisers and campaigners.

However, I am concerned whether people’s energies are being used in the best place. After looking through the literature and the various websites that have appeared related to this years elections, and the various motions going to the AGM it seems and element of that factionalism and silliness has returned. Motions on direct democracy via the internet, annual marches, or calls to edit the wording on the Society’s website are not particularly helpful.

I wasn’t involved in the referendum campaign, local elections being my priority at the time, so I have no way of knowing whether the criticisms of the role of ERS in that campaign are justified. But looking from the outside I think that some of those criticisms may be caused by some misunderstandings here. The core purpose of the ERS is to work for the promotion of the Single Transferable Vote system of election. A core purpose it should retain. So it was inevitable that it would have some degree of uncomfortableness in campaigning for a different type of system, the Alternative Vote, and it is not the job of the ERS to be a wider platform for political reform. Certainly it should be part of one and realistic about how to achieve its aims, but I think that some people are asking the ERS to be different beast to that which it was designed to be.

The ERS and the other political reform groups may have been ill prepared and badly organised, the campaign may have been badly led, but it strikes me that the real blame for the failure of the AV referendum should lie with the politicians. In particular the important strategic mistakes made by the Liberal Democrat leadership, the key promoters of the referendum, and the failure of the Labour party to get behind the campaign. I’d suggest that if there are any organisations that need sorting out as a result of the referendum failure it is those two political parties.

So who to vote for? In line with my thoughts above I have chosen to take a balance approach and vote for a range of candidates that I hope represents a mix of the best of the ‘establishment’ and the best of the ‘new blood’. For the record my top five preference were:

  1. Keith Sharp
  2. John Ault
  3. Jessica Asato
  4. Jonathan Bartley
  5. Michael Meadowcoft

Random Thoughts 8: Cheering up with inspirational writing, music and impressionism

My mood seems to be as variable as the weather at the moment but since my last ‘Random Thoughts’ I have been finding stuff to cheer myself up with. Watching the media coverage of the London riots hasn’t been helping with this of course, nor has the sight of those seeking to make political capital out of them hasn’t helped much either. But if you will excuse me I am going to ignore all that in this post and just concentrate on positive things.

Firstly, I have just got through finishing watching Waldemar Januszczak‘s excellent documentary series looking at the artistic revolution brought about by the Impressionists. I found this fascinating and informative. Januszczak pulls off the difficult task of combining an explanation of the lives of the artists, their characters and personal motivations, the social and historical context in which they worked, the ideas and meanings they were trying to convey, and giving you an appreciation of the art itself. I also like how he talked about the technological and scientific innovations that made the art of Monet, Renoir, Degas and the like possible. If you missed it you have a few days to catch up on the series on iPlayer.

Oh, and don’t worry if you aren’t that much into art. The series is hugely entertaining. To give you a flavour, and to show one of the highlights, the video below is of the opening of the first programme:

I loved the musical sequence in this clip, so went off to find out more about it. The music is from French group Hold Your Horses who did an original video for their song ’70 Million’ recreating famous paintings which is also on YouTube. They also have recently released an EP which has been my soundtrack for most of the last few days. (iTunes / 70 Million on Amazon)

I’ve also been a little inspired by what my friend Ali Goldsworthy has written in her list of ‘20 things to do in the next ten years‘. Number 4 made me laugh out loud. It made me start jotting down potential items for a list of my own. Such an exercise seems appropriate given recent significant birthday and other events. However, not entirely sure if it is a good idea. For me such a list is in danger of becoming a list of things to feel guilty about not having done anything about!

I am always pleased when I find something written by Alix Mortimer and so it is good news that she is now doing stuff over at Dale&Co. I am even more pleased when she hits upon something I 100% agree with; ‘Won’t Someone Think of the Librarians?‘. The future of libraries in our communities is often a very emotive issue, but one where debate and decisions are commonly distorted by misconceptions. Alix is spot on in pointing out that the unique thing about libraries is not the books, or the buildings, but the librarians. Librarians are cool.

Finally, a quick hello to Spidey at Spiderplant Land who has been added to the blogroll, mainly because she said nice things about me.

Luton Labour’s appointments to the Bedfordshire Police Authority descends into farce

Over the last few weeks I have been blogging about the ridiculous mess the Luton Labour party have got themselves in over the nominations from Luton Borough Council to fill Luton’s places on Bedfordshire Police Authority. You can read my previous posts on this here:

I am a bit behind with the news but I wanted to update Strange Thoughts with the latest developments. It seems that the issue has now been resolved but not without Luton Labour Councillors delving deep into the realms of high farce. I wasn’t at the key meetings but the events that unfolded have been told to me by a reliable source.

To quickly recap, appointment of Councillors to the police authority from the three local authorities that make up Bedfordshire are made on the basis of the strength of the political parties across the whole of the county. Following the recent local elections this meant a split of 4 Conservatives, 3 Labour and 2 Liberal Democrats. It was widely expected that to meet this arrangement Luton would send to fill it’s three places 2 Labour and 1 Lib Dem. However, it was decided by the Luton Labour party to grab all three places for themselves. When the police authority met to determine its membership these appointments were duly rejected by the other police authority members. This has left Luton without representation for several weeks while key decisions about policing in Bedfordshire were being made.

The next opportunity to resolve this situation came at the meeting of Luton Borough Council on 19th July when Councillors could try again to make the appointments of representatives.

One of the curious things about the agenda for that meeting was that it included a report to the Council from it’s representatives on the police authority. How, given that at that time LBC had no representatives, the report could be presented did not seem to be explained. However, the report did include a nice summary of the situation from the authority’s perspective;

“The Joint Selection Committee did not agree to the nominations submitted by the Luton Borough Council as they had not followed the recommended political allocation.

Luton Borough Council had therefore been asked to review their nominations. The Bedfordshire Police Authority Joint Selection Committee expects to meet before the next meeting of the Police Authority which is on 22 July to consider the revised nominations and determine Luton Borough Council’s appointments to the Authority.

The Police Authority expressed concerns that Luton Borough would not be represented at any of the Committee meetings until this matter was resolved, particularly with the significant changes being developed and implemented over the next 4 months, and hoped that the three councils were able to resolve the matter promptly.”

The question would the Labour party do the sensible thing allow one Liberal Democrat to go forward or would they be stubborn in their insistence that Labour should have all three places?

Apparently, when the meeting came to the appointment of police authority representatives the leader of the Labour Group put forward the names of two Labour Councillors. The Liberal Democrat group then put forward it’s chosen nomination of former police authority member Cllr Martin Pantling. So far so good. It looked like the Labour party had accepted defeat on this issue and had chosen to do the sensible thing.

But then the farcical element of the meeting began. The Labour leader asked that a vote be taken on the acceptance of each individual nomination. The intention was clearly that the Labour group wanted to vote for the two Labour nominations but against the Lib Dem. This would mean that Labour’s chosen members could go forward to the police authority but that the Lib Dem would be excluded.

However, the Mayor then intervened. He said that an individual vote on each nomination could not take place. There were three nominations for three places so all should go forward without a vote. This clearly scuppered Labour’s plan. Now a sensible group of people would have accepted this and moved on. Not Luton Labour. They started to try and find ways to engineer a vote.

I am told that Labour Councillors then began attempting to nominate other members of the Liberal Democrat group! They nominated Lib Dem leader, Cllr David Franks, who promptly refused the nomination. They then tried to nominate Cllr Peter Chapman who did the same. Becoming more and more ridiculous they tried again by nominating Cllr Jenny Davies with predictably the same result.

So they then changed tactic and nominated an extra one of their own, Labour councillor Roy Davis. At first Cllr Davis accepted the nomination and the vote began. But descending further into farce, halfway through the vote he then withdrew.

Now this may have been amusing at the time but it has very little to do with securing proper and effective representation for Luton on the police authority. Indeed it could be easily interpreted as the Labour group having a personal vendetta against Cllr Pantling, so determined were they to exclude him. Whatever the motivation, it doesn’t reflect well on Luton’s elected representatives. Sadly, following the last local elections giving Labour even greater dominance on the Council I fully expect such game playing to continue and probably worsen.

However, this incident also shows that they can’t always have it their own way. They have had to accept the reality of the situation and give up their attempt to exclude the Liberal Democrats from a place on the police authority and to bully the rest of Bedfordshire into doing things their way.

The good news is that Luton is now properly represented on the Police Authority. The Luton members are now Cllr Malik and Cllr Whitaker from Labour and Cllr Pantling from the Lib Dems.

Random Thoughts 7: on being down and more random than most

Well it was all a bit too good to be true wasn’t it?

Having gone on about how well I was coping with my election defeat, how it was time for new plans and looking to the future, and with a burst of energy going into new projects and writing on this blog, on reflection it seems inevitable that I would have some sort of crash. Well it happened. The last few weeks I’ve been a bit rubbish, both mentally and physically.

I’ve had a major change to my life imposed on me and it was perhaps a bit naive to expect my reaction to that to be only positive. So I’ve been on a bit of a down slope. Lacking energy, getting behind with tasks, over worrying about things and generally not being on top form. This of course includes failing to blog, the last post here being back on the 13th July.

That doesn’t mean that my general feeling of being OK with things has changed. That still holds true, it is just that I am a bit more bruised by the experience than I thought. I think the jury is still out on whether turning 40 at the end of June has anything to do with it. It also doesn’t mean that nothing positive hasn’t been happening. In fact quite a few cool things have happened since I last blogged.

I’ve been on a short business trip up to Yorkshire, wished the outgoing head teacher of the junior school where I am a governor good luck on her retirement, attended the lovely wedding of a good friend, and achieved one of my ambitions by seeing Eddie Izzard live. I’ve also been getting used to my new iPad – although too much of that has been becoming addicted to the game Settlers – and trying out various apps, I’ve started experimenting with Google+, and I became friends with a cat on Facebook. More seriously I have been watching with fascination the development of the News International scandal and the political reaction to it as well as the unfolding of the financial crises in Europe and the US.

I have also been collecting various random links, some as inspiration for blog posts that now will never be written, that I will now dump here:

Firstly, I didn’t get a chance to mention that my post ‘Meet the Bedford Labour Councillor the Luton Labour Party want to throw off the Police Authority‘ got this blog into Liberal Democrat Voice’s The Golden Dozen. This reminds me that I will be posting a, delayed, update on this story shortly.

Also posted on Lib Dem Voice was this video. I know it is now a cliche to refer to a West Wing clip whenever there is a big US political story but this does just feel so appropriate:

Talking of the school where I am a governor, I have written about my small part in the merger of Downside Infants and Juniors here, but it is still a bit of a shock that the new primary school will be opening its doors in only a months time. The latest news, as reported in the local press, is that the new school building is open and working well.

One of my long standing drop of the hat rants is about how we should respect and value the suffragists far more than we do the suffragettes. However I doubt that I’ve ever put it as neatly as Jennie has in her post for Emmeline Pankhurst’s birthday.

Other new iPad users who may be getting frustrated with some of the limitations with it’s built in web browser may find the following article I wrote useful; Bookmarklets in Safari on your iPad.

Probably my favourite living author, Douglas Coupland, wrote this article on the 100th birthday of Marshall McCluhan and what his famous phrase ‘the medium is the message’ means for us today. I also rather enjoyed James Graham’s slapping down of a journalist whose research seemed to consist of nothing more than looking at the first result of a Google search.

Finally, like most people I was horrified by the tragic events in Norway. It is difficult to know what say about something that awful, but I was moved by what Alex has written on his blog;

“Whatever party you’re in, whatever tradition you come from, whatever philosophy you believe in, now’s the time to encourage young people to stand up and be counted, not to tell them what a terrible place the world is and that all they can do is cower under batons and battier laws.”