February 4, 2011

Stripping the week 31st January to 4th February

Elvis has left the building. After months of speculation, a resignation, and two weeks in limbo, Andy Coulson finally left 10 Downing Street.  He will be replaced by the BBC’s Global News Editor Craig Oliver. Oliver was undoubtedly a surprise choice, with a leading right-wing journalist such as Guto Harri or Benedict Brogan always considered more likely appointments. Oliver has a big job ahead, shifting the coalition’s narrative away from cuts and towards positivity and growth. That debate continues to rage, with forests and libraries the lates focus of protests.

PMQS was a rather odd affair this week, with Cameron and Miliband actually having a civilised and worthwhile debate. Expect Punch and Judy to replace the two statesmen come 12pm this Wednesday though.

Crime was in the headlines too. Firstly, Home Secretary Theresa May announced the launch of online crime maps, which can show crime rates in any area in the UK. Except, unsurprisingly, the site crashed and nobody could see anything. The Ken Clarke’s restorative approach to justice got a ringing endorsement too, as the Sun had a pop at him over knife crime.

Transfer deadline day was Monday and, as the song goes, it was rather manic. The main stories involved Liverpool and Chelsea. With Luis Suarez on his way, Liverpool eventually let Torres go for £50 million, £35 million of which they promptly spent on 21-year-old Andy Carroll, who hasn’t even played 50 Premier League games. All in all a record-breaking £214 million was spent by Premier League clubs over the transfer window.

On the subject of splashing the cash, Deputy PM Nick Clegg announced £400 million worth of Government investment in mental health care. The move finally points mental health on the same level as physical health. While he was at it, Clegg put an additional £7.2 million into mental health care for army veterans, and scrapped the arcane rule whereby an MP who suffers mental illness can be removed from their seat.

 

Hero of the week: Nick Clegg for leading Government investment in mental health services

Villain of the week: The Sun – because VN doesn’t like people who call Ken Clarke ‘dodderry’

 

Reading this week: Total Politics Guide to Political Blogging 2010/11

Watching this week: John Nettles’ last appearance in Midsomer Murders.

Listening to this week: Fearne Cotton beating Zane Lowe on ‘versus’

February 4, 2011

Review – John Nettles leaves Midsomer Murders

Warning: the following review contains spoilers.

All good things must come to an end. We all know this. Yet when the end arrives we are often shocked. And so it is with John Nettles’ on Midsomer Murders. Nettles, who has walked the beat in the most lethal of the Home Counties since 1997, has decided to retire and hand over to Neil Dudgeon, who plays his cousin John. But Barnaby, a beloved character for millions of people, could not just be written out, and this was his exit, stage right.

The plot itself was well-formed, interesting and actually more psychological than is usual for Midsomer Murders, which is usually more interested in pitchforks and fetes than the inner recesses of the mind. While the episode did not peer in to Barnaby’s subconscious, it did explore interesting ideas around nostalgia, and holding on to the past, both through the subplot involving Barnaby’s father and, of course, the main plot surrounding the two murders that occur on the grounds of a health spa. (There is also an attempted murder which doesn’t quite go to plan, which brings the episode up to the quota of three corpses per episode). One of the murders is mildly surprising, yet it is not up there with the almost comical deaths in some previous episodes.

There are some star turns from the actors and actresses. Geraldine James, in particular, is fantastic as an estranged friend who longs for the past. Ronni Ancona, too, is amusing as the waspish, medicine-addicted first murder victim. John Nettles manages, yet again, to convey the dependable, principled, unimpeachable detective whom we have grown to know and respect over these past thirteen or so years. Jane Wymark now appears to be thoroughly comfortable with what we may call the ‘public perception’ of Joyce – that she is more deadly than the county itself. Barry Jackson and Laura Howard played small parts excellently, as Bullard and Cully, respectively.

The weak link in the character chain is perhaps the most surprising. Jones moved from being the poor man’s Lewis to the poor man’s Hong Kong Phooey. He was tripping up all over the place, missing evidence, harrumphing about like someone had stolen his breakfast. It was not the Jones we had grown to like, and it certainly was not up to the part of Troy. It was disappointing, but it did help to illustrate why Barnaby was replaced by Barnaby the younger, rather than Jones. Jones’ incompetence may have been a specific creation by the writers to ensure that we did not question the lack of progress for the young detective.

This was not one of the greatest episodes. It is not Written in Blood, with Anna Massey as a crazy, homophobic dynast. It is certainly not Judgement Day, with Timothy West as an endlessly loving husband (and pitchfork killings). Yet it is a good and well-written episode, and the send-off of Tom Barnaby is affectionate, warm, and interesting. It conveys the unique nature of Midsomer Murders in a single scene – that, actually, Barnaby is not Poirot, nor Frost, nor Morse. He is middle-class, middle-aged, has integrity streaming out of him and has a solid homelife. He shall be sorely missed.

February 4, 2011

Ed Miliband not drawing in the crowds

Today was meant to be all about  Ed Miliband connecting with young people, and being a vibrant alternative. He and the Shadow Cabinet have headed off to Newcastle, and Ed is currently doing a Q&A session being streamed online. A shame nobody is watching really…

 

February 4, 2011

Hilary Devey is announced as new Dragon

It has just been revealed that Hilary Devey will replace James Caan on the BBC’s Dragon’s Den. She is the founder of Pall-Ex, a pallet freight distribution firm that transports around 10,000 pallets a night. Turned down for a bank loan, she funded the start-up by selling her house and downsizing her car. It is good to see that the BBC have added another strong female voice to the panel. Devey will join Peter Jones, Theo Paphitis, Deborah Meaden, and Duncan Bannatyne on the entrepreneurial reality TV show.

VN will bring you details of the next series of Dragons Den as soon as it’s announced.

February 4, 2011

Library protests planned for tomorrow

Tomorrow will see libraries up and down the country stage protests, of various sorts, against the proposed closure of about 400 libraries. With events ranging from straight up protests to author readings, organisers are hoping to get hundreds of people to show their support for libraries.

The subject, as with so much of the cuts debate, has been highly emotive. Libraries though is a hard one to call. People have a very rose-tinted view of libraries, but very few people really them regularly. Part of the reason for this is that people can now buy books fairly cheaply on the high-street and online, and can get other information easily over the internet. Quite simply demand for the staple services of libraries have diminished significantly.

On the other hand, libraries can be a wonderful local resource. At their best they not only provide books and films, but a variety of courses and activities for communities, and act as a social hub. They can also give people access to technology like the internet or a computer that they may not have at home. Of course, libraries also act as a haven for many, providing a quiet space for reading, research or writing.

So it’s a tough one for the Government and local councils. Nostalgia vs pragmatism vs protecting the country’s poorest communities. Inevitably as time goes on libraries will become less and less relevant, as access to information becomes even easier. it is not like the Government are proposing the closure of every library in the land either. Without doubt some of the opposition is based on symbolism not practicalities, but the closures that do happen will have an effect on the communities in which they occur.

The Guardian have provided a full list of protests.

February 3, 2011

Damian Green felled on forest sell-off

BBC Question time has just finished, and unsurprisingly one of the hot topics for debate was the proposed sell-off of Forestry Commission owned woodland. This weeks Government representative was Immigration Minister Damian Green. When asked to explain the decision he  floundered around on some tenuous arguments about efficiency and stopping the regulator and owner being the same, but was all pretty vacuous. He even agreed that the Government wouldn’t make money from the sales! Eventually Andy Burnham asked him directly for one reason for the sale, and he just couldn’t give one.

Green also hid behind the fact this was week one of a twelve week consultation, not a decision. See you in 11 weeks for the u-turn then.

February 3, 2011

MPs rail against expenses body

Frustration with IPSA, the body set up in the wake of the MPs expenses scandal, came to the fore today, as new expenses details were published. IPSA is facing more criticism, including from Leader of the House Sir George Young. He said that the body was “at best distracting, and at worst impeding, MPs from doing their job”. His Conservative colleague, Penny Mordaunt MP (Portsmout North,) has said that the new expenses system meant that she ended up with just £22 over Christmas. The Prime Minister David Cameron has given IPSA until the spring to sort itself out, but its Chair Sir Ian Kennedy is defiant, telling the BBC’s News at 6 that IPSA would operate and change at its own pace.

There will undoubtedly be little public sympathy for MPs who claim to be hard up, but Caroline Flint was right when she said a while ago “it shouldn’t only be millionaires and geeks that can become MPs”. It goes without saying the expenses system required a huge overhaul, but the only way a system for MPs can work is if both MPs and the public feel it is fair and accountable. It does not serve the public interest if MPs are distracted or prevented from carrying out their duties due to the expenses system. Being an MP is a privilege not a punishment, and any system of reimbursement must strike that balance of accountability and usability.

February 3, 2011

Sally Bercow “Done up like a kippur”

Despite her twitter protestations, something tells VN Mrs. Speaker knew just what would happen when she posed for this picture:

February 3, 2011

Labour membership fire sale still ongoing

There was some mockery when Labour introduced its 1p membership rate for under 27s. The rate itself was a bit of a joke, but reduced rates for young new members are admirable, and most youth organisations do £1 membership offers or similar. However, most do it for a limited time, normally around freshers weeks being held at universities. The Labour party are so desperate for increased membership, so that they can release a ‘hundreds joining Labour’ type press line, that there are risking the party’s long-term financial well-being. This model is quite unsustainable as it requires a lot of members, staying both politically and financially active within the party for a long time.

With many rich Labour donors closing their wallets since the leadership elections, Ed might just be relying more on his friends in the Unions to help him out . Lurch to the left anyone?

Looks like you can’t trust Miliband with the party’s finances, let alone the country’s.

February 3, 2011

Ken must stay

 

 

The Sun, not famed for its subtlety, has decided to once again turn it ire on Justice Secretary Ken Clarke. They describe him as “a bumbling liability who seems keener to rock the boat than safeguard the streets.”

This is an utterly ridiculous sentiment, not only because Clarke is one of the cabinet members who has best bridged the gap between the two coalition partners, but because his civil libertarian, humane, restorative, approach to justice is vital in a civilised society. Locking people up and throwing away the key no longer works. It probably never has. Clarke advocates a society where people can atone and improve. The Sun advocates fear.

The Sun’s criticism principally revolves around Ken Clarke’s objection to the Conservative pre-election pledge that everybody found guilty of a knife crime would go to prison by default. Even without the huge issue of overcrowded prisons, it is not clear that automatic imprisonment, in the form advocated by Home Secretary Theresa May, is necessarily the right policy. There are  arguably some offenders who would be more of a danger to the public if they were caught under the blanket rule, sent to prison, and then released having been around more hardened criminals.

Knife crime is a deeply emotive, and important, subject. The consequences of it change people’s life in a second. The  Sun does make one sensible point when they says that there needs to more education in schools around knife crime. However, because it is such an emotive subject, it is so irresponsible to run headlines and stories like the one in the Sun today. They are whipping up a frenzy by using the personal story of Ben Kinsella, and the work his sister is doing for the Government. They are trying to paint a deeply experienced and talented minister as dodderry and out of touch.

The only comfort is that being attacked by the The Sun is probably the best endorsement the Justice Secretary’s policies could receive.

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