Friday, 19 December 2014

What Star Shines Above?

There have been many theories about what the star of Bethlehem actually was, ranging from it being a comet, or the conjunction of two planets in the night sky. Some people have even proposed that it was a UFO, but if you believe that, you'll believe anything...

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Berlin Haiku

thousands of people
walking the course of the wall
the past remembered


between east and west
a schizophrenic city
a line on a map

light shining into
dark corners of history
casting long shadows


the questions they ask-
is the world a better place?
are we happier?


who was my neighbour?
did I really know my friends?
could they be trusted?


photographs taken
something to show somebody
to say we were there


drink to the future -
the bad old days are over
the past is erased

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

David Mellor - the epitome of humility

It's not often I can say that I feel sorry for taxi drivers, but you have to feel for the poor chap who had to ferry the loathsome David Mellor across London the other day. Fortunately, when the toe-sucking ex-MP started to verbally abuse him, he had the presence of mind to record the conversation on his mobile phone. Oh dear. Mr. Mellor doesn't come out of it very well - in fact, he comes over as an arrogant snob, and a thoroughly nasty piece of shit, who's still in denial over losing his seat in the 1997 general election (remember the up your hacienda, Jimmy, tirade?).
Of course, the Tories have form at this sort of thing; while they're happy to point the finger at Emily Thornbury for her "snobbish" tweet during the Rochester and Strood by-election, they seem to forget about their litany of class-condescension over the past few years, with Ian Duncan Smith and the Prime Minister himself being the worst offenders.

And then there's always Andrew "Plebgate" Mitchell. If only that conversation had been recorded...

Monday, 24 November 2014

Ed Miliband and the Elephant in the Room

There's an elephant in the room, and no matter how tightly we close our eyes, we can't pretend it's not there. The vast majority of Labour members know in their hearts that Ed Miliband just isn't capable of leading the Party, let alone running the country, and the meltdown of the last few weeks - from his rubbish leader's speech at conference to the foot-shooting during the Rochester by-election - has made this more glaringly obvious. He just isn't up to it, and even worse, those around him appear to be even more inept. It's like being in a particularly toe-curling episode of The Thick Of It, only more ridiculous. All the hard work put in by ordinary members - the ones who really make the Party tick - is being completely undermined by those at the very top, who seem to be devoid of any kind of contact with reality. It's like watching a car-crash in slow-motion...

So we're stuck with Ed and his dodgy advisers until the election, and then afterwards there'll be a lot of soul-searching as to why the working-class have deserted us. In the meantime, the Conservatives will form a coalition with UKIP, the country's assets will be stripped, and it will become a nastier place to live, especially if you're on the bottom rung of life's ladder.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Mauerfall 2014 - Berlin draws a line under the past

We've just got back from Berlin, where there's been one enormous party to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Thousands of giant white balloons lined the route of the wall through the centre of the city, and tens of thousands of people descended onto the streets to mingle and remember the bad old days. The culmination was an open-air concert at the Brandenburg Gate where the balloons were released into the sky, the Ode to Joy was sung, and Udo Lindenberg and his band played for an hour or so. Afterwards, everybody partied into the night as the whole area around the edge of the Tiergarten was turned into a night-club for a dj set by Paul Kalkbrenner.

I got the impression that the whole celebration was a conscious attempt by the Berliners to finally draw a line under the horrors and stupidity of the twentieth century, and to be defined by the possibilities of their future as opposed to the long shadows of their past. However, I couldn't help wondering what all those people who were apparatchiks (and spies) in the old East German regime must have thought about it all.

In their case, the past really is a different country.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Labour - a party run by backroom boys

I'm a Labour Party member, and have been for thirty years. I'm also a life-long Sunderland supporter, so you'd think that by now I'd be used to my fair share of disappointment. So while I'm still waiting for Sunderland's first win of the season, I'm fairly confident that they'll do reasonably well (i.e. avoiding relegation), and may even finish comfortably mid-table. The reason for my confidence is that they've got a good manager, who is well respected, and who many believe should have been canonised after leading the team to safety at the end of last season.

However, I can't be as confident in the abilities of the Labour Party leadership to win the next election, or even in them putting a credible alternative to the bunch of asset-stripping spivs who govern us at the minute. The problem is the party's complete lack of leadership, and the determination not to do or say anything that would spook Middle England. To use another football analogy, it's like when Sven was manager of England, and the team would play for either a draw or a one-nil win, which was boring to watch, and deeply uninspiring. Now Labour are slightly ahead in the poles, it seems that we are being force-fed blancmange, with nothing of any substance reaching the table.

It's not all Ed Miliband's fault - he comes across as a fairly decent wonk - but there just isn't anybody in the shadow cabinet who appears to have any leadership qualities, and is capable of stirring a fire in the belly. The Labour Party is now a party run by back-room boys, seemingly more interested in the opinions of focus groups than it is in the opinions of those it was set up to represent. I've stopped going to meetings - a combination of disillusionment and life being too short - although I still deliver a round of leaflets from time to time (and even that's becoming more difficult).

I fear the worst next year, not just for my party, but for my country. My prediction is that the Tories will win with a working majority, and Miliband will quit as leader. Unfortunately, there's nobody there to replace him who look like they're capable of doing any better.

Monday, 15 September 2014

The Tartan Divorce - a vote against the oligarchy

I don't have a vote in the Scottish Referendum, but if I did, I'd be inclined to cast it for the ayes, which I guess makes me one of those pesky Labour voters who are swinging towards a tartan divorce, and away from the party line. Of course, it would be a leap in the dark, both politically and economically, but the chance to stop being governed by the oligarchy which currently preside over us would be too tempting to pass up on - I only wish we had the same opportunity in this country.

A few years ago, my wife and I were staying in Edinburgh, and we visited the Scottish Parliament. It was in recess, and the security guard had gone to the loo, so we just walked in. It's a proper, modern, functional debating chamber, much more conducive to serious political debate than the bear-pit that is the Palace of Westminster. It made me wonder what British politics would be like if, by chance, the Houses of Parliament were to burn down again, and we had the chance to re-build them along the same lines as Holyrood, and jettison all the quasi-traditional junk with it. For a start, there'd be no filibusting - in Scotland, the MSPs have a set time to make their points, they have access to computers and information at their desks, and votes can be conducted immediately. It's all very 21st century, and democracy is a lot better for it.

We can but dream.