Wednesday, April 02, 2014

 

10 Things Nigel Farage Hates #NickVNigel


With less than an hour to go before the second debate between Euro-realist Nick Clegg and Europhobe Nigel Farage, people all over Britain are asking: what’s on the other side? But some are also asking, will Mr Farage succeed this week in his attempt to make his face go not just pale, red and purple but the full red, white and blue he was aiming for? Will he be wrapped in a Russian flag as part of a new Putin-funded UKIP war chest? And will he find the same ten things – or more – to hate as last week?

Do you remember he had a little list, if you were watching or listening this time last Wednesday?


1 – Europe

Obviously.


2 – Immigrants

In his opening statement, Mr Farage attacked the EU mainly because – 485 million people had the right to come over here, and that terrified him!

Even though it’s not true, because there is no “open door” right.

Even though that counts everyone born and bred in Britain, because Mr Farage is actually terrified of the sixty-odd million of us who aren’t him.

Even though that includes every child in the EU, suggesting that as well as all the safety and unfair dismissal and environmental and all the other common regulations that Mr Farage said in passing he hates, he’d get rid of all the child labour laws too and get over the problem of lost British jobs by making us the world’s magnet for underage wage slaves. Result!


3 – Immigrants

In his answer to the third question, Mr Farage again raised the spectre of millions of British people staying in Britain, and millions of European babies coming over to steal the jobs he wants to inflict on British babies.

And he defended the UKIP leaflets that said that 29 million people were poised to invade from Romania and Bulgaria, even though that’s actually more Romanians and Bulgarians than there are.


4 – British Industry

In his answer to the seventh question, Mr Farage said that actually we would have more negotiating clout on our own than as part of the world’s most powerful trading bloc, because they need us more than we need them – they make things that people want to buy, so they need us to buy them, whereas nobody wants to buy our stuff because it’s shit. Of course they’ll accept any terms we want, because we’re so rubbish that we can only be passive consumers!
“We sell a million cars a year to the European Union, but they sell us 1.8 million cars a year of much higher quality… The German car market needs the British far more.”

5 – Human Rights and Everything About Britain Since the Thirteenth Century

In his eleventh answer, the most recent human rights legislation Mr Farage was prepared to accept was the Magna Carta – in the Thirteenth Century. Just so you got the point, he talked about “Common Law for 800 years” and “forget all these human rights”.

He said that all the politicians – especially, we have to conclude, Winston Churchill, who ordered the British lawyers to draw up the European Convention on Human Rights, and who signed us up to it – should be saying “I am very sorry”.


6 – The European Arrest Warrant

Mr Farage went on to say in his desperate dogma that he was 100% against the European Arrest Warrant.

He’d rather every type of criminal went free than ever pool our law-enforcing resources with the hated Europe.


7 – British Tourists

Mr Farage went on to say in his desperate dogma that he was 100% against British tourists locked up in EU countries getting the right to legal and translation help.

He’d rather every innocent Briton was banged up – by going to Europe, they’re damned anyway, aren’t they? – than ever make sure everyone has the same basic legal rights across the hated Europe.
“I’ve been in the European Parliament for 15 years and I have never once voted”
As Mr Farage admitted, he has one of the worst voting records of any elected European politician. He’s taken more than £2 million of our money in those 15 years, but he never turns up.


8 – Happy Gays

In his twelfth answer, Mr Farage was given the opportunity to clear up his position on same-sex marriage. Did he think it brought about floods and the end of civilisation, as UKIP spokespeople have said? Did he still oppose it tooth and nail, as he did when it was being voted on? Was he now in favour of it, as his spokesperson said last week and then hurried said, ‘Kidding!’?

Mr Farage said that he was absolutely dead against Richard and me getting married on our twentieth anniversary this year – perhaps he’s frightened that because we want to get married once, and he’s been married twice to show how much he believes in it, there may be a finite number of marriages to be had and he might not be entitled to a third one.

Well, he didn’t mention Richard and me by name, but it’s hard not to take it personally.

So was he against, dead against, against for fear of the gaypocalypse, or in favour for another two minutes before changing his mind again?

Mr Farage said that even the years of negotiations that would involve leaving the EU wouldn’t be enough – no, we’d have to leave Winston Churchill’s European Court of Human Rights, too, “then we’d look at it again.”

‘Leave the EU and all our international agreements – or your marriage gets it!’
‘I want to roll back all our freedoms to the Thirteenth Century and “forget all these human rights” and then, all you gay and lesbian and bisexual people, you can trust me with your interests even though I won’t commit…’

Thanks, Mr Farage, but fuck right off and die no thanks.

Nick Clegg, by contrast, the first Leader who supported equal marriage from the first party that supported equal marriage, doesn’t have the same maniac anti-EU dogma or closet homophobia about two people who love each other, so simply said:
“It’s just unalloyed great news that love and marriage will be recognised, a great step forward.”
And got the biggest cheer of the night.


9 – To Be Honest I Don’t Want To Sully A Headline With This One

In his thirteenth answer, Mr Farage attacked everyone who wasn’t “Anglo-Saxon” for not believing in the rule of (Thirteenth Century Barons’) law, and sneered by name at everyone from the “south of Europe” and “Mediterranean” people who never follow the rules.

Well, no wonder the racist gobshite boasted this week that he’s taken all the BNP’s votes. I wonder how that could be?


10 – Immigrants

In his summing-up at the end, Mr Farage spent his entire time on a completely new subject – immigrants.

In case you missed it.

485 million potential child labourers, including British ones, to threaten our British child labour! Many of them poor people (who he also hates)!

Again. In case you missed it.

He also mentioned immigration briefly in several other answers, but I’ve only mentioned the major ones.



It’s pretty clear that the other thing Mr Farage hates is Number 11 – FACTS.


But Mr Farage doesn’t hate everything.

Not Vladimir Putin. Ukraine provoked him by liking the EU.

‘WTF, Ukraine? I hate the EU! You provoke me too! How dare you like the EU? I’d have declared war on you too. Vlad, Vlad, you’re my best mate, you are…’

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Monday, March 31, 2014

 

Liberal Mondays 7: Roy Jenkins #LibDemValues


Scottish Liberal Andrew Page has doubly inspired me to return to my occasional series of Liberal Mondays quotations. Last week he wrote a post championing a very different political ideology* to my own Liberalism, but with a great line from Roy Jenkins, one of his political heroes, whose inspiring call for individual freedom is worth sharing:
“Let us be on the side of those who want people to be free to live their own lives, to make their own mistakes, and on the side of experiment and brightness... of fuller lives and greater freedom.”


Andrew also interviewed me amongst others at last year’s Liberal Democrat Conference in Glasgow. You can see here Andrew’s choice of Lib Dem “Conference People” and our array of thoughtful and positive (well, all but one of us, anyway) answers to his questions about the Lib Dems and the LiberaTory Coalition. I would have blogged about it before, but, er, it just so happens that he published his video the week after I stopped blogging for six months. None of our lines are as memorable as Roy’s, though.


*Andrew wrote that Roy “was not directly referring to the question of Scotland’s political future,” which did make me laugh. I suspect based on nothing but Roy’s entire political career that this is indeed not whistling Dixie, but what do I know? The nearest I ever got to meeting the Lord Jenkins was when he walked off the stage after my first ever Conference speech, so he may well not have agreed with me either.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

 

Nick V Nigel V Batman… V Photoshop?


How are you with Photoshop, flags and Batman?

Last night’s LBC debate between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage saw one of the most telling clashes about crime. Nick said we were better off IN to fight crime and get better justice. Nigel said he was so hell-bent against any form of European co-operation that he’d rather see cross-border criminals go free on killing sprees and British tourists locked up without help.

So where is the Photoshopped poster of Nick Clegg as Batman (in half-EU stars, half-Union Jack Batsuit) vs Nigel Farage, the Joker, saying ‘Together, We Fight Crime’? Your turn! Can you take this opportunity to turn them into a colourful graphic before next week’s rematch?

The Lib Dems have turned part of Nick’s attack into a poster, but a ridiculous picture is worth a thousand words. And I should know – I like a thousand words.




Here’s the Cast of Characters I’m Looking For

Nick Clegg IS Batman


In half-EU stars, half-Union Jack Batsuit, with ears (armoured nipples optional), and dynamic pro-European Arrest Warrant slogan, ‘Together, We Fight Crime!’

He won’t thank you, but I will.


Nigel Farage IS the Joker


UKIP’s colours already run to the purple suit, so that’s most of the work done already. Just change the sickly green highlights to sickly yellow, and you’re away. With an exaggerated downturned grimace of hatred for immigrants instead of a grin!

Yes, I know that the real Mr Farage’s face goes frothing-mad beetroot rather than deathly pale, but no fictional character could be as ludicrous as the real thing.


And if you’re up to a few minor supporting characters, even though they were too scared to appear in the story and bottled it…


David Cameron IS Two-Face


Hinting at ‘OUT’ to his Conservative Party members, reassuring he’s ‘IN’ to the public at large!


Ed Miliband IS the Riddler


What will his policy be? Search for Labour’s deviously concealed and indecipherable off-the-record briefing clues to see if you can work it out!


Riddle me this: is Mr Miliband already regretting running away from the debate and leaving the leadership of the whole progressive side of British politics to Nick Clegg because Ed was terrified of losing the racist vote? This morning’s off-the-record Riddler clue says that next year, anyway, he’d be happy to debate Nigel Farage as well as Nick Clegg, and accuses Two-Face of being cowardly. Which makes cowardly Mr Miliband pretty two-faced himself.

But riddle me that: if all the other three Leaders are willing to debate each other before the 2015 General Election, and Mr Cameron tries to run away, will that any longer be enough to stop the debates happening? As of this week, the broadcasters – LBC, Sky and BBC all helping stage the two European debates – have accepted the precedent that if a Party Leader, even the Prime Minister, is invited to a debate but too frit to show up, they can go ahead anyway and just leave him looking like the cowardly bottler he is.

So if Mr Cameron thinks he’s got a veto on the Leaders’ Debates… Toss a coin. (Two-)Heads, it’s an empty chair for the frit PM.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

 

Putting #WhyIAmIN Into What the Lib Dems Stand For 2014.07 #LibDemValues


Tomorrow, Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg puts the positive case for being in the European Union, in the first of two debates with UKIP Leader Nigel Farage putting the negative case for Little-Englanderism (the other two ‘Leaders’ can’t decide, so they’ve bottled it). That makes two headlines for What the Lib Dems Stand For: “Stronger Economy, Fairer Society” and “IN Europe, IN Work”. So how do those two fit together? Here’s my go at something slightly more than a slogan, but still punchy. If you like it, please borrow it to stick on a leaflet or add to a speech. If you don’t, please send me something better!


Last year I wrote a series of articles on What the Lib Dems Stand For, looking for something to fit in a box on a leaflet or in a minute’s speech – something to enthuse and inspire Lib Dem believers, something to attract and persuade potential supporters, something that’s more than a slogan or a soundbite but short enough to get in one go.

I opened it up into a meme, and many other Lib Dems took part as well – you can find the links to where I’ve published theirs, too, below. That’s still open: if you can do better, whether saying ‘Change this little bit because…’ or suggesting your own from scratch, I want to hear from you, too (my email link’s on the sidebar. I’d like to hear if you make use of mine, too).

Especially now we’re sharing power, it’s important to assert our values. I wanted to answer: What makes us different, and makes us stay? How is that reflected in our priorities in Coalition Government? How does that pick out the central message of the Preamble to our Constitution? How does that expand on the party’s ‘core message’ slogan of “Stronger Economy, Fairer Society”? And how can we best express it in language that feels natural to us and anyone listening to us? All the while making a positive case for us, not just ‘…But the others are worse’? I’ve tried to do all that together. Does it work for you?


Adding ‘IN’

Last year I tried to combine everything at once, with the added challenge to make it short and to make it make sense, rather than just being a storm of buzzword-salad. It works pretty well for me telling the story of how the three big freedoms of our Preamble fit together with fairness, but even then I knew it had to leave some things out, and the biggest one I couldn’t seem to fit in was internationalism. And what’s our big theme for this year’s European Elections? Who could have guessed?

My main change today is… Adding more words. Compared to last year’s, below, it’s up 16, taking it further from my target of 150 to fit in a medium-sized box on a leaflet or just one minute in a speech. What do you think of “being in Europe to be in work, to fight crime and tackle climate change”? Does it work? Does it fit? Is it too specific compared to the more values-based rest of the text? I based it on our three main campaigning messages about Europe, because I couldn’t find a way of getting the ‘drawbridge down’ sort of values behind them to work in just a few words. Can you?

And yes, now it makes the “Freedom from ignorance” bit look a bit short, but I’m not adding even more. Though if you don’t like semi-colons and want to break it up a bit more to make it easier to read, the pedant in me doesn’t like it, but you can use full stops instead to make the “Freedom from poverty” and “Freedom from conformity” bullets punchier.


The ‘What the Liberal Democrats Stand For Challenge’ So Far

This aims to be something short and simple that Lib Dems members can look at and think, ‘Yes, that’s some of why we bother’, and that other people can look at and think, ‘Oh, that’s what the Lib Dems are for, and I like it’. Feel free to borrow it for a box on your Focus leaflets, to be part of your speeches, for your members’ newsletters, your Pizza’N’Politics evenings – wherever it’ll do some good. And here’s what I’ve done with it so far, including many other Lib Dems’ own versions…

Happy 25th Birthday, Liberal Democrats – and What the Lib Dems Stand For 2013.1

Why we should sum up What the Lib Dems Stand For, and how it’s developed over the years.

What the Lib Dems Stand For 2013.2 – a Challenge and a Meme #LibDemValues

Setting out my ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’ based on the Preamble, practice and core messaging, and challenging other Lib Dems to come up with their own.

The Liberal Democrat What Do We Stand For Challenge 2013.3 – Eight Answers (so far) #LibDemValues

After receiving the first set of responses, rounding up eight different Liberal Democrats’ versions of what we stand for – so far…

The Liberal Democrat What Do We Stand For Challenge 2013.4 – What It’s All About #LibDemValues

Inviting people to use my short declaration of ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’ and explaining what each bit of it means.

What the Lib Dems Stand For 2013.5 – Why I Am A Liberal Democrat #LibDemValues

This one’s very different – longer and more personal: how did I get here? Why did I become a Lib Dem in the first place? And why do I stay?

The Liberal Democrat What Do We Stand For Challenge 2013.6 – Another Eight Answers #LibDemValues

Another eight different Liberal Democrats’ versions of what we stand for in the second set of responses people sent in.


Last year’s slightly shorter version:
The Liberal Democrats stand for freedom for every individual – freedom from poverty, ignorance and conformity.

To make that freedom real needs both fairness and economic responsibility: an economy that works, that encourages enterprise, and where everyone pays their fair share.

So freedom from poverty requires responsible spending, not debt, built on fairer taxes where lower earners pay less tax and the wealthiest pay more, and building green jobs for the future.

Freedom from ignorance needs better education and training, so people have the opportunity to realise their potential.

And freedom from conformity, supported by freedom from poverty and ignorance, means everyone should have the liberty to live their lives as they choose – without harming others; with equality before the law; with a better say, because no government always knows best.

That’s why Liberal Democrats are working for a stronger, greener economy in a fairer society, enabling every person to get on in life.

Once again, there will be more.


Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

 

Doctor Who 50 Great Scenes – 34: The Ark – The Plague (and The Ends of the Earth)


Remember the fiftieth birthday of Doctor Who late last year? Of course you do! I had been counting down towards the great event with my choice of Fifty great scenes… Then, let’s say, things went mildly awry. But I still have Fifty marvellous moments to champion, and Doctor Who goes on too. Tonight, I bring a great cliffhanger and a massive spoiler (so get your The Ark DVD now) as I go back to the youngest-oldest Doctor (William Hartnell), and forward to – well, failing to write a blog isn’t the end of the world, you know. But this is…
“The last moment has come.”


Hello again, possibly extinct regular reader! I hope you’ve been hibernating for the Winter, or perhaps in suspended animation. I won’t go into it all, but – short version – Richard is lovely, and most of the rest of life hasn’t been. It is, chasteningly, six months ago today that I last wrote anything on this blog (an article that, in retrospect ironically, was titled “Speeches I Didn’t Make”), and seven months yesterday since I posted Number 35 in my exciting Doctor Who Fifty countdown. A happier anniversary is that tonight is the 48th anniversary of (mild spoiler) The Return, the third episode of Doctor Who serial The Ark and the one that goes on to explain just what the security kitchen was going on at the end of the brilliant cliffhanger I’m about to celebrate. This much-delayed blog post is also, it turns out, my 700th on Love and Liberty, and 700 is a significant number in this particular plot. It’s time for the excitement, the adventure and the really wild spoilers, and, I mean, you may think it’s a long time down the blog since I published, but that’s just peanuts to this Ark in space…

Back in March 1966 – or forward at least* ten million years from another point of view – the Doctor (William Hartnell) and his friends Steven ‘Space Pilot of the Future’ Taylor and Dodo ‘Aptly Named Walking Extinction Event’ Chaplet materialise on a huge space Ark carrying some of the last of humanity and their friends colleagues servants the Monoids. The Monoids have already lost their world and came to humanity as refugees; with the Earth about to burn up, humanity seized the opportunity to be the upper-class refugees (something which surely will not come back to bite them on the bum). They’re on a 700-year voyage to a new planet, one which seems lush and uninhabited but about which several of the humans are deeply paranoid in case there turns out to be anyone there who wants to boss them around, presumably meaning that despite what you might expect there is no “A” Ark following on to perform that function nor “C” Ark en route to perform all the practical functions that the Arkists we meet are patently unsuited to.

Naturally, the Doctor and his friends are the ones who treat the Monoids as people, while some of the Ark humans explode with xenophobic panic against our heroes, merely because Dodo infects them all with her antediluvian cold and threatens to wipe out what’s left of humanity (and, you know, Monoidony, nothing to see there). With, inexplicably, no telephone sanitisers to hand, it’s left to the Doctor to find a cure while the Ark sails from the Earth and the torches start burning.

Doctor Who – The Ark is a strange beast. It’s brilliantly structured, and has an epic sci-fi feel to it rare in the series’ early years (with impressive visuals for the time, too)… But the ambition doesn’t extend to creating much in the way of characters, and the second half trails off into B-Movie shonkiness. It also inspired a fabulous YouTube video to “Get Back!” which has sadly long since been double-copyright-bombed off the Internet, but if any readers happened to take an illicit copy…? But I’m looking for what’s most brilliant about the story and that, unusually, comes exactly in the middle. It’s something that Doctor Who was able to do to viewers in the 1960s and, if you don’t read the Internet too much, today – when stories aren’t given a simple title and an episode number, but an individual title each week that might leave you guessing how long each particular plot will run. This third season of Doctor Who had already had a story that consisted of just one episode and another that lasted for twelve, so when in the last few minutes of the second episode the cure is found, the moral expounded and the Earth de-rounded, there was no reason not to think that the TARDIS would be off to a completely different adventure the following week after this fortnight’s sci-fi parable.

But the TARDIS crew, and the viewer, were back on the Ark after the Hartnell era’s second and most inspired false ending.

The TARDIS materialises and Dodo, her undeterred eagerness to explore nothing to be sneezed at, rushes off to see the new sights. To everyone’s surprise, they’re more like the old sights. The TARDIS hasn’t moved at all – an important and popular fact that is wrong in all important respects – but the Ark’s vast indoor jungle is suddenly looking rather overgrown (and, still more disturbingly, no longer seems to host elephants). The Doctor explores rather gingerly, noting:
“Well, that’s strange. Something must have gone wrong. It appears we’ve landed back in the same place.”
Dodo, on the other hand, bursts into the huge control area, expecting to see their friends and previous persecutors, but is puzzled by the apparent lack of humans as well as elephants, assuming “They can’t be far away” because “We’ve only been gone a few seconds.” Steven, taking his cue from the Doctor and more used to time travel, wonders just how long their “few seconds” may have been for the Ark.

If you’re familiar with Shelley’s poem Ozymandias and the statue which inspired it, I like to credit The Ark with inspiration rather than coincidence in throwing that idea into reverse just as it throws the TARDIS far forward in time. While most humans and Monoids are to sleep through the Ark’s seven-hundred-year voyage, the great ship’s dedicated guardians set themselves a task to mark the journey: that while generations lived and died in space to build humanity’s future (oh, and the Monoids’, nothing to see), they would build a vast statue, an embodiment of humanity’s greatness that would at last be completed for the Ark’s arrival. When we saw the Ark setting out from Earth, only the mighty feet were complete.

Unlike Ozymandias, the feet are a sign of hope and promise; the reversal and despair of the mighty only comes when the statue reaches its height.

Dodo sees, towering above the Ark’s deserted centre…
“Doctor – Steven – look! …The statue. They’ve finished the statue.”
The camera follows Dodo’s gaze up the chiselled muscles of the nearly-nude figure that holds a new world in its hand in a thrilling exploitation shot… To the great Monoid’s head at the top.


*The Doctor, told this is the Fifty-Seventh Segment of Time by the Arkists’ reckoning, and told that two particular historical events took place in the First by the same reckoning, instantly calculates that (providing the Segments are of equal duration) “We must have jumped at least ten million years” from the TARDIS’ previous landing in the 1960s. Mathematically inclined readers will note that given this minimal information, it is possible to deduce a minimum period of time but not a maximum one, and that this is exactly what the Doctor does. This may prove handy, in a different segment of time.


Astute readers may have deduced that in the last few weeks I’ve been assisted in my faint desire to make life more helpful and intelligible by watching and listening to at least five different variations of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy, some of them even legal. This is not the story of that book, or even of the mind behind it and his contributions to Doctor Who. However, you may also be aware that Douglas Adams began with the idea of a series of quite different stories, all of which would end with the destruction of the Earth. Doctor Who has had much the same idea, with the exception that all of its many versions of the ends of the Earth can, if you squint generously, be said to agree with each other (just don’t get started on Atlantis). In this spirit, rather than just one bonus quotation below, I’ve picked out a selection that all more or less relate to the destruction of our small, blue-green world, though not necessarily all to the same destruction. There’s one related event that I’ve omitted, not because I can’t find a gorgeous line about it but because – in a more minor failure of forward planning than the general one of being a year late – I’ve already used it as a bonus quotation for a completely different one of the Fifty. Arguably, the title of the Doctor Who story involved may maintain some mystery about the planet and its fate (Richard isn’t entirely convinced, if you scroll down to his “… In A Hurry”), so I shan’t spoil it for you here, instead inviting you to click this link and read the Bonus Great Doctor Who Quotation only if you feel yourself thoroughly prepared. This story may safely be made the subject of suspense, since it is of no significance whatsoever.


Bonus Great Doctor Who Quotation – Frontios

Early in Part One, the Doctor (Peter Davison) has decided to sort out the TARDIS. His priorities and efficiency in doing so are uncannily similar to when I aim to tidy our flat, and for the TARDIS, too, things are going to get far more untidy before long. His friends – well, it’s 1984 (or ten million / five billion and forty, etc), so perhaps I should call them ‘his bitching contestants’ – Tegan (Australian) and Turlough (alien, and therefore British but a bit fey) just think he’s gone completely hatstand. On the sunny side, at least I don’t drive; here, the driverless TARDIS has drifted above the planet Frontios, where the forecast is less sunny than cloudy with a hint of meteorites. Turlough and Tegan try to bring this to the Doctor’s attention, though their main interest remains in sniping at each other. She’s louder, but he’s more cutting. And he can read…
“Doctor? Something’s happening to the controls.”
“BOUNDARY ERROR
“TIME PARAMETERS EXCEEDED”
“Ah. We must be on the outer limits. TARDIS has drifted too far into the future. We’ll just, ah, slip into hover mode for a while.”
“We’re in the Veruna System… Wherever that is.”
“I had no idea we were so far out. Veruna! That’s irony for you.”
“What is?”
“Veruna is where one of the last surviving groups of Mankind took shelter when the great – ah – yes. Well, I suppose you’ve got all that to look forward to, haven’t you?”
“When the great what, Doctor?”
[Sheepishly] “Well, all civilisations have their ups and downs.”
Fleeing from the imminence of a catastrophic collision with the Sun, a group of refugees from the doomed planet Earth—”
“Yes, that’s enough, Turlough.”
Tegan wants to visit – “Laws of Time,” the Doctor weasels, and changes the subject to wanting a pair. That’s not unusual for this Doctor. Guess where they end up? Only to find that this group of fleeing humans are, if anything, even more useless than the first lot, with a total, brilliant ship in a worse state than the TARDIS – for a while….





Bonus Great Doctor Who Quotation – The End of the World

The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) takes Rose – and most of the audience – on her first trip in the TARDIS to the far future… An elegant, spacious chamber; a huge, shuttered window; a mystery. Momentarily. What a magnificent vista for a pre-credits teaser: the shutters retreat to reveal the wide Earth below and, looming beyond, the swollen Sun…
“You lot… You spend all your time thinking about dying. Like you’re going to get killed by eggs, or beef, or global warming, or asteroids. But you never take time to imagine the impossible. That maybe you survive. This is the year Five Point Five Slash Apple Slash Twenty Six, five billion years in your future. And this is the day… Hold on. [Glances at watch to time the Sun’s sudden blazing red] This is the day the Sun expands.
“Welcome to the end of the world.”
Like The Ark, this story has multiple perspectives on time. It’s set at the same moment as the mid-point of the earlier story (of course it is); it was, mind-expandingly, the future, not just on screen but conceptually for its promise of a whole new Doctor Who; it loved and learned from the past (not least The Ark, The Ark In Space and Douglas Adams); and today it seems so dizzyingly long ago. Back in the olden days of nine years ago or five billion years in the future, in the dawn of Russell T Davies when actions had consequences and stories had endings, I loved it for its perfect collision of soaring optimism with sobering wisdom:
“Everything has its time, and everything dies.”

Incidentally, I saw the ‘film poster’ above years ago online, as you do, and thought it rather lovely. I’ve not been able to find the site since, though, so if you happen to know who created it, could you drop me a line in order that I can say ‘Thank you’ and they can say either ‘You’re welcome’ or ‘Take it down, impudent worm’?


Bonus Great Doctor Who Quotation – The Ark In Space

In early 1975 (or, again, the far future, but not quite as far as the others), Tom Baker had just started to be the Doctor, and I’d just started to watch Doctor Who. This was the second story for both of us, and it scared me so terribly that I had recurring nightmares of it for years afterwards. It was marvellous. But there’s a famously hopeful moment amid the horror, and ironically it comes just as we realise that the Earth has been scoured of all life…

The Doctor (Tom Baker) and his friends Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan spend the first episode alone (save something lurking, green and horrible), exploring an apparently deserted space station that still manages to suffocate, shoot at or freeze-dry them in turn. Some chambers hold records of Earth; others, its unliving animal life; then, to a swirl of sober, eerie music, the Doctor and Harry find themselves amid cold towers of cold people, each in their own compartment. While Harry faffs about, humansplaining about massive mortuaries, the Doctor realises that the station and the ‘bodies’ are waiting until the Earth can live once again:
“Homo sapiens… What an inventive, invincible species… It’s only a few million years since they’ve crawled up out of the mud and learned to walk. Puny, defenceless bipeds. They’ve survived flood, famine and plague. They’ve survived cosmic wars and holocausts, and now here they are amongst the stars, waiting to begin a new life, ready to out-sit eternity. They’re indomitable. Indomitable!”
Tom Baker’s speech near the end of Part One is utterly magnificent – both script and performance – establishing him as the Doctor even more than the manic energy of his first story. And in a story all about humanity, the Doctor reasserts an alien point of view which like so much of this story echoes across future series.


Bonus Great Doctor Who Quotation – The Sontaran Experiment

In this short but smart sequel to The Ark In Space that swaps claustrophobia for agoraphobia, the Doctor (Tom Baker) and his friends beam down to Earth to see if it’s ready for the return of humanity yet. Good news: it is. Bad news: others found it first. There’s going to be a sinister alien, whose species I shall keep secret for the moment (what’s that? Oh, damn!), but first we meet some other humans. Not the clinical, compartmentalised people of the previous story who slept in the sure and certain hope of resurrection and the even surer certainty of superiority, but a rougher, tougher breed who weren’t among the Chosen and had to work for it, viewing the Earth their distant ancestors fled not as their manifest destiny but a useless and long-junked irrelevance. They’ve only been lured here to become prey, so, just for a change, they don’t trust the Doctor…
“I’m sorry to keep contradicting you, but there is a transmat beam from Space Station Nerva.”
“From where?”
“Space Station Nerva.”
“Is he crazy?”
“A joker.”
“You don’t expect us to believe that.”
“Nerva – transmat beam – Earth. It’s as simple as that. Why don’t you believe me?”
“Because Nerva doesn’t exist, that’s why. There’s no such place.”
“Fascinating. You don’t believe it exists, yet you’ve obviously heard of it…?”
“Everybody’s heard of the lost colony.”
“Lost colony? Ahhh. You mean it’s become a legend, like lost Atlantis?”
“Like what?”
“Lost Atlantis. It’s a legendary city… A go— Never mind. This is extremely interesting. Are you going to cut me loose?”
Shhh. He mentioned Atlantis once, but I think he got away with it.

And in sharp contrast with the Doctor’s previous rhapsody, they’re not impressed. The budget didn’t stretch to a statue, but Ozymandias is back in spirit:
“Listen. If you are one of the Old People, we’re not taking orders from your lot. While you were dozing away, our people kept going – and they made it. We’ve got bases all across the galaxy now. You’ve done nothing for ten thousand years while we made an Empire! You understand? …We’re not taking any of that ‘Mother Earth’ rubbish!”

Surprising Bonus Great Doctor Who QuotationDoctor Who and the Silurians

After The Sontaran Experiment’s cold-water-in-the-face upending of The Ark In Space’s assumptions and the Doctor’s paean to its self-important survivors or even the importance of Earth itself, and going back right to the realisation that perhaps the Monoids might have something to say rather than just seeing everything from humanity’s perspective, I thought it appropriate to finish after the world ended and nobody noticed. Well, nobody you know, anyway. In 1970, or probably about 1976, or the 1980s, or – look, sometimes it’s easier to agree that ten million is the same as five billion – the Earth’s original owners woke up, and they weren’t happy. The different perspective of the Silurians / Homo Reptilia / Earth Reptiles / Indigenous Terrans is a three-eyed rather than a one-eyed one, but in this story the series had come on a long way in the four TV years since 1966. Going into sleep for millions of years, only to find the end of their world hadn’t quite wiped out all the little mammals, this was a story where the ‘aliens’ had as much of a claim to ‘our’ world as we did. But while the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) could see both sides by Episode Four, try telling that to either people…
“I spoke to it. And it understood me.”
“What was it like?”
“Reptilian. Biped. A completely alien species.”
“And it didn’t attack you?”
“Liz, these creatures aren’t just animals. They’re an alien life form, as intelligent as we are.”
“Why – why didn’t you tell the Brigadier?”
“Why? Because I want to find out more about these creatures; they’re not necessarily hostile.”
“Doctor, it attacked me.”
“Yes… But only to escape – it didn’t kill you. It didn’t attack me when I was in Quinn’s cottage. Well, don’t you see? They only attack for survival. Well, human beings behave in very much the same way.”

Next Time… The Next Time is out of joint – this one might have been ‘I had a little drink seven hundred years ago…’ – so while in the past I’ve offered a not terribly cryptic clue each time about what each time I was confident would be a planned, specific entry at the same time next week, I’m aware that this has been both a different Number 34 to that hinted at last August and that had I written it the next week it would have been, well, last August. So in the light of my impressive record so far, I will make no rash commitments. But if I do get to Number 33, and I do feel that you might need something cheerier after multiple and among them possibly even final apocalypses, it could be:

Next Time… Daylight! Music! Romance!


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Thursday, September 19, 2013

 

Speeches I Didn’t Make: The Manifesto and Freedom #LibDemValues


Yesterday morning, I didn’t make a speech. That’s not unusual: I didn’t make a speech on any of the previous hundred or so mornings, either. But yesterday morning I had a rallying call ready, and wasn’t called (as I’d almost told myself). Liberal Democrat Conferences are democratic – ordinary members or Leaders can speak, and each has one vote – and yesterday’s debate more than usually so, giving us the chance to debate a “Manifesto Themes” Paper long before the General Election. So now you can see my contribution, both written and delivered on YouTube live from a broom cupboard!

A Stronger Economy in a Fairer Society – Enabling Every Person to Get on in Life is a title regular readers will recognise: the Liberal Democrats’ main message. I’ve been doing quite a bit of work to broaden it into a slightly longer statement that reflects more of our values, and that was what I was going to talk about yesterday morning (before Nick Clegg’s cheeringly similar “No, nope, nah” refrain in the afternoon). Thanks to Caron Lindsay for wielding the camera-phone and offering use of the tiny office – it was an odd experience delivering a speech designed for a big hall and big audience in a tiny space and to two lovely people, and it made me feel rather hammy. It’s also much easier when there’s a lectern to rest the speech on and hide behind, as I talk with my hands and shuffle my feet! This version lasts rather longer than the statutory four minutes: I didn’t have a time limit in the broom cupboard, and wander about a bit in the middle, but when practicing it earlier I worked out which bits to gabble through and could sprint to the end in 3.45…





Freedom Is Our Signature Tune
A stronger economy, a fairer society, a million jobs… It’s a good tune, but it sounds a lot like what everyone else is playing. We need that competent, managerial message, but we need passion, too. To make our signature tune sing it needs something more – and freedom is a tune only we can play.

It’s great to see my favourite bit of the Preamble in here. It’s a start. But it’s politically streetwise to pump up freedom higher in the mix. Freedom says we’ve got principles – it inspires our activists and attracts those converts that no-one else can reach.

And it’s streetwise because if we don’t stand up for freedom in the campaign, it will be much harder to make it cast-iron in Coalition, or to make voters understand why we’ll give up other priorities for it.

Make no mistake – it will be much harder next time. When Labour were the most authoritarian government in modern British history, the Tories discovered a taste for freedom. Back in power, they’ve rediscovered how much they love to boss people about. And still, the Labour bully-boys’ first reaction on every liberty is to attack the Coalition from the far right.

Yet if you combine freedom and economic responsibility, austerity can be a friend to some freedoms. Because appalling illiberal authoritarian schemes aren’t just appalling illiberal authoritarian schemes – they’re always expensive appalling illiberal authoritarian schemes. So make the Lib Dems the party of economic responsibility by attacking the other two for wasting a ton of money on their bullying pet projects when there’s so little money to spare.

ID cards waste a ton of money, so don’t.
Snoopers’ Charters waste a ton of money, so don’t.
“Go Home” vans, and porn filters, and every massive intrusive database waste a ton of money, so don’t.

Of course there are positive Liberal commitments I’d like to see in the Manifesto too.

I want to say a personal thank you to every moral Liberal Democrat at Westminster – on our twentieth anniversary next year, Richard and I will be getting married. Thanks to you voting for equal marriage. But the Manifesto should have more than a picture celebrating the partially equal marriage we have now – a commitment to fully equal marriage, so that trans people can be as happy as we are.

I want to see in this Manifesto a Greater Repeal Bill, to expand on the Freedom Act the Tories watered down.
I want to see us repealing all the victimless crimes that waste people’s lives and waste court money and waste police time.

But most of all I want to see a ringing rallying call.
Your mission, David, should you decide to accept it, is to set out a clear, concise vision that combines our big slogan message, our priorities for government and our Liberal principles.
It sounds like mission impossible, but it can be done. And as readers of my blog will know, here’s one I prepared earlier.

Sing Along

The Liberal Democrats stand for freedom for every individual – freedom from poverty, ignorance and conformity.

To make that freedom real needs both fairness and economic responsibility: an economy that works, that encourages enterprise, and where everyone pays their fair share.

So freedom from poverty requires responsible spending, not debt, built on fairer taxes where lower earners pay less tax and the wealthiest pay more, and building green jobs for the future.

Freedom from ignorance needs better education and training, so people have the opportunity to realise their potential.

And freedom from conformity, supported by freedom from poverty and ignorance, means everyone should have the liberty to live their lives as they choose – without harming others; with equality before the law; with a better say, because no government always knows best.

That’s why Liberal Democrats are working for a greener, stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling every person to get on in life.

I wanted to make a positive contribution, so gambled on putting in a card to speak mostly in favour of parts of the motion on the Manifesto Themes. Had I played the Conference ‘game’ and put in to speak against on something the vast majority supported, I’d have been much more likely to have been called: in retrospect, it would have been tempting to speak against the first amendment. Sadly, no-one did, and it was passed overwhelmingly, despite being a shoddy piece of drafting and an ugly piece of wording. It’s bad enough that it was a piece of self-indulgent fappery from Liberal Left, adding rambling statements of the obvious as if only they’d thought of them, and deleting one paragraph merely to reword it slightly differently and less flowingly. What really got my goat about it was that in their eagerness to indulge themselves they dropped things from the original wording. How do you support children by taking out any mention of parents or early years education? And, shamefully, where the original lines talked about “removing barriers faced by communities such as ethnic minorities”, an open-ended and Liberal commitment that gives in example groups who face particular barriers but with its “such as” implies that we want to break down barriers all around, Liberal Left’s clumsy redraft was exclusive, not inclusive, only wanting barriers removed for its chosen groups. Barriers of sexism? Homophobia? Transphobia? Anyone else but Liberal Left’s chosen few? Then their amendment excludes you.

Shameful.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

 

That Alex Salmond ‘Independence-Lite’ Reassurance In Full


As we’re in Glasgow, the city where my Dad was born and to which Alex Salmond is so eager to make me an alien, I thought the First Minister deserved some rigorous intellectual analysis. What do his ‘Independence-Lite-Ambiguity-Heavy’ reassurances to a sceptical Scotland really mean?
‘So I want us to move out, and you’re nervous you won’t like the new place. But it’s OK! Putting Britain through a divorce they don’t want and stiffing them with the rent won’t change anything. We’ll still be able to shag them whenever we want and borrow all their stuff – just no strings! What do you mean, you’re not convinced? How could anyone resist my charms?’
You know, he sounds just like a load of other men I’ve heard boasting after their divorce.

Just not for very long after.

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The Liberal Democrat What Do We Stand For Challenge 2013.6 – Another Eight Answers #LibDemValues


Half-way through Liberal Democrat Conference in Glasgow, I’m turning from the hotly argued policy votes to essential principles and eight Lib Dems’ own individual, diverse, but unifying rallying cries on What the Lib Dems Stand For. Some are shorter, some longer, some I’ll link to for more, but all are recognisably Liberal Democrat. Here’s what Sam Phripp, Prateek Buch, Andrew Tennant, Dave Page, Maelo Manning, Nick Barlow, Andrew Brown, Chris Richards – and me – have to say: which inspires you? Try some in your local party, or on the doorstep, or your leaflets and speeches… And share yours, too!

I last published a round-up of responses to my What the Lib Dems Stand For Challenge immediately before our last Conference in March. Most of the responses below were published not long after that, so a particular thank you to all contributors who got in fairly quickly, and apologies for taking so long to compiling them all. Once again, don’t wait to be asked – if you think you can do better, or more personally, or simply more to your own taste, please send me your own idea or publish it yourself (and ideally let me know, so I don’t miss it). I originally challenged other Lib Dems to come up with roughly 150 words – though that was just for ease of use, so whatever length they fancy, really – summing up what the Lib Dems stand for, after first coming up with my own for people to borrow or blame, a synthesis of the Preamble, the party’s achievements in government and the party leadership’s latest messaging. You’ll find mine below, again, and once again, feel free to borrow it wholesale for your own leaflets, speeches or pizza and politics nights, or to say where I’ve gone right or wrong (or say that about the others, but I’m more comfortable inviting potshots at me than at guests). So here are the next eight, a good mix from across the party, some from people I know well and others I don’t, some more to my own taste than others, but every one a rallying cry from the Lib Dem tradition…


Sam Phripp – “A Voice For the Voiceless”

So Sam said… is the most recent “Why I’m a Liberal Democrat” piece I’ve read – Sam prepared it to form part of his selection speech as Lib Dem Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for North East Somerset, but I read it, liked it, so introduced myself to him at Conference the other day and asked if I could reprint some of it. You can read the whole thing on Sam’s blog, but here’s a crucial part:
“The reason I’m a Liberal Democrat, is because I believe Liberal Democrats are a voice for the voiceless - and I know it because I’ve been there.

“When I was young, successive Conservative governments vilified single parent families to the point that mothers including my own were given enough money to feed their children but not themselves.

“When I was growing up and realising that I wasn’t like other boys, Labour legalised Civil Partnership but still didn’t believe that I should be able to marry – actually, properly, marry – the person I love…

“The only people who come to bat, every single time, for people like that, people like me, people who are marginalised are the Liberal Democrats…

“If we don’t do it, nobody else will do it for us. That’s why I’m a Liberal Democrat, and that’s why I’d like to be an MP, because people deserve a voice and people need to have someone on their side.”

Prateek Buch – “The Freedom and Means To Live Fulfilling Lives Free From Poverty, Ignorance and Conformity”

As part of a series of articles on “Putting social liberal values into action”, Prateek gives his own short statement of values as an opening contribution:
“We believe the political economy should empower all citizens with the capability to secure for themselves the freedom and means to live fulfilling lives free from poverty, ignorance and conformity – and that where it falls short, we should promote social justice and tackle barriers of inequality in wealth, voice and power.”

Andrew Tennant – “An Individual’s Right To Self-determination and Control Over Their Own Life”

Andrew Tennant‏ tweeted a shorter version still:
“Believing in an individual’s right to self-determination and control over their own lives, as well as how governed.”

Dave Page – “Increasing People’s Freedom To Enjoy Their Own Potential”

The ever-so-lovely Dave expands on a previous post to hone his appeal both to Lib Dems and to other people of a liberal cast of mind (and potentially Liberal cast of vote). While I’d urge you to read what he has to say in full, here’s his key message:
“The Liberal Democrats stand for increasing people’s freedom to enjoy their own potential, helping everybody to get on in life. We believe in meaningful representative democracy to balance people’s conflicting priorities, and in ensuring protection for the individual from the State and other powerful organisations.

“We believe that nobody should be constrained by lack of opportunity, particularly by the circumstances of their birth. We believe that Government should set the rules by which society operates, so people are rewarded for hard work and innovation, but not for exploitation or pollution. We believe that people should be respected as individuals regardless of their gender, colour, wealth, sexuality, or any other quality – not as homogeneous groups defined by those qualities.

“We believe in accountable, democratic institutions giving people more of a say in their immediate lives and local communities, as well as more of a say in the issues too big for one person, or one country. We believe in solutions which get to the root of the problem rather than just addressing the symptoms.”
Dave’s title for his piece, “This Is What the Lib Dems is About”, always puts this fab track into my head. ‘Moo moo! Moo moo! S-L-F!’ as Dave would no doubt sing. “All aboard, all aboard, woah-oh!”


Maelo Manning – “Fairness, Equality and Community”

I’ve pulled out of the “LibDem Child” blog some of her positive case for the party:
“I believe the party stands for: ‘fairness, equality and community’… For Fairness, I am extremely thrilled at the decisions taken like raising the tax threshold and a commitment to green issues… For Equality – Everybody is given a fair start and supported in the necessary way for them to be able to participate in society. For example, schools in poorer areas are given extra support and guidance to help the pupils have a fair start in life, and the equal marriage bill… For Community – demonstrated at local levels by our superb councillors who are in tune with the needs of their local communities; and party campaigners.”

Nick Barlow – “Maximise the Happiness and Potential of Every Individual”

I recommend reading Nick’s full exploration of the party’s key areas and overall themes, but here’s the coherent message he hones them into at the end:
“We believe in a society that works to maximise the happiness and potential of every individual, one that works to give everyone the opportunity to live their life as they want, providing they do not harm others. We seek to create an open, liberal and democratic world, where power is spread around, people have a real say in decisions that affect them and fair and impartial justice is available to all. A liberal society should protect the environment, promote education, create opportunity, reward enterprise and encourage innovation. Everyone should be free to participate in society and we seek to both tear down the barriers that restrict them and help people to overcome circumstances that limit them. In a liberal society everyone should be free to live their lives, free of restraint by poverty, ignorance or conformity.”

Andrew Brown – “Promoting the Freedom of the Individual Within A Society In Which All Can Achieve Their Potential”

Andrew on The Widow’s World offers his own Lib Dem statement of belief:
“Liberal Democrats exist to promote the freedom of the individual within a society in which all can achieve their potential.

“Liberal Democrats have a fundamental belief in the equality of all regardless of income, wealth, status, gender or gender identity, disability, personal capacity or sexual preferences – and that this should be enshrined and supported in law.

“Liberal Democrats believe the role of the State is to facilitate the ability of individuals to reach and exceed their potential and to provide an underpinning of support for those who fail to do so. They believe that spending to meet these aims is of benefit to all and that the burden of taxation should be progressive but not punitive.

“Liberal Democrats are pragmatic, concerned with outcomes not methodology and resisting traditional dogmas of left and right in favour of evidence-based policy which demonstrably support our aims.

“Liberal Democrats support these aims in the UK, in Europe and internationally.”

Chris Richards – “It’s About Freedom”

Chris Richards takes an interestingly different approach, not starting from scratch, from the Preamble to the Lib Dem Constitution or the other inspirations others have taken but looking to a favourite Lib Dem publication, the ‘Values Paper’ It’s About Freedom. I recommend it, too, with co-authors including such impressive names as a long-pre-Leadership Nick Clegg and, er, Alex Wilcock (best to ignore a couple of recent defectors in there, though).

Chris chooses the opening of the paper’s conclusion to champion what the party stands for and I print that first, but I recommend also reading his whole piece, where he chooses many of his favourite passages and highlights some of those he thinks are particularly relevant today. I’ve picked out a small selection of those, too:
“It’s about freedom. That one word is the call for all Liberal Democrats. Liberal Democrats believe that maximising personal freedom is fundamental to a liberal society. We believe that freedom means the opportunity to make the most of our lives, while recognising that our actions must not prevent others from sharing those opportunities and that we may need to take active steps to extend freedom to all.”

“The freedom of the individual is, however, limited or non-existent if he or she is prevented by economic deprivation, lack of education, disadvantage or discrimination from exercising choices about how to live or from participating in the democratic process… Institutions are required which keep markets free and prevent monopoly. Other mechanisms are needed to ensure that individuals have access to the things which markets are unable to provide.”

“We reject the use of the state or the law to enforce beliefs… Liberal Democrats do not have a blueprint of how life should be lived, but we do have a set of principles with which to approach problems and decisions.”

“Our first political duty – particularly if we are ourselves in power – is to ensure that mechanisms to protect freedom are in good order, and power is as widely shared as possible.”

Alex Wilcock – “Society Should Be For Everyone, and Every Individual Should Be Free”

I started this whole thing with my own short rallying call, carefully crafted for consensus from the Preamble, our priorities in government, the party’s key message and a bit of me. Very on message, in volume and over time, and so that’ll be up again in just a minute. But last week, I decided to do what several other people have done and write a longer, much more personal story, of how my life experience led me to being a Lib Dem and how the golden thread of Liberalism runs through my life. So I’ve now done what I’ve done to other people’s personal pieces, and filleted it to pull out some of the key ideas:
“My first political memories are of shouting at bullies… With all the division in society, a political party should be for everyone, not hating half the people all the time – or even hating other countries – and that with what I was experiencing personally, everyone should have the freedom to live their own life, too. And that naturally led me to the Liberal Democrats, who were not just appealingly internationalist but, to their core, the only party saying that society should be for everyone, and that every individual should be free…

“Liberalism means that if you start with every individual, you can’t put any person on the scrapheap or hate them for who they are. The founding principles of Liberalism over the centuries – of individual freedom, equality before the law and controlling arbitrary power – are living, breathing, vital ideas that I’d discovered for myself in the desire to choose my own life, my belief that everyone should be treated the same, even as a little boy knowing that you had to stand up to bullies… Part of not favouring any one ‘side’ is realising that anyone can be a bully, or can be bullied – or, in philosophical terms, any sort of power can threaten liberty, but any sort of power can protect it, too. Whether it’s the state, or big business or big unions, or just other people, any of them can boss you around and anyone can help stop you being bossed around. So you can’t do away with any of them – and you can’t say any of them are right all the time, or be in their pockets. Which means aiming to create The Perfect Society will always be a disaster, but working at making a better society means there’s always more real life to be listened to and more work to be done…

“That’s why for me saying what we stand for is more important than any single policy. It’s important because unless we keep sight of why we bother, there’s nothing to inspire us. And it’s important to remember that we’re for everyone, that everyone should be free to live their own lives, and so we’re here to bring everyone together, as far as we can, and to stop people being pushed around, as far as we can… We’re still the only party that says society should be for everyone, and that every individual should be free.”


The Liberal Democrat What Do We Stand For Challenge (so far)

A very big thank you from me to all those who’ve taken part so far – both in today’s contributions, and back in March. I hope you encourage and inspire many others not just to read but to think and come up with their own versions of What the Lib Dems Stand For in turn. If that’s you this time, dear reader, please do! And then I might publish a third collection.

Once again, feel free to borrow my own message – below – and use it yourself. It’s my contribution to open-source Liberalism – getting across what we stand for in something more meaningful than a soundbite but still short enough to be no more than a minute’s speech or a box on a Focus leaflet. If you do make use of it, I’d prefer it if you let me know, but that’s not compulsory (I imagine the other contributors above feel much the same, but it’s probably polite to ask them first). So, synthesising the Preamble to the Constitution, the party’s priorities in government and Nick Clegg’s repeated mantra, here’s my on-message message again:
“The Liberal Democrats stand for freedom for every individual – freedom from poverty, ignorance and conformity.

“To make that freedom real needs both fairness and economic responsibility: an economy that works, that encourages enterprise, and where everyone pays their fair share.

“So freedom from poverty requires responsible spending, not debt, built on fairer taxes where lower earners pay less tax and the wealthiest pay more, and building green jobs for the future.

“Freedom from ignorance needs better education and training, so people have the opportunity to realise their potential.

“And freedom from conformity, supported by freedom from poverty and ignorance, means everyone should have the liberty to live their lives as they choose – without harming others; with equality before the law; with a better say, because no government always knows best.

“That’s why Liberal Democrats are working for a greener, stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling every person to get on in life.”

Happy 25th Birthday, Liberal Democrats – and What the Lib Dems Stand For 2013.1

Why we should sum up What the Lib Dems Stand For, and how it’s developed over the years.

What the Lib Dems Stand For 2013.2 – a Challenge and a Meme #LibDemValues

Setting out my ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’ based on the Preamble, practice and core messaging, and challenging other Lib Dems to come up with their own.

The Liberal Democrat What Do We Stand For Challenge 2013.3 – Eight Answers (so far) #LibDemValues

After receiving the first set of responses, rounding up eight different Liberal Democrats’ versions of what we stand for.

The Liberal Democrat What Do We Stand For Challenge 2013.4 – What It’s All About #LibDemValues

Inviting people to use my short declaration of ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’ and explaining what each bit of it means.

What the Lib Dems Stand For 2013.5 – Why I Am A Liberal Democrat #LibDemValues

The long version of my personal philosophical story, as quoted in brief above.



Two last points that suit this sort of round-up. Simon Titley of Liberator has been one of the party’s more outspoken critics of “a stronger economy in a fairer society”, though not conspicuously proposing any alternative. However, on the cover of last month’s issue, Liberator offered “one simple amendment” to make it “Fairer Economy, Stronger Society”. I don’t have a problem with the first part of that, but the second sends shivers down my spine. Together, they sound more like the authoritarian left to me than any kind of Liberalism; on its own, the second half could be any communal bully from the state to a village to unbreakable ‘tradition’, reactionary, conservative and the enemy of the individual. Maybe “Stronger Society” just has a different ring to those of us a strong society has almost always wanted to push around than to those society’s always privileged, but I’d want no part of that oppressively authoritarian, illiberal combination.

I do, though, recommend Lib Dem Blogger of the Year 2013 David Boyle – congratulations, David – in his look back at Jo Grimond’s most famous speech on its fiftieth anniversary, and well done to Simon Titley, this time, for reminding David of the hero of the Liberator crew back when they were exciting Young Liberals. I’d had it in my diary to cover too, but as I’ve been knackered, and ill, and it’s Conference, and as most importantly David’s written a much better article than I would have anyway – look out for the less famous (merely infamous) words of a Labour councillor – I’m very glad that rather than writing it up for one of my own ‘Liberal Mondays’ I can simply point you to David’s excellent “The Sound of Gunfire revisited”.


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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

 

What the Lib Dems Stand For 2013.5 – Why I Am A Liberal Democrat #LibDemValues


Another Liberal Democrat Conference starts this weekend, and once again I’m looking at What the Lib Dems Stand For. Before this Spring’s Conference, I published a series of articles challenging us to combine our principles, our priorities in government, and our Leadership’s message to tell other people we’re about and inspire ourselves to be enthusiastic about it. Tomorrow I’ll be publishing some more ideas of what we stand for written by other Lib Dems. Today, it’s something more personal: how did I get here? Why did I become a Lib Dem in the first place? And why do I stay?

If you scroll down below, you’ll find my short rallying cry designed for anyone to use – please borrow mine and use it yourself. Or, ideally if you’re quick, you can send me your own version. But as I’ve prepared to print the next round-up of other contributors’ ideas, I’ve noticed how much more personal many of theirs are, and I’ve been reminded what I said the last time I published that sort of compilation: that one day I’d have to challenge myself to be less on-message and consensual, and say what my Liberalism is by instinct, speaking straight from my head, my heart and my life.

There are lots of passions that make me tick, and lots of experiences that have formed my life and my Liberalism. Sometimes I’d think more of the quirkier elements (not least, Doctor Who), sometimes more of my family or friends. Today’s personal testament looks for the explicitly Liberal line through my life.

My Political Story – Why I Am A Liberal Democrat

My first political memories are of shouting at bullies. I didn’t think of this as political until a long time later, but that’s what it was [1]. With the fearlessness of the very young, I saw much bigger boys being mean and thought it wasn’t fair, and told them so. I didn’t do it often, but it stuck in my head because it seemed to be the right thing to do, standing up for the underdog. Luckily, a small boy shouting at them seemed to shame them rather than get my head kicked in.

I was less brave when I got into my teens and was bullied myself. It’s a quirk of my personality that finding the drive to stand up for someone else has always been far easier than defending myself alone: under personal attack, I tend to crumble into depression and want to hide. What forced me to be braver and brought back that burning desire to stop unfairness was realising I was gay. It was the 1980s, and I didn’t know anyone that was gay – or so I thought at the time. All I knew is that everything about society told me I was wrong and seemed to hate me for something that was simply me. Pretty soon I decided there was nothing wrong with me at all, and that it was the world that had to change, so I came out early and uncompromisingly. I wanted it to get better, for everyone I knew to know at least one gay person, for me never to hide – and I never have for nearly a quarter of a century, from workplace to election, from embrace to rejection. I might have got involved in politics anyway, but that decision made it essential.

At the same time, politics in the 1980s just seemed nasty. Labour had wrecked the economy; the Tories were building back bits of it so it was all right for some, but left a lot of other people on the scrapheap of massive unemployment. And it wasn’t just that both sides seemed like they were only interested in ‘their’ people – they always seemed to me that they just hated the other side, too, and class hate sickened me as much as racism or what I didn’t know yet was called homophobia. It probably helped that I had an American Catholic Mum and a Scottish Baptist Dad, so I’d always understood that people with different beliefs, different ‘tribes’, even different countries, not only could get on but really had to.

Those two feelings came together in a firm belief that with all the division in society, a political party should be for everyone, not hating half the people all the time – or even hating other countries – and that with what I was experiencing personally, everyone should have the freedom to live their own life, too. And that naturally led me to the Liberal Democrats, who were not just appealingly internationalist but, to their core, the only party saying that society should be for everyone, and that every individual should be free [2].

I didn’t have a political background, I didn’t have money, I didn’t have anyone pushing me to get involved. I just felt that I wanted to change the world, and that if everyone just sat around and waited for someone else to do it, it would never get done. So I joined the Lib Dems, and I did everything I could from delivering leaflets to eventually standing for Parliament. And even though when I first threw myself into campaigning for the Lib Dems we were on 4% in the opinion polls, I knew this was the only party that was offering real change, however long it took – why join another party to campaign for things to stay the same? And I kept campaigning for things to change within the Lib Dems, too. It was often an uphill struggle to get heard, and I made plenty of mistakes, but determination and ideas won me influence. Where I often felt I was having the most impact was when I was elected over many years to the party’s Policy Committee. In part, that was writing individual policies that formed part of several election Manifestos, and knowing in particular that I’d contributed to pushing equal treatment, respect and opportunity for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people a bit further every time. But, for me, it wasn’t just the issues that really grabbed me, but the ideas.

I learned how to put my gut instincts into philosophy, and realised I’d been a Liberal all along. That Liberalism meant that if you start with every individual, you can’t put any person on the scrapheap or hate them for who they are. That the founding principles of Liberalism over the centuries of individual freedom, equality before the law and controlling arbitrary power were living, breathing, vital ideas that I’d discovered for myself in the desire to choose my own life, my belief that everyone should be treated the same, even as a little boy knowing that you had to stand up to bullies. It was Conrad Russell (a Liberal Democrat I got to know through the Policy Committee who became a friend and even a mentor) who said the point of Liberalism was to stand up for everyone against bullies, and that just lit up a lightbulb over my head. Suddenly, I could see that Liberal line through my life. It’s not just that a party owned by one group of special interests can never be fair – that it inevitably discriminates against the rest and divides society. It’s that part of not favouring any one ‘side’ is realising that anyone can be a bully, or can be bullied – or, in philosophical terms, any sort of power can threaten liberty, but any sort of power can protect it, too. Whether it’s the state, or big business or big unions, or just other people, any of them can boss you around and anyone can help stop you being bossed around. So you can’t do away with any of them – and you can’t say any of them are right all the time, or be in their pockets. Which means aiming to create The Perfect Society will always be a disaster, but working at making a better society means there’s always more real life to be listened to and more work to be done.

That’s why for me saying what we stand for is more important than any single policy. It’s important because unless we keep sight of why we bother, there’s nothing to inspire us. And it’s important to remember that we’re for everyone, that everyone should be free to live their own lives, and so we’re here to bring everyone together, as far as we can, and to stop people being pushed around, as far as we can.

So when, sometimes, being in government is frustrating or disappointing, and it is, because there’s not enough money to do what we want to do or because the Tories we’re in government with have different priorities, I can see that Liberal line of what we’re getting right, and why we’re doing it. No Lib Dem joins just to get into power. We do it to make a difference. It took perseverance for me inside the Lib Dems, but it took the whole party a whole lot more hard work and struggle to go from 4% in the polls to more than double our number of MPs and win a place in government – not the easy way, and not to do the easy things. No wonder Liberal Democrats take a long term approach on the importance of education to unlock people’s potential, and the environment to lock in fairness for the future – we had to work at it for a long time, so we’ve never gone for quick fixes. I’m deeply proud that this government’s the one that legislated for mostly equal marriage at last, but it’s the bigger ideas that matter still more. Worse than the 1980s, Labour had wrecked the economy again. But despite the damage being deeper and longer than it was when I was growing up, while unemployment is still too high it’s much, much lower than in the 1980s, now that Liberal Democrats are in government and not just the Tories. From apprenticeships to green jobs to tackling the banks, it’s not just rebuilding the economy as ‘all right for some’, but putting it back together differently. You need economic responsibility to make things work – but without fairness, too, society falls apart.

I think the government would be better if it was all Lib Dem and we could do more of what we wanted to do. Well, I would say that. But it’s also good to prove that people with different beliefs, different ‘tribes’, can make it work together as well. I look at the difference we’ve made, not just since the government was elected but compared to the 1980s when I grew up, and I’m proud of how we’ve changed things for the better: unemployment that much lower than the Tories ever cared about before the Lib Dems entered government, taxes for ordinary people that much lower with the Lib Dems while the wealthiest pay more than they did under Labour, green growth and protecting education so that the economy and opportunities will last into the future. I’m proud – but I’m not satisfied. I still want to change the world. But I can see how Liberal Democrats are doing just that, more slowly than I’d like and with a few wrong turns, but we’re still the only party that says society should be for everyone, and that every individual should be free.

The way the party sums that up now is that the Liberal Democrats are building a stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling every person to get on in life. Freedom. Fairness. Being for everyone. I find myself nodding, because the Liberal Democrats are still saying what made me join all those years ago, only now they’re putting a bit – a fair bit – of it into practice.

[1] I had a long conversation about my politics with my Grandma when I was in my twenties. She nodded, and said she could see I’d be political when – and this is one I’d not remembered – I was aged four and strutting about naked on a beach and told a big boy off for kicking down another boy’s sandcastle. I said she was probably right (though I bottled out of adding, ‘And obviously that’s why I’m a naturist now, too’).

[2] If you’ve ever wondered where my blog title “Love and Liberty” comes from, it’s my original two gut instincts distilled into three words. You can read the annotated version of most of my 1999 booklet “Love and Liberty” online too, where my concept of Liberalism is re-expanded into many, many more words.


The Liberal Democrat What Do We Stand For Challenge (so far)

If you’re quick, you can send me your own idea by tomorrow. Or just feel free to borrow mine and use it yourself (I’d prefer it if you let me know, but it’s not compulsory. Think of it as open-source Liberalism). The idea’s an ongoing investigation, collaboration and rallying cry about what the Liberal Democrats stand for, to challenge myself, first, then other Lib Dems to get across what we stand for in something more meaningful than a soundbite but still short enough to be no more than a minute’s speech or a box on a Focus leaflet. And to make things harder, I aimed for broad consensus by synthesising the Preamble to the Lib Dem Constitution, the party’s priorities in government and the party leadership’s latest messaging. Did it work? Here’s my go at that:
The Liberal Democrats stand for freedom for every individual – freedom from poverty, ignorance and conformity.

To make that freedom real needs both fairness and economic responsibility: an economy that works, that encourages enterprise, and where everyone pays their fair share.

So freedom from poverty requires responsible spending, not debt, built on fairer taxes where lower earners pay less tax and the wealthiest pay more, and building green jobs for the future.

Freedom from ignorance needs better education and training, so people have the opportunity to realise their potential.

And freedom from conformity, supported by freedom from poverty and ignorance, means everyone should have the liberty to live their lives as they choose – without harming others; with equality before the law; with a better say, because no government always knows best.

That’s why Liberal Democrats are working for a stronger, greener economy in a fairer society, enabling every person to get on in life.

Happy 25th Birthday, Liberal Democrats – and What the Lib Dems Stand For 2013.1

Why we should sum up What the Lib Dems Stand For, and how it’s developed over the years.

What the Lib Dems Stand For 2013.2 – a Challenge and a Meme #LibDemValues

Setting out my ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’ based on the Preamble, practice and core messaging, and challenging other Lib Dems to come up with their own.

The Liberal Democrat What Do We Stand For Challenge 2013.3 – Eight Answers (so far) #LibDemValues

After receiving the first set of responses, rounding up eight different Liberal Democrats’ versions of what we stand for – so far…

The Liberal Democrat What Do We Stand For Challenge 2013.4 – What It’s All About #LibDemValues

Inviting people to use my short declaration of ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’ and explaining what each bit of it means.

Then there’s today’s, and with a bit of luck there’ll be more tomorrow.



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Sunday, September 08, 2013

 

Doctor Who – UNIT: Dominion


Have you heard the Doctor Who adventure with the future Time Lord from The Thick of It? Not that one – the other one. Alex MacQueen stars in UNIT: Dominion as the Other Doctor, alongside Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Tracey Childs as fabulous antihero Elizabeth Klein – sometime companion, sometime scientist from an alternate Nazi future. Available in boxed set or download from Big Finish, this is an epic audio drama, not unlike a movie remake of Doctor Who (but which?), and the threat of total dimensional chaos has been cheering me up today.
“Ahhh, the giddy joy.”
I have had an unremittingly crapulent day. Booked to go to a one-day Doctor Who event from Fantom Films, I’ve been horribly ill all the way throughout the night and from dawn to dusk, so I’ve missed out on seventh Doctor-themed excitement and meeting the likes of Lisa Bowerman (Professor Bernice Summerfield), Tracey Childs and Sylvester McCoy. However, having spent much of August catching up with a ton of Big Finish’s Doctor Who audio plays from several years, and particularly those featuring Sylvester – including twenty-six in a fortnight of an especially fine story arc of A Death in the Family and Gods and Monsters – I’ve turned to a special release (and much chocolate) to winch my spirits off the floor. Spoilers follow…


Dr Elizabeth Klein (Take I)


Readers familiar with Big Finish’s CDs or who listen to Radio 4 Extra will have a head start for Elizabeth Klein, the BBC station having broadcast a trilogy of her stories with (or against) the Doctor. There’s more to hear in the Big Finish originals, as well as the story from, goodness me, twelve years ago now that set the whole thing off: Doctor Who – Colditz. In 2001 it seemed a relatively average historical adventure for the Doctor and Ace, but with a twist, and slightly let down by being one of the few Big Finishes where something went wrong in the production (bits sound like they’re recorded in a tin can), it was always a decent enough tale, with the main thing I remembered from it at the time being Klein, an interesting character and concept: when the Doctor and Ace accidentally change history, she’s the dedicated scientist who travels back from the future Nazi timeline they created… And is stranded in our world, determined to single-handedly restore what to her is the ‘real’ history. Clearly, though, only a twist in the story and a loose end they’d never return to. These days, Colditz stands out in story terms as the first Doctor Who to feature the much more substantial figure of Klein – and in production terms as the first Doctor Who to feature the even more substantial figure of David Tennant, though here playing a villain and not another Doctor. And, shh, Tracey Childs’ cold intelligence and charisma made more of an impression then than David’s bullying Nazi…

Tracey Childs later appeared with David Tennant’s Doctor on television, too, in the fantastic The Fires of Pompeii. Colditz was about a future timeline coming back to see you unexpectedly – where Tracey Childs co-starred with David Tennant, the next Doctor but one. The Fires of Pompeii was about predictions of the future – where Tracey Childs co-starred with Peter Capaldi, the next Doctor but one. Keep an eye on her co-stars, that’s all I’m saying. And listen if she suggests you cross her palm with silver.

When Big Finish eventually asked Tracey Childs to return nearly nine years later, they’d put a lot of work into making Klein’s story something special, though, and it shows (not least in the fabulous, furious vignette of that name). A Thousand Tiny Wings reintroduces Klein in 1950s Kenya, never able to go home, with sweltering heat, terrific characterisation and never quite being sure where you stand with anyone. Survival of the Fittest is better still, with both Klein’s point of view and the alien culture well-sketched, building to a great ending. She’s a match for him. The only shame is that there’s only one story with the original Klein as the Doctor’s ‘companion’, as their mutual talent, strong convictions and tendency to knock sparks off each other was something I’d’ve liked to have heard more of. But, no, there’s no time to get comfortable: for both of them, the story drives on into The Architects of History. In this ‘Fall and De-Klein’, not only are a quiet, dangerous Sylvester and a ruthless Tracey clamping down on her underlying despair both terrific, but we even get another companion for the Doctor, in Being Human’s Lenora Crichlow. It’s easy for stories in which time is rewritten to unravel, either shooting up themselves or becoming merely pointless, but this pulls it off in making the events matter by nailing them to the effects on the people involved. There’s just a hint of the subtext of the Doctor as Nazi-hunter and who the looming Nuremberg would be – then I surprised myself by getting a little misty-eyed at the shot at redemption.

Big Finish is in the middle of releasing a new trilogy starring the seventh Doctor and Klein – Persuasion, Starlight Robbery and Daleks Among Us – with the alternative, rewritten re-Klein who doesn’t hail from the Nazi universe; Richard and I are waiting to listen to them all together. But in between the two trilogies, Big Finish last year brought out a new development for the DVD season box age, not monthly single releases but a boxed set containing one big story. UNIT: Dominion isn’t just the Doctor re-united / starting off with a new Klein, but a story so big it has another companion (or more) and an Other Doctor, too. Plus the title protagonists in UNIT, the UN-run special services that sometimes work with the Doctor. The story works better for some of its five competing leads than for others…


UNIT: Dominion – An Epic That Delivers

UNIT: Dominion is something of an epic. It sounds much more visual, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, than most Big Finish plays, and in a boxed set of four hour-long episodes (plus a ‘making of’) it runs to a fairly epic length as well. But while the extraordinary sound design and cast grab your attention, I’d give the strongest praise to the writers Nicholas Briggs and Jason Arnopp: it’s generally a strong story, though as ever I can find flaws along the way, but what’s really impressive about it is that they manage to keep it all together: a four-hour disaster movie teeming with different characters, locations and extradimensional beings could very easily have descended either into incomprehensible mulch or constantly had to stop for the forced dialogue of ‘Look, Doctor, at that [four lines of description] doing that terrible [four more lines of description]!’ Instead, they take a story that seems not at all suited to the intimacy of the audio play and make it work.

There will be spoilers, so I’ll tell you now that UNIT: Dominion is fun, and huge, and in quite a few ways, not what I was expecting – though predictably with Klein and the Other Doctor stealing much of it. I recommend it. But be careful reading on, as the further you get towards the end, the more spoilertastic detail there’ll be.

The first episode is the best, with lots of new ideas; the second’s the weirdest, mainly everyone caught with different extradimensional ooglies which have the feel of very early Twentieth Century weird sci-fi (but Mind Leeches, Skyheads and lava spiders work as terms that instantly sketch in the sort of thing they are), with Sylv entirely sidelined; the third is the most disturbing, as Sylv gets back into the story but someone else forces everyone’s hands; and the fourth, the several big finishes, including shocking codas and Klein’s second and so slightly less effective ‘happy ending’ that sets her up for the new trilogy.

With the Doctor, the Other Doctor, Klein, Raine and UNIT all vying for attention, and four hours for them to play in, there are large stretches for which different ‘lead’ characters are to the fore and others disappear into the background. So which of the five potential protagonists make it?


The Doctor


Sylvester McCoy is the Doctor, and marvellous he is, too. It’s always a pleasure to hear him back again, particularly now he’s a big movie star: in a curious way, he’s one of the actors who always feels most like the Doctor, in his case I suspect because the New Adventures gave him such a long and compelling reign, the actor always in my head even when he wasn’t actually in employment for the role. It’s even true that, while if asked to pick out my favourite arrangements of the Doctor Who Theme Keff McCulloch’s would not be near the top of the pile, Sylvester remained the Doctor throughout such an influential part of my life that his Theme always gives me the shivers when I hear it from Big Finish, far more than others that my head says I prefer.

This time the Doctor – the seventh Doctor – gets his best material in the opening and closing episodes of the story, as the relationship between him and the Other Doctor is so incendiary that they can’t be together too often. That means the one we know is not so much sidelined as stranded in a different dimension and almost a different story. This inevitably means he’s a smaller presence for much of the story, which makes you appreciate him all the more when he breaks back into the narrative – and he finds a terrific resolution in the finale. Along the way, Sylvester rises to some great material, and while the ‘main story’ feels like a major reimagining of one old story in particular, there are subtler echoes of many other stories in this Doctor’s scenes in particular. Like Big Finish’s Project Lazarus, it dodges around making this a ‘two Doctors story’ by mostly keeping them apart and separating the Doctor, too, from the suspicious scientific-military organisation. There’s a hint of Russell T Davies’ early story Damaged Goods in Sylv as sinister Umbrella Man, and of Russell’s late story The Stolen Earth in Ace’s flickering cameo warning messages and all realities breaking down (the idea of Ace being on Gallifrey also having their cake and eating it as regards the Lost Stories, and yet more of the Time Lords’ sinister secrets, if not the Othering Other himself).

There are a few weak points in the treatment of the Doctor too, though; not so much all the time when he’s not in the loop, but the elements where he’s rather behind the audience in working things out, and most of all the weirdly out-of-character moments where he of all Doctors goes on and on about how would never interfere in his own time stream. It’s one of the script’s few jarring failings that, given one of the more complex and morally ambiguous Doctors to set against the Other Doctor, rather than comparing their different attitudes to interference and ruthlessness and using each to illuminate the other, it bottles the difficult questions and – despite Klein’s fear of him – leaves the Doctor a bit… Vanilla. Still, particularly if you can ignore the awkwardly inserted denials of his own methods, the contrast between the master manipulator who keeps everything broodily close to his chest and the swaggering extrovert Other Doctor who knows more than he does is very entertaining (as MacQueen does unto McCoy as McCoy did unto Davison in Cold Fusion). No wonder Sylv’s Doctor follows several other Doctor-Doctor clashes and detests him on sight.


Dr Elizabeth Klein (Take II)

Even though we knew a very different her, at times it seems as if Klein is the only person we know. The Other Klein was raised in a Nazi state and, for all her intelligence, drive and other admirable qualities was ideologically a true believer, the spark for a terrific battle of wills with the Doctor; there was a real danger that this one would seem like she’d been, well, doctored. Fortunately, she’s well enough written to still give her an edge, Tracey Childs is still outstanding, and perhaps most calculatingly she’s put in a position where she has good reason to be deeply suspicious of the Doctor – Sylvester’s in particular. That means that when she’s thrown together with the Other Doctor, while inevitably he steals quite a bit from her, they have a much more interesting if hardly trusting relationship: with her as the brilliant UNIT Scientific Advisor Dr Liz and him an unknown but rather flamboyant quality, it deliberately evokes the abrasive but fabulous rapport between Dr Liz [fascist in an alternate reality] Shaw and Jon Pertwee’s Doctor in the ’70s. Of her colleagues at UNIT, though, there’s much less to be said: they’re far more suspicious of the Doctor, with far less reason, and though in theory you’d expect there to be five competitors for the position of protagonist, with UNIT a better bet than most for having the title, they’re not up to it. Colonel Lafayette is just a comic relief idiot to be killed; Major Wyland-Jones just a cartoon brute. So of all the things UNIT: Dominion works as, a UNIT story isn’t one of them. It’s far less the second series of a new UNIT than a relaunch for Klein, and for someone else, too…


Raine Kreevey

Beth Chalmers’ Raine Kreevey is the Doctor’s travelling companion here. Introduced in a recent series of Big Finish Lost Stories based on scripts that might have gone into TV production had Doctor Who not been cancelled in 1989, her character’s still rather battling to make an impression on me. In part, it’s because she’s not really yet had a story in which she and Sylvester McCoy are the only leads; in part, it’s because Beth Chalmers sounds a bit like Sylv’s earliest companion Bonnie Langford, which makes her less distinctive. Her most notable character trait is that she’s a top thief, giving the Doctor a scene in which he hypnotises her to do some mental safecracking to get out of a dimensional corridor. But even that’s less about her than an illustration of this Doctor’s similarities with the Other Doctor, who also makes much use of hypnosis – though given that the Other Doctor’s hypnosis leads people to box their personalities into safes, it suggests that for all they have in common they have diametrically opposite attitudes about control. Unfortunately for Raine, she’s just nowhere near as interesting as Klein, with whom she comes across as remarkably crass, and not only does she have to compete with all the other four protagonists, but Sylvester’s long-term companion Ace is more immediately memorable in just a distorted cameo.

I’ve said there are spoilers. Last chance, all right?


The Other Doctor


Of the four leads, the anticipation for the Other Doctor has to be the greatest, and Alex MacQueen is hugely enjoyable playing the role. The Doctor he most seems to have modelled himself on is Jon Pertwee, flamboyant, compelling, know-it-all and sometimes a bit of a shit. There’s also more than a touch of another Doctor quite appropriate to a Nicholas Briggs production, but more of that laters.

Puzzling out the character of the Other Doctor, inevitably he called to mind Sylvester’s story Battlefield, in which the master manipulator is manipulated in turn by another Doctor who knows more than he does – like the Other Doctor, identified as a future Doctor but feeling rather more like an alternative. I got a heavy hint of David Collings, too, though, an actor who’s twice played an ‘Other Doctor’. A Doctor who’s forgotten all the details sounded very much like Mawdryn Undead, deeply suspicious from the first, even hinting he might be something like the 517th. And that made me wonder about Big Finish’s own Unbound Doctor story Full Fathom Five, pushing harder at the idea of a Doctor who’s decided that the end can justify the means. Which in turn reminded of that other Doctor Who Unbound story Sympathy For the Devil… Doesn’t this Doctor seem fond of hypnotism – even if we have Sylv doing the same, it’s not to the same extent, and why do we cut away before the words we hear him use…? And why is he so keen to have a set of hypnotised soldiers he can deploy, and then tell Klein he’s abandoned not using guns and killing, while she’s contemptuous of his swimming off to save himself and leave soldiers to die…?

By this point you will have worked out what I worked out long before the Part Three cliffhanger, but while that episode finale wasn’t much of a surprise it was immensely satisfying. The Other Doctor has apparently betrayed UNIT, but as they shoot at him at the drop of a hat you can hardly blame him; the Doctor dives after him into his TARDIS, only to find that he’s not betrayed UNIT after all – that is, not in the way they all think, though answering the accusation that he was going to let them all die with “Tempting, but no” may not be the most reassuring of denials – but that for all its battered police box exterior, the ‘upgraded’ inside is very swish indeed, and just not his TARDIS at all. For all his flamboyance, in this – predictable as ever, but my favourite – scene MacQueen has three little moments where he’s simply at his finest, and they’re all suddenly dialled right down. Two of them are so underplayed that they’re almost subliminal: listen to this while pottering about or doing the dishes and you’ll miss them. While the Doctor is asking so many irritating questions, there’s just a tiny breath of a Muttley laugh; then, as the Doctor realises “You – you’re not me…” the weight of acting up comes off the Other Doctor’s shoulder and “What a relief…” comes out in the tiniest sigh; and while on their meeting in Part One he immediately got the Doctor’s back up with his braying “Hello, you!” and “Laters!” now the Doctor finally recognises the Master he gives a quiet, poisonous and quite brilliantly delivered “Hello, you” to make the spine chill as the music cuts in.

It’s not just that Richard and I keep trying to emulate that intonation when one of us answers the phone to the other, but that now there are two future Time Lords already cast as rivals in The Thick of It, we keep taking our leave of each other with a “Laters!” and a “Fuckettiebye.”

I’ve written before that it was in Sympathy For the Devil that Big Finish previously presented their new casting of the Master – and if you don’t know who he is, I’ve introduced each of his TV incarnations here – and though both of them and both stories are terrific (one actor slightly more here, one story slightly more there), the ‘shock reveal’ nature of each does make them difficult to talk about for fear of spoilers. You’re here now, though. If there’s one little bit of dissatisfaction with Alex MacQueen’s fabulous double portrayal, it’s that although at the reveal he gives a tour de force outmanoeuvring the Doctor from bellowing to near-imperceptible, I was rather surprised to find that his theatrical Doctor impression wasn’t really toned down very much once he was himself, despite an excuse for once for the Master to be the less camp and hammy one. Perhaps it’s just that, as Klein says (and as other Masters had previously proved), he’s envious and loved being the Doctor just a bit too much. And on top of the grandstanding Pertwee affectations (the Doctor seen most as the Master’s other half), the Other Doctor reminded me very strongly of Nicholas Briggs’ incarnation [see below], only with a little more domination and a little less tea. Is it the baldness that brings out that very specific sort of jollity in the Doctor, or just Nicholas Briggs naturally thinking, ‘Now, how would I characterise an Other Doctor…?’


Doctor Who – The Movie Remake
“I made my TARDIS look like yours because I needed everyone to think I was you…”
The biggest single echo of other Doctors in the story is, not unexpectedly after all that, a Pertwee one, too. If UNIT: Dominion is like a Doctor Who movie for audio, it’s almost explicitly like a movie version of 1971’s The Claws of Axos. I don’t mean that as a complaint: this story is far better than The Claws of Axos, and doesn’t just show how you might reimagine an old story on a ‘movie budget’ but how you can take relatively unpromising material and do amazing things with it. If Nick Briggs and Jason Arnopp did take that story as part of their inspiration, their homage to it turns everything about it around. The big flying Sky Heads from the original script are surprisingly friendly, and have fantastically massive voices… The power drain nodes are this time draining the weak aliens who say ‘Help us’ and then turn nasty… The Master again does a brilliant turn as UNIT’s scientific advisor, but it’s UNIT rather than Axos who are blackmailing him by refusing to let him get his TARDIS back… Perhaps most strikingly, at the root of the whole plot is an element that’s always been part of the Master, at its height on TV in The Deadly Assassin but framed here in an especially The Claws of Axos way: the Master hates the Doctor so much that killing him would never be enough, so he wants to humiliate him and destroy what he stands for first. In the 1971 story, the Doctor’s own a short-lived bluff made himself seem like a git who’s flying off to leave everyone to die, but here the Master takes the same idea and (at several points literally) flies with it. Death’s too good for the Doctor; humiliation alone isn’t enough; even endless subservience isn’t enough. The Master’s Doctor plan is tricking him into creating a terrible calamity and then going round as the Doctor being a total bastard on top, to make sure the Doctor’s remembered by the survivors as both responsible for horrors and for being a shit.

Like the more subtle but still clear comparisons the script draws between Klein with the Doctor – and the Other Doctor – and of course between Klein and Klein, this is about both similarities and the choices people make. While the script’s own choices bottle a few of those similarities and contrasts, at heart it’s why UNIT: Dominion works – a thrilling, epic disaster movie that remembers to be about illuminating its central characters for all the Big Giant Heads, Godzilla moments and very loud explosions around it. And between those three fantastic actors all acting as mirrors of each other, I suppose it’s another reason why poor Raine doesn’t get a look in…



The Audio Visuals: When Nick Briggs Was the Doctor

Inspired by last year’s release of Justyce Served – A Small Start with a Big Finish from Miwk Publishing, I’ve also been listening to one of the most obscure Doctor Who series of all, the “Audio Visuals” from the 1980s. As Miwk’s fascinating guidebook details, these were entirely unlicensed Doctor Who audio plays made by fans which, over the course of four seasons, became increasingly ambitious and polished. Unsurprisingly, several of the people involved went on to become the founders of Big Finish and then onto the TV series, most notably Gary Russell and Nicholas Briggs. Today Nick’s known as a writer, director, producer, the voice of the Daleks and more, but to a select group of cassette-listeners in the 1980s he was the Doctor. I was at school when these were produced and only heard of them as tantalising rumours; in the late ’90s, a friend gave me ripped copies which I only heard a few of before upgrading my PC and finding nothing would play that species of audio file any more; but after buying Justyce Served, someone else kindly gave me another set of the Audio Visuals plays that would, well, play. So far I’m three quarters of the way through them, and should I not return to review the lot, each season so far has been a quite remarkable jump in quality from the previous one. The first is a bit ropey in production and acting and all right in terms of stories; the second finds them suddenly finding their feet and producing something much more listenable; the third suddenly sounds professional, with all the stories pretty strong and a persuasive ‘arc’ running through it (though of all the stories, the grand finale is stronger on ideas than coherence). If you come across them in the dark and forgotten lanes of the Internet, there’s a good case for starting at the third series, I’d say. And the strange thing is that of the half-dozen stories remade since with much bigger budgets and more professional casts, mostly by Big Finish, the originals are almost always the most successful…


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