Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Missing Balls Round

Let’s play spot the difference:
So, which is the odd one out, and why?

I can think of three answers.

Want a clue?

It involves some people who are more clueless by the day.

It involves some people who are frightened of their own shadows.

It involves some people who are all mouth and no trousers.

Thought about it? All ready with your answer?

And, of course, it was a trick question. There are three reasons why one of these is the odd one out, but in each case it’s the same one.

The odd one out in each case is opinion polls.

Whoops! I’m wrong. Turns out that people back David Davis’ and the Liberal Democrats’ stance in opinion polls, too. So Mr Brown’s last friend – meaningless reams of numbers – has deserted him. Well, I suppose anyone who’s been watching the economy tank would already know that…

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008



Secret Army – one of British TV’s most compelling dramas – told the story of “Lifeline”, a Belgian underground operation to smuggle Allied airmen out of occupied Europe during the Second World War (yes, it did ‘inspire’ ’Allo ’Allo). Though I wasn’t allowed to watch it in the late ’70s, the unforgettable titles montage to sombrely dramatic music still gripped me, and in 1981 9-year-old me was thrilled by the sequel following former Gestapo officer Kessler. At this moment, UKTV History is repeating the final episode of Secret Army, while at 3pm today (and 10am tomorrow) they start showing Kessler.

The Secret Army finale, The Execution, shows bittersweet endings for the surviving members of Lifeline, brings the relatively decent German officer to grief and shows the series’ most fascinating character – ruthless, murderous, fanatical, yet also clever, resourceful and human SS Standartenführer Ludwig Kessler – getting away with it rather than getting his just desserts. But this wasn’t meant to be the final episode. Another was made, ageing the cast to 1969 and focusing on a wealthy industrialist exposed as Kessler in What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? Never shown because it seemed the team were unhappy with it (though copies circulate, with mine near-unwatchable), it nevertheless formed the basis for Kessler, which opens in around 1980 as ageing members of Lifeline are brought together briefly to ease us into the investigation of Manfred Dorf, a wealthy German businessman who bears an uncanny resemblance to the man who once kept Brussels in terror.

Back in the ’60s and ’70s, ‘Nazis Return!’ or ‘Hitler Alive!!’ became such a staple of adventure TV that it’s difficult to think of an action series that didn’t do its own variation (The New Avengers even launched with one, though classier than most). Come the ’80s, ex-Nazis were finally thought too wrinkly to be threatening and the younger generation had moved on from war movies, so Kessler was perhaps the last and greatest of the theme: more detailed, more serious, more thoughtful and more affecting, it’s not remotely silly. Though one of the few series not to do any ‘Fourth Reich’ tat was Doctor Who, one story borrowed ideas from the genre and twisted them almost unrecognisably; though viewers are unlikely to find it and Kessler remotely alike, they have a particular element in common that I’ve not seen in any other British TV series of the time. Points may be awarded to any reader who can guess which Doctor Who story I’m thinking of.

In this six-part series, Clifford Rose is outstanding again as Kessler, the only member of the Secret Army cast to take a leading role in the follow-up. It’s downbeat but compelling as a West German intelligence officer and an Israeli vigilante chase him in uneasy alliance across continents and Kessler’s ordered, powerful new life crumbles, against a backdrop of tensions between the Nazi old guard with the money but no drive and a fanatical new generation. The actors and story are gripping, the direction inventive and involving (much of it by Secret Army and Doctor Who veteran Michael E. Briant, who’s aged very well and is still a very charismatic, enthusiastic and incredibly friendly chap today, and who I suspect is responsible for the unsettling motif of security monitors in Part One), and most of all, the end of the series stayed vividly with me for decades afterwards before I eventually got to see it again on DVD. One well worth watching.

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Monday, June 16, 2008


Happy Birthday, Magna Carta (now lock it away)!

Magna Carta grudgingly received Bad King John’s Seal 793 years ago yesterday, and though our liberties have rolled forward across the eight centuries since, Bad King Gordon still begrudges even those granted in 1215. Magna Carta is worth remembering because it made two huge advances against absolute power; last week, the Labour Government shamefully cut away at two fundamental rights. Two? Yes. With everyone’s attention on 42 days, a just as shocking change got through with hardly anyone noticing. Then yesterday Gordon Brown celebrated Magna Carta’s anniversary by having George W Bush round, causing satire to curl up and die.

Go back to the middle of last week, when Gordon Brown was uttering the immortal words:
“It cannot be draconian and absolutely useless at dealing with the problem.”
Which pretty much sum up the Labour Government’s approach. They, and Gordon Brown in particular, confuse being authoritarian with being effective. They’ve redefined the use of ‘intelligence’ work to mean ‘stupid’. As long as they make a superhuman effort to exert rigid control over every aspect of our lives; as long as they make a point of listening to no-one else, from judges to police to the intelligence services to communities, except for occasional individuals they can misquote; as long as they shout that anyone who thinks they might have the wrong idea is “soft on terrorists”… Then Labour believe that what they’re doing must be working. They’re wrong. The bossier they get, the more desperately they scream, the more useless they become. Anyone with a brain can spot that – and it’s incredible that Mr Brown has such an absolute lack of self-awareness that he says out loud something so utterly absurd.

42 Is Not the Answer

Yet while there were shrieks of disbelief from the Opposition parties and an embarrassed silence, for once, from the Labour benches, Mr Brown still got his way. The one you know about is, of course, the Labour Government’s plan to lock up people with no evidence against them and without taking them to court for six weeks. Even though nothing like that amount of time’s ever been needed. Even though the cases of people being locked up without charge for four weeks that they claimed as proof were exposed as sexed-up reports of people who’d had evidence found against them in under a week and under a fortnight, respectively. Even though picking people out and locking them away outside the law is the best way possible to build up resentment and recruit new terrorists. Even though spinning that they’re “tough on terrorism” by tossing away rights Britain’s had for eight centuries is the sort of medieval totalitarianism that half the terrorists they’re scared of want to impose anyway.

So how did it happen? Well, it’s depressingly plain that however utterly and obviously rubbish the Labour Government is, Labour MPs can still be trusted to buckle under pressure and vote to tear up any rights they’re told to. A rebellion of over fifty Labour MPs crumbled to under forty. And then Mr Brown brought in his Chamber of Horrors of dodgy supporters from the far right, making one of the most unappetising cross-party alliances since the Hong Kong British passport-holders’ vote when Labour backed Norman Tebbit and the far right rebels of the Tory Party to keep every single immigrant out, in protest against Mrs Thatcher’s woolly centrist compromise and in contrast to the Liberal Democrat position which was, surprise, Liberal.

The Labour Government simply do not believe in the Rule of Law. They don’t think they law should apply to people equally – and they don’t think they’re subject to it. And just as they’re happy to cover up bribery scandals to help out governments even more illiberal than they are, they’ve brought bribery home. Even they must have been surprised by the storm of outrage over the shower of money, gongs and more money to Labour MPs, their pet causes, and even a billion of public money to get the DUP to do what they wanted. But you know, I wasn’t surprised by Labour resorting to bribery and corruption… Because the night before the vote on six weeks’ detention without evidence or trial, Labour stealthily got through a vote giving them the power to use bribery and corruption to pervert the course of justice. And with all the media looking the other way, as was surely their plan, I’ve not read a single article that’s made a fuss about it.

Crooked Coroners Corruption

If you find this conspiracy theory unlikely, consider the strange fact that the Labour Government has a whole bill coming up about coroners, but slipped a huge extension of Government control over coroners into a bill theoretically about terrorism, but with powers that the Government can use any time it likes and for any purpose it likes – nothing to do with terrorism at all. It should have caused outrage, but became just a ‘minor’ detail. In short, this disgusting fit-up lets the Government do away with the two biggest guarantees of our liberty: juries, and an independent judiciary. The Labour Government now has the power to order that juries don’t sit on coroners’ inquests – they incessantly quote opinion polls as justification for what they’re doing, but they won’t trust real people to make real decisions. The Labour Government now has the power to replace ‘unsuitable’ coroners with their own chosen puppets to stop people asking awkward questions about anything the Labour Government wants hushed up. And to make doubly sure that their appointed stooges make the ‘right’ decisions, the Labour Government now has the power to award them extra pay – after the verdict! Yes, the Labour Government has just legislated to place bribery and corruption at the heart of our legal system, and as this is about coroners’ inquests, they’ve armed themselves with the power, quite literally, to get away with murder.

If ever there’s something the Labour Government considers awkward or embarrassing, either to themselves, their dodgy business associates, their fellow corrupt, undemocratic regimes, or of course all three, if ever a death is involved the Government can now both cover it up and make sure that the ‘right’ result comes out of the inquest. That’s what happens when there are no juries and you get to pick your own crooked co-operative coroner. Rule of Law? Chuck it in the bin. Even more scarily, there’s nothing to say this is the end of Mr Brown’s plan for destroying the independence of the courts. Since the Bill of Rights in 1688, a judge can only be dismissed by an Address carried by a two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament, meaning no government is ever strong enough to do it by themselves, and even that doesn’t allow the government then to pick a tame replacement. To do to judges what they’ve just done to coroners, the Labour Government would only need a simple majority to dismiss that law, and after that a two-thirds majority would be replaced by… A Minister flicking a pen. Expect it in the next bill about ‘terrorism’.

Without the media spotlight on this issue, fewer than twenty Labour MPs opposed the Government’s plans for bribing and corrupting at will every inquest into a death.

Did She Die In Vain?

It’s easy to talk guff about Magna Carta. I wouldn’t swap 2008 for 1215; it didn’t bring in a lot of liberty for you or me, and while the King may have been forced to give way, it was by the barons rather than any sort of popular power. It was a first step towards democracy, but only by diffusing power from one person to a few dozen. Most of it’s even been repealed, but that’s not the point; the rights in it have been built on and expanded. There are all sorts of reasons why its reputation has grown over the centuries, but despite the fact that it was mainly about helping out the barons (and possibly even reasserting some rights from before the Norman Conquest), there are two vital elements that mean its reputation remains deserved. It’s important not because it has the best array of rights, but because it was first to codify two foundations of the Rule of Law, and we still have them. It set out the right of habeas corpus, so that the state can’t lock you up without charge and trial. Which the Labour Government wants to do away with. And even more importantly, it forms the kernel of constitutional law, with the country’s ruler for the first time being made subject to the law rather than above it.

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that in the week of Magna Carta’s anniversary, Gordon Brown and the Labour Government have managed – by hook and by crook – to make Britain the country least bound by habeas corpus in the democratic world, and to put the state above the law in what’s surely the most crucial area of all law: life and death.

They deserve damnation.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

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Those Remaining Gordon Brown Supporters In Full

…Which begs the question: how did he upset Robert Mugabe?

Labour members must be so proud.

Well, they would be if they weren’t all queuing up to back anyone else to hand, anyway.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008


Midnight – Tonight!

Whatever you do, tune in to BBC1 at 7.10 tonight for Midnight (a planet, and a title, not a time). The latest Doctor Who episode is the first I’ve ever seen before transmission*, and the first new Doctor Who on the telly since 1989 that I’ve seen for the first time without Richard. So while this little piece has no spoilers (just the odd cryptic hint, so you can read safely) I’ve not even told Richard that… I think it’s terrific. It’s a fantastic script, David Tennant is superb, and my prediction is: kids will either be bored or petrified. Probably the latter, going by my favourite feature on the BBC’s Doctor Who site – the Fear Forecasters are a family of four kids who give a commentary and marks out of five for scariness for every story. Usually, the youngest kid gives the highest mark, the oldest slightly lower; because of the nature of the horror here, I would have guessed that the scores might slant the other way this time. I was wrong… All of them have given it five out of five.

So what is it that makes it so scary? I’m not going to tell you yet, unlike this week’s Radio Times feature, which gives away a key twist. The ‘Next Week…’ and the trailers rather cleverly show you some of the old-fashioned scary bits you might expect to see, but nothing of the most striking element. One of the things that’s brilliant about it is that the idea at the centre, and even most of the deceptively simple production (though apparently it needed such careful rehearsal that it took as long to shoot as any other episode), could have worked at any period of Doctor Who, from the Sixties to the Noughties. It recalls the New Adventures Birthright and Iceberg; it has some of the terror of the mid-Seventies, when I started watching, with some of the characters displaying traits not seen so vividly since The Robots of Death; but most of all, and appropriately for a story whose very strong cast includes David Troughton, the claustrophobic drama here is easy to imagine in the Sixties.
“’Cause this is what you decide. You decide what you are.”
Ten Things I’ll Tell You:


*Unless you count the one that Richard and I queued for at, appropriately, midnight.

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