Tuesday, August 28, 2007


No Ming, Polls, Defections, Selections, Outrageous Confections, and Definitely No Iain Dale… Just a Bit of Radio

I’ve been busy with other things than blogging over the bank holiday, and if Stephen Tall’s spectacular return to the Interweb is true, I’ve just constructed the least interesting headline* possible for Lib Dem Blogs. Two of you still here? Good. My erratic performance on last Wednesday’s Simon Mayo Show will disappear from the BBC’s currently even more erratic Listen Again tomorrow, so you’ll have to listen sharpish to get in your own critique. Getting in before that deadline, I shan’t give as much depth as Millennium’s lovingly partial write-up, but I will say who I think came out best…

The best on the Five Live discussion panel: well, obviously, that would be me. I had the best lines, I had the most passion, I occasionally displayed a sense of humour and – this is the decider – curiously enough, I agree with what I said. As the topics were crime, immigration and Europe, rather than join the de facto party line by keeping my head down, my contribution boiled down to ‘This won’t win a lot of votes but, oh, bugger it, I’m a Liberal’.

The most terrifyingly on-message: Tim the Tory. He had an impressive stack of colour Tory Party press releases, but, to be fair, I don’t think he was actually reading from them; they were just piped straight into his brain. Calm, intimidatingly loud in the studio without raising his voice, brilliant at delivering contentious put-downs then bulldozing through, and clearly thinking it was Christmas come early with the choice of topics. Main drawback for me: I disagreed with almost every word he said. Main drawback for listeners: while they probably agreed with him more often that I did, he did sound like a robot.

The one whose point of view was a little vague: Labour Kerron. He had a smaller bunch of print-outs, mostly in black and white (I had one tatty sheet with nothing on it but my own brainstorming; I admit I chatted for a couple of minutes to someone at Cowley Street, but I suspect asking them “Have our MPs said anything about this? I’d rather be forewarned than ambushed when I disagree with them” wasn’t too slavish). General line: ‘The Tories are pandering to a vile, shocking right-wing Daily Mail agenda… And I agree with them.’ I found one of his answers so shocking that I didn’t press him on it in the studio, but just asked if he really meant it afterwards… Still, at least he likes the TARDIS, so he’s not all bad.

The worst on the panel: well, obviously, that would be me, too. I may be consistent in philosophy, but as far as performance goes… The others didn’t say “Um” as every fourth word, I missed several opportunities, and I was the one most likely to be completely derailed. More than once. On the plus side, no-one could have mistaken me for a Tory, and I somehow wasn’t derailed by the classic attack question, ‘So, Alex Wilcock, Mr Angry from just outside Cheltenham [see, I do know where Winchcombe is] wants to know how you personally will solve all his personal anti-social problems this very minute?’

Despite all that, my favourite line I’ve heard on the radio all week was not on BBC Radio 5 but on BBC7, in a 1920s play by Arnold Ridley (long before he was the most sympathetic old gent in Dad’s Army), The Ghost Train. An appallingly rude woman summons the guard to accuse a young man of molesting her after she refuses to make way in the corridor and he attempts to get by:
“Don’t believe a word he says. He is probably a member of the Liberal Party!”
In other blogging news, I’ve just got round to updating my sidebar links for (cough) the first time this year. So my selection of what I reckon are my best posts so far – no stats, just personal preference – is now up-to-date again (though I couldn’t work out how to get two links on one line, as in both the ‘Best of Politics’ and the ‘Best of Fun’ lists I had two posts that went together).

I’ve also added quite a few new blogs that I read regularly. Not as many as I’d like, though, as I decided there had to be a limit: I started cutting Lib Dem Bloggers off so that bit of the list’d still fit at one glance on my usual screen resolution. You may be able to spot three links I might have dropped but retained in the hope they’ll start writing again, too. But imagine my distress when I noticed the lovely Antony Hook had started blogging just after the updates… Sorry, Antony, but I think your link’ll have to wait until I next steel myself to pick someone else for the chop!

*Apart from one mentioning local casework, obviously. Er, sorry, councillors ;-)

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007


‘Mr Balloon’ Gets Back to Blandness

This morning’s interview with David Cameron was a typical example of the pointless tedium now provided by the Today Programme’s once-sharp cross-examinations of senior politicians. Bland evasions and trad-Tory dog whistles by Conservative Leader? Check. Lumbering efforts to make pre-prepared cheap points by Jim Naughtie, so he misses the live slips? All present. Not in any way illuminating, nor remotely as entertaining as Mr Cameron’s shell-shocked performance a fortnight ago, in which he fell spectacularly to pieces. Yes, I’m afraid today’s Today was merely dull, which was a definite step up for the beleaguered ‘Mr Balloon’. Remember the last time? Mr Cameron dropping clangers about his dismal by-election third places, grammar schools, plummeting opinion polls, donors complaining, candidates attacking and his embarrassing choice of the wrong traditional Tory vote dog-whistle issue (yes, he called for more school discipline while his Eton-educated party were rioting). Oh, and he impressively denied all responsibility for “David Cameron”, which may be a contender for some sort of award.

I’ve taken until a little later in the day to deal with his latest performance, because this time it wasn’t a disaster. It had good bits, it had bad bits, it even had a bit where I agreed with him – well, he does try to be all things to all people, so statistically it was bound to happen eventually – but mostly it had boring bits. Last time, I was inspired by the uselessness of Sarah Montague’s interviewing and David Cameron’s shaky inability to deal with her, and I have to admit I rather enjoyed sounding off about it. Several other people were kind enough to say they enjoyed that, too, including that week’s editions of Liberal Democrat Voice’s Top of the Blogs and the Britblog Roundup – though the latter had a funny idea that I was displaying “an unusual sense of irony for a Lib Dem”. Tsk! Honestly, when we’ve lost as many elections as we’ve managed in the last hundred years, irony is all that keeps a lot of us Lib Dems going. But I digress. No, I have to further admit, vanity was one of the things that delayed me writing this post: it’s just not going to be as amusing as the last one, is it?

I’d say that, technically, Jim Naughtie is a better interviewer than Sarah Montague. He gives a significantly greater impression of knowing what he’s talking about, and is more likely to press a slippery interviewee when they dodge a question. Despite that, he has his drawbacks, and I can’t help thinking that it was a mistake to field him against Mr Cameron this morning. He may seem more a bully than an airhead, but he can be just as superficial, and the previous encounter suggests Mr Cameron may find it much more difficult to do his usual shtick against a female interviewer. His favourite trick is to sound like a reasonable, nice guy put upon by a great big bully (‘Please don’t hurt me’), and while last time he’d clearly lost his grip anyway, his inner nastiness was bound to be more exposed when he couldn’t pretend to be a victim. The BBC’s strategy of sending a great big bully to tackle him is one that almost always fails, because it plays to Mr Cameron’s oily strengths, as it did this morning.

Can anyone have thought Jim Naughtie would achieve anything by opening his attack this morning by quoting the words “hug a hoodie” (not the more talented blog), and immediately saying that he wasn’t going to let Mr Cameron answer back on them? No, Mr Cameron reasonably interrupted him, “I never said it.” Mr Naughtie then blustered that if you asked most people, they’d say they thought he did, as if that mattered. So… Let me paraphrase: ‘I’m going to repeat something I know is a lie, and try to bully the person I’m talking to so he can’t tell the listeners it’s a lie. Then I’m going to admit it’s a lie, but say that most people believe it anyway, so I’ll act as if it’s true.’ This was an experienced Today interviewer so doggedly determined to take a cheap shot that, if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor, he dug a great big elephant trap for himself and seemed surprised when he got pushed into it. Mr Cameron probably couldn’t believe his luck that he’d been gifted the opportunity to pose as Mr Nice, the reasonable chap who the beastly unscrupulous journo wants to do over, quite so early in the interview.

Mr Cameron’s luck held, I have to say, when pressed by Mr Naughtie’s Daily Hate Mail agenda on culture and the drinking age. Astoundingly, he stood up to Mr Naughtie’s authoritarian scorn, declined the opportunity to tickle the Tory grassroots’ g-spot and even took a policy position. Even more astoundingly, I agreed with it: a handful of younger violent criminals are no excuse to penalise every 18-, 19- and 20-year-old. For that fleeting instant, he sounded like the “Liberal Tory” (of a piece with being a Christian Satanist, a carnivorous vegetarian and a scientific alternative medical practitioner) he’d once posed as, firm, with a brain in his head, and potentially dangerous. But then his nerve failed him, and he reached straight back to the basic Tory vote. That might have been more damaging if Mr Naughtie had noticed, obviously. Perhaps he was having a bad day, perhaps he’s not really that bright and his researcher was asleep, perhaps he’d simply realised how badly his opening gambit had misfired and it was putting him off his stride… For whatever reason, Mr Cameron was about to be allowed to get away with a bit of spin that any competent interviewer should have pounced on.

So what did they talk about next? Mr Cameron was going to tackle knife crime. He didn’t say how, of course, but it was, well, bad. Very firm, that. Oh, and he’d had a bet with one of his chums that he could mention the Sex Pistols, so he shoehorned in the alarming hyperbole of “anarchy in the UK”. This one was so risible that even Mr Naughtie pounced on it and Mr Cameron immediately started retreating from it, but it did make me wonder if “broken society,” his previous attempt at a Tory meme and now largely abandoned except in the Tory press release BBC news story (edit: it’s vanished even from that now. Do you think the Tories have realised people thought it was rubbish?), had been taken from a song as well. Perhaps it’s a competition. He did claim:
“I think if people break the law, the law should come down on them very hard indeed.”
…Except for taking coke for rich kids, obviously. Anyway, the suggestion came – unsurprisingly – that tackling violent crime (or, at least, announcing he would like to, without saying how) was not a particularly unusual thing for a Tory to go on about. Oh no, said Mr Cameron smoothly, of course that’s “the traditional Tory thing to do,” but he would “also” introduce measures to support marriage. And Mr Naughtie let that sleight of hand pass without a question. Er, excuse me? Since when has the back to basics faux-Victorian wish-fulfilment of blaming all the ills in the world on single parents and pretending the government can wave a magic wand that’ll make every married couple stay together not been traditional Toryism? It even came pre-labelled with the words “…from Iain Duncan Smith”.

There’s something that needs to be nailed here. Nobody likes family break-up. Divorces are traumatic and tragic, and I’d much rather than everyone lived happily ever after. But in real life, rather than in Tory back to basics campaigns, not everyone does. And people don’t get divorced because the government has failed to shove a couple of tenners their way to bribe them to stay married. If loving parents love their kids and each other, it’s going to be a loving family and good for the kids. To most people, that’s a truism; to a Tory politician, it’s treated like an astounding revelation they can trot out to prove they’ve been right all along. Gosh, people who are happy together give their kids a happier life than people who aren’t happy together? Stop the presses! But the answer isn’t for the state to order the latter to pretend to be happy.

I’m a Liberal Liberal, so I don’t support the state bossing people around in their private lives: I think people know better about how they can live their own lives, and that even if they make mistakes, nine times out of ten they’ll make smaller ones than the government would make on their behalf. By contrast, Mr Cameron thinks he knows better than the rest of us. But go back to making divorce harder – which Mr Cameron doesn’t support – and adults and their children will be forced into old-fashioned Victorian misery. Go back to punishing people who live together without being married – which Mr Cameron doesn’t support – and you’ll hurt millions of people without making them believe the morality you’re trying to force on them. Go back to any sort of heavy incentive in favour of marriage and penalties for people who aren’t – which Mr Cameron doesn’t support – and you encourage lies, state-sponsored infidelity and have people marrying for greed rather than love. So what does Mr Cameron support? A very small financial bonus for marriage. Does he really think a tiny bung will “solve the family problem”? It won’t even cover a fraction of the costs of most weddings. All it’s there for is for him to sound like he supports some back to basics ‘solution’ without any pain, but aside from favourable noises in the Daily Hate Mail, it’s impossible to see any gain either. This is the homeopathic version of back to basics: big on the sales pitch, a placebo to the true believers, but so watered down that no objective observer thinks it’ll make the faintest bit of difference. Perhaps Mr Cameron has finally become both a lame duck and a quack?

The rest of the interview was an even greater waste of space: yet another tour around John Redwood’s tax proposals, the ones even Mr Cameron is unlikely to be foolish enough to commit to but would like to have his cake and eat by teasing his traditional voters with the possibility of. Yes, it’s another golden oldie, back to helping out poor people by suggesting a whopping tax break for the richest one-sixteenth of the population (no, I can’t say I’m completely convinced, either), and Mr Naughtie tried for a moment to pin down Mr Cameron to coming out on one side or another, pressing him on the desirability of “a low-tax economy”. “Well, why not give us one?” demanded the interviewer. “Well, because…” There! Did you spot what Mr Naughtie didn’t? Yep, Mr Cameron’s answer began by conceding that he wasn’t going to give those tax cuts. And the BBC’s star man didn’t even notice. Give me strength!

Hey ho. Well, the tide of blandness was unstoppable by that point, and Mr Cameron was clearly on a roll; not sounding impressive, you understand, but back to his old vacuity and clearly delighted that he was getting away with it. And, astoundingly, he really is the only interviewee who sounds much less rattled without Sarah Montague. Then he blathered about hospitals, completely ignoring the question of what if health professionals (whom he’d normally say should make the decisions) think people will get better care through smaller, non-specialist hospitals being closed. Obviously, Mr Naughtie should have challenged him on that when it was obvious he was just coming out with a pre-prepared and quite different statement but, well, you can imagine what actually happened. All I can think of was that the Today interviewer was losing the will to live as well as this listener by this point. No idea what the actual Tory policy is, though, aside from ‘Wouldn’t it be better if things were vaguely a little bit more like they used to be?’ So, while Mr Cameron was technically far more accomplished today than on his previous Today, and while he still lacks all policy substance, it may be significant that the feel of all his statements was of U-turn and abject surrender to his traditionalists. The mood music of his leadership has now changed in just the way that those of his ill-fated predecessors did: less ‘Today’ and more ‘back to yesterday’.

More back to basics: this afternoon, BBC2 showed World War II propaganda piece Lady Hamilton, in which Europe is saved from dictatorship by That (rather marvellous) Hamilton Woman. In the early hours of tomorrow morning, it’s going to be Nell Gwyn (narrated by Seventeenth-Century blogger Samuel Pepys). But the sanctity of marriage has only been undermined by these dreadful liberals who’ve been in power ever since the 1960s, you know.

Nicholas’ LiveJournal brings news that it isn’t just Today; famous Newsnight interviewers may not be as bright as they think they are, either.

In other news, today – or, rather, yesterday, as it’s just slipped past midnight as I attempted to post this and suddenly ran into Blogger being unco-operative, curses (edit: though now it’s showing the time I attempted to post, rather than when it deigned to do it) – I received the latest e-mail from the Metro newspaper, with one of their every-couple-of-monthly ‘Urban Life’ polls. One of the results of the previous poll amused me. 76% of reader respondents agreed with Mr Blair that the media is a “feral beast”… But, unaccountably, they didn’t agree with him that the herbivorous Independent was top predator. Fancy! Instead, they placed the ardently-Blair-loyalist Sun at the top of the guilty list among national newspaper publications (no mention of where the Daily Hate Mail came in, of course). Who’d have thunk?

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Caitlin Della Hill Is Lovely!

For my 250th post, I have fantastic news and, unusually, even pictures. While Richard and I were up north with our parents last week, we got to see my brand-new niece (then just a week old)! Congratulations to my sister Helen and her husband Jay, and little Caitlin is lovely. The evening we arrived, I walked over with Mum to see the new mum. I know it’s wrong of me, but I have to share with you that, while Mum criticised my awkward holding style, Caitlin stopped crying when her uncle rocked her delightedly but not when her granny did. If Mum ever gets round to reading this blog, I’ll suffer for that… Congratulations are also due to my eldest nephew, Sam, who’s my brother’s son and turned fourteen three days after Caitlin was born.

Alex with Helen and Caitlin – awwhhh!
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The following morning, Richard and I went over together on our way to his parents’ fortieth wedding bash (congratulations, June and Tom!). “She’s just been sick all down one side,” said Helen, “so you might not want to hold her right now.” Well, one uncle jumped over, beaming, and took her, while the other stepped back and decided just to take the photos rather than get vomit all over his tie. See if you can guess which was which.

Proud Uncle Alex with Caitlin – awwhhh!
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Yes, all right, Richard has now discovered that I am not immune from babies (awwwwhhh! She’s lovely!) while he definitely is (except for elephants). On the other hand, he’s still very fond of her, and we teamed up to look for early indulgences. As she’s already quite a big girl – eight pounds at birth, half a pound heavier a week later when most babies lose a bit – we’d been warned not to go for the very tiniest little clothes, as not only had she already been given quite a few but several were already too small to fit. So when we looked out for clothes in the 6-9 month range for her to grow into (and not grow very far, at that), it was Richard who spotted the little sun outfit that looked like a miniature Emmapeeler from The Avengers, and the cutest little hoodie. Being us, we worried a bit about the Emmapeeler, because most of it was in vivid pink, and we’d been determined not to buy pink things for a girl. It turned out my sister doesn’t like pink, either, but she loved the outfit – because all the other pink clothes she’s been given are pale, pastel, dainty pinks, while ours was screaming. We didn’t hesitate over the hoodie, though, and Helen liked that, too. Almost equally delightfully, my Mother was a bit wary of it (though I should point out right now that Mum is lovely too, and really not remotely like the Daily Mail. Hello Mum!). I should almost certainly also not point out that my Grandma, Caitlin’s great-granny, sent a card from New Hampshire giving her middle name as “Bela,” which caused her wicked uncle to make swooping motions at her with fingers raised as vampire fangs. Because that would be wrong.

…And this was just on the way there
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Lots of fun was also had at June and Tom’s fortieth wedding anniversary do, where the food was splendid and Richard and I in no way over-indulged in it. We spent a lot of the time entertaining our middle nephew and niece, Jamie and Holly, who are Richard’s sister’s children and very lively. Richard’s much better at the entertaining than I am, in part because he gets the hang of Jamie’s computer games. They’re also big Doctor Who fans – being proper wicked uncles, we’d primed Jamie with lots of Tom Baker DVDs from well before the new series started – and always have plenty of questions. It’s often said that boys just do lists, while girls are interested in the characters. Well, Jamie always wants to know why people do things, while Holly asks “How many Doctors have there been? …How many companions? …How many stories with the Master? …How many monsters?” until even Richard’s head is exploding.

Richard menaced by the Empress of the Racnoss – scary, eh?
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Fortunately, we had a morning with Jamie and Holly which was almost entirely visual, as we made it to the Doctor Who exhibition at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester – albeit slightly delayed as their mum and nana went straight into town while Richard picked me up and then hit the joy of A6 roadworks.

There’s a minor spoiler coming up in the last photo you’ll scroll down to, by the way, though it’s already been in all the papers…

The exhibition’s great fun, though take your time going through it, or it’ll all seem over in a flash. Its array of new series costumes and sets is constantly evolving, and much better-laid-out than the more plentiful supply of old series oddments to be found in Blackpool (both are worth a visit, naturally).

Alex and a big old Face
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Highlights include a shattered Big Ben (smaller than you’d think), the Face of Boe himself, the alarmingly huge Empress of the Racnoss, Professor Lazarus’ experimental booth – not spinning – and, of course, the Daleks. Go on, treat yourself.

Do you think someone else was with us in secret…?
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The main museum has some cool science to play with upstairs, too, as we found out with Jamie.

The Beast shall rise from the Pit and make war on his uncles…
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Of course, some highlights may find their own reasons to slip away…

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Banning Things Is Insane, Except When Not Banning Them Is Insane – BBC

There’s nothing better to wake up to in the morning than The Today Programme. Not because it’s any good, but because the exasperating rubbish they spout gets me properly awake and raring to have a go. This morning saw a particularly silly example of their usual editorial stance, where the programme adopts a tone that is either vociferously in favour or vociferously against something and implies that to hold any other opinion would be sheer insanity. Today, Today thought it was both entirely ludicrous and completely reasonable to ban things, without spotting the minor flaw in holding both positions simultaneously.

After the opening headlines of today’s tragedy in Iraq, the lead story was a follow-up to the dreadful killing of a man by a group of youths, in which the Chief Constable of Cheshire has made the knee-jerk reaction that the legal age of consent for alcohol should be raised to 21. You can see it on the BBC website, illustrated with not at all misleading pictures of gentlemen apparently rather younger than the 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds who the Chief Constable wishes to waste his force’s time by criminalising. During the course of the day, the BBC has at least improved its English from the initial caption that
“The chief constable called for the legal drinking age to be raise,”
though, so that’s an improvement (perhaps the early morning typist was still a bit hung-over). The BBC has adopted a Daily Mail / Labour-esque line that all young people fall into the category either of ‘angel’ or ‘devil’, that there is nothing wrong with younger adults being given less money, fewer freedoms, more responsibilities and judged not on the basis of how their actions harm other people but arbitrarily by their tastes in music, clothing or recreational drugs. Well, despite the editorial line you may have heard this morning, I blame the killers rather than everyone in their age group, still less advocate prohibition as the panacea it has never proven to be in practice.

You might think, then, that The Today Programme gave out strong signals in its news agenda this morning that banning things because a few people had a problem was absolutely the right thing to do. And they did. So it would be ludicrous, wouldn’t it, for them also to adopt the editorial line at the same time that only some insane busybody would start banning things because a few people had a problem. But they did that, too.

Yesterday morning, there had been an item about, as far as I recall (‘Listen Again’ is very patchy when you have steam-powered dial-up), balloon animals being banned at children’s parties for fear of latex allergies. There was maximum sneerage at this absurd state of affairs, and again this morning when – it all having been blamed on “health and safety” – someone representing a health and safety officers’ professional organisation came on to deny that his lot had anything to do with it. We were treated to Jim Naughtie pouring scorn on the decision, and the official saying that, yes, this was absolutely wrong, and wasn’t it awful that his members always got the blame for such things, constantly citing what he called the problem of “Bonkers Conkers”. Obviously, two people fighting to let loose their invective by proving in ever more wild terms how much they agreed with each other wasn’t the most illuminating of interviews, however much I agreed with them.

Aside from the bizarreness of clearly facing both ways along their arbitrary, binary editorial position, the problem with the BBC doing the Daily Mail is that they’re so bad at it. Richard and I both goggled at the wireless when Mr Naughtie blithely announced that this was “health and safety gone mad” and that everyone had used the phrase: no, the well-known cliché he was reaching for and which a Hate Mail hack would have known by heart is “political correctness gone mad” (UK Google results for the former number 1,040, while for the latter it’s 34,100, and that seems astoundingly low), while people attacking this sort of thing usually use the term “compensation culture” (59,400, and jackpot). But perhaps I’ve been too kind by merely labelling the BBC’s two-facedness as bizarre. No, it’s actively harmful, and symptomatic of how the whole thing works, just as the health and safety official’s wish to deny everything is.

Who actually does all this banning? Well, New ‘New Laws Every Day’ Labour love it, of course, but for once it’s not all the government’s fault. No, it’s a vicious circle, in which no one takes responsibility. Look at the Daily Mail, which this morning screams for alcohol to be banned for people younger than its readership, but which will no doubt tomorrow be back to saying that calls for something it approves of (should there be such a thing) to be banned is “political correctness gone mad”, with exactly the same binary stupidity displayed by its Little Sir Echo Mr Naughtie this morning. Then there are officials, the well-meaning kind who genuinely believe all – or some – adults must be treated like children, and the probably more common kind who are fearful that they’ll be sued should anything unpleasant happen to anyone, ever. And then there are the companies that make a packet out of doing the suing, who advertise with nice-looking young women on the television, and the people who then ring Ambulance-Chasers Direct because, let’s face it, they want some free money and don’t care who pays for it.

The thing is, I just don’t like banning things. So railing against all this appeals to both the social Liberal and the economic Liberal sides of my invective. The stereotype of a social Liberal thinks everything’s the fault of heartless, rapacious big businesses who hurt everyone else in their scramble for cash. The stereotype of an economic Liberal thinks everything’s the fault of well-meaning do-gooders with no concept of reality who want to stop anyone doing anything ‘for our own good’. Well, the villains here include both. Hurrah for all Liberals!

I may not agree with everything John Stuart Mill ever said – what’s the point of a Liberal who entirely agrees with another Liberal? – but my instincts are ever likely to side with him over Roy Hattersley, and even when there are things I disapprove of or which are bad for me, I’d need a far, far stronger reason to ban them than just bleating that I don’t like what someone else is doing or that I don’t have the courage to take responsibility for my own mistakes. Drinking isn’t one of my regular vices, despite Richard’s parents’ fortieth anniversary bash, but I strolled over to my local supermarket earlier today to buy a bottle, just to stick some Vs up at the headlines. And, gosh! A little red light came on so I was challenged to make sure I looked over 21 (I do, and yes, it’s been quite a few years since anyone took a second look). So if someone of 16 gets sold booze, it’s not the fault of lax laws, but greedy suppliers. I have quite a few allergies – though not latex, fortunately for one of my regular vices – but I don’t feel the urge to ban things to make life easier for me. I don’t approve of the smoking ban, though it’s helpful to my asthma. I’m allergic to dogs, but I’d do nothing to outlaw them. It might be very helpful indeed if the government banned household dust, and sent a team round to vacuum every trace of it from under me to spare my allergic reaction. But no, they’d only send an inspector round to fine me because I don’t clean the flat thoroughly enough, and that wouldn’t stop me coughing, would it? And pretty much any kind of food can make me ill, but I know that certain kinds are much more likely to make me more unwell than others. But I still eat them from time to time, and the results aren’t something I’d sue the manufacturer for or that I’d want to campaign for a ban on so I won’t be tempted and no-one else can enjoy it – it’s simply an ill-effect that I know is largely my own fault.

So when bandwagon-jumping politicians, fear-stoking journalists, fearful safety officials, ambulance-chasing lawyers, anxious parents, authoritarian police officers and greedy citizens all say ‘It’s not my fault, guv,’ look at them askance. I can’t quite decide whether it’s ironic or appropriate that people who want to stop anyone being able to take responsibility for their own actions keep dodging responsibility for wanting to do so. Still, not my responsibility, is it?

The item on the balloons, incidentally, was followed by an item that regularly prompts an allergic reaction – the so-called Thought For the Day. So when I heard that the speaker was director “…of the thinktank Ecclesia,” I considered suing them for the dangerous lack of health advice: ‘Warning: may not contain real thoughts’.

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