Thursday, February 25, 2010


EXCLUSIVE: BBC Denies Another Question Time Panel ‘Unbalanced’

The BBC today* denied accusations (again) that stuffing Question Time with five authoritarian egomaniacs (again) displayed a jaw-dropping lack of political balance (again). ‘We apportion panellists according to the votes political parties receive,’ a spokesperson said. ‘By winning about one in four votes, the Liberal Democrats get one place in four. Hang on, does that say one place in four weeks? Shit! I mean, no comment.

‘With Peter Hain, Liam Fox, Elfyn Llwyd, Nigel Farage and Janet Street Porter [see our EXCLUSIVE advance photograph] representing, er, Liberal Democrat-run Cardiff, the audience can be assured a full range of political colours.’

Mr Dimbleby is in the chair (again).
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‘As you can see, this is a completely different panel to any previous one this month that omitted any Liberal Democrats (or that other one, too).’

Mr Dimbleby is in the chair.
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DISCLAIMER: The Daleks wish it to be known that they dissociate themselves from the far-right authoritarianism of Peter Hain and the inarticulate screaming hatred of Nigel Farage.

*All right, you’ve caught me. The BBC responded “today”? I’ve obviously made that up – they only responded to my last complaint a few days ago, and that with a bland mass e-mail that failed to answer any of my questions. Good job they’re not responsible to the public, right?

For viewers who aren’t Daleks, you can complain directly to the BBC about their consistent and outrageous political bias. As they’re frightened of their viewers being able to get in touch, you can’t do so by e-mail – though if anyone wishes to supply me with the personal e-mails of, say, the director and producer of Question Time, the head of BBC1, the Director-General or the BBC Trust, I will very happily republish them here – and must instead jump through five pages of hoops on their website. Even to ‘reply’ to their insultingly vacuous excuses for responses (they e-mail you, but won’t let you e-mail back).

So, to repeat, you can complain to the BBC here. You can also read what Welsh Liberal Democrat bloggers think about the BBC ignoring the voters of Cardiff who elected a Liberal Democrat council, a Liberal Democrat AM and a Liberal Democrat MP.

It is a fact that, although the Liberal Democrats average over 20% of the vote across all elections, they’ve been represented on only one of the last four editions of Question Time – and only one of the last three editions of its radio sister programme Any Questions.

By contrast, Labour and the Conservatives have each been represented on every single edition of Question Time – even the broadcast from Northern Ireland included a Labour Minister and a Unionist peer who takes the Tory whip, yet omitted the liberal Alliance Party – often by two or even three supporters on one panel. Even BBC maths must be able to work out that, if their method for calculating Liberal Democrat representation is “fair,” by the same standard Labour and the Conservatives must each average well over 100% of the votes across all elections. Newsflash: this is not, in fact, true.

Even the Liberal Democrat blogosphere’s most ardent devotee of Question Time, the unluckily named Mark Thompson, is so disgusted by this bias that instead of staying in to watch the programme and host his usual live webchat he’s gone to the trouble of being candidate in a local by-election and will be out for the count. I hope you’re satisfied, BBC (and good luck, Mark)!

Come on, BBC, sort it out! Or I’m going to have to buy more Daleks.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010


So, You Want To Repeat Doctor Who

BBC3’s endless but cheery rotation of Doctor Who hits a particular highlight with Utopia tonight at 7 – the episode that closes with, for me, the most thrilling 16 minutes of 21st Century Who so far (while last night’s featured BAFTA-winning Carey Mulligan). The two tiny clips from much older Who in tonight’s episode, though, made me wonder how I might devise a repeat schedule for the rest of the Doctors. Which would you pick? The lot, or a run of just one or two? Surely it’s not too much to ask for in the run-up to the new series…

The Eleven Faces of Doctor Who

Well, this would be the obvious one – a story from every Doctor so far, rather than just the last four and a bit seasons. And, yes, as yet you might think we only have a minute’s forthcoming season’s trailer boggling into 3D for Matt Smith, but remember how they showed a story for Peter Davison in 1981’s warm-up repeat season The Five Faces of Doctor Who? So it can be done.

The trouble is, there are so many stories to choose from – even if you kept it down to those running about an hour and a half so they could all fit in the same sort of slot – that I can easily think of, ooh, at least two for poor old Pat whose episodes were largely tossed away by the BBC (imagine if they still did such things today), three for Colin, four or five for Billy, Jon, Peter and Sylv, and fifteen for Tom that I’d want to show. So you get your thinking caps on for a set of eleven, and I’ll get mine. In the meantime, there are other options…

Update: rather belatedly, I did devise my own set for The Eleven Faces of Doctor Who. Almost at The Eleventh Hour, you might say (groan).


Who was the most famous, longest-lasting, most iconic of all the Twentieth Century Doctors? Who does everyone still recognise? Who isn’t quite my favourite, but has my favourite set of stories? If I were a BBC channel controller – look, even BBC Parliament, it needs the ratings somehow, but these would probably be BBC2 or BBC4, wouldn’t they – I’d be sorely tempted just to start with Robot, and show the whole of Tom Baker’s Doctor. In order.

It’s not just my personal bias – from a practical point of view, every episode of Tom’s still exists, in its original format, in colour, while the first three Doctors all have bits missing or knackered (thanks, BBC). And I do love Tom’s first season. And Genesis of the Daleks seems like it’s hardly been repeated at all after Chris and David’s daily outings…

But, if I really were a BBC channel controller, I know which repeats would be my secret desire, and they wouldn’t exactly be repeats at all. And I’d probably have to be a channel controller to order them, because unlike ordinary repeats, they’d take quite an allocation of budget.

Doctor Who and the Daleks

Imagine, if you will, the determination, the commitment, and most of all the money to show a good long run of Doctor Who repeats. Surely, you want two things to get attention and pull in your viewers: Daleks, and a unique selling point.

You may be aware that the BBC carelessly tossed many of the 1960s Doctor Who stories into skips and burnt them. Fortunately, people were audio-recording them from the first, so all the soundtracks survive, and are available on BBC CDs. Now, some of them are terrific, but the pictures would be better, wouldn’t they (and some of those narrations are very intrusive)?

So here’s what I’d do. I’d commission animation to replace the missing stories, starting with the twenty-six episodes of Daleks that need doing (twenty-two missing ones, and four that still exist without the episodes on either side of them and wouldn’t match the new versions. You can release them as extras on the DVDs, just as they are now on the Lost In Time box set). The BBC did the same for the two missing parts of Patrick Troughton’s The Invasion on DVD, and it became one of their biggest sellers – but the cost of animation still means only a channel can really afford to stump up the cash.

My perfect Doctor Who repeat season, then, would set out its stall with the newly re-animated The Power of the Daleks, The Evil of the Daleks, Mission To the Unknown and The Daleks’ Master Plan. Each is a terrific story, not a single dud amongst them, each starring a terrific Doctor, Patrick Troughton and William Hartnell – or in one case, starring no Doctor at all, which is why I’d start with the one that introduces a new Doctor rather than confusingly omitting him – and each would look fantastic with all the Daleks you can eat and fabulous new designs and special effects.

How about trailing them heavily immediately after each BBC3 repeat, saying, ‘turn over now to BBC2 / BBC4 for more exciting Doctor Who you’ve not seen before’? Show two episodes back-to-back every night, and you can have a regular two-hour multi-channel Doctor Who slot.

And, when those have been an enormous success, you can commission another set, Doctor Who and the Monsters – I for one would love to see The Macra Terror – and keep on until all 108 ‘missing’ episodes had been renewed, along with new versions of the ‘orphaned’ episodes that would stick out too much in a story mostly made up of animation.

Then, once the whole series is complete again… It’s simple.

Just start your repeat season starring William Hartnell as the Doctor in An Unearthly Child, and show the whole lot. Just in time for the Twelfth Doctor.

And, yes, I know this is a strange flibbertigibbet sort of post to break my block of the last few weeks, but anything to get me back on the treadmill, eh? I’m sure I can get into even more outrageous wish-fulfilment once I start writing about the General Election.

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Thursday, February 04, 2010


EXCLUSIVE: BBC Denies ‘Unbalanced’ Question Time Panel

The BBC today denied accusations that filling Question Time with five authoritarian egomaniacs displayed any lack of political balance. ‘Last week we had three Tories – today, three Labour people,’ a spokesperson said. ‘How much more balanced could we be? It’s not as if the Liberal Democrats have anything distinctive to contribute about tonight’s topics of Iraq and electoral reform. I’m sorry, what?

‘With Lord Falconer, Theresa May, Clare Short, George Galloway and Melanie Phillips on tonight’s panel [see our EXCLUSIVE advance photograph], the audience can be assured a full range of political colours.

Mr Dimbleby is in the chair.
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‘We reject accusations that two embittered, self-aggrandising ex-Labour MPs with minuscule public support are in some way likely to agree. Everyone knows they consider each other “splitters”.

‘In fact, Clare Short will tonight join Theresa May in representing the Conservative Party, as a cheerleader for the war who voted it through and then, when it all went pear-shaped afterwards, angrily said that it wasn’t her fault, she’d been deceived, and how could she possibly have been expected to exercise any individual judgment (something that’s a lot easier to say in the absence of any awkward Liberal Democrats).’

DISCLAIMER: The Daleks wish it to be known that they dissociate themselves from the far-right authoritarianism of Melanie Phillips and the support for genocidal maniacs offered by George Galloway.

Update: and again…

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Love and Liberty VI – Equal Voices, Different Choices (#LibDemHeart #LibDemValues 1.6)

Today’s somewhat belated instalment of my series on what the Liberal Democrats stand for moves on to Liberty in Love and Liberty, a 1999 booklet exploring my own Liberalism. From Locke in 1689 to the Liberal Democrat Constitution (and headed by my favourite home-made Lib Dem slogan), I summarise the Liberal view of the state – why it’s necessary, but why it also has to be kept in check. What should be the balance between Liberalism’s different values, or between the power of the state and everyone else? And what was Conrad Russell’s simplest statement of what Liberalism’s there for?

Liberty: Equal Voices, Different Choices

Liberals put freedom first. To make freedom real for everyone, it can’t be separated from love for every individual. That’s why the Preamble to the Liberal Democrat Constitution seems such a wise balance. In practice, liberty is dependent on a measure of equality and community. To guarantee universal liberty requires a degree of universal restraint, one of many paradoxes that Liberalism embraces. Otherwise, liberty can’t be widespread or secure; unbridled individualism results in too many individuals being crushed, but even the rich and powerful would be forced to guard against the fear of constant attack. To guarantee liberty, you need certain level playing fields – in particular, equality of opportunity and equality before the law. To exercise freedom and create equality, communities must be formed, then carefully watched to ensure they themselves do not arbitrarily remove liberties.

Liberalism and the State

Liberals don’t see the state as a bad thing in itself. Neither increasing nor reducing state power or ownership can be viewed as an absolute good, for every circumstance; it depends what it’s there to do, and whether (and how) it works in doing it. Conrad Russell described Liberalism as not about minimum government, but minimum oppression. In more vivid words, he said Liberalism is around to stop bullying. That is the key reason why Liberals need the state, however drawn we might be in theory to the raw liberty of anarchism. There are too many bullies which are too powerful for individuals to fight on their own; in any case, the state can’t duck out and leave everyone to oppress each other. This issue of power is a central one for Liberals, going to the heart of the protecting and enlarging of liberty.

Liberty must be protected by and from the state. The state must have the power to create opportunity, and prevent bullying. Poverty and unemployment, for example, are barriers to liberty that the state can help break down by offering opportunities. Law can restrain bullies from thieves to bad employers, and defence exists to protect a state’s citizens being bullied by aggressors they have given no consent to – while governments must band together to stand up to giant, transnational, corporate bullies. However, Liberals are not starry-eyed supporters of state power. The state itself can threaten freedom of speech or action, make unfair or simply over-prescriptive laws, or bully people out of choices through offering too conditional opportunities. An over-strong state has always been the biggest bully for British Liberals, and Liberals from the proto-Liberal philosopher Locke onwards have sought ways to restrain its power.

Since 1689, Liberalism Has Been Making the Philosophical Case To Check State Power

John Locke’s first way to limit the state’s power to bully was the ascending theory of power; power comes from the individuals governed. This rises naturally from the Liberal view of the importance of every individual, and explains why Liberalism is so closely connected with democracy, and with limits to what even a democracy should be allowed to do. The radical Liberal idea of the 1960s, community politics, is still all about working with people to take power and use it. It means actions should be taken at the lowest level they can be decided, with a pluralism of power structures – the best way to stop one centre of power bossing everyone around is to set up another centre of power so that no one level can greedily exercise total authority. Liberals are dead-set against monopolies of power, monopolies of ideas and economic monopolies – all are at best unhealthy and often a positive danger.

Liberal internationalism has understood for a long time that if power starts with the individual, it can be shared at any level without threatening identity. For many actions, the lowest appropriate level will remain the individual. It’s simply not the state’s business to stop people choosing their lives for themselves where possible; as people are so much more likely than a remote government to know their own neighbourhoods, work and private lives, the state would only cock them up anyway.

Locke’s other key notion was that power must be bound by rules. That is why the Rule of Law is so important for Liberalism, hanging vitally not on subjection to the law, but equality before the law to prevent arbitrary force – applying the same rules to strong as to weak, majorities as to minorities and governments as to citizens, and not applying any rules specifically to penalise a particular group. If the law singles out one set of people to pick on unfairly, what reason do they have to obey it? Every individual must be treated on an equal basis, as an individual, by the law for a Liberal society to win respect for law and society, not compel it. Laws made in secret or for partisan advantage, or which are enforced selectively, are fundamentally ilLiberal, and increase people’s insecurity – as Shirley Williams said:
“The rule of law becomes hypocrisy if it means the ruler’s law.”
Breaking the Chains

Liberals are more than sceptical of revolutions unless there is absolutely no other way to change things; too many people get trampled along the way, and there’s no guarantee things will come out better the other side. I once wrote that Liberalism was an ideology of permanent revolution. I was wrong. It must be, however, an ideology of permanent evolution, always adjusting to new circumstances, but rarely at such a breakneck speed that people lose their security. Liberals see their work will never be finished – opposed to utopianism right from the proposition that “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance”. Rather than only looking as far as knocking things down, Liberals are builders and refashioners, looking for a better way and willing to listen to all ideas for one, aiming for structures that are open and adaptable enough to change, not have to be broken. The purpose of those structures, though, should be to break the chains on individuals.

In a Liberal society, each person must have the information to make their own choices. Everyone must be equipped with skills, involved in decisions, encouraged and enabled to be an active, questioning individual. For people to make confident choices about their lives, they will be interdependent as well as independent; active government and thriving communities must provide the security, and often the resources, to take up opportunities. But merely providing is never enough. To have the chance to fulfil their lives, people must be guaranteed the power of self-reliance and taking action responsibly on their own behalf, without being told what they can or can’t do when it doesn’t harm other people. For that reason, when the Preamble to the Liberal Democrat Constitution talks of balancing liberty, equality and community, it sets out guidelines on how to achieve this: it says that
“no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.”
Liberalism’s approach is made clear from this great line; these three evils are evil not just in abstraction, but still more so because they block freedom.

Even eleven years later, I recognise a lot of today’s piece as incredibly familiar – I suspect it flew straight out of what I’d always been saying the Liberal Democrats stood for, and I know that it owes an enormous debt to Conrad Russell, reading his work, listening to him and sometimes arguing with him. My friend, my Liberal guru and an outstanding historian of the Seventeenth Century, few FPC meetings a decade ago would go by without his finding a parallel to some Seventeenth Century political event and opening a contribution with something along the lines of, “In 1647…”

I’ve also often written on the Rule of Law. Neither Labour nor the other Tories believe in it, because they’ve never believed in any limits to their own power – for them it’s ‘do as I say, not do as I do’. Labour thinks laws are only part of their ‘cause’, to order society as they want it, and they ignore laws that get in the way of their higher purpose; for the Tories, laws have always applied only to the ‘little people’. You might be interested in a new study about just how power corrupts and powerful people make excuses for why they can get away with things, but others can’t which I read about the other day via Paul Simpson.

You can find the evolving links to the whole of Love and Liberty with an introduction here. Over the following days, I’ll be expanding on the liberty at the heart of my Liberalism – check back to that contents list and watch for those links to spring into life. Oh, and don’t forget to give your opinion on whether #LibDemHeart or #LibDemValues makes the better tag!

Back to V

Forward to VII

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010


Pretty Pictures – and Pretty Intelligent

Welcome to February, a little belatedly as I was utterly shattered yesterday, and to ease you into the new month I’ve prepared a selection of links to sites with pretty pictures – each of which will also insidiously get your brain working. Well, I hope they’ll do so for me, anyway, as I’m still knackered and have a great many things I want to write. Marvel, then, at Jodrell Bank’s pick of the night sky for February, a fabulous Douglas Adams pastiche, several comic strips and something not at all safe for work. Hope it cheers and wakes you up. And, in at least one case, gets you up (not the Pope, then). I might do this again – it’s more fun than reorganising my entire sidebar of outdated links, isn’t it?

February By Night

Jodrell Bank’s monthly astronomy update for what to look out for in the night sky. February’s particularly good for Mars and Italian scooters, apparently. Just such a shame President Obama’s decided we’re only going to look at it all from down here. Meanwhile, Douglas Adams famously imagined a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy while lying back in a field in Innsbruck and looking at the stars…

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Daleks

The absurdly gifted Andrew Orton used to have a website full of ‘movie posters’ for Doctor Who stories, some of them very eye-catching and several still saved on my hard drive long after he abandoned them. These days, rather than manipulating simple images in Photoshop (or whatever), he builds CGI Doctor Who and other models to do marvellous things with them. I particularly enjoyed his pastiche of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, mixed in with the first Doctor Who story on which Douglas Adams was credited as script editor. My suspicion is that, unlike the ‘real’ computer graphics of the fabulous 1981 TV series, Andrew has used real computer graphics.

Jesus and Mo

And now onto the pictures that don’t move about a lot, but which might bear some relation to Oolon Coluphid. There were these two blokes down the pub… And they probably shouldn’t be viewed by those of a religiously sensitive disposition. I’m with the barmaid (hi, Jennie!).

Unspeakable Vault (Of Doom)

More blasphemy. Tut. And more on the Unspeakable Pope later (who’s not a pretty picture). A century ago, writer HP Lovecraft decided that horror had become too familiar and, thus, not frightening. He created an unnameable, unspeakable, sometimes unreadable new universe of cosmic horror, stories where the scary things were only glimpsed, weren’t explained, and crushed the investigator like a bug to finish – in the more reassuring tales. Today, what’s new has become old, and many-tentacled, unpronounceable Lovecraftian abominations have become as much a cliché as Dracula was to him. The cuddly cartoon mass-mutilation of the Unspeakable Vault (Of Doom) would, then, have been a pain in the neck to Mr Lovecraft, as the more recognisably “Lovecraftian” something is, the less it is like anything Mr Lovecraft was trying to do. It does, however, make me laugh very improperly.

Adam and Andy

Adam and Andy are a middle-aged gay couple who’ve been together for ever, where one works terribly hard and the other’s lazy, and where neither is as svelte as they used to be. It’s just like another sci-fi link, as obviously they’re in a completely different world to my life. They have a dog, not an elephant! Thanks to the very gorgeous Alex Foster for putting me on to their strip some time ago, too.

This one does what it says on the disclaimer page. Yes, the artist of these cartoons started off wanting to make fantasy porn, but found it all too funny. As a result, she goes where the mood takes her and some of the strips, regretfully, are safe for work. Don’t worry – there’ll be more cock jokes along very soon. A tip: if, like me, you start reading and then want to read the whole thing, while each of the strips is funny on its own, many of them build up to punchlines – one might call them climaxes – over several instalments. If you like the first few you read and want to carry on, you really are best off clicking on the “START” page and going on from there, as reading a joke backwards is noticeably less funny.

The Internet is for Porn (and I’m for Colby Keller)

This one also started off as porn and is often funny, but it’s not a cartoon, it’s a porn star’s very engaging blog about his life in the recession. His headline pic on his Big Shoe Diaries is naked, partially obscured by a “Will Fuck For Food” sign; the background to his Twitter account, on which at present he’s fully clothed, is him surrounded by his books. Come on, you like him already, don’t you? Some pages are indeed safe for work, but you’re probably safer assuming they’re not: though he frequently discusses his visits to art galleries and museums, ‘I went there for the art’ may not stand up to close examination when it doesn’t go down well with your system administrator. Look out, too, for mentions of his friend Conner Habib, who is funny, an academic and another very hot films chap. Do you get many of those? Anyway, Colby was recommended to me by a friend in one of those late-night wide-ranging Doctor Who, food and porn online discussions one has, as someone who’s funny, intelligent, and also very sexy, not plucked to within an inch of his life, and looking like he’s enjoying himself. And after a few days of looking at the pictures, you might start reading what he has to say, too.

This particular recommendation is dedicated to Tower Hamlets Council.

In much less wholesome porn news, the Australian legislature are officially a bunch of wankers. They’ve based a new law on mainstream pornography’s somewhat inflated view of breasts, and decided that all pictures of women with relatively small breasts are akin to child pornography. Were all their campaigns funded by the cosmetic surgery industry? ‘Women – buy those implants now or you aren’t a real woman’ isn’t the sort of message you expect an actual law to be sneering, is it? Strangely, they don’t appear to have banned pictures of men with small penises. That sort of porn’s absolutely fine, too, but presumably the Australian Parliament were too busy watching the big boobs to keep their minds on lower matters… Oh, but I’m wrong! It seems female ejaculation is “abhorrent”, too. That’s a law that sounds like it was made by HP Lovecraft, and about as in touch with the real world.

Pay For Pope? Nope

By now, you’ve probably heard about Pope Rottweiler’s latest medieval threats. So I’ll just comment through the medium of Twitter…

I tweeted last night:

Ex-Nazi to visit UK, demand special rights, charge taxpayers £20m for privilege & make gays 2nd class. It’s political incorrectness gone mad!

Then added my simple Liberal message, with a link to the National Secular Society’s petition against paying for him – he’s not in any sense a pretty picture, but he does make a good poster when you click to see all the signatories:

Don’t ban Pope but don’t keep quiet & don’t pay for his tour of hate (sign here)

I joined Twitter less than a week ago, and an evil old bigot telling us how to live our lives and demanding money and laws in his favour has had by far the biggest Twitterbag amongst the people I’m following. Who knew?
Long-term readers may recall that I have limited patience with theocratic bigots claiming that they should have special rights and lashings of gay taxpayers’ cash to be above the law.

Update: Gosh. Thanks, Colby!

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