Monday, July 29, 2013


Yaxley, Stilton, Ramsay – The New Shag, Marry, Cliff

You’ll be familiar with “Shag, Marry, (Throw Off A) Cliff” and all its bowdlerised* variations. It doesn’t do a lot for me: it’s judgemental, it’s shallow, and you never get the exact number of people to pass your shallow judgement on.

As Richard drove us through the wilds of Cambridgeshire on Saturday on our return from holiday, I had an epiphany for something more interesting: Yaxley, Stilton, Ramsay.

We were listening to The News Quiz, and as usual groaning or heckling at all the usual tired bollocks. But how to freshen up your reaction to faux-lefty faux-comics with stale material? It’s radio, so you can’t judge which one you want to shag. With their material so tired in just half an hour’s worth, they’d never stay fresh for a marriage (besides, you can kill or shag any number of people – so I’ve heard – but I for one have more exacting standards than a Radio 4 panel to select a partner for life). So isn’t it more fun just to decide, not to punish yourself by inflicting them on you, but what new and exciting ways of punishment to throw at those you’re judging?

As if by magic, the road signs gliding by above our heads kept flashing inspiration:

Next time you find yourself listening to a terrible panel game, why not delight yourself with the much funnier idea of what to do with each of the most rotten participants?

Throw cheese at them!

(You know what Stilton is)

Throw a carnivorous time-pterodactyl at them!

(Ramsay the Vortisaur, itself a piece of political satire, features in Big Finish’s Doctor Who – Storm Warning and the following three stories starring Paul McGann)

Or, if they’re especially crapulent, throw a Death-Eater at them to curse them in all sorts of inventive ways!

(Yaxley the Death-Eater can be found being rather nasty in the later Harry Potter books and films)

It could be anyone. To take, oh, a random example, you might cry ‘Jeremy Hardavra Kedavra!’

Of course, you could just chuck the cheese and the vortisaur at him as well, to make sure. Up to you.

*But what does it say about the BBC’s attitude to marriage that it’s only as important as snoggage and hiding rather than sex and death, writes outraged of Tunbridge Wells? I demand the next series to be renamed ‘Snog, Date, Avoid’ and its post-watershed equivalent the serious ones. Well, I would, if I weren’t demanding a reformatting as ‘Yaxley, Stilton, Ramsay’ and my royalty payments.

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Sunday, July 07, 2013


Arrogant, Patronising and Discriminatory: Some of Shirley Williams’ Greatest Mistakes

“Equality is not the same as sameness” was the arrogant war-cry of the Apartheid regime and, shamefully, now of Liberal Democrat Queen Mum-equivalent Baroness Shirley Williams. Reports by Pink News and Lib Dem Voice of grandstanding homophobic actions are finally bringing into the open the unpleasant side of her that many of us have had personal experience of over the years.

There are many things to admire about Shirley Williams, but her ‘commitment to equality’ isn’t one of them. It’s an extremely narrow one: proposing only her own programme of equality for women; and only the ‘right sort’ of women. It’s a great shame but perhaps unsurprising that she’s become so conservative in her years as an unelected, unaccountable peer that no-one can ever vote out. It goes back a lot further and wider than merely leading the charge in the House of Lords to put the gays in their place and propose legal special privileges for – surprise – only people like Shirley Williams.

Shirley Williams – Bully

I’ve never said this in public before. I’m writing now in part because my ever-declining health means I’m unlikely ever to seek any position again within the Lib Dems through patronage or election. I’m obviously spurred by her being not just a quiet fellow-traveller with the House of Lords bigots but appointing herself chief of the anti-equal-marriage legislators. And I regret not having thought about this over the last few months and supplied testimony to the Lib Dems’ independently-led enquiry on internal party processes. Because there is no way on Earth that I would ever trust any internal process led by Shirley Williams. She is the most arrogant and biggest bully I have ever encountered within the party, and the one who was most open about their prejudices and about acting on them.

What particularly sticks in my mind is not just her very prominent and active legal homophobia but her deplorable attitude to young people – patronising, hostile and going out of her way to block their progress within the Lib Dems. I remember particularly vividly her spiteful, patronising and ageist attacks on all the young women who disagreed with this self-satisfied grandee during the party’s debates over sexist shortlists, where any woman with the temerity to disagree with her exact decree of what should be was put down in such ageist and indeed sexist terms that any similarly haughty male Lib Dem peer would have been excoriated for.

I have direct, personal experience of Baroness Williams’ bullying ways, too. When I was young and very active in the party I encountered occasional prejudices and put-downs: certainly, when I was over a decade younger than anyone else elected to the Federal Policy Committee, I was often looked down on and had to work much harder to prove myself. Despite having been very out at all levels of the party I’ve ever been involved in, back when that was surprisingly rare, I’ve experienced very little homophobia (usually discreetly), more often having had people sneer because I had no money and, for example, had to hitch-hike to meetings (at which I didn’t wear a suit). But the overwhelming number of times I saw people try to put me back in my box was for ideological reasons – which was fair enough, as long as we both had an equal say and I could beat them, too.

The biggest exception to all this was back in 1999. Who else but Baroness Shirley Williams was in charge of making sure than all new peers would be exactly the same as the existing peers interviewing all the newly elected members of the party’s first Interim Peers’ List. This was a baby-step innovation in which, against strenuous opposition from the party’s Great and Good, the Lib Dems took a small step towards practising what we preach in electing our party nominees to the Lords rather than leaving it entirely to the Leader’s patronage that appointed the Great and the Good like Shirley Williams from on high.

Believing that the average age and background – and views – of peers should change radically, I and several other (at the time) young people (at the time) put ourselves forward and, of the original fifty, three of us were elected to the panel in our twenties. I have never, ever, been so patronised and discriminated against in the party as by Shirley Williams on that occasion: she made it very clear that she was against the plebs having a vote for Lords selection at all, and that she would do everything in her (considerable) power to prevent any young person being given a place, whatever the mere party members had voted for. It was less an interview than a lecture. She wasn’t openly homophobic to me at the time, but after the second time I’d mentioned my partner with the word “he” and she’d talked about “she” I decided not to bother correcting her again, as there was clearly no way she was ever going to get it.

Afterwards, I met up with another of the three, a young woman who also had never been so bullied and humiliated by anyone in the party as by Shirley, again primarily because of Baroness Williams’ quite open and arrogant ageism. It’s the only time I’ve seen a woman in tears at their treatment by anyone in the Lib Dems.

But she was both a young person and a woman who had the temerity to disagree with the great Shirley, so no doubt Baroness Williams would claim that she treated her ‘equally’ with her longstanding mates who were on the list… Just not the same.

So that’s Shirley Williams: a very, very narrow commitment to equality, for only ‘her’ chosen sort of women. Her latest arrogant moves for legal special treatment for her own special interests and people of her own background, her own interests and her own opinions shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s seen her commitment to equality for the Great and Good – but not for people who are not the same – at work over so many years.

How Do You Want To Be Remembered?

Update: Inspired by Baron Tony Greaves’ quite staggering degree of self-unawareness on the Lib Dem Voice thread – a Lord accusing a blogger of “using his privileged position… to pursue his personal hobbyhorses” and describing his fellow unelected, unaccountable, unbearable grandees as “good Liberals” for using the law and their ultra-privileged personal prejudices to grind my relationship into the dirt, as they have for many years, I ask a simple question. You might put it, politely, to any Lib Dem peers of your acquaintance.

Imagine a “good Liberal” of, say, the middle of the last century who had an impeccable record in progressive opinion and legislation save that, for reasons of moral concern, and religion, and tradition, they just weren’t comfortable with black people and white people marrying and strained every sinew in their later years to prevent the heinous sin of mixed-race marriage, because “Equality is not the same as sameness”.

Is there any way on Earth that we would remember their legacy as a “good Liberal” today?

How do Liberal Democrat Peers want their legacies to be remembered?

Former self-styled radical Tony Greaves appears to be going out of his way to prove the point that taking a place in a ‘democratic’ legislature from which no mere mortal has the power ever to remove you rots your brain into ‘going native’.

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Musical Quickie 2: Culture Beat Vs Pet Shop Boys

Was the Pet Shop Boys’ single Absolutely Fabulous spoofing Culture Beat’s Mr Vain (or ‘homaging’, or outright nicking)? I doubt I’ve given a thought to the massive Eurodance hit – Europe’s biggest-seller of 1993, Wikipedia tells me – for twenty years, but suddenly hearing it again the other day I thought, ‘Isn’t that the Pet Shop Boys?’ But no: Mr Vain was released in April 1993 and PSB’s Comic Relief single a year later, with a slightly sharper but essentially identical synth riff. Surely a ‘Mrs Vain’ comment on Eddy and Patsy along with all Jennifer Saunders’ spoken pop references and Ab Fab samples on the track. And here I was thinking “Techno, techno, bloody techno, darling!” was the limit of their cheeky borrowings, but no no, no no no no, no no no no, no no, it turns out that in fact there’s no limit. I’d forgotten her singing the actual tune to Ride On Time in the middle of it, too, though they can hardly complain about sampling.

The Pet Shops Boys performed Mr Vain live on their Discovery Tour later that year – mixed into a different one of their songs – which does rather suggest they’d heard of it (or had reached a royalties settlement). And, like the same year’s Girls & Boys by Blur (a song I remember much better), once the Pet Shop Boys did it it sounds like it was a PSB song all along. Of the three versions, I still like the Ab Fab one the best.

So it seems to me the case is proved, but listen to Mr Vain and Absolutely Fabulous and decide for yourself.

This quickie has been brought to you by the Society For Getting Jokes Twenty Years Late.

PS(B): This post was supposed to include an Electric plug, but I forgot. Now I’m not sure where to put it in [enough puns – Ed. Never enough puns! – Alex]. The Pet Shop Boys’ new album is out in a week’s time, and I love their latest single, Axis: not just for its unrepentantly retro synthesisers but for a video that looks like a pure 1980 mash-up of Doctor Who and 2000AD, with dancing Nimon and Torquemada in a time tunnel / Terror Tube. Absolutely fabulous.

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Saturday, July 06, 2013


Musical Quickie 1: Paint It Yellow Meme*

So, Nick Clegg and Mick Jagger: everyone’s quoting the 1967 description of Mick’s views as “straight John Stuart Mill”, but has he done what the rest of us haven’t and convinced Nick of the merits of Lib Dem drugs policy, or further? I only ask (as I did of Nick the first time I interviewed him, to his well-concealed delight).

Anyway, this is only a quickie, but will include the two cooler Lib Dem-pop crossovers and a terrible joke (I can almost hear you sigh). But first, Jennie Rigg’s meme to rewrite Rolling Stones songs for the Lib Dems: fab. I’m especially knackered and in lots of pain this week, so my creative energies are low, but click here to see some of the entries so far.

Just meandering for a moment – were I writing the detailed music-related article I meant to instead of this quickie, it’d be about Tom Robinson. So imagine I have, and that I’ve recommended the newly-released Tom Robinson Band Anthology 1977-1979 (though I want the stuff from 1989-1990 when I was going to their gigs).

Tune into a Tom special on Neil McCormick’s Needle Time on Vintage TV at 7pm tonight, because I won’t have written anything proper by then and you’d’ve missed it.

Back to the story of the week, which is Nick Clegg and Mick Jagger and co having dinner together. Which is cool. And Jennie’s plan to get Mick to guest at Glee Club. Which is terrifying.

Enjoy Hyde Park, Mick, and though today’s may not be as iconic, I bet you all play better this time… Though a better performance than Glee Club isn’t hard.

Rolling Stones Feat. Lib Dems – My Favourite New Entries

“I see a red door and I want to paint it yellow”

Jennie’s concept / Magister’s lines:

Sympathy for the Paddy
“So if you meet me, have some courtesy,
“Have some sympathy and some taste
“Use all your well learnt politesse
“Or I’ll kill you with one hand.
“Because I can, you know. Would you like to hear my joke?”

Nick Barlow’s all-too-familiar title:

Here Comes Your Nineteenth By-Election

But most of all the lovely Andrew Hickey’s massive wins with:
“I know
“It’s only a rogue poll
“But I like it…”
Oh yeah – I meant to write about a possibly rogue poll that was way better for the Lib Dems than anything else recently, but possibly worthwhile as it was polling about something other than the usual. Remind me, reader.

And the outstanding…
“I’m canvassing apartments on the ninety-ninth floor of my block
“I knock on the door looking through the window and hoping the barking will stop
“Then out comes a guy who’s all dressed up like a Union Jack
“And says I’ve won his vote if I’ll just send those immigrants back

“I said, hey! UKIP! Get off of my round!
“Hey! UKIP! Get off of my round!
“Hey! UKIP! Get off of my round!
“Don’t hang around ’cause two’s a crowd”

Finally, Magister for Simon Hughes:
“Start me up!
“If you start me up
“I’ll never stop.”
That’s one for me, too, obviously. Simon and I once did a pair of set-piece speeches to finish a Lib Dem Youth and Student Conference. Everyone missed their trains. Including me (remember, this article is a “quickie”).

On a more critical note, the Jumpin’ Jack Flash (probably my favourite Stones song, along with Saint of Me) suggestions have missed the points – they’re clearly about the wrong ex-MP. Surely…
“But I’m all right now, in fact, it’s a gas
“But I’m all right, I’m jumping lights – flash!
“Step on the gas, gas, gas”
…should make you think of an even more recently ex-ed MP (and a certain Elephant denies all responsibility for that lyric).

Too shuhne?

That Cool Lib Dem-Pop Crossover Chart In Full

Nick and Mick’s new entry only at number 3, I’m afraid, below…

Number 2: Jeremy Thorpe and Jimi Hendrix – when they were both big

(Google for the cool pictures; I’d provide a link, but they all seem to be either scandals or rip-offs, so I’m disinclined to)

And a surprise Number 1: Norman Lamb and Tinchy Stryder

Because mortgaging your house to help launch an unknown rapper’s career and him making it big is significantly cooler than a photo-op or a meal, however cool the star.

*My urge for terrible puns means I was tempted to title this Paint It Yellow Sub-Par Meme, but it’s not sub-par. It’s fab. It’s also the wrong ’60s band, and though it has the major Glee Club advantage that it’s a song everyone can sing, since the Coalition we can no longer sing along to:
“We all live in a yellow squeaky-clean…”

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