Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Films of 2015

Given that it is the end of the year, and it is the season of self-indulgence, and I like writing lists, I have written a Films of 2015 list.

This is not a list of what I think to be the undisputedly "Best" films of the year (I haven't seen nearly enough films in order to do that). Rather, these are the films I saw this year which I would recommend most. 

10. Bridge of Spies – in the hands of any other director and actor, this would have been merely solid. However, this is a really-good thriller with an old-fashioned feel. It doesn't quite reach the heady heights of some of Spielberg's similar works, but Hanks is on top form with a funny and intriguing script. Good turn from Mark Rylance in this tale of the importance of every individual's rights.
9. Steve Jobs – a witty and interesting look at the enigmatic man behind a corporate personality cult. Uneven though it was, it is one of the most intelligent films you’ll ever see and when it hits top gear it is electric.
8. Selma – A powerful film on MLK, with a spellbinding performance from David Oyelowo. It tells an important story well without much bombast.
7. Carol – a beautiful and tender portrait of forbidden love that is played so perfectly by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Todd Haynes gives it a visual flair (all reflections in windows and glances through thick plumes of cigarette smoke) and evokes the 50s period with delicacy.
6. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens – J.J. Abrams saves the franchise and gives it heart and soul and a new lease of life. If you’ve been hitherto unconvinced by Star Wars, then this is the one to transport you to that galaxy far, far away.
5. The Lady in the Van – brilliant comic filmmaking, driven by Maggie Smith’s knockout performance and Alex Jennings terrific incarnation as two sides of Alan Bennett. Bennett’s script is as poignant as it is hilarious.
4. Brooklyn – a lovely, lovely film about love, family and home. Saoirse Ronan delivers a thoroughly deft performance in this emotionally honest elegy which beautifully moves from comedy to tragedy to hide-behind-your-hands emotional drama.
3. Inside Out – the only imperfection with this film is that it isn’t really for its young audience. I cried like a child, but no child could understand why. Heart-breaking and wise – this will nevertheless be vitally important for slightly older children. A work of heart and genius.
2. The Martian – I can rarely remember a more joyous experience. I certainly cried once from pure joy during the "Starman" sequence. A whip-crackingly quick script, Ridley Scott producing all of his visual flair and Matt Damon being magnificent as the lead of a great cast. It never dropped its energy or its imagination, and had me enraptured from start to finish. What more can one reasonably ask of the cinema?
1. Whiplash – a near-perfect little film. Pumped with French Connection-esque adrenaline, tension and magnetism, this has the sheer cinematic energy you’d expect from an action film. But it’s a film about men sitting in a room playing drums. It’s an extraordinary achievement that thrills, terrifies and exhilarates from the first percussive beat to the last. Miles Teller is a revelation, but J.K. Simmons is a master.

(And two to look out for that haven’t yet come out on general release)
High-Rise – A bizarre and unsettling film about social collapse, where every inch of every frame appears to have been meticulously and beautifully designed.

Trumbo – A very timely film about the screenwriter who was blacklisted during the days of McCarthyism. It tells the story with oodles of wit and charm, and doesn’t beat you over the head with its message. Features a terrific big screen turn from Bryan Cranston.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

NByNW Diary: Bidding Process to host EU Referendum Result "Mired in Secrecy"

10th December
Manchester has the won the not-so-much coveted right to host the result of the EU referendum. The Electoral Commission announced the news this morning, but has attracted criticism for not holding a formal bidding process and there are even accusations of corruption.
No sooner had the EC announced the decision, then Cornwall announced that they were launching a probe into possible corruption, using a legal team drawn from their large French population.
“It is highly suspicious,” said the Mayor of Truro, who had led their David-versus-Goliath bid to host the result. “There’s been no transparency in this. What has Manchester got that Truro hasn’t?”
The Electoral Commission says that the decision was made after much consideration and has nothing to do with throwing yet another bone to the publicity machine behind the idea of a Northern Powerhouse.
The decision has drawn much interest from international figures. Seb Coe said that he was sure that the bids were considered properly, although there doesn’t seem to be much evidence supporting that view.
International expert on secretive bidding processes Sepp Blatter said “The Electoral Commission was in a battle between the devil and the angels, and I have no doubt that the authorities have sided with the angels. In this case, the angels of Manchester. If anything, their bidding process has not been secretive enough.”

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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

NByNW Diary: Statement on Preventing Donalds Immigrating

Tuesday 8th December
North by N. Westminster is calling for a total and complete shutdown on people called Donald entering the United Kingdom until our representatives can figure out what the hell is going on. According to the weary anger on social media, there is a lot of discontent towards one man called Donald, and we see no reason why we shouldn’t judge the entire group of people called Donald on the basis of the actions of one rambling extremist who preaches hate, prejudice and in favour of bombing.

In a statement, we said “Without looking into the issue in any great detail, it is obvious that the racist rhetoric of all Donalds is incomprehensible. Where this lunacy comes from and why we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victim of the stupefyingly damaging and batshit crazy comments from people that believe only in simple blanket answers to complex questions, and have no sense of reason or respect for human diversity, human harmony or human hair.

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Friday, December 4, 2015

NByNW Diary: UKIP's Implications Leave us Little Room to Infer

Friday 4th December
In the end, it wasn’t a catastrophe for Labour. Not even close. Jim McMahon held Michael Meacher's long-held seat of Oldham West and Royton comfortably with a majority of 10,811 (given the reduction in turnout, that’s broadly the same result as in May 2015).
This was contrary to the reports which had been put about by many of the perennial arms of the Murdoch and Right Wing Press, namely The Guardian and The New Statesman.
Ultimately, no-one expected Labour to lose, but no-one can use this result (as they expected to be able to) to claim that Jeremy Corbyn is a doomed prospect.
However, UKIP will use any fact to prove anything, and what this result apparently shows is that a bunch of people who look different have imposed their will on people who don’t look different. If UKIPers get upset with me when they infer that that was what I thought their Deputy Leader Paul Nuttall was implying when he said that Labour had engaged in “dangerous identity politics”, then let me say that he implied and I inferred. And I inferred from his implications that the phrase "identity politics" was undoubtedly attempting to divide people on the grounds of race. Which is, if I am right in this assessment, entirely shit.
Furthermore, Mr Farage says that the Postal Vote was bent. He claims this comes from an impeccable source. Easy to tweet, but you better substantiate it you frog-faced divisor.

Have I got it wrong? If so, please explain to me how? I’d so hate to think you’re bigots simply because you’d left some grey area on that matter. I normally like my non-bigots to be unequivocally non-bigots, and explicitly non-bigots. But, you know, maybe that’s too much for me to expect from a 21st century multicultural democracy.

P.S. If you didn't want me to misinterpret, you might have tried speaking clearly rather than insinuating. After all, if you're not bigots, why would you feel the need to obfuscate.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

NByNW Diary: Hilary Benn's Mysterious Phone Call

Thursday 3rd December
Hilary Benn wakes up. Same time as he does every day. Nothing feels any different from any other day.
Hilary Benn’s phone rings. He answers
“Hampsted 001138, Benn Household, Mr Benn speaking.”
“Is it safe?” says the posh voice on the other end of the line.
“I hope so,” says Mr Benn. “I’m still in my pyjamas”.
“You cannot know who I am.”
“You sound like Tristram Hunt.”
“No, no. I’m definitely not him.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” said Mr Benn, putting his trade mark specs on.
“I am a member of the insurgency.”
“Insurgency?” asked Hilary.
“Against Jeremy Corbyn.”
“I thought he was the insurgency.”
“We’re the insurgency against the insurgency,” said the posh voice.
“That’s rather confusing. Like a party with a leader and foreign secretary with completely different foreign policies.”
“Okay. We’re like the rebellion in Star Wars.”
“Don’t let a Corbynista hear you say that,” warned Mr Benn. “They’ll beat you to death with a plastic lightsabre.”
“The point is – we’re trying to save the Labour party from Corbyn.”
“Oh, but he’s a decent man and he has a mandate,” said Mr Benn.
“No! Hilary – your speech last night. It’s changed the way people see you. People are talking of you as a future leader. A future Prime Minister.”
“Oh – I’m not interested in that. I just want to do my job and my duty and then come home and cook excellent vegetarian food, washed down with ginger beer.”
“No!” said the voice once more. “It has to be you.”
“Look, last night I just spoke from my conscience and said what I thought was right.”
“Yes, and it was the first time a Labour moderate did that since Robin Cook. It was electrifying.”
“I just want to go and have my Corn Flakes and go to work.”
“Look – when Corbyn speaks from his conscience, all of his fans think that he’s some kind of vegan, atheist Jesus. When one of us speaks from his conscience, the Corbynistas think that we’re evil, agnostic Jesus. But you could be different.”
“I want an atmosphere of free debate and to work with the elected leader of the Labour Party.”
“Fine!” shouted the angry voice. “Do you not want power?”
“Oh,” replied the other voice, audibly shocked. “Really? I don’t understand.”
“I just spoke my mind not because I wanted to advance my career but because I thought it was right. You’d think that a supporter of Corbyn would admire that.”
“You think they might?” asked the voice.
“I hope they will,” said Benn.
“Good luck with that.”

Our preview of today's Oldham West and Royton By-Election is here:

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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

NByNW Diary: Benn Steals the Day by Opposing a Bennite

Wednesday 2nd December
It has been the sort of day which encapsulates the best and worst of our democracy.
The best in that the most important issue of all – the matter of war and peace – was openly discussed in great depth and at great length.
The worst in that those who made mistakes in the heat of the moment were too proud to apologise for it.
Last night, the Prime Minister let his legendary temper get the better of him and said to those Tory backbenchers who were going to vote against military action in Syria that they would be voting with (amongst others) “terrorist sympathisers”. It was insulting and unstatesmanlike, and at the start of today’s epic debate he attempted to play down the scandal, but like a child who was being told to say sorry for something he didn’t feel sorry about, David Cameron did not apologise.
Then 10 hours of debate followed. Numerous speeches were excellent. Both for and against. Yvette Cooper, Margaret Beckett, Andrew Tyrie, Sir Alan Duncan, Angus Roberston all excelled themselves, to name but a few. Hell, even Tim Farron rose to the occasion. In contrast, David Cameron was hampered by his outburst the previous evening, and Jeremy Corbyn was halting and lacking in coherence.
However, like many a Shakespearean drama, the best moment came from the subplot, which has been about the Labour party and the divisions within it. It was encapsulated when Hilary Benn stood up to speak against his leader’s position.

Benn’s famous father Tony may not have delivered the speech that his son did tonight, but he was somehow, seminally present. His son stood up for what he believed. He spoke with passion and verve and if you closed your eyes just a bit you could have seen his progenitor in the mannerisms and gesticulations that he used. When talking of the “fascists” of Daesh who hold everyone else in contempt, he produced a grand sweep of his arm as he pointed to every member of the House. It was a Bennite expression, and will live long in the memory.
Hilary Benn’s speech was about the matter at hand and he made a clear case. But the speech was also about the soul of the Labour party. His leader sat grim-faced behind him, and he got grimmer and grimmer as Benn’s rhetoric soared and drew purrs of approval from the opposition benches behind. It spoke of Labour’s role in founding the UN, in being a party of internationalism. It was not just opposed to his leader’s view on Syria, but to his leader’s foreign policy almost entirely.
As Daniel Finkelstein noted this morning, after the 1970 election defeat his father asked Harold Wilson whether he still had to speak with the opinion of the Shadow Cabinet. Today, his son took on that spirit but the irony of all ironies is this: Hilary Benn tried to reclaim the soul of the Labour party from a Bennite.
His speech was greeted with applause (unparliamentary, but allowed by the fastidious Speaker Bercow), and cries of “outstanding”. His opposite number, Philip Hammond, called it one of the great speeches. When he sat down next to Jeremy Corbyn the tension was palpable. John McDonnell looked crestfallen. The speech of the day had been given in opposition to their position and by their own Foreign Secretary.
Whether you agree with his conclusions or not, to see someone to speak with such passion and energy and conviction and good conscience and import in such extraordinary circumstances is the true celebration of what our Mother of all Parliaments gives a platform for.
The votes began and a hush descended before the result was announced. The motion was carried by 397 to 223: a majority of 174. The word was that 15 Labour waverers were swayed by Benn.
A severe moment, and it is worth echoing the words of Toby Perkins (Labour, Chesterfield) from the debate: “I envy those who describe this choice as a “no brainer”… It’s not been obvious to me, it’s been very, very difficult indeed.” He voted against military action.

Monday, November 30, 2015

NByNW Diary: Beating Drums

Monday 30th November
Drums. Drums in the deep.
Today, drums in the deep for Jeremy Corbyn. He walked in confident into his Shadow Cabinet meeting. After all, he had received a 3-to-1 measure of support from party members and was sure that the mood had swung behind him.
But he thought this was about the debate over the war. He was wrong.
Shadow Cabinet Members both for and against airstrikes said that they thought that the leadership could not impose its will on this, taking particular ire against the Labour Leader’s infamous letter on Friday – whilst internal party discussions were ongoing.
According to The New Statesman, Corbyn was adamant until he realised that Hilary Benn would retire to the backbenches to voice his support for strikes, and that significant numbers of his Shadow Cabinet would perform their own strike by refusing to leave the room until he relented and gave them not only a free vote, but also leave Labour’s official position unaltered.
Corbyn foiled by a sit-in protest. Even he must see the irony, but he must also know that his assassins are just waiting and waiting and waiting for Corbyn’s very own Ides of March.
Drums in the deep too for Labour in general. None of them comes out well from this, and on Thursday they face a by-election in Oldham. They are still favourites to win but with a majority down from nearly 14,000 to just 2,000. It is easy to just blame it on Corbyn, but this sort of division and adolescent infighting from all sides in the party surely have not helped their electability.
Finally, drums in the deep for war. At least, that would be the dramatic way to conclude this. The truth is that not just a war but war upon wars have been raging for years now. Nor are we seemingly about to join it. We already have. We are potentially about to expand our operation from Iraq to Syria. This is not the crucial moment but a prequel to it.
The drums in the deep shall beat for a good while longer yet.

More content from North by North Westminster is abundant. Below is a story on Philip Hammond's extraordinary excuse for accepting a gift some £1,810 above the government limit.

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Friday, November 27, 2015

NByNW Diary: Should Corbyn Stay or Should He Go If He Decides Not To Rock the Casbahs?

Friday 27th November
I’m going to get some letter paper headed up with “It’s been another bad day for Labour”. It seems increasingly useful. After all, no-one can claim that Labour have had a good day, but there’s cacophonous squabbling over whose fault that is.
Here’s what’s happened.
Yesterday, after the Prime Minister’s statement on Syria, the Shadow Cabinet went to go and discuss the matter. There was a split in the opinion. Which was fine. It was decided that a decision would be taken on Monday through the Shadow Cabinet and the Parliamentary Labour Party. So far so good.
Then, Hilary Benn went out and said that there was a “compelling” case for strikes. Two hours later, Jeremy Corbyn wrote a letter to Labour MPs saying that he could not support the strikes because he does not think that they can assist our security.
Cue outrage against Corbyn from Labour MPs, describing this as an attempt to whip up fervour amongst the grassroots pressure group Momentum, in order to scare Labour MPs into voting against their consciences but with the leadership.
Very odd this. It appears that it was wrong of Corbyn to express his opposition, but it was fine for Benn to express his support. Whilst private discussions are ongoing, both men were ill-advised.
Labour Party Members are furious. After all, 6 out of 10 of them voted for this man and they are tired of the Parliamentary Party constantly sniping at him. Furthermore, Labour Party Members are 2 to 1 against the strikes, according to YouGov. Surely, Labour MPs should take this into account?
Ah, but they also need to take into account their constituents, and the same YouGov Poll says that the general public are 2 to 1 in favour of the strikes.
It is a fraught situation, but, nevertheless, the Labour Party looks shambolic, childish and petulant.
Just to throw yet another spanner in the works, Corbynista and the world’s newest campaigner for mental health awareness, Ken Livingstone, was on Question Time, where he said that Tony Blair’s decision to invade Iraq killed 52 Londoners in the 7/7 bombings, and he repeated the bombers’ justification that they only murdered because of Iraq.
Whether or not he has got a point doesn’t matter much because, so far as it goes now, we are at the highest level of risk anyway and have prevented 7 terrorist attacks this year. Iraq did make us a greater target for terrorist attacks, but the bullseye that conflict brought on us has never gone away.
Still, why shouldn’t Ken bring up the past? After all, it’s where he lives.

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Thursday, November 26, 2015

NByNW Diary: Beware of Simplicity in the Syria Debate

Thursday 26th November
This is a rather serious entry. It is also rather long, so for ease it is in sections. The first concerns the events of the Prime Minister’s statement to Parliament on Syria this morning. The second analyses the strategy. The third looks at where this leaves us.

1. The Prime Minister’s Statement
One of the reasons for my lack of levity, is that there doesn’t seem to be much to mock. Today, in many ways, saw the Commons at its best. Normally when the Prime Minister is before the House there is the braying and roaring and besuited hooliganism that makes this diarist, as well as countless others, despair. Not so today.
Today, the Prime Minister made his statement on strategy in Syria, as he builds up for a vote to extend our airstrikes against ISIS from their current mission in Iraq. He spoke eloquently and carefully. There was no bombast, but a frank assessment of the matter at hand and of our ability to deal with it. He proposes that we join the coalition currently bombing ISIS military targets (arms depots, training facilities, oil plants, oil convoys etc.), but has confirmed that no western ground forces will go in (because that doesn’t seem to have gone well in the past). He hopes that a grand coalition can be born out of the myriad forces in conflict in Syria. As for legality, the advice is never published, but the recent UN Resolution 2249 authorises “all necessary measures” to defeat ISIS.
In response, Jeremy Corbyn asked seven pertinent questions. The Prime Minister answered them in a yes/no style, with further elaboration on each point. Angus Robertson of the SNP took a stronger stance against the proposed strikes, but argued his case and reiterated key concerns. He said the SNP will not, at present, vote to support airstrikes.
The session was filled with wisdom and concern, and for a few hours in the morning the frequent cynicism that I feel towards our democratic institution faded.

2. Where are the Flaws in the Strategy?
There can be no doubt, as all of the aforementioned leaders said, that the threat is real and that the suffering is too terrible to ignore. That creates the sense that something must be done but, as Yes Minister fans know, this leads to the danger of politician’s logic:
1. Something must be done.
      2. This is something.
      3. Therefore, I must do it.
Mr Corbyn and Mr Roberston are very right to be cautious, and they raise key issues. Even if these airstrikes are to be meticulously targeted on ISIS’ considerable military organisation, they would at best leave a vacuum in a politically turbulent area. It is not clear what ground forces would be able to secure a military victory, and no ideological consensus there to provide fertile soil for a victory of hearts and minds.
Nevertheless, Mr Cameron is equally right to follow his conscience and make his case. If something must be done, then to do nothing is such a horrific abnegation of responsibility that it should leave us with yet more shame on top of that we have accrued so far this century.
There is likely to be a vote soon – possibly next week – and it seems probable that the airstrikes will be authorised. Mr Cameron still has questions to answer about the long-term strategy, but those who are asking the questions must also seek for alternative answers. It is not enough to find the holes in this road. You have to fill them. Given the immense complexity of this situation, it will require people on all sides to work together.

3. Where Does This Leave Us?
In recent weeks, I have read opinions that describe the proposed intervention as simply us “wanting to play with the big boys”. This seems to be very far from the truth when thousands are being slaughtered in Syria and Iraq, and the threat travels overseas into museums, bars, music venues and more. It is worth saying again, the threat is real – not just to us, but to millions of others. If you care about the migrants who have fled across seas and continents, then you must equally care about those left behind.
We are wary. We are understandably wary. As a country, we are racked with guilt and anger over our obvious and dreadful errors in recent decades. Of course we do not want to repeat them. To his credit, Mr Cameron cites that recent history – even his own mistakes in Libya – and claims to be a student of them. Let us hope that he truly is.
However, many fear that this is just another instance of us sticking our oars into troubled waters only to make them more troubled still. Perhaps so. That is why this kind of scrutiny and debate must be celebrated and not scorned. We can never be certain about anything. All we can do is respectfully listen to all sides and humbly seek as much information as we can.
But, beware of misinformation. Beware of catchy memes. Beware of “facts” that get retweeted a thousand times.
For instance, on today’s Daily Politics, Lindsey German of Stop The War claimed that ISIS was being given arms by Saudi Arabia. It seems to chime with our fears and reservations of the Saudis. It is immensely plausible, and is within a 140 character limit. However, Next to her was Malcolm Chalmers, Director of the respected think tank on such things, the Royal United Services Institute. He had heard of no such evidence, nor could she actually provide it.
None of this grave situation is simple. Therefore, above all, beware simplicity.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

NByNW Diary: Osborne's Devil is in His Detail

Wednesday 25th November
In essence, George Osborne’s Spending Review was like one of those ads on the radio. It’s trying to sell you the Orgasma-tron 4000, which promises untold realms of utopian hedonism, and then the voiceover quickly rattles through the smallprint, practically whispering the words: “Pleasure may go up or down. Terms and conditions apply. Batteries not included.”
Certainly, there will be cuts in departmental spending, but police budgets will be maintained, health budgets will be increased, housing budgets will be increased, schools are being given budget breaks, and the headline is that the dreaded Tax Credit cuts will now not happen. Everything seems to be rosier.
But, as ever with Osborne, the devil is in the detail. Those who were going to lose out on Tax Credits will still lose the same amount by the end of the decade with the introduction of Universal Credit. It’s all a question of swinging the axe slower. We wait for the bespectacled analysts to rake through the smallprint.
Nevertheless, that left Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell in an awkward position. Responding to Financial Statements is the hardest job in British politics. You have no advanced sight of the statement, and it’s made all the harder when you have a cough, and your opponent has pulled the rug from under you.
What you shouldn’t do if you are trying to gain public trust on the economy from a far-left position is quote any controversial Communists in support of your assessment. One can imagine the nightmare scenario of McDonnell standing at the despatch box, pulling out a copy of the Little Red Book and quoting Chairman Mao.
Well, there’s no need to imagine. You can watch McDonnell's Mao McNuggets now on YouTube. Again and again.
Frequent readers have often thought that some of my inventions are real, or sometimes that something I have reported is a conjuring from my imagination. After witnessing that, even I’m not sure where the line is anymore.

More NbyNW content is available, including this story on The Labour Moderates' Secret Code to Bring Down Corbyn:
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Thursday, November 19, 2015

The North by North Westminster Diary: Does anyone come out well from the Junior Doctors' Strike?

Thursday 19th November
It has become apparent that health policy is a murky and intriguing world.
After the election, the bastard Tory Government and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt felt mandated to introduce a seven-day NHS, as mortality rates at the weekend are considerably higher than those during the week and they wanted to rectify this – the murderous villains. Furthermore, they followed up a promise to invest upwards of £8bn pounds in the health service so that Simon Stephens, Chief Executive of NHS England, could impose his plan to “save the NHS”.
Unfortunately, as a consequence of all this, a new contract for Junior Doctors was introduced, and its details were controversial. Basically, if you were a JD, you could be expected to work for up to 15 hours as your normal working time, Monday-Saturday. There were worries about the quality of service that this quantity of hours would provide, and about morale within the NHS. Furthermore, when the Government invited the British Medical Association to talks over the new contract, they were told that 22 out of the 23 points were non-negotiable. Which was Jeremy being a classic Hunt, and served to alienate the BMA.
Nevertheless, the BMA did some spinning of its own. Before any figures were announced, they posted a calculator on their website announcing that members would see their pay reduced by 30%. A claim for which they had no evidence. And when the Department of Health did issue figures, they also put out a guarantee that any individual’s pay would not go down, apart from those who are already working unsafe levels of overtime – one of the doctors’ concerns about the new contract.
No matter though, and the BMA issued a ballot on strike action. At the eleventh hour, the Health Secretary announced a new contract offer with a headline grabbing 11% increase to the basic rate of pay and invited the BMA to come to the table for talks; and offer which they refused. A phrase comes to mind involving horses, stable doors and bolting.
Now we have the results with 98% of those balloted supporting a strike which can only impact one group of people: patients. Jeremy Hunt is, at present, refusing to go to talks at the conciliatory service ACAS.
So, here we are. The Health Secretary has been stubborn and evasive. The BMA has been economic with the truth and evasive. There maybe a genuine wish to protect the sick from both sides, and both may want a better health service. But rather than meet in the middle, both appear to have dug in their heels and now patients from the 1st December can expect a lower quality of care – and it won’t even be a weekend.
One thing does seem to be clear in this murky and intriguing world: nobody is really coming out well from this.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

NByNW Diary: Don't Be Rude to Ken Livingstone - He'll Insult Entire Sections of Society

Wednesday 18th November
Today, Labour’s National Executive Committee has decided to appoint former Mayor of London and newt-fancier (no, really – he is) Ken Livingstone to be the joint head of the party’s policy review on Defence, alongside the Shadow Defence Secretary Maria Eagle.
This seems like a definite attempt to ensure that the anti-Trident camp are given as big a voice as possible, and as such it caused a bit of stir.
Kevan Jones MP, who served as a Defence Minister in the Labour government, told PoliticsHome: “I’m not sure Ken knows anything about Defence. It will only damage our credibility amongst those that do and who care about defence.”
To which Livingstone responded: “I think he might need some psychiatric help. He’s obviously very depressed and disturbed. He should pop off and see his GP before he makes these offensive comments.”
Which was inappropriate both generally and specifically. Generally because there is a widespread effort – not least from Jeremy Corbyn – to change attitudes towards mental health, and specifically because Kevan Jones actually has been very depressed, and opened up about this in 2012.
A lot of people were naturally upset, and Mr Jones expressed his offense at the comments.
To which, Mr Livingstone refused to apologise, saying that he grew up in South London where “If someone’s rude to you, you are rude back.” Always a good idea to try and defuse a situation by citing the moral system of a teenager but, given that he grew up in the 50s, I suppose we can just be thankful that he didn’t grow up in the Bronx, where if someone was rude to you, you'd pop a cap in their ass.
With further outcry, Ken finally gave into the pressure:

Given that he refused to apologise at 12.30pm, and then volte-faced at 2pm, we can assume that Jeremy did a lot of insisting over a post-PMQs lunch by peering over his glasses and waiting for Ken to stop behaving like an unthinking adolescent.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The North by North Westminster Diary: Rambo Trump Wants to Fight Fire with Oil Fires

Tuesday 17th November
The number of people who have crowbarred the horrific events of the weekend to fit their own prejudices just grows and grows in a frankly sickening display.
Today, I would like to focus on Donald Trump. His initial reaction to the news from Paris was all too predictable: “Oh, there’s been an attack involving guns. Just goes to show that everyone should have guns.”
Well, John Rambo, let’s consider this particular case. If everyone had had firearms, the terrorists would not have been able to gun down as many people as they did, but only if ordinary people had had the calm and the aim to not shoot at the suicide vests the attackers were wearing. And if the terrorists hadn’t just detonated their bombs. Which they probably would have done because they would have known they would have been shot.
Even if that hadn’t happened, the armed police might not have been able to respond as quickly as they did because they would have been spread about town dealing with all of the firearms incidents and killings which happen when there’s no gun control. On the basis of American figures, there would be 54 firearms deaths and injuries across France every day.
All of which leaves us with one conclusion – loads of people would still have died, and more would be dying as a matter of course. So, well done Donald: another hole got out of by digging it deeper.
Rambo then moved onto military strategy to combat IS, and he suggested that, because IS makes a lot of its considerable wealth through oil, that he would “bomb the shit” out of the oil camps, and then send in the Marines and take the crude.
Well, here Donald has put his finger on an actual strategic issue. The revenue from ISIS’ oil is vast and it goes toward funding terrorism, war and human trafficking. That’s why the Coalition has been bombing the oil refineries, though no-one has suggested going in and grabbing the black gold.
Here's the problem - it didn't work. They bombed the refineries, and what did IS do? They sent the unrefined oil ahead to other refineries. To remove the problem of the oil, you have to destroy it. Which you would do if you "bombed the shit out of it" with incendiary bombs. Which, as anyone who’s studied fire safety knows, would destroy quite a lot of the oil. Try using it or selling it then, you Gordon-Gekko-jackass.
My problem is the sheer, hollow-headed idiocy of suggesting a policy that hasn't worked as if it's a new idea, and then coming up with a Machiavellian scheme to make money out of it which doesn't work because he hasn't read an elementary science textbook.
He isn't some moustache-twirling, or indeed wig-adjusting, super-villain. He's a total berk with a psychology so warped that Freud and Jung would have to get help in order to psycho-analyse him.
My problem is that he's so jaw-droppingly inept and inappropriate for the important job for which he is applying.

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Listen to our rebuttal of Katie Hopkins' response to the Paris Attacks below.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The North by North Westminster Diary: Compassion and Unity - Not Division

Monday 16th November

The diary takes the form of a short podcast today with Jack Blackburn, Ben Mepsted and Tristan Rogers discussing the terrible events in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad. In particular, they focus on an article written by Katie Hopkins the day after the Paris attack with which they took issue. You can listen to it below.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The North by North Westminster Diary: Cameron goes à la Modi

Friday 13th November
Another week, another visit from a controversial national leader. First it was the Chinese President Xi Jinping, then it was the Egyptian President Sisi, and now it is the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi.
Now, one thing unites all of these people. When it comes to human rights, they are notable – and by “notable”, I mean “not able”. Mr Modi, for instance, whipped up an anti-Islamist fervour whilst he was Chief Minister of Gujarat, which led to riots that caused the deaths of at least 1,000 people. When asked whether he had any regret, he said his feelings were akin to those of a passenger in a car that had just run over a puppy.
Another thing which unites all of those leaders’ countries is that we trade with them. A lot. Jobs and investment here depend on our relationships with those countries. It is somewhat tricky, but the sheer quantity of these visits is very unsettling.
At least Mr Modi is democratically elected, which makes it a little easier – largely on the grounds that he has a large chance of being booted out in the near-future.
In an attempt to distract from some recent bad election results, Mr Modi is holding a rally at Wembley Stadium – à la One Direction. The event will also be attended by that Harry-Styles-esque heartthrob, David Cameron.
It’s one thing to have a diplomatic relationship with this man. It’s one thing to trade with him. It is quite another to go along to one of the largest stadiums in the land and play the political equivalent of Guitar Hero with him. Still – at least he’ll look preposterous.


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Thursday, November 12, 2015

The North by North Westminster Diary: Storm Abigail "A Desperate Attempt to Make British Weather Sound Badass"

Thursday 12th November
It must have happened at some kind of meteorological conference.
A bunch of weather forecasters from the Met Office were sat on a table next to some flash Americans who were talking about their experiences covering Hurricane This and Hurricane That, and then mocking their British and Irish counterparts for having to talk about light drizzle the whole time.
So, they hit the whiskey and come up with an idea.
“Let’s give our storms names! You know, like they do. That’ll make our weather sound much more badass.”
And that is why, this morning, we’re hearing a lot about Storm Abigail. Which is just a regular storm, with some amber weather warnings. Except now, it all sounds very serious, and Carol Kirkwood is telling me how we’re all going to be “affected” by Storm Abigail, and the inevitable happened on The Today Programme when a climate change campaigner called it “Hurricane Abigail”.
The thing is, it won’t change anything for the meteorologists at the convention, because they’ll be talking about Storm Barry or Storm Cheryl, and then the Yankees will say “Well, this year’s hurricane caused $10bn worth of damage. How much did Storm Derek cause?”
“Errr… well the post office was shut and there were no fresh catches at the fishmongers in time for the weekend.”


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