Saturday, 31 January 2009

A modest proposal

Aviation usually bears the brunt of environmental protests. But what about this? Can I suggest that if we followed Swift, we could solve the environmental impact of having too many children and the environmental impact of livestock production at one fell swoop. Without having to live on lentils and Cheatin' Chicken.

Actually I seem to remember Glenn Vowles (where's he got to?) arguing on here once upon a time that it was nonsense to suggest that having children could not be sustainable. But the chair of the Sustainable Development Commission thinks otherwise. Discuss.

Voting for the other side (2)

On what I suppose is a related point to the previous post, I got an email from someone on Friday which could be crudely summarised as saying 'As a Labour supporter, I'm upset that you don't have a track record of voting against the Government'. As I explained in my reply, that might well be because it's a Labour government, and I'm a Labour MP... She didn't seem to have any particular issue in mind, she just thought that it was something I should do on an occasional basis to prove my 'independence'.

Most of what the Government does accords with my political instincts, my principles, my evaluation of priorities, of what matters and what doesn't. Since I was elected in 2005 there have probably been half a dozen times I've been unhappy with legislation to the extent of seeking out Ministers to talk to them about it. In one case I was reassured by what the Minister told me, in the others I think the Government amended the legislation before it went through. In another case - the vote on super-casinos - I was very much against the proposals in principle, was won over by pleas from colleagues from Blackpool and Manchester, regretted it afterwards and was then very pleased when Gordon announced a U-turn.

There have been other issues which have involved me making representations behind the scenes, most notably on the 10p tax issue (not, admittedly, when it was first introduced, but when we became aware of the impact on a sizeable minority), and on Lebanon, when I told Number 10 that I wouldn't be able to support the Government stance if it came to a vote - it didn't, because Parliament wasn't recalled. And there have been numerous occasions when I've written to Ministers about the detailed stuff, i.e. not the stuff of rebellions, but the things that need tweaking, or improving. Plus Select Committee and Bill Committee work.

As for the commonly cited vote on theyworkforyou - voting against an inquiry into the Iraq war - that was just another Opposition day motion, and I don't think an inquiry at that stage would have achieved anything. That's not to rule out a future inquiry, but I think we've got enough on our plate at the moment. And why does theyworkforyou say 'voted strongly' when there was one vote, either for or against? (And for the record, I wasn't in Parliament when the Iraq vote was taken. I wasn't happy with the decision to go to war without a second UN resolution, but I didn't get to vote one way or another).

Voting for the other side

What some people don't seem to realise is that the vote this week wasn't actually a vote on Heathrow's third runway, in that it doesn't have any impact at all on whether or not there will be a third runway. It's not a matter for legislation, it's a matter for the planning process, and we weren't voting on legislation.

What we were voting on was a typically brazen Tory Opposition Day motion. Brazen in that it contradicted their previous support for the economic case for exansion. Brazen in that the frontbench has admitted they aren't against airport expansion in the south east per se, which makes something of a mockery of their environmental arguments (and of course Boris wants it in the Thames, although not sure what how he's going to avoid a Hudson-river type scenario - unless his Bullingdon club mates are going to enjoy some shooting first). Also, brazen in that it flagged up the high-speed rail alternative, which would of course be a good thing, but we all know a Tory government, committed to billions of cuts, would never be able to pay for. And brazen in that they couldn't go further than calling for a 'rethink' as too many Tory MPs actually support the third runway proposals. So it was typical Opposition day debate stuff.

The Labour amendment to the Tory motion, which I voted for, was:

“This House notes the Government’s commitment in the 2003 Aviation White Paper to limit noise impacts and to be confident both that statutory air quality limits will be met and that public transport will be improved before expansion is permitted at Heathrow; welcomes the Government’s new enforceable target to reduce UK aviation carbon dioxide emissions below 2005 levels by 2050, and the commitment that increases in capacity at Heathrow, beyond the additional 125,000 movements a year already agreed, will only be approved after a review in 2020 by the Committee on Climate Change of whether the UK is on track to meet this independently monitored target; notes that development at Heathrow will be conditional both on requirements that the size of the 57 decibel noise contour will not increase compared with 2002 and on adherence to the requirements of the European Air Quality Directive; notes the decision not to proceed with mixed mode, thereby ensuring that neighbouring residents will have predictable respite from aircraft noise; welcomes the proposal that new slots at Heathrow should be ‘green slots’ using the most efficient planes; recognises the economic and social importance of Heathrow; and welcomes proposals on ultra-low carbon vehicles and new rail links to the west of Heathrow and new high-speed services from London to the Midlands, the North and Scotland linked to Heathrow, to the benefit of the UK as a whole.”

We've got four more Opposition day debates next week, including a Lib Dem one entitled "Legal, decent, honest, truthful: the case for urgent reform of Parliament". (Maybe they should look those adjectives up in the dictionary first, and apply it to their own behaviour on the campaign trail?) I'm not against the premise, that Parliament needs urgent reform - it does, and I will blog about that later. But there's no way I'm voting for a piece of holier-than-thou Lib Dem posturing. And I don't think we should be spending two whole days next week debating such motions; we should be devoting more time to scrutinising legislation. At the moment big Bills get a one day Second Reading, then go to Committee, and then usually have one more day on the floor of the House when amendments are debated (and of course, their time in the Lords). Often Second Reading debates are curtailled, and many amendments don't get called. We should spend more time on this legislation and not on pointless party political scrapping.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

I tell thee now...

One of my regulars on here, professional northerner Northern Lights, has now decided he can do better. [P.S. This is it - - can't get the link to work.]

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

They work for you

I've been contacted by a confused constituent from Easton who has received a personally addressed newsletter/ survey from someone purporting to be "your local MP". The newsletter, addressed to "the people of Bristol West" proclaims that the MP in question is "working for you" and "working hard for local people all year round". The MP urges people to "get in touch today", and gives out parliamentary contact details.

Easton is in Bristol East. I am the MP for Bristol East. Easton will be in Bristol West after the next election, when there are boundary changes, but if there has been an election recently someone forgot to tell me. The MP in question is therefore not working hard for anyone in Easton, and is not supposed to use parliamentary facilities (e.g. giving out the number of his Commons office, which he does) to have dealings with them. The MP in question has been reported to the Speaker for doing this once before. And now he's going to be reported again.

The MP in question is of course entitled to present himself to the good people of Lawrence Hill and Easton as their future candidate, but not as their MP. And if Paul Smith - Labour candidate for Bristol West - has his way, that's as close as he'll ever get.

The MP in question also says in his mailing - "only the Lib Dems want to strengthen the Climate Change Bill to commit to an 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050". So I must have entirely imagined Ed Miliband's statement in October and voting for the subsequent Bill.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Hoon says soon

First Great Western cancelled more than 4,000 trains during the past year. As coincidence would have it - and before I saw this piece in the paper - I asked at Transport questions today when we're going to see electrification of the line, which would greatly improve reliability. The answer seems to be - soon.

The Severn Barrage - a little bit closer but a long way to go

Went to an event at @Bristol yesterday where Ed Miliband and no less than 3 other Government ministers and one from the Welsh assembly, revealed the latest on the Severn Barrage scheme - or, to put it more accurately - plans to harness tidal power in the Severn estuary which may or may not include a barrage. The main alternative is tidal lagoons, with the idea of a tidal reef not making the shortlist but not entirely being dismissed either.

Lots of coverage of it in the Indy today. Here and here.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Someone else's child

Last week was private fostering week, but I didn't realise until now. It's an issue I've raised in Parliament in the past, during Bill Committee, and then again during my Westminster Hall debate on the children of prisoners, and I also discussed it with Action for Prisoners Families when I met them last week. And then I spotted the Bristol City Council advert on the bus-shelter in Victoria Street yesterday.

It's an important, overlooked issue. What happens when a parent is ill, or goes to prison, or for some other reason is no longer around to be a parent? How can we be sure that the person into whose care a child is temporarily entrusted is suitable or able to look after that child? And what can be done to support these temporary foster carers, for example, in accessing child benefit or tax credits, or acquiring parental authority to deal with schools or doctors, or simply in helping them deal with an unexpected and unfamiliar situation? This is especially true re grandparents who suddenly find themselves looking after grandchildren - and sometimes very upset, very angry, very damaged grandchildren - on a long-term basis.

But I'm also concerned about situations where, for example, a drug-addict mother gets given a prison sentence and the child is left with her addict friends. OK, the drug addict might not have been the best mother, but this scenario exposes the child to even more danger. Say the drug addict mother was also someone who worked the streets, and her drug addict boyfriend was, if not her pimp, at least reliant on her earnings... and she's got a 12 or 13 year old daughter? That's an extreme example, but I think it's only right that someone should be tasked with checking the welfare - and the whereabouts - of the child in such situations.

"If I can't have any meat then I ain't going."

NHS hospitals are taking meat off the menu in a bid to cut global warming. Maybe MPs should set an example, and follow suit?

Sunday, 25 January 2009

How to make sure your AGM is quorate

Sometimes it's the little things that make you happy. Like browsing through the notices which accompany the weekly whip (i.e. the sheet of pink paper telling us what's on in Parliament next week) and discovering that Tuesday is the AGM of the BBC All-Party Group - with special guest speaker, Mark Thompson. Bet he's really looking forward to it.

The Great Green and Black Scandal

A shocking discovery over the New Year period, as we were holed up in a Dorset farmhouse with nothing to do but eat and drink around the clock. (I put a slug of whisky in my cocoa at one or two points, which by my standards is really going off the rails). Anyway, after raiding the local Co-op for additional supplies of munchies and unloading all the goodies on the big kitchen table, I was forced to confront the dreadful truth: Green and Black's chocolate is no longer suitable for vegans. The mini-bars on sale in the Commons' tearoom are still OK at the moment, still marked 'Suitable for Vegetarians and Vegans' but I suppose it's just a matter of time before supplies run out.

They've decided, in their wisdom, to add a sprinkle of 'organic milk power' to their dark chocolate and Maya Gold (haven't checked out the hazelnut and current one yet, or the cherry or mint). The Maya Gold also tastes sweeter somehow, which is what prompted me to have another look at the ingredients. I blame Cadbury's, who now own the company. And did they bother telling anyone? No. Not quite sure how they would have done, but are we really to be expected to look at the label every single time we buy something?

Obviously this is not quite on the scale of the great Mars Bars 'no longer vegetarian' scandal of 2007 when the company was forced into a u-turn after public exposure of the fact they'd started putting minced kitten entrails into their chocolate, or something along those lines. [Animal rennet, in case their lawers are reading this]. But it is very annoying.

While I'm "going on about being vegan on my blog" (copyright, Paul Smith), I might as well link to this Guardian story about Germans being told they should eat less meat to save the planet. Went to Germany in the days when I was 'only' a vegetarian. If you don't like fried eggs you're in trouble. Of course, it may have changed since then.

And finally, thanks also to the Guardian also for pointing out that 850 million chickens are killed for their meat every year in the UK. Which is a lot.

Now with its own Facebook page

Join the 45,000 here.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

BBC boss blogs on his aid appeal ban

The BBC's editor-in-chief, Mark Thompson, having put his hapless namesake, Christine Thompson, up as spokesperson all day, has blogged about the DEC decision. He doesn't seem to have convinced people, judging from the Comments, including this one, which starts by quoting his words back at him:

"Finally, it is important to remember that our decision does not prevent the DEC continuing with their appeal for donations and people are able to contribute should they choose to

Good, so can I choose to withold my license fee and give it to the DEC appeal instead?

I suspect that might give people ideas! And yes, it should be licence not license, but I am beginning to recognise that's a lost cause. I blame Bill Gates.

EDM on BBC's refusal to air Gaza appeal

"That this House is astonished by the refusal of the BBC and other broadcasters not to broadcast the Disasters Emergency Committee Gaza Crisis Appeal; notes the unconvincing and incoherent explanations given by BBC spokespeople for the decision; and draws attention to the fact that people wishing to contribute to the Gaza appeal can contact the DEC by calling 0370 60 60 900, writing to DEC Gaza Crisis, PO Box 999, London EC3A 3AA or visiting"

This is being tabled by the Labour MP Richard Burden on Monday. Good stuff. (I can't sign it, but still - well done).

Apologies to the cynics, but I still think Obama's great

Congratulations to Obama for repealing the 'gag rule' on only his second day in office. NGOs working with HIV/ AIDS programmes will be delighted. One of the few things George W. Bush has been praised for has been his support for tackling HIV/ AIDS, but it came with provisos - that funding would only go to organisations that promoted abstinence as the best way to avoid contracting the virus. Even discussing family planning was frowned upon.

Obama has also signalled a change of US policy on stem-cell research, something he flagged up in his inauguration speech when he referred to restoring science to its rightful place. The downside of this is that the UK, where stem cell research has flourished because of the Bush position, will now have to compete with the US for funding, recruitment, etc. But it could also mean we see real progress, sooner than we would otherwise have done.

The "feeble" BBC

Yesterday the rumblings started regarding the BBC's refusal to air the Disaster Emergency Committee's appeal for the humanitarian relief effort in Gaza, which meant the other broadcasters followed suit. Douglas wrote to the BBC yesterday, and also started lobbying through DCMS too.

The BBC gave two excuses - sorry, 'reasons' - firstly that they weren't convinced the aid would get through (and obviously they are in a far, far better position to judge this than the likes of Oxfam, Save the Children, and the Red Cross, who are just some of the UK aid agencies involved in the DEC appeal). Second, was that it might 'compromise the BBC's impartiality'. As Douglas said on the Today programme this morning 'though, people are perfectly capable of distinguishing between a humanitarian relief effort and taking sides in a conflict. (And doesn't the BBC's refusal to air the appeal indicate a certain partiality in the opposite direction?) And Ben Bradshaw said on Any Questions that it was an 'inexplicable decision' and the BBC was 'feeble'.

Definitely worth listening to the Today programme clip by the way, if only to hear quite how shockingly bad the BBC spokesperson was.

As Tony Benn said on BBC radio earlier, the decision not to air the appeal means, in brutal terms, that - because less money will be raised - people will die. Thankfully C4 and ITV have now decided to air the ads, after DFID and DCMS got involved. They'd originally been happy to do so, but the convention is that they only do it if all broadcasters agree. Now they've broken ranks.

If anyone out there really does take the view that the Palestinians brought this on themselves, 'were asking for it' (as seems to be the line taken by the BBC spokesperson in drawing a distinction between natural disasters and this conflict), or if they really think that giving aid to the people of Gaza means giving money to Hamas, then it's simple - don't donate. But I will be. In case the picture link doesn't work here's the DEC website.

Friday, 23 January 2009


Glad to see the BEP is still backing Bristol's credit union. It's given it a lot of decent - and well-deserved - coverage over the past year or so.

Youtube clip of the week

In case people aren't following the comments on "Is Old Holborn Really a Woman?" (and if not, why not?)... the debate is still going on, with a rather nice link from Northern Lights.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

How low can you go?

Haven't had time yet this parliamentary session to take forward the issues I first outlined in my Children (Protection of Privacy) Bill, but if I needed anything to get me fired up about it again, it's this story from today's Mail about a mother who says she doesn't love her child. What on earth is the woman thinking of?

The report says she "is tortured by her terrible secret" - i.e. the secret she is now broadcasting to the entire Mail readership. "Not only is there an indescribable guilt, she also feels devastated that her daughter is missing out on such an important bond". So devastated that she wants to add to her child's sense of hurt by confirming it in public. She has reassured her "lovely, intelligent" daughter that it's not her fault, she hasn't done anything wrong to make Mummy feel this way. Well that makes it alright then.

The Mail shouldn't have published it. They could have done the same story without identifying anyone. Imagine being a kid and being asked to pose for a photo to illustrate a story about your own mother not loving you. I know some people will say, like they do with the Jeremy Kyle show, that it's up to the adults involved; if they want to reveal such stuff in public, they should be free to do so. But where does this kind of thing stop?

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Excuses for not blogging

Busy, busy, busy week. Today started with a meeting with the Teenage Magazine Advisory Panel (which gave me an opportunity to embarrass the 18 year old intern by sending him out to buy Sugar and More), then PMQs, then the Simon Mayo Show (joined by Harriet Harman down the line and a perky Alan Duncan), then meeting the Labour Party's new International Officer, voting and some stuff for Douglas on Gaza, then a pre-record for BBC News about a rape case in Bristol and a phone call with a Guardian journo about child poverty, then some more votes. And about 300 emails (and they're just the ones that come to me first, rather than the staff). Yesterday I met Action for Prisoners Families, asked a couple of questions of Hazel Blears at CLG questions, but spent most of the day on Gaza. Monday was Gaza, Gaza, Gaza.

Might blog properly tomorrow, but have too much to do tonight.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Labour looks to Obama

Douglas was out in Washington last week, and he's blogged about it on LabourList, including on what lessons we can learn from his use of the internet.

Monday, 19 January 2009

More on sandwiches

Is this, or is this not, a work of genius? Made, I believe, by a single parent dad as part of his son's school homework. (Didn't get assignments like that in my day!) Apparently it's also a great way to get kids to eat cucumber. Wonder if it would work on Pot Noodle boy?

Tory reshuffle

Had a letter in the internal post today saying Theresa May is visiting my constituency tomorrow. Will be interesting to see if the visit is in connection with her new Work and Pensions role - in which case it means she must have been told before the weekend. Or maybe she's just off to Harvey Nicks. (Not in my constituency, but the "award-winning" carpark is).

Sunday, 18 January 2009

What's the frequency Kenneth?

So Ken Clarke is to return to the Tory front bench as Shadow Business Secretary. Can we assume he's giving up his business interests then, and taking a whopping pay cut? Although it didn't stop Alan Duncan.

Blue Monday

Apparently tomorrow is the most depressing day of the year.

Is Old Holborn really a woman?

Iain Dale and Tim Montgomerie of Conservative Home were on the radio the other day - maybe Saturday's Week in Politics? - talking about blogging and its impact on politics. When questioned about the blogosphere being a mainly male preserve, one of them - Iain I think - said that the truth was that women just aren't as interested in politics. Probably right in the political anorak sense, rather than being interested in things which affect their daily lives. But then either Iain or Tim said that many of the people who post comments under male-sounding pseudonyms are actually female. Is that really true? Examples?

It's been a long time coming...

Obama concert tonight. Apparently stars have been asked to sing songs which are "appropriate to the occasion" rather than their own hits, including Sam Cooke's A Change is Gonna Come. I hope Mary J Blige or Beyonce aren't going to warble all the way through it. And please, please don't use it for the mass sing-a-long, everyone on stage finale, with them all trying to outdo each other. I can just visualise Bono and Bruce now.

We need a old timer... someone you might just about imagine being born by the river in a little tent. Stevie Wonder hasn't quite got the voice for it, and most of the soul legends are dead. Any suggestions? Smokey Robinson maybe, or is his voice a bit too light for it?

Save Grove Woods

Paul Smith has just invited me to this, through Facebook - Save Grove Woods, Snuff Mills march next Sunday. Although it's not really a march, more like a country walk through some lovely woodland. Don't be confused by the Google map on the Facebook site, which is linked to the Broomhill Road in Brislington, rather than the one in Stapleton. I will be there.

Gaza - good news for now

Was going to blog about the Israeli ceasefire last night, but thought anything I posted would have been out of date before anyone read it in the morning. Glad that Hamas have now joined in.

UK has announced an extra £20m aid, and the priority now has to be getting that through, which means urgent negotiations on re-opening the crossings and - the quid pro quo - closing the tunnels and stopping the arms smuggling. And we need a long-term settlement; not much point rebuilding Gaza if it's going to be bombed and bulldozed again.

This is what Gordon said:

"Our first priority - a humanitarian imperative - is to get food and medical treatment to those who so urgently need it. We will focus our efforts on support to the UN agencies who are doing such courageous work in the most difficult environments. We will help transport those civilians in most need of treatment to hospitals in the West Bank. We will also support children traumatised by the violence, rebuild schools and hospitals and clear unexploded bombs and shells. Israel must allow full access to humanitarian workers and to relief supplies. We must also end Gaza's economic isolation by reopening the crossings that link it to the outside world."

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Inspector Morsel strikes again

Took advantage of being down Kensington way today to check out the Whole Foods hypermarket at High St Ken. Very big, lots of stuff but somehow too glossy. Felt like being in Selfridges Food Hall. Give me Better Foods or the Sweetmart anyday.

On the subject of food, I had lunch with an 18 year old boy the other day: his consisted of white bread sandwiches with chicken/lettuce/mayo gunk; sweet chilli crisps; a bottle of Lucozade; and a huge chocolate doughnut. Later on he had a pizza, and then chips, because the pizza was 'disgusting'. I mentioned this to another lad later in the week. What's wrong with that, he said, as he started on his Pot Noodle sandwiches (4 slices of bread, butter, Pot Noodle - what could be simpler? He did have wholemeal bread though, but only because he knew I'd be watching - the white bread is 'hidden' from me, along with the Cheerios, on top of the cupboard).

As someone who feels they're taking their life into their own hands if they have the occasional slice of white toast round their mother's house, I find this very disturbing. I will have to step up my nagging. Or drag them along to the next Love Food Festival.

The shuffle

LabourList are reporting that David Cameron is twittering his reshuffle news, here. Which then led me to track down the real David Cameron and I found this. It appears that Conservative Central Office don't like people reporting on Tory policy announcements, even though they've been in the papers. Maybe it's a bit too easy to spot the inconsistencies when they're all lined up in a row? Although that site suggests now looking to @conservatives for updates, that doesn't seem to exist.

Sunny South Kensington*

Fabians conference this afternoon - well, all day, but popped into Westminster office to pick up some stuff and got sidetracked, so only made the afternoon session. First person I bumped into was Derek Draper, he of Labourlist (recent) fame. Have agreed to do a post pretty soon. And when I had a bit of a moan about the comments, he advised me that there are in fact six ways to look at the comments, seven if you include 'with trash' - and he is quite right, there are, so no-one can really complain.

Had a bit of a chat with people outside the child poverty session - Ed Balls and spads; Kate Green from CPAG; and Chuka Umunna, the Streatham PPC, who was chairing it. We can expect the Child Poverty Bill soon, which will give us an opportunity to review just what our child poverty objectives are. The main target has been to halve and then abolish relative poverty - i.e. children in households on less than 60% of median income - but if the recession bites, then the job could be done without anyone actually being better off (i.e. because high unemployment would bring down the median). I've argued for a while that we need to reframe the debate (and was saying that before the current economic downturn, for other reasons). Looking forward to the discussions we'll have on Bill committee, assuming I can get onto it - memo to self, be nice to the DCSF whip. Or is it DWP?

I was torn between the child poverty session and the international development one, but obviously wanted to see the boss in action, so opted for the latter. Discussion about the link between diaspora communities here, and making the case for development, but didn't really get off the ground - i.e. not many points of dissent. Then went for coffee with Douglas and his new spads, Richard and Stephen, to discuss Monday's meeting with MPs on Gaza, and various other things which I am not allowed to mention. He's doing Fiona Bruce on BBC1 at some point between 9am and 10am tomorrow. Followed by Boris Johnson.

Walked back with Douglas to the tube - everyone around him oblivious to the fact that the guy in jeans and trainers topping up his Oyster card was a Cabinet Minister. Then bumped into Sam, Alistair Darling's spad, on his way back to HM Treasury. (This was 5pm on a Saturday. That's what he does these days). There's a lot of stuff on Labourlist about the Fabians conference, and they were Twittering from there too (@thefabians).

* That's where it was. It's a Donovan song. It wasn't sunny, it was cold.

Youth culture killed my dog*

Doing a little bit of research, trying to suss out why a couple of Tories are asking Andy B on Monday "what plans he has for the future of the heritage listing system". (Yes, I know, a sad way to spend a Saturday night... but I have been very sociable today and now feel like doing a bit of work).

My research threw up a reminder of something I'd completely forgotten - that it was only after the 1992 General Election, that the Department for National Heritage was established. Previously the work was split between several departments, e.g. education, Home Sec. It only became the Department for Culture, Media and Sports in 1997 after Labour won the election. Not sure whether there used to be an equivalent department in pre-Thatcher times.

Calling it the 'Department for National Heritage' - how John Major-ish is that name?! - says a lot about the Conservatives' attitude towards the arts. Reminds me of a meeting I had a couple of years ago with members of the Russian Duma's equivalent of our CMS Select Committee. They'd been talking at some length about Chekhov, Pushkin, Tchaikovsky, the Bolshoi, the Kirov, etc, when I threw a bit of a curveball and asked them what about modern arts and culture in the new Russia, and were they doing anything to encourage new artists, new musicians, new filmmakers? I seem to remember them being distinctly unimpressed. Almost baffled.

* Yes, back on the song titles.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

"War on terror was a mistake"

Article by David Miliband in today's Guardian. (Can't actually find the article, maybe it hasn't been posted yet... but this is the news piece on it). Interesting analysis by the Guardian in the final paragraphs:

"British officials are signalling, in increasingly public ways, that they cannot wait for the new team to take office next Tuesday, and wave goodbye to an eight-year administration with which they felt increasingly ill at ease, particularly following the departure of Tony Blair in 2007.

Miliband said last night that the incoming administration's proposed use of "smart power" meshed with his arguments. "The new administration has a set of values that fit very well with the values and priorities I am talking about," he said during a visit to Amethi, northern India.

Asked whether he had not left it late in the Bush era to make his criticism, the foreign secretary said British officials had stopped thinking in terms of a single war on terror more than two years ago, and had been putting a "more comprehensive approach" into practice.

British officials said the timing of the speech was dictated more by the Mumbai attacks than Bush's departure, but added that the transition in Washington meant the language could be less cautious than it might otherwise have been.

UK-US relations have been particular sour in recent days after Washington reneged on a pledge to back a largely British-drafted UN resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. The White House over-ruled US diplomats after a demand from the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert."

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Lib Dems - who's up and who's down

My attention has been drawn to a survey of Lib Dem members, carried out by Lib Dem Voice, on the performance of the Liberal Democrat shadow cabinet. This was pre-reshuffle - doesn't look as if Nick Clegg paid much attention to it.

Top Five:

Vince Cable : +94%

Chris Huhne: +67%

Norman Baker: +64%

Lynne Featherstone: +57%

Norman "Normal" Lamb +45%

And those bringing up the rear:

Edward Davey -6%

Stephen Williams: -16%

Roger Williams: -18%

Nick Harvey: -18%

Michael Moore: -26%

Michael Moore is the party's international development spokesman (or, as they style it on their website, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development - delusions of grandeur, I think). Interesting that his performance has been marked down to such an extent, but reflective I think of their lack of anything significant to say on the issue.

Press release from Save the Children on aid to Gaza

'Pitiful' amount of aid reaching Gaza

Save the Children today estimated that only an eighth of the life-saving supplies of food and medicines needed by the Gazan population have crossed into besieged territory since the Israeli military operation began on December 27. The international aid agency branded the figure ‘pitiful’. Furthermore, Save the Children said that the daily three-hour ceasefire designed to allow aid agencies to deliver what little aid was available, was totally inadequate, severely hampering aid efforts.

The Israeli government said that by the morning of January 12, it had allowed 900 aid trucks to cross into Gaza. According to Save the Children estimates at least 7,200 trucks should have been allowed through to ensure the population had the bare minimum of food, fuel and medicine.
Benedict Dempsey, Save the Children spokesperson in Jerusalem, said: “If the figure of 900 trucks is correct, for every truck the Israeli government says it has allowed through, we say another seven are needed.

“More than a million people in Gaza rely on aid coming in by truck, but so far the amount coming in is nowhere near what is needed. The amount of aid that has crossed into Gaza so far is pitiful.”

Mr Dempsey added that even if sufficient aid were getting through, the daily three-hour ceasefire for delivering the aid was totally inadequate, "Three hours a day is simply not enough to allow us to conduct an aid operation on that scale that is needed. Thousands of people desperately need our help and we can only reach them if we are allowed to operate more freely.”

Save the Children has managed to deliver food aid to nearly 20,000 people, providing them with rations for two weeks. The aid distribution has included deliveries using donkey carts, as no truck drivers were willing to deliver the aid for fear of violence. Save the Children has also delivered medical supplies to hospitals. Most of the aid has been delivered during five separate three-hour ceasefires – but the agency warned that this was not enough.

"What we need urgently is a permanent ceasefire and immediate access into Gaza from all points, so we can get aid straight to all those who need it and save children’s lives” said Mr Dempsey.


I've got topical question 1 at Defra Qs tomorrow. Probably going to ask about the RSPCA's "rooting for pigs"campaign, although I think Richard Bacon asked something similar at PMQs today. Couldn't quite tell as Tory MPs were laughing too loudly at the idea of someone called Bacon asking a question about pork.
I just about squeezed in during extra-time at PMQs today. My question was about Bristol's ambitions to be the European Green Capital and being annointed the UK's most sustainable city, not to mention making it into the Top 10 Cities to visit in 2009... and did he agree that green jobs and sustainable development are key to getting us out of the economic downturn? He says he's going to visit Bristol very soon. And yes on green jobs too - there are announcements pending.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

"I am not a scary stalker"

I know I'm late in discovering this but still. Very weird. The person who did it says "I am not a scary Charlie Brooker stalker fan". I am not convinced. Neither is Charlie who is quoted on there as saying, “It's a bit like watching serial killer movies, [...] that moment when they find a hidden shrine with hundreds of surveillance shots and rose petals nailed over the eyes...” Exactly.

Gaza in Parliament

Too busy to blog during the days at the moment, and too tired now... But quick update on Gaza.

Very good statement from David Miliband in the Chamber on Monday. Loads of MPs tried to get in, but the Speaker cut the debate off after an hour. Very clear message from the Foreign Secretary, repeating calls for an immediate ceasefire and endorsement of the EU position that Israel's response was 'disproportionate'. Spoke to several Labour MPs who have been at the forefront of campaigning for the Palestinian cause over the years, and general feeling is that David is doing sterling work on this.

Gaza also came up at the PLP meeting, with Gordon saying that we're focusing on two objectives (obviously apart from the immediate task of securing a ceasefire): to get the crossings re-opened, and to end arms-smuggling through the tunnels.

Not long after that I received an urgent email from a constituent about the rumoured threat to the Free Gaza ship, asking me to call David Miliband. As it happened, I picked up the email on my new gadget-thingy whilst in a briefing on Gaza for Labour MPs with Bill Rammell, the FCO Minister for the Middle East, so took it up with him on our way down to vote. Followed up with him today, and it turned out the ship had mechanical problems and had had to turn back anyway - but good on him, he'd gone away after I'd spoken to him and made sure he knew what was going on.

David M wasn't at FCO questions today, as he's on a visit to India, so Bill fielded all the questions on Gaza. And then he appeared again this evening at the launch of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, which has been several months in planning but obviously has added relevance in today's situation. Absolutely packed suite in Portcullis House, including loads of Labour MPs - at a rough guess I'd say about 50, which was pretty good going seeing as business in the Chamber finished very early today. Speakers included Jocelyn Hurndall, the mother of Tom, a peace activist who was killed by an IDF soldier; he died five years ago today, and she gave a very moving speech, linking how she felt as a mother when she heard the news of his death with the deaths of so many children in Gaza.

Gaza will obviously come up again at PMQs tomorrow - I expect Cameron to split his questions between Gaza and the economy. If he doesn't go on Gaza, there's a pretty good chance Nick Clegg will. I've got question 9 but not sure they'll get to me - lots of Labour people above me, which means the Speaker will have to select additional opposition MPs, and with Cameron (six Qs) and Clegg (2 Qs) coming in too, question 9 is actually more like question 20.

Final bit of news - it was announced at the close of business today that we're breaking with tradition and Thursday's topical debate will last the whole day instead of the usual 90 minutes - so that means about five or six hours debating Gaza, which is what MPs have been calling for. The Foreign Sec will still be away, so Bill will be holding the fort again.

Are we being lied to about pirates?

I asked about issues raised in this article by Johann Hari in FCO questions today, i.e. whether we shared concerns that the seas off the shore of Somalia were being used for dumping toxic waste and whether other countries were taking advantage of the political situation in Somalia to over-fish in Somali waters. Apparently it's being taken seriously, and has been referred to the international body that has been established to look at the piracy issue.

On a lighter note, two mothers of six year old boys, both obsessed with pirates (the boys, not the mothers, although who knows what effect a childhood spent watching Capitain Pugwash might have on a woman) have told me recently that they're having rather a lot of trouble explaining all this to their sons. In one case the mother had gone to great lengths to reassure her little boy that pirates don't really exist and aren't coming to get him, and is now having her maternal authority cast into serious doubt.

P.S. It depresses me to have to say this, but neither of them live in Bristol, and any oh-so-clever comments about Somalis in Bristol will be deleted.

Oh dear

When I saw this, I thought I'd accidentally clicked onto Olly's Onions by mistake.

Speaking of which, Olly finally solves the mystery of Alan Duncan's mysterious absence from the Tory frontline in recent days.

"The NHS - All shook up"

This is happening tomorrow:

"Parliament and the NHS will be 'All Shook Up' January 14th by Elvis and Friends

Parliament and the NHS will never be the same again after the start of a campaign on January 14th 2009 to introduce 'Entertainment' as a permanent feature of the Health Service. Entertainment will act as an additional treatment to standard procedures to improve the hospital environment, save £millions on drugs, aid recovery time and make hospitals more people friendly, less intimidating and daunting institutions for patients and staff.

There will be SIX Elvises and FIVE Celebrity Lookalikes entertaining MPs and Lords outside Parliament then cancer patients and hospital staff at UCH as the catalyst to introduce Entertainment into every UK Hospital. We will have Diana Ross, Joan Collins, Sven Goran Erikson, Joe Pasquale, Billy Connolly, Elvis Shmelvis, Sicilian Elvis, Geordie Elvis, Lee 'Hounddog' Jackson, Jasper Roberts and Mark Goddard giving their time for free and at their own expense

Call me an old miserabilist but if I was a cancer patient in hospital I'm not sure a visit from Joan Collins or Joe Pasquale, or even a gyrating Elvis lookalike would be quite what I needed. And Diana Ross would be just plain scary.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

LabourList launches

You've probably already read elsewhere - in today's Mail, in today's Observer, and on other blogs about the Labour blogsite, LabourList, which is officially launched tomorrow. So, first impressions?

: the media round-up; Charlie Whelan's piece on Cameron on Marr (useful link to transcript); the idea of Lunchtime Lists; some of the contributors (tho' that will depend what they're going to say and how they're going to say it - keep it short would be my suggestion), and the rapidly-taken decision to weed out the trolls right from the start. ("In order to ensure an insightful, engaging debate we will also place other comments judged to be grossly unintelligent or obtuse or trolls in our trash can.") No doubt this will be met by the usual fake outrage from the libertarians, but it's our site, not theirs.

: confusing comments (end up having to read backwards, but even then they're pretty difficult to follow); appearance of usual trolls in comments section (but see above). And if they really want me to give it a plug, you'd think they could find space for just one more name in their A list. (I attempted one of those smiley faces then, but no... still can't bring myself to do it).

24 hour Twitter people (updated version)

OK, still only semi-Twitterate, even after my briefing from Sam at the Pervasive Media Studio on Friday, but things are happening...

On February 12th Bristol will be joining in what is billed as 'a global celebration of Twitter and its tweeters" - have a look at and Bristol Twestival on Facebook for info. (I originally thought it was an anniversary celebration, but may have been misinformed, as someone else reckons the anniversary is in July). And I've now been told it's part of this, Twestival or here's the main Twestival website, which so far involves 47 cities and presumably lots of people.

It's for a good cause, charity:water, and it's a party, so what more do you need to persuade you? I assume some Twittering will be involved too... or is it Tweeting? Sam did tell me... He also explained what pervasive media was, but let's just say I'm not quite ready to answer questions on that yet. Sounds like they have fun though.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Big Vern comes to town

Had a very interesting series of meetings today with Vernon Coaker, the Home Office Minister responsible for policing, counter-terrorism, end community cohesion. (Promoted in the autumn from his previous Home Office post, where he had responsibility for prostitution, amongst other things and came to a really good meeting I organised in east Bristol last spring).

We started off at the Council House in Bristol meeting police, council officers, the council leader and community activists involved in delivering locally on the Government's 'Prevent' strategy, (basically about preventing radicalisation and violent extremism in local communities).

We then went to the Shah Jahal mosque in Stapleton Road to meet mosque leaders and others from the Muslim community (including Arif Khan, Labour's council candidate in Easton in the June elections), where we talked mostly about Gaza and how upset people feel about what is happening, so I gave them an update on my discussions with Bill Rammell on Tuesday. (Got another meeting lined up with Bill on Monday, by the way).

Last stop was the BMCS offices to meet a group of Muslim girls involved in the Waasila project, who gave us very positive feedback on how the project has helped develop their confidence and given them a forum in which to discuss cultural issues.

Tomorrow Arif's organising a march in support of the people of Gaza, leaving from the Shah Jahal mosque at 2pm and heading into the city centre. I'll be at the Limes (day centre for early onset Alzheimer's sufferers in Kingswood) but will be trying to catch up with them at the Council House a bit later.

"Slowly but surely the veil of secrecy is being lifted"

I seem to be making something of a habit these days of being mentioned as a footnote in articles about far more important people. After a three and a half year wait and a lot of digging by the Lib Dem MP Norman Lamb (who is forever known in our office as Normal Lamb after some lobbyists sent out glossily embossed invitations to a parliamentary event hosted by someone of that name, about a year or so ago), details have been revealed of a series of meetings Tony Blair had in the weeks immediately after the 2005 election.

He met such luminaries as Nancy Dell'Ollio; the chairman of a US cement group; the chair of the Countryside Alliance; the chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee; and just one lowly backbench MP.... I could endorse this new era of openness by revealing all that took place on that momentous occasion, but then I'd have to kill you.

Actually, I have no idea what they're on about. A group of us did go to see TB in his rooms in Parliament only a few weeks after the General Election to lobby about an Airbus deal (he was already on the case), but that delegation was led by Mark Tami and Doug Naysmith, as the MPs with Airbus plants in their constituencies. There were four or five of us there, and Mark and Doug did all the talking. If it wasn't that, I have no idea what it was. (That's my story, and I'm sticking to it).

"He was just trying to be cool"

I'm told that Gordon said on Radio 5 Live today that 'there was more chance of Scotland reaching the World Cup Finals this year than there was of being a General Election'.
In celeb news, Cheryl Cole is revealed to be a Labour supporter, and Mr Motivator joined Gordon at Number 10 this morning to promote GMTV's fitness campaign... sadly Gordon didn't don a fluorescent leotard and headband for a workout with Mr M, though he did say he'd already had an early morning run. I think Government ministers should set an example to us all and precede each Cabinet session with a mass aerobics session in St James' Park.

"A victim of this wretched system"

Boris gets caught out by the congestion charge.

A date for your diaries

January 20th is Penguin Awareness Day. Just thought you might want advance notice.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Another Bristol blogger

Have just discovered that Torben Lee, politics correspondent of the Bristol Evening Post, has a blog.

Feet First

I'm sure I could have come up with a better title, given time... Anyway, First Bus are making 'eco'-boots out of their old seat covers and tyres. "They are a must have for the fashion conscious environmentalist", says the MD of First. So there you go, Glenn. £70 and they're yours. I liked this comment: "The perfect excuse for when you turn up late for work, blame the shoes!!!!"

Shame they've got leather in them, although it is from "re-purposed chequebook wallets from a high street bank". Re-purposed is a new one on me. Paul, you're the expert - explain the difference between recycled, re-used and re-purposed please. (Paul is, I assume, on his way to the Furniture Re-use Network's Conference in Cheshire at the moment so we might have to wait a few days for a response).

Given the economic downturn, I wonder if Smythson's luxury lizard skin credit card holders will be "re-purposed" for the ultra-exclusive, deluxe limited editions?


Labour accused of being 'classy'.

And here's the Webcabinet link. There is a special way I could add it to my blog site, but that's beyond me.

There's probably no God....

I'm a lifelong (or for-as-long-as-I-can-remember) atheist but I really cringe at the idea of these adverts on buses. Not only are they incredibly smug, but surely there are better ways to spend £140,000? I can see the point of them in America though. It needs saying there. By which I mean I think it's no doubt regarded as rather controversial, and unacceptable, and you could never have an atheist President, whereas here I think most people just get on with whatever they think and let other people get on with what they think too. (Most people, I said. Before you start).

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

A techy question

My 'From Under the Floorboards' section only seems to update once or twice a day. Does that happen to everyone else too, or do you get more regular feeds? Logging out and in again doesn't seem to make a difference, nor refreshing the page.


Guardian belatedly has an article on Twitter today, which echoes much of the celeb trivia in the Mail on Sunday's version, but throws in a bit about the Israeli government using it as a PR tool to give it a bit of intellectual credibility.
Those who get beyond the bits about Britney, John Cleese, Jonathan Ross and Stephen Fry in the Mail's version, will see that "Astonishingly one Labour politician even posted a message from inside the House of Commons Chamber. At 11.47am on December 15, Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy sent a Twitter via her mobile saying: ‘In Chamber thinking I’m not going to get called and won’t have long enough to say anything meaningful if I am.’"
Most 'astonishing' perhaps is that December 15 was a Monday, and the House doesn't sit till 2.30pm. But I've just checked and the message was actually sent at 7.47pm, after I'd been sitting there for more than five hours. Which shows admirable restraint on my part, I think.
Still not sure I quite see the point of twittering, but will persevere.

Monday, 5 January 2009

And yet more on Gaza

Just been reading Iain Dale's latest posting on Gaza, "Hamas's Useful Idiots". Always a bit of a cheap shot that, interpreting opposition to one side's actions as wholehearted endorsement of what the other side stands for (as in, all opponents of the war in Iraq = apologists for Saddam Hussein).

Today's report on injuries to children in Gaza reminded me of a conversation I had with an aid worker in a refugee camp in the West Bank, a couple of years ago, about the almost total lack of counselling services or awareness of the psychological impact on children of the ongoing conflict. The casualty figures in Gaza are horrific - the Guardian guide states 512 dead, 2,300 injured on the Palestinian side, 5 dead, 62 injured on the Israeli side - but these relate to physical injuries. The toll on the mental health of people living in Gaza - and, I accept, those living in fear of Hamas rocket attacks in Israel - will be much higher.

Have received an invite to meet with Bill Rammell, the FCO Minister, tomorrow for an update, so will be going along to the FCO for that. Will try to put to him all the questions people have raised with me in emails.

Do you speak 2009?

OK, this is lazy blogging I know, just referencing other reports, but work doesn't officially begin till tomorrow (by which I mean later today, it being nearly 2am, and before you start, I've actually just been doing emails).

The Indy on Sunday had a report on 'new buzzwords' for 2009. Some of my favourites:

"Junior moment: Flip-side of a senior moment. Can be committed by adults, with a sudden lapse into immaturity; or by youth, displaying the lack of thoughtfulness, sense or self-preservation we oldies associate with them."

"Edible estates: Phrase coined by US campaigner Fritz Haeg for digging up your lawn and growing in its place something you can eat. After all, we did it in the war, when the Dig For Victory campaign increased the land used for food production by 80 per cent. For examples, see any traditional cottage garden, or back yards in Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany – where grass is for sport or ruminants, not something to be made a fetish of."

"Eco-embedded: The idea that business and government adopts eco-friendly practices that leave the consumer no choice. A ban on plastic shopping bags, for instance, or other plastic-free zones (such as a shopping centre in Balgowlah, New South Wales), carbon emission laws, or 'green' credit cards where consumers pay a little extra to offset the carbon cost of their purchase."

"Enoughism: The creed that holds that we over-consume, amass far too much "stuff" that only ever provides a fleeting pleasure, and ought to cry "Enough!". Experts like John Naish and Oliver James argue this incessant acquisitiveness leads to dissatisfaction that can develop into mental illness. Been around for a while, but fast gaining currency."

"Unplugging: Technological wing of the above, where someone realises that the time they spend online, on the mobile, curating the Facebook page, etc, is no substitute for living. So they put themselves on a digital diet, and possibly even cultivate an interest in things without keypads. Like other people. What we all need, probably, are more islands of tranquillity, or thinking time, as it used to be known."

Counterfeit drugs

On a different issue, this report caught my attention, about counterfeit prescription drugs entering the UK market. I have one of the UK's biggest pharmaceutical distributors (AAH) in my constituency and have had conversations with them in the past about this and related issues, but this report raises it to a new level. It's something I'll be following up on in the new session.

More on Gaza

Tomorrow's Times has an interesting article from Rabbi Michael Lerner as well as this report on the alleged use of white phosporous shells, and Gordon Brown breaking ranks with the US in calling for an immediate ceasefire.

One recurring theme during this conflict is just how much both sides are convinced the media is entirely biased against them and is presenting a distorted pro-Israeli/ pro-Palestinian line. For example, I - and presumably all other MPs - have been getting regular, almost daily emails from an organisation called The Israel Project, whose purported mission is to provide accurate information to the media. See for example its Fiction-v-Fact in Gaza. (Not, I should hasten to add, an endorsement... it doesn't reflect what the FCO and DFID believe to be the situation on the ground, nor what I have been told in updates from organisations like Save the Children.)

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Representations from MPs on Gaza

Thought people might want to see the statement on Gaza being signed by MPs, and the letter to David Miliband. For reasons previously explained on here, I'm not signing either but making my own representations in my own way.


Israel’s continuing massive military strikes on Gaza are an outrage that the international community must not allow to continue. Palestinian rocket attacks which traumatise the lives of communities in Southern Israel are also utterly unacceptable. Both sides must cease fire.

Israel’s actions are disproportionate and counter productive to achieving either security for the people of Israel or peace in the Middle East. Physicians for Human Rights (Israel) have warned that “targeting of civilians and of medical facilities is a breach of international humanitarian law. The targets chosen by the Israeli military include also clearly civilian installations.”

Gaza is one of the poorest and most densely populated places on earth. For the last two years, the blockade and previous Israeli strikes had already disrupted electricity supplies and access to clean water. Even before the current attack, Gaza’s health system was near collapse. Hospitals are short of medicines, blood and essential equipment. Only half of Gaza’s 58 ambulances are functioning.

We call on the international community, and especially the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, to intervene to stop the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Gaza. We call for an immediate ceasefire by all parties and for an embargo on the supply of military equipment to both sides. The international community must also assert unambiguously that there is no military route to peace in the Middle East and redouble its efforts to create a secure and independent state of Palestine alongside a secure and independent Israel."

"Dear David

Three hundred people have lost their lives in Gaza over the last three days. In any conflict and any battle in today’s world such a wide scale loss of life would be met with deep despair and a sense of failure.

We are writing together with the new organisation Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East to thank you for your clear statement that the number of lives lost in Gaza over the last few days is unacceptable. We fully support your call for a cessation of violence and ask that you also make a statement as soon as Parliament resumes. We will be calling for an urgent debate, which I hope you will support, to enable the voice of the House of Commons to be heard.

The Israeli Defence Force has entered Gaza with extreme force and without apparent concern or apology for the loss of civilian life. We urge you to endorse the statement by the UN Secretary General that the Israeli government’s actions are "excessive". On Monday, the UN estimated the number of deaths at 320, of whom 62 were women and children, against two deaths on the Israeli side. Estimates that are more recent have put the death toll at 347 with more than 800 wounded.

This development is deeply concerning both in itself and in the longer term. We believe that there can be no military solution and would further suggest that excessive military force of this kind is bound to be counterproductive and will inevitably sharpen the sense of injustice in the region.

The conflict in Gaza should not be seen in isolation. We are concerned by the continuing expansion of settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, by the confiscation of Palestinian land, by the proliferation of checkpoints and by other restrictions on Palestinian movement. In relative terms, the West Bank is peaceful at present, but further tensıons are being stoked up which could foreseeable overspill into violence.

As we enter this bleak period, probably the most dangerous since 1967, we ask you to send a clear signal from this country that excessive and disproportionate military force is counterproductive and will not resolve the conflict.

Yours sincerely...."

Friday, 2 January 2009

Question everything

Have just been looking at Paul Flynn's blog. He remembers more about his trip to Barcelona in 1955 than I do about spending the millennium there. (By which I mean New Year's Eve 1999, not an entire millennium. Obviously).

Tom Watson mentioned Eric Pickles' blog on his, so I had a quick look. Mr P. is boasting of having asked 2,190 parliamentary questions last year. He says he topped the poll, by which he means he came third. I'd be quite happy on that basis for his party to 'top the poll' at the next General Election. (Average cost to the taxpayer of a parliamentary question? I was going to tell you, but then came across this site. If they can't tell you, I certainly can't).

Mr Pickles also provides a link to which actually takes you to this site, with its slogan 'what you need, when you need it', which in this case seems to be naughty nursery rhymes, Iranian women, older women, real estate training, ringtones - and Eric Pickles. A prize for anyone who can reveal the hidden connection.

Catching up

Back home now. Catching up on coverage of Gaza, having had only intermittent access to the internet and newspapers while I was away, and no TV at all. Here's what caught my attention...

I don't normally bother with the Indy's website, but they've got some interesting pieces by Robert Fisk and Johann Hari, plus Mark Steel doing what he does. The Times has a different slant on it, pointing out a possible risk to Israel's 'secret' nuclear plant. The Guardian has an 'interactive guide' to the attacks, which at first I thought sounded like a sick computer game, but it gives a good picture of what has been happening and where. And the interactive guide to the occupation of the West Bank is excellent although it's from May 2007.

Of course what's been happening in the last week or so is only part of the story; the BBC site is good on the impact of the economic blockade since June 2007. And the Times gives details of Britain's new commitment of £6.9m humanitarian aid to Gaza, but highlights the difficulties we will have in getting it to where it's needed. More on the DFID website, including a couple of statements from the boss (and a report on his pre-Xmas visit to Bristol. Seems like a very long time ago now.)

As far as I know there have been two letters circulating amongst Labour MPs - the letter that appeared in the Guardian on New Year's Eve, and also a letter to the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband. Will update as things happen.