Tuesday, November 29, 2005

It's Tory time...

Well, it's finally happened. After 12 long years in power, Canada's Liberal government has been thrown out in a no-confidence vote. All three opposition parties banded together to topple the Liberals by 171 votes to 133, and parliament is expected to be dissolved today.

Coverage from CBC, CTV and the BBC here.

Candidates for replacing the Liberals include the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP), which I greatly admire apart from the fact they want to tax us all to death, the Bloc Québécois, which is only in parliament to promote the breakup of Canada as we know it, and, the most popular option, the Conservative Party. Amazingly, however... polls are saying that the Liberals are still likely to win the next election!

I have to say, as much as I dread the prospect of a Conservative prime minister, it would honestly be preferable in the long run for Canadian politics. The Liberals have been in power for so long and have painted themselves as the only reasonable option so well that voters have been reduced to voting them back in because they represent the lesser evil between the two main parties, and no one ever votes NDP. Also, Canada genuinely needs a more progressive taxation system, and that won't happen under the Liberal government. The big issue here, of course, is public services, especialy the overstretched Medicare system, which is under threat of collapsing entirely if major reforms are not made. It is this fear of being stripped of the public healthcare - which sets Canada apart from the United States in terms of social justice - that is likely to keep the Liberals in power for another term, and understandably so.

However, if they are re-elected for a record fifth term, an entire generation of Canadians (myself included) will have gone from childhood to adult employment without knowing any other kind of government. Now that can't possibly be right, or healthy. If the Conservatives came to power for a term, wouldn't it be just the shock to the system the Liberal Party needs to really examine its priorities and reshape itself as a party that people elect because they want to, not because they have to? The Liberals are in need of serious modernisation, and unfortunately it seems to be the case that the only way to achieve this is through a spell in opposition. It's time for a new Rat Pack to emerge.

Monday, November 14, 2005

And another thing

Chinese President Hu Jintao's recent visit to London was covered in depth by the BBC, with particular attention paid to the crowds of protestors outside Whitehall who heaped all kinds of pressure on Tony Blair to bring up China's abysmal record on human rights. I was surprised, therefore, to see a lushly produced minute-long advertisement for the Chinese tourism industry with a focus on visiting Beijing, while I watched BBC World from my hotel in Rome last week. At the end it displayed the official website address (not linking to it here), which unsurprisingly ended in ".gov.cn".

Maybe different adverts are shown in hotels, with an emphasis on travel and tourism, but it still seems a little hypocritical to me, n'est-ce pas? At the same time, congratulations to the Independent for its strong front cover last Tuesday illustrating the long list of offences that China has been allowed to get away with over the past 20 years, whether on the environmental, political or human rights fronts.

Friday, November 11, 2005

The joys of conferencing

Ordinarily there are none, I know, but for a conference virgin such as myself, the one I've just returned from was a pretty painless introduction to "the circuit". Held over two days at one of the swankiest hotels in Rome, where the chandeliers are made from Murano glass and the toileteries are designed by Hermès, it was definitely an eye-opener. The only downside to the whole experience was that I was forced to miss out on the festivities surrounding the 120th anniversary of New Humanist magazine here in London as a result. At a masonic lodge, no less! Grrr. Still, fortunately Deaglan was there to reprazent, and he has posted a brief review of the evening here.

As an aside, can I just say that a hulking great German tourist wearing a black t-shirt with the words "Pygmy Love Circus" scrawled across the back provided what was undoubtedly the undoubtedly the highlight of my trip, in terms of pure unscripted comedy vignettes. Well, don't they always? This one in particular was a prize catch, and dumb as a box of hammers. In the confined environs of the replacement coach from Stansted back to Liverpool Street last night, this was made doubly clear, resulting in much mirth for everyone else on the bus. I won't write it all down here, as it's not really all that relevant, but if you want to know what happened, let me know and I'll put it in the comments. It's a day later and I'm still laughing about it.

Oh, and the best "Vice Don't" find in Rome: Man in early 20s on Spanish Steps, wearing a tight pair of frayed stonewashed jeans, with a stitched-on cutout on one leg of... a tight pair of frayed stonewashed jeans. Score!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Rabin anniversary

My god, has it really been ten years already since Yitzhak Rabin was killed? I remember the sense of horror and disbelief as we watched the evening news, and the dread that no one really wanted to voice, of 'what happens now'... I can only imagine what it must have been like in Israel at that time. And yet, I seem to remember an offbeat news piece a few months later, about a Palestinian family who had just named their newborn son "Rabin" in honour of the man himself, as a symbol of peace and hope. I wonder where that boy is now.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Blunkettgate: The view from EC1

First of all let me berate David Blunkett for having a surname that lends itself so poorly to having a "-gate" suffix.

Secondly, allow me to add my name to the growing list of people - both from within politics and from without - who feel the time has come for Mr Blunkett to resign with what little dignity he has left. There surely can be no doubt left in anyone's mind that this is a man who - intelligent and politically adept as he has proven himself to be - has clearly let his years as a cabinet minister go to his head. True, Blunkett's latest offence of neglecting to consult with the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments over his position as director of DNA Bioscience before the May general elections seems relatively minor, and in retrospect the appointment or the shares involved never came into direct conflict with his work at Westminster; however, it's the way in which Blunkett does precisely that - admit to his mistakes retroactively rather than prevent them while he had the chance - that makes him such a liability. It's more than a little ironic that a man so consistently careless with his own job should be made Secretary for Work and Pensions.

In spite of all this, however, the simple truth is that Blunkett is not the issue here. Whether he resigns or not is almost immaterial (and given today's backing from Number 10, it's unlikely that he will); Blunkett himself is merely a symptom of a government that has grown complacent after too long in power. I say this as someone who voted Labour at the last election and I stick by that decision.

This isn't a failure of Labour as a political ideology, it's what happens to any party when they've ruled for so long they begin to believe they are the only option. When it comes to internal Labour skirmishes, too much attention over the past few years has been given to Brown vs. Blair, at the expense of all else. It seems the last time anyone stopped to take serious stock of the abilities of a senior Labour player was when Robin Cook and Mo Mowlam died. And they weren't even in the cabinet anymore! Perhaps understandably, Blair has a history of sticking by those closest to him, defending their actions until the bitter end, whether it's Alistair Campbell or Peter Mandelson. Continuing this trend with David Blunkett, Blair runs the risk of losing a serious level of popular support from the people Labour is supposed to be reaching out to the most.

The Labour Party has clocked up some fantastic achievements over the past eight years, of which it should justifiably be proud. However, Labour also needs to be able to own up to its mistakes and repair its weaknesses instead of just denying they exist. Or else how are we expected to take it seriously about anything anymore?

Rupert Bear in plastic surgery shock!

Who the hell is this impostor?! Not that I ever considered Rupert Bear to be sexy, but this horrible CGI attempt to make him more "21st century" (note the Converse Allstars) has turned him into a sexless kitten-fart of a character, up there with Pikachu and Tinky Winky for sheer blandness.

But yes, at some point during 2006, we can expect a new and improved (doubt it) series of RB to hit our screens, with Rupert himself surrounded by - wait for it - "a brand new cast of characters". The old ones will still be there, but my god, haven't these people learned that some things are better off left untouched? What next, gangsta rap from Pinky and Perky? A new generation of kids at Degrassi Junior High? (Oh wait, that's already happened. And it's actually not so bad, if you're 12 and from Ontario.)

Still though, the horror! I can't see this one lasting too long. They'd better not be changing the graphics in the books as well, that really would be taking it too far. Too far, I say!