Monday, May 24, 2010

24 May 2010: Cuts

As expected, plenty of government cuts, including some reported here.

Quote from that report of special interest to the original purpose of this blog:

"The government department that was hardest hit by Monday's cuts was that for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). BIS is now to scrap its funding — announced by then-PM Gordon Brown in March — for a new Institute of Web Science. The institute would have been focused on the development of the Semantic Web, and would have been led by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt of the University of Southampton.

"In light of the current pressures on public finances, the government has decided that it cannot support the creation of a new Institute for Web Science at Southampton University at this time," a BIS spokesperson said in a statement."

The thing is this: someone's going to do it, and the UK will miss out as a result. Cuts need to be made - drastically, yes - but when we emerge (assuming we do emerge), there can be little doubt that this will be regarded as a missed opportunity. As is often the case in Comp Sci, things move quickly and you can't simply delay something like this. Someone else will do it, and it'll be the UK - not just ECS Southampton and us ex-AKTors - who will miss out.

And before you get people saying "yes, but cuts need to be made, and 5 million is a lot of wonga", I would like to mention a few short words about other areas of astonishing - aSTONishing - waste over the last few years: government contracts; Stellent; Club. Very few people know what that's about, but if you think 5 million is a lot of wonga to waste on a world-leading Institute of Web Science, try digging around to see how much IT wastage there has been in recent years, paid for by UK taxes.

To say the least, one commonly-promoted statistic in undergrad computer science is this: 80% of all IT projects are never deployed.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

20 May 2010: Important

A recent dinner visit by some British friends brought up an old debate. No, not tax-funded healthcare, the existence of a deity or even whether toilet roll goes over or under. Simply this: we made scones and clotted cream, and with jam supplied by Betty's of York, it was time to find out whether our guests were jam-first or cream-first people.

I am jam-first. Gloria is cream-first. Our guests were equally split 50-50, along with the comment "never really thought about it." Which is how most people are, I believe.

And then on to the BBC news site today and they even have a video story about it - click here to see it and I believe that if you're in the UK you can watch it without having to see a commercial for a train company first. Those people - interviewed up on Dartmoor on a terribly misty, cold day (ie summer) - were split evenly too.

So here's the question: jam first, or cream first? (You can also say why if you want).

Postscript: Becky comments that Argyle are selling their best player (they only have one worth selling, at least they did until he left this week) and saying "no, there are no plans to go into administration" and wondering if something might be up. I wouldn't say anything other than Michael Heseltine used to somewhat famously go round saying he wouldn't run for Conservative Party leader, before doing so on at least two occasions. Expect administration pretty soon. Not because of illegal doings or anything, just relegation and a divided board who have refused to put any money into the club, despite their having plenty.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

12 May 2010: Double Take

Is it just me or are these two vaguely reminiscent of the Double Take Brothers from Harry Enfield?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

11 May 2010: Endgame

And there it is. I was working and so missed the dramatic moments on live TV, but Gordon's gone to the Queen and said "I'm off", and as I write this David Cameron has gone to Buckingham Palace to be asked by the Queen "Are you in a position to form a government?" Presumably he'll say "yes", otherwise the Queen will have to respond like a disappointed teacher: "well, go back and do it again". The exact deal hasn't been finalised yet, let alone ratified by the Lid Dems, but presumably Dave will now take over as PM straight away and will have until the Queen's Speech to put the actual team together in time for the first vote.

Earlier, the Rainbow Alliance plan seemed to finally have fallen by the wayside - Lib Dems and Labour just far enough apart and the minority government that would be formed just too much of a minority to work. Also, Labour seem to be taking a slightly longer-term strategy of letting their two rival parties tackle the economic deficit, and however successful they are it still will be painful, and Labour will be in a position to come in and come right back at the next election, whenever that may be. (Sounds weird, but don't forget Winston Churchill won the Second World War and immediately lost the next General Election.)

And that's that, change of Executive branch of government in less than an hour. Cameron's still in there, incidentally - twenty minutes now, rather like Gordon Brown going to visit the house of the non-bigoted woman. He's the youngest PM since 1812. There's a rumour of Clegg becoming Deputy PM, but I can see problems with that (standing in a PMQ's for a start)... we probably won't know for sure for a while. There's no rush now - it's clearly a LibCon of some type that we'll get and the Queen's Speech isn't until May 25.

Oh, there he goes, off to work!

Edit: Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister is confirmed. Partly this means he has no particular portfolio and therefore can be kept out of mischief, but I reiterate my earlier question about PMQs and also, let's not forget the UK (well, Europe) has laws about Paternity Leave (notably lacking in the USA), which could be interesting come the autumn. (Yes, Mrs C is expecting.)

Monday, May 10, 2010

10 May 2010: Debate

Update 2.12pm eastern: Conservatives making a "final offer" to the Lib Dems: a referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) system, and William Hague says this (AV) was at the specific request of the Lib Dems. In other words, they said they wanted AV, not STV, which will disappoint a lot of Lib Dem fans who actually will feel betrayed by Nick Clegg at this point. And this move by the Conservatives to offer an AV referendum is surely all a response to Mr Brown resigning. Funny how they're all now negotiating by action in the media: who can make the most impressive gesture? It's like watching a TV documentary about weird animal mating rituals. AV, for those interested, means that instead of just a tick/cross by one name, you put numbers by (at least some of) the names, indicating your order of preference. If the candidate with most 1's by their name fails to get over 50% for that constituency, they add in the 2's. And so on.

So Gordon's going to step down as Labour leader, having lost the election. Not because it's the decent thing to do (although that would be the main reason if it wasn't for what the main reason is): no, it's because the Lib Dems appear to have clearly told him there's no way they're joining Labour in some kind of rainbow coalition (see previous post for the sums on who has to be involved) without him stepping aside. So off he goes.

Meantime LibCon hasn't happened yet, Lib Dems saying they need more clarification on specific issues, although frankly those talks seem to be going far better than I'd ever have thought. But now the Lib Dems have opened a dialogue with Labour too, which is a much easier ideological fit but a much harder mathematical one. And if it can somehow happen, it'll be Gordon going as soon as the Lib Dems (and lots of Labour folks) can brush him out the door, and leaving David "Steve" Miller Band as odds-on fave to take over. Meaning...

Meaning, for one thing, that if it happens then the Prime Minister will NOT be one of the three who got involved in the "unique, ground-breaking" televised debates. Kind of makes a mockery of it, really, although it shows people what the difference is between a Presidency and a Prime Ministership. Unless Nick Clegg somehow winds up as caretaker manager or something.

One thing I have noticed is people saying: "well, this is proof as to why we shouldn't have PR" - not sure that holds up. The problem isn't so much that negotiating a coalition is difficult or takes time, but that in this case there are two specific situations: 1. you have a very, very finely balanced mathematical equation: Tories plus DUP = 314, Labour plus Lib Dem = 315, although you can add the 3 SDLPs with no bother to the Labour number since they take the Labour whip; more importantly though - 2. the two parties that can form a stable, majority government are the two least likely to jump into bed together (Conservative and Lib Dem - even Cons and Labour might be a little closer these days because the Lib Dems are clearly left of Labour these days).

In a "normal" coalition situation you'd have various alignments and if voting totals were proportional to seats, this election would undoubtedly lead to a LibLab coalition with no need for nationalists: 52% of the vote, two parties that are relatively similar in policy and ideology, and there you go. PR and we wouldn't have this mess.

(Of course, there's PR and there's PR. Lib Dems want the STV version, Labour are talking about Alternative Vote, which isn't even PR, and there's a ton of other systems out there, all of which sit somewhere on the sliding scale between the result we got and the 52% LibLab coalition situation I just described. None of it is perfect, all of it will fail sometime and as Gareth says, you need to ensure local representation, although I think the Euro-election MEP thing isn't far off with that.)

Anyway, the pound has just dropped 1.5 cents against the dollar since Gordon's announcement, and frankly this Rainbow Coalition thing still seems totally fanciful to me - for no other reason than it cannot, cannot last, especially with Labour backbenchers' histories of dissent. Maybe Cleggy's bunch are just trying to put pressure on Cameron's team to make more concessions... but if they're not, if this is genuine, I can't see any realistic outcome other than another election pretty darn quick.

Better get registered to vote, everyone. And David Dimbleby better catch up on his sleep.

Friday, May 07, 2010

7 May 2010: Options

Rob wonders whether the spectre of Gordon Brown hanging in there is enough to drive Nick Clegg and David Cameron together.

I don't know, it's hard to say whether it's enough for Clegg - it's clearly Cameron's wish, and Clegg doesn't immediately seem too repulsed by the idea, although we really have no idea what he's thinking.

Clegg's problem is that he doesn't have an alternative for the Lib Dems really. If he talks to Gordon and agree to LibLab coalition, they still only have 314 seats between them. To that you can certainly add the 3 SDLP from Ulster, probably the new Alliance lady from Ulster and frankly, probably the Green Lady from Brighton. That leaves them on 319, provided everyone shows up for the vote and there's not one dissenter (and this is Labour we're talking about, remember).

In theory you need 326 to win a vote; however Sinn Fein have 5 seats and they don't sit in Westminster on principle, so maybe 323/324 might be enough. So to get there you need to add the SNP into the mix.

They might - just might - be anti-Conservative enough to join in, but then you have SIX parties in coalition and still only just creep over the line. Three more from Plaid Cymru and you're a little further but have seven parties involved.

In other words, it's not going to happen... at least not realistically, because such a coalition would last just a few months and it probably isn't in all their interests to get an electoral reform referendum underway in that time anyway.

So assuming that's no-go (although not missing by much), that means either there's a ConLib of sorts, or there's some kind of weak Conservative minority for a few months, and then another election. And if there's another election, what would happen?

That is the key question for Clegg: if he has to choose between some ConLib deal without a PR referendum OR have another election soon (and I think those are the two choices that he has), what does he do? I have no idea, but if I was Nick Clegg I'd be pretty nervous about going to the polls again given the number of seats they *just* held on to from the Conservatives.

7 May 2010: Offer

David Cameron says he'll make a 'comprehensive offer' to the Lib Dems.

For those who are wondering why and how this could happen, given that the two parties are about as far apart as anything in UK party politics, it's worth thinking about the nature of the various parties. The Conservatives tend to want to be in government, and don't like having to rely on semi-formal relationships with their Friends In Northern Irelend (FINI) - but they like strong government. You might say 'surely all parties want that' - not quite so: the politics of the left in the UK (and generally) is more along the lines of 'we're happy to be out for a while if it results in better ideology, and then we'll come in and sort it out'; it's also more likely to be fragmented. The politics of the right is more tending to be united (hard to believe Heath and Thatcher, for instance, were in the same party) and will do surprising things in order to remain. This is why the Conservatives got rid of Thatcher in 1990 after the Poll Tax, despite she being their most successful leader since Churchill (perhaps more so, since she never lost an election). It's also why Tony Blair and New Labour, interestingly, can be legitimately classified as conservative.

Whether the promised 'Committee of Inquiry' into electoral reform is enough for the Lib Dems remains to be seen: Labour (Brown or otherwise) will presumably offer the Lib Dems an immediate referendum on electoral reform. Nick Robinson says the Lib Dems may not go for full coalition but might go item-by-item and let him govern for a bit, prior to the next election in the next few months or possibly years. Still, you have to imagine Cameron's team sounded the Lib Dems out before making this offer.

Results still not yet in, of course. And they may not be for some considerable time.

Odds on next election date? November or perhaps next May? Probably depends on how Nick Clegg responds to David Cameron's offer. Nothing other than a Con-Lib agreement will prevent another election pretty darn soon.

7 May 2010: Hung

Well, that was a mess of an election. And I don't just mean the polling station debacle, which may yet lead to legal challenges in a significant number of constituencies (although I don't know if these are marginals or not, so it may not matter, but it may).

I write this at 12.43am eastern, coming up to 6am in the UK, and it still hangs on a knife-edge as to whether the Conservatives (maybe plus some friends from Northern Ireland) will have more seats than Labour plus Lib Dem. Neither faction will have enough (predicted the BBC, whose coverage is being carried without commercial interruption by C-SPAN over here) to form a government. So, let the horse-trading begin.

There are some questions I have at this point that Dimbleby et al haven't really looked at yet: like what if LibLab happens but they also need some friends in Northern Ireland, and yet Sinn Fein (who tend to take seats that the SDLP used to take) don't sit in Westminster on principle? I suppose they're counting on Plaid and the SNP. Or what if Cameron's Ulster support isn't quite enough? Edit (7.45am): even though the LibDems were a deep disappointment after Cleggmania, it's been pointed by (by David Owen of all people) that the only way to actually get a strong government out of this is Con-Lib pact of some kind, and so it may not be quite as out-of-the-question as possible. Those two just seem so, so far apart though.

And the Green Party winning a seat in Brighton? If nothing else a triumph despite the system rather than because of it. But you know what I think of first-past-the-post. Maybe she'll have the deciding vote in the new Parliament?

Oh, and vote share of course... second in a row that no party gets over 40% of the vote.

But here's the thing for right now: already we can see that whatever happens in the next few minutes/hours/days/weeks, there will one day be another election. And tonight's weird, sometimes freakish results have left more than several constituencies suddenly as marginals that are held (mainly by Conservatives, although there are a few others) that will look very shaky if we ever get back to 'politics as usual' in the future.

And maybe that's the question: given that the really big story of the day (aside from Pompey of course) is the debt crisis spreading from Greece across various other states in the Eurozone, will there be room for politics as usual? Who's going to sort out the huge deficit that was borrowed to dig Britain out of the hole?

1am. C-SPAN just stopped their live BBC feed and probably time for me to go to sleep.

On the upside, Esther Rantzen lost her deposit.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

6 May 2010: Imbalance

Plymouth Argyle have announced Paul Mariner is no longer manager, but will remain on as Head Coach while the new manager search is conducted. No word on his future after that: presumably it'll be up to the new manager.

Meantime Pompey have, seemingly, got away with it. Despite rules and laws against almost everything they've done over the last few months/years, they've now (seemingly) got the agreement of all the creditors, including the HMRC taxman, and also the Football League and Premier League to go for 20p in the pound payment on all non-secured debts (which HMRC have always said they'd never do), and they'll liquidate the old club and start a new one (which the Football League have always said means you drop at least two divisions) and it will all happen with no further penalties or deductions, and they'll be debt-free and can start again. Oh, and they're applying for their place in Europe after all. And all the parties involved are fine with it.

How on earth did they do it? Saints, Bournemouth, Palace, Chester City, Luton, Wimbledon, Aldershot and plenty of others presumably have huge grounds here for legal appeals on the sanctions applied against them for much smaller offences. And isn't trading while insolvent illegal in the UK? Only if you're not Pompey, it would appear. They're special.

It stinks, and today's news makes the stink worse. But it appears nothing will be done, and indeed they've got away with it.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

4 May 2010: Sparksy

Apologies for lack of bloggage recently, usual excuse.

However, for those in the Plymouth area (I know this somewhat limits the relevance), you might like to know I got a call from Radio Devon at lunchtime asking if I'd be willing to go on the Gordon Sparks breakfast show, talking about what it's like being A Pilgrim Abroad (Becky's suggested re-title for this blog which I still haven't got around to sorting out). I said 'that's a bit bleddy early' but I suppose fame has its costs. Must be a slow news day over there.

So anyway, it's not (as far as I know) available for 'listen again' on the internet because Sparksy's show is the Plymouth opt-out rather than the main Radio Devon stream, which is the one carried online. Therefore it's a case of blink and you'll miss it, and indeed I was on around 7.30am for a few minutes (I write this just after being on), discussing things ranging from Argyle's hopeless season (the highlight being the Barnsley match where it was abandoned with Argyle 4-1 down, and had to be replayed from the start) to the Indianapolis Colts and Kokomo's gas tower (I guess Sparksy had been reading up on the place). Didn't manage to get a word in for Allie's books (sorry sis), but in case you missed it, she's up for the Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance for her first book.

In other news, the new Doctor Who is excellent (except for the Daleks episode), 4Store is to start handling reasoning to some extent, Pompey still haven't been wound up, we're no closer to finding a name for the baby girl due in August, the local health food store in Kokomo have started stocking Traderspoint milk (meaning you can now buy unhomogenized milk in Kokomo), I've damaged my achilles tendon so no Indy half-marathon for me this weekend (boo) and it's time to make more bacon and sausages, as I've finished off the last lot and barbecue season approaches.

Bacon on a barbecue? Yes. Best way to cook it. High up, nice and slow. Fan-blooming-tastic.