Saturday, May 31, 2008

Reasons to be Cheerful #5: Sullying Apple's Little Darling

So in preparation for Henley, I went off to Curry's to find the cheapest, crappest CD walkman they might sell me. Except it turns out that such a thing is a hopelessly antiquated request nowadays. If you want to hear music, it has to have been put through a perceptual coder of some kind. Because, y'know... progress and that.

Now, ownership of such a device was, technically, almost inevitable at some point in my life, but I had resisted until now because I wanted to support the first person to come up with a really good competitor to the iPod. No matter how good the iPod is, I don't think it's at all healthy that nobody at the moment wants to even try to directly compete with the iPod. If you want something with more than, say, 8Gb of space on it, and which plays mp3s and so on, but you don't want some big clunky video player, then you are quite literally stuck with Apple. The iRiver gave them a run for their money for a bit, but sadly no more.

So, when I discovered that my only option was with one of Apple's ubiquitous little bits of kit, I'm afraid to say, I caved, and bought one. In order to make myself feel a little bit less dirty, I have brought it straight home and made it talk to some open source software, syncing it with Songbird over a connection managed by Ubuntu.

Reasons to be Cheerful #4: Moffus!

Tonight's Doctor Who is the first part of Steven Moffat's two-parter. Moffat has recently been announced as the new "showrunner", an announcement very much to be welcomed, if you ask me. (Also an announcement that readers of Lib Dem Blogs cannot fail to have been aware of!)

A show like Doctor Who needs a turnover of new thinking every so often in the production team, no matter how good the previous incumbents are/were. I think it's very laudable that RTD has set up this prototype cycle of four seasons, then a year off with a few specials to allow the new production team the time to stop and think about any changes they want to make, away from the treadmill of making the show. Lets hope it leaves the show in a strong position to keep going as long as it did the first time.

Reasons to be Cheerful #3: Ubuntu

Health-warning: Geekery ahead! If you couldn't care less about operating systems, move along.

So this is a post I've been meaning to write for a while now, but haven't got round to it. A couple of weeks ago I decided that the release of Ubuntu 8.04 was as good a reason as any to finally take the plunge into the world of open source software properly. I've run Firefox and Thunderbird for a while now, and more recently I've been increasingly delighted with Songbird, and that's nice as far as it goes, but I was growing increasingly weary of the flaky nature of my installation of Windows XP, and it was getting towards the stage when a day of backing up Windows and reinstalling from scratch was going to be necessary.

Except I couldn't be bothered to put that effort in just to maintain the status quo, and anyway, there are good ideological reasons to want to get away from proprietary software. So I figured what I'd do instead is put Ubuntu on my external hard drive, and make it bootable, so that whenever I turn my laptop on with my external HD switched on, it will boot into Linux instead of Microsoft's tyrannical kingdom. I thought it would be a useful environment in which to use Open Office to write up my research project without distractions, and that after exams I would have the time to sit around setting up everything else I use my laptop for: watching TV with my DVB card, chatting to people on MSN, listening to music, etc. The installation to an external HD was a precaution so that I could move slowly across, keeping Windows afloat as my primary system until I had the time to migrate fully.

Except that it turns out that, since getting the installation to boot (took maybe an hour), I have hardly been back to Windows. Everything I used my laptop for has taken very little time indeed to sort out, and anything I needed to find out how to do, someone had been there before me and written about it online, or in the Ubuntu Forums. So I am now writing to you, dear reader, from Firebox 3 beta 5, in Ubuntu. And it's lovely, let me tell you. My laptop now takes about 1 minute 30 to boot from startup, and once it gives you a desktop, that's it. Unlike Windows, where the startup took a good 2 minutes 30 to give me a desktop, and then another 3 before it settled down and stopped loading all the bloatware that Apple, Adobe and others insist that your computer needs perpetually running in order that you never have to suffer the prospect of - horror! - a program taking a few seconds to start up.

So yes, I am very pleased with the whole thing. Anything I still need from Windows I can run under Wine, and for the most part, everything I need to do has a perfectly good linux-based program to do it. VLC, Firefox, Thunderbird, Pidgin and xine get special mentions. Most of these are easily found using the Ubuntu Package Management system. Getting mp3s and other bits and bobs of music you got from your corrupt uncle to play takes a bit longer (maybe 10 minutes following some instructions), but that's about the most strenuous its been.

Now, this isn't for everyone. If you don't have a problem with Windows or Mac OS, then great. Stick with it. If the prospect of an (occasional) actual text-based command line fills you with horror, stay away. But if you're a bit technically minded, and you kind of like a bit of tinkering, then the next time you're thinking about spending time giving your PC a performance-motivated spring clean, think about having a play with a Linux distro. They're getting there, you know. And if you're wiping your HD and starting over anyway, what's the worst that could happen?

Reasons to be Cheerful #2: Off to Henley!

Now that I am free of exams, I will be heading off to Henley tomorrow to lend Stephen Kearney and his team a hand. I have booked myself train tickets and a hotel room, and I will be there until Tuesday. So I will see any of you who are there between Sunday and Tuesday in a pub, I guess! ;-p

Reasons to be Cheerful #1: Exams are Over!

Hello people. I have now emerged from under the rock of summer revision for what I very much hope is the last time. The fate of my degree now lies in the hands of the mood of whoever marks my essays.

Apologies to the Liberal inhabitants of Cambridge for my absence from Liberal Drinks on Thursday (pfft, like you noticed); as much as I would have liked to mark the halfway point of my exams, the fact that I had another the following morning at 9.00 rather put the mockers on that one.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A Henley Strategy

What has been bothering me this morning (as I tried to focus on statistics, and failed) is the following question: If the Tory victory in Crewe & Nantwich was about voting for the default "NotLabour" option, then we could have won it if we were in second, right? But that logic depends on it being Labour who are in first. So what do we do in Henley, where, by all appearances, voters are quite sympathetic to the Tories, and Labour doesn't really stand a chance? So far, the Henley Lib Dems website seems to be going with a fairly traditional mixture of Post Offices, Iraq and Local Issues. Which is all very well and good. But is it enough?

Well, here's an answer. I don't know if it's the answer, I leave that to the reader. But here it is:

We turn Henley into a chance to deliver a message to Cameron that we want to know what his policies are.

Now, I get very irritated when people whinge that they "don't know what you stand for", or "don't know what your policies are". Yes, it's up to us to go out and tell people who aren't interested, but people who claim they are interested surely have an at least equal responsibility to bloody well find out. Especially when it's as simple as going here.

So, I thought to myself this morning, I must be fair to the Tories. It's not (completely) up to them to tell me what their programme for government is, it's up to me to go and find out. So I did. Here it is. It's very nicely presented, the website looks awfully modern, and the policies sound lovely (except for the ones that sound like a Grumpy Tory).

All four (short) pages of them. [UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me that there are actually links to pdfs at the bottom of the four pages, making it up to more than that, in actual fact. But having had a quick peruse, I can't say I'm impressed. They are as much efforts in obfuscation as they are genuine policy documents, designed to make everything very dense and difficult to skim and generally look as if there's rather more content than there is. IMO.] Policies like these:

On Education:

"Improve discipline and behaviour in schools"
"Reform the schools inspection procedure to ensure there is tougher, more effective and more searching scrutiny of under-performance"
"Allow smaller schools and more intimate learning environments to be established to respond to parental demands"

On Prisons:

"We will accelerate the deportation of foreign national prisoners."
"We will replace automatic release with earned release."
"We will encourage social enterprises to expand prison industries where inmates can do proper work, learn skills and be paid."

On Welfare Reform:

"Rapid assessments for new and existing claimants of out of work benefits."
"Every out of work benefit claimant capable of doing so will be expected to work or prepare for work."
"Time limits for out of work benefits - so people who claim for more than two years out of three will be required to join community work programmes."

And that's about it. A mixture of hand-waving wafty shite, and flashes of the same old Tories. And by the way, those are genuinely the only three areas where they say anything even that specific.

The Lib Dems, on the other hand, have, as well all know, a mountain of detailed policy proposals. There is even more policy in our pocket-guide document than there is on the entire Tory website. So I say we turn Henley into a judgment on the policy-free haze which Cameron's Tories are. We not only campaign locally, but we use the campaign as a platform from which to attack the Tories. After all, kicking Labour right now is the easy part, and it's not going to do us any good in an area where both main contenders Aren't Labour.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Labour's 5 Point Lead... Over the Lib Dems

So there's a new Guardian ICM poll out today. (I know, I know, one single poll does not a trend make... still). It makes some interesting reading for Lib Dems, not only because Labour support has dropped sharply, but because comparatively little of it has gone to the Tories. Look:

Worth noting also this from the Guardian's story on it:

Voters are moving away from Labour to a range of opponents, including the Liberal Democrats, who are on 22% today, up three points on last month.

The party is now only six points behind Labour, the narrowest gap since the Liberal Democrats were founded. Support for other parties, 9%, remains strong.

Detailed analysis shows that former Labour voters are transferring their support in almost equal proportions to the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats, while some established Liberal Democrat voters are transferring to the Conservatives.

This is worth noting. I know picking up Labour votes is the easier proposition at the moment, but frankly, we need to be making some running against Cameron. It's no good soaking up disaffected Labour support only to haemorrhage it right back to the Tories.

Monday, May 19, 2008

UPDATED: Telegraph - Clegg Would Offer Tories Supply & Confidence

UPDATE: Paul Walter is reporting that he has it on good authority this is bollocks planted by the Tories. Interesting. I had noticed with some curiosity that none of the other MSM sources had picked up the story (other than the Mirror, who are forever wailing that we're a bunch of closet Tories and have been since the days of Charles Kennedy, so whatever). Still, if that's true, it means the Telegraph has been printing some pretty dishonest stuff, since the article contains the words "Mr. Clegg ruled out...", and so on.

I wonder who Paul's source is, and how they can be so sure?

Here is the original story, anyway:

The Telegraph is reporting that Nick Clegg will support the Tories if they are the largest party in a hung parliament.

Note, of course, that "support" in the Telegraph's language appears to mean "keep Tory policy firmly under his boot". The devil is, as ever, in The Telegraph's detail:

Mr Clegg ruled out taking a Cabinet seat in a Conservative government in return for his support and instead would provide Mr Cameron with "supply and confidence" – meaning he would promise to back a Conservative Budget and would side with the Tories in any votes of confidence.

As a result, Mr Cameron would be free to accept the post of Prime Minister from the Queen on the day after the next general election, even if he failed to win an outright majority.

In return, the Liberal Democrats would reserve the right to vet Mr Cameron's first Queen's Speech – the publication of his legislative programme for his first year in office.

Mr Clegg would have an effective veto over the Tories' domestic policy proposals as he could withdraw the support of his MPs and order them to vote with the Labour opposition on measures with which he disagreed.

Before now, it had been thought likely that Mr Clegg would wait until after an election to embark on negotiations with both of the main parties in the event of a hung Parliament.

But The Daily Telegraph understands that he has decided that the public would not forgive him if he propped up a Labour administration that they had voted to throw out.

He is uninterested in taking up a Cabinet seat led by either of the other parties, as he believes it would fetter his ability to criticise an administration.

Instead, he wants the power to veto legislation, which, he hopes, would raise the Liberal Democrats' profile enough to allow them to become the second largest party at a future general election.

Essentially, if you stop and think about this for a moment, that's the surest way Nick has of ensuring that A) as much Lib Dem policy as possible is enacted and B) the Lib Dems aren't associated for ever more with the Tories. Think about it: We aren't in coalition, we aren't sat round the cabinet table, we aren't responsible for government cock-ups. We are, however, able to exercise judgment on legislation the government passes, and to exert pressure on those issues which we prioritise. All in all, a pretty good position for us to be in.

If this is true, then I think it's pretty well judged by Nick.

Hat-Tip: Φ

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Paddick Speaks

Brian Paddick has published in the Mail on Sunday a selection of his diary entries over the period when he was running for mayor of London. (Hat-tip: Matthew Pearce for bringing it to my attention.) They make amusing and sometimes painful reading for Lib Dems, but it's worth a look.

After the London election results were published, I said that I hoped the party was going to be looking at what went wrong. Well, it's pretty clear from Brian's piece that he feels it comes down to money:
I feel bruised and bewildered by the lack of support as a result of not being able to raise enough money – we were outspent 20:1 by the Ken and Boris machines.
He also makes it clear he doesn't want to run for MP anywhere. But we should be cautious about thinking of this as the end of Brian's political career. He has carefully worded this to leave open the possibility of being parachuted in to the House of Lords. I for one can't think of a better place for him.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


I do hope the party is going to make a bit of noise about this. Not because we're all doped up beardies, you understand, but because reclassifying cannabis as a class B drug would be daft. The police have said they wouldn't change back to policing it the way they did when it was class B, and now Gordon Brown is clinging to reclassification, desperate not to be called a ditherer, in the face of his own panel of experts' advice.

Now, I realise that Chris Huhne is already battling away, and I wouldn't expect anything else from him. But I do hope Nick will make something of this at PMQs, and I do hope there will be no timidity from the party out of fear of being painted as "soft on drugs". This is a prime example of an occasion when the majority of the public agree with us, if they stop and think about it without the aid of the tabloids. Make a good argument for liberalism here, and it's likely to stick.

We have some clear political ground here, the Tories don't want it. New Liberal Tories they may be, but they're still the party of moralising and "sending messages" through the law. Just like they think paying people in loveless, strained marriages £20 a week to stay in them is going to help those people's children. Yet again, this is a Cosy Consensus issue. Make something of it.

And Cleggers? If they ask you if you ever smoked cannabis when you were younger, just say yes, for goodness sake. The public know "I think I'm entitled to a private life before politics..." means "yes" anyway. Nothing happened to all those Labour home office ministers who did exactly this, now did it?

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Paddick Polls 9.8%

The London Mayor results are out, though the BBC are continuing their record in the reporting of these elections by only giving numbers for Ken and Boris. The Graun, at least, has given us the numbers.

And they're not pretty. What happened here? Was this sheer Boris factor squeezing our vote, or has something more significant happened to our London support? The assembly numbers point towards the latter.

In the light of a by no means shabby night throughout the rest of the country, I hope the party works out what went wrong in London.

Friday, May 02, 2008

What Planet Are The BBC On?

Newsnight has declared us to be "treading water". The BBC's website offers this astonishing piece of "analysis":

The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has won himself some breathing space. His campaign strategists did an excellent job in lowering expectations.

The mixed bag of some losses, but modest gains, allowed Mr Clegg to declare he had confounded expectations. His party at least seems to have exhausted the habit of ditching its leader when the going gets tough.

This kind of snide commentary when we have just succesfully seen off a two party squeeze (and not just by pushing into Labour heartlands, but by holding our own in historically Tory areas, too) does the BBC's reputation for impartiality no good at all, surely?

Election Result Analysis (Such as can be offered at 4am)

What to conclude from tonight's results? Well, here's a summary. As I type, the BBC are reporting we are:

Councils: 6 (-1)
Councillors: 1053 (+8)

They project our national share of the vote to be 25%, 1% more than Labour's.

But, we must acknowledge, the last time we fought these seats we were at 29%. So where have those people gone? Well, as the Big British Castle has been reminding us all night, in 2004 we were doing well off the back of the Iraq War. Except at the time, they would have phrased it as "attracting protest votes from people who didn't want to vote Tory", I imagine.

Is this a bad thing? What strikes me is that, if our vote is down, but the councillors it returns is up slightly, and the change in control of councils has seen no particular catastophic collapses in support in places where we represent a serious electoral prospect, then what do those 4% of projected national people we lost represent? I hate to say it, but I suspect that in 2004 our detractors were right: protest votes.

We have now shed the Labour protest vote, I think. As the psephologist sat next to Nick Robinson tonight (whose name I have rudely forgotten) pointed out at some point, the Lib Dem supporter is no longer the tactical Labour voter she once was. We are our own party now, much more than a few years ago. Much as we might find it hard going, we must accept that under Ming and Nick, we are continuing the steady work of carving out a real identity for ourselves. It is one the electorate are coming to appreciate. Not overnight, not with a disinterested and frankly hostile media mediating our relationship with them. But soon. If at a time of Tory revival like this, we are as capable of holding our heartlands against them as we are capable of picking up Labour seats where we find them, then I see no cause for alarm. Quite the opposite. It suggests to me we now have a firm core support of about 25% (in local government elections, anyway).

All we can do is build. But don't let "them" tell you that Charles Kennedy did anything other than sensibly capitalise on a populist position. They don't come along every day, and the fact there isn't really one around at the moment doesn't mean we're in decline, much as the BBC might like us to be (tonight, I actually heard a reporter describe one council race as "a nice straightforward Tory Labour battleground" - make no mistake, they wish we weren't here). All we can do is build, steadily and on ground which belongs unmistakeably to us.

Tonight was a victory for Rennardism.

Election Night Reactions

So Dimbleby has disappeared from my screen (meh), as have Vine (hurrah!) and Alix (bah!). Things I have learned tonight:

1. I contributed today to the re-election of Sian Reid by quite some margin. So hooray. Not that I'm surprised - the only other party who bothered to deliver leaflets to me and my friends were the Tories. The best claim "In Touch" could make for representing students was "supporting" CUSU's Access campaign. Pfft. Don't get complacent, now, Sian.

2. The Lib Dems apparently exist in some kind of parallel universe whereby we compete in an electoral vacuum. This seems to me to be the only possible explanation of the BBC's logic. In 2004, when these seats were last contested, we were riding the wave of anti-Iraq war protest votes, the Tories were steadily recovering but not exactly looking great, and Labour were deeply unpopular. This was, in short, prime Lib Dem electoral territory.

4 years later, the Tories are having a resurgence, and the Iraq war has died down. Apparently, therefore, a drop of 4% in our vote is a reason to berate us. This, despite the fact that we've just MADE NET GAINS IN COUNCILLORS, AND MAINTAINED OUR LEAD OVER LABOUR IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT, PUSHING THEM INTO 3RD PLACE FOR ONLY THE SECOND TIME IN MODERN POLITICAL HISTORY.

Yes, you heard me: We, the supposed third party of British politics, have just beaten Labour, the supposed party of government of British politics, into third place on projected national share of the vote. We're doing pretty bloody well. And yet, in the BBC's logic, we are to be berated because we're not doing as well as a time when we did even better.

3. The Lib Dems got rid of Ming Campbell because we got 26% in the 2007 local elections. Which is funny, because I could have sworn I remembered something about poll numbers in October at around 13%, a terminal slump, and a media determined to sideline Ming, plus a bottled snap elecction. Must have been an idle daydream. You live and learn.

4. The BBC's "projected national share of the vote", when fed into their magic general election machine, gives Labour about 159 MPs and Lib Dems about 56 (if I remember correctly). This, lest you forget, off the back of Labour 24% of the vote, Lib Dems 25%. As fucking ludicrous as our electoral system is, even I have to conclude that the BBC's election predicting machine has some pretty robust assumptions built into it.

Thank goodness for Alix, or I might have felt like I was going a bit bonkers.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

It's Thursday, Ya Bastards!

Well, here it is, election day, and I've decided it might be nice to make this post a polling day tradition. So:

by Marc Maron

If you want to rewrite what's been wrote

If you want to squeeze the bastard's throat

If you can't find the remote

If you're in a german u-boat

If tomorrow you want to gloat
Get out there people!