Monday, March 30, 2009

EHRC Catching Up on Paternity Leave

Today we hear that the Equality and Human Rights Commission is recommending that paternity leave entitlement is extended to achieve a more equal right to spend time with newborn children. It's only, what, a couple of weeks now since Lib Dem Spring Conference suggested similar (but more far-reaching, looking at the detail) proposals.

Good to see the Lib Dem tradition of being in the vanguard of policy making continuing.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Daniel Hannan, Guido and the American Right

Guido is terribly proud that Daniel Hannan's speech, straight out of the Guido playbook of diagnosing Gordon Brown's "pathologies" and wrapping himself in libertarian bollocks, has become something of an internet sensation. Noting that the clip has attracted the attention of such illustrious organs as the Drudge Report, he declares:
Cometh the hour, cometh the man - we are all ditto-heads now; Rushies and the Co-Conspirators.
He slightly surprises me with his eagerness to take up the mantle of "dittohead", but it fits like a charm. After all, doesn't Guido's blog have exactly the same right-wing echo chamber effect as Rush and Fox News do for the US? Isn't his comments thread full of the same brand of half-sentient hate-spewing twats that call Rush? Guido seems to be embracing the comparison before any of his regular critics really articulated it properly, just to block off that particular line of attack.

Anyway, on to the clip itself. Since it was released on Tuesday, it has become remarkably well exposed; yesterday it was the most watched clip on YouTube. So is it all that remarkable? Well, to be fair, it's well crafted, to the point, snappy, and clearly expresses Hannan's position. What's more surprising is that it achieved this without much exposure at all from the MSM in the UK. Interestingly, Hannan has become something of a hero to the US right, with Rush Limbaugh (de facto leader of the Republicans) endorsing his words, Fox News cheerleader for the markets Neil Cavuto interviewing him, and well known crazy person Glen Beck inviting him on his show too.

Why, then, are the UK Conservatives not more proud of him? Hannan seems to be viewed by his own party as a slightly loose cannon, being one of the more headbanging eurosceptics in the party, a cheerleader for joining the loony fringe of Europe, and in fact he's already been expelled from the EPP himself.

In many ways, the interviews with the US media are rather more revealing than the speech itself. In the Cavuto interview, he pretty much takes ownership of being the"do nothing" party (look at about 3 mins in), and answers "yes" in response to the question "in the same situation [of the US banking crisis], would you have said "Let 'em rip"?".

I have to say, watching those videos is quite entertaining in at least one respect: the right wings of both our countries are currently maintaining that their particular screamingly socialist government is taking their country to much lower depths than are to be found anywhere else in the world. The result, when you bring the two together, is a pissing contest. Witness much claiming to have it worst from both sides of the pond.

The most amusing bit, though, is this big stompy red quote from Guido: "It is the speech that many Republicans wish they had someone to deliver to Obama". Um, no. The Republicans have plenty of populist ranters who could deliver a little mini-speech like this. Trouble is, none of them could say it with a straight face, because unlike Gordon Brown, Barack Obama hasn't been in the driving seat for the last ten years. He's been there for three months. If the Republicans tried to pull this, they would rightly be derided, because it was George Bush who turned a surplus inherited from Clinton into a deficit.

Daniel Hannan is said to be somewhat perplexed at the traction he has achieved in the US. Let me help you out, Daniel: It's a distraction. Like so much that the Republican noise machine does, it's a talking point to try to prove a point from a country with different circumstances to those of the US, and then import the "take home message" to the US, without people noticing the bait and switch they've just been offered whereby something that reflects badly on the Republicans becomes the fault of "socialists" over there in Yerp. There's a reason they'd rather talk about the backstory in someone else's country: it's because they've only been the opposition for three months, and most of that backstory in the US is their backstory.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sheer Poetry, Dear Boy

Sometimes things happen that you just couldn't have arranged better.

In the wake of the McNulty dodgy allowance business, a couple of things happened.

1. Sarah Teather (Lib Dem MP for Brent East) made some hay for the Lib Dems out of the situation, tabling a Commons motion to scrap the allowance for London MPs.

2. Dawn Butler (Labour MP for Brent South) found herself in the spotlight next, on the same subject. Turns out she claims the second home allowance in order to maintain her ownership of two houses, despite her constituency house being roughly as close to parliament as her other house. The BBC illustrate the point here.

What makes this particularly amusing, you ask? (Well, you probably don't - if you're reading Lib Dem Blogs, you probably know.) Well, it turns out that, due to boundary changes, at the next election Dawn and Sarah are fighting it out for the newly created seat of Brent Central.

It was almost enough to make me feel sorry for Dawn Butler.

Almost. Then I remembered this.


ps. Dawn's staff have been displaying their spelling skills again today, posting a response to the revelations on her website.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

George Monbiot vs. Agas

Some time ago now, George Monbiot wrote a piece in the Guardian refuting the cosy back-slapping sense of Aga owners that their cooker was an efficient, even ethical, choice of appliance. Yesterday, an interview with Aga's chief executive, William McGrath appeared in the paper, exploring this argument. They've put the transcript up on the website here. The comments thread quickly descended into (amongst other things) people accusing George of deliberately making McGrath look bad by reproducing all the hesitation and repetition of conversational speech in writing, leading George to pop up in the comments thread with the following comment:
The audio tape was given to an independent transcriber. She transcribed it. The Guardian put it online. How's that for a conspiracy? Pretty devious, I'd say.
The other bizarre comments were mostly to the effect that George was in some way "bullying" the chief executive of a large company by expecting him to have a clear idea what he was talking about, where what he was talking about was his own company's products and the claims made about said products.

In any case, I'd say if he wanted to show up McGrath's woolly thinking, he missed a trick. I spent an hour or so going through the transcript trying to put together a coherent string of proper sentences out of the raw materials provided, the better to reveal the clash of ideas at the heart of the conversation (which is indeed rather obfuscated by the literal-mindedness of the transcript).

The results I reproduce below. What I would say they show, every bit as much as his hesitant manner might have done, is the completely confused argument on McGrath's side. In assembling it, I attempted to be as sympathetic as possible to the person whose words I was interpreting, articulating fully any argument that made sense that their words hinted towards. Nevertheless, there were swathes of McGrath's contributions where I really couldn't, with the best will in the world, see what he was trying to say. If you feel like comparing the one on the Graun website with mine, then you'll see what I mean (and you have too much time on your hands). Most of what he says is just a hastily strung together collection of marketing speak.

Anyway, here's my modified transcript:
MONBIOT: I'm George Monbiot and I'm talking to William McGrath who's the chief executive of Aga Rangemaster who's kindly come in to talk about Aga's environmental performance. And we've had a bit of a spat about this in the paper where I wrote a paragraph or two expressing my displeasure with Aga's environmental performance and William wrote a response column to put me right. And now we finally meet and we can discuss this in person. So thanks very much indeed for coming in to talk about this.

MCGRATH: It's a pleasure.

MONBIOT: Now I've read the claims that Aga makes about its green credentials. And one of the things you keep emphasizing is that Agas are green because they last indefinitely. That's a disaster for an energy using device isn't it?

MCGRATH: Well I think the fact that Agas do last a life time, do last for many, many years is just one of the features of the Aga. The fact that actually cast iron is a product which does last for generations and then can be recycled I think is actually a really positive feature of the product. And when you've put that together with some of the other characteristics of the Aga, that make it so loved in the UK today and in many places around the world, I think we feel that the cast iron story, which goes right back to 1709, continues to be relevant today. And the technology that goes with cast iron, that product which does last such a long time, is something that will meet the agenda for the next generations as well as generations that have gone by.

MONBIOT: You say that the Aga lasts a life time. More efficient appliances come onto the market every year. Your Agas might be problematic in 2009. In 2059 they're going to be massively outdated and extremely inefficient by comparison to everything else available then, aren't they?

MCGRATH: Well I think you've got to look at the very nature of the Aga and what it is as a heat storage product. And I would argue that the way the market is developing, when we're looking at, say, a 13-amp Aga product which uses over night electricity, I think that is going to be a very relevant product over the years ahead, as people look to have level loading of production. And I think linking the Aga, the electric Aga that we've now developed in recent years, into micro generation, those are very much coming components. What is needed in the domestic market is to have more products which can absorb electricity to act as a battery in the home. And I think both micro and indeed larger producers of electricity that are looking to level load will be very interested in a domestic product which can use electricity in that way. And our new products aren't just about electricity. We're talking about bio fuels and that sort of thing, products where the industry itself is looking at new ideas, new products which they can bring to the market and the Aga is ready and waiting for those new products as they come to market.

MONBIOT: Okay well we'll deal with those point by point as we go along. But I'm not sure you've completely grasped what I'm driving at here because my point is that even if the Aga is perfectly suited for conditions today or 2015, even if it were the most efficient appliance on the market today, the fact that it lasts a lifetime means that it necessarily becomes outdated by comparison to what else will be available towards the end of that life time.

MCGRATH: Well George, if you look back over the life time of many people's Agas today they've actually modified themselves over the years. So what started life maybe as solid fuel Agas may now be oil Agas. And indeed one of the things we're looking at right now is to upgrade those Agas to the latest technology, where you can actually take your oil and transform it into an electric Aga. Yeah, we're alive to all these new technologies and ideas coming on board and yes, clearly new things are coming to market all the time. We for example are one of the largest companies selling, through Rangemaster today, induction hobs and selling induction range cookers. We're always alive. As a company we've put many years and a lot of money into looking at all the technologies that are available. What that has told us is yes, for some of the products we should be making things like induction mainstream in the UK. I think we've played a big part in that. But all this is also telling us that cast iron cooking remains not only very attractive to people as being at the heart of the home, a great way of cooking – radiated heat cooking is a fantastic way to cook – but it is not off the pace at all. It's exactly on the pace in terms of new technology that's coming through.

MONBIOT: But your customers are still lumbered with this very large piece of cast iron which might or might not be adaptable to those future constraints.

MCGRATH: I think lumbered's really not quite the right word. I think basically having a heat storage product in the home, a very efficient radiator when it's giving useful heat into the kitchen, is much more efficient than a standard water based system. An electric Aga is extremely efficient, well over ninety per cent efficient. You can look at some of the Rayburn products which are condensing boiler versions, well over ninety per cent efficient. You're talking about something that on the boiler side of our business, is right up there with the best in the market. So I don't think we need to feel that we're in any way off the pace against where the market, the industry has got at the moment. Indeed as a British company we feel that we're in a position to be taking some of these technologies into other countries. We don't feel there are lessons that we haven't learned from Germany or Italy. We think as a British company taking products overseas that actually we've got a lot to say.

MONBIOT: How much carbon dioxide is produced in manufacturing an Aga?

MCGRATH: I think the basic smelting iron-ore, and then we clearly produce the – in relation to the total life time, the amount of carbon dioxide is actually quite modest. The bigger figure to look at, which is the fair comment-

MONBIOT: So how much is it?

MCGRATH: I think, in terms of carbon dioxide production per unit, it's probably something around, I should think, fifteen tons [Correction: McGrath has since said that he meant 1.5 tons, not fifteen] of carbon I should ..

MONBIOT: Fifteen tons?

MCGRATH: Yeah so ..

MONBIOT: .. the cement required to build an average British home produces five tons of carbon dioxide. We're talking about roughly the total amount of CO2 required to construct a home, fifteen tons of carbon dioxide. That's a staggering amount.

MCGRATH: You're a great user of the word "staggering". Where I think the numbers are much more relevant is on the ongoing use of carbon dioxide in the home where as we all know – and this is a figure unfortunately you got so wrong in your original article, for the average home was using one and a half tons when actually as you know it's actually six or seven and a half.

MONBIOT: Yes. I'd just like to point out that I, I was the one who requested the correction having found that the Parliamentary Select Committee document that I was using for the average home emissions had actually got it wrong.

MCGRATH: That's fine. But as we well know that the answer is six tons, seven and a half tons for a four bedroom, four person home. The Aga, the carbon dioxide emission from an Aga, depends on which version you're using but it'd be something like three and a half tons.

MONBIOT: Not according to your figures. Using the figures off your web site your thirteen amp electric Aga is producing 6.1 tons of carbon dioxide a year. That's slightly above the average carbon dioxide emissions for an ordinary home.

MCGRATH: If you take into account the modern versions now which are using the latest version which use the AIMS(?) product ..

MONBIOT: No this is the modern version.

MCGRATH: .. our calculation for that comes out at 3.5 to 4. The natural gas version comes in at 4 to 4.5. So, if you multiply using standard stats through the numbers that you've got there, we calculate the numbers to be from 3.5 to 4.5 tons which against the 6 to 7.5 tons demonstrates that actually the Aga home doesn't use more energy than an alternative home. Now clearly lots of people have different ways of managing their home to which they're obviously perfectly entitled. We feel that the Aga, by the time you take into account all the roles it plays in the home, not only as a cooker but also as a radiator and providing so many appliances that the Aga home can have a better energy performance than comparable homes.

MONBIOT: Are you seriously trying to tell me that the average Aga produces less carbon dioxide for the services it delivers than comparable products producing the same services?


MONBIOT: Okay. So now according again to the figures on your web site, using the kilowatt hours figure that you produced for your Agas, you could boil a kettle for two people, two cups of tea, ninety nine times a day for the same amount of electricity that your Aga is using.

MCGRATH: The point is, where I think you're being unfair, you're not looking at the role that the Aga or the Rayburn is playing in people's homes and can continue to play in the future. The factor you've got to look at which is more relevant than purely picking on a multiplication of kettles is to actually look at the useful heat in the kitchen. And clearly one of the major attractions that people see in the Aga in the home is the warmth in the kitchen and that can indeed percolate into a number of rooms in the house. So you have to see it as a combination, absolutely direct in the case of the Rayburn, of a cooker, which is its primary function, and also the overall role it plays in warmth in the home. And that's where I think we're differing a little bit is to see that having a heat-sump in the home which can play this broader role is actually a jolly attractive way, not only because it is so much the heart of the home for so many people, but also in energy and environmental efficiency, it is actually a jolly useful way of running the home. And over the last five years what we've been doing at Aga is really to have a five point plan of things that we felt we should be doing to address the environmental agenda. So the fact that you raise the points now was actually, from our point of view, quite good news because we would like to communicate more widely the sort of things we have been doing. And that really comes back to flexibility of the product. That's why we're making it into a product which is not always on. You can turn it off more readily, modulating use. We've looked at all our products and raising efficiency. That's why if you look at HETAS or any of the industry bodies, our products are right up there at the top in efficiency. The work we've done on Rayburn for example is tremendous, the things we've done with the condensing boilers are really well ahead of the market. One of the things which I think is interesting as well, we're looking at case emissions which is about how much of that useful heat is sent into the home. People do use that energy. We do though have ways of actually having less heat coming into the room or linking that heat maybe back into heat pumps.

MONBIOT: Okay. Well for all these grand claims you make about Aga ..

MCGRATH: They're not grand claims though.

MONBIOT: .. we are still talking about a single device which uses, according to my figures, the entire carbon dioxide emissions of the average home. According to your figures three quarters of the carbon dioxide emissions of the average home. We are talking about a device which doesn't run the lights, which doesn't run the TV, which doesn't run the central heating system, which performs only a few of those functions.

MCGRATH: No, a large number of those functions such that when you work it all through we think that the Aga home does not necessarily need to use more energy than alternative homes.

MONBIOT: But it can't possibly add up can it? Because if the Aga is producing between three quarters and one hundred per cent of the carbon dioxide emissions of the average home and yet it only fulfils a part of those functions, maximum about fifty per cent, then there's no way that it could be an environmentally friendly device.

MCGRATH: Clearly we will not always agree on all those figures. In terms of an environmentally friendly device I think you've then got to say where is it going next. And I think that's where you look at some of the work we're doing on linking it into micro generation. And I think that is fascinating, if you're looking for the domestic market – and I think we should all be looking at this sort of area, which lends itself to micro generation. The electric Aga does lend itself to that. We're being approached by a whole series of micro generation producers. Why? Because they need a domestic product which can absorb energy that is produced sporadically during the day. So clearly that may be coming from solar, that maybe coming from wind, it may be coming from heat pumps which I think may be really quite attractive.

MONBIOT: You're going to power an Aga off heat pumps?

MCGRATH: It's a linking in to the total generation you can have from ..

MONBIOT: Sorry, can I just pin this down? You intend to power an Aga off heat pumps? Is that correct?

MCGRATH: We are currently talking to one of the producers, about how they can produce energy that comes from various sources, including heat pumps, or linking back energy from the Aga into a heat pump, or into a Stirling engine.

MONBIOT: Yeah. Can I just pin you down on this because I'm quite struck by this notion. Your idea is that you would use a heat pump to power an Aga. Is that correct?

MCGRATH: It would add – if you're producing electricity for the home in a domestic context then clearly we have a product which can take a small amount of electricity being produced over a long period of time and you have to have a heat-sump of some sort which can absorb that energy.

MONBIOT: So you see the heat pump as one of these electricity producing devices do you?

MCGRATH: Electricity devices which can link into the Aga. The other end of the spectrum which I ..

MONBIOT: But the heat pump is not an electricity producing device, it's an electricity using device.

MCGRATH: In terms of the linking it back round, you're actually using the energy being produced by the Aga, rather than going into the room, can go back into the heat pump system.

MONBIOT: Yeah but you've just told me it's an electricity producing device which would be used to power the Aga and it's actually quite the opposite.

MCGRATH: What I'm saying is link it with micro generating producers, different formats, different forms, a Stirling engine and some of the other powers, it's fair comment that they need to see the Aga as part of that overall package.

MONBIOT: Okay let's just talk about this micro generation because all the recent figures that I've seen suggest that micro wind and micro solar PV in this country is a complete waste of time and money.

MCGRATH: I think we've done a lot of work, again, over recent years to examine all those potential sources. We've been right at the forefront talking to people about what is the right way of doing things. We believe that one of the really attractive packages we have come up with, which I think now is going to become commercially viable, is linking solar collectors, which are a readily available technology, with a wood burning Aga stove - another carbon neutral energy source - and putting that together with a Rayburn which is one of our key products. That package put together with an intelligent management device actually reproduces a package which meets all the current building regulations for new build.

MONBIOT: You're talking about solar PV are you?

MCGRATH: We're talking about solar collectors, so that they'll simply heat the water through a tube – and I sent you some of the data on that.

MONBIOT: Oh so you're talking about solar thermal?

MCGRATH: Yes exactly.


MCGRATH: So putting that together with an Aga stove, that is really a very attractive and viable package. So when you dismiss this..

MONBIOT: Well it's not going to help people who've just bought an electricity using Aga is it?

MCGRATH: I think you're being obtuse.

MONBIOT: No, no, no, you've just completely changed the terms of – I asked you specifically about using solar or wind production of electricity to power an Aga which is what you've just been talking about.


MONBIOT: And now you've started talking about using solar thermal with wood powered Rayburns.


MONBIOT: That's not the question that I was asking about. So let's just finish off that issue about wind and solar photovoltaic electricity used to power an Aga. This is part of your vision?

MCGRATH: Yeah. What I was saying is we have – and this is where I think we deserve more credit than you're giving – looked at all these technologies. Which technology comes through and proves to be economic as you say remains to be seen. But we as a company have, for example, our own wind turbine to examine how effective that can be, and I think we agree that only in certain areas of the country will that actually prove to be effective. Our wind turbine happens to be in Telford which is not the windiest part of the country and it does generate, it is linked up to our Aga in our R and D centre. Yes it does work. Does it generate enough power consistently to be economically viable for the consumer at this point? Probably not. If more money is spent on that technology? Possibly yes. Solar clearly is another area which is developing fast. I was giving you an example of where I'm quite excited that work we're doing in our R and D team, looking at solar, has found a package which is economically viable and is not a waste of time as you dismiss. So what we're saying, as a business we need to look at all these different opportunities, which one works best for our customer base remains to be seen. But the important point for us as a business is to be absolutely joining in the debate and at the forefront. If I turn it onto a subject which I know is dear to your heart, which is the future of nuclear, one of the issues I think that is going to be very interesting is what actually happens as the energy needs of this country increase, where are they going to come from? There's obviously a big lobby at the moment for more nuclear power stations. One of the things that you could definitely not do with a nuclear power station is turn it down or turn it off. So in my view, you need more products which level load. So I think there should be a real effort to have more products in the home which use overnight electricity, avoiding those peaks that send energy being used to pump water uphill in mountains in Wales (which would seem a curious thing to be doing). If there were more products in the home which actually used energy overnight so we had more level loading, that seems to be quite an interesting idea. We've had a product which uses overnight electricity for twenty five years, when we find out EDF – very interesting – and more of the producers are intent on looking at split tariffs, I think that is part of a drive for greater level loading. And really quite an attractive feature of what we should be looking at in terms of our energy management in the home is having more products which can absorb energy, which brings us back to where we started with the cast iron, I think absolutely a relevant product, not an irrelevant product. We're not claiming we've got all the answers yet but we're right in there. And I think that product which absorbs energy and other products comparable to Aga, that actually can take energy over night and release it during the day into the home is actually a very attractive product. So the debate is not as simple as it started, with you highlighting a technology that clearly – coal Agas we haven't made for ten years..

MONBIOT: Still make coal Rayburns don't you?

MCGRATH: We have solid fuel products.

MONBIOT: Solid fuel meaning coal?

MCGRATH: Solid but, primarily, those products now clearly do work on multi fuel, but most of those products that are actually doing very nicely now are really driven around wood burning which is ..

MONBIOT: You're selling more wood burning Rayburns than multi fuel Rayburns?

MCGRATH: The largest growth now is wood burning Rayburns.

MONBIOT: That's not the question I asked. Are you selling more wood burning Rayburns than multi fuel?

MCGRATH: We're selling more wood burning Rayburns today than any other type of product.

MONBIOT: So purely wood burning Rayburns are out-selling the multi fuel Rayburns?


MONBIOT: And by what sort of figure?

MCGRATH: What's happened in the last couple of years, since wood has become a readily available product, we've introduced new lines in wood burning products which are the fastest growth areas. And that is overtaking what was the largest element of the products for Rayburns which was actually split pretty much down the middle between gas and oil. So it's a really interesting area, again, that the technology linking with wood has taken off so rapidly. And again we have, with the stoves and with the Rayburns in particular, and hopefully maybe in due course with wood burning products as well – it's another technology we're very enthusiastic for – we're absolutely looking for practical technologies to apply with these products. And so the imagery that you would possibly use that suggests it's a retro product is just not fair. It's just not right actually.

MONBIOT: Right. And surely the point with wood and pellets and any other form of bio mass is that the supply's always going to be constrained isn't it? There are limited places in which it can be grown if we're not going to eat into arable land or we're not going to cause unsustainable rates of deforestation. And this means that they have to be used as efficiently as possible. So it seems crazy to be using them to fire devices which are on twenty four hours a day.

MCGRATH: Well the Rayburn products we're talking are not, in the first place, necessarily on all day.

MONBIOT: Not necessarily.

MCGRATH: No, not necessarily. They can be. It depends on people's actual desires and needs. People will have to warm their home. The Rayburn is a multifunctional product. Remember it does oven, it does the cooking, it does the central heating, it does the hot water.

MONBIOT: Does the central heating?


MONBIOT: All of the central heating?

MCGRATH: Yes you clearly have a little bit of homework to be done here. The Rayburn and our Stanley products in Ireland, the nature of those products is the majority of those products, overwhelming majority of those, do all those functions. That's why we're ..

MONBIOT: Not all of them do though do they?

MCGRATH: Some don't. You can have products that don't do the central heating and the hot water. But Rayburn and Stanley products, they are very much a workhorse product where they do the central heating, the hot water and the cooking.

MONBIOT: But they are still a woefully inefficient use of that wood fuel by comparison to say a modern batch boiler.







MCGRATH: The Rayburn products are right up there. If you look in all the HETAS listings, our products are eighty, ninety per cent efficient, so ..

MONBIOT: What percentage of your customers keep them on all the time?

MCGRATH: Rayburn products are directly programmable so ..

MONBIOT: What percentage of your customers keep them on all the time?

MCGRATH: In terms of which proportion keep them on all the time, I think the same as they can now with Aga. I think most people would do as they would with a boiler system. If you're looking at a Rayburn you're talking about a boiler system.

MONBIOT: What proportion of your customers keep them on all the time?

MCGRATH: I should think very few keep them on all the time.

MONBIOT: You don't have any figures?

MCGRATH: We don't have...

MONBIOT: Wouldn't that be one of the first things you'd want to find out if you're trying to go green?

MCGRATH: I think basically the people who've got a Rayburn system would be running it in the same way that they would be running a central heating system cos that's what it is providing. It's providing a boiler, a central heating system.

MONBIOT: It seems strange to me that you don't have figures.

MCGRATH: In terms of how people run their homes we're not actually going round asking, telling people exactly what they should do.

MONBIOT: No it's not a question of telling them what to do it's a question of asking what they are doing.

MCGRATH: I think that most people would be running a Rayburn in a similar way to any other central heating system. The variety of ways in which people run that system is tremendous. Some people will run it all the time, certainly during the winter. Some people have it off at night. That's what we worked on for the Aga system, why we introduced our AIMS system to make sure those products are as flexible as the Rayburn systems.

MONBIOT: Now your AIMS system, Intelligent Management System, this puts the Aga into slumber mode, doesn't it, for much of the time. But even during slumber mode which is what you encourage people to use when they go on holiday, it's still putting out as much heat as an average radiator according to your web site.

MCGRATH: I think if you're away they have the ability now to have it turned off so it'll programme itself to come on again when they get back over night.

MONBIOT: But the advice you give them is that you keep it on slumber mode when you go on holiday.

MCGRATH: When you're out you can keep it on slumber mode or you can turn it off. So it's going to go to a much lower temperature level. So it ...

MONBIOT: Yes but it's still using heat when they're on holiday and it's still using heat when people are asleep. It's still making use of fuel which is being completely wasted.

MCGRATH: It's not being completely wasted.

MONBIOT: Well of course if they're on holiday it is being completely wasted.

MCGRATH: In which case we would expect them to have the option of turning it off and it will turn itself back on when they come back. The whole point with the Intelligent Management System was that it will calculate when to..

MONBIOT: Okay, can I just quote your site to you then?


MONBIOT: "The system can also be set to holiday mode which will keep the Aga on either the lowest energy setting or off during the selected dates". Why would you encourage people to keep it on the lowest energy setting when they're away on holiday?

MCGRATH: I think it depends how long they're away for. In the middle, many people for ..

MONBIOT: I don't keep my central heating on when I'm away on holiday.

MCGRATH: No many people who go away over night, may well leave the central heating turned down when they're away. So that gives an alternative to doing that.

MONBIOT: But that's not going on holiday. Going away over night is not the same as going on holiday is it?

MCGRATH: Okay. But now I think you're into semantics. I think it gives you that flexibility.

MONBIOT: Well it's pretty clear what that means isn't it?


MONBIOT: And when I go on holiday and when ordinary people with central heating systems go on holiday they do not leave the central heating on when they're on holiday do they?

MCGRATH: No. So basically they have the option with this product to turn it off. If you would like to ..

MONBIOT: But they have the encouragement ..

MCGRATH: .. clarify the wording between nights away and a holiday, whether a weekend away qualifies as a holiday or whatever I think is probably something we should move beyond.

MONBIOT: Well no, perhaps we shouldn't do that. And perhaps you should also create a bit of clarification with the rest of the way in which you encourage people to use it because again according to your web site it says it's supplied preset, this system with two active periods each day. "In this mode your Aga will be at normal temperature ready to cook breakfast in the morning, drop down to a lower temperature during the day and then return to normal temperature ready to prepare dinner in the evening".


MONBIOT: Summer or winter.

MCGRATH: I think it depends, that's the whole thing. What we're saying is we've added a great deal of flexibility into the product. How people use it in the home is entirely up to them. I think what you've seen from the kind of responses we've had from people all round the country, people have their own lifestyles, the way in which they wish to use it. We've tried to make it easier for them to have more options which is why the AIMS system, now available in electricity, is going to be available later in the year on gas as well and with oil products as well. We are making tremendous progress in all these areas. And the extra feature, which I think is very important, is going to come through this year. The other area that we've been looking at, apart from the micro generation, is looking at the existing store base.

MONBIOT: Okay. Let me just finish off on this AIMS business, this Aga Intelligent Management System business because you are encouraging people, even with this most modern, most up to date system that you have you are still encouraging people to keep their machine on all day during the summer.

MCGRATH: Many people will turn the Aga off during the summer.

MONBIOT: Turn it off all together? Turn it off all together?

MCGRATH: Many people would turn it off during the summer.

MONBIOT: And use their cooker? They would use a separate hob?

MCGRATH: They would use maybe a separate – we actually provide, as I'm sure if you've looked on the web site you will see. Many people have an Aga in combination with what we call a companion which does give you the option if the Aga's off, part of the overall Aga includes a standard hob and an oven as part of our package. So you again have that built in flexibility.

MONBIOT: But the great majority of houses that I've been in which have an Aga also have a cooker. And they might use the cooker sometimes and use the Aga sometimes. So far from reducing the turnover of appliances you're actually increasing the number of appliances aren't you?

MCGRATH: They, basically ..

MONBIOT: Well are you not?

MCGRATH: No basic..

MONBIOT: You're adding an appliance on top of the appliances they already have.

MCGRATH: No you have a sing..

MONBIOT: They have a central heating system. They have a cooker. And they have an Aga.

MCGRATH: They have an Aga which can incorporate a conventional cooker as part of that package. When you're looking at de-cluttering your home and the number of appliances one of the questions that you really should also add is looking at, as the government is keen that we should do, energy management holistically in the home. Look at the de-cluttering effect of some of the things that you don't need that people can choose not to have that many people in responding to this debate have actually recognised, things like the tumble dryer, things like the kettle, things like the toaster, all of which have to be produced, all of which have very short lifetimes so ..

MONBIOT: And people still have kettles to put on their Agas don't they?

MCGRATH: They have kettles which last a lot longer than the products to which you refer. We think that over the life time of the Aga, which you surprisingly didn't think was a good idea to have a long life, the number of appliances that other people may have got through will be a lot longer.

MONBIOT: But they're still getting through their cookers aren't they? Because they're buying their cookers along side their Agas. That's certainly the case in every house I've ever been in which has an Aga.

MCGRATH: Well perhaps you haven't been in too many houses with this product ..

MONBIOT: Okay well give me the figures. Give me the figures.

MCGRATH: Basically you're selling, in terms of people who've got Agas now, many of them will not have an additional ...

MONBIOT: You say "many". Give me the figures.

MCGRATH: Many of those cookers may have been out there for a long time ...

MONBIOT: No, no, give me the figures.

MCGRATH: George, of the products we sell ..

MONBIOT: You're making these statements. You're saying that my impression is wrong. Now it might be wrong but I want to hear from you that it is wrong because you're going to give me the figures.

MCGRATH: Well I would ..

MONBIOT: You don't seem to have surveyed your customers very much.

MCGRATH: No we have tremendous feedback from lots of the customers. That's why ..

MONBIOT: But not on these critical issues that I'm asking you about.

MCGRATH: .. on how many people have and use an additional cooker. I think probably most people who are buying an Aga now, probably about half of them would have an inbuilt companion. I'm sure many people would have an additional cooker. But remember where the Aga comes from. Many people who've had an Aga for a very long time, very much linking back into the farming community as a working product, would, in many cases, not have another additional product. And if they do, maybe for the summer months, it would largely now come from the product we do incorporate, the companion. So, all we're saying is when you come back to the product, all the different things we've got on offer, what we're saying, as a British company that is employing, is, we think that we are right at the forefront of range cooking. Range cooking is a very legitimate and exciting way of doing things that has appealed to many people over many years. We have, within our Aga and with our Rangemaster business, we have about fifty people working in R and D. So we're working right at the forefront, in all the different technologies that are coming. We want to make sure that we can offer the best available products that incorporate all new technologies, as we can see it relevant to our customer base. All we're saying, that I think you're being possibly unfair in not recognising, is just what a good idea cast iron is as a cooker, and as a way of having a centrepiece to your home. And I come back to linking in with micro generation and other kinds of generation, bio fuels as well. We are there for all that debate. And simply to provide knocking copy seems a little unfair.

MONBIOT: Okay. Well let's talk about bio fuels. You raised this as another of the selling points that Agas can be converted to use liquid bio fuels.


MONBIOT: Are you aware that most liquid bio fuels produce more greenhouse gases than petroleum as well as contributing to global food shortages?

MCGRATH: I think – going back to the point I'm saying – we have been keen to look at all those different ways of doing things, including bio fuels. Of course we're aware that the development of that hasn't been easy, and given all these different pressures on the kind of bio fuels that come through, it is not commercially readily available. What we're saying is we have burner technology, that is available now which, when the market for bio fuels, in whatever form it takes, arises, will be compatible with that. Now does it, does x, y or z particular product prove to be appropriate, environmentally appropriate, we're not really in a position to say.


MCGRATH: We have a product which again is at that cutting edge and ready for that sort of development.

MONBIOT: Okay. So you're selling Agas as a green alternative on the grounds that they might or might not one day be compatible with micro generation which might or might not be economically viable ..


MONBIOT: That they might or might not one day be compatible with bio fuels which might or might not be the ethical way to go. There's a whole series of ifs and buts and possibilities here ..


MONBIOT: .. and you're using those to try to persuade us that your sales of Agas today which are an incredibly energy intensive, energy consuming product, are thereby validated.

MCGRATH: What I'm saying is that the Aga today is validated against current ways of running your home. And it's moved on a long way in recent years cos we've addressed these topics by a lot of investment, by the production of electricity into the total model mix. So yes, we think it's absolutely valid. It's what people see as an appropriate way of managing their home, having their busy family life. People do see it as the centrepiece, not only having great food but also lending itself to so much of the relevant themes of the day. Yes of course it's valid today and I don't see why you're so determinedly knocking a British company that has a valid product today, is employing lots of people, producing world leading products today and is absolutely joining in on the debate on where we should go next and how things could be made better in the future. You're dismissing it. That is really rather disappointing, that actually you cannot see that all the work we're doing in the different formats, linking in with all these different opportunities that are out there, predicated on the fact that actually we think that the cast iron cooker with radiating heat into the home is actually a cracking way of approaching things. And actually when you do look at the different energy sources that are out there yes you should be looking to see more of these products produced internationally by a world class British company. I enjoin you to say yes it's a positive for the British economy. It's a positive way forward, very much attuned to the overall green agenda. And I think you're somebody that we would like to see actually coming on board. Because we think we are the kind of company that people like yourself should be rooting for, not attacking.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Why Are You A Liberal Democrat?

The party has released a video asking the question "Why are you a Liberal Democrat?" of a whole load of our MPs and Lords. (Hat-tip to Politics Home for drawing my attention to it)

It's interesting, and characteristically liberal, I suppose, that for every person asked, a different answer is forthcoming, and yet at the same time, a good picture of what the party is about is built up. I particularly like the typically understated final word from Paddy.

What would your answer to this question be?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Done Seen Watchmen

James Graham has posted a good, thoughtful review with which I am 99% in agreement here, so I won't put myself to the trouble of writing anything similar. Instead, here are a few random thoughts.

1. For goodness sake, Jon, put some pants on. I know he's naked for most of the graphic novel, but there's... what... five frames that actually show proper full frontal nudity? In the film, it's every five minutes.

2. Many films invite the use of a particular line as a one-line review. Watchmen, it occurred to me, does this in the form of Jon's line "they're making me into something gaudy", which seemed to me curiously appropriate.

3. Several of the scenes seem to run on rather too long, mostly because the makers of the film are rather enjoying the song they've decided should accompany it.

4. Generally, the pacing is such that I'm not entirely sure if the film is too short or too long. If they had to cut a bunch of plot strands from the original, in an otherwise very faithful film, then couldn't they have kept some of it by not being quite so self-indulgent? The titles take about ten minutes, for goodness sake.

5. Couldn't the New Frontiersman have become just a regular newspaper or something? Is there really any point introducing it in the last minute of the film?

6. Despite the plot weirdnesses introduced by the changes, as James describes, I do rather like the new ending.

7. Chopping arms off. Grow up, folks. What, exactly, did that add?

8. Supposedly Terry Gilliam thought it would make a better miniseries. I think I'm inclined to agree with him. That way, you could have kept the sequence of examinations of each main character in an episodic format.

9. I quite like most of the actual acting and stuff.

9a. Rorschach doesn't sound like that. Sorry.

10. Most of the film's technical aspects are pretty good, too. The sound design and photography is lovely, and the set design remarkably faithful to the book.

11. It's just a shame that the film's writer and director clearly value gratuitous shock value over the character examination of the book.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Vince Interview Part 3

And so we come to Game Theory, and the story that appeared in the FT, Graun and BBC a couple of days ago (on the day of the interview, in fact). I lobbed Vince a nice soft ball, inviting him to make any comments about the story. His response was that he was quite cross about the story's appearance; he feels that it's a silly story that has been somewhat manufactured by a journalist who saw some mind maps on a white board in Vince's office. Vince told us that the mind maps weren't actually about a hung parliament at all, but were about "economic research". He regretted that the story had been picked up, because it has apparently "upset a few people", presumably the party's press handling wing.

All of which is fine, but it doesn't entirely explain the story that appeared. I'm quite prepared to accept that the mind maps bit might be wholly unrelated to thinking about a hung parliament, but nevertheless, the story did make itself out to be based on more than just the mind maps thing. So... I dunno what to make of it, really.

Richard was up for another go next, asking about the sale of the Royal Mail: Is now (the bottom of the market) a good time to sell it? Vince was broadly supportive of some of Mandelson's aims in the legislation he proposed, in particular the correcting of earlier mistakes in the government's handling of the Royal Mail. He pointed out that the new legislation would mean much less "cherry picking" of the Royal Mail. Vince also feels that there is a role for private capital in the Royal Mail, but not in the Post Office, which should be national. Having sounded not-wholly-unopposed to the government's plans, however, Vince did say that John Thurso's series of tests for the legislation probably weren't going to be met, and that therefore we would likely oppose the legislation. The tests are all the usual Lib Dem stuff about worker shareholding of the Royal Mail, etc.

Next Alix, with the excitement of Howard Dean's speech still ringing in her ears (and her conference luggage still sat at her feet), was interested to know Vince's reaction to Dean's reaction to her question to him.

Ahem. I'll try that again.

Howard Dean doesn't really like over-targetting resources, and thinks we need to do everyone the courtesy of at least asking for their vote. What does Vince think about this? Well, it turns out that Vince thinks we're not running a presidential campaign, and that our FPTP system forces us to ensure a "base" of support, so Dean's advice could be taken too far. Having said that, Vince seemed in tune with the optimism of Dean's approach, pointing out that almost all Lib Dem seats were no-hopers at some point, and that usually it's just a matter of gnawing away until a tipping point arrives. Often, it's very much down to the right individuals getting things moving. There are many areas where we don't really have much presence in the way of councillors, and yet we do have a lot of members.

Jo wanted to know what Vince felt was good and bad about the experience of being a PPC. Vince, lest we forget in the glare of his current glory, stood three times for the party before being elected: twice in York, and once in Twickenham, the seat he eventually won. He began this process, he says, quite naive, believing that getting elected was all about making "a few good speeches" and raising a profile that way. He quickly came to appreciate the importance of canvassing, getting out the vote, and all the other bits and bobs that go with winning elections. He emphasised the importance of building a good team - it's not just an individual effort.

Lastly, Mark asked what Vince's attitude to his "glamorous appearances" at various dinners was. Were they targetted? Essentially, the answer was that it tends to be "first come, first served"; Vince tries to play the target seats game, but finds it in some ways more interesting and heartwarming to stray from this beaten track and visit the aforementioned local parties with little elected presence, but nevertheless a reasonable membership. Vince is something of an enthusiast for such local parties, and tries to visit them if he can fit it in whilst visiting a target seat, because it's quite possible that a nice dinner with Vince could be what a local party needs to get itself off the ground.

And on that optimistic note, our time with Vince was almost up, leaving just enough time to take a picture. And here it is, complete with bizarre Portcullis House carpety wall hanging:

Bonus points available for correctly identifying me as the one who doesn't look like Jennie, Mary, Jo, Helen, Vince, Mark, Alix or an elephant.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

David Cameron's Homophobic New Friends

Paul Waugh at the Evening Standard has pointed out that the parties that the Tories are proposing to ally themselves with in the European Parliament include the Polish Law and Justice Party. He points out that one of the party's MPs made the pretty interesting remark: "Obama is an approaching catastrophe. This marks the end of white man's civilisation."

Their founder is also a climate change denier, quoted as saying that "Global warming is a false myth and every serious person and scientist says so."

A quick scout round the internets produces some more interesting information. The co-founder and current chair of the party, Jarosław Kaczyński, has, for instance, been quoted as saying that "The affirmation of homosexuality will lead to the downfall of civilization." This, just to be cheap for a second, from a man who is unmarried and lives with his mother.

Meanwhile, the Tories have been hiding behind Kaczynski's twin brother Lech, who is the current President of Poland, pointing out that he has disowned the remarks made by one of their MPs about Obama.

Maybe, but the charge of a homophobic party is rather less easily shrugged off. Lech Kaczyński himself, on a state visit to Ireland, was quoted as saying that the human race "would disappear if homosexuality was freely promoted". In march last year he broadcast a video of a gay American couple's wedding on Polish national television, to warn the nation that supporting the Lisbon Treaty, and therefore the EU Charter of Human Rights, would mean that same-sex marriage could come to Poland.

Make no mistake, this party has made homophobia a centrepiece of its identity.

If the Tories think it's unfair that people are mocking them for leaving the EPP Group in favour of joining forces with Europe's nutters, they've got some explaining to do.

Vince Interview Part 2

You join us, dear reader, sat around a table in a room in Portcullis House, wondering whether to eat another donut, and talking to Vince Cable. If you want to know how this came about, read part 1.

Next to ask a question was Millennium's daddy, Richard. He wanted to know about the Euro, and whether it was likely that the recession would unify the Eurozone or split it. Vince didn't really know, so he said so; it'll all come out in the wash. The question then is, how do we, the UK, react, and how do we stand to fare in the meantime. Vince was cautiously pessimistic about the verdict of the international currency markets when assessments of the UK's position are made, including the toxic assets that we have now taken on. It may not be good.

With that in mind, Vince reminded us that he and Nick Clegg are "well disposed" to the Eurozone, and hinted that the grass which Chris Huhne was said to have kicked the Euro into a little while ago might not be quite as long as some had imagined. If the Euro turns out to have weathered the recession well, the issue of our joining it should be revived.

Helen was up next, and asked Vince about blogging, and why he didn't do it. Vince's response, perhaps unsurprisingly, was "time", and priorities. Vince has spent a good deal of time on the MSM recently, and, whilst he recognises that the print media in particular are a sinking ship, he obviously doesn't feel it's time to cut our losses and run for the cyberspace dry land just yet. He also felt that he already got quite enough contact from people writing to him, and wasn't blogging likely to encourage more? Having said that, he was open to the idea, and praised Lynne Featherstone's efforts to persuade him of the merits of blogging.

Mary tried to offer encouragement, in the form of the information that her site gets a higher readership than Vince's constituency site does. She suggested that blogging was a good way to drive up readership of a site. Vince seemed interested in this - what was it about blogging that did this? The answer, of course, is regularity. If you can spend half an hour a day on a press release, you can spend it on writing a blog post, and with any luck, the press will just lift quotes from your blog instead. Vince pointed out that he already does post up all the press release type material on a daily basis, to which the response was that a more personal feel to the blog was key to its appeal.

It's for this reason that I have to say, personally, that I suspect if anything blogging would reduce the correspondence that Vince's office has to deal with, because the more people feel that they have real contact with someone online (the great strength of blogging), the less motivated to contact them by other means they become.

Into this mix, Alix added the observation that the LDV fringe event at conference, at which several people from the US Democratic party had described techniques that worked for the Obama campaign, had a real focus on personal stories: canvassers on the doorstep were encouraged to simply tell their own stories, of what had motivated them to get involved with the campaign. The benefits of blogging stem from the importance of the personal in politics. At least, I think that's why that was relevant!

Jo was next, for the question that we all sometimes worry about as Lib Dems: is Vince's approval rubbing off on the Lib Dems sufficiently? What could be done to improve this? First off, Vince didn't really buy any argument that the Lib Dems are especially weak at the moment, looking at where we have often been at similar points in the election cycle. In any case, he tries always to get a mention of the Lib Dems from his appearances, but he also feels that it's important not to be too tribal in his punditry, otherwise people simply wouldn't come to him for it at all.

Jennie recalled that when people tell her Vince should be leader, she's not convinced, because then we would be back in the situation that the party has fought to escape from, which is that we are perceived as a one man band. Vince agreed; there shouldn't be a return to the Paddy Ashdown days. As such, it seems to make sense to me that jitters about Vince's position in the press are a growing pain for the Lib Dems: we aren't used to there being more than one person representing us in the media, that's all. We are now fortunate enough to have Nick, Vince, and not forgetting Chris Huhne, who quite often manages to get himself on the telly 'n' that as well.

Mark wanted some investment advice next, a modern day South East Asian unit trust, if you will, but Vince wasn't biting. He pointed out that he is as fallible as the rest of us, and that if you'd asked him what to do five years or so ago, as his wife did, he would have suggested a diverse investment in stocks and shares, whereas his wife chose instead to just stick it in a high interest Nationwide account, and is all the better off for it. The point Vince did want to make was that diversity of investments is key, and that in fact, in his estimation many assets are currently under-priced, so people with the liquidity have every reason to invest at the moment.

Out of this, came a brief discussion of an issue that bothers Vince, specifically the unpleasant way that means-tested benefits effectively confiscate savings. Unfortunately, my notes on that are pretty indecipherable to me, so you'd better hope someone else writes it up better!

Mary congratulated Vince on his contributions during conference to the debate over faith schools, commenting that it was nice to hear Vince give opinions on issues other than economics. Vince pointed out that to some people in his constituency, it was unusual to think of him as a treasury spokesman; on a local level, Vince has tended to be more a crime and hospitals kind of guy.

Anyway, that's enough of that for now, but join me in part 3 for Vince reaction to the recent Game Theory story.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Vince Interview Part 1

Arriving at Portcullis House, I managed to blink as the security people took a picture to hang round my neck. I staggered, bewildered into the atrium, looking around for people who looked like bloggers. I got it right first go - well, the elephant was a dead giveaway - and we loitered until joined by more bloggers. Lady Mark was already ensconced on the other side of the glass barriers - the glass is greener on the other side - and then who should we spot, but Vince. Much waving ensued, and he came and let us through into the special area for special people. Since there were a lot of us, he went and got us a room to use instead of his office (quite disappointing - no opportunity to verify this Mind Maps business!).

And so, sitting comfortably and suitably donuted, we began.

Alix kick off, asking whether we're heading for an overhaul of our tax policy, perhaps after seeing hints of such a move picked up over the weekend by some in the MSM. Vince's answer was basically political speak for "yes, it will be changing": the aims will remain the same, but "the details of how we do it will have to change over time". He reiterated that we are committed to a 4p cut in income tax "or the equivalent", and mentioned allowances as one such potential avenue of equivalency.

Jo, meanwhile, wanted to know about diversity and equality and stuff, and Vince's role on the Diversity Engagement Group, asking what the next steps are, and whether issues like these were going to end up on the back burner because of the recession. Vince felt that these priorities wouldn't be changed by hard times, and, whilst seeming to concede perhaps that there wasn't as obvious a "next step" on wimmin, he hoped that BME candidates might stand to do very well under the party's stated strategy of attacking the soft underbelly of Labour support in northern cities, etc.

Jennie was next round the table, and asked about Vince's interest in bees. Vince explained that, as part of the normal business of being known around one's constituency, he had been invited along to the apiary at the end of his road, for an open day. It was there that he had his ear bent about Colony Collapse Disorder and the surrounding issues, and with this ringing in his ears, he went back to parliament and asked Gordon Brown a question about it in committee. The response was so derisory and uninterested as to make Vince a whole lot more bothered about it than he would otherwise have been, it seems. Brown implied that it was exactly the sort of daft issue that gets Lib Dems going, and was a waste of serious people's time. It was this scientific illiteracy - a common theme for many bloggers, not least Jennie - that convinced Vince that pressure was required to help ministers do the right thing, and since then a cross-party campaign has grown around the issue.

Mark's question was about the civil service, and whether the party was seen as "Civil Service friendly", following Vince's criticism last conference of some public sector bonuses. Vince felt it was important not to differentiate between the public and private sectors, and that practices that were criticised in one sector would therefore be criticised in the other. Vince was aware, of course, that his comments about the number of civil servants on over £100,000 had annoyed some of our councillors, and he expressed some sympathy for the lower ranks of the civil service, but he's sticking to his guns. He was rather keen on the term "public sector aristocracy", and pointed out that it wasn't so much just the wages, as the triple-whammy of wages, job security and pensions that put many in the civil service in such a privileged position. For Vince, it's about attacking privilege, and it extends from the private sector, to civil servants, and to MPs, who he also singled out as unusually shielded from the economic weather.

Mary asked how the government's habit of offloading the dirty business of taxation onto local government could be fixed, and about the unfairness of central government's funding of local government currently. Vince's response was that there is always lobbying on the formula that works out funding to local authorities. Although generally quite good, he believes, the formula tends to fall down at the extreme ends of the income scale. Essentially, local government needs a stronger local tax base, and Lib Dem policy would do this, for instance by making business rates local.

Next up it was my turn. Looking at my scribbled notes made earlier in the day, I plumped for a more outward looking question, for variety's sake, and asked about Gordon Brown's alleged interest in international regulatory frameworks. Was he likely to achieve anything useful from making the issue a focus of the G20? Vince's reply was closer to the Tory line than I expected, calling Brown's focus on this as a solution "a cop out", to avoid responsibility for his mistakes; of course, now comes the bit where it deviates from the Tories: Vince can spell out what he means by that. Brown had, after all, allowed finance to become far too large a part of our economy, and failed to implement the Basel rules in the UK as well as other countries, like Spain and Canada, did it; here the rules acted pro-cyclically in the housing market.

Vince rounded off this answer with a quick mention of his forthcoming book, The Storm. Subtitled "The world economic crisis and what it means", it will likely cover the answers to my question and a great many more besides. So I will leave part one of my write up here, to allow you to go off and pre-order it!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


1. I now have access to the electric internet again; my usual inconsistent pace of posting will return shortly.

2. I interviewed Vince Cable today, along with several other bloggers (see below).

3. I met several lovely fellow bloggers who I've not met before, including the regal Lady Mark, the owner of an excellent bag Jennie, the I'm-trying-desperately-to-resist-the-temptation-to-call-her Jo Crispy-Strips, the distinguished Mary Reid, the brilliant Alix, the lovely Helen Duffett, and of course the fluffy Millennium with his daddy Richard.

4. An evening in the pub's always quite nice, innit?