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Archive for the ‘Personal rant’ Category

Mar 21,2009

I have just met my local MP (Lynne Featherstone) in the supermarket (Marks and Spencer). I tried to interest her in running a campaign (isn’t that what LibDem MPs do?) against the strange new lay-out of the store (vegetables in three separate sections, two separated deli areas etc). She said she agreed with me (isn’t that what LibDem MPs do?), but seemed reluctant to follow through with a campaign. Maybe she suspected my motives, but why would I want her to seem like a light-weight frivolous climber-on of point-less bandwagons? Isn’t that what ….

Mar 11,2009

I see my namesake, Tom Harris, (I receive a lot of his emails on the Parliamentary system), claims NEVER to have seen “Gone with the Wind” or “Casablanca”.  While sitting through “Gone with the Wind” is an ordeal it has, however, been pretty inescapable on television – particularly on public holidays over the years.  As for “Casablanca” that has to be one of the most enduring films of all time, one which can still be relished on repeated viewing, and again has been pretty inescapable on television.  Something wrong here surely …..

Mar 1,2009

I had recently come to the view that my comments on this blog were receiving more attention than anything I might say in the chamber of the House of the Lords.

So I suppose I should be flattered that the debate I initiated in the Lords on young people and social networking sites should have got a full half-page of coverage in today’s Observer.

Catherine Bennett certainly seems to have got the measure of the effects of being in the Lords on some of my colleagues (I hope not me, but you never know ….) when she writes:

“Given what we now know about the human brain, it is clear that prolonged exposure to an unnatural environment like the House of Lords must have a damaging effect. If the ageing brain is artificially denied stimulation over a long period, it might lead to a condition almost indistinguishable from idiocy.  The effects on communication have been documented for years. Now some leading neuro-scientists are suggesting that flashing lights and bells be fitted to go off regularly in the chamber, in order to induce in members something resembling an average attention span.”

She then weighs in to attack the comments of Baroness Susan Greenfield for her contribution to the debate analysing the impact of social networking and online phenomena like Twitter from her standpoint as a neuro-scientist.  It is a fine polemic and yes the comments from Susan Greenfield were rather tangential to the purpose of my debate which was intended to explore whether more safeguards were needed to protect the interests of children and young people online.

However, the comments (and the whole debate can be read here) were of interest and do deserve some serious discussion.  Twitter and Twittering seems a largely pointless exercise to many and as Catherine Bennett puts it:

“Twitter emphasises its desirability by being unfathomable to anyone a bit inflexible or busy who is neither a self-promoter nor an exhibitionist.”

Now I don’t feel that Susan Greenfield’s speech detracted from the rest of the debate – it is part of the way that the House of Lords operates that colleagues bring their various experiences and expertise to bear on the topics under discussion.  And it certainly didn’t “hijack” the debate as Catherine Bennett suggests.

Catherine Bennett was kind enough to say that “The Lords are right to want to protect vulnerable users from exploitation and from the inadvertent creation of an indelible archive of social networking follies.”  So, if that is so, and she wants to avoid the debate being hijacked, perhaps she might have devoted more than just three lines of her article to the rest of the  debate and what she rightly regarded as its main substance.

Or perhaps I’m missing something ….

Feb 14,2009

A few months after the disastrous chaos of the opening of Terminal 5 (disastrous in terms of image and reputation), British Airways and BAA started reassuring everyone that all the teething problems were over, that the customer experience was now wonderful, and that – in particular – the queues had diminished and no-one had to wait longer than 10 minutes to drop their bags.

So what’s the reality?

This morning it took 45 minutes to get to the front of the queue for ‘The Fast (sic) Bag Drop’.

Two bits of advice for the senior management at BA and BAA: don’t leave half the desks unstaffed at busy times; and don’t call it ‘Fast’ – ‘Bag Drop will do.

Feb 13,2009

This morning’s weather bulletin on Radio 4 didn’t mention London and the South East at all.
What proportion of the license fee revenue comes from residents of London and South East England?

Feb 12,2009

The debate I have initiated on social networking is this afternoon and I have received a number of briefing/lobbying papers from different companies and organisations about the subject. Nothing improper in that. Some of the material has been helpful and interesting. Some of it less so.

One company – I won’t name them (they know who they are) – had the cack-brained idea to send their submission by registered post to me both at the House of Lords and at home. I got the Lords copy yesterday and read it – moderately interesting. I get home last night to find one of those ‘Sorry you were out’ cards from the Royal Mail saying they had a letter that needed signing for at the Sorting Office. So this morning I made a 45 minute detour to pick it up only to find it was another copy of the letter I read yesterday.
Question: is this more or less likely to make me favourably disposed to what they’re saying?

Feb 6,2009

I hear that Kensington and Chelsea Council have revoked the late trading licence of a take-away fried chicken establishment called “Chicken Cottage”.  It will now have to close by 11pm after police had to attend over seventy incidents there in the last year, involving gang-related attacks, intimidation, theft and criminal damage.

The Royal (as it prefers to be known) Borough’s spokesperson commented:

“This case sends a clear message to other late night establishments that
they can’t sit back and let their premises become a magnet for crime and

What I find amazing is that the gang who frequented the place liked to be known as “The Chicken Cottage Crew”. 

Dictionary definitions of chicken include: “A coward” and “A young gay male, especially as sought by an older man”.  As for cottage …..

Given how often gang members like to appear macho and are frequently overtly homophobic, this particular crew must have had an advanced sense of irony.

Feb 4,2009

I am grateful (sic) to Iain Dale for drawing attention to an article in the Daily Telegraph about a LibDem councillor in Cambridge who took it upon himself to use his bicycle to stop an ambulance going to the help of someone who had been taken ill because vehicles were not supposed to go on to a grassed area of common land.  It turns out I knew the said councillor – then a mere Liberal Party activist – over 35 years ago: it doesn’t sound as if he has changed much.

Feb 3,2009

According to the new Chief Executive of the (national) Local Government Association, John Ransford, councils had planned “meticulously” for three days with every resource deployed in the run up to Monday’s snow chaos with many key routes – in London at least – apparently ungritted.  Now, I know that Ransford has been appointed following his predecessor being pushed out for not being robust enough in defending local authorities’ over-exposure to Icelandic banks, but to call the planning meticulous …….

Meanwhile, Hopi Sen’s blog from the backroom asks what Mayor Boris Johnson was doing last weekend.

Jan 28,2009

I’ve already made my views known about the tactics employed by The Sunday Times in pursuing their House of Lords story.  They did deceive: they purported to be from a fictitious public affairs company with a fictitious website and they said they were acting for a fictitious client.  They did try to entrap by coaxing those they saw to offer to do things that clearly should not be done.

But is the story itself in the public interest?  Well the answer has to be “Yes”.  It should not be possible for commercial (or any other) interests covertly to purchase changes to legislation.  As Leader of the House, Jan Royall, said this morning:

“the standards, probity and conduct of members of the House of Lords must be of the highest level”.

She has pledged that the investigations into the actions of individuals must be searching and fair.  This is right – all those named must have a full opportunity to defend themselves against the accusations against them.  It would be wrong to pre-judge the outcome of those investigations.

She has also initiated a full review by the Privileges Committee (not a Labour-dominated body incidentally – it has sixteen members: four Labour, five Conservative, two LibDems and five Cross-benchers) of the House’s rules governing external interests.  Again she made clear her position this morning:

“In the review of the rules of the House in this area – including the place of consultancy work, and whether we should have much more forceful sanctions against peers found to be in breach of the rules – I believe we do need to make changes. The House is a more modern and professional place in a very different world: we need to make sure our rules and structures reflect that.”

The outcome of this review will, I hope, be much clearer rules and guidelines as to what members of the House can and cannot do (with appropriate – and significant – sanctions available against anyone who goes outside those rules).

If that is the consequence of The Sunday Times story, then that result is in the public interest.

If it also helps bring about a proper debate about the role of the Second Chamber and the purpose people want it to fulfil in our system of government within our unwritten constitution, then that too is unequivocally something to be welcomed.

But that doesn’t mean I have to like the journalistic tactics to which I personally was subjected …….