Thursday, 31 December 2009

Politics gets the X factor

IT’S finally been agreed! Next year, in the run up to the General Election, there’ll be televised debates with the party leaders. Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg will go for it on air. It’s the first time a leader’s TV debate has happened in a British election. They’re common in America but the trend never caught on over here, until now. I think it’s going to be good.The public can really put the leaders on the spot.And the leaders can do the same to each other for a full 90 minutes, not the half-hour at Prime Minister’s Questions. It’s like The X Factor but better because it won’t take 14 flipping weeks to vote for the winner. But some folk aren’t happy. The Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties are complaining because they haven’t been invited to the party. I see their point, but if we invited them we’d really have to invite every minor political party in Britain with representatives! And then there’s everyone from the Monster Raving Loonies through to the Legalise Cannabis Party. If THEY all turned up, it would make The X Factor look positively respectable.
REMEMBER I told you about the big Iraq inquiry that is taking place at the moment? It’s investigating why we went to war and what went wrong, looking at everything from Tony Blair’s gung-ho decision to follow George Bush off to the Middle East, through to the torture of Iraqi prisoners years later. When the inquiry was first announced there was a big argument about whether to hold it in public. Government spooks wanted to keep things hush-hush and hold the investigation behind closed doors. Campaigners for truth and democracy wanted it in the open. In the end the government went with the public option, broadcasting the goings-on and publishing what was said. Unfortunately things went bad last Friday when the lead investigator decided to black-out a whole section of the proceedings. Around midday, an ex-diplomat was giving evidence. Suddenly chairman John Chilcot hit a button and cut the live feed for over a minute. When the transcript turned up later the words said during this time were blocked out with black ink. What on earth happened? Was there swearing? Did somebody fart? Methinks that there is a more sinister explanation. What we’ve got is a public inquiry with the juicy bits cut out. That’s no good. Soldiers died, thousands of Iraqi civilians were killed and billions were spent. Blacking out some embarrassing words won’t fool anyone. The war was wrong and most of us know we should NEVER have invaded. It’s a shame the government still tries to shield itself, and us, from this inescapable and dreadful truth.
SO, the Russians have announced that they’re planning to send a monkey to Mars. That’s right, in a new 21st Century space race, our Moscow based mates are going to put a chimp in a capsule and try to send the little fella all the way to the Red Planet. The experiment will include a robot to look after the monkey on its trip and will hopefully pave the way for plans to send a human to Mars in the next couple of decades. It’s exciting stuff! Putting a man on the moon was one of the biggest achievements in history. That also started with monkeys. Putting someone on Mars will be even more thrilling, because as well as Russia and the US, it will probably include China as well. It’s a shame the European Space Agency seems unwilling to seriously enter such an exciting mission. But one question. Why does it have to be a monkey, or even a man? What’s wrong with sending a woman,like Daily Sport babe Monica Harris? It’d be a real win for equality. And besides, she’s the perfect heavenly body for the trip.
LOOKING at the snow outside you wouldn’t think it – but global warming is getting worse by the day. And although top politicians from around the world gathered in Copenhagen last week to try and thrash out a deal to stop climate change, we’re still a long way off fixing the damage. The Copenhagen summit was a historic chance to try and prevent a global climate catastrophe. But where did it all go wrong? All the countries argued and spent time trying to protect their own interests. In the end US big boss Barack Obama helped broker a bit of a sort of treaty, but it wasn’t binding. That means countries have signed up for it but don’t have to actually do anything! Useless? You bet! Having a non-binding treaty is like saying: “Here’s a load of money and beer — please don’t take it… but no one’s going to try to stop you.” So in a way we’re back to square one. Something big has to be done soon – otherwise this could well be the last white Christmas we ever see.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Identity crisis grows

IDENTITY card plans have caused anger for years. First they wanted everyone in Britain to carry one. Then they saw sense and scrapped the scheme.But now they’ve gone for a bizarre halfway house where ID cards aren’t compulsory but people can buy them for 30 quid! After shelling out seven tenners for a passport, folk in Manchester,where the pilot scheme is starting, have the option of making it a round 100 by buying a useless ID card as well. Labour plan to extend the scheme to Cumbria, Merseyside, Lancashire and Cheshire next year. So if you Northern lads have a few quid left to burn after Christmas, forget the pub! Get yourself another piece of plastic to prove to your landlord you’re who he thinks you’ve been for the last 10 years. I suppose the only person who really could do with proving he exists is Santa Claus. But he doesn’t need ID to get into the country, he can get a herd of reindeer and 10 billion quid’s worth of presents in and he hasn’t even got a passport!
THE troubled Sun newspaper had a curious pop at me for using electricians from Mid-Wales to fix my electrics in my London flat. Their reporter, Lynsey Haywood, implied I wasted money by getting Welsh chaps to fix some electrical problems down in the Big Smoke. Now, let’s think about this. Which do YOU, dear Sport reader, think is cheaper? Sparkies from central London — or my guys from Montgomeryshire, one of the lowest paid regions in Britain? The Sun seems to believe you can get electrics fixed for less in Britain’s capital than you could with Welsh electricians — even including the travel! Perhaps they think Mid-Wales is more costly than Monte Carlo, so their tiny journalistic expenses allowance won’t stretch to a visit to find out whether the place is inhabited by multimillionaires and Pamela Anderson. Just so you know, a pint in my local pub is just over two quid. Rents are a fraction the price of the Big City… as are wages. Daily Sport writers know the real salaries people get OUTSIDE London. What’s bad is the story caused local electrician Chris Lewis to get so upset about how he was, in his words, “completely misquoted” that he offered to resign from his job. That’s NOT good, Lynsey! I don’t mind people having a bit of fun at MY expense, but how would young Ms Hayward feel if someone caused HER so much grief she felt like resigning? As one journalist to another, I suggest there should be limits. It’s wrong to pick on people who don’t know how the press will use their quotes. It might be good to show more respect to decent people like Chris, who deserve better from papers like the Sun.
THERE was scandal in the Irish parliament this week when fiery Green Party MP Paul Gogarty stood up and shouted “f*** you” to rival MP Emmet Stagg. The outburst came during a heated debate on the budget, and the passionate Mr Gogarty went on to declare: “We are screwed as a country because of the wrongdoing of others!” Gobby Gogarty quickly apologised — but the story took a startling twist when it turned out he hadn’t actually done anything wrong! Official rules ban Irish MPs from using the words “scumbag”, “communist”, “fascist” and “hypocrite”. But apparently the f-word is perfectly fine! The rule book is now being reviewed to give it a 21st century update. It’s the end of a flipping era.
THE race for the Christmas number one single used to be very competitive. But ever since The X Factor appeared it’s almost automatic that the winner of the show tops the Xmas charts. Now, non-fans of the contest, have organised a mass buying of the track Killing In the Name, by heavy metal band Rage Against the Machine. But I know who’ll get my backing this year. The British Army Rifles Regiment band recorded Love Farewell, as a tribute to fallen comrades in Afghanistan. They’re selling copies to raise money for the Help for Heroes charity. It’s a great cause. Go and buy it. If enough of us get a copy maybe the government will do their own Christmas tribute to the troops next year…by bringing them home.
FOR ages the African nation of Eritrea has been ruled by a nasty government. People are locked up for “crimes” like criticising its leaders. Now its footy team has legged it while playing in Kenya. The government called for the players to return and also accused them of “betraying their country”. Hmmm… don’t try that approach with your kids— or next thing you know, they’ll defect and end up playing football for Eritrea

Thursday, 17 December 2009

A century of tears

THE UK’s ill-fated expedition in Afghanistan hit a grim milestone on Monday with the loss of our 100th soldier this year. Lance-Corporal Adam Drane, 23, died in a gun battle in Helmand Province. Total coalition deaths in 2009 are now approaching the five hundred mark, with hundreds more Afghani soldiers and civilians dead or missing. The Daily Sport, and millions of people, have said again and again that its time to bring our troops home. And we’ll carry on saying it until the government does just that. It’s clear now that military measures are not the way forward in Afghanistan. But government ministers, from the comfort of London, are continuing to send our people over to fight and die on the front line. One of the arguments they use to keep our troops there is that all the deaths will be in vain if we pull out. But I don’t think this is the case. Allied forces have made progress. It’s just time to switch to a political strategy and to talk to the Taliban instead of trying to bash them into submission. Our forces won’t be home by this Christmas – but I just hope this is the last festive season they have to endure this war that cannot be won… and that the new year brings with it a dose of commonsense— and withdrawal. One death is too many, but one hundred in a single year is just insane.
I BET a lot of you Daily Sport readers look forward to the regular feature Students Talk Sex every Friday. Well, in Parliament this week we’ve had our very own version. You see, some folk in the media got hold of a naughty sex guide that was apparently written by Speaker John Bercow during his uni days. The saucy article appeared in a Tory student paper back in 1986. It included top chat-up lines and ways to seduce various different women. When it came to light on Monday some people got all excited and started slating boisterous Bercow, saying it made him unfit to do his job. What a load of nonsense! The whole thing turned out to be a bit of a non-story because the article wasn’t even written by John! It was a joke ABOUT him, not BY him. I was in student politics at the same time and anyone who met the young Mister Bercow knew he was the last person who would write something like that. And even if he has written it, who cares? Everyone does some odd stuff when they’re younger and it shouldn’t affect their position later. People should chill-outand get off John’s case. Anyway, after this week’s events you can be sure we won’t be seeing a “Bercow special” of Students Talk Sex anytime soon.
THE Italian edition of Rolling Stone magazine has picked its “Rock Star of the Year” and the result was unexpected. Chosen for his maverick lifestyle and eye for the ladies, the prize went to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi! The magazine reckons that even the likes of Rod Stewart and Keith Richards in their prime weren’t a patch on silver-tongued Silvio. They’ve got a point, the billionaire big boss became famous for flings with sexy model Noemi Letizia and call girl Patrizia D’Addario. He also threw saucy hot tub parties with naked girls then shrugged it off as “nothing scandalous” when the press found out. Still — and perhaps most interestingly — Berlusconi has stayed popular in the polls. In fact, there’s a good chance his lifestyle may even be making him EXTRA appealing to younger voters. Maybe Gordon Brown should take a leaf out of his book and hit the town with Peach . What’s the worst that could happen? As well as winning the election, he might even win Loaded’s “Man of the Year!”
LAST week Chancellor Alistair Darling revealed the country’s financial situation. And basically,we’re poor. Very poor. In fact, we’re skint. Everything’s gone wrong economically for the last year or so and the Treasury has been throwing money at it to tryand stop a total collapse. It’s sort of worked, in the sense that the economy will probably start growing again in January. That’s good news if it happens,but we’re still left with a whopping bill of £1,400,000,000,000! There was a bit of good news. Apparently, tax will be less on new central heating systems and also you’ll pay a bit less to play Bingo. So, in the words of economic Guru Vince Cable MP, it’s “good news for bingo and boilers.” But for the rest of us, start saving…

Monday, 7 December 2009

Will Gordon turn pirate

OUR Prime Minister appears to have become amphibious. You see, as his party's European election ratings sank beneath the waves, Gordon somehow managed to keep his head above water. This is no small feat. It was the worst election result for Labour since the First World War. On top of that, some Ministers resigned- and some said that Gordy should resign too. But there's something about Gordon which people under estimate. Just when you thinks it's all over, he somehow rallies his troops and the danger recedes. All the same, there's a lot of Labour wreckage from last week's Euro elections. Other parties, like the Tories and UKIP, were the main beneficiaries. Labour's worst result was in the south-west of England, where in parts they came SIXTH behind a Cornish nationalist party that wants the county to be independent from England. If the unsinkable Gordon Brown survives all the way to the election, he'll be more of an escape artist than Houdini. The thing is, he might just do it. He might take heart from some of the stranger parties which won against all odds in the elections. For instance, the Swedish Pirate Party who campaign for free downloads and file sharing on the internet. Pirates in Parliament? Shiver me timbers!
MAYBE it's because I'm a Londoner that I have to walk everywhere at the moment. OK, I'm not actually a Londoner, but I live there and it's been a tough week for travel in the Big Smoke. Arguments over pay and working hours caused a Tube workers' walkout, bringing gridlock to the capital. I've got sympathy for the strikers, they've a tough job and work hard. But it's pretty crap that London gets stuck whenever we can't use the Underground Ever tried driving around central London in the rush hour? Almost impossible. I dread to think what will happen when the Olympics are here and millions of people come to visit. Perhaps the only solution is to make Tube strikes and traffic jams into official Olympic events.
Remember Gary McKinnon? He's the fella facing big charges in the States for hacking into US Navy and NASA computers. Gary, who has Asperger's syndrome, was using his computer to look for UFOs and managed to hack into some pretty sensitive mainframes during his hunt. Back in October, the Home Secretary ruled he should be deported to the US, where he faces 70 years in jail. This week he's been in the High Court contesting this. His lawyers argue that deporting him for such a lengthy prison sentence could seriously damage his health. He's a got a lot of support. It's common for Asperger's sufferers to be unaware of the effect their actions are having so Gary probably didn't realise how much his hacking antics were frightening the spooks in the States. I reckon the US government should employ him rather than imprison him. He's obviously got the skills and the passion for a job in Area 51. But it could put the X Files out of business -if The Truth Is Out There on a computer somewhere, McKinnon WILL find it.
THERE are a lot of worthy causes around: all over the country people are saving the whales, forests and local post offices. But now some passionate activists have launched a new campaign- to save the Essex accent. Proud Essex historians reckon their unique lingo is being diluted. They are worried that the famous dialect of Essex girls like Bond babe Gemma Arterton and Daily Sport stunna Triana is under threat by the creeping advance of Cockney. It's not a moment too soon either. If Parliament has its way, everyone will probably have to sound Scottish when the Labour Party is in power, and like an Eton toff if the Tories take charge. But ONLY Lib Dem Lembit promises to preserve Essex accents forever!
IN the coming months there'll be a host of 'Pride' festivals up and down the country. Every summer gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities get together in London, Birmingham and other cities throughout the UK. They are often, bright and vibrant events. But in some other countries things have always been a little more low key. In China, for example, homosexuality has traditionally been a bit of a taboo, until now. A couple of lesbians from the USA set up Shanghai's first ever gay pride festival last week. So it's one more Pride party on the calendar so long as you like Chow Mein that is!

Sunday, 29 November 2009

It's time for some answers

SIX years, 179 lost soldiers and thousands of dead civilians after it began, we may finally be on the verge of getting some clarity about the UK’s ill-fated expedition into Iraq. On Wednesday, the public inquiry into why we went to war finally got underway. Top spies, government advisors, military chiefs, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown will be giving evidence. The hot issue will be why the government was so sure Iraq dictator Saddam had weapons of mass destruction when, even at the time, it was pretty clear he didn’t. After so much death, destruction and suffering, it’s important to get some answers. Of course, it’s good Saddam isn’t ruling his country any more but when our government seems to have misled the nation and sent our brave troops to die in a dodgy conflict, we have to examine what really went on. Unfortunately, while Gordo and his boys bowed to public pressure and decided to hold the inquiry in public, those running it are hand-picked by No 10. Plus, NONE of the witnesses will be required to give evidence under oath. Some people suspect a government “whitewash.” While a lot of important questions will be asked, we’ll probably never find out completely what went on during those dark days back in 2003. We need to remember the sacrifices our troops made and to find out why they were sent to their deaths. However, we also need to help the Iraqis rebuild their country, get our troops out of Afghanistan and make sure that future British governments do not go mental in the Middle East again. I voted against the war in 2003. It’s cold comfort to be proved right when the error is measured in billions of pounds, and hundreds of thousands of avoidable deaths.
WITH the World Cup fast approaching, the South African government is planning to set up 54 special courts so they can deal with rowdy football fans! The World Cup Courts will be in the host cities and will be able to “fast-track” cases involving foreigners. It’s a good idea. If you have your wallet nicked or get a punch in the pub you can give evidence in a couple of days rather than flying back to South Africa after the tournament has finished. It could also put people off footy-related violence. Those idiots who enjoy intimidating other fans or smashing up towns can be in the dock within 24 hours and the South African government has insisted that there will be “no leniency”. Still—I think every football fan will agree on the first person we’d like to see hauled before a judge. For cheating, robbery and crimes against football…Thierry Henry!
IT’S been one of those weeks when the weather has been the main news as huge winter rainfalls caused massive floods. My own area, Montgomeryshire, has been suffering from blocked roads and minor landslides while the situation in Scotland is so bad that people are being told to only make essential car journeys. But, as everyone knows, the centre of destruction is Cumbria. My MP friend Tim Farron has his work cut out sorting out evacuated residents, collapsed bridges, burst banks and millions of pounds in damage. Things got so bad that the army came in to help the emergency services. It’s a scary reminder of just how powerful the weather can be. We often moan about the wind and the rain but just be thankful your house isn’t under eight feet of water! It looks like the worst of the rains may be over but the clean-up hasn’t even begun yet. No one knows how long it will take to repair the schools, roads and houses. Frantic Farron reports that the Cumbrians have all been pulling together to help each other and show a true bit of “Blitz spirit”! It’s this kind of community teamwork that we should be proud of. So,well done to all the residents, emergency services and troops there and to anyone who still thinks there’s no such thing as global warming –– take a hike to Cumbria and see how far you get with that line now.
THERE’s been a spate of bizarre purchases recently! First, some Russian billionaire brought Hitler’s Mercedes for a cool five million quid. The un-named oligarch obviously fancied something a bit different and thought it would be trendy to cruise round in the wheels of one of the world’s most evil men. Then — and I kid you not — someone’s trying to sell Mussolini’s brain on eBay! Now, no one’s quite sure this brain actually belonged to the dead Italian dictator. But it may have been pinched from the hospital where it was stored after his execution back in 1945. His granddaughter Alessandra, a porn star-turned politician, got really angry and made sure eBay took down the offending item. What’s next? Idi Amin’s false teeth? Saddam Hussein’s moustache trimmers? Or even Katie Price’s modesty? Somehow I doubt it. If they
do go up for sale, all three are likely to be fakes.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Time for Gord to be a wise guy

WESTMINSTER’S usual business stopped for the “State Opening of Parliament” on Wednesday. It’s an impressive show, with lots of pomp and ceremony, including a Royal parade from Buckingham Palace to the House of Lords. The Queen sits on a big gold throne, then she reads out the government’s plans for the coming year. Although it’s called the Queen’s Speech, she doesn’t write it, the Prime Minister does. But, I wonder if she’s tempted to add bits in like, “My government has decided to give everyone free ice cream in February,” or “Katie Price will be detained in the Tower of London indefinitely”. There are only 70 working days of parliamentary time left before the nation goes to the polls next May. It’s the same length as a series of Big Brother. And just like BB, you decide who stays and who gets the boot. The Lib Dems called for the Queen’s Speech to be cancelled because whatever Labour say, they won’t have time to do it. But there is time for one more thing, bringing our troops back from Afghanistan. Daily Sport was the first paper to say we should leave this un-winnable war. I agree. We should get out before we lose more troops. If Gordon Brown wants to spend the next six months wisely, he’ll bring our boys and girls home. That alone would make this very short parliamentary session well worth it.
Truss issue for Tories
WITH the election so close you’d think the Tories would be taking on Labour. But, nope, they’re busy fighting THEMSELVES about each other’s private lives! Dangerous Davey Cameron has an A-list of candidates, which includes women and ethnic minorities. One’s a lively lady by name of Elizabeth Truss who’s fighting for the South West Norfolk Seat. Apparently, the local Tory branch went mental because Liz failed to mention she’d had a fling with a Conservative MP. Local Tories claimed they had been “betrayed” by Conservative HQ (who knew about the affair) and tried to stop her standing. Oh, for goodness sake! What does it matter? Her love life is no more relevant than her favourite food, or her view on the Offside Rule. Also, if local Conservative Party branches are so obsessed with who loves who, they’ll look pretty out of touch at the next election. I don’t know Ms Truss personally. But as far as “hanky panky” goes, her own team should back off big time. Our Tory chums still have a few lessons to learn.
Colonel Pimp
TWO hundred young Italian ladies were left very confused this week after an exclusive knees-up in Rome turned out slightly unexpectedly. They’d been recruited to attend the bash with a mysterious un-named VIP. Each woman was chosen because she was between 18-35, at least 1.7m tall and suitably “beautiful”. They were taken to a posh venue where they probably thought they’d rub shoulders with Hollywood film stars or top sportsmen—but no! The host was Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi, in Rome on a state visit. He made a long speech to “convert” the girls to Islam before sending them home with 50 euros and a copy of the Koran. It seems the likeable Libyan — a devout Muslim—was trying to poach Italy’s finest. I don’t think it would work over here. Short skirts, high heels and low-cut tops were specifically banned, so none of the Sport girls are likely to end up as Mrs Gaddafi anytime soon.
Dodgy donations
UNSURE of what to get the missus for Christmas? Got a spare £20 knocking around? If so, yo u can give her the ideal gift...a donation to the government! Sound weird? Too right it is! The bizarre idea comes from the Charities Advisory Trust — usually a very sensible group. They run a magazine where you can buy things like goats, chickens and wells for poor villages in Africa — all in the name of a friend or loved one. They send a certificate to show where the “present” has gone and how it’s helping those in need. It’s a nice scheme. It makes people feel good and helps the world’s poorest. But this year they’ve expanded the “gifts” available to include a £20 voucher to “help whittle down the national debt”. Basically, you hand over your 20 notes, and it ends up in HM Treasury… and your other half is meant to feel happy because Britain’s less poor — in her name. I’ve got two problems with this. Firstly, it’s just stupid – I doubt your lass will thank you for giving her present to the Chancellor. And secondly, the national debt currently stands at 825 BILLION QUID... with only £500 worth of vouchers sold so far. Just buy her a bottle of Baileys and some flowers, instead.
Hi Kevan
LAST Saturday I bumped into a great Daily Sport reading chap called Kevan Daniels. He told me : “I read the Daily Sport because it’s a different paper. There’s too much gloom and doom and you need something to cheer you up.” Too right, Kevan. If you read the Sport and you see me, say hi and I’ll try to include you next week.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Nostalgia by the tonne in Berlin

There were big parties in Germany on Monday to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was so long ago now, that my youthful staff members Basil, Bill and Barker (sounds like a 1960s folk band) have no memory of it at all! But for many the memories are fresh. Thousands of people were split up from their friends, families and lovers when the Communist leadership in East Germany built the wall literally to stop people escaping to the Free West. That’s why its destruction – and reunification of Germany into one big country again - was their happiest historical moment. Meanwhile some folk have been celebrating – and reminiscing – by snapping up old East German products that disappeared after the country reunified. Communist Cola, toothpaste and even pickled gherkins are all being purchased in a fit of nostalgia. There’s still a small bit of the Wall standing. Go to see it if you ever get the chance. Just one bit of advice- while you’re there don’t spend your cash on any of the “genuine fragments of wall rubble” that are on sale. So many of these have been flogged that you could have built a wall stretching twice around the world! If you want some,give me a call. I’ve got thousands of tonnes of the stuff from, er, a hillside in Wales.
A MEDIA storm erupted this week involving Gordon Brown and the sorry situation in Afghanistan. But it wasn’t to do with troop numbers, pensions for veterans, helicopters, battles with the Taliban or even whether our boys and girls should be out there at all. No, this week’s big story ignored all these serious issues and focussed on. . . the Prime Minister’s handwriting. You see — one of our brave lads, a young serviceman called Jamie Janes, was killed on the front line last month. Gordo wrote a letter of condolence to his mother but, due to his bad eyesight and dodgy handwriting (something he openly admits to), it looked like he wrote the surname “James” not “Janes”. The Sun got hold of the letter and went to town on Gordo, accusing him of disrespecting troops and insulting Guardsman Janes’ mother. Now don’t get me wrong, I can see why Mrs Janes is devastated. But the Sun has really gone too far. Gordon Brown sends personal letters to the relatives of all servicemen and women who lose their lives on the front line, something that has brought a small degree of comfort to a lot of people. The fact that his handwriting has made one name look wrong is no reason to attack him. Anyway, national papers like this should be focusing on the real issues surrounding this conflict. So far the Daily Sport stands head and shoulders above the rest in calling for a withdrawal from Afghanistan. That’s what counts — not whether an “n” looks like an “m”. When our troops’ lives are on the line the Sun, which is backing the Conservatives to win the next general election, has resorted to petty political point scoring. It’s they who should be ashamed.
AS I was driving through London the other night I caught sight of a giant poster for the new Stereophonics album Keep Calm and Carry On. The album cover features the four Welsh fellas sitting around a table in the middle of the sea. It reminded me of a strange political incident the other week when the government of the Maldives went a step further and actually held their cabinet meeting under the Indian Ocean! Maverick President Mohamed Nasheed hosted the meeting in full scuba gear and 20 feet below the sea’s surface, to highlight the threat of climate change. He raises a very valid concern. Experts reckon that if global warming carries on at its current rate the Maldives could be submerged within 100 years. Their problem is that they depend on the whole world to sort out climate change. And at the moment we’re doing a poor job of it. And if we carry on like this there’ll be lots of places which will end up beneath the sea. Let’s start taking the climate thing on a bit more energetically. And until then my advice is go on holiday to the Maldives by all means. But don’t buy a house there unless it’s waterproof.
ONE person whose dedication to veterans and families noone could question is Lance Corporal Katrina Hodge, known to her mates as “combat Barbie”. Gorgeous Katrina is just 21 but has already served in Iraq and won the prestigious Miss England beauty competition. That’s a strange combination if ever I saw one! Now she’s due to head off to Afghanistan but first will be given a short break to compete in the Miss World contest which takes place in South Africa in December. And if she takes the crown Kat wants to help charities that look after wounded soldiers and their bereaved families. Gorgeous, charitable, brave and patriotic — she sounds like the perfect girl. On behalf of Daily Sport readers everywhere I’d like to say good luck Katrina — we’re backing you all the way!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Keeping it in the family......

A CHAP called Kelly has finally revealed his brilliant plan to sort out MPs' expenses. While most of it is OK, there are a few slightly weird bits in it. For example, he reckons that eventually all MPs might have to live in accommodation owned by the government. What has he got in mind? A giant dormitory, with lights out at 11pm and no visitors? Or just a converted prison where we’re all locked up for the night, for our comfort and everyone’s safety? Then there’s the other recommendation: You can’t employ a “family” member. So what does that mean exactly? What constitutes a “family member”? Lots of MPs employ their wives and husbands partly because that means they actually get to see each other a bit more than they would otherwise. Many MPs work 90 hours a week, and if they can work as a team that makes sense. Also, what on earth does “family member” mean? Does having a Christmas kiss with your secretary mean you have to sack her? Can you employ your ex-wife? If you suddenly find out your excellent researcher is, in fact, a long-lost cousin, does that mean it’s curtains for his employment? This one seems a bit dodgy to me and would actually mean we’ll need a kind of register of romantic interests. I mean, if you just fancy someone, do you have to make them redundant before you take them out on a date? These are unanswered questions, and they’ve got to be sorted out before the new system comes into force. The rest of the Kelly stuff makes reasonable sense, but I wonder if he really thought about the family stuff before making his proposals. There’s no doubt things have to change. Personally, I say get rid of all the allowances, apart from travel, and leave an independent body to set MPs’ salaries. What we’ve got goes some of the way there, but until we simplify this whole business, it’ll never go away completely.
SINCE 1989 the Indian army has been trying to defeat Islamic militants in Kashmir. They’ve tried everything. High tech weaponry, aircraft, military vehicles and thousands of troops have been deployed in the region. However, this week two rebel fighters were successfully taken out — by a bear. The mis-adventurous militants were taking a break from fighting and putting together a meal when a great big black bear wandered into their cave. And despite the pair being armed with AK47s, the hungry mammal managed to overcome them and, well, eat them. It proves nature can win where a well-armed military force can’t. The US will be hoping that one day Bin Laden might go the same way. After the billions the Yanks have invested in tracking him down, it would be ironic indeed if he became a tasty snack for Yogi
Bear’s peckish pals!
THE House went nuts this week when Home Secretary Alan Johnson sacked the government’s top drug advisor Professor David Nutt. Dangerous Dave advised the government on drug policy. But he got the boot for saying cannabis was less risky than alcohol or tobacco and that it should never have been made a Class B illegal drug. Now I like Alan Johnson but it’s ludicrous to ask a top scientist for policy advice and then sack him for sharing that advice with the public afterwards. It’s like asking Daily Sport babe Bailey to get her kit off, then getting offended because you don’t like nudity. Anyway, Prof. Nutt is right. I’m not encouraging you to have a spliff instead of a pint, but booze and ciggies are also dangerous. Cannabis may cause mental illness but so does alcohol. Then there’s the link between fags and cancer. If you’re going to make cannabis a Class B drug,surely whisky and cigs have to go in there too! But while the medical world (and the LibDems) are right behind downhearted Dave, the Labour party and, predictably, the Tories seem set in their ways. They’re waging a war against common sense and, sadly, they seem to be winning.
REMEMBER a few months back when I told you about the decision to let the UK Youth Parliament use the Commons for their annual session? It was the end of a long hard battle against a group of stuffy old traditionalists who opposed letting the youth into “our” chamber. Last Friday the Youth Parliament session happened. And a lot of those guys and girls shone. There was no bitchiness or political point scoring, just serious and very well handled debate. My mate, the “Speaker” John Bercow, chaired the session and praised MYPs for their speeches. It was great to see so many young people involved in democracy. Some who spoke — like Funmi Abari and Oliver Rawlinson — have already been spotted by the press. The way things are going,maybe they should start running the country right now.

Friday, 30 October 2009

It's stealing not sharing

IMAGINE if you spent three months working your guts out –– only to be told that you’re not getting paid! Well, if you’re a musician, this is exactly what happens to you every day. Illegal “file-sharing” of music means performers often don’t get paid when their music is downloaded for free through some websites. It’s not just unfair –– it’s theft, and on a colossal scale. This hasn’t been lost on the government. They’ve finally decided to do something about it. New laws will stop people from illegally file-sharing. This may even include suspending someone’s access to the internet after a series of warnings. For some, illegal file-sharing is so ingrained that only these tough measures will stop them –– because it doesn’t FEEL like stealing, even though it is. Most musicians and songwriters aren’t loaded, especially if they’re just starting out. If they don’t get paid they can’t make music, it’s as simple as that. We wouldn’t have heard Angels if Robbie Williams had to spend all his time earning money in Argos by singing: “Order number 325 to your collection point please.” And what if Oasis or the Beatles had never been paid? Or pop beauty Katy Perry. The whole world would have been deprived of their talent. Then again, if Chesney Hawkes had never got his first pay cheque we might have been saved from “I am the one and only” being pumped out in nightclubs every weekend. You may well have shared files yourself. Well, stop it! With over 20 LEGAL online services in theUK, like iTunes and Spotify, you can download legally without wrecking the industry. The laws will help,but if we all act a bit more responsibly, that would be best of all.
THERE’S been talk this week that former prime minister Tony Blair might become the President of the European Council. What do YOU think about that? This new post will happen once all the European Union countries have signed up to the Lisbon Treaty No one’s sure what the president’s job will involve yet. But it will be a powerful position. Blair’s a front-runner and a pretty good bet if you want a flutter. You may be surprised to read this from me, but a lot of the work he did as prime minister suggests he’d be quite good. By sending troops to Kosovo he helped stop the biggest European genocide since the Holocaust. And his work in Northern Ireland helped solve one of the continent’s longest running conflicts. These achievements shouldn’t be forgotten. But then come the objections. Some folk reckon the president should come from a country which isn’t “Eurosceptic” like the UK. Then there’s Blair’s track record of getting involved with messy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his initial support for the ludicrously stupid prison camp in Guantanamo Bay. The funny thing is, Blair hasn’t even said that he wants the job! But if he gets it, the first thing he should do is change the voting system in the Eurovision Song Contest, so we stop coming nearly last all the time. Mama Mia!
MY pal and fellow MP Albert Owen was very hacked off this week when the Isle of Anglesey, which makes up his constituency, was wiped off the map — by Weetabix. As part of a new competition, Weetabix added a map of the British Isles to all their cereal boxes. Unfortunately, someone forgot to include Angelsey. This upset 70,000 people on the island. The Anglesey Tourism Association chief branded Weetabix “cereal killers” and called for a boycott of their products. I’m not surprised he’s annoyed ’cos it’s happened before. Last year, Walkers Crisps ran a tourism campaign that also erased Anglesey off their maps. I hope the situation gets sorted. Until then I guess it’s Shredded Wheat for Angry Albert!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Talking to extremes.....

UK politicians were split again this week over an old question: “Is it right to debate with extreme right wing and racist groups?” It’s come up again because a dubious Dutch MP Gert Wilders got to visit Parliament last Friday. Also, BNP leader Nick Griffin was on the BBC’s Question Time. Horrible Grouchy Gert caused a stir a few months back when he wasn’t allowed into Britain due to his extreme views on Islam. As for the BNP — well, they’ve been ruffling feathers for a couple of decades now, largely because they’re horrible to foreigners. Most people in Britain agree racism’s bad. But that’s where the agreement ends. Some want to debate with these people head-on to expose the weakness of their views. Others reckon we should just ignore them. I want the debate. Just pretending they don’t exist isn’t going to work! You can’t win an argument by not having it. If your mate claimed Hull City was the greatest football team in Britain—or that Sport stunna Jodie Oram isn’t attractive — you wouldn’t just ignore them would you? You’d sit them down in front of Match of the Day or buy them a copy of the Sport! And that’s exactly what we should be doing with the extremists, using facts and arguments, not pretending that they’ll simply get bored and take up golf instead. With unemployment up, community spirit down and the ever-looming threat of terrorist attacks, the temptations of prejudice and blaming an ethnic group are great indeed. But by challenging those ideas publicly we can get a more moderate result. That’s why I’m personally willing to debate with Mr Griffin. There’s no other way.
MY Daily Sport column seems to be creating a bit of jealousy! A funny little fella called Matthew Withers can’t stop writing about me in a tiny weekly regional paper in Wales. And given what he writes about everyone else, I’m sure he’ll see the funny side of my gentle joshing about him. If Mattie was a woman, I’d report him as a stalker. Last weekend he did a huge front page story about my column, and copied whole sections of my work into it! Poor Mattie seems to have some sort of problem with my column, even though he’s clearly been following it every week. My advice to the likes of my mate Withers is to stop patronising the public. When he sneers at the Daily Sport, he sneers at readers who happen to like my more positive and informal approach towards political reporting. As I’ve said before, journalists who run down the content and style of this paper offend their own profession. It’s as if they’ve all kinds of hang-ups about what people like to –– or should –– read. Or is it just the fact that thousands more people read my column than read poor Mattie’s? If that is what’s bugging him, then it would suggest that for little Mattie, size matters. No doubt he’ll carry on his literary love affair with me this weekend. I’ll keep you posted.
LABOUR are to civil liberties what icebergs were to the Titanic! They tried introducing 42-day detention without trial and came up with a crazy ID cards scheme. Another loopy anti-liberal idea was keeping a database of innocent people’s DNA! Until now, everyone who’s arrested has had a sample of DNA taken. Under government rules, this is kept by the coppers, even if the person is found innocent, for any length of time they want! Understandably there was uproar. What right have the Old Bill got to take genetic samples off you when you’ve committed no crime? Thankfully, the ministers have backed down. They’re now proposing time limits on how long the DNA can be kept before being disposed of. It’s a step in the right direction. But they should be going further and not keeping samples from any innocent folk at all. Sadly, I doubt a change of government will change the policy. The last government to introduce detention without trial was led by none other than a certain Conservative called Margaret Thatcher!
OUR beloved Prime Minister, “Flash Gordon” Brown, was making noises about the environment again this week. It’s not surprising. Some days ago Greenpeace camped on Parliament’s roof after daringly scaling the perimeter fence. These green warriors want action, they believe Ministers are being crap about not taking proper environmental measures. The campaigners sat up there for hours, shivering their nuts off, to get people to notice. It sort of worked — after all, I’m writing about it, and the photos were good too. And Gordy does seem to have got up and done something about it now. But consider this. The “Authorities” spend millions on security at Parliament. But these eco-protesters still got in. Maybe all you need to invade the Palace of Westminster is recycled trousers and a good cause.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Funny peace of thinking!

THIS was the week that the winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was announced. It’s awarded to the person who’s made the world’s biggest contribution to peace and human rights over the past year. Previous winners include Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama and Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Sometimes it goes to organisations like Amnesty International and the Red Cross. So it’s a big deal. If you were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, you’d certainly be swinging it around in everyone’s face in the pub that evening. But surprisingly, this year’s winner was US President Barack Obama. Now, I’m a big fan of Mr O –– he’s certainly a trillion times better than his dopey predecessor George Bush. But has Obama really done enough to win the Nobel Peace Prize after less than a year at the White House? Even the man himself said he doesn’t really deserve it!The Nobel Committee said they gave it to Obama to encourage him in his quest for peace. But I’m not sure that’s right. It’s like giving a drama student an Oscar to encourage them in their acting career. The decision is even more dubious when you look at the other nominees. People like Morgan Tsvangarai (Zimbabwe’s democracy leader), Sima Samar (who does women’s rights in Afghanistan) and Denis Mukwege (who helps victims of conflict in the Congo) have literally risked their lives every day for years on end –– just to help others. Obama will do things that deserve a Nobel Peace Prize –– but he hasn’t done them yet.
ON Wednesday, the Prime Minister committed yet more troops to Afghanistan. In my view, and this paper’s view, that’s the wrong policy. But he also commemorated the 37 soldiers killed over the summer. So it was fitting that last Tuesday we had a reception for military service people in the swanky apartment where the Speaker of the House lives—a posh flat with champagne and a fourposter bed. I can report that I met some of the finest military personnel I’ve ever come across in my 24 years in politics. Heading the hall of fame were Leading Medical Assistant Paul Davies, and his colleague Gareth, plus Lieutenant Sharon Fraser Smith from the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service. These people are skilled, committed and brave. They literally save lives — putting people back together after they’ve been injured in the fierce fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. What I didn’t realise is they also care for wounded enemy fighters too — or, as they call them “detainees”. I asked smartly uniformed and charming Sharon — who, I must admit, was rather on the fit side — if she was ever scared out there. “Yes, sometimes, but you just have to put it aside,” she said. “My team depends on me so I can’t let myself feel scared.” Once, while watching telly, the insurgents started mortar bombing them. Her response was to turn up the TV volume! I was proud to meet Sharon, Paul and Gareth. They’re a credit to our military and our country. Oh, and I hope you got back to Plymouth OK – and that they sell aspirin on the train.
WELL, everyone’s back in Parliament again. And the week started with a classic example of all that’s stupidest in parliamentary policy making. Basically, Ministers hate smoking so much they’ve decided they won’t let newsagents even display cigarettes on the back wall of their shops. It will be law to hide fags under the counter. Well, how’s this going to help anybody? The evidence suggests to me it’ll do almost nothing to stop adults or kids from smoking.Do ministers imagine kids see all the nice packets on the back wall and say to the shopkeeper: “Oooh, I’ve decided to become addicted to fags. Twenty B&H please, mister.” It’s rubbish. It’ll cost shopkeepers loads of money and turn buying cigs into some sort of weirdly embarrassing activity like buying porn and condoms. I voted against it but I voted in vain. There’s still a chance the new rules won’t get put into action. But for now, it looks like common sense has gone up in smoke.
THERE was a stir in Cornwall this week when anti-student graffiti appeared. Apparently, it was scrawled by a group called the Cornish Republican Army who want Cornwall to be independent from England and don’t like new flats being given to students, instead of local folk. No one knows if the Cornish Republican Army — or CRA — has any real support, or even exists! Some claim CRA members get training and funds from other terrorist groups, others reckon it’s just a clever hoax and their boss might as well be the Loch Ness monster. I’m not keen on Cornish independence — it would make scrumpy cider a foreign beverage. And it would mean Sport stunna Marlena Lewis from Cornwall would need a passport to get her Cornish pasties into this paper!

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

One and the same

THE Lib Dems blustered in Bournemouth, Labour blathered in Birmingham, and this week the Tories were mincing in Manchester. Our right-wing revivalists had their chance to put forward a clear, distinctive, unconfusing message. But DID the Tory Party — which wants to ban 24-hour drinking—lead by example? Take a wild guess! Despite likeable senior Tory Eric Pickles optimistically trying to ban champagne at the conference, various big players like MP Alan Duncan were necking the bubbly anyway. So what? Who cares if they drink beer or champagne? I’m more worried about the fact that if they DO get into government, it looks like they won’t be very different to the Labour government they want to replace. For instance, they agree with Labour’s decision to freeze the pay of public-sector workers. On Tuesday, George “Ozzy” Osborne announced that all public workers — apart from those on the lowest salaries and our boys on the frontline in Afghanistan—will have their pay frozen. Lovely! And they’re going to increase the retirement age — just like Labour. They also aim to get tough on crime, apparently by letting people stick pictures of criminals on lamp posts. But how about this — they’ll cut incapacity benefit for 500,000 people, even though the Tories used that same benefit to get people off the unemployment figures when THEY were in power!
In an amazing attempt to look like they’re “one of us,” Georgey Boy declared “We’re all in this together!” Yeah, right mate. When’s the last time people like the Tory front bench stood in dole queues, or ran market stalls in East London? Back in 1983, the real Ozzy Osbourne released a rabblerousing song entitled You’re no Different. I suppose it’s pop history repeating itself. Tory Shadow Chancellor George “Ozzy” Osborne did prove the Tories ARE no different —from Labour!
THERE’S always interesting stuff going on in the background at a party conference. Having attended the Tory one in the past, I can privately reveal that their’s is, er, “odder” than the others. For example, Conservative baby clothes were the top- selling item in the conference shop. Why? Do they have a campaign plan of “breeding for victory?” Then a 15-year-old called Annabelle demanded that the Prime Minister “apologise”. Hmm . . . an attack against Labour by a Conservative who was three when her party was last in charge. She must have been a very mature toddler to remember the old days well enough to make a comparison. My mate Boris Johnson did redeem things a bit. He has a habit of putting his foot in it “up north.” On arriving in Manchester he said it is “one of the great British cities I have yet to offend!” It was a great line.
FOR all the bravado, there’s one statistic the Tory-loving journos don’t seem too keen to point out. If they’re going to put Shiny Dave in Downing Street, the Conservatives will have to gain a whopping 117 seats from other parties. That would be the biggest swing since 1931! Like I said last week, Labour won’t go down without a fight. The Tories are ahead at the moment but it’s far from over. A week is a long time in politics and it’s still 34 weeks until a General Election must be called. Tory campaigners may be happy right now, but come May 2010 they might just feel like they celebrated too soon. Perhaps this calls for unusual tactics. If a Daily Sport stunna like Linda Dee came out supporting a party, they could be very influential. Come on Linda, your assets could swing the nation!
I AM delighted to see the Daily Sport taking a courageous and honest stand against the unwinnable and hopelessly expensive war in Afghanistan. The only WAY OUT is to PULL OUT. Then we can start talks with the other side and find a better way to sort out the mess. In hundreds of years, nobody’s ever beaten the Afghans on their home turf. It’s an away match the British and Americans cannot win — not least because, when they were our friends, we actually trained the enemy we’re now trying to defeat! So a gold star to the Sport for having the vision to call for troop withdrawal. I only hope other newspapers will have the sense to follow this paper’s lead. Any other plan is a strategy for failure, and a death warrant for even more of our brave soldiers.
ONCE again, our Friends in Europe have been getting stroppy over farming matters. The Belgians—who are better knownf or their chocolate and their national mascot (a urinating boy) —have been protesting about milk. On Tuesday a bunch of angry dairy farmers, hacked off at a dramatic fall in milk prices, took to the streets of Brussels. They blocked roads with their tractors, released chickens, dumped farmyard crap everywhere and drove a load of cows down the street. It caused total chaos and the police were deployed to keep order. At this point one talented farmer led his cow forward and managed to spray the baffled bobbies with milk straight out of its udders! That’s got to be the best ever example of “milking the situation”.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Water way to make a point

THERE was yet another protest outside my Westminster Parliamentary office window last Wednesday. One minute it was just the normal mix of tourists, joggers and bored-looking coppers. Next thing, hundreds of people were running on to Westminster Bridge and forming a human barrier. This week's demo was by the Tamils from the Elam region of Sri Lanka. For years they've been getting shirty about how badly the Sri Lankan government treats them. They even set up the 'Tamil Tigers', a rebel group fighting the Sri Lankan government. Recently, the military over there started a big push to destroy the Tigers once and for all. Unfortunately, they killed a lot of innocent Tamil people too. That wasn't good for peace and reconciliation, and the whole thing's now a big, violent mess.
So that's why they were out demonstrating. They want the British government to intervene. Some of the protesters got so riled they threw themselves off the bridge into the Thames. What an odd way to make a point. People took photographs of the floating fellows, probably missing the point of the demo and thinking it was something set up for tourists. What happens next with this Tamil business is anyone's guess. But the protesters aren't the only people who are all at sea on this one.
EVER heard of Muntadar al-Zaidi? You may not know his name but you'll know what he did. He's the plucky Iraqi journalist who lobbed his shoes at George Bush last December. Muntadar was hacked off with how bumbling Bush had messed up Iraq. So he chucked his shoes-a big insult in Arab culture-at the outgoing President during a press conference. Bush managed to duck but Muntadar's stunt earned him three years porridge in an Iraqi slammer. However the good news this week was that a court of appeal decided he was generally a decent bloke and had never been in trouble with the fuzz before. So they cut his sentence to just 12 months. A year in Baghdad's lock-up can't be a bundle of laughs-but it's certainly better than three. And considering that six out of 10 Iraqis see him as a hero, Mr al-Zaidi is in for a warm welcome when he gets out. Perhaps he'll even get an advertising deal with Doc Martens.
PORN seems to have become a bit of a theme in the Home Office over the last couple of weeks. First, there was Jacqui Smith's other arf claiming expenses for adult flicks. Now there are more red faces over a dodgy website link. It all started with a page about, 'Security and Counter-terrorism'. The page linked to a body called the Technical Advisory Board unfortunately they'd changed their website without telling the techies at the Home Office. Then the old website address had been bought up by a Japanese porno site! A chap trying to find out about security regulations stumbled across the lusty Japanese babes and quickly phoned the BBC. They called up the Home Office to point out their saucy site to officials. It just goes to show that the police aren't the only ones seeing blue at the Porn Office. I bet the Home Secretary has had enough of all this. She'll be laying down the law in her department-I suppose you could call it the Porn Ultimatum.
WHAT’S your view on fox hunting? I ask because the whole subject’s just about to be dropped right back into the centre of the political agenda. Tory chief David Cameron said this week that if he becomes the Prime Minister he’ll bring it back. “WHAT!?” I hear readers scream. “How very dare you?!” Well, hold on a moment. Now, I’m not here to talk up the Tories, but it’s not as horrible as some people may have you believe. Consider this: The fox hunting ban was supposed to reduce animal suffering in the countryside. But actually, the facts I’ve seen show it’s done no good for animal welfare at all. More foxes are now being shot, snared and wounded than before the ban, all perfectly legally. Hunting, on the other hand, uses dogs which either catch and kill the fox pretty quickly, or the fox escapes unharmed. There’s no wounding because it’s an “all or nothing” kind of thing. I asked the pro-ban lobby why they’re so keen on banning the one method which never wounds a fox in favour of methods which do. So far, they haven’t been able to give a single sensible answer to this simple sensible question. Oh, and here’s another thing. The Hunting Act applies to ANYONEwith a dog. So if your little Pekinese poochie kills a mouse, technically you could be arrested and tried for breaking the law. If we care about animal suffering, we’ve simply got to can the ban.

It ain't all fun at the seaside

OK chaps, now listen up. Do you get excited about political party conferences? In my never ending mission to reveal the wonderful world of politics, here’s a quick round up of what went on when the lovely Lib Dems descended on Bournemouth Conference Centre to save the world. Team Opik was there…
DO you think our rail service is crap? I do. And it’s expensive too. That’s why I helped my chum, Linda “Wacko” Jack try to convince the 2,500 conference delegates to make renationalisation of the railways a Lib Dem party policy. Wacko Jacko reckons the trains and tracks should be owned by the country – not by the private companies who have us paying silly money to stand around waiting on platforms, listening to some robot announcer apologise for signal failures, broken down trains and leaves on the line. That’s why Jacko and I were campaigning for re-nationalisation. At the last minute, the final speaker managed to turn the debate around and the delegates voted by a narrow margin NOT to take up our idea. Never mind. At least we gave it a good whirl. Sadly, it means that we’ll carry on getting fleeced for a ticketing fortune, while waiting for the delayed train to wherever. It’s the greatest train robbery since Ronnie Biggs.
ON Tuesday, there was a long argument about whether nuclear power is a good or bad thing. As the oil runs out and coal continues to mess up the planet, I can’t see how we’ll keep the lights from going out without nuclear. But others disagree. They believe wind farms, solar power and all the other renewables will meet our needs— even though it would probably take a solar panel the size of Wales just to keep our TVs on! It always amazes me how many different points of view there can be in one party, evenwhen the evidence seems (to me) clear cut. In the end the Lib Dems voted to remain opposed to nuclear. Fair enough, you’ve got to listen to the party members. But if we DO have an energy shortage as a result, I just hope the anti-nukes will have the decency to take to their exercise bikes, connect them up to the national grid, and start pedalling.
OUTSIDE the main debates, it’s a circus of activity. Two-hundred groups ranging from the National Farmers Union to the Friends of Pakistan hosted their own discussions, events and meetings. I spent a good chunk of the conference at these fringe events, talking about issues like HIV testing and the problems of the fox hunting ban. Then there were the meetings with groups like the Motor Neurone Disease Association to check out how I can help their work. But it’s not all blabber and jabber. The good folks at the Entertainment Leisure and Software Publishers Association brought along a Nintendo Wii for MPs to have a go on. I managed to “jump” 133 metres on their virtual ski slope, which, apparently, was quite good. Meanwhile, the RSPCA hosted an excellent curry night. Although I’ve had my differences with them as an organisation, they’re nice people and serve up a great cruelty free korma! I think that, next year, the Daily Sport should have a fringe meeting to promote the Sporting way of life. If it was attended by the gorgeous Cassie Truman , some activists would go mental and say it’s terrible—but I bet the meeting would be packed!
WANT to hear about what goes on at conference “after hours”. Well after a hard day’s work we had a lot of fun! I reckon that the best teams in any walk of life are the ones that get on at a personal level so a bit of socialising goes a long way. And, before you ask, NONE of the conference partying was subsidised by the taxpayer. The day’s work generally wrapped up around 10pm and then folk started heading to the bars. There’s a lot of general merrymaking—in fact, I hear that Lib Dems consume more units of booze at our conference than any other party! I’m not sure if that’s quite true but if so it just goes to show our dedicated support for the beer industry. A few delegates jumped in the sea in their clothes, arriving back in the bar covered in sand and looking like the Creature From The Black Lagoon. Others “found romance”. Others took partying to an obsessive extreme. I observed two merrymakers finishing their lagers…as people came down for breakfast. Overall, the Lib Dems conference went reasonably well, with no knockout blows for or against it. Next week it’s Labour – I’ll give you a full report on Friday. Don’t miss it, mateys!

Friday, 18 September 2009

Time to stop........and think

HAVE you ever been stopped and searched? This week the government announced that they’ll be scrapping the lengthy forms that police officers have to fill in when they stop and search people. Previously, coppers had to write pages of details on anyone they searched even if they didn’t arrest them. Now they’ll only have to jot down the suspect’s name, race, and why they were stopped. It’s an attempt to cut red tape and free up bobbies to do what they’re meant to be doing —fighting crime not filling in forms. But there is another side to this. The danger is that less bureaucracy will mean more searches. They’ll be quicker and easier for the cops to carry out so we could end up with them happening even more often. That would be a bad thing. Stop and search is a useful power for combating serious crime and terrorism but should be used very sparingly. It’s been well proved that constantly stopping and searching people turns them against the police. It was one factor which kicked off the Brixton riots back in the 80s and it’s often used by militant Islamists keen to stir up anger against the cops and the government. If we don’t keep a check on stop and search, paperwork will be the least of our problems.
THE Trades Union Congress (TUC) drew a lot of flack this week when they took on the role of fashion police. We’re in recession, trade unionists abroad are being persecuted by dodgy dictators and the government is eroding our civil liberties. But the annual gathering of unions decided to devote a big chunk of their discussion and debate to—high heels. You see, certain unions reckon that women are under pressure to wear high heels to work and that this can damage their health. They tabled a motion and led a big old debate on the merits and pitfalls of various female footwear. Some unionists sensibly argued that people should be allowed to wear what they like without unions sticking their noses in. After all, there are already employment laws that protect anyone from being forced to wear stuff that will cause them health problems and this debate only wasted time that could have been spent on more serious issues. Incredibly the congress voted to condemn high heels. What do they want attractive girls to wear? Overalls? Sensible shoes? Cloth caps? Why don’t they just ban make-up as well, then get the Taliban to run the unions? I gave my good friend Laura Marie Newman a call about all this. She said she’d be happy to leave her high heels at home… when hell freezes over!
HE’S out! This week Muntadar al-Zaidi, the journalist who chucked his shoes at George Bush, was released from prison to a hero’s welcome. Maverick Muntadar has been swamped with offers of cash, land and admiring young Arab ladies desperate to marry him. He’s even been offered a golden horse by the Emir of Qatar. That’s gotta be worth more than the shoes he threw! However, there’s a darker side to this tale. Muntadar claims that during his nine months in the slammer he was, beaten and given electric shocks. These allegations echo Iraq’s brutal past and are a chilling sign that things might not have moved on all that much. I wish Mr al-Zaidi all the best and hope that he can now settle down in peace (with or without his golden animals—and shoes). But, above all, I hope Iraq can move onwards and upwards. Saddam may be gone but torture has to go too.
I’VE recently flagged up some of the whacky ways companies have been trying the get through the recession. Well, get a load of this . . . Last month Premier Inns launched a “£58 honeymoon” to help hard-up newlyweds. For that you get a room, Primark pyjamas, a box of chocolates, a spa set and a bottle of sparkling wine. Not bad! But a hotel on the Caribbean island of Aruba has gone even further—a £180 discount if you conceive a child while you’re there. Take a break at the Westin Resort, indulge in “bedroom athletics” with the missus, get a doctor’s note to prove that the resulting kid was probably conceived there and, voila, 180 smackers cash-back! What a delightful initiative! If the UK government had anything to do with it they’d probably send out a health and safety inspector to observe proceedings, then deport the baby when it was born because it wasn’t conceived in the UK!
IT’S funny that after all this time some people still get wound up about me writing this column. I’m proud to be part of the Daily Sport team and it’s disappointing when people run the paper down. So I was pleased when a fella called Stephen Hill came up to me in the Elephant Castle pub in Newtown and gave the Sport a big thumbs up. People who rubbish the Sport are patronising its readers who have every right to enjoy news, politics and fun in their newspaper. So good on ya, Stephen— in my book you’re King of the Hill

Monday, 14 September 2009

Frogs give swine flu the kiss off

MONTHS on from the first outbreaks, swine flu is still causing havoc around the world. Just this week the vicious virus even made its way into the Opik office and infected my researcher Baz! Interestingly the Tamiflu medicine seems to have made him sicker than the disease. However, he seems to be recovering from the Tamiflu quite well now. With tens of thousands of new cases around Europe every single week some countries are taking extreme measures to try and get things under control.
In France, a country renowned for romance, the government has issued a warning against kissing! Some Paris schools have actively banned their pupils and staff from snogging. A few continental companies have come up with rather a nice idea— giving all their staff a laptop and letting them work from home. This means as well as not catching swine flu you’ve got the added bonus of being able to watch the telly while you work and check your Facebook without the boss breathing down your neck or work in your boxers while enjoying a pint! It could even help the economy as daytime shopping channel revenues
go through the roof!

You’d need to be a mug . . .
WHAT would you do if you saw someone being mugged? Call the cops? Take a photo on your phone? Jump in to help? Unfortunately a new study by the charity Witness Confident reckons that most people would just walk on and turn a blind eye. The group reckon most of us feel so out of touch with the criminal justice system we are reluctant to get involved with reporting or tackling crime, especially on the streets. They suggest that by taking a more active role, like snapping incidents, seeking out police officers and being prepared to give witness statements, ordinary people can play a big role in clamping down on violence. But Witness Confident have also come up with some daft suggestions including staging a series of fake muggings to see how people react. I don’t think that’s a great idea. At best they could end up looking a little silly and at worst some poor actor could be beaten senseless by the local neighbourhood watch!
HAVE you ever stayed up on election night to watch the results? It’s an amazing opportunity to watch history being made and with the future of the country at stake it’s more exciting than the Big Brother final and the Eurovision Song Contest combined! Unfortunately though, we might be denied this chance at next year’s election. Up to a quarter of constituencies plan to announce the results the morning after the poll. That’s ridiculous. We can find out the result of The X Factor final just hours after polls close—but the authorities can’t add up election votes until the day after. Maybe we should let The X Factor decide the general election result and you never know— Chico could end up as PM!
THE saga between the UK and Libya took another turn this week when the government announced that it’ll be supporting the families of IRA victims in seeking compensation from the Libyans. The compensation claims exist because during the 1970s and 80s Libya sold the IRA weapons and explosives which were used to kill British soldiers and civilians. If the government supports these claims it begs the question…where does it all stop? Libya was by no means the IRA’s only supplier – some Americans supplied funds. And there were links to the Palestinians. And since Labour came to power we have sold weapons to countries like Indonesia, and Zimbabwe – places where weapons have been used on civilians. Will we be providing compo to their families? The government has to take a long hard look at the bigger picture...and at itself.
QUEEN Victoria’s underwear has been declared part of our national heritage! A pair of the late monarch’s bloomers have been given “national designated status” by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council –– a special status reserved for artifacts of great cultural importance. Surely the same should go for Daily Sport babe Victoria Lloyd –– after all she’s a modern day legend and queen of our hearts!

Friday, 4 September 2009

Point scoring hides the real issue

THE big political story this week has been the aftermath of the release of Libyan bomber,Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi. In 2001 he was convicted of blowing up a Boeing 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. The Scottish courts sent him down for a minimum of 20 years. A couple of weeks ago he was released on “compassionate grounds”, by the Scottish government, because he’s dying of cancer —a move that caused all sorts of arguments. A lot of people think al-Megrahi should never be released, no matter how ill. And some folk in the media got very excited, because they suspected a secret deal: Libyan business contracts in exchange for Megrahi’s release. Others think he wasn’t even a bomber but took the rap. There were even more arguments over the role of the UK government. The PM and his Cabinet kept being dragged into it by the press. Meanwhile, Tory boss David Cameron jumped in and said he thought al-Megrahi should die in prison. What everyone seems to forget is that it was a decision for the Scottish government—not No10. It was embarrassing listening to interviewers getting lost on this point, looking for a scandal where there wasn’t one. Once again, political point scoring has drowned out the real question— whether al-Megrahi should have been released at all.
IT’S officially the end of summer—the sun has gone, the rain has started, everyone is back at work and Gemma Gleeson has packed away her bikini for another year. Many folk are fondly looking back at snaps of their summer holidays and remembering the Ibiza clubs, Greek beaches and Thai ladies, with a ping of nostalgia. But for a lot of British tourists summer wasn’t such a laugh. The boys at the Foreign Office have been taking stock of all the trouble Brits got into abroad. And there was a lot of it. This year, more than 1,000 holidaying Brits ended up in hospital, almost 7,000 were nicked—and a whopping 29,774 lost their passports! An even darker figure shows that some 22 Brits are now in prison and facing the death penalty after allegedly getting involved in dodgy business while on their hols. It certainly ain’t happy reading. It’s no good for Britain’s reputation and even worse for the folk who end up in trouble. Thankfully, our Foreign Office has a great track record for helping tourists who get caught up in sticky situations, but there’s only so much they can do. After all, while the lingo varies from land to land, certain behaviour spells “SIGNOR PLONKER” in any language.
AS a nation we’re in a lotta debt –– but not as much as we were. For the first time since records began, personal debt has actually fallen. This summer, the amount of dosh we borrowed fell by a whopping £600,000,000. A lot of this is down to interest rates falling. But folk are also being a bit more careful with the pennies and taking drastic steps to reduce their debt –– like paying off a bit of their overdraft rather than renewing their football season tickets (which isn’t such a sacrifice in the case of the team I support). It’s not all good news, though. When you add together all our bank loans, mortgages and the like, we still owe nearly one and a half TRILLION quid, which looks like this: £1,500,000,000,000. So really, we’ve paid back a ridiculously little amount. It’s like your mate owing you £150 and paying you back 6p a month. Try going down to your local and offering to repay your bar tab on those terms. And if the landlord agrees, call me immediately.
VIVE la France! Except when it comes to traffic management. There was a whole heap of traffic chaos in Paris this week. But it wasn’t road works, broken down cars or dodgy parking. In fact, the gridlock was caused by political scrapping between two rival mayors. There’s a road called the “D909” that runs between two different bits of Paris. One bit is run by a conservative mayor, Patrick Balkany. The other is run by a socialist mayor, Gilles Catoire. Well, they don’t seem to get on and, sure enough, things came to a head a few days ago. Mayor Balkany made his part of the “D909” a one-way street. Uh oh! It made more traffic trundle through the bit run by Mayor Catoire. So he did the natural thing. He made HIS part of the “D909” a one-way street too—except in the opposite direction! Brilliant! When the two tides of traffic met each other on the district boundaries, everyone started hooting and it caused a bigger stink than the local onions. The cops had to sort out the mess. And They’re still arguing about it.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

It's silly season

EVER heard the phrase “silly season”? Journalists use it, but never really explain what it means. Well, in yet another world exclusive for the Daily Sport, here’s the silly season laid bare. Basically, for most of the year, reporters depend on politicians to make enough news to fill the pages of their newspapers. They may slag MPs off much of the time, but the poor dears are lost when Parliament isn’t sitting. That’s why, over the summer, you’ll find so many prominent stories which wouldn’t even make the news the rest of the year. Some of them are simply trivial, others are plain silly. Hey presto! Welcome to the silly season. A good example is the coverage which the small Spanish town of Bunol got on Wednesday. They had a festival called La Tomatina, where they all throw tomatoes at each other! Nearly 140 tons were thrown during the “veg out”. There were no winners—but a lot of red faces and rivers of juice. Now, I ask you, would this be news at other times of the year? Of course not! But, when the politicians are away from Parliament, the media gets desperate and reports stories like this. Am I guilty of the same desperation? Not a bit of it! The reason I’m telling you about it is because I have an idea. We could do this in London’s Parliament Square. All the politicians could throw tomatoes at journalists on the first day of the new Parliamentary session. That would be very good indeed for Commons morale. And, to give it a political dimension, Nicole Ford could oversee proceedings, dressed only in fruit and veg. This could cause the usual outrage among conservative elements, but it would massively big-up healthy eating. Department of Health take note.
I NOTICE the British Empire has just seen a bit of a comeback. Although the days of running around in funny hats, imposing oppressive laws and beating up “the natives” have passed, the UK still has a few colonies scattered about. But it’s not cool to call them colonies any more. So instead they’re known as “overseas territories” which obviously fools everyone. Most are little islands in the Atlantic and the Caribbean. They mainly rule themselves on a day-to-day basis. Occasionally the UK government checks up on them, plays the national anthem, hoists up the Union Flag and then wanders off again. But the other week the government spotted a bit of foul play on the Turks and Caicos Islands, a UK colony –– I mean overseas territory –– in the Caribbean. They realised that sneaky local politicians had been flogging off crown lands to line their own pockets. So they shut down the local assembly and will be exercising “direct rule” there until 2012. It’s a risky business. Kicking out elected politicians and ruling a country from 4,000 miles away isn’t terribly easy. Then again, things could be much more serious –– if the government decides to impose direct rule on Britain’s former colonies as well they’ll be invading America next!
PIRATES could soon be in power in the UK! But they’re not the swashbuckling Johnny Depp-type –– or even our uzi-wielding chums from the Somali coast. I’m talking about the Pirate Party –– the Swedish outfit who campaign for free file-sharing online. They’re fed up of big fees being charged for music downloads, copyright being slapped on YouTube videos and internet usage being tracked. They won a couple of seats in Brussels and are now planning on standing in the UK general election next year. These buccaneers shouldn’t be underestimated. They’ve got a big supporter base of mostly young people. I can see problems with making everything free as composers and writers would lose out. But the pirates have a point. Until we take a more reasonable approach to tracking internet usage and copyright questions there may well be a case to say: “Yo-ho, me hearties!”
LOOKING forward to the weekend? I guess you’re gearing up for a night of clubbing with the lads, a few pints down the boozer or a takeaway with the missus. But Friday night isn’t the start of the weekend for everyone. Take Algerians –– they work Saturday and Sunday but have Thursday and Friday off. Recently, however, Algeria’s government has decided to move the weekend because it’s cocking up their economy. You see, most of the country’s North African neighbours have their weekend on Friday and Saturday. So when people frantically call the Algerians on a Thursday, there’s nobody in the office because they’re off chilling out on the beach. A recent study showed their choice of weekend is costing Algeria a whopping £420 million in lost business every year! That’s why the government is shifting the weekend to one day later. I’m pretty sure the UK won’t be changing our weekend anytime soon, though. After all, just think of the effort it would take for TGI Friday to change all their signs!

Monday, 24 August 2009

We need more jaw-jaw

MORE than 200 soldiers have now died in Afghanistan with no sign of any end to the fighting. So when is it going to stop? Well, the government tells us it will stop when we win. The new British Army chief General Sir David Richards even said that we might be stuck there for 40 years! If we’re still stuck in the Afghan mountains then, it would mean a lot more fatalities ahead. But is this war even winnable? It’s a hard one to call. Obviously, our government reckons we can get the job done. And the courage and professionalism of our brave and dedicated military is not in doubt. But HOW can we win? That’s not a question I’ve heard a good answer to yet. Don’t they realise that the very act of “being there” is actually part of the problem? I know ministers don’t like to admit it, but lots of local people support the Taliban who are hell-bent on getting us OUT of that country. I also get tired of hearing that the reason we’re there is about stopping terrorist attacks in the UK. You don’t have to be an international peace envoy to see the reality and realise that we’re provoking some the terrorism by fighting them in their country. So here’s my humble suggestion. Let’s look at other ways of solving the mess. Like trying to talk with the people we’re fighting. It’s not such a crazy idea. We did that same thing in Northern Ireland. And it worked. The terrorists have stopped their killing. Life in Belfast is better than it’s been in over 40 years. Why is Afghanistan so different? What’s for sure is that the current way we’re approaching it isn’t working. And until we take a new look at it, the bullets will keep flying, the bombs will keep going off, and our military will carry on paying the ultimate price.
POLITICALLY speaking, I’m pro-Royal Family. I’ll tend to defend them when they get hassle in the press. So I pricked up my ears when I heard the inimitable Duchess of York – Fergie – had swapped her Royal lifestyle to live in Manchester’s Wythenshawe housing estate. That must have come as a surprise to the neighbours. One minute, it’s just your normal folks next door. Next minute you’re hearing the National Anthem every few seconds and the bins are filling with empty bottles of champagne and caviar. She says she hoped it might turn Wythenshawe into a “thriving community”. That’s a pretty big ambition, considering she was living there for just 10 days. Still, fair play to her, it was an interesting project and I respect her for putting herself in an unusual circumstance for her. Sadly, after she’d filmed it, Fergie got loads of stick on the radio. She went in a rage and said she she’ll never go back to anything like this again. Funny how history repeats itself. I wonder if, after Fergie moved out of Wythenshawe, the Queen phoned the residents and said: “Yes, she was just the same after she moved out of Buckingham Palace.”
I DON’T normally have a go at political parties, but something happened some days ago which really got my Parliamentary goat. So the Conservative Party are now saying they might get rid of “league tables” on how schools are performing. That’s sensible. But what I want to ask them is if league tables are so crap, why did YOU—the Conservatives— introduce them in the first place? I mean, it wasn’t as if everyone was telling them it was a great idea back then. I remember folks objecting at the time. League tables for schools are about as clever as measuring someone’s intelligence by weighing their head. That’s the thing which annoys me about politics. Governments introduce stuff which is obviously stupid. Then they expect to get praise for dumping the barmy idea a couple of decades later. The same thing happened with the Poll Tax, which the Tories introduced and then scrapped. And it even goes for the war in Iraq, which the Tories voted for, but now say they’re opposed to. It’s all “yes but—no but,” and “in out—in out”. You can’t run a country well by introducing bad policy and then abolishing it again. I suppose at least we’d know what a Conservative government’s theme tune could be – the “Hokey Cokey”.
WELL, it had to happen sooner or later. Spanish researchers are saying that beer is GOOD for women. They reckon ladies who drink moderate amounts of beer may have stronger bones. That’s pretty good news. Perhaps our government should promote beer through the NHS for ladies. We could have a beer allowance distributed through the Benefits Agency to make sure that every female gets her healthy portion and fair share of booze. But what would it do to the overall appearance of the fairer sex? That worries me not a little. After all, my good friend Donna Tickel doesn’t look like she’s in need of an improved bone structure. She’s far too sweet to need bitter.