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!