31 December 2006

New Year's Honours

Oh dear, another year, another New Year's honours list with the usual depressing smattering of undeserving celebs. Why does Rod Stewart need or deserve a CBE? It is hardly as if he has been slaving away in anonymity for all these years and now is acheiving the recognition he deserves. Neither has he been doing important work for the country on a meagre publicly funded wage, for which this gong now goes some way to compensate him. No, he is a rich and famous pop star who lives a glamourous lifestyle for which, no doubt, many envy him. Isn't that enough?

But from the sublime to the ridiculous. The Queen is giving her own granddaughter an MBE.... perhaps it was Secret Santa this year up at Balmoral and Her Maj couldn't think of what to get for Zara. It's all very Scandanavian bicycling monarchy, call-me-Tony, let's all have a big hug, Nu-Labour - I know, but for Christ's sake - make her a Duchess or something to save her from the embarrassment of having the smallest medal around the table the next time she meets up with the family.

13 December 2006

Flat to Rent

This is from my friend Lorna:
I have a flat to rent in Putney from 23/24 December 2006 (or a few days before). It is in a new development and so it has never been lived in (and has new furniture).

The development is about a ten minute walk from the Putney train and tube stations and although it does not have a river view, it is only a few minutes from the river.

It is a fourth floor (of five - if I remember correctly) two bed flat with two bathrooms (one en suite), a car parking space and three balconies (one going off each bedroom and one going off the living room).

I don't have any pictures and it may not be available to view until the week beginning 16 December but I believe a show flat has just opened at the development (The Radial), which is at the following website:

I will be renting it out through an agent but I thought it was worth trying to let it privately as well. I have been quoted between £1750 and £1850 per month by the agents but if anyone wants to take it privately, I will let it for £1650.
Tel: 07815 108960

Ignorant Politicians

I am currently stuck in Bermuda - I had hoped to leave last night, but I cannot leave until tomorrow night, so when I get home on Friday I will have been away from the twins for 10 nights - I hope they still remember me...
However, the relative peace of the last few afternoons have allowed me to watch a bit of internet TV on 18 Doughty Street. Generally, I thought it was excellent - although to a certain extent, I think it would work just as well on radio (I have it on in the background) - although I am sure the lure of appearing visually is a factor in attracting the broad range of guests appearing on the various shows - and it is also fun to see what all these people look like.
My heckles were raised at one point when Iain Dale was asking Jo Swinson, a Libdem MP (and their shadow Sec. of State for Scotland), about her being the youngest member of Parliament. She became an MP at the tender age of 25 or 26... she said that it was important to "ask lots of questions" such as what is a statutory instrument. I find it depressing that anyone should seek to become a member of the legislature without a working knowledge of one of two principal types of legislation.
Is this simply a clear example of how paying relatively low salaries to MPs attracts a low calibre of person? I assume that young Jo never previously earned more than about half her current salary before becomming an MP (and for a 24/25 year old, £30k is not a bad wage, so I don't mean that in an insulting way), and so is delighted with her current wedge.
After reading out my email, Iain Dale said he thought her admission was "refreshing". I find it odd that someone who (according to her website) has been involved in politics since 1997 could know so little about the process.

10 December 2006

Prats and Prejudice

Thanks to a comment from "Davkeh" on Iain Dale's Diary I have found the bizarre and pathetic site "Hate My Tory" which is a real website, connected to bona fide Labour supporters.

The site is dedicated to rating how much you hate individual Tories. Really sad. I disagree with many lefties, but hate? I am even friends with some of them. It seems that it is easier to whip up hate than deal with arguments.

So I suggest if you agree with me, you should email the administrators of the site, who advertise their email address as "admin AT hatemytory DOT com", which I guess is an attempt to avoid getting lots of spam to that address, which is, for your ease of reference: admin@hatemytory.com.


Last night in New York. We were taken to dinner by my friend Ed Emerson, who said he had found this blog. So, Ed, many thanks for a great dinner...

We ate at Lever House, on 53rd Street just off Park Avenue, which was fantastic.

Anyway, I promised Ed that I do not blog about my friends, so that's it.

Except this - the view from our room as dawn broke over Manhattan.

05 December 2006

Who killed Litvinenko?

I am sitting in my hotel room high above the streets of Manhattan, overlooking Central Park, back in New York for the first time in over four years. For much of the past four years I have, accidentally, become a student of Russia and Russian politics and I have been itching to blog on this topic, but being rather busy lately, I have not managed to do so, but here goes...
The demonisation of Putin and the current Russian administration has become so widespread it is no scandal when a British cabinet minister basically accuses the Russian government - supposedly a "friendly" state - of orchestrating a murder of a British citizen on British soil.
Little comment has been made of the fact that Britain has been offering political asylum to some rather dubious characters. Leaving aside the Chelski factor, the most high profile refugee is Boris Berezovsky, an oligarch who made a fortune from buying State-owned assets at knock down prices from the Yeltsin regime. How did he do it? He had the bright idea of publishing Yelstin's autobiography which gave him a "legitimate" reason to visit the Kremlin on a regular basis and hand over large amounts of cash to the President on the pretext that sales were booming and the contents of the suitcase were simply royalties.
What would the reaction of the British public be if, say the cash for honours scandal was a hundred times worse - instead of cash to the Labour Party, it went straight to Blair, and instead of giving out honours, he had given away to Lord Levy - or whoever - something the British hold dear - e.g. the Post Office - or worse, all Rural sub-post offices (but profitable ones...) - and then David Cameron got into power, tried to bring Lord Levy to justice, but he was given political asylum by France. We'd be pretty hacked off, I imagine.
So Britain has effectively invited Russia to deal with its miscreants in London, since half of them have been allowed to move there. The simple solution would be to deport the whole lot of them and allow Russia to decide what it wants to do with them. This would, in the long run, also make the Premiership a lot more interesting.
Second point is, the whole radiation plot looks like someone wanted the world to assume that the Russian state was responsible for Litvinenko. Maybe he wasn't really supposed to die, maybe he was supposed to point the finger at Putin and then recover? Or maybe he had fallen out with some other powerful Russian interests who wanted him dead. If the Russian state wanted to murder someone my guess is that they would make it look like a gangland killing - bang - unless they wanted to take responsibility a la Trotsky, which clearly they don't.
As for the polonium-105, I have continued to travel quite happily with British Airways (and no, I am not boycotting it over the cross fiasco either), but continue to follow my usual practice when travelling by any form of public transport of not licking any surfaces. So far I have not transformed into the Ready Brek kid...

27 November 2006

Polo Politics

Interesting article in the latest edition of Polo Times: A Lawyer's View of the EU Dilemma (the article is not online). Basically proves that the HPA, the sport's governing body, has been getting the law hopelessly wrong for the last few years since it lifted restrictions on non-EU players and thereby on every South American profession with a Spanish or Italian granny (i.e. all of them).
My understanding is that after the Bosman ruling the HPA went off and got an opinion from some distinguished QC who had no particular expertise in sports' law - who said the protections for English players were illegal - didn't wait to be challenged in court by a rich patron and just went ahead and changed the rules.
All credit to Polo Times which has been very vocal on this issue, not least as I suspect the editor's husband, himself a distinguished IP lawyer, has bothered to look into the issue. Maybe now they have published the advice of a leading sports' lawyer, the HPA might think again.... will they have the nerve?

Victorian Liberal

My (quite distant) cousin Ted Baillieu has been fighting for the Premiership of Victoria, Australia as leader of the state Liberal Party (who are conservative). The poll was this weekend and he failed to win, but it looks like he did quite well and will stay to fight the next one in 2010. There is lots of "morning after" press - the report in the Melbourne Age is HERE.

22 November 2006

Lessons in blogging from the West Wing

I have been watching old West Wing DVDs belonging to our au pair's boyfriend (he knows how to make himself welcome in the Baillieu household), and was struck by a scene (episode 5 - War Crimes - Series 3) which speaks volumes about the desire to publish or leak material but how it is not necessarily a good idea. Thanks to a useful website I have just found (Westwingtranscripts.com - amazing), here is the scene in its entirety, which speaks for itself (key bit in bold...).


Toby walks down the hall. The chatter of staffers gets louder as he approaches the WHITE HOUSE MESS.
When he walks in, Toby sees 30-40 staffers sitting andstanding on one side of the room. Ginger is standing in the middle of the group near the back.


The group quiets down. They all look pretty somber, like they're anticipating a severe tongue lashing. Toby sits down on the edge of a table, facing the group, and hesitates for a few moments before speaking.

There's an old saying: "Those who speak, don't know; and those who know, don't speak."I don't know if that's true or not, but I know that by and large the press doesn't care who really knows what as long as they've got a quote. Last Friday, we had our Week Ahead meeting in the Roosevelt Room. Some of you were there, most of you weren't,but I'm talking to all of you now. Bruno Gianelli and I were leading a discussion about whether or not the President should stop in Kansas on his way back from the West Coast, and I remarked that the Vice President is polling better than the President right now in the Plains states...

Sam walks into the room. He stands in the doorway, looking far more stern than Toby.

TOBY [cont.]
...and that if the President is re-elected, it's gonna be on the VicePresident's coat tails. That remark made its way to a White House reporter... We're a group.
[chuckles cheerlessly]
We're a team. From the President and Leo on through, we're a team...We win together, we lose together, we celebrate and we mourn together. And defeats are softened and victories sweetened because we did them together...And if you don't like this team... then, there's the door... It's great to be in the know. It's great to have the scoop, to have the skinny, to be able to go to a reporter and say,"I know something you don't know." And so the press becomes your constituents and you sell out the team... So, an item will appear in the paper tomorrow, and it'll be embarrassing to me and embarrassing to the President. I'm not gonna have a witch hunt. I'm not gonna huff and puff. I'm not gonna take anyone's head off. I'm simply gonna say this: you're my guys. And I'm yours... and there's nothing I wouldn't do for you.

They all look pretty deflated and chastised. Toby stands up and walks out. Sam walks with Toby back upstairs.

16 November 2006

Insightful political commentary

Tony Blair taunted David Cameron that at the next election he would be up against a "heavywight" who would hit him with a "big clunking fist" (who uses the word "clunking" these days?). Taken literally, this is obviously a reference to John Prescott's famous campaigning skills, although apparently it was metaphorical and Hazel Blears (cockney rhyming slang for "it'll all end in tears") has revealed that Blair was referring to Gordon Brown (see BBC News).

Well I never! Thank you Hazel for sharing that with us.

However, TB will not confirm. He said: "I have decided to say nothing about it. You can say anything - people will always interpret these things but I have said all I want to say, at the moment."

Gosh, how very delphic of our Prime Minister - and how lucky we are to be allowed to interpret his mysterious utterings. Although given Gordon's handling of the economy over recent years, I had him down as being ham fisted...

14 November 2006

More Congestion Charging

So Ken has announced that vehicles in "Band G" will pay £25 to drive in the Congestion Zone from 2009 - see BBC News article - including those who live in the zone.

Although it is quite hard to work out which band a car falls into, this apparently covers 2.0 ltr Ford Mondeos and the Renault Espace.

We have a C Class Mercedes Estate car, into which we can just about fit two baby seats and the double buggy folded (I say "just" - I really mean it, it is a tight squeeze). If we were to have another child, we would need a bigger car. It sounds as though it would be impossible to buy anything bigger that does not fall within Band G - so this would force us to move out of Central London, rather than pay £6500 per year in charges. So this is actually a tax on "hard working families" - Gordon Brown, please take note.

The sooner this bigoted power crazed despot who masquerades as Mayor is disposed of, the better - however, the Labour government has so successfully Gerrymandered the electoral map of London to include millions of people who never come near the zone (and hence do not give a monkey's), I doubt this will have any effect on his re-election.

Question is, will David Cameron's Conservatives actually stand up for motorists on this issue or will they applaud it as a "green" initiative.

08 November 2006

Cameron and Blair sing "Changes"

I was sent this recently and find it highly amusing...

07 November 2006

Free Market?

The Law Society Gazette this week reports on movement by the EU to "investigate" restrictive practices in various European labour markets. Apparently, in Germany the "profession" of chimney sweeps is protected by law and there are restrictions on the number of chimney sweep practices in any one region and on the number of employees they can take on.

Whilst I am delighted that the EU is doing something to promote free movement of labour, why is this only happening now and what is there to investigate?

The serious part of the article is in respect of European notaries who have a monopoly on conveyancing in many countries. Again, this is indefensible - but the EU is launching a "study" of the issue - millions of euros later and what's the bet nothing changes?

01 November 2006

Bermuda blogging

Just one small step for this blog.... I am sitting in a hotel lobby in sunny Bermuda writing this on my blackberry.

Just had to share that

24 October 2006


Not to be outdone by David Cameron, here is my first video blog post.... to record the first smiles from my daughters, taken at the weekend.

22 October 2006

Fame at last?

Many thanks to King of the Bloggers, Iain Dale, for linking to this site. I am now just waiting with bated breath for another reader to come my way and live in hope for a second comment.

In the vain hope that Google had registered the presence of this site, I ran a quick check - I am still under the radar, although, I am sure, not for long. I have, however, been a topic of discussion on another message board, dedicated to all things royal, where my juvenile brush with greatness has not gone unnoticed. The link to the original post is here.

21 October 2006

The Oatens - the new Hamiltons?

Opening the Times this morning, I find myself reading about the Oaten's much publicised trip to Thailand to "MOT" their marriage (although an MOT is just a test - the repairs are always separate - and I would have thought that a rent boy up the exhaust pipe would have been an automatic fail, but then again, I am not a mechanic). Is Belinda Oaten the same woman who appealled for privacy and declared that she would not be giving any interviews (see: BBC News in February 2006)?

This all makes me wonder how long before they are doing panto in Scarborough and being featured on the next series of Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends? But however much they try, somehow I can't help thinking that a Libdem scandal will never hit the highs of a good old Tory downfall and that the Oatens will fail in their bid to knock the Hamiltons off their perch as the top odd-ball former political couple.

20 October 2006

Congestion Charging

A few months ago, TFL installed an ugly thick black mast outside my house and covered it with cameras pointing directly at the Earls Court Road, the boundary of the new improved congestion zone.

Last week, we received a leaflet and a form from TFL inviting us to register as residents living in the new zone and apply for our 90% discount on the charge. Although the new zone only comes in to force next February, as a ploy to get everyone to register early, we can have the discount apply right away. So instead of paying £8/day to drive through Central London, I can pay £4/week or just over £200/year.

In one fell swoop, the congestion charge has gone from being a device to stop people driving into central London into a scheme to keep the streets of central London clear for the "wealthy residents" of Kensington & Chelsea, driving to work in Covent Garden or the City in the Chelsea Tractors.

This is mad. I do not particularly mind the £200 charge (although I heavily resent the £10 registration charge payable to TFL - paying a fee to pay a fee sounds like double taxation, which I thought was generally illegal), and I will ensure I get value for money by regularly driving into the central part of the zone, for which I would have previously paid £8/day.

I do mind that my parents and in-laws will have to pay £8/day (on top of what they pay for parking) if they want to come up to London to visit their grandchildren during the week. They could take the train, it is true, but my father-in-law is registered disabled and my parents live so far from a station that they are already halfway to London they might as well keep going. Actually, they do occassionally come up by train, but it is the principle, damn it!

I do also mind that the extension to the zone is going ahead in the face of huge local opposition for no good reason related to traffic control. I just find it bizarre that a huge benefit is being given to local residents whilst a huge handicap is being imposed on local business.

Finally, having worked as a courier in London prior to the CC coming into force and now, from time to time, cycling to work through central London, I cannot see that there is any less traffic than before. If anything the congestion is worse along the major arteries because of all the other daft traffic control measures put into place.

18 October 2006

Madonna and Child

Why all the fuss about Madonna adopting the little boy, David Banda, from Malawi? Isn't it clear that his life will be transformed for the better to an incredible degree? He has hardly been snatched away in the night from the arms of a loving family - having been placed in an orphange after the death of his mother. He has won the lottery of life on a triple rollover week and is keeping the jackpot all to himself. And so what if Madge has ridden roughshod over the adoption laws in Malawi and the UK as some say she has. These laws were not designed for millionaire pop stars rescuing orphans from abject poverty. Will Westminster Council object on the grounds that Madonna is over 45 or that she is married to man who made a movie called "Snatch"? On any objective basis, to act in the best interests of the child must be the top priority. By all means, let the authorities check out that he is being properly looked after, but to impose value judgements of marginal worth is not a legitimate function of social services. If this case does anything, it might shed some light on the crazy restrictions imposed on couples who wish to adopt and maybe bring some sense to bear.

17 October 2006

Rooms for Rent

This is on behalf of my friend Genny:

Two double rooms available for rent from end November in 4 storey, spacious, 4 bed Georgian terraced house on St John Street, EC1. House has separate dining and living rooms, three bathrooms, spare room/study and sizeable garden.
2 minutes walk from Angel tube. Walking distance from the City and good bus links to Waterloo, Victoria and the West End.
Room One: top floor, large, two windows, rent of £680 pcm (unfurnished).
Room Two: first floor, medium, garden aspect, rent of £545 pcm (unfurnished).
If interested please contact Gen Hardy on 07855 520 338 or by email at ghardy@1chancerylane.com. Professionals preferred.

16 October 2006

Old Labour - Alive and well

The Post Office wants the government to give 20% of its shares to its workforce, in the hope that this might motivate them and share the benefits of its future success. The government is reluctant and the unions are completely opposed to the plan, despite the obvious benefits to its membership.

I am surprised that this important political story is being treated by the media as a "business" story - see the Times and the front page of the Telegraph's business section today.

The reason the unions oppose it as they are worried it is a "backdoor privatisation".... this is politics through and through. And here's me thinking we had moved beyond these old lefty arguments. The fact that the Post Office has quietly pulled itself back from the brink of financial oblivion in the last few years by becoming more independent of government control - not less.

Still, I can't help but think that the unions oppose this measure as they see it as something which will undermine their control of the Post Office workforce. Sad that after 20 years of successful privatisation in this country, some people still don't get it.

15 October 2006

A Tory meets the NHS - part 1

I have never spent so much as a single night in hospital since I was born. The inevitable effect of ageing mean that in the past two or three years I have seen more of the medical profession than is ideal, but all of those invited to poke and prod me have been private practioners, paid for out of my own pocket or that of PPP (my insurance company). I am not even registered with a GP and I have no idea what my NHS number is.

My wife, on the other hand, is an organised soul in touch with her thrifty(!) Scottish roots. In the early days of her pregnancy she saw a private gynaecologist, but on discovering that his fee for caring for her throughout the next nine months would be in excess of £10k, I was relieved that she was prepared to look at what was on offer from the NHS. The good news was that for twins the NHS offers an obsectrian who will see you during the pregnancy, and, more importantly, will perform a caesarian on the big day itself. Such service is not, however, available to the run-of-the-mill singletons, who, if they wish to have this must go private. Of course, there was a certain smugness in knowing that my brother shelled out the aforemention large wedge to secure the services of the renowned Gubbay Ayida for his wife's pregnancy, whereas Sarah got to see her for free.
Up to this point, it was all going so well.
The Chelsea and Westminster is a flagship hospital with impeccible New Labour credentials having assisted Cherie bring Leo into this world. It is clean, new and shiny - modern medicine, here we come.
The first visit for the all important 12 week abnormaility scan (when you first see the baby - or in our case - babies and the doctors check for Downs syndrome and other nasties) was basically fine. The slightly-longer-than-necessary wait, which is a quintessential part of any NHS visit, was bareable, although I fail to understand why a 10.30am appointment means that you will not be seen before 11am.
Having done my fatherly bit, Sarah faced her next appointment alone. This was the first disaster. The highlights were that the hospital had lost her notes and the consultant had no record of her appointment. She left feeling bewildered and upset.
Being pushy middle class types, we did not leave it there, but tracked down Ms Ayida's (the consultant) email address and sent a polite but firm letter complaining about the visit. To her massive credit, Ms Ayida rang Sarah the following weekend and spent 20 minutes with her on the phone going over her concerns, and it was decided that Sarah would keep her own notes and bring them to the hospital for each appointment. I later heard Ms Ayida said that she had never had a letter like that from a patient.
So what? A minor gripe in the scheme of things, I hear you say. But two simple things would make life so much easier, more efficient.
(1) The government's insistence on a single IT solution for the entire NHS means that a patient's notes cannot be held on an internal hospital IT system, and thus never be lost. How is it that the nice people at Blogger can make it so easy for me to share my thoughts with whole world, but it is impossible for a hospital to have a simple internal system for storing notes (like the nifty one they have at the private dental surgery I go to in the City)?
(2) Why do all appointments have to be face to face? Obviously samples have to be given, scans made and arrgghhs and coughs performed with the patient right there. However, most of those procedures are increasingly done by skilled techicians and nurses. Especially for maternity, but also for other patients, there is a lot that can be acheived by speaking to a consultant or senior doctor (who has the results of the tests, scans etc) - and guess what, this could be done over the phone.
Anyway, that is enough for now... it is nearly 9.30pm and the girls have not properly settled from their last feed at 8pm and soon will be wanting another one, as will their parents...
In my next post, I will cover the birth and post-natal care and why David Cameron's line that the NHS will be safe in his hands because his family is so often in the NHS's hands made my top lip quiver.

13 October 2006

My girls...

...are Francesca and Georgina. They are nearly twelve weeks old, but were born seven weeks early (on 28 July 2006), so are really only five weeks old.

Here they are at six (or minus one) week (Georgina is on the right):

They are not always this cute, especially during the witching hour(s) between about 7pm and 11pm...

11 October 2006

My First Blog


This will be my Blog.

That is all for now.