May 2008 Archives
Welcome to The Big Debate blog.
Over the next ten days I hope it will spark discussion on the future of digital technology and the impact it has on our lives.
Whether it be communication, entertainment, education, politics or commerce, there seems very little in life that has not been touched by the rapid development of these new tools.
...I did to feel sorry for the guys dutifully lining up outside my local cinema last night, with their overly excited other halves, who were chomping at the bit to see Sex and the City.
Being a major fan of the show, I had opted for an earlier screening, hoping the dismal drizzle would deter half-termers from disrupting it.
Oh how wrong I was. Wish I'd had a Hermes scarf to strangle them with, but I didn't - so I just seethed in my seat.
But even that didn't ruin the film for me...
I'm not going to review SATC here, but all I will say is girls - take some tissues (and a hip flask of Cosmopolitan!), while guys - if you surreptitiously switch on your iPod (quietly), you might just survive, as the lone male in my screening did.
Otherwise do the decent thing, go and watch Indiana Jones and let the girls have their fun!
Take a look at the diagram below. Still awake? Or have you sunk into a state of near death.
If you work for Birmingham City Council's education services you should be very excited by it.
Tony Howell, head of the service, certainly is. It appears beside an article penned by Mr Howell in the latest edition of Brighter Futures, a glossy magazine produced by the authority that goes out to everyone working in children's services in the city, including headteachers.
One of the most frustrating problems a picture editor experiences is being faced with a huge and dramatic story but not having a huge and dramatic picture to illustrate it.
but after a not particularly healthy weekend, enjoying the finest wines and foods known to M&S with an old uni buddy, I started thinking.
And considering the thumping headache I had this morning (after a fun, but clearly ill-advised night on the pop), that was an achievement in itself.
Last week the Government launched a ÃÂ£10 million 'unit awareness' campaign, aimed at those who like to unwind with a stiff G&T or a glass of vino after work, rather than stereotypical binge drinkers.
I met the Jamaican Prime Minister the other day and among other things, asked him what he thought about the under-achievement of black African Caribbean boys in this country.
It's a problem that has perplexed educationalists for a long while. He said he would look into it.
The result of the Crewe by-election has yet to be announced, but Birmingham MP Steve McCabe (Hall Green), Labour's campaign manager in Crewe, has effectively conceded that the Tories have won it, telling broadcasters "things happen mid term".
He cited the by-election in Birmingham Hodge Hill, which Liam Byrne won for Labour with a majority of just 500 in 2004. Just a year later, in a general election, Mr Byrne was re-elected with a healthy 5,000 majority.
The message to MPs was not to panic - by-elections don't tell you what will happen in a general election. As he put it: "What's important is that the unity that people showed here [in Crewe] mid-term is shown in Government."
On the controversy surrounding Labour's "Tory Toff" attacks on the Conservative candidate, he said: "We were having a bit of fun. Most people in Crewe and Nantwich got that . . . it was never a central part of the campaign."
Mr McCabe's argument, expressed on the BBC tonight (or this morning, as it's 1am) and to The Birmingham Post earlier this week, is that the media have exaggerated the extent to which Labour focused on Tory candidate Edward Timpson's background.
But it's not just the media and the Conservatives who have raised this issue. There has also been some disquiet from Labour figures at Westminster.
Having said that, there is also concern among Labour MPs that Mr McCabe is being blamed for a by-election loss which was probably inevitable, based on comments MPs have made to me.
Ultimately, I think "Labour strategists" who have been briefing the London papers that Mr McCabe got it wrong are in danger of deluding themselves.
The comment Mr McCabe made on the news just now is correct. He said: "I think when there is a big movement, and that's exactly what we've seen, I think the campaign can only play a limited role."
The Tory success in Crewe - they are currently predicting a majority of about 6,000, as counting continues this morning - is not a judgment on one Birmingham MP, it's a judgment on the Government as a whole.
I bet you're thinking to yourself, this has all been done before. Complaining about the Olympics is nothing new. Well I don't care, I'm going to do it again.
The Olympics is a gloriously obscene, corrupt, grotesque, pointless, wasteful woolly white mammoth of an event.
I was at a meeting of the West Midlands Police Authority today, the body that oversees the actions of the local force. A group of top cops and politicians all talking about how the police force will pay for the extra effort of the London 2012 Olympics.
What a waste of Midlanders' money. And what a waste of police officers - officers previously in action in Birmingham will be taken down to London to help out the Met.
I'm going to take a bit of a punt here by predicting that Labour will lose today's Crewe & Nantwich by-election.
Well, OK, perhaps not that much of a punt given that the bookmakers, always the most astute judges of political contests, stopped taking bets on the outcome a couple of days ago when the odds on a Conservative victory reached 16/1 on. In other words, enjoy a ÃÂ£1,000 return from a ÃÂ£16,000 investment and get your original stake back - a return that presumably appealed to City types rather more than low-interest building society accounts.
Yesterday the Birmingham Mail newspaper ran the story of a man rushed to hospital after drinking fake vodka spiked with methanol, and warned that 'consumer chiefs' feared 'other bottles of the potentially deadly drink may be on sale in shops across the city'. It told how the police seized 120 bottles of Glens Vodka from Select & Save off-licenses, in Frankley Beeches Road, Northfield, and of those seized bottles passed to trading standards officers; ten were found to be counterfeit.
It is likely that these bottles were sold small scale by counterfeiter's cold-calling smaller off-licenses', but the while this example might seem rare, counterfeiting is increasing. It is part of the sprawling instance of crime that occurs daily in the U.K, but that is so routinely overlooked. For example Birmingham City Council suggest that:
'Trading Standards Departments are increasingly finding inferior, illegally copied and often unsafe goods on sale to the public which have been produced or imported by unscrupulous businesses or individuals capitalising on well-known company names and brands, or the original work of others. The practice of 'counterfeiting' has serious adverse effects on traders selling genuine goods and is prejudicial to companies and individuals whose names are illegally applied to goods or who own the brands or the legal right to reproduce original works'
I recognise that by posting on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which came before parliament yesterday, I am dealing with a sensitive topic that divides opinion. I want to share my thoughts on the decision to remove from doctors the need to consider 'the need for a father' which will now be amended to read 'supportive parenting' where provision IVF treatment is concerned.
Depending on which newspaper you select today, with yesterday's vote the government either made fathers redundant, or struck a great stride forward in the pursuit of social equality. It seems there is a great divide between two quite opposing camps concerning whether women wanting IVF treatment, and those providing it should be required by legislature to consider the need for males to be part of the process.
This is unfortunately a somewhat belated blog on events that unfolded before the high court last Thursday. Unfortunately I have only just had time to turn my attention to the scandalous conduct of our local West Midlands police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) that ultimately came to full light last week concerning the Dispatches programme 'undercover mosque'. On Thursday both groups issued a high court apology and agree to pay six-figure libel damages to company makers Hardcash and Channel 4 who first aired the programme in January 2007.
I know Roshan Doug has already written on the topic, but my focus is slightly different. I wanted to examine not the media, but the abysmal conduct of criminal justice bodies involved.
I watched the programme and found it gripping and shocking investigative journalism. To set the scene for anyone who did not see Dispatches (there is a link in here) had investigated a number of mosques run by high profile national organisations, almost exclusively all where adherents to Saudi influenced Wahabism - a variety of Islam that externally claimed to be dedicated to moderation and dialogue with other faiths, but behind closed doors preached something quite different. It was that which was the film highlighted, showing footage taken from covert filming. The footage demonstrated the most extreme forms of intolerance, bigotry and extremism. Those who watched the programme saw how firebrand preachers filmed without their knowledge told a mainly young male audience that Allah had created the woman deficient and 'needing' to be beaten for not wearing a hijab; that homosexuals should be thrown from the mountain to their deaths; and that the 'kuffaar' or (or non-believer) amounted to little more than dirt. They condemned the idea of integration into British society, painted British democracy as un-Islamic, and praised the Taliban for killing British soldiers.
To borrow John Prescott's memorable phrase, the tectonic plates are shifting under Birmingham City Council's Labour group.
Poor election results and the certainty of at least another five or six years in opposition are focusing minds, not for the first time, on the future of Sir Albert Bore. Whether the murmurings of discontent turn out to be a full-blown earthquake or nothing more than a tiny tremor remains to be seen.
Bore has been here many times before during his 10-years as group leader, and will I am certain be viewing the latest plotting against him with nothing more than minor irritation.
What do we make about the latest round of criticisms against SATs? This week they got a right kicking from the education sector in the wake of a damning report from the Government's own schools select committee made up of MPs.
The night before Panorama put the boot in as well with an edition called Tested to Destruction which featured a load of educationalists saying how damaging national testing is to children.
In the face of all this, Ministers remain unrepentant and insist SATs are a key tool in raising attainment.
Knowing who to believe is a bit tricky.
Well i'm back...I realise that the world has been holding it's breath waiting for the next Birmingham Post picture desk related blogpost, so here is my excuse for not doing one for two months....my computer was rubbish !.
However, I have now got a shiny new computer (a PC) and I am actually able to access 'BirminghamPost.net' and post my blogs( and In a minute I am going to upload an image as well...if there is a picture of a computer at the top of this page then I have succeeded !)
I've written before here about extremist politics and the oxygen of publicity when the BNP capitalised on the 40th anniversary of the 'Rivers of Blood' speech to put across their dubious creed. But there are worse groups than the BNP.
Earlier this week at Birmingham University, there was a bit of a kerfuffle when an officer elect for the students guild promoted an event organised by the extremist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir. (Post article here, thanks to the excellent Ministry of Truth blog where I heard about it first)
We report tomorrow that Birmingham MP Lynne Jones (Lab Selly Oak) has criticised Labour figures who have been attacking Gordon Brown.
This might prompt a wry smile among some of Dr Jones' colleagues. As she says, she has been branded a serial rebel for her opposition to some of the Government's policies under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
However, she has always argued that she has stood up for Labour principles, as she sees them, while certain Labour MPs today seem to be happy to see the party lose power and usher in a Conservative government.
Her anger, I think, has been prompted by Frank Field's attack on the Gordon Brown this morning. Mr Field, the most high-profile critic of Mr Brown's tax reforms, suggested the Prime Minister should consider retiring.
Confession time. I sent both of my children to Eton and I don't regret doing so for a moment.
It's a very fine school with first class facilities, highly dedicated teachers and, for the most part, well-adjusted pupils.
Whoops. Typographical error there. I meant to say that I sent both of my children to Etone, a comprehensive school in gritty working-class Nuneaton, a former Warwickshire coal mining town.
And, yes, they both did receive an excellent education and my wife and I don't regret for a moment not sending our children to a private school.
As it happened, we selfishly wanted to spend our money on something else - chiefly, expensive family holidays over the years.
Thirteen proved to be an extremely unlucky number for Catharine Grundy, whose bid to become deputy leader of Birmingham City Council's Labour group has ended in crushing failure.
Kingstanding councillor Grundy went into the party's annual meeting last Saturday confident of picking up support from 23 of the 36 Labour councillors, a level of backing that would have seen her easily beat the incumbent Ian Ward. She was confident because people said privately they would vote for her. And she believed them.
But, as has happened so often in the past, Labour's brotherhood closed ranks. Grundy managed to get only 10 votes, against 24 for Ward. Thirteen of her promised backers simply switched sides.
Well done to Chris Parry, the new head of the Independent Schools Council, for saying it like it is.
He's come under fire for claiming the quality of state education is "very poor" and is forcing thousands of parents to go private.
This week he was put under question by a Government talk shop made up of MPs who focus on education.
Whitehall veteran and head of the so-called "education select committee" Barry Sheerman took offence to Mr Parry's description of private schooling as "paid for" education, claiming state school parents also pay through their taxes.
Mr Parry's retort was brilliant.
Tory leader David Cameron was challenged over whether he would restore the ten pence tax band by a passer-by, as he campaigned for Crewe by-election this week.
As we have reported, Labour's Steve McCabe, MP for Hall Green in Birmingham, has been placed in charge of his party's election campaign. His task is to stop the Conservatives overturning a 7,000 majority and scoring another morale-boosting victory in the Cheshire seat.
I don't envy him, but in some ways his task is actually easier than Mr Cameron's. People now expect the Tories to win a by-election like this, and they should do if they are on course for a General Election win. If Labour loses, I doubt anyone will blame Mr McCabe. If they win, he'll be a hero.
In my speech at the Post's 150th Anniversary Gala, I rather pompously declared that what tied the 21st century title to its 19th century origins was the role of the Post as a 'place for ideas'.
What I meant was that it is the paper's job to represent and reflect upon current politicial, social and scientific thought in the Midlands, and by doing so encourage informed argument out of which comes progress. Through the Chamberlain revolution of the late 19th century, that was certainly the case, and I make no apologies for firmly believing that our move into the online world - particularly blogging - provides an opportunity to fulfil this ambition even more so.
Today Detective Chief Inspector Mike Neville of The Metropolitan Police has stated what we should already know about crime prevention (but unfortunately seem not to recognise). When it comes to dealing with crime, we have put far too much faith in Closed Circuit Television (CCTV).
Neville actually has suggested that the CCTV system is in a state of 'utter fiasco' - with only 3% of London's street robberies being solved using camera footage. He further suggested that although Britain had more cameras than any other European country, 'no thought' had gone into how to use them most effectively to tackle crime on the streets.
Birmingham Liberal Democrats are meeting tonight for the first time since last Thursday's city council elections to begin discussions about any changes that may have to be made to the composition of the party's coalition with the Conservatives.
Group leader Paul Tilsley will report on discussions with Tory council leader Mike Whitby, which have been held in the past few days after the Conservatives triumphed by gaining six extra seats at the polls.
There are now 49 Conservative councillors, compared to 43 before May 1, while the strength of the Lib Dem group remains unaltered at 32.
This has prompted some of the more excitable Tories to demand an extra cabinet place - the party has six at the moment - and an additional scrutiny or regulatory committee chairmanship.
Some 48 hours have now elapsed since Grand Theft Auto (GTA) IV was released. Every breathing person who owns an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 console knows the significance of this, and many of them who have purchased a copy have probably barely left their console alone. The ultra-realistic and violent videogame has been hailed as a revolution, hyped and speculated on for months in the gaming community.
Yet, mention the GTA series to non-gamers and it will likely be met with a look of shock and horror. For in most of the newsprint press, the tile equates immediately with a rampage of virtual drunken driving, prostitute slaying, police murdering, pro-criminal hedonism, that will, if the reporting is to be believed, propel the gamer on a deterministic route toward their local HM Prison establishment.