About me

Get new posts by email.

About me

A breath-taking Deal or No Deal first…

From last night’s Channel 4 programme (repeated tonight, 6.10pm)…

[flashvideo filename=”http://sjhoward.co.uk/video/boxopen.flv” title=”Deal or No Deal (Channel 4)” ratio=”16:9″ /]

Sorry about it being out-of-sync, it’s the best copy I could find!

This post was filed under: Video.

Who will be Blair’s sacrificial lamb?

It seems increasingly clear that, with all the current bad press Labour’s been getting, someone – probably Charles Clarke – needs to resign to reassure voters before Thursday’s local elections. Logic says that the most likely day for this to happen is today, because no-one wants it to drag on till Tuesday, when everything’s a bit close. But leaving it till Tuesday does have its advantages, as it makes Labour look responsive right before the election – it just doesn’t give campaigners the boost they need on the doorsteps over the Bank Holiday weekend.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see an announcement today. But let’s face it, I’m usually very wrong…

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics.

Tony’s terrible trio in trouble

Clarke, Hewitt, and Prescott – the newest terrible threesome.

Clarke’s under pressure after freeing over 1000 prisoners who should have been considered for deportation. With more and more such people being found every day, and the story just dripping on, there’s little chance of him surviving for much longer if this continues to drip.

Patricia Hewitt has been heckled at the RCN conference – the second time she’s been heckled in three days. For the first time, she actually seemed to come close to breaking today, complaining that whatever she said she’d be shouted at. That’s not good, and isn’t a ministerial response. Which must increase the odds of my prediction from January.

Prescott’s had an affair with a secretary, which has been very much buried. All-in-all, Labour’s been lucky – three potentially big stories all released on the same day, meaning each one will get less than its fair share of coverage in the news cycle.

But still, the headlines are looking bad for Labour right now.

And the future isn’t looking bright, either: The local elections in May will bring bad news for Labour, the by-election also in May will likely bring bad press, and then the Education Bill follows shortly afterwards, which is so controversial that it can only bring bad press – particularly with the ongoing police investigation into peerages being sold.

But bad news for Labour is bad news for us all. There’s no chance of Blair going until calm political waters present themselves for Brown’s succession to be as smooth and positive as possible – so it looks like we’ll be waiting for a while longer yet.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics.

sjhoward v21.0 released today

…Much the same as v20.0, to add intents and purposes.

Yes, it’s my birthday today, as well as Lizzie’s. I’m sure the lack of national pomp and ceremony is related solely to the fact that I’m fifty-nine years younger, and no reflection of importance within our modern country 😉

Thanks for all the birthday messages in my email inbox – they certainly made me smile.

This post was filed under: Miscellaneous.

Irritating front-loading on news programmes

I don’t care, I’m going to moan about them anyway. That was my response after being told I’m too easily irritated by minor things, and they probably don’t make blog posts that can be described as interesting. But it’s not going to stop me.

Front loading on news programmes is annoying. This is the conclusion I’ve reached, after seeing an epidemic of front-loaded introductions to news reports spreading across all UK news outlets. It’s like somebody reading the Daily Mail outloud, and it’s incredibly tedious and irritating.

Worse, though, is that it undeniably introduces an element of bias, through implicit agreement with the statement made. News broadcasters often say things like:

The death toll from the Chernobyl Nuclear accident twenty years ago today will be much higher than government estimates predict. That’s according to Greenpeace…

There, they are clearly agreeing with Greenpeace over and above what the Government estimates might suggest. You can never imagine them using this construction for something they find controversial, or that they might disagree with:

Asians are invading Britain and stealing the jobs of hard working white people. That’s according to the BNP…

It would never happen.

On top of this, I have no idea what to make of the statement that is being read to me until I know the credibility of the source. Compare:

Tony Blair should resign immediately in order to protect the future prospects of the Labour Party, backbench MPs have said today.

Tony Blair should resign immediately in order to protect the future prospects of the Labour Party, his cabinet have said today.

The first one’s a non-story, the second is huge. And yet they delay bothering to tell me until they’ve got the quote out of the way first. Irritating! What’s wrong with

Tony Blair’s cabinet have today announced that they beleive he should resign immediately in order to protect the future prospects of the Labour Party.

I realise it pushes the content of the news story back by, ooh, two seconds, but it actually allows me to assess whether the story is a real story or not straight away.

This post was filed under: Media.

Tweaking the site design… again

Regular readers will have noticed a bit of a change to the site. Essentially, the sidebar has gone, and been replaced by dynamic boxes, which appear and disappear according to which particular page you are on. These boxes have shifted to the right-hand-side. This changes very little functionally about the site, except for some tidying up of the Permalink pages – the ‘More about this post’ and ‘Related Posts’ sections are now in dynamic boxes, allowing comments to flow more freely from the bottom of the text. A menu has also magically appeared below the banner-head, replacing some of the sidebar’s functionality.

The aim of the change was to put more immediate emphasis on the latest content, that being what people visit to read. To aid this, the size of the headlines has increased by about 15%, and long titles now (rather cutely) shrink-to-fit, as best as possible (particularly in the ‘My Work’ section, there are still some two-liners). Also, external links have sprouted their own page as well, instead of being forever stuck in the sidebar. This allows more links to be added, which is a clear improvement. The site background has changed a little bit, too, and new posts no longer turn red for an hour after posting, as I felt this played against the unified blue design. The site guide has been updated to reflect the changes.

It’s almost six months since the last design tweak, so I don’t think I can be accused of changing too much too often! Overall, I hope you’ll agree that the freshened-up design gives the site a cleaner, clearer look. If you have any comments or suggestions, feel free to add them to this post. You know what to do!

This post was filed under: Site Updates.

A letter to my MP, please, Angela

David Borrow, MPFollowing a discussion on the subject of student funding, I thought it time to get in touch with Mr Borrow again, knowing how well he represents my views. And so, I placed this in the big red shiny postbox today:

Dear Mr Borrow,

The average student has sixteen hours of formal teaching time each week. As a medical student, I have thirty-five hours of formal teaching time each week. Where is the logic in providing the same level of student support to all, despite clear disparity in the time available to supplement this support through paid employment?

I look forward to reading your response.

Yours sincerely,

It’ll be interesting to see whether he actually answers the question, as previous experience has shown that he, erm, doesn’t. I’ll let you know the response either way.

Just as an aside… Last time I wrote to the guy to ask him to support an EDM, he said he wasn’t going to sign any whilst acting as a PPS. In fact, I have the very letter on file:

I am currently the Parliamentary Private Secretary to Higher Education Minister, Kim Howells MP. When I was appointed I took the decision that as I was a member of the government, albeit at a very junior level, I would not sign EDM’s.

Strange, then, that during his PPS-ship, his signature appeared on 111 EDM’s. What’s all that about?

Update: 8th July 2006
To his credit, my MP did get in touch with Alan Johnson on my behalf. I was forwarded the reply from Bill Rammell, Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education:

Dear David

Thank you for your letter of 24 May, addressed to Alan Johnson, enclosing correspondence from Mr Simon Howard of (address removed) about the student support arrangements. I am replying as Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education.

I appreciate Mr Howard’s concerns about the difference in the number of contact hours medical students receive in tuition, compared to those on standard degree courses and appreciate why he feels the financial support should depend on the hours of study per week. However, time spent with lecturers will differ for individual students, depending on the type of course they undertake. Mr Howard may not realise that in addition to time spent in lectures and in tuition/contact time, students are also expected to undertake different types of activity. These include a personal study time, working with other students, research and project work. This is to enable students to develop and build upon the work carried out in lecture time and is part of the educational experience and development. As autonomous bodies, institutions are responsible for the service they provide for their students, including the level of contact time.

Nevertheless, I am aware that it is not always possible for some students to supplement their income from part-time employment. That is one of the reasons which we provide additional help through the Access to Learning Funds (sic) to those experiencing financial difficulties during their course. The Fund is administered directly by students’ individual institutions which are best placed to assess students’ circumstances. If Mr Howard has not already done so, he can obtain further information about the application process from the student services at his institution.

I do hope this clarifies the position for Mr Howard.

Yours sincerely

Bill Rammell MP

So he did quite well, and did seek out an answer to the question.

Thanks, Dave!

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics.

Mr Smith is arrested in cash-for-honours scandal

Surely I can’t be the only one to find the most surprising fact in this article to be that someone has resigned from a body in this Labour government for lying? I thought this administration didn’t do resignations over matters like that. And even more surpising, he’s not been rehired five minutes later.

Maybe he just doesn’t understand the rules of the game.

This post was filed under: News and Comment.

Do Americans believe in God?

Last week, Andrew Brown wrote a piece for Comment is Free that points out that the results of a trial exposing prayer as having a nocebo effect on patients in the US proves that the majority of said Americans don’t really expect prayer to work. There are obviously flaws in his arguments: At the most basic level, not beleiving in the power of prayer doesn’t necessarily preclude from beleiving in God, and certainly doesn’t mean that one is effectively atheist (with either a big or little ‘A’). But that doesn’t stop it being a interesting argument, and one that I would recommend you read.

The Comment is Free site is excellent, with a wealth of commentators from both ends of the political spectrum and everywhere inbetween. Go see!

This post was filed under: News and Comment.

Jon Stewart takes on Crossfire

I’ve been wanting to post this for a long while now, but haven’t been able to find a good-quality copy of the video online. But now I have.

So here it is: Jon Stewart’s episode of CNN’s Crossfire.
[flashvideo filename=”http://sjhoward.co.uk/video/crossfire.flv” title=”Crossfire (CNN)” /]

Just as a footnote for the uninformed: Crossfire was cancelled not long after this aired. And don’t miss The Daily Show, weekdays at 8.30pm on More4 (11pm on Comedy Central for US readers).

This post was filed under: Video.

The content of this site is copyright protected by a Creative Commons License, with some rights reserved. All trademarks, images and logos remain the property of their respective owners. The accuracy of information on this site is in no way guaranteed. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author. No responsibility can be accepted for any loss or damage caused by reliance on the information provided by this site. Information about cookies and the handling of emails submitted for the 'new posts by email' service can be found in the privacy policy. This site uses affiliate links: if you buy something via a link on this site, I might get a small percentage in commission. Here's hoping.