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Archive for May, 2010

So David Laws has finally resigned after realising that his position was totally untenable. Good. After all he did claim around £40,000 in expenses that the rule say he shouldn’t have.

But it now looks like the word has gone out from the top of both sides of the government coalition: “close ranks and don’t rock the boat”. Yes, it’s damage limitation time. Poor David Laws, having to resign just 17 days into his new job. Isn’t it a shame? And he is a good chap too.

Some of the quotes attributed to senior politicians over the weekend simply show that they are treating the public with nothing less than sheer contempt.

The Prime Minister told Laws, “You are a good and honourable man. I am sure that, throughout, you have been motivated by wanting to protect your privacy rather than anything else.”

Oh that’s alight then. I know that he claimed up to £40,000 he wasn’t entitled to, hid the fact, didn’t come clean when the expenses scandal was raging and only acknowledged his guilt when he was finally found out by a newspaper – but he was only trying to protect his privacy.

Let’s not forget that all of this only came to light because Laws chose to make the expenses claims in the first place. He didn’t have to. No one forced him. If the privacy of his relationship was so important to him then he could have simply decided that he wasn’t going to make the claims. It’s not as if multimillionaire Laws needed the money in any case.

Laws’ party leader Nick Clegg said that he had always admired his fellow Liberal Democrat’s integrity.

Laws has integrity? What a joke. Unless there is some new definition of the word in the Lib Dem dictionary?

And let’s not forget that this is the same Nick Clegg who during the election campaign claimed that his party was whiter than white. and that all of the expenses excesses came from “the two old parties”. Remember his pious posturing in the first of the televised debates? Wonder how hypocrisy is defined in that dictionary?

Senior Tories have also been lining up to support their former Government colleague. Laws’ short term boss, Chancellor George Osborne, said, “I have a huge admiration for the way he has conducted himself in the most difficult circumstances.”

What, lied and cheated? Squirmed and made excuses? Claimed that the person he lived with and had been in a relationship with for years wasn’t actually his partner? And the Chancellor admires his conduct. Says it all really.

Ian Duncan Smith got in on the act too, telling the BBC that his respect for Mr Laws had grown since they started working together in the coalition, and that he was a “thoroughly decent person”.

A decent person who was forced to resign after being caught out for breaking the rules and pocketing money he didn’t deserve? Hardly a credible assessment, is it?

I think there is genuine sympathy among many people for the fact that David Laws has sort of been outed. But that’s really a total red herring. The main issue is his abuse of the rules for his own personal benefit, not who he chooses to have a relationship with.

It has taken 65 years for the Liberals to get back into the Cabinet – and less than three weeks for their first resignation. Breaking the mould of politics?

I find talk that Laws can make his way back into the top tier of politics amazing. We were told that this was the start of a new approach to government, a squeaky clean coalition that would run the country in an open and fair manner. Do they really think that we will just forget about his actions and welcome him back into a top job?

If David Laws returns to government then we can be certain that all of the talk was just that, and it’s really business as usual.

Mind you, Laws’ actions have convinced some of us of that already.

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The Greatest Rock Drummers

Moving on from the greatest female singers, male singers, guitarists and live albums, today’s rock list covers drummers.

As always, I’m simply setting out my thoughts for your entertainment and reading pleasure. I’m sure you won’t all agree with my selections, so please let me know why. Have I missed your particular favourite? Who would you have left out?

Drummers have to be immensely fit. Recent research suggests that playing drums for a rock band requires the stamina of a Premiership footballer! Tests on Clem Burke, the Blondie drummer, revealed that 90 minutes of drumming could raise his heart rate to 190 beats a minute. And during a one hour concert a drummer can burn between 400 and 600 calories.

The drums are the heartbeat of a good rock group; the power behind the beat. All of the great bands have had strong rhythm sections, built on the power of the drums. The spotlight may fall mainly on the lead singer and the guitarist but if you take away the drummer what do you have?

There are a vast number of very good drummers who came under consideration, and perhaps a few surprise omissions. But there isn’t space for everyone and this is my take on the subject, nothing more.

So who are the very top rock drummers?

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10. Max Weinberg – “Mighty Max” just has to be on the list. Solid, colourful and at times explosive he has been the power behind the E Street Band for the past 36 years. A band so overloaded with musical talent needs a solid foundation and that is exactly what Weinberg continues to provide with his solid, rocking style. Just listen to Born In The USA. Weinberg has also played as a session musician on many albums, most notably on Bat Out Of Hell.

9. Phil Taylor – Fast, powerful and loud is perhaps the best way to describe “Philthy Animal” Taylor. His lightning fast drumming was a crucial part of the Motorhead sound back in the early days. Anyone who doubts his place on this list should listen to Overkill or Ace of Spades.

8. Carter Beauford – The Dave Matthews Band have never been one of my favourites. The major appeal that the band has comes from the superb drumming of Carter Beauford. With a technique that makes the most of his ambidextrous nature, he is technically admired by many modern drummers. His style is fluid and varied, but always intricate and expressive.

7. Phil Collins – Yes, Phil Collins. Younger readers may know Phil as the balding singer of dull pop songs who moved to Switzerland. But for the first part of his career he was a fine drummer in the rock band Genesis. One of the few left handed drummers, Collins was a massive part of Genesis’ success before he stepped from behind the kit to take over as lead vocalist.

6. Mitch Mitchell – It may have seemed almost impossible for anyone playing behind Hendrix to shine, but John “Mitch” Mitchell managed it. He was creative and could improvise but he also brought a lightning fast, whirlwind, style that responded to Jimi’s guitar to add to the excitement of the musical genius. Manic Depression and Stone Free are perhaps his finest works.

5. Ginger Baker – Combining jazz and blues styles, Peter “Ginger” Baker created his own place in rock history. He pioneered the double bass sound and while his style was solid and simple at times, it could also be expressive and downright commanding. Baker’s dexterity and tremendous stamina made him a true great – and he pretty much invented the 13 minute drum solo too. His work while in supergroup Cream with Clapton and Bruce stands the test of time superbly. White Room is a classic track, largely because of Baker.

4. Carl Palmer – Palmer has inspired countless rock drummers with his magnificent stadium-filling rock and showmanship. He used his classical training in tuned percussion to great effect. He simply defines the word spectacle, and his drumming with ELP is quite magnificent at times. Listen to Toccata and marvel.

3. Neil Peart – Canadian Peart of Rush is cited as a major influence by many rock drummers. He uses a massive kit and combined drums with bells, xylophone and other percussion instruments. His explosive and exciting style, played with immense technical excellence cannot be imitated. And he wrote most of the lyrics too!

2. John Bonham – “Bonzo” had it all. Power, rhythm, technical ability and precision. In a band full of superstars he shone. He developed a heavy rock style that many others would try to copy, with its massive bass and thunderous fills. He provided Led Zeppelin with a solid foundation on which Plant and Page could shine. Kashmir and the end section of Stairway To Heaven show him at his best.

1. Keith Moon – What can you say about “Mad Moon”? Legendary party animal and practical joker. A self destructive and sometimes violent drunk. But also a man who revolutionised rock drumming with his unique style, impossibly fast hands and boundless energy. His power from behind the kit was such a massive part of the Who’s sound. Moon was an original talent and a total one off. There will simply never be another Keith Moon.

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Meet The New Boss …

As any fan of the Who will know, the next line from Won’t Get Fooled Again is, “Same as the old boss”.

And reading the news over the past couple of days that is exactly how many people will be feeling about our new coalition government.

We are told that politics has been cleaned up. That there will be no more duck houses or bills for moat cleaning. And we were assured that all the wrongly claimed expenses had been paid back.

The new parliament was supposed to be a new start for British politics. A cleaned up, more accountable and transparent version. A House of Commons 2.0.

But only four weeks after the election we already have our first expenses scandal. And the man at the heart of it is a senior cabinet minister: the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Laws.

Few people outside those of us who take a keen interest in politics will know a great deal about the Liberal Democrat MP for Yeovil. His background, like much of the new cabinet, is private school and Oxbridge. A former investment banker and economic policy expert, he was always seen to be on the right of his party, and he led the coalition talks for his party after the election.

But his political career has now been rocked by revelations in the media.

According to the Daily Telegraph, Laws claimed between £700 and £950 a month from 2004 and 2007 to sub-let a room in a London flat owned and lived in by his partner. After the flat was sold in 2007, Laws’ partner bought a house. Laws then began claiming to rent the “second bedroom” in this property, at a cost of £920 a month, until September 2009.

Why is this an issue?

Well, parliamentary rules ban MPs from leasing accommodation from a partner. Makes sense doesn’t it? Or else every MP could claim that their house is actually owned by their partner and then charge taxpayers a large monthly rent for living in it.

Which is exactly what Laws appears to have done.

In a statement David Laws said, “At no point did I consider myself to be in breach of the rules,” going on to explain that, “Although we were living together we did not treat each other as spouses – for example, we do not share bank accounts and indeed have separate social lives. However, I now accept that this was open to interpretation.”

Open to interpretation? You were in a relationship with someone and lived together but did not think you were partners? And you actually rented the second bedroom? Hardly a credible explanation, Minister.

“However, I regret this situation deeply, accept that I should not have claimed my expenses in this way and apologise fully,” Laws concluded.

So he didn’t break the rules? But realises the game is up because he has now been caught out. And he will have to pay back some £40,000 by the Telegraph’s estimate.

But it’s not just his rent payments that are under scrutiny. The Telegraph has also discovered that Laws submitted regular claims, in rounded figures, for service and maintenance, repairs, utilities and other items.

Before 2008, MPs did not have to submit expenses for these expenses. Laws typically claimed between £50 and £150 a month for utility bills alone. Yet when rules were changed he submitted receipts for only £37 a month. And other bills appeared to be vastly reduced too.

Draw your own conclusions.

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Messrs Cameron and Clegg must be seething at these revelations, which embarrass their new coalition just three weeks into the job. The old politics is alive and well it seems, and at the very heart of government too.

David Laws, as number two to Chancellor George Osborne, is in charge of making cuts in public services. For any Cabinet minister to be in this situation is bad enough, but for a man trusted with public finances it is doubly embarrassing.

His credibility is now fatally damaged. David Laws has shown that he is a man of poor judgement and dubious integrity.

All MPs must surely realise that after the scandals of the past few years they have to be scrupulously honest. And it’s not as if millionaire Laws actually needs the money.

Frankly this is just one more example of greed, dishonesty and hypocrisy. And it demonstrates clearly the contempt by which some of our parliamentarians continue to treat the British people.

There will be a Parliamentary enquiry, which could take several months to report. But if Laws has any decency left, his course of action is surely very clear. He must realise that his position is quite simply untenable.

A Cabinet Minister showing such incredible lack of judgement has to resign immediately. Laws must go now.

And if he doesn’t then the Prime Minister simply has to sack him.

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Answers But No Vision

It was a quieter than expected night at Celtic Park, and the large crowd crammed into the Kerrydale Suite left with only slightly more insight into the forward plans of the club.

Just after 7pm the panel was introduced. Jeanette Findlay from the Celtic Trust led Peter Lawwel and Neil Lennon onto the stage. There was a good reception for the CEO and a very much noisier once for the Interim Manager.

After a lengthy introduction and a minute’s silence for Mrs Margaret Burns (mother of Tommy) the chair asked the first question. I had been expecting some sort of presentation and was a little surprised that we went straight to the Q & A.

The first subject was, predictably, the manager’s position. Peter Lawwel explained that the process was ongoing and that an outcome could be expected within seven to ten days. He stressed that Neil Lennon was a very strong candidate.

It fell short of an endorsement however, and Lawwel also hinted that we will not be disappointed with the final outcome – which could of course be read as either a Lennon appointment or a surprise to come.

Neil himself said that he understood the process and that he felt the club had been very fair to him. He had been promised that nothing would happen before the end of the season and they had kept their word. Neil Lennon is clearly keen to continue as manager. He also stated that if he did not get the job he would consider any offer to stay at the club – but to me he did not sound at all keen.

Neil also stated that if he is appointed manager he would be keen to bring in an experienced older head to bounce ideas off.

Many of the questions were directed to Peter Lawwel. He stressed that the club had been relatively successful over the past six years, but admitted that the last two years had not been good enough. He also accepted that the Board, and him personally, had to accept a share of the blame

Scouting and the budget for player recruitment was next up. The CEO stated that all money coming into the club would reinvested. He didn’t give an exact budget, of course, but hinted that there would be money to spend. He also stated categorically that budget setting did not take any notice of what Rangers’ financial situation was.

Neil Lennon stated that the squad needs some quality and experienced added to what is there. He argued that the players had shown at the end of the season that they were capable, and that many of the players owed the fans for their poor performances in the first part of the season.

Peter Lawwel explained that £500,000 pa is now invested in scouting. This is necessary because lesser known players now have to be recruited ending scouting on Match of the Day.

Neil stressed that the club has brought in some very good young players who will make an impact, mentioning Rogne, Misun and Slaine as well as some of the under 19s.

On joint sponsorship, Peter Lawwel stated that the club’s preference had been for a single club shirt sponsorship deal. They had looked world wide but could not find a deal, and so had to come back to Scotland, where only a joint deal could be concluded.

Peter Lawwel reacted positively to a question on the SFA’s review of the disciplinary process (from me!) and was pleased that the points the club had raised were being taken on board. He also stated that the club’s immediate future would be as a Scottish club aiming at success in the Champions League. He did say that he expected changes in the structure of European football and stressed that Celtic was in a good position to take advantage of whatever happened.

There were several questions about underperforming players, poor recruitment, the futures of individuals and a perception of too many foreign players. Lawwel stressed that recruitment of players is always a decisions for the manager.

Neil Lennon stated that more leaders were required. He also praised Scott Brown and Aiden McGeady. He expects both to stay unless silly money is offered. He also stated that Shaun Maloney is now fit and will start pre season training with the rest of the squad

Several questions dealt with Celtic relationship with the media and the SFA. The club does make representations to various bodies on a daily basis, Peter Lawwel told us, but cannot do anything about what newspapers print.

A couple of questions on ticket prices came late on. The 5% levy on some away tickets will be looked at again. And it is possible that a European qualifier will be given as a freebie on the season ticket.

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Overall it was an interesting session, and I’m glad that fans were given the opportunity to ask their questions. But something was missing: an idea of the vision, the strategy for the future. I felt that a presentation should have been made explaining how the club will be taken forward, and this would have set the scene for the rest of the meeting.

Peter Lawwel was on the defensive for much of the night, which is understandable given the failures of last season. He answered questions well, although he said little that was new.

Neil Lennon sat with his head down for a lot of the time; a man in a very difficult position. His passion for the club came through clearly when he did speak and he was honest in admitting that his inexperience is his biggest weakness in relation to the post he hopes to secure.

I can’t help but feel it would have been more productive all round to have held this first session just after a managerial appointment rather than just before.

Still, there are other meetings to come.

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Celtic Football Club announced recently that Chief Executive Peter Lawwell and caretaker manager Neil Lennon will meet supporters at a series of Q&A sessions throughout the summer.

The first of these sessions takes place tonight at Celtic Park and I plan to be there. It will be held in the Kerrydale Suite, which holds up to 800 people, so a large attendance is obviously expected.

I very much welcome these sessions. At Celtic, perhaps more than at any other football team, the fans have always been a very large part of the club. It is only right that we are given an opportunity to hear exactly what the club’s thinking is at the moment, and to question those in charge.

It is anticipated that there will be some sort of presentation from the club at the start of the meeting. Exactly what this will contain is not known, but there are some very basic questions that need to be answered. Like when will we have a permanent manager for a start?

And that brings us to Neil Lennon’s position. He will be at the meeting as caretaker manager – unless an announcement is made in the next few hours! So how will he be in a position to say anything beyond, “If I am the manager I will …”

There will be a question and answer session after the presentation, and this is where things will surely get interesting. There are a whole host of issues that could be raised: the joint sponsorship deal, the club’s financial position and budgets for the new season, potential signing targets, etc.

And, in a wider footballing sense, the SFA’s disciplinary system, the role of Scottish referees, the McLeish report and the prospect of Celtic moving into a different footballing arena are all likely to come up.

I will be very interested in what our CEO has to say to us tonight. I will be looking for clear leadership and a sense of the direction that the club will be taking over the next few years. Success on the park is, of course, the most important criterion that Celtic will be judged against, but a well-run business is necessary to allow that to happen.

I want to come out of the meeting feeling inspired.

I want to feel that my club has a clear strategy for moving forward, both domestically and in Europe.

I want to be excited about the season ahead of us.

That may be a lot to ask. But in putting themselves in front of fans in this way there is an expectation of answers amongst fans I’ve talked to.

I’m sure it will be a very interesting evening. Look out for my report on the session later on tonight.

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Now that the pageantry is out of the way we finally get to know some more details of the new coalition government’s plans. But do they live up to the headline of “freedom, fairness and responsibility”?

Tackling the budget deficit is top priority, as it has to be. But do the cuts to be introduced immediately threaten economic growth? The Lib Dems thought so during the election campaign, but now see to be signed up. Cutting £6.2bn must have an impact – among other measures the Future Jobs fund will be abolished and 10,000 university places cancelled. Bad news for young people.

A Welfare Reform Bill will create a single welfare-to-work programme and make benefit payments more conditional on willingness to accept work. This is supposed to move, “five million people languishing on welfare into work”. Quite where the five million new jobs will come from is not specified!

Tax is an area where there were clear differences between the two coalition parties, but a deal has been done. National Insurance payments will rise but changes to tax allowances mean income tax will fall. Swings and roundabouts? Most people only look at the bottom line on the payslip anyway.

And rumours of a VAT increase just won’t go away. This is a measure traditionally used by Tory governments requiring more tax revenues and I think it will happen, but not immediately.

A great deal of attention will be paid to the proposals for reforming the parliamentary system. The right to recall MPs who are found to be corrupt is welcome. But the other measures will all be controversial.

A Bill will be introduced for a referendum on changing the voting system to the Alternative Vote. This is perhaps the most blatant fudge of all. The Lib Dems have agreed to a scheme that they have never supported in the past and most Tories don’t want change at all. If there is a referendum the two government partners will be campaigning on opposing sides.

Alongside this are Tory plans to reduce the number of MPs by redrawing parliamentary boundaries. This is a move that will favour only one party: the Tories. Governor Gerry would be proud.

Fixated term parliaments of five years will be introduced, removing the right of a Prime Minister to set an election date whenever he feels like it. But the new requirement for 55% of MPs to vote for a dissolution of Parliament, which I’ve written about previously, will be opposed by back benchers from all parties.

Reform of the House of Lords looks to be referred to a committee for investigation, so who knows when definite proposals will be published. In the meantime, the government is thought to be ready to create over 100 new peers to ensure it can get legislation through. Just another reason why we should have a wholly elected second house.

Perhaps the most absurdly named bill in recent times, the Freedom (Great Repeal) Bill will limit the amount of time that DNA profiles of innocent people can be held on national database and tighten regulation on the use of CCTV cameras. To be supported definitely, but hardly worth the hyperbole.

Another very welcome step is the Identity Documents Bill, which will scrap identity cards and the National Identity Register, and also cancel the next generation of biometric passports.

A Scotland Bill will grant the Scottish Parliament more powers over taxation and borrowing under proposals made by the Calman Commission, set up by Labour. Again this is to be welcomed, although First Minister Salmond isn’t overly keen. But then his party opposed Calman in the first place.

An Education Bill will allow schools in England to opt out of local authority control. It will also enable parents and other groups or companies to set up so called “free schools”. Thankfully this doesn’t apply to Scotland.

A divisive issue for the partners during the election campaign was immigration. It appears as though the Tories’ plan for a cap on non EU incomers will be introduced, although the Lib Dems’ amnesty is nowhere to be seen. A cap will affect areas such as medicine and civil engineering where there are skills shortages and could have damaging economic consequences. But the Daily Mail will be happy, of course.

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The initial response to the proposals in Parliament was rather muted. For the opposition, acting Labour Leader Harriet Harman made a decent speech. She promised opposition where justified and tried to divide the two young lovers wherever possible by quoting pre-election statements, and predicting a rocky marriage for them. But while there were some clever lines, the real debates are yet to come.

So is this a radical programme for government? Well, not really. There are a few measures to be welcomed in there but nothing that fundamentally changes society.

Is it a fudge? Definitely. And perhaps inevitably given the marriage of convenience at the heart of government.

What was most notable yesterday was that government back benchers listened largely in nervous silence rather than displaying the euphoria that usually accompanies a new government. Many from both parties clearly have their reservations and the 55% issue could be the one where these come to the fore.

But will the two coalition partners stay together? Clegg and Cameron are of course very close although both will have to work to keep their parties behind the deal, which could prove difficult at times.

Division will come sooner or later. The question is when rather than if.

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Dateline: 25 May

I love those internet sites that tell you everything that happened on specific dates throughout history. Who was born, who performed great feats and what was in the news.

So what does history tell us about 25 May?

Those born on this date include Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803), Igor Sikorsky of helicopter fame (1889), film director David Lean (1908), musician Miles Davis (1926), DJ Dave Lee Travis (1945) and modfather Paul Weller (1958).

Also on 25 May, in 1787 the US Constitutional Convention was opened in Philadelphia by George Washington, in 1914 the British House of Commons passed Irish Home Rule and in1989 Mikhail Gorbachev was elected Executive President of the Soviet Union.

Other notable events on this date include President John F Kennedy’s 1961 pledge to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade, the opening of Star Wars in 1977 and Camelot being awarded the contract to run the National Lottery in 1994.

But for Celtic fans, there is of course only one 25 May that matters – 1967.

The names are now legendary. Jock Stein. The Lisbon Lions. The stories of trips across the continent are still told with pride. And the feeling of accomplishment will never leave the club.

1967 was the twelfth time that Europe’s champions had competed for the massive trophy that is now so well known. Real Madrid had dominated the competition with six wins and only Benfica with two triumphs and the Milan clubs (Inter twice and AC once) had broken their hold. Southern Europe was dominant.

Celtic defeated FC Zurich, Nantes of France, FK Vojvodina of Yugoslavia and Czech champions Dukla Prague to reach the final. Inter Milan meanwhile knocked out Torpedo Moscow, Vasas of Hungary, the mighty Real Madrid and CSKA Sofia in a play off after two draws.

The final was, of course, a real contrast in styles: the defensive play of the Italians against the free flowing football of Celtic. The stats prove this: Inter did not win a single corner and forced Celtic goalkeeper Ronnie Simpson to make only two saves; Celtic had two shots off the crossbar, and 39 other attempts on goal, 13 of which were saved by Italian goalkeeper Giuliano Sarti, 7 were blocked or deflected, and 19 were off-target.

41 attempts at goal in 90 minutes is a quite incredible total.

We all know how the game turned out: Mazzola’s 7th minute penalty being cancelled out by Tommy Gemmill on 63 minutes and Stevie Chalmers’ winner seven minutes from time.

As the Guardian reported: ”Celtic are the new champions and worthy ones at that, having beaten Inter Milan 2-1 in the final after a remarkable match; by sheer determination when all seemed stacked against them, when frustration and defeat stared them straight in the eye.”

But it was the great Jock Stein who summed up this triumph.

“There is not a prouder man on God’s Earth than me at this moment. Winning was important, but it was the way that we won that has filled me with satisfaction.

“We did it by playing football; pure, beautiful, inventive football. There was not a negative thought in our heads.”

Yes, 25 May is a very good day indeed.

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