Monthly Archives: January 2004

Inquiring into war

Here’s a thought. Why don’t we legislate for a statutory, independent inquiry after every war (except, perhaps, those started by others)? The inquiry should be given certain inviolable powers in advance – the right, for instance, to examine relevant intelligence and to require senior figures to testify – to prevent Governments from limiting the range of any post-war inquiry (as Thatcher’s Government did with the neutered Franks Report into the Falklands War in 1983).

The inevitability of such a formal inquiry (and the following, also compulsory, Parliamentary debate) might just contain Governments’ over-enthusiastic war-making and provide more interesting material for historians than we’re used to.

Blair’s political cojones

Assuming that the top-up fees rebellion was ultimately put down (and pretty brutally put down, by the look of it) by forcing a wedge between the two distinct groups of rebels – those who want to see Blair gone and those who object only to the policy – this is obviously not a great result for Blair. It means, if the Government’s strategy was successful in pulling most of the ‘soft’ objectors back from the brink, that something like 50 Labour MPs would dearly like to see Blair replaced in Number 10 (total guess: assuming about two-thirds of the ultimate rebels are in the anti-Blair camp and one-third voted against on doggedly-held principle).

Still, few commentators have pointed out (it’s early, I suppose) that this rebellion, while epic in its implications, is not large numerically – both the Iraq and Foundation Hospitals votes produced more ‘no’ votes from the Labour benches. Set in its historic context it is also not a disaster. This Government, remember, has still to be defeated in a single significant parliamentary vote in seven years. Compare that with Callaghan, Wilson or earlier Labour Governments, all of whom would probably have regarded this gut-wrenching near-catastrophe as a pretty ordinary day’s work.

So, without wanting to over-simplify, Blair got the right result by isolating his opponents in the party and calling the bluff of the more principled objectors who couldn’t bring themselves to hand Howard a victory. That, if you ask me, is intelligent, ballsy (and successful) politics. Bravo.


Billie, 4, made this at school today. What is it? No idea. I’ll ask her in the morning and let you know (click the small pic for a bigger one). Update: it’s a Barbie Car!

Gaming eMusic

Here’s a good game. See how many albums you can get within your 40 track per month download limit over at eMusic. It hadn’t occurred to me, of course, but eMusic members have already started to pass around their lists of ‘albums with really long tracks‘ and ‘1- and 2-track albums‘. Looks like there’s no reason why you shouldn’t keep downloading 40 albums per month – provided you have a taste for prog rock, pretentious jazz and obscure classical.

A new standard for online news?

So I’ve been living with The Guardian’s Digital Edition for a few weeks and I’m even more convinced. It really is the first good analogue for a real newspaper I’ve come across. I would seriously consider dropping the printed paper for this. I’m inspired because I’d sort of concluded that this would never happen. The best thing about it is that I can almost literally flick through it, reproducing exactly my (probably highly inefficient) daily newspaper habits if I want to, but also making the paper markedly more accessible by giving me the equivalent of the biggest kitchen table in the world to spread the papers out on (plus a pretty good search function).

Of course, whether The Guardian could actually make money from a digital edition is still up in the air but I reckon there must be some mileage in selling this as a service to other publishers. In fact, if I could add a bunch of other publications to my giant kitchen table and flick through them in the same way I would probably sign up on the spot. A new pop-up menu in the left-hand nav could bring up digital editions of all my favourites – especially the ones that currently have dreadful or non-existent web sites. In fact, I think even quite competent online periodicals like The Economist or The New Statesman or New Scientist could benefit from the Guardian’s approach. They’d all be improved by a dose of the giant kitchen table treatment. The Guardian might find that they’re sitting on an emerging standard for the presentation of printed publications online. Wouldn’t that be cool?