Friday, February 28, 2014

Ahead of Labour's Special Conference

Ahead of tomorrow's Labour Party Special Conference, which is being held to vote on reforms to the party's links to the trade union movement, here's a few thoughts of my own on the party and the future.

On the back of my party membership card is the following; Clause IV -

The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour, we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect. 

There is only one true "workers' party" in this country, and it's not the Conservative Party. There's only one party that seeks to unite all British people under one banner - the teachers, nurses, factory workers, cleaners, cooks, builders, train drivers - the people who keep our nation going. And there's only one party out there that has set out to represent and fight for those who are unable to fight their battles alone.

One party to represent all people in Britain, regardless of nationality, race, sexuality, beliefs, background, or age. A party that supports those in need and provides for our future. A party that does not abandon huge swathes of society to despair and hopelessness.

I am not a trade union member, but the unions must play a vital role in our society and our party, because it is the very people of whom they are comprised that our party exists to represent and fight for. And that is what unions are there for - to fight for their members' workplace rights and to ensure that they are not being exploited.

It is important that we never lose touch with the majority of people in this country. According to Nigel Farage, "immigration is the number one issue in this country". Not if you actually go and ask people - normal, working people. They're worried about the healthcare system, the education system, the bedroom tax, pensions, wages, a lack of jobs, businesses closing, spiralling energy prices, and whether they'll have enough money to put food on the table for their families. These are the people in society that we need to stand up for, and these are their concerns that we need to be tackling, in order to change our society for the better.

Thirteen years of Labour government helped transform this country from the dark era of Tory rule. The prosperity, health and growth of our services under Labour has stagnated under the Coalition government, who are bumbling along without any real sense of direction, now they've successfully interfered with our education, healthcare and welfare systems on wild, ideological experiments.

The people of Britain deserve better than a Government that holds them in such low regard, a Government that seeks to divide society and exploit it for its own ends. It is time to take the fight to the Government - to show them that we are a united society that has ambitions to improve our country and our quality of life. To form a Government for the people, by the people.

By the strength of our common endeavour, we achieve more than we achieve alone.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Spectator does House of Cards

The Spectator has done its own little spoof of House of Cards, featuring the writer of the original novels, Lord Michael Dobbs, and some well-known political faces - Nadine Dorries MP, Michael Fabricant MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, Chris Bryant MP, and Boris Johnson.

I don't think Mr Spacey need worry about job security for the time being.

Friday, February 21, 2014

It's never 20 years?

This Spring marks 20 years of my involvement with the Labour Party. As a two year old, I was enlisted to assist with doorstep canvassing in Copeland for the 1994 European Parliament elections, with my Mum. My Mum joined the borough council the following year, and in 1999 began working for the then-MP, Jack Cunningham, former Agriculture Minister and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

As a toddler on the campaign trail, I was soon heard to be asking "So where's the [Labour] Party then?", presumably expecting presents, cakes and balloons.

20 years on, and now working on the Parliamentary estate in Westminster, I'm still not sure!

Campaigning in Dumfries, 1996 (age 4).

Meeting Tony Blair MP, then-Prime Minister, with Copeland's MP, Jamie Reed, at an event at Sellafield in November 2006 (age 15).

In the public gallery at a sitting of the Public Accounts Committee, December 2013 (age 22).

Monday, February 17, 2014

Putting a bit of stick about

"Now then, Mr Stoat!"
Chief Whip Francis Urquhart and his deputy, Tim Stamper, gang up on a naughty backbencher, in the BBC's 1990 original House of Cards.

"And if you must use whores, then for God's sake go to a decent knocking shop, where they understand the meaning of discretion. Stamper will give you a list if you don't know any yourself."

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Poetry - Speaking Cumbrian - the short course

Speaking Cumbrian - the short course

Ah'reet marra, 'ow's the dyarn?
Hello my friend, how are you doing?
Nut bad pal, where's the ga'an?
Very well my dear acquaintance, to where are you travelling?
Az off t'Truppena
I am going to Torpenhow [NB - pronounced "Trupennah"]
Where's thay frae, marra?
From where do you hail, my friend?
Is the frae White'ev'n, or Wuk'i'un?
Are you from Whitehaven, or Workington?
Nah marra, az nut a Jam Eater
You are gravely mistaken, I am from neither
Thou's frae Spyatrie 'n' az frae Cleator
You reside in Aspatria, whereas I live in Cleator
Aye, so's me al' lass
Is that so? My beloved wife was also born there
An' az ga'an yam fer a yam-byak'd cyak
And I am just off home as she has made me a wonderful afternoon tea

Poetry - Ravenglass, Glannoventa

Ravenglass, Glannoventa

Nestled on an estuary
Ancient houses on the shore
Three rivers, a Roman port
Muddy beach and cobbled streets
Cul-de-sac with ferrous gate
Tourists on the village green
Sleepy hamlet slumbers on.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

House of Cards (spoiler-free!) verdict

Well, wow, what can I say?

Started series 2 of House of Cards at 7pm last night, finished it at 10pm tonight. 13 hours of television watched in 27 hours.

It's proved to be even more enjoyable than the first series, and even more addictive. Brilliant performances all round. Much darker than the first series, with a little less breaking of the fourth wall. A fantastic adaptation of the original novel and BBC series. Plenty of surprises along the way.

Get yourself onto Netflix and get watching it. That's a three line whip.

Friday, February 14, 2014

House of Cards - series 2

So, the question on everyone's lips.

"Is House of Cards series two even better than series one?"

You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment.


On Netflix from today. 13 episodes. I've already worked my way through the first four. Sublime.


PS. Happy Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"Aren't you going to wish me a Happy Valentine's Day?"

I'm a cunning linguist

Working in those famous buildings across the Thames from the London Eye, I've had quite a few people assume that I studied politics at university. So they're quite surprised to learn that I've actually got a degree in linguistics. They then ask what language that is - assuming that I've studied French, German, or Spanish. "No, no, just English - English Language, that's what a Linguistics degree is".

People ask what my course involved. Accents and dialects? Yes, but I didn't specialise in that field, as phonetics proved a little too much for me and my regional accent's pronunciation of certain vowels (the "a" sound in "face" and "oa" sound in "boat" will probably not be the same for me as they are for you, or in Received Pronunciation). While not possessing a strong West Cumbrian accent, I do have the vowel sounds common to most users of some form of North-Eastern English accent (Cumbria, linguistically, has more in common with NE England than NW England, even though it's in the NW!).

So what did I cover at university? Mainly pragmatics - the construction of meaning through context. While semantics deals with individual word meanings, pragmatics involves words being said by particular people to particular people at particular locations at particular points in time (this is all context). As part of a study of language-in-use and sociolinguistics, this is where the fields of linguistics, sociology and psychology all blur into one.

But my favourite response is when I tell people that as part of my course, I studied Conversation Analysis. The look of pure horror on people's faces as they frantically try to remember what they've just said to me, under the impression that I am now psychoanalysing their every utterance. Absolutely priceless.

Conversation Analysis does not come anything close to this - it involves incredibly detailed transcription of talk, which is then analysed with a fine tooth comb, picking out recurring phenomena within the data set in order to try and explain why people say particular things and what jobs particular conversational features do.

My main interest was the study of language-in-use. Rather than mere theory about language - syntax, grammar, etc., it is the study of how real people use real language in real situations. There's no such thing as "right" or "wrong" language use - no matter how annoyed we get when people have an inability to use punctuation or say "could of" when they mean "could have" (and believe me, I get very, very annoyed!). The whole point is that language is merely a means to an end.

As language users, we must assess what the primary purpose of our language is. From a Clarkian perspective (H.H. Clark, 1996, Using language - check it out!), language is all about achieving things, getting things done, and co-operation and co-ordination. These are our end goals - we seek to achieve our aims, whether that is to order a beer, to speak to our lecturer in an academic setting, or even to order our lecturer a beer! The fact is that virtually everybody uses language in their everyday life, though very few people stop to think about exactly how they use it - and of the few that do, even fewer still feel a need to dictate to others how things should be done. And what right to they have to do this? Why should we always do things in a certain way? To spend too much time cathecting and perfecting the way in which we say or write things can only ever be at the expense of us actually putting our words to good use and "doing things" (Clark 1996: 3).

Clark writes that "language is rarely used as an end in itself" (1996: 387), which is something that linguistic conservatives do not seem to consider. When asking out that pretty girl, "using language was only a means to that end" (Clark 1996: 387) - the likelihood is that the outcome of the interaction will culminate in the girl giving us either a yes- or a no-type answer; it is unlikely that she would correct us, had we ended a sentence with a preposition. And what do we want - the pretty girl, or a conversation about syntactic structure? To waste our lives concentrating on the means of language, rather than its ends, can never be ultimately productive, and will only serve to stall our efforts to get things done.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

The Shipping Forecast with a Yorkshire twist

Alan Bennett, the poet and playwright, reads the Shipping Forecast as part of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, when it was guest-edited by Michael Palin over Christmas.

Pure poetry in motion.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Oh, Doctor Beeching! Revisited

Revisiting a relic of a by-gone age...

Oh, Doctor Beeching!
What have you done?
You shut the line from Okehampton
That ran to Bere Alston
The Dawlish line's collapsed
Shut down for six weeks at best
Oh, Doctor Beeching!
No more trains to the South West!

With Brunel's Great Western Main Line closed for the foreseeable future between Exeter St Davids and Plymouth, due to this rather nasty failing in the Dawlish sea wall, between Exeter and Newton Abbot, there has been a lot of talk on the internet about the possibility of reopening the former London & South Western Railway line between Meldon Quarry, Okehampton and Bere Alston, on the Plymouth - Gunnislake branch. Said line closed in 1968, though most of the former trackbed is in a pretty good condition.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Political views

Top - the view (or lack thereof) from a photocopier room in Norman Shaw South, looking across to 1 Canon Row.
Middle - the stairs between Lower Waiting Hall and the Committee Corridor, in the Palace of Westminster.
Bottom - the seemingly endless stairwell in Norman Shaw North, the original New Scotland Yard building, now MPs' offices.