Thursday, January 31, 2008

Doing The Butetown Shuffle

It occurs to me that it is a little odd that, despite my self-avowed obsession with semantics, I have so far failed to explain my most obvious semantic foible. Allow me now to remedy that by taking you on a trip down Lloyd George Avenue…

Metonymy has infected most political jurisdictions around the world. Westminster, Holyrood, The Hill, The Kremlin, L’Elysee; all instantly recognisable as the institutions based there. Wales is no different, with Cardiff Bay or just The Bay being metonymous with the Assembly. Which would be fine, if Cardiff Bay was, well, real…

In reality, there used to be a place called Tiger Bay and a place called Butetown, with a somewhat amorphous boundary between them. Then in 1987, something called the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation turned up and started building things. Fifteen years later there was the Barrage, the Wales Millennium Centre, the Assembly… And all this shiny architecture acquired the name of the corporation, a name so important it gets brown road signs.

Now this is all very well, but the Department of Metaphor has an important objection. In 1994, Bute Road station was also renamed Cardiff Bay, leaving us with the area east of the station;

The station itself;

And the area west of the station;

Can you tell what the metaphor is yet?

For all the shinyness on the east side of the railway line (and there’s no doubt it has done a tremendous amount for the general sense of civic pride in Cardiff and beyond), Butetown itself remains the most deprived area in all of Wales. Regeneration work is now starting there, but that is thanks to Cardiff’s Lib Dem council, not the Assembly.

So for now I’ll continue to walk down the Butetown side of the railway line every morning and I’ll continue to call it the Butetown Villlage, because until everyone has shared in the success, the Assembly cannot claim to have finished its job.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

May The Force Be With You

Sometimes I just don’t know who to think is most stupid.

Rhodri Morgan himself provided me with a prime example of that just last week. On Thursday and Friday he embarked on what some wags are describing as his “Taith Iaith” (Tour Of The Language, for those less Brythonically-inclined), a supposed fact-finding tour of North and West Wales intended to discover why those areas have so thoroughly rejected Labour in the Assembly. All very fine and dandy (if you’re buying into Labour’s version of why they lost in May, at any rate) but not especially stupid, right?

Well that was until Rhodri came out with this belter;

"The things which divide us are greater than the things which unite us, sadly. The centrifugal forces are stronger than the centripetal forces but we’ve got to overcome that."

Now I may have that BSc in Physics and that MSc in Nuclear Reactor Technology, but frankly a GCSE in Double Science, or even a trip to Wikipedia, should be enough to point out the flaw in that little scientific argument; simply put, the centrifugal force is either a fictitious force (which cannot be stronger than the centripetal force because it doesn’t exist at all) or a reaction force (which is thus equal and opposite to the centripetal force).

But just when I’m about to happily conclude idiocy on the First Minister’s part, my contacts versed in the dark arts of “political science” inform me that centrifugal and centripetal are, in fact, perfectly acceptable descriptors for territories like Wales and Scotland with nationalist persuasions.

So now I have to ask myself where the problem lies. Is it with the “political scientists” for appropriating a highly dubious scientific metaphor and giving its inaccurate use the credence of long use? Is it with the journalists, themselves arts graduates to a man, lacking the nous to spot this senseless slaughter of the English language?

But then my thoughts are drawn back to Rhodri, because there’s a more fundamental issue involved here; whether you think the metaphor is valid in its own terms or scientifically unconscionable, you have to accept that the metaphor is ultimately derived from the idea of something spinning. And what on Earth is Rhodri “I’m Old Labour me, nothing New Labour about me at all, heaven forbid you should think that” Morgan doing going round using spinning metaphors?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Now That's What I Call A Non-Event

Certain sections of the press and the blogosphere seem to be under the impression that John Hutton today stood up in Parliament and announced a new generation of nuclear power stations. To borrow the phrase of that great philosopher Wayne Campbell, “shuh, as if…”

For starters, the statement is utterly meaningless because Greenpeace are going to seek judicial review over the consultation process again and they’re going to win again because the whole business is clearly living in New Labour La La Land and until ministers take their balls out and stop their pathetic attempts to spin the decision nothing is going to happen.

More fundamentally, however, the Government still hasn’t grasped the fact that if it wants new nuclear power stations it actually has to do something. And no, before all the acolytes of the Book Of Brower rain down on me, it has nothing to do with money (and while we’re at it, if people continue to flagrantly misuse the word subsidy in the context of this debate, I’m going to start cracking heads!)

To take the BBC’s list of the things in the announcement;

  • Speed up planning process to make it easier to build plants – Necessary, yes, but you have rather announced it before (when you published the draft Planning Bill, for example…)
  • No public subsidies for nuclear except in emergencies – Yes, that has been the case for a number of years and recognizes our existing treaty obligations, but I don’t think a Minister of the Crown should get special credit for knowing what the status quo is
  • No limit to amount of electricity generated by nuclear power – What, because there was any chance of you saying “no, you can’t build that one, we’ve already got enough” before?
  • New independent body to monitor decommissioning costs – Erm, wouldn’t that be the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which you kind of announced when it was in the Energy Act 2004 and has been operating for two years?
  • Trebling of investment in wind and wave power – Yes, but I’m going to take a guess that that’s a trebling from about 50p and so not the windfall it sounds like
  • Store nuclear waste at 'interim' facility until suitable underground site found – Again, nice to see you’ve spotted what we’re doing already, but if John Prescott wasn’t as incompetent as, well, John Prescott, it wouldn’t be an issue by now…

Meanwhile, none of this addresses the fundamental block on investment in any form of new generating capacity, namely the “BETTA” electricity market system that was designed, essentially by Enron, to benefit gas-fired station owners like, ooh, Enron, to the detriment of both wind and nuclear. Despite the bluster we’re likely to hear over the next few days from the Church of EnvironMentalism, nuclear does not need and is not looking for brown envelopes of used twenties; what it does need is for the government to really grasp the nettle and put in place an electricity market that recognises that our goal must be low carbon generation, not high brokers fees generation.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Only Poll That Matters (Sort Of)

The Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord (as indeed it is for those of a Christian persuasion) is always a time for reflection, so what better time to take a look at what is clearly the most important opinion poll in the modern world, Facebook’s UK Politics poll…

The headline results (as of 16:38 when I typed them) are;

  • Conservative – 33.2% (down 1.7% since October)
  • Labour – 29.8% (down 3.5%)
  • Liberal Democrats – 18.0% (down 0.6%)
  • Green (UK Total) – 4.6% (up 0.5%)
  • Others – 14.4% (up 5.3%)

There are now 7500 respondents, some 3000 more than in October, but the main trend in those 3000 appears to be a bias towards the smaller parties (possibly on account of being slower to get organised on Facebook). This is particularly noticeable in the category breakdown, where the relative results for the three main parties are essentially unchanged from October, but their absolute numbers are in all cases lower.

There’s plenty to feel good about from a Lib Dem perspective; we’ve held up best amongst the big three, and indeed in December we attracted 19.1% of new votes. There is, however, one strange pattern we could do with explaining, because if true it is rather unsettling. By age, the voting breaks down like this;

  • Under 25 – Tory 40.0%; Labour 27.8%; LD 15.4%
  • 25-29 – Tory 32.7%; Labour 32.5%; LD 18.5%
  • 30-34 – Labour 31.8%; Tory 26.3%; LD 20.4%
  • 35-44 – Labour 32.3%; Tory 28.5%; LD 22.2%

Given that LDYS' message has for many years been that we are the party of the youth vote, it might be nice for a poll on a youth-biased site to reflect that…