Friday, 29 January 2010

Cricket in the Empire

It's no secret that the reason cricket is so popular in places such as Australia, India and South Africa is because of the influence of the British Empire. In fact it's hard to think of a nation with test match status that hasn't had a British influence.

This looks set to continue into the modern day with Afghanistan becoming a real force on the cricket pitch. Only nine years ago the team consisted almost entirely of refugees and were struggling in the second tier of Pakistan's domestic league but now have full one-day international status and only missed out on a place in the 2011 World Cup by a narrow margin.

Arguably their biggest success to date came last Sunday when they beat the Irish (who are no pushovers themselves) by 7 wickets in a multi-day game. This will undoubtedly set them up nicely for next week's ICC World Twenty20 game qualifiers in the UAE.

I'm not sure if there is any political metaphor to make here but good luck to the Afghans. I believe it was Julius Nicholson in a Thick of It Special who said that 'cricket makes the troubles of the world seem so far away'.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

My Day Alongside Alastair Campbell

At 7.20am Tuesday morning most of you were probably still in bed but I became the 8th person to be queueing outside the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, waiting to register to attend the Iraq Inquiry. Before long your standard media outfits began to arrive and made reports to their respective channels.

Once in and registered we eagerly anticipated Campbell's arrival and I have to admit to being surprised at just how tired and older he looked. I know it was 6 and a half years since Campbell was last part of government but the large sigh at the first interlude was telling.

The former director of Communications and Strategy started off a bit shaky and when questioned about the nature of his role tried to fob off the question by saying that if Tony Blair asked him to jump off a building then he wouldn't have. Hmm, Sir Roderic Lyne soon told him to "be serious".

Once into the questions about Iraq, Alastair Campbell soon became more comfortable and answered questions more freely; providing clear and detailed responses to the panel's robust questioning. Campbell often got into a good tussle with Sir Lawrence Freedman that was only stopped because the stenographer couldn't keep up!

In my opinion, the biggest thing to come out of the day was heading into the very final session when Campbell implied that Clare Short was both incompetent and difficult to work with. The reason this came up was because Lyne pointed out that Short's ministerial department (International Development) was often excluded from key meetings about Iraq. With Campbell making such a strong case for the moral argument for war just before this break, surely he must have realised the importance of the department in the aftermath of any invasion?

All in all a good day to experience politics first hand and I certainly think the panel's line of questioning already lends it more legitimacy than the Hutton Report. Role on Tony Blair!

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Labour attacks UK Charities

You know that a government is desperate once it starts to attack the most vulnerable in society and this is exactly what Labour seems to be doing as they seek to remove the exemption that charities currently enjoy from music royalties. Despite being in force since 1988, the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act will be amended so that all charities must, from April 2010, obtain a license from Phonographic Performance Ltd if they wish to play copyrighted music to the public. Clearly this covers nearly every charity that seeks to advertise on either the radio or on television and some smaller charities may fail to notice that the law has even changed. Will we therefore possibly see a legal case where a music producer takes a charity to court?! Simon Cowell v. NSPCC could create a few headlines in itself!

The amendment to the law will simplify the framework within which charges are applied and the payment is only £81 annually, but this is £81 that could otherwise be better spent, particularly in the case of non-profit organisations and such an amount could be a significant dent in the finances of some smaller charities. The government’s apparent justification for the amendment is that it is necessary remove the exemption to achieve a proper balance between owners of the rights to the music and the users in accordance with EC and international law. Such a claim seems, in reality, hard to substantiate. For example, use of music for weddings, hospital wards and medical therapy are still exempt; is there no balance to be redressed here?

Overall the advantages of the amendment are hard to find with regard to charities. The overall system may be simplified but it was probably a whole lot simpler when they paid nothing at all.