Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The Illusionist - a Gaelic movie running for an Oscar

Great news from LA, where The Illusionist has been shortlisted for the Oscars.

Strictly speaking The Illusionist, written and directed by Sylvain Chomet, is a French animation based in Scotland but the beautiful, crystal-clear Gaelic dialogue provided by Eilidh Rankin gives the film a wonderful resonance with its 1950s Edinburgh and Highland setting.

Most of plot and the charm in Chomet's hand-drawn animation relies on show-not-tell miming, with muffled dialogue heard through plate glass or in situations where only a garbled word or two in French or English is distinguishable.

That is until Rankin gives voice to the character of Alice, the Highland girl who accompanies the down-and-out "Illusionist", back to Edinburgh. Eilidh has laid down some of the sweetest Gaelic to grace a recording booth and her contribution gives the film a real lift.

Maybe I'm being sentimental because I saw it in the Edinburgh Cameo, which features in the film; or maybe it's because I'd enjoyed some great Gaelic company before going on to the cinema that cold November afternoon; but go and see it and be charmed yourself by this genuine piece of creativity and craftsmanship.

Chomet, the director of the highly-acclaimed 2003 Belleville Rendezvous, adapted the story from an unproduced script by Jacques Tati. He relocated the action to Edinburgh after falling in love with the city during a visit to the annual film festival.

I think he received precious little financial help in Scotland with the development of the movie but everyone will wish him the best of luck in the animated film category where he is a giant slayer in competition against Toy Story 3 and How to Train your Dragon. Beannachd leibh.

When politicians start blaming the wrong kind of snow..

Alistair Darling is reborn on Sky news just now, hammering George Osborne's record harder than Ed Balls hits the punchbag in his garage.

I was a minister for a long time and when politicians start blaming the wrong kind of snow you know something is wrong, says Darling, who thinks the recovery is at risk because of the direction of government policy.

Apart from blaming the weather for the shocking 0.5% reduction in growth the big message from George Osborne and David Cameron today is that there will be no change in government direction.

My notes from this morning's lobby are littered with the words "choppy" and "difficult course" from the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman.

The PMOS own notes from the cabinet discussion of the economy were that Cameron told colleagues that they had "set a difficult course that was never going to be easy".

But, said the PM, dealing with deficit "is not an alternative to growth, it is a pre-requisite. We should not be blown off by one quarter's figures".

Asked about the possibility of a double dip recession the PMOS kind of avoided answering directly (quite a few times) and pointed out that coming out of previous recessions there have been quarters of flat or negative growth.

"We've always said its likely to be choppy," said the PMOS. "Clearly they are disappointing figures, somewhat below the bottom end of range expected by forecasters."

He noted the worst winter weather in 100 years might have something to do with the quarterly results but journalists reposted that two thirds of the figures came before a drop of snow fell.

Is this a blip, we asked? Well, previous experience shows this would happen. The PMOS said: "The important thing that we are confident the approach is the right one and that there isn't any alternative to dealing with the deficit. You don't have to look very far for evidence of not dealing with a large deficit."

After the weather, and who says the snow is over, there will be the is the effect of the vat rise and public sector cuts.

Are there adjustments to be made for more choppy days? Do you stick to the plan if there are two quarters of negative growth? Is it pm's view that we are out of the danger zone?

The official answered: "It is certainly true that the spending cuts are relatively small this year. There are cuts still to come but it is important to have a credible deficit reduction plan if you are going to see economic growth."

Late result from the football gender wars

One woman doesn't need the offside rule explained to her by Andy Gray is Tracey Crouch, Tory MP for Chatham and Aylesford, who is a qualified football coach.

Crouch (that's her with England international Peter Crouch - no relation)is also a bit of a hotshot on the field, as Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy discovered last week.

Super-Murph, a midfield maestro (that's what is says in the match programme) found himself playing in goal last week in a game against the Tories. When it came to a penalty being awarded, aye well, you can guess how the lassie got on.

Actually it was worse than that - not only did Tracey Crouch put the ball in the back of the net from the penalty spot, it travelled between lanky Murphy's legs to get there. Nutmeg is the official term, for you ladies who don't follow the game closely.* See footnote

Staying on football and gender checkout the all-girl Laxdale primary football team from Lewis in today's Daily Record. The island team won a kits for kids competition through the paper and jetted off to Italy to see a Serie A game as a reward.

The girls and their classroom assistant Christine Campbell collected almost 30,000 tokens to win the top prize, not a bad result for Record circulation given that the population of Lewis is 23,000.

(Shame on Gray, by the way, him a good Lewis boy and all.)

footballnote Having checked sources it seems that the goal was not scored from the penalty spot and the earlier report "does no justice" to the cracker of rocket shot that Crouch put in the net. Still went through Murphy's legs though.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Cuin a tha da Ed nas fhearr na aon?

Tha Ed Balls a' toiseachadh air dreuchd ur mar Seansalair dhubhlanach an-diugh, as deidh mar a dh' fhag Alan Johnson an dreuchd sin an-de airson adhbharan pearsanta.

Mar as trice, nuair a thig e gu “adhbharan pearsanta”, bidh Westminster lan de fathannan fad laithean - ach thainig an naidheachd mu dheidhinn Johnson mar peilear tairneanaich aig coig uairean feasgar an-de.

Bha gearranan air a bhith ann mu dheidhin de direach cho eolach 's cho mionaideach 's a bha Johnson mar fear labhairt an ionmhais airson na Labaraich ach chan e sin an t-adhbhar a dh'fhag e ann an cabhaig.

Tha e follaiseach a-nis gu bheil e a' sabaid airson a phosaidh a sabhaladh. Tha oifigear polais, a bhiodh a' dion Mgr Johnson agus a bhean, air a chuir air beulaibh buidheann-faire a' Mhet agus gearan na aghaidh.

Le sin, tha an carabhan poileataigeach a' gluasad air adhart agus tha Ed Balls air an dreuchd mar Seansalair dubhlanach a gabhail air.

Seo cuideigin a tha fior-eolach air an economaidh agus poileataics 's e air a' mhor-chuid dha bheatha phroifeiseanta a chuir seachad am broinn Roinn an Ionmhais comhla ri Gordon Brown.

Agus sin an trioblaid - a h-uile cail a dh'ionnsaich e aig gluin a mhaighstir, Gordon Brown. Bi na Toraidhean ga chaineadh, cuir a' choire air airson a h-uile cail a chaidh cearr anns an economaidh, agus cumail a-mach gun e seo mac poileataigeach Ghordon Bhrown tha air tilleadh airson sgrios a dheanamh.

Ach tha Ed Balls nas fhearr na sin - tha e mion-eolach air economaics, tha e sgileil air poileataigs, tha e ionnsaidhte ’s laidir na bheachd. ’S e beatha Sheorais Osborne a bhitheas mi-chomhfhurtail a seo a mach. Cha bhith moran tide aig a Seansalair airson laithean saora a' sgitheadh ’s am balach seo air earbaill.

'S e an rud a bhitheas inntinneach fhaicinn ach ciamar a theid dhan an da Ed - Balls agus Miliband - a thaobh a bhith ag obair comhla.

Tha diofair mor eadar an dithis air ceist an economaidh agus direach de cho luath 's bu choir a riaghlteas fiachan na duthcha isleachadh le bhith gearradh air ais air cosgaisean.

'S e seann Keynesian a tha ann am Balls agus tha esan dhen bheachd gu bheil leasan mor anns an Depression - nuair a ghearr riaghlteasan air ais air cosgaisean agus cha do leudaich an economaidh priobhaideach airson aite an riaghaltais a gabhail. Sin direach a rud tha na Toraidhean ’s na Lib Dems a' feitheamh air a shon an drasta.

Tha seorsa do dh' eachdraidh eile ann an seo cuideachd. Dithis talantach aig ceann a' Phartaidh Labarach, ditheas le beachdan agus stoidhle eadar-dhealaichte a bhitheas cumhachdach comhla ach dh'fhaodadh am partaidh sgaradh agus iad a' sabaid a cheile airson ard-cheannas.

Uamhasach coltach ri sgeulachd Bhlair agus Bhrown, nach eil? Agus ma tha ceist sam bith ann mu dheidhinn Ed Miliband, bi na buill Labarach a' coimhead ri de ni an Ed eile. Co thubhairt gu robh da cheann nas fhearr na aon?

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Ed Miliband, the poker power player

That Ed Miliband, I wouldn't play poker against him.

I've just dumped a whole feature length interview with Labour leader into the electronic bin after returning to Westminster at 5pm to find out that Alan Johnson had changed the script while I was out.

Just before I sat down with Ed Miliband in Wolverhampton at lunchtime he had to take a phonecall, which in retrospect, was the finalisation of Johnson's resignation.

Afterwards he rattled through a quickfire interview on the Scottish election campaign - he's in Scotland on Friday - in record time. But there wasn't a hint of anything being amiss unless you wind back the tape to the point where he says how much he was enjoying being Labour leader, "even in the dark days".

Other than that there was no signal, no sign of the unfolding drama and the major shadow cabinet reshuffle that was taking place on the hotline from Wolves FC to Westminster.

The very fact that the reshuffle took place on the hop, as the leader was travelling through the West Midlands, shows that this wasn't a move to dump Johnson, who was a highly regarded politician despite his apparent lacking of economic detail. There's lots of speculation about why he did stand down but "personal" covers it for now.

Some are presenting the outcome, Ed Balls in the shadow chancellor seat, as the best possible outcome in the worst of circumstances. Balls will be a combative match for Osborne - attack dog vs scorpion is how Ann Treneman is billing it - but he also has unfulfilled leadership ambitions.

In politics your enemies are often the ones behind you, not these on the benches opposite. The appointment of Balls opens up a new chapter of intrigue in the Labour hierarchy, though this time it could be Brown on Brown gunfire. The right wing media will immediately start asking if two Eds are better than one.

Someone who'll be gutted (again) is David Miliband. He might be waiting quietly for the crown to slip from his brother's head but now its' Ed Balls who'll be closer to hand to grasp the prize.#

Meanwhile, congratulations Douglas Alexander - Shadow Foreign Secretary, a plum job even in opposition

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Slowly, slowly on Island fuel duty discount

Lots of synthetic anger from the SNP this afternoon over Danny Alexander's apparent "betrayal" of Highland motorists on the grounds that his proposed fuel duty derogation for remote areas will not be in the budget.

Here's the news - he never said it was going to be in the budget in the first place.

When Alexander announced in a conference speech his intention to introduce a pilot scheme to discount duty on fuel by up to 5p a litre it was recognised that he was kicking the issue into the long grass.

Here's what the Treasury said at the time: "The Treasury will now take forward informal talks with the European Commission on implementation and design of the scheme with a view to submitting a formal application in due course."

But with fuel prices rising to over £1.40 a litre on the Scottish islands the SNP's Angus MacNeil yesterday capitalised on the fact that the fuel derogation plan has not been formally submitted to the EU.

He called it "a despicable betrayal" (a bit strong that) and stunted a point of order in the Commons on the issue.

But the Treasury has insisted that the scheme, which needs EU permission to charge different fuel duty rates around the country, will go ahead and was never tied to the budget.

A Treasury insider explained it to me for those who are hard of policy understanding: “It is complete nonsense that it is not going ahead, though there has not been a formal application.

"When you enter this process there has to be informal talks first. These were completed last week, they were constructive and positive and will inform the formal application.

“When we apply - not if - it will be a full process and it would need to be agreed and approved by all 27 EU members. An application will be made but it is a process that won’t happen overnight."

There is huge frustration in the islands, and everywhere else, over the rising cost of fuel but it looks like there's going to have to be some patience before the Chief Secretary to the Treasury delivers any kind of discount.

There is, however, a rising expectation that the Chancellor will come across with some kind of concession on fuel prices in the budget.

The Lords marathon debate - digested version

What did the Lords talk about all night? Today's Hansard recrod of the marathon Lords debate has some prize passages and notable firsts.

Tommy McAvoy, who was silent during most of his Commons career because of his role as deputy chief whip, found his voice last night, and his favourite subject, Rangers FC, an intervention on Corby.

Baroness Billingham was speaking: "Noble Lords will also remember that Corby was a steel town that had more than its share of misfortune. The whole of that industry was wiped out in the 1980s, but you will recall that the people who arrived in the 1930s to work in the steelworks came down from Ravenscraig in Scotland. I could take you tomorrow to primary schools in Corby where you would not believe that you were not still in Ravenscraig, because the accents are still so strong. The constituencies were unique and the boundaries really mattered.

Lord McAvoy: On Corby, I agree with and understand my noble friend's point about Scotland. Is she aware that there is even a Rangers FC supporters' club in Corby?

Baroness Billingham: I most certainly am aware of that. On a Friday night, if you asked anyone in Corby, "What are you doing at the weekend?", they would say, "We are going home". I would say, "But you have lived here for the past 50 years". Coaches were lined up in the high street for the supporters-some to watch Celtic and some to watch Rangers. Traditions died hard in Corby.

Someone even managed to mention Sawnee Bean, the Scottish cannibal, and the redoubtable Lord Foulkes kept them going into the wee small hours with anecdotes about his constituency and times past.

Take it away, George: "I endorse what my colleagues said earlier and want to add a couple of points, first on the workload of Members of Parliament. A number of Members have dealt with the matter of the change here very effectively. When I was elected first in South Ayrshire, there were no mobile phones and no e-mail, which have made a substantial difference. I raised the importance of direct access to the Member of Parliament when the noble Lord, Lord Maples, spoke on this subject, and said that MPs do not have to take a personal interest in individual cases that come to them. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, that even when I had a majority of 21,000-which was bigger than his ever was-I communicated with and replied to everyone. When people sent petitions about schools closures, I also contacted them. As my noble friend Lady McDonagh, who is in front of me, said, that may be why I ended up with a majority of 21,000 and why her sister has a large majority. It is because we deal with them in that way.

However, I remember the late Donald Dewar, when he was Secretary of State for Scotland and when he was Chief Whip. When he was doing all those important jobs, he used to deal with every constituent person. I remember him on the train-when the rest of us may have been enjoying ourselves a little-dictating long, detailed letters in reply to constituents so that he could-

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords-

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I am in the middle of a speech. Does the noble Lord want to ask a question?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: The noble Lord has been addressing the House for quite some time. He has not come up with new arguments or new points. The Minister has already spoken and I believe that we should bring this debate to a conclusion.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Lord will know that the fact that the Minister has spoken does not mean that the debate finishes. Noble Lords are quite entitled to continue the debate after the Minister has spoken and other noble Lords have indicated their interest on this issue.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I was in the middle of a speech. I have sat through the whole of this debate. Noble Lords will confirm that I have never been out at any stage. I have listened to it. Then a Whip comes in and interrupts me right in the middle of the speech. If there are any traditions or conventions in this House, I must say that I find that kind of rudeness detestable."

And on it went...

Devolution movie - first casting session

"So, considering this is covering the run up to devolution and a whole ten years after I think we can get Ken Stott, age him a wee bit, have him for the part of Labour maverick George Foulkes...

"Mmm, that means we might not be able to persuade Alex Norton to take on the part of Alex Salmond.

You see it's such a Taggart vs Rebus thing - too obvious. The producers wouldn't like it, STV wouldn't like it, let's face it Alex Norton wouldn't like it.

"Nah...I think you're right. Let's go back to Alan Cumming as John Swinney and take it from there. Mind you, Norton as Salmond, we've got to try a screentest at least. Don't tell him about Ken Stott...

Caroline Spelman - raider of the lost bark

I only caught up with Andy Whightman's Observer piece on the sale of the English Forestry Commission land last night, and well worth the read it is.

I'm sure when Caroline Spelman announced the forestry fire sale her civil servants didn't make her aware that the majority of the Forestry Commission's resources about 443,000 of the hectares, are in Scotland and not under her control.

The Forestry Commission's English estate totals only 258,000ha, with an estimated value of £697m, of which just over 200,000ha is woodland. The commercial forests, the sitka spruce and the like, is almost all in Scotland where there are no plans to sell.

Forest privatisation, academy schools, GP-run health service, minimum alcohol pricing are all happening in England. The devolutionary divide is certainly coming into play in this parliament.

By the way do her plans to sell off the trees mean that Caroline Spelman is the raider of the lost bark?

Cabinet won't blink first on AV marathon debate

While the Lords marathon session on the AV Bill continues a "no surrender" message has just emerged from this morning's cabinet meeting.

Labour peers in the Lords have been talking all night and will go on through today and tomorrow to talk out May's proposed AV referendum. If the bill does not get through the Lords this week then the arrangements for a 5th May date for the referendum, the same day as the Scottish parliament elections, will not be possible.

Some Scottish peers are particularly enraged by the clash of dates but what Labour really wants is further scrutiny of the changes to the constituency boundaries, a Tory move to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600, which is coupled to the AV bill.

"The cabinet was absolutely clear and united that we would not be splitting the bill," the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman told us at the morning lobby. In other words we're not blinking first.

The PMOS wouldn't be drawn on whether the government will guillotine the debate - set a time limit on it - which would be "unprecedented" on a constitutional bill and cause a huge fuss at Westminster but few ripples in the country at large.

Meanwhile Neil Kinnock is on his feet just now - it's going to be a long day's night.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Germaine Greer on the Queensland floods

I'm still waiting for an enterprising television channel in Britain to set up a weather news programme, which simply does what it says on the tin - tell me about the weather in my own area in micro-detail each day and give me weather-related stories from all around the world as they happen.

Weather and environment-related stories are increasingly part of mainstream news agenda as it is - the Queensland floods being the latest case in point, following on from our own white winter.

We have family friends up the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, and hopefully they're holding onto a piece of dry land right now. The devastation we've seen on our screens is something to behold but as usual with television it's difficult to get a real feel of the situation from images alone. That's where the writer comes in.

Germain Greer's piece in today's Guardian is worth a read. It is a fine combination of reportage and polemic.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Another fuel duty cut down the road?

The by-election slightly overshadowed my own Daily Record scoopete and the bold prediction within Whitehall that a fuel duty stabiliser, to reduce the cost of petrol and diesel at the pumps, will be part of the March 23rd budget.

This was originally a Road Haulage Association idea taken up by the SNP and Alex Salmond has been on the case again this morning, as has every newspaper in the land. He said that the case for a stabiliser is now "unanswerable".

The Treasury boffins are looking at the practicalities, I'm told, but they will come up with the same answer as they gave Alistair Darling - impossible. It is difficult to achieve or even predict a balance between rising tax revenues from barrels of oil and the loss to the exchequer from reducing fuel duty at the pumps in any way that leaves you with a neutral effect.

The political answer is that the Exchequer will simply have to take a hit by not collecting the increased fuel duty for some time. This is what Gordon Brown did when faced with the petrol protesters in 2000. A few months later he announced a freeze on fuel duty until April 2002 (effectively ending the fuel duty escalator) at a cost of £2bn a year to the Treasury.

George Osborne is the shrewdest politician out and he will be making the fine calculation between electoral gain and economic pain in the next few weeks.

Remember, we also have Danny Alexander's fuel duty derogation for remote islands to look forward to too.

There, it's always better to blog before putting these domestic chores off for another day.

Oldham East - all according to the script

Just finished a Radio nan Gaidheal discussion on the significance of the Oldham East and Saddleworth result. In short - bit of boost for Ed Miliband, more pause for thought for the Lib Dems and water of a duck's back for Cameron.

What would have made the by-election a real talker would be if the result had gone any other way, if the Lib Dems had come close, or if Labour had tanked, as a seemingly bitter Phil Woolas predicted they would a day before the polls opened. This one has gone according to script so will be lost in the sands of time by next month.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Mr "Has Been" returns to the Commons

Vince Cable appears to be surviving his first appearance at the Commons dispatch box since his taped confessions with ease.

Cable was the Colossus of the coalition until he humiliated himself last month by boasting to undercover journalists that he could take a "nuclear option" of walking out of government and was "at war" with the media baron Rupert Murdoch.

As a result he was stripped of responsibility for judging the competition implications of News Corporation bid for BSkyB and his coat was on a shoogly nail on the back of the cabinet door.

His self-destructive comments also seemed to strip him of all influence in the battle to rein in bank bonuses and pressure them into more lending.

As is usual Business questions these days the session was studded with examples from MPs about businesses in their constituencies that are struggling to get bank credit. This is as big a scandal as the bank bonuses but the government seems no more able to do anything about it.

Cable may still go from government (replaced by David Laws perhaps) but not because of any firepower the opposition has turned on him.

There was only a glancing blow from Shadow Business Secretary John Denham who said Cable was "hanging onto his job by a thread" and Chucka Umanna (Streatham) accused him of "being in office but not in power" - but neither were knock-outs.

Tom Watson said Cable had gone from Chairman Mao to Mr Has-been but Vince claimed his original version of that joke was far better. He had a few anxious glances to the press gallery, but as the session processed the nuclear-armed member for Twickenham appeared to be enjoying himself.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Are Scots "too frit" to get their questions out?

The Scottish MPs fairly mashed their words at Prime Minister's Questions just now.

First up SNP Westminster leader Angus Roberston, catching the Speaker's eye, was punished for trying to be too clever.

Robertson asked which was the greatest political betrayal - "a Lib Dem deputy Prime Minister who promised not to introduce tuition fees and then did or a Conservative PM who promised to introduce a fuel duty stabiliser and didn't?"

Cameron flattened him with one blow: "I think you can top all those with an SNP who said they were going to have a referendum on Independence and never did."

The PM could barely stop laughing himself as he added: "As a predecessor of mine (Thatcher)once said - frit." First round knock-out.

The Labour MPs weren't much better. Jim Sheridan (Paisley and N Renfrewshire) tried to combine a tribute to the armed forces with a question on Rupert Murdoch's attempt to gain control of BSkyB which left Cameron, and everyone else, confused.

Lindsay Roy (Glenrothes) then went for convoluted question over the "bonfire of the quangos" being a damp squib - but that's what the question was by the time he got it out.

They could all take a lesson from the Tory backbencher, Anne McIntosh I think, who asked a straight question about fuel stabilizer for her rural constituents. Simple question - left Cameron flannelling and talked directly to the subject Robertson was trying to get at.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Labour soars in poll as by-election looms

Labour has opened up an eight point opinion poll lead in the latest Comres poll for the Independent tonight.

With the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election just two days away Labour is on 42% in a nationwide survey, a stonking eight points clear of the Tories who have sunk to 34% support.

Figures like that would see the Ed Miliband on course for a 102 seat majority in the House of Commons (titter ye not).

Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems, who are expecting to get a pasting in the marginal by-election they would usually expect to win, are languishing on 12%, according to Comres. Other parties, a term that includes the SNP, are on 12% (The extrapolated Scottish samples are invariably too small to be scientifically accurate though that never stops the parties from punting them around if they look to be their advantage).

The poll is Labour’s biggest lead and the Tories’ lowest share of the vote in any survey since the May general election and the biggest Labour lead over the Tories that Comres has measured since 2006.

Voters are cooling on the idea of coalition government, according to the poll. Only 32% agreed that Britain was better of with a coalition government and 58% thought the country was worse off.

But Labour has not won back trust on the economy and Ed Miliband has more to prove as a leader. A minority, 36%, thought Labour could handle the economy better than the coalition, and the same number, 36%, thought that Ed Miliband was a good leader of the Labour party.

Lossiemouth battlebus to Downing Street

The campaign to save RAF Lossiemouth from closure comes to Downing St today when local activists and politicians hand in a 30,000 signature petition to Downing St.

The campaigners are urging Prime Minister David Cameron to save the Moray Tornado base from closure in the wake of the shock decision to scrap the Nimrod aircraft and axe neighbouring RAF Kinloss.

While the petition is being handed in First Minister Alex Salmond is due to meet with Defence Secretary Liam Fox to discuss the defence review and the consequences for Scotland.

But the Lossiemouth campaigners are arriving late and aren't being given the direct access that their rivals have had.

Supporters of RAF Marham, the Norfolk rival base to Lossiemouth, handed in their petition to Downing St in November and then had a meeting with Fox.

Angus Robertson, SNP MP for Moray, yesterday said it was time for the MoD to end the uncertainty around the future of the RAF base in his constituency

He said: “It’s now almost three months since the Defence Secretary published the Strategic Defence and Security Review, yet we are no further forward in getting any clarity around final base closure decisions or what support and assistance the UK Government intend to provide to communities affected by closures or downsizing.”

And we're back..Westminster comes to life

Bliadhna mhath ur, and it does seem more than a year since I took up the blogging pen.

This is the first week back for Westminster and there's plenty on. There's a crucial by-election on Thursday, Vince Cable is in front of the Commons for the first time since shooting himself in the foot over Rupert Murdoch and there's the European Bill, prisoner voting and petrol prices all trying to nudge onto the agenda.

Cameron is keen to make economic growth the story today, he has job-creating business bosses in Downing St this morning and while he's at it he and has slipped in a proposal to make it easier to sack workers just to get the unions angry and to paint Ed Miliband into a red corner.

Well, he's doing it for other reasons too, to create the "flexible" labour market he believes in. Up until now the coalition had no plans to introduce new employment legislation(this is a consultation)but it is another example of the Tories taking advantage of the coalition to rush through their agenda as quickly as possible before the business of ordinary politics catches up with the government.

But today we all have bank bonus fever. Ed Miliband's monthly press conference was dominated by the issue and questions on what he would do in Cameron's place. His solution is to have a bonus tax on the banks' bonus pool, a repeat of what Alistair Darling did in his last year.

It was a far more robust performance from Miliband, compared to earlier outings, proving he's becoming comfortable in his role as Opposition leader. But having Alan Johnson pop up to the podium - subtext, I have faith in my shadow chancellor despite his gaffe on national insurance yesterday - must have made the whole event look a pit like a glove puppet show in the 16x 9 tv camera frame.

Still, Miliband batted the questions well and if he was robust it was only because the lobby was giving him a tough time, a touch harder than the Prime Minister gets.

The long and the short of it, as Mary Ann Sieghart pointed out in the last question, is that people still see Ed Miliband as the guy who shafted his brother. That's what frames him, and that's what he has to break out off.