Say what you like about William Hague (and Unknown-4I could say plenty), to quote the great Ian Dury, ‘he ain’t half a clever bastard’. His brain will be missed in Parliament even if what he stands for will not, well, not by me anyway. And, he’s not the only one, it appears that at the next election a raft of fairly clever and erudite politicians will not be standing – and that is a shame.

I want clever people in Parliament. I want people who are able to analyse problems and scrutinise departments and ask clever questions of the government ministers, because that is what our Parliament is there for.

I want the odd nerdy person who doggedly pursues a cause, even if others believe the cause isn’t particularly sexy; I want those who have enough intellectual arrogance to tell their media men and whips to ‘fuck off’ when they are asked to go on TV to spout a particularly anodyne piece of nonsense just to show that their party has got at least something to say.

There was a time when our Parliament was filled with intellectual heavyweights – when I entered Parliament as a researcher in 1991, there was Tony Benn, Ted Heath, Tam Dayell, Sir Russell Johnstone and many others who had intellectual integrity and independence, people who went into politics because they actually believed in something and because of a desire to serve.

Now, what do we have?

Well we have career politicians and former researchers, people who are adept at toeing the party line, but fuck all use at anything else. We have good solid constituency MPs, who work their bollocks off answering constituency mail – but, are unable to affect change that will actually improve the lives of those constituents.

We have politicians who are scared – scared of being passed-over for promotion, scared of being carpeted by their whips, scared of saying something controversial in the media, scared of saying what they really, really feel and believe, and often this fear comes from their inability to back up what they want to say with arguments that have been properly thought out or are at least bold.

I would argue that the current government is the most lightweight we have ever had – I don’t want to be rude about the guy, but how on earth is Danny Alexander Chief Secretary to the Treasury? How can Chris Grayling be a minister, how can Ian Duncan Smith be a Minister and the list goes on – these men are distinctly mediocre and they are presiding over an unprecedented period in our history when our state withers to such an extent that it will be fundamentally unable to carry out the tasks that it is devised to do, which it needs to do.

And, sadly, they get away with being so awful, because Parliament and the opposition are too stupid and too timid to carry out its main role – scrutiny of the executive.

Tragically, at the next general election this diminished level of collective intellectual ability will get worse still. Judging by the recent polls published by Lord Ashcroft, it looks as though UKIP may send some MPs to Westminster – their form of ‘cor-blimey, stands to reason’ politics will be disastrous for Westminster and the country, but, alas, the utter failure of the other mainstream parties to show them up for what they are (regressive, bigots who want to shrink the UK into irrelevance) means that they will continue to grow.

Labour seem to care more about all-women short-lists and glamourous looking fresh young things than they do about sending good politicians to Parliament; people in their fifties or sixties are deemed too old, which is preposterous, whilst people who don’t have the right connections are deemed unworthy, which is, again depressing.

Tory politicians are so strapped to a single intellectual ideological ideal that they are unable to offer anything by way of novel or clever solutions to the structural problems of capitalism that the world is suffering from at the moment; whilst the Lib-Dems, well, need I say anything about the confused mess that is that party at the moment.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not suggesting that parliament should resemble the green room at the TV studios before an episode of University Challenge, but, I am suggesting that if the party system continues to be as self-serving, coy and partisan as it is now, and if many very able people continue to be overlooked and put off at the prospect of politics because the place is completely overrun with careerist non-entities then the result will be bad for our democracy and bad for our country.

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Phil Connors: ‘What if there is no tomorrow, there wasn’t one today’.

The Cine-East Film Club is back after a couple of months off caused by work, more work, a young baby and World Cup related distractions.    Regular readers of the Cine-East Film Club’s presentations will recall that the Club was, before the interlude, alternating its usual presentations with films dedicated to six key film figures who have sadly passed away this year: so far The Talented Mr Ripley (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Daises (Vera Chytilova), Cross of Iron  (Maximillian Schell) and The Long Good Friday (Bob Hoskins).   There is a tribute to French New Wave director, Alain Resnais in the pipeline.

And yes on a separate note, I know I have long promised a John Ford western – it will be worth the wait I assure you.

This week’s film is dedicated to that wonderful writer, actor and director, Harold Ramis, who passed away in February.  He was a man who played a large part in the childhood and adolescence of many of my generation.    Cutting his teeth at Chicago’s legendary Second City Comedy Club, and then with National Lampoon and Saturday Night Live, Ramis formed part of that generation of American comics, along with John Belushi, Bill Murray, Chevvy Chase and Dan Ackroyd who seemed to be ever presents in the films my friends and I saw on video in the early to mid-1980s.

Ramis wrote frat-boy comedy, Animal House and co-wrote (with Dan Ackroyd) and starred as geeky scientist, Egon Spengler, in Ghostbusters (almost this week’s Presentation).  But his finest achievement, in my view, is this week’s Cine-East Film Club Presentation, Groundhog Day.

Sometimes films work wonderfully because the idea is so simple.  Jaws is perhaps the archetypal example  – a giant killer shark menaces a seaside town.  This is the so-called high concept film.  An idea that you can describe in one sentence.   There was a vogue for such films in the 1980s and 1990s  (as brilliantly parodied in Robert Altman’s biting satire of contemporary Hollywood, The Player).   Most of them were terrible.

Groundhog Day on the other hand was so good that it has become a phrase that has entered the language generally, a Catch 22 of the movie world – its high concept, a particular kind of déjà vu:  a day that endlessly repeats itself.  England’s predictably early World Cup exit elicited references to Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day’s success is in a large part down to Bill Murray’s hilarious portrayal of misanthropic and cynical weatherman, Phil Connors, who over the course of the film learns how to use the endlessly repeating day to his advantage and, at least on the surface, becomes a better man as a result.

Although Groundhog Day is on the surface that most sick inducing of genres, a conventional romantic comedy including the required happy ending as Phil Connors and his new producer, Rita Hanson go from mutual antipathy to romantic cohabitation, in my view, the film is actually far more caustic than that reading allows.  In many ways its genius is in subverting the romantic comedy and showing that with enough planning and guile, the bad guy can get the girl.

The basic premise of Groundhog Day has Connors reluctantly being sent to cover the (true) annual groundhog day festival in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, along with Rita and cameraman, Larry (Chris Elliott) and finding himself trapped in the town for an extra night as a result of a blizzard.  The next morning though is the same day, or at least it is for Connors – for everyone else they are just living it for the first time.

One of the things that makes the film work so well is that Ramis does not mess about in getting us to this point.  It is probably only 20 or so minutes in before we have got the basic set up.  Connors wakes up at 6am to Sonny and Cher’s I Got You Babe, there is a weather forecast on the radio, he goes down to breakfast in the hotel, as he walks down the street he bumps into a former high school classmate and now insurance salesman, the intensely irritating, Ned Ryerson (Stephen Tobolowsky) and continues to the site of the Groundhog Day festivities, where Connors gives his report, practically spitting with contempt for the whole shebang.   The crew get stuck in the town overnight.  Rita and Larry are staying in a different hotel to Phil. That’s pretty much it.

The time loop that Connors finds himself in from the next morning and then for the rest of the film goes through three phases.

Firstly Connors is just confused as to what the fuck is going on.

Then he seeks to take advantage of the situation by using his knowledge that there are no consequences to his action to his advantage.  He goes on drunken sprees, gets thrown in jail and even kidnaps the groundhog, Punxtsutwaney Phil.   The time loop is tested to its ultimate extreme when following a police chase Connors crashes and dies, only to find himself waking up again as the clock clicks to 06.00 and I’ve Got You Babe is playing on the radio.   There is, seemingly, nothing that will break the cycle.

As more and more 2 Februaries are repeated, Connors finds himself falling for the prissy Rita.  This is where the film subverts the rom com stereotype.   Phil plays it long by gradually getting more and more information about Rita’s likes and dislikes to use to seduce her, when this doesn’t work he starts to become the ‘good man’ she envisages in her conservative way as her ideal – he learns the piano, and to speak to French.

He becomes, so it appears at least, an all round nice guy, helping people out and generally being the man everyone wants to hang out with.  A man with new priorities in his life who becomes the object of every woman’s desire as a result, until Rita ‘buys’ a night with him at an auction held at a charity fundraiser.

This is a million miles from the cynical world weary and selfish Phil Connors that we originally meet, but it is far from clear that it is a real change in character.  The whole thing has been planned over, presumably, thousands of 2 Februaries.

The suggestion on the surface of the film that it is love that has finally allowed the endless loop to be broken and the 3 February to be reached, and that Phil Connors has himself become Punxsutawney Phil, by deciding voluntarily to stay in the town with Rita, might disguise something a whole lot more contrived on Phil’s part.  After all just as there is no marriage proposal (unlike the standard Austenian rom com resolution device), merely cohabitation, they are only intending to ‘rent initially’.  He has achieved his aim of bedding Rita, how long they will stay together or in town is another question altogether.

Groundhog Day is pretty much the perfect mainstream comedy of the last couple of decades.  Although it is not screwball comedy, the greats of that genre like Howard Hawks and Preston Sturges would have been proud, I think,  to have called it their own, even if there is something a little less transgressive going on underneath that you will find in, say, I Married A Male War Bride and something a little less anarchic than, say, The Palm Beach Story.   Even the reliably wooden Andie MacDowell is watchable in it, in what might be her best performance this side of sex, lies and videotape and Short Cuts.

It is a remarkable achievement. Harold Ramis RIP

 

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#912: 1988, Salt-N-Pepa, Push It

July 21, 2014

I’m off on my summer hols this Wednesday, and it can’t come soon enough. I’m jaded, faded, pissed off, knackered and utterly devoid of my mojo. One week in the sun should help. I’m not sure why I’ve picked this song – it reminds me of a time just before University when I was employed [...]

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Week 29: Prat – Nick Clegg

July 20, 2014

This Week’s Prat of the Week Award goes to Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat Leader, Nick Clegg for his party’s laughable u-turn on the bedroom tax Last week the Lib Dems announced that the supported the repeal of the vindictive and cruel bedroom tax.   This loathsome policy, that seeks to force the poorest out [...]

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Week 29: Hero – The General Synod of the Church of England

July 20, 2014

This week’s heroes are the Bishops, Clergy and Laity of the General Synod of the Church of England We’re not really Church goers on this site – we’d be lying if we said that there was a great deal of faith or belief amongst us – but credit where credit is due, the General Synod [...]

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Week 29: Villain – Benjamin Netanyahu

July 20, 2014

Our panel has bestowed our Villain of the Week award to Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu This is the fourth time that Prime Minister Netanyahu has picked up our weekly award for being the greatest villain of the last seven days. Each time, it has either been for intransigence against the peace process with the Palestinians [...]

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#911: 1978, Dr Alimantado, Best Dressed Chicken In Town

July 15, 2014

Christ it’s been hot over the last few days.  Humid and when we have been lucky sunny too.   No weather for work and certainly no weather for suited and booted work.   It has though been weather for the classic reggae.  The perfect music for stiflingly hot evenings – turning the sweaty into the sultry.  Bringing [...]

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Week 28: Prat – The Brazil Defence

July 15, 2014

Our belated Prat of the Week Award for last week goes to the back 4 of the host nation in the World Cup, Brazil This is a little late to be posted for which I apologies.  Work is nuts.  Our Awards ceremonies must however go on.   As Ray North noted the greatest World Cup since [...]

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Reshuffle Kerfuffle

July 15, 2014

Well, I have to say there have been some interesting and some unexpected comings and goings at Downing Street in the last couple of days. This is Davey Cam’s biggest re-shuffle by far – so what does it say? Well, to me it says three things – first, that the Tories are really scared of [...]

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Week 28: Hero – George Clooney

July 14, 2014

This week’s Hero of the Week is the Holywood Actor George Clooney We hate the Daily Mail here – bunch of bigoted bastards, and so, when Clooney took them on and showed them up for what they are, we took off our collective hats and doffed them in his direction. For those of you not [...]

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Ray North’s World Cup Hangover

July 14, 2014

There’s people on the blog – they think it’s all over….. Yep, after a month of wonderful football, crushing disappointment, thrills, spills and colour, the World Cup is over and German have been crowned kings of the world. This World Cup has been amazing and, mostly, for all the right reasons – ok, there’s been [...]

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Week 28: Villain – Arctic Monkeys

July 13, 2014

Our regular panel has decided to award the Arctic Monkeys our Villain of the Week trophy for tax dodging It is with some considerable sadness that we are bestowing our Villain of the Week award on the Arctic Monkeys.  Both Ray and I have posted songs from them in the past in our Songs To [...]

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#910: 1977, Ramones, Sheena Is a Punk Rocker

July 12, 2014

Tommy Ramone, drummer with the Ramones, died yesterday. The last of the original line-up to die, he was the only one to get into his sixties. He might not have been in the band at all: he was originally the band’s manager until original drummer Joey passed on the sticks because he couldn’t keep up [...]

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London’s New Political Landscape

July 9, 2014

Last Thursday’s council by-election in Tower Hamlets’ Blackwall and Cubitt Town ward brought to an end this year’s local elections in London (both this election and the previous week’s in Barnet’s Colindale ward were held back from the main 22 May elections due to the death of a candidate). The London Local Elections Unlike much [...]

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What should the left really want from the Westminster Pedophile Enquiries?

July 9, 2014

Right, come on, let’s face it, when those of us on the left hear about stories of pedophile rings at the heart of the establishment at the time of the Thatcher government, our instinct is to hope that this will lead to a story of such monumental awfulness that it will see the Tory party [...]

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#909: 1986, Half Man Half Biscuit, Dickie Davies Eyes

July 8, 2014

I’ve lost my mojo. There I’ve said it. I was in Liverpool Crown Court the other morning and the judges bollocking was just washing over me – ‘are you listening Mr North,’ he asked, ‘Yes, Your Honour,’ I replied, ‘what did I say then?’ ‘You said, are you listening Mr North, Your Honour.’ I need [...]

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Week 27: Hero – (The late) Geoffrey Dickens

July 6, 2014

This week’s hero of the week award, goes to the late MP for Littleborough and Saddleworth, Geoffrey Dickens I have to say that in a list of likely candidates for hero of the week, the roly-poly former Tory MP for Littleborough and Saddleworth, Geoffrey Dickens would not have featured in any way shape or form. [...]

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Week 27: Villain – Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi

July 6, 2014

This Week’s Villain of the Week is the self-proclaimed Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Now the ISIS would probably not even have existed if it hadn’t been for the reckless Middle Eastern adventurism of Messrs Bush and Blair a decade ago. And if the ISIS hadn’t existed, the chances are we would not have heard of [...]

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Week 27: Prat – Ed Miliband

July 6, 2014

This week, the Labour leader picks up our award for being the biggest prat of the last seven days Ed Miliband has been a little lucky to avoid this award for the last ten months: there have been several occasions when his name came up for consideration by our panel. In truth, as the token [...]

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Are any of our political parties fit for purpose?

July 3, 2014

We’ve been a bit quiet over the last few weeks on these pages – this has been due to a number of factors including work, the World Cup and my own personal quest to become an international bestselling author. But, as the World Cup continues to entertain and inspire – domestic politics continues to depress [...]

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#908: 1971, Dolly Parton, Coat of Many Colors

June 30, 2014

So Glastonbury is over.   It’s not really my bag, though I don’t have same level of animus for it that Charlie East-West has.   My only regret about not being there was not being able to see Dolly Parton in what, from the critics’ reports, seems to have been a festival stealing performance (not that it [...]

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Week 26: Hero – World Cup 2014 (well at least the players, the teams, the fans and the matches…)

June 30, 2014

This Week’s Hero of the Week Award goes to all those participating in the current World Cup in Brazil This is not an Award for Sepp Blatter or the bunch of corrupt cronies who run FIFA.  The international body that runs the beautiful game is a total disgrace and it is heartening that everytime that [...]

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Week 26: Prat – Luis Suarez

June 30, 2014

Oh dear, this week’s Prat is the Uruguay and Liverpool striker, Luis Suarez. Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear. What was he thinking? Ok, Chielini’s play-acting, tripping and cheating as he tried to propel Italy to a rather toothless victory was annoying – but, sigh, what was he thinking. Because, whatever it was that made [...]

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Week 26: Villain – Wonga

June 29, 2014

This week, our panel gives loan sharks money-lenders Wonga our Villain of the Week award This week, it was revealed that Wonga had sent out 45,000 threatening letters to customers in the name of the non-existent law firms Chainey D’Amato & Shannon and Barker & Lowe Legal Recoveries. 45,000: that’s the population of Burton upon [...]

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#907: 1972, Bobby Womack, Across 110th Street

June 28, 2014

Bobby Womack was in a bad way when he died yesterday: suffering from diabetes, prostate cancer, heart trouble, colon cancer, pneumonia and Alzheimer’s disease. A child star mentored by Sam Cooke, a twenty-year old Womack wrote It’s All Over Now, which the Stones promptly covered to give them their first number one. Eight years later, [...]

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Stick It Up Your Juncker

June 28, 2014

26 v 2.  Not even close.  Indeed a complete massacre.   As German tabloid Bild reported:  ‘David Cameron is the Wayne Rooney of politics: he lines up, he loses, he goes home’. The Prime Minister’s pitiful performance in seeking to veto Jean Claude Juncker’s assent to President of the European Commission was all the more embarrassing [...]

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Mr East Goes To The Movies 2014: Under The Skin

June 28, 2014

It’s been a while since I posted a film review and I am as ever absurdly behind in posting reviews of the new releases I have seen this year.  However, I still haven’t given up on my plan to post a review for every new release I see this year.  Under The Skin is the [...]

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#906: 1987, M/A/R/R/S, Pump Up The Volume

June 25, 2014

I’ve been reading the biography of 4AD and the very enigmatic and, at times, visionary Ivo Watts-Russell. Of course, for most of us, 4AD was all about Pixies, Throwing Muses, The Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil – that, of course, and the incredible album covers which never failed to provoke and inspire, particularly when [...]

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Week 25: Prat – Michael Fabricant MP

June 23, 2014

Our panel has decided to give our award for the greatest prat of the last week to the Honourable Member for Lichfield I’ve never met Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, I have met Rod Liddle once. I found him an interesting and engaging bloke: a confused mixture of left- and right-wing populism, a man who both desperately wants [...]

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Week 25: Villain – Ed Miliband

June 23, 2014

This Week’s Villain of the Week is Labour leader Ed Miliband for trying to appease the Daily Mail by proposing the abolition of out of work benefits for under 21s It never works.  And it particularly never works if you are Ed Miliband.   What the Labour leadership never seems to learn is that unless and [...]

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