Beer Post: The Bitter End and a ‘Must Visit’ Pub

Beer Cellar

Beer Cellar

A while ago I promised Martin Steers a beer related post. At the time I was in the middle of a lent based beer-freeze, which prevented me from consuming a huge amount of the stuff, or visiting any nice pubs.

I’ve since had a chance to attend a few pubs, and also one of my favorite places in the world – an off licence with Ales on tap, which will fill up a vessel of your choice with the beer of your choice. The place I speak of is The Bitter End, just around the corner from my girlfriend’s house in Bromley, London (or Kent depending on your definition). The place is an actual treasure trove of hard-to-come by bottled beers and ciders (including if you’re devoid of the ability to taste a number of exotic lagers) at really quite reasonable prices. The key draw for me though is (as I say) the ability to take home 4 pints in a flagon from the tap. I’ve just polished off my supply of Wadworth’s 6X from my last visit (frustratingly they’d just run out of St Austell Tribute – which is a favorite of mine) in the past I’ve had some really good beers recommended by the proprietor, who’s pretty good at finding you a tipple if you can tell him a few beers you enjoy.

The Grasshopper

The Grasshopper

Whilst also in this kneck of the woods, I actually bumbled into this place  – The Grasshopper in Westerham (Kent). We only stopped for a coffee, but it’s a really nice pub – an absolutely massive place, which appears to have been a Tudor great hall in a previous life, and practically unchanged since. Lots of beams, and eclectic artwork abound, as well as a log fire if that’s to your taste – the carvery smelt quite excellent, and I’m sure is probably worth a go. Even if you only pop in (as we did) because your in the area and it looks intreguing – worth popping your head around the door if you happen to be passing.

More beer & pubs soon….

On Electoral Reform

Ballot Box

Ballot Box

When I started this blog, my intention was to write about radio and media stuff, and possibly beer, somehow though I (like a lot of people of late) have been somewhat sucked into politics as probably the most interesting situation to occur in UK politics since Mrs Thatcher’s ‘dethronement’ in 1990 takes shape around us.

I’m trying to avoid wittering on about coalitions, or who I think should be in charge (if you’re interested, on this issue I agree with Nick), instead I thought I’d share my limited insight into an issue which is highly likely to form a major part of any deal between the Lib Dems and anyone else, that of electoral reform.

6 years ago, when studying for a politics AS level, I wrote an essay on this subject – at the time coming down on the side of ‘First-past-the-Post’ (our current system) for a number of reasons. My views have varied slightly since, so I’ll try to set out my vision for a political system which ought to work a lot better on the grounds of fairness and transparency – whilst maintaining the simplicity and relative ease of administration of the current system.

Before I start, I’m going to assume a certain level of knowledge here – as for me to write a full essay on the subject here is a bit much. I’m assuming you’re aware that ‘Proportional Representation’ isn’t a thing, it’s a collection of things (see wiki) and that there are also hybrid systems which offer a level of proportionality on a one-seat per constituency basis. I’m also assuming you have a lose knowledge of the British constitution and how westminster is supposed to operate (i.e. one democratically elected house, of which the party with an absolute majority form the government, where no absolute majority is the case the dealings start – also a house of lords which acts as a check/balance on Westminster policies and essentially has a right of veto over policy from the first house).

Now, my strong belief is that any electoral reform has to encompas more than just the Westminster government – for one there’s the ludicrous semi-hereditary, semi-appointed House of Lords, there’s also local Government elections to be considered. I’ll leave European Elections out from this – as they already use a proportional system, which seems to be relatively effective.

The House of Commons

So, voting for the House of Commons is the key area being discussed at the moment. We’ve had first past the post for a long time here in the UK, and it’s been pretty effective, It’s nice and simple to understand, and explain to people (more votes than everyone else in your constituency wins a seat, 50% + 1 of seats makes a government), low on administration to carry out – and difficult to misinterpret the results.

The common criticism is the fact that often on both a local and national level there isn’t a simple correlation between the number of votes and the amount of influence gained. For example in last weeks election the breakdown looks as follows:

  • Conservatives 47% of seats for 36% of Votes
  • Labour 40% of seats for 29% of votes
  • Liberal Democrats 9% of seats for 23% of votes

This is patently not a fair system for the 3 major parties (look at the difference between Labour and Lib Dems on seats v. votes to see how unfair the system is). Essentially for coming second in a large number of constituencies the Lib Dems get nothing.

This seems a pretty powerful argument for something which gives a better proportion of votes to seats, but…. there are also arguments for first-past-the-post. For one, in general proportional representation means big constituencies, or even no constituencies – losing the idea of ‘your local MP’ and alienating politics from any local issues and making them more and more of an American style elite who don’t see much outside their Washington Westminster village. The constituency link is vitally important and it would be wrong to underestimate this in trying to achieve ‘fairness’.

Another argument is that proportional representation ‘lets the nutters in’ – as parties like the BNP would under a fully proportional system stand a far higher chance of achieving some influence within Westminster. I don’t subscribe to this at all – for anyone who was familiar with my role in the proposed ‘no-platform’ policy at the University of Bath will know my belief on minority parties whom appear unsavory to a large number of people loosely echoes the views of a panelist on Sunday’s Politics Show who said “These minority parties should be allowed to firm part of the political system – so they can stand up to democratic scrutiny and ultimately be defeated by an informed electorate, not ghettoised and allowed to grow through allegations of being the discriminated” (this is very much paraphrased).

Anyway, where does that leave my views on Westminster… we’ll for my mind we need a more proportional system – which still give’s MPs an area of responsibility and still gives the electorate a channel for bringing the attention of central government to issues outside London (private members’ bills are often started when an MP is alerted to an issue affecting their constituents)

Ladies and Gentlemen I present compromise, in the form of the Alternative Vote System. In short this is a hybrid system, which it’s really easy to convert to from FPTP (you can even use the same ballot papers, more or less). Which involves ranking candidates in order of preference, first choice votes for candidates move to second, third etc. preference down the paper until a single candidate has an absolute (50% + 1) majority. The best explanation of this system I’ve ever found comes from Bath Impact (AVS was used in student’s union elections at Bath) – unfortunately I can’t find this online, so here’s one from the NUJ.

Whilst the AVS isn’t idea, it will lead to people’s votes mattering far more (as even if your first choice candidate isn’t elected, it may be your second or third who gets in) – it should also do away with wasted votes as the winning candidate in a constituency will be the first, second or third preference of an absolute majority of the electorate – yet we can still maintain the relatively small constituencies which support the constituency link.

I know AVS doesn’t satisfy true advocates of Proportional Representation, but don’t stop reading just yet, my second reform should give you something to think about….

The House of Lords

It’s a bit of a joke isn’t it – all the policies of our democratically elected government are approved by a selection of musty peers and cronies of governments past before becoming law. Bizarre isn’t it.

It’s vital to have a some kind of checks and balance in the law making process, and the electorate themselves rarely act as such (apart from on the 5 yearly terms of parliaments, or in the rare case of a referendum) – the second house is one of these.

A big sticking point on an elected house of lords is the fact that if it were elected in the same way as the commons it’s composition would loosely reflect that of the commons -and thus would be as effective a check/balance as not having any check at all. There’s a simple solution to this though – elect the second chamber with a different (and more proportional) system – this would give us a very different make up of the lords to the commons under FPTP or AVS yet without the issues caused by the potential for no party having absolute power in the house (the stories of hung-parliaments leading to the downfall of the country that some areas of the press like to push). The chanber would hopefully then be able to offer real scrutiny to the executive, as well as being constitutionally divided from the commons (no member of the ‘lords’ would be able to sit as a Minister, to ensure a solid line between the role of legislator and scrutiniser)

All seems kind of logical now… (also on a totally national level, administering Party List is relatively simple Single Transferable Vote is a brain ache, especially as generally the idea of using IT for any government project becomes a massive cock up).

Council Elections

Obvious one for party lists these, as their influence is over a fixed area, everyone lists their preference and those percentages form the basis for making up the Councils.


In conclusion, I hope this has been a relatively informed ramble through proportional representation, and I’ve tried to be analytical rather than partisan with my opinions – naturally you’re welcome to comment with other ideas, or just because you think I’m talking nonsence.

I promise I’ll write a post about something for those who really aren’t interested in this whole politics thing soon…

Braindump 30/04/2010

Leaders Debates

Leaders Debates

For one reason or another I haven’t had much to blog about these last few weeks, or at any rate – nothing which was too long to fit on twitter.

A few quick bits that have passed through my mind though….

  • Radio Listening: I’ve been enjoying the excellent ‘Vote Now’ show on Radio 4. A fantastic satire on the election process and the British political system in general – I’ve been lucky enough to attend a couple of these at the recording stage, and they’re even more amusing up close. I’m also genuinely impressed by the production team on this show, who manage to turn the show around in about 4 hours from finishing the recording to airing the programme itself.
  • Leaders Debates: These are second only to ‘The Apprentice’ for programmes to follow along with on Twitter (really missing the apprentice so far this year by the way). The debates themselves have proven fantastic in engaging the public with the election – and whilst most of my contributions tend to be childish remarks on what is said by the leaders, I’ll be amazed if these (along with the ‘Hung Parliament’ situation) don’t lead to a record turnout at the polls.
  • … and on the above, why has no-one done a decent cut-up of these yet. I’d have hoped cassetteboy would have weighed in (although his One Show efforts are brilliant) – maybe I should have a go myself, what do you recon?
  • It was also good to see a relatively high brow interview on breakfast commercial radio this week when Absolute Radio interviewed Professor Brian Cox (who’s series on the Solar System I must watch more of) – I think Absolute got the  balance between educational end entertainment spot on with this (and I was a little bit late to work, because I had to hang on to catch the whole thing). I’ve been listening to absolute a lot since acquiring a DAB radio recently, and whilst it can be a bit blokey and football-focused for me (though what to expect with a world cup on) the experience has been far from unpleasant.
  • Other things I’ve learned this week: The radio-mic was invented in 1949, I discovered this after this humble gadget played a big part in this weeks news (dot.Rory being my source).
  • Music recommendations this week: Train – Hey, Soul Sister.
  • Oh, and a nice little toy from Farrington labs for those interested in Student Radio. Here’s the Student Radio Playlist for this week.

Hopefully I’ll find something to write a proper blog about something interesting soon, promise.

There’s Purdah on The Dancefloor…

… or at least on the radio!

So, on Tuesday the “one eyed scottish idiot” (Clarkson, 2009) called a general election – as this isn’t really news as most of the word knew the election would be on May 6th, I thought I’d talk about an interesting side effect of the election instead. Gordon also chose my birthday to make the announcement – meaning yet again that story was knocked off the front page!

Anyway, the month running up to the election is known as Purdah, and as well as being a period of no major decisions being made by parliament,  increased regulation on news reporting etc. in the media applies. A further side effect is that the COI (corporate office of mis-information) aren’t allowed to advertise, based on the logic that advertising government initiatives (apart from the election itself) is in part publicity for the sitting government, and thus an unfair advantage.

Now, unlike some – I don’t have a particular problem with COI advertising, despite it occasionally being annoying being told to turn off lights, recycle, do my shoelaces etc (actually I do need the latter) and I should also point out that my present employer, like a lot of the commercial radio industry benefits significantly from COI advertising – yet I do have a problem with a particular advert I’ve heard a lot on the radio these last few weeks.

The advert in question is a Home Office Ad encouraging people to report suspicious behavior to the police – it’s actually quite a clever advert from a script writing point of view, using odd words from the ‘talking heads’ in the ad to make up the overall message – my issue though is with the message itself which seems to be “look out for your neighbors, they might be terrorists”. Ok, so it’s possible that old Mrs Davies at Number 23 is putting together a dirty bomb – and Mr Watson from the corner shop might be plotting to overthrow the government, but both seem unlikely (well the latter possibly not as Mr Watson does have a vote conservative sign in his window – n.b. Mr Watson is  fictional).

My concern is that as soon as you start treating everyone around you with suspicion, you stop treating them like people. I’ve lived in my current block of flats for about 6 months, and have barely shared more than a few words with my neighbors, and I think if I were to try engaging them in more of a conversation than a ‘Hi’ when passing in the car park – they’d probably think I was a bit weird, and start actively avoiding me in future. Worrying isn’t it.

I’m not proud of this fact, but when I get on a tube I’m actually a little nervous if there’s more than a few young asians with tatty rucksacks in the carriage. This is actual insanity on my part as I know full well that in excess of 99.9999999% of people on tube trains are as harmless as I am (if not more harmless) – so why do I react oddly to someone my age, with dark-ish skin and a rucksack like mine. Mostly this is due to the press for making us suspicious of people around us in busy places, but it’s worrying that the government have now jumped on the bandwagon, and are trying to make us suspicious of those who live around us.

There was a time that neighbors all said hello to each other in the street, lent each other sugar and helped others out, that time was gone long before my 90’s upbringing – but we were always civil to those who lived around us, and through a number of fairly complex social connections pretty much everyone on our street was on first name terms (and despite this being Worcestershire, not everyone was whiter than casper) – now it seems we’re supposed to be popping around to Mr Plod if we see ‘er up the road talking to a tall dark stranger, or if that new family by the shop have a car with blacked out windows.

This is stupid, as there are probably innocent explanations for these things – and real terrorists aren’t stupid enough to leave the kind of obvious trail hinted at in the advert. If we actually got to know our neighbors (as I grant you I’ve failed to do) then we’re more likely to spot real signs if something actually suspicious is going on and will feel a lot safer in our homes than the government seem to want us to be.

Right, cheesy ending time – “That’s when good neighbors become good friends”, I’m off now to say hello to one of my neighbors and I don’t care if they think I’m a bit weird!

The Nice Guys of Radio

A Winning Quiz Team [or some of it]

A Winning Quiz Team (or some of it)

So, yesterday I got back from the Student Radio Conference in Nottingham – the event proved to be a really enjoyable weekend, with some fantastic sessions – aside from this I probably had the best time I’ve had at a conference since Southampton in 2006 (probably aided by the removal of the stress of organisation from more recent years).

I also had the opportunity to talk to some really interesting, funny and genuinely nice people (not to mention winning the annual pub quiz with Sarah Ghost, Matt Hurst, Martin Steers, Will Jackson & Paul Jackson (who aren’t related).

It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that radio (particularly at a senior level) is a cut-throat business so it was really nice to be reminded that amongst the shouty bosses and demanding talent are some really nice guys. Whilst I’m sure the following is by no means a complete list of everyone from the industry I chatted to, and certainly does not deliberately exclude anyone – I thought I’d just mention a few names who’d reminded me of the fantastic industry radio is to work in – and also how much of a community the industry can feel like when it comes together.

  • David Lloyd – Orion Media.
  • Lloydie – Trent FM
  • Kevin Hughes – Capital (Who is also the best quizmaster a student radio conference has ever had – Leeds 2009)
  • Paul Jackson & Mike Cass – Global (Who stuck around for the SRA Quiz and the party which followed, chatting to students and getting involved, in a way senior types generally don’t)
  • Neil Sloan – BBC
  • Chris North – Wise Buddah
  • Mark Crossley – Absolute Radio
  • Tim Howlett – Heart 106.2

and finally Bruce Mitchell, Kiss’ Head of Digital – who we bumped into in the Chicken Shop on the way back from the club on the way back, and chatted to in the hotel bar for an hour or so after we got back, despite the fact he had a 6.30 train the following morning (hope you made it Bruce!).

I also talked to some fantastic students – who prove there’s still a huge passion for all areas of radio and some who’ve definitely got the talent and the confidence to go a long way in the industry.

Hopefully I’ll get myself along to next years conference in one capacity or anther – as I had a fantastic time this year, and it’d be great to do it all over again!

Here’s a little streetview of the conference venue if you happen to be interested…

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Mark Farrington

Mark Farrington
Broadcast Engineer working in UK Commercial Radio, former Student Radio person (and Honorary Lifetime Member of the Student Radio Association) - I also play with bits and pieces of web stuff, cycle, take photos, cook food and enjoy a good pint of real ale.