23 December 2009

Superb YouTube Documentary

Please take a look at this video about an unfinished branch of the London Underground's Northern Line. Yeah, the topic sounded boring to me too, but it is so well made it deserves your attention:

Forget kittens and illegally uploaded music videos, this is YouTube at its best.

The makers have created a documentary about a potentially boring subject into an engaging, entertaining and informative story. I don't agree with his opinions, but the presentation style and the execution is very impressive for an amateur production. Clearly they have spent a lot of time making this film, and I feel it deserves a greater exposure, so get tweeting, embedding and linking, dear reader.

I also think there is potential here to engage a wider audience for more nuanced political issues and campaigns. Proportional representation springs to mind. I could spend a couple of hours making a 2 minute video about STV, but I doubt it would get much attention. However, with more effort, a witty, engaging video could get tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of hits, potentially from an audience that hadn't even heard of electoral reform before.


21 December 2009

What Guido Didn't Show

Last week, Guido recently uploaded a video apparently showing Gordon Brown being snubbed when stretching his hand. But he cut it before the handshaking.

I have no love for Brown, and would love to see the back of him as PM. The reason I upload this is because I want blogging to have some integrity. Cheap spin by the likes of Guido undermine us all.

20 December 2009

The Best of the Noughties

Here are my highlights of the decade:

TUNE OF THE DECADE: Outkast - Hey Ya!

Unbelievably catchy, impossibly upbeat, and able to transform even the grumpiest of moods to one of unparalleled joy, Hey Ya! seemed to be universally popular across the entire human race, and even persuaded this two-left-footed blogger to shake it like a polaroid picture on several occassions.

Runners up:
Together - So Much Love To Give
Royksopp - What Else Is There? (Thin White Duke Remix)
London Elektricity - Out Of This World

ALBUM OF THE DECADE: The Avalanches - Since I Left You

Constructed from over 3,000 samples, Australian punk-rockers turned their hands to electronic music and created a masterpiece. It is a truly unique work, and somehow manages to be exciting, groovy, silly, sentimental and cheery all at the same time. Their follow-up has been in development hell for 9 years now, but the band's Myspace page status, "Clearing samples", suggests we will be treated to more soon.

Runners up:
London Elektricity - Power Ballads
Quantic - Apricot Morning
Q-Tip - The Renaissance

FILM OF THE DECADE: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Michel Gondry beautifully combined the real and the surreal to create this tale of heartbreak that I imagine we can all relate to. Brilliantly written and superbly executed with perfect performances from Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. It truly is must-see.

...and Kirsten Dunst dances around in her pants :)

Runners up:
Slumdog Millionaire

Utterly silly comedy from Peter Serafinowicz and Robert Popper. Their recreations of early science television is done with real attention to detail, but I wouldn't rely on any of the results of their experiments!

Runners up:
The Office
Peep Show
Charlie Brooker's Newswipe

GAME OF THE DECADE: Super Mario Galaxy
At first glance it appears to be just another Mario platformer. But the addition of upside-down physics added a whole new dimension to the game's possibilities, and made every level a joy to play. So good I bought it twice (well, my first copy did get nicked).

Runners up:
The Sims
Guitar Hero

ART OF THE DECADE: Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller - The Killing Machine
I don't know quite what to call it, but I'll go with animated multimedia sculpture. Two mechanical arms dance over a dental chair to melancholy music, before needles pierce the imaginary victim. It is obviously a deeply political work, with themes of torture and modern society's lack of respect for human life clearly played out. Truly chilling.

Runners up:
Doris Salcedo - Shibboleth
Kristin Baker - The Unfair Advantage
Cang Xin - Communication

It has been an essential part of my life. I moved to Oxford after getting my job after graduating in 2006. I knew no-one, and making friends via housemates wasn't working out. So I set up a Facebook group to meet new people, and I haven't looked back. It is a campaigning tool, a debating forum, a photo compilation, a diary, and who knows what else. My favourite waste of time.

Runners up:
Toyota Prius
Nintendo Wii Remote

How the 'Irrelevant' Meme will be Neutered

Mark Reckons has rightly taken issue with a post from Tom Harris, which takes the line of the Lib Dems being irrelevant. It is the main line of Lib Dem attack by the two big parties: instead of engaging with the issues we raise, call them meaningless and move on. It breaks just about every logical fallacy going, but the Conlabourtives have never been big on logic.

Of course the honest answer is that the Lib Dems won't be the next government. There's an outside chance the party goes into coalition with the Tories or Labour, but we won't be running the country on our own terms. That makes the 'irrelevant' line of attack a hard one to snappily defend. But looking forwards, I think it will soon become hard for our opponents to use this line, because the Lib Dems have a great opportunity to make a major breakthrough: in local government.

Here's my reasoning.

First, lets assume that the Tories win the forthcoming General Election; a reasonable assumption given the state of the opinion polls.

The tendency for local elections has always been that a beleaguered party of national government performs badly at a local level. At the local elections this year, the Tories won with 38% of the BBC's projected national vote, and Labour slumped to just 23%. Back in 1995, it was the Conservatives in a mess on 25%, and Labour on a whopping 46%.

So after a possible blip of optimism for the fresh new Tories, their vote will slump. Who will that vote go to, Labour or Lib Dems? Well, the Lib Dems have always performed better on the local rather than national stage, and we are starting with an advantage with our 28% local vote share beating Labour's by some 5%. Are Labour going to win from an irrelevant (tee hee) third place, or are the Lib Dems going to win from second?

Winning the local elections would of course give the Lib Dems a huge boost, particularly in terms of credibility. And of course it would immediately neuter the irrelevant meme.

So be careful next time you mock the Lib Dems, because you could soon be making yourself look rather silly.

15 December 2009

Gagging For It

This is the BBC Newsnight report on Trafigura that has been gagged:

Now do the same.

7 December 2009

Our Fishy Democracy

(Before I start, a quick appeal: does anyone have a full set of general election data? Preferably in a spreadsheet. Mark Pack pointed me towards this Harvard University site, which is the best I've found. But the number of rows doesn't tally with the number of parliamentary constituencies... there appears to be 18 missing. [Edit, see update below.] Now then, on with the show...)

Since the post on an electoral reform I dreamt up last month, I've been pondering other novel ways we could improve the representativeness of our democracy. I've had a couple of other (interesting but perhaps not advocatable) ideas. The first will take a much bigger write-up, with detailed explanations and number-crunching and graphics and an epic soundtrack, oh and a large chunk of my time. So that will have to wait for another day.

The other idea is a rather silly one, based around using a stick (rather than carrot) approach for getting politicians to engage more with their constituents, and also the public to engage with politics.

To begin, a decent-sized fish tank would need to be purchased and installed in the House of Commons. Then, come the next election, every vote that isn't used will be assumed to be a vote for a fish. I suggest some sort of minnow. If the human candidate with the most votes fails to surpass the number of non-votes, the minnow is duly elected and added to the House of Commons tank.

The minnow can't swim into the lobbies, therefore has no vote on divisions. The fish would not need a second home allowance, but would have a staff allowance to handle constituency work.

Fortunately minnows don't usually see much life beyond their first birthday, so its constituents would soon get the chance to elect a great ape in a by-election.

What this fish system would do is ensure that MPs have a proper mandate from the electorate. If they didn't try and get the vote out, the chances are that they would lose their seat to something wet and scaly. Similarly, it would encourage the electorate to get off their fleshy posteriors to ensure they are represented by something land-dwelling.

So, with a spring in my step, I thought I'd apply this new rule to the last general election. The result wasn't so encouraging.

In 87% of seats*, more people didn't vote than voted for their MP.

Those are some empty-looking benches. We're gonna need a bigger tank.

* Don't rely on that exact percentage too much. Like I said, there are 18 out of 646 seats missing from my dataset. But I doubt the number would change that much.

UPDATE: The 18 missing constituencies are the ones in Northern Ireland. Thanks to Ben Mathis.

24 November 2009

On The Horizon 24/11/2009

A bit of an immigration theme for this edition of my blogosphere round-up:

Liberal Conspiracy has begun a series of posts on The Truth About Immigration, starting with the statistics on why people migrate to the UK.

End Child Detention Now asks who benefits from locking up over 2,000 children in immigration detention centres.

Enemies of Reason has found that the Daily Mail really wants more immigrants! (sort of...)

And finally, on the news that the excellent Doug Stanhope will be contributing to the next series of Charlie Brooker's Newswipe, here is his unmissable Channel 4 show on immigration from 2007:

18 November 2009

Who Did Alan Johnson Betray?

I have dug up information to form a profile of the asylum seeker that was stabbed in the back by Alan Johnson. I am posting the details carefully as specific information could put his safety into jeopardy. All this information is from reports found online on local news websites. If you decide to find these stories, I ask that you don't reproduce his name or his country of origin.

The man originates from a country in central west Africa. The country has an appalling human rights record; Amnesty International has catalogued its human rights abuses, and states that the cases it has exposed mainly involve killing and torture for the repression of political dissent. The man worked there as a press officer for the opposition party. After other members of his party had been subjected to torture, he fled to the UK, and settled in Hull, where he has now lived for seven years.

Since arriving here he has married, and together they have had a baby girl, who is approaching her 1st birthday. They regularly attended a local church. He was a volunteer for the Citizens Advice Bureau, and a member of the Labour party.

In February his asylum application was refused. The UK Border Agency have three times failed to deport him, thanks to the efforts of his vicar and fellow church-goers who held revolts at Heathrow Airport. On one occasion he was even on the plane, but it took an intervention from an Air France pilot to secure his stay in the UK.

He was moved between five detention centres in as many months, separated from his wife and baby. During two of his attempted deportations, he claims he was kicked and beaten by guards. He has stated that his experience of the UK authorities has been even worse than his time in his homeland, because he expected to be protected in the UK, and be a free man.

So there it is. A profile of the man Alan Johnson betrayed. I don't know how the Home Secretary sleeps at night.

17 November 2009

Over 60% of Lib Dem MPs back NHS Homeopathy

This tweet from Richard Wilson brings me the news that in 2007 (yeah OK, old news), 40 out of 63 Lib Dem MPs backed an Early Day Motion to continue the NHS funding of homeopathic hospitals. That is a higher proportion of MPs than both Labour (72 out of 355) and Conservative (88 out of 198), and the Others (6 out of 29).

The list includes Norman Lamb, the Lib Dem Health Spokesperson, and basically all the party's most prominent names, e.g. Lembit Opik, Chris Huhne, Vince Cable and, sigh, Nick Clegg.

How embarrassing. They need to be sat down and given the once over by Evan Harris.

What Matters More? (Updated)

Here are a selection of today's stories from the Politics section of the BBC News website, and a quick reaction to them.

Elizabeth Truss has won the battle to remain as the Conservative PPC in South West Norfolk. But it doesn't matter.

Nick Clegg and now David Cameron have come out against the Queen's Speech, saying it will be an irrelevant Government puff-piece, with Clegg going as far as calling for the whole thing to be scrapped. I blurted about this yesterday. But it doesn't matter.

Vince Cable has suggested that until they are broken up, the banks should be taxed an extra 10% on their profits, given the amount of money they have been given in bail-outs. But it doesn't matter.

A Labour council candidate has apologised for calling the Queen a "parasite" and "vermin". But guess what? It doesn't matter.

Not when you hear this.

According to Private Eye, reproduced by Byrne Tofferings and Football Forum, Alan Johnson has deported an asylum seeker, knowing that doing so would put this person's life in danger. How did he know? Because before his ascension to the Home Office, he was campaigning to stop this man from being deported.

Obviously the hypocrisy is mind-blowing. But frankly, that is the least of Johnson's sins. He has deliberately put this man's life in jeopardy. If he comes to any harm, his blood is on Johnson's hands. And for what? The only reason I can think of is to lower the government's statistics on granting asylum by one. Why else?

This matters so much more than the current political news I listed above. The decision was directly a matter of potential life or death. And it was done in our name. Alan Johnson must explain his actions.

I have been trying to get a prominent Labourite Twitterers to respond to this, but it has been like trying to squeeze semen from a brick. So I encourage you to try asking KerryMP, BevaniteElie, ChrispLOL and BristolRed how they feel about a Labour Home Secretary making this decision.

UPDATE I: KerryMP and BristolRed have kindly replied. They are both saying they can't judge without more information. I covered exactly the same point yesterday regarding Paul Clarke's outrageous gun possession conviction. We might not know everything yet, but everything we do know looks deeply troubling, and no-one has come up with anything that shows us a more complex picture. Until Alan Johnson defends his behaviour, there is a dark stain on his reputation.

UPDATE II: Thomas Byrne has tweeted that The Independent on Sunday's John Rentoul is looking further into this. Good.

UPDATE III: Bevanite Ellie also replied. See Update I.

16 November 2009

#PaulClarke: It is Reasonable to be Outraged

There has been an outpouring of anger over Paul Clarke's guilty verdict (background). There has also been an equal and opposite outpouring of calls to calm down. The Calm camp argue that the Angry camp don't yet know all the facts; their anger is over a single news report; there are lots of unanswered questions, and we don't know what the sentence will be yet. (I hope that is a fair summary.)

The Calm don't seem to dispute that, on the face of it, Clarke's reported actions should not be a crime. But I don't get why this isn't enough to cross the threshold. Everything we know about the case suggests there has been a travesty of justice. The Angry aren't ignoring inconvenient facts. No-one has yet come up with a reason why this isn't an injustice, therefore the emotions of the Angry are justified.

As additional information comes to light, yes, all should reassess what has happened. If it turns out that all was not as it first seemed, and Clarke had indeed been up to no good, then yes the Angry should retract their outrage, and they needn't be ashamed of doing so.

With regards to the issue of sentencing: even if the sentence is minimal, suspended even, the man still has a criminal conviction to his name. A lengthy prison sentence would only make a bad situation even worse.

The anger is also useful. Without a public reaction, the media would be much less likely to provide us to continue coverage of the story, and provide us with the further detail we all want.

Finally, if you are Calm, I ask you this: at what point will you decide there is enough information to decide either way?

Clegg Needs to Follow Through

Nick Clegg today suggested the Queen's Speech should be cancelled so that the rest of this term can be spent on emergency democratic reforms. It's a nice idea, and attracting public attention. However it is inevitable that the establishment parties will ignore Clegg and carry on regardless. Therefore these words need to be followed up with action.

So on Wednesday, I want to see every Lib Dem MP sitting in the House of Commons while the Queen's Speech is taking place. It would look great: while the Conlabourtives were engaged in pointless pomp, the Lib Dems were there, ready and willing to get on with the real, substantive work.

Conversely, if Clegg et al did swan into the House of Lords to listen to a vacuous speech he had criticised just days before, his encouraging words would suddenly look embarrassingly hollow.

15 November 2009

The Sun Nuts Nutt in the Nuts

Yesterday, The Sun published a nasty smear of Professor Nutt's children. Mark Reckons has posted a good overview of the non-story, and The Daily Quail has an excellent spoof of the article.

It is pathetic that The Sun has resorted to these low tactics. It shows how desperate those arguing for the continuation of prohibitionist drugs policy have become.

What is particularly curious is that earlier this week, Professor Nutt contributed to The Sun. He wrote an article giving an overview of his research into a safer, healthier pseudo-alcohol.

They really have no shame, do they? Anyone else who is given an offer to contribute to The Sun should think twice. You may be days away from having your family attacked by the same newspaper.

30 October 2009

The ACMD Should Resign En Masse

The Home Secretary Alan Johnson has sacked Professor David Nutt, Head of the Academic Council for the Misuse of Drugs, for giving advice about the dangers of drugs. His job.

Clearly the science on drugs is an inconvenient truth in the war on drugs.

But if the government is so determined to ignore the science, why have a body to analyse the science? That's the question I'd be asking if I was and drugs expert on the ACMD panel.

If the government is so insulting that it won't listen to the ACMD, the ACMD should make it known that they are being ignored. What better way than to resign en masse.

The ACMD are clearly just a political football to the government. It's time to take this ball away from the children.

Frankie Boyle on the BNP

In an interview with Frankie Boyle in the Independent, he was asked about Nick Griffin's appearance on Question Time. His reply:
I watched it, and I just thought 'this is boring'. He's just a stress ball for people who really caused the problem. Jack Straw is sitting there. You've got essentially a racist government with a racist immigration policy and you've got a scarecrow to point at and say: 'Here's the racist – ooooh, you terrible racist.'

28 October 2009

A Radical Idea for Power2010

Sara Bedford has tagged me to come up with an idea for POWER2010 - a campaign billed as "the chance to have a say in how our democracy works for us all". I wanted to think of a brand new suggestion, away from the agreeable but well-rehearsed arguments for proportional representation, an English parliament, elected House of Lords etc. This is my attempt.

(I say brand new. I've not heard anyone suggest this before. Please let me know if this idea isn't a new one, I'd love to hear more about it.)

I'm 25, and a huge concern I have with our democracy is the lack of interest, and therefore the lack of representation, that the younger end of the electorate have in politics. I also think that the reforms often put forward do little to address this issue. Sure, lowering the voting age to 16 will help the weeniest bit, but nowhere near enough to address the huge imbalance between young and old election turnout.

So to address this, my proposed solution is a major shake-up to the way we vote: Instead of just grouping voters into constituencies based on geography, voters are also grouped based on age.

It would mean that instead of having, say, an MP for Bolton East, there would instead be an MP for 40-to-45-year-olds in the North West of England.

Why would this be a good thing? Well, primarily, it would mean that young people are equally represented compared to old people. So in order for a political party to form a government, they need to attract the youth vote as much as that of middle-aged and the elderly.

It would surely enfranchise the young and increase their turnout, but if young turnouts were still lower, it is no worse than the system we have at present with large variance in the size of the electorate in each constituency.

This electoral reform should work with any voting system. So it could be implemented around the existing first-past-the-post system, or (even better) integrated into a more proportional system.

There would be quite a few administrative difficulties: there would need to be multiple ballot boxes at polling stations, stronger voter registration to ensure ballots are connected to the correct age, etc. I am sure some expensive consultants could be hired to sort these sorts of things out.

I really can't see any real downsides, but if you can, the comments button is yours.

UPDATE: D'oh, it is customary with blogosphere memes to tag bloggers to take on the same challenge, and I forgot. I think I'm going to plump for Charlotte Gore, Thomas Byrne, Constantly Furious, Stuart Sharpe and Eric Fish.

27 October 2009

On the Horizon 27/10/2009

Two cracking posts from Sara Bedford: An over-inflated sense of worth from our favourite MP? looks at the extent of Nadine Dorries's merit that landed her Tory safe seat, and My mother always told me it takes two to tango - maybe someone should tell the Daily Mail… points out the inherent sexism of the nasty rag.

Liberal Vision: Another government scam to fleece us highlights an astonishing new regulation that will force drivers pay legal costs, even if they are found not guilty.

Sarah Ditum: [Infographic] Where are the BNP’s voters? looks at a surprising outcome of a nice graphic from Information is Beautiful.

26 October 2009

Social Engineering, You Say?

Andrew Neather's comments in the Evening Standard on Friday have unsurprisingly been wildly distorted by the right-wing press. Neather responded today to counteract the distortions.

I would like to look at how they chose to misrepresent Neather. There are two lines of attack:
  1. Labour chose an open-borders policy to engineer a more multicultural society.
  2. They did this as part of a cynical attempt to expose the Tories as xenophobes.
The 2nd point is reasonable enough. No policy should be enacted simply as a part of one-upmanship. (Neather's response insists that this "wasn't the main point at issue".)

But the 1st point is nonsense. Social engineering is the government attempting to intervene by influencing or setting limits on people's behaviour, for what it sees as 'good for society'. Social engineering is the antithesis of social liberalism.

'Open borders' is a socially liberal policy that is free from government intervention. It is placing restrictions on immigration that is social engineering; exactly the opposite of what the right-wing press were purporting.

23 October 2009

On The Horizon 23/10/2009

Constantly Furious: Gordo and Griffin: what's the difference? and The Lay Scientist: Quote Comparison: Nick Griffin vs The Daily Mail (and Jan Moir) on the face of it both appear to suffer from guilt by association fallacy, but they are actually making a great point about who is having the real impact.

No Sleep Til Brooklands: Mail now accusing others of racism? FIGHT! on how the paper is hypocritical about when the term 'racist' is thrown about.

Jennie Rigg: Where Are All the Female Bloggers? and Tory Radio: Positive discrimination elsewhere? ask some important questions about gender equality.

Official BNP Bingo Results

(This post follows on from the Question Time BNP Bingo post yesterday.)

I can officially confirm that the result of Question Time BNP Bingo was 18 points.

Well, I say official. I can't bear re-watching it to be honest. I found the whole show an excruciating experience. Particularly Griffin's weird laugh: when deadly serious allegations were being made against him, to be sat there giggling away was creepy.

Anyway, I have had 18 confirmed by another player, with only one difference (accounted for). I am waiting for another friend who got 31 to provide me with his list, but I suspect he was too lenient in his judgement. I have also had a report of 15, but he was clearly slacking. Despicable. (Or, it was my game, therefore my answer is right.)

Here is how the bingo card looked: (Green squares indicate the phrase was used)

While no bonus points were accumulated for consecutive use or completed lines, it came very close. It was just a 'Political Correctness' and a 'White Working Class' from a whopping score of 38.

There were some really close calls with some of the phrases that didn't get used:

  • 'Liberal Elite' wasn't quite said, but Griffin did refer to the "political elite". He meant it in a very similar context, but I decided to be very strict.
  • During the last question on whether the BNP's Christmas had come early for being invited on, the themes around the word 'Censor' were heavily involved, but the word itself was never used. Ooooh, so close!
  • I included 'Knuckle Dragging' as a bit of a joke (it is how Richard Littlejohn refers to the BNP, despite him being the provider of large amounts of their ammunition). However it became surprisingly close to being used, as references to the Neanderthals were frequent.
  • Despite lengthy exchanges about Islam, only 'Muslim' came up; 'Mosque', 'Mullah', and 'Imam' were all not to be (although they came close with "Sheikh").
  • When one of the audience (accidentally?) called Nick "Dick", I thought about whether that should count under 'One-Eyed'. Then I grew up.

Evaluation: the game did what it set out to do: provide a source of distraction to alleviate the tedium. I'm not sure I would have lasted the distance without it.

22 October 2009

BNP Bingo Preliminary Results

Well I got 18, but a friend has said he got 31. Results need validating, possibly with a second iPlayer viewing (Lord help me).

The phrases that I got were:
  • Deport
  • Overcrowded
  • Muslim
  • Racist
  • Fascist
  • Open Borders
  • Homosexual
  • Holocaust
  • Multicultural
  • Christian
  • Benefits
  • Jewish
  • Indigenous
  • 70 Million
  • Asylum Seeker
  • Invasion
  • Establishment
  • Immigrant
A full round-up will come tomorrow.

Labour Climate Change Hypocrisy

In his conference speech just three weeks ago, Gordon Brown said:
And every day we stall on a climate change deal, the people of the world are denied the chance to protect their world.
So given that there is no time to lose to stop catastrophic global warming, you'd have thought Labour would be right behind the 10:10 campaign to cut carbon emissions by 10% in 2010?

Well, yesterday the Lib Dems brought a motion asking the government to back the 10:10 campaign. Here's how they voted:

Con0 13871.9%
DUP1 455.6%
Ind0 466.7%
Lab296 (+2 tell) 1288.8%
LDem0 57 (+2 tell)93.7%
PC0 3100.0%
SDLP0 133.3%
SNP0 685.7%
Total:297 22583.2%

So that would be a resounding 'no' from Labour then. All words, no action.

Question Time BNP Bingo

Tonight's much-hyped Question Time, featuring the fascist BNP leader Nick Griffin, is geared up to be must-watch TV for anyone with a passing interest in politics.

However, I fear it may turn out to be a particularly tedious event.

So, inspired by Dick Puddlecote and Independence Home, I have decided to knock up a print-out BNP Bingo card to help keep your interest in proceedings. It contains lots of words and phrases that often crop up around the inevitable debate around immigration, multiculturalism and its bedfellows.
Download BNP bingo PDF
Let me know if you intend on playing along, and predict a total score. Mucho kudos will go to the person who makes the closest guess!

I'll also be taking part in live chat at Mark Reckons during the broadcast.

13 October 2009

UK Border Atrocity

The UKBA has begun the scientifically flawed, blatantly racist DNA profiling of asylum seekers to determine their ethnicity *ahem* 'nationality'.

73% of children held at UKBA detention centres are developing mental health issues during their captivity. (More than half of these children won't even be deported).

The UKBA is adding extra inconvenience for those claiming asylum by requiring them to attend in person to submit information, and those who can't make their asylum claims during port entry will need to travel to Croydon to make their claim.

Anyway, back to life in civilised society.

12 October 2009

On the Horizon 12/10/2009

Welcome to the first in what will be a regular selection of some of the best blogging of late.

Mark Reckons - Surely the Lib Dems should be doing better than this? - Mark feels that a golden opportunity is being missed. Excellent comments thread.

Richard Wilson - The Parliamentary Question Carter Ruck and Trafigura don’t want you to see - The Guardian are being silenced. Find out what they aren't being allowed to report.

Byrne Tofferings - Welcoming Tony Blair as President - Thomas clarifies what exactly Blair would be President of, and would welcome his appointment (I have reservations).

7 October 2009

The New Look

Well the feedback from my poll on my blog's colour scheme was universally negative. Therefore I've changed to a new template from Marzuki Jalil. I have kept the yellow colouring (personal preference/Lib Dem allegiance), but the main text is on a white background now.

So hopefully your eyes won't try and jump out of your head when reading my headblurts from now on.

No doubt I'll be tweaking things as time goes by. hat black space at the top is crying out to be filled with an image of something...

Rags to Riches

It is normally the formula for social acclaim: from a humble background, a young man uses hard-work and ingenuity to make a success of himself, and becomes a multi-millionaire. His story shows that in our society, through motivation and dedication, anyone can achieve prosperity. It is quintessentially the American Dream, and is a prevailing ethos throughout Western culture.


But Curtis Warren made his fortune from drugs. Today he was convicted of smuggling cannabis, and faces a jail sentence of up to 14 years.

Meanwhile, Ken Clarke, the former head honcho of a rival drug-dealing network, is the Conservative Shadow Business Secretary.

6 October 2009

Panorama "Migrants: Go Home!"

Last night's Panorama looked at the route taken by African migrants and asylum seekers into Europe and the UK. It followed the "chain" of movement through Libya, Italy and France that is being "pushed" back by the authorities. Along the route, migrants experience highly dangerous transportation, cramped, squalid living conditions and political oppression, simply for having the will to move away from violence and extreme poverty.

Phil Woolas justifies these actions as the means to drying up the market exploited by human traffickers:
We call it pushing a chain. It's very difficult to push a chain, but we're trying to push a chain back down the route so that when the people traffickers say 'come this way, you economic migrants, come this way to France or to Germany or Sweden or Britain', we can show that the route is closed.
However without the border controls that produce such stringent limitations on people's ability to move, the traffickers would have no market to exploit. Immigration controls are basically the prohibition of movement, and like all forms of prohibition, it creates far more problems than it solves.

I also can't ignore the Woolas's horrid term "you economic migrants". This is the sort of 'us and them' language that sows the seeds of division and derision.

In particular, anyone who has seen District 9 should watch the show (and anyone who hasn't seen it should; I refer you to Charlotte Gore's spot-on review). The stark similarities between the themes of the film and the documentary show that the film was not just about South African apartheid but also about the way that brutal way humans treat anyone seen as outsiders.

(Handy BBC iPlayer embed code from http://upyourego.com/pip/)

29 September 2009

AV Smoke and Mirrors

So Gordon Brown has pledged to have a referendum on voting reform if* Labour wins the next election.

But hold your horses. The voting system up for grabs would be Alternative Vote. AV is not proportional, and is not really any better than the current FPTP system.

No independent body is suggesting a change to AV, so for Brown to choose this system for a referendum is simply trying to distract the genuine debate over making the result elections properly represent the way the public voted. Indeed, UnlockDemocracy has come out firmly against:
Parliament will remain as unrepresentative – and subsequently unresponsive – as ever. There is no demand amongst the wider public for this change and it is hard to see how a referendum on the subject will actually motivate people to come out and vote.
And Channel 4 News's Gary Gibbon sees right through this ploy:
if AV (alternative voting) had been used in the 2005 general election it would have given Labour an even bigger majority – 86 seats rather than 64 on Electoral Reform Society projections
The Lib Dem spokespeople need to get out there right away and trash this gerrymandering hoax.

* That's a big if, by the way.

Labour Steal BNP Policy

In his final conference speech as Labour leader, Gordon Brown has announced that teenage parents are to no longer be given council houses, but to be placed into supervised homes instead.

Greg Stone, Lib Dem PPC for Newcastle East, made an excellent spot: this sounds just like the policy of a rival political party... the BNP.
...there be no council flats and no welfare benefits available to unmarried mothers... Instead they will be placed in ‘mother & baby homes’. Here they will receive academic education as well as parenting classes, plus courses covering all aspects of their social development. The homes will be run by ‘matron’ type figures. The homes should not be ‘institution’ like, but at the same time there will be rules which must be adhered to; such as a curfew of approx 9pm, a dress code which states skirts must come to at least the knees & no cleavage to be on show. Failure to comply with the homes’ rules will result in the mother being sent to prison, and the baby being taken in to care.
The BNP's policy was thoroughly fisked by Unite Against Fascism, and Charlotte Gore had a good rant about Labour adopting this idea.

25 September 2009

My Colour Scheme: Vote!

A few passers-by have commented on the colour scheme I use for my blog. Feedback has ranged from "beautiful colours" to "it has given me epilepsy".

So what do you think? A poll has popped up in the right-hand column of this page. Let me know what you think.

If the consensus is it needs changing, then I'll have another look at it at some point.

So what are you waiting for? Get voting!

...and feel free to use the comments if you have any specific objections (or compliments!)

Will People Vote For A Change?

The 'Vote For A Change' campaign is writing to David Cameron asking him to support a referendum on electoral reform. Cameron supports the existing first-past-the-post system, however reformers (like me) argue that this system doesn't properly represent the will of the electorate. The graphic shows the result of the 2005 general election was distorted by first-past-the-post. Labour gained far more MPs than their vote should allow, and the Lib Dems and others gained far fewer. Cameron wants to keep the current system as it is highly likely that the Tories will get the same unfair benefit at the next election that Labour enjoyed last time.

However, what their letter calls for is a referendum. I question whether this is the best strategy to get what we want.

The most likely scenario that a referendum would come about in the foreseeable future is if Labour call for one to be held during the general election ballot. Senior Labour figures have been openly raising speculation about whether it will happen. They have every reason to be considering it. In the polls, Labour are lagging behind the Tories by 16+ points, suggesting they are heading for a crushing defeat at the next election.

But the reason they are considering it now is the very same reason why a referendum could go horribly wrong for those of us who want reform. Labour will be painted by the Tories as using their last breath of power to desperately fiddle with the electoral system just to give them more power. And their assessment would be correct. If Labour were serious about reform they'd have made good on their promise years ago. Given Labour's unpopularity, many people may vote 'no' as a vote against Labour. If the result of a referendum was 'no', it would be devastating for the cause, probably putting it back half a century or more.

I want electoral reform. There needs to be a referendum on it (the public must have their say on such a fundamental change). But if Labour call for it now, isn't there a real risk of the Tories using Labour's unpopularity to get their way?

The counter-argument is this: if not now, when? The Tories are opposed to reform, and will never call for a referendum. Assuming they get in, it may well be over a decade before the Tories are out out of governemnt, and it pains me to say it but it currently looks more likely to be Labour rather than Lib Dem who will take over. Recent history has shown can't trust Labour to hold the referendum while they are popular.

However this is all speculative. Five years is a gigantic time in politics: there could be a hung parliament; the Tories might only be popular for one term; a Lib-Lab pact may be formed to oust them in 2014/15. A referendum under these circumstances would be far more winnable.

So I have my concerns over a sudden referendum. What do you think?

24 September 2009

Jeremy Hunt: BBC-Bashing Coward

The Conservative Shadow Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is developing a worrying habit. In his two years in the post, he has come out with numerous criticisms of the operation of the BBC. These include:While these comments did raise an eyebrow (the left one, to be precise), I let these go as they are criticisms on economic grounds... two are about cutting costs and the other about competition.

However his criticism today can't go unchallenged. Hunt has said that the BBC has an "innate liberal bias" and should increase the number of conservatives to their news-gathering team.

This crosses an important line. Given that it is funded by government via the licence fee (something I disagree with by the way), the BBC must be impartial from government interference in terms of its editorial policy. Similarly, the BBC must remain politically impartial given the way it is funded by force.

By no means is the BBC perfect. Their reports do on occasion contain bias. However this bias varies in its political outlook: sometimes statist, sometimes liberal; sometimes socialist, sometimes conservative; too often centrist. However there is no other organisation that does impartiality as well as the BBC. ITV News's constant moral outrage drives a statist agenda. Sky News's frequently yet subtly pushes its right-wing owner's motives. And of course newspapers don't even try.

So I reject Hunt's assessment. However I object much more strongly to him adding pressure on the BBC to bend to his political persuasion. In all likelihood he will be the Culture Secretary within a year's time, and behaviour like this will cast doubt on the BBC's political neutrality. Of course, this may be Hunt's real agenda: to weaken the BBC so that it can be cast to the scrapheap.

It is also incredibly cowardly of Hunt to choose to point his daggers at the BBC. Because it must remain impartial, it can't defend itself. Meanwhile, the rest of the media hates it as it is an untopplable competitor, and smears it at every opportunity.

Conversely, the genuinely biased news outlets get a free ride: politicians daren't criticise the constant distortions and fabrications of the newspapers, because they fear reprisals. Most newspapers are rabidly right-wing; I wonder why he chooses not to criticise them?

If Hunt genuinely wants to sort out bias, he would gain much more credibility of he spoke out about the huge distortions in the press, rather than attacking the animal that can't fight back.

Criminal Love

Baroness Scotland's "illegal" immigrant cleaner Loloahi Tapui and her British husband Alexander Zivancevic have unsurprisingly been arrested on suspicion of immigration offences. Baroness Scotland has been hoisted by her own petard; excellent karma. But I have a great deal of sympathy for Loloahi and Alexander.

The Daily Mail uncovered details of the couple's background last week. In summary, Loloahi arrived in the UK on a student visa, remained in the UK after it had expired, managed to marry in a C of E church, gained a marriage certificate and therefore could appear to be a British citizen and gain employment.

Put yourself in the shoes of Loloahi. She (completely legally) spent a year in the UK. During that time she would have been an active member of society. She met loads of new people, become friends with some, and entered a relationship and fell in love with one of her acquaintances. Similarly, Alexander also met and fell in love with her. Completely normal behaviour, and surely a very positive thing to happen in their lives.

The year passes by and her visa expires. We don't know if she attempted to renew her visa and failed, or if she suspected that trying to extend her right to remain in the UK would be futile. But she wanted to stay with the man she loved.

Yes, I know, it sounds like the plot of a corny love story. But in stories where a couple's love overcomes the forces that are pulling them apart, we always root for love; it is part of being human. So we should all be rooting for Loloahi and Alexander.

This case is certainly not a one-off. A friend of mine has needed to jump through hoops in order to keep his foreign-born girlfriend (now his wife) in the country. It has cost them thousands of pounds, countless hours of bureaucracy, being questioned as if they were suspects of a crime, and they've needed to bend a few rules. But I know they don't regret it for a second as it meant being able to stay together. They were lucky that they could manage to keep together without breaking any laws, but those who aren't so lucky won't give up and will break the law. As Meatloaf sang, "I would do anything for love, but I won't do that". Perhaps 'that' means not flouting a country's immigration laws... although it does seem trivial compared to running to hell and back.

'Tough' clamp-downs on immigrants are meant to benefit British citizens. But not only do deportations have a terrible impact on the migrant's life, it also means tearing apart relationships formed with British people.

So looking back at Loloahi. She has hurt no-one. She was working and wasn't costing the taxpayer a penny. She has brought love to a British citizen. Why would anyone want to see her deported? I have no idea.

18 September 2009

Naughty Pie Chart Perspective

Lynne Featherstone's website is undergoing a revamp. The 'Under Construction' banners make it clear that this is a work-in-progress, but early indications are that this is a very nice job and is raising the bar for other MPs and PPCs.

Sadly however I must take issue with the pie-chart showing the vote in her constituency at the 2005 general election. It misleads the voter into thinking that her lead against Labour is bigger than it really is.

As you can see, a perspective has been added to the pie chart. The perspective has been chosen so that it puts the Labour sector at the 'back'. This makes the area of Labour's sector smaller. I did a quick hack of the image, and counted the pixels in each sector of the pie:

Compare these numbers to the ones shown on the pie chart from Lynne's site. The Labour vote visually appears to have been shrunk by nearly half. A clever but naughty trick.

In all likelihood this was done without Lynne's consent or approval. I also question whether we want to make it look like the Labour vote look smaller than it actually is. It might induce apathy in our vote if they feel there is less at stake. However the salient point I am making is that graphics should accurately portray the situation. We will lose the electorate's trust when we inevitably get caught.

This is a persistent problem. During the Norwich North by-election, the Conservatives fiddled with the height of the bars. The Sun recently misrepresented the result of an opinion poll by using the diameter rather than the area of circles to show the level of support.

I intend on producing some election graphics in the near future, and am also thinking of ways of quickly producing graphics during election night. I can assure you I won't be up to any of these naughty tricks!

UPDATE (17:15) - Simon Dickson, principal consultant at Puffbox (the designers of Lynne's new site), responded on his blog (in the comments):
No attempt to mislead with the graphic, purely a question of aesthetics. But if people feel it's misleading, we'll certainly take another look at it.
I am happy to take Simon's word on this, although I do think it should be corrected, as it is best to look impeccably clean. Let him know your opinion.

17 September 2009

Another Labour Drugs Fuck-Up

On his must read blog, Mark Easton reveals how the Home Office managed to waste six years of research and £6,000,000 reviewing drugs education in schools. What happened?
It emerges that they had failed to follow two of the most basic rules of such research:
• Make sure your sample is large enough
• Make sure you have a control group for comparison
This is troubling. For drug reforms to work, they need a competent government to do good research and create the necessary regulations around these dangerous substances.

Labour have been a total disaster around the issue of drugs. On top of the farce over the down-and-upgrading of cannabis, ignoring the advice on classifying ecstasy, and missing the opportunity to properly regulate legal highs, this latest fuck-up is the icing on the cake. And the signs are the Tories will be just as lamentable.

16 September 2009

'Heroin' Brand is Tainted

Further to my post yesterday on the benefits of prescribing heroin, I'd today like to reflect on the language used to sell drug reforms to the public.

In the mind of the public, the name Heroin is understandably associated with many negative connotations. It is linked to property crime, prostitution, gangs and decline. Heroin is seen as the cause of society's problems. So if a reformer says, "I propose giving Heroin to Heroin addicts," the immediate reaction is hostile, and there is an uphill struggle to break down that hostility and convince people it is a good idea.

Now lets twist that sentence slightly: "I propose giving Diamorphine to Heroin addicts". It means exactly the same thing, but it sounds less worrying. We already prescribe Methadone to Heroin addicts, and Diamorphine is more effective and has fewer negative outcomes. Methadone prescription doesn't suffer from anywhere near the levels of hostility compared to Heroin Diamorphine prescription.

Of course journalists will inevitably ask, "aren't Diamorphine and Heroin the same thing?", but that depends on how you define Heroin. We can disassociate the two words by saying, "Not really. Heroin is a street drug, and the strength and purity of street drugs is variable, which is what makes it extra-dangerous. Diamorphine is a clinical drug with a fixed strength, so it doesn't suffer from these dangers." The liberal use of language can make drug reforms easier to stomach and make it politically easier for governments to adopt beneficial reforms.

Sadly it may now be too late to re-brand prescribed heroin, but using with other names for the drugs under reform could help win the propaganda-war on drug-policy. For instance, "legalise MDMA" might not sound as scary as "legalise Ecstasy".

15 September 2009

Reporting The Politics Game

And today's top story is....

Gordon Brown Says a Word!

This is the first time he has said the word "cut" with reference to what Labour will do with spending in the future. The Tories say he is now in "full retreat" on his previous position on spending.

Is this really the most important thing happening at the moment?

Let me be clear: the Prime Minister outlying his overall plan for Government spending in the coming months and years, indeed a different plan from the Government's previous policies, is important; quite possibly today's top news story. What is not of primary importance to the country is that he has used a particular word that he was using a few months ago to attack his opponents. That is interesting, and yes it is newsworthy, but it is not the most salient event.

This may seem like I'm being fastidious. However I think it is vital that politics is reported in a manner that has relevance to the public.

Impending spending cuts are very relevant: it means we may experience a drop in the quality of public services; it means that we aren't going to be as heavily taxed in order to reduce the country's deficit; it means that some public sector employees' jobs are at risk. Brown has changed his position, performed a U-turn, gone into reverse gear, backflipped, rotated pi radians, but this doesn't have anywhere near as big an impact on people's lives, and each time it is reported as the primary event, it makes politics seem that little less relevant.

I am not saying party political manoeuvring, political gossip, personality clashes and the general Westminster soap opera should go unreported. It is of interest to people who follow politics and is why some people open their newspapers and switch on the news bulletins each day. However political journalism is consumed by a wider audience than this, and the prominence aspects of a story get should be given careful consideration.

I have a sketchy memory of a recent BBC report. I can't remember the exact story, but I recall it was the announcement of a new economic policy. The anchor asked the correspondent, "so what about the politics of this," and the correspondent talked about how this could potentially wrong-foot the opposition, how it showed Brown trying to regain the narrative, blah blah blah. I thought to myself how anyone who wasn't a Westminster geek would find this at all relevant, and how it would reflect on their view of politics.

Politics affects people, and in a democracy it is crucial that the public feel it affects them. Election turnouts are dwindling, the feeling that all politicians are "the same"/"in it for themselves" is swelling. Disillusionment in politics is cause for real concern - see the BNP's successful election to the European Parliament caused by reduced turnout. I see this issue, as well as the problem of people's votes not meaning anything, as the root of the erosion of our democracy.

So, on the off-chance there are any journalists wandering by, I present to you my modus operandi for a good political report:
  1. A headline overview of the policy;
  2. An explanation of the important details of the policy;
  3. If required, a description of who in society it will affect;
  4. If interesting, what this means in terms of political parties and their personnel.
Our democracy is in your hands. (Eeeek)

Prescribing Heroin Win Win Win

There is one thing that seems to be agreed upon when it comes to heroin addiction: the current approach isn't working. However opinion is of course divided on the answer as to whether a 'tougher' or a 'softer' approach is required. Cue the usual rational carrot vs. reactionary stick argument.

Today's news brings a boost to the carrot camp: a trial run at prescribing heroin to addicts produced a big reduction in crime levels. More than half of all crime is drug-related, so any measure that can stop drug addicts needing to commit crimes will hugely benefit society.

However there are still some crumbs for the stick crowd. Heroin prescription currently costs £15,000 per addict per year. Their argument follows: as taxpayers we should not see our money spent on heroin prescriptions when we have decided not to spend money on life-extending cancer drugs.

As already pointed out by Anton Vowl, MTPT and no doubt others, that don't make sense. The cost of using the criminal justice system to pursue heroin addicts costs significantly more, even if it was effective (and we have 40 years of failure to show it isn't). A bit of Googlage found this report (pdf) from the year 2003/4 which states:
the economic and social costs of Class A drug use are estimated to be around £15.4 billion in 2003/04. This equates to £44,231 per year per problematic drug user. Problematic Class A drug use accounts for most of the total costs (99%, or £15.3 billion).
£15.4 billion... and guess who's paying! This number is also five years old now; it is likely to have risen in line with the rise of Class A drug use. It also only covers England and Wales.

Now this is for all Class A drug use, but lets adopt a similar policy was adopted for Britain's 280,000 addicts of all Class A drugs, and assume providing their prescription costed about the same as the current cost of prescribed heroin. That would cost £4.2 billion. It won't eradicate the economic and social costs, but they would be massively cut.

Transform Drugs Policy Foundation recently performed a much more rigorous cost-benefit analysis (pdf). They found that with the same number of drug users, the net saving of providing legal supplies of drugs would be £10.8 billion. Prescribing heroin will save the taxpayer money.

Finally I would like to ask: what if there wasn't a saving? What if the cost-benefit was neutral, or even slightly negative? My view is this is still worth doing, because it would make people happier. The chaotic life of a drug addict and their children, the misery of being a victim of crime, the impact of prostitution on a community, the spread of infectuous diseases, and the lure of gang culture... these are all symptoms of the criminal drug trade. Getting the drug dealers' customers an alternative way to get their fix will have a real impact on all these sources of misery, and make our society a better place to live.

2 September 2009

The Media Third-Rails Compassion

The media, including the BBC, has clearly decided that Megrahi should not have been released. For the record, I disagree, and while my opinion has motivated this headblurt, the rights and wrongs of the decision are not what this is about. I want the media to hold all politicians to account and give all opinions a fair fight. I have found the media to be severely lacking in the debate over the Megrahi release.

The only politician to defend the decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds was the decision-maker himself. MacAskill gave many interviews and faced robust questioning over the decision. Good.

No other politician has made the case for compassion. The 'not our decision' position taken by Gordon Brown and his Cabinet, and also by MacAskill's fellow Scottish Ministers, has also been robustly challenged by the media. Again, rightly so.

The other postion adopted, most prominently by David Cameron (so much for compassionate conservatism) and Nick Clegg, is the anti-release position. They argue that Megrahi's crimes were so terrible that dying in prison is the only just option. I have yet to hear Cameron, Clegg or any other politician arguing for Megrahi's continued detention during an interview have their position challenged. (Please please please point out any examples contrary to this statement that I have missed; I have been dying for an interviewer to question this opinion.)

The media has decided that not releasing Megrahi is the correct answer. On this evening's BBC News at Ten, Nick Robinson finished his analysis by remarking:
The one thing that I was struck [by] as I went through every word of this is at no stage did anyone suggest: why don't we simply say,
(dramatic pause)
"no, we won't release him".
His words clearly implied that the compassionate option was the wrong decision and that the politcal implications would be far less severe if Megrahi had not been released. Whether the political agenda would have moved on by now if a different position had been taken can only be speculated upon, but if Nick Robinson is right, the conclusion must be that if the government wants an easy time from the media, show no compassion.

13 August 2009

Gerrymandering Votes at 16

Last week, a documentary on BBC Three looked into lowering the voting age to 16. The presenter mentioned that in 2005 (yes I know it's nearly four years ago, but I think this is interesting), the House of Commons voted to reject suffrage at 16 by just eight votes. Public Whip shows the following breakdown of this vote by the major parties:

Con107 (+2 tell) 3
Lab26 73
LDem0 45 (+2 tell)

So out of those who bothered to turn up (and Labour should be ashamed of their pathetic turnout) nearly all Tory MPs voted against and all Lib Dems voted in favour, with Labour also heavily leaning towards lowering the voting age.

Now lets look at a Yougov/Telegraph opinion poll (pdf) taken on the 22nd - 24th November 2005; just before this vote. The overall voting intentions were Con 35, Lab 37, Lib Dem 20. However if you look at the age breakdowns, in the 18-34 bracket (the lowest age group) the outcome changes to Con 31 (-4), Lab 43 (+6), Lib Dem 21 (+1). Assuming that 16-17s would follow the same pattern, this opinion poll shows that at the time it looked as if adding more young people to the electorate would harm the Tories, but boost Labour significantly and the Lib Dems a smidgen.

So are any of the parties gerrymandering here? Well first I think we can rule out the Lib Dems, as only a +1 gain in their vote is pretty insignificant. Labour appeared to have the most to gain, however their weak turnout and their 26 MPs who voted No indicate that the Labour vote was not whipped, so there was no tactics coming from Labour HQ.

However for the Tories I raise an eyebrow. There were indications lowering the voting age would harm them electorally, and they came out strongly against it. Perhaps I am being cynical, but as Mark Reckons pointed out, they have form on manipulating the democratic process to meet their own ends. Is this another case of the Tories choosing selfish expediency over principle?

3 August 2009

Immigrants and Granting Citizenship

So once again the odious Phil Woolas has been blowing his twat-whistle with more tough on immigrants rhetoric. The plan is to require immigrants to accumulate points in order to gain British citizenship. Cultural activities such as voluntary work, political activism, and learning English, as well as economic factors such as earning potential, skills and qualifications, would earn points that would decide whether or not the person was worthy of a hallowed British passport.

Like all of Labour's restrictions of immigration, I am fundamentally opposed to this highly immoral move. Expecting one group of people to pass tests, gather points and take oaths to gain something, whilst giving it to another group without these restrictions, is discrimination. This particular discrimination is imposed on the basis of nationality, but it would be just as bad if it was imposed based on any other circumstance of birth.

While it is not racist, this is a technicality. It is just as immoral as racism.

Personally I can't see how any restrictions can be placed on immigration without being discriminatory. However, a policy of unrestricted immigration has consequences that must be addressed. As Milton Friedman said:
You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state.
This is clearly a problem for people who aren't right-wing fundamentalists and see a need for a public sector that provides services and welfare. Do we restrict immigration, or do we abolish welfare? Neither of these options appeals to me.

Devil's Kitchen suggests this compromise which I find highly attractive:
no immigrant may claim benefits until they have been working—and contributing tax (i.e. cash in hand work will not count)—for four years.

But wait! The EU will not let us treat EU citizens any differently to British citizens. Great! The same thing applies across the board, for British citizens too.
In the comments, DK makes it clear that this isn't something that he finds ideal, and anyone acquainted with his views will know he advocates the abolition in the welfare state, as well as some restrictions to people's movement.

But for me, this idea ticks all the boxes: it gives people the freedom of movement, it allows for the fair provision of public services and welfare, and it treats all people equally.

This idea would mean there are effectively two tiers of British citizenship:

"Basic" citizenship, open to everyone, that gives the person the right to live work and trade in the UK, and protection from A&E, criminal justice and security services.


"Full" citizenship, giving access to free education, healthcare, and welfare. We may also decide that police or armed services officers may need to be full citizens in order to take up their post. Whether full status is gained based on time spent in the county, the amount of taxes contributed, or the cultural criteria put forward by Mr Woolas today, is debatable. I think I would prefer DK's suggestion as it there is a closer link towards what you give (taxes) and what you receive (benefits and public services paid for by taxes).

There is a need to provide welfare to people, and therefore a need to register people as citizens, this does not mean that immigration must be restricted. Without free immigration, people will remain shackled to their location of birth, which condemns many people to inescapable poverty and abuse. With some simple creativity about how we manage citizenship, we can address the economic concerns that hang over immigration, exposing those who seek restrictions based on their selfish or racist interests.

24 July 2009

Searching for Optimism

Norwich North wasn't a good result for the Lib Dems. We made no progress. Indeed, we fell back a bit both in terms of numbers of votes and percentage share, and now have UKIP and Greens breathing down our necks.

However, there is some cause for hope. Here are a few of thoughts that provide some optimism on how the Lib Dem vote is holding up:

1. The vote for all 3 big parties dropped: Labour by a whopping 17k, LD by 3k and Tory by 2k. The turnout at by elections is always a bit suppressed during by elections, and the Tory faithful are known to be more reliable at turning up to cast their vote. In this light, our total doesn't look too bad. It was the massive collapse in Labour support that won this contest for the Tories. In seats where we are second to Labour, we can expect the same to happen.

2. This was always a Labour vs Conservative race; the 2005 GE result had them significantly out in front. This is exactly the sort of seat where the ethereal 'Lib Dem squeeze' is said to be a factor. However, the result appears to show more of a gentle pinch than a squeeze.

3. People didn't switch much. But when they did, the parties whose votes rose were the little parties (probably due to MPs' Expenses TM). UKIP, Green and the cumulative 'others' all saw their support increase, between them getting a whopping 28% of the vote. This gives us hope in LD > Con marginals... the collapse of Labour isn't giving votes to the Tories. I have a slight reservation - I am a bit confused where the UKIP vote came from. Were there really that many Labour to UKIP switchers?

Overall, while it is disappointing not to have advanced, I think we held our own.

26 June 2009

Swing to the Left: Conservative Gain

Here are the results of an opinion poll for the forthcoming Norwich North by-election:

CON 34%(+1), LAB 30%(-15), LDEM 15%(-1), Green 14%(+11)

If accurate, it looks like the Conservatives will gain this seat from Labour.

But look at what has happened to the vote. Labour's support has dropped massively, and has mainly gone to the Greens. Now analysing political parties simply in terms of left-right is a crude measure, but nonetheless it is obvious from a quick glance at their policies that Greens are to the left of Labour. This poll represents a significant leftwards shift in attitudes in Norwich North.

So a shift to the left results in a gain for the right. Yet another flaw with first-past-the-post.

22 June 2009

Tory Tantrums

Congratulations to John Bercow on becoming the new Speaker of the House of Commons. Lets hope he is bold enough to push through the changes needed to Parliament to start the long process of restoring trust in democracy.

However it seems many in the Tory ranks are not happy. As Bercow was being dragged to his fancy new chair, their faces were like smacked backsides. He may be a Conservative MP, but Bercow is apparently not the right type of Conservative MP. Despite this lack of support from his own party, Bercow won a clear majority with a margin of 51 votes between him and his establishment rival Sir George Young, showing he has support from Labour and the Lib Dems.

The line is from the Tory aggrieved is that this is party political shenanigans by their rivals. By choosing the candidate that they didn't like, they were creating disunity in the House for the sake of one-upmanship.

The Tories are being pathetic.

If one was to write a formula for the ideal unifying candidate, it would be Bercow. He is from the opposition benches, but holds moderate political views, and seeks reform. That should be a big tick for the Conservatives, Labour, and the Lib Dems respectively. Yes, Bercow has glided away from his staunch right-wing days. Why does this create such bitterness amongst his supposed political allies? And then for these bitter Tory souls to expect everyone else to change their vote to appease their resentment - unreasonable to say the least.

The only people who would have been happy with the election of Bercow's rival is the Conservatives. The Eton-educated Sir George Samuel Knatchbull Young 6th Baronet had served as a Minister in the previous government, and actively talked down what he thought should be done in terms of reform in his address earlier in the day. Young was never going to attract significant support away from his Tory friends.

I await with baited breath to see what John Bercow does with his new position, and will reserve judgement upon him until the processes he initiates begin. I hope the Tories find some dignity and offer Bercow the same.

19 June 2009

The Financial Struggles of Nadine Dorries

Nadine Dorries, Conservative MP for Mid Bedfordshire, is, errr, highly popular across all sides of the political spectrum. On her blog today, she wrote (emphasis mine):
I have never claimed for furniture or gardening or petty cash or anything other than expenses incurred as part of my role as an MP. In fact, to date, I have spent almost £2000 of my own money this year entertaining constituents in the House of Commons. As a single mum with a number of dependents and responsibilities, that is money I have struggled to afford.

As a bleeding heart liberal, I have great sympathy and admiration for most single parents struggling to find the money needed to raise their kids. But my heart is failing to bleed for you, Nadine.

MPs are some of the best paid people in the country. Their incomes put them well within the top 10% earners in Britain. MPs earn about triple the average income. If you think you struggle, Nadine, please think about how single parents bringing in a third of what you earn cope.

In particular, think about this when you (inevitably, I fear) vote for tax cuts for the dead rich and married couples, when you could be voting for tax cuts for people on ordinary incomes instead.