13 December 2010

Cage Against The Machine for Christmas Number 1

Last year, Rage Against The Machine managed to steal the top spot of the Christmas chart from the X Factor winner, Joe MacThingy. Personally I wasn't bothered about that campaign. We swapped a song released on a major label for a song, ahem, released on the same major label. It didn't exactly feel like the machine had successfully been raged against.

Last year's success has prompted several copy-cat attempts to flashmob the Christmas number 1 using online social networks. One of these campaigns has come up with the perfect riposte to the bland muzak churned out by Simon Cowell's televised music factory: 4'33" of silence, courtesy of the late John Cage. Not so much Rage, but Cage against The Machine.

It is easy to sneer at deliberate silence and dismiss it as pretentious. But there really is no need. All you need to do to understand 4'33" is listen to it, and think about what you can hear. It is music that specifically encourages thought - the perfect antidote to the X Factor's intentionally thoughtless ditties.

An official version of the release has been recorded by a diverse bunch: the Kooks, Orbital, Enter Shikari, Dan Le Sac, Scroobius Pip, Suggs from Madness, Billy Bragg and Imogen Heap. I suspect this may be the only time these acts find music they can unite around!

The single has been released today on independent (yay) record label Wall Of Sound. Check the official website for the download links, including a remix package featuring interesting takes on silence by Fake Blood, Mr Scruff, Adam F, Herve, Aeroplane, Alex Metric and Japanese Popstars.

Oh and all profits will go to charity. How could I have not won your support?!?!!

Cage's biggest non-Cowell rival appears to be The Trashmen's Surfin' Bird, made famous by Family Guy. Don't get me wrong, I like Family Guy, but I really don't see how a song famous because of a TV programme would be a better number 1 than, err, a song famous because of a TV programme.

Now if you don't mind keeping it down, I've got some listening to do.

The Hilarious @krmcbe

Oxfordshire Country Council's Conservative leader Keith Mitchell CBE has been attracting plenty of attention on Twitter of late. He has been less than impressed at the protests by students over tuition fees, and wasn't afraid to use all his wit in expressing this.

First came this tour de force...
...which got him coverage on the regional news.

Now today he comes up with...
Oh man, this guy should do stand-up! Sure, water cannons have in the past resulted in permanent blindness, but at least you get a good wash! LOL!

But Keith's side-splitting material doesn't just stop at mocking protest. Wait until you hear his jokes about former Oxford West and Abingdon MP Evan Harris. Prepare yourself; you may need an oxygen supply on hand in case all this hilarity gets too much!

After seeing Dr Harris on TV discussing the Coalition negotiations, Cllr Mitchell tweeted:
Hahahaha! See?! It's funny because he lost his job!

Now fair enough, Keith has every reason to gloat, and indeed I have every reason to be sore. Keith no doubt contributed to Nicola Blackwood's successful campaign that took the seat from Evan. A bit of banter like this is standard political knockabout. Conversely, my campaigning failed to get Evan re-elected.

After this initital triumph, Keith must have realised he'd hit a comedy gold mine! In came this follow-up:
Genius! Now that Evan is no longer an MP, he can go to Zimbabwe for some reason! Hahaha!

And then another one!
Zaire! Those 'Z' countries are sooooo funny! Get a job there, Evan! How does he come up with them?!?!

But wait, there's more!
Hahaha! A proper job! I love this guy. He should be the warm-up act for Michael McIntyre's next sell out show.

Hahahahahahahahaha *breathes* hahahahahahaha! He phrased "a proper job" as a question this time! Michael McIntyre should be Keith Mitchell's support!

Boom! Take that, Harris! Time you got a proper job! Best one yet! Move over, David, there's a new Mitchell comedian in town.

More! More! More! More!
A proper job! Wooooooooooo! I love this guy! He should go far to some far away country, like you said before! Err, twice... Still funny though! Nick Thornsby is so lucky to get that joke personally sent to him!

So there we have it. All that remains to be said is...

...Oh no wait there's more!
Evan hasn't got a job! Hahahahaha! Whew! Where does it all come from?!

All that remains to be said is I hope I get to meet him one day so I can get the full Keith Mitchell Comedy Experience first hand. That would make my day.

29 November 2010

The Conservatives are Content With AV

Let's remember the events that led to the choice of a referendum on AV:

- Coalition negotiations opened between the Tories and the Lib Dems.

- The Lib Dems have longed for a change to a fairer PR voting system and were hesitant about doing a deal without a commitment to electoral reform.

- To try and secure cooperation with the Lib Dems, the Tories offered a referendum on AV.

- While it was not what the Lib Dems really wanted (AV is not PR), it was enough to win them round and enter the Coalition.

This is telling - given that it was the Conservatives who picked AV instead of a PR system, they have shown that they would be content with AV. If the Tories were against all electoral reform, they would have given a referendum on PR to guarantee the backing of the Lib Dems.

AV is not the ideal system for the Tories, and nor is it ideal for the Lib Dems. The No2AV campaign are arguing that AV is the system that nobody really wants, which is accurate. But AV is a system that people from both sides are more content with.

Similar splits of feeling exist across other parties. Labour has a faction who want to keep the existing system, and a faction who favour PR. They promised a referendum on AV in their manifesto as they recognised it as a compromise between these two factions. UKIP are similarly split.

So bear this in mind when you cast your ballot: do you want to give one faction exactly what they want, whilst giving the opposite faction exactly what they don't, or do you want to give both factions something that both sides are content with?

23 November 2010

Tens of Thousands

Theresa May just confirmed at the despatch box that the Coalition's policy was to reduce net migration to tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands.

This was not in the Coalition Agreement. The agreement accepts that the government will "reduce the number of non-EU immigrants". But it was never agreed that the reduction would need to be as drastic as the Tories campaigned for during the election.

This matters because this target will shape multiple pieces of forthcoming legislation. The immigration cap today would not need to be so economically damaging, the cuts to student numbers would not need to be as harmful to our colleges and universities, and the restrictions to family visas (also not mentioned in the Agreement) would not need to be as brutal to those it will hurt.

Hansard shows Theresa May had previously set out this target as government policy in a statement on the 28th June.

Lib Dem Ministers must not let their Conservative colleagues stray from the specific terms set out in the Agreement. There are enough concessions in there already; don't give them any more.

12 November 2010

Help Rank the Secretaries

I have a few ideas for blogposts that look at how high up the political pecking order certain politicians have got. But I need to come up with a robust description of the order of importance in the Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet structure currently used in our democracy. I could rank these myself, but any contentious conclusions I come to would be dismissed due to potential partiality of the ranking.

So I kindly request a few minutes of your time to rank the Secretarial roles in the Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet in the order you think best describes how important or prominent each position is. Don't think about it too much. Feel free to some positions as equally important, and if you feel there is any difference between the rankings of the government secretaries and their shadows let me know. Once a good number of replies have come in, I'll combine the rankings to come up with an overall pecking order. If you think this method of coming up with a ranking is flawed, again let me know (and ideally suggest a better method).

Below are the current secretarial positions, presented in alphabetical order. Please copy and paste the list into the comments box and place a number next to each, with 1 being the highest and 20 the lowest. I've switched comments to moderation so that your rankings aren't biased by those which have gone before. Many thanks in advance.

Business, Innovation and Skills
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Chief Secretary to the Treasury
Communities and Local Government
Culture, Media and Sport
Energy and Climate Change
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
International Development
Northern Ireland
Prime Minister
Work and Pension

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

We Owe Lib Dem Voters an Apology

Let's face it. The Lib Dems have really screwed up on tuition fees. It's possibly our most public screw up ever. Our candidates made high profile personal pledges that they should have foreseen not being able to keep. The party is now in the position where breaking these pledges is the best option, for the following reasons:

1. The Browne Report's proposals are unexpectedly fair. They are progressive (which we didn't expect before the review was published), they are workable (unlike a graduate tax, as Labour are soon to realise) and they will improve the quality of teaching (unlike free tuition) and will deliver improved access for students from poor backgrounds.* Indeed the policy beats the Lib Dem manifesto pledge on all of these tests. When a better policy comes along, we should back it, even if it costs us popularity - otherwise we're doing the wrong thing simply out of self interest.

2. Further to the above point, if we keep up the pretence that our original policy was fairer, we will be fuelling the misconception that University is inaccessible to the poor. This misconception must be tackled, because if potential students incorrectly perceive they can't afford to go, they won't, and social mobility will be entrenched. It is our duty to promote at every opportunity how the Coalition's policy will improve access to Higher Education. If you back the wrong policy, you inadvertently back everything you've stood against.

3. Even if you disagree with the analysis above, we realistically can't stop tuition fees from going up. To do so would mean all our Ministers voting against the government, thus ending the Coalition, and bringing on a Tory minority government or a general election. We can't let a single issue jeopardise the 91 other Lib Dem policies that can be achieved as part of the Coalition.

Backing the Coalition's policy is the right thing to do, but means breaking a promise, and when you break a promise, you apologise. It will hurt, it may cost us support, but it's right.

* I encourage you to read Ewan Hoyle's excellent blogpost for more on this.

6 October 2010

Cameron Gives Same Speech As Last Year

David Cameron's 2009 conference speech as a Wordle:
David Cameron's 2010 conference speech as a Wordle:The same words stand out - 'people', 'country', 'government', 'just', 'big', 'society'.

5 October 2010

Clumsily Progressive Child Benefit Cuts

Remember this chart?

This was from an IFS report from six weeks ago on the distributional effect of the Treasury's deficit reduction programme. It shows that the Government's claim that the impact of the Budget is progressive. With the exception of the households with the 10% biggest incomes, it appears the less you have coming in, the more you will feel the pinch of the austerity measures.

However, take a look at the timescale that this chart: it includes measures announced in the April and June Budgets running all the way until 2014. Later on into this time frame, there will have been several more Budgets that will no doubt include measures that will alter the distributional impact. These are obviously completely unforeseeable - it is impossible to model this impact without a crystal ball.

Helpfully, the same IFS report also contained this graph that only goes up to 2012, a shorter timescale that has less potential to being altered:

To compare apples with apples, focus on the black line - the loss as a proportion of household income. It shows that until 2012, the defect reduction measures are largely proportional, apart from the richest 10% who take a big hit early on. This means that the big hit to poorer households is expected to kick in around 2013 and 2014.

How Child Benefit Fits In

Clearly the allegation that the austerity measures were hitting the poorest hardest has shaken the government. So yesterday we heard that there will be a clampdown on Child Benefit for higher earners. This will undoubtedly hit households at the top end of the household income spectrum, and will have the effect of dragging down the richer deciles on the top graph, giving a more progressive appearance.

That's not to say that the proposal isn't littered with problems. The government has no mandate to be doing this. It clumsily looks at individual rather than household incomes. It means families could be worse off if an earner gets a pay rise that tips them into the upper tax band. It means that money could force an abused partner and their children to remain in a violent household if there is no Child Benefit to survive with if they were to escape. I seriously hope the policy is thoroughly revised before 2013.

But despite all its flaws, the policy shows that the government is attempting to ensure that the relatively wealthy take their fair share of the austerity. I just wish they weren't being so sloppy in doing so. The country needs a government with its head in the right place, not just its heart.

29 September 2010

Quantifying and Visualising the Lib Dem Effect in the Coalition

If you're like me your head is spinning with spin. Labour are bellowing that this is a Tory government propped up by sell-out Lib Dems; the Lib Dems are insisting that this is a true coalition government with two parties coming together, comprimising and acting in the national interest. Which is true?

The most objective way of assessing the coalition at this early stage is the coalition agreement. An analysis of this text and the roots behind each policy would give the best description of how this government is formed.

Happily the Guardian have done exactly this analysis and provided it as a spreadsheet. It list each commitment and gives the party of origin behind it (as well as their view of whether it is on track to be delivered - something I have ignored for this post). I have taken this spreadsheet as Gospel, so any inaccuracies in it are down to the Guardian not me.

This spreadsheet gives the following results: of the 399 policies in the agreement, 174 are solely from the Conservatives, 91 are solely from the Lib Dems, 80 were policies of both parties, and 54 are of unknown origin.

So that's 44% Tory, 23% Lib Dem, 20% both and 14% unknown.

I know what you're thinking - what's that done to the pie chart?

And ignoring the policies of unknown origin, here's a little Venn diagram showing how much is Tory, how much is Lib Dem and how much was agreed by both parties:

Looking at those percentages and comparing them to the vote shares at the general election (36% Tory, 23% Lib Dem) you could argue that the Tories have got too many of their own policies through. Then again if you split the policies shared by both parties between them, the Lib Dems start to look like they have more influence then our vote deserves us.

But compare this to previous terms of government, like the previous five years where Labour got 100% power from just 35% of the vote. The coalition is emphatically a more democratic outcome than what Britain is used to.

UPDATE 19:45 - For those of you who prefer your Venn diagrams circular, have this bonus graphic:

Finally, here is a full list of lines from the coalition agreement that wouldn't be there without the Lib Dems in government (according to the Guardian):

We will bring forward detailed proposals for robust action to tackle unacceptable bonuses in the financial services sector; in developing these proposals, we will ensure they are effective in reducing risk.

We want the banking system to serve business, not the other way round. We will bring forward detailed proposals to foster diversity in financial services, promote mutuals and create a more competitive banking industry.

We will take steps to reduce systemic risk in the banking system and will establish an independent commission to investigate the complex issue of separating retail and investment banking in a sustainable way; while recognising that this will take time to get right, the commission will be given an initial time frame of one year to report.

We will cut red tape by introducing a ‘one-in, one-out’ rule whereby no new regulation is brought in without other regulation being cut by a greater amount.

We will impose ‘sunset clauses’ on regulations and regulators to ensure that the need for each regulation is regularly reviewed.

We will find a practical way to make small business rate relief automatic.

We will seek to ensure an injection of private capital into Royal Mail, including opportunities for employee ownership. We will retain Post Office Ltd in public ownership.

We will seek to ensure a level playing field between small and large retailers by enabling councils to take competition issues into account when drawing up their local plans to shape the direction and type of new retail development.

We will review the range of factors that can be considered by regulators when takeovers are proposed.

We will reinstate an Operating and Financial Review to ensure that directors’ social and environmental duties have to be covered in company reporting, and investigate further ways of improving corporate accountability and transparency.

We will ensure that Post Offices are allowed to offer a wide range of services in order to sustain the network, and we will look at the case for developing new sources of revenue, such as the creation of a Post Office Bank.

We will end the so-called ‘gold-plating’ of EU rules, so that British businesses are not disadvantaged relative to their European competitors.

We will introduce a Freedom Bill.

We will scrap the ID card scheme, the National Identity register and the ContactPoint database, and halt the next generation of biometric passports.

We will outlaw the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission.

We will extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.

We will protect historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury.

We will restore rights to non-violent protest.

We will end the storage of internet and email records without good reason.

We will introduce a new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.

We will abolish the unelected Infrastructure Planning Commission and replace it with an efficient and democratically accountable system that provides a fast-track process for major infrastructure projects.

We will maintain the Green Belt, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and other environmental protections, and create a new designation – similar to SSSIs – to protect green areas of particular importance to local communities.

We will explore a range of measures to bring empty homes into use.

We will promote ‘Home on the Farm’ schemes that encourage farmers to convert existing buildings into affordable housing.

We will phase out the ring-fencing of grants to local government and review the unfair Housing Revenue Account.

We will require continuous improvements to the energy efficiency of new housing.

We will introduce stronger consumer protections, including measures to end unfair bank and financial transaction charges.

We will take forward measures to enhance customer service in the private and public sectors.

We will increase households’ control over their energy costs by ensuring that energy bills provide information on how to move to the cheapest tariff offered by their supplier, and how each household’s energy usage compares to similar households.

We will seek to extend protection and support to ‘off-grid’ energy consumers.

We will seek to spread information on which policing techniques and sentences are most effective at cutting crime across the Criminal Justice System.

We will have a full review of the terms and conditions for police officer employment.

We will make hospitals share non-confidential information with the police so they know where gun and knife crime is happening and can target stop-and-search in gun and knife crime hot spots.

We will promote better recording of hate crimes against disabled, homosexual and transgender people, which are frequently not centrally recorded.

We will review the operation of the Extradition Act – and the US/UK extradition treaty – to make sure it is even-handed.

We will maintain the independence of the BBC, and give the National Audit Office full access to the BBC’s accounts to ensure transparency.

We will maintain free entry to national museums and galleries, and give national museums greater freedoms.

We will examine the case for moving to a ‘gross profits tax’ system for the National Lottery, and reform the National Lottery so that more money goes into sport, the arts and heritage.

We will use cash in dormant betting accounts to improve local sports facilities and support sports clubs.

We will cut red tape to encourage the performance of more live music.

We will look at whether there is scope to refurbish Armed Forces’ accommodation from efficiencies within the Ministry of Defence.

We will support defence jobs through exports that are used for legitimate purposes, not internal repression, and will work for a full international ban on cluster munitions.

We will hold a full Spending Review reporting this autumn, following a fully consultative process involving all tiers of government and the private sector.

We will push for the EU to demonstrate leadership in tackling international climate change, including by supporting an increase in the EU emission reduction target to 30% by 2020.

We will introduce measures to promote a huge increase in energy from waste through anaerobic digestion.

We will refuse permission for additional runways at Gatwick and Stansted.

We will replace Air Passenger Duty with a per-flight duty.

We will work towards an ambitious global climate deal that will limit emissions and explore the creation of new international sources of funding for the purpose of climate change adaptation and mitigation.

We will work towards full compliance with European Air Quality standards.

We will investigate measures to help with fuel costs in remote rural areas, starting with pilot schemes.

We will extend the right to request flexible working to all employees, consulting with business on how best to do so.

We will undertake a fair pay review in the public sector to implement our proposed ‘20 times’ pay multiple.

We will press for the European Parliament to have only one seat, in Brussels.

We will maintain the goal of ending child poverty in the UK by 2020.

We will reform the administration of tax credits to reduce fraud and overpayments.

We will publish serious case reviews, with identifying details removed.

We will regulate lobbying through introducing a statutory register of lobbyists and ensuring greater transparency.

We will end the detention of children for immigration purposes.

We support E-borders and will reintroduce exit checks.

We will explore new ways to improve the current asylum system to speed up the processing of applications.

We will support efforts to establish an International Arms Trade Treaty to limit the sales of arms to dangerous regimes.

We will review what action can be taken against ‘vulture funds’.
We will support reform of global financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in order to increase the involvement of developing nations.

We will explore alternative forms of secure, treatment-based accommodation for mentally ill and drugs offenders.

We will urgently review Control Orders, as part of a wider review of counter-terrorist legislation, measures and programmes. We will seek to find a practical way to allow the use of intercept evidence in court.

We will ensure that there is a stronger voice for patients locally through directly elected individuals on the boards of their local primary care trust (PCT). The remainder of the PCT’s board will be appointed by the relevant local authority or authorities, and the Chief Executive and principal officers will be appointed by the Secretary of State on the advice of the new independent NHS board. This will ensure the right balance between locally accountable individuals and technical expertise.

We will give every patient the right to choose to register with the GP they want, without being restricted by where they live.

We will make the NHS work better by extending best practice on improving discharge from hospital, maximising the number of day care operations, reducing delays prior to operations, and where possible enabling community access to care and treatments.

We will prioritise dementia research within the health research and development budget.

We will seek to stop foreign healthcare professionals working in the NHS unless they have passed robust language and competence tests.

Doctors and nurses need to be able to use their professional judgement about what is right for patients and we will support this by giving front-line staff more control of their working environment.

We will encourage NHS organisations to work better with their local police forces to clamp down on anyone who is aggressive and abusive to staff.

We will restore the earnings link for the basic state pension from April 2011, with a ‘triple guarantee’ that pensions are raised by the higher of earnings, prices or 2.5%.

We will commit to establishing an independent commission to review the long-term affordability of public sector pensions, while protecting accrued rights.

We will explore the potential to give people greater flexibility in accessing part of their personal pension fund early.

We will establish five-year fixed-term Parliaments. We will put a binding motion before the House of Commons stating that the next general election will be held on the first Thursday of May 2015. Following this motion, we will legislate to make provision for fixed-term Parliaments of five years. This legislation will also provide for dissolution if 55% or more of the House votes in favour.

We will bring forward a Referendum Bill on electoral reform, which includes provision for the introduction of the Alternative Vote in the event of a positive result in the referendum, as well as for the creation of fewer and more equal sized constituencies. We will whip both Parliamentary parties in both Houses to support a simple majority referendum on the Alternative Vote, without prejudice to the positions parties will take during such a referendum.

We will review the control and use of accumulated and future revenues from the Fossil Fuel Levy in Scotland.

We will fund a significant premium for disadvantaged pupils from outside the schools budget by reductions in spending elsewhere.

We will help schools tackle bullying in schools, especially homophobic bullying.
We will simplify the regulation of standards in education and target inspection on areas of failure.

We will ensure that all new Academies follow an inclusive admissions policy. We will work with faith groups to enable more faith schools and facilitate inclusive admissions policies in as many of these schools as possible.

We will reform Access to Work, so disabled people can apply for jobs with funding already secured for any adaptations and equipment they will need.

We will increase the personal allowance for income tax to help lower and middle income earners. We will announce in the first Budget a substantial increase in the personal allowance from April 2011, with the benefits focused on those with lower and middle incomes.

We will further increase the personal allowance to £10,000, making real terms steps each year towards meeting this as a longer-term policy objective. We will prioritise this over other tax cuts, including cuts to Inheritance Tax.

We will reform the taxation of air travel by switching from a per-passenger to a per-plane duty, and will ensure that a proportion of any increased revenues over time will be used to help fund increases in the personal allowance.

We will seek ways of taxing non-business capital gains at rates similar or close to those applied to income, with generous exemptions for entrepreneurial business activities.

We will make every effort to tackle tax avoidance, including detailed development of Liberal Democrat proposals.

We will review the taxation of non-domiciled individuals.

We are committed to fair pricing for rail travel.

We will ensure that public funding mechanisms for university research safeguard its academic integrity.

Fifteen Albums

I thought I'd play along with this meme. It is totally non-optimal; it's missing The Cinematic Orchestra for a start. I also think there are too many entries from too recently; ten of the albums were released in the last ten years. But I tried to ensure it covers the range of soulful/rhythmic/electronicky sounds that I love.

THE RULES: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen albums you've heard that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes.

UPDATE 30/09/10: Yestereday I posted a link to a YouTube clip featuring one of the best tracks from each album on Twitter. I've now embedded each of these clips below the name of the album for your delectation.

The Avalanches - Since I Left You

Mr Scruff - Keep It Unreal

Quantic - Apricot Morning

Q-Tip - The Renaissance

James Brown - In The Jungle Groove

The Haggis Horns - Hot Damn!

Fat Freddy's Drop - Based On A True Story

Bonobo - Days To Come

Silkie - City Limits Vol 1

Guido - Anidea

London Elektricity - Power Ballads

Alix Perez - 1984

Orbital - Orbital 2

Daft Punk - Alive 2007

Hybrid - Wide Angle

27 September 2010

UN Publicise How They're Boosting the Taliban

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime are one of the biggest global proponents of drug prohibition. They uphold the Conventions that insist that the War on Drugs must continue to be fought, that recreational drugs must continue to be illegal, and downplay all the terrible consequences this worldwide policy is inflicting.

UNODC use all the latest communication techniques to push this message. Their Twitter account provides continuing coverage of the impact they make on international media outlets.

However this tweet from today was a surprisingly frank admission:

UNODC in the news: UN's hard-line anti-drug czar may boost Taliban: http://bit.ly/aygizZ
It's great to see UNODC publicising how the policies they espouse are providing hundreds of millions of dollars of funding to our enemies in Afghanistan, and propagating the War on Terror.

Perhaps they might want to think about how to start reversing this situation - by taking opium production out of the black market and allowing national governments to provide strictly controlled supplies of heroin to addicts, thus stabilising dependent users whilst draining drug traffickers and the Taliban of money.

Do read the article linked to. It shows there are interesting diplomatic dynamics at play between the US/UK and Russia, who take an even harder line approach to opium crops than ourselves.

22 September 2010

Changing the Culture of Disbelief at the UK Border Agency

One of the most thought-provoking fringe events I attended at Lib Dem conference was on asylum policy. Hosted by my new favourite MP Julian Huppert, it featured passionate experts from the UNHCR and Refugee Council, along with Tom Brake, a prominent backbench Lib Dem MP on justice and equality issues.

A real problem arose from the discussion about the culture of mistrust at the UK Border Agency regarding asylum applications. At the moment, the UKBA staff assessing asylum claims have a habit of using any minor doubts over the validity of a claim to reject it and let the courts decide if the claimant wishes to appeal the decision.

This leads to a huge number of initial claims being made in error. A third of rejected cases are overturned on appeal. This is inefficient, expensive and creates huge anxiety for the asylum seeker, whose fate is left in legal limbo often for years.

The question floated at fringe was how do we change this culture? Here's my suggestion: Pay UKBA staff a bonus which they get to keep whilst they make correct initial decisions. But for every incorrect decision they make (when the courts overturn an initial decision), deductions are made from the bonus.

This would mean it is now in the financial interest of UKBA assessors to not waste court time and money by getting the decision right first time. It should also ensure that staff take a more sympathetic approach to dealing with asylum cases.

I managed to catch up with Tom Brake and his well-informed researcher later. I was informed UKBA staff are currently incentivised to get cases closed within six months, whatever the outcome. The coalition has come out against these kinds of arbitrary targets set by the Labour government, which do little to ensure the best quality services are provided for each individual's circumstances.

Changing these incentives to get more decisions right first time would be fairer to asylum seekers and save the taxpayer money. Win!

14 September 2010

Extremist Muslims in Phil Woolas's Leaflets

You are probably aware that Phil Woolas is currently in court over allegedly lying about his Lib Dem opponent Elwyn Watkins in election leaflets delivered in Oldham East and Saddleworth just before the general election. One of the dubious claims made by Woolas was that Watkins was "wooing" Muslim extremists.

Phil Woolas specifically names the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK (MPACUK) as these extremists in the "Saddleworth and Oldham - The Examiner" leaflet which triggered the historic legal proceedings against him. Sure enough, MPACUK were openly campaigning for a vote for Watkins to defeat Woolas.

MPACUK have been praised for their work in getting British Muslims involved in mainstream politics and the promotion of women's rights within Islam. While MPACUK subscribe to jihad as a religious duty, they encourage this via democratic means rather than violence. The most extreme view that MPACUK promotes is anti-Zionism, which some argue has crossed the line into anti-Semitism. So it is arguable that MPACUK are extremists in this specific context.

This is the image from the Woolas "Saddleworth and Oldham - The Examiner" leaflet:

This image is not from an MPACUK demonstration. It is from the Danish cartoon demonstration organised by al Ghurabaa and The Saviour Sect in London on February 3rd, 2006. While MPACUK were against the publication of the cartoons, they equally condemned the militant protest, and called for those involved to be prosecuted.

So Woolas called MPACUK extremists, and illustrated Muslim extremists using an image from a extremist protest that MPACUK opposed. This is highly deceptive. It gives entirely the wrong impression of the Muslims who were campaigning against Woolas, or the Muslims that he asserted Watkins was wooing.

Bestival 2010

I was at Bestival this weekend, and had one of the most incredible and intense weekends of my life.

The genre-defying sonics of Flying Lotus blew my mind, the heart-melting soulful reggae Fat Freddy's Drop left me in tears, and the bouncy blissful glitches of Four Tet had me captivated. And that's just the acts beginning with 'F'.

But my moment of the weekend was with Mary Anne Hobbs. Despite leaving her Radio 1 show last week, she is still the undisputed Queen of All Things Electronic and Experimental. She proved her acumen atop the most spellbinding stages I've seen - I can only describe it as an exploding dystopian tripod.

She finished her set with this old skool rave meets ground-shaking dubstep banger. Enjoy!

13 September 2010

European Political Compass

I promised this in my last blogpost, so here is my result from the EU Profiler test:

I feel this plot nicely shows how I generally fit in rather well with the Lib Dems. The big difference is immigration - where I would like to see all restrictions lifted, the party advocates relatively tough controls. There is also interestingly a significant difference in the law and order category. (By the way, this access is badly labelled - I'm certainly not for more disorder!)

8 September 2010

Me on the Political Compass

I did this quiz ages ago, but never posted my result.

Here you go:

I actually see myself as a fiscal centrist, but there I am leaning towards the Left (by the quiz writer's definition).

I also did one a while back which matched my views to those of the European political parties. I'll post that tomorrow.

1 September 2010

Let's Have a Raffle

There is a horrible way to have proportional representation in single member constituencies.

Instead of counting the votes cast, draw one at random. That candidate is elected. The more votes a candidate receives, the greater the probability of them being elected.

At a constituency level, this is very unfair to the individual politicians, particularly those who don't get elected despite being the most popular. However on a national scale across all the different constituencies, the law of large numbers means the net result will tend towards one that closely represents the will of the people.

There are no wasted votes and no motivation for tactical votes. Every vote has just as much chance as any other, no matter where you live. At the moment, how much your vote matters is a postcode lottery, because First Past The Post creates safe seats where voters have no chance of determining the outcome of the election. Switching to a raffle system would move the unfair lottery element away from the electorate and onto the politicians themselves.

Of course politicians would hate this system, as it would be unfair to them, so it will never happen. However the FPTP-supporting politician should question why they are happy to make the system a postcode lottery for the electorate, but not a lottery for themselves.

The only way of running elections which is fair to both politicians and the electorate is multi-member constituencies.

31 August 2010

Government Acknowledges a Key Anti-Prohibitionist Argument

A Home Office press release from 19th August (don't say that this blog isn't at the cutting edge of political comment! *ahem*) gives a bit more detail on the legislation that will enact a temporary ban on legal highs (my emphasis):

The government will introduce new legislation which will enable police to confiscate suspected substances and the UK Border Agency will seize shipments entering the country. The penalty for supply will be a maximum of 14 years in prison and an unlimited fine. Possession of a temporarily banned substance for personal use would not be a criminal offence to prevent the unnecessary criminalisation of young people.

This is significant: the government has acknowledged that a drug offence has a negative impact on (young) people's lives and is taking steps to avoid unnecessary criminalisation. This is accepting that there is credence in one of the anti-prohibitionist arguments.

In a way, this raises more questions than it answers: Why is it OK to criminalise suppliers to "send a clear message", but not possessors? And why is prosecuting drug possession necessary criminalisation for some substances, but unnecessary for others?

Anyway, regardless of the answers to these questions, the temporary ban on legal highs remains a deeply illiberal authoritarian measure: it will persecute those who import and sell potentially safe substances. Chemicals will be found guilty until proven innocent at the whim of the Home Secretary of the day. It goes against the Lib Dem manifesto commitment for an evidence-based drugs policy.

But at least this bad law's cloud has a silver lining.

25 August 2010

IFS Study Shows What Won't Happen

What matters most in politics - How the decisions made will affect people? Or which parties happen to have announced which policies? If you're the IFS, it seems you think the latter matters more.
The IFS have taken the government's Emergency Budget from June in isolation and shown that the policies announced in it will have a regressive effect on their own.

However, the public won't simply be affected by the June Budget. The previous government also held a Budget just a few months earlier in March. This has two implications:

1. The policy decisions from June weren't made in a vacuum - they were adding upon policies that had just been announced in March. The June Budget did not reverse any of the March Budget, with the one exception of cancelling Cider Duty rises.

2. The impact on people's livelihoods will be total effect of both March's and June's Budgets. The IFS have ignored the impact of March's Budget and only reported on the impact of June's. This is not what is going actually happen to people.

So while this is of little economic relevance, it is more arguably of political relevance. It may tell us about the values of the new coalition government (albeit in a very limited way - see point 1 above). I hope the IFS realises it is engaging in a primarily political debate rather than an economic one.

Worse, by choosing to present the statistics in this way, it is providing ammunition for Labour to use against the Tories and Lib Dems. Given the IFS prides itself on its neutrality, this is a rather surprising decision.

UPDATE 11am: The IFS's report does contain the correct graph that includes the effect of all tax and benefit changes. This is the one that we should be focussed on.

Let me be clear - this is still a regressive picture, and it is not a graph I can take any joy from. It still shows that some of the poorest households will be among the hardest hit. Sadly that is just the nature of benefit cuts - cuts that would have been made whoever was in power. However it does appear that some of the more wealthy, particularly in deciles 7, 8 and 9, will not be feeling their fair share of the pain.

I have redacted my last criticism of the IFS. The full report is far more balanced than I gave the IFS credit for. It is End Child Poverty who have chosen to highlight the misleading graph.

19 August 2010

AV Ballot Marking Must Be More Flexible

Thanks to a prompt from Liam Rhodes, I've had a quick look at the bill that will introduce the AV referendum (because I rock).

Here is what it says about how an elector should mark his/her ballot paper:

(1) In Schedule 1 to the 1983 Act (parliamentary elections rules), after rule 37 there is inserted—

“How votes are to be given

37A (1) A voter votes by marking the ballot paper with—

(a) the number 1 opposite the name of the candidate who is the voter’s first preference (or, as the case may be, the only candidate for whom the voter wishes to vote),

(b) if the voter wishes, the number 2 opposite the name of the candidate who is the voter’s second preference, and so on.

(2) The voter may mark as many preferences (up to the number of candidates) as the voter wishes.”

This isn't good enough. There will be some voters who choose not to use their lower preferences and will continue to mark their ballot using the traditional 'X'. Their vote should be valid, and be considered to be the same as a number 1 with no other preferences.

Some voters may accidentally miss out a number, e.g. mark their preferences with the numbers 1, 2 and 4. Mistakes like this should not invalidate the ballot, and the preferences should be reallocated as if the 4 was a 3. The bill doesn't make this clear.

Some voters may even do unexpected things like mark their ballot papers with fractions, or roman numerals. It needs to be made clear that these ballots, when a clear numerical preference has been shown, should be considered valid.

I fear that the rules laid out in the bill as it stands are too prescriptive, and will lead to ballot papers being wrongly rejected.

A Question for Majority Government Supporters

The supporters of retaining First Past The Post all seem to be supporters of majority government - where only one party is in control of the government and makes all the decisions that face the country. One of their main arguments against changing away from FPTP is that it would increase the chance of coalition governments - where several parties work together, compromise and moderate each other in the national interest.

I have a question for the Conservative and Labour politicians, members, activists and supporters who wish to retain majority government. Why do you want to guarantee that your main political rivals - whose values you oppose - are guaranteed to have periods of unfettered power over the country?

Because this is what supporting majority government guarantees. The option of (a small fraction of) the electorate to kick out unpopular majority governments and replace them with another will inevitably mean at times kicking out your party and installing your rival.

The effect of this means that Labour FPTP supporters are saying that it was right that Thatcher got unmoderated control of the UK in 1979, and Tory FPTP supporters are saying it was right that Blair got unrestrained power in 1997.

And if you don't support that, yet still support majority government? That must mean you want your party to have power over the country forever. That's not democracy, that's dictatorship.

17 August 2010

Your Freedom - Why Did They Do It?

The government's Your Freedom site is an embarrassing mess. It is full of suggestions that are wither well-rehearsed opinions on the issues of the day, nothing to do with restoring liberty, or repeat suggestions. The whole project has basically become an online stress ball for people who believe what they read in the papers.

So what's the point? Practically none of the 'ideas' there are even slightly inspired. I really hope that the government didn't set the site up as a cynical gesture to give the false impression of fake interest in the views of the great unwashed. The public's response if nothing of substance comes of the site will be equally cynical, and the government is pretty brain-dead if it didn't realise this.
But Cameron, Clegg and their spads aren't stupid.

So allow me to indulge in a little fantasy: isn't it possible that they need the public to suggest things that the government itself doesn't want to be seen suggesting itself? If there was a can of worms the coalition feel needs opening, but doesn't want to be the ones to first tug the ring-pull, this website would be the ideal cover.

Now what can of worms could the coalition have in mind? Allow me to delve deeper into my happy fantasyland: what if that issue was drug policy reform? It's not totally crazy - both the Prime Minister and his Deputy have a history on this. David Cameron went on record before he became his party's leader talking about the decades of failure of drugs policy and the need to consider alternatives, as did Nick Clegg in his MEP days. The problem is those pesky tabloid journalists who would tear them and all their distant relatives a new one if they dared suggest any course other than prohibition. However if a consultation took place triggered by overwhelming public demands from the Your Freedom website (which was always bound to attract suggestions that prohibition should be repealed), this would be politically more manageable.

OK, back to reality - I think this is all unlikely! It's both too Machiavellian and would be too good to be true. But if it does happen, I reserve the right to shout 'I TOLD YOU SO' whilst grinning wildly (and possibly drooling slightly).

Anyway, stay tuned for my next blogpost on how the moon landings were faked ;)

Germany to Allow Medical Cannabis

Germany's Centre-Right/Liberal coalition government is to introduce laws that will permit the supply and use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Doctors could write prescriptions for cannabis, and pharmacies would be authorised to sell the plant once the law had been adjusted, a member of the junior coalition party, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), said Monday.

Marijuana would also be permitted for use as a pain reliever for the terminally ill in hospices and other care facilities, making it a legal part of their emergency pain-relief stocks.

This is yet another European country relaxing their drug laws (a little).

Can you think of any other Centre-Right/Liberal coalition governments that could choose to take similar drug liberalising steps? Hmmmmm...

My New Favourite Derivative Work

Take this bland pop crap from Justin Bieber...

...and time stretch it to make it 800% slower. The result is this 35 minute ambient masterpiece:

J. BIEBZ - U SMILE 800% SLOWER by Shamantis

So simple, but so effective. It reminds me a bit of the Brian Eno track used in the Lib Dem's "28 Days Later"-esque election broadcast. Try playing them together; it works rather nicely.

One of the many cultural revolutions the Internet has sparked is the explosion in derivative works. From mash-ups to remakes to photoshops to remixes, the creativity of some people knows no bounds. I hope this gets considered as the Lib Dems develop their policies on IT and IP over the coming 12 months.

I can't put the wider case as well as this video - 20 minutes well spent, I promise:

Prohibition Doesn't Add Up

Alex Angus* MacQueen's excellent Channel 4 series "Our Drugs War" concluded last night. The last episode was the most interesting, which demonstrated how the illegal drug trade has created government corruption in Afghanistan on an unimaginable scale.

However I'd like to return to a statistic from the first episode, which is that a paltry 1% of heroin is successfully seized by UK authorities. The UN estimate that to have a significant impact on the drug trade this needs to be raised to at least 60%.

Lets combine this with the current annual £1.5 billion budget the UK government spends on drug law enforcement.

So to get to 60% heroin seizure, the budget for drug law enforcement needs to be raised to £90 billion. This would make drug enforcement about the same size as the NHS, and would mean an extra £1,500 in tax per head every year.

But wait! The £1.5 billion is for enforcing all drugs, not just heroin. So the budget would need to be increased to significantly more than £90 billion.

But wait! This ignores the law of diminishing returns. The 1% currently being seized will be some of the easiest heroin to find. So the budget would need to be increased to significantly more than significantly more than £90 billion.

But wait! 60% was the bottom end of the UN's estimate. It may need to be up to 70% seizure rate to have a significant estimate. So the budget may need to be increased to significantly more than significantly more than significantly more than £90 billion.

Frankly, the exact number is irrelevant. The government has a deficit to reduce, and is trying to cut departmental budgets, not give them a 6000% increase.

Trying to solve the problem of heroin abuse by law enforcement is futile. We desperately need to start trying alternatives.

*UPDATE 11am - oops, thanks Ewan!

4 August 2010

John Denham - A Fisking

After an excellent analysis by Martin Kettle on Labour's cynical political games over the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, it was inevitable that Labour would send a Welterweight spokesperson into the ring to respond.

John Denham strapped on his boxing gloves, and produced this effort. Sadly his argument has more holes in it than machine-gunned Emmental.

Off we go:

I've been an electoral reformer all my political life. Chairing the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform, I'm hardly likely to "play fast and loose" on this issue, as Martin Kettle alleges

Martin didn't criticise you personally in his article, John. (By the way, check out that link - their website hasn't been updated for 5 years. Rather telling...)

Our support for a simple AV referendum bill is unconditional. But there is no philosophical, legal, practical or parliamentary reason for combining the referendum with boundary changes: it's simply that the changes favour the Tories, who won't support the Lib Dems' referendum without them.

What? First there's no "practical or parliamentary reason", but then John concedes that the Bill needs to stay in its current form to get the Tories to support the referendum - that's an excellent practical reason to have a single Bill. By the way, the suggestion that the changes will favour the Tories is highly contestable.

But he's right to say that the case for reducing the number of MPs and equalising constituencies should be considered on its merits, not from party advantage.


It does take more Tory votes to elect a Tory MP.

True. There are 33,000 votes per Labour MP, and 35,000 per Tory MP. Oh yeah, and 120,000 votes per Lib Dem MP. It is that third number (and the equivalent numbers for the other minor parties) which is the outrageous discrepancy that needs be removed from Britain's electoral process.

The real answer is the more proportional system that the Tories won't countenance.

Sorry, are you saying Labour will? Ha! Why did Labour do nothing about it for 13 years, despite promise after promise in your manifestos? Why did Labour vote against the proportional STV system earlier this year?

Most electoral reformers have concluded that AV for the Commons and an elected House of Lords is the best attainable constitutional reform at the moment,

You'd best vote for it then, John.

but this pragmatic response doesn't allow the Tories to use "fairness" as the basis for rigging the boundaries.

I repeat: the suggestion that altering the boundaries will favour the Tories is highly contestable.

Kettle (and Nick Clegg) seem to argue that if Labour tried and failed (as we did) to register these voters, no other party need even bother.

Blatantly untrue. The coalition will be introducing individual voter registration in an attempt to tackle this problem left by Labour.

Voters want their MP to represent an identifiable community: current constituencies are mostly centred on real places.

This is a minority concern at best. Most voters don't know who there MP is, never mind which constituency they live in or where the boundary is drawn. I know of no empirical evidence that backs up John's claim, so it is just as valid for me to argue this: what voters really want is to ensure the electoral map is drawn up in a way that ensures a fair level of representation, no matter where you live.

But here is the most outrageous claim:

And the coalition parties will instruct the Boundary Commissions to respect the boundaries which favour them.

This is a smear, pure and simple. There is no reason to believe this to be true. No-one has any idea of what boundaries the Commission will come up with, so it is ridiculous to assume dishonour of this kind before the process has even begun. The only time any political party has engaged in gerrymandering of this scale was the Labour Party in the late 60's.

It is to John Denham's discredit that he has sunk so low.

19 July 2010

Please Help Precious and Florence

Allow me to take your mind to three different places:

Think back to when you were 3 years of age. I suspect your memories are hazy at best - mine certainly are. Our lives only properly begin from the age of 4. From this age we begin to form our own autonomy, our own social networks, our own self identity.

Now jump forward to being 10 years old. It is incredible how much we develop in those 7 years. We now have a good understanding of our surroundings, our friends, our place in the world.

Lastly, I'm asking you to take yourself to somewhere much more difficult. Imagine, as a normal, 10 year old child, that this understanding of the world around you is suddenly removed. Your family, friends, teachers gone. Your home, your street, your community gone. Suddenly, you find yourself living in another world, in an alien environment, under the custody of strangers, unable to speak the same language as anyone else.

For me, this is too horrible to be imagined. But the government is acting to inflict this exact situation on a 10 year old girl.

Precious Mhango fled from Malawi 7 years ago came to the UK from Malawi with her parents after her father was granted asylum. Sadly, the father was abusive towards his wife, Florence, so she fled with her daughter to Glasgow, and settled there. Precious speaks English (with a Glaswegian accent), attends primary school and is an ordinary young girl.

However, since Florence andPrecious came to the UK as the family of a refugee, their legal status was tied to an abusive man. If they are deported, the family of the husband are highly likely to take custody of Precious. It is just plain wrong that a mother and her young girl's life can be shattered by the government because of the actions of her abusive husband/father.

Our asylum laws weren't designed to cope with situations like this, but instead of showing some compassionate common sense, the government is insisting on following the letter of the law - even when it clearly produces unjust outcomes. The Home Secretary has discretionary powers to grant leave to remain to Florence and Precious, and I urge you to take action and insist that this injustice is not allowed to happen.

What you can do:

Join the Facebook group.

If you live near Glasgow, attend the vigil being held at 5:30 this afternoon at the top of the Buchanan Street, near the Donald Dewar statue, at the bottom of the stairs outside the Buchanan Galleries.

Or simply blog about it, tweet about it, mention it to people you know, and tell them to mention it.

But please, just don't do nothing.

See also: Caron's Musings

13 July 2010

Widening the Scope

All the focus of electoral reform has been on the voting system used for the general elections that send MPs to the House of Commons. This is understandable - the outcome of a general election gives us our national government, so the importance of this election is (rightly or wrongly) much higher than other elections. However, I fear the Lib Dems may be missing other electoral reform opportunities. The systems used for European and local elections are in need of reform just as much, and they may be a politically easier reform to make.

Elections to the European Parliament in the UK use closed list proportional representation, with the exception of Northern Ireland, which uses the Lib Dem holy grail of Single Transferable Vote. While this gives a highly proportional outcome, the system has the big drawback that the electorate can't choose the specific MEP they wish to be represented by. The European Parliament feels like a distant, opaque, unaccountable organisation (the only time the media gives any coverage is when the right-wing press choose sensationalise the legislation that is being debated). Getting the names of the candidates on the ballot would be a small step on the way to providing some transparency. The rules of the European Parliament means that there is only one other option instead of party lists: STV. David Cameron doesn't like party lists either:

PR comes in many forms but more often than not you find yourself voting for a party rather than just one person. Under our current system, when you put your pencil to the ballot paper you're putting your cross against someone's name — one person to represent your interests, to go to if you have a problem: one person whom you feel a direct link to. A move to faceless politics would sever this local link and damage voter engagement.

So maybe the Tories be open to the idea of moving the whole of the UK from lists to STV for European elections.

For local elections we currently use first-past-the-post in multi-member wards (I know, more than one representative, madness!). However, if the result of the referendum is people choosing to reject FPTP for AV, why should the election of our local councillors still use the rejected system? The referendum should be on the electoral system used for both national and local elections. If that was the case, and the referendum was successful, local elections would use AV with multi-member wards... sounding similar to something? All that would need to happen would be to align the electoral cycle so that both councillors in a ward are elected at the same time (saving money and increasing turnout), and kaboom, STV! Wards tend to have just two councillors; it would be nice to merge some boundaries to double this and get a more representative system.

Last but by absolutely no means least, the House of Lords' replacement (lets call it the Senate). There is no historical precedent of having a constituency link to a Lord/Senator, so there is no need to have this idea of a extra-strong one-to-many know-them-like-the-back-of-my-stalkee's-head relationship. Nick Clegg has guaranteed us Lords reform. He must push for STV in the new Senate.

With only the promise of an AV referendum squeezed out of the Tories in the coalition agreement, it is easy to feel a bit disheartened about ever getting to the STV that the Lib Dems have always desired. However nothing I've described feels anywhere near as difficult as general election reform. There are plenty of electoral reform wins available if the party plays its cards right.

Featured  on Liberal Democrat Voice

6 July 2010

A Mountain out of the AV Molehill

I am trying ever so hard to be enthusiastic about the possible change to AV. But I'm struggling.

I can see some small advantages. The biggest is the end of tactical voting. The voters can truly vote for who they want to see elected, rather than need to second-guess the behaviour of others. Never again will a leaflet need to talk of two-horse races, or X can't win here.

I can also see how AV is Step 1 of getting to the holy grail of STV. Once the ballots are preferential, moving from single- to multi-member constituencies so that elections are proportional would implement STV. Yet Step 2 is so much bigger than Step 1.

Making such a fuss about climbing the molehill when there is still a huge mountain to climb feels like wasted energy. AV is such a minor tweak to the status quo that I fear that holding this referendum will put genuine electoral reform off the agenda for a generation, whatever the outcome. Hung parliaments are becoming increasingly likely. I can't help wonder if it would have been better to wait for the ideal moment to get full STV in one shot.

I simply don't buy the argument that gaining the favour of over 50% of their electorate gives genuine legitimency to an MP, as that 50% is made up of second, third and maybe even lower preferences. The whole point of multi-member constituencies is to acknowledge that one person can't adequately represent the views of tens of thousands of people. AV goes directly against this principle.

But we are where we are. I'll campaign for AV. But my soul won't be in it.

2 July 2010

My Pulled Entry to "Your Freedom"

I was making a serious point, albeit in a not so serious way... But the mods disapproved.

Keep drugs illegal, don’t regulate them

by duncanstott on July 01, 2010 at 05:44PM

Speaking as a criminal drug dealer who makes millions from the insatiable desire for my produce, it would be a personal disaster if I were to lose my ability to operate in the illegal drug market.

That’s why I support the government’s current stance on drugs. Ending prohibition and applying mountains of red tape around the supply drugs would put dealers like me out of business.

Why the contribution is important

I operate in an illegal drugs market worth £5bn in the UK. It is the perfect business: no tax, no bereaucracy, and a customer base that can’t get enough of my products. The drugs market is also tied up in many other valuable trades like prostitution and people trafficking, and where would the UK be without them?

Ending prohibition would ruin all this.

First of all, so-called "legal companies" would take virtually all of my customers. I might even have to consider operating legally myself, and start paying tax. This would obviously hurt my profit margins.

At the moment I can sell drugs to whoever I like, but if drugs weren’t prohibited, no doubt the government would start applying age restrictions, and restrict my customer base. Mr Clegg, you must keep drugs illegal so I can keep selling drugs to teenagers. Just look at how the government has hurt sales with its tobacco regulation. The health warnings on the packaging are causing less and less young people to take up smoking. Don’t let the cocaine market go the same way!

At the moment I maximise profits by cutting drugs with bulking agents. There’s no quality control, but there doesn’t need to be. Under a legal framework, the government would apply a load of red tape to make sure drugs were of a standard purity and quality. Again, this would severely hit my profits.

If the government cares one bit about drug barons like me, they’ll leave our drug laws well alone. Things are fine as they are.

Infinite thanks to Al Jahom for copying my entry in the first place :)

Featured  on Liberal Democrat Voice

17 June 2010

Urging Action on RMJ Administration

Here's the first letter I've sent to my new MP, Nicola Blackwood, regarding the legal aid charity Refugee and Migrant Justice going into administration. Please read my letter about this case and consider sending a similar letter to your MP using the fab Write To Them website. It is unacceptable to allow destitute people who are being subjected to legal action to go without legal assistance.

Dear Nicola Blackwood,

I am deeply concerned to hear news about the charity Refugee and
Migrant Justice entering administration due to bureaucratic rules that
resulted in non-payment of Legal Aid by the Legal Services Commission.

Refugee and Migrant Justice provides invaluable legal services to
asylum seekers and other vulnerable migrants with the greatest needs.
This crucial service is now severely under threat.

If RMJ has to close, I understand this will lead to more than 10,000
people, including 900 children and victims of trafficking, torture and
armed conflict, being left without legal representation. This could
cause chaos in the asylum system. Lives will be put at risk and there
are likely to be many more miscarriages of justice, which are already
far too common.

With that in mind I am asking you to press the Department of Justice to
do all it can to rectify this situation and ensure that some of the
most destitute people in our country have access to legal assistance.

I hope you will take this matter seriously and I look forward to
hearing of your immediate actions.

Yours sincerely,
Duncan Stott

I'd like to apologise to Nicola for not mentioning that I intended on publishing the letter on my blog. With hindsight, it would have been polite to do this. I hope she will be happy for me to publish her response.

UPDATE: A demonstration is being organised against the likely closure of RMJ outside the Ministry of Justice at 4pm on Friday if you can make it.

UPDATE 2: Show your support by joining this Facebook group.