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.

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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 :)

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