Friday, June 30, 2006

Safe seats? Blaenau Gwent lost, Bromley recount

What's the point of being a candidate for one of the big two parties in their safest seats? You only ever lose them. Bromley has gone to recount, I was going to stay up, but I'll await the morning news.

To get close is impressive, to take it to recount? Looks like Labour lose their deposit there as well. Blair's odds of lasting the year out look slimmer. And if Bromley is as close as reported then I wouldn't want to be Dave in the morning. Shot in the arm for Ming though.

On the "we're screwed" thing, it's looking like the only chance we've got is an incredibly strong Lib Dem performance next few years. Damnit, I hate being partizan! Dave's crap, Labour is falling to peices, Ming's our best hope. We really are screwed.

G'night all...

Update:

Neill wins Bromley for the Tories, with a majority of just 646. From what I've seen of the campaigning there though, I agree with James, not the sort of politics I like to see, anywhere, from any party.
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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Home Office: Burying the news every month

Dan "d-squared" Davies:
Tomorrow is the last Thursday of the month, a date upon which it is traditional for the Home Office to dump a heap of undifferentiated output from its research department on the world. It is suspected by many, including me that this practice is carried out in order to make it more difficult for there to be adequate scrutiny of the Home Office's performance, because there is limited analytical resource available to have a look at these things before the story goes cold.

That's the idea behind the Nightcap Syndication Research Thursday Project, which I am plugging here again. All Comment is Free readers and contributors (subject obviously to a baseline requirement of "knowing what you're talking about") are invited to have a look at the Home Office What's New page early doors tomorrow, pick a document that looks interesting to you and write a couple of hundred words about the main themes. I will be posting my piece on Comment is Free, my own blog and on the Nightcap site. If we can get a decent summary and a few bits of rough analysis of all the major documents up early enough in the day, it ought to make it much easier for the interesting pieces of research to get the publicity they deserve.
Swamped at work, can't do it this month nor next, but it's a great idea. If the Home Office would follow the example of the other departments and stop burying all the stats on one day, it wouldn't be needed. But as it's "not fit for purpose" and this easily fixed problem still hasn't been done, we need to highlight the issue. So, if you've time this fine morning, go here and join in.

Bogdanor on Cameron

Yesterdays Telegraph:
And what did Prof Bogdanor say in his Magna Carta lecture this month about Mr Cameron?

"I fear that I was not very successful in teaching him the importance of preserving human rights in a democracy."
Even his old tutor thinks he's got things the wrong way around.

Better luck next time Dave.

(via)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Cameron's rights plan: another badly spun mess?

Hmmm...
  1. Get elected leader of Conservative party
  2. Appoint a respected elder statesman to lead an enquiry into renewing British democracy and the constitutional settlement
  3. Make a speech proposing a significant constitutional reform
  4. Completely forget to even mention it to said elder statesman and thus undermine his whole efforts.
Well done Dave. You impress me less and less every day.
Mr Clarke said the Tory leader would find it difficult to find lawyers who would agree with his plan to replace the Human Rights Act with the new Bill.

Despite heading a Tory task force on constitutional issues, Mr Clarke said he was not forewarned about the plans.
Not the best of plans methinks. In fact, given that the speech itself was completely half baked, I'm given to drawing the conclusion that he didn't think this one through very well at all.
Mr Clarke said: "In these home affairs things I think occasionally it's the duty of politicians on both sides to turn round to the tabloids and right-wing newspapers and say 'you have your facts wrong and you're whipping up facts which are inaccurate'."
Said they should have elected him leader. We're screwed, arent' we? To get rid of Blair's New Labour, we need to get people to vote Tory. How can we do that when Dave just hasn't got a clue and plays to the gallery?

Charle Clarke: Blair's Howe?

Hmm. Just finished listening to Charles Clarke on On the Ropes (again) - always worth a listen anyway, but this one had added comedy value. From the BBC coverage, David Davis said Mr Clarke's comments were a Blairite version of Sir Geoffrey Howe's attack on Margaret Thatcher in 1990, something that Simon predicted nine months ago. Also, I really like this comedy quote:
Education Minister Jim Knight said ex-ministers "bitching" about Mr Blair were doing Labour "no favours".
Well no Mr Knight, they're not, but then, neither is tired Tony.

Are we getting there d'you think? Is Simon right, is this the beginning of the end?

Addenda

:Is it possible this was timed to minimise the damage instead?

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Dave's Speech, a Bill of Rights?

Ok, I'm swamped at work, and Dave goes and makes a speech promising some radical reform. Except that, well, he seems to have fluffed it. I've been trawling around; does anyone have anything good to say about it? Blogsearch gives me nothing. Best I've found is Liadnan at NM's:
I am, nevertheless, hopeful, that this could turn into serious thinking on constitutional matters in general. I see it as a major problem with this Government's reforms that they have been piecemeal and incoherent.
It appears to me it's miss informed posturing and playing to the gallery. Obsolete has an excellent summary of the principle objections. Of course, a decent, enforcable Bill of Rights would require a new constitutional settlement. Something I'm wholeheartedly in favour of. With both Brown and Dave posturing on the issue, and the LibDems completely committed to such an endeavour, is it possible that the parties may start competing on who can do the best job of fixing the constitution?

I'd love to think so. Odds? Hmm. "This is your captain speaking, we do apologise for the turbulence, this was caused by a flock of pigs getting caught in the engines..."

If anyone does find someone that both knows what they're talking about and thinks Dave is on the right lines, throw me a link?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

LabourHome - economic illiteracy and a strange type of liberalism?

Well, Alex has finally got it working. Labour Home is launched, to compete with Conservative Home and Liberal Review. It looks ok, and it's something I thought was lacking awhileback (even mentioned it's lack in a thread at B4L). He's also got a team of writers lined up. Shame that one of them seems to have both a poor grasp of economics and a very weird definition of liberalism. Ben Furber:
My point is that Liberalism means that liberals trust the state and trust that economists (in other words people with more knowledge than me), know how to spend money better than the average Joe.
No Ben, no, that's not what liberalism means. Liberalism means that you don't trust the state, you don't trust the centre. Liberalism is about making your own decisions, and empowering others to make their own decisions as well. Campbell-Bannerman:
"I should say it means the acknowledgment in practical life of the truth that men are best governed who govern themselves; that the general sense of mankind, if left alone, will make for righteousness; that artificial privileges and restraints upon freedom, so far as they are not required in the interests of the community, are hurtful; and that the laws, while, of course, they cannot equalise conditions, can at least avoid aggravating inequalities, and ought to have for their object the securing to every man the best chance he can have of a good and useful life."
JS Mill argued for a small state, for individual freedoms, for personal responsibility and for workers co-operatives. That's what liberalism is about. Not big state nannying; that's corporatist centralism, the very antithesis of a liberal agenda.

Of course, he's talking about the LibDem tax cutting plans; what he, and of course, most others, seem to miss, is that a 2% cut in income tax nationally would be combined with local income tax, which would be avaraged at about 3%. Looks like an increase in income tax to me. Given it would replace Council Tax, that sounds like a fair plan.

Nice site idea, here's hoping that it can concentrate on what Labour (in all it's various shades) is for rather than simply launching ill-informed partisan attacks.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Austin Mitchell: A New Labour sense of purpose

Austin Mitchell MP:
News Flash. Now government is being turned into a front organisation for The Sun implementing Rupert's policies, principles and economics, three new initiatives are to be announced to show that New Labour has, after all, a sense of purpose.

One. Following John Major's exciting Cones Hot Line, the Judges' Hot Line with call points in every court will allow consumers and observers of judicial softness to register their complaints, have sentences doubled and judges chastised.

Two
. The extension of Pay and Display to all graveyards will provide an extra source of revenue for local government. Private contractors will be authorised to dig up and impound stiffs that fail to display and overstayers.

Three. The names and addresses of all convicted paedophiles in each ward will be automatically provided for a fee to all parents, vigilante groups and branches of the National Front. Paedophiles will be identified by a large yellow phallus sewn on all clothing. Stocks and ducking stools will be made available by the private sector for their treatment on PFI contracts.

All three policies will be registered with the new Policy Patenting Bureau to prevent political larceny by the Conservatives.
It is wrong that it sounds almost believable, right? I'm not deluding myself?

Working late, yup, in the office, I just love the summer...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Decline in "traditional family values"? Blame the "normals"

Bookdrunk has been reading some official statistics:
Those who choose the religious practice of marriage are in a clear minority, even though discussion of marriage in the media is dominated by Christian ideals.
People aren't getting married, and when they do, they're not getting married in religious ceremonies. People are increasingly living in single households (sound familiar? does to me) or with their parents. I particularly liked this comment:
I also enjoy how marriage can be both the natural bedrock of culture throughout time and still fragile enough to be destroyed by the occasional lesbian wedding.
Go read, it's worth it
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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Shrink the state for better planning law

Chris at Strange Stuff:
Where the power to control these decisions lying with the borough then the people of the borough would have a far greater importance in the decision making process. A single voter is of far greater importance at a local level where each individual makes up such a larger percentage of the total vote, and the money that large organisations can funnel into campaign funds to bribe politicians is no longer such a powerful weapon. Politicians do not need the massive amounts of money for mass advertising to reach a mass audience when operating at a scale where they can go around to each potential voter and personally try and persuade them.
Linked to my previous post on planning, far too many planning decisions are taken at the national level. In 1997, I took a new job as deputy manager of my then employers Exeter branch, and moved back to Devon from Salisbury. On my first day in the new job, it was announced that the owners of the shopping precinct we were in (Princesshay) had announced plans to bulldoze the place and redevelope, as it was, essentially, a rather ugly waste of space. I worked there. It was. There were those locally who objected the plans. It got appealed. It went all the way to Westminster. John Prescott made a decision. He said no. So it got redone. And redone again. Eventually, the developers got a plan that John liked, and the work started. Last year. EIGHT YEARS LATER.

Decentralise, make local councils, accountable to local people, make the decisions. Westminster should have nothing to do with local building projects and their rejection or approval. What, exactly, does the MP for Hull know about Exeter needs? Maybe a bit, but I guarantee it's not as much as Exeter City Councillors or Devon County.

Localise please.
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Monday, June 19, 2006

Quality Towns? Anyone know much?

A friend of mine is involved in an anti-phone mast campaign, and discovered that one of his neighbours, as a local councillor, isn't allowed to get involved in said campaign due to Our John's Local Government Act 2000 and that wonderful Standards Board. He asks:
Apparently Edenbridge is the first town in Kent to be made a Quality Town, or have a Quality Town/Parish Council.

I was curious, so I looked it up...
Has anyone else heard of or experienced this scheme in their local town/village/parish?
I hadn't up until now (Torbay is, currently just a unitary), so wondered, before he spends time digging all over the place, if there's anyone out there that can provide more info?

It does look like another of those centralising, you've ticked all the boxes so we'll be nice, targets schemes, on first impression, anyway.

Blair: Markets are a bad thing

Look at what the populist is up to now:
Football players' wages are ridiculous, Tony Blair has said, as he became the latest armchair football fan to air his views on England's World Cup line-up.
Yes Tony, they are, but not because they demand too much, nor because they are in some way undeserving. It's because people keep buying their 'product'. Think "your" team pays its players too much? Stop buying the merchandise. Stop paying Sky the subscription fees for the sports package. Stop watching the matches that the sponsors pay so much for.

Think footballers should be paid wages closer to your level? Support local teams, support small clubs. The Premier league pays its players a fortune because the customers keep coming back. That's it.

Following a football team as "yours" is an irrational instinct. Especially in the big leagues. But complaining the players are paid too much? It's you who's giving them the money.

Me? Pah. No thanks. 22 grown men on a field chasing an inflated ball of leather? This interests me why?
The prime minister attacked football stars' pay rises but said there was nothing he could do as capping them would only send players overseas.
Well, yes Tony. That's how markets work. If you genuinely wanted to do something, you could persuade people to switch their attention to smaller, more local teams, and rebuild league and conference football to a level where everyone's got a local team they can be proud of. You use tax breaks and encouragements elsewhere in teh economy, right? You're not going to though, are you. No, you just want an easy headline.

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Marriage revisited: reform, retain or replace?

Ahileback, I posted on marriage and the Law Commissions proposals. The Pedant-General in Ordinary made a few comments that challenged my views. I typed a reply, but Blogger kept eating it, so I saved it meaning to get back to it. I forgot. So, rather than post it now, given his was a good comment, I thought I'd put the debate back on the front page.
Exactly what is wrong with marriage as traditionally defined, such that it is not the answer?
The large number of people having kids and living outside of it should answer that one. Marriage, it seems, has an image problem. It's too associated with religion, and costs are high at beginning and end. If marriage is to be the norm, it must be seen as relevent. Currently, it's not, to a large number of people.
Kids are for life, not just for Christmas.
Oh, right. I'm 31, my parents happen to still be together. If they'd split up, say, ten years ago, would I be any worse off now? Kids are for 18 years, after that, they're adults. If I thought my parents weren't happy together now, to find they were still together for my sake, after I've moved out completely? No thanks. In addition, I'm personally in contact with a few relationships which have arrangements designed around the children, but aren't themselves monogamous marriage. "split houses" and similar; it can work, well, and is much better than divorce &c.

I'd rather see two people commit to raising kids properly, but not necessarily live together the whole time, than see two people try to stay together and divorce while the kids are still kids.
not if you are going to have - or risk having - children. The purpose of marriage is to bring forward and expose the protagonists to the reality and seriousness of the commitment BEFORE children appear on the scene.
Maybe. Maybe it was, maybe it is, maybe it should be. But many many people don't think that way. Maybe that's a bad thing, maybe society is adapting and evolving to a new perspective. Maybe the desire to "protect marriage" is preventing the desire to reform it in such a way as it's perceived as relevent to people planning to, or accidentally managing to have, kids.
That successive governments have done their level best to undermine marriage as an institution - an error to which we can pin much of the breakdown of social order in general - is a damning indictment of government, not of the institution of marriage.
Maybe. But, y'see, that horse has already bolted. Divorce Act was passed way before I was born. Given that, effectively, the battle is lost, marriage (or something else), needs to be made relevent again.

Personally, redefining it, stating the objectives, removing the religious element; that's a pile of sensible objectives.

Giving couples expecting kids a half way house that they can sign up to quickly, establishing legal rights and responsibilities to the kids (not each other necessarily) would be a good thing.
That's what I think. But I'm old-fashioned like that.
I'm not. I'm a reformist. If it's stopped working (which it has), fix it. If it's possible to fix it by returning to exactly what was, great. But in this case, I don't think it is.

To clarify; I'm not opposed to marriage, but I know from experience that increasingly people are not inclined to marry, even if they have kids. Given the legal rights non-married fathers have (ie, very few), that's something I plan to avoid if I ever have any. But I don't, personally, like the connotations of marriage in it's traditional sense. I'd rather a contract of some sorts that set out permanent rights and responsibilities (ie to kids and their financial support), but also did not require a permanent commitment to the partner. Supporting kids is one thing, continuing a doomed relationship is another.

Anyone else have strong views on the subject? Is marriage something that Govts and sociey shoudl return to as the norm, is it completely unnecessary, or should a middle ground be found? If so, is my proposal something you could relate to?
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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Party funding: democracy versus centralism

Well, party funding is in the news again. Apparently, the leader of the House of Commons "has called for a permanent cap on the amount political parties are allowed to spend". Hmmm. Good, I think. Or maybe not. At what point do you control things? Mandatory spending limits? Not very, well, liberal, is it? Except that, well, I've called for such limits before. Most certainly, they can't be along the lines that "The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have proposed an upper limit of about £50,000". So, if you have a huge fundraising drive, and manage to persuade everyone in the coutnry to give you, say £5, you still can't spend it all? What do you do with the rest, bank it?

No. As Tristan observes in the comments to the above post:
We do need totally open funding of parties, but it should always be up to the individual to choose whether they give money to a party and it should be given directly, not through taxation.

Perhaps the threshold of disclosure should be lowered and all loans and their terms disclosed.
How about: Parties can only spend money that they've declared as having raised, from declared sources. Any member contribution of over, say, £50(?) per year must be openly recorded (and perhaps such donation could be tax-deductible, would beat state funding), no loans except on an openly reported commercial basis.

Parties that can't raise the money from a broad base of member support aren't, by nature, broad based political parties. The problem is, as Rawnsley observes in today's Observer:
The message from the leaders to their members is that they can't be trusted. Tony Blair has always been frightened that the Labour party might suddenly go berserk on him. David Cameron doesn't trust Tory members to get with his modernisation programme, so he has to hand down to his associations a centrally selected A-list of parliamentary candidates.
There's a lot of other good stuff in there (must remember to read more of his stuff, I really like his Radio 4 spots). Essentially, party democracy, and party involvement, are essential if people are to remain engaged. The Lib Dems, to their credit, allow members very strong involvement; in fact, "allow" isn't the right word, I think they rely on it, the party wouldn't exist without member involvement and OMOV on pretty much everything. Cameron's push towards primaries strikes me as a strange move, for two reasons
  1. The American model of democracy is deeply flawed, and worse in many ways than ours; personality politics doesn't engage, it cheapens.
  2. It devalues party membership, why join (and donate) if you can have a vote (by texst message?) anyway?
Of course, the biggest flaw in British politics is (currently) the flawed, choice denying, electoral system. But next up is party managerialism: centralism, control freakery, leader worship. Rawnsley again:
For long-serving governments, especially those with a very dominant leader, it is a particular hazard that the party will be hollowed out. Asquith and Lloyd George, the two great Liberal Prime Ministers, effectively destroyed their party. Margaret Thatcher's reign was marvellous electorally for the Tories, but it was ruinous for the Conservatives as an organisation. As is the way with messianic leaders, she came to believe that Tory success was down to her magic rapport with the people. The party owed the leader, not the other way round, for her three election victories. So she believed, as surely so does Tony Blair.
If funding becomes centralised, going directly from the state to the party machines, then party loyalty becomes more and more important. As Chris observed back when we last discussed it:
it is independence of view that is important in politics, not robots following the party line.

Without a plurality of views opinions all you get is an echo chamber with everybody reinforcing each others mistakes. The best ideas can never be found if it is not even put forward for debate.
IF we're to have state support for parties (and that's a BIG if), then it has to be on the POWER model, giving funds to local parties based on local voters ticking boxes for the party they want tos ee get the money. I'd rather parties sorted themselves out, re-engaged with voters, and rebuilt broad membership bases.

Centralised state handouts will damage democracy and further devalue debate. Reject them completely.

Britblog Roundup #70

Right, Tim's away this week, so the weekly Best of British is (finally) up at the public schoolboy's place. It's not finished at time of writing, but there looks to be some good stuff. As always, if'n you see anything really good over the next week, on any British blog, email britblog at gmail dot com with a link. You know you want to...
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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Goodsearch & Political Theory Daily Review

Via James, I've finally got around to setting a new homepage for my browser: Political Theory Daily Review. Let's face it, having your PC load up a search engine bar on start up is a bit pointless if your browser has multiple engines built in anyway. Talking of search engines, via Samizdata, I found Goodsearch last night, interesting experiment, you search, they give a small amount to charity. Powered by Yahoo!, it has a Firefox plugin, so now when I do comparative searches I can give money to Mozilla from Google and money to charity from Yahoo!. Current choice is Amnesty, subject to change, naturally.

Friday, June 16, 2006

British Pride in a liberal nation?

How could I resist linking to this? Jonn Elledge:
conspicuous displays of British patriotism are most likely to come from boozed up sports fans and UKIP politicians. Perhaps this is the biggest challenge to liberal patriotism: our national icons have been hijacked by the right ... None of those things of which Britons are supposed to be proud relate to my experience of this country. John Major’s warm beer on the village cricket green sounds suspiciously like a world that vanished decades before I got round to being born ... I’m not saying that there isn’t much in Britain’s history to be ashamed of: Suez, Dresden, and the fact we unleashed both the concentration camp and Jim Davidson on an unsuspecting world, to name but four.
He goes on to list a few of the things that he is proud of. As a flag waving liberal socialist, I guess I ought to contribute a few ideas as well. How about...
  1. The BBC - despite its flaws, the Beeb remains a great institution, a fine example of (mostly) impartial(ish) news coverage that is beholded to no advertising vested interests and isn't cowed (directly) by the Govt. It also gave us Doctor Who, need I say more?
  2. A history of radicalism - From the Levellers through to the Chartists, the Tolpuddle martyrs and the Greenham Common campaigners, Brits have never been afraid to stand up for what they believe in, regardless of the Govt. We may disagree with them, but the Brian Haws and Maya Evans of this world are part of what makes this country what it is
  3. Acceptance of evolutionary change - There's no great plan to Britain, no founding document, no "manifest destiny" hyperbole. We just get on with it. If it works, we keep going, if it doesn't, we (eventually) fix it. We've come close to revolution a few times, but since 1707, Britain hasn't actually had a radical change of Govt, just many, many gradual improvements to the way we're governed. It may sometimes take awhile for Parliament to catch up, but it gets there, eventually.
  4. Parliamentary Democracy - none of this separation of powers, all power to an elected executive claptrap that some new democracies go for; Parliament allows for a pluralist system, and one that does keep the executive in check in a mcuh more effective way than any President with an independent mandate can manage. That the electoral system creates minority Govts with overwhelming support in the House is a different issue
  5. Science Fiction - think about it. Arthur C Clarke, H G Wells, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, China Miéville. Brits, all of them. Sure, other countries have decent sci-fi, but Wells started it all, and Clarke led the hard science way. Geostationary communications satellites? Online newspapers? Yup, our ideas
  6. The World Wide Web - The Yanks may have created the Internet, and Gore may have pushed the enabling legislation through Congress, but it took a Brit to make it actually usable to the avarage non-techie. And his initial browser assumed user generated content, so we can claim Web 2.0 as well, all at the same time!
  7. Dissident thought and socialism - seriously, while authoritarian centralists may have hijacked the ideals and created statist monstrosities, the analysis of alienation and the need to give power to the working man were valid concerns. We let Marx into the country, alongside many other political exiles. That we've a proud traditition of allowing dissidents to speak freely is something I find enlightening, even if, at times, they are crackpot loons
  8. English - a language with no effective rules, a mess of a grammar structure, a mongrel hybrid that picks up words from everywhere, constantly. Theoretically, it's one of the hardest to learn, reality is, it's the global language of commerce, and some of us make a living of the worlds desire to learn to speak it better. We've never felt the need to codify it, and find, for example, the French desire to 'protect' their language somewhat quaint. Although, let's face it, we do wish the Americans would get it right. Al-Yoo-MIN-EE-um. It's not hard.
  9. Philosophy - OK, we can't claim to have really created it, but what would modern thought be without John Locke, Isaac Newton, JS Mill, Thomas Hobbes, Adam Smith et al?
OK, enough. I admit some of the above are daft, but then, Jonn lists Doctor Who; can't argue with him on that one either. The comments to the post are worth it; Greenwich Mean Time, Darwin, Blackadder, the Roundheads and the Bill of Rights.

None of this mythical "thousand years" claptrap, no false appeals to "king and country" or "faith, flag and family" - let's be proud of what has made this country great; the people, in all their eccentricities, with all their disparate backgrounds, from all corners of the world. The British Isles are the original melting pot, from pre-Roman times onwards people have come here and added to the place. That's what makes me proud to be British; we just get on with it.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Lib Dems and the Internet (again)

The times, they are a changin'. Awhileback, I reviewed the campaign sites for the LibDem leadership contenders. Like in the election itself, Ming Campbell won. Well, he's taking that impetus further. Two specific areas. Firstly, he's been interviewed by some prominent Lib Dem bloggers, each of whom has written up their meeting with him in a different style. Secondly? He's gone and got himself a proper blog:
We will utilise the unlimited potential of the internet: two thirds of Britons have the internet but only 60% of them vote. We will build up a supporters’ network from the millions who vote for us. They will be consulted on policy, brought into campaigns and asked to contribute their ideas. We will connect our Party directly with those who vote for us.
Powered via Wordpress, it is, like Boris' site, a collection of his speeches, articles, etc combined with news releases and events. It's allowing comments, and trackbacks. He's not running it himself (appears that Martin and Will are involved in some way; guys?), but it's showing a genuine commitment to engage with the voters directly using modern technology. The main party website has had a bit of a revamp and more is promised, and the supporters network idea looks interesting (nothing from it yet, but it's early days).

Of course, opposition parties have a much greater incentive to improve their competiveness and communication abilities, the Conservative website looks very good these days, and I'm sincerely hoping that Liberal Review can do a similar (no, better) job than Conservative Home.

Really must get around to finishing off my usability articles for political sites. Maybe after the summer is done. Of course, given the way Labour is lagging behind on this (a World Cup blog by Campbell? Please...), healthy opposition engagement, regardless of party, is a good thing. May the best ideas win...

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Finishing your sentences

This whole mess is actually over something quite simple, so here we go:

Life means life.

Now let's be clear about this, I'm not talking about changing sentences, I'm not talking about increasing sentences, and I'm not talking about how awful our legal system is or isn't or anything like that. All I'm asking for is for criminals to get given a sentence, and then actually serve it.

Simple eh? Don't call it life it is isn't going to be life. And if that means that we give murderers ten years not life, that's ok, because at least they get what they're given. If that means that we then have to decide whether we're ok with the idea of giving murderers only ten years in jail, that's fine, but let's get to that bridge later, right?

What we really don't need is someone getting life, but being told they might be out in five years. Probably won't, but might. It doesn't send a clear message at all - even though they may never leave prison, everyone else thinks they'll be out in five. That doesn't help, it really doesn't.

Whether or not our legal system is a complete mess or not, is absolutely not the issue here. The issue is as simple as saying one thing when we mean another. Get that sorted first, and a very large problem is solved overnight. Thing is, once this mess is out of the way, you can get to the heart of the sentencing debate and start to look at the really important issues like mandatory minimum sentences and what we should really be doing with dangerous repeat offenders.

It's only a small step, but boy, what a necessary one.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Future of Europe

Via new blog Escalate, I'm pointed towards a speech given last week on the future of the European Union. Given by
a firm believer that Britain's place is in the European Union ... someone who wants the European Union to succeed
it contains much that I agree with completely. I have some reservations, some disagreements, but overall, it's a very positive approach that identifies the key failings of Blair's EU policy and also sets a strong direction for where to go next. Some highlights:

On the future of "ever closer union"

Europe is at a crisis point. The assumptions of the last fifty years no longer hold true. Where once the priority for Europe was political harmony it must now be economic dynamism, and here ... Britain is well placed to lead and challenge some orthodoxies of recent decades that are now so clearly failing. We must replace the habits of heavy regulation and rigidity with freedom and flexibility. The attempt to create an ever more politically united Europe was a response to the problems of the twentieth century. Now it is time to advocate a Europe of decentralisation and diversity in the spirit of the twenty first century.

On Blair's failure

In 2000 Tony Blair said that Europe did not need a Constitution. In 2002 he said: 'we do need a proper Constitution for Europe'. By 2003 Peter Hain was saying it was just a 'tidying up exercise', and not important enough for a referendum. But later that year Tony Blair said that holding a referendum would be 'a gross and irresponsible betrayal of the true British national interest' – in other words it was too important. Despite that he was soon in favour of exactly such a referendum - 'to resolve once and for all' where Britain stood in Europe, but the French voted no. This vital mission went the way of every previous statement on this subject. Seven different policies in five years, and all of them based on evasion rather than vision.

I fear this Labour Government is going to repeat the mistake it made when the Constitution first appeared on the agenda. It has no vision for the EU. It therefore reacts rather than proposes

On Britain in the EU

I am a firm believer that Britain's place is in the European Union, a strong player in Europe, not at the margins. But that does not mean that we should abandon our critical faculties in examining the EU's predicament.

We need a realistic assessment of the EU's successes and failures to decide what the EU needs to do more of and what it should stop doing.

On Enlargement

It cannot be doubted that the EU has been a major force in securing democracy and the rule of law in many countries that were new to those freedoms. We have seen the EU's effectiveness in the last quarter century in the Mediterranean, we have seen it in the new members from central and eastern Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall and we see it now in the Balkans and Turkey. Enlargement has been a triumphant success.

EU membership is a sign that you are a decent, trustworthy member of international society ... to those whose countries in the past have been regarded as corrupt or unstable it is a great goal to pursue. There is also the promise of comparative wealth – the EU requires a functioning market economy – and of new freedoms and opportunities to travel and find work.

These are powerful incentives to change one's country so that it can join the EU ... We want to see that part of the world stable, democratic, rich and peaceful. We know that offering EU membership is the best incentive to persuade countries to make the hard political decisions that mark the road to that end.

On the Single Market

The other area where the European Union has had some conspicuous success is the Single Market. The success can be described in figures - it is widely accepted that the Single Market makes a contribution to the EU's GDP of 1.8 per cent a year, worth £20 billion annually to Britain and an average increase of wealth in a European household of £3,800. But it can also be described in terms of the real difference it makes to people's lives: whether it is cheaper telephone calls, internet connections and air travel or the ability to work and travel freely across Europe. These achievements are worth cherishing and people's lives are better for them.

On 'economic patriotism'

There is talk of 'economic patriotism' and 'national champions'. We do not stop our partners' companies taking over their British counterparts, and we benefit from the infusion of investment and expertise. Yet there is too little reciprocity. The Services directive too, which could have done so much to enrich Europe's economies and make life easier for people and businesses, is only making it through in an anaemic form.

On economic decline

Europe is in the grip of a slow burning crisis. Many of Europe's economies are performing poorly and the continent is in relative economic decline ... The Lisbon agenda ... was supposed to be the answer. At the time the Prime Minister proclaims a 'sea change in European economic thinking', marked, he said by 'concrete measures with clear deadlines'. It was yet another bold Blair assertion that does not correspond in any way with any observable reality. Romano Prodi described the Lisbon agenda as a 'big failure'. He was right.

On the priorities for the future

With the right priorities the European Union can open up freedom and opportunity for our citizens, a mutual support in the age of globalisation ... This also applies to the development of the EU's structures. We need to recognise that Member States have a variety of ambitions in the European Union, political and economic. In Britain and some other countries we want the EU to do a great deal less. Others, like the Dutch, want the EU to do less in some areas and more in others while those like the Belgians see a need only for increases in the EU's power.

On the failure of the Constitution

One can argue that the French vote was in part a protest against that country's current domestic ills and a register of a fear of economic liberalisation, but the Dutch vote was a clear rejection of an EU that is too powerful, too unaccountable and too wasteful of European taxpayers' money.

Regrettably, I do not see a widespread recognition of that fact in the current debate.

On relevence

The old rigid model is out of date. The European Union must make itself relevant by giving its peoples the freedom and flexibility they need in the twenty first century.

Europe's crisis demands more than paralysis from the British Government. It requires fresh thinking and a reinvigorated approach. If the party in power is not capable of providing that it is yet another reason for a change of government.
Like I said, I disagree with some of the content (on that, a follow up post when I've time to think it through) but, overall, a very nice, constructive speech from someone who obviously both knows what they're talking about and is staking a claim as a pro-European. So, what's the problem?

William Hague. Can it possibly be true? Have the Tories really woken up and decided to make a positive case for a reformed, decentralised EU? Has Mr "24 hours to save the pound" Hague finally decided to try and win the case for membership domestically and for reform at Brussels? Looks like it.

Mr Morningstar sir? About that central heating contract...

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Incredulity

Ok, I've not posted for a while, but seriously, get a load of this.

In the frankly deranged mind of Guantanamo Camp Commander Rear Admiral Harry Harris, the suicide of three Guantanamo inmates is not a tragic loss, or indeed the result of years of legally unsound imprisonment. It is, in fact, an act of Asymmetrical Warfare against the United States.

Well, there you have it. I mean, how do you win a war against a enemy who kill themselves before you get the chance? Frankly I reckon the US might as well throw in the towel right now...

Yes, ok, if we're talking power relations in a Foucaldian sense then you could suggest that the prisoners have used their only real power over the guards (the power to kill themselves) as a final act of defiance against the decadent West. Or you could use a bit of perspective and look at the conditions these people have been kept in for however many years and the awful sense of uselessness that must invoke, and see any suicide or attempted suicide as simply an act of desperation against boredom, fear, uncertainty and oppression.

But anyway, back to the stupidity - let me suggest a new slogan for the war on terror - Kill all the terrorists, before the evil bastards kill themselves!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Political advertising and subversive humour

Blair-demon eyesI've never liked negative campaigns. The demonisation of the opponents, the personal attacks, etc. I prefer to see debates on the issues, genuine engagement, open discussion. Of course, that's not to say that negative posters, etc don't have a place, but the over-emphasis of them in recent years has, to my mind, been part of the degradation of political discourse that has lead to the widespread apathy that we're all aware of.

Vive el JohnsonSometimes, however, there's a point to it all. Sometimes, it's nasty, vituperative and yet still downright funny. In this case, Iain Dale reads B3ta, so poor dial up users like me can get the good bits.

There's another good one, found by the reboubtable Jack Thomas, but it's a rather large animation that doesn't compress well, it's definately worth a look though. There is, however, a slightly more serious point to be made here, the excellent Liberal Review takes on board this (actually reasonably good) advice on rebuilding your local Party association on Conservative Home and finds a point of disagreement:

Vote Blue, Glow Green

Vote Blue, Glow GreenLike I've said before, my utter horror at the idea of Nuclear Power has lessened into a "not sold, we've got to cut emmissions somehow but..." perspective, but when Cameron is trying to sell his environmentalism, not sure promoting visits to Nuclear power plants is the best way to build up the party membership...

All the above images are small versions, Blogger uploaded larger versions (click on them), or follow the links to the originals...
- Mat

Friday, June 09, 2006

Open letter to Tony Blair - Tim Ireland

Tim Ireland:
I am coming for you, and I will not stop.

Your time is up, your goodwill is shot to hell, and your plans for further reform are doomed to failure.

Further; the longer you hang on, the easier it will be for me to tie your political heirs to your poisoned legacy.

I will soon be coming for them, and I will not stop.

This is not a vendetta... it is a necessity; I simply cannot allow those in power to continue to cynically exploit the threat of terrorism for political and financial gain.

As your staff have read Bloggerheads, they will no doubt be aware of my clear position on violence... so they will know that I mean you no physical harm, even when I say the following:

I plan to pursue you to the end of your political career and beyond. Further, I have taken a solemn vow to one day piss on your grave. You lying, torturing, murdering bastard.

Cheers

Tim Ireland
It won't surprise any of our regular reasons to learn I pretty much endorse Tim's campaign 100%.

Blogger's playing up and not even letting me post comments. I'm swamped at work. Paul's got a new job and is busy. Updates may be sparse. Bear with us, we'll be back up to speed as and when...

Monday, June 05, 2006

Khamenei: Nukes are against islam

From a speech by Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei of Iran on Sunday, transposed in full by Juan Cole:
We do not need a nuclear bomb. We do not have any objectives or aspirations for which we will need to use a nuclear bomb. We consider using nuclear weapons against Islamic rules.
That's right. The supreme leader of Islam in Iran says that using Nuclear weapons is against Islam. Yet what are our governments doing? Sabre rattling.

Garry Smith:
The Islamic republic, for all its many abuses, has never started a war and their Supreme leader yesterday said that they never will. He also said that the use of nuclear weapons is un-Islamic and it's probably fair to say that the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran takes his religion really rather seriously.

These facts do not sit well with the narrative currently being constructed by the US and UK governments. Perhaps journalists would be better employed reporting the salient facts rather than using selective reporting to amplify and enhance the dubious pronouncements of government.
I'm not a fan od the Iranian regime. It has a dubious democracy, dodgy attitudes to rights, and relies on a theocracy for its legitimacy; this liberal atheist is always worried when political leaders justify a position via a belief in any god. That's Mr Bush, Mr Blair and most of the Iranian leadership all lumped together then.

Advantage of blogging; we can cut through the media spin and find the truth. When such a truth is found, we should spread the word. Didn't plan on writing about Iran much, still don't mean to. But sometimes, something needs to be given great publicity. Back to Khatemai:
"You speak about human rights. You speak about being against terrorism. How the hell can an administration that has Guantanamo Prison and Abu-Ghurayb Prison and crimes like the Haditha crime and the recent crime in Kabul and dozens and hundreds of other such things on its record dare to speak about human rights?
What was it Boris was saying the other day? They're using our own actions against us now?

Wonderful.
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Cameron's Clause IV: Electoral Reform?

Robert Philpot (via):
Bale's solution is simple: the Tories should come out in favour of PR. As he correctly argues, the Conservatives' hitherto staunch defence of the current electoral system rests on a mix of "parochialism, idealism and self-interest". Indeed, the principal attraction of First Past the Post for the Tories is that throughout the 20th century it more often than not delivered majority Conservative governments. With the exception of 1945 and 1966, the Conservatives were clear beneficiaries from the current electoral system at every post-war general election, up to and including John Major's victory in 1992.

What's now clear, however, is that political, socio-economic and demographic change has made First Past the Post a much less reliable friend of the Tory party than it once was: at each of the last three elections it left them badly under-represented. Last year, for instance, the Conservatives held a 50,000-vote lead over Labour in England, but still ended up 92 seats behind them.

As the Conservatives are no doubt aware, First Past the Post will require them to substantially outpoll Labour in order to achieve relatively modest goals at the next election.

[snip]
One further political consideration should impress Cameron. As an analysis of the 2005 general election by Conservative Action on Electoral Reform (CAER) indicates, a more proportional electoral system would see the Tories losing some seats where they are currently over-represented (Surrey, Berkshire, and Hampshire, for instance), while gaining seats in not only Scotland and Wales, but also just the kind of northern and urban areas - like Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Tyne and Wear- that Cameron appears so keen to boost the Tory presence in. And, as CAER notes, "there are still plenty of Conservatives in the big cities, just a shortage of Conservative MPs to represent them".

But Cameron does not have the luxury of a great deal of time to consider his options. After all, who would seriously wager a bet that, as he thinks ahead, the current occupant of No 11 Downing Street may not already be considering that a new pledge to honour Labour's commitment on PR might not be just the thing to give a fillip to his fledgling "progressive consensus"?
The Tories, by any sane analysis, need electoral reform just as much as the nation does.

Dave? Are you listening Dave? It's a really good idea Dave.

Britblog Roundup # 68

Yup, it's up again. A regular reader and occasional commenter here may be interested to know that this week he is the Best of British. A late announcement post from me, went to see V for Vendetta with some friends, hadn't got around to seeing it before. Really knocked into me the abuse that could be possible with some of the powers the Govt is legislating unto itself if put into the wrong hands.
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Sunday, June 04, 2006

The two faces of Cameronism

Rob Knight:
The questison has to be asked: are there two David Cameron's, and why doesn't the nice one do something about the slimy narcissist who is ruining his reputation by impersonating him?
Everyman is losing the trust of the watchers. I want to see a sincere, liberal Tory, who really believes the stuff he's saying. What I see is Blair-lite, presentation politics with no real substance. Still, he's better than Blair.

Here's hoping Labour can sort out their leadership issues soon, so Dave gets a challenge from someone not utterly discredited and tired.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Rolling Stone : Was the 2004 (US) Election Stolen?

A rare US politics based post. Rolling Stone : Was the 2004 Election Stolen?:
When ROLLING STONE confronted Blackwell about his overtly partisan attempts to subvert the election, he dismissed any such claim as ''silly on its face.'' Ohio, he insisted in a telephone interview, set a ''gold standard'' for electoral fairness. In fact, his campaign to subvert the will of the voters had begun long before Election Day. Instead of welcoming the avalanche of citizen involvement sparked by the campaign, Blackwell permitted election officials in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo to conduct a massive purge of their voter rolls, summarily expunging the names of more than 300,000 voters who had failed to cast ballots in the previous two national elections.(55) In Cleveland, which went five-to-one for Kerry, nearly one in four voters were wiped from the rolls between 2000 and 2004.(56)
The whole article is four pages long, appears to be authoritative and, if true, damning. Bush didn't win the popular vote in 2000, and arguably didn't win Florida either. If this is correct, he didn't win in 2004 either, massive election fraud (and we're talking more than dodgy Diebold machines) secrued an illegitimate victory.

Update:

Rebuttals here and here (via). I suspect there likely was fraud, likely on both sides, but it's moot. The US needs to refrom its voting procedures though. Big Time.

Europe: Time for a multi-speed model?

Europhobia: The EU - one size fits all?:
it is time ... to reject the one size fits all model. The very existence of the Eurozone proves that it can be done - and add to that the complex Venn diagram of European relations that brings in the Schengen Agreement, Council of Europe, EFTA and the like, you have the beginnings of a model that everyone could be happy with. A core Europe of Eurozone states who can happily push forward with political and economic integration whenever they please, with various decreasing intensities of membership on the periphery ... If the majority of Europe DOESN'T want political unification (which, for the forseeable future, will remain the case), why should that majority prevent the minority of countries that do want closer unification from so doing?
Pretty much agree with him here, I've never got the objection to a multi speed Europe, nor understood why France, Germany and BeNeLux can't create a federation within a greater unit if that's what they want.

Then again, the Schengen opt out for Britain still makes no sense to me whatsoever either.
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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Labour do not do...

I don't, generally, like negative campaigning from politicians. Why should I vote for you rather than vote against the other lot. I've got lots of reasons to vote against the other lot, generally, you don't need to go on about it. Labour Guard Dogs And besides, I write enough about reasons to not vote for the bastards anyway, give me something positive, be for something. On the other hand...

Via Larry, who commented in this post at Iain Dale that his "one reader" is on holiday. Well, he now has two, and given the number of times his front page made me chuckle (mostly at Guido's expense)...


See, Tories are not only not evil any more, they can also do funny as well. I also liked the male modelling poster.

Terry Waite, Boris Johnson: Blair is letting terrorism win

Terry Waite (of kidnapped and held as hostage fame) in Wednesdays Independent (not online):
I wish more people would take notice of...
The gradual and insidious restriction of personal liberties in this country as a result of the hype about terrorism. There is a tendency in this government to be reactive without thinking deeply. We're letting a lot of things slip by. If we allow that to happen, terrorism has won because it's deprived us of hard-fought liberties.
(my emphasis)

Boris Johnson:
I have been talking to Agnes Callamard, who leads a free speech charity called Article 19, and she tells me that wherever she now goes on her missions, she finds a shocking new phenomenon. She has just been to the Maldives, where the government is engaged in active repression of the press, shutting down radio stations and locking up journalists if they even carry quotations from the opposing MDP. When she remonstrated, she was told that any criticism was a bit rich coming from a British organisation, given that the British Government has just passed draconian new measures against incitement in the Terrorism Bill.

It was the same story in Nepal, where torture has been used regularly against opponents of the regime, and where there are similar restrictions on free speech. "A senior government official told us that they were only cracking down on terrorists, in the way that they do in the UK," said Callamard.
picking the exerpt to quote on that one was hard, go read the whole article; when I disagree with him, I respect Boris's writing style. When I agree with him (as in this case)? Brilliance.

It's reading Boris and similar that has led me to conclude that not all the Tories are evil bastards. That's still hard for a part of me to accept. But I'd rather have Boris in Govt than the current shower, at least he values the principles we're supposedly fighting the war on terror to defend.

Final word:
Of course these analogies are opportunistic and false, and of course there is no real comparison between Britain and Malaysia, let alone Zimbabwe. Thanks to the goodness of the editor of this paper, I can say more or less whatever I want, provided it is not too catastrophic for circulation. But what Blair fails to understand, when he promulgates this endless succession of new and ineffective Criminal Justice Bills, and when he curtails trial by jury and freedom of speech, and when he enacts all the other potential erosions of liberty that we have seen over the past nine years, is that he is handing a perfect pretext to the despots of the world.