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A Collection of Thoughts

In Economy, Europe, Events, Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, Party politics, The Media, Uncategorized on December 17, 2011 at 7:14 pm

By polarii for the Daily Soapbox – @polar_ii

So here’s time for a big apology to any regular readers – between us all at the Daily Soapbox, we haven’t had any time to put down some ideas for a blog post. That’s not for want of things to say (and how much we have wanted to say!), but for lack of time. So it’s our fault for not finding time. Sorry.

If you want the blog to be fuller, and you enjoy what you read, and maybe even reckon you could do better, why not join us? Email: dingdongalistic@gmail.com and we’ll set you up as the latest Soapbox contributor.

So to kick us back off, here’s a couple of thoughts from my ice cave in the Arctic… or Germany, as everyone outside the BBC calls it.

Euroscepticism

Why has everyone forgotten Cameron is a bona fide Eurosceptic in his own right? Sure, he doesn’t foam at the mouth with quite the aplomb of Daniel Hannan, but this is a good thing. In the Conservative leadership election (in the heady days of 2005), he was elected on and later delivered a promise to take the Conservative party out of the EPP and form a soft-eurosceptic bloc, which was further than David Davis (who is more ‘right-wing’) was prepared to go. While ConHome and others have been whingeing about the lack of a referendum, Cameron has managed to a) move the European issue to a more central stage while b) uniting his historically divided party behind a moderate Eurosceptic stance and c) not banging on about it. Clever or what?

A further thought: Labour wouldn’t have signed up to these agreements either, but that’s not half the fun of it. These agreements will enforce a statutory deficit-limit stricter than the ones in the Maastricht Treaties. The Maastricht Limit is 3% of GDP, so presumably the Merkozy limit will be 2% or 2.5%. But Labour’s ‘Darling Plan’, even on their own (overly optimistic) reckoning, will only halve the deficit over four years. Our deficit is currently about 10% of GDP. In the event that Britain was bound by the Maastricht or Merkozy Treaties, Labour would have no plan to bring the deficit within the legal limits. Brussels would throw Labour’s budget back in their faces, impose hefty fines, and tell them to follow Osborne’s plan. Now who thinks Merkozy’s scheme is in our national interest?

Euro

The charge levelled against Cameron is that he has left Britain without allies. This is, of course, untrue, because most every country outside the EU is taking a position very similar to Britain’s, especially the United States.

But even within Europe, he isn’t as isolated as some claim. Mads Persson correctly notes that the Irish, French, Swedes, Finns, Czechs, Hungarians and Poles all have not insignificant problems with the agreement as posed (see also this surprisingly excellent Indy graphic). But then, let’s look at some other countries, particularly Italy and Greece. There have been close votes in both parliaments on European issues, and it is not an unreasonable parliamentarian who, having been subjected to EU budget targets for the next ten years, objects to handing over control of their country’s budgets over to the EU for the rest of history. Rebellious parliaments can rebel again, and it’s hard not to imagine Eurosceptic parties like LAOS (Greece) and Lega Nord (Italy) doing quite well in upcoming elections. Of course, I could be completely wrong. But I wouldn’t write anything off either.

BBC

In case you missed the gratuitous sideswipe at the BBC in the preamble, it’s coming again. If you didn’t miss it in the preamble, I am actually going to make a point. The BBC is getting into the habit of presenting things out of context. I’m normally annoyed that the BBC displays institutional (but not conscious) bias against Conservatives and Christians, but others complain about biases in other directions, which I assume means the BBC is doing a decent job (since it’s clearly not doing an atrocious one).

However, there were two glaring errors in this week’s programming. The first was coverage of Cameron’s veto. The one report suggested that the EU was suggesting the UK was separate and even inferior because Cameron was the last to sign Croatia’s accession agreement. The context: all countries sign in alphabetical order. The United Kingdom, being the last country alphabetically in the EU, signed it last. Snub? Hardly.

The other error caused me less apoplexy, but the public more. David Attenborough juxtaposed an Arctic female polar bear making an ice-den (in which polar bears give birth to their cubs) with some polar bear cubs in a den in a zoo in Germany. The seamless transition implied to many people that the BBC was actually filming wild polar bear births. Which is stupid because the cameraman would certainly have his head bitten off if that were the case. Nonetheless, in both cases, the BBC failed to properly explain the context of what was going on, and in each case, their coverage suffered because of it. The BBC is slowly metamorphosing into an institution that doesn’t care about the truth, rather sensationalism.

Leveson

Did you know who Neville Thurlbeck was before the Leveson inquiry? If you did, you read the News of the World regularly. Shame on you (unless you were his colleague or his relative).

On a serious note though, I’ve come to the conclusion that the public doesn’t care. This was evident because, although Ed Miliband made hay with it during the summer, the polls didn’t budge. And neither BBC Parliament nor Sky News is broadcasting Leveson live. It’s a Westminster Village thing.

Miliband

Ed Miliband is a completely unsuitable leader of the Labour party. Everyone who wasn’t in the Labour party knew this as soon as he was elected, yet only now have the socialists collectivised their brain cells enough to realise it. Read around, with people like Dan Hodges getting incredibly close to calling for him to go, if you still think Milibland is cutting the mustard.

However, who is going to run against him? If Ed Balls runs, everyone will laugh. If Yvette Cooper (aka Mrs Balls) runs, she cannot dispose of Labour’s least helpful asset, her husband. If David Miliband runs, Cameron can drag out the feuding brother story indefinitely – a back-to-backstab if you like. The only plausible candidate is Jim Murphy. “Who?” I hear you cry. “Precisely”, say I. Labour don’t have the talent or the policies to win the next election.

Osborne

So now let’s do the same for the Tories. Boris will win London 2012 (somehow), and will step down in 2016. He will win a by-election by 2017, which will give him time enough to be well positioned enough when Cameron goes sometime between 2019-2022. After a term and a half of Boris (for all I admire him, I don’t think he has a sufficiently grand vision to drive the country), the natural choice is Jeremy Hunt, a man of such impeccable composure that it is truly inconceivable he should never be leader of the Conservative Party. For all they seem worlds apart, both BoJo and Hunt are suitably amicably placed with George Osborne and William Hague to mean that they can come in without wholesale change of the top table. Osborne’s best bet is not to run himself, but pick the winner, keep the political strategy as a sideline, and go down in history as the kingmaker and the chancellor who fixed Gordon Brown’s mess.

Unemployment

Once again, I find myself in a statistical quandary. ONS says unemployment went up 128.000 people in November. Yet it says only 3,000 people signed on to Jobseekers’ Allowance. Which gap have those 125,000 people fallen into? They are either a) retiring early, b) decided not to work for the next few years and make home instead, c) in receipt of a sufficiently generous redundancy package to make claiming JSA unnecessary, or d) moving their labour into the ‘black market’ – taking cash payment and not declaring it to the Exchequer. Now, most people won’t be doing a) given how poorly pensions pots are performing. The general move of our culture has been away from b) for some time; there can’t be too many people who worked for long enough at a high enough wage to be in position c), so thousands of people are in position d). Really? Or are the unemployment figures inflated by people who otherwise wouldn’t be reckoned as part of the workforce (e.g. students) taking part-time jobs and then losing them?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the more important figure is the JSA claimant count, which is about 1.60 million. So hardly as bad as the 2.64 million Labour like to moan about. Incidentally, in 1992, pretty much everyone who was unemployed according to the statistics was also a JSA/Unemployment benefit claimant. By 2001, the gap between unemployed and claimants was 0.5 million, and now it is now over 1 million. I’ve had no brainwaves about why this gap is increasing so quickly. Any ideas?

And that is the Sum of the News

In Events, Uncategorized on December 27, 2010 at 7:01 pm

By polarii for The Daily Soapbox

A review of the bigger events of the year, versified to the metre of Noel Coward’s ‘That is the End of the News’, after Tom Lehrer:

We are told very loudly and often to lift up our hearts.
We are told that good humour will soften fate’s cruelest darts.
So however bad our politic troubles may be,
we just look from our island, and shake with glee…

Hey-ho! Haiti’s collapsed again;
emergency aid has once more relapsed again.
The one result of Obama’s legislation
has been Tea Party rallies of least provocation.

We’re so glad, dear little Gordon
has just been ejected for being a moron,
and Tony got wealthy
– his book looks quite healthy –
but still holds his bellicose views.

We’re delighted ’cause the Tories were beat
and now young Nick Clegg has some fame.
We’re excited – they’ve agreed at the least
not to mention that Thatcher by name.

Three cheers! BP’s screwed up again,
everything’s smoky since Iceland blew up again.
Now they’re all cutting,
Ed Miliband’s tutting;
and that is the sum of the news.

We’re so glad for Chilean miners
but Frenchmen with pensions have all become strikers,
and that old footballing
cup thing
was so galling
and students have burnt London’s mews.

They’ve debated about Ireland’s indebture
and couldn’t put Greece out of mind.
They’ve created for the Eurozone’s future
an amazing incredible bind.

Hey-ho! and heigh-diddle-diddle!
Apparently Silvio’s been on the fiddle.
Koreas got lairy,
and it was too scary;
and that is the sum of the news.

Postscript: I am deeply distressed and disappointed that the song was not sufficiently long enough to allow for a verse about the singularly enrapturing elections in Belgium this year. In accordance with a prediction I made on this blog some months ago, Belgium has blithely continued without a government.

I hope that this has been a somewhat lighter end to the year. Whatever you’re doing, have a merry Christmas, and come back next year for more views and analysis at the Daily Soapbox!

Halloween, Guy Fawkes and Diwali

In Events, Uncategorized on November 6, 2010 at 2:04 pm

By polarii for The Daily Soapbox

Remember, remember, the 5th November, runs the old rhyme. It is at this time of year that we recall the Gunpowder Plot, when a group of traitorous Catholics attempted to blow up the King and Parliament in one fell swoop. It is this explosion that leads to its remembrance through fireworks. More disturbingly perhaps, we remember the execution of these men, and their heresy, by lighting an effigy on top of the bonfire. At this time also, Hindus, Sikhs and Jains celebrate Diwali, a time of celebration, when they remember the return of Lord Rama after he vanquished the evil demon-king. The lights displayed indicate the waiting populace, and fireworks their joy upon his return.

Guy Fawkes Night is considerably more controversial than Diwali. Before Catholic Emancipation, effigies of the Pope were burnt, and stories of attacks on Catholics were not unknown. For Catholics, the festival still has undertones of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in the centuries immediately following the reformation. Other people take the opportunity to cause offense by burning notable figures; politicians, actors, religious leaders – Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and others have been set alight on bonfires during my lifetime. Perhaps, for the first time ever, Nick Clegg will be added to this illustrious list.

It is interesting that the Hindu and Christian festival fall on the same day this year. In the ancient world, the festivals would have been explicitly linked – Parliament and the King associated with Rama, the traitors with the evil demon-king. A standard code of practice would not be imposed, but the link would be made between the triumph of the legitimate rule of goodness and order over the evil of usurpation and treachery. It is both a strength and a weakness that we are not accustomed to unify festivals in this way: it makes us open to the ideas of other cultures, it risks forgetting the purpose of the original festival. It allows cultures to stay somewhat segregated; how many non-Hindus will celebrate Diwali?

Guy Fawkes, is, however, helped by the fact that it is a national observance rather than a religious one. It is one of the few distinctly ‘British’ festivals, not celebrated much outside the Commonwealth. It recalls national history, a shared identity of being governed by King and Parliament. Diwali may have done that in its early history, but, over many thousands of years, its scope has extended, such that we may not meaningfully place Rama’s kingdom geographically. Perhaps Guy Fawkes is heading this way; it is being subsumed by Halloween, which is far more widespread throughout Christendom. It celebrates, to a certain extent, evil, and the destruction of it, in universal terms, rather than in relation to a specific national event in 1605. Even the idea of ‘evil’ is weak, with many people dressing up as devils and vampires for fun, rather than to emphasise victory over them, or to burn their costumes on All Saints Day – a festival which is now only celebrated in high churches.

Perhaps this trend will, one day, lead to a conflation of British Diwali, Halloween and Guy Fawkes, and a new narrative will be provided for the new festival, as seems to have happened with the coming of Christianity into the pagan Romano-Greek context. For instance, Christmas happens when the great feast of Saturn – the Saturnalia – fell, also at the same time as the ‘birthdays’ of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) and Osiris, a popular Egyptian deity. It is an odd idea to project several hundred years into the future like this, but the cultural evidence does suggest this might happen.

And therein lies the problem. Diwali is a simple, broadly inoffensive story that relates the vanquishing of evil by someone indisputably good, with no particular cultural context; though it is primarily observed by people following Indian-origin religions. Guy Fawkes is a much more nuanced occasion, with defences made for the plotters on grounds of the oppression of Catholics, and allegations that they were being manipulated by prominent Protestants. Unlike the concluding sections of the Ramayana, which invites no great questions of good and evil (it does that in its earlier parts), Guy Fawkes causes us to consider which is greater, our faith or our state – and are we ever required to act against our state? Unlike Diwali, it forges a national identity by an answer to that question. Halloween seems to have no effect on moral reasoning at all. People would rather celebrate Diwali over Guy Fawkes, because it is a nice story which doesn’t cause us to question our inmost beliefs. Perhaps people would rather celebrate Halloween because it is almost entirely divorced from uncomfortable introspection.

If we think it is important to recall our history, and not simply a black-and-white version, Guy Fawkes is an important occasion. If we think that it is important that public festivals should also, in some sense, ‘improve’ the public, then Guy Fawkes is especially important. It’s not that the other festivals are bad – I enjoy celebrating Diwali with my Hindu friends, though it does not retain its significance for me – or that Catholics are evil; if they were, the Guy Fawkes narrative would be much easier to analyse. Instead, there is a danger that this festival, which bids people think, that forges national identity, that unites people behind as nebulous an idea as ‘Parliamentary Democracy’ or ‘Constitutional Monarchy’ is dying, and if did die, it would not be a good thing.

Disabled People Get Cold Too…

In Uncategorized on June 14, 2010 at 5:50 pm

By polarii for The Daily Soapbox

George Osborne has a small but important opportunity to underline the coalition government’s committment to fairness in his upcoming budget. Part of this budget, undoubtedly, with Iain Duncan-Smith at the helm at DWP, will be benefit and welfare reform. One benefit that is in need of some reform is the winter fuel payment. This is made to OAPs who are house-bound to help them heat their homes, since they are often less wealthy than other groups in society and more vulnerable to afflictions like pneumonia.

However, severely disabled people are also house-bound and vulnerable to these afflictions, yet don’t receive this payment. Many severely disabled people are dependent on incapacity benefit to support themselves and on their carers, who, again, are often drawn from the poorer sections of society, as caring for a severely disabled person is a full-time job. By contrast, some OAPs are extremely wealthy and need no additional help in heating their homes, or live in sheltered accomodation where heating costs are kept flat throughout the year. Meanwhile, there are heart-rending stories of severely disabled people still paying off their debts from last winter, and struggling to find the money to stay warm through the next one. Those receiving the higher-rate mobility component of the Disability Living Allowance account for 1.6% of the population; around 1 million disabled people, incorporating 21,000 disabled children and young people.

Therefore, Osborne should consider making this winter fuel payment means-tested, or raising the age threshold for the payment to 65 (as in the Liberal manifesto), thus saving money, and direct some of the savings to providing a similar winter fuel payment to severely disabled people. This would sit well with Nick Clegg’s call for more disabled MPs, the Liberal Democrat manifesto pledge to move severely disabled people onto the winter fuel payments and show that the coalition government did actually care for fairness, the disabled and the poor. At the time of writing, Nick Clegg has not publicly expressed his support for this campaign.

The last government became notorious for its raising of winter fuel payments on the eve of crucial elections, in order to stop pensioners voting for the Lib Dems’ proposed pensions increases or being attracted by the Tories’ social conservativism. The benefit, while a sound principle, needs review. It needs to be and be seen to be a benefit for society and the poor, not the government. Osborne has the chance to make this happen in his upcoming budget. Let’s hope that he agrees with Nick on disabled people.

More details of this campaign can be acquired from the Papworth Trust (http://www.papworthtrust.org.uk/campaigns) and their Facebook page.

Election night — my predictions and preferences

In Uncategorized on May 7, 2010 at 12:35 am

David Weber

Election 2010

Ok, so maybe the Liberal Democrats aren’t going to do so well after all. I’m cheating somewhat, blogging this after the exit polls came out. Unlike Stephen, who was principled and made a genuine prediction, this will be odds-on, I reckon. That said, I suspect the Exit polls might not be as good as they were back in 2005, as this election is closer.

It’s a pity, as it suggests that many people who declared support for the Lib Dems in the polls prior to the election were jumping on a popularity bandwagon. Still, there’s always the chance that the Lib Dems will lose seats whilst increasing their vote, which would support their views on the voting system.

My preferences? I disagree strongly with Stephen that a coalition with the nationalists would be a good idea, particularly one which kept the Labour party in power. I see no reason why the SNP would become more moderate through having a greater voice in UK government, particularly considering their behaviour the last time this happened. They are also more anti-Labour than that time around. I also dislike the idea of Labour gaining a fourth term in government after their actions in the third one, particularly their assault on civil liberties, and their callous disregard for voters not important to them — often the poor.

This said, I voted for the Liberal Democrats, and if Labour did gain a greater share of the votes and seats than the Conservatives I would be happy to see them form a government with the support of this party. I don’t think this is likely, however, but furthermore, I don’t think it is desirable.

Therefore there are only two further options. The first is a Tory-Liberal coalition. I think this is unlikely; firstly, the Tories are unlikely to give way over electoral reform, secondly, they have pitched their campaign too far from the Liberal Democrats’, making compromise very difficult to find. The second is a minority Tory government with Liberal scrutiny. This is not the nightmare scenario many imagine; it could be remarkably similar to the way the SNP have governed in Scotland for the last few years. Furthermore, it would be simpler, with less accusations of back-room deals, and with a Liberal Democrat party able to veto the more ridiculous parts of the Tory programme (such as the Inheritance tax cut).

I am also reluctant to see the Liberal Democrats in government, mainly because of the outside chance that they might get education. This would, ironically, be the most serious threat to religious liberty that the election could provide. Their policies on the curriculum are a big blind-spot, which mistake prescription of views for liberalism, and are about teaching people what to think rather than how to think. Therefore my preference would be, incredibly reluctantly, for a Tory minority government held rigorously to account by a Labour and Liberal Democrat opposition.

The Liberal Democrats deserve electoral reform. Even AV, which would retain the two-party grip, would be fairer to them, and even make it marginally possible for them to overtake Labour in seats as well as the vote. Their policies in many areas, such as civil liberties, Education funding, Local government and parliamentary reform are the best of any party’s. But the party, though very much improved and responsible, is still a big risk in certain areas, and does not deserve to be trusted with single-party power. Therefore my incredibly reluctant, not to mention marginally decided preference would be for a minority Conservative government, which has made it very difficult to decide who to vote for. However, with an eye on the polls, and on the safeness of my seat (which the MP is in some ways taking for granted), I gave my support to the Liberal Democrats. If by an outside chance they still end up in government, it won’t be disastrous for the country. It could even be the best result. I’m not dogmatic about this (I hope!)

Foreign Affairs Debate – predictions

In Uncategorized on April 22, 2010 at 10:07 pm

By Stephen Wan

With a high rise in the polls for the Liberal Democrats, and a higher approval rating than Brown and Cameron put together, Nick Clegg has the most pressure, and the most to lose, in tonight’s foreign affairs debate shown on Sky News at 8pm (if you don’t have Sky, the Guardian is streaming the debate live on their website). But how much impact will this debate have in comparison to last week’s one? Relatively little I think – firstly, foreign affairs doesn’t register highly in the public’s top issues, with the economy, immigration, employment, education, health etc. (all but the first of which were covered last week). It therefore doesn’t matter so much if Clegg does lose this one – foreign affairs are unlikely to dominate this election anyway. Secondly, the number of people watching this debate will almost definitely be lower than the 9.8 peak viewer level of the first one; there aren’t as many people who have Sky News, myself included, and some people I’ve talked to are turned off watching it because of how boring the last one was. Perhaps the first election debate had a novelty factor, but the second one does not. Still, nothing should be taken for granted, and given a fairly high level of public interest in these leaders debates now, there’s still a lot to play for. What will be discussed? And who, if anyone, will come out top? My guesses on what will come up tonight is Afghanistan, the role for Britain in international affairs, the future Defence Review, Trident, Europe and the EU, our ‘special relationship’ with America and possibly dealing with rising superpowers such as China and our relationship with them. Iraq, though important a few years ago, has mostly been eclipsed in the media. I wouldn’t be surprised to see something on international climate change agreement as well. Brown, as the Prime Minister for the past couple of years, is an international figure – he’s been said to be more popular overseas than here in his own country. He was responsible for the applauded for the G20 summit, continues to have strong ties with America, strongly pushes for a continued presence in Afghanistan, wants a strong trading relationship with China, wants to renew Trident, and is neither anti-Europe (Lisbon treaty) or particularly pro-Europe (no Euro). Out of all three of them, Brown is easily the most experienced in international affairs; he knows the game, and he’s known by the leaders of the countries very well. If he pushes the influence he’s had over the global financial stimulus, and his strong reputation abroad, he could well win it. His weakness will be on Iraq (although again this isn’t a prevailing issue), his handling and funding of Afghanistan (helicopters is a word I’m expecting to hear quite a lot), and denying Britain the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, which will probably be the most damaging. Cameron, as leader of the Opposition, is never going to match up to the credentials of Brown, although I can’t think of a less experienced Conservative leader hoping to become Prime Minister since WW2. He likes lots of alliances, so keeping with the US, but not too much political intergration, so no to EU influence. Wants to keep Trident, although apparently to protect against rogue states like China, so no strong relationship with them. Promised a referendum on the EU if they got into power, but had to backtrack from that after the Lisbon Treaty was ratified. Angry about the lack of funding to our troops in Afghanistan, wants to introduce a government pledge to look after our troops – a military covenent. Took the Conservatives out of the pro-European grouping in the European Parliament, into a anti-federalist group with arguable far-right nationalist parties. Cameron I think is weakest here, with both a lack of experience and seemingly a lack of tact (calling China a nuclear threat for example). If he wants to win, he’ll need to appeal strongly to the eurosceptic part of the country, constantly attacking Brown and Clegg for handing, or wanting to hand, powers over to Brussels. He can also push against Brown on funding for our troops, and our patriotic duty to look after them. Clegg is again the wildcard here, because nobody’s quite sure what he stands for. He seems less keen on the US, and wants stronger ties with the EU. International agreement on Climate Change is a big priority, and is more anti-Afghanistan than the other two. Voted against Iraq with the Lib Dems in 2003, so maybe a couple of brownie points there. Wants to include Trident in the Defence Review, so he doesn’t want to renew Trident, preferring some other alternative system. No idea what he thinks the UK’s role in the future is though – he’s never really had to talk about it. Definitely weak on being recognised on the international stage – at least Obama stopped by Cameron for a quick chat. Being pro-EU more steadfastly than the others may repel some people, but may bring others around to him. Any attack by Cameron on Clegg wanting to join the euro will definitely deflect off – Clegg can simply deny that, because they don’t. Weakness may well be on Trident, since the majority of polls shows we support having a nuclear deterrent; however, if he can get the argument across that the cost is too great, and we can have a cheaper alternative, that may do it. Overall, I think Brown to win, and Clegg a close second, with Cameron last. However, don’t think I’m willing to put money on it. Really, this debate is a slight misnomer, because a government’s stance in foreign affairs is primarily pragmatic, particularly for Britain, than it is ideological. In a sense then, a lot of what is said in these debates is meaningless, because it is the Foreign & Commonwealth Office that pushes the agenda on the international scene. Still, should be a good watch.

My Five Most Important Issues

In Uncategorized on April 21, 2010 at 10:20 pm

By Stephen Wan

When it comes round to election time, political parties have to have a bewildering number of stances on a bewildering number of issues, not only because they are trying to appeal to a huge and diverse electorate with many different interests, but also because they are fighting to become the next government, where they will be facing these problems en masse. It is an obvious, if unfortunate, fact that people simply do not care about every single policy a political party comes out with or supports – pet passports is one that doesn’t strike me as the most critical of issues. The reasons a voter supports a party will inevitably fall down to just a few key issues; ask anyone, including yourself, why you support a party, and I bet only a few policies will be talked about.

So, instead of pretending I am an omnipotent part of the intelligentsia who knows and cares about every issue, I will present my five most important issues that I want a political party do deal with. I’m still an undecided voter, with a choice in Feltham & Heston between Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, English Democrats, Green, UKIP and the BNP, and the issues I’m about to talk about, in ascending order of importance, will determine where my vote will go.

5 – Education

As someone with a bit of a vested interest considering I’m going to be in Further Education for the next three years, one of my top five issues is education policy, and how much a political party is going to support schools as well as ensure the system helps the least well off. Education is the best way to achieve social mobility, as well as creating a more equal society by extending opportunities at the very start of life. There is also a very intrinsic value in learning and education, that should be available to all, because it creates a better, more fulfilling life. Further Education is also the best way to keep Britain as a cutting edge, economic competitor internationally, where it would be surprising to see that eventually our biggest export being graduates with skills and talents.

Ideally, I would like to see education set as one of the highest spending priorities on the government agenda, with funding rising or at the very least, constant in real terms. However, there will be spending cuts inevitably, and these will have to affect educational institutions. I want a political party to ensure that any cuts that happen minimises the effects on front-line teaching.

I used to be particularly anti-private education, but over time in consideration, I don’t see an alternative, and overall taking students out of public education does increase the amount remaining for the other students.

4 – Cutting the Deficit

There is a huge gap increasing between the income and expenditure of the government, and if there was a lowering of the credit rating for the UK government, it would become a major problem for us now and in the future. I don’t think massively taxing the rich is a good way to go about it; it does need to be met with a combination of a reduction in public spending and increased taxation.

One area which could be cut, and here is where I completely disagree with the Conservatives, is on the National Health Service, where too much money is being poured in – almost £120billion a year now. Whilst health is of obvious vital importance, when I see the central government education budget is just a third of that, at £30billion, I think we’ve gone too far (although admittedly local funds does push education spending up to £84billion).

3 – Constitutional Reform

The way this country is run is currently unacceptable. It’s not fair that 16 year olds are treated in adults in some senses, like paying for adult tickets, but not in others. Reducing the voting age to 16 is a policy I would support. I also want to see an elected House of Lords, and Alternative Vote in the House of Commons.

2 – The Environment & Global Warming

The environment is simply too important for us not to take action. Climate Change is going to be one of the biggest issues for us, and something needs to be done. I would vote for a political party that makes protecting our earth and using it sustainably and responsibly, and takes global warming seriously.

I would like to see a political party embrace a diversity of different energy sources, implementing more cap and trade carbon emission schemes, banning the most polluting machines/cars/industries.

1 – Social Justice

Social justice is the idea that in general good things should happen to good people, and bad things should happen to bad people, on a social scale – applying what is right through society and law. In this sense, there needs to be a redistribution of wealth, to ensure an equality of opportunity where people succeed or fail based on themselves only. The government should seek to help the least well off, the discriminated against, minority groups.

I went through that a little quickly, but there we go – what my biggest five issues are.

So, what about you?

Henry Porter’s “Civil Liberties Postcard”

In Uncategorized on April 10, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Election 2010

David Weber

I like Henry Porter’s idea, in the Guardian’s Comment is Free, of a ‘Civil Liberties postcard’ to run past all election candidates. That isn’t to say I agree with him on every question, because I’m sad to say I probably don’t. But it’s a fantastic idea, centred around an issue which really needs to be highlighted this election, even if I might have chosen slightly different questions personally.

Civil Liberties are, unfortunately, probable to take a back seat this election. This is because every election in the past decade (and more) has been dominated by the economy, crime, and education (2005 was, admittedly, also defined somewhat by Iraq, but impotently so, as both of the major parties had supported the invasion). This is a pity, because politicians’ ability to influence the former is marginal at best; the middle is victim to a persistent misrepresentation by the media (and not just the tabloids), which is probably itself a big influence on the erosion of civil liberties. Only with education has seen any fresh thinking recently, with both opposition parties coming out with some interesting ideas for reform, even if they do dodge the crucial bullet of how to improve education for the poorest in society. All in all, this stranglehold on election politics unwittingly conspires to restrict any meaningful choice to the very marginal, and casts far more important issues, which politicians have far more influence over, into the shadows.

Civil Liberties is one incredibly important, and far-reaching area. I am not wholly blaming the media for its marginalisation as a cause, as campaigners themselves bear a portion of the blame in their persistent placing of CCTV cameras far above more important issues, as well as other less easily condemnable issues such as the DNA database. This is where I probably most strongly disagree with Porter, not just in principle but from pragmatism — I do not see a widespread loathing of Public Surveillance and police databases, and many indeed probably strongly link them with the fight against crime. Abusive laws, travesties of justice and erosion of basic legal rights, however, tend to stir even the most apathetic of us.

So the fact that the economy is drowning out much needed debate on laws which castigate people as morally guilty until proven innocent, laws which create modern debtor’s imprisonment, and the removal of the right to trial by jury when the State sees it as inconvenient; is truly tragic. The latter only managed to prompt lukewarm criticism in the media after the trial had concluded, rather than when it was first instigated, a horrible reflection on a media which increasingly regards suspects as guilty until proven innocent.

What is most amazing, however, is the blatant way in which trial by jury was infringed back in 2003. Normally when laws are brought in modifying civil liberties, politicians are quick to stress safeguards that accompany them. When addressing the problems of jury-tampering, however, politicians did not explore ways in which to transform courts to make this less of an issue (for example, drawing from Greece policy, composing a panel comprising more judges and fewer jurors, working together to determine guilt in complex cases). They simply removed the jury altogether, as if it were an optional extra, a comfort only necessary when it was cheap enough to provide, a moral luxury. Such thinking in a modern liberal democracy is shameful.

But my own additional concerns aside, where do I stand on the Civil Liberties postcard?

1. Do you support the introduction of ID cards?

A: No. Interestingly, a few years back I argued strongly for the introduction of a continental ID card system (as opposed to Labour’s excessive vision), but couldn’t even work up the enthusiasm to support this for long. It strikes me as fundamentally unhelpful to introduce a law criminalising people who do not want to carry means of identification.

I don’t necessarily see it as the worst attack on civil liberties in modern times. I see many benefits to having a comprehensive system of identification, but at principle is the sort of society we have. It should be one which is not excessively punitive upon those without easy means of establishing identity, and ours has arguably gone too far down that road already (as experience of relatives at their bank has proven). I do not want to go further down this road. So consider me pragmatically as well as ideologically opposed.

2. Do you think Police are abusing stop and search powers?

A: Loaded Question. Of course, I think some police will be abusing stop and search powers, and some authorities will possibly even have an abusive policies. However, I do not feel the force as a whole is likely to be sponsering widespread abuse. I may, of course, be wrong, but it’s a point on which I have to be persuaded, not take on faith.

On the other hand… I do think that simply scrapping the S&S form, as the Tories have proposed, is hopelessly naive. The form was brought in for a reason, and social inequalities are such that scrapping it could cause damage to communities who feel they are unfairly targeted. And the means to improve the process already exist, through technology — IE issuing police with hand-held recorders, enabling them to speed up the form process. Consider this a typical politician’s answer if you like.

3. Do you agree with the European Court of Human Rights which has criticised the retention of innocent peoples’ DNA on a national database?

A: Tricky. In principle, possibly, but in practice, I don’t think I would go this far. I think the police should certainly be allowed to keep the DNA of suspects of the most serious crimes for a time. It’s not fair, no, nor is it equal treatment, and there are possible perverse consequences to this (IE leading to a bias against former suspects that acts against efficient investigation), but I suspect the pros might outweigh the cons. By the way, isn’t it the record that is kept of the DNA, rather than an actual sample? I’ve never been clear on this point, and would welcome clarification.

4. Do you support calls for greater regulation of surveillence powers, including the number and use of CCTV cameras?

A: Yes. Although I’m not convinced that the number we have is necessarily a bad thing. However, they could certainly be safeguarded more thoroughly, including possibly taking them out of the direct control of the police.

5. Do you oppose government powers to track and store communications data from emails, texts and calls?

A: Yes.

6. Do you support the Human Rights Act in its current form?

A: YES! Make no mistake: you have to support it, for the sake of a unified system of justice. EU law is superior to British law in this area, so if the HRA is amended, then all it will do is create a two-tier system of justice, where the richer can afford to go to the ECHR for superior rights, and the poorer can’t.

7. Do you think the right to peaceful protest is being curtailed by heavy-handed policing?

A: Partly. I have a feeling Stephen Wan might be able to offer a more informed perspective than I. I definitely think that policing methods have been partially responsible for curtailing protest rights, and I think kettling tactics were definitely over (and mis) used last year. On the other hand, I think a lot more of the erosions to protest rights occurred through legislative and executive decisions.

8. Are you in favour of a public enquiry into allegations of British involvement in torture?

A: Yes.

9. Do you think everyone should have a right to hear the evidence against them before being subject to a control order?

A: Yes. Control orders have long been a sickening loophole around justice, far worse than the most draconian detention without trial proposals.

10. Do you support a review of Labour’s legislative programme in order to identify and then repeal those laws which have curtailed individual liberty?

A: Yes and no. A badly worded question which ilicits a vague answer. I support a review of more than just Labour’s legislation, but the legislation which most frequently causes travesties against liberty. However, I don’t automatically support the repeal of all laws which have curtailed individual liberty (an argument with a libertarian will show you that virtually all laws, at some point or another, qualify as such), and I think the assault against individual liberty begun a long time prior to New Labour.

BNP membership rules raises far more interesting questions

In Uncategorized on March 13, 2010 at 8:18 pm

By Stephen Wan

The British National Party are racist. It’s a simple fact, one that everyone knows, and one that the members of the BNP obviously know, even if they can’t say it. Their membership policy of “whites-only” is clearly discriminatory against non-white people, and if we wanted to live in a society that accepts everyone equally regardless of race, then the recent court ruling against the BNP should be considered a good thing.

Nonetheless, as loathe as I am to agree with Nick Griffin about anything, the interference by a government funded body to “the aims and objectives of political parties” is a disturbing precedent. In a Liberal Democracy, it seems only right that political parties be allowed to form to achieve whatever aims they wish, accepting whichever members they want, without being in a sense controlled by an independent body. There is a right for a political party to accept or bar people from their memberships according to any policy they choose to, and it is not up to us to make them choose otherwise, or else we run into the danger of forcing our beliefs on others, becoming no better than they are.

It would be far better to leave their membership policy on its own, as a testament to the racist and discriminatory nature of the party, to be confronted by reasoned debate and rationality (not egg-throwing and violence, as Unite Against Fascism seems to think).

Nor does adding more media attention to the British National Party doing the BNP much harm, particularly as it positions itself as the party for civil liberties, persecuted by the political establishment for providing an alternative point of view.

It would be a much more delightful sight to see Griffin (who is no Hitler, no matter how you look at him) ranting and shouting whilst the rest of us pretend to listen and nod our heads, politely looking at our watches, or walking quickly by.

Of course, the EHRC’s role was to uphold the law, with no political agenda involved whatsoever. For that, it can’t be faulted. However, this shouldn’t be considered a victory against fascism; merely a re-drawing of the lines, and a herald for further battles to come.

The Liberal Democrats are the most interesting of the big three by a mile. So why are they doing their best to disguise it?

In Uncategorized on March 12, 2010 at 10:35 pm

David Weber

Well, why are they? Over the last decade, the Liberal Democrats have built up their reputation for unique policies. During the early boom years, they were the only party to support a 50% tax on the rich. Along with this, they are the only party to have previously committed to policies as radical as a negative income tax (only cosmetically different to the Greens’ infamous “Citizen’s wage”), the only party to argue for a complete overhaul of council tax, the only party to argue for real devolution of policy in health and education, and the only party to commit to a huge rise in the income tax allowance. They’re the only party to (wrongly!) commit to abolishing tuition fees, too.

You may not agree with these. I certainly don’t agree with the detail of many of them. But you can’t deny that they show genuine differences, and far more consistently so than the policies of the big two. When the Tories talk about localism, they hedge their bets, paying lip-service to it one moment (helped on by Caroline Spelman’s lovely belief that it’s ok to trust councils now, because “We control over three times as many councils as our rivals put together”), and talking of freezing council taxes the next. The Tories talk about freeing education in one breath, by adopting Swedish policies, and talk about cutting funding for all teacher trainees with thirds. In an age characterised increasingly by (sometimes erroneous) claims that politicians are “all the same”, and “elections don’t change anything”, the Liberal Democrats have done their fair best to buck the (media invented) trend in recent years. So why has no-one noticed?

It could be demonstrated, rather aptly, by their election slogan, released today. It could be used as a textbook slogan in the future of How Not to do These Things:

“Change that works for you. Building a fairer Britain”

Let’s start with the full stop. Bad idea. The Tories election poster was derided for featuring a comma inbetween the first half, which had the word “cut” and the second, which had the word “NHS”, the idea being that people wouldn’t bother to read past the comma and would only notice “NHS” out of the second half. But at least they didn’t use a full stop. The full stop transforms what should be a snappy slogan into what appears as two separate and distinct pieces of information — a chunky slogan, to say the least.

So now let’s go further, and look at the two pieces of information contained therein. The first is: “Change that works for you.” What does this remind you of? It reminds me very strongly of two things. The first is Barak Obama: “Change we can believe in”. Which was all very well for him, but a) he was running in America, rather than the UK, and b) He might as well have been running here given how much his slogan was heard. Both of which count against the already dubious notion of it’s having a second round of success. I am sure that before long people will be utterly sick of the word “change”.

…given how much the Conservative have been using it. “Vote for Change”, “Year for change”, “Now for change”, have all punctuated headlines with the Conservatives in. In picking a slogan only cosmetically different to those used by David Cameron and Barak Obama, Clegg is almost asking to become invisible. The only way he could make it worse is by adopting — sorry, adapting — Labour’s slogan for the second half of his slogan…

“Building a fairer Britain”. Sound familiar? That’s because it is: “A Future Fair for all” was Labour’s recently released slogan. But at least that had the benefit of palendromic alliteration (I was dying to say that). I’m also pretty certain that “Building Britain’s Future” was a slogan coined by Labour for some initiative or other a year ago. Clegg can certainly earn big brownie points for being green here, as the amount of recycling is impressive.

But the Liberal Democrats really will not gain from this type of nonsense. I remember my History teacher talking about the party some years back; he argued that all it did was to sit in the House of Commons lambasting either side without offering anything new. Views like his are probably more commonplace than the party would care to admit, so why are they doing their level best to encourage them? If the Lib Dems want to be seen as credible king-makers, they need to convince people they are a real alternative, rather than simply more of the same.

Clegg may have been told this slogan would strike a chord by convincing the public that he offered a perfected version of the imperfect promises made by both parties. If so, his PR advice must count as slightly worse than David Cameron’s adman.