Saturday, September 29, 2007

Quick signposts elsewhere

Robot teachers are coming. Here's a music lesson.

(OK, I've been looking for a reason to link to that for ages).

Even when contrarians win, they lose. Via S&M as usual.

Adrian says 'What chance have you got against the tie and the crest?' He's optimistic. So am I. Bring it on!

And - if you've not done so for a while, go look at Ivan's blog for more of this.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Praise be for anti-Europeans

I'm rabidly opposed to the use of referendums. And I've very pro-European. And I think that we'd lose any such vote on the alleged EU Constitution. But there's a strong argument for Gordon Brown agreeing to call one.

But first, some background: Tom has found one pronounced example of anti-EU fruitcakery here. Annoyingly, more of the same been deleted by the moderators at the Telegraph under this post by Mick Fealty.

I've spent the last couple of years arguing that hi-traffic blogs should delete comments ruthlessly, leaving only responses with actual content. I know Mick agrees with me (we've jointly-authored a pamphlet to this effect). But it means that all of the CAPS LOCK ON COMMENTS ABOUT HOW THE EU IS AN EVIL CONSPIRACY have been deleted from under that post.


When I worked for an MEP a few years ago, I had a meeting with an anti-flouridisation campaigner who seemed reasonably rational at first, but the more I probed the more that I found that he believed that the Illuminati / Four-by-twos / EU were one-and-the-same thing - and were secretly plotting to poison us all.

It all makes being pro-EU a good deal easier. Your vocal opposition are always at least 50% clinically insane, and for this reason, we will always win arguments that are settled in a rational way (this excludes referendums, obviously).

Having said that, Heath's referendum in the 1970s was partly won because pro-Europeans decided to turn the spotlight on the quality of their opposition. One newspaper cartoon (can't remember where or by who now) showed an anti-EEC march being led by Enoch Powell and Tony Benn with an assortment of Nazis, Communists, Trotskyists, Anarchists (replete with beret, beard and bomb) the IRA and other sections of political life that are an outrage to the British sense of it's anti-political self.

Maybe a referendum is a good idea then? OK, we'd lose. The vote would ...
  • not actually be about whatever it is supposed to be about
  • only a fraction of the people voting would be able to pass a simple test about what the EU is and what it does
  • would allow no weighting for strength of feeling and offer no scope for trade-offs
  • be decided largely by newspaper proprietors who have a massive vested interest in limiting EU broadcast regulations
  • provide xenophobes with an opportunity to place themselves in a position of leadership
... and so on.

But it would absolutely poison the Conservative Party for a few more years. It would provide nutters with the illusion that they've won an argument - and that the Conservative Party is their vehicle for doing it again and again.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

When is a law not a law?

When there's a veto.


As Fonzy would have said, this very good post by Don Paskini is 'correctumundo.'

"Policy shouldn't just be decided by politicians and then handed down to the people. But nor should politicians just read opinion polls and listen to which lobby group can shout loudest. Instead, a different kind of relationship is needed, where politicians are in touch with the people that they represent, but also have a duty to make use of the power that they have, and take the lead in suggesting and implementing solutions to problems."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Gooner getcha

For anyone who has been following the battle-royal between Alisher Usmanov and Tim Ireland / Boris Johnson / Bob Piper /loads of other websites that have never mentioned Usmanov, have a look at this for Tim's detailed account of what really went on there.

As with every encounter with Tim, you may not agree with every detail of his position, but you always learn something - particularly about how Internet technologies can be re-purposed. In this case, every blogger should know more about how search engines register and store blog posts.

Tim's post is a masterclass in this.


Jim Robinson, along with three other men, was wrongly convicted of participating in the 1978 killing of Carl Bridgewater. The Bridgewater Four had their convictions quashed in 1993 following revelations about evidence-fabrications by Staffordshire police.

Robinson died a few weeks ago, and I’ve just seen his obituary in today’s Guardian. This paragraph stood out:
“When compensation was finally settled at a 1999 Home Office meeting, an official said he was sorry for what had happened to him. This was the first - and only - time the word was ever said to Robinson by any civil servant. He wept. It was a turning point, after which he felt able to rebuild his life.”

Agitate, educate, etc

Of all the social networking ideas, personally, I find Second Life to be the most gimmicky least convincing.

However, if you don't share this prejudice, then you can get involved in what is allegedly the first bit of industrial action in paradise. Or whatever.

Via John, who has more detail here.

Target 2008

The current situation in Burma / Myanmar provides an interesting angle on Moynihan’s Law.
"The amount of violations of human rights in a country is always an inverse function of the amount of complaints about human rights violations heard from there. The greater the number of complaints being aired, the better protected are human rights in that country."
Why should human-rights pressure groups expend a lot of energy criticising anti-democratic dictatorships when that are not vulnerable to criticism in the first place? It’s a reasonable question I suppose. It is difficult to make the case for self-censorship on the grounds that this uneven stream of criticism foregrounds the shortcomings of liberal democracies – the ‘bushblairhitler’ rhetoric -while effectively ignoring the real injustices and brutalities.

But what about when other factors make brutal dictatorships vulnerable to criticism? As Mick Hartley points out (in an excellent longer post)
“Since the threat of disruption to the 2008 Beijing Olympics seems to have paid some dividends in pushing China into modifying its policies on Darfur, maybe the same could apply here.”
Clearly, this is an example of where public opinion can be mobilised against a potential catastrophe. It would also provide those ready-to-go protest movements of all stripes with an opportunity to provide a counterbalance to the logic of Moynihan’s Law – without having to resort to self-censorship.

Will they take it? Will we see a massive pro-democracy mobilisation this weekend – marching to the Chinese embassy, calling for a boycott of the 2008 Olympics unless they withdraw support for the Generals?

I’ve not seen one planned, but I’m always told just how good the Internet is at this kind of thing.
I’ll go along if you will? Anyone?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"We want dialogue"

One thing I'd missed in the reports of Burma's current wave of protests is the claim that protesters are chanting "we want dialogue" (as reported by Jams, and probably loads of sites that I've not seen).

Maybe this is a fairly unremarkable demand that has changed a bit in translation, in order to provide us with a seemingly unusual emphasis. Or maybe the Burmese demand has some insight - and holds a rebuke for the complacency of those of us who live in democracies.

More, better dialogue would be a good idea everywhere.

Meanwhile, I like Eric's quote from the other Eric here.
“When people revolt in a totalitarian society, they rise not against the wickedness of the regime but it weakness”. Eric Hoffer
I hope the optimism is well-founded.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Censorship and libel.

Bob's back. He was caught up in the censorship of Tim Ireland and others, and you can read all about it in the post linked to above.

That UK libel laws are a disgrace is, of course, not news. The response here appears to have been as disproportionate as ever.

One thing I haven't seen though, is a good article on how libel laws should be arranged (in broad strokes, obviously). Whereabouts in the world can you find a settlement where the best (least worst?) balance is struck between the right to free speech, and an individuals right to un-publish damaging falsehoods, or seek compensation once they are too far gone?

I've looked through a fair number of posts published in the last few days, but I've not seen anything that quite fits the bill. Any pointers gratefully received. I'm looking for an addition to my 'best in the world' occasional feature here.


1: Here's Chris (again), this time with a very enjoyable post saying why party politics is like Prog Rock. And here's Shuggy's reply - and damn good it is too.

Shuggy (accusing Chris of being too much of a folkie) says:
"Chris's analogy can be used accurately to illustrate this point: prog rock is shit but states that ban prog rock in favour of traditional music are immeasurably less liberal than states that do not. The same's true of political parties."
None of this explains Horslips though. Authentic traditional music in a prog-rock setting. And actually, not all that bad in parts (though fucking awful in others).

(you will have to wait about 1min and 20 secs for the performance)

I still think that Chris has a point, in so far as there is a strong case to be made that political parties are monolithic dinosaurs that offer little of relevance to those who aren't versed in the Kremlinology of it all. The 'least worst way of doing things' defence that Shuggy mounts is a slightly impoverished one (I say this in the full knowledge that it's an argument that I use all of the time).

Shuggy isn't wrong. It's just that I think there is room for a bit of ambition here.

There is a road-map that centralised political parties could follow that would allow them to postpone their impending irrelevance. It involves a conscious decision by a left-of-centre party (in government) to invest in the development of confident diverse local government settlements. A settlement where competent, conversational, intelligent and inclusively-minded people are incentivised to stand for election. But if I go on any further, you'll just accuse me of hi-jacking two very good posts to advance a cherished theme of my own, won't you?

2: The left list over at the Torygraph. There's so much to argue about here, of course. Norm and Dave, of this parish, are at no.77 and no.93, while Sunny Hundal is at no72 - above them both - which is a bit weird. Sunny doesn't really strike me as 'left' at all.

And George Galloway is on it as well, which is even weirder.

3: Iain Dale continues his vendetta against NTaH. Last year, he claimed to have never heard of it at the time of compiling the list (even though he was an occasional visitor to the comments boxes here prior to that whenever I'm rude about him). This year, I get damned with faint praise. Number 97.

4. Here's the Virtual Philosopher explaining why compulsory 'Acts of Worship' teach children to be insincere. Norm's picked it up as well. Both worth a look.

5. And finally, here's another one of those Meg Ryan "yes! yes! yes!" moments, where Tom absolutely hits the spot over at Let's Be Sensible.

"Have Your Say"
. The chat-up line of every ingratiating charlatan and budding demagogue.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Bloggers do fringe meetings better than pressure groups do....

.... maybe?

Further to the question of Labour standing in Northern Ireland (touched on here a few days ago), Mick from Slugger is organising a fringe meeting in Bournemouth

Aside from the fact that this is an important issue for anyone who supports a normalistion of politics in Northern Ireland, and a step away from sectarianism, this event also deserves the support of anyone going to Bournemouth because it's a blogosphere event. Fringe meetings have always been organised by pressure groups, and usually to push some agenda or other.

If all fringe meetings were hosted by conversational blogs like Slugger, party conferences would be worth going to again.

Unfortunately, I'll probably not be going as it's now too late to apply for a pass without having to spend hours and hours waiting for my application to be processed.

Anyway, here's the plug for Mick's event - in his own words:

“Every goal is an own goal..?”
Is there room for Labour in Northern Ireland?
Tuesday, September 25, 2007, 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Moon on the Square Pub, The Square, Bournemouth

A chance for Slugger readers, and/or Labour party delegates to meet up and chew the cud in a decent, musak free pub during the Conference.

We don’t plan to work off an agenda as such, but rather let it evolve out of the interests and passions of those who turn up.

However there are probably a few ideas I can throw in the pot to get things started:
  • With Bertie Ahern making overtures to Labour’s sister party in Northern Ireland the SDLP, is it time to organise and plan to fight elections?
  • In such changed circumstances, what opportunity is there for genuine growth in a regional Labour party?
  • And how will it manage potential conflicting interests with the Irish Labour Party?

Feel free to add your own ideas. And if you know of anyone else who would be interested, feel free to invite them to come along!!

Nice idea in theory...

Dave Osler thinks that there are a number of reasons why a Labour / Lib Dem merger is likely to happen in the medium term.

I'm not sure that some of the historic reasons why they should never have been the same party are as ahistoric as he thinks, indeed, my recollection of Paul Addison's very good 'Road to 1945' (now sadly out of print) is of a period in the middle of the century when there was almost a consensus between the non-Guilty Men tories (notably Macmillan) and plenty of Liberals in support of the defining contours of the post-1945 settlement.

I don't have the book to hand any more, so I may be corrected on a few details here, but Macmillan was advocating - in the late 1930s - policies somewhat more radical that those implemented after the war by Labour. Policies that were clearly in the 'state socialism' mould as well - not just the kind of stuff that you could have expected a bit of consensus on.

I mention this in order to make the point that ideological consensus and political alliance don't always go hand-in-hand.

The post-war Labour government can almost be seen as a spectacular triumph of political entryism of the kind revived in the 1980s by the Revolutionary Socialist League (AKA Militant Tendency) In this case, Labour was effectively hi-jacked by Liberals - Beveridge, Keynes, and even a young Harold Wilson.

On Dave's logic, surely the alliance that is the Labour Party (organised Labour, co-ops, the odd god-botherer and, notably, the Fabians) couldn't have happened. But it did. And it could easily have encompassed large slices of the Liberal Party at that time.

If it quacks like a duck and waddles like a duck, it's probably a duck. On this logic, the Fabians were Liberals.

I have a theory on why it didn't happen formally then - and why it won't now. It's a reconfiguration of my 'why Fianna Fail won't succeed in Northern Ireland' post the other day.

One word; bureaucracy. As Parkinson's Law explains, bureaucrats recruit subordinates, not rivals.

Labour has a bureaucracy, so do the Lib Dems. MPs everywhere would have to reapply for their jobs. Researchers would be laid off, local organisers would have to compete for a single job, and animosities - often decades old - particularly in the north west, where the Liberals sometimes were surrogates for the Tories - would make the actual wedding a bloodbath.

There may be no reason for the two ideologies, as far as there are any these days, to merge. I don't have a strong view either way.

But the people? Never.

Three years on.

Is it a coincidence that 'The Special One' can't continue to live the lie, on the third anniversary of the death of the real Special One? Perhaps he's on his way to the City Ground where he can beg for a chance to match Brian's acheivements? (If he can turn around the current mess, he would, indeed, have proved something).

McGari has found this fantastic archive (preceded by an annoying ad - be patient) of The Almighty Brian on Yorkshire TV in an extended interview with Austin Mitchell and .... Don Revie - on the evening that Leeds sacked him.

It's a fantastic bit of television that I didn't know existed. I've not seen it referred to in any of the various biogs of the great man either. And I wouldn't be surprised in David Peace hadn't seen it either before he wrote his excellent The Damned Utd
In a similar vein, the most recent edition of Radio 4's 'Great Lives' is a tribute from Motty and Duncan Hamilton to Himself, with a few of his classic quotes in the original - better than the popular misquotes.
He was beyond compare. Here endeth.....

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Being a creature of habit, I usually go on holiday to the same place these days. With the kids and the cost, going to stay with family in County Mayo has an obvious appeal. But I love the place anyway, and I detest leaving it every year. *sigh*

I've been back for three weeks, and someone else who goes back there all the time has just e-mailed me to ask if I've still got Post-Mayo Depression (PMD).

I do indeed. This year, I went around photographing everything. The one surprising result was just how stunning the western sky is.

... and

... and here, over the horse racing on the beach. I had all my money on the horse on the right of the picture.

For the record, I wish I was sitting in Belmullet with a slow pint and a copy of the Irish Times. Or driving out to Aghleam to the lighthouse.

Oh well.

Name that archipelago

Over at Slugger, the news that Fianna Fail is to organise in Ulster has drawn a fair amount of comment.

When people are playing political postman's knock, it's always interesting to see what you can see. Most of the comment assumes that it's a done deal. I don't. The idea that an abstentionist FF could organise effectively in the north as an all-Ireland party is as proven as Sinn Féin’s ability to organise effectively in the south. They may try, but I'll wager that they won't succeed.

Yet if Sluggers’ comments are to be believed, the SDLP have already resigned themselves to the certainty of FF success and have agreed to decommission their party. All units have – if you go along with what you read here – been instructed accordingly.

On the other hand, the UUP’s Reg Empey says that FF’s move is “the last thing we need.”
“It will fuel demands from unionists to seek further links with mainland parties as a counterbalance to the Fianna Fail move.”
Reg shouldn't worry. Here's why:
  • I can’t think of an example of where a political party from one territory – at a time of political change – has successfully exported itself to another one. Labour didn’t stand in the six counties – not only because the didn’t want to (though some of us did), but because it would be fruitless. We would have lost. FF have long claimed to be a 32 county organisation, but (and this may be true of FF more than most) it’s defining features have always been bureaucratic and personal, and it’s occasional ruptures are rarely ones based upon principle.
  • When you think about the concept of a pragmatic centre-right party practicing abstentionism in a multilateral political environment, it will probably make your head hurt. And if an enterprise is complex enough to make your head hurt, it stands to reason: It probably isn’t going to happen.
  • FF isn’t enterprising in that way. The incentives for standing in the north may not be that enticing. The SDLP or SF may roll over in principle, but their people wouldn’t. It would be a scrap, and no-one really likes a scrap when there’s nothing at stake. They would have to compete with individual representatives – people with careers – for their jobs. Votes would be split and opponents would surge through the middle.
  • FF are a successful entity with their own internal templates. They may not have one for governance in the north - either in Stormont, or in any of the reformed local authorities that are planned. The tail would have to wag very hard to get the attention of this particular dog, and FF may not always bask in the electoral sun as it has with Bertie in charge. They may always have bigger fish to fry.
Leaving aside the fact that any sober exercise in political soothsaying would conclude that the reality will not reflect any of the wild predictions, I'd disagree with Empey about the undesirability of this. If there’s anything that this archipelago needs more, it’s cross-border organisation by political parties.

The idea of ‘Unionist’ parties seeking some kind of acceptance and dialogue with any political party that is part of any other patch of The Union would do Norn Irn (and Unionism) no end of good.

There are other potential benefits. In the unlikely event of FF actually running credible candidates in the occupied six, it could – hopefully – clarify what many of us have suspected for some time; that the SDLP are not suitable partners for Labour in the Party of European Socialists. If the SDLP seek an accommodation with FF, it may turn out that the SDLP are, objectively, the moderately right-wing catholic national populist party that some have suspected them of being for a while.

On another front, I would welcome a merger between the Labour Party on both sides of the Irish Sea – and organising in the northern six counties of Ireland. The logic of devolution is of more decentralised political parties – less rigid alliances of the kind that the European Parliament enjoys.

Either way, throughout the 20th Century, Ireland was cursed by political parties that eclipsed the wider historical factors that affect everyone’s lives. A future where the Irish people of all stripes can vote for a non-sectarian pan-national party of democratic socialist inclinations is a good one. Admittedly, it is a future that will probably never arrive.

On a more prosaic note, as someone who has always been left a bit cold by the competing nationalisms in these isles, the idea of an emerging decentralised entity of semi-autonomous regions is an attractive one. If Bertie is so ambitious, he could go one step further and invite England to rejoin The Union on new equal terms. He could contest Finchley and Golders Green.

The only problem I can see with it is what we name it. The Caledonian, Hibernian and Anglo-Saxon Archipelago is a bit of a mouthful, innit?

Go tell it on the mountain.

Approximately 5% of this site's readers (those of you who are here looking for more details on the 'facking machine', for example) are not also regular visitors to Chris Dillow's lovely blog.

If you are a member of this particular demographic, you may not have seen his frequent reminders about David 'Dave' Cameron's £30m inheritance. Here's the gushing puke that Chris links to over at the Daily Hell.

Remember now, viral marketing doesn't work. Pass it on.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Fisking the DTI - update

A good while ago, I pointed you to an excellent blog-post at Blether about how useless and careless Civil Servants are at spending other people's money. In this case, Fujitsu got £200k to build an accessible website - that wasn't accessible.

For some reason, I thought I'd check at Blether to see if there was any new developments. It appears that the DTI are paying Fujitsu at least £60k (probably a good deal more) to fix the shortcomings of the original site.

Full disclosure here, by the way; I've spent the last five years or so trying to get government departments to spend money with the company I work for on 'accessible web design'. For a long time, we were bona-fide leaders in this field, yet we continued having to scrabble around for smallish voluntary sector contracts while the useless berks in Whitehall and elsewhere hired useless berks at the kind of big combines that know how to win tenders, but not build websites.

How things work.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Keep talking about Europe

The world is a better place when The Stupid Party are talking about Europe.

Here's Tom on Heffer. And here is Daniel Hannan, a Tory MEP who does almost nothing with his blog apart from deride the institution that he's been elected to that he clearly doesn't believe in.

The good news here is that this is a subject that obsesses a sizeable proportion of The Stupid Party to the point of distraction. It's a subject upon which they will always be able to win any superficial public debate.

Contrary to appearances, this is good for Labour, good for pro-Europeans, and good for the country.

Of the fraction of the population that won't just switch off when they get onto this subject, a healthy majority find the blend of pseudo-antiestablishent rhetoric, xenophobia, and downright misrepresentation more attractive than the alternatives. And they can always comfort themselves that this kind of frothing offers them the only route back into the arms of Rupert Murdoch and his nasty little elves.

There are, I suspect, few converts to be had on this issue. It's one that seemed important in the mid-1990s because the last Tory administration found that the combination of a small majority and a rabidly eurosceptic fringe ensured that it was constantly on the agenda. But it is not a big issue today, if my survey of overheard conversations at bus-stops is anything to go by. It allows the party of opposition to appeal to it's core vote.

Obsessing on the subject is the electoral equivalent of Labour - in the mid-1990s - adopting a Scargillite position on trade union reform.

The public, when asked, are anti-EU, in the same way that they were pro-hanging for many years. But they won't vote for a party that adopts a populist and obsessive opposition to something that just doesn't show itself to be threat in their day-to-day lives. The logic of representative government (as I argued a few months ago) is that it is objectively humane and progressive. If I had time, I'd extend Comrade Kautsky's position to argue that a deepening of representative democracy is - in itself - the most important transitional demand that any socialist can make.

In the meantime, if the new Prime Minister wants to continue fucking with the Tories heads, he should start issuing a few statements in support of some of the more unpopular pro-EU positions. Suggest that buses should lead a gradual transition to the whole country driving on the wrong side of the road - that sort of thing.

Get a flunkey to drop the rumour to Richard Littlecock and then give it a few days before the rumour is quashed. It'll keep the Tories on the sidelines for at least another decade - they can't help themselves.

Call to action

1. Support the Freemantle care workers. Read all about it. Via Neil at the trots.

2. More along the 'Belittle Britain' lines: It is the patriotic duty of everyone to write about the Tory grassroots like Pete is doing here. Their councillors will lose the next election for them - why doesn't Labour wake up to the fact that political centralisation serves to allow the massed ranks of the stupid party to hide behind the Bullingdon Boy's (admittedly, scuffed) veneer?

3. And - along the same lines again, I suppose that my 'I'm not voting for bloody Ken' rant is kind of put into perspective here. I'm still not happy with the general concepts of a powerful mayor though, and I reserve the right to vote for Ken with more reservations than I've ever had voting for a Labour candidate.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Belittle Britain

The Tories - running down Britain for cheap votes.

Belittle Britain needs your local stories.

In my London borough, a Tory Councillor recently went to a party blacked-up saying that he's come as Nelson Mandela. I have to ask, is finding aberrant Tories too easy? And is Cllr Gordon aberrant in the first place?

(Hat tip: Ian)

Friday, September 07, 2007

Candidates for unusual punishment

Apologies again for the sparse posting. Regular visitors will be surprised at the lack - to date - of one of my template "why a referendum on the European treaty is a stupid idea, and why exponents of such should suffer death by scaphism" posts.

I'll confine myself to this observation:

The argument for a referendum on this issue is based largely on the argument that such a treaty will diminish our democracy.

Is it worth bothering to argue with anybody who regards a referendum as a legitimate and democratic way of deciding policies?

You decide. I'm off to the pub.

Compare and contrast

Conor Gearty and Edward Pearce.

"...But the notion of listing and registering all of us, that bloke cutting his lawn, you, me and Alan Titchmarsh, exists to gratify an impulse to control throbbing in the drab managerial souls now largely filling the space of miserable contemporary politics. They itch for peremptory power and must be denied. Alas, however brilliant the biochemical tools, there's nothing new in that instinct. It all chimes with a certain fictional precedent:

"Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree
I see you, You see me."

Thus in Nineteen Eighty-Four was Winston Smith reminded that the Ministry of Love knew where was and might take him there at will. And as we have just learned, the author of that novel, who died in 1950, was kept under surveillance by British Intelligence."
"Advances in technology are always throwing up fresh opportunities for public good via new invasions of this kind of liberty. Sedley's proposals fit within this tradition: they deserve to be debated and not dismissed out of hand as heretical....."

"...There is a reasonable chance that the liberal intelligentsia can regain its place in the foreground of politics. If civil libertarians do not choose to see this, and go on treating every proposal as though it were an already enacted law and evidence of a police state, then the risk is that the new team will give up trying to engage in a serious discussion and revert to the bad habits of the past."
I'd only disagree with Gearty on one issue: The use of the word 'libertarian'. A large proportion of those that react in the dyspeptic manner that Edward Pearce chooses to adopt (he knows what his editors want, I suppose) are not libertarians of any stripe. Nine times out of ten, show me a self-professed libertarian and I'll show you an opportunistic negativist fuckwit.