Friday, March 30, 2007

Pre-match jitters

Aside from the decorating, this is preoccupying me a bit.

Just so's you know...

Get The Big Issue this week

Get The Big Issue this week. It's not online, and I suppose that - even if it were - it would be a bit against the spirit of the whole idea to link to it, thereby cutting sales.

But it's got a lot better as a mag recently. And, in this week's issue, John Bird starts to lay out his canvass as London's mayoral candidate. He has a good dig at the failings of representative democracy - one that I can't altogether disagree with. And he outlines a version of 'demand revealing referenda that may appeal to someone that I know.

John Bird is a good bloke. I don't know if I'll vote for him yet. But go and get this week's Big Issue anyway.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

MPs to be given £10k for website development

The news that MPs are to be given £10k a year to spend on ‘boosting the public understanding of parliament’ is good news. It allows me to rehash – once again – the central thesis of this blog.

Expect lots of self-referential links here! There is an even better reason why this is a good thing though.

It could prove to be the most effective piece of electoral and constitutional reform in living memory. A vital factor in the real decentralising programme that Gordon Brown will undoubtly ignore as he tries to convince us that he's not just another control freak.

This may seem to be a grand claim, given the establishment of devolved assemblies and the London government since 1997, but bear with me here.

Let me lay out the argument in bullet points if I may?
  • The steady increase in political centralisation has many causes, but I would argue that the remoteness of MPs from their constituents is the biggest single factor.
  • Political centralisation is partly caused by the media’s obsession with court politics – and obsession that is fed by the most successful politicians who are – by the fact of their very success – motivated to promote political centralisation
  • Despite the tedious state of perma-news that we all now live in, we are barely more aware of who our MPs are now than we ever have been.
  • Because of this, elections are decided almost entirely upon party lines. In marginal seats, the quality of representation offered by the incumbent (or potentially, by their rival) is a non-issue.
  • The national swing is everything. In ‘safe seats’ on the other hand, the MPs are able to not give two fucks about how well they do their job, or what their electors think about anything. And some of them take advantage of their ability to do this by … er… doing it.
  • We don’t get good individual candidates like one half of Ken Livingstone’s split personality
  • The Burkean model of representative government could be revived by the simple expedient of encouraging MPs to spend more time having a conversational relationship with their constituents. The transformation that this could bring can’t be overstated.

So. Encouraging MPs to consort with their constituents in a highly efficient way has the potential to transform democracy. And, though I’m generally an optimist about these things, I have a range of excuses ready for why it won’t happen. Here are the first two for now.

Excuse #1: Constipators
Jack Straw’s determination that any help should no be allowed to "…become a propaganda tool for the use of incumbents" and it was time to "make clear what the rules are". This translates has a dead hand similar to the odious Standards Board, stopping MPs from saying what they think. The Standards Board exist largely to supress representative democracy. Regulars will recognise that this is an old chestnut here.

MPs can probably also expect to receive the same stupid advice that David Miliband got when he set up his blog. Advice that he should have ignored, but advice that the cowed demographic that makes up the parliamentary parties will probably grasp hold of with relief.

These constipators will ensure that MPs never use their personal websites to weave the rope that they need to hang themselves. So you can reasonably expect 630 websites that are all identical, that all cost £10k a year to manage, and that all say nothing of any interest about their managers. Expect a bunch of necrotising agents crawling over these sites, making sure that the £10 hasn't been wasted actually saying anything of any value.

Excuse #2: The job-creation scheme for roundheads
You watch. The political parties will find a way of milking this and turning it into a backhander for themselves. Again, this will be welcomed by most MPs as it will relieve them of the responsibility of having to do their jobs properly. I’m strongly in favour of state-funding for parties, but emphatically not for campaigning or communication purposes. Only for policy formation and for the development of an alternative to our pampered mandarinate.

*******

So, this could be the best thing that could happen to our democracy. But it won’t be. It will, however, provide us with an answer to the following question:

Are MPs motivated to assert the values of representative democracy, or are their short-term interests allied to those who would diminish it further?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Busyblogging: 3

No time for the normal high standard of reason / evidence / moderation today. I just want to ask:

Does the observation that the Prime Minister has surrounded himself with a shower of fucking idiots get me drummed out of The Labour Party?

If so, I don't mind. I read this in The Times last week:
"Another suggestion was to give schools and hospital league tables additional satisfaction ratings, like those provided on eBay."
... and I read an article about the futility of trying to meet unknowable preferences last month in the same newspaper.

The lesson? Stop trying to give people what they want. They'll just get more sulky and dissatisfied.

Schools and hospitals. The area of the economy in which public consistently demand monopoly provision.

And those who are in the happy position of providing that monopoly service insist upon continually exposing themselves to the confusion and disruption caused by intense (and in this case, artificial) competition.

Instead, they should concentrate on doing it well, doing it quietly, and not getting distracted by noisy irrelevant feedback. If anyone questions you, you just quietly assert that...
  1. There is no way you can mimic the behaviour of the market, and there's no evidence that - if you could - that it would mean that the job would be done any better or cheaper anyway
  2. Doing a good job well, in a standard way, is much better than doing it badly in a personalised way.
There will be no peace in this country until the last management consultant is hanging on the long gut of the last focus-group manager.

Any questions?

Eunion Manifesto

New Unionism. John says that it's like the Euston Manifesto, but mainly concerned with Trades Unions and there was no pub involved.

Busyblogging: 2

Time pressures mean all you're getting at the moment is busy-blogging.

I write at least one post a week in response to Chris Dillow's site. So as not to miss that quota, this post looks like an argument for getting politicians to do the sorting out to me and this one is worth a read as well.

I'm sure that eventually Chris and I will realise that we completely agree with each other and that it's all been a big misunderstanding.

Molecular biology

Part man. Part sheep.

Part man. Part bicycle.

(Sorry - for some reason, that's the best link I could find. That's a good reason for you to go and borrow 'The Dalkey Archive' from the library).

Monday, March 26, 2007

Me-too busyblogging

Rev. P: "Well, Gerry, if your lot hadn't spent the best part of thirty years murdering people, Gerry Fitt could have been sat where you are before the 1970s were out. And he'd probably have had someone like Brian Faulkner sitting here instead of me. I hope it was all worth it."

Hurrah though, anyway.

Busyblogging: 1

I've seen a few things I've wanted to comment on lately, but I'm too busy to post anything properly argued, so I'm going to resort to unsupported assertions for the next few days. Here is the first.

Adam Curtis's thesis (in BBC 2's 'The Trap') is actually quite good in parts but his conclusions weren't. He's right about the replacement of conviction politicians with the perceived electoral necessity to poll people, find what they think they want, and then give it to them.

This development isn't only a consequence of crude market fundamentalism though. It's partly the consequence of a political structure that has been centralised by the growing power of the mass media. It isn't the neo-cons who are the only ones to blame for this. At the risk of being smart-alecky, one reason governments behave the way they do these days is because journalists simplify everything to fit their pre-prepared narrative. When politicians try to over-respond, opinion polls aren't the only explanation.

Did you see it? What did you think?

PS: Dave commented on this as well.

Cloughesque

Light blogging due to decorating. Painting and BBC Radio Seven go together very well.

There was a good programme on about old-school comedian Frank Randle. Whatever his other faults, Randle had a laudable contempt for posh people.

There was a good story about him going to a meeting with a load of big-shots. After everyone was seated, he produced a tin full of dog-ends and passed it around. Once the tin had gone around the room untouched, he produced a gold cigarette case full of tailor-mades and offered one to the waiter.

Here's a Randle memorabilia gallery.

Also, on a different tack, apparently everyone else knows that 'Royston Vasey' is Roy 'Chubby' Brown's real name. I didn't.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

You forgot, you doughnut

The good thing about working with techies, is that when a good idea is circulated, the office goes quiet for about ten minutes. Then someone shouts out...
"I've done it.

In Visual Basic."
(good idea circulated this time by Annesley).

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Tricky blighter, Johnny Equality....

Edward Leigh MP

Did I mention? Pete writes very well.

He's been reading Hansard.

The Tories are just worried about equality, you understand? Not that they oppose it ... you know .... in principle, you understand? It's just that an opposition's job is to oppose, isn't it .... I mean .... up to a point, of course.....?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Cloud. Silvery lining.

On a day that I read a normally respectable thogger turns himself into a walking argument for a wash, a haircut and a compulsory spell in the army, news arrives to cheer me up.

It seems that the late Tom McManamon was a session musician on On-U maestro Adrian Sherwood's 'Never Trust a Hippy' LP (which to my shame, I've not heard yet).

Dunno why I'm pleased. But I am. That's all.

Funny quote of the day

From Dave's Part:
"Gordon Brown is not - whatever Lord Turnbull would have you believe - a Stalinist. Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvili at least advocated socialism in one country. That's one country more than Mr Brown."

Hain4Labour

On the one hand, I barely give a toss about the Labour Party's deputy leadership contest, any more than I care about much else that happens in SW1A 0AA or it's surroundings.

On the other, I've been told that it won't become a proper contest until NTaH declares on the subject. So many votes - apparently - are riding on it, and the late night drunken phone calls from them all have to stop. So, I'm endorsing Peter Hain. For the following reasons:

1. If you bang on about representative democracy as much as I do, you should make your decision on matters such as this partly on the basis the candidate's supporters. I could explain this doctrine in more detail another time, but you'll have to take my word for it at the mo'.

Most of the people that I have any respect for are, apparently, supporting Mr Hain. These include Phil Woolas MP, Eluned Morgan MEP, Nick Palmer MP, Martin Linton MP, Wayne David MP and Roger Berry MP, along with a smattering of the more decent Trades Unionists.

All of the MPs that I've met and liked are included on that list with only one exception. And I'm sure I'd like the other ones that have nominated Mr Hain if I'd met them. But I haven't.

2. In a party that is unlikely to ever embrace any kind of strong decentralising agenda, Mr Hain offers at least a smattering of hope to the contrary. Currently, dealing with Wales and Northern Ireland, he will bring this experience to the job.

3. He's likely to be the most actively pro-EU of the candidates. That's good.

4. He's almost certainly the most able to have a civil conversation with the Lib-Dems - something that will probably need to happen the day after the next election.

5. He is probably the most reforming of the candidates - he used to be noisily pro-PR if I remember correctly. Double-plus good.

6. He's got a good trade union background.

Also, on an unsubstantiatable note, Mick Fealty told me that he's fairly sure that Hain takes Slugger O'Toole seriously. Hain takes criticisms from Slugger as seriously as he takes his newspaper critics, and when a ball is rolling on the site, it's not unknown for him to pick it up. Ministers who worry about decent blogs more than poxy stupid lobby correspondents deserve a pat on the back, in my book.

Hilary Benn would be my second choice. He lacks Mr Hain's stellar backers and I'm not sure that he has any historical attachment to any particular position. So he loses out on points one, three and five (above). And probably on point two as well. On point six, in fairness to him, he has a more recent history with The Brothers (he used to be head of research at MSF if I remember correctly). But the deputy leadership job requires some ability to speak the party's language. Hain does this and Hilary doesn't.

Hilary would make a much better PM than Gordon Brown would though, and if he decides to stand for that job, he'll get this blog's backing. And think of all the hilarious jokes that would result from having Mr Benn and Mrs Clinton in the top jobs on either side of the pond.

So: NTaH's dream ticket:
  • Benn (H!!!) for leader.
  • Hain for Deputy.
  • Mrs C for President.

Thogging

I've always thought of this blog as a bit of a personal 'speak-your-brains' machine, so I'm very pleased to be accused of 'thogging' from three different quarters.

I'm supposed to nominate five more weblogs that fit this description, and I'm not supposed to include any of those that nominated me. This makes it harder, as I would have included at least two-and-a-half of the three concerned in my list. I sometimes think I should just scrap this blog and lurk in Chris and Shuggy's comments, but that would be a cruel and unusual punishment for them.

So, how about these five?
  • Tom 'Lets Be Sensible' Hamilton - the only blogger I've seen being urged to stand for parliament by a sitting MP - in his own comments box. Maybe this was a spoof? Who knows.
  • David Wilcox's 'Designing for Civil Society' - very good, and covering a lot of ground that I allude to, but properly.
  • I rarely comment upon, or link to articles on Hana's 'Developing News', but it's a sensible well-written blog on an issue that is less commented-upon than it deserves to be.
  • It's more agit-prop than Thogging, but Comrade Wilbur Rubbish goes beyond conversation to espouse a Leninism that's worth thinking about.
  • And, finally, they've both been a bit quiet lately, so I'm going to give them both half-a-thog: Pootergeek and Paul Anderson. Historically, though, they are both Class A Thoggers. Pootergeek's latest - $50 a year - is worth a look.
Looking around at other responses to this meme, via Luke, I make my first visit to one of his 'Thoggers,' Paul Linford. I've no specific comments on it as I didn't have much time to look around, but it has one outstanding feature.

According to his list of 'most recent referrers' (a bit more than halfway down the blogroll on the right-hand-side), he has the remarkable achievement of getting onto page one of Google under the search term 'cunts' - well done Paul!

More proxy-blogging

Oscar Wilde has today lent his support for NTaH's campaign for proxy-blogging.

"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth."

(found here, ta Ben)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A roundhead writes

Before you comment, none of these links constitute an endorsement (though I'm sure he's right about purgatory). But to understand Labour, you need to read Luke.

And read Phil on Tory recidivism. How rare.

Conservative Coun Pateman said: "There are all different sorts of w*gs here, I don't differentiate between them but treat them all as though they were English".

(via Renewed Labour)

A heated debate

You must have had an opinion about The Age of Chance at the time.




What was it?

Twitter

It curves
More detail here.

Via Crooked Timber.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Trident: how to vote *properly*

There is a frisky and entertaining answer to the question of how the Trident vote should be conducted over at Stumbling and Mumbling. But it lacks one important appendix. If you think that international affairs should be decided by demand-revealing referenda, then you should also advise everyone to learn Chinese. Or Russian. Or ... er .... whatever language that they speak in North Korea.

The correct way to make a decision on important strategic issues such as this one, is to get people who will have to take responsibility for their decisions to weigh up a range of complicated arguments. I'm not sure I could even list all of the issues that relate to this decision, but here are one or two that occur to me immediately.

1. If Adam Curtis's television programme is to be believed, 'game theory' plays an important part in decisions about defence policy. The right combination of battlefield, medium range, first strike etc missiles, and the right megatonnage is fixed by the behaviour it will provoke in our enemies as much as it is based upon the particular grade of mincemeat that you want to convert their civilians into, in the regrettable event of an 'exchange'. So a crude calculation of utility is not likely to work. You might want to come up with some demand-revealing process that will allow everyone to contribute to the strategy that you will use in a complex game, but there is every chance that you may disappear up your own jacksy some months before you complete the exercise.

2. Remember poisonous umbrellas? They're on the way back apparently (video link). And the huge network of spooks and counterspooks collude towards one important aim. To make these decisions as opaque and confusing as possible. Where markets rely upon a degree of transparency and consistency, the nation states spend millions cultivating a network of insider-trading. And, as every securocrat will tell you, advice on these matters has to be given in confidence so as not to compromise sources. Making this information available to the general public is fine - as long as the Russians and the Chinese and the Americans and the Koreans and the Iranians and the Pakistanis and the French are all making their decisions with the same level of disclosure that we are.

3. Such an exercise would give a huge amount of power to the reptiles of Grub Street. Every pissed old hack exercise an exaggerated and distorting influence. More worryingly, newspaper owners with shares in munitions factories will be able to swing the votes one way. Those with shares in Chinese / Russian language schools may swing it another.

4. Britain's nuclear policy is part of a wider negotiation. Negotiations require negotiators who have a degree of flexibility, and an ability to make decisions based upon their own judgments. Those judgments may not even be as good as those thrown up by 'the wisdom of crowds' in whatever form you chose to listen to them, but quality of individual judgments is no more important than the exact cards poker-players have in deciding the winner of a game. I can promise you one way of losing at poker. Have your game strategy publicly mandated at the start of each game.

Give me a few more minutes, and I suppose I can come up with another four to add to that lot. But I know one thing about Parliament: Those rebel Labour MPs will have spent the day having Chinese Burns applied by their whips. They will have to come up with credible arguments on the related issues. And with the obvious exceptions of the Jeremy Corbyns of this world, they will have felt some compulsion to offer a coherent defence of their decision to rebel. They will have to offer a view of Britain's place in the world, it's strategy in dealing with the next non-proliferation round, it's tenure of a seat on The Security Council, the role of NATO and the EU, the relationship with the United States and with France.

They will also have been offered meetings at which their political superiors will have looked them in the eye, and would have said (words to the effect) ... "if only I could tell you what I know." And those MPs will have been able to decide whether they're being sold a pup based upon their assessment of their colleagues character.

I don't want to labour this point too much here. But representative democracy works where other systems cannot.

There is one important point that I do agree with Chris about though: that of overconfidence among various protagonists ("windbags") in this argument. I don't know how I'd vote if I were an MP. As it happens, my reading of the newspapers tells me that I should vote with the rebels, so my head should tell me the opposite. But public debate offers plenty of examples of people who have a cock-sure judgment on this issue, without feeling any need to articulate a coherent position on those bigger global strategic issues.

But then, at times like this, when huge forces move, and grave statespersonship is required among The Fourth Estate, cometh the hour, cometh the man.

Only kidding (for the avoidance of doubt).

Oh yes, one other thing. I don't understand why those rebel MPs aren't calling for a vote of confidence in the PM now? The logic of defying one's leader on a fundamental matter of policy that has so many knock-ons is that you have to reject their wider claim to lead on policy.

I don't know about Trident, but Tony's resignation is one thing I'm looking forward to.

Today, the internet showed me.....

Wake 'n' bacon
(ta Dave)

Kitty captcha
(ta Ben)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

'The view from the 4th floor'

Matthew Taylor has now started blogging, and it's worth bookmarking.

This is a good thing, as he has a very good vantage point. He's been a big noise in the Labour Party, he's been the gaffer at the IPPR and has worked at No.10. And he's waded into discussions about how blogging impacts upon politics without - IMHO - really understanding how the blogosphere works. He's now running the RSA, and I hope that his blog will evolve into a ministerial proxy-blog.

Why anyone wants ministers themselves to blog, I don't know. The Chatham House Rule throws up more of interest than any ministerial statements ever do. Matthew Taylor can offer a deniable sounding board - and that's what I hope his blog turns into.

(via David Wilcox's excellent blog)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Liberals v Democrats

I'm glad I watched the Adam Curtis docutorial 'The Trap' last night.

Like 'The Power of Nightmares' it had that irritatingly compelling presentation. I have to confess to enjoying it in lots of ways despite myself. The collage of the Super-8 aesthetic and early electronica (last night, he included John Carpenter's excellent self-penned soundtrack from 'Assault on Precinct 13' among others). Norm gets the demagogic potential of this kind of film-making spot on here though.

I'm not sure where Curtis is going to take it yet, and I suspect that the outcome is going to be as exasperating as TPoN. Last night may have been throat-clearing before some leap or other, I suspect. I do, however, think that a challenge to the crude inductive individualism that governs the way that Public Choice Theory is applied is long overdue. With honourable exceptions, the sociology of the current commentariat means that we are unlikely to get it elsewhere. Curtis may end up representing a convenient popular narrative more than he represents than any accurate account of the arguments, but raising the subject at all is better than not doing so.

For at least fifteen years now, whenever anyone has asked me for a bit of shorthand to describe my own views, I've reached for 'libertarian' as the best description. By that, I mean that I favour mutual and co-operative solutions over the traditional Labourist preferences for nationalisation and paternalism. I'm all up for more federalism - reducing the power of the state by handing it's powers up to the EU and down towards regional and local representative government.

But a more individualist libertarianism seems to have become the default position of the commentariat, and more particularly, the blogosphere. The bloggertarians. It's an easy position to take.

Most of the time, though, it looks to me like an appendage to negativism.

And - with such a consensus - you wouldn't need to take a sabbatical from your day-job to argue for individualist libertarianism. The distributed wisdom of the blogosphere collectively makes every such point that has ever needed making. If you want to write a terrifically well-argued post supporting this position, just spend ten minutes cutting-and-pasting anything that Technorati turns up for you. Arguing against it is a good deal harder. An 'optimal institutional mix' doesn't really have any of the cachet that is needed to compete with demands to close whole institutions down and sack lots of Sir Humphreys.

It doesn't mean that the arguments aren't there. It just means that they're not riding the wave of middlebrow popularity at the moment. Yet, because these arguments aren't being developed leaves the field open to the likes of Madeline Bunting. Today, reviewing Curtis's programme, she argues that "freedom ... needs to be re-imagined."

No, it doesn't. It needs to be re-argued by democratic socialists. There is a perfectly coherent critique of neo-liberalism and the highly individualistic application of rational choice / public choice theory. It stresses the importance of elected politicians and representative democracy. But it's just too boring (and small-c conservative) to point out that it is the political settlement with the most effective track record in promoting prosperity and social justice.

So, for instance, Mancur Olsen's use of public-choice theory to examine 'The Logic of Collective Action' shows that groups of people can achieve things as long as those groups are configured properly. And that competing interests can be mediated effectively as long as there are strong elected politicians in the classical independent Burkean mould. Or Patrick Dunleavy's work on 'Democracy, Bureaucracy and Public Choice' shows that civil servants don't always have to be crude budget maximisers. Annoyingly for me, without an academic library card, it will cost me close-on £50 if you want me to get my hands on these books again to give you a more detailed account of the arguments in them. I've not read them for about ten years, but since then, I've always found it depressing that they have such a low profile.

Hopefully, they'll be taken out for a bit of a canter in the next few installments of 'The Trap'? I doubt it though. Curtis will surely have learned that you can get great reviews without ever saying how you think things should be organised.

Either way, Curtis's scenario - one in which liberty is entirely eclipsed by this managerial hybrid of cold-war theories - is one that doesn't bother me as much as it does him. I think that we are in the middle of what Norberto Bobbio calls (from memory) "the dialectical interplay between democracy and liberalism" - this isn't all a one-way street.

Us democrats are going to beat those liberals one way or another. We always do. It's just no-one notices. We're not as noisy as the empty vessels.

Update: re-reading this post this morning, I realise that I've drafted a sentance clumsily. Here is what I've added: "...a challenge to the crude inductive individualism that governs the way that Public Choice Theory is applied...". Apologies.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Gaining ground

Open ID, that is.

Here's a shorter intro.

And this is a beautiful idea. Switch off e-mail.

If only I could do this. One day, maybe...

And while we're on vaguely techie stuff two things:

1. I've not been able to see my blog for most of this week using IE6. Nor have I been able to edit the site using it either. Back and front-ends have worked fine in Firefox though. Am I alone in this?

2. The Tories are poking around the open-source idea. There's lots there. 'Open-Source Democracy' is probably more interesting to oppositions than it is to governments. There are plenty of digs to be had about how government could have saved licence fees - and how they could have selected Open Source developers for government IT projects (government didn't though - for reasons that were both good and bad, IMHO).

He didn't, however, pick up on what could be a big idea for a supposedly small-state party. The idea that no situation is so bad that it isn't made worse by civil servants with a tech-driven modernisation strategy. This doesn't mean that the problems that those civil-servants aim to address don't exist. It just means that there is a problem with the way that government procures solutions.

Procures. Solutions.
See what I mean?

Government tends to think that it has to identify, define and quantify the problem - and then own the solution. In my limited experience, it often simply competes with those who it could be partnering.


More on this, maybe, later.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Keep kicking.

When someone else succeeds, a small part of me dies. And this is how I felt reading Gracchi's excellent post on 'Prosecutorial Politics'. It said what I've been failing to say properly for a while now.
"It seems to cheapen our discourse, to turn people off politics, to make those involved stupider and less able to think and to turn our politics further and further into a mob driven chaos. Its always worth remembering that what we are attempting to do is to break a cycle that the ancient Greeks perceived whereby democracy turned through the accusatory abuse of mobs into a tyranny. It is necessary in my view for us to stop this way of discussing politics."
Managing a relatively low-readership blog, Gracchi can probably get away with this kind of statement without becoming a magnet for every living fuckwit. However, Martin Kettle has been saying something similar in recent months on CiF. I know that this would normally come under the 'kicking the village idiot' heading (something I'm less and less averse to doing as I get older) but - to illustrate this point, here is a (non-exhaustive) sample of the comments under one such post: from a couple of months ago (plenty more where that one came from as well):
Weeper
"Blair has turned out to be a serial liar and criminal who, if it were a just world, would be in The Hague facing charges of multiple crimes against humanity and war crimes. At home he would be facing any number of enquiries, and impeachment if MPs had any regard for principles and not just getting re-elected."

shlick
"Are you angling for some kind of honour in Blair's retirement list, or what? One can only guess what your ill-conceived motives are."

Bitethehand
"Blair and his suits at BAE are the corrupters and you Martin Kettle would like the rest of us to be the corrupted. Well we're not going to accept the role. You join them in their imorality by spinning for them but don't try to salve your conscience by involving the rest of us."

Briar
"It is also worth remembering that Bliar and his government (and their apologists) stand accused not only of dishonesty, but of hypocrisy. This government swaggered into office claiming to be against such compromises, inconsistent behaviour and morally questionable decisions, and determined to uproot them. Instead they have made themselves comfortable with these trappings of power. Is everybody you know a hypocrite as well?"

Kingofnothing
"Everyday I feel this country moves closer to being a Bananna Repubic."

HowSoonIsNow
"If I were Editor I wouldn't just have spiked this poison, I'd have sacked Kettle on the spot for presenting it. I've asked this before - who is paying him, apart from the Guardian?"

Shazam
"..you may think political prostitution is fine - there are many of us out here who don't... when will you be getting a job as a nulabour spin merchant...?"

RougeTrooper
"I've got this one from Mr Kettle filed under Blair-apologist's smokescreen, and as far as blaming myself for all this goes, count me out."

Emillee
"you couldn't find a better example of the corruption of the media by nulab than this brown-nosing article by you Kettle. The reason Kettle thinks the rest of us lead such compromised lives is because he obviously hangs out too much with other criminals - the newlabbers who have obviously got his number - and because, as is clear from his articles, he has absolutely no principles or integrity."

Marketsaremonsters
"I hope to God that if you have children your wife has some sense of Right and Wrong and the courage to live by that knowledge."

JuanKerr
"Mr Kettle, you are a sycophantic creep. The only thing that makes me more depressed than the twats we allow to rule over us is the spineless idiots queueing up to court their favour."

shlick (again!)
"Now, I don't want to appear paranoid or anything, but the way Kettle writes stikes me as something someone might write to order, rather than something that emanates from one's natural personal being. On the other hand, he could, of course, be an obnoxious authoritarian bourgeois asshole who thinks blaming a corrupt society is a way of shifting the focus away from a discredited authoritan government and state of which he approves, and which is only interesed in paying lip-service to the democratic process. One can only wonder.

Hitler blamed the German people for Germany's downfall. It was their failure. His people let him down.

It seems Kettle, in his defence of Blair, and also, by definition, Blair's poodle and saviour Lord Goldsmith, makes one wonder what his game is. What he's saying is remarkably similar to Hitler blaming his people for things going wrong."

The winner,though, is.....

Mothandrust
"You speak for yourself Kettle. You can be as 'black' as the pots running our country but that is no excuse. It's a reason to remove you as well from any corrupting influence over the populace.

I mean, what the hell do we vote for? Surely a primary consideration is the honesty of the politician? If it wasn't why do they pretend to be honest? They'd be better off saying "i'm the slimiest, most deceitful, unscrupulous sleazebag but will use these talents for pursuance of national interest". Oh but that is too honest.

Personally i would not vote for anyone who i thought might be less honest than myself. Sadly this includes the entire parliament. I would suggest everyone considers that before deciding whether to participate in this 'democracy'.

Democracy does not work."

And the runner up is......
RAlandbeck
"Morality is a conception that has been contrived mostly by religious and cultural elites out of pure intellectual vanity. Unfortunately, human nature does not come prepackaged with an ethical foundation to natural reason. Whatever morality exists is whatever a culture can inculcate to its members. And that relativity and limitation is at the heart of every problem facing the modern world.

It is worth remembering that even the freedoms governed by our principle of law comes with the threat of reprisal if one strays outside the conduct it defines. That humanity has evolved and mastered a rudimentary form of morality suggests it might even be possible to grow in that direction? But any existing moral authority is well past its sell by date. Which may explain why so little progress is being made both within western democracies and in the rest of the world."
What does all of this prove? Well, apart from illustrating Gracchi's point further (as though it needs it!), it also shows that Nick Cohen is, fundamentally, right to get worked up about the ravings of the lumpenintelligencia in as far as it stretches beyond the traditional boundaries of the SWP / CPGB / suparannuated WRPers.

(Cross-posted at the Trots. Comments enabled there, not here).

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Pete

This is a fairly new addition to the blogosphere. Have a look.

Downsides:

  • Too bothered about what the Westminster Village in general and Iain Dale / Guido / Recess Monkey in particular are up to *yawn*
  • A bit too lenient on Ken

Upsides:
  • An enthusiasm for fisking Tories
  • Writes very well - particularly this post, entitled Esperantory
On balance, I reckon that it deserves bookmarking.

Redolent

For 'Life on Mars' fans, here's a website full of old TV station idents. Some of them are flash files, and you can download some '70s BBC Clock screensavers.

(Ta Charlie)

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Query string

define:arse

Chris Lightfoot RIP

Tom Steinberg of MySociety has posted a tribute here and a notice on Chris' own blog is here.

Remember this?

Chris - a working definition of the term 'civic hacker' - did it. It is a simple-but-fantastic idea, and completing this survey provides a highly instructive introduction to the daily reality of politics.

If you haven't done it, do it now.

Monday, March 05, 2007

All gone quiet over there

Gerry Fitt: Right all along.

The elections in Northern Ireland are boring. Good.

Here's Adrian McMenamin's view:

"Next week Northern Ireland goes to the polls to elect a new Assembly. My head and heart says the SDLP are the party that anybody with an ounce of common sense, regardless of where they go to church or which Glasgow football team they sympathise with - even if they are Queens Park fans and Buddhists turned atheist.

The solutions the SDLP advocated in 1971 are the ones now in effect and a lot of people died for no purpose because Sinn Fein, the DUP and the UUP wouldn’t listen to them back then."
It's hard to disagree with that last sentance. I don't know if I'd share Adrian's wholehearted support of SDLP v2007 though. In 1971, they were led by a democratic socialist who was a committed opponent of sectarianism. Fitt was also a man with the personal bravery needed to back such a positon up.

He left the SDLP in the late 1970s because of it's drift into communalism. Perhaps for this reason, Glasgow Rangers fans are unlikely to figure very largely on SDLP canvass returns for the forseeable.

(cross-posted at DSTPFW)

Friday, March 02, 2007

Green authoritiarian threat?

Brother Moonbat is watching you

Dougald Hine over at OpenDemocracy on how demands for action on climate change are stoking fears of an authoritarian future:

"Where business leaders and politicians gather, there is talk of momentum, a tipping-point, history in the making. Yet behind this confidence, the fear remains that our democratic structures will not be up to the task: that
the boundaries of what is politically "practical", in Blair's language, will not accommodate the kind of measures required to prevent runaway climate change.


It is this fear which feeds the visions of an authoritarian future which have begun to enter the debate from more than one side. The fact that few informed observers believe individual restraint and technological innovation will generate the necessary cuts in emissions, so that a significant increase in government intervention in individual behaviour is to be anticipated means such visions deserve to be taken seriously.

They suggest that it is time to consider tackling climate change not simply as a technical problem but as a challenge to the democratic imagination."

A weekend menu

a) 2020 vision: Andrew calls this one about right.

b) Mr Osler on China.

c) Hak on an anti-imperialist joke

d) More Ken.

I picked a good moment for the inaugural Popinjay post here, in which I argue (in summary)....
  • Ken is, in so many ways, the nearest thing that any British politician has come to perfection
  • ... but it would not be defensible for a democratic socialist to vote for him because of his fatal flaw
  • This illustrates an important point about democracy. It's not just about effective administration
Subsequently, Ken has attacked the saintly Mr Tatchell. He's received a dusty response here, including a claim that comments that are simply critical of Quadawi have been deleted - presumably by Ken's staff.

An interesting question arises from the thread though. If you won't vote for Ken, who will you vote for? One commenter offers Tatchell as a (Green) candidate. And while I think he is a great man, I would no more vote for him than I would for Ken. Ken is a capable political manager of a city. His stained soul, however, leads him to advocate policies that are damaging to the whole of society.

Tatchell is, as far as I can see, the opposite of Ken in both regards (and I expect that PT would agree with me on this point).

e) Cameron is the Tories' Kinnock.

f) The end of an era.

And finally....

g) Fuck it. If no-one else will link to this Donkey / Hotel Room / Galway story, I will.


Now take the rest of the weekend off. I've got Huddersfield at home to look forward to. I think I'll watch it on Teletext.

(Donkey story - hat tip: Will)

4 x 4s and bullying

Brian Appleyard says:
"...the environment has become an easy political power-play. Green campaigners make this worse by issuing suspect claims."

Then he goes on to say...

"...anti- 4X4 campaigners, as I showed in my recent article, have overstated the numbers and emissions of these cars and made people think any car is okay as long as it is not a 4X4."

I think that he is missing one important point about 4x4s. In this post a while ago (and the comments underneath it), Chris explores the question of taxation as a way of internalising the costs of "other regarding acts which impose harm - congestion, pollution, inconvenience - upon others."

And most of the discussion around cars centre on those two issues: congestion and pollution. I would suggest that the question of inconvenience is under-explored and under-rated.

And I'd like to suggest that - buried in the term 'inconvenience' - is something far more potent: That of 'bullying'. Here's why:

If I - and fifty other pedestrians - are waiting to cross a road, we have to give way to one driver. And in built-up areas where drivers may be expected to drive cautiously, instead they often drive rather assertively - move at the kind of speed that will ensure that people don't get in the way. You know the sort of thing - they avoid eye-contact with pedestrians so that they don't have to respond to an appeal to give way.

If they do slow down, they know that the anarchic British pedestrian will just step in front of them, and - once they've stopped they will be unable to start until everyone has crossed.

So, drivers bully people off the road. And, I suspect, they are partly justified in doing so on two grounds:
  1. Like TV licence payers, they purchase a licence to connect a device to a public utility. They pay road tax in order to establish their right to put the car on the road. Pedestrians don't bear such tax discs, so they should give way.
  2. The economy relies upon open lines of communication. If pedestrians had equal rights with cars, many journeys would be impractical, the economy would slow down, prices would go up, anarchy would ensue and we'd all end up living in mud huts again.
But this bullying has costs attached to it. Studies of social capital (I can't find them at the moment but I'll link to if I relocate them) show how a busy road reduces social connections.

People are less willing to allow their children out of the front door, or to cross the road to neighbours houses, and thereby social connections are lost. In the cases of very busy roads, crossing is almost prohibitive - even for confident adults. And losing these connections reduces our quality of life in many ways.

Now, I'm not an economist, but surely we could quantify and put a price on minor humiliations?

Living in a built up area, I'm frequently annoyed by the way motorists behave when I'm walking my kids to school. They speed down unsupervised side-roads and generally drive in ways that border on illegality (on the phone, doing other things when driving etc), they often have charmless music pumping out of their ugly shitheaps, and so on.

They often rev their engines impatiently when you are using a pedestrian crossing. At junctions - where pedestrians have a right of way, car drivers routinely ignore this. Pedestrians assert their rights only at significant risk to life and limb. So they usually don't assert them at all.

There is also a parallel between drivers and the pricks who crop up in weblog comment boxes. Drivers often behave in a rude and aggressive manner. Like anonymous blog-trolls, they do so because there is no danger of you getting hold of them and giving them the beating that they deserve. Pedestrians are just more polite and considerate than drivers.

I also don't cycle anywhere in London. I'd like to, but it's too dangerous. The law doesn't compensate for the relative damage that motorists can do to cyclists when they drive badly (the worst thing a cyclist can do to a car is to kick the wing-mirror off or scratch a bit of paintwork).

So drivers - in general - need to learn that their collective failure to have regard to the safety of other road users should have a cost. And, as any cyclist will tell you, the bigger the vehicle, the less considerate the driver.

So there is, surely, an argument for taxing vehicles based upon the amount of insulation that they put between themselves and pedestrians? 4x4s would pay more than small cars.

I also have an idea about how the size of such a tax could be set - and how consistency can be applied in this to ensure that compensation is proportionate to the compensation that society seeks through congestion charging / petrol duty. but you'll have to stay tuned to find out what it is.

One final observation though. I bet that - if the public were involved in setting such a tax - that the figure would be an unpleasant surprise for drivers.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Trendy vicars


I'll be very upset if any profanity appears in the comments box here.