Friday, April 30, 2010

Questions that I'd like you to answer for me

A few hours ago, I mentioned in passing here my view that there are some of the interesting questions that it is now easier to answer - if you have the inclination and the ability to wrangle all of the writing that's touching on this subject.

Specifically, these are some of my questions:
  • The legitimacy and value that individual voters can claim as their right (and in many cases, the gap between what their rights are and what they should be) and how it is being changed by the way that this election is being conducted. Should every vote have the same weight? Does it at the moment? How will the changes people are discussing affect this question?
  • The relative social value of different ballot papers. Some people know who they are going to vote for in advance (like me). Others don't. Instead, they may or may not vote / are going to vote but make their decision fairly late-on and in a more whimsical fashion than I would. Should my vote be weighted more highly than theirs? Or perhaps should it be given a lower weighting (assuming the existence of a fantasy universe where it were possible to weigh individual votes based on the sentiments behind them)
Then, there are the questions that lots of people are asking, such as...
  • 'The Leaders Debate' and democracy, eh? Eh?
  • Is proportional government more legitimate or better? How far does it reawaken Bagehot's line about ceremonial and efficient forms of government?
  • Opportunities for different forms of decision-making
  • How should we interpret opinion-polling and various forms of sentiment analysis around the debates and other reaction to events during the election

Bloggers now know how MSM columnists felt a few years ago

It's Friday again, and I've surfaced the same frustration that I did last Friday: That there is so much useful commentary around at the moment, I don't know what I can add that isn't unwitting plagarism. I can extract two observations from this that - you never know - are ones that haven't been made elsewhere:

1. Bloggers like to impress: I try, anyway, with mixed results (you're the judges on this one). I started doing this thing at least in part because I returned to University in my 30s to do an MSc in Politics & Administration, I loved doing it and mourned its passing for seven or eight years before I finally decided to jump on the blogging bandwagon (after a few false starts).

But being impressive is now a great deal harder. The sheer volume of quite-good commentary that's on the market now (thanks to the proliferation of social media tools) means that I'm fairly sure that any insights that I offer will have been made somewhere else, unseen by me.

I like to think I'm honest enough to acknowledge where I read something if I use it myself.

This was less of a problem a few years ago. I started blogging because I was fairly sure that no-one was saying the things that I would say - at least with the same emphasis that I did. Now, I'm fairly sure that they are, but I'm a bit worried about unwittingly parroting someone.

In this election, the sheer volume of amateur psephology around has made it very interesting for an anorak such as myself. This was never the case in the past. The conclusions we can draw from it about democracy are genuinely exciting for me. However, I've reduced my output of everything apart from micro-blogging (Twitter, Facebook, Posterous, Google Buzz & Google reader etc) for a number of reasons:
  1. That plagarism problem, as outlined above. I don't want to be some putz who repeats something that half of my readers have seen already.
  2. The completeness question: I used to be fairly confident that I could check a number of traps around the estate to find the corpses of relevant arguments and counter-arguments before I pressed 'send'.
I used to be fairly confident that I could hit 'Publish' without attracting the wrath of too large a portion of the relatively small in-group of online participants that lurked around the blogosphere in 2005.

The ingroup has expanded enormously. I'm beginning to know how MSM columnists felt when they first got the sharp end of the blogosphere a few years ago. They wrote for an even smaller self-referential circle, consolidating various metropolitan biases.

2. Collaborative filtering isn't there yet: I have a contention that I've tried out a few times without being contradicted. Here it is again:
Take all of your reading of the MSM in recent weeks and months. Think of the articles that gave you some level of satisfaction - for their wit, insight, informativeness and their personal communication - how far they met your specific needs as a reader. Now think about this. On the same day, someone, somewhere, wrote a much better article - one that had all of the information and other qualities that you were looking for - and they wrote it somewhere that's on the open web.
If you crack the problem of how to find it and assemble it in a form that's useful to you, the notion of the MSM as a purveyor of high-quality information could die in short order. Specifically, this is a threat to the broadsheets.

That problem can be cracked by collaborative filtering. I use Google Reader for most of mine, and I can say with some confidence that I spend a great deal more time reading my iPhone than I do reading newsprint - the latter being a backstop for when I'm on the tube without a mobile signal. Mobile RSS is even close to cracking that problem and I'm sure the iPad will remove some of the tactile issues that newsprint diehards have.

But filtering 'worth reading' material has new created a new problem. There is loads of stuff out there that meets my needs (better than MSM, personalised, interesting). How do we de-duplicate and to highlight originality from this torrent of information that is hitting our (er, mine anyway) peripheral vision? The stuff that we dip into, read and recommend to others by sharing?

I'm writing this, at least in part, to help Andrew with his thinking around Poblish, but also as an excuse for why I'm not writing as much as I used to - I'm actually missing doing it, because I don't know what I think until I read what I've written.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Common People

This video bills itself as not being for anything, but being anti-Tory.

Turnout may be high-ish at this election if the news about voter registration is anything to go by, but it may be the one where very few people actually voted for anything much. So why hasn't anyone circulated a half-decent tactical voting advisory app on Facebook/Twitter/iPhone/blablabla.

It was the only concrete prediction that I made about how online would affect the election, and so far, it looks like a bad one.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Alan Sillitoe

I've blogged here a few times about Alan Sillitoe, one of my favourite authors.

I'm sorry to hear that he's gone. He was still writing very powerful novels in recent years - Birthday and Leonard's War stood out for me, but he had plenty of good short stories as well - perhaps his preferred format?

He wrote with an empathy and a material awareness of the circumstances of the English working class that I don't think has been matched by anyone else. I found his essay in Colin Ward's Anarchy from some time in the 1960s called (from memory) Being Poor to be very profound in it's implications. It's a subject that is under-served mission in British literature, and one that will be covered even less now Alan is no longer with us.

Gordon Brown could destroy the modern Conservative Party for a generation

I've posted this already up in the comments at the Liberal Conspiracy blog, but I thought it's worth repeating here.

There’s a strong argument for understanding modern politics less as an expression of tribal loyalties and more as an ordering of preferences where we fundamentally vote *against* something than for it.

The most interesting bit of polling evidence I’ve seen in this election is this:

I wouldn’t draw any snap conclusions from it, but if you were to ask me what the outcome could be, it may be that a perceived closeness between Labour and the Lib Dems allied to the likelihood of a hung parliament – may actually get some people who wouldn’t vote Labour to do so on the understanding that it will contribute to the most popular outcome of this election: A hung parliament with a lib-lab coalition.

Now, if Gordon could be persuaded to let it be known that he would regard anything less than an outright Labour victory as a personal defeat and that he wouldn’t seek to lead Labour in the event of a coalition, you could kill the Vote Clegg Get Brown fear at a stroke. It could attract huge numbers of reluctant Labour voters as well as tactical voters in our historic mission to deny the Tories power at all costs.

One bit of self-sacrifice from Gordon could potentially destroy the modern Conservative Party and position Labour as the most powerful party in an anti-Tory coalition for a generation!

Makes you think, eh?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Election observations

There's so much good commentary around on the election, thanks to the fact that the 'sphere has matured somewhat since 2005 and it's less a playground for people who understand interactive tools and more one that interactive people (a very different group?) use.

I've been unusually busy lately, so I've been beaten to the punch with most things I've wanted to say, so here are a few random comments that I've not seen anyone else making:

A change in the status of politics: I think that, for a sonnenkind like David Cameron, being leader of the opposition may not prove to be the pinnacle of his career. Perhaps even being the PM may not tick that box for him either. For Blair, he probably didn't see leaving No10 as the end of his career (I'm sure it will almost destroy Brown...)

I've observed before that the people at the top of the BBC will probably be being paid more by CNN in five years time and that has a huge impact on the long-termism (or current lack of it) at the top of the BBC. If Cameron fails to win election, it's hard to see where the Tories can go. But would that be the end of the world for him?

Are the Tories suffering from a lack of the kind of conviction that comes with real personal investment at the top of their party? Did they pick a bobby-dazzler a few years ago and are they going to repent at leisure? Are the British public about to do the same with little Nick Clegg? And is this going to change politics for the better or the worst?

Hindsight is a great thing isn't it? Surely we all saw that the Tories weren't on a winner going into an election with the promise of nasty medicine? I mean, I wondered if it would hurt them, but it really has, hasn't it? The bookies should be paying out already to Tory punters, given the state of the economy and Brown's lack of charisma. Why did they do this?

I wonder if the rise of social media has created more self-reinforcing communities? Where they were isolated in the past (take crude market-libertarians as a case in point) they appeared to be exactly what they are: A bunch of isolated fruitcakes with a faith-based one-size-fits-all solution to every problem. But now they have a echo chamber, and it's one with enough gravitational pull to affect the Tory party. They actually thought that the public would buy their shrill obsessions about big government, and they did that because those obsessions have been ringing more loudly in their ears than they used to.

I hope this isn't too partisan a point, but for the most part, left and Labour-leaning bloggers are a fairly diverse, pragmatic and frank lot. Labour's (or indeed the wider left's) online noisemakers are rarely doctrinare or slavish in their partisanship. There is a difference in the quality and diversity between left and right bloggers, and there's no question that the 'sphere has a significant influence in the conversations that dominate the parties.

I genuinely think that Labour's conversations are more useful to Labour than the Tories ones - indeed, I did make this point a few years ago when everyone was banging on about how much better the Tories were at this sort of thing. In the 1980s, Labour had the kind of echo-chamber that the Tories have now. we were glad to be rid of it. Maybe the Tories will too?

One other blessing: The Tories have been using deniable outriders from the blogosphere for a few years now. Either the Tax Payers Alliance of Guido, for example, have tried to make the weather for the Tories in different ways. Has this tactic become more universal and recognisable? Has it made the public more attuned to it? Will it blunt the trauma that Tory newspapers are trying to inflict on Nick Clegg?

On the subject of hindsight.... surely we should have all seen that the Tories pitched their tent on ground that the Lib-Dems could have snatched effortlessly from them? Taking the centre-ground and 'being the party of change'?

Lastly, I find it every interesting to see the ambivalence that a lot of Labour-loyalist bloggers have about the rise of young Clegg. There is a possibility that we will be knocked into third place, under the 30% mark. It will certainly hurt the Labour Party. But will it further the centre-left's most important mission of permanently neutralising the Tory party?

More on this one later maybe?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"Being English is about being tolerant"

I've been giving a small amount of help to this project that my mates Mark and Hugh are doing:

About five-and-a-half minutes in, there's a line about how being English is about being tolerant. It's a tough case to argue, but I think I would defend it, with Orwell's The Lion and the Unicorn playing around in the back of my head.

"The gentleness of the English civilization is perhaps its most marked characteristic. You notice it the instant you set foot on English soil. It is a land where the bus conductors are good-tempered and the policemen carry no revolvers. In no country inhabited by white men is it easier to shove people off the pavement.

And with this goes something that is always written off by European observers as ‘decadence’ or hypocrisy, the English hatred of war and militarism. It is rooted deep in history, and it is strong in the lower-middle class as well as the working class. Successive wars have shaken it but not destroyed it.

Well within living memory it was common for ‘the redcoats’ to be booed at in the streets and for the landlords of respectable public houses to refuse to allow soldiers on the premises. In peace time, even when there are two million unemployed, it is difficult to fill the ranks of the tiny standing army, which is officered by the country gentry and a specialized stratum of the middle class, and manned by farm labourers and slum proletarians.

The mass of the people are without military knowledge or tradition, and their attitude towards war is invariably defensive. No politician could rise to power by promising them conquests or military ‘glory’, no Hymn of Hate has ever made any appeal to them. In the last war the songs which the soldiers made up and sang of their own accord were not vengeful but humorous and mock-defeatist. The only enemy they ever named was the sergeant-major.

In England all the boasting and flag-wagging, the ‘Rule Britannia’ stuff, is done by small minorities. The patriotism of the common people is not vocal or even conscious. They do not retain among their historical memories the name of a single military victory.

English literature, like other literatures, is full of battle-poems, but it is worth noticing that the ones that have won for themselves a kind of popularity are always a tale of disasters and retreats. There is no popular poem about Trafalgar or Waterloo, for instance. Sir John Moore's army at Corunna, fighting a desperate rearguard action before escaping overseas (just like Dunkirk!) has more appeal than a brilliant victory.

The most stirring battle-poem in English is about a brigade of cavalry which charged in the wrong direction. And of the last war, the four names which have really engraved themselves on the popular memory are Mons, Ypres, Gallipoli and Passchendaele, every time a disaster. The names of the great battles that finally broke the German armies are simply unknown to the general public."


Some of the most interesting blogging around at the moment (no links - I'm rushing) is coming from Labour people wondering if they mind Labour being knocked into the mid-20%s in the polls and if a prospective Hung Parliament (with or without Labour) would be the end of the world.

Are elections about ordering preferences? Are Labour supporters people who first-and-foremost want to see the Tories kept out of government? Is everything else just a dispensable bonus?

But before everyone gets carried away with this .... the name: Clegg?

Surely this menace should be stopped?

More to play with

MyDavidCameron made the very principled decision to finish their war of attrition with the Tories over their posters. They did it for the right reasons and I'm very glad they've done it.
Now - disgracefully - Tim Ireland has come up with a 'shoppable' version of their latest.

I regret the fact that politics is sinking this low. And this, and this....

Monday, April 19, 2010

Moiré animation

(via Vic on Facebook)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Way to Blue

Don't know how long it will stay online, but if you can, watch the 'Way To Blue' Nick Drake tribute on BBC4 via iPlayer.

I saw a few people mention it on Twitter and then tuned in and loved most of it. A few people were comparing it with the originals in a fairly purist way and I think that missed the point.

I've played those original three albums and the extra tracks from the Fruit Tree box-set to death since I first heard it at school and a good set of covers just underlines the strength and intelligence of the arrangements.

Sure - there are a few judgements that the arrangers have made here that could have been better, but still, I'd probably rather listen to shoddy arrangements of songs like Poor Boy and Chime of the City Clock than I would want to hear perfect orginals from most recording artists.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bloggertarian trounced

I'm a bit surprised at the way that a few good bloggers have got a bit teary-eyed about Chris Mounsey being slapped around by Andrew Neil:

The bloggertarian troll has had it coming to him for a while, indeed, if his site was still visible you'd be able to see the thread where I told him what was going to happen to him.

Mark says:
"I am disappointed to see that Mounsey offered his resignation to his party's national committee straight after the interview. I am also however pleased to see that they refused to accept it."
Personally, I'm very pleased that they didn't.

Oh, one other thing: Has anyone else visited the 'Devils Kitchen' blog? Does anyone else think that the claim that the 'one post that was picked up' was not representative of the wider site?

Now come on Chris. The comments box is just down there..... call me a c*nt! You know you want to.....

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The interactive manifesto?

I've been meaning to post on this for ages and never getting around to it - mainly because I want to do it properly. But time is running out. So here's something towards a rough-and-ready first draft:

I believe that there are a lot of people on all sides of the political dartboard who have a general belief in the positive potential of interactivity. I've found that there is a community of opinion that cuts across traditional ideological divides that would agree with everything in this post.

If this is the case, perhaps it calls for the establishment of a short-term alliance in which we collectively use the latter part of the election campaign to advance questions that are important to us together. All of them are based around a need to promote the aim of increased interactivity - in all it's forms - in pursuit of the public interest. Better thinking, more fairness, higher standards and more inclusion all wrapped up in one neat package.

This means that we would all agree on the need for ....
  • Libel reform. Jack of Kent blogs regularly - among many others - about the way that corporate or quack-doctor interests abuse the necessity for a law protecting reputations to stifle free comment. The result benefits charlatans of both commercial and ethical varieties at the expense of medical science - and therefore, the public interest. We need a short statement agreed by a lot of people about what libel reform should set out to achieve -and a commitment to overcome the status quo ante that always prevails in the absence of a wide consensus on the best alternative
  • Copyright. Again, there is an optimal balance between the rights of the originators of content to be rewarded for their work, and the public interest benefit that arises from a high rate of exchange of intellectual property. Outdated inflexibilities in the various publishing markets mean that huge opportunities are being missed. We need a short statement agreed by a lot of people about what that optimal balance should look like in order to give the public the benefit from a high rate of exchange in the products of human inquiry.
  • Open source. Too many IT projects are the product of a successful salesperson rather than a good public / commercial decision. As Dominic says, it's time people started getting fired for buying IBM. We need a government that is more effective at demanding open standards and developing software that is supplier-independent. we need a less mechanistic and more human model of public procurement. It would save money and lead to a better outcome. We need a short statement agreed by a lot of people about what they would expect an incoming government to do about this.
  • Interactivity. In the perfect storm that has grown out of a combination of Freedom of Information legislation and a more interactive polity, the term 'transparency' has been almost fetishised. This creates some problems. It may be creating a less reflective polity that is open to attack from well-heeled pressure groups. In sort, a crude interpretation of the term 'government transparency' may not be in the public interest. If, however, all of the players in public life - politicians, civil servants, pressure groups, journalists, NGOs and QUANGOs, business interests, etc were encouraged to be more interactive - open, human, honest and conversational - this would undoubtedly lead to a more engaged and democratic polity. I was involved in the 'interactive charter' about a year ago, and this idea needs waking up and energising. But we also need a short statement agreed by a lot of people about what they would expect an incoming government to do to get all of the players out of their silos and to create an expectation of a higher quality / quantity of public conversation.
  • Democracy: There is a high quality of intelligence and judgment outside any institution - of a quality that can usually beat the quality of thinking within that institution. We need a short statement agreed by a lot of people about what they would expect an incoming government to do to ensure that intelligence and judgment is crowdsourced wherever possible. Elected representatives should be expected to understand how interactive tools can enable them to improve the quality of their thinking and deliberation. I'd really welcome the opportunity to work with a few people to agree a short statement about what could be done to further this aim.
  • Service design: For far too long, public policy, architecture and service design has been a narrow monopoly governed by experts, civil servants and suppliers. No school, hospital, housing scheme or major public service should ever again be developed without a high level of participation among the people who are expected to use the services. My mates Ty Goddard and Ian Fordham have been working to make the national conversation on school design (as one example) more inclusive with their 'Centre for School Design'. In recent years we have reached a much better understanding of how to reach and involve these people in the design of their services and I think that it's time that government placed inclusive and participative design at the centre of their modus operandi. There must be a more coherent and concise way of saying that, and it would be good if a few people could get their heads together to agree it.

So there you go. A quick burst of keystrokes. Have I missed anything? Could you put any of it better? I think that - in each case - we need a strong concise argument as to why more interactivity is in the public interest, and a strong well-written statement of what we would expect an incoming government to do to achieve these aims.

I'd love to refine it and turn it into a published manifesto. If anyone else is interested? If so, email me using this link:

I'll then share a Google Doc with you and you can make your own changes to my rough start.

Update: Just after posting this, I see Tom Watson has posted something - much more digitally defined - but very good all the same - and he's using User Voice to allow others to get involved.

A definition of democracy?

I've been chewing something over in my mind over recent days. How far we are responsible for the actions of our governments? How far people who didn't vote for the party that won (or even people who don't live in the constituency of and vote for a governing MP) are implicated in the actions of the nation as a whole?

One aspect of this is game theory. When politicians indulge in inelegant behaviour that damages the standing of representative democracy for short term benefits, (not being candid during election campaigns, personalising politics, acting in ways that not focusing on the ishoos, misrepresenting evidence, simplifying, grandstanding, scapegoating etc).

I'd argue that - in doing so - they are acting rationally. You'll probably be familiar with the Prisoner's Dilemma, and that's my argument in this case. Make of that argument what you will, but it raises a question for me. What is democracy for?

In my book, it is to provide us with a government that obeys The General Will. This doesn't mean that it does exactly what we want on most issues (not possible) but that uses its best powers of perception to spot what is in the public interest, and does everything within its powers to meet those expectations.

For me, questions of proportional voting, the structure of the Parliament or the executive, and other constitutional questions are subordinate to that imperative.

Agree with me so far? OK. Now go back to that question of the Prisoners Dilemma. We, collectively, have put politicians in a position where it is rational for them to displease us and behave badly. We then get all self-righteous on their asses and blame them.

This is not fair or rational, surely? And let's take that one step further. Is the best form of democracy one where we - the people - game our government into serving The General Will?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Couldn't resist....

... from here:

Here's my I-don't-have-photoshop MS Paint version:

You like?

Culture wars update

As weathervanes go, it's worth following the moderate US Republican @davidfrum on Twitter for little gems like....
Just heard Glenn Beck describe Friedrich Nietzsche as a Marxist. [here]
Reading this post (not by Frum himself) on his site, it's possible to believe that the consolidation of the Tea Party right within the US Republicans is gradually driving them into a position of political irrelevance. My political contacts within the US are so sparse, I've got no idea if it's a reliable bit of analysis - but if it is, it's interesting.

Frum has also posted a link to the Heritage Foundation's 'Index of economic freedom'

I use the 'Best in the world index' tag on this blog to keep track of these different comparisons. This is one table on which I hope the UK will aim to move downwards.

Simon Singh

I was at Nottingham Skeptics last night to hear David Allen Green (aka Jack of Kent) speak very convincingly on libel reform. As someone who was an involved bystander in a particularly nasty demonstration of how bloody awful UK libel laws are a few years ago, it rang plenty of unpleasant bells.

Today, I've just had this email - I'm sure that any copyright rules don't apply to it and I'm posting it in full because I think it deserves the widest circulation.

Message from Simon Singh: “A big step for me, a small step for libel reform, and what you can do to help today.”

Dear Friends

Sorry for the silence, but it has been a ridiculously hectic (and happy) time since last week’s victory at the Court of Appeal. However, I urgently wanted to get in touch to update you on the status of my case, the latest news on libel reform and what you can do today to push libel reform up the political agenda.

BCA v Singh

April Fool’s Day 2010 was a day to remember. The Court of Appeal gave a ruling in my libel case with the British Chiropractic Association. The ruling strongly backs my arguments and puts me in a much stronger position when my trial eventually takes place. At last, after two years of defending my article and my right to free speech, I seem to have the upper hand and can breathe a small sigh of relief.

Moreover, the judges made it clear that they did not want to see scientists and science journalists being hauled through the High Court. In particular, they endorsed the view that a so-called comment defence should be adequate for scientific and other articles on matters of public interest. As well as the legal technicalities, the three wise, charming and handsome judges quoted Milton on the persecution of Galileo and directed that the High Court should not become an “Orwellian Ministry of Truth”.

Libel Reform Campaign

This is a small step forward for libel reform, but there is still a huge battle to be fought over the issues of costs, libel tourism, public interest defence, balancing the burden of proof, restricting the ability of powerful corporations to bully individuals (e.g., bloggers, journalists, scientists) and so on.

The General Election was called yesterday and the manifestos will be published in the next week, so we need one last push to persuade the major parties to commit to libel reform. Although we have already achieved a huge amount (from editorials in all last week’s broadsheets to the Commons Select Committee recommending libel reform), we must keep up the pressure!

Both the Labour and Conservative parties have made encouraging sounds about libel reform, but now is the time for them to make commitments in their manifestos.

What you can do today to pressure politicians

I have spent over a million minutes and £100,000 defending my article and my right to free speech, so I am asking you to spend just one minute and no money at all persuading others to sign the petition for libel reform at

The last time I made this request, we doubled the number of signatories from 17,000 to 35,000. Can we now double the number from almost 50,000 to 100,000?!

You could ask parents, siblings, colleagues or friends to sign up. You could email everyone in your address book. You could blog about it, mention it to your Facebook friends and twitter about it. In fact, I have pasted some possible tweets at the end of this email – it would be great if you could twitter one, some or all of them.

You could forward all or part of this email to people or just steer them to . Or you could persuade people that English libel law needs radical reform by using some of the reasons listed at the end of this email.

Remember, we welcome signatories from around the world because English libel law has a damaging impact globally.

Please, please, please apply maximum pressure to the politicians by encouraging as many new signatories as possible. Please do not take my victory last week as a sign that the battle is over. My case is still ongoing and the campaign for libel reform is only just starting.

Thanks for all your support – it has been incredibly important for the campaign and a real morale booster personally over the last two years.

Simon Singh.

Ps. Please spread the word by sending out one, some or all of the following tweets

Pls RT English libel law silences debate, says UN Human Rights Committee. Sign up at & back #libelreform Pls RT English libel costs 140x more than Europe. We can't afford to defend our words. Sign up at & back #libelreform Pls RT Two ongoing libel cases involving health. The law should not crush scientific debate. Sign up at & back #libelreform Pls RT London is notorious for attracting libel tourists who come to UK to silence critics. Sign up at & back #libelreform

PPs. Reasons why we need radical libel reform:

(a) English libel laws have been condemned by the UN Human Rights Committee.

(b) These laws gag scientists, bloggers and journalists who want to discuss matters of genuine public interest (including public health!).

(c) Our laws give rise to libel tourism, whereby the rich and the powerful (Saudi billionaires, Russian oligarchs and overseas corporations) come to London to sue writers because English libel laws are so hostile to responsible journalism. (Again, it is exactly because English libel laws have this global impact that we welcome signatories to the petition from around the world.)

(d) Vested interests can use their resources to bully and intimidate those who seek to question them. The cost of a libel trial in England is 100 times more expensive than the European average and typically runs to over £1 million.

(e) Two separate ongoing libel cases involve myself and Peter Wilmshurst, and we are both raising concerns about medical treatments. We face losing £1 million each. In future, why would anyone else raise similar concerns when our libel laws are so brutal and expensive? Our libel laws mean that serious health matters are not necessarily reported, which means that the public is put at risk.

PPPs. I know that I will leave people out of this list, but I owe a huge thanks to:

1. The 10,000 people who joined the Facebook group “For Simon Singh and Free Speech - Against the BCA Libel Claim”, particularly those who joined when the rest of the world ignored the issue of libel.

2. The 300 people who packed Penderel’s Oak in May 2009 and who helped launch the Keep Libel Out of Science campaign, particularly the speakers: Nick Cohen, Dave Gorman, Evan Harris MP, Professor Brian Cox, Chris French, Tracey Brown (Sense About Science), Robert Dougans (Bryan Cave) and David Allen Green.

3. The 20,000 people who then joined the Keep Libel Out of Science campaign.

4. Jack of Kent and every other blogger who ranted and raved about libel reform when the mainstream media was turning a blind eye.

5. Everyone in the mainstream media who is now covering the various libel cases and the issue of libel reform.

6. Sense About Science, Index on Censorship and English PEN, who formed the Coalition for Libel Reform. And thanks to everyone who has contributed pro bono to the campaign in terms of design, technical support, chivvying support for the EDM and more.

7. The 46,000 people (i.e. you) who have signed the petition for libel reform, particularly those who have cajoled others to sign up at

8. All the big names who have spoken out in favour of libel reform, from Professor Richard Dawkins to Derren Brown, from the Astronomer Royal to the Poet Laureate, from the Amazing Randi to Ricky Gervais. Particular thanks go to Dara O Briain, Stephen Fry, Tim Minchin and Robin Ince, who have gone out of their way to step up to the plate when the campaign has needed them. Immense thanks also to the 100+ big names who were the first to sign the petition to keep libel out of science and highlighted the need for libel reform.

9. Everyone who has emailed and twittered and told me in person that I am not going crazy, and who reassured me that I am doing the right thing by defending my article.

10. Thanks to Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib Dems, for promising to put libel reform in his manifesto. And thanks in advance to Jack Straw (Justice Secretary) and Dominic Grieve (Shadow Justice Secretary), because I know that the Labour and Conservative parties are going to commit to libel law reform. I cannot believe that they will allow more scientists, serious journalists, bloggers, biographers, human rights activists and others to go through the same hell that I have had to endure for last two years.

Election t-shirt

From the good people at Philosophy Football: (Click to enlarge)

Didn't David Cameron claim that he was a Jam fan at some point?

Friday, April 02, 2010

If you don't like it you can go and live somewhere else

Tell me what's wrong with this argument?

On the subject of the recent attacks in Moscow by Chechen suicide bombers, Dave Osler says:
"The first point to make is that those whose lives have been ended do not include Putin, or any of the military commanders behind the wars in Chechnya. Almost all the dead will have been office cleaners and shop assistants and others in routine employment.

Those are by definition the only kind of people to be found on tubes in rush hours, and they were no more complicit in Russia’s crimes then their London counterparts on 7/7 were responsible for the invasion of Iraq."
I think there's a problem with that last sentence. I don't buy this 'not in my name' argument at all. Some of the casualties in 7/7 would have voted Labour and more would have voted for the other major party that also backed the war.

And even having voted for a party that didn't support the war offers no get-out here. If you were of voting age on election day 2001, no matter what your individual views are on this subject, it's part of the arithmetic of The General Will and the social contract. We implicitly accept and support our current form of government because it is the currently accepted alternative to a state of nature. We may quibble about the way that power is distributed. We may be unhappy about how decisions are made or by whom.

Perhaps the only possible way of absolving yourself of responsibility for the actions of the UK government during the Iraq war is to have renounced British citizenship and acquired citizenship of a country that had opposed the way prior to the election of the 2001 election. Failing to vote in that election would, for opponents, have been a sin of omission - you could have altered the result by voting. Having voted, say, Lib Dem would also be no defence as the people you voted for accepted the result of that election.

Now, I suspect that there is a glaring hole in this argument, but I don't know what it is. I think that it would become a muddy argument that is a great deal more complicated in the case of people who live in Northern Ireland and voted Sinn Féin by virtue of their abstentionist attitude to Westminster. In their case, I've written around this subject before and I suspect that I could even apply this argument to them, but for now I'd prefer to stick to the case of people who voted for every other party or abstained in the 2001 election - just to test the point.

So go on then? Tell me where I'm wrong here?

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