Hello VinoTiberius Gracchus has linked me to a mutual friend's new blog, so hello to the aptly-named Vino's Political Blog.
One of his posts is on PR. He does seem to be leaning towards a majoritarian, FPTP system. I understand the argument, but I disagree with it. He critcises PR for not giving a strong government, but ends it with
STV has the same problems and, additionally, since many voters do not preference
This is no bad thing. I do often say that process is, a priori, important, but I allow a posteriori concerns when it keeps out the BNP. Equally, it means that a party could be effectively as strong as one now, but dependent on a minority partner for its position. The minority partner has an interest (to put it in those terms) in keeping its core vote and, as the Lib Dems tend to caucus on these issues with the Tories, it would likely be, say, the SDLP. This would stop some of the more egregious Labour policies of late, notably the Iraq war and certain foreign policy positions more generally.
Equally, a 5-member constituency allows for proportionality without succumbing to the problems of the Weimar republic. It would track votes more closely while still representing constituency interests and not breaking, as would be the case in a single-constituency/national party list system, the constituency link or handing excess power to the party. It also has the advantage of encouraging local participation. At the moment, a long-serving or well-regarded local MP has very little risk of de-selection, effectively knocking that seat out of contention for candidates within that party. The system suggested would allow people to stand in their own seat with a decent chance of winning, meaning that there would be less parachuting.
I am aware that it could be a nationalist party. I am not sure of my opinions on nationalism, but Plaid Cymru or potentially Mebyon Kernow would be less objectionable than the SNP.
Anyway - welcome, Vino, to the blogosphere.
Project GutenbergI've added a new link to the sidebar - Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg, named, of course, for the inventor of movable type, Johannes Gutenberg, provides free, complete, online literary works that are out of copyright in the US. They can be read on a computer screen in a variety of formats. There are fully 20,000 volumes available.
6 weird things about meI've been tagged by Matt Sinclair.
1. I have a collection of hats
2. I like bath salts
3. I have an old, Soviet camera called a Zenit-B and a selection of lenses for it bought on eBay
4. Tony Blair has voted for me... at the 2006 council elections, I stood (unsuccessfully) in St James ward in Westminster, which includes 10 Downing Street
5. I once won a prize for pig-handling at the Okehampton Show
6. I really like camels. Did you know that llamas, vicuñas and alpacas are all camelids?
I'm passing this on to Luke Akehurst, Ewan Watt, Lizzie Fison and Erik Ringmar.
Hazel BlearsAt an event organised by LSE Labour, I heard Hazel Blears speak last night on feminism as part of the LSE SU's Women's Week.
Anyone would think there's a deputy leadership election coming up - Hillary Benn on the Tuesday, Hazel Blears on the Wednesday.
I thought Hazel did well; for one thing, she actually spoke on the topic of women in politics and made the very valid point that the headline improvements for women in politics - Clinton in the US, Royale in France and Merkel in Germany - don't do anything to hide the fact that few women are councillors and that, although we are at parity in the Welsh Assembly, there are concerns that in Scotland where women have stood down, men are replacing them and we are moving away from parity; as soon as you take your eye of the ball, things worsen.
In answer to a question from yours truly, Hazel did say that legislation on equal pay audits should go into the next manifesto.
I was actually pretty impressed - she comes across as hardworking, knowledgable and as really caring about her area and the Labour party. However, I am not convinced that she would be the best person for the job. I have a feeling that there would be cosmetic changes and some more fundamental changes in party organisation, but I don't think there would be the root-and-branch look at Labour on the ground. There was, I felt, a lot of generality and identification of problems but no concrete means of solving those problems and moving forward.
Gay adoptionAt the moment, various Christian denominations, principally the Roman Catholic Church but also the Church of England in the form of Archbishops Williams and Sentamu, are saying that Catholic adoption agencies should be allowed to discriminate against homosexual couples.
Let us substitute the word 'black' for the word 'homosexual'. The argument is the same, but it seems acceptable here to discriminate against homosexuals.
In essence, the Catholic Church is not only saying that a homosexual relationship is theologically worse than a heterosexual relationship, but that gays are so depraved that it is better for children to be kept in care than to live in a stable, financially secure, loving household where both adoptive parents happen to be of the same sex.
I was initially dubious about putting this, but on reflection I will; the Catholic Church, or senior and significant parts thereof, systematically covered up the repeated abuse of children in the care of members of the Catholic Church. While this was not as frequent as is made out by the media, and the vast majority of Catholics, laity and clergy, would condemn it, it weakens the authority of the Roman Catholic Church to comment on these matters.
The Facebook generation of MPsThe social networking site Facebook has been used in criminal and university investigations and, anecdotally, to look at potential employees' characteristics that they choose not to show at interview. Such is the power of the site - it feels safe and private, but it's easy enough to find out about someone.
Beyond that, embarassing photos are easily downloaded and stored. I wonder if someone out there from one of the media organisations or political parties (or a humble blogger) is looking for members of political societies - who's the chair of Red Brick Uni's Conservative Association, who's the secretary of Russell Group Uni' Labour Club - and keeping an eye on who's doing what.
Will photos of drunken antics be the undoing of future politicians? Time will tell.
Embarassing photos are, of course, a favourite of Have I Got News For You and Private Eye. Here's one now...
I'm not the only oneThere is a tendency among the right of the Labour Party to decry any attack on the current leadership of the party as ultra-left nonsense and that we should shut up because we're just damaging the party.
Certainly, there are occasions when this is true. There is a tendency amongst ministers to rediscover their leftist principles when they've been given the sack. However, this is a time when I can say that the current policies of the administration are wrong without fear of such attacks.
As has been widely noted, the potential deputy leadership candidate Hazel Blears joined in protests about closing the maternity unit of a hospital in her Salford constituency. She is joined by a further ten ministers including two of Pat Hewitt's juniors at the DoH. I do wonder whether perhaps this policy, which may well have merit, has gone off at half-cock and the result is inappropriate closures.
Reported in The Guardian.
Labour takes money from Scientologists?
The Evening Standard reports that the Labour Party has accepted money from the Association for Better Living and Education (ABLE), a group connected to the
“procedures such as electro-shock, drugs and lobotomy injure, maim and destroy people in the guise of help”
Hmmm. Lumping electro-shock therapy, lobotomy and drugs into one category is misleading. As I understand it, lobotomy isn’t practiced and EST is used in exceptional circumstances and only where other therapies have failed. Equally, putting drugs into one group together doesn’t work – I’ve taken three classes of prescription drugs for psychiatric reasons and they’re all very different. None of them have injured, maimed or destroyed me. Quite the opposite, in fact; because of medication, amongst other things, I’m much better across the board than I was a year ago. It’s not perfect, but drug therapy works for most people, most of the time without excessive side-effects.
L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, said:
“Our enemies are less than twelve men. They are members of the Bank of England and other higher financial circles. They own and control newspaper chains and they, oddly enough, [run?] all the mental health groups in the world that had sprung up …
Their apparent programme was to use mental health, which is to say psychiatric electric shock and pre-frontal lobotomy, to remove from their path any political dissenters … These fellows have gotten nearly every government in the world to owe them considerable quantities of money through various chicaneries and they control, of course, income tax, government finance — [Harold] Wilson, for instance, the current Premier of England, is totally involved with these fellows and talks about nothing else actually. They organise these mental health groups which sprung up simultaneously all over the world and anything that has mental health in it — in its name — or mental hygiene or other things of that character — such names as that — are part of the organisation which stems from these from these less than a dozen greedy men. “
Huh? If that’s so, why is mental health in the NHS underfunded?
Scientology’s response is disproportionate. Yes, they contend that it’s unhealthy, but the same contention is made about Scientology without going off the deep end. Equally, the attack people strongly – OK – but are not prepared to accept similar attacks on themselves. Scientologists should be allowed to practice and proselytise their faith, but I am really not happy about Labour taking money from them or organisations closely related to them.
Matt Sinclair, via Marginal Revolution, links to a widget that lets you see geographically which countries you've visisted. Mine are:
create your own visited countries map
I'm not doing too badly on US states either:
create your own visited states map
There are some other interesting things on the website that created these two maps, douweosinga.com - look at projects.
The Queen of Sheba
We ate last night at the Ethiopian restaurant, the Queen of Sheba, on
The meal is served on a single large plate covered with sour dough bread; either that bread or rolled-up pieces of the same are used to scoop up the dishes that are placed on the plate. Lamb and legumes were prevalent. The sour dough bread is not massively sour; it wouldn’t work on its own, but it works well as an accompaniment. The food is quite unusual; it’s not quite a curry – somewhat lighter on the palate – and the sourness of the bread is a good balance to the w’et – the main part of the meal. It’s probably fair to say that it’s spiced rather than spicy; none of the dishes were particularly hot, but the flavours, although based on simple things like onion and the meat itself, were delicate.
We ordered (on the waiter’s recommendation, as we were new to Ethiopian food) the special meat platter and a mushroom dish called ingudai t’ibs. There was plenty to go around. The only slight – and it is very slight – disappointment was the beer, which was essentially a moderately hoppy lager. Not unpleasant, as lagers go, but the house wine was fine and, when it comes to beer, I prefer ales and bitters.
Service was great, nice atmosphere and the coffee ceremony at the end was a nice way to end the meal, complete with the smells of coffee grounds roasting literally in front of you and frankincense burning away.
Definitely worth a visit.
A good reason to vote LabourAll too often, we here doom and gloom about the Labour Party. Certainly, I'm not enamoured of a lot of things about it. However, there are times when you remember exactly why you vote Labour.
Alistair Darling has announced tougher minimum wage enforcement, the FT reports. Not only will employers who fail to pay the minimum wage continue to be forced to pay it and any arrears, there will be larger penalties that will be used more often.
The article says that while around 25,000 people weren't receiving back pay, over 15,000 were down to 5 cases. Targetting these serial offenders will improve the situation straight off and allow focussing on the smaller cases that slip through the net. All the while, it prevents us - and this is a straight political attack I am happy to make - from going back to the days under the Tories when it was perfectly acceptable for people to have to work for a pound an hour.
Questions I'd like to hear at PMQsMaking myself a hostage to fortune as the PM may comment on this tomorrow, but the question sI'd like to hear asked is:
Does the Prime Minister believe the death penalty is ever justified? If so, under what circumstances?or
What is the Prime Minister's opinion on the act and form of Saddam Hussein's execution?Instead, we are likely to hear David Cameron prattling on about Ruth Kelly. Expect him to say something about the Conservatives believing in choice, like the former Secretary of State for Education. "Does he?"
An end to Punch and Judy politics...
The wrath of the baitfishMr Eugenides, Matt Sinclair and, I'm sure, others are talking about the Scottish Executive's decision to ban live fish as bait. My reaction to this is much the same as my reaction to the extended debate on hunting, as this extract from Hansard shows:
Mr Politician (Townshire West): Mr Speaker, what did we do today? Did we clothe the naked, feed the hungry or house the homeless? No, Mr Speaker, we stopped people putting little fish on hooks to catch bigger fish.Whether it's right or wrong, there are (if you will pardon the pun) bigger fish to fry. It's a waste of legislative time and (rightly) leads to people telling those who proposed this to shut up.
The Communist technique in Britain
As I mentioned before (look right at the end of the post), a copy of The Communist Technique in Britain came across my desk, courtesy of Luke Akehurst. The book is really very good - such that I have purchased my own copy.
In short, Bob Darke was a leading member of the Communist Party until 1951, when he resigned. The book concerns the tactics that British comest party use to keep its members in line and punch, far above its weight, frequently ignoring what its elected officials were put there to do an acting solely in the interest of the Communist Party.The British Communist Party does not exist any more, I believe, and if it does, it is a mere shadow of its former self. However, there are other organisations out there that share similar political goals and will use similar tactics in their achievement. I would think that some of the tactics of common to religious cults.I won't mention their names here, but they should be obvious enough to anyone involved in student politics - after all, I don't want to get sued.
I have no experience with trades unions, but certainly some of the techniques that Darke describes are familiar to me from when I was involved with the LSE SU. I have seen them used both against me When it became necessary to remove a previously useful idiot, and against people who joined such organisations, and I've seen those people change over the years.It strikes me that some of the tactics that such organisations use rather more subtle now than they were in 1951.
some of the tactics used now, I think, more subtle than in the 40s and 50s. Some of those groups are rather more assiduous in courting organisations that do not have an immediately party political agenda. Equally, they will at times make (slight) compromises in order to keep someone who has popularity on board.
I don't think I can do the book justice. I would recommend, though, that anyone involved in student politics, anyone involved in trade union politics and anyone involved in the politics of the CLP read the book. It is fairly easy read, but it does make you look at the actions of some people in a different light. I wish I had had the opportunity to read the book a couple of years ago; it would have saved me some heartache. It it does not mean like any means everybody involved in such organisations is going to be mindlessly toeing the party line; a good friend of mine who is a member of one of these organisations would not, I think, ever 'toe the party line'. I have, however, seen people who either did so mindlessly or ended up, I feel, like Bob Darke.
I may return to this theme in the future; I have a copy of the book if anyone wants to borrow it.
New Year's Resolutions
I've decided to make some New Year's Resolutions for my blog.
There are some other things I want to write about as well, which will perhaps be in slightly longer posts. There's an awful lot going on in the British constitution at the moment, including devolution, Scottish independence, the reform of the Lords and the Supreme Court. I want to write, at some point, where I think things should go and what the problems we've had today. I also have something of a pet theory that too much legislation is being passed with insufficient scrutiny and and do something on that.
Anyway, we will see if that all comes to pass. The first of the more interesting posts will be a bumper chart of the Blair government (once I finish it). And, hopefully, at some point charts of some of the other ministerships.
I'm going to put something up now about Bob Darke.
The irresponsible face of capitalismIan Pearson MP for Dudley South and Climate Change Minister in DEFRA, has attacked the airline industry and RyanAir in particular for its recalcitrant attitude towards carbon emissions in general and the EU carbon trading scheme in particular.
I'm delighted that the minister with this brief is taking the issue seriously. At first sight, it's a loser as it's diffuse versus concentrated interest groups (the general increasing greenness of people versus the airline industry and the desire for a cheap holiday). I think, though, that it is rather more optimistic than that. People are genuinely starting to be concerned about the environment. You cannot say that a particular unusual weather condition is due to climate change, but increased frequency and severity of events you can. The severity is sufficient that issue is less diffuse and political parties are picking up on that.
There is another part to it; the pollution is not just carbon, but noise. A look at Mr Pearson's website indicates that opposition to the expansion of Wolverhampton airport is important enough to be on his list of five pledges and is the most specific of the five. Heathrow, Stansted, Wolverhampton and many other airports are finding increasing opposition to their expansion and, for now, they are at least being held in check. The relationship between expanding airports and more flights is easy to see.
A nation-wide and, hopefully, continent-wide high-speed rail network would alleviate a lot of the problems. I read somewhere - and I know how bad it is to say something like that and not cite/link, but I can't find it - that planes only take less time for journeys of more than five hours by plane. Trains also remain too expensive while planes benefit from exclusion (for now) from the EU ETS and receive tax breaks on fuel oil.
Moreover, it's not global warming that people talk about but climate change. I don't know where the move happened and whether the semantic difference affects people, but linking carbon emissions to the entire gamut of their consequences - freak weather - and not just more heat makes it a lot easier to understand the immediate relevance. Maybe this is the flavour of the moment, but there is the possibility, if people continue to see what's at stake and that it can be avoided without hideous consequences, that we can 'do something about it'.
Exeter University Evangelical Christian UnionThere's a title that will throw the sidebar out.
Educationet, the website and forum for UK student politics, reports that the Evangelical Christian Union is taking the Exeter Students' Guild decision to disallow that group's affiliation to judicial review. The Guild contends that the ECU's insistance on members signing "a statement of belief in Jesus as their God and saviour and officials to sign a more comprehensive statement of belief" (BBC News) is discriminatory; the ECU contends that the Guild is discriminatory in not allowing them to practice their religion.
Two things jump out at me from the BBC News article. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, says:
the refusal by some student unions to recognise evangelical Christian groups looked like a "fear of open argument"Why does that not apply to the Evangelicals? I was under the impression that one of the raisons d'être of evangelism was converting people. That might involve, er, open argument. If you close of the possibility of changes in your own opinions that might lead to the original statement no longer being valid, you do shoot yourself in the foot somewhat.
Although I don't think Dr Williams would have seen it in this context, it effectively excludes members of other faiths from joining. What if an American society was set up, and only Americans could join?
Secondly, the ECU are saying to the Guild that they must accept any society as a member of the Guild. The Guild are saying that they must abide by the rules and accept any member as part of the society. As the timeline linked to above shows, the ECU have been losing out whenever their case is put to the vote, including a referendum of all students.
Frankly, I think the ECU should sod off. The requirement they impose is, I presume, a means to stop people they are concerned about entering the society and changing it. If that is a group's intention, I doubt signing a piece of paper is going to hold them back. The end result is that they are spending money on a court case that makes them and, by association, other Evangelicals, Christians and religious types generally, look weak, extremist and intolerant which just increases the tensions between more religious people and those they accuse of being rampant secularists and the like. It also leads to problems when someone turns around on campus, if the Guild's side lose, to test the ECU's commitment to religious freedom by setting up the Anti-Evangelical Society.
If you want a more conspiratorial post, there'll be one about Bob Darke's book, The Communist Technique in Britain, shortly - see (1), (2) and (3) in the meantime.
I posted a comment on It Shines For All. I think it's not a bad answer, so I've posted it here below the original from IS4A.
Why Are There More Criticisms of Saddam's Execution than of His Crimes?
And my response: