Sunday, 29 June 2008

Money, Money, Money!!!!!

. ‘Money, Money, Money, must be funny in a rich mans world’, so sang Madonna. One has to wonder if Gordon Brown is laughing; Labour has nowhere near enough of it and he is now regularly taunted by David Cameron for his parties increasing dependence on the trade unions to stay afloat.

In my view the rather corrosive role that money generally plays in politics are a symptom of popular public disengagement with politics. The financial problems of the parties are partially due to them failing to engage the population into political activity; engaging them to vote is hard enough work. This has to be largely down to the consensual atmosphere of party politics which often seems to be more about style than substance. It is a widely held belief that the reverse is true; however, common sense and the recent practical example of the American primaries settle the argument. People turn out to vote when there is something worth voting on and questions of style are largely not. Questions of fundamental importance are; and for there to be a proper debate there has to be two or more fundamentally opposed sides to vote on.

Political parties should not be rewarded, in the form of state-funding of parties, for this failure to connect. State funding is possibly one of the worst options on offer to solve the problem. In general, it should be a point of democratic principle that parties derive as much money as possible from the people they represent; they should not be provided with monies that will, in part, come from people whose views they are never likely to represent. Proportionality does not change that fact. State-funding further separates politics from the people and is democratically unacceptable.

Capping of individual donations is about the best way to ensure that parties are forced to re-connect and reengage with the people. Ultimately, however, it is that reengagement that is the answer in itself; its not something that can be forced. It involves the people themselves realising that democracy is what you make of it, you cannot expect it to lay dormant and unused and remain in good shape.

Prologue - Fiction

. The inspiration for this was quite simple...War and Peace but I wanted to bring it up to date...I love the concept of different narratives interweaving against the backdrop of one big one....in any case. this was meant to be the prologue to an epic telling the story of an armed conflict between the US and a (much) more united Europe and how it effected the lives of different people....



Prologue



Walking through the centre of town on his lunch break Dave noticed something odd, a huge crowd of people were gathered around the window of Sharps electrical store. Puzzled he wandered across to see if he was missing out on a special offer.

***

Despairingly staring at the dregs of his last pint Klaus gave up on finding the glass miraculously full and let his eyes roll across to the big screen.



It was showing highlights of Bayer Leverkussen upsetting the mighty Bayern Munich. Just as Bayer were about to double their lead the screen went blank...

***

Susan wondered what was wrong now. Daniel was shrieking his head off. What was the point of having a TV if it didn't entertain the little one and give her at least a few moments peace? Trying to conceal her anger she blazed into the living room. On the TV was some news program. No wonder he was upset.



"For Christ's sake, what are they doing taking the kiddies programs off for this!" She flicked channels to no avail. On each and every channel there was the same oaken desk with a solemn figure sitting behind it.



***



Sitting in the high backed wooden chair Alexander Lupskey couldn't help but feel nervous. He was an accomplished politician, one of the most powerful men in the world but even he was still only human. The eyes and ears of an entire continent and beyond were on him. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed the producer giving him a thumbs up. Momentarily he smirked at how universal some language was and then quickly readjusted his face to project just the right level of solemnity.

In his broken English he begun:

"Citizens of Europe, it is my solemn duty to appear before you today and announce the occurrence of significant events in this history of this continent and the world. When you chose me to be your representative on the world stage it was an unprecedented event in the history of our continent. Europe's first presidential election was a testament to how peaceful unity has flourished on these once war ravaged shores through a shared commitment to fraternal values of freedom and democracy. Seeking your vote, I made it clear that things would change. Our great and proud continent, the one that gave the world all of its major empires beginning with Rome, would take the centre stage in world affairs as a leading representative of the new world order of democracy and freedom.

"As you are all aware our world has suffered greatly from the ravages of terrorism. These notions, along with those of decency and tolerance, have come under sustained attack from people with no regard for the sanctity of human life. All nations have taken their place in the fight against this menace however, some have rapidly turned defence into offence; undermining the very ideals they profess to defend. Nearly two years ago, the secret services of the worlds 'leading' power, the United States of America, were clearly implicated in a conspiracy to bring down the elected government of Germany. To this day no official denial of CIA involvement has been forthcoming, a fact that reveals all we need to know about validity of the accusations. In response to this the German government and indeed the European Federation itself sought assurances from the American authorities that no such action would ever be taken again.

"Furthermore we sought a timetable for the phased withdrawal of all American forces from European soil. Not only had the US administration totally overstepped the mark in Germany but the growing unity and strength of our continent, embodied in the European Defence Force made such a presence totally unnecessary. After much procrastination and prevarication on the part of the White House these negotiations made absolutely no headway continued to make no progress. I promised that this situation would no longer be tolerated; this matter would be resolved quickly and decisively.

"Last week signalled the final collapse of talks between myself and Mr Lehman, the American president, with the latter's withdrawal from negotiations after barely 12 hours of talks. Following this, I met with the Cabinet of Nations yesterday. It was decided that negotiations would yield no further result. To make it clear that we will tolerate no further compromising of either European or national sovereignty we unanimously agreed that all American bases on European soil would be permanently closed. In the early hours of this morning soldiers from the EDF, in co-operation with local authorities, carried out this order. American personnel are being detained and questioned with regard to various inquiries. Needless to say, they will be treated as per international law regarding the treatment of such prisoners.

"At this point I would like to praise the courage and professionalism of the EDF and the local bodies involved. Their iron will and planning to the highest possible standard ensured casualties on both sides were minimal. Europe can be proud of it's brave soldiers. For a long time America was accepted the world over as the standard bearer for the ideals of freedom and democracy. This is no longer the case; even friendly critics of America's 'war on terror' are automatically branded as enemies of the American state. Nation's are trampled on or interfered with no regard for the basic rights or freedoms of their people. Under the cloak of 'defence of freedom' its subversion and destruction are now the norm, Thus, free nations of the world no longer have any option but to view the American nation as the enemy.

"No longer will America be allowed to sully the banners of freedom and democracy with imperial contempt for the freely expressed will of the people. A single nation cannot have a monopoly on values that belong to all peoples of the world. Governments of the people will no longer hesitate to legitimately challenge and defend against themselves against the actions taken by American government. It should be needless to say that armed resistance under these circumstances is both legitimate and fully in accord with the principles and letter of international law. Innocent American personnel have nothing to fear.

"However, the guilty will be found and punished and self-serving 'national interest' will not be allowed to disrupt the rule of law. The EDF has been told it may use any means necessary to defend itself against any hostile incursion. All member states have placed their National Guards under my command as a sign of their commitment to a robust defence of these shores. People of Europe, support your national and federal governments as they make a stand for the principles enshrined in the Federal European Constitution. Now is not the time to waver, debate and question. Now is the time to stand firm against all enemies of freedom and democracy. Peoples of free nations the world over, now is the hour. At the earliest possible opportunity I will be convening a meeting of the governments of all nations who wish to see the rule of law in the service of democracy and freedom restored to international affairs. Together we will build a new world order based on our shared ideals and common humanity and sweep the old one into the gutter of history, where it belongs."

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Second Thoughts - Fiction

. If I reveal the inspiration for this story then I am afraid of looking faintly ridiculous but nonetheless I rather think I should to explain the context and maybe giving the reader a fighting chance of getting the twist. The basic plot was inspired by one from an episode of Buffy; The Vampire Slayer.

In the episode called 'Hells Bells' (close to the end of series 6) the rather nerdy Xander Harris is set to marry but before he does he is vistited by his 'future-self' showed his married life and eventually decides not to go ahead. So, without further ado.....


Second thoughts

Father Cameron was getting impatient; he had other matters to attend to and this service was already running late: What on earth was the groom thinking? He tried to suppress a simmering glower but failed; staring directly at the reluctant groom his eyes said WEEELLL….

Rooted to the spot, Daniels’ life was flashing before his eyes; he saw the rest of his life stretching out in front of him like an endless torment. Sure he loved her but THIS WAS IT. She was going to be his one and only; no more wild parties, ending up in a strange bed. Looking into her hazel eyes, his lip quivering, he could feel the tears welling in his own watery blue eyes. He started weeping as he broke hands and ran back down the aisle.


Everything was a blur of colour and sound as he exited the church. He didn’t know where he was going to go or what he was going to do. Getting as far away from here as he could was as much as his muddled mind could manage in the planning department.

He stumbled along the street and found himself a taxi. Fumbling the door handle he got in:


"Where to mate?"

The taxi drivers gruff northern accent penetrated his head-fog a little. THINK DAMMIT
THINK:

"Er , the Edworthy Arms I guess."


It was the other side of town and he hadn’t been there in ages. Nobody would think to look for him there. Travelling across town Daniel was lost in his thoughts. The memory of her eyes pleading with him to continue and commit were burned into his minds eye. Nothing he could do would erase that image. It would haunt him forever and he knew it. Trying to focus he ran through some logical justifications for what he did:

It had been a whirlwind romance. They were young; they didn’t know what they were doing. He was perfectly right to do what he did, she would see that someday. Excusing his own insecurities with various rationales made him feel a little better. He would worry about what to tell everybody else tomorrow. The night was still very young and he was going to have fun.


***

The Edworthy Arms was busy. Daniel could just about make out the bar buried under a mass of people. It was early so he would start with pints and build-up to shots. Moving away from the crowd he watched at first before plunging in and making merry.


***

Staring blankly at the contents of his own stomach Daniel felt groggy. He staggered back to the bar. It was near closing time and the crowd had thinned considerably. Sitting at the bar was an old man. Daniel seemingly took forever to haul himself up onto a bar stool a little away from the old man:


"What are you doing with your life?"

Adjusting himself to try and find a comfortable and secure position to perch, Daniel replied indignantly:


"Trying to get onto this sssssssssssstool"

Lifting his head, the old man studied Daniel and Daniel, hanging his head to one side, did the same to the old man. His hair was wispy and white and his blue eyes were sunken into there sockets; he had been hunched over a glass of whisky. The old man was clearly not impressed:


"I said what are you doing WITH YOUR LIFE?"

Daniel growled:


"Not that it’s any of your businesssssss………but well….I don’t know really"

"Why don’t you know?"


"Hey, I’m only young and well…I walked out on my marriage today"

Daniel hadn’t noticed but the old man was speaking with calmer authority now. Memories of earlier came flooding back. Sobering up he was becoming more morose as he realised for the first time in the entire day the truth of what he had done:


"Why did you do that…?"

In his minds eye Daniel was no longer facing an old man in a pub but was facing his father, when he eventually caught up with him. Staring away from the old man somewhere between the Jack Daniels bottle and the rows of wine glasses he replied:


"I don’t know, we are too young, I’m 21, she’s 20. I want to live a little ya know…I’m not saying I don’t love her…I just need to experience more things to be sure she’s the one…"

As he trailed off the old man started cackling manically; five minutes later he had calmed down enough to speak:


"You know what scares me?"

Daniel shook his head.


"What scares me is that I have been watching you for most of the night and you think you have your whole life in front of you…blissfully unaware that a huge part of it has just slipped through your fingers. I did the same as you. I can still remember the look in her eyes now…she loved me with all her heart... and I ran…that look will haunt me for the rest of my shortening days on this earth…"

At this point Daniel zoned out. He wasn’t in a bar listening to an old mans regrets anymore; he was back at that alter looking into her eyes…


"BARMAN ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD"

"Don’t you think you have had enough?"


"NO, I say when I have had enough"

He was surprised that there was no reproach forthcoming from the old man. Turning his head quasi-quizzically he noticed that the old man had gone but had left the dregs of his whisky. After consuming one for the road he launched off in search of a taxi. He wasn’t quite sure when or where but at some stage the stars vanished from the sky and everything went black.

Another one bites the dust...,.

. This time it is the Labour Party that has fallen victim to the unwritten rule that every time I leave my home for an away break a high profile political resignation takes place (which makes it logically the Lib Dems turn next, I can see the restraining orders coming already).

Wendy Alexander has resigned following the decision of Scottish Parliament's standards committee that she failed to declare donations to her leadership campaign on her register of interests and it's recommendation that she be banned from the Scottish parliament for one day. Alexander complained on the BBC that the decision was "partisan". She claims that clerks to the standards committee wrongly told her it was unnecessary to declare donations.

MP's (or in Alexander's case, MSP's) caught in this kind of bind seem to be claiming that the rules are 'too complex' and this was the Cameron defence of his MEP's. However, is it overly harsh of me not to buy into this?? I would imagine it would be their duty to actually make sure they fully understood the rules; it is not as if they are a local activist who has to grapple with balancing the books for their candidate. Many have a background in business or law so really what is the excuse??

One bright spot for Gordon Brown is that Alexander will not be vacating her Paisley North seat so no by-election there....it looks like he will not be as lucky in Glasgow North. This is truly a government of crisis and you get the feeling that a really strong gust of wind will capsize it.....

Away again....

. I am off to spend some time with my partner so will again be away this weekend until Monday night...not that anybody will miss me I am sure...now the last time I did this David Davis resigned so fingers-crossed for a quiet political weekend...I have left a couple of things to autopost which include a couple of my ambles off into creative writing...to be honest I would eventually like to expand the horizons of this blog (while taking nothing away from the diet of politics) so it is something of a dry run for that....anyways, I hope all have a good weekend :)

Friday, 27 June 2008

Winning here??

. Liberal Democrat Voice has seen quite a vigorous post-mortem on Henley. One of the points that I made was that it is time to ditch the slogan 'winning here'. My main reason for this assertion is not only has it proven to be divorced from the reality of Crewe and Nantwich and Henley but it is an assumptive slogan.

Stephen Tall quite rightly points out that it is to combat the impression that the Liberal Democrats cannot win. However, the net result when it comes to the votes being counted is allot of disappointed activists. This maybe connected to a drop in a number of activists cited by others as another thing that needs to be changed about our campaigning.

Also, to my mind it suggests the wrong mentality is coming across; parties are not elected to government until they have proved themselves an effective opposition and 'winning here' is not an oppositional slogan. As has been pointed out elsewhere the political climate is now radically different; we are not in a position to launch 'smash n grab' by-election raids, especially in Conservative seats. Therefore 'winning here' is no longer the issue per se; the issue is how our program differs from other parties and how effectively we will be at providing an opposition both to Labour in power and the Conservative surge.

It is time for a serious look at tactics and a shake-up not of personnel but the creation of a completely new 'playbook' to fit the changed circumstances.

Henley in the morning

. Well the result went pretty much as expected before I went to bed. My gut feeling is to follow what I felt last night and lean to feeling the result is not a good one. I don't think it is hard to see why when our swing of 1.7% was less than the BNP's share of the vote (3.6%), this is a very sobering statistic to me. So, what did Henley show us?? It showed us that the Labour vote is transferring itself not mainly to one party; that some are making the switch to the Conservatives and us but others are going to smaller parties like the Greens and the BNP.

I wouldn't expect this trend to last into a general election when I would expect the BNP and similar such parties to fade as people make a more determined and tactical effort to kick the government out in the best way possible, by voting for the second party in a given seat. The smaller parties were the real winners of the night and the Greens now have a serious opportunity to make headway as a party by coming a credible second to David Davis.

The oppositional mood to the government is disparate and not very focused (it wasn't an amazing result for the Tories either). They would have been expecting certainly not to lose 5,000 votes on the last time out; given the strong national mood in their favour. Also, this follows the latest You Gov poll which shows a slight ebbing in the tide. The continuation of the expenses scandal will have maybe placed a slight doubt in peoples minds about the credibility of the 'change' brought about by David Cameron.

As for the government itself...it is as dead as the proverbial dodo. It is visibly decomposing in office. At the Blog Nation event, the editor of Comment is Free asked if we should be talking about 'saving the Labour government' and the short answer has to be no, no and thrice no. For the Liberal Democrats the task is proving ourselves as an opposition to both this Labour government and the next Conservative one; for the broader liberal/left the task is cohering that same opposition behind one banner.

Henley - quick thoughts before bedtime

. I really must get some sleep....but a couple of quick thoughts, based on the Sky News prediction of an increased majority for the Conservatives.

This isn't hugely surprising but it is hugely disappointing, obviously we have picked up some Labour votes if the Sky prediction of 30% is borne out but nowhere near enough. I expect this to kick off a fundamental debate about the orientation of the Party and it should be discussing the themes that I sleepily mentioned. Our main dialogue has to be with disaffected Labour supporters by virtue of that being where the political motion is; it is by no means a done deal that Labour supporters are making the automatic switch to the Conservatives if indeed Labour has lost it's deposit and is behind the Green's and maybe even the BNP. Needless to say this looks like another bad night for Labour and one that should, by rights, spell the end for Gordon Brown. It is a confirmation of all the polling data that has followed it as Crewe and Nantwich was; if Labour are to have a chance they have to ditch Brown.

Our main loss of votes will have been to the Conservatives, 'true blues' returning home to a Party that under Cameron they feel they can safely vote for now; our main gain from Labour. In that regard our best hope of achieving position and good votes is to establish ourselves as the most effective and credible opposition to the incoming Conservative government; lest I get attacked again I have to mention the Davis decision is deeply unhelpful in that regard, that way we should begin to acrue of lion's share of dissaffected Labourites.

Anyways, off to bed....

Will the BNP be the big story??

. Political Betting is openly speculating that the British National Party may well take third place in Henley. Surely this would be the end for Gordon Brown? I have always thought the 'successes' of the BNP have to be kept in proportion but nonetheless surely it should be a cause of concern that relatively small but still significant people are turning to them....

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Ramblings on Henley and Blog Nation....

. No substantive post's due to a rather hectic schedule so sorry. Please don't let me slip into bad habits and become a irregular poster. Yesterday I attended Liberal Conspiracy's Blog Nation event which was very interesting. Apologies for late entry by the way courtesy of First Capital Connect. The event was very useful and worthwhile and it was nice to put names to faces; I did however feel it was slightly too short and I would suggest that as a follow-up a weekend event ought to be considered.

I like Liberal Conspiracy alot both the concept and the site and I feel that it could be a serious political force on the liberal/left establishing a punchy campaigning online presence. The left, speaking in a broad non-party sense, is entering a period of fluidity caused by the decomposition of Labour and I think that increaseingly as we move into a period of Conservative domination of politics there will be alot more 'huddling together' on the left and willingness to cross party lines. Common ground that exists right from the Labour left, across the Green's and right to Liberal Democrats is definatly worth exploring and finding.

The debates and opportunties that this will open up will no doubt be challenging and I think the debate in the second half around female blogging was symptomatic of how challenging it can be to cohere different networks, agendas and loyalties (I am thinking of those who are Party-alingned) behind one banner. It has to be about dialogue and a two-way dialogue at that and a willingness to come together where necessary and practicable.

Moving onto a more pressing issue for Lib Dems; the Henley result I have to confess I wont be staying up-late. For me the key is which way the deserting Labour voters will swing; if they swing to the Tories this is a bad night for the Lib Dems, it will mean more work has to be done to open up a dialogue with this group. This is the most sensible thing to do; Labour voters are the group 'in-motion' ie, actively looking for another home. Conservative voters are not and are unlikely to switch to us; why on earth would they?? There Party is on it's way to government; it is popular again and now is not exactly the time to desert that particular ship.

I don't expect us to win in Henley; the only way we can is to command the majority of Labour defectors and I am not sure we will do that- a good result is to rein in the Conservative Party and at least maintain the vote we have; a bad result is any kind of increase in the Tory majority with a substantial increase being a disaster. We shall see at 3....

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

McCain's useful idiot

. Charlie Black has certainly managed to put his foot in it; he inadvertently let slip what we all know, that the Republicans best campaign agent would be a terrorist attack. This is not, of course, to go along with the more paranoid conspiracy theories but it is to recognise that the Republicans have used the politics of fear as the their main recruiting tool.

Speaking to Fortune magazine Black admitted that another terrorist attack on US soil would "certainly" be a "big advantage" to McCain. Black didn't stop their, he said that the assassination of the former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto in December was "unfortunate" but had helped McCain to win the New Hampshire primary, a state he had to win to save his candidacy.

Black said;

"His knowledge and ability to talk about it reemphasised that this is the guy who's ready to be commander in chief. And it helped us."

Black has apologised but no doubt he has provided plenty of ammunition for the Obama campaign....

Digg!

Ashdown; 'Conditions not in place' for intervention in Zimbabwe

. Politics Home is reporting that Paddy Ashdown has spoken out strongly against military intervention in Zimbabwe. He said that the;

"conditions for military intervention were NOT in place - if any such intervention in the future would be necessary, then it would be up to the African Union, not Britian."

and felt he felt there was a "diplomatic game to be played". He also hints Mugabe may be the least of anybodies worries;

"It isn't Mugabe, but the people who are behind him - maybe even holding him metaphorically prisoner - who we have to worry about."


Digg!

Monday, 23 June 2008

Violence in politics

. Last night I blogged a response to Chris Dillow's appalling piece on Liberal Conspiracy regarding the eviction of Alexandra from the Big Brother house. The debate that has arisen from the article does touch on a crucial issue (not relevant to the immediate context) about the role violence plays in politics.

I fall somewhere between the two schools of thought; I recognise that violence is always regretable but within certain context's is morally justifiable. This debate is particularly pertinent with the Zimbabwe unravelling before our very eyes. People rightly deplore the violence of Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF but what if the opposition Movement for Democratic Change were to arm itself? My feeling would be to support any steps that it and it's supporters took to defend itself (in many ways this is preferable to the intervention of foreign powers).

Examples like this illustrate why I could never in all good conscience describe myself as a pacifist. The MDC and it's supporters have the right to resist the aggression of the state and Zanu-PF and defend themselves from that using any means that they find necessary and there is a world of moral and political difference between that resistance and the blows rained down upon them. It is a sad truth that the only language that brutal dictators do often understand is to meet with a determined rebuke which can be violent and to disarm people in the face of that by saying they must only non-violently resist is wrong in my eyes.

Support for that right would continue right up to support for the overthrow of the regime by force if necessary but not towards violent reprisals against Zanu-PF supporters which gives us a good indication of where the line is drawn. This is the key to this debate; it is about judging things in concrete, not in the morally abstract and drawing clear lines in the sand.

Digg!

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Power and race; not much to learn from BB

. Chris Dillow has posted a truly dreadful article on Liberal Conspiracy. When an article starts with the premise that;

"This week’s events have corroborated my belief that we can learn more about society and politics from Big Brother than from Today in Parliament,"

it's a fair bet you are in for a bumpy ride. His argument that the expulsion of one of the contestants, Alexandra, for 'intimidating' behaviour;

"demonstrates our ruling class’s terror of anything remotely resembling a physical threat; violence is something done to foreigners, not “respectable“ white people,"

shows a level of paranoia beyond belief. Alexandra was no doubt included in the line-up for her firey temper but she has crossed the line on numerous occasions; notably she verbally lashed a fellow constestant for burning chips, laying into another for their 'un-Muslim' cross-dressing birthday party and generally showing at every occassion what an obnoxious person she actually is, as the BBC reports the final straw came when Alex told another contestant, Darnell, that;

"I'm not throwing water at anyone. It's bigger than that... personal offence is never forgotten, do you know what I mean?

"We are just inside the house. I've got a very, very, very, very, very strong team outside the house."

According to the transcript, she went on:

"I just can't wait to see my mans and them and see what their plans are, who they got... I'm not talking about those mans, I'm talking about my gangster friends. They got some instructions to follow out."

Open and shut case really but not for Chris who feels that the decision shows a hint of "racism". No doubt C4 executives moved quickly to avoid a repeat of the Shilpa Shetty disaster which left viewers incensed and watchdogs unamused. The colour of Alex's skin is academic to the unacceptable behaviour she was engaged in and which she was punished for; speaking personally I have been threatend and called racist by black people merely for doing my job. I have seen people threatened and called 'white trash' for doing the same and find that just as unacceptable and wrong as if a white person was doing the same. Equality should mean true equality and judgment when it comes to these kind of things; not allowing it through for fear of saying different and being branded 'racist'. Sorry Chris but it is your kind of attitude that turns people away from the fight against genuine discrimination and, in some instances, towards the hateful politics of the British National Party.

Digg!

'And this is why people prefer to drive'

. I don't drive but there are often days I wish I did; today was one of those days. I was travelling from Peterborough to York and I have to say that the experience left my totally angry at the standards of public transport, yet again. Firstly, I left my house at 08.40 because my train was at 09.46 - no bus for 40 minuets so I had to get a taxi. Now, Peterborough isn't Glasgow or London but it is a city and thus it is disgraceful that this should be the case even on a Sunday.

The train journey consisted of three changes because trains seemingly do not run between Grantham and Newark on Sunday morning. Upon arriving in Grantham we were delayed departing the train for 20 minutes while a shunting manoeuvre took place; why customers couldnt be allowed to disembark first was never explained. A cramped coach journey to Newark was follwed by a 10 minute departure delay due to a 'points failure' which resulted in a 'headless chicken' dash across Doncaster station to make the connection.

Fast-forward through my amazing day and back at the train station; 'Customers are advised that due to a major power failure at Doncaster they are advised if they are travelling to London Kings Cross to travel tomorrow. Tickets will still be valid'. So what? Tickets don't pay for a hotel room nor do they explain to an angry boss where you were Monday morning. Luckily, I made it home. However, the whole experience proves a point. Well it proves two;

a) the market and privatisation doesn't solve anything, in fact it has turned our transport system into something truly dreadful.

b) for all we bang on about getting people out of cars (worthy I agree) we wont change that with punitive taxation unless the alternative is viable which buses and trains often are not.

If we are serious about this goal then forget road pricing; forget green taxation. We have to start with sorting public transport out and then we can think about punitive taxation.....because then we can turn round and say there is no excuse for using a car.

Digg!

Friday, 20 June 2008

If i may....

. ....be permitted to be personal for a second. It is my birthday today and such days are ones to take stock; maybe more so when you reach my grand-old age but nonetheless....a time to be thankful for all that is good in your life and especially other people who make it what it is. With that in mind I would like to make a special mention for my girlfriend who made yesterday very special for me and makes today all the happier because she is in my life.

Havent had the best past in affairs of the heart but I know that with her I have a bright future and that is all that matters. She has made me very happy and contented and excited all at the same time and I think she knows she is a special person to me who I love very much...and as a bonus she is a Lib Dem!!! Step-forward and take a bow Hannah :)

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Davis crusade descends into farce

. So, it has been a week since David Davis shocked Westminster and resigned to fight a by-election in his Haltemprice and Howden seat. The publication of the political weeklies raises some interesting questions and provides some interesting insights. Fraser Nelson's politics column in The Spectator is worth quoting at length because it backs up the theory that this is not an issue of principle for Davis but a way of resigning to campaign against David Cameron's leadership;

"At a dinner party in central London a few months ago, David Davis made an extraordinary confession. He had become disenchanted with David Cameron, he said, and was considering quitting politics. ‘I believe in certain things,’ he said, ‘and I do not believe the next Conservative government will implement them.’ "

Nelson does not believe that Davis was feeling "regicidal" at the time but who knows how he feels now having such a gold-plated opportunity to prove himself popular. His commitment to civil liberties is not questioned by MP's but why he felt the need to resign is, Nelson observes. He says differences between Cameron and Davis;

"over issues such as tax, grammar schools and defence spending are hardly a secret, having been extensively aired during the leadership contest,"

and quotes an unnamed Davis friend;

"‘It wasn’t 42 days that did for David, but 42 Old Etonians.’"

All pretty damming stuff really isn't it; meanwhile over on Liberal England Jonathon reports on the potential list of candidates. Not exactly political heavyweights any of them and none are either to adequately represent the two platforms of opposition to Davis that really should be represented; namely a progressive opposition to 42 days and defence of civil liberties and support for 42 days. Not only has our decision not to stand raised serious issues of principle but it has totally disenfranchised the electorate and prevented a serious debate, something Davis claims to want, taking place. If Davis was serious about this though why did he even bother to seek our assurances that we wouldn't stand??

The New Statesman is right to say that "Labour voters deserve a choice" but it is being typically narrow. All the voters of Haltemprice and Howden deserve a choice and a serious political debate. Not standing has deprived them of that and is therefore to be regretted; unless there is a serious candidate to reprsent the opposing views to Davis then the exercise is one in futility.

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Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Bush pushes forward colanisation of Iraq

. I have to say that I feel Iraq is a forgotten story which is rarely considered worthy of front-page news anymore. This is not the case in America where it still receives an awful lot of column inches. Geroge Bush is currently continuing to press forward with a deal which will effectively mean Iraq becoming a colony of America. Karl Meyer has an excellent piece in the New York Times which savages the deal as a repeat of past mistakes. Specifically he compares it too the failed treaty between Britain and Iraq in 1930 which led to a wave of nationalist backlash.

The deal would provide for as many as 58 American military bases and control of Iraqi airspace. It would grant immunity from Iraqi laws to American military personnel and empower American officials to detain suspected terrorists without the approval of Iraqi authorities. Since Iraqi law would no longer hold sway over it's airspace or the actions of American troops it is hard to see how it will be able to establish authority over it's own citizens.

It gives the lie to all those who said this war was about liberating Iraq and is the embodiment of the neo-conservative doctrine on the establishment of a Pax-Americana. All of which cannot help but make you wish for the speedy eviction of Bush from the White House and his replacement by a candidate committed to bringing the occupation of Iraq to an end.

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Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Home and dry in Henley???

. Interesting post by Norfolk Blogger whose Conservative friend thinks that they are home and dry in Henley. NB also reports the betting markets heavily favouring the Tories. Mike Smithson on Political Betting disagrees; he thinks turnout could be the key. In that regard the Tories saying they are home and dry could be very counterproductive. If their supporters think it is a sealed deal then they may not turn out if it is rainy day.

Smithson argues that turnout is key; if it is high expect a comfortable Conservative win, if it is low a shock could be on the cards. He is getting the impression "that Nick Clegg’s party might just be in with a shout." He feels that things are "going to be much closer in terms of vote shares then the Conservatives are going to find comfortable."

So...not quite home and dry for Cameron's Conservatives then.

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Gore endorses Obama

. Al Gore has broken cover and offered his support to Barack Obama. In a letter reported on Real Clear Politics he said;

"From now through Election Day, I intend to do whatever I can to make sure he is elected president of the United States."

His website, Algore.com, even calls for donations to the Obama campaign;

"With the help of millions of supporters like you, Barack Obama will bring the change we so desperately need in order to solve our country's most pressing problems."

This is the first time he has asked for funding for a political campaign on the site. It also comes complete with the banner headline 'Join me and support Barack Obama'. I have to confess, in general I am an Al Gore fan and am decidedly of the opinion that Obama could do alot worse than have him as his running-mate. It seems here he has gone beyond the normal supportive noises...could this be an indication that Obama is courting him for that spot??

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Sunday, 15 June 2008

And you shall reap what you sow...

. In the midst of the turmoil surrounding David Davis and the contentious decision not to stand against him by Nick Clegg there comes a poll, by ICM, reported on Political Betting. Much has been made of the 11% swing. The poll shows that people (wrongly in my view) believe his actions were principled but they still don't support the principle he is standing on. They agree by 59-33% that Britain is a 'nation of snoopers' but it is worth pointing out that this is a complaint made often by Daily Mail editorials so it doesn't show a mass epiphany in favour of civil liberties.It doesn't show widespread support for his position of 42 day detention without charge. It shows support for his decision which follows logically if you accept people think its valiant but not the policy.

Now to the 11% drop. The key thing here is that the question that was asked; how would you vote in a general election? Nobody can reasonably argue given the question that the 11% we lost will now come back; it's turned Tory blue and intends staying that way. So the concrete question is once again...how has Nick Cleggs decision benefited either the cause or the Party?

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Saturday, 14 June 2008

Moral Maze

. The Oxford English dictionary defines a moral thus: "concerned with the principles of right and wrong behaviour and the goodness or badness of human character". However, that is far from exhaustive definition: in essence, when seeking to define a moral and morality we can start with its charactisation as something that is purely subjective. Morals and morality are not tangible, they can't be touched. They exist purely in the vastness that is humanities mental universe but yet that is not the entire truth.

Values and morals are a form of mediation between our mental universe and the physical one that surrounds us. They are also a form of mediation between each other; as such they are heavily conditioned by what may be called ‘environmental factors’. Here it is easy to see why they vary from person to person; each person is born different and is shaped by different experiences.

This is also why attempts to formulate universal moral codes usually fail and can often result in questionable moral stances. Not only do they fail to take into account the vastness of the differential between people and experiences but they also fail to take account of the varied situations that people find themselves in. For example, take a pretty universal moral dictum; 'Thou shalt not kill'. A soldier in war could never live by that dictum, it is their job to kill.

Sometimes universal morality can have the downright immoral consequences. For example; a women is an abusive marriage, her parents and kin know but still insist she maintain the marriage due to the sanctity of marriage. In my view, in that scenario, the parents 'morals' are deeply immoral. Thus 'virtue' becomes 'vice'.

Of course, this touch's on religion's role in morality. Religion's are in large part a giant attempt to impose a universal code on it's followers through a system of structures both mental (religious texts and stories) and physical (churches and other organisations). Anybody who follows current affairs really needs no instruction on how damaging that can be. This doesn't mean that all religions moral code is bad; there is a human core to some religious morality which is worth noting.

Does this mean that all attempts to design a universal moral code are doomed to failure? Yes, most probably. It doesn't mean that people will stop doing it because people feel so much better when they have guide-ropes to help them feel the way in uncertain territory. However, that approach is certainly not so much outdated as outmoded by the onward march of events. A new approach would have to incorporate a very of the world that recognises shades of grey in-between the black and white. Also it would have to recognise that the concepts of 'good' and 'evil' and 'right' and 'wrong' are intrinsically linked. Nobody would know what was right without knowing what was wrong and vice-versa.

Morals and morality are at the centre of an age old debate about how we relate to each other and co-exist. One thing is for certain; that debate will continue for a long time yet.

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The little things....

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I want to tell a story. This story isn't the most exciting thing you will ever read. No thrills and only one spill. It certainly won't be made into a movie or win an Oscar in the very very unlikely event it was but still, to me, it's a story about one of those things that can make life worth living.
I was on the way back home from town in the early hours of the morning (well, 9 am is early to me) and I decided to catch a bus considering I had just wasted a sum on a fruitless taxi. I got on the bus, one ear of my Ipod headphones swinging in the wind, and said to the bus driver:

"You will hate me".

I had £1.20 in change and the fare was £1.40. Other than my shrapnel all I had was a £10 note. Hence me self-consciously assuming hatred from the bus driver:

"No change you will have to get another bus"

"Ok, I have £1.20"

Admittedly it may have been a little cheeky hoping that I would be let off the 20p but still it would hardly be a big dent in the day's takings. The driver continued to protest:
"The fare is £1.40 and I haven't got change and I don't want to get any...it's not as if I am getting a break anyway..."

I zoned out at this point as the Ipod continued to distract me in my other ear. On my way to the bus and out of the stations sliding door I had motioned for a guy to go ahead of me as it looked as if he had been waiting longer. That guy was standing nearest to me and the bus driver's cubicle. He asked:


"How much do you need mate?"

"20p", I replied.

"Don't worry I will sort it for you" he said as he proffered me a 50p piece.

It turned out my maths as usual was suspect. I needed 40 of the 50 pence. Something that I felt a twinge of guilt over. Of course i gave the 10p change to my benefactor. The rest of the bus journey was uneventful. When the guy got off I waved.

What is the possible point of this story? Well, since you asked, for the rest of the journey my heart was singing. Why? Because there was absolutely no need for that guy to intervene. It wasn't a grand kindness by the measure of some scales. 40p would hardly break a beggars bank but the point is that he was bothered enough to intervene and that is what makes what he did, in it's own small way, a great act of humanity. He was prepared to assist a complete stranger and make a sacrifice for that person.

Day to day millions of people do this in an ordinary way, give to charity or work for charity or numerous other acts of self-sacrifice. Of course these are often well publicised and justly so. However, small random acts of kindness and consideration that will never make the headlines deserve more attention for it is those that go unnoticed but it is also those that can warm the heart the most.

It is easy to turn on the news or look around you and seem the darker side of humanity. The misery and suffering we inflict on each other in various names, for various 'causes'. As a species we are capable of immense and terrifying cruelty mostly to our own kind.However, the story of the man on the bus shows a different side to our nature. One that whenever things seem all gloom and doom we would all do well to celebrate and remember.



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We, the undersigned...

. "We, the undersigned note with scepticism the recent resignation of Shadow Home Secrertary David Davis. We note that his campaign will be receiving no financial and logistical support from the Conservative Party and therefore feel that in fact his resignation is the result of internal wrangling within the Party.

While we share his concerns about the recent passage of legislation to extend the limit of pre-charge detention to 42 days for terror suspects. We also share his concerns about this governments attacks on civil liberties. However, we do feel that he is not the best representative of our concerns. If Mr Davis is serious about building a cross-party coalition on this issue we call on him to prove that and tender his resignation from the Conservative Party.

However, we, as Liberal Democrat members/supporters feel that these concerns would be best represented by the election of a Liberal Democrat MP and call on the leadership to reconsider it's position to not stand a candidate. "

Please sign at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/daviddavis/

Friday, 13 June 2008

2+2=5?

. Some uncomfortable questions for anybody who thinks David Davis is a 'man of principle';

1) Why has he resigned from the position he was most able to change that policy from?

2) Why is the Conservative Party not funding his campaign?

3) Why are spokespeople for the Conservative leadership saying at every juncture this is a 'personal campaign'?

4) Why is it that already his resignation is the catalyst for the Daily Telegraph to say it has;

"Raised questions about the way the Conservative Party is being managed. It is no secret at Westminster that the top of the party is run by a small clique of which Mr Davis was no part".

5) Why are we giving this man the time of day given his previously recorded statements on other issues; given the fact that this move is not a 'principle stand' but in fact an assault on the Conservative Party leadership, an attempt to strengthen his own hand in the internal party dynamic?

Tactical ineptitude and unprincipled alliances

. The shock waves from the David Davis resignation (nearly) shook my hotel room although it is possible that this was from passing traffic. Suddenly, after flying so high the Conservatives have a crisis on their hands. The question has to be asked why he took this step. He is a front-bench spokesperson for a party committed to opposing the government and has openly committed that party from his lofty position to a repeal of the measure. What is the need to then resign unless there is some hidden split within the Conservative hierarchy?

No possible explanation other than this and personal vanity exists; there is absolutely no logical reason to do this other than a desire to 'be' the champion and it is the first failing of our leadership that they have failed to grasp this point. They are assuming that Davis is 'making a principled stand' and that his motives are entirely genuine. If that were the case then Nick Clegg's argument that this is a tactical decision becomes more plausible but given the facts above how can our leadership assume this is the case?? A principled position would have been for Davis to remain in his post and work with all his force for the electorate to support his Party in two years time.

If, as I have stated above, this is a crusade of personal vanity, a ploy to make himself look good and cast himself as the 'champion of civil liberties' then Davis must be opposed because his position on a whole range of questions comes 'into play'. Issues, like the Human Rights Act which Davis opposes, must be raised and we must be saying to the electorate; 'Yes we agree with David on this single issue but we do not recognise this man as a 'champion' of any kind and it is our Party which champions these values'. Furthermore, our withdrawal has deprived the electorate of a genuine debate on these wider issues and as such is an affront to democracy not just the local Party.

David Davis is not a single issue candidate; he is the candidate of the Conservative Party. He is not a local resident standing on saving a hospital for example, something that is a truly independent and single-issue platform. Unfortunately, I am reminded of the far-left by this decision; the mantra that the 'enemy of my enemy must be my friend', a mantra that leads it into all sorts of unpleasant, distasteful and deeply unprincipled alliances. It shows a congential softness for the Conservative Party which will no doubt not be lost on Labour voters wavering our way.

I understand that Nick Clegg might not want the pro-42 days camp to vote for us but this is hardly likely is it?? Our platform includes stated opposition to 42 days and should go further than anything Davis would offer; to look into the serious possibility of the reduction from the current 28 day limit. Yes, civil liberties are under threat, yes, allot of what Davis said was correct on this single issue but he is not the man to reverse this tide and we should be saying so; that we are not is a tragedy for all those passionate believers in those liberties and the Liberal Democrats as being the best champions of them.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Against intervention

. It has been argued that the neo-conservative doctrine should be welcomed by liberals and progressives. Firstly, it is helpful to pin down what we mean by 'neo-conservatism'. It's proponents would have us imagine that it is a doctrine that has the aim of spreading “liberty, justice and a constitutional government” which, as he rightly says, are things we all believe in; however, we have to be quite clear that this is not the aim of neo-conservative doctrine. Let's take a look at what Wikipedia says;

“Neoconservatism emphasizes foreign policy as the paramount responsibility of government, maintaining that America's role as the world's sole superpower is indispensable to establishing and maintaining global order.

So, in other words spreading the warmth of human kindness is not the aim of neoconservatism. How can anybody realistically say this is anything other than an imperialist doctrine? This is easily proven because while America has been busy invading Iraq it maintains close relations with the barbaric House of Saud amoung other questionable regimes. It gets the red carpet treatment at the White House.

It is to be hoped that nobody here would seriously want to defend Saddam's regime; a choice between supporting 'neo-con' wars and sitting alongside those who support or apologise for the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah is a false one. It is perfectly possible to establish a third camp which neither supports these wars nor supports the reactionaries of Hamas and Hezbollah. Of course, Saddam no longer being in power would be a good thing but if you change the means then you change the end.

Western powers had their chance to support the democratic rising of the Iraqi Shia at the end of the first Gulf War and they didn't take it this in itself says a lot about where the focus of neoconservatism is; the people are not the solution, the state and it's tanks and guns are and this is defiantly not in line with classical liberalism. One of the tragedies of the left through it's various guises and ideological divides has been the abandonment of people as the creators of their own progress and the willingness to support them in that wherever possible; this should be the central tenant of our foreign policy.

The arguments against the 'regime change' doctrine are rooted in both ideological principle and practical common sense. Solutions other than regime change exist and they would be more viable if the international community was not splintered due to unilateralism and belligerence of the part of the 'great powers'. Sometimes these solutions may call for the application of military force but that will achieve little with the west so desperately lacking in any kind of moral credibility; drained as it has been by the mess made in Iraq.

Recognising this does not make our party an 'isolationist' in international affairs; it makes it a realist. We are not an isolationist party we are an internationalist party which believes in supporting people as they strive for it but not imposing it on them above without any due mandate or justification in international law.

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Ode to a window view

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Ode to a window view...

Glass is a gateway to another world
Flanked on all sides by chairs and tables
A dull and drab world
Fulfilled only through functionality
Through the gateway is a different world
Unfolding with a lake golden with sunshine
Lined by trees either side of a snaking path
Straight ahead rolling plains
Ending in mountain peaks clothed in cloud
A right turn takes you further into man's domain
Tall buildings, specks against looming mountains

Looking through the window gives you wings
Your mind can make incredible journeys
Soaring to mountain tops or skirting lakes edge
As eyes turn away flights of fancy vanish
Nothing but a mournful and mesmeric memory

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Away days...

. Just a quick note to say I am now away for two days...some secheduled posts will be forthcoming (not all political) but I will be back soon enough to return the blog to the usual politics/news fare...though I might make some non-political stuff a more regular event...possibly...take care all :) see you in two days....

Breaking news; top secret papers left on a train

. The BBC is running a quite extraordinary story. It is saying that top-secret documents containing the latest government intelligence assessment on al-Qaeda have been left on a train in London. It was given the documents by a passenger on the train from Waterloo to Surrey who spotted the orange cardboard envelope lying abandoned on a seat.

Documents included a 'damming' assesment of Iraq's security services and were so sensitive they were all numbered and marked 'UK Top Secret'and 'for UK/US/Canadian and Australian eyes only'. Bear in mind this is the government that 315 MP's have just entrusted with the power to detain people without charge for 42 days.....

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DUP saves government; sells liberty

. So, the government won the 42-day vote by a whisker. 9 votes was the government majority, in other words it won victory with the purchased votes of the DUP. It has done so with widespread public support and it may well be rewarded with a slight poll bounce. The support the measure received within the wider public shows that the reactive politics of fear trump reasoned argument and should send a warning to those people who wish to defend our civil liberties. It shows that, to put it bluntly, we need to make our case and be more forceful in doing so; people need to see how legislation like this impacts their lives and sets a dangerous precedent for the erosion of every single person's liberty.

The debate was lively with good contributions from all sides of the House; something which showed a clear coalition of opposition to these proposals. Chris Huhne and Sir Menzies Campbell made impassioned contributions for the Liberal Democrats as did Diane Abbot from the Labour side, at least showing their may be some decent people left on the government benches. She rightly questioned what Parliament was for if not to represent those communities that will potentially suffer most from this new legislation.

A number of speakers expressed the danger that these measures put us in danger of becoming the very thing we are fighting; that danger has been clear and present since 9/11 and it is now manifesting itself in various ways. Kudos to the 37 Labour MP's who did rebel. Now the battle continues onto the House of Lords....

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Australian minister ordered to counselling

. Reuters reports that a junior minister in Australia's new Labor government has been ordered to seek anger management therapy. Belinda Neal told pregnant Liberal Party politician Sophie Mirabella that her baby could be 'born a demon'. Neal has also been suspended from a football team for kicking a fallen opponent, and there are allegations she threatened and abused staff at a restaurant north of Sydney

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said;

"I've said to her that there appears to be a pattern of unacceptable behaviour."

Neal meanwhile seems to acknowledge she might have a slight problem, she said;

"I think frankly that it will be a good thing."

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Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Poll shows Clinton as much a burden as a blessing

. Real Clear Politics details an interesting Associated Press-Yahoo poll which shows that the argument that if Barack Obama picks Hillary Clinton as his running mate it could damage his chances of beating John McCain is a valid one. It showed 32% of independent respondents expressing a 'strong dislike' of Clinton. Unsurprisingly she is deeply unpopular with Republicans; something that could help solidify them behind a candidate their relationship is at best ambivalent with., 67% have a 'strongly unfavourable view of Clinton. However, this is 24% more than say the same about Obama which raises the possibility that without hatred of Clinton to motivate them more might be tempted to sit on their hands in the upcoming Obama-McCain match-up.

She is more popular with white Democrats, Hispanics and Catholics but interestingly the poll; " shows little difference in how favorably the two are viewed by several other groups Clinton won during the primaries, including working-class whites, people over age 65 and women." In other words, key demographics for the Democrat's might well return to the fold whether she is on the ticket or not. The same may well be said of Hispanics where polls have given Obama a commanding lead over McCain.

Normally the issue of the vice-presidency wouldn't be a huge one but you can't help feeling that if Clinton was on the ticket then the issues surrounding her would eclipse the Obama's candidacy.

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Amnesty to Labour MP's - 42 day vote a 'watershed'

. Amnesty Internationals Director Kate Allen has written to Labour backbenchers urging them not to cave-in to government pressure to support plans to extend the detention without charge limit to 42 days. She described the vote tomorrow as a 'watershed moment for human rights in the UK'. She writes;

"I urge you to stand in support of principles that lie at the heart of our society, principles such as justice and liberty.

The alternative is to succumb to the climate of fear that terrorists seek to breed among us.


I urge you to oppose any further extension of pre-charge detention."

She acknowledges the threat that Britain faces and the "obligation to act to protect people from terrorism." But, quite rightly, says;

"unless governments respond to the threat of international terrorism with measures that are fully grounded in respect for human rights, they risk undermining the values they seek to protect and defend."

The sentiments in this letter are totally correct. They are a watershed in the continuing battle to preserve ideals like liberty and freedom against a Labour government which is expanding state powers of invasion to dramatic and unjustified levels. Labour MP's face a difficult choice; if they do vote against the plans and defeat the government then it will send it spiralling off into further crisis but on the other surely liberty and freedom matter more than the fortunes of any one individual party. It is to be hoped they will make the correct stand tomorrow.

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Monday, 9 June 2008

What does it mean to be progressive??

. I am probably pretty rare amoung Liberal Democrats in that I am happy to self-identify as left-wing and progressive. Also, I tend to view the two things as being intertwined. It's not hard to see why people don't always view the two terms as being interchangeable though; numerous ideological faultlines exist on the left which have historical origins. Liberals, socialists, Marxists all view with each other to be crowned the 'true' champions of progress.

Liberals face the dilemma of defending capitalism as a more democratically structured society but managing an economic system that persists in creating a greatly unequal society. Statist socialism or social democracy; ironically mimicking communism sees the state as the vehicle through which Utopia would be delivered, gift-wrapped in suitably radical blandishments as it is handed down to the grateful masses. Communism meanwhile became the exact opposite of what it was intended to be; far from an ideology of liberation it became a tool of vicious repression, of the very people it was supposed to liberate.

Somewhere along the way the very idea of progress became tainted and then perverted as rabid right-wingers stole it off the battered body of the left. Why did they bother? Put purely and simply they bothered because there is something inherently human about the cause of progress. At the very core of it all is the notion that we can do better; that we are on a constant quest for self-improvement as a species. If you get down to brass-tacks then that is the motor force of evolution. Where would we be now if some force hadn’t compelled our ancestors to rub together two flints or move into oral communication? Progress is primal; its part of human nature.

Politically speaking, of course, that recognition does little to help us chart a course. It does however explain why the language of progress is such potent political currency and how so many great, epoch shaping, movements of the past have taken the cause of progress as there starting point. This is not to be confused with the recently popularised perversion of progress; namely the neo-conservative dictum that progress is delivered from high by the mighty onto a supposedly gratefully waiting population. Sad to say it but the notion is not ‘new’ at all. It stretch’s back all the way to the beginnings of civilisation; to the time when the ‘glorious mission of Rome’ was to civilise the world under its tyranny. In so much that progress presupposes the destruction of the old it is true that to make an omelet you have to break some eggs. However, the way we go about that should be a tad more sophisticated nowadays. Rome knew little better; America, steeped in a history of rebellion against unjust rule, not delivered from a foreign power but fought for by its people, should know a lot better.

Right-wingers often over emphasise the competitive element to progress. Little would have been gained in terms of human progress if we had simply isolated ourselves and competed as individuals. Effective competition can only go hand-in-hand with cooperation. Brilliant breakthroughs are possible on an individual scale but for them to achieve critical mass they require cooperation and implementation from other sources. Here we see the second fundamental strength of the left’s vision of progress. Strength comes from when we unite together. Division makes us weak; however unity cannot be gained at any price, it has to be built around strong foundations of shared values and goals. Society is our strength and in turn society protects its weak and raises them above the lowest level. We are only as strong as our weakest link. This is not to say individuals cannot prosper; they can and would better within the framework of a strong society.

A strong society does not necessarily mean a strong state though. The state is a guide, a builder of the framework. It does not, and cannot, impose that framework on the unwilling. It is also a guardian of society’s, and individuals within that society, rights against infringement even by the state itself. The state’s role in promoting a strong society should be extremely limited; it should not even try to impose an identity but allow a society to develop healthily its own identity and voice and only take measures which facilitate that. Coercion should be a weapon of last resort against those who threaten social cohesion (not necessarily the position of the state) and against whom no other means work. Other than that, the role of state should be to integrate itself more fully with its citizenry; they is nothing fundamentally wrong with wanting the state to, eventually, wither away. In essence what we are talking about is an enabling state.


This balances the liberal/authoritarian equation which I often hear on the Liberal Democrat blogsphere is what allot of people, certainly around the Lib Dem blogsphere, feel is the main ideological divide in society. I think there is still an ideological divide between those who want to emphasise in their policies either the primacy of the market or the need for the state to balance the inequities it creates; David Cameron maybe a social liberal but it is totally fair to say that given the Conservatives policies he sheds 'crocodile tears' for hard working families. Where to strike the balance between individual liberty and wider social responsibility is always a tricky question which we face day-to-day and often the underlying tension in the debates we have. How they are resolved will determine how our policies are shaped and how we keep carrying the banner of progress.

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Labour splits spill out onto the airwaves

. Politics Home has an interesting preview of tonight's documentary on Channel 4; Gordon Brown, where did it all go wrong??

It reveals that Alistair Darling realised that the abolition of the 10p tax band would hit millions of poorer voters a year ago when he first became Chancellor. However, Gordon Brown blocked any moves to address the issue until the wide-scale revolts and backlash at the polls which we have recently seen; Darling's testimony is not exactly flattering for the Labour leader.

He says;

"'When I became Chancellor, you 'open the books', if you like, and you say ''what are the problems that we are facing?'' I knew this was a problem."

Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, confirms Brown's stubbornness, saying it is 'not easy' to get him to change his mind once it is made up. When it comes to running the Treasury it appears Brown is still very much hands on; Irwin Steltzer, the American economist and journalist, says:

"Anyone who thinks that Gordon Brown has given up being Chancellor doesn't know Gordon Brown."

Brown's dithering over an early election last year is widely seen as starting the slide and the programme is also set to expose the deep divisions over that decision. Jack Straw conforms he lead the opposition to an early election but Jacqui Smith spoke strongly in favour. Straw also remarks that the Cabinet is now more collegial but the Prime Minister is slower to make decisions than Tony Blair. Comparing Gordon Brown's decision-making skills with those of his predecessor, the Justice Secretary says;

"Tony was a much more instinctive decision-maker."

All-in-all this might not make the best viewing if you are a Labour supporter so they would perhaps prefer to watch Holland take on Italy instead.

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Sunday, 8 June 2008

Labour MP - Congestion charge will 'cost votes'

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Manchester Blackley Labour MP Graham Stringer has told the BBC that government support for a Greater Manchester congestion charge will alienate voters in marginal seats.

Speaking on BBC1's The Politics Show he said:

"To have a Labour government, you have to have an alliance not only of core Labour voters but of people who, before 1997, in constituencies like Bury North and Bolton West didn't vote Labour. The congestion tax is another pressure on that coalition. It is another wedge that will break that coalition up and make it much more difficult to deliver a Labour government."

The plans, to be unveiled tomorrow, would see a two-ring scheme set in place with drivers being charged up to £5 to enter the city centre at peak times. Drivers would pay a deposit for an electric tag, which would trigger charges on journeys into the city in the morning and evening rush periods.

Is the debate on environmental taxes shifting and are people less willing to pay them?? I think this is a particularly relevant question given the lively debate which is still going on over on Liberal Democrat Voice regarding proposals for road pricing.



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Mitchell - 'All MP's at risk of expenses breach'

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Andrew Mitchell, Shadow International Development Secretary has told Sky News that a lack of clarity on expenses rules meant that all MP's were vulnerable to accusations of failing them;

"I don't think its particularly party political members of parliament and MEPs across the political spectrum are at risk of this partly because of the lack of clarity in the rules."

"I think David Cameron has actually led the way of all the party leader in trying to bring clarity and transparency to this area," he said.

Funny how all those recently implicated just happen to have been Conservatives then isn't it??



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Labour continues to break records...

. ...of the wrong kind from it's point of view. No surprises in the latest ICM poll for the Sunday Telegraph which confirm the upward swing of the Conservatives and the collapse of Labour. It has the Conservatives on 42%, Labour on 26% and the Liberal Democrats on 21%. A few points are worth making; this poll comes too early to assess any damage done to the standing of the Conservatives over the recent expenses scandal although personally I expect the damage to be minimal.

A second point is that the same poll showed a huge majority - 65%, actually support the government in the upcoming vote on extending the limit to 42 days detention without trial. I am not altogether sure support in wider society is that overwhelming but it does show that this vote is very crucial to the future of the government. If it wins then it may well restore some lost credibility, if it loses then although the public may well be 'on it's side' it will add further to the impression of a government adrift and unable to exercise authority and thus benefit the opposition.

From the point of view of the Liberal Democrat's it was a good poll (although we always poll well with ICM), especially for those where our party is in second place to Labour. It presents the real possibility that we could be the beneficiaries of a swing away from Labour in those seats, however our position vis a vie the Conservatives is obviously of more concern. Henley will be a crucial test of how well we can stand up to the advancing blue tide.

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Saturday, 7 June 2008

Angels and demons....

. I was attracted to a debate on Liberal Democrat Voice regarding Mark Oaten's piece in The Guardian today. I have always been of the opinion that we expect too much of people in public life and in some cases put intolerable pressure on them to perform over and above what we would expect of ourselves. In my view this is in some ways natural; we want to feel that people who legislate for us are somehow our 'betters' because it is reassuring. However, in some ways it is deeply unnatural and damaging to what we do, after all, term a 'representative' democracy.

Politicians are always in a precarious position because being honest once you hold power there is nothing more than to deprive you of it; and power does corrupt. If you run moralising campaigns, like the Conservatives did in the early 90's for example, then you are automatically, and correctly considered 'fair game'. However, showing poor judgement in one area of your life doesn't automatically make you a bad politician; just as you can be appallingly bad at drawing but an amazingly talented writer. Being rubbish at romantic relationships (an affliction they surely effects a major slice of the population), for example, doesn't mean you couldn't negotiate a diplomatic solution to a small war; the two things are different disciplines and require different skills.

The harsh truth is that politics is a trade that doesn't allow people to make mistakes and even if they do then they are not expected to admit as much in public because it is taken as a sign of weakness and seized upon. In any other trade your private life would remain so unless it directly affected your ability to perform the role you were contracted to do and I fail to see why politics should be different. Why should politics be different?? If it is then you are encouraging the sickening process of the 'robotisation' of politics with it being the sole province of non-entities whose relationship with the harsh realities of the frequently 'messed-up' real world is somewhat tenuous. Speaking on a wider-scale you are encouraging alienation from the political process.

Wanting politicians to be messianic paragons of virtue is unrealistic. If they pretend their are and actually aren't then they can expect no less than to be shot down. Expecting them to perform the role that the electorate 'employs' them to and not to abuse that position is realistic. This is why you will find below a startling lack of sympathy for the recently deposed leader of the Tories MEP's - he knowingly abused his position to enrich himself which isn't a failing, it's a conscious choice he made to abuse his position of privilege. I find myself more naturally sympathetic to Mark Oaten - one can debate the wisdom of the choices he made in his personal relationships. You can even say they were unwise and maybe you would be right but that doesn't automatically mean he was bad at his job or his ability to do it was automatically compromised.

We need to stop judging politicians by such high standards and start judging them by human standards.

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Angling for second slot....

. So, Hillary Rodham Clinton has finally bowed to the inevitable and bowed out of the race to be the Democratic nominee for the White House. I have written before that I didn't expect her too given her previous form - granted, she has but her glowing words for Obama and offering her support do little to impress me; nor do they convince me she has suddenly 'seen the light' and realised the Democrat chances in November matter more than her own personal career. Call me cynical but I have two words for those who are impressed 'Vice President'.

Remember this is the women who attacked Move On; praised John McCain in a bid to bolster her own credentials; made numerous infamously silly remarks, including alluding to the assassination of Bobby Kennedy to justify her own prolonging of the inevitable; launched the infamous '3 AM' ad, etc etc. Is it any wonder that Democrats started seriously to wonder if her campaign towards the end was in effect a 'spoiler' to pave the way for 2012?

Opportunist Clinton may be but entirely stupid she certainly isn't; anything less than her speech today would have seen her immediately exiled within the Democratic Party. It would have also given Obama a handy excuse to ignore her pleadings for second slot on the ticket but, as I said, she isn't stupid. Now, he faces a tricky dilemma one which my own feelings are rather mixed on; on the one hand having her name on the ticket might go some way to unifying the core Democratic vote. On the other it may well spark revulsion from the 'New Democrats' who have gravitated to his campaign and although this will most likely not result in their defection to McCain it could dim much needed activist zeal.

The same cannot be said of Clinton's ex supporters who in exit polls have consistently shown their willingness to defect. This campaign is truly pivotal for the Democratic Party as a whole; can it retain the loyal support of it's core vote and blend those new to it into that mix?? My feeling ultimately is that Obama would be wise to overlook her for the 'VP' spot but find a candidate who does appeal to the Democrats traditional support. It is the opinion of this writer that it is a crying shame Al Gore isn't in the running...

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Friday, 6 June 2008

'Next-Gen' Tory MP's will lower abortion limit

. Conservaitve Home has conducted an interesting survey of Conservative candidates who are now eagerly expecting to be swept into office on the crest of a Cameron wave. It emailed 225 candidates and the first results, published on the basis of 107 replies' confirmed that an incoming Conservative government will be much more restrictive of abortion. It found "85% support a more restrictive abortion law."

In terms of the time limit for abortions to be performed it found a majority in favour of 20 weeks or less. Amazingly this is taken as a sign on Con Home that these candidates are, in the words of Nadine Dorries, "wired to the public mood" outside the "Westminster bubble". I can't help but feeling they are in a rather different bubble of Conservative Home and Daily Mail editorials.

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Thursday, 5 June 2008

Lib Dem MEP - 'I feel sorry for Giles'

. Politics Home reports Chris Davies, Liberal Democrat MEP, saying;

"I feel sorry for Giles in some ways because it is simply so easy for a members of the European Parliament from the day they arrive to get sucked into bad practice and after a little while what would be regarded as completely unethical by people working in other public organisations starts to become just normal practice."

Two thoughts spring to mind, this doesn't do an awful lot to recommend the European Parliament as an institution and secondly, it looks a bit bad to be defending the disgraced Conservative leader when his own boss, David Cameron, wont.

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Surveillance Britain - Councils admit snooping.

. Council officials are accessing the telephone and e-mail records of thousands of people secretly every year new research has suggested. Town halls are routinely using controversial anti-terror measures to obtain private data to assist investigations into suspected offences by residents.

The survey for the Daily Mail newspaper found that town halls admitted looking at the private data of 936 people under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Act. For example, Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council used the Act six times to try to identify and locate a bogus faith healer. Kent County Council conducted 23 checks as it looked into illegal petrol storage and the smuggling of a dog.

Commenting, the civil rights group Liberty said;

"You can care about serious crime and terrorism without throwing away our personal privacy with a snoopers' charter. The law must be reformed to require sign-off by judges, not self-authorisation by over-zealous bureaucrats."

Quite right. The next time you hear a politician use the words 'in the interests of national security' be afraid, very afraid.

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US to stay in Iraq 'indefinitely'

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Today's Independent carries reports of a secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad to perpetuate the American military occupation of Iraq indefinitely. Under it US troops would occupy permanent bases, conduct military operations, arrest Iraqis and enjoy immunity from Iraqi law. America would retain the long-term use of more than 50 bases in Iraq.

The report calls into question constant US denials that it wants permanent bases in Iraq. Opposition to the 'strategic alliance' is however likely to be strong; Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is believed to be personally opposed to the terms of the new pact but feels his coalition government cannot stay in power without US backing. However, it risks being charged with being a 'pawn' of America and may strengthen opposition headed by Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.



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Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Obama wins - the battle begins

. So, Barack Obama has finally won the title of 'Presumptive' Democrat nominee for the November General Election. Good. One aspect of this that has been missed out is that this completes the fall from grace of every politician tainted by association with the Iraq war.

In Britain, Labour and Tony Blair's fall from grace began with massive 'credibility cleavage' in it's case for invading Iraq. In America, anger and disapproval with the Bush administration began with a swing against it on Iraq. Clinton wasn't entirely undone by Iraq but it did underpin alot of the hardcore activist hostility to her campaign and understandably so...although this support isn't essential it is a bedrock whose loss she struggled to recover from.

Now the question that needs to be answered is does she have the grace to avoid doing the Democrats any further damage by prolonging the fight? Don't hold your breath, her graceless attacks on Move On show the true nature of her character. I hope that I will be proved wrong but I don't expect to be; she will continue to heap further shame on the head of her campaign.

The other question is whether Obama will continue to carry on the radicalism of his campaign. His comments over Jerusalem are rather worrying from that point of view; most level-headed people want to see Israel and a Palestinian state able to co-exist but nonetheless feel that it is time that Israel was made to 'play fair' by which I mean at least made to abide by established international law. This is more crucial now than ever with Israeli politics entering a state of flux - the last thing we need is it's major ally giving it carte blanche to behave as it pleases; a firm but friendly stance on Israel is an essential plank of policy who wants to establish a less unipolar world.


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Tuesday, 3 June 2008

The real deal??

. So, another series of Big Brother is almost upon us; when the first Big Brother was aired it was unquestionably 'the next big thing'. Eight years on it has grown beyond belief. Saturation coverage on E4 means that if you are bored enough you can enjoy the dubious pleasure of watching the housemates sleep - if you have nothing better to do, like sleep, at 3 am. All this is not to mention the numerous spin-offs shows in the UK and in several other countries.

Big Brother is not 'reality tv' in the pure sense of the word. How realistic is being trapped in a big house in a secret location with a group of people you have never met before? People who have experience of flatting might recognise some things in common between Big Brother and the first month or two of flatting but even that is stretching things a little. It is hardly surprising that people put in this situation often produce boring tv because it is a boring situation to be in. The housemates are deprived of what are major sources of excitement in real life like going out, for example.

When efforts are made to engineer situations it is even worse. The 'evil' house was something that was so contrived it totally failed to be entertaining and as for The Sun's efforts to encourage sex by offering money, if anybody did that in real life they would be prosecuted for solicitation. However, voyeurism can be entertaining. On a basic level most people enjoy a good gossip and the affairs of other people are a popular topic of conversation.

Entertainment to my mind is a broad concept. Generally entertainment is meant to be escapism. After all if real life was that stimulating then we would have no need of it in the first place. Of course, there is a link between the real world and the one we escape into. I will always maintain that 'human themes' underpin good fantasy or science fiction. The most mindless action film has some kind of plot even if this on a linear level.

Reality tv is an effort to straddle the gap between escapism and reality. In reality, if you will excuse the pun, what we have here is the entertainment of seeing how people cope in un-real situations and seeing people pushed to their limits. It isn't quite chariot racing or throwing people to the lions but the underlying premise is roughly the same.

Amazing Race and its ilk take the competitive element much further and make it more about the competition but at least there is a competition, relatively speaking, without judgment. Judgemental tv has it's purest expression in Simon Cowell, part-time X-Factor judge and full-time destroyer of fragile self-esteem. Nobody likes losing in any situation but losing and being put down on national TV is many peoples ultimate nightmare. However, public humiliation is often funny to other people. You could just imagine Mr Cowell being a regular tomato-thrower at the local stocks. Shows like X-factor and Britain's Got Talent are more accurately about escaping from one reality to another and here it we come full-circle to the concept of escapism.

Apart from maybe needing counselling afterwards this type of television come with other health warnings. A rash of films, EDTV and The Truman Show spring to mind, warned quite correctly about the dangers of blurring the boundaries between entertainment and reality too far. Many would contend that things would never be allowed to go that far but is it really so far-fetched that one day things would be allowed to go beyond being entertainment and stray into meddling in other peoples lives in the name of entertainment?

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'Deradicalisation' Labour style

. There is something bitterly ironic about Jacqui Smith launching a nationwide 'deradicalisation' program at the behest of this Labour government, perhaps the irony stems from Labour' s loss of any kind of radical drive itself. Substantively it seeks to target 'vulnerable individuals' and provide them with mentoring and also the creation of "safe spaces for debate about grievances" where young people can debate "extremism issues".

One wonders if the government would willingly concede that it's own foreign policy is an 'extremism issue'. It is hard to see how offering people places to let off steam will change much unless they are given clear means and motivation to use alternative, non-terroristic, means to change them. This is part of the problem with the government's mindset, it sees what are legitimate grievances as 'extremist issues'.

Similarly, giving support to 'moderate voices' will have little impact without responding to these grievances. All the proposals around 'vulnerable individuals' assume that people who are radicalised are so not for political reasons but because of some individual character flaw, like low self-esteem or some other 'fixable' problem. Thus Ms Smith is quoted on the BBC saying

"Where someone is beginning to think about becoming a violent extremist, it is probably better if you get the mentor alongside them, discourage them from that, argue with them, prevent them from going that extra step to actually becoming an extremist."

So, it has nothing to do with having a political agenda to address their concerns and this is why the strategy is highly unlikely to succeed.

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