Monday, 8 August 2011

#LondonRiots : Not acceptable, but understandable

There are not many people who'll stand up for the rioters and the looters at the moment, but I'll give it a shot. I don't want to stand up for the rioting and the looting, merely recognise that when people feel powerless, have no opportunities, and have nothing to lose, it doesn't take much for them to step into lawlessness. We live in a country with great disparities between rich and poor, where a right-wing goverment is seen to be hitting the poorest hardest, and where a rabid right-wing press talks constantly about scroungers and chavs. The question shouldn't be "Why are they rioting?", but rather "Why aren't they rioting more often?"

Most people can't put themselves in the shoes of the rioters. They can't imagine having nothing to lose. They only find their individuality lost to the crowd in the relatively safe environments of concerts or football matches, rather than in Tottenham at night amongst a crowd who feel equally persecuted. Yet people are quick to say they wouldn't behave that way, or to continue the Daily Mail's discourse about the working class scum, the need to repeal the human rights act, and calling for water-cannon on the streets of London.

The right are equally products of their environment, the difference is that they have far more opportunity to escape their ignorance...yet amazingly few choose to do so.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Why I will be Voting #No2AV

Following a pro-royalist blog post with a #No2AV blog post runs the risk of my being mistaken for a Tory by the innocent who stumbles across my blog. After all, aren't the 'progressive' parties supporting the proposed Alternative Vote, whilst those conservative Conservatives are standing in the way of voting reform? The problem is that AV is not a black and white issue, and whilst the #No2AV campaign has been full of crap, that does not mean that #Yes2AV is inevitably good. There are both good and bad points for voting for AV, both in terms of the system itself, and in the context of the current parliament.

Under the AV system candidates will need to get 50% of the votes as the second and later preferences of the least successful candidates are counted in turn. In theory this will mean that candidates are forced to engage more with the electorate as their seats inevitably become less secure. This is seen as a good thing, re-enfranchising many people who found themselves in previously safe constituencies. However appeasing 50% of the population is no easy thing, and seems likely result in the election of the candidate who offends the least number of people rather than does the best job. I should, at this point, out myself as an elitist, not in the Tory-inherited-wealth mould, but rather in the mould of Roy Jenkins. Sometimes governments need to make decisions and pass laws that do not necessarily have the backing of the masses. Whilst we may associate such unpopular decisions with decisions to go to war, or the current spate of cuts, they also include the passing of many of the UK's most liberal laws.

Jenkins is seen as one of the driving forces behind a wide range of social reforms in the late sixties by the Labour party, such as the decriminalization of homosexuality and government support for the legalisation of abortion. However it is important to recognize that such bills, which most Liberals would now support, would not have been popular with the majority of the population. Jenkins did what he thought was right, not merely what the people wanted. A government's job is to lead and sometimes make unpopular decisions, and it's easy to see how this could become more difficult if MPs are expected to appease a wider range of people.

The question is whether the benefits of greater engagement are outweighed by the disadvantage of having to appease the masses, and that is not as black and white as the #Yes2AV campaign would have us believe. However I do believe that #Yes2AV could prop up the Liberal part of the government, and without an overwhelming case for #Yes2AV I am not willing to do that.

The Conservative Party must feel as though it's Christmas every day at the moment. They are getting to make huge cuts in public services with the support of an increasingly weak bunch of Liberal Democrat MPs, who are taking a disproportionate amount of the blame. They are taking the blame because the public believes that Lib-Dems should know better. So why do the rank-and-file members of the party put up with it? Because they are holding out for one scrap from Cameron's table, the largest of which is electoral reform. It's not the sort of electoral reform Liberals want, or would give them a real voice in parliament, but it's the only reform they were being offered. If, however, they fail to get even the meagre scrap of AV, it's hard to see how the coalition will last another four years. Especially when Liberals feel the #No2AV campaign to have been so dishonest.

When AV is not the electoral reforms that the Liberals ever wanted, and by no means an unadulterated good, it is hard to see it as anything more than support for Nick Clegg and the Liberal support of the coalition. Neither of which I am willing to support.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Why I will be watching the Royal Wedding

This Friday, unless Prince William is jilted at the alter (currently a 100-1 outside bet according to Oddschecker), the second in line to the British throne will marry Kate Middleton. Half the country will watch, and half the country will be doing everything they can to make sure they don't watch. Along with the non-republican half of the country I will be hanging up the bunting, eating cucumber sandwiches and cream cakes, and drinking tea out of my William and Kate mug. Despite my near-communist beliefs, and a general distaste for inherited privilege, I am (at least for the present) a Royalist.

Wealth and opportunity are extremely unevenly distributed in the UK, and whilst it may appear unfair for the head of state to be based on the luck of the womb, most of the people who 'have done well for themselves' have in fact done well in their 'choice' of womb. There are far better places to start if we want to root out inherited privileges than doing away with the Royal Family; let us impose 100% inheritance tax, abolish private schools, do away with jobs and interns through the old boy network, nationalize industries rather than subsidize corporations. When we bring about a real socialist utopia, then let us deal with the rather minor point of the royal head of state.

It's not just about wealth and opportunity, people will argue, it's about the right for people to choose our own head of state to represent the country around the world. Putting aside the fact that the British public aren't even allowed to choose the Eurovision Song Contest entry these days due to their appallingly bad taste, let us suppose for the moment they have the right to choose a head of state. It seems the options are either to have a ceremonial head of state, or combine the post with the head of government. Neither sounds particular appealing.

A ceremonial head of state either promises a future where the British public recognizes the post's non-political role and elect one celebrity candidate after another, or alternatively recognizes the gravity of the role and vote for more politically minded individuals. I do not want a political head of state, whether ceremonial or combined with the head of government, if for no other reason than when they represent this country I don't want to confuse the person and their politics with the office.

Having a political head of state necessarily brings forward confusing allegiances. It was interesting to read some Democratic bloggers when the Iraqi journalist threw a shoe at George W. Bush. Whilst they disliked Bush, they couldn't help but see the shoe being thrown at the office of President. If someone takes a pot-shot at David Cameron I don't want to see it as a shot at the British way of life represented by the British head of state, but rather see it as the death of nothing more than a crap Prime Minister. As long as would be assassins leave the monarch alone, I promise not to take it as a personal slight.

When I watch the royal wedding this Friday I will be watching the continuation of the British tradition. I will be celebrating the fact I am not French with tea and sandwiches. If the monarch of the day starts to abuse their royal privileges, or a socialist utopia is built on these shores, we can revisit the situation again, but until then, as long as the Queen and all who follow her continue their current apolitical position, I will continue to wave my union jacks at the appropriate national occasions.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Child benefit cuts is not the story!

There were two big pieces of news in George Osborne's speech yesterday: 1) child benefit is going to be taken away from the top earners; 2) benefits are to be capped at £26,000. Whilst everyone is talking about child benefits, it's the benefit cap which is most concerning and disgusting. The difference, however, is child benefits are being taken away from nice hard working families(i.e., people like us), not from the workshy benefit scrounging scum (i.e., people like them).

The Daily Mail would have people believe that we live in an age where those on benefits are "living high on the hog at taxpayers' expense". Of course it's rubbish, unless 'high on the hog' means having no money 90% of the time - not 'no money' as in "I'm having to holiday in the UK this year because we have no money", but "I can't buy a pint of milk because I have no money". The sort of poverty that grinds you down and kills any ambition to get up in the morning, let alone get on in life. The sort of poverty that when you are born into, is very difficult to get out of. The sort of poverty that we should help people out of, not point and blame people for being in. If you're not in that situation remember it's got more to do with the family you were born into and the chances you've had along the way than anything you have done yourself.

Why should a family be allowed to claim more in benefits than the average working wage?
Because some families need more than the average working wage. If you have four kids and are living in private accommodation in central London, £26,000 isn't going to get you very far - whatever the 'average wage' is. And what do we do in situations where £26,000 is not enough? Where people can't get a job? Do we take children into care? Do we have compulsory sterilisation for poor people after they've had two kids? Do we put families in workhouses?

I don't doubt that there's a benefits trap, that some people find that they can get more on benefits than by working - generally because their earning potential is far below £26,000. The answer to the problem should be to increase people's earning potential, not reduce people's standard of living on benefits to the point that any wage is better. By Tory logic reducing benefits to £5 per head and a bottle of milk would stop anyone being in a benefits trap!

Breaking the link between need and benefit entitlement is wrong, and should be a far bigger story than the loss of child benefits to the better off. Unfortunately the poor are not particularly pretty and don't have much political muscle. Whilst I can imagine some back-peddling on child benefits, the £26,000 cap will probably stay.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Ed Miliband - Prime Minister in 19 months?

At last the Labour Party has a new leader and can start buildig an effective opposition. Despite the public having no idea the direction the Labour Party would take, Labour have already been catching the Tories in the polls, and one can't help but be excited about the potential for a significant Labour surge. Especially as the cuts start to bite and the coalition starts to fall apart.

When the Alternative Vote referendum gets a resounding NO, the Lib Dems will very quickly begin to wonder what they sold their soul for. AV was never first choice for the Lib Dems, but even that will fail to get through next May. Not only will the Tory Party and the Labour Party campaign against it, but there will be few who want to put the choice of Prime Minister in the hands of the third-party leader, especially a leader like Nick Clegg. As the dream of voting reform disappears so will the stomach for the coalition, a Lib Dem will cross the floor or challenge for leadership before next year's Lib Dem conference.

Right now I'd put my money on May, 2011, for the next election, a little over 19 months away, and I have no doubt that Ed Miliband can win it. He was always my choice as party leader: Left enough to make a difference, centre enough to actually have a chance of being voted in. Also, as it was his brother in second place, I doubt there will be much appetite for in-fighting. It'd be especially nice if Cameron loses in 2011 as it'd mean he was in office for less time than Gordon Brown, although I must admit part of me wants him to hold out for 2 years 221 days.

For the first time since the election I'm beginning to think there just might be signs of light at the end of a very bleak tunnel. So can we have no one raining on my parade in the comments please!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

'New Politics' in Number 10

So Nick Clegg has got into bed with the Tories, and we now have a new Prime Minister: Old Etonian and fifth cousin twice removed of Queen Elizabeth II, Dave "he's just like one of us" Cameron. The BBC notes that he's the first Old Etonian to hold the office since the early 1960s - well aren't we a progressive country! On the brightside the more despicable aspects of Tory policy will undoubtedly be restrained by the Liberal Democrat coalition; although I'd hate to be one of the millions of Liberal Democrat voters who have given such a disgusting Tory party a veneer of respectability.

Nick Clegg has been the first of the four Liberal Democrat leaders I have disliked - I've said it long before today. He encompasses so much of what is wrong with modern politics: the gloss, the bullshit, the desire to be seen as your friend. In this, the same as Cameron, he is undoubtedly an heir to Blair - although he is careful to talk of 'new politics' rather than something as trite as a 'third way'. Whereas I was pleasantly surprised with how much the Labour Party achieved under Blair (although I continue to dislike the man), I have less hope of being surprised at the end of the following parliament. Although the is one glimmer of hope: the Tory desperation to form a government.

The compromises that have already been made by the Tory party to form a coalition government reek of its desperation. The Tory party has backed 'modernising' Cameron over the past five years purely as a way to get into government, and the government had to be formed - whatever the price. Failure by Cameron would have consigned the party to the wilderness for another 13 years as it ripped itself apart searching for an electable face. It remains to be seen whether the price they are willing to pay today, will still seem such a bargain in six months time. With such a volatile period ahead it seems a bizarre time to propose 5-year fixed term parliaments; it'll be interesting to see whether its workable in 5-months.

Personally I would rather have had a passionate, bloody-minded, cantankerous PM who stood for what he believed in. Someone who listened to the experts, made a decision, and if necessary told the ignorant masses to f-off. Unfortunately democracy doesn't allow that, and we seem condemned to a future of Britain's Got Political Bullshit. Forget convictions, just say you're doing it for your gran.

I'm not generally a big fan of revolutions, preferring the gradual change that has been the primary characteristic of British politics, but I must admit that the envisioned mediocre politics of the future is almost enough to make me reach for the pitchfork.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Election Wordle: Like a sweary wordsearch

It's a tradition this days to put everything into a Wordle, so I thought I'd put my 320 election night tweets into one

What's most surprising is that despite all the swearing, and an excessive amount of tweeting, my number of followers didn't actually go down!

[nb. I took out the #ge2010 hashtag as it was on most tweets and as such overwhelmed the Wordle].