Monday, 31 March 2008

Video of the Week (13)

Video of the Week 24/03-30/03: Hillary's 'Misspeak'

Hillary Clinton was caught bending the truth about the events of a 1996 visit to Tuzla, Bosnia in a campaign speech. Here, the events of the day are contrasted with Hillary's version.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Ken vs Boris on the Issues (5): Development

In the fifth and final instalment of this series, I take a look at how the candidates for Mayor of London hope to move London forward.

Development is again something of a catch-all description of quite a wide-range of issues, covering the candidates' visions for London's economy, urban regeneration, and sport and culture. There is some inevitable overlap with topics I have already covered, particularly transport* and housing, and in the interest of keeping this manageable I will not be returning to those areas.

Probably the most obviously critical issue in this area, that I have not discussed yet, is one of the unique aspects of this Mayoral race - The 2005 awarding to London of the 2012 Olympics. At the moment we are still awaiting the commencement of the 2008 Games and 2012 seems a long way off indeed. But whoever is elected Mayor will almost certainly hold the position until the Olympic year. How do the candidates envision the Games and their effects on the city?

Boris Johnson lists the Olympic legacy as one of his (currently) 8 key policy areas, however he has not put out a full manifesto. Ken lists the awarding to London of the Olympics as part of his record of success in the area of Culture & Sport, and highlights the importance to the "most deprived part of the city", in East London, of the development that comes with the holding of the Games there. Again, Ken has not yet released full manifestos covering the corresponding areas of Economy and Sport & Culture, making a detailed comparison of the approaches of the two candidates difficult.

It would be unfair not to acknowledge the role of Ken Livingstone in winning London the Games in the first place, overturning the betting favourite Paris. This factor puts Boris in a difficult position, since it means that criticism of Ken on the Olympics can easily seem vulgar. Some justified opposition has been made to the budgeting of the bid, but I think most accept that somewhat optimistic claims in this area are required to win the awarding in the first place. It is perhaps telling that Boris has largely avoided criticism of Ken in this area, and instead focuses in his policy statements on the legacy of the Games, something he will have considerable influence upon if elected. Ken mentions regeneration of the Thames Gateway and in particular the run-down Lower Lea Valley area, whereas Boris provides no specific plans for regeneration as part of his policy statement associated with the Olympics, rather a general reference to regenerat[ing] huge parts of London. Interestingly, no mention is made by Boris in connection with the Olympics of his proposed building of a new airport to replace Heathrow in the Thames Gateway area.

Assessment of the relative merits of the candidates on the wider issue of London's economic development is made rather difficult by Boris's lack of public policy covering the area. Even on issues on which one might expect a Tory mayor to make positive promises, such as improving the circumstances in which small businesses in the capital operate, nothing significant (aside from the congestion charge reforms already covered under Transport) is forthcoming. In fact it is Ken who lists growth of sales in London's shops, as well as high economic growth in general, as part of his record of economic success. Additionally, Ken has actually come in for criticism from sections of the Left for his "admiration of the City" and Nigel Bourne, a CBI director described Ken as a "very pro-business mayor".

Similarly, aside from the Olympics, little policy information about the support and development of leisure, arts and culture in the city is forthcoming from the Conservative's campaign. This in particular is an area over which the Mayor has considerable influence, so the lack of policy from Boris is disappointing only just over a month away from the election. Ken has come in for criticism, for instance for instituting an event in Hyde Park felt by some to be an attempt to 'take control' of the Notting Hill Carnival. However, Boris has not capitalised on this controversy or provided any competing claims as to his support or otherwise of this or other festivals (such as the Rise, Mela and Liberty festivals), or indeed arts & culture in general.

Overview: With the major caveat that neither candidate has put out anything close to detailed policy statements and/or manifestos on the areas covered by this post, on what is currently available it is Ken who appears by some way both clearer and stronger on what he hopes to achieve in the area of London's development.
Verdict: Ken appears the better candidate here.



* Boris shares Ken's support for several major transport development schemes, including Crossrail and the Oxford Street tram.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Ken vs Boris on the Issues (4): Local Environment

The fourth issue that I am taking a look at as part of this assessment of the relative merits of Ken's and Boris's policies is really more of an umbrella category. Basically, 'Local Environment' covers everything (apart from those things that fell under the previous 3 issues) that determines how pleasant a city London is to live and work in. That ranges from major planning decisions through to street-sweepers.

What I'm deliberately not covering here is global environment, particularly climate change. Both candidates have policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions as part of their manifestos (some, such as opposing the Heathrow 3rd runway, are shared). However, one candidate (Ken) has made tackling climate change a central part of his campaign, whereas the other has not. Regardless of which approach you prefer, I am not taking these views, or criticism of same, into account.

Both candidates have Environment Manifestos available for download. Ken's, entitled 'Greener & Cleaner' (G&C), can be downloaded here (PDF). Boris's, entitled 'Protecting Our Local Environment' (PoLE), can be downloaded here (PDF).

Boris has focused on the city's parks and open spaces in his environment manifesto, pledging the protection of all of London's green belt land and gardens by introduction of tougher planning rules to ensure that housing is not built at the expense of green spaces. Additionally, Boris promises the renovation of parks and open spaces, introducing a £6 million 'Priority Parks Programme' (PoLE, pg5) to provide boroughs with more funds for parks improvements. Ken's manifesto, on the other hand, relegates parks to page 12 of 16. Here he promises the creation of a 'Green Grid' of parks and waterways as part of the Thames Gateway development, something that is not mentioned in Boris's document - perhaps because one of Boris's more far-out ambitions is the development of a new airport in the area!

Trees are the second plank (pun intended) of Boris Johnson's local environment policy. He has promised a £1 million scheme to bring about the planting of 10,000 street trees by the end of his first term. Ken, in the final paragraph of his manifesto (C&G, pg15), promises the establishment of a rather ambitious scheme, 'Trees for All', with a target of planting a million trees. However the manifesto is lacking in funding details or a timescale and Googling doesn't elicit further informations of how Ken proposes to proceed with this.

Ken pledges to tackle air pollution (C&G, pg11), continuing the implementation of the Low Emissions Zone and other incentives for reduction in pollution from traffic; as well as introducing the £25 congestion charge for the most polluting vehicles. Boris opposes the latter, suggesting that it will have a counter-productive effect by resulting in an increase in congestion(PoLE, pg14), but gives his backing to the Low Emission Zone (PoLE, pg15), although he has made statements attacking it. Noise pollution is named by Ken as a problem in need of tackling, but neither he nor Boris provides specific policy to achieve a reduction here.

Litter, graffiti and fly-tipping are important environmental issues at local level. As might be expected from his emphasis on 'broken windows', Boris has pledged to increase prosecutions of offenders (PoLE, pg8) and make the offences easier to report. However his proposals are lacking in detail, particularly with regard to dealing with the problem of litter. Ken emphasises litter enforcement and educational programmes (C&G pg13-14).

Boris pledges to support recycling, making it easier and more convenient and thereby improving recycling rates (PoLE, pg9). A headline policy is his proposal to reward Londoners with vouchers for recycling. However, the feasibility of this plan has been questioned. He has also expressed support for a ban on plastic bags. Ken proposes simply to support councils in helping Londoners raise recycling levels (C&G, pg13), a much more down-to-earth pledge but perhaps a more realistic reflection of the role of the Mayor in this area.

Overview: Boris has clearly made local environmental concerns central to his environment manifesto, whereas Ken emphasises tackling climate change. The result of this here is that Boris appears more determined in almost every area I have discussed. Both are suspected of coming up with proposals intended to grab headlines rather than be put into practice, such as Boris's Thames Gateway airport plan, and Ken's seemingly tacked-on plan to plant a million trees. Boris in particular appears to perhaps be overstating the amount of authority he will have over the boroughs if elected Mayor, making his lack of a litter policy all the more puzzling. All in all, local environment is a mixed bag from both candidates with neither standing out as clearly the better choice.
Verdict: Draw

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Ken vs Boris on the Issues (3): Housing

This is the 3rd in a series of posts on Question That examining the policy differences between Mayoral candidates Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson.

Housing is an issue of importance to just about everyone in the city, and one over which the elected candidate will have significant power. The Mayor is directly responsible for a housing & planning budget worth more than £1 billion a year. Ken Livingstone intends to use this money to build 30,500 new homes in London every year for the next three years, including a total of 50,000 'affordable' homes, keeping to a policy target of 50% 'affordable housing' in London.

Affordable housing is a Mayoral race buzz-phrase if there ever was one. A definition provided by Ken's planning strategy document The London Plan describes affordable housing as:

"housing designed to meet the needs of households whose incomes are not sufficient to allow them to access decent and appropriate housing...[comprising] social housing, intermediate housing and, in some cases, low cost market housing." (The Draft Mayor's Housing Strategy, pg30)
This definition is required in order to contrast Ken's plans with those of Boris Johnson. Boris, too, talks about affordable homes (the word 'affordable' appears 99 times in Boris's 'Building A Better London' Housing manifesto (PDF)), and matches Ken's promise in the London Plan of 50,000 new affordable homes by 2011. However, Boris's intention to abolish Ken's policy of ensuring that 50% of new homes are 'affordable' has drawn controversy.

Boris's housing manifesto emphasises home ownership throughout. The headline policy, the introduction of a new scheme called FirstSteps, is a shared ownership-based scheme aimed at helping low-to-middle income Londoners to "get on the housing ladder". The manifesto pulls no punches about just how hard it is for Londoners to do so at present, stating for instance that choice of location for the average first time buyer is restricted to just 2 East London boroughs (Building A Better London, pg8). The pledged introduction of Below Market Rates homes would surely go some way towards alleviating this, but will it be enough?

Using Boris's stated average first-time buying price of £289,167 (BaBL, pg7), the cost of a BMR home at 20% below market rate (BaBL, pg9) would still be over £230,000, and the corresponding deposit (based on the figure given on page 7) would be around £49,570. The plan is somewhat lacking in specifics, but from what detail is provided I don't see how this is going to be much help to all but the highest of the earners who qualify for the scheme.

That leaves social housing, and private rental as the only options available to a very large proportion of Londoners. Boris Johnson proposes to abolish the London Plan target of 50% affordable homes, and attacks Ken for failing to keep to the target with regard to new developments (BaBL, pg15). The proposals to agree unit-based affordable housing targets with borough councils (BaBL, pg17) may reduce bureaucracy and streamline the process, but Boris's line has previously been criticised for not representing a firm commitment to social housing.

Both Ken and Boris have promised a boost in the supply of larger homes suitable for families, improved tenancy deposit schemes for private tenants, and investment in the renovation of London's estimated ~85,000 empty houses.

Overview: Boris Johnson's proposed abandoning of the 50% affordability target for new developments has been the headline-maker here - this time, I consider, for good reason. The Tory candidate may be right in suggesting that the target hasn't been maintained. However, the non-commitment he provides, in combination with the insufficiency of the described FirstSteps scheme in the face of London's wide gap between wages and house prices, suggests a step backwards for Londoners on average incomes and below.
Verdict: Ken's clearly the better candidate here.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Ken vs Boris on the Issues (2): Crime

This is part 2 of this blogger's overview of the two main candidates for the position of Mayor of London, with regard to five issues of concern for Londoners.

Crime is the policy area that has received the second greatest amount of attention in this Mayoral race. Here a more consistent divide between the approaches of the two candidates becomes apparent.

Ken's crime policy section is based on building on quoted past successes - an annual average fall in reported crime of 5.5% per year for the past three years. Trouble is, as Dave Hill reports, these figures have been questioned by third candidate and ex-Met commander Brian Paddick, since British Crime Survey data, which isn't dependent on crimes having been reported to police, suggests that crime levels are unchanged over that period. Much of the rest of Ken's manifesto is along similar lines, with little new or innovative to suggest to voters not quite convinced that the impressive-looking statistics bear much resemblance to reality that Ken has the answers they are looking for.

As the challenger, Boris Johnson cannot make the sort of claims to be found in Ken's policy section - instead, he had to come up with eye-catching policies. His manifesto provides 34 pages worth of them. Some of these are the type of thing that few could object to but somehow never seems to actually happen, such as reducing the time police officers spend filling in forms (Making London Safer, pg11). Both candidates promise more police on the beat, and measures to reduce anti-social behaviour on public transport.

It is in the area of anti-social behaviour that Boris appears to have the firmest line. In the introduction to his Crime Manifesto, he talks of a 'broken windows' type of approach to crime, targeting petty crimes "systematically" with the aim of consequentially reducing serious crime (Making London Safer, pg18). However, the case history of the reduction of crime in New York in the 1990s is highly disputed, alternative theories suggest that a variety of other social changes during that period may have had as much effect if not more than the change in policing strategy.

The 'stick' of zero tolerance policing is something that might be expected from a Tory like Boris, but the flipside - youth work, community support, and provision of opportunities for young people who might otherwise be drawn into crime - is perhaps an area where Ken might be expected to be stronger and more positive, with a long-term view to keeping crime down. However, the lack of policy detail on Ken's site (unless I'm just being useless and haven't found it) makes this difficult to judge. There is no mention of these areas on Ken's crime page at all, though elsewhere Ken does pledge a £78 million investment in youth centres and services; in contrast, Boris highlights the work of charitable community groups such as EYLA and Kids Company and promises that an unspecified amount of LDA money will be ringfenced for these projects and others aiming to steer young people away from gang culture.

Some other more minor policies are again shared between the two candidates (CCTV on buses), baffling (inspectors can already take names and addresses of fare-dodgers) or trivial.

Overall: Ken Livingstone's crime campaign emphasises past glories - always a risky strategy since no matter what the statistics say if people don't feel safe (something that is, bear in mind, always distorted by the media) they are unlikely to go along with it. Boris's concentration on anti-social behaviour and his pledge to make policing more visible and effective are understandably popular policies. However, taking a longer-term view, a Boris Johnson mayoralty may result in a step backwards for community relations and a worsening of youth support. All in all, a mixed bag that depends on the veracity of Ken's statistics.
Verdict: Ken edges it


UPDATE (30/03)
: Ken Livingstone has now released a 15-page crime manifesto (PDF), 'Policing in 21st Century London', which was not available when I wrote this post.

Smokers Are Voters Too

Over at John's Labour Blog, John ponders the question of how to persuade white-van drivers like his brother-in-law to vote Labour.

One might think that the following might provide a clue as to why he's having such difficulty:

"My brother-in-law won’t have his company logo sprayed on the sides of his van because he believes that he will not be able to legally smoke while driving if it is identified as a “company vehicle”. I’m not sure that this is actually true or not?"

The van driver's worry regarding smoking in his van probably originates from this story, headlined 'Smoking in cars used for work to be banned'. At present it is not thought to be the case that smoking is banned in such vehicles, unless they are used to carry passengers (e.g. a taxi). However, legislation to make illegal all smoking in work vehicles may well be forthcoming.

New Labour's war on smokers shows little sign of abating. The latest ridiculous proposals to force shopkeepers to hide rather than displaying cigarettes are only the tip of the iceberg. Labour is of course responsible for the ban on smoking in pubs, and have more recently let it be known that they are considering the introduction of smoking licenses, or permits - an absurd scheme described by the adviser who put it forward as 'libertarian paternalism'!

Well, I don't know about the libertarian part but if there's one thing this Government can safely be described as, it is 'paternalistic'. Smokers bear the brunt - it is if their votes are utterly unwanted - but drinking and eating are also in the sights of the likes of Dawn Primarolo.

The Nanny State is here, it's growing by the year.
How to roll it back? Not by voting Labour, that's for sure!

Libertarian Party UK

Monday, 24 March 2008

Video of the Week (12)

Video Of The Week 17/03-23/03: Anonymous vs Scientology in London

The second Anonymous demonstration against the Church of Scientology saw at least 700 people protest outside the Dianetics centre in Tottenham Court Road on March 15th.

Ken vs Boris on the Issues (1): Transport

Leaving aside the negative campaigning, what would London be in for were Boris Johnson to become the elected Mayor for the next 4 years? And what does Ken Livingstone have to offer in what would be his third term?

I'm going to take a look at the positions of the two main competitors for the Mayoralty with regard to five issues of concern to Londoners, starting with transport.

Transport is the one policy issue that has actually played a prominent part in the debate. If asked to name one of Boris Johnson's policies, it's a good bet that most people would respond "bringing back the Routemaster" or conversely "abolishing the bendy bus". This is a very popular policy. Bendy buses are unsuitable for London's outdated roads and can indeed be a real danger to cyclists, and it should be borne in mind that the Routemasters Boris is talking about are modernised, accessible models not the 1950s originals. Estimates of the cost of conductors for the new Routemasters must be weighed against that of the current high level of fare evasion on bendy buses, something that hasn't been done in previous discussions of the cost of this policy, e.g. here.

Buses are not the only form of transport of importance in London, however. The biggest transport issue for London motorists is the Congestion Charge. The Charge was initially somewhat successful in its stated aim of reducing traffic in the zone. It has also had the effect of cutting pollution. Some criticisms of the Charge are justified - for instance, it has probably have had a detrimental effect on some small businesses. However, Ken Livingstone looks to be planning on leaving behind the initial, sensible motivation behind Congestion Charging, and instead turning it into an emissions tax. Boris Johnson was initially an opponent of the Charge, but now talks about reforming the payment system (a policy now shared with Ken) and rejecting Ken's emissions-based gradations.

The Tube sees the real ideological differences between the two candidates come into play. Ken fiercely opposes the PPP (Public-Private Partnerships) which have led to firms such as Metronet being contracted to maintain Tube infrastructure. However, as Mayor he was unable to stop the PPP going ahead, so as some commenters have pointed out this is something of a non-issue in the Mayoral race. What may not be is Boris Johnson's pledge to come to a no-strike deal with the RMT, a potential vote-winner among commuters but unlikely to come to fruition.

Boris Johnson is well-known for being a keen cyclist, however it is Ken who unveiled a detailed plan to spend £500 million over a decade to boost cycling in London last month, whereas Boris's plans, described in a press release (PDF) as 'more ambitious' are relatively vague and uncosted, other than a suggested £2 million for safe cycle parking. Boris's emphasis on reducing cycle theft may however be more welcome to many Londoners who have been put off cycling by the problem than announcements of new routes and cycle-priority streets.

Several other transport policies are shared by both Ken and Boris, including support for Crossrail and an Oxford Street tram, extension of the Freedom Pass for pensioners to 24hrs, and free travel for injured veterans.

Overall: The emphasis of the Boris Johnson campaign on buses highlights one of Ken's worst decisions - the introduction to London's roads of the bendy bus, but perhaps betrays a paucity of positive, innovative policy elsewhere. At the same time, Ken's more recent statements regarding the Congestion Charge represent a Green lobby-pandering policy blunder that has been largely overlooked. Both have clearly borrowed from each other in many other respects, and London's transport will be better for it whichever of the two wins.
Transport Verdict: Narrow win for Boris
.

Demanding Legitimacy

The issue of electoral reform has reared its head once again, and alongside the introduction of an alternative voting system (similar to that in use for the London Mayoral election), the suggestion of making voting compulsory has once again been raised (Guardian).

Geoff Hoon, serial advocate of compulsory voting, is quoted as calling for compulsory voting as a way of addressing the problem of low election turnouts. This would not be the first time that Hoon has made such a suggestion. In 2005, Hoon talked of fines for not casting a ballot, or financial incentives for doing so, as being ways of "bring[ing] those who feel alienated into the political process" and "enhanc[ing] civic participation".

Well, no. Compulsory voting will certainly produce a higher turnout. It might produce a greater percentage of the population voting for the winning party. But that doesn't translate into greater legitimacy for the Government, if the reason they are voting is that they have been forced to and, absent a 'none of the above' option, basically voted for what they considered to be the least worst of the selections on offer.

Compulsory voting provides a smoke-screen for the real reasons for antipathy towards the electoral process, reasons I have gone over many times before - specifically, that the political class is rightfully seen by so many as self-serving, corrupt and contemptuous of the people who elected them.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Control & Conscience

Devil's Kitchen sums up my feelings on the hybrid embryos controversy. It's a classic case of an irresistible force -Gordon Brown's control freakery - meeting an immovable object; possibly 12 of them if this Scotsman report is correct.

I broadly support the proposed changes to the law contained within the Bill, but being as I am pro-choice, an atheist, and work in scientific research (although not in a field that is affected by the passage or not of this Bill) that is probably not surprising. I object to decisions on such matters effectively being made on faith grounds rather than scientific ones.

However, the wider issue of concern that has been exposed by the latest to-do is political, not religious. The associated Scotsman editorial describes Cardinal O'Brien (who called on Catholics to oppose the Bill on moral grounds) as "politically right but morally wrong".

The Labour leadership's decision to impose a whip is backfiring, and not before time. The party whip system is singularly anti-democratic - preventing MPs from actually representing their constituents' views with regard to the passage of Bills. It's time it was abolished. Perhaps if nothing else this will provide impetus for a review at the very least.

No Joke - Boris On Course To Win

Boris Johnson has moved ahead dramatically in the polls over the past week, to such an extent that he is now almost two to one odds on favourite to win the London Mayoral Election on May 1 (Political Betting). Ken Livingstone is correspondingly almost 2/1 against at Betfair.

Exactly what has happened to bring about this jump in support for Boris is unclear. The lead-up to the election has been particularly negative, with supporters of the candidates seemingly being outnumbered by 'anyone-but' campaigners. The Stop Boris website linked to by Paulie is a case in point. The site is unaffiliated to any particular campaign (there is even a poster aimed at convincing Conservatives that electing Boris will end up reflecting badly on the party).

Unfortunately for Ken and his team, the negative tactics may well be playing right into the hands of the Boris campaign. For one thing, for obvious reasons it will generally be much more effective to use such an approach against an incumbent than a challenger, particularly when he is also representing the party of government (it is credible that the drop in support for Ken may be related to the unpopularity of the recent Budget).

For Ken Livingstone, it makes it look like the Mayor hasn't anything new or innovative to offer, and that simply not being the other guy is supposedly enough. News of a pact between the Greens and Ken doesn't help matters either - It smacks of desperation, is unlikely to convince many voters who wouldn't have given Ken one of their two preference votes anyway, and is perhaps just as likely to give undecided voters that added impetus to vote for Boris.

It's been said many times before, but in modern politics personalities are more influential than policies, and that is Ken Livingstone's downfall. He comes across to me and to others as arrogant, pompous and self-important. A key reason why Boris Johnson looks likely to win the Mayoral Election is that he does not act like a politician. With trust in politicians deteriorating as I'm sure it has over the past few years, this is a major plus factor. Whether or not he's competent or suitable for the job doesn't seem to matter, the attraction of Boris appears to be that he is personable and somewhat eccentric.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Political Compass

Following Longrider's lead, I re-did the Political Compass test. It's not perfect, some questions are a little bit US-centric and others could do with a 'Neither Agree nor Disagree' option. But overall I think it's a reasonable indicator of general political leanings.

So, my results:
Economic Left/Right: -0.75
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -4.26

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Iraq War Blogswarm: Defenders of the War

Five years on, it seems clear that the war on Iraq and subsequent occupation has represented a disaster in almost every way, of such a scale that it could reasonably be said to be the greatest foreign policy blunder of the past 60 years. At least 100,000 people have been killed in Iraq in the five years since the start of the US-led invasion. Iraq five years on remains in humanitarian crisis. Sectarian violence is rife in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq.

Despite all of this, a significant group of left-wing commentators and bloggers continue to defend the Iraq War. Several of them consider themselves part of the 'Decent Left' (originating from the title of this essay) and typically defend the war as having been necessary to topple a "psychopathic despot" whose Ba'ath party was involved with a "whole nexus" of Islamist terror groups.

Some of them, including Oliver Kamm and Norman Geras, have claimed that the chaotic disaster that the War so clearly had become by 2006 was not foreseen as a likely outcome of the invasion of a large, multi-ethnic nation led by the Bush-administered United States. With one significant exception, this is as much of an admission of having been wrong about the war as we have seen from the so-called Decents.

Many of the blogging Decents are signatories of the Euston Manifesto, a document drawn up in a pub on Euston Road (hence the name) which purports to be a re-affirmation of the values of the democratic left. In practice, it incorporates an implicit support for neo-conservative foreign policy that has either went un-noticed or (with some exceptions) wasn't considered worth objecting to.

The aim of deposing the tyrant that was Saddam Hussein and bringing about democracy in Iraq was at first sight a laudable one. It's a pity that the thinking of some on this most important of issues doesn't seem to have gone much deeper than that. The doubts seem to have been pushed to one side - The likely less-than-humanitarian motivations of the invaders; the lies and misdirection (e.g. those regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction) ahead of the invasion; and the utter failure of what obviously inadequate plans there were for the rebuilding of the shattered nation after the removal of the Ba'athists from power - all considered secondary to the accepted Decentist line.

The ends don't justify the means, particularly when the means are as horrendously ill-thought out and ill-executed as the invasion of Iraq.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Blogger's Notes

I used to call these updates 'Technical Notes', but I don't really blame anyone for not reading posts called that!

1. Blogroll
I am in the gradual process of updating the blogroll. I gave the Labour Bloggers selection a going over, removing several councillors and a few MPs and others who haven't written 10 or more posts since the start of 2008. I have expanded the Business, Finance & Economics Bloggers section substantially. I have promoted Samizdata to the Most Read Blogs list in place of Neil Harding. Last but not least, having become a member of the new Libertarian Party UK I have added an LPUK logo and the LPUK blogroll to my sidebar.

2. SiteMeter
Stats are not bad for a blog that is only 5 months old today. Since 22 February (when I installed the SiteMeter) I have had 1,278 visits, an average of 68 per day. Posting on Comment is Free and leaving a link to the blog has proven to be the best source of visitors, followed by a variety of Google searches. By far the most of my blog-referred traffic comes from Devil's Kitchen, followed by Longrider. By far the most popular post in terms of views (though you wouldn't know it from the miserly 1 comment) is 7 March's 'Whoever You Vote For, The EU Gets In', probably because it was linked to in this DK post.

3. Post Titles
You might have noticed I went back to the snappier post titles in the most recent set of posts. I am probably going to alternate between the two. Google does send viewers on the basis of titles, it is true (I get a lot of hits from searches for 'philosophical chasm' and 'FAS 157' after I used those in titles). But they're not really the kind of hits I am after (i.e. people likely to get involved in discussions and keep coming back).

4. Comments
I said I wouldn't do it, but as an experiment to see if it improves the blog's miserable views to comments ratio I have enabled anonymous comments. If it is abused, I will disable them again. I have added a comments policy to the sidebar. Expect Anonymous comments to be moderated much more strictly than those from Blogger and OpenID users.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Video Of The Week (11)

Video Of The Week 10/03-16/03: Hillary the Republican

Acerbic, opinionated US TV presenter Keith Olbermann gives Hillary Clinton both barrels for campaigning 'as though Barack Obama were the Democrat and she the Republican'.

Monday Funnies

1.

"10. What's all this politics stuff? I was looking for a web site about the 80s toy called 'Stop Boris'. I hope the toy company sues you for every last penny you have.

That probably wouldn't cover their legal fees. We were astonished to discover, after registering this domain and setting up our campaign, that there was apparently a toy in the 1980s called Stop Boris, which involved firing a laser beam at a robotic spider (called Boris) in order to halt his advance towards you.

I'm afraid that no-one involved in the campaign had ever owned or heard of this toy before, although the parallels with our campaign to stop the undesirable, hairy Boris, who seems to have plenty of feet to put in his mouth, from advancing on City Hall are obvious.

Please note that the Stop Boris campaign does not advocate the use of laser beams to repel Mayoral candidates."
- Stop Boris FAQ, stopboris.org


2.
"For a good book, try 'Click Clack Moo - Cows that Type', which has a fine trade union message for under 6s. The sequel, 'Giggle giggle quack' is OK as well, but the third in the trilogy - 'Vote for Duck' - is far too reformist." - Chris Williams, Dave's Part blog


3.
"This, all of this, Scientology, Chanology, the protests, David Miscavige, Tom Cruise, Anonymous, it's all absolutely, completely and utterly absurd. This is a fucking G.I. Joe cartoon. You have a shadowy, secretive, evil organization bent on global domination, complete with a leader who is a mixture of batshit insane and totally retarded and is over the top at every opportunity. They even have excessively complex and sneaky plans to further their agendas, with goofy cloak and dagger names, and yet stay out of the eye of the general public despite the appearance of borderline idiocy. And then you have their opposition, a motley group of individuals united by a common enemy, who's individual strengths and experiences add up to a far greater whole. We even have code-names and uniforms. All we're missing is fucking red and blue lasers and some ATVs. There's even an underground base involved in all of this, and secret vaults.

With that in mind, how can anyone not find this hilarious?"
- Anon3Mouse, Enturbulation Forums

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Here, Have A Policy

I was going to write this post properly excoriating Paulie of Never Trust a Hippy for 1) talking about LPUK without acknowledging that he was wrong in his constant characterisation (e.g. Link) of DK and myself as 'negativists' who will never have a deliberate policy on anything, instead of as libertarians, and 2) mis-representing the intention behind Friday's post here...

...But then I realised my time would be better spent admiring my friend Claire's greyhound.

Anyway, Paulie, policy statement --> over here <--.


P.S. Hmmmmm:

Paulie to Larry Teabag: "I tell you what; Why don't you write a post on your own blog saying what your position is on all of this? One of my objections to negativists is that they present a permanently moving target to anyone who tries to take a reasonably consistant position, and I'm beginning to wonder if you're one of them."

Justin McKeating to Paulie "I tell you what; Why don’t you write a post on your own blog saying what your position is on all of this? One of my objections to anti-negativists is that they present a permanently moving target to anyone who tries to take a reasonably consistant position, and I’m beginning to wonder if you’re one of them."

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Giving Nurse The Heave-Ho

"And always keep ahold of nurse, for fear of finding something worse" - Hilaire Belloc

As you might have gathered from yesterday's post, I think there's a sea-change going on in British politics. Or, more specifically, in the public's attitude to politics. You might call it a tipping point. You might call it a boiling over of anger. But what's clear is that more and more people are sick and tired and not going to take it any more. Sick and tired of being lied to. Sick and tired of not being listened to, or worse being listened to and then ignored. Sick and tired of a choice between shit, shite and manure. Perhaps, becoming more aware that a change of Government doesn't actually mean that much, because the lobbyists and the civil servants stay the same anyway.

As staybryte pointed out, there is the smell of panic in the air. Politicians, particularly Labour but in the other main parties as well, are becoming aware of this. That people aren't going to just follow the shepherd to the polling station and vote for them to keep the other lot out any more - i.e. that they're coming to realise that there's no f@#king point in doing that. All they're doing by doing so is keeping ahold of nurse.

My personal tipping point was the Lisbon Treaty. For a long time I danced around the possibility of joining the Liberal Democrats. They looked like they were talking sense on a lot of issues, and if you divide politics into a two-axis grid, as a social liberal and economic centrist I was approximately on-message. But their Europe position always rankled, and their approach to the referendum vote was utterly craven. They lived right up to Devil's Kitchen's description of them as a waste of time whose party motto should be "why bother?".

Of course I'm not going to vote BNP as a result of my loathing of the political status quo. Although as many posters on the CiF thread explained it would give a kick up the backside to the Labs, Cons and Libs, it would give them the wrong kind of kick up the backside. It would give them the impression that the sort of callousness that led to the refusal of asylum to Mahdi Kazemi and Jahongir Sidikov is what the voters want!

I'm confident in saying that is not true in the majority of cases. What they want, as Laban Tall wrote, is to give New Labour (and by extention the other two mirror image parties) a good shoeing. Unfortunately, it turns out at the moment that the BNP are the most effective way of doing so.

Increasingly, people aren't content to keep ahold of nurse. They express that by not voting, by spoiling the ballot, or by voting BNP. If the powers that be wanted to blunt the BNP's threat, they could introduce an option to vote for None Of The Above. But they won't do that, because it would reveal at a stroke just how unpopular they are.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Have We Reached A Disenfranchisement Tipping Point?

It looks like it. Things are getting rather interesting...

"Take a look at the comments on this CiF piece warning of the dangers of a BNP London Assembly member. The usual anti-BNP Guardianistas are simply overwhelmed - not by BNP supporters, but by people totally disillusioned with NuLab, some of whom are almost nihilistic in their desire to give them a shoeing. I've not seen so much weary contempt for a party ... I'd say a rough split in the comments is 10% basically supportive (anti-BNP), less than 5% pro-BNP, another 5% who might vote for them to poke a finger in the NuLab eye, and 80% a-virulent-plague-on-your-house stuff - the most wounding coming from ex-Labour voters.

Interesting times."
- Laban Tall (UK Commentators) (bolding mine)

I do read and post on Comment is Free, but I confess this thread passed me by, probably because I expected it to cover well-trodden left vs far-right ground. It is an article by Jennette Arnold, the only black member of the London Assembly, concerning the possibility that the BNP could gain a seat on the assembly. The article is pretty uncontroversial, so for it to attract 339 comments was at first glance surprising. Then I started reading the comments...

A sample:

"The point is not that the people posting here, in the main, are BNP supporters. It is that none of the main Parties has any right to expect my vote. The lazy slimey maggots have to *earn* it and frankly they are doing a p!ss poor job of it..." - MoveAnyMountain

"What a state our attempt at democracy is these days when all we can do is vote on the negative. In my experience those who do vote (and in my age brackett its not a lot) only do so to spite another party (keep the tories out! punish labour for the iraq war etc...)
This is probably the same reason a lot of people vote for the BNP. To voice their dissatisfaction with the two and half parties that supposedly represent us. Even my dad (a lifelong labour support and Guardian reader) toyed with the idea of a protest vote for the BNP."
- lazaroumonkeyterror


"[New Labour are...] a government that promised to deliver us from sleaze but has more fingers in more pies than the Tories ever did.
In fact a party that doesn't really believe in anything except it should stay in power and do exactly what it likes without scrutiny or complaint and we should all be ever so grateful.
The problem is the alternative is EXACTLY THE FUCKING SAME, except that just maybe they wouldn't have pissed quite as much money away in the process.
Honestly listen to them, they REALLY think they are doing a good job. I mentioned it before but the report on education did really say education today would have been better if Labour did precisely nothing at all since 1997 and left the system alone to run itself..."
- haardvark


"Yes the BNP are a nasty, racist and divisive bunch of quite intelligent individuals (the knuckle dragging skinhead days are long-gone), Bbut look at yourselves - greedy, adulterous, insular, arrogant, liars. So are you worth saving? Sadly, no. For you to be salvaged you need destroying first.
Remember also what New Labour is responsible for in Iraq. Can you see the BNP being that evil and killing that many people?
When you abandon the whip system and represent the wishes of the majority of your constituents on every issue irrespective of your party policy, then you are worthy democrats. Until then you're just fascists with a very large allowances budget.
I have absolutely no intention of ever campaigning against the BNP ever again. Not because I like them, I don't, I think they're scum. I just think the rest of you are worse."
- Holyhead


The exclamation by one staybryte a third of the way down the thread is, I believe, an accurate reflection of how people all across Britain feel about the political system. The sentiments expressed on Comment is Free (as close to a cross-section of society as it's possible to get on the blogs) are looking more and more like they might have come from the Devil's Kitchen all the time. Staybryte's response to the BNP London Assembly really captured the feeling I'm talking about:

"Something weird's going on. I don't like making big predictions but something is afoot.
Posters here from left and right, Pikey, Twolegsbad, Danny69, BumbleDL, lazaroumonkeyterror, haardvark... to name a few
Ex-Labourites, rank Tories, cynics, libertarians, socialists, confused disillusioned political drifters like me...
People are REALLY PISSED OFF. The feeling towards all politicians isn't just cynicism, it's out-and-out fucking HATRED. I smell panic in this article, and in a few others I've seen recently.
We may be in for interesting times. We may look back fondly on the days of apathy."
- staybryte


At one time there were alternatives in British politics. If you didn't think much of Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Government, you could vote for Neil Kinnock. There were real political differences between the two parties. Now, it all seems to be an amorphous mass. The old canard, "whoever you vote for, the Government gets in", has never been truer. Iraq war, EU, database state, inheritance tax, prohibition of drugs, higher salaries for MPs. Different colour flag, same old story.

As I declared in a similarly frustrated post last Friday, I've signed up to the UK Libertarian Party (LPUK). They promise to offer a real change to the awful, stagnant party politics we currently have. And maybe, just maybe, LPUK has formed at just the right time to capitalise on the disenfranchisement so many people feel over the actions of those in power.

Look at those comments I quoted above again. Take a look at the rest of the thread (some of the other replies to Jennette Arnold are even more strongly worded, nihilistic in their sentiments as Laban suggested - some even suggested voting for the BNP just to send a warning to the main parties!) and tell me that a party like LPUK isn't sorely needed!

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Kazemi: Temporary Reprieve Granted

In a statement made this afternoon, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has announced that Mehdi Kazemi, the gay Iranian man whose asylum claim was rejected despite being in danger of torture and execution if he were returned to Iran, has been given a temporary reprieve from deportation (BBC).

Representations have been made on Kazemi's behalf by Lords, by Simon Hughes (Kazemi's Liberal Democrat MP), and by human rights and gay rights groups. However, this announcement does not mean that this campaign is at an end. The reprieve does not mean that Kazemi has has been granted asylum in the UK, only that his case is to be reconsidered.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Mehdi Kazemi: Human Rights Appeal








Image originally from EveryOneGroup.com (Link)


Mehdi Kazemi is homosexual. Unfortunately, he is also Iranian. And Iran is an extremely homophobic state indeed. So much so that homosexual sex is a capital crime - an estimated 4,000 gays and lesbians have been executed since 1979, and more have been tortured.

Kazemi came to the UK to study in 2004. In April 2006 he was informed that his former partner had been hanged for sodomy, and had named him as his partner - meaning that Kazemi would be charged with the same crime, and very likely meet the same horrific fate, on returning to his home country.

Despite this, his appeal for asylum was rejected in 2007. Following that decision, Kazemi fled to the Netherlands. They too rejected his claim on the basis that he had already claimed in another EU country, and he is now about to be sent back to Britain.

The Government's position on the deportation of lesbians and gay men to countries such as Iran where state persecution is rife is a disgrace. Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes has stated that "The Home Office claims that a gay person can return to Iran and avoid persecution by being "discreet"". Even if this weren't on the face of it ridiculous, it does not apply in this young man's case.

Hopefully enough pressure will be brought to bear on the Government for them to reverse this decision and save Kazemi's life. It is shameful that this should be necessary, but sadly it is.

Via Stroppyblog: A demonstration and petition have been organised by the Middle East Workers' Solidarity campaign, and there are e-mail addresses to send letters of protest:
public.enquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk
indpublicenquiries@ind.homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk


Finally, I urge you to write to your MP and bring this case to their attention.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Mutual Aid - Peter Kropotkin

It's been a while since I posted a book review. This month I've been reading a work that couldn't be much further from the topic of my previous book post back in January.

For one thing, it was written over a century earlier. Peter Kropotkin was a Russian prince, born in 1842, who was also a revolutionary anarchist. The book that is the subject* of this post was published in 1902.

*Once again, as far as is reasonable I am reviewing the book, rather than expanding on the ideas contained therein

Peter Kropotkin - 'Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution'

'Mutual Aid' can roughly be divided up into three parts dealing with animals, primitive peoples, and city-dwelling peoples.

In the first two of these, Kropotkin aims to dispel the notion that "mutual struggle" between individuals is the defining characteristic of life. In this respect, the book is conspicuously a product of its time. Kropotkin filled a gap, telling the other side of a story that had been neglected by the evolutionary biologists of the time, such as Huxley. To the modern reader, much of the factual information in the 'Mutual Aid Among Animals' chapter is common knowledge and accepted science, and it seems strange that it would need to be pointed out in the way Kropotkin does, delineating examples of altruism and sociability species by species.

However, as Kropotkin concedes in the Introduction, "animals and men are represented in ['Mutual Aid'] in too favourable an aspect...". The chapters dealing with animals do expound on social species to a much greater degree than solitary or live in small families, and also describe animal life with a somewhat anthropomorphic colouring that reads a little strangely to this modern reader at times. Overall, though, this section of the book surely represented a valuable contribution to the understanding of the natural world at the time.

It is when Kropotkin moves onto anthropology in the second section of the book that the content becomes both rather more divergent from modern science, and at times rather perplexing. In particular, the chapter entitled 'Mutual Aid Among Savages' frequently displays the romantic, utopian view of the way of life of primitive peoples nowadays referred to as the 'Noble Savage' and, I consider (though I know there are those who disagree), discredited. In other places Kropotkin makes reference to blood feuds and clan warfare "chiefly in consequence of superstition", however there is little discussion on the implications on the book's central contention as it is applied to the human species.

From the next chapter and throughout the following chapters, the book becomes rather more of a study of history than a scientific review. Viewed in this way, 'Mutual Aid' can again be seen as a work that fills a gap and redresses a balance, examining feudalism and early capitalism from the perspective of the ordinary worker, highlighting the importance of people's councils, guilds and unions. The impositions of the lords and feudal barons and later the capitalistic class and Parliament are described in great contrast with the co-operation and solidarity of the people, and by the end of the 'Mutual Aid Amongst Ourselves' chapters there is more than a whiff of the political tract about 'Mutual Aid' that will probably be familiar to those of you who've read a modern-day far-left newspaper.

As a book, 'Mutual Aid' is a thought-provoking read which considering its date of publication and subject matter has aged very well. However, due to the level of detail and number of often rather repetitive examples, it is heavy going at times despite the fairly self-explanatory central contentions.

Kropotkin does fulfil the aim of showing that mutual aid is indeed a factor of evolution, and in a way he was ahead of his time in this regard. The later sections are rather less so, and leave several of the sort of questions a cynic would ask unanswered. However, that isn't such a bad thing...

Monday, 10 March 2008

Video Of The Week (10)

Video of the Week: 03/03-09/03: MGMT - 'Time To Pretend'

MGMT are surely the most hyped new band so far this year. If this is anything to go by, they deserve to be. A great electro-rock song with an amazing psychedelic video...

Diktatwatch: Visions & Values

Diktatwatch is an occasional series on Question That exposing management follies and political nonsense, from the bloggers at the sharp end.

This week, paramedic blogger Tom Reynolds at Random Acts Of Reality describes the unintended consequences of one Government target in particular:

Part of our Visions and Values is -
Clinical Excellence
We will demonstrate total commitment to the provision of the highest standard of patient care. Our services and activities will be ethical, kind, compassionate, considerate and appropriate to the patients’ needs.

Could someone please explain how not bedding our patients securely down in hospital fits this value? The last time this was tried patients disappeared and spent hours waiting for treatment while the hospitals didn't know they were there.

All this is to fit in with the clinically irrelevant ORCON standard (do click on this link - it makes interesting reading when the BMJ agree with us. Particularly "The strategies introduced to meet the targets can be detrimental to patient care and also have adverse effects on the health, safety, wellbeing, and morale of paramedics.").

It is just another way that the ORCON standard is having a negative impact on the effective and humane treatment of our patients. Anyone who wants to disagree should take a look at my proposed solution, and then tell me that ORCON is the ideal measurement.

----

If we really want to be living up to our Visions and Values I think we should be kicking and screaming at the government to get ORCON measurement off the table, or at least made vastly less important. It's not evidence based and it's having a detrimental effect on patient care - and this latest initiative is just one more example of this.

----

I want my management to take this in the manner that it is meant. As a call to realise that bending over backwards to fulfil the inappropriate targets set by the government is no way to lead a service, and that we need to start pushing back against these diktats...

Sunday, 9 March 2008

What's Wrong With This Picture?



The above is one of six recruitment posters (you can see the other 5 here and here) sent to Scientologists by the London Church of Scientology, in an attempt to attract people who have previously signed up with them but are not currently active (so-called 'public Scientologists') to work in their organisations.

The images are, as of the time of posting, still hosted on the London CoS foundation's own website (i.e. CofSLondonFoundation.org.uk), e.g. (Link, proxied for security).

Suffice to say that, for the CoS to use this imagery and the words of Churchill (the e-mail with the image above was reportedly even sent with the title 'A Message from Winston Churchill') to recruit - thereby equating working for the cult with the fight against Naziism, is in my opinion and I've no doubt that of many others, disgraceful.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Anonymous vs Scientology: This Is Why

Readers might be aware, if you read Digg, perhaps, or read this previous post here on QT, that an internet-based group called Anonymous has 'declared war' on the Church of Scientology.

The short and unique history of Anonymous has taken a dramatic turn, initially as a consequence of the CoS's (failed) attempts to remove a leaked Tom Cruise video (see here) from the internet. Over the course of a few weeks, Anonymous turned from a loose-knit community of hackers and pranksters into a worldwide decentralized campaigning force. Its sights are set on bringing down the dangerous, money-grabbing organisation behind the Church of Scientology.

It is a lofty aim, but the fight against the CoS is a worthwhile one. Although the concept of a belief system invented by a science fiction writer that attracts celebrities may seem to be deserving of little but derision, the activities of the organization that runs Scientology are anything but comedic. This video, entitled 'The Unfunny Truth About Scientology' and put out by cult website YTMND is a starting point:



If you want to find out more of the truth about Scientology, read Xenu.net and WhyAreTheyDead.net.
If you want to read some testimonies from ex-Scientologists, visit Lermanet.com.
If you want to find out more about, or even join, Anonymous's campaign against the Church of Scientology, visit the forums at Enturbulation.org.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Whoever You Vote For, The EU Gets In

So, they went and did it.

Despite the Manifesto promise (Link). Despite the recent polls that showed 88% of over 150,000 people to be in favour of a referendum (Link). Despite the fact that the treaty represents still further integration into the EU.

I've heard the 'representative democracy' argument against referenda on more than one occasion (e.g. Link). But, really, it's academic. Because this argument rests on the idea that our "representatives" (that is, the MPs we elect) represent us. Instead, they say one thing when they are trying to get elected, and then they do another. They realise that a) those members of the public sufficiently politically engaged to have an opinion on this topic are overwhelmingly in favour of a referendum, and b) if they held a referendum, the vote would be strongly against the ratification of the treaty.

All three major political parties are pro-EU. New Labour, as you know, have discarded the promise they made when re-elected in 2005. Their justification, that the Lisbon Treaty is not the EU constitution, is paper-thin (see this post). The argument that the Lisbon Treaty (PDF) is too complex a document on which to hold a referendum does have some merit - but perhaps they should have thought of that before coming up with the manifesto, not now!

The Conservative Party may have voted for a referendum, but the suspicion that the Tory leadership is all mouth and no trousers on this, as on certain other issues, remains. Devil's Kitchen (via the Daily Mail's Broganblog) has more on the behaviour of the Conservative whips ahead of votes on amendments to the treaty Bill (Link) earlier in the week. It was, of course, the Tories who among other things refused to hold a referendum on the Maastricht treaty in 1992 (Link).

As for the Liberal Democrats, the article by Matthew Norman in today's Independent is on the button. The demand for a referendum on EU membership rather than the treaty was a red herring - a cop-out. Although there is a strong argument that British refusal to ratify the Lisbon Treaty would set the UK on the road to leaving the EU, the Lib Dems' failure to vote for a referendum on those grounds is utterly presumptuous - If continued EU membership is so essential to the UK and its citizens, convince us of that at the time of referendum on the Treaty. To weasel around the referendum issue in the way you have, Liberal Democrats, is contemptible.

It's not as though it hasn't been obvious for some time, but our supposed representatives in this democracy do not represent us - they represent what they think is good for us. We have seen fairly strong evidence of this in the past, but this tops the lot. That they have gone back on the now-infamous manifesto commitment is surely confirmation. Why should we trust them to follow up on anything they pledge again? We might as well just forget about the whole democracy thing in this country, for on the basis of this display of chicanery it is just a charade.

It's embryonic at the moment, and its brand of free-market libertarianism isn't entirely to my taste, but I'm going to become a member of the UK Libertarian Party anyway. If for no other reason than that it represents a potential break from the rotten political status quo. Where 3 barely distinguishable parties, colluding to give up parliamentary sovereignty (EU Referendum) compete at election-time based on little but pretense. And, thing is, I reckon a hell of a lot of other people all across the country feel the same way...

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

How Different Are The 'Lisbon Treaty' And 'EU Constitution'?

This is further to this post, on why I support the campaign for a referendum.

The answer to the question in the post's title is: Not very. Thanks to SeanT at Political Betting for this.

Clegg’s position (and Brown’s for that matter) is that the Treaty is so different to the Constitution, he doesn’t have to abide by his referendum promise.

Does this thesis hold up to scrutiny? Maybe we should go beyond the M25 and ask a few European pols what they think about this issue.

Here’s what they say:

“The fundamentals of the Constitution have been maintained in large part… We have renounced everything that makes people think of a state, like the flag and the national anthem.”
Angela Merkel, German Chancellor - El Pais, 24 June 2007

“The substance of the constitution has been retained”.
Hans-Gert Poettering, president of the European Parliament - speaking to the Council of Europe, Strasbourg, 26 June 2007

“The text consists, in effect, of a revival of a large part of the substance of the Constitutional Treaty”.
Valery Giscard d’Estaing, former French president and chief architect of the EU Constitution - personal blog, 26 June 2007

“All the earlier proposals will be in the new text, but will be hidden and disguised in some way”.
Valery Giscard d’Estaing, former French president and chief architect of the EU Constitution - EuroMoney seminar, June 2007

“The adoption of the substance of the European Constitution under a new name is a serious violation of democratic principles.”
Jean-Luc Melenchon, French Senator and one of the main leaders of the ‘No’ campaign within the Socialist Party - Le Monde,
26 June 2007

“The substance of the Constitutional Treaty has been preserved”.

Jo Leinen MEP - head of the European Parliament’s constitutional affairs committee - Agence Europe, 26 June 2007

“A great part of the content of the European Constitution is captured in the new treaties”
Jose Zapatero, Spanish Prime Minister - El Pais, 23 June 2007

“The good thing is…that all the symbolic elements are gone, and that which really matters – the core – is left.”
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Danish Prime Minister - Jyllands-Posten, 25 June 2007

“There’s nothing from the original institutional package that has been changed”

Astrid Thors, Finnish Europe Minister - TV-Nytt, 23 June 2007

“They haven’t changed the substance - 90 per cent of it is still there.”
Bertie Ahern, Irish Prime Minister - Irish Independent, 24 June 2007

“The EU Foreign Minister is the original job as proposed but they just put on this long title - High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and also vice President of the Commission. It’s the same job […] it’s still going to be the same position.”
Bertie Ahern, Irish Prime Minister - Irish Independent, 24 June 2007

“Despite all the compromises, the substance of the draft EU Constitution has been safeguarded.”
Elmar Brok MEP, Chairman of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee - Euractiv, 25 June 2007

“The referendum which the Spanish approved the Constitution has been decisive, and 99% of its content has survived.”

Diego Lopez Garrido, parliamentary spokesman for the Spanish Socialist party - El Pais, 25 June 2007

“As long as we have more or less a European Prime Minister and a European Foreign Minister then we can give them any title”
Romano Prodi, Italian Prime Minister - speech in Lisbon, 2 May 2007

“It’s essentially the same proposal as the old Constitution.”
Margot Wallstrom, EU Communications Commissioner - Svenska Dagbladet, 26 June 2007

Of course it is possible that all of these people are lying through their teeth, and dear old Cleggy and Brown are the only men of principle telling it like it is, but.. well…. erm….

Memo to Europhiles: Stop Lying.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Lisbon Treaty: 88% Want A Referendum

In an unofficial ballot held across 10 constituencies, 88% of 152,520 people voted in favour of a referendum on the EU's Treaty (Telegraph).

The ballot was organised by cross-party campaign group I Want A Referendum. This result should serve as a warning to the Government that voters are not about to let the failure to deliver on the manifesto promise to hold a referendum be brushed under the carpet.

The poll results also indicate that speculation that the reason the Government is reneging on the manifesto promise is that it would lose the vote is well-founded. 89% of the voters in the private ballot answered No to the question "Should we approve the Lisbon treaty?"

The overall turnout for this unofficial ballot was over 36% - higher than the average for local elections! This is a real signal to both Labour and Lib Dem MPs intending to go on opposing the referendum.

Divisions on this issue are present within both parties. Labour MP Kate Hoey admits in her Comment is Free article this evening, the (Lisbon) treaty is essentially the same as the constitution that was the subject of said promise. Meanwhile, Liberal England describes how the Lib Dems' bizarre policy on the treaty came about - and the growing rebellion against it.

There's still time for a policy shift. The British public are clearly in favour of a referendum. Labour, Lib Dems, how about delivering?

Video Of The Week (9)

Video of the Week 25/02-02/03: Where's Your Flag Pin?

A real blooper by Republican Jack Kingston live on MSNBC. He attacks Barack Obama for lack of patriotism, citing his not wearing a US flag lapel pin. But unfortunately for Kingston, he seems to have forgotten something...

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Gems Of The Web (3)

Blog means web log, so here's another set of websites worth paying a visit (don't worry, they're all free). This set ranges from the popular and fairly well-known, to some real niche stuff.

Previous web log posts:
The Information Mine
Hidden Gems Of The Web (2) (ActonHighStreet's selection)

  • Digg - The oldest and best of several sites that showcase the 'best of the web' based on submissions and votes by members. Digg-ers tend to favour the quirky and the sensational, and featured articles, images and videos can receive greatly increased traffic as a result. An excellent place to start if you want to be up with what's going on in the online world.

  • SongMeanings - This is the best song lyrics site on the internet, free from the malware that infests many of the other lyrics pages that come up on a Google search for song lyrics. It's also a forum for discussion of the meanings behind said lyrics. You could read these for days without getting bored. At one time SongMeanings was notoruous n

  • The Anti-Dialectics Homepage - This is the 'niche' one! Rosa Lichtenstein is a Marxist but rejects the core philosophy of dialectical materialism. This intriguing site explains in incredible detail (14 essays plus countless other articles) why, in Rosa's view, the Hegelian theory has presided over 150 years of almost total failure, and DM is detrimental to revolutionary socialism.

  • ThinkGeek - Subtitled 'Stuff for Smart Masses', this is the place to come for quirky T-shirts for the techie in your life, desk adornments, high-caffeine confectionery and drinks, and anything else the average Internet addict yearns for.

  • Xenu.net - Or 'Operation Clambake'. What you'll find here is everything the Church of Scientology doesn't want you to. This includes secret documents containing knowledge that Scientologists pay thousands of dollars for (including the relevance of the site's name).
    There's also hosting of the superb South Park episode 'Trapped In The Closet' (lampooning Scientology), testimonies from ex-Scientologists, and details of some of the most shameful episodes in the CoS' history.

Who Is Investigating The Effects of Government Intervention?

Fabian Tassano is a trenchant critic of increasing Government intervention with the stated intention of reducing economic inequality, and he makes an interesting point in his latest post at Inversions & Deceptions:

"While there is plenty of research purporting to show the stressful effects of inequality, I doubt there is much (if any) looking into the stressful effects of intervention, restrictions, red tape, or deselection on ideological grounds..." - Fabian Tassano
I suppose the first response to this must be "is it true?". Not being a social scientist I don't have a firm answer to this, only the inclination to believe that this is probably the case.

Oliver James' unscientific but undoubtedly 'ideologically correct'* 'Affluenza' has been lauded and has become part of the popular consciousness (full post on this here). Aside from 'Mediocracy', opposing points of view tend to be expressed by writers and commentators such as Christopher Booker, Michael Bywater and Simon Hills, rather than academics.

Either this is because the deleterious effects of big Government aren't being studied (as Tassano suggests), or because those who are doing so aren't getting published and marketed as James has been. Which is it?


*Ideologically incorrect: A more wide-ranging adaptation of 'politically incorrect'. Incompatible with the prevailing big-state, pseudo-egalitarian, 'left-wing' ideology. e.g."It should be obvious by now, to anyone who cares, that the principle of free speech is being gradually eroded in the West. Either by straightforward ditching, or — more subtly — by redefining it in ways designed to legitimise the prohibition of ideologically incorrect viewpoints."(Link)

Saturday, 1 March 2008

NHS Database: Are Connecting for Health Telling The Whole Truth?

"The main problem we are facing are two extremities – waiting patients and privacy fascists and we are trying to find a pathway for the middle of the two." - Richard Granger (former Chief Executive of CfH), April 2007

Like the National Identity Register, the NHS Spine (centralised NHS database of medical records) is another project with which New Labour seems determined to plough on, despite criticism from experts who say it is unnecessary, unworkable and unsafe.

One of the most prominent opponents of the Connecting for Health centralization project is Ross Anderson, Professor of Security Engineering at Cambridge University. He has been involved in patient privacy-related campaigning since 1995, and is currently an advisor to the main political campaign against the NHS Spine, the Big Opt Out campaign.

An article by Anderson, entitled 'Patient Confidentiality and Central Databases' (PDF), appeared in the February 2008 edition of the British Journal of General Practice (BJGP). The article detailed privacy, security and safety issues that Anderson has raised regarding the various aspects of the CfH project, and encouraged GPs to "empower patients to opt out", providing relevant information such as can be found at the Big Opt Out campaign website to all patients.

Two responses to the article, a response article and a letter both written by Connecting for Health directors, appear in the March 2008 edition of BJGP. I found these responses very interesting; not so much for what they did discuss (the Summary Care Record (SCR)) but for what they didn't (all of the other forms of centralized medical data storage that Anderson opposes).

Particularly striking was the following statement, in response to the (quoted) introductory paragraph from The Big Opt Out front page ("...This system is designed to be a huge national database of patient medical records and personal information [sometimes referred to as the 'NHS Spine'] with no opt-out mechanism for patients at all...") :

"We should be informing our patients that for the summary care record this statement is not true.." (bolding mine) - BJGP March 2008, pg205
Reading between the lines, either this statement is very carelessly worded, or what The Big Opt Out site says is true for other aspects of the Connecting for Health data centralization project.

As you might have guessed already (perhaps from actually reading the whole front page of the Big Opt Out website, rather than taking the first paragraph in isolation), this is indeed the case. Throughout the responses, the authors have either deliberately or inadvertently conflated the SCR with the NHS database taken as a whole. Whichever is the case, the effect is to mislead.

The Connecting for Health NHS database project consists of not one, but three main components: The Summary Care Record; the Detailed Care Record (DCR); and the Secondary Uses Service (SUS) (PDF)*. It could be said that the SCR is the 'acceptable face' of the project. The information to be stored is relatively minimal, and it is possible to opt out using 93C3 (Dr Rant). This is not the case for the other components, nor for the Personal Demographic Service database of address and phone data (TBOO)

To me, it is telling that the CfH responses in this month's BJGP neither discussed DCR and SUS at all, nor responded to most of the original article's arguments, instead resorting to attempting to discredit Prof. Anderson and The Big Opt Out (for instance, referring to, but not specifying "factual errors" (BJGP, March 08, pg148)), and even attacking the BJGP's editors for publishing Anderson's article in the first place!

Don't be taken in by this CfH bluster. The NHS Spine is a danger to your medical confidentiality. Opt out.

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