Category Archives: Bit of politics

Update for Brits who’re just waking up

Overall, we know about as much about what’s going on as when as we did when I woke up eight hours ago.

Things we do know: the Lib Dems got screwed, probably by the sustained 2-week barrage of media lies about them.

Troll-like ex-home secretary Charles Clarke lost his seat, which is delightful.

Pro-science campaigner and all-round good egg Evan Harris lost his seat, which is a terrible shame (bad work, Oxford people).

And although the Tories have cleaned up in the Home Counties and the Midlands, Labour have mostly held London.

The Tories are trying to subvert the constitutional convention that the sitting PM has the first right to try and form a parliament. This makes them scumbags, and the complete and utter opposite of anything that might be described as ‘conservative’.

Finally, the appalling Hazel Blears kept her seat in Salford (where they weigh the Labour vote) albeit with a 10% swing to the Lib Dems, so I don’t have to drink a bottle of Scotch and streak through Sydney. Which is probably just as well.

(more, less coherent analysis at Johnb78).

Update: excellently, we have our first Green MP, Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavillion. Revoltingly, Zac Goldsmith has won Richmond Park. If your feelings towards Zac Goldsmith include anything other than disgust and hatred, there is something wrong with you.

Semi-informed Northern Ireland poli-blogging

It’s lovely to see Peter Robinson, the head of Northern Ireland’s DUP (the Paisley-ite, hardline Unionist party), losing his Belfast East seat to non-sectarian Alliance candidate Naomi Long. Anything which makes NI less sectarian-driven has to be a good thing…

The thing which makes it even funnier, by which I mean “if I was properly awake I’d literally be rolling on the floor with laughter”, is that insane ultra-Unionist blogger David Vance (of A Tangled Web and Biased BBC ‘fame’) won 1856 votes, presumably from people who felt that Mr Robinson didn’t hate the Micks enough. Ms Long’s majority over Mr Robinson was only 1533.

In other words, by attracting crazy sectarian bigots with his crazy sectarian bigotry, David Vance has actually made Northern Ireland a less crazy, sectarian and bigoted place. Hahahahaha!

Apart from more pies and shorter hours

I’ve been challenged to state what policy goals I’d actually favour:

* Unlimited migration of people with A-level equivalent qualifications, or any non-academic skills in demand (defined as “more than no job adverts specify this, and it can be quantified”) in the country of relevance.
* Equal tax on all “getting more assets”, whether house, work, parental snuffing it, or whatever, with an exemption for “appreciation in price of a house you haven’t yet sold”. With a gbp10,000 per year minimum limit before you pay any at all.
* Annual 10% cut in NHS budget, applying NICE’s calculations to treatment rather than just drugs. “You’re going to die in six months no matter what we do? Well, here’s a kilo of prescription heroin, enjoy it whenever you prefer, but don’t bother us at the hospital again.”
* Legalisation and taxation of all drugs.
* Massive relaxation of “IP” law, based on the fact that the entire concept of intellectual property is insane made-up nonsense. All copyrights and patents will last for 20 years maximum, to be granted only if the applicant can demonstrate to the government’s satisfaction that this special favour will do good for society at large.

Any more for any more?

A working class hero is nothing to pretend to be

Paul McCartney was always my favourite Beatle. Not only because of his superior songs, although Jet is better than any of John Lennon’s solo output. But also because he never followed the absurd craze amongst arty types of “pretending not to be middle-class” (this is a middle-class home, whatever Mr Lennon’s pretensions).

Today, I’ve been mostly riled by Internet-ists playing the “prolier than thou” game. A Twitterist entitled @MediaActivist believes that capitalism is evil and should be abolished, not regulated. He also believes that he doesn’t have enough to eat. The latter isn’t just lies, it’s offensive, mad, patronising lies. Thanks to the combination of capitalism and socialism that has prevailed in the UK over the last 100 years, everyone has enough to eat. Anyone who says otherwise on the Internet is talking shit [*].

I very much like Laurie Penny‘s writing, but it often falls into the same trap. Ms Penny is poor because she’s chosen to be: she has a degree from a respectable university, and hence could easily, were she into such things, get a horrible job as an accountant, IT project manager, recruitment consultant, or similar. The reason she’s got no cash is because she’s – completely reasonably, because working as a junior accountant, project manager or recruiter is horrible – decided to live in a rats-and-roaches share-house whilst making it in the media. I did the same thing 10 years ago; sadly, the lure of “no rats and no overdrafts” seduced me to the dark side.

People sometimes slate writers like Ms Penny for their privileged background. They should be boiled in oil. The point isn’t the background, and if you judge anyone by their background then you’re a worthless prick. The point is that, if you’ve got half a brain and the right to reside in a developed country, you are unspeakably and amazingly economically privileged, whether your dad was the Duke of Canterbury or a tramp.

If you’re capable of participating coherently in a debate about poverty, whilst having the unqualified right to reside in a developed country, then you’re not poor, even if your income’s a fiver a year. The only people who are really poor in the UK are the people who aren’t capable of participating in such a debate. We need to do more for those people at the margins of society, but that has absolutely cock-all to do with how the majority of people who’re basically middle-class [**] live.

Relatedly, this is you, me, and everyone else reading this post:

Unrelatedly, give money to these people. Also, whenever the UK next has a government, write to your MP and point out that it’s a revolting, unspeakable state of affairs that over a million British citizens don’t have abortion rights, purely because we’ve left the lunatic theocrats on both sides of lunatic theocracy to it rather than saying “no, fuck off, this isn’t a game, be sensible”.

[*] the only UK citizens who don’t have adequate food, heating, healthcare, etc are people who are too challenged by whatever disabilities they suffer from to claim the benefits that otherwise mean that all UK citizens have adequate food, heating, healthcare, etc. And someone who’s a coherent Twitter activist does not fit into that bracket. Many non-citizens are screwed, and I don’t believe they should be, but that’s a separate point and it’s to do with racism rather than capitalism versus socialism.

[**] spurious ‘75%’ stat removed. I’m willing to defend the proposition that on any sensible indicator, 50%+ of British people can be described as ‘middle-class’.

Back with a vengeance

Good news, everybody. I’m online, with a real Internet connection and not a telephone, which has been my sole means of Twitter and email for the last week aside from taking my laptop to cafés and pubs [*]. Thanks, Telstra and iiNet, for only taking a month to sort it out.

I’ve also begun writing a report on an exciting (for people who like boring things) topic which requires copious quantities of online research, so I’m expecting to be spending more time both working, and engaging in social media [**]. My liver is particularly delighted at this news.

While I’ve been offline, I’ve missed the emergence of the Lib Dems as a serious political force, the Tory press getting so riled by said emergence that they’ve pulled out the kind of hate campaign normally reserved for children who’ve done something bad, and – most excitingly – the potential collapse of Rupert Murdoch’s influence over UK politics. Meanwhile over here, Murdoch’s rugby club has just collapsed amid a cheating scandal; I wouldn’t want to be the old man’s PA today…

Back on the Liberals, my favourite backlash piece is from the US’s so-far-right-it’s-almost-fallen-off-the-stage National Review. It lists “Five Reasons Why American Conservatives Need To Worry About Nick Clegg”:

1) Clegg’s outlook is anti-American.
2) Clegg is not an Atlanticist.
3) Clegg does not believe in a nuclear deterrent.
4) Clegg is a fervent supranationalist.
5) Clegg harbors strong anti-Israeli views.

Now, bearing in mind that NRO is trying to smear Clegg by putting the worst possible slant on everything he’s ever said, don’t most of these still sound like points that would be good things in a UK leader? (well, 2-5 at least. Not so much 1, which NRO made up because they don’t understand the difference between not always mindlessly backing the US and being anti-American.)

We’ll stop blindly following US foreign policy; we’ll stop wasting billions on something that is of absolutely no possible military benefit to the UK under any circumstances; we’ll work more closely with foreigners; and we’ll stop backing a murderous apartheid regime. I reckon the majority of Brits of all political hues would sign up for 2, 3 and 5. Not so much 4, but that primarily reflects the odd lies that most people now believe about the EU. Indeed, it’d be interesting to write a post from an Old Tory perspective emphasising how Clegg’s approach fits with their preferred way of doing things (you’d need to gloss over Europe quite heavily, of course).

Interesting times. I’m almost sad to be out of the UK for this election, which definitely isn’t something I’d have expected around January time…

[*] which it’s enjoyed, I think, although it hasn’t touched the beers I bought it, and still doesn’t show any signs of wanting to sleep with me.

[**] It’s an irregular verb: “he pisses about on the Internet; you’re a blogger; I engage in social media.”

Why pointless parliaments don’t and shouldn’t exist

Something which surprised me when I first researched moving to Sydney was that the city (in the sense of “wide urban area”) has no governing authority: the CBD and some of the inner suburbs are called the City of Sydney, but the vast majority of the city (including places that are only 10 minutes’ walk from the city centre) is made up of independent boroughs.

This felt familiar: it was also the case in London for 15 years, following Mrs Thatcher’s bizarre ideological crusade against local government, cities, any kind of planning of anything and the poor. And the resulting lack of focus on anything was pretty disastrous for London’s development over that time – hence why we now have a Mayor and an Assembly with control over major strategic issues affecting London’s development.

However, in Sydney, there’s never been much real pressure to do the same – because there’s already an authority that’s well qualified to do the job.

Greater Sydney has a population of 4.5m people, and so it makes up two-thirds of the population of the state of New South Wales. The NSW government and civil service are based in Sydney, and – because it accounts for most of NSW’s people, economy, media, culture, and events good and evil – devote a large majority of their time and budget to Sydney’s governance.

In other words, while the system governing Sydney is a little odd, probably wouldn’t be one that you’d choose if you were starting from scratch, and means that the metropolis is administered at a different level of authority to all the other cities in NSW, the net result is something that works, doesn’t pointlessly duplicate layers of effort, and is pretty much fair to everyone involved.

Sydneysiders, being a laid-back and sensible bunch of people, are happy with this state of affairs, and don’t kick up a fuss about people who live in Wagga Wagga getting to vote for the state government even though they don’t live in the city.

The comparison with the un-laid-back, un-sensible types who devote their time to campaigning for an English parliament despite England making up 84% of the UK’s population, is noticeable.

A point of view, albeit not a good one

In the comments at CiF, a commenter called Heyone summarises their supposed ‘non-racist’ objections to immigration:

It’s ridiculous that whenever immigration is talked about there’s always people shouting “racists!” and everybody starts debating what’s racism. This is just counterproductive.

These people have all missed the point. The majority of people are not concerned what race these immigrants are; they have real concerns about the strain that’s being put on NHS, schools, policing and the benefits system with a ever rising population due to Labour’s mass immigration policy.

No – rather, we’ve taken on the point that none of these ‘real concerns’ are, in fact, true. The NHS, schools, policing and benefits system all work well in the UK; hence why our levels of health, education, serious crime and absolute poverty as a society are all at comparable levels to other wealthy developed countries, and haven’t changed appreciably over the last 10 years of relatively high net migration.

The only way you can make a case otherwise is rely on “ooh, it’s all gone to the dogs round here” anecdotes. And yes, of course the occasional granny will preventably die in hospital; some yoofs will leave school with no skills; some stabbers and robbers will go unfound by overworked coppers, and so on, generating emotive stories. All of which would still happen if we had no immigrants at all and doubled the funding for all public services…

So the ‘pressure on public services’ case against immigration is instantly undermined by all the relevant data, and can only be defended through copious use of irrelevant anecdotes and idiotic assertions like “ooh, the numbers are all rigged” or “ooh, you can prove anything with facts”. In other words, it isn’t really a case at all.

So no, ‘it’s all about the resources’ anti-immigration people, you’re not racist in the same sense as someone who explicitly says they want to kick out the darkies. However, your premises for your stated argument are completely, demonstrably untrue. The remaining question is whether you cling onto demonstrably untrue beliefs solely through ignorance, or whether your stated argument is just a rationalisation of the fact that you don’t like to see foreigners…

*******

I probably ought to add that the post above only applies to people who use the argument above.

If, on the other hand, you think that immigration is wrong because it depresses wages for low-skilled UK-national workers, and believe that 1) a mild disbenefit to a minority of UK nationals somehow isn’t outweighed by the enormous benefits to the migrant *and* 2) the problem can’t be solved by income redistribution from the population as a whole (who benefit from immigration) to unskilled locals (the only people who don’t), then you’re deluding yourself in a completely different fashion.

Feared by the banks, loved by the gullible

In explaining how he avoided falling into the common liberal trap of supporting the Iraq war, Dan Davies listed the maximGood ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance“. The fact that all the main proponents of the Iraq war were lying like rugs about WMDs inherently casts doubt on the case for war, even if you believe that a war for regime change would have been justifiable in its own right.

I was reminded of this when looking at the website for the Robin Hood Tax campaign (the Robin Hood Tax is the new, nauseatingly cute, name for the Tobin Tax on financial transactions):

The Robin Hood Tax will not impact on personal banking or on retail banking. That’s because it targets a distinct area of bank operations – high-frequency large-volume trading, undertaken by financial institutions in the ‘casino economy’. 

If you change money to go on holiday, send remittances abroad, invest in a pension fund or take out a mortgage, you will not be affected by this tiny tax.

The Robin Hood Tax consists of a levy on:

financial assets such as stocks, bonds and foreign exchange, traded both physically and as derivatives (options, forwards, futures and swaps).

Hence, any money you change (whether for a holiday or for remittances) and any investments that your pension fund makes will, very obviously, be taxed under it. The tax will, definitely have a negative impact on ‘good’, non-casino-y transactions like people buying shares in companies to generate income for their retirement, or companies converting euros from their export sales into pounds.

This doesn’t, in and of itself, make the Robin Hood Tax a bad idea. That negative impact could well be outweighed by the benefits of the revenue raised and of dampening the speculative excesses of the global financial system (I’m sceptical of the latter: we all know with each successive crisis the speculative excesses of the GFS turn out to be concentrated in areas that aren’t regulated or taxed or indeed understood. But that’s for another day).

But the tax’s proponents are simply lying that the negative consequences for the real economy simply don’t exist, rather than acknowledging them and saying that the benefits are larger. And that definitely triggers my Iraq filter.

We love Admiral Scrumptious

Lord Adonis‘s retort to Boris on the Tube Lines PPP arbitration is quite superb:

Under devolution, it is for the Mayor and TfL to deliver the Tube upgrades within their generous budget – not for me to bail them out if they fail to do so.

If Boris wants me to take charge of TfL then he should say, and I would start with more sensible priorities like not cancelling the Western congestion charge zone and not replacing a modern bus fleet needlessly – both of which are costing Londoners hundreds of millions of pounds which could be spent on upgrading the Tube.

At some point, I’m going to post on why Tube PPP was a Good Thing (at least, given 2000s capital market conditions – it’s possible that credit availability over the next 10 years will mean that PPP/PFI is no longer as good an idea as it was during the Blair years). It boils down to “the government is committed to paying the money whether it wants to or not, rather than buggering about with the budget year-on-year as happened from 1945-1997″.

(yes, this kind of long-term commitment sacrifices democratic decisionmaking in favour of efficiency. As regular readers will hopefully have picked up, this blog has no moral attachment to the concept of democracy, or “rule by a mob of ignorant idiots”; the only reason I’m not actively opposed to it is the empirical one that other means of governance generally seem to turn out even worse.)

Legal guidelines for photographers in England and Wales

In the wake of the Guardian newspaper’s treacherous attempts to photograph the secret, hitherto unseen building at 1 St Mary Axe, everyone considering taking photographs in public places in England and Wales should really ensure they’re aware of the complex legal situation surrounding photography.

A conventional reading of the law can be seen in this memo from Chief Constable Andy Trotter, head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, where he reiterates many times that “there are no powers prohibiting the taking of photographs, film or digital images in a public place“.

However, layman as he is, Constable Trotter has failed to consider three very important legal concepts in this matter: the doctrines of ‘jobbious worthious’, ‘soulibus stealibus’, and ‘facina nonce’. Respectively:

1) Jobbious worthious highlights the long-established precedent that any arsehole in a uniform [*] has the absolute right to tell you what to do, demand respect at all times, pretend that he’s a policeman, and be backed up by the real police when they arrive, despite the fact that the closest he’s come to an understanding of the law is the time he got cautioned for beating up some bleedin’ liberty- taker after 12 Stellas on a Saturday night.

2) Soulibus stealibus relates to the fact that the fact that if you take a photograph of someone in any context in a public place you are, ipse facto, guilty of ‘infringing their bleedin’ human rights’. The harm done to the victim reflects the fact that your camera captures a proportion of their soul with each click (proportion captured depends on size of camera, which is why cameraphones are viewed as less serious and tripods as worst of all), and hence the social concern that with sufficient photographs you’ll start to own the person in a voodoo-slavemaster capacity.

3) Facina nonce takes precedence over soulibus stealibus in the event that there is anyone who is, resembles, or has ever been, a child in any part of the
photograph. In this context, you are automatically guilty of making and distributing child pornography (which is defined as anything that a person who is sexually excited by photographs of children, irrespective of context or content, might be sexually excited by), and hence will be summarily hanged.

[*] applies to: security guard uniforms; PCSO uniforms; railway staff uniforms. Does not apply to: school uniforms, although see point 3.