Category Archives: Bit of politics

100% true, 100% of the time

From Ian B at Tim’s place:

The problem with a society in the grip of a moral panic- an example is the Gay Panic that started in Victorian England- is that it does not recognise it. The hysterical and extreme behaviours exhibited by panickers are considered not only normal, not even just desirable, but effectively obligatory. It’s quite interesting to note that the paedophile as folk devil has almost perfectly replaced the homosexual as folk devil, with only the degree of hysteria being even greater. The fact that many of the victims of this witch hunt are not, as noted above, even recognisably suffering from the aberration described as paedophilia does not matter, because unfortunately when it’s witch huntin’ season all that matters is that one joins in with the hunt (or raise suspicions that one is worthy of becoming the quarry).

…and this is why we throw people in jail for possession of Simpsons slashfic and manga. Even though only a certifiable lunatic could consider such an outcome just, The Great And The Good don’t want to march in the streets in defence of Someone Who Might Be A Nonce.

Sacking people is easy to do

Just a quick one on the incompetent Mr Beecroft‘s attempt to take labour relations back to the 1830s… noting that in private sector workplaces in England & Wales without union recognition agreements, all of the following are the case:

There are straightforward processes available to sack lazy/incompetent workers which, if you follow them correctly, take less than six months from when you first notice the problem with their work [*] and don’t lead to complicated legal action. I’ve personally dismissed people in this way. Anyone denying that is either lying or has no idea what they are talking about.

There are straightforward process available to sack people for gross misconduct which, if you follow them correctly, can be actioned on the same day, totally resolved within a week, and don’t lead to complicated legal action. I’ve personally dismissed someone in this way. Anyone denying that is either lying or has no idea what they are talking about.

If someone you have sacked having followed the correct procedures then takes you to tribunal, you can call a pre-hearing review where the judge determines there is little or no case to answer. Should they wish to pursue the case, they’ll have to pay a hefty deposit and will ultimately be liable to pay your costs when you lose. Anyone denying that is either lying or has no idea what they are talking about.

Where cases make it as far as losing at a tribunal, it is inevitably for one of two reasons:
1) the person was fired without reasonable cause (whether for race/whistleblowing/management petulance/whatever)
2) the person was fired with reasonable cause, but the company failed to follow the simple procedures that you need to follow in order to fire somebody with reasonable cause.

Anyone denying that is either lying or has no idea what they are talking about.

In unionised and/or public sector workplaces, the procedures may be more complicated; I’ve got no idea how they work, having never worked as a manager there. Ditto Scotland, although I think most employment law is reserved to Westminster. But none of that matters for Beecroft’s purposes, because the procedures followed in these situations are not the ones laid down in statute law, and hence wouldn’t be changed by anything that Beecroft dictates.

[*] it’s been questioned whether ‘six months’ is ‘simple’. I’d say yes: if someone on probation turns out to be crap, you can fire them immediately and easily – so the ‘six months’ bit only occurs for someone who was decent and suddenly becomes crap, or who’s been left to get on with being crap for years with nobody doing anything about it. In the first case, it’s human decency to give them the chance to turn around (hence why performance improvement plans etc exist); in the second, the company can hardly blame the law for doing what it failed to do in the first place.

Why minimum alcohol pricing is a terrible idea

Governments in both England and Scotland are planning minimum-pricing regimes for alcohol. These are a terrible idea, not only if you’re a liberal, but even on their own terms. There are three main issues associated with minimum pricing, all of which are conflated by minimum price proponents (this article is a good example of their muddled thinking, and indeed their sanctimony; this piece is expanded from a comment I left there).

1) is it reasonable to expect the government to take measures to reduce the harm that alcohol does to people who aren’t consenting adults?

Yes of course. Hence, tougher powers for councils to revoke the licenses of pubs and clubs associated with violent behaviour, tougher enforcement of bans on sales to minors, better treatment for domestically abusive alcoholics and support for their families, and so on are a good idea.

Nobody has come up with any evidence *at all* that minimum pricing would have any impact on this. Booze consumed in pubs and clubs is always going to be above any minimum price level that encompasses off-trade sales, because *that markup is what pays for the pub to exist*, so the town centre violence argument is nonsense; and bottle-a-day alkies are merely going to have less money to spend on other, less important things like food.

2) is it reasonable to expect the government to impose restrictive measures on consenting adults, based on the probability of health risks in later life *to the person being considered*?

Not in my opinion. If people choose to lower their life expectancy from 80 to 60 but have a better time on the way, that’s entirely their lookout.

This is where the puritan wing (‘teetotalitarians’) and the liberal wing of the left diverge: the puritans want to compel everyone else to live in the way that they view as most appropriate. Which, y’know, is pretty much exactly the same as religious fundamentalists compelling everyone else to live in the way that they view as most appropriate.

3) Even if you accept the puritan argument, is a minimum price a good way of achieving it?

Absolutely not, it’s a fucking terrible idea, because THE ECONOMIC BENEFITS OF THE POLICY GO TO THE BREWERS AND THE SUPERMARKETS. Suddenly, there’s a floor to price competition in the market, which means that everyone involved makes far more profit. This is what a cartel *is*.

If Cameron wasn’t in the industry’s pocket, he’d be suggesting that alcohol tax were raised to ensure that, based on the current lowest-cost production, all forms of booze cost at least 50p a unit (formal policy, actual rates reviewed every year based on what was available in the market). This would have the same impact on consumption of cheap booze as the proposed policy on drinking, whatever you think that impact may be, but the money raised would go to schools’n’hospitals rather than to Mr Tesco and Mr Heineken. At the same time, it would encourage people above the ‘cheap booze’ cutoff point to moderate their consumption, which is a desirable goal if you support the puritan argument (d’you think Christopher Hitchens drank cheap cider or Special Brew? Not exactly…)

The only reason to support a minimum price over higher tax is if you think the poor should have their lifestyle choices forcibly controlled by the state, but that the middle classes shouldn’t. In which case, you’re a bit of a scumbag, nah?

(disclosure as always: I’ve done consulting work for the drinks industry in the past and will probably do so in the future.)

This little thing? Oh, it doesn’t matter; here you go

Via Tim, I find a very cool article on the Aussies who worked in Melbourne under Bletchley Park’s command, breaking the Pacific Axis’s codes during WWII [*]. Very cool, and – unlike the (shamefully underfunded, GIVE THEM MONEY) museum at Bletchley, not even remembered at all. Should be.

This obviously gets me onto the history of the computer: so the calculator invented by a Victorian lady and her partner; was ignored. Almost a hundred years later, a very hardcore calculator invented by Polish geniuses to try and not be invaded by the Germans AGAIN was the genesis of the proper modern computer.

So we set up Bletchley for Polish, UK and general Commonwealth geniuses and a supporting cast to work together on similar grounds. And it was aces, and we cracked a bunch of codes, and a vast quantity of moral dilemmas were created for governments (‘do we save the people of Coventry when doing so would risk blowing the D-Day landings, as it would let the Germans know that we know their codes?’ – while there are some aspects of the conduct of Mr Churchill and Mr Harris that I question, anyone who could answer that question with the correct answer, rather than turning into a blubbing wreck at the horribleness of the thing they’d just chosen, is a better man than me), and we started turning the direction of the war, and it was the first time ELECTRONICS WAS FUCKING ACES.

At roughly this point, a gay English genius invented the first electronic computer. Which was even better at doing sums than the electro-mechanical ones that had been going down before. At roughly the same point, the war was won. This was not a coincidence: it’s how WWII went down: we lost at actual battles, then we broke the Nazi and Japanese codes, then we stopped losing, because we knew where they were going to be, and they didn’t always know that we knew this. Both sides had highly skilled coders. Well, the Commonwealth, Germany and Japan had highly skilled coders [**]. But the Commonwealth chaps did better, largely thanks to Poles, geeks and queers. Meanwhile, the USSR won its battles for for, erm, nastier reasons.

Then the war ended, following the USA’s scientific contribution and the USSR’s entry into the War in the East. The USA’s manpower and materiel contribution to the war was unequivocal and without it, the outcome would have been terrible. Its scientific contribution meant that the USSR was scared off occupying Japan, which probably worked out best for even the people of Japan. Hurrah! Brief John & Yoko moment.

So. To recap, the Commonwealth diverted her finest scientific brains and vast resources to Bletchley and its satellites. This secured an extra advantage in close-matched battles, that made the Normandy landings feasible and won the Pacific naval war. After that, everything was bloody, grinding and attrition-y, but history, and WE INVENTED THE FUCKING ELECTRONIC COMPUTER.

You might assume, at this point, as an impartial sane reader from Mars, that you’d be reading this on a computer that ran on Turing-OS, or perhaps on something cutely named for Oxfordshire.

As if. Guess what the British government did at the end of WWII? Set up an endowment of millions of pounds to develop computers for civilian ends? Said to the brilliant scientists who won the war ‘sorry, we’re broke, but why don’t you develop these for civilian ends and you’ll share the money’? Probably the latter, right? The British government was fucking broke at the end of WWII, and it might be a struggle to show the benefits of new technology, so pass on the rights to the folks who sorted it out and let them make money…?

As if. THEY GAVE THE ENTIRE FUCKING TECHNOLOGY, LOCK STOCK AND BARREL, TO THE USA, AND THEN MADE IT ILLEGAL FOR ANYONE IN THE COMMONWEALTH TO EVEN TALK ABOUT IT.

So the USA took this in the intended spirit, right? (fuck knows what the UK’s intended spirit here was, other than the spirit of ‘technological & industrial suicide’) Well, guess which company which was THE KEY TECHNOLOGICAL ENABLER OF THE FUCKING HOLOCAUST they passed the details onto, almost straight away, so they could market their Business Machines Internationally [CHALLENGING ANAGRAMS]. Whilst, just as a reminder, anyone in the UK would have been jailed or hanged for using any of the Bletchley computer secrets in any kind of industrial work.

I don’t blame the US government for this. If I were PM of anywhere, and someone gave me blueprints to THE MOST AMAZING TECHNOLOGY THERE WAS, then I’d immediately give it to every industrial company in my territory. But fuck, it changes one’s take on Attlee somewhat, doesn’t it? Yes, land fit for heroes, NHS, pensions, great, it is well fair. But you didn’t really need to TAKE THE MOST IMPORTANT INVENTION OF THE FOLLOWING 100 YEARS AND FUCKING GIVE IT TO THE AMERICANS AND THEN FUCKING MAKE IT ILLEGAL FOR YOUR OWN CITIZENS TO DO ANYTHING WITH IT AT ALL, did you? I mean, really, that wasn’t necessary.

So yeah. End of UK as anything important is exactly equal to the point when the idiots in charge decided that the computer was so irrelevant we might as well give it to the colonial cousins, they understand that sort of thing don’t you know. And the miserable, horrific hounding to death of the one man who did the most to save civilisation in WWII, Mr Turing, was hardly a surprise after that – once the computer had gone to America, what use is someone who invents something that nobody in your own land believes to be worth the square root of fuck all?

[*] That quite good war, before we returned to the pre-1939 model of only fighting wars that were pointless and stupid (apart from the one in 1982, which is only opposed by scumbags who hate democratic self-determination. And yes, I otherwise hate Madame T).

[**] The only USA code that remained unbroken during the war was the Navajo code. This is unsurprising, given the tale of the US Senator who toured the Melbourne coding facilities and then “went back home and told American newspapers how American ingenuity had cracked the Japanese codes”. Whichever member of the Australian government let a FOREIGN BLOODY POLITICIAN tour the facilities really should have been horsewhipped.

It’s another exciting British constitutional history post. Hurrah!

Just because people seem confused on all this (for some reason).

Before 1535, England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland were legally separate countries. Following the English conquest of Ireland in the 12th century and of Wales in the 13th, England, Ireland and Wales had a single ruler, who was styled King of England and Lord of Ireland, but were administered as separate countries. Scotland had a completely separate king.

However, Henry VIII is often seen as a chap who shook things up a bit, and relations between the Home Nations were no exception.

Between 1535 and 1543, the Laws in Wales Acts extended English law to Wales, replaced Welsh local government with an English model, and gave Welsh constituencies representation in the English parliament. After 1543, Wales was effectively part of England from a legal/administrative point of view.

In 1542, the Irish Parliament’s Crown of Ireland Act made the King of England, whoever he might be, the king of Ireland; but unlike Wales, Ireland remained administered separately.

In 1603, King James VI of Scotland also became King of England (and hence, Ireland), as Elizabeth I’s nearest heir. Although James liked the idea of unifying his territories, both the English and Scottish aristocracy and parliaments told him roundly to piss off. So at this point, James was king of the independent states of England (including Wales), Ireland and Scotland, in much the same constitutional way that Elizabeth II is queen of the independent states of the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. Although obviously, he had rather more power then than she does now…

By 1706, following failed attempts throughout the 17th century, the Scottish aristocracy eventually accepted the concept of union between the two countries (largely because Scotland was bankrupt following its disastrous colonial adventures in central America). In 1707, each country’s parliament passed an Act of Union, creating a united kingdom of England and Scotland – referred to as Great Britain – with a single parliament, a free trade area and a single currency, although Scotland retained its unique and separate legal system, and the established Church of Scotland was not integrated into the Church of England or fully controlled by the UK monarch or parliament [see Chris in comments]. All laws of either nation that were incompatible with the Act were repealed by the Act. At this point, Queen Anne became Queen of Great Britain and Queen of Ireland.

In 1800, the parliaments of Great Britain and Ireland each passed another Act of Union, creating a united kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, referred to imaginatively as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, with a single parliament, a customs union, and a single currency – a similar drill to 1707. Part of the deal to gain Irish acceptance was that Catholics would be given the right to vote in and stand for the UK parliament (previously, only Protestants were eligible to stand for either parliament) – although this was later vetoed by King George III, much to the ire of the (posh, Catholic segment of the) Irish.

Unlike the 1707 Act, which was legitimately voted for by the Scottish parliament, the passage of the 1800 Act in the Irish parliament was driven by epic bribery, as well as by the lies about Catholic emancipation. The Catholic Relief Act was eventually passed in 1829 – too late to stop the Irish from being deeply and fairly pissed off about the whole event.

A few years after (most of – see Thumb in comments and my reply) Ireland effectively seceded from the Union in 1921 to form the Irish Free State and hence lost its representation in Westminster, the legal name of the remaining entity was changed to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1927. King George V became King of the United Kingdom (including Northern Ireland) and King of (most of) Ireland.

(Most of) Ireland declared itself a republic in 1948, at which point King George VI ceased to be King of (most of) Ireland – although bizarrely, the Republic of Ireland parliament didn’t repeal the Act of Union until 1962.

The recent devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, although massively important in practice, hasn’t changed the overall legal status of of the above – we’re still in the same position as in 1948. The state of which Elizabeth II is queen is still the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the UK Parliament is still sovereign over the four nations that make up the state.

Sources: Laws in Wales Acts (1535, 1543), Crown of Ireland Act, 1707 Acts (England, Scotland), 1800 Acts (Great Britain, Ireland), Anglo-Irish Treaty 1921, Royal & Parliamentary Titles Act 1927, Republic of Ireland Act 1948, Statute Law Revision (Pre-Union Irish Statutes) Act 1962.

Riot strategy, or ‘why calls for tougher cops are missing the point’

I’m not going to do a hand-wringing riots piece. We’ve seen a million of them, whether from a cartoonish ‘make them less poor’ point of view, an authoritarian ‘hell in a handbasket, we’re doomed’ point of view, or a bigoted ‘rivers of blood’ point of view. It’s dull.

However, following on from Jamie’s post about how the riots went down in Manchester, and a question on Tim’s blog about Liverpool and Manchester cops making more arrests more rapidly than London cops, I do have a few thoughts on police tactics.

First up, the police did an excellent job at preventing loss of life and serious injury. Obviously, the deaths in Birmingham are terribly sad – and if the initial eyewitness statements prove to be correct, about as cowardly and evil as it gets. But the fact that in London, nobody was killed and few bystanders were seriously hurt is amazing, and not what anyone would have expected from news footage on Sunday/Monday. “People not being killed” is more important than “Currys not being robbed”.

But while the police did well on that basic front, the disorder in London lasted longer than the public could reasonably be expected to tolerate – hence the myriad of calls throughout the week to send in the Army, and/or to use water-cannons, rubber bullets and CS gas. The problem is that none of these would actually have helped. In short, policing in London on Sunday/Monday didn’t fail due to lack of force, or due to political correctness preventing officers from beating thugs up (plenty of beating up of thugs was done). Rather, it was due to a lack of understanding of what was going on – and, to some extent, a lack of absolute manpower.

The looters this time round flashmobbed. Digressionally, this is why BlackBerry Messaging is important to how the riots worked, not just an irrelevant detail like Twitter and Facebook. For example, the mass of reinforcements 30 seconds into this looters-push-back-cops video has to be pre-arranged, not random. Throughout London, mobs turned up at a co-ordinated time, looted, ran away, and regrouped. That isn’t how riots have historically happened: normally, the mob is trying to claim a specific territory, and the authorities are trying to stop them. Like a traditional war, with a front line.

These riots are the difference between WWII and Vietnam: the insurgents didn’t have a front line, but tried to appear, attack and disappear – and the authorities just didn’t know how to handle the new kind of conflict. Adding water cannons and CS gas into the mix wouldn’t have done anything to stop the looters, and I’m sceptical that rubber bullets would have achieved much. Live automatic weaponry would’ve done the job, but if you think that’s an acceptable solution to teenagers robbing shops, then you’re a dangerous lunatic who shouldn’t be allowed out in public.

The only alternative to mass slaughter is to adopt standard counterinsurgency measures. You learn the looters’ tactics, how they’re organised, you disrupt and intercept their communications, you try and infiltrate their groups, you arrest known looters when they’re at home in bed rather than out looting – and you use all the above measures to ensure that looters can’t get to their targets, and that if they do get to a target, then they can’t escape again.

In London, once the cops worked this all this out and managed to mobilise extra troops, the rioting stopped almost immediately (presumably because the looters either got arrested fairly rapidly, or worked out that they would get arrested if they didn’t stop). When the looting began in Manchester and Liverpool, the police had the benefit of a three-day London case study to work into their own plans, so it’s no massive surprise that they were able to end everything in a night.

Politically speaking, the wider mob of angry non-looting citizenry needs to be placated – so completely useless draconian measures seem likely to be introduced. If they are, they’re certain to be used when more-or-less peaceful demonstrations like UKuncut get rowdy, because those are the crowd dynamics in which CS gas and water cannons ‘work’ (if you class quelling the violent thugs slightly more rapidly, while also injuring far more non-violent protestors than would otherwise be the case, as ‘working’). So that’s a bit depressing for those of us who support the right to political protests.

But the good news (at least, for people who don’t like their house being on fire) is that the things the authorities have clearly learned over the last few days make it unlikely that the perceived total breakdown of law and order seen in London will be repeated. At least, not until the next new kind of rioting strategy emerges…