Monthly Archives: April 2006

Respect for Law

Labour hacks are normally quick to attack the Lib Dems for seeing only another by-election opportunity when an MP dies. In Peter Law’s case though, it is Labour that have been seriously quick off the mark.

It gets worse. Now Labour are accused by his widow of offering Law a peerage to not stand.

The point, as I’ve made on Iain Dale’s blog, is that this is not merely dodgy, it is illegal. Offering a peerage for a favour is a breach of the Honours (Prevention of abuses) Act 1925. If Yates of the Yard is doing his job, he should be on Trish Law’s doorstep within the next few days.

Labour councillor Bob Piper retorts “[this] is exactly how Prime Ministers and Opposition Leaders have shafted those they want to shunt upstairs for generations.” Typical New Labour logic: murder has been going on since the dawn of time; that isn’t a good reason for legalising it. To be fair, he may be right; that only goes to show what an indefensible thing political patronage really is. Wisely, official Labour have adopted a “deny everything” response, although it may yet come back to haunt them.

Meanwhile, the woman who Law defeated is about to be made a Baroness. That may be completely legal, but it stinks like hell. To quote Peter Hain (regarding dual candidacy for the Welsh Assembly):

“There is widespread abuse where candidates are elected on lists – often the majority of them having lost in the constituencies which they also stood for.

“So the voters rejected them in those constituencies, but they end up winning on lists.

“I think it’s an abuse – if you’re defeated and end up winning and setting up in the very same constituency where the voters kicked you out that is an abuse. “

This, despite the fact that no-one can find any evidence to support Hain’s claims that list AMs are abusing the system to help them win constituency seats (I wonder if Maggie Jones will be installed in time to vote for this ridiculous system?).

Why let the facts get in the way of a good argument?

Via Paul Davies on MakeMyVoteCount, I came across this article from some oik who claims to be the Torygraph’s Europe Correspondent.

His article appears to be the worst argument against PR I’ve ever come across: namely, that because the Belgium Parliament failed to force a minister to resign, all PR systems are indefensible.

A couple of points, aside from the obvious one about the futility of using a single anecdote to condemn a whole system of government:

  1. We’ve had plenty of examples of incompetence by government ministers in this country over the last few years. When did we last have a vote of confidence on any of them?
  2. Do you really believe – even for a second – that if the Commons had a vote on Charles Clarke that the FPTP-manufactured Labour majoritiy would vote to get rid of him?

The Telegraph have been annoying me a lot recently, as they are one of the main culprits for spreading the myth that the House of Lords is more “independent” of party politics than the House of Commons (fact: there are more serial rebels in the Commons than in the Lords). As the newspaper most dedicated to preserving the nonsense that is our current system of government, they don’t seem to be troubled by the need for either facts or logic.

The Crime Game

The crime statistics are out, and yet again, journalists have chosen to bypass the BCS in favour of reported crime: “Robberies up 6% but crime stable” claims the BBC. Well actually, personal acquisative crime is up by a statistically insignificant 1%.

As has been pointed out since time immemorial, an increase in the reported crime figure could have just as much to do with the policy doing their job as it has to do with an actual increase in crime. The BCS may not be perfect, but it is pretty hard to deny that it is a lot more reliable than the reported crime figure.

It always confounds me why the media leap at every single opinion poll statistic, which might only be from a sample of 1,000 (or in the case of the recent Lib Dem leadership election, as low at 400), while confine reporting of the BCS to the end of each article.

And before you think this is a “be nice to the safety elephant” post, it isn’t because he is guilty of playing exactly the same game. His press release statement is as follows: “Much of the work we are doing is aimed at tackling not just crime itself, but also perceptions of crime.” Well, on that case mate, you are failing as people as 17% of people are “very worried” about crime – a slight increase – despite it being at an all time low. “Anti-social behaviour issues are clearly matters of increasing concern for many people in England and Wales,” er, no they aren’t – overall, perceived anti-social behaviour has stabilised, “but as we roll out the measures introduced in the Respect action plan, I am confident that more people will begin to feel safer.”

Blair and Clarke’s crusade to “eradicate the scourge of anti-social behaviour” is futile because the list of things they are seeking to eradicate include “teenagers hanging around,” “people being rowdy” and “litter.” All the mission to treat such things as the most heinous of crimes will achieve is to make people feel less safe and less empowered. In short the Respect Agenda would be better described as the Blind Fear Agenda. As such, we will doubtless see the discrepency between actual crime and perceived crime continue.

Nick Clegg is about to face his first test in my book: will he play his predecessors’ game of crowing about the recorded crime figure in his press release today? We shall see.

How does deliberate misrepresentation help promote understanding?

The debate raging over anti-semitism is confusing at the best of times. Generally speaking I have quite a lot of time for the argument that it is creeping back into fashion by the back door and that we should be less tolerant of lazy rhetoric that blurs the lines between judaism, zionism and the state of Israel. This quote by Sue Blackwell taken from Hirsh’s own website illustrates the scale of the problem quite succinctly:

…increasingly these days I find myself having acrimonious exchanges, usually by email, with people whose messages start by expressing their support for my stand on Palestine and then continue with ‘I think you ought to read this.’

‘This’ often consists of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which for a document over a hundred years old has weathered remarkably well. It crops up everywhere on the internet, including the weblogs of people who claim to be campaigners for Palestinian rights. I had a graduate student in my office not long ago, a highly intelligent young man who is a member of a socialist party in the UK. He told me in all seriousness that I really ought to read this incredible exposé of a world Jewish conspiracy, which was apparently new to him.

Dave Hirsh however crosses the line into batshit craziness. I would have agreed with him if his argument about this article by Chris Davies MEP should not have made crass comparisons between Jews being burnt in Auschwitz with the Palesinian situation. Why does the fact that 6 million Jews were wiped out by the Nazi’s make it incumbant on any Jews to behave with more humanity than anyone else? There’s also a wider double standard here that sneaks into lazy thinking (which I’m not accusing Chris Davies of): the horrors of the Holocaust are supposed to have taught the Jews a lesson on how to behave, while the comparatively less horrific (though doubtless intolerable) experience of the Palestinian ghetto, according to some, lets suicide bombers off the hook.

Unfortunately though, Hirsh decides to overegg the pudding quite appallingly. Not content with a mere critique, he comes up with the extraordinary premise that if you squint a little bit, take a quotation out of context and disengage your critical faculties for a second, what Chris Davies is actually saying is that all Jews, not the state of Israel, “appear not to care that they have themselves become oppressors.” This is transparent nonsense. Whatever my doubts about the efficacy of raising the Holocaust it is quite clear that Davies is referring to Israel and not “all Jews”. In fact, he doesn’t use the word “Jews” anywhere in the article. Despite this, Hirsh puts “Jews” in quotation marks in this article a grand total of eight times. This is a wilful misinterpretation, and given this and the fact that Hirst is explicitly calling him racist, I suspect that Davies would have quite strong grounds for legal action.

How does this sort of over the top nonsense actually help anything? By all means be critical of Davies here – I have – but screaming “RACIST!!!” at the drop of a hat does nothing to help understanding on either side. It is quite simply pathetic, a partisan broadside that is intended to cause a ruckus.

In Hirsh’s commentisfree profile, he states that he “endorses the manifesto.” Yes, in Hirsh’s world, the Euston Manifesto – in less than a fortnight – has become THE manifesto, suggesting that he is not only obnoxious, intellectually dishonest and lazy, but quite unbearably pretentious as well. If this is the sort of rot that the “new left” comes up with, I don’t fancy its chances.

Siloisation

Two Times articles today reveal a lot about the challenges that modern politics currently faces. The first is an account of the practical problems of targeting people living in gated communities; the second records that the Tories last year spent £400,000 on mailshots to pensioners but just £50,000 on mailshots to young urban professionals (I’m not singling out the Tories here, who spent more on direct mail last year than the Lib Dems spent on their whole campaign; in fact I’d be amazed if the Lib Dems spent any money at all on targeting yuppies).

Social trends towards fortressing homes is doing more to fragment British society than mass immigration ever could. And it isn’t just about preventing canvassers and leafleters from getting to you; the Telephone Preference Service means that tens of thousands of electors are now not contactable via the phone (and however much parties may abuse this, they still respect it more than businesses). In the constituency I helped in during the last election, the Tories even tried claiming that the Mail Preference Service applied to us – but not them of course – even though it is a voluntary scheme.

The public is doing all it can to shield itself from politicians, and then subsequently adopts a wildly inaccurate picture of politicians that cannot be challenged. This quote is telling:

“I don’t watch the news, listen to party political broadcasts or read flyers so it is about getting the message across to me.”

The question is how? How do you inform someone who doesn’t want to be informed and has the tools at his/her disposal to avoid your messages? I’m afraid I don’t have any confidence in the great internet having the answer here for the simple fact that people only visit the websites they want to visit.

The problem is wider than just politicians’ relations with the public however. Last night’s Dispatches – woefully misrepresented on its website – pointed out how much of the problem we have with anti-social behaviour is rooted in mass hysteria that greatly exaggerates the true scale of the problem. In the past, a kid mouthing off would get a clip round the ear; now we expect the police or social services to sort it out for us on demand. If you do give a kid a clip round the ear, you are likely to get an ASBO yourself.

The real problem is that our society has fragmented. It isn’t wicked politicians, or poor public services, or mass immigration and multiculturalism that’s to blame; it’s the fact that we choose to live in silos. I’d like to think that there are enough good reasons to get us to reverse this trend at some point in the near future; if that doesn’t happen I really don’t see a long term positive outcome.

Steady as she goes

Interesting Guardian/ICM poll today. Not the stuff about Labour hitting a 19 year low with the Lib Dems up; encouraging though that is I know better than to get excited by such things (although it is delicious irony seeing this just a couple of days after Blair harrangued his critics as being out of touch with the public). No, I was more interested in how the parties fared on the environment: Lib Dems 29%, Tories 22% and Labour 17%.

From memory I think Labour have tended to do better than the Tories in this area, so that is of course not good news for them. But it is encouraging that the Tories have so far to go before stealing our clothes on this issue. The onus of course is now on us to stop them from having a chance.

It does point towards an encouraging set of local election results, and an exciting by-election result on Thursday.

Still fighting the cold war

Oh, I do love being right. Less than a week ago, I accused Charles Clarke of fighting his old student union battles from his vantage point of the Home Office. Then he goes and makes a speech that illustrates my point.

I agree with much of what Rob Knight and Michael White have said about it. In the generality, Clarke is absolutely correct. The media do get carried away with purple prose. But that in and of itself is no great insight, and it is clear that this is merely a ruse of Clarke’s to cloud the issue. What’s more, his invocation of the cold war and apartheid is to miss the much wider issue.

The first important point to make is that while there are occasional lapses into hyperbole, there are plenty of moderate voices out there expressing concern for the New Labour agenda. This article by Jenni Russell a few weeks ago both makes my point and gives you an insight into the wounded martyr complex from which Clarke’s speech spung. The sort of demagoguery that he berates here is the exception not the rule – and the main reason why I can’t personally bear the Independent these days (let alone the New Statesman) – yet all are being tarred with the same brush.

These demagogues are, remarkably enough, not twittering liberals, but hard leftists such as Pilger or George Galloway. Yet again, the “decent” left are attempting to shut down debate by claiming that all their critics speak with one voice. Yet again, we’re back to the age old battles in student unions which are largely irrelevant.

George Galloway may still be fighting the Cold War, but not the rest of us, which leads me to my wider point. That is, the problem is not limited to attacking the government on the civil liberties agenda (where critics have more justification than in other areas), but is part of a wider anti-politics agenda. That is where the poison lies. Where there is hyperbole, it isn’t limited to criticising Charles Clarke, no matter what his ego thinks; it is used to attack every single politician in the land. It has effectively shut down dialogue, reducing it to megaphone discourse.

Clarke can’t have it both ways. To this day, anyone who believes that Israel is anything other than beyond reproach or, worse, that invading Iraq was a mistake, is liable to be compared unfavourably to the worst Nazi appeaser (at least). The problem isn’t limited to any particular class or political ideology; it’s much wider. And it is a vicious circle: tone down language and you will face accusations of going soft; fail to give as good as you get and face the accusation of not having the stomach for it.

At its root is our obsession with dichotomy. Who do we blame? Hegel? Zoroaster? It doesn’t help that in this country at least our whole political system is steeped in duality: two party politics (creaking at the seams) within a two house legislature. I don’t see within Clarke any enthusiasm for moving away from such systemic problems; all he wants is for what he perceives as the “other side” to sort themselves out. He has made a good fist at attacking “Them” but people hoping for a sense of mea culpa will be sorely disappointed. As such, his speech is unlikely to change anything.

UPDATE: A lot of common sense from Martin Kettle.