Monthly Archives: May 2006

Liberal Drinks gets its own website

Inspired by the success of the last few Liberal Drinks in London, and out of a desire to see similar events happen around the country, Martin Tod and I have been working this evening on a new website to work as a focal point for the initiative (special thanks to Martin for letting me have the code he used for the map on the Campbell Campaign website. Could this become the UK equivalent of Drinking Liberally? It’s up to you.

In the short term I’m off on holiday for a week. But I’m hoping my inbox will be fit to bursting with entries for the beer label competition when I get back.

(And yes, I am expecting our distinguished opponents to come up with some hi-larious entries involving variations on Charles Kennedy and Mark Oaten. Bring it on!)

You missed my rant

Just got back from doing The Big Issue programme on Resonance FM alongside Alex Runswick/One Perfect Rose, Nick Edwards/Londonist and presenter Mark Hanson.

If you missed it, which you probably did as I didn’t exactly flag it up in advance, you didn’t hear my launch of Hands Off Our Future, my latest project. Have a look at the site, such as it is at the moment (lots of balls in the air at the moment – but watch this space) and join the forum.

Chris Davies: a Letter to Lib Dem News

LDN didn’t print my letter last week, but the letters they did publish went some way to redress the “Davies love fest” of the week before.

For the record though, I thought I’d publish what I wrote here:

Since you published Chris Davies’ self-righteous non-apology last week and apparently received many other letters supporting him, allow me to add a note of dissent.

In the article that got Davies in such hot water, he states: “I visited Auschwitz last year, and it is very difficult to understand why those whose history is one of such terrible oppression appear not to care that they have themselves become oppressors.” To draw parallels between the extermination of 5 million Jews and the Palestinian situation, let alone to imply that the Holocaust contains a moral instruction that Jews should heed, Israeli or not, is grotesquely offensive. Would you hector a rape victim about the need for them to learn their lesson?

Referring to the situation in Palestine as “apartheid” is fatuous in the extreme. Anyone who advocates a two-state solution – including Israel, Palestine and the Quartet – is advocating what could be simplistically described as an “apartheid” solution, partition wall or not. And let’s not forget that 19% of Israelis are Arabs who have citizenship and voting rights.

The use of such inflammatory language on such a complex issue always causes more heat than light. It means that an opportunity to highlight the very real plight of the Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli government is lost.

Initially, I assumed that Chris Davies was simply being uncharacteristically naive. I’m no longer so sure. Is it really too much to expect our politicians to use responsible language?

Getting the ball rolling

I’ve been sitting on the url handsoffourfuture.org.uk for a couple of months now, but work pressures have made it very difficult to get things moving.

I’ve been finally spurred into action for two reasons: firstly, Andrew Rawnsley’s article in the Observer this Sunday on the subject of Generational Equity is a clear sign that this issue is increasingly hitting its head against the mainstream. Rawnsley’s namecheck of Tory MP David Willetts suggests that at least he is starting to take these issues on board.Secondly, rumours have been circulating that my own party, the Lib Dems, are on the verge of missing a golden opportunity of taking the initiative on this area with its latest Tax Commission. The Commission is apparently set to water down its proposals for a “Progressive Property Tax” which was to signal a major shift in the burden of taxation away from low income earners and onto property owners.

Frankly, no major party in the UK is tacklingly generational equity in a meaningful way, and why should they when the over-50s are more likely to vote and are more numerous than ever before? What’s more, the old are organised in a way that the young are not. They have their own lobbying groups – Help the Aged, Age Concern, Saga, et al – and they have perfected the whine of the perpetual underdog. For a more perfect example of this, look no further than the campaign against Council Tax. Fixed income pensioners don’t even pay it, and yet it is presented as a social justice issue.

The young are predominently creating the wealth in the UK, and yet they are being stung by the quadruple-whammy of graduate debt, sky-high property values, pensions and income tax. And that’s not counting an uncertain future due to climate change and the fact that the under-20s have been institutionally demonised by a state which has invented the term “anti-social behaviour” as a new tool for keeping the public in a constant state of anxiety. It is time to get our shit together.

This website is intended as a contribution to the debate and as a catalyst for organisation. Although, as editor, I’m a Lib Dem, I’m hoping it will evolve into a truly cross-party initiative (while I’d like to see my own party take a lead on this issue, I’m not convinced it will until the issue is more high profile). If you’re interested then bookmark this page and pay a visit to the accompanying forum.

Big Brother 7: An Opportunity Missed

I had high expectations for this series of Big Brother. After what they did with Celebrity BB earlier this year, I was confident that Paris Hilton was going to be one of the housemates and would have to pretend to be an ordinary person and not a celebrity at all. Then, in a feat of life-imitating-art, she would become an ordinary person and lose her dreadful reality TV series and not appear in lots of celebrity gossip magazines.

Sadly however, it would appear that this is not the case. Unless of course she turns out to be a secret Kit Kat addict (which given the fact that the average Kit Kat has more girth than La Hilton herself, is highly unlikely).

Die Harder

Two things to say about Tony Blair’s Bruce Willis inspired soundbite-of-the-day about Nuclear power being “back on the agenda – with a vengeance“:

  1. It is insuffrably ridiculous, the verbal equivalent of a 50-something man driving around in a Lambourghini;
  2. It is code for “that stuff about being genuinely open minded about nuclear power? Big fat lie. Suckers!”

Neither of which are uncharacteristic of our beloved PM of course. And of course, along with his outburst about the Human Rights Act, it is entirely designed to stop the commentariat from talking about loans-for-peerages and the meltdown that is the Home Office (not to mention the parlous state of DEFRA). But it does make you wonder how sad it must be to realise that your Premiership has sunk to such silly nonsense. Outbursts like this are all we have to look forward to from Blair. Subconsciously he’s almost certainly screaming for someone to end it for him.

Should we be panicking about Russian spunk?

Madeleine Bunting is very worried. Gallons of semen from Eastern Europe could be heading this way. And yes, she does employ the image of the HFEA playing the role of King Canute, attempting to turn back the waves. Thanks for that mental picture Maddy.

I do apologise for not taking this all that seriously, but is this really something that should be concerning us? More precisely, can this really be described as “genetic imperialism”? In which case, who is the empire?

There is a genuine issue here, which is that it is that poor people undergoing invasive medical operations in order to feed and clothe their families is obviously a moral problem. I’m a little more worried about people getting paid for their kidneys than their eggs though, and getting a peasant to bash one out in a paper cup worries me substantially less than the centuries old practice of poor people selling their hair. In short, the knives are the problem, not the DNA.

Far from being guilty of wicked imperialism, genetics here is actually quite benevolent. The demand for spare parts from the developing world will always be limited by genetic compatibility. Demand for sperm and ovum will be limited by parental preference. People are likely to want genetic material coming from people with the same race. They’re likely to want sperm from intelligent and attractive people and there aren’t that many concert pianists and underwear models in the barrio.

In evolutionary terms, who exactly is exploiting who? The scenario that Bunting describes as nightmarish is a delightful inversion of social Darwinism: the genetic code of poor people being spread far and wide around the globe. Herbert Spencer must be rolling in his grave. In terms of sexual selection, the implications are intriguing, but hardly worrying: filling the genepool with attractive, intelligent attributes is unlikely to do anyone very much harm, although I’m sure the BNP are unlikely to see it that way.

If anyone here is a “victim”, it is the kids growing up with absolutely no idea of who their genetic parents are and little prospect of finding out. Again however, there isn’t anything particularly new in this.

Poverty is a problem and we should do something about it. Coming up with new moral panics however is to badly miss the point.

The People’s Petition

Today is clearly a day for me spotting online petitions. This one has been signed by Tony Blair and has provoked the following response from the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection:

“This petition is being run by an extremist group of vested interests representing a very narrow area of medical research.

“They want to see the UK continue with an outdated method of research as opposed to taking up more advanced, non-animal scientific methods.”

Extremists? This is what the petition actually says (my emphasis):

I believe that medical research is essential for developing new medical and veterinary treatments. I understand that finding safe and effective treatments and medicines requires some studies using animals.

I believe that medical research using animals, carried out to the highest standards of care and welfare, and where there is no alternative available, should continue in the UK.

I believe that people involved in medical research using animals have a right to work and live without fear of intimidation or attack.

If BUAV really believe that is “extremism” then their condemnation of anti-vivisectionist terrorism is meaningless. I have no problem whatsoever signing up to the People’s Petition – even if it is endorsed by Blair – and I suggest you do too. For the sake of balance however, I do recommend this article.

The evils of liberalism

I’ve blogged about this before and I’m sure I will again, but what is Nick Cohen’s problem with liberalism? He has never spelt it out beyond complaining that reality rarely meets the ideal, but that is true of all ideologies, and yet he returns to the subject again and again.

This week, Kate Winslet’s Number One Fan is attacking “Europe” (whatever that is…) for not being as liberal as it claims to be. In doing so, he cites Simon Jenkins – an arch Tory – and Franco Frattini – Sylvio Berlusconi’s personal appointee to the European Commission. He laments the prohibition of Holocaust denial and laws to prevent criticism of religion, both of which are predominently advocated by socialist parties. He suggests at the end that the people of Europe are becoming contemptuous of hypocritical politicians who espouse liberal ideals yet fail to observe them in practice, yet that is an argument for more liberalism, not less.

More to the point, this Euston Manifesto supporter fails to come up with something even vaguely resembling a leftist alternative. Indeed, that manifesto includes plenty of exhortations to freedom which, last time I looked, was the alpha and omega of liberalism. Euston can be read as a wholesale surrender of the left to come up with a better model for society than liberalism after two centuries of wasted effort. Yet for Cohen, it continues to be the root of all evil.

I should probably stop reading these columns as Cohen has become so idiosyncratic now that they are seldom worth the time. But one day I would love to see him attempt to come up with answers. Polly Toynbee may be consistently wrong, but at least she tries. The polemicist schtick has got old, Nick.