Monthly Archives: February 2007

Guido’s not a Tory? Fawkes off!

This whole Blog Wars thing is all rather silly, but possibly the silliest aspect of it is hearing people from all parts of the political spectrum defend Guido as being non-partisan. This argument appears to rest on the basis that, from time to time, he slags off Tories as well as people from other parties.

Well, on that basis, Tharg knows what that makes me – I slag off Lib Dems all the time. And for that matter, I don’t attend half as many Lib Dem social events as Guido attends Tory ones. Yet strangely I don’t hear anyone claiming that I’m anything other than partisan.

And while he seems to be very keen to nail the Smith Institute, he doesn’t seem to have the same passion for exposing, say, the Policy Exchange for publishing research on Muslim social attitudes despite a relatively explicitly political agenda, or for that matter any of the other thinktanks currently “helping” the Tories with their current policy reviews (I’m not having a go at thinktanks here per se, lest I be accused of hypocrisy, merely suggesting that the Smith Institute “scandal” requires a bit of contextualising).

Ah, you say, but Guido occasionally writes posts slagging off thinktanks. He has an amusing picture of a chimp in a hat that goes alongside them and everything. But bemoaning an organisation and going after it are two different things.

I don’t have a problem with Guido having a partisan agenda – why shouldn’t he? But I do think people are foolish to buy into his “I hate everyone equally myth.” He may not love the modern Conservative Party, but it’s clear he’d rather have them in power and is working on that basis. Let’s at least be clear about that.

Jedi Rights NOW!

The British Council of Jedi are the voice of British Jedi. We exist to represent the rights of all Jedi to the UK Government and to demand that Jedi are given equal rights alongside the other main faiths in the UK.

We want:
* a total ban on religious hatred against Jedi and criticism of our sacred religious texts
* a total ban on blasphemous texts such as The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, and a ban on the Great Betrayer, Darth Lucas from being allowed into the UK
* full and equal recognition alongside other faith groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain, the British Board of Jewish Deputies, the Church of England, the Hindu Council UK and the Sikh Federation UK
* representation in the House of Lords alongside other faith groups
* recognition of the right of Jedi communities to enforce their own religious laws, run faith schools and run their own services according to Jedi law

We will work constructively with all faith groups to help achieve these ends. Except the evil Sith.

You can sign up to the British Council of Jedi on Facebook (note: you will need to register on the site).

Kilroy woz here, there and everywhere

He’s back. And he’s even more bonkers than before.

The arch eurosceptic who wants us out of the EU, nevertheless is now insisting that the Commission should prepare legislation to make it illegal to exclude women from mosques and prevent M&S from installing distorted mirrors.

Personally, I stood in front of the radio open mouthed this morning, listening to Kilroy berating a women who he had attempted to co-opt to his cause for not gratefully falling to his knees. I cannot recommend this clip highly enough.

I had assumed that Robert Kilroy-Silk was just going to fade from view after 2004. Clearly I was wrong. UKIP should never be allowed to stop apologising for getting the man elected in their name.

Denis MacShame

Denis MacShane’s article on the evils of the government’s proposals for Lords reform is, to be charitable, a little confused. Let’s get this straight:

So why, then, will I go into the opposition lobby next week? It is over the proposal to tear up more than seven centuries of history and require MPs to sit rather than stand to vote. The Government wants MPs to take a multiple-choice exam on its proposals to reform the House of Lords. Instead of MPs voting in lobbies for or against different proposals, scratch cards will be handed out, which we can take away to list in order of preference what the composition of the Lords might be.

Don’t you think it says a lot about the Labour Party that one of its most senior MPs regards the “innovation” of a ballot paper as tantamount to a “scratchcard”? Makes you think about how much they value your vote and indeed the whole democratic process, doesn’t it?

Also, how do you square his “deeply held” belief that such an innovation would “tear up more than seven centuries of history” with his claim that “All my political life, I have argued that a smaller, elected chamber is the only way forward.” So, changing the way the Commons votes ONCE is too great a step, but fundamentally altering the way the Lords is composited is fine?

He seems to have barely read the White Paper, claiming that it would lead to the British second chamber to “grow like topsy” when in fact it proposes cutting the size of the Lords. Perhaps not to the extent that he would like, but a cut (by one third no less) is still a cut.

(I could extend this point to Vernon Bogdanor’s piece on Lords reform in the Telegraph yesterday. Quoting approvingly from John Major is always a fraught with danger, and citing his statement “If the answer is more politicians, you are asking the wrong question,” when the White Paper proposes reducing them is particularly foolish).

A lot of politicians appear to be imagining up all sorts of “principled” reasons for throwing out the government’s proposals before even getting a chance to vote on them. The bottom line is, if you want a fully elected second chamber, the free vote next month is your best and last chance to do it for a generation. Moaning about scratchcards is pathetic beyond belief. It makes them sound like they have become so completely institutionalised in Parliament that if they were released into the real world, they’d quickly starve to death.

More here.

An accident waiting to happen

My first response when reading about Forward Wales’ plan to field both party and ‘independent’ candidates in the next Assembly elections was, “what took them so long?” The Electoral Commission appear to have now woken up to this, but really it is too late.

This is the real danger of the AMS system, not the “dual candidacy” bugbear which Labour have banned. Indeed, were it not for the fact that they would pay too high a political price for doing it, on paper it is Labour that would have the most to gain from playing this kind of game. That said, it has the most to gain from the status quo as well: if may struggle to get list candidates elected, but FPTP gives it such a disproportionate advantage in Wales, that hardly matters to them.

The only real solution is to have candidates elected under a single system. Hopefully this will be one more nail in the coffin of this system, but it won’t be surrendered without a fight, especially given that the Welsh Raj Peter Hain has already pledged to veto any attempt by the National Assembly to get its own house in order.

Downing Street Petitions: Initiative without Resolution

Well done to anti-road user charging campaigners for getting a million petition signatures on their Downing Street petition. As someone who has railed against this proposal, not from a motorist perspective but from an environmental and civil libertarian one, it is gratifying to see such a disastrous policy being given such a rough ride.

It does however present present me with a bit of a problem. We desperately need to rebalance direct and representative democracy in this country, but I can’t help but think that this sort of half-measure may end up doing more harm than good.

The Road User Charging example is a good example: government has already made it clear that it has decided to do this. To back down now would make them look very foolish indeed. Yet there is no formal mechanism for what happens next. From what I can make out from the website, Blair will just refer it to Milliband, who will write a curt “thanks for your input, but, no” letter to the petitioners and that’s it.

The problem is, there is simply no way of resolving whether these million plus individuals are representative of the wider population, or just a particularly animated minority. It has to be said that car users get particularly wound up about constant infiringements on the divine rights of motorists. Just the other day, an acquaintance of mine informed me that he was emigrating to Australia because “I’m just sick of draconian traffic laws…makes me feel like sending letter bombs… but someone beat me to it!” How’s that for a balanced perspective?

In my experience, campaigners on all issues have a tendency to assume that they are riding on a crest of popular support, and astroturfing is a standard tool in the modern campaigners’ repertoire. The Downing Street Petition Engine allows people to hang onto these beliefs, without providing a means for testing it out whatsoever. Not surprising, coming from a Prime Minister who much prefers religious leaders to scientists. In short, everyone who uses this system and doesn’t see immediate results will have a right to feel aggrieved and feel that issues are simply being cherry picked to suit the government’s agenda – because that is exactly what they are doing.

At least in Scotland, petitions go to a Parliamentary committee and get deliberated on. The Petitioners may not get what they want, but at least they get more of a formal hearing. In truth, the fact that Blair has done this before Parliament did demonstrates quite how inward looking the Westminster Bubble has become (all the guff from all sides last week about preferential voting marking the end of civilisation would lend credence to that view).

What we really need, of course, is a system of Initiative and Referendum. Far from undermining representative democracy, I’m increasingly coming to the view that this would be its salvation. With a system in place with clear ground rules, the lazy slur of “politicians never listen” would be exposed for what it is – if not enough enthusiasm can be generated to get an initiative started on an issue, then why should we be surprised if politicians aren’t leaping on that particular bandwagon. Conversely, faced with a process that could effectively overrule them, you can bet that politicians will be all too keen to address issues that are generating a lot of real public debate, with a view to nipping them in the bud before they have their hands tied.

Meanwhile, it is interesting to note that a referendum to legalise abortion has just been won in Portugal, and the Centre for Policy Studies have just published a new pamphlet on CI.