Daily Archives: 12 February 2008

It’s got a good beat!

Damn my forgetfulness! In my banning things post I forgot to include my gag about the irony of the UK government defending something which can be described as ‘wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats‘ (if you’re under 30 or over 45 and don’t get this, trust me: it’s fucking hilarious. Really).

The Mosquito sound also randomly reminded of cake and make me wonder if those crazy kids are getting off on it (see 4.30 into to video):

If TV can’t reflect Britain, what chance has politics got?

Cringeworthy stuff from Gavin Whenman on the topic of positive discrimination again:

To elaborate: Discrimination, of any kind, on a criteria which bears no relation to your ability to do the job, is wrong. It is fair to award party posts, such as PPCs, on the basis of merit only. It is not fair to award it on the basis of skin colour or ethnicity. To say that black or other people aren’t good enough to be MPs unless they have help from the white man is possibly the most patronising, shameful position we can take on this issue, and I hope Nick Clegg sees sense soon.

None of which is particularly inaccurate or misleading (even if it is intemperate), but it doesn’t get us very far, leaves us with a woefully unrepresentative party and begs the question: what would you do then? Clegg hasn’t backed positive discrimination – in fact he’s called a moratorium on imposing such measures within the party for at least two parliaments. What he has done though is back a system of training and support that will receive significant funds, warn the party that if this isn’t made to work then the debate on positive discrimination will need to be revisited and, today, backed enabling legislation to allow political parties to introduce all-black shortlists if they wish (just as we already have enabling legislation to introduce all-women shortlists).

How political parties select their candidates ought to be by and large a matter for them surely? If people feel they are having a candidate imposed on them there will be a backlash, as Labour discovered in Blaenau Gwent. Surely deregulation is a good thing in principle? Why does Gavin feel white guys need such stringent protection?

By backing this legislation, Clegg is supporting deregulation in principle and making a political point about the importance of parties doing more to recruit ethnic minority activists and politicians. I’m amazed that either of these things are regarded within the party as being a bad thing.

The bottom line is party politics is looking alarmingly white, male and middle class these days. In many respects we appear to be going backwards. The Lib Dems have particular problems. We have a few Asian activists and I can probably mention a token member of most established UK ethnic minorities, but within the black community particularly we are a joke.

But its the anger this all provokes that irritates me. I’ve got quite worked up about this myself in the past, and the establishment of the Campaign for Gender Balance was a result of a number of us trying to come up with an alternative to all women shortlists. But at least we were talking about alternatives – and now CGB is regularly cited by some with no sense of history as part of the positive discrimination agenda it was established to bypass.

We shouldn’t be blind to the enormity of our task though. If the television industry struggles to recruit visible black faces, as Lenny Henry was bemoaning last week, what chance has politics got? Expecting it to sort itself out however is simply ludicrous.

Parking in London

Oyster card readerFollowing on from a conversation I had with a friend the other day, I thought I’d mention this idea here.

I’m sure it has been proposed before, but why aren’t London parking meters made a part of the Oyster network? The advantages would appear to be legion:

1. Per minute billing would encourage people to vacate the space as quickly a possible.

2. It could be easily integrated with residential parking passes (just as Oyster is already used for complementary travel).

3. Traffic wardens would have less of an incentive to hover around parking meters waiting to pounce on anyone who outstayed their welcome.

4. Instead of issuing fines, you could just have an automatic billing system whereby the first hour cost X per minute while after that it went up to 10X per minute – people couldn’t use the network until they’d cleared any backlog on their card.

5. It would encourage motorists to acquire Oyster cards – and thus make greater use of public transport.

There are obviously civil liberty concerns about the being able to use the system to track people’s movements, but those concerns apply to the Oyster system anyway. They are solvable, by scrapping the RIPA for example. Either way, London is the most CCTV riddled city in the country.

It seems to me it would offer tangible benefits to the motorist, while encouraging efficient use of parking space at the same time. What are the disadvantages?

Banning things

Madsen Pirie wrote the following on the Adam Smith Blog last week:

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has a real problem. Last week one of his MPs tabled a bill in Parliament to force pubs and bars to sell wine in small measures only, while one of his party’s MEPs called for a ban on patio heaters.

The result is that poor Nick Clegg has seen his party made to look stupid yet again. He needs to take a lesson from Peter Mandelson, who introduced tight controls over what initiatives individual Labour politicians might launch or pontificate about. It made him unpopular, but it made his party able to control its image. Nick Clegg will have to do something similar or risk seeing idiots and charlatans make his party a laughing stock week after week.

This being the ASI, I’m sure they don’t see the irony in calling for Clegg to ban something in the interest of not wanting to look as if he’s in favour of banning things, but actually they have a point. I’m not clear that the world will be much improved by either Hall’s or Mulholland’s proposals. The growth in patio heater demand was particularly predictable given we saw precisely this happen as soon as Ireland introduced their own smoking bans a few years ago. The law of unintended consequences is not quite the same thing as a law of unpredictable consequences. It’s horses for courses.

I happen to agree that Lib Dem MPs ought to be very, very cautious about banning things or imposing greater regulation, and to always look towards a non-statutory solution first. But with that said, I’m not convinced we’re any worse at it as a party than any other.

Take the Tories for instance. Jonathan Calder has already taken David Davis to task for his call to lock up every underage drinker he can get his mitts on. Meanwhile, at the end of this month Tory MP Julian Brazier will be seeking to get the British Board of Film Classification (Accountability to Parliament and Appeals) Bill through its second reading. BBFC, for all its faults, is an example of relatively successful self-regulation, until the Thatcher government made it a semi-QUANGO during the video nasty scare. Brazier however wants to go even further:

A Bill to make provision for parliamentary scrutiny of senior appointments to the British Board of Film Classification and of guildlines produced by it; to establish a body with powers to hear appeals against the release of videos and DVDs and the classification of works in prescribed circumstances; to make provision about penalties for the distribution of illegal works; and for connect purposes

In other words, Brazier is seeking Parliamentary powers to exert political pressure on the BBFC and effectively make it its puppet. A vice-like grip of state control over popular culture in a way that hasn’t been seen since the 1960s. Roy Jenkins must be spinning in his grave.

I’m not sure that anything any Lib Dem politician has proposed comes close to this, yet I don’t hear the ASI lecturing Cameron.

The other recent call to ban something has come from some teenagers in Corby, who have enlisted the Childrens Commissioner and Liberty in their mission to get the Mosquito banned. This is a much more difficult issue, since these devices are explicitly discriminatory against young people, yet at the same time totally indiscriminate in that they don’t distinguish between thugs and the vast majority of innocent teenagers. I’ve got enormous sympathy for the kids.

And yet… despite the fact that for any public body to use such a device would be a clear breach of the HRA in my view, I’m not sure anything much would be gained by banning it altogether. I’m not convinced we should treat this as a zero-sum game between youths and shopkeepers. I can understand why shopkeepers in some places may be at their wits’ end and resort to such measures. I can’t help but feel this is endemic of a wider social problem. Just as the Mosquitoes don’t solve anti-social behaviour as much as move it on, banning them wouldn’t tackle the underlying issue either.

It seems to me we need to take a more constructive approach, and that the solution is best left to people locally to sort out for themselves. Broadly then, much as it pains me to say it, I think the government line is the right one.

Just in case you thought I was being too nice to the government though, let’s focus on its plans to block prostitute’s telephone lines. How wrong is this? Let me count the ways:

1. Assuming it could be made to work, it would force prostitutes out onto the street and in a more dangerous environment.
2. It costs £10 £1.99 to buy a new phone number these days in the form of a sim card. Assuming these are not summary police powers the government is proposing, they would go through costly legal procedures to ban a number, only to find the same prostitute working with a new number within a matter of hours.
3. Even if the government did give the police summary powers here and all the civil liberty implications that would entail, the prostitutes could simply switch over to email accounts.

This sounds less like a crackdown on prostitution and more like an elaborate and expensive game of cat-and-mouse.

The impulse to ban things is rooted in our desire for symbolism but even in the case of unambiguously bad things it is rarely a simple, cut and dried matter. We should always be wary of doing so – and that applies to all parties.

UPDATE: Some great background on the BBFC on Edis Bevan’s blog.