Monthly Archives: February 2008

Foreign Office: anti-corruption causes terrorism

The FCO has always insisted that the Iraq War has in no way lead to an increase in terrorist attacks. To an extent that’s fair enough as life is more complicated than that. So how can they justify insisting on this:

In the documents released to the court, Helen Garlick, assistant director of the Serious Fraud Office, was quoted as recalling what the Foreign Office told her about its fears of another bomb attack in the UK.

“If this caused another 7/7 how could we say that our investigation, which at this stage might or might not result in a successful prosecution was more important?,” the notes quoted her as saying.

Perhaps their new motto should be ignorance is strength?

A kick in the Gorbals

If MPs do vote to committing themselves to declare it whenever they employ family members, surely this would be effectively a vote of no confidence in Michael Martin? After all, this will pre-empt his own longer term inquiry.

It should be remembered that David Maclean’s Freedom from Information Bill, which with the Labour and Conservative front benches’ initial passive assent very nearly became an act last year, came out of proposals by the Speaker Committee. If these proposals had been passed, the fallout from the Conway affair would have been worse by several degrees. Meanwhile, Maclean is part of the review being conducted by Martin – it doesn’t bode well.

As with Prescott, a lot of the criticisms of Michael Martin smacks of snobbery. Regardless of his accent however, he is a part of an establishment that is clinging desperately to the idea of Parliament being an aloof club. In short, he is emblematic of many of the problems we face in politics today.

As an alternative, how about… Ming Campbell?

Meanwhile, under the category of “MPs do love to take the piss sometimes”, here’s a heartwarming tale of a prodigal son being welcomed back into the fold (hat tip: Duncan Borrowman).

David Cameron’s new pledge: “I’m a socialist jihadist conservative”

Cameron’s Conservatives have taken their broad church to new limits this week by recruiting a former RESPECT councillor in Tower Hamlets.

Ahmed Hussain, who is also a Muslim and a member of the Socialist Worker Party was welcomed into the fold by “four jobs” Bob Neill. His defection makes the Conservative Group the official opposition on Tower Hamlets council. Furthermore:

…his move comes as a bitter blow to council leader Denise Jones and Poplar & Canning Town MP Jim Fitzpatrick, both of whom are understood to have written glowing references to London party chief Ken Clark.

This is another chapter in the crazy world of Tower Hamlets politics, but it does seem remarkable for the Conservatives, of all people, to jump into bed with a socialist jihadist quite so merrily. Nor is this simply a little local difficulty. According to Respect Renewal (admittedly not the most impartial of sources), Cameron himself is due to put in an appearance next week.

How long can it be before Cameron is shown shaking hands with the Tories latest defector from the BNP? Does he have a bottom line?

What are tuition fees spent on?

Not sure I quite agree with the front page Guardian headline today: Tuition fees favour the rich – new study.

When you read the detail, it turns out that the Sutton Trust report is somewhat more nuanced than that. It isn’t the tuition fees policy alone that has lead to the current situation of declining participation rates in higher education for people of lower socio-economic backgrounds, it is a range of factors including the government’s failure to promote its own bursary schemes adequately. Nonetheless, it is ironic that the Labour government, which is so fond of using legislation to “send a signal” has done such a fantastic job at signalling to young people that higher education is not for them.

As a Manchester alumnus though, I have to wonder what tuition fees are being spent on. I have no particular axe to grind on behalf of Terry Eagleton, but forcing full time academics into retirement while at the same time paying celebrities £80,000 a year for 28 hours work for the prestige of giving him a professorship does not exactly scream value for money. Why on Earth would I want to respond to their regular begging letters? Couldn’t I just buy one of the fucker’s paperbacks?

Logical fallacies and euroscepticism

For the millionth time I’ve read this reported as fact:

The new Lisbon Treaty is largely the same as the defeated constitution…

So, for all those hard of thinking journalists out there and everyone else for that matter who seems to misunderstand it, I thought I’d draw you a handy diagram:
EU treaty diagram
You can say that the addition of Lisbon means that the combined treaties are roughly equivalent to the stalled constitutional treaty. You cannot say that Lisbon itself is roughly equivalent to the stalled constitutional treaty. To claim otherwise it to be a fool.

Let’s put it another way: an iced cake with “Happy Birthday” written on it is roughly the same thing as an iced cake with “Happy Christmas” written on it. If you claimed that the icing itself was more or less the same thing as the whole cake, you could reasonably expect to be put into a rubber room.

I know this is the height of pedantry, but it is an important distinction and anyone who contests it loses the moral right to call other people “dishonest”.

What I find most amazing about all this is the way the Eurosceptics have, in effect, ceded the argument over all the other treaties which, in the past, they insisted (with the same level of shoutiness as now) were about to “abolish” Britain. Equally amazing is the fact that, four years ago there was a real opportunity to effectively renegotiate those past treaties via the constitutional process. The shadowy forces behind iwantareferendum and the combined Murdoch, Rothermere and (then) Black press could have insisted on a public debate and a more open process from the government. They did no such thing. Even if you agree that treaties like this should be ratified by referendum – as I do – don’t for a second kid yourself that these people have our best interests at heart.

Crashing and Burnham

Poor old Andy Burnham. A few months ago I took him to task for aping the Tories and their proposed tax cuts for loveless marriages. Since then the boy has, improbably, gained a cabinet level post, but doesn’t appear to be doing any better.

His performance on the Today Programme (which doesn’t appear to be on listen again yet) this morning was probably the most lamentable I have ever heard from a cabinet minister. It was so clear he was not on top of his brief I almost felt sorry for him, were it not that it offended my sense of professionalism.

What is obvious is that these new proposals to force schools to provide pupils with five hours of “high culture” a week originated from his predecessor, not him. Purnell and Burnham could not be more different: the former – a bit of a dandy highwayman who was ushering in a new renaissance up until a couple of weeks ago – is Labour’s answer to Henry Conway. The latter more closely resembles Wayne Rooney.

James Purnell and Andy Burnham

Still, John Humphries doesn’t get away completely scot-free either. He was distinctly heard arguing that “creative reading” ought to be learned “by rote”. Uh?

UPDATE: The interview is now up. Listening again, it’s even worse than I remembered.

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?