Daily Archives: 10 August 2009

Tears for Blears

You can tell it is a slow news day when the BBC decide that a bit of vandalism counts as major national news.

I also have to admit to a bit of sympathy for Hazel Blears. Whichever way you add it up, she is a victim here and doesn’t deserve being paraded on public display in the way that the BBC and the Manchester Evening News have done here. It is neither big nor clever to broadcast that mobile phone footage.

However, my sympathy ran out as soon as I read her statement:

This was an act of anti-social behaviour by some youths, the same kind of anti-social behaviour unfortunately many of my constituents have to put up with.

No it isn’t. It is criminal behaviour. Labour introduced the concept of anti-social behaviour in the run up to the 1997 general election. Before then, it was was a psychiatric term with a precise and narrow definition.

These days it can mean absolutely anything, from not giving up your seat on a bus to cold blooded murder. Ironically, it can even be made to refer to parking on a double-yellow line – something that Blears can clearly be seen to have done. It is a sad testament to Labour’s 12 years in office that senior politicians like Blears feel they can no longer call a spade a shovel and label this a “crime.” Instead they have to resort to this essentially meaningless jargon. This pretty much sums up the failure of Blears’ career as a Blairite Ultra for me.

This obsession with anti-social behaviour has not only lead to an increasing number of people being locked up for no good reason but seems to have left us feeling less safe than ever before. It is a categorical failure. The best thing that could happen after the 2010 general election is for this concept to be buried once and for all and for us to stop criminalising basic naughtiness. But can anyone imagine David Cameron doing that (or, to be fair, even Nick Clegg)?

EXCLUSIVE: Charlotte Gore is not a witch – she’s a Nutter!

Okay, it isn’t particularly exclusive, but it does happen to be true. Sort of.

Anyway, now that I have your attention, I just wanted to respond to a couple of points that came out of Charlotte’s post earlier today in response to my post about ‘airbrushing.’ More precisely, I would draw your attention to the comments which for me perfectly outline the key difference between liberalism and libertarianism. As Joe Otten points out, it seems to boil down to whether or not you are a foundationalist (in my more perjorative terminology, I describe libertarianism as ‘religion-like’ but it amounts to the same thing). Although I describe myself as a pragmatist, I don’t mean that in the strict, philosophical sense. My ‘pragmatism’ – as I outlined yesterday – is closer to critical rationalism.

The Devils Kitchen doctrine of “listen [to the evidence] and then ridicule the idiots who proposed it anyway” pretty much sums up libertarianism for me. It emerged in the 17th century and then stayed there. In that sense it is quite profoundly anti-historical. Only a libertarian could brand me a “bansturbator” and demand I get hurled out of the Lib Dems for demanding actual evidence before supporting a ban.

One thing I would take issue with is Charlotte’s claim that at least libertarianism is consistent (unlike liberalism). It isn’t that I disagree that libertaarianism isn’t consistent – it certainly is. But it is just plain wrong to argue that liberals are necessarily any less so. The comments by Joe Otten and Richard Gadsden expose how easy it is to end up in some pretty daft places if you “consistently” apply libertarian principles, no matter how much its exponents might squeal “foul” – that is hardly a strength.

The blogosphere’s obsession with libertarianism isn’t mirrored outside of it at all. It will be interesting to see if it turns out to be just a temporal fad or has some lasting impact, but either way I can’t see it ever breaking out into the mainstream. I suspect that its exponents will ultimately fall into two camps: people who ultimately decide that they can’t hold onto the strict tenets of libertarianism and evolve into liberals, and the ones who end up breaking out the Kool-Aid. I do hope Charlotte finds herself in the former category. Her admission that actual facts do matter to her, and the subsequent disapproval that she elicited suggests there’s hope for her yet.

A Straw poll on primaries

Progress have launched a campaign for Labour to adopt primaries, following on from David Miliband’s Tribune article last week. To mark it, they have quickly whizzed out a short paper by Will Straw (pdf), who I am shocked to discover is now 29 (I have to admit that I still think of him as a horny cannabis-frazzled 17 year old who got stung by a Mirror journo and I’m convinced this happened yesterday). A few brief thoughts on the paper:

  • Will has a positively Jack Straw-esque command for spin. Feeling that he can’t get away with the standard definition of open and closed primaries, he comes up with an option of Labour adopting either semi-open or fully open primaries. In fact, his fully open version is what I recognise as either semi-open or semi-closed system while his semi-open system is closer to a closed primary (Wikipedia has a list of definitions). The arbitrary change in terminology probably has more to do with a concern with not wanting to advocate a system that could be described as “closed” than anything else.
  • Straw appears to approve of what he terms “meaningful electoral reform” but nowhere does he address the objection that both the Labour and Tory hierarchies seem to be shouting about primaries as a distraction from proper electoral reform. The objection that any open list or preferential voting system would do everything that a primary system would do, only more cheaply and inclusively, is not listed as one of the main criticisms of the primary system despite the fact that it is the most compelling.
  • At no point does he address the rather thorny issue of cost, which is surely the biggest single objection to rolling out the system. To be fair, he does refer to ‘cost’ once – when he advocates using online voting. There are very strong reasons to object to online voting (disclaimer: while I agree with ORG when it comes to e-voting, I am somewhat more sanguine than them about e-counting) and we should oppose it for primaries as much as for the elections themselves. Sorry, but there is no way that would be an acceptable way to keep costs down.

Fundamentally, although addressing some internal Labour preoccupations, this paper fails to address the main objections to primaries: why bother when “meaningful” electoral reform does so much more, so much more cheaply; and how will it be paid for. I will give him credit where it’s due however: unlike the Tories, he does at least quite rightly argue that the focus for primaries should not be marginal constituencies where primaries will act as little more than an opportunity to promote the party’s candidate, but in the more moribund seats (Straw defines this as constituencies where the CLP has fewer than 200 members) where primaries most certainly WOULD have a meaningful impact on increasing participation. He’s right: if you are serious about using primaries as a means to democratic renewal that is where you should start.