Tag Archives: edemocracy

Staines’ and Taylor’s self-righteous face-off

Paul “Guido” Staines and Matthew Taylor are having an indirect war of words today, with both sides blaming the other for the current ‘crisis’ in democracy.

Frankly, this is self-aggrandisement on a massive scale. Websites such as Order-Order hardly help restore people’s trust in politics, but anyone who believes, as Matthew Taylor appears to, that they are the problem rather than a mere symptom, is reading the situation incredibly wrongly.

There have been both cynics and gossips around since the dawn of politics. In the 19th century, Punch Magazine was brutal about politicians (I was given a wonderful set of pages from Punch by a colleague a year ago featuring some rather rude caricatures and poems about the then Home Secretary James Graham). Staines is doing nothing more than producing an online version of the type of diary column that have always been published in newspapers. The only difference is the speed with which he can get stories out there (and, perhaps, a slightly more appealing knowing sense of humour).

Ultimately however, while “Guido” might get the occasional scoop, he’s as much a part of the system as Taylor. He thrives off it. He isn’t actually for any reform, other than some vague libertarian dismantling of the state. If he was genuinely interested in pursuing this goal, he wouldn’t dedicate all his time to gossip. Similarly, it is hard to see how anyone reading the site is going to have their views about politics changed.

Unremitting cynicism seldom does anything to change hearts and minds. Matthew Taylor should know this: New Labour has only ever been about pandering to people’s prejudices (see this for example), never challenging it. The fact is, cynicism breeds cynicism. Worse, authoritarianism infantilises the population. If you treat the population like they are irresponsible children, you can’t be surprised if they fail to respond with gratitude. New Labour is as responsible for Guido as it is for Cameron’s own particular shade of “anything-you-want-gov” politics.

So bemoaning about all this is to spectacularly miss the point. The crisis in democracy is rooted in authoritarianism, elective dictatorship and a lack of moral backbone. Until these quintessentially New Labour tendencies abate, the blogosphere will inevitably be an uncomfortable mirror through which apparatchiks such as Matthew Taylor will always flinch when looking at.

Swinson swings at Straw

Lib Dem Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, and a finalist in the New Statesman New Media Awards last night Jo Swinson, has criticised his outspoken attacks on TheyWorkForYou:

“Mr Straw has seen fit to attack theyworkforyou.com for using ‘quantitative rather than qualitative’ measures to assess MPs’ performance. Sites like this are in their infancy, and while they are obviously not as sophisticated as Mr Straw would like, they represent a great step forward in terms of makings MPs visible, accessible and accountable, which is something I am sure he would welcome.”

Sign pledge now!

Jack Straw: not a cretin

I feel a bit bad about calling Jack Straw a cretin in my pledge yesterday.  What he said about theyworkforyou was certainly stupid, but now I’m anxious that people are going to write him abusive messages, which wasn’t my intent at all.

So if you do sign the pledge and write him a letter please be constructive!

On the positive side, I’m delighted so many people have signed up so far – keep them coming!

Jack Straw: we’re sh*t and we know we are

It turns out that rather than becoming the Minister for Europe, Geoff Hoon quietly died a couple of months ago.  I know this because in an extraordinary statement to the Commons today, his successor as Leader of the House Jack Straw channelled his spirit:

“I also just say, and I’m glad this has been recognised on all sides of the House, there has to be recognition by members of the House that if the order paper is absolutely overloaded with questions in industrial quantities, by researchers, in some cases never been seen by the members, then there are bound to be logjams,” he added.

“There is a real problem, I’m glad to see there is assent for this.

“I am assiduous, and so are all my colleagues, in ensuring wherever possible questions are answered.

“But we have a problem in the House, which is called researchers trying to prove a point and the result of these websites called TheyWorkForYou which simply seem to measure MPs’ work by quantitative rather than qualitative measures.

“It is a matter for the whole of the House, not just for ministers.”

To be fair, it could simply be that Jack Straw was simply being an idiot – he’s certainly shown a capacity for idiocy in the past.  But until now his appointment as Leader of the House was a breath of fresh air compared to his predeccessor and he is probably the most intelligent person to take on the role since Robin Cook.

Let’s get this straight: MPs across the Commons are blithely allowing their researchers to submit questions without their explicit approval?  Are MPs really that incompetent?  And this is all because of some willy-waving exercise to get their stats improved on theyworkforyou?

To be fair, some spotty little oik admitted as much at the Hansard debate earlier this week on Parliament and eDemocracy.  But there are two things wrong with this picture: firstly, if MPs can’t accept responsibility for what goes on in their own offices, what will they take responsibility for (in Mark Oaten’s case, not even for having an affair behind his wife’s back it would seem).  Secondly, and with all due respect to the guys behind theyworkforyou, what are these prannocks doing taking the league tables on a minority interest website like this so seriously in the first place?

There is a serious debate to be had about how we can measure the performance of MPs effectively.  That debate is not being lead by Jack Straw, or any other MP for that matter, but by theyworkforyou themselves – on 7 November in fact. Will Jack Straw be there?  Having made this attack, he’d bloody better be.

I’ve added a pledge on theyworkforyou’s sister website pledgebank and would encourage people reading this to sign it.

(hat tip: Guido and the Monkey) 

Clean Up Westminster petition

Noble though this cleanupwestminster petition is, it’s a shame they didn’t pay more attention to the grammar:

We, the undersigned, believe that there should be no further appointments to the House of Lords until the current investigations have run their course; and the possibility of corruption has been removed from Westminster; and Parliament behaves with absolute propriety and is seen to behave with absolute propriety.

Is it me or does that say that “we the undersigned” believe that the possibility of corruption has been removed from Westminster and that Parliament not only behaves with absolute propriety but is seen to behave with absolute propriety?

And yes, it’s clear what they really mean, but even then, isn’t it a little utopian? The possibility of corruption must be ended? How are you going to do that?

Not big or clever

I’ve been having fun today with the new suite of House of Lords related functions launched by those programming elves behind Public Whip, TheyWorkForYou and WriteToThem.

Child that I am, I couldn’t resist looking up to see which Lord has used the most “f” words. It turns out that just one Lord has used this expletive in the Lords: one Lord Philips of Sudbury.

Anyone who has ever heard Lord Philips speak outside of the Other Place will be unsurprised by this revelation. He spoke at the launch meeting of NO2ID a couple of years ago and engaged in a tirade of sweary words. Enormous fun was had by all.

Liberty Central: yes, Lib-Con pact: no, no, no

A week and a half ago I wrote a post entitled Why I’m not willing to be part of this coalition and I still stand by what I said there. There has been a lot of feverish talk about an “anti-New Labour” – and by implication pro-Lib-Con – coalition on the blogosphere and a lot of it is utter bilge.

For those of you out there who still think that Cameron is the answer to all your civil liberty prayers, two points:

  • Of all the u-turns that Cameron has performed over the past few months, he has pointedly not gone back on the longstanding Tory policy to emasculate the already weak Human Rights Act;
  • The refusal of Cameron and the Tory front bench to back their own Lord’s attempts to amend the “glorification” clauses in the Terrorism Bill was utterly disgraceful and a perfect example of quite how pick-n-mix he is on such issues.

With all that said however, I do like the new Liberty Central website and wish it well. Indeed, with my work hat on, I’ve already started contributing to it. I’m optimistic that it will help bring a bit of coordination to what is currently a very diffuse movement. I’m completely happy to work on a cross-party basis like this, indeed I do it every day. Anything that pushes forward the debate and helps people to make informed choices is a good thing.

Liberal Democrats should, in my opinion, work constructively within this and other campaigns. I happen to believe that the most rational choice for supporting civil liberties, constitutional reform and democratic renewal is to vote Liberal Democrat (notwithstanding certain realities to do with our imperfect electoral system). But I’d rather other people came to that conclusion themselves by seeing Liberal Democrats lead by example, than for us to be seen to be attempting to sideline such effort. If supporters of other political parties seek to do the same thing, that can only be for the greater good.

Why I’m not willing to be part of this coalition

MatGB has written a number of provocative posts about the need to develop a “coalition of the willing” to fight the “New Labour project” (hat tip: Nick Barlow). I’m afraid I’m not convinced by all this at all, and so I thought I’d spell out why.

To start with, one of the best bits of advice I’ve read this week has been that you should always define yourself by what you are for, and not what you are against. Too much of what both Mat and others have written seem to be rooted in a desire to oppose “New Labour”, yet New Labour isn’t the problem. Would we prefer “Old Labour”?

“New Labour” was a marketing term coined in the mid-nineties to unite a broad church of Labour politicians and activists who wanted change and a move away from a style of party management which hadn’t completely broken from the bad old days of the eighties. It encapsulated as wide a range of figures as Peter Kilfoyle and Peter Mandelson. People these days seem to have a notion that Old Labour is cuddly figures like Jeremy Corbyn. In fact, particularly in Northern cities, Old Labour is anti-democratic, homophobic, mysogynistic, racist. Above all, Old Labour was all about mob rule and the idea that the majority, or even the plurality, should be given untrammelled power over everyone else. It is no surprise that just as much of New Labour has become thoroughly disillusioned with Blair, so much of Old Labour has learned to embrace him as “One of Us”.

But when you look at what this coalition might be for, fractures begin to appear. Because, many of the people who have commented back at Mat, don’t seem to be particularly interested in the civil liberties agenda, just on bashing Labour on its current agenda. To quote “Andrew”:

Campaigning has to be very tightly focussed on the civil liberties issues we all agree on – ID cards, OTT terrorism legislation, the Civil Contingencies Act, the Leg/Reg Bill, and so on. You’ll lose an enormous amount of support if the coalition comes out in favour of a wider liberal agenda, particularly on Law and Order. Us Tories still want to brutalise criminals with lengthy jail terms, punishment beatings and hard labour. Getting New Labour out isn’t going to change that.

This would appear to be even more timid than David Cameron’s line on crime prevention, who is increasingly paying lip service to alternative forms of punishment and rehabilitation. Would you really trust a “hang’em flog’em” Tory to defend your liberties?

Worryingly, Mat would appear to be unconcerned by this, agreeing that:

The coalition needs to be strictly non-partisan, except in its opposition to New Labour. You’ll lose a lot of Tories again if you start advocating voting Lib Dem in Tory/Lib marginals, and vice versa. In fact, the coalition shouldn’t even discuss that sort of situation. Even where the Tory candidate is a rabid Cornerstone member who wants to hang gays and publicly flog benefits claimants, or where the Lib wants to install revolving doors in prison cells and to legalise and make compulsory the taking of crack by 13 year olds, they’ll still vote with the party whip when it comes to civil liberties issues.

Really? So, this coalition isn’t actually going to be about supporting politicians who believe in civil liberties at all, but just a full frontal assault on Labour, trusting that the whips will sort out the civil liberties stuff for us?

Let’s bring this all back to Planet Earth. David Cameron is still very much an unknown quantity. What we do know is that a majority of his parliamentary colleagues voted for right wing, more authoritarian candidates at the shortlisting stage. What we do know is that some Tories are up in arms at his reforms. What we do know is that every attempt to modernise the Tories in the past has looked promising at this stage and ended in crushing failure. What we do know is that Cameron is self-consciously attempting to emulate Blair.

And what did Blair do? He tarted himself around, emphasising his liberal credentials. There was not a single campaign or issue that he did not attempt to co-opt. And almost every single liberal cause ended up disappointed when it came for him to deliver. Why on earth should we believe Cameron would be any different?

If there is to be a “coalition of the willing” on civil liberties issues, then let it be for real civil liberties, not a handful that Conservatives have deemed electorally useful to cherry-pick. Let it concentrate on individual candidates and politicians, tactically opposing any candidate who doesn’t sign up to X, Y, Z rather than letting individuals off the hook and supporting “best fit” political parties who subsequently will be under no pressure whatsoever to carry out their reforms. It needs to acknowledge that for a majority of Labour and Tory MPs, and a minority of Lib Dem MPs, civil liberties simply are not on their agenda, and that just defeating party X or Y won’t change that. And it needs to look at underlying causes: Tory exhortations about the Bill of Rights as if it means something, while opposing any formal entrenchment of civil liberties in a codified constitution is simply fluff.

From what I’ve seen thus far, Mat’s emerging coalition is all about doing everything on Tory terms. People who remember being told that everything needed to be done on Labour’s terms ten years ago will be extremely wary of joining such a thing.