Tag Archives: internet

Is Nick Harvey happy being the unacceptable face of Parliament?

One thing that really bugs me is when people who clearly don’t know what they are talking about come up with fatuous excuses for not allowing reasonable requests. Nick Harvey MP, sadly, is a case in point. His response to Jo Swinson’s reasonable request for Parliament to allow video clips to be posted on YouTube and other websites was met by what can only be described as utter stupidity:

Mr Harvey, who is also a Lib Dem MP, replied that copyright of the pictures was an issue, as was the cost of filming.

He said the rules dated back to when cameras were first allowed into the chamber, in the 1980s.

MPs, he added, were allowed to use clips for their own website if they showed them speaking – or a reply from a minister to their own question.

They were not permitted to show clips on “any third-party hosting website”, however.

Mr Harvey said: “At the moment the rule is that the clips can be streamed to be viewed in real time, but not downloaded in such a way that they can be manipulated at a future point.”

How is this stupid? Oh let me count the ways. To start with, what is the precise difference between an MP’s website and a “third party hosting website”. Does that apply to ePolitix’s dreadful homepages for MPs? What about Prater-Raines, the hosting service most Lib Dems use for their own websites? What is the fundamental difference between them and a YouTube channel? I suspect you can count the number of MPs who host their own websites on the fingers of one hand.

Secondly, downloading footage on YouTube is the best way to prevent them from being “manipulated at a future point.” YouTube converts footage into flash files, which apart from usually being of low quality, cannot simply be imported into editing software in the way that windows media files and Quicktime files can be. If an MP hosts their own footage using these formats they are far more vulnerable to future manipulation. But it’s a daft reason anyway because if it is live streamed at any point, it can always be saved and manipulated in the future. Therefore, this is a reason to shut down BBC Parliament, not for disallowing films on YouTube.

What really bugs me about all this though is that we’ve already been through all this. Not long ago, Harvey’s committee was playing silly buggers over TheyWorkForYou and using very similar arguments for why this website should be shut down. The question over the use of footage could and should have been resolved then. They had another opportunity over the Puttnam Report. Three years down the line and they are still being obstructive. The House of Commons Commission was also where the dreadful Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill – happily defeated last year – came out of. And all this on the same day that the police rule out an inquiry over the Derek Conway scandal due to a “lack of systems in this case to account for MPs’ expenses.” Which committee is responsible for those systems? Step forward Mr Harvey.

In short, this committee consistently fights to defend the exclusive, clubable air of Parliament and blocks attempts at greater openness, transparency and accountability. It isn’t really Harvey’s fault that he is the unacceptable face of Parliament – it is the Commons as a whole that appoints this damnable committee. But after the last couple of months, it is perhaps time for a new broom. Such a shame that far from calling for this, Nick Clegg has been spending so much of his time of late defending the Speaker and thus the status quo. So much for being anti-establishment.

The dark side of Scrabulous

I’ve been alerted to the fact that if you go over to the “join table” section of Scrabulous, you find an … interesting choice of gamers.

Just looking now for example, I notice that “Andrew” is requesting a game with females only during which he is after “s e x y chat, prefer who have messenger and cam”. “Jamie” meanwhile is wanting a game with “any ladies wanting to play strip scrabble over 30..women only..please” while an anonymous person wants “G-A-Y GUYS (!!!!) in London (or at least UK) who want to chat too. I WILL DELETE THE GAME IF YOU ARE NOT!” You get the picture.

I have to admit that until this weekend I was entirely unaware of the links between Scrabble and “sexy chat”. It does bring a new angle to the whole ongoing Tommy Sheridan debacle however.

15 February 2003: five years (and 11 days) later

Charles Kennedy and Lynne Featherstone at the 15 Feb 2003 anti-war demo (credit: Lynne Featherstone)A combination of Valentine’s Day, a business trip and subsequent workload conspired to prevent me from writing about my experiences of the 2003 anti-war demo, but I’m taking the trouble to do so now. This is partly to provide people to an archive of the old website I set up for the day, which five years on is something of an historical archive. But it is also because, missing the anniversary aside, I believe there is something to learn from the experience.

Basically, I learnt three important things from the demo and its aftermath. The first lesson I learnt, which you will be able to vouch for, is that I really needed to learn how to design websites properly. My attempt at a website was frankly laughable – the entire thing is written in HTML (no CSS) and I had to resort to crude third party sites just to set up a working form. As I was manually inputting each pledge I received, I ended up getting swamped; the list on the website was dwarfed by the number of pledges and messages of goodwill I ended up receiving and not having the time to include. A few years later and I’m still learning, but I have at least got my head around CSS and PHP (just about), even if I’m still stubbornly appalling at planning my projects.

Secondly, I could no longer ignore the fact that the hard left is riven with dangerous arseholes who you should at all times be wary of working with. On anything. To be fair, I had broadly got this message during my university days, but my participation in the Leamington Spa Stop the War group rather reinforced this notion.

At university I learned that if you stood in a student union election against a member of the hard left and won, you were likely to get your head kicked in. I also learned about what I’ve come to learn is affectionately known as TIGMOO. Basically, if you are part of this great, glorious, socialist-labour movement you are One Of Us (even if we hate your guts), while if you aren’t you are The Enemy (even if we agree with 90% of what you say). Not so much my enemy’s enemy is my friend as my enemy is my friend as long as he can recite a couple of verses from the Internationale. Oh, the hours I wasted attempting to negotiate joint working relationships with SWPers and AWLers on issues such as tuition fees only to discover they had cooked something up behind our backs with the Labour Club which enabled both Labour and their hard left comrades to save face (even if it meant a stalemate). But I digress.

My working relationship with the Leam lot was actually quite good in the run up to the march itself. I spent a lot of my Saturdays helping to run the stall outside Woollies and a lot of my Sundays attending organising meetings. It was all good.

The problems started when the war began. In short, it emerged that a number of my comrades could not have been happier that it had happened (anyone else remember the banner greeting people as they arrived at Hyde Park on 15/2 confidently predicting that this was the beginning of the rise of the proletariat? In your dreams). At a time when the rest of us were contemplating defeat, they had got a second wind. It was all talk of demos, shutting down the town centre and vandalising the rail lines. Revolution was in the air bruvvas! Those of us who thought it would be more appropriate to hold vigils rather than demos were laughed out of the community centre.

The final straw for me, not surprisingly, was when it was “decided” that the Leam Stop the War Coalition would be supporting the Socialist Alliance in the local elections. So much for coalition (this is why I can only laugh hollowly at Alex Harrowell’s suggestion that we should offer the SWP uncritical solidarity in a stand against the “Right”. As if the SWP would do the same for anyone else!).

But thirdly, the most important thing I learned from the demo was the craven desire for what it regards as respectability of much of the Lib Dem establishment. Read the motion that Susan Kramer and I proposed to the Federal Executive and got passed nem con. To our surprise, Charles Kennedy backed the motion. Then the trouble started. If dealing with the SWP was difficult, getting our own party to implement an executive order was downright impossible!

Senior figures in the party did everything they could to stop any aspect of this motion from being implemented. They point blank refused to put anything up on the party website, hence my own ham-fisted attempt. They wouldn’t link to my site, with Chris Rennard suddenly coming up with a policy that official party website only linked to websites run by party Specified Associate Organisations. 24 hours later, I got the then LDYS Chair to agree to “publish” the website, rendering that particular “policy” meaningless.

Eventually, after weeks of lobbying (and I should make it clear here that it is Donnachadh McCarthy who deserves all the credit here; I merely skulked around in the background), and with less than a week to go before the demo itself, Kennedy was asked a direct question by David Frost on live television and, bottling it, turned volte face and said he would be “very happy” to go on it. Suddenly we got our link on the front page of the party website, publicity in Lib Dem News (which until that point had been relegated to the letters pages) and the full weight of the party’s campaigns and press departments behind us.

Yet even then Kennedy remained obsessed with having it both ways. Notoriously, his Hyde Park speech argued meekly that he was “not persuaded” of the case for war and demanding that Parliament be allowed a vote (it was; the troops went in). But the biggest single joke of the day had to be the row over placards. On the one hand, I have to admit to being vaguely amused by Donnachadh’s green piety by insisting that we should have generic “Lib Dems say no” placards on the basis that they could be reused by activists for local demonstrations on a variety of subjects (an Iain Paisley revival meeting for instance). But that paled into insignificance compared to the desperately weak “official” campaigns department placards they were insistent must surround Kennedy at all times with the oh-so-unambivalent slogan “give peace a chance!” (John Lennon has a lot to answer for for his particular brand of faux-radicalism).

The fact that, even at such a late stage, we were having such mind-numbingly daft arguments demonstrated quite how uncomfortable the party establishment was with going on this march at all. If we hadn’t dragged them, kicking and screaming, they would never have gone near it. Yet for all that, it was the symbolism of Kennedy joining the march that mattered – even his compromised speech and even more compromised policy motion at the subsequent spring conference (in which they insisted on wording that confusingly seemed to suggest that our opposition to the war would end the moment a British troop set foot on Iraqi soil) didn’t stop the party’s rise in the polls. For a brief period and not for either the first or last time, the Lib Dems truly spoke on behalf of the majority of the nation.

Does all this still matter? After all, it’s all water under the bridge now. Speaking personally, it goes to the heart of the ongoing debate waging over the party’s identity. Reading Ming Campbell’s rather self-justifying account of Kennedy’s drink problem in the Mail yesterday, I was struck by how many chances they gave the man to acquit himself despite the fact that he consistently let them – us – down. I’m afraid I have to agree with Anthony Barnett – just think of the progress we would have made in 2005 if Kennedy had either sorted himself out or been given the heave-ho much earlier (who would have replaced him is a moot point – it certainly wouldn’t have been Campbell who was still recovering from cancer at the time).

I wonder what all this pressure to keep up appearances had on Kennedy’s then-PPS Mark Oaten, and how his personal downfall is related. I hear Lib Dems continue to insist the party is in the all-clear over the Michael Brown donation and boggle (we may yet not have to pay up, but the law is quite ambiguous and the investigation continues). I welcome the anti-establishment stance Nick Clegg has adopted over ID cards, only to see that undone by his uber-establishment stance on the Lisbon Treaty (as for his line on Michael Martin, the stuff about air miles etc. is broadly irrelevant; the fact that Martin has consistently been behind attempts to block transparency and reform should be enough to prevent Clegg dismissing it all as a “witch hunt”).

I recall the cold shoulder I received, again back in 2003, when I formally complained to then Chief Whip Andrew Stunell about Paul Marsden‘s comments in the Times bragging about how researchers are desperate to climb his greasy poll, and I wonder. Marsden isn’t the first Lib Dem MP to get caught out diddling the help (although thankfully he’s the only one to write poems on the subject) I’ve heard about during the years either. If a senior Lib Dem official was ever found to be, say, a kiddie fiddler, would we take action? At what point does an individual’s personal conduct become so unacceptable that they are forced out? My concern is that the party’s collective neurotic obsession with respectability too often leads us down some very dark alleys.

As a party we have always been, and for the forseeable future will continue to be, permanently at five minutes to midnight. I’m not convinced the meekness in our approach has done much in the past to rectify this situation. Over the past couple of years we have reaped what we sowed by not dealing with issues when they arose. Clegg ought to be taking copious notes. I like to think he won’t make the same mistakes as the past, and despite my own misgivings the fact remains that the Lisbon Treaty is an issue which the public stubbornly refuses to take an interest in. But we need a few more brave stances and a bit less nuance.

A final word on Donnachadh McCarthy. The Iraq demo was the beginning of the end of Donnachadh’s time in the Liberal Democrats. Despite the fact that I think he made some shocking mistakes (if he had kept his powder dry following the march instead of demanding recriminations he would have found himself in an incredibly strong position – indeed his lack of any sense of timing always was his greatest weakness), he really was appallingly treated and bullied by the top ranks in the party. He seems to be much better off without the party than the party is without him. It is deeply sad that ultimately we seem incapable of keeping someone like that within our own ranks; whatever you may have thought of him there are far worse people who happily remain party members.

Amazon Review Policy: can anyone help?

I wrote a 2-star review of a book on Amazon on Saturday; it isn’t there any more. I noticed over the weekend that it was getting a surprising number of people ticking the “this review was not helpful” box.

My question is, if a review gets more than a certain number of these ticks, is it automatically deleted? If it is, then the system is open to massive abuse by publishers seeking to censor an inconvenient review. Even without this kill policy, allowing reviews to be ordered in terms of which are the most “helpful” can be gamed by a publisher.

I couldn’t find anything about this on the Amazon website – does anyone know the policy?

Spock.com: highly illogical

I’ve been playing around with spock.com, the “people” search engine (a sort of meta-social network). Bit miffed to discover that I’m listed 211th of all the James Graham’s in all the world that have ever existed (Google is much gentler on the old ego).

Type in Liberal Democrat and you get a very interesting set of results. Barack Obama is the first result (if only), with Chris Huhne, Charles Kennedy, Ming Campbell, Lynne Featherstone and Nancy Pelosi in places 2-6. Stephen Tall is in seventh place, but in the photo he appears to have turned into Jock Coats. Richard Allan, 8th, appears to have turned into two different people I don’t recognise at all.

Meanwhile, I suspect that Saj Karim, Nadine Dorries, Kerron Cross, Alex Salmond, Rudi Vis and Stephan Shakespeare will appreciate being listed 11th, 12th, 14th, 16th, 18th and 19th respectively.

The rise of the spamblog

One of the more annoying trends of the past few months has been the rise of the spamblog. I’m not sure if that is the correct term for them (although I notice at least one other person refer to them as such), but they are those weblogs, apparently entirely bot created which do nothing other than steal/reference other people’s blog posts in the hope of going up the Google ratings.

I don’t know if it is simply that this site has become more popular of late, but I’ve been bombarded with them recently. Where they get annoying is you end up finding copies of your own post (and others) littering search results (see homeophobia as an example).

Obviously I don’t approve any trackbacks I get from these, but anyone know the best way to scupper them in their tracks? Is there a way one can report them to search engines?

Democracy and deckchairs

As David Heath alluded to, the media are studiously ignoring any discussion of democracy at this conference, so it’s incumbent on those of us who happen to think it is important to report what has been decided. Much as I agree with the motion on packaging, the fact that it has been prioritised (by whom? the media? the press office?) over and above proposals to fundamentally change our constitution is appalling.

I’m pleased that For the People, By the People was passed overwhelmingly and unamended. And while I only got to make a one-minute intervention, I’m pleased that there were two speakers who explicitly rejected the idea of an English Parliament to only one who spoke for (using the usual tired threats about “sleeping giants” – even Don Liberali would baulk at the disgraceful tone of English Nationalists – “nice country you’ve got there – it’d be a shame if something were to happen to it”).

Debates about democratic renewal are always an opportunity for certain people to make bonkers speeches, and we were not disappointed. Sandy Walkington did the rhetorical equivalent of a dad deciding to dance at the school disco by informing us that apparently there’s these things called the internet and text messaging that young people use a lot, and that because the paper wasn’t all about the internet and text messaging, it missed the point and that the members of the working group were thus all face slapping morons fit only to rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic.

It all sounded remarkably similar to the sort of speech New Labour ministers would make in the early noughties. Never mind all this bollocks about having a constitution; if we want to engage young people we need to embrace text messaging! Despite Sandy’s exhortation, I don’t think Twitter is about to take the political world by storm just yet. He failed to appreciate two fundamental aspects about MoveOn. Firstly, in the broad scheme of things, despite huge numbers of supporters it hasn’t actually been terribly effective. Since its creation, every single presidential and mid-term election apart from the last one has gone Republican not Democrat. The Democrats’ victory in 2006 was more due to Bush’s incompetence than net activism; indeed the net’s most high profile intervention in 2006 – the attempt to oust Lieberman – was a crushing failure. That isn’t to say net activism hasn’t had an impact in softer, more subtle ways, but it hasn’t changed anything fundamental about American democracy.

Secondly, the model has not exported well in the UK. OurWorldOurSay failed to fly. Avaaz is going well, but that’s because it is a global movement, not just a UK one. The model hasn’t worked here mainly because we have neither the political culture associated with aggressive political advertising on TV, nor the philanthropic culture of giving to political causes. The tectonic plates may well be shifting, but there is no evidence to suggest we are sitting on the political equivalent of the San Andreas fault.

Fundamentally though, these developments only make the case for an entrenched constitution and Bill of Rights even more pressing. I’m all for an initiative and referendum system for example, but without a written constitution I fully accept we would need to be extraordinarily careful to prevent it being abused. Without these safeguards, the changes in culture that Walkington alludes to could lead to chaos. Far from rearranging the deckchairs, the working group has made a strong case for the need for the Titanic to change course.

And then there was the ironically named Paul Baron, who managed to combine a Marxist view of capitalism with a paean to the hereditary principle. His argument was that hereditary peers would be less corruptable than elected politicians – you could audibly hear the spirit of David Lloyd George groaning as he spoke. Presumably the argument goes along the lines that if you are already utterly corrupt, your price will be much higher. I could go on, but it is cruel to mock the afflicted.

So. We’ve renewed our policy on democratic renewal. In manifesto terms, the main points in it are the commitment to STV and the establishment of a constitutional convention. I have no doubt that both of these will appear in the manifesto, but have less confidence they will end up listed as a top priority. This will be a missed opportunity: the Lib Dems’ critique of the political system is one of our USPs. If we run away from it instead of building it into our overall narrative, we will simply end up with another 10 disparate bullet points that only appeal to people’s basest self-interest. That may make sense for fighting target seats where the swing voters are the only people who matter, but it fails to sell us as a party of government to either the public or the media.

If the Lib Dems are about anything, it is bringing power to the powerless. That applies whether we are talking about health, education, poverty, local government or democratic renewal. That connects with the widespread sense of alienation within the public. That challenges the other two parties who are nakedly only concerned with feathering their own nests. It is high time we started to shout about it.

Conservative Party to make Novel Use of the Mr Berners-Lee’s Marvellous Invention

Is it me, or does this story look like its come through a timewarp?

Tories push online ads campaign

The Conservatives say they are adopting a “fresh approach” to politics with a pre-conference advertising campaign that will run exclusively online.

If this had been a story published at any point during the last century, then it might have been newsworthy. But in 2007? On a not-particularly slow news day?

Who has Andy Coulson been sleeping with to get this kind of coverage?

Confidentially speaking…

Funny thing that Doctor Who Confidential. It is supposed to give you the inside gen of that particular week’s Doctor Who. This week, Derek Jacobi was the main guest star. Without wanting to give anything away, you would have thought they would have at least mentioned that this is his second appearance in Doctor Who, after this. A remarkably appropriate little factoid as well, given what actually happens in the episode.

(As an aside, it is fascinating visiting a website from the dim and distant past of 2003. They did things differently back then.)

It’s doubly strange given that while they appear to be ashamed of their Derek Jacobi-related past, they seemed quite happy to acknowledge their past association with Eric Roberts.