Sunday, 31 May 2009

Why are we not on the streets yet?

Thanks to the Spectator for this metaphor...

We hear all the established parties calling for constitutional change. However, as turkeys are unlikely to vote for Christmas, we certainly cannot trust our present elected representatives to find a valid solution.

This is just a heads-up. A warning for the establishment if you will. At the moment the people of the UK are remaining peaceably angry. I believe the public are being patient - they still trust that Parliament will do the right thing. However, I do not believe that they will maintain this trust for ever.

We need a Constitutional Convention

It needs to be elected and selected from a very broad community - not from within the parties. If Brown, Clegg and Cameron do not understand and implement this then all bets are off.

One step to push this might be to sign up at Vote For A Change.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Why I'm voting Green next week.

A week today we shall know the results of the European and some local elections. We can assume that the Telegraph will continue drip feeding revelations in the run up. The public anger shows little signs of abating - as shown by Question Time audiences, and various on-line agitation.

So what is the best outcome of the vote?

At the risk of becoming a Party Political Broadcast, it does seem that the vote with the biggest impact is Green. My logic runs as follows:
  1. The Green Party has a coherent world-view - to describe them as single issue is inaccurate, single stance might be more appropriate.
  2. Society cannot continue to grow in the way that it has done over the past centuries - exponential growth has a nasty way of catching people off guard.
  3. They are not racist.
  4. The impact of a change in voting behaviour would support the drive for constitutional change.
So, consider your vote carefully, and even if your practice is to spoil your ballot or abstain, I think that a Green vote for the European parliament is the best. You never know, it might just save the planet.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Now is the time to push for change

David Starkey on This Week last night was astonishing. His demand that Cameron call for a general election and convene a Constitutional Conference was well presented, as one might expect. I don't think that directly copying the American system is necessary the right answer, but his call is a start of a necessary process.

The Convention on Modern Liberty back in February brought forward a range of issues, and I'm waiting for the launch of Magna Carta 2.0 on June 14th. At the moment the media and the on-line communities are keeping the corruption of our parliament in the fore-front of the public agenda. At the moment this is all talk, and for now that is enough. This will not last.

There is a public fury out there.

While the media keep talking about the expenses row, then that will satisfy the public. They see the MPs suffering, and are content - even if they would rather lynch them. If the media let it slip, before the public see real change in the political system, then I suspect that fury will explode into action.

So Cameron and Clegg, get out there are talk to the grannies and the kids; the forces and the charity workers; the business man and the single mother. Get away from your minders and find out what the public really feel. Then you will realise that unless real change comes from Westminster, then it will be forced upon them.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Was the monarch likely to be unamused?

I have little time or respect for the Mail, however, I was sufficiently intrigued by their story about the monarch's opinion of the MP expenses scandal to take the necessary precautions and visit their website.
The Queen has told Gordon Brown she is worried that the scandalous revelations about MPs' expenses could damage Parliament.

She discussed the explosion of public outrage over the scandal in what is understood to have been a candid exchange of views when she met the Prime Minister for their weekly audience at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday.
The article says little more to be honest.

Now I wondered if this might have occured, and how a monarch would have detected the zeitgeist. I wrote the play in my head and now present it for public criticism. Apologies for the footnotes:

Curtain raises on Philip and Elizabeth, Philip is demonstrating rage.

Philip: "We have six hundred and fifty MPs, and most of them are a complete bloody waste of time[1]. Absolute $%&*s! They are making a mockery of you!"

Elizabeth: "Yes dear. One can't avoid seeing the front page of the Telegraph, when all one wants is the racing form."

Philip: Exit stage left, muttering.

Elizabeth: ponders for a while then rings bell.

Butler [2]: Enter stage right, bowing. "You rang your majesty?"

Elizabeth: "Yes James, I need to ask you what the servants are saying."

Butler: "Maam?"

Elizabeth: "About my MPs and their expenses."

Butler: pauses for a moment. "The servants are saying, your majesty, that your MPs are letting you down and that it is ... unfortunate."

Elizabeth: "Thank you, James, you may go"

Butler exits, curtains close.

[1] thanks to Craig Murray for this story of Philip in Ghana
[2] Royal Butlers have an interesting history... Try accused of child abuse and of theft of property.

What a way to run a country.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Solutions for a corrupt parliament

Firstly, let us assume that many of our MPs are not corrupt. The problem is that we can't easily identify them. There is no doubt that "All power corrupts...", and that the current party political system is a failure. And this is the case irrespective of how many of our elected representatives are personally moral.

Secondly, I can see no smooth route for these parties to a responsible parliament. So we need to look for a new solution. Short of getting Guy Fawkes to do the job properly, we do have a chance at the ballot box. The problem is that voting for the opposition candidate at the next General Election will merely replace one corrupt party with another. The Labour Party is playing the radical right card, to try to scare us away from thinking of alternatives. The BNP is clearly not an alternative, and UKIP are equally 'anti-foreigner'. Fortunately the wide range of neo-fascist parties should spread the vote.

So what is the alternative? The only party that I can seriously consider voting for is the Green Party, and highly recommend their Think Again video. The fact that they are thinking in a 50 year time scale is praiseworthy - as I've said before our leaders simply failures, so could the Greens be any worse? I think not.

BBC explains the house price bubble in terms of goats

Radio 4 has excelled itself with the Afternoon Play today.

The Great Hargeisa Goat Bubble

Comedy by Julian Gough. The story of an encounter one snowy night on a railway platform somewhere in southern England between a young Irish orphan, Jude, and Dr Ibrahim Bihi, a Somali with a degree in economics who has made and lost a fortune in the virtual goat market. As Dr Bihi relates the story of his rise and fall, he takes the opportunity to educate young Jude in the pitfalls and the glories of market forces.

I cannot recommend it highly enough, it is a laugh out loud programme.
"...but one of the first moves by the Unicef Official with Special Responsibility For Goats was to make the goat compensation fund self-funding by hedging much of it in goat futures."
You can listen to it through the BBC website, or the text of the original story is available on line.

My only question is:

If we do get out of this current economic mess, will anyone remember it?

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

93% were not found to be terrorists

Of the 1,471 people arrested as suspected terrorists since September 11th 2001, only 15% were charged as terrorists and 7% convicted as terrorists. Another 6% were convicted of other offences. At the bottom of this article you will find a table showing the breakdown of these convictions. Some appear to be minor offences.

You can read the Home Office statistics, or the Reuters summary. I link to the Reuters article, as it would seem that few of the Churnalists have actually read the original document... You can tell this as most say 'over 1400 people', rather than 1,471, though the BBC seems to have read the statistics.

So is this a conspiracy to alienate and spread fear; or is it a cockup, in that they just keep arresting people and then thinking what they can do with them?

The fact is that in the UK we have almost nothing to fear from terrorism.

Unless they keep it in the news we would soon stop worrying about it, and realise that our elected leaders are a bunch of self-interested idiots.

A breakdown of the non-terrorist convictions...
Criminal Law Act 1977
Conspiracy to purchase ammunition 4
Conspiracy to defraud 7
Placing or dispatching articles to cause a bomb hoax 7
Criminal Justice Act 1988
Money laundering 3
Identity Cards Act 2006
With intent knowingly obtain another’s ID document 7
Other offences
Firearms Act 1968 12
Explosive Substances Act 1883 1
Forgery & Counterfeiting Act 1981 37
Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 8
Road Traffic Act 1988 7
Theft Acts 1968 & 1978 18
Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 3
Criminal Damage Act 1971 & Malicious Damage Act 1861 3
Other (5) 45
total... 162

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Shame on our MPs

I think the time has come to shame our MPs over their 'expenses' claims. I propose that as many people as possible send them a personal cheque for the amount they have claimed in expenses, divided by the number of people in the constituency. This cheque should be accompanied by a letter offering them sympathy for their obvious poverty and with best wishes that the cheque will help them buy another house at the electorates' expense.

In my case, Lydna Watho claimed a total of £144,615 in 2007/8. The estimate for the constituency population from National Statistics (Excel spreadsheet 2.8MB) is 82,047. This works out at £1.76 per constituent - somewhat higher than the national average of £1.28.

This is the letter I propose to write:

Dear Lynda Watho,

I understand that the salary you are paid for the post of MP for Stourbridge is only £63,291. As this is only two and a half times the average wage for the UK, you must be very short of money. I see that you last year you claimed over £144,000 for your expenses.

Some of these expenses I can understand, but others look a bit strange. None the less, this way of bumping up MPs wages seems to not be transparent and will inevitably bring parliament into disrepute. I therefore enclose a cheque for my share of these expenses, and hope that you will use it appropriately, such as putting it towards the purchase of a second house, or something similar.

Yours sincerely,
Of course it is possible that MPs don't get sarcasm, but I think it would be entertaining none the less.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

"Legalise It!" was right

My natural inclination is to feel that laws create crime. Not just in the trivial sense that without laws there is no crime, but a more complex way. It would seem that stopping it being a crime to use drugs really does reduce drug use - as shown in this report on the Portuguese experience.

As I noted recently, there is in excess of £3B to be made and saved by legalising drugs, so why won't our politicians do it? Well, applying the cockspiracy principle it is fairly easy to understand.

Tough on crime and the causes of crime

All UK governments are worried about being seen to be weak on crime. Note, they don't really care about crime unless it becomes obvious in the press or on the streets. Thus knife crime became an issue - not because it was escalating, but because the press kept reporting cases. One upshot of this is the debacle that has occured over the classification of cannabis. Brown decided to ignore the advice and reclassify it anyway. This is an easily defensible position - drugs are bad, so making them more illegal is bound to make things better...

The real question is "How to make our leaders behave sensibly?"

Here are a few suggestions:
  • Elect more scientists and engineers; and few lawyers and economists.
  • Encourage an evidence led legislation programme, rather than one based on sound bites.
  • Support moves to devolve the legislation and management to expert committees, it might start with transport and energy.
  • Develop processes that are sceptical of the opinions of those with a commercial interest.
  • Create media that have memory. For example, where in the mainstream press is the ongoing reporting on the behaviour of the police at the G20 protest? How long before Swine Flu drops from the newspapers?
More suggestions and comment welcomed.

Monday, 4 May 2009

GCHQ is not spying on us - it's official

The Government Communication Head Quarters has just issued a press release officially stating that it is not spying on our Internet usage...
GCHQ is not developing technology to enable the monitoring of all internet use and phone calls in Britain, or to target everyone in the UK. Similarly, GCHQ has no ambitions, expectations or plans for a database or databases to store centrally all communications data in Britain.
Note the two words I've put in bold - so they might be planning store the vast majority of our internet use and phone calls on a distributed database.

This brings to mind Sir Humphrey Appleby in "Yes Prime Minister"...

'The first rule of politics: never believe anything until it's been officially denied.'

Sunday, 3 May 2009

All power corrupts...

The pure arrogance of our elected representatives seems at first to be unbelievable. It would appear that one senior Labour MP has claimed for the installation of a sauna in a second home, while others are very worried that their marital infidelities will be exposed. Mind you the last story comes from the Daily Mail, so needs to be treated with even more suspicion than normal. Then there are the second, third and fourth home incidents...

That the right wing press is exposing the flaws of members of the Labour government is not surprising; though there are rumours that Conservative MPs are equally concerned over the release of their expenses data. These are due to be published in July. This is not a new story, as far back as 2004 the £118,000 average expenses claim from MPs was causing concern.

Casting my mind back to the end of the Thatcher/Major regime I recall the 'cash-for-questions affair'. Here politicians were willing to take money in exchange for raising topics in parliament for Mohamed Al-Fayed. We could add Aitken and Archer, whose arrogance and greed led to them being jailed for perjury.

I can see two explanations:
  1. Towards the end of a long term of single party government, the MPs become increasingly corrupt and convinced of their own invulnerability.
  2. We have managed to create a system of government which is inevitably corrupt.
Occam's razor, "the simplest explanation is usually the best one", suggests the latter. It has several fewer assumptions, and fits the data better. We can hope that Sir Christopher Kelly has the balls to carry through his inquiry without giving into these people as he has promised...
Politicians must not be left to decide for themselves how the system of parliamentary allowances and expenses should be reformed, the chairman of a Westminster sleaze watchdog said today.
and for now he seems to be doing well, as Brown is in such a weak position. That said, I would not hold my breath.

The simplest explanation that I can come up with is that old adage...

“And remember, where you have a concentration of power in a few hands, all too frequently men with the mentality of gangsters get control. History has proven that. All power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely."
John Dalgerg-Acton

We clearly need to push on with the campaign for Modern Liberty.