What You Can Get Away With » 2012 » September

What happens to stolen bicycles? – Interesting post from the Priceonomics blog – because there’s so little risk attached to bike theft, it makes it worthwhile for criminals despite the low rewards.
Tom Harris is not a nice man – And the Pope is Catholic, but it’s good to be reminded that the Labour Party have their own Nasty Party problem to deal with, even after they finally expelled Phil Woollas.
Here’s the foreword to my new book – Ben Goldacre’s Bad Pharma.
Put Whitey Back On The Moon – “Capitalism isn’t just killing the planet. Capitalism is keeping us stuck on the planet.”
Predistribution – a bad idea whose time has come? – Daniel Davies writing about length about British politics is always worth reading. “The fact that predistribution is considered to be the best that we can do says something quite worrying about the state of British political institutions.”

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This year’s contender for ‘Oddest thing to base your leadership bid on’:

Trudeau had initially said earlier this year that he was not interested in the leaders’ job, but that position began to soften after he defeated a Conservative senator in a charity boxing match in March.

And this is in Canada, which is not a place with a reputation for solving political disputes with fisticuffs. (original link via Randy McDonald)

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Earlier this week, I linked to James Graham’s piece on Clegg and the coalition, in which he mentioned my post on ending the coalition. This isn’t just incestuous blogging back-patting – James made some points about my post which I promised to think over and respond to. He wrote:

But Lib Dems who imagine that there is some dividend to be earned by leaving the coalition early are simply misguided. The public won’t thank them – they’ll simply conclude the Lib Dems are even more of a waste of time. By contrast, there is a historic, long term gain to be earned by simply allowing this coalition to last a full five years.

The electorate has a short collective memory; I’ve lost count of the number of people who hated the Labour government but now look back on it with rose-tinted spectacles. No matter how painful this coalition feels at the moment, or what damage it does, the fact is that if it lasts the full five years it will be seen as a success for coalition politics while if it falls apart it will be seen as a loss.

If the Lib Dems ever want to return to power again, persuading the country that coalition is not the scary thing that both Labour and the Conservatives insisted it was during the last election will have to be a priority. Adding another footnote to the argument that all coalitions fall apart after a couple of years will slow any chance of a Lib Dem recovery for the simple reason that people will see a vote for the Lib Dems to be a vote for chaos and weak government.

The proposition being put forward here – and James isn’t the only one to have put it forward – is that there’s a duty on the Liberal Democrats to prove that coalition government can work at a national level in the UK. If we break – or are perceived as breaking – the coalition, then we (and possibly all other small parties) will be damned for all time (or at least a few electoral cycles) by the electorate.

It’s a strong argument, and the public can have curiously long memories. Bringing down the coalition now would be a major step, and there is a strong possibility that it would poison the well for many years and that ‘coalitions don’t work in the UK’ could become part of the conventional wisdom. So, I don’t think this is a step to be taken lightly.

However, I don’t think it’s right to completely rule out ending the coalition in all but the most extreme circumstances. From my perspective – and I do have some local experience of working within one – one of the features of a coalition is an ongoing negotiation between the parties. (In the current Government, this is represented by the meetings of the Quad) The problem with the ‘we have to show that coalitions work’ argument is that it only applies to one side in the negotiations. The Tories aren’t working under that condition, which gives them an advantage in negotiations beyond the inbuilt one of being the largest party.

By saying – explicitly or implicitly – that nothing short of Cameron falling under the proverbial bus or it’s equivalent will make the Liberal Democrats walk away from the negotiating table, the party is drastically weakening its hand in any discussion. It emboldens the Tories to push further to the right, as there’s no counterforce to draw them to the centre if the Liberal Democrats have hidden their most powerful weapon in negotiations. Leaving aside my position that it should end now, I’m not saying that Clegg and Alexander should be threatening to walk out over everything, but if their counterparts don’t believe it’s possible that they will, then they’re dangerously weakened in negotiations.

Yes, there’s a significant risk of long-term damage in bringing the coalition down now, however that has to be weighed against the potential benefits that would be brought about by it ending. There is a strong argument that the Liberal Democrats need to prove a national-level coalition can work, but there’s also the counter that to make coalition work, there needs to be some desire to do so on both sides. It’s entirely right to leave a negotiation if one side is acting in bad faith – the problem then would be to explain the reasons why to the public afterwards.

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Take a number – Outside magazine reports on some of the deaths to have occurred amongst people climbing Everest this year. (via)
Policing The Land – in honour of #ldconf – Sarah Brown rewrites The Land to make it fit the brave new world of accreditation and security theatre.
Clegg and coalition six months on – James Graham looks at what’s happened in the Lib Dems six months after he left. Long, but well worth reading.
Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math – A couple of months old, but I’ve only just seen it. Some figures and projections in there that will keep you up at night.
One big rule if you’re writing about politics – Andrew Hickey has a simple rule to work out who’s worth reading and who’s not.

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Apologies it’s been so long since the last update, but there have been very few applications in the last few weeks.

121520: Creation of parking spaces, East Bay.
121594: Two story extension, Cowdray Avenue.
121633: Advertisement consent for new signage, High Street.
121660: Change of use from office to restaurant, North Hill.
121630: Alteration of car park layout, Castle Road.

Please note that I am a member of the Council’s Planning Committee for the next municipal year. This means that I’m required to act in a ‘quasi-judicial’ manner with regard to applications before the Committee and as such, can’t make comments in favour or against planning applications as I may then have pre-judged them before they come to Committee. I can give advice on planning issues and what to do if you have a comment or objection. However, my ward colleagues Bill Frame and Jo Hayes aren’t members of the Committee, so they’re free to comment as they wish.

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As Jonathan Calder thought earlier, when you get an email from someone with the subject ‘There’s no easy way to say this’ you normally expect the body of it to include some form of ‘it’s not you, it’s me’.

However, the video this email from Nick Clegg linked to didn’t include that, but it was on the same lines, even if it didn’t end with him leaving. The problem I have with it is that all he actually apologises for is the pledge on tuition fees, not the policy itself. A lot of people are putting out the ‘but Labour never apologised for bringing in top-up fees after saying they wouldn’t in their manifesto’, but under the Clegg formulation, all they have to apologise for is putting it in their manifesto, not for the vote itself.

The bigger problem I see is that for years we’ve been telling people that Liberal Democrats care about education at all levels and see it as a public good that the Government should be spending money on. Right back to Paddy Ashdown talking about 1p on income tax for education and beyond, the party has consistently stood up for education. The pledge candidates signed wasn’t just some random electoral gimmick, it was something that had a long history in the party and had remained a core policy – voted for by Conference – despite the leadership trying to water it down or abandon it. We stuck with it – as well as committing the party to other high-profile educational policies like the Pupil Premium – because access to education for all is an important liberal principle.

Politicians are known for saying one thing and doing another, but the issue here is that education – and particularly higher education – was seen as a key Liberal Democrat issue, so a sudden volte face on that hurt the Liberal Democrats a lot more than changes on other issues might. This wasn’t the usual trading of policies and compromise that’s an inevitable part of coalition, but abandoning what the public – if not Clegg himself – saw as a fundamental part of what the Liberal Democrats were about. Saying that the pledge was the problem and claiming it wasn’t affordable, despite the party’s manifesto clearly showing that it was, is to try to turn this into a story of political process, when it should be one of political principle.

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Wind turbine syndrome: a classic ‘communicated’ disease – I’m shocked – shocked, I tell you – to discover that something James Delingpole and other contrarian trolls believe in has no evidence to back it up.
10 myths of the UK’s far right – Daniel Trilling in the Guardian outlines some widely-repeated opinions about the BNP and their ilk that don’t stand up to much scrutiny.
Facebook friends network ‘quadruples voting behaviour’ – Interesting study in the US about different online prompts and how they increase the likelihood of someone voting – the original paper it’s based on is here.
English Baccalaureate – questions outstanding – Stephen Williams MP shows that not all Lib Dem MPs have drunk the Govite Kool-Aid.
The Myth of the European Court of Human Rights’ “War on Britain” – Very good piece by Alex Massie. Worth passing on to any nutters of your acquaintance (some of whom appear to be in the Cabinet, sadly) who advocate Britain withdrawing from/ignoring the ECHR

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All sorts of link-based goodness for you.

Atos: A Privatised Service Provider In A Post-Satire World – Chris Coltrane on what is actually happening behind the mask of cutting DLA ‘fraud’.
Doctor Who Bechdel test – Some very interesting results here, though I’m sure most people won’t be surprised to learn that the number of episodes passing has dropped dramatically since 2010.
The Political Awakening of a Republican: ‘I Had Viewed Whole Swaths of the Country and the World as Second-Class People’ – Fascinating account of one person’s awakening to what American political culture conceals, though there’s an irony in that he only got exposed to the facts because of the privileged position he’d attained ignoring them.
We Are Now One Year Away From Global Riots, Complex Systems Theorists Say – I’ve seen other data showing a link between recent rising food prices and civil disorder (it’s likely it was a major driving factor in the Arab Spring) and this is worrying.
Can Labour *do* pluralist politics? – AC MacGregor on the latest outbreak Labour tribalism. Against the Greens this time, though.

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So, unless they suddenly remember a third set of sporting events they’d agreed to hold in London this year, that’s it for the 2012 Games. There’s been a lot of talk about how we can carry forward all the good feeling and the spirit of the Games, but rather than go into a general ‘why the Olympics and Paralympics prove we must support my politics‘ piece I wanted to look at sport on TV, following on from this post I wrote during the Olympics about BBC Sport.

I was prompted into it by noticing that while Channel 4’s coverage of the Paralympics was excellent, the only mention of sport on C4 in the future was all the horse racing coverage they have coming up in the next year. As with the Olympic sports, there’s been lots of talk about how exciting and interesting the Paralympic sports have been to watch, but few moves to bring them to the viewing public. Yes, people could get up off their couches to watch it live, but not everyone has what they want to see available on the doorstep, or the means to travel and see it.

The point I’m ambling towards is that this summer has shown that not only are there great athletes competing in a huge variety of sports, but that there’s an audience that wants to watch them. Surely it’s not beyond the wit of the TV companies to realise that and bring it to our screens? It doesn’t have to be the huge sporting glut of the last month – though I expect sports channel viewing figures to go up as people avoid going cold turkey with their viewing habits – but a return of something like Grandstand or World Of Sport. Rather than shunting each sport off into a separate programme, have something that shows everything, that – like the Games did – can surprise you by introducing you to something fascinating that you’ve never seen before.

Rather than the absurdity of watching men watching football on screens we’re not allowed to see and shouting the score, why not give the public actual sport, played by a wide range of people?

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Another gathering of things people have said better than me:

I Hate It When Politicians Talk About “Hard-Working Families” – Jennie Rigg points out the flaws in a bit of politician-speak.
Democracy 2015 – The Independent’s new campaign – I was thinking of pointing out some of the flaws with this campaign, but A Dragon’s Best Friend has beating me to it.
Gathering of the damned – DoktorB on party conferences and leaders’ speeches.
Do we have to be so macho? – In the wake of David Cameron’s ‘butch’ comments, Emma Burnell questions the style of modern politics.
Comedians using their fans for co-ordinated, safety-in-numbers bullying – There’s a ‘y’ in the day, so Rick Gervais is behaving like a privileged arsehole.

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