What You Can Get Away With » 2012 » October

There are many obvious reasons to be glad that Donald Trump’s not British, not least the fact that it gives us another reasons to be dismissive of American politics and pretend ours are somehow better, but one specific one occurs to me.

Look at it this way: Donald Trump is a rich man who’s involved in politics and is known to give money to causes he supports. If he was British, he’d be free to give as much money as he likes to political parties – we can probably assume he’d be a Tory, at least initially – and wouldn’t be limited by any of those pesky donation limits that sometimes apply in American politics.

Now, one curious fact about British politics is that people who make large donations (or loans) to political parties are very often the same people who are appointed to the House of Lords. This, of course, is a total coincidence, and there’s no formal connection between being a major donor to a political party and a recipient of favours from that party. However, coincidences do occur, and any British Donald Trump could very possibly find himself becoming Baron Trump of Trumplandia. So, unlike in the US, where his attempts to achieve powerful political positions have failed because of the lack of interest from the electorate in giving him that power, here he’d likely find himself granted a powerful position for life.

So be glad he’s American, because while our House of Lords contains no end of strange people that we can’t remove from power, at least none of them are Donald Trump.

,

Why you are wrong, by James Delingpole – Actually by Generic Parody, but indistinguishable from the original.
He’s Behind You – Adam Curtis looks at the story of Muammar Gaddafi.
David Miliband and the Labour art of speaking in code – John Harris on how Labour politicians are in the habit of writing lots while saying nothing. I’m quite sure I could find the samples needed for a Liberal Democrat version of this too, though. See also this post by Jamie at Blood and Treasure
A Warning about Matthew Brown – In the last Worth Reading, I linked to a story about American right-wingers backing an independent candidate for Lincolnshire’s police commissioner. The story gets weirder – and the candidate has now withdrawn from the contest – with the revelation that his campaign manager is a serial con artist and/or fantasist.
It stands to reason, skeptics can be sexist too – I’ve linked to similar pieces to this one by Rebecca Watson before, and so I wasn’t going to link to it. But then I saw some of the abuse she’s getting for it, and figured that it needs to be seen and read by as many people as possible.

, , , , , , ,

Hopi Sen has written an interesting blog post on how Labour adopting the policies desired by some of their lost voters would be a disaster for the country.

I was thinking about this issue at the weekend, after reading on the SNP voting to change their policy on whether an independent Scotland being a member of NATO. This was because regular polling showed that a majority of Scots want to remain in NATO, so the SNP’s anti-NATO policy was seen as a hindrance to the independence campaign. Leaving aside the implied assumption that the policies of a post-independence Scotland would be those of the SNP, it got me thinking on similar lines to Hopi – why is the prevailing political mood one of pandering to the electorate, rather than trying to persuade them to change their views?

The SNP’s policy shifting wasn’t an isolated incident. It’s common for just about all parties now to determine their polices on where the voters are, thus giving us a mad rush to the centre ground, rather than developing policies in line with principles and ideologies and then attempting to persuade the voters to come to them. I don’t think there was ever some golden age where politics was purely concerned with the latter – Roman politicians were often concerned with just what the populace would accept, for instance – but I’m sure the practice of politics was never quite as cynical as it is now. As I wrote a few months ago, so much of modern politics has become a big game for the participants where the important factors are winning and losing power, not what you do with that power when you get hold of it.

When the game is all that’s important, you no longer care about trying to shift the Overton window in your direction. Instead of setting out your stall and trying to convince people to come to you, you chase after them, happily shedding whatever bits of you they show any aversion to. But just because politicians have stopped trying to influence how people think, it doesn’t mean others have. The void is filled by unaccountable media organisations and shadily-funded pressure groups, gradually drawing opinions towards their favoured position, and all the time the politicos happily follow, led by the polls that tell them what to drop and what to adopt. Going back to Hopi’s post, there’s rarely any attempt to challenge these beliefs, no matter how impractical and unworkable they may be.

Some of my Liberal Democrat colleagues reading this might be feeling smug at this point, and imagining that what I’m saying doesn’t apply to us. Sorry folks, we’ve become just as bad. Maybe not quite to the extent that Richard Reeves and others have decreed as the future path for the party as a centre-right pandering machine, but I see far too many statements on the lines of ‘this policy is good, but are we sure people will like it?’ and I still smart from the last time Conference debated faith schools where several people pushed a ‘don’t do what’s right, do what won’t offend the Daily Mail’ line.

If we’re too scared to make the case for liberal policies, who will?

What I want to see is us taking the bold approach. Rather than joining the mass dash towards the centre, let’s properly make the case for liberalism and persuade people of its merits and how it would benefit them. There’s a growing number of people who don’t vote because politics doesn’t speak to them and engage them, and we do nothing to bring them back to the polling stations if we join the others in mindless pandering. It’s not a disaster if someone disagrees with you, it’s a sign of a healthy democratic process where people have different opinions and there’s some distance between them. There’s no shame in debating and arguing what’s the best way forward, in saying ‘this is my truth, tell me yours’. We should be prepared to stand up and push for radical and different policies, in an attempt to shift the perception of what’s possible. Arguing for what we think is right isn’t something we should shy away from.

,

As the party leadership seems to have decided to acquiesce on the proposed new rules allowing employers to make employees give up employment rights in exchange for shares, it’s time to take some action. The Government has started a consultation on the proposal, and anyone can take part in it and submit their view. If you want to have your say, then go here and fill it in. As evidence of the fact they’re taking their time and considering the options trying to rush this through, you only have until the 8th November to respond.

The consultation asks a number of questions, and most of them are about the way the scheme could be implemented, rather than whether it’s a good idea or not, but it’s worth answering as many as you can as well as you can, just to ensure that they get a number of views. There’s no information on the site about what they’re planning to do with the responses, but I’m thinking that a Freedom of Information request sometime after 8th November could elicit some useful information about what sort of response was received.

I’d also suggest reading this post on this issue by Gareth Epps at the Social Liberal Forum. If you’re a Lib Dem member and you haven’t already, you can also add your name to this open letter to Nick Clegg and Vince Cable on the subject.

Eight months before Le Grand Depart in Corsica, we now know the full route for the 2013 Tour de France. It’s the 100th Tour, and the organisers have clearly set out to make it a memorable one.

It follows the approach the Tour organisers have taken a lot in recent years of letting the action of the race reach a crescendo in the final week, with the first two weeks as a steady build up to the finale. There’ll be lots of dramatic images in the first two weeks, but a lot of that will cover for the main contenders waiting in the pack, conserving as much energy as possible for the Alps.

The start in Corsica will be the first time the Tour has visited the island (meaning all of European France will now have been visited by the race) and the opening stage is designed to end in a sprint finish. Of course, a break could get clear, but it looks likely that it’ll be the first opportunity to see Omega Pharma-Quick Step working for Mark Cavendish in the Tour as he attempts to shed the record of having the most Tour stage wins without ever wearing the yellow jersey.

Unlike last year, the wearer of the maillot jaune could change a lot over the first week. The next two stages in Corsica provide opportunities for breaks to get clear over the mountains, and then the Team Time Trial in Nice will shake the order up again. If the favourites keep their powder dry in the Pyrenees at the end of week one, then there’s a chance for a climber to get away and put themselves into yellow for a day or two. The big names will be able to hide in the shadows until midway through week 2, when the first individual time trial arrives on the road to Mont Saint Michel.

After that, the Tour really picks up as it heads south towards the Alps. Bastille Day will be a monster for the riders – a 242km stage over bumpy terrain but with only one categorised climb: Mont Ventoux. Because after five hours of riding, your day’s not complete without going up one of the Tour’s legendary climbs, is it? With a rest day following, this is where the big names are going to be duelling each other to the top. A hilly time trial a couple of days after that will shake up the order some more, before we come to the undisputed queen stage of the 100th Tour.

There were lots of rumours floating around about the 2013 race going up Alpe D’Huez twice to mark the 100th Tour on its most iconic climb. I heard suggestions that it would be part of two different stages, that one climb would be a time trial, even that there’d be a descent of it, but I definitely wasn’t expecting it to be climbed twice in one stage. Expect lots of shots of anguished riders getting to the top at the end of the first climb and realising they’ve got to do it again. I’ve already made sure my diary’s clear for the 18th July next year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the camper vans are heading there now to ensure they get a good spot.

There’s still more climbing for two days after that, and it’s possible that the race could be decided on the climb to Annecy Semnoz on the final Saturday. It’s a new climb and a new stage finish location, which means the roads round there will be packed full of pro cyclists on scouting missions next spring.

The riders get a few hours longer to recover before the final stage into Paris, though. They’re departing from Versailles and passing through the gardens of the palace on their way to the Champs-Elysees, but it’ll be as the sun is getting low in the sky. For what I believe is the first time since the finish switched to the Champs-Elysees, it’ll be an evening finish with the final sprint expected to take place at sunset (around 2145 local time, 2045 UK time). It’s almost as if they asked what could be a better backdrop for the finale than Paris, and realised the only possible answer was Paris at night. Or maybe hoteliers want to ensure that people coming for the finish stay for the night, rather than getting the evening Eurostars and TGVs back home.

The big question, of course, is who’s going to win it? There’s great anticipation about Wiggins getting the chance to take on Contador and Schleck, but he’s also talked about attempting the Giro/Vuelta double next year and leaving the Tour to Chris Froome. As the course looks nicely balanced between time trialling and climbing – with the prospect of climbers having to attack on the last few stages to claw back time lost in the TTs – it does look very open. Will Nibali centre his season around it again, or will he switch back to targeting the Giro? How much will the young challengers – Van Garderen, Rolland and Pinot – have improved over the winter?

Whoever gets to wear yellow in Paris, it looks like it’ll be a fantastic race and hopefully will the spectacle and drama the Tour needs to remind people that cycling has always been about more than just Lance Armstrong.

,

I realised that I used to notify people of upcoming Neighbourhood Action Panel (NAP) meetings on the blog, but as I did it through a lot of posts I’d scheduled a long time in advance, I didn’t notice when the pre-arranged posts ran out.

So, this is to let those of you in Castle Ward know that the next meeting of the Castle NAP is taking place next Tuesday (the 30th October) at 9.30am. The NAP exists to “address crime, anti-social behaviour and quality of life issues throughout the Castle Ward” and meets monthly. The members are councillors, police, residents, council officers and others. There’s more information on the Council’s website here, including the up to date Action Plan for the NAP.

If you live in a different ward, there are NAPs for other areas in Colchester, and you can find their details on this page on the Council website.

,

Reading Stephen Tall’s Lib Dem Voice post on police commissioners this morning, I found myself thinking about elected mayors and how some of the claims that are made for them and their potential effects.

One thought that occurred to me is that while there’s been lots written on elected mayors and the arguments for and against them (see this pdf from the Warwick Commission for a good summation), there doesn’t appear to have been any quantitative research into their effects. (But if you are aware of any, please let me know)

Because of the piecemeal way in which the mayoral system has been introduced across the country, it seems to me that there’s the basis for doing some interesting comparative research between local authorities with and without mayors. There are currently 16 mayors outside London, in a wide range of different types of local authority – metropolitan boroughs, London boroughs, unitary authorities and non-metropolitan boroughs all have mayors – and pretty much all those authorities with mayors have comparable authorities without them.

I’d suggest that there’s scope for doing statistical research comparing boroughs with elected mayors to similar ones without. It could look at a wide range of information about those areas and see how they’ve changed over the past ten years – for instance, at what rates have their economies grown, what’s happened to their unemployment rate, how much external investment have they attracted, how have educational attainment and qualification rates changed, how much tourism have they attracted, how many new houses have been built etc – and then compare the results for mayoral areas with non-mayoral ones to see if the system of government has had any noticeable statistical effect on their area.

I think there are important questions around democracy, accountability and other issues before making any changes like that – one reason why, if we’re going to have PCCs, they should have been trialled for effectiveness first in areas that wanted them rather than imposed everywhere – but it would help these debates if people who claim that one way or another is a better form of local government for an area could have some statistics to back that argument up.

Question: when you see a headline such as ‘Lib Dem Jo Bloggs calls for…’ do you assume that Jo Bloggs is a member of the party? To me, that seems quite a reasonable assumption to make, and appears to be the convention the media follows in most cases. If the person’s not a member, but connected in some other way to the party you might see a qualifier added like ‘Lib Dem supporter’, ‘Lib Dem donor’ or ‘Lib Dem voter’ but ‘Lib Dem’ on it’s own implies membership.

Yesterday, Conservative Home referred to ‘Lib Dem Mark Littlewood’ in the headline to this article (shorter version: he wants a return of the National Liberals and an electoral pact with the Tories) despite the fact that he hasn’t been a member of the party since 2009. In response, I tweeted:

Any article referring to Mark Littlewood as a Lib Dem has failed a basic fact check.

Despite not using his Twitter username, this came to the attention of Mark Littlewood, who then started getting rather angry at me for things I hadn’t said. For the record, I don’t dispute how he’s voted at recent elections, but I know many people who’ve regularly voted Lib Dem for years, and I wouldn’t expect the media to describe them as Lib Dems when they’re giving their personal views. They may think of themselves as Lib Dems, but when the media ascribe that label to someone I believe it’s implying a much deeper connection than merely being a voter or a supporter.

This isn’t about Mark’s views, but about how (to borrow a phrase) ‘membership has its privileges’. To describe someone as ‘Lib Dem X’ when they’re not a member is a simple journalistic error that’s easily corrected, which is why I talked about fact checks. Mark Littlewood publicly resigned from the party, and to refer to him in a way that implies he’s a member of it isn’t accurate, in the same way I wouldn’t refer to ‘Lib Dem James Graham‘ despite the fact that – to the best of my knowledge – he still holds mostly the same views he had when he was a member of the party. Surely this is an obvious point?

,

Including two from the Telegraph, in what’s probably a first:

Drug laws and evidence-based policy: it’s time to start doing experiments on the British people – One day, someone at the Telegraph is going to sack Tom Chivers for injecting sense into their website.
The secret US lobbyists behind Police and Crime Commissioner election – Interesting news from Lincolnshire. (Update: It turns out that this story was based on incorrect information – I suggest following the links in the next few Worth Reading lists for more)
Clegg has quietly resigned from the lightning conductor role – which is to his advantage, but another problem for Cameron – Alistair Campbell’s take. I don’t agree with all of it, but a perspective worth looking at.
An open reply to a self-published author – “So here’s your choice: you can decide that your book hasn’t sold because you haven’t plugged it enough, and as such you can use every channel of desperate huckterdom that the internet provides (and, by heaven, there are dozens more than you’ve yet discovered), you can do anything other than writing more and better in an attempt to shift that product, and you can send more emails like this one hoping for someone to tell you the magic answer to your problem, so long as that answer isn’t “well, you know, maybe your book just wasn’t actually very good?”, and you can spend the rest of your life blaming the unfair world for failing to recognise your genius, despite all the effort you put into telling people that you had it. Or you can decide that your book hasn’t sold because it’s just not as good as its competition in the market.”
Police the police – Liam Pennington makes some good points about the pointlessness of police commissioner elections. However, see also this piece by Chris Williams on the history of municipal policing in Britain for some interesting context.

And as a bonus, not something to read, but look at: how ‘skeptics’ and realists view climate data.

, , , , ,

Earlier today, someone linked to this amusing Storify collection of James Delingpole exhibiting his usual debating style of blocking and ignoring anyone who dares criticise him – especially when they commit the ultimate sin of using facts to challenge him. Normally, Delingpole’s someone I ignore – until the final revelation of his role as a Morrisian agent provocateur proving just how much crap you can get published if you’re willing to ignore facts and appease the rich and powerful, he’s of no real interest to me – but something about this caught my attention.

Namely, Delingpole’s Twitter avatar: James Delingpole's Twitter avatar Not something I’d normally care about, but this sparked off a memory in me of another image that looked somewhat similar. Specifically, one from Charlie Brooker’s TV Go Home book:
Page from Charlie Brooker's TV Go Home showing a man sticking a fork into his face

Probably only me who spots the resemblance, but the idea of Delingpole harming himself with cutlery while advertising Downright Average Thick British Viewer Day seems kind of apt.

, ,