Worth Reading 106: Housing agreements

There is no alternative – Henry Farrell on the post-democratic age.
Review: Doctor Who: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS – A fascinating philosophical viewpoint on the dynamics of the latest episode from Ro Smith.
An Unearthly Child – And a scientific viewpoint on the first one from Iain Coleman on his new blog.
Nevermind the £53 p/w. How would IDS cope with the system? – Would he even be able to get his £53 a week after dealing with the bureaucracy?
I Went Stop And Searching In Soho With The London Met – Out with sniffer dogs on a Saturday night. The comments from the police officers involved are very interesting.

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Not a headline I was expecting to give to a blog post any time soon, but occasionally Nick Clegg does speak up in favour of Liberal Democrat party policy. Today he’s talking about drugs and becoming probably the most senior UK politician to make the argument that if you really want to be ‘anti-drugs’ and cut the number of people using drugs and the harm that’s caused, then you need to be in favour of reforming the current system. There’s coverage all over the place of his statements, but see here for an interview with the BBC (and a report of the same), and see here for Clegg talking about it in The Sun and not getting pilloried. Maybe things are changing.

The Sun also has some interesting poll results, which might have influenced the decision not to go after Clegg on this, which shows that 57% of people think government drug policy has worked fairly or very badly in reducing drug use, 60% of people want a Royal Commission to look into drug policy and more people want either decriminalisation (30%) or legalisation (19%) of drug use than those who want the current law to remain (43%).

I’m reminded of an American study I read about three years ago (blogged about by Mark Thompson here) which showed that while a majority of people were in favour of a more liberal policy on drugs, that same majority consistently thought that their view was a minority one. What makes Clegg’s announcement today interesting is that while many politicians have said that the ‘war on drugs’ is failing, they tend to say that when they’re out of office (Jacqui Smith is a recent example). That he’s made it now – and that The Sun has taken it as an exclusive, not as a ‘Batty Lib Dems soft on drugs’ headline – might indicate that the tide is turning. As people see the evidence from Portugal, from the US states that have legalised medical marijuana and more, the message might finally be sinking in that there are alternatives to the ‘war on drugs’ which like many wars is very good for the generals fighting it on both sides, but hell for those caught in the middle of it.

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Worth Reading 85: Tie your tie

Do Not Hire John Brown Advertising – Andrew Hickey gets plagiarised. Plagiarist turns up in the comments to provide a great example of chutzpah.
It’s Official: Austerity Economics Doesn’t Work – “Having adopted the policies of Keynes in response to a calamitous recession, the United States has grown more than twice as fast during the past three years as Britain, which adopted the economics of Hoover”
We are all Alliance now – Spineless Liberal responds to the threats against Alliance politicians in Northern Ireland.
502: French conservatives temporarily unavailable – Alex Harrowell explains at A Fistful Of Euros how a close leadership election has split the French right.
Why we are calling for an end to the war on drugs – Julian Huppert explains the position of the Home Affairs Select Committee.

And don’t miss this special message from Alan Partridge:

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Worth Reading 72: A pretty good year to be born

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.

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Greens, conservatives, drugs, proboscis monkeys and liquid democracy. How’s that mix suit you?

Don’t vote Green until they drop the anti-science zealotry – Tom Chivers explains, yet again, why GM crops are not the horrible bogeyman that some like to portray them as.
You don’t have to be a leftie to think Beecroft is wrong – Flip Chart Fairy Tales explains how conservatism can support models of capitalism other than the most rapacious ones.
Take it from an ex-addict, outlawing drugs does not work – “When society hates and fears you, criminal conviction means little.”
Declan Ganley and the need for nuance – Nosemonkey returns to blogging with an interesting perspective.
Liquid Democracy: The Future Of #ldconf – Spineless Liberal looks at the Liquid Feedback system I linked to in an earlier post and suggests a use for it here. I can hear the ‘ooh, that’s far too much change for my liking’ objections already. After all, why use something efficient when you can waste people’s time with a meeting?

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I’ve been thinking for a while that a lot of debate about the Liberal Democrats – especially in the media – seems to assume or apply a dichotomy that members of the party are either socially liberal or economically liberal. A lot of the time the biggest debate doesn’t seem to be on whether these factions/wings of the party exist, but what to call them, with both being described as either ‘Liberal’ or ‘SDP’, depending on the author’s history and biases.

Of course, there’s been a lot of talk about this in the threads, post and comment sections of many sites and blogs, and while I do think that many, perhaps a majority of, party members, wouldn’t want to see themselves as part of either ‘faction’, I think a strong and distinct tendency within the party is being ignored and sidelined by these supposed battles.

I think that there’s a strong radical tendency within the party that’s currently only poking its head above the parapet on infrequent occasions and particular issues. Of course, there are many people who proclaim themselves to be radical – and by conventional definitions they are, wanting to drag the party well off to the left or right – but I’m thinking more of a form of radical centrism, wanting to take the best bits of the economic liberals and social liberals and combine them into a establishing a new way forward for the party. Back in the 1960s, Steel and Jenkins pushed forward legislation that dramatically liberalized British society and I think we as a party need to be identifying how to emulate that work in our modern society. This isn’t about finding soggy compromise between the two supposed wings of the party, but instead using a synthesis of the two forces to carve out a new direction that looks to the future.

(Can you tell I’m desperately trying to avoid using the formulation ‘neither left or right but’ in an attempt to not sound like either the Spitting Image version of Paddy Ashdown or various extremist nutjobs?)

There are already sizeable groups within the party in favour of issues like real marriage equality, a secular state, liberalization of the drug laws and abandoning Trident. I suspect that there’s probably a strong overlap between the supporters of those causes and several others that aren’t seen as mainstream. Many of them will be those that have some sympathy for the libertarian position, but shy away from the vulgar market-fundamentalist selfishness expressed by some of its supporters. As Robert Anton Wilson put it: ‘I suppose I should have voted for the Libertarian Party, but I’m not that kind of libertarian – I don’t hate the poor.’

There’s an interesting phenomenon noticed amongst advocates for reforming the drug laws whereby even when a majority of people support reform – as has been shown in some polls – the societal ‘mood music’ is such that they believe themselves to be part of a minority. I think that might be the same with the supporters of what you might call the ‘radical centre’ – we tend to believe we’re a small minority within a party dominated by others, but what if we’re not? What if there are a lot of people thinking that way – both in the party and outside of it – who don’t want to stick their heads above the parapet for fearing of being shouted down because the media coverage tells them their views are a minority?

So, the question is this – do we need to do something to organise people like this, like me, within the party? Or are we just a small minority that should hide away from those doing the proper politics that can only be expressed on a two-dimensional axis? Is there a need for something – a website, an organisation, a pub crawl – to give focus? And what name is best? Radical centre? Modern radicals? Liberaltarians? New Radicals?

The Parliamentary Radicals were one of the groups who founded the original Liberal Party all those years ago, so maybe it’s time to reclaim their energy.

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In a post about drugs I wrote a few weeks ago, I noted that there had been an apparent recent increase in the number of calls for decriminalisation, and now I’m wondering whether we might be reaching a point of critical debating mass on the issue where the number of people who just want the subject to be openly debated will be too large to be ignored.

Well, the little snowball continues to grow as it reaches the mass required. First, Mark Reckons has an interesting interview with former Conservative minister Phillip Oppenheim:

We have pretty much the tougest laws on drugs (and drink) in the EU and pretty much the worst problem – we treat people like kids and the result is they behave like kids, and criminality flourishes.

And also, though perhaps less surprisingly, Madsen Pirie of the Adam Smith Institute:

Dealing with drugs costs money. The Department of Health and the Strategy Unit put the costs of drug use at £15bn-£20bn per year. Although ministers and police officers have uttered tough phrases such as “zero tolerance”, drug crime has steadily increased, not diminished. When a policy achieves the opposite of what was intended, rarely is more of it needed.

And since the last time I wrote about this, several articles in the Guardian on the subject, including this Observer editorial.

The political fixation on drugs prohibition really took hold in the west in the 1960s as much from moral panic about a subversive counterculture as from analysis of the harm caused by particular drugs.

Since then, the law has tried to maintain a distinction between reputable and disreputable substances that neither users nor medical research recognise. Scientific attempts to classify drugs in terms of the harm they do – to the body and society – routinely place tobacco and alcohol ahead of cannabis and ecstasy. The point is not that the wrong drugs are banned, but that the law is nonsense to anyone with real knowledge of the substances involved.

But is anything like to happen? As Oppenheim notes, it’s hard for Cameron to get any traction against the Conservative grass roots on this issue and we’ve seen how Labour like to ignore evidence in favour of appearing tough. So, are we Lib Dems going to discuss it openly, or will we get the ‘we definitely think we should have a debate on this, but now’s not the right time’ response?

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