Worth Reading 168: Perfection multiplied

Tony Blair is right on Europe – Jonathan Calder makes some wise points on how a referendum on Europe would be a disaster for this country.
Try, try again – Why forcing tests on children and telling them they’re failures repeatedly, isn’t good for them.
Mediocre Failures – Another take on why expecting some children to be branded as failures is a terrible idea.
Is the future of America a crummy service job stamping on a human face, forever? – When Presidential candidates from both sides seem to think nobody is complete without a job, is there another way?
‘Distraction is a kind of obesity of the mind’ – Interesting Guardian interview with writer Matthew Crawford about how quiet space has become another commodity available only to the wealthy.

The LDV awards; or how no one is Leonardo DiCaprio anymore #ldconf

actors who haven't won oscarsAs I mentioned the nomination, it’s only fair to mention the result. I didn’t win Liberal Democrat Blog of the Year, which instead went to Jonathan Calder and Liberal England. That brought an end to Jonathan’s long run of being nominated for the award while never winning it, a phenomenon which had made him into the Liberal Democrat Leonardo DiCaprio. (Caron Lindsay, who now replaces him in the ‘most nominations without a win’ role, can choose who she wants to be instead of him)

Now he’s finally won the award, of course, we all wait to see if he follows the destiny of so many previous winners of it in choosing to quit blogging and/or the party. I hope not, because I’m not sure anyone else could quite replicate his contribution to blogging, not least his remarkable ability to continue to find items of interest to post and write about.

So, congratulations to Jonathan and all the other winners, and as I haven’t won I guess I better get on with finding some more topics to keep blogging about…

How British journalism works, part 94

Via Jonathan Calder, the words of a Telegraph ‘political commentator’:

For very good reasons, Britain’s political parties do not campaign on election day.

This will likely confuse all of you reading this who are involved in politics, though I’m sure we’ll all be glad to know that we get polling day off after those long campaigns. All that getting up at 5am to deliver the first leaflet of the day, followed by hours of knocking on doors and more delivery must just have been a recurring bad dream I had every May.

Or it may just be that we don’t understand what campaigning is. Iain Martin, the journalist who wrote those words, got into a conversation with Lib Dem activist Chris Lovell last night, appears to think campaigning consists of just rallies and speeches and anything else is just “people with clipboards driving voters to polling stations”.

But then, is that all most journalists see of political campaigns? Most journalists writing about politics have never had any direct experience of it or involvement with it, and their job consists of going where the parties tell them to go to and working out which spin doctor’s stories they’re going to pay the most attention to when they write their stories. For them, political campaigns are a mix of media stunts, rallies and Important Speeches by Important People where the only role of party members and activists is to make up a useful backdrop and make sure they hold the placards the right way up. As none of this happens on polling day and journalists don’t have any invites to anything until the counting starts, it’s easy to make the assumption that there’s no campaigning going on.

Whereas most activists will tell you that polling day is the most important and busiest of the campaigning. The reason everyone looks hollow-eyed at the count is because they’ve been up since the early hours of the morning (assuming they got any sleep at all) and subsisting on whatever food they can grab. The big campaign events may not be happening – because they won’t get any coverage in the media – but all the other parts of campaigning are going at full tilt.

For a journalist – and specifically one credited as a political commentator – to claim that there’s no campaigning on polling day reveals just how shallow most coverage of politics is. Campaigns are like icebergs – there’s a very visible part on the surface, but a whole lot more happening beneath that. Journalists used to know this, but now they’re so dazzled by the bit on the surface, they imagine there’s nothing going on underneath.

Worth Reading 87: Gettysburg

An open letter to the British judicial system – From a cyclist, pointing out the ridiculously small sentences handed out to motorists who’ve killed or injured cyclists.
My reply to Nick Clegg’s civil liberties email today – Jo Shaw writes at Liberal Democrats against Secret Courts, asking Nick Clegg to live up to what he says and block the Government’s plans. (And if you’re a Lib Dem who hasn’t signed the petition against secret courts yet, why not?)
Nick Clegg needs to get crunchy again – Jonathan Calder has one of the best takes I’ve seen on Clegg’s recent ‘centre ground’ speech.
The gathering storm – Alex Marsh with a warning about future rises in homelessness.
UKIP are true libertarians – I’m still planning a post on libertarians and the Liberal Democrats at some point, but in the meantime, this is a good piece from Ed Rooksby in the Guardian, pointing out how UKIP are a great example of where the inherent selfishness of right-libertarianism takes you.


Via Jonathan Calder, here’s a sentence that tells us so much about how modern politics works:

In particular, her decision not to rebel over the coalition decision to increase university tuition fees, despite building a political career on trying to get them scrapped, marked her out for promotion with the leadership of both parties.

Why do we let the Tories define the terms of the discussion?

Jonathan Calder has a good post arguing that the Draft Communications Bill goes against the Coalition Agreement, with the implication that it should be terminated now, not be something that floats around there in the hope that Lib Dem activists can improve it.

While I share Jonathan’s perspective, I’m concerned that yet again, the Liberal Democrats have been outfoxed behind the scenes. I’m sure someone will now try and tell me that Nick Clegg did wonderful things by ensuring this is a draft bill, rather than a final one, and so has to go through extra scrutiny and amendments first, but I’m afraid that’s just a minor concession. The main argument – on whether there needs to be a Communications Bill at all – has been lost. Yes, there are changes need to the system set up under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), but this Bill has a much wider scope than just reviewing and amending RIPA.

I do welcome the fact that Julian Huppert will be on the committee discussing and reviewing the draft bill, but let’s not get too carried away. No matter how wonderful and amazing Julian is, he’ll only be one member of that committee, which means all our wonderful liberal ideas can easily be outvoted and ignored by the Tory-Labour majority who’ll be more concerned with ensuring that the police can have the powers they demand to fight terrorist paedophiles, or whoever the scary monsters using the internet for nefarious purposes are that week.

The key issue is that we’ve let the terms of the debate be set and so the argument will not be over whether regulation and monitoring of internet communications is necessary, but what form that regulation and monitoring should take. It’s the same process that happened with the Health and Social Care Bill – rather than sticking to the idea of ‘no top down reorganisation of the NHS’, we then let ourselves wander into an argument over how it should be done. I also suspect that the Tories played us very well over that, coming up with an initial extreme position that we’d then negotiate down to something they found perfectly acceptable, but that we’d then argue were ‘very real concessions’. Because we’d then agreed to having the debate over what changes were necessary, we were then committed to supporting these changes we’d negotiated, despite how unpalatable they might have been twelve months before.

I fear we’re going to have the same process on the Communications Bill. This original proposal will be amended and changed into something that seems more reasonable, when compared to the original proposals. However, it’ll be something that if we were to be offered it now, we’d turn it down flat, but after months of negotiation, obfuscation and various smoke screens, the hope is we’ll have forgotten that. It’s a classic use of the Overton window, using an extreme proposal to shift opinion in that direction, then presenting something that would have seemed unreasonable originally as a sensible compromise.

Sometimes, politics is about compromise and coming to agreement on something that might not be all that either side wanted, but sometimes it’s about sticking to your principles and not wandering away from that. This is a bill that needs to be killed, not amended, then we can start from scratch on changing the draconian rules that are already in place.

UPDATE: You should go read this post on Contrasting Sounds that skewers many of the proposals included in the bill, and manages to make my point in less than a paragraph:

Already as a party, the Lib Dems have missed an opportunity to anticipate the content of the bill (despite plenty of Lib Dem activists anticipating the content of the bill), and therefore laying out some red lines. The inclusion of Clause 25 regarding the postal service proves just how little influence we’ve had to date on the actual substance of Conservative and Home Office intentions. Already we’re going to have to spend political capital just getting back to the starting line. That’s slightly worrying. Why is it surprising that the Tories – a secretive, authoritarian party – want to pass a secretive, authoritarian surveillance bill?

I don’t like predicting the future

A week or so ago, Jonathan Calder wrote that the Liberal Democrats should vote with to call for an investigation into whether Jeremy Hunt broke the ministerial code. I agreed with him, and wrote in the comments:

sadly I’m sure the Parliamentary party will find some reason not to vote with Labour on this. Then we’ll get lots of bluster about how Labour did bad things when they were in government which we’ll be expected to accept as a valid reason for it.

And lo and behold, we discover that the Lib Dem MPs will be taking the bold and brave step of…not showing up for the vote. According to the Guardian:

The Lib Dems said they would not be backing the Labour motion because it was for Cameron alone to decide whether to refer someone to Allan. They did not want to be seen to side with a Labour party that had used special advisers such as Damian McBride, who worked with former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown.

That’s not a reason, it’s a cheap excuse. I keep seeing Lib Dems talking about ‘grown up politics’ (usually in snidely passive-aggressive blog posts) and this is the very antithesis of being a grown-up. It’s the petulant whining of someone who’s been caught out and is trying to deflect attention. We all know the last Labour Government did some horrendous things, but they’re not the Government now and haven’t been for two years. When you get caught doing something bad, whining ‘but Labour did X, Y, and Z’ in an attempt to deflect attention isn’t being grown-up, it’s making excuses and pointing at someone else who did a bad thing because you can’t justify your own position. The Liberal Democrats are meant to be better than that.

2010 General Election Diary Day 28: A 23% swing from Fish to hurricanes

I should remember to never talk about the weather. Yesterday doesn’t appear to have been a blip in the generally sunny election we’ve been having, and the rain has returned. Typical Bank Holiday weather, of course, including a brief hailstorm, but really scuppers the best laid plans of deliverers and canvassers.

That didn’t stop electioneering from going on between the showers. David Cameron appears to be launching a special Conservative effort to target the insomniac voter, by promising that the Conservatives will campaign ‘through the night’ on Tuesday. I suspect someone’s borrowed an idea from American politics, where there’s much talk of candidates doing 36-hour last-ditch campaign swings, but it makes sense in a country with multiple time zones and many opportunities to sleep on flights between events. It doesn’t really mean much if you’re wandering round Smithfield at 3am trying to get a photograph with someone who’s not covered in too much blood.

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown was in Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft today with Duncan Bannatyne. Bannatyne is currently hosting a series called Seaside Rescue. Ever get the feeling that their hearts just aren’t in it at Labour HQ, or are they attempting to make lives easier for newspaper headline and caption writers?

Here’s a list of celebrity Lib Dem supporters. Rumours that Armando Ianucci’s there because a) we’re the only party not to have asked him to direct an election broadcast and b) a strong third party and a balanced Parliament creates some interesting plots for The Thick Of It would likely be strongly denied by the party’s press officers.

Today’s linkage gives you the opportunity to see Mark Reckons using the word ‘bunkum’, which just doesn’t get used enough in political discourse, Liberal England bringing us Betty Boothroyd’s views on electoral reform, and Chris Brooke discussing post-election possibilities for the Liberal Democrats.

Elsewhere, Splintered Sunrise collects several Northern Ireland election broadcasts into a single post, showing that one result of the peace process is that Sinn Fein can now make videos that are just as banal as any other political party. However, my personal favourite in that collection is the SDLP’s, which features a number of scenes that look like attempts to enter a competition for the world’s worst Reservoir Dogs-esque walk.

Things I didn’t expect to be posting links to in this election campaign: Lib Dem flashmobs in Trafalgar Square.

They Work For You have created a very good site to help you decide who you should vote for. Linking with the work done by Democracy Club, you get to answer questions on local and national issues and see how they match up to your local candidates, not just national party lists. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my results gave me Bob Russell (Lib Dem) first, Peter Lynn (Green) second and Garryck Noble of the People’s Party Essex third, with BNP and UKIP tied for fourth. And no, I haven’t discovered some latent swivel-eyed loon tendency – that’s far behind in last place because our Labour, Tory, English Democrat and independent candidates haven’t responded to any of the questions.

As for my campaigning, I’ve done about 350 deliveries today, which takes the total up to about 3,350, I believe. Whole lot more to come over the next few days, but none of it is in my house at the moment.

And finally, some music, with Right Said Fred’s ‘Lib Dem anthem’. While it does have a singalong chorus, I can’t see it being requested that much at the next Conference Glee Club: