Monday, 30 May 2011

Surrey County Council tories just don't get it

There's a wonderful piece over on ConservativeHome where Cllr Andrew Povey, the leader of Surrey County Council, is singing the praises of the way the council's cuts to the library budget are leading to the involvement of volunteers from the local community and how wonderful it is to see the Big Society in action.

In short, it's arrogant, bragging drivel. But it's more than that though, it's also incredibly dishonest. In the comment thread below a man has comprehensively shown the utter mendacity and dishonesty of Povey's piece. Here's what that commenter had to say:
"I'm playing a leading role in one of the campaigns to save one of these Surrey libraries (sorry about the length but I have steam coming out of my ears): 
1. SCC's "consultation" broke SCC's own rules by not consulting with any of the affected communities at all before the decision was announced. There was no consultation, has been no consultation and will be no consultation: just an ultimatum "find volunteers or the library closes". 
2. The total saving from this proposal is 2% of the libraries budget - not the whole SCC budget - (ie, £200,000 from a £10M annual budget). Reading SCC's own £500+ spending decisions each quarter make me ever angrier as I see what they spend their money on: spending on "posh" taxis (ie, firms that I have validated charge 50% more for the same journey as standard taxis like you and I use)exceeds the entire savings from the libraries budget for example. 
3. The communities with threatened libraries put forward models to achieve greater savings than the £200,000 required savings by increasing volunteering at all libraries while reducing professional staffing at all. SCC have never addressed this point despite repeated attempts to get them to do so. 
4. As any volunteer organization knows, the issue is not getting the volunteers, it is organizing the volunteers and it is this for which essential core funding should still be provided by SCC but isn't. Rejecting any consultation, SCC have refused to even debate this point. 
5. One of the biggest insults is that despite organizing to get our group of volunteers, over 6 weeks on from meeting with SCC just to understand what the role of volunteers would be (something you'd think they'd have thought through), we've still not had the courtesy of a response from SCC. 
Andrew may be delighted at the response of Surrey residents. That's because Surrey residents value their libraries as they do their schools, and with SCC having given us an ultimatum "run your library with volunteers or the library closes" we've had no choice but to respond.
They didn't consult, they haven't thought it through, they haven't responded to the communities who have found volunteers, they could find the required savings in other ways just from the libraries budget let alone elsewhere, and prioritising many of the things they do spend money on over the libraries service is incredible. 
I'm a fan of increasing volunteering at libraries to save money and reinvent the role of libraries. I'm not a fan of SCC's cack-handed approach to doing so."
I think that says it all really. Surrey County Council should be hanging their heads in shame over their cuts to the library service and the roughshod way in which they did it. And the real tragedy here isn't the libraries which will be kept open thanks to volunteers. The real tragedy is that Surrey County Council is completely scrapping its mobile library service. And guess who depends on the mobile library service? Housebound elderly people in the main who will now be unable to access the libraries at all. Young people such as myself might not use libraries much but elderly people (the majority of whom lack internet access) often depend upon them.

Cllr Povey should be embarrassed about what his council has done. The fact that he's trying to spin it into some kind of triumph just shows what sort of toad* he really is.

* For legal reasons this is not my actual opinion, despite the fact that it blatantly is/

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Bullshit in the Observer

The Observer has a piece today where they report on proposals to limit individual donations to political parties at £50,000.

However, here's how they report it:

Now this claim is based on the idea that, because Labour gets 85% of it's funding from the unions, such a cap would hit them disproportionately. It would also hit the tories hard as well as they would apparently lose 50% of their income.

However, this is all nonsense. The idea of a £50k cap is to take big money out of politics, regardless of where it comes from. Whether it's a businessman donating a million pounds or a  union donating a million pounds, it still buys the donor unfair influence.

However, this hardly means it's going to bankrupt Labour. The money they get from the unions is the aggregate lump sum of the political subscriptions from the trade unions' members. If all those hundreds of thousands of trade unionists want to they can still donate the money individually. I'm sure it's not beyond the wit of the unions to include a donation form with their annual membership renewal. So as long as these trade union members genuinely want to support the Labour party then they'll continue to do so and Labour won't lose any money.

By contrast, such a move is, in reality, more likely to hit the Conservatives. This is because most of their income comes from large donations from individual businessmen. Now, a union can easily divide its donation up amongst its individual members but a businessmen can't as he's the only one capable of making the donation. So it just goes to show that this piece in the Observer is just hysterical whining from a party that has an institutionalised sense of paranoia.

If you want any confirmation of that, just read the quotation at the bottom of the article:
"We have already seen the Conservatives and Lib Dems team up to force through gerrymandering plans for constituency boundaries which were designed to damage the Labour party."
And what is this gerrymandering he is referring to? Well, that would be the equalisation of constituency sizes to ensure that all votes are equal - something which just so happens to remove a bias in favour of Labour caused by unequal seat sizes.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Turning weakness into strength

A while ago I watched 'The Long Walk to Finchley', a BBC dramatisation about the early political career of Margaret Thatcher. One thing I remember from it is a scene where Thatcher is despairing of ever finding a winnable seat. Her husband Dennis gives her the advice to turn her greatest weakness into her greatest strength. Her perceived weakness was the fact that she was a woman and in the dramatisation she then goes on to turn this into her biggest strength.

Now, this may have happened or it may not have, but it doesn't matter. The advice itself is sound and I think that's what the Liberal Democrats should be doing now. At the moment we're hesitant to mention our record in government on the doorstep because of the perception that it's our role in government which has made us unpopular. And, to be fair, this is probably true.

But it's only a weakness because we let it be a weakness. Instead of being apologetic about it and just talking about local issues, we should be crowing about it. Fine, the tuition fees decision was unpopular, but how about restoring the earnings link to pensions? How about scrapping ID cards and child detention? How about building a green economy? How about providing an extra £2.5billions of funding to help the poorest pupils in the country? How about taking millions of the poorest people in the country out of paying tax altogether?

There's a lot that we've achieved in government that should be popular. But no one knows about it because we're too hesitant to mention it on the doorstep or in leaflets out of fear that reminding people of the coalition will put them off.

Well, let's face it. People who are that upset about the coalition probably weren't going to vote for us in the first place. But there are plenty of people who'd probably consider voting for us if they knew about all the good things we were doing. We need to be bolder and prouder about our achievements. After all, if we don't talk about them, who else will?

Thursday, 26 May 2011

My religion - deism

It's not something that I talk about very often, but I am, in fact, a Deist. The vast majority will never have heard of this so please allow me to elucidate. Deism is a faith often characterised as a belief in the "watchmaker god". The metaphor being that a watchmaker builds a watch, winds it up, sets it in motion and then leaves it alone after that. Deism's approach to god is similar - for a given definition of god of course. However, that's a very mechanical and unpoetic way of putting it so here's a better version, originally written by William Reade in his 1872 book, the Martyrdom of Man.
We do not wish to extirpate religion from the life of man; we wish him to have a religion which will harmonise with his intellect, and which inquiry will strengthen, not destroy. We wish, in fact, to give him a religion, for now there are many who have none. We teach that there is a God, but not a God of the anthropoid variety, not a God who is gratified by compliments in prose and verse, and whose attributes can be catalogued by theologians. God is so great that he cannot be defined by us. God is so great that he does not deign to have personal relations with us human atoms that are called men. Those who desire to worship their Creator must worship him through mankind. Such it is plain is the scheme of Nature. We are placed under secondary laws, and these we must obey. To develop to the utmost our genius and our love, that is the only true religion. To do that which deserves to be written, to write that which deserves to be read, to tend the sick, to comfort the sorrowful, to animate the weary, to keep the temple of the body pure, to cherish the divinity within us, to be faithful to the intellect, to educate those powers which have been entrusted to our charge and to employ them in the service of humanity, that is all that we can do. Then our elements shall be dispersed and all is at an end. All is at an end for the unit, all is at an end for the atom, all is at an end for the speck of flesh and blood with the little spark of instinct which it calls its mind, but all is not at an end for the actual Man, the true Being, the glorious One. We teach that the soul is immortal; we teach that there is a future life; we teach that there is a Heaven in the ages far away; but not for us single corpuscules, not for us dots of animated jelly, but for the One of whom we are the elements, and who, though we perish, never dies, but grows from period to period and by the united efforts of single molecules called men, or of those cell-groups called nations, is raised towards the Divine power which he will finally attain. Our religion therefore is Virtue, our Hope is placed in the happiness of our posterity; our Faith is the Perfectibility of Man.
What he is talking about is our belief as deists that it is hubris to believe that there is a creator who listens to us and answers our prayers. Our species' existence is but a flicker in the life age of the Earth and an individual's life even briefer. When one of us dies it is like the death of a cell in a body, unremarkable and after a brief existence. Much as I wish otherwise, I strongly doubt that there is any kind of afterlife for us. The only form of immortality is through the human race itself. That is why we should all try to improve both the future of the species and the lives of those around us. Life is short whilst death is eternal, and the living are outnumbered by the dead who have gone before us.

This, as it happens, is one of the reasons that I chose the degree I did and why I am interested in politics. I have this yearning to somehow make the world a better place and to contribute to the success of humanity. Whether that be by making life better for the people of this country in some way, or by contributing to our understanding of the vast universe around us, I do not mind. Either would be equally valid to my mind.

But I suppose, essentially it all boils down to the near universal commandment taught by almost every religion:

"Love one another".

And, on that hopefully, everyone, regardless of their beliefs, can agree on.

The University of Surrey and the real fees scandal

Starting from 2012 the University of Surrey (where I am a student) will charge the maximum allowable tuition fee rate of £9,000 a year.

However, there's a scandal hidden here. Here's their official list of reasons for charging the maximum rate:
  • We are taking steps to manage the loss of 63% of Government funding for teaching.
  • Analysis indicates we need to charge an average fee of £9,000 to ensure we compensate for this and to maintain the quality of the student experience.
  • We wish to avoid the very real danger that charging less than £9,000 will have a negative impact on the perception of our quality
  • We need to cover the loss of £5m in 2011-12 in Government capital funding. In order to continue to invest therefore in the infrastructure that underpins a high quality student experience and financial sustainability, we need to generate income from tuition fees.
  • Our fees need to be approved by OFFA and along with other universities charging over £6,000 we will need to have an approved ‘Access Agreement’. This means we need to commit additional expenditure to outreach and retention activities to support the widening participation agenda.
  • We have also taken into account the risks that may come from; 
–cuts in tier 4 visa numbers and a likely reduction in demand which could lead to a 20% drop in overseas students. The potential impact of this is around £3m.
–deeper Government cuts in student numbers, teaching grants or research funding.
Now, I'm currently a student representative for my year, this gives me the opportunity to talk to staff casually more than most students. And, last Christmas, I attended a dinner for the Staff Student Liaison Committee (SSLC) where I took the opportunity to ask a member of staff what was likely to happen with fees.

What he revealed is, in light of the decision to charge £9,000 fees, scandalous. It turns out that the fee level required by the university in order to make up for the reduction in government funding is £6,000. That's a full £3,000 less than the figure they intend to charge. However, I also found out the reason for why they were likely to charge £9,000. The reason? Well, they've already given it above, though it is rather buried. So let's highlight it:
"We wish to avoid the very real danger that charging less than £9,000 will have a negative impact on the perception of our quality"
And that's exactly what this member of staff told me. They knew that universities such as Cambridge, Oxford and Imperial College were likely to charge £9,000 and they were afraid that if they charged less then they would be seen as being a lower quality university. The reason for this is a mild to major obsession with becoming an equal to Imperial College and Southhampton in the league tables - particularly with regards to engineering. Whilst I'm not allowed to talk about the specifics of what I learned on the SSLC, I can tell you that in the biannual departmental board of studies meetings there is a concentrated focus on getting the best rankings possible which is backed up by pressure from above to become the equal of other top institutions in every possible way.

The rest of their arguments are nonsense - the only things a £6,000 fee level won't cover are:
–cuts in tier 4 visa numbers and a likely reduction in demand which could lead to a 20% drop in overseas students. The potential impact of this is around £3m.
 –deeper Government cuts in student numbers, teaching grants or research funding.
Well, the first is certainly a plausible reason. The intake for the coming academic year is no different from normal but it may well decrease in future years. Why this necessitates an immediate rise in fees is questionable though. The second reason is complete bunk. The government is not intending to make any further cuts, indeed, research funding is in fact protected. And, if they were to, then fees should be increased in response to them, not as a pre-emptive action.

So that leaves us with just one genuine reason for the extra £3,000 - a possible reduction in international student numbers. Now, I'm sorry, but the potential loss of income in this sector is not anywhere near high enough to justify an extra three grand.

And I should emphasise, with these new fee levels, the University will make no cuts. They did originally threaten staff redundancies in a move probably calculated to put pressure on the government to lift the fees cap. However, they successfully bid for £600,000 funding to help people at risk of losing their jobs during the recession so these redundancies are now unlikely to happen, and would be prevented with just the £6,000 fee level anyway.

Meanwhile, our vice-chancellor, Professor Snowden, is the UK's eleventh best-paid vice-chancellor and had salary of £285,000 in 2008 – an 11% rise on the previous year. And, sure as eggs are eggs,  his pay level will be higher now. He also enjoys a house provided at the university's expense, generous travel expenses and regularly benefits from sumptuous meals at a regular stream of official events and functions. He won't be making any cuts in his salary or perks - especially not when Surrey will be charging maximum fees. So, whilst students will be paying nine grand a year and facing an uncertain jobs market, the vice-chancellor won't even need to tighten his belt.

This is outrageous. The university could afford to charge far lower fees if it wanted - and especially if it looked at ways of cutting excess spending of the sort embodied by the vice-chancellor. There is a vast disparity here between what the people running the university are going through and what the students and ordinary staff are going through.

Surrey will be charging three thousand pounds per student per year more than it needs to because "other universities will be doing the same". And those other universities no doubt used the same argument.

This should be a national scandal. The NUS and our student union should be kicking up a storm over it. But they won't. As far as I know, our student union didn't even bother to question the university's decision. Students at Surrey are being betrayed by the university and by our union. So who will stand up for us? I'll tell you; no one.

Good God - I agree with a tory

No, despite the title, I have not lost my mind. I've been reading a piece by Ruth Lea on ConservativeHome in which she argues persuasively that we should look less towards Europe and more towards the Commonwealth for trade. Funnily enough, this is something I myself have absent-mindedly thought about for years though the implementation of a more Commonwealth-centric policy could well be tricky.
The Commonwealth as an economic bloc is rarely discussed in Britain. But, as the global economic and political focus shifts to partnerships with non-western economies in the wake of the global financial crisis, this is an opportune moment to re-evaluate the economic potential of the Commonwealth both in the global economy generally and to us as trading partners more specifically. 
The Commonwealth nations, taken together and including the UK, are an economic colossus comprising some 15% of world GDP, 54 member states (53 excluding Fiji, which is currently suspended) and two billion citizens. They will inevitably become more influential and powerful. The Commonwealth spans five continents and contains developed, emerging and developing economies.
Crucially, the Commonwealth in its richness and diversity mirrors today’s global economy in a way that the EU simply cannot start to aspire to. In its global reach it speaks of the future, and should not be regarded as a curious relic of Empire, whereas the EU will continue its inexorable, relative decline. As David Cameron said of Tony Blair, so is the EU. “You were the future once.”

One of the drivers behind the global changes is demographic. The populations of the Commonwealth countries are projected by the UN to expand between 2010 and 2050. So is the US. But the “big 3” EU countries (excluding the UK) are projected to have falling populations: Germany (-28%), Italy (-23%) and even France (-5%), though Japan (-37%) and Russia (-31%) are much bigger fallers. By the way, China’s population is projected to fall by 11%, reflecting the “one child” policy.

Despite the fact that successive British governments have shown relatively lukewarm interest in the Commonwealth, preferring the watering holes of Brussels, British trade with the Commonwealth is already significant. In 2009, total exports of goods and services to the major Commonwealth countries were over £32bn, over 8% of the total, and there was a modest surplus (£1bn). But these exports were dwarfed by exports to the US (£67bn, £24bn surplus) and in particular to the EU (£188bn, £28bn deficit). 
And it can be argued that Britain’s export performance to Commonwealth countries (and indeed the US) is disappointing compared with that of the EU. This is all the more the case when there is arguably a cost advantage, estimated at 10-15%, when trading with Commonwealth as opposed to non-Commonwealth countries. British exports to Germany and France are about 1.5% of those countries’ respective GDPs. The equivalent figures for exports to the US and the Commonwealth’s “big 3” (Australia, Canada and India) are about half that. Britain really ought to be doing better in Commonwealth markets.
I strongly suggest that you go and read the rest of it via the link at the top of this post. One thing that I would say is that one of the main reasons for the 10-15% cost advantage when trading with the Commonwealth is because of the common language and the common judicial and legal systems - a legacy of the Empire. What this means of course is that, if I step off the plane in almost any Commonwealth country, I can be fairly confident that all the local laws and judicial practices are, if not identical, along the same lines as those in Britain.

Personally, I've always thought we might have made a mistake choosing to enter Europe in the first place when we could have created a common market of our own with the Commonwealth. However, now is not the time to be fretting over the past, now is the time to be looking to the future. It's well worth bearing in mind that, even at the moment, there is a huge scope for increased Commonwealth trade whilst remaining in the EU. However, key to this, would be a willingness of the Foreign Office to lobby foreign governments in favour of British businesses. For example, India recently signed a multi-billion dollar deal with the US for modern jet fighter craft. However, they'd originally been looking at purchasing the aircraft from a British firm. The reason they went with the US? The Americans had hundreds of their people lining up to sell the benefits of the American aircraft to the Indian government. We had less than a dozen.

We definitely need to start thinking more about the Commonwealth in our foreign policy and trade. Here's hoping that those in government do so.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Please help

A severely disabled five year old girl is facing deportation to Algeria where she is unlikely to get the medical treatment she needs.

Whilst I don't know all the ins and outs of the case, it seems to me that, in this specific case, the humane thing to do would be to make an exception and allow her to stay.

Please go here to sign the petition to the Home Secretary to allow her to stay. It will only take a moment of your time and could potentially save a young girl's life.

Proud to be a Yellow Bastard

Following a comment by tory backbench MPs about the "Yellow Bastards" and our interference with the health reforms, ConservativeHome has drawn up a league table of Yellow Bastards.

As a result, I hereby declare that the official standard of the Potter Blogger is this:

This brings a tear to the Potter Blogger's eyes.

In this I am inspired by the Yellow Bastards League on facebook of which I am a member. We are a league of yellow bastards who go forth to fight toryism wherever we may find it!

As a wise man once said: "If you're hated by Tim Montgomerie [editor of ConservativeHome] then you know you must be doing something right".

Who said this?

"We will work to build a consensus for a mainly-elected second chamber to replace the current house of Lords, recognising that an efficient and effective second chamber should play an important role in our democracy and requires both legitimacy and public confidence."
Who said this? Any guesses?

*Bzzt* Time's up. The correct answer is of course the Conservatives in their 2010 manifesto. Not that you'd think it from the way they're trying to block lords reform in parliament at the moment.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

What is the Liberal Democrat core vote?

Every political party has what's referred to as a "core vote". This is the percentage of the public that can always be counted to vote for the party no matter what - e.g. the die hard voters who'd only stop voting for the party if they made their official policy the introduction of anthrax into free school meals, and maybe not even then.

The core vote isn't constant, it varies up and down. The reason the core vote matters is because, at the moment, the share of the vote required to have a working majority in parliament is about 40% - give or take a few percentage points. So obviously, the higher the number of people you can be guaranteed to vote for you, the less extra people you need to convince in order to win and the easier your job is.

Now, the core vote is very difficult to calculate but the best clue can be given by the number of people who say that they identify with a party in surveys. One of the most reliable surveys for this is the British Election Study that is carried out following every general election.

Here we can see that the number identifying with (and therefore as the core vote of) the two main parties has fluctuated slightly since 2005 but remains at approximately 25% for the Conservatives and at approximately 31% for Labour. The Lib Dems, by contrast have had a rock steady 11% identifiers in both 2005 and 2010. This is also born up by the fact that, during the nadir of Lib Dem unpopularity during the tuition fees debacle, the Lib Dems never dropped below 9% in the polls. 9% is obviously less than 11% but it should be born in mind that polls are only ever accurate to 2 or 3 percentage points and that the polling average for the Lib Dems never dropped below 10% and is currently at 11%.

So what does this tell us?

Well, it tells us that, as a party, we have a dependable core vote. The problem is that it is a third of the size of Labour's and a less than half the size of the Conservatives. The highest we ever reached in the polls during the election campaign was 30%. This shows that the potential size of our vote could be very high. But it also means that, if at the moment, we want to win elections, we need to convince 40% of people to vote for us in addition to our core vote. Labour and the Conservatives need only convince 5% and 10% respectively.

As such, it's obvious that the only way we'll ever be able to get beyond third party status is to grow our core vote. The 30% high in the polls shows us the highs to which we could potentially grow our core vote, now all we need is a way to do it.

That topic, incidentally, is the message of a two-part piece of mine that will be appearing on Liberal Democrat Voice starting next Monday. Do look out for it and I'll cross-post a copy on here for my regular readers.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Richard Peppiatt is a f***ing legend

Though I mention it very rarely, one of the defining things about me is my deep contempt for the right-wing tabloids in this country - not for their political viewpoint, but for their hypocrisy, lies and distortion of the truth. If you're not aware of this then I suggest you go and have a brief skim read of this.

To put it bluntly, the right wing tabloids in this country mislead and lie to the public in order to push their own narratives. Now, that wouldn't be so much of an issue were it not for the fact that people die as a result. For example, when the Daily Mail and other tabloid rags claim that the cervical cancer jab is "as deadly as cancer itself" then they're not just being distasteful, they're putting people's lives at risk because some people who read the headline will believe it and then won't get vaccinated and some of them will then die as a result. Of course, you have to remember that this isn't through any ideological, deep-seated belief on behalf of the tabloids - if it was, then why would the Daily Mail in Ireland have been campaigning for the jab to be introduced over there?

Anyway, the point of this blog post is to draw attention to Richard Peppiatti, a former journalist at the Daily Star who eventually quit in disgust at the narrative he was contributing to. But that's not all, when he quit, he also wrote the following letter to Richard Desmond, porn magnate and owned of OK magazine, the Daily Star and the Daily Express.

Here's an extract:
But what brings me here today is those times you dispense with those skewed news values entirely by printing stories which couldn't stand up to a gnat's fart. 
It's those times when you morph from being a newspaper owner into the inventor of a handy product for lining rabbit hutches. While the Daily Star isn't the only paper with a case to answer, I reckon it's certainly the ugliest duckling of an unsightly flock. 
Its endemic lack of self-perception really is something to behold. It only takes a comedian to make an ironic gag about racism and your red top is on hand to whip up a storm, demanding the culprit commit hara-kiri beside Stephen Lawrence's shrine. 
Yet turn the page and Muslims are branded "beardies" or "fanatics", and black-on-black killings ("Bob-slayings", as I've cringingly heard them called in your newsroom) can be resigned to a handful of words, shoehorned beneath a garish advert. 
Outraged, we brand other celebrities sexist, demanding such dinosaurs be castrated on the steps of the Natural History Museum. 
Then with our anger sated it's back to task, arranging the day's news based on the size of the subjects' breasts.
I strongly suggest you go and read the full letter here.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Response from Mr Halfon MP

Today I wrote a blog post describing the MP for Harlow as a moron. I also commented and linked to the blog post in the comment threads under the piece that prompted me to describe Mr Halfon as a moron. He was very kind enough to reply (kudos to him for doing so incidentally as most MPs tend to ignore talking to members of the public other than in scripted encounters):
Dear Mr Potter, thank you for your comments and your blogposting. 
I am sure you will have read yesterday's Hansard. Mr Clegg says he is open to a proportional list system for electing the Lords. 
Best wishes
Robert Halfon
Now, whilst it's very nice to get a response from him (though a retraction would be nice) Mr Halfon is missing the point - something which I notice is a tendency of most MPs when challenged by members of the public.

Mr Halfon described PR as an unsuitable system for the Lords as it would put power in the hands of the "party bosses" who selected the lists. The best response to this is the response made by one Charles Grove who wrote:
There's no requirement that PR involve party lists, and indeed the proposed form of PR (STV) explicitly rejects them, with the winners having an individual vote. The only power 'party political bosses' have is that over who's an approved/selected candidate, which is exactly the same as when he became an approved Conservative candidate, and was selected for his seat for the Commons, and I suspect few people object to parties being able to do. (The alternative is to say that anyone could proclaim themselves under any party label, which would be bizarre, to say the least). 
Even were that not the case, "lists" need no patronage beyond the above, by the use of open lists, such as in Sweden & Finland, where the voter chooses the "list", and where each candidate ranks on it - the "list" again being merely a list of approved candidates. He seems to be equating "PR" with "Closed lists", which is about on a par with saying "We can't use sterling currency, because tuppeny pieces are too heavy and annoying to have in your wallet" - a problem with one tiny subset being used to (logically invalidly) damn the entire concept. 
It's also quite funny that you're proposing run-off elections, having just fought against instant run-off (AV), which is almost exactly the same, albeit without the two week wait.
I have of course replied to Mr Halfon's comment but I think that the above sums up my points far better than I ever could. 

Robert Halfon MP is a moron

Over on ConservativeHome Robert Halfon, the MP for Harlow, is busy displaying his idiocy. He is complaining that using PR for the lords would be replacing one form of patronage with another as it would be up to party officials to decide who was placed where on the party list. Here's what he has to say:
A partially elected Lords, elected by a variant or PR, would simply replace one form of political patronage with another, since party bosses would have an even greater say as to which party member would be on the List. If there has to be a change in the election system - and as yet there has been no justification given - why not move to the Second Ballot System, in which FPTP is retained, but there is a second ballot a few days later for those areas in which a candidate did not get over 50%.
Unfortunately for him, if he had simply read the proposals then he would note that party-list PR (the type used in European elections) is not the proposed system for the Lords. Instead the system to be used is STV. And, as it says in the proposals, STV allows voters to choose between candidates from the same party:
Under STV, voters are invited to rank candidates on the ballot paper in the order in which they would like them to be elected. Under the version of STV proposed, as long as a first preference is indicated the vote will be valid – a voter may simply write “1” next to a candidate. After that voters may express preferences for as many or as few candidates as they wish. Voters would not be required to vote for candidates representing only one party: they would be free to vote across parties and for independent candidates. There would be no option to vote for a party instead of an individual candidate. 
So in fact it's replacing one form of political patronage with a form of democracy.

Given that this MP hasn't even bothered to read the legislation he will be voting on (or, indeed, even read the BBC's summary of the key proposals, which I mentioned in a previous post) then what exactly is the point of him being in parliament? Though if you read his wikipedia page you will also see that he supports the voodoo of homoeopathy so this level of stupidity seems par for the course for him. It all makes me feel sorry for his constituents who are now stuck with him as their representative for the next four years.

Quite frankly, Mr Halfon is a moron who should not be in parliament.

What to call the new House of Lords?

Whilst I doubt that Mr Clegg will read this, I'd like to offer him some advice when it comes to his reforms to the House of Lords. Whilst I think that his plans are very good, that alone will not be enough. A good idea is always a useful thing to have but unfortunately, the key to success in politics is, as I'm sure we all know, good presentation. Good presentation can make even the worst idea seem palatable but bad presentation can destroy even the best ideas. After the defeat of AV, Lords reform is essential if we are to get any significant constitutional changes through at all. But I, for one, am concerned that it will be lost through bad presentation - let's face it, the party leadership hasn't been especially good on presentation lately.

The press are reporting that Nick Clegg wants to introduce a "US-style Senate". Now that right there is the problem. "Senate" does not sound palatable. It sounds foreign and it doesn't sound British. Now, to good liberals such as you and I, that isn't a problem. But to the traditionalists in Labour and the Conservatives, and to a large segment of the public, the name Senate will be an unnecessary problem when it comes to selling the proposed reforms.

Therefore, I'd suggest Nick uses the name House of Peers for the new body. There are a variety of reasons as to why this would be a good idea. For one, it enables us to preserve the terminology of the Houses of Parliament. For another, "peer" is another term for a lord. However, it also means equals, which is exactly the kind of egalitarian spirit we will want in the new chamber. This means that it will sound like a much less radical reform than it is - and as we know, the British electorate have always disliked sudden, radical reforms. A case in point is that, when discussing the subject, I have twice encountered people who opposed to reforming the Lords because of the loss of tradition and cultural heritage associated with it. However, when I idly mooted the idea of calling it the House of Peers, their attitude changed to one of "oh, well that doesn't sound so bad".

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Lords reforms explained

UPDATE: Things have changed somewhat since I wrote this, I've updated it to take account of the changes to the proposed Lords reforms

Here are the key proposals for Lords reform according to the BBC:

  • 300 450 members
  • 80% elected - 20% appointed but with a provision for a fully elected chamber
  • Members to be elected for single 15-year terms under the single transferable vote open list system of proportional representation
  • A third of members to be elected in 2015, a further third in 2020 and 2025
  • Number of bishops to be reduced from 26 to 12
Now, in case anyone's wondering, this is why each element of the proposals came to be.

The 300 450 member limit is intended to reduce costs (which are currently huge) and to ensure a body half the size of the Commons - the latter reason being a matter of principle apparently. The 80% elected component is intended as a compromise in order to make the reforms acceptable to enough people for the proposals to make it through  Houses of Parliament without being voted down. The provision for a 100% elected upper chamber can be seen as what Nick Clegg would like to have in an ideal world and 80% as what he thinks is likely to actually get approved. The 20% of members who are appointed would have to be cross-benchers i.e. people who aren't members of any political party.

The single 15-year terms are to ensure that each member of the upper house will not be dependent on a political party to be re-elected as the single term limit will make them ineligible for re-election. The idea behind this is that it will allow members of the upper chamber to vote according to their consciences as opposed to voting for whatever the party tells them to on pain of de-selection. STV Open list PR is to ensure that the new upper chamber will be elected by proportional representation which means that each party will have the same percentage of seats as it got of votes and should also hopefully mean that no one party will have a majority in the upper chamber thus stopping a government from railroading through its proposals. STV Open list PR also allows voters to pick between candidates from the same party and so will also reduce the influence of political party selection procedures on who gets elected - again reducing members' dependence on the party.

The fifteen year term is tied in to electing the new chamber in thirds. The idea is that the elections to the new chamber will take place at the same time as parliamentary elections and thus members will simultaneously have plenty of time to exercise their experience and so on whilst still ensuring that the public regularly gets its say in who the members are. And if you're going to elect the upper chamber in thirds at the same time as parliamentary elections then you need a fifteen year term for each member. The other reason is that it means that the Lords can't claim to have more democratic legitimacy than the Commons.

Finally the reduction in the number of Bishops is simply proportionate to the reduction in the overall size of the upper chamber.

I hope this explanation helped.

If Labour has any decency they will support the Lords reforms

It's now 14 years since a Labour government was elected after 20 years in the wilderness on a manifesto that promised an elected House of Lords and a referendum on changing the voting system. Despite the failure to fulfil those pledges despite 13 years of power, Labour still retains in its manifesto a commitment to an elected Lords.

So too, funnily enough, do the tories. And the Lib Dems obviously have a commitment to an elected Lords as well which is evidenced by Nick Clegg's just-published proposals for Lords reform.

There are now two options on the table. One is an 80% elected/20% appointed upper chamber with an, as yet, unspecified name. This is the official government proposal. The alternative is one for a 100% elected upper chamber. Both are equally feasible proposals. However, already reactionaries on the tory and Labour benches are champing at the bit to rubbish the proposals in-keeping with their own fucking manifesto promises.

The tories are, obviously opposed because they hate change despite having campaigned on a manifesto that said otherwise. Labour on the other hand is simultaneously officially demanding a referendum on the proposals (i.e. a way to kill them off whilst retaining the appearance of commitment to reform) whilst also allowing dozens of Labour peers to say that the reforms are totally unneeded.

After all, why would we want the lawmakers to be accountable to those subject to the law when we already have a system where unaccountable peers get to decide.

Let me make this absolutely clear. The Lords has the capability to block and introduce legislation. It is composed almost entirely of political appointees and any PM could stuff the Lords with friendly peers if he wanted to. It is a grave constitutional flaw that could be easily exploited by any corrupt government (and didn't we see just that with the "cash for peerages" scandal?)

Lords reform has been talked about for exactly a century. If Labour block these proposals then all they will be doing is betraying their manifesto and the British people. Labour is crucial to getting these proposals passed (and there's still plenty of scope for them to amend the bits they disagree with) so the ball is in their court. If the Labour party genuinely believes in a system of government based on representatives elected by the people, for the people and accountable to the people then they should back these reforms and help end a century of dithering. If they don't then they'll forever tar themselves as just another reactionary part of the establishment.

Lords reform can in fact be seen as a battle for the soul of the Labour party between the genuine progressives and the reactionary, small-c conservatives. I hope for the sake of this country that the progressives win.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Tories ignore petition and increase parking charges

Firstly I'd like to apologise from the lack of recent updates. I've been rather busy with coursework and haven't had time to write much.

Secondly, I'd like to draw your attention to the disgraceful decision by the tory administration on Surrey County Council to reject an online petition 26,289 signatures strong calling for the County Council to abandon their plans for on-street parking. In this vote, surprise surprise, tory councillors who'd previously spoken out against the planned increases in charges suddenly voted against the petition.

I've blogged about the issue of parking charges before and it is incredibly frustrating to see the views of thousands of signatories on the largest petition Surrey has ever seen dismissed so casually by the tories. So, from now on we can all expect to pay 70p for 30 minutes whenever we want to access the town centre. Effing brilliant.

Pictured: people the tories don't think are worth listening to
This means that small businesses and shops will now find it even harder to stay in businesses as customers become fed up with high parking charges and switch to shopping at out of town shopping centres instead. And it doesn't help that the new time limits of 30 minutes will make it impossible to do any shopping other than a quick dash in and out of one or two shops. As I've pointed out previously, 30 minutes is too short to visit more than one or two shops before you have to dash back to move the car. Which of course means that, even if you're willing to pay the new, higher charges, you're still going to be forced to go to out of town shopping centres if you want to spend any time browsing at all.

Of course, the tories claim that these new charges will somehow benefit shops. Apparently this is based on the idea that it'll increase turnover in the parking bays - though how this requires raising the parking charges I simply don't understand. The only people who seem to agree with the claim that the new charges will benefit retailers is the Conservative administration on the council. Everyone else, as the unprecedented size of the petition shows, disagrees.

It's completely crazy. All the tories are doing is hurting local businesses. And when they fold, people will lose their jobs. If the Conservatives really cared about local retailers and jobs then they'd do what other councils have done and introduce free town centre parking, coupled with rigorous enforcement to ensure that people don't abuse it. But of course, the good of town centre economies isn't what the tories are interested in here. All they're interested in is raising a new source of revenue so that they can keep making eye-catching promises about "keeping council tax" down whilst paying for it by fleecing ratepayers in every other way they possibly can.

Now, I don't know about you but I find that pretty disgusting. And hopefully voters will remember this in 2013 when the councillors who voted against the petition come up for re election.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Willetts makes another gaffe

David "Two Brains" Willetts suggested yesterday that wealthy parents should be able to buy extra places at universities for their offspring at the price £28,000 before Cable and Cameron jumped on him and managed to stop the gaffe turning into a PR disaster. You'd think that he might have learned from this but he hasn't. Today he's suggesting that universities should be able to cut their fees during clearing in order to fill all their places. Unfortunately, as the Independent points out:
It raises the prospect of students holding off from accepting places and a mad scramble for the cheapest courses, as universities lower fees to attract students.
It also puts Mr Willetts firmly at odds with the Office for Fair Access (Offa) – the body in charge of regulating university fees – which has written to universities asking them not to reduce their fees in clearing because it might encourage applicants to apply late in the hope of minimising the debt they take on – reducing their chances of being admitted at all.
And this is before you remember that students are meant to apply to student finance on the basis that they know which university they're going to and what fees they have to pay - and this is meant to be done months before clearing begins. Given his gaffe yesterday you'd think that Willetts would have the sense to stay quiet for a while but instead he's suggested another idea which I guarantee Labour and the press will jump on. They'll probably have to get in line though as I imagine all the PR experts at Number 10 will be trying to jump on him first.

As it is, he looks set to seriously destabilise his position. I wouldn't be surprised if he were to go at the next cabinet reshuffle (or at least get a serious ticking off from Cameron) if he keeps this up.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

I support SlutWalks

The Independent has a good piece today about Britain's first SlutWalk which will be taking place next month.
Thousands of provocatively-dressed women are expected to march through London next month when the growing "SlutWalk" phenomenon reaches these shores.

Thousands have taken part in such marches in Canada and the US, after a protest movement was sparked by the comments of a Canadian police officer suggested women should "avoid dressing like sluts" if they wanted to avoid being raped. On SlutWalk London's Facebook page, 3,500 people have already said they will take part in the march from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square on 4 June.
I support them 100%. It's just a shame I'm not eligible to join the protests myself.

There's something deeply wrong with our society when we focus more on what rape victims were wearing than on the rapist. For one thing it's essentially saying to women "Well, if you get raped it was probably your fault because of what you were wearing. If you don't want to get raped then you should dress conservatively all the time". Which is, of course, utterly wrong.

And for another, it's insulting to men and portrays us as some sort of lustful, uncontrollable, violent beasts. Only a small minority of men are rapists (the majority of whom are already known to their victims) and the rest of us are perfectly capable of being around a scantily clad women without raping her. We're not ruled by instinct and it's insulting that there's this view that if a woman dresses scantily then we're somehow unable to control ourselves. I'm not a rapist and I reject the view that the only thing between be and becoming one is a woman in revealing attire. When a rapist rapes someone then it is not the fault of the victim, or of some universal lack of control in men, it's the fault of the rapist. End of.

That's what these SlutWalks are about and they should be applauded.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

We're not here to play the game, we're here to change it

Over on ConservativeHome Andrew Lilico is busy gloating over the AV referendum results. However, I think that what he says is very astute and insightful and actually cuts right to the heart of the matter. This is what he has to say:
I disagree with the Labour Party about many points of detailed policy. Labour wants to spend too much, to regulate too much, it undermines elitism (and hence opportunity), it is captured by destructive equality doctrines, and it is occasionally even incompetent. But Labour is my honourable foe. If Labour wins, that's a pity, but I shake my opponent's hand and say: "Well done, I'll beat you next time." Labour is my opponent, but an opponent I can strive against and live with losing to. 
The Lib Dems, by contrast, are not my opponents but my enemy. The Lib Dems must never, ever win, because victory for the Lib Dems would mean the rules of the game changing. Victory for the Lib Dems would not simply mean some errors of policy that I would need (with some pain for society) to undo in a few years time, and some lost opportunities to implement other improvements. Victory for the Lib Dems constitutes destruction of the system, overthrow, constitutional revolution, the end of the game as I and my Labour foe have come to play it. Lib Dems are not my opponents, and though they might compromise to work with me, I cannot compromise to work with them. I would far, far rather form a coalition with the Labour Party, nationally, than with the Lib Dems.
And, you know what? He's spot on. Us Lib Dems aren't here to play the same old Labour vs Conservative game, we're here to not only change the rules of the game but to shatter the game so that the game itself is unrecognisable.

And the fact that Labour and the Conservatives are content to play the game, is to me, the most obvious problem with the situation this country is in. While politicians are playing games people in this country still face the same problem their grandparents did. In some areas we haven't even improved on the past, instead we've fallen back!

So, here's a toast to the Lib Dems. After all, victory for us "would not simply mean some errors of policy that I would need (with some pain for society) to undo in a few years time, and some lost opportunities to implement other improvements. Victory for the Lib Dems constitutes destruction of the system, overthrow, constitutional revolution, the end of the game as I and my Labour foe have come to play it."

To me, that is all the reason I need to keep fighting for victory. I don't want more of the same, I want a revolution! A revolution of a far more fundamental nature than a mere coup or the execution of a King. I want a revolution in the political, economic and social systems themselves!

So, if you want to be like Andrew and his conservative ilk (which includes about half the Labour party) then consider us your enemy. If, on the other hand, you want to see the entire rotten weight of the establishment come tumbling down, if you want to see a fair, free and open society, and if you want your voice to be heard then unite with us. And by unite I don't mean come and join the party, though you're welcome to if you wish, I mean unite with us in common cause and purpose. The cause of fundamental change in the way this nation is done. Fight for it by voting for us, campaigning for us, campaigning for independent pressure groups or by working to change your own party to share this common goal. A goal of a world turned upside down and where, perhaps, we can finally have the green and pleasant land that so many have fought, suffered and died for throughout our history.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

What now for electoral reform?

The AV result has been a huge blow. There is no doubt that the British public, rightly or wrongly, have rejected AV.

So where do we go from here?

Well, first of all there's the post-mortem. A major blow to our chances of victory was David Cameron deciding to throw the entire weight of the tory party's powerful electoral and fundraising machine behind the No campaign. The decision of the No campaign to engage in deceitful campaigning of the worst kind didn't help either.

However, the biggest problem we faced was the central Yes campaign itself. This campaign started out as a grassroots movement and it should have continued as such. Instead, the central campaign ran an establishment campaign, failed to get the key messages across, failed to organise and failed to listen to the people on the ground who knew best. Rupert Read has a good piece explaining some of the key problems with the Yes campaign but here are some examples.
  1. The initial failure to provide a way for spontaneously formed local groups to contact the central campaign.
  2. The failure to connect everyone on the mailing lists with their local groups.
  3. The obsessive focus on the phonebanking.
  4. The failure to find a way to put on leaflets decent message or a simple way to explain AV and the subsequent result that several Yes campaigners (myself included) ended up designing our own leaflets. 
  5. The failure to properly organise media relations with the result that poorly briefed politicians became the faces of the Yes campaign.
  6. The failure to listen to the grassroots when we warned them that their message wasn't working - well, I say that, but they did finally listen to us at the start of the last week with the result that we finally got a decent campaign broadcast. 
  7. The failure to successfully attack the failures of FPTP. 
  8. The failure to provide the grassroots with necessary support - for example, we originally asked repeatedly for a Yes march to be organised in London for the last month. This was ignored with the result that an unofficial flashmob was organised to take place in Trafalgar Square - if they Yes campaign had simply sent an email about it out to everyone then we'd have had huge numbers attend. Instead they decided to back it only the evening before it took place with the result that the media turned up to what was now an official event only to find that a few dozen people were there as most activists had received the news too late for them to be able to attend.
  9. The failure to use the free mailshot. It was obvious that we would not have the resources or time to deliver to every home by hand and yet the campaign failed to save the money needed to finance something that would have given us a chance to speak directly to everyone in the country.
  10. But, above all, the failure to make use of our energetic and motivated base by running a grassroots campaign. Instead the Yes campaign ran a traditional, top-down campaign and it is this failure, more than anything else, that led to our defeat.
However, the media should not be allowed to wriggle off the hook on this. They failed utterly in this referendum. They failed to properly explain the referendum to the public and they behaved in an unforgivable fashion by merely repeating the claims of each side instead of conducting a proper analysis of the facts of the matter. Antony Green showed how this should have been done in his excellent analysis blog. By failing to do so the media let the electorate down by denying them the resources to make an informed decision.

This failure by the media, coupled by the failure of the Yes campaign is what led to the loss of the referendum.

So what next? Well, there are already rumours that Cameron intends to block Lords reform. We former Yes campaigners should make pushing for these reforms to go ahead our immediate priority. The introduction of a democratically elected Lords using a form of PR would achieve two things.

Firstly it would finally fix the immensely undemocratic situation where unelected peers can frustrate the will of a democratically elected Commons. Secondly, it would allow people in England to become used to a form of PR. PR is a fundamentally sensible and fair system and the familiarity of constant use would let the electorate see this, making the ultimate goal of a proportionally elected commons that much easier to reach. This is why it is essential that Lords reform does go through. This is why it must be our first priority.

After that we can begin the fight for PR for the Commons. The bottom line is this:

The public have rejected AV but they have not rejected PR. The problem with AV was that it was a compromise - and compromises are vulnerable to attack by people from both sides of the debate. Instead we will have to work towards pure PR or nothing. Already some people are trying to spin the referendum result as an endorsement of FPTP - it isn't. If it was then why did I encounter so many people who said that they would vote for PR but not AV? Why else did No2AV sponsor No2AV-Yes2PR?

This battle is not over, not by a long shot. Every major reform in British history has been defeated in its original form. We need to have the patience, determination, skill and drive to ensure that AV becomes just a minor defeat in a much bigger war which we win.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Guildford borough council results

I got up at half five in the morning on thursday after five hours sleep to spend fifteen hours pounding the streets, knocking on doors and ringing up people to remind them to vote. Some party members in my area did even more and on far less sleep.

Today I attended the count at the Spectrum leisure centre from 9.30am.

Here are the results:

Conservative: 34
Liberal Democrat: 12
Labour: 2

Prior to the elections we had 21 seats and the tories had 27.

The counting lasted for 12 hours.

Today was a very bad day. We went in hoping to gain an additional four seats and left having lost several very good councillors. In Onslow, the ward where I live, we lost Chris Ward to Adrian Chandler for the Conservatives. Like many other losses in these elections this was undeserved. Chris was an excellent councillor and worked hard for all sections of the community. In particular in Onslow I was disappointed by the low student turnout. Chris was, without a doubt, the best friend on the council that students at the university have ever had. It is a crushing blow to lose such a good man and I sincerely hope that he remains in politics despite this defeat.

We failed to gain our target seats and, thanks mainly to a low turnout and a loss of Lib Dem voters, we now have a Tory council with a rock solid majority. The people of Guildford voted and they got the council they deserve. I'm afraid that they might well come to regret it. I imagine that, despite my hopes otherwise, the next four years will not be pleasant - particularly for the most vulnerable in Guildford.

The biggest blow we have suffered is the loss of Cllr Fiona White who was our group leader on the borough council. She lost to a Labour candidate and, though our other two candidates in Westborough were elected, Fiona sadly wasn't.

Fiona is a brilliant woman. I have known her only a short while but I could not be more impressed with her resolve or her determination. She kept a brave face despite everything and it was utterly heartbreaking to see her lose her seat.

I'm not going to let anyone ever tell me again that politicians are out of touch, all the same, lazy or self-serving. If you had been there at the count and witnessed the reactions of our candidates then you'd understand why. For many of them, their first concern on losing was for the people in their seats and that the new councillors would do the job properly. Fiona White was no exception. I pity the man who beat her as Fiona will be watching him every step of the way and I have no doubt that she'll be ready to tear him to pieces if he neglects Westborough for even one second.

Today has been very depressing. Up and down the country excellent councillors have lost their seats due purely to national circumstances. In places like Sheffield and Hull excellent council administrations have undeservedly lost through no fault of their own. I sincerely hope that the new councils and councillors do as good a job as their predecessors did but I fear that they won't.

One final thing I will leave you is that I will never forgive Clegg for this. Not for the Coalition, not for breaking the pledge on tuition fees and  not for losing the referendum but for his failure as a leader to properly present what is happening to minimise the damage. Some losses were inevitable but losses on this scale were entirely preventable. I will never forgive Clegg for putting me in the situation of seeing good men and women, excellent councillors and candidates all, in tears at the stress and the blow of the results.

I'm not going to play up to the media's predictable comments of "mounting pressure for a leadership challenge" (pressure which comes almost entirely from them, I might add). I do not think that Clegg should resign or face a leadership challenge. To pull out of the coalition now would be the most disastrous thing to do - both for the country and the party. And I'm quite sure that all the supposed "contenders" for the leadership have the good sense to see the same.

However, Clegg does not deserve to be leader after 2015. He does not deserve to lead us into the next general election. I don't care whether he jumps or is pushed or is stabbed in the back but Clegg must go in 2015. Even if it means the sacrifice of my own political career, I will not let Clegg lead us into the 2015 general election without doing all I can to stop it.

I'm going to go to bed now and then tomorrow I will get up, go to our AGM and begin planning how to wipe the board with the tories and with Labour at the next council elections. For now though, my legs, eyes and throat are killing me so I'm going to finish this post.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

No2AV admit lying

David Blunkett - the man who fronted the No campaigns latest broadcast - has admitted that the £250 million figure that they claimed would be the cost of AV is a lie.

http://tinyurl. com/ 5sq2p9r

Don't let them get away with trying to mislead the public - vote YES today.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Official: Ian Tomlinson unlawfully killed

An inquest into the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 summit in 2009 has given the verdict that he was unlawfully killed.

The jury was not permitted to name the police officer who killed him but it is public knowledge that he was PC Simon Harwood - who escaped prosecution and is still a member of the police force.

Here's what the jury said about Tomlinson's death:
Mr Tomlinson was on his way home from work on the 1st of April 2009 during the G20 demonstration. He was fatally injured at around 19.20pm on Royal Exchange Buildings ... This was the result of a baton strike from behind and a push by the officer which caused Ian Tomlinson to fall heavily. 
The jury said both the baton strike and the push were "unreasonable". 
"As a result, Mr Tomlinson suffered internal bleeding which led to his collapse within a few minutes and his subsequent death." The jury decided that at the time of the strike and push Tomlinson was was walking away from the officer and "posed no threat".
So, whilst this verdict will no doubt come as a relief to Ian Tomlinson's family, the real story here is that PC Simon Harwood killed an innocent man who posed no threat to him. As we all know, the police then tried to cover this up - for example, they claimed that they were unable to provide him with medical treatment because protesters threw a hail of stones at them. The only problem with that claim was that a video later emerged showing that, after Ian was struck by the police officer, the police ignored him and it was only the protesters who went to his aid - protesters, incidentally, who weren't throwing anything at all.

Here's how the police originally announced the incident:
A member of the public went to a police officer on a cordon in Birchin Lane, junction with Cornhill to say that there was a man who had collapsed round the corner. 
That officer sent two police medics through the cordon line and into St Michaels Alley where they found a man who had stopped breathing. They called for LAS support at about 1930.
The officers gave him an initial check and cleared his airway before moving him back behind the cordon line to a clear area outside the Royal Exchange Building where they gave him CPR. 
The officers took the decision to move him as during this time a number of missiles—believed to be bottles—were being thrown at them. 
LAS [London Ambulance Service] took the man to hospital where he was pronounced dead. 
And of course there was then the initial coroner's report which said he had died of a heart attack - the same coroner who had already provided incorrect verdicts in two previous cases and whose verdict was contradicted by all the other coroners to look at Tomlinson's body.

And please let's not forget the attempted hatchet job by newspapers friendly to the Met who immediately painted Ian as a homeless drunk - as if that made his death somehow less important.

So, let me put it bluntly. PC Harwood - an officer who had previously been investigated twice for violent incidents - killed an innocent man and the Met let him get away with it. PC Harwood is still on the force and has suffered no consequences for murdering another human being.

PC Simon Harwood - remember the face of a killer

Perhaps now justice will be done - but I doubt it.

David Cameron and the No campaign are liars

I'm afraid I am now quite pissed off with the No campaign for its constant lying and with the media for not pulling them up on it.

So here's a list of lies from the No campaign which have been repeated by the Prime Minister.

  • AV will cost £250million - LIE. This figure is based on including both the cost of the referendum (which would be spent no matter the result) and vote counting machines which both the Electoral Commission and the Government have confirmed will not be introduced.
  • AV is not "One person, one vote" - LIE. The US Supreme Court, the Political Studies Association and all relevant experts on electoral systems have confirmed that AV is still one person one vote.
  • AV will help the BNP - LIE. The BNP are campaigning against AV precisely because AV is the strongest anti-extremist system - at the moment the BNP get councillors elected with 24% of the vote, under AV they'd need 50%.
  • AV will lead to constant coalition government - LIE. Australia has had AV for 90 years and has only had two coalitions whilst in the same time period we have had four. In any event, hung parliaments are becoming more likely under FPTP already so all AV would do is make sure that the hung parliaments which do occur are ones in which the majority of the country had an MP they voted for - instead of a third of people which is what we have at the moment.
So, if on the 5th of May you want the No campaign to regret lying to and trying to deceive the British people, if you want David Cameron to regret acting like a duplicitous snake, then vote YES and give yourself a better democracy.

Sneak preview of AV referendum broadcast

I am proud to present a sneak preview of tonight's AV referendum broadcast:

The video really speaks for itself and I'm pleased to see that the campaign has finally got the message spot on.

Broadcast times are as follows:

  • 17.55 - BBC 2
  • 18.25 - ITV 1
  • 18.55 - BBC 1
  • 19.25 - Five
  • 19.50 - Channel 4

Sunday, 1 May 2011

What do Liberal Democrats stand for?

As Matthew Gibson points out the main problem that Lib Dems have is that only about 11% of people agree that the Lib Dems' vision for society matches their own. The rest of our support just comes from people supporting us on a policy by policy basis - such as tuition fees - without being interested in backing us long term.

So, here's what I see the Liberal Democrat vision for society as:

Liberal Democrats believe in a fair society. One where people can rise and fall on their own merit - where everyone is afforded equal opportunities regardless of race, creed, sexuality, gender or wealth. One where everyone is educated according to their ability and desires. One where first rate education is available to all - not just the wealthy. A society where the state exists only to provide a helping hand and level the playing field where required - not to interfere where it's not needed. One where communities are given the tools to take charge of their own lives and local services - to run them as best suits their needs instead of the dictatorial tickboxes of an authoritarian, centralised and faceless bureaucracy. A society where people are free to live their lives without interference - where live and let live is the fundamental rule - and where the state exists as a defender of liberties and freedoms - not to trample on them.

A society where poverty is abolished. A society where a child from the poorest family has the same chances as a child from the wealthiest. A society where even the most disadvantaged are afforded a decent standard of living.

And, above all, we believe in freedom. We believe in freedom from the triple evils of poverty, ignorance and conformity and we exist solely to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society for all.