Jan 042010
 

Apart from his stupid name, the first thing I really learned about Ed Bollocks is that his modi operandi are, primarily, lying and intimidation. Which tactic is he employing in his most recent Guardian piece, I wonder?

True Statements:

The Tories and their media friends want the election to be a referendum on the government.

That’s what an election is, no? That’s certainly what Labour wanted the elections in 1997, 2001, and 2005 to be: first, a referendum on the Conservative government (which many people hated), and then a referendum on the succeeding Labour governments (which Balls and the rest of his party claimed had been so successful that there was no need for change). Is it really necessary to cry foul now?

[The Tories] don’t want any scrutiny of their policies and they don’t want the election to be a choice.

Of course. None of the main parties wants any scrutiny or choice. That’s why they’re all working so hard to pump out the blanket statements, bland platitudes, and vague reassurances (as we shall see in the rest of Balls’s piece).

False Statements:

That’s why [the Tories] dismiss talk of policy differences or dividing lines as “false”, “partisan” or, ludicrously, as “class war”.

But it’s only in the last few weeks that the Tories have called this “class war” in a bid to stop any scrutiny of their policies.

Oh – so it was the Tories who came up with this ‘class war’ movement? Not to mention I have trouble imagining the Tories really want to publicise their policies as not being different from Labour’s and not as dividing lines. This statement is rubbish.

And, while the leaders’ TV debates will inevitably draw the attention, I hope we will see the cabinet and shadow cabinet debating too.

I bet this is the last thing Balls hopes for, if for no other reason than that he is supremely un-telegenic.

Now, as in 1997, our education policy is driven by the core New Labour idea of opportunity and aspiration for all, not just some; improving standards and expanding opportunity in every school, not just a handful in each area.

Balls to that one, too.

[The Tories’] proposal is that, regardless of local need, those parents with time on their hands should be given taxpayers’ money to set up and run a new school for their children, including those now in private schools.

Misrepresentation. From what I understand, their proposal is that, actually, anybody with ‘time on their hands’ could set up and run a new school – meaningfully, this includes teachers, who not only know how to do such a thing better than random parents, but many of whom would also love the chance to free themselves from the shackles of state-school regulations, paperwork, and bureaucratic oversight. Many private-school teachers would jump at the opportunity, too.

Hyperbole:

And this year, Britain faces the starkest choice for decades – on the economy, public services and our relations with Europe.

Sure, sure. Every election is the starkest choice for decades, every election is the most important since the last big crisis. And yet some party or other wins every election, and shit always happens, and we always need another election. Give this overblown idea a rest.

Tory education policy is an elaborate con trick on millions of parents and pupils. Just like the Tory assisted places scheme, or the “pupil passport” proposed by Cameron in 2005, they want to take resources from the many to fund the education of a few.

Yes, that’s exactly what the Tories want to do! Screw 90% of the electorate; they’re only out to help the richest decile! Because, obviously, that’s a great strategy for winning elections. Seriously, what is this man on? And why does he imagine it’s perfectly fine for the minority (whatever kind of minority) to suffer for the good of the majority?

Oh yeah – because that’s the political philosophy his ‘core’ supporters cherish:

This, after all, is the tragedy of political decision-making: sometimes some people just have to lose and it’s up to the political decision-maker to choose which.

All politics is struggle and conflict; the sacrificing of some values and people in favour of those you prefer.

Nonsense:

Do we guarantee one-to-one tuition for children falling behind, and education and training up to 18 for all young people? Do we stop treating vocational qualifications as second class? Do we give parents more information on how local schools are performing by introducing new school report cards?

With a national shortage of teachers, the barriers to entry into the teaching profession being raised ever higher, and powerful teachers’ unions, where is the country going to find one-to-one tutors and teachers to guarantee a further two years of education to everybody? How is the country going to pay such people? How will the government force employers to consider vocational qualifications as ‘first class’? In what way is a ‘school report card’ different from a league table? How is such a thing going to make one bit of difference when most parents can’t choose their child’s school anyway? Labour have not considered these questions; these policies are plainly unfeasible.

But we would never forgive ourselves if we allowed the Tories to emerge from [the election] claiming by default a mandate for their policies to wreck our economic recovery and frontline public services.

Actually, I think the Labour party would adore to lose the next election, and see the Conservatives reap the unpopularity from the disaster Labour have sown. They will crow as the country falls to ruin and blame it entirely on Tory policy. They will campaign in four years’ time as the party who presided over boom and prosperity, hoping that everyone forgets they caused the national budget collapse, and they will absolve themselves of all responsibility for whatever pain and austerity the British people face over the course of the next five years.

Our country faces hugely important choices. And on education, the Tories have made theirs: to pursue a reckless free market experiment with the state system, and to cut the frontline schools budgets relied on by millions to give an inheritance tax cut to the wealthiest few.

Ah, all the evil keywords: reckless, free market, cut the frontline, tax cut, wealthiest few. Yes, the Tories’ Swedish plan is a reckless experiment that has worked so poorly in Sweden that, if we were to try it here, we’d have to cut inheritance tax and favour the wealthy few over the ‘millions’ of poor.

The sad thing is, Balls doesn’t seem to realise that, after twelve years of Labour education and redistribution policy, many people are still poorly educated, and most people are still ‘poor’ (i.e. not rich). Nobody was talking about one-to-one tuition twelve years ago, because there weren’t that many pupils falling behind. Nobody was talking about extending education for a further two years, because 16-year-old school leavers could still get jobs. Nobody was talking about school report cards, because parents weren’t so dreadfully dissatisfied with their local state schools. And now these things are on Ed Balls’s to-do list, not because schools have got so much better under Labour, but because they’ve got so much worse.

He says Tory policy won’t work; fair enough, maybe it won’t. But Labour policy is trying to mend the giant rents they themselves have made since 1997. And that’s not exactly a great advertisement for the Labour party.

Dec 082009
 

As some of you may remember, I have had tremendous difficulties navigating my way through the UK Border Agency’s Byzantine bureaucracy in my attempts to maintain settlement here this year.

First, I was told in February that, because of the change in immigration laws, I would no longer qualify for renewal of my sponsored work permit. Teaching had been classed as a shortage occupation, obviating the need for employer-sponsors to justify hiring non-EU employees. After the change in laws, this applied only to teachers of maths and sciences – and, as a result, my school informed me they would not be able to continue employing me after my work permit expired.

Second, I decided to apply for a Tier 1 (Highly Skilled Migrant) permit, which would not be tethered to a particular job or employer. The application was tremendously complex, involving 50 pages of guidance notes, the provision of innumerable documents proving my recent earnings, educational attainments, mastery of the English language, maintenance of funds, and an £820 ‘processing fee.’ The endeavour was so complex that I had to call the Immigration Enquiries Bureau to clarify that I was doing it correctly.

Meanwhile, in the hope that I would receive this Tier 1 permit, I applied for a job at a different school and was offered the position.

I finally submitted the application in May; at the beginning of June, it was returned, marked ‘Refused,’ because, as it happened, the Immigration Enquiries Bureau didn’t know what they were talking about. When I rang them again, the same day I received the refusal notice, to clarify the same point that had resulted in refusal, they gave me the same incorrect information.

I wrote a pleading letter to the UKBA asking for reconsideration, and a pleading letter to my MP asking for advisement. My MP replied quite quickly to tell me he had taken the matter straight to Alan Johnson, the then-new Home Secretary. UKBA…didn’t reply at all.

Meanwhile, I contacted the new school where I was to start work in September and asked them to pursue a sponsored work permit. They told me they’d have to rescind the contract we’d signed and re-advertise the position in order to prove there were no qualified British/EU applicants.

At the beginning of July, my MP forwarded on to me a letter he had received from the Deputy Chief Director of UKBA. The DCD and his caseworkers had, according to the letter, reviewed my case and decided to stand by the original refusal. The same day I received this communication, the new school wrote to inform me that, alas, there were many qualified British/EU applicants for my position, and they were going to have to hire one of them instead of me. So, no sponsored work permit would be forthcoming (as I had suspected would be the case anyway).

Devastated and facing ‘voluntary repatriation,’ I travelled to the US for a week for a friend’s wedding. Upon re-entry to the UK at Heathrow, I was detained by the immigration officials, even though I had done nothing illegal and my work permit was not due to expire for another 28 days. Their justification for detaining me, they said, was that I might overstay my visa at some point in the future. They could also see, on their passport database, they the Tier 1 permit I’d applied for had been refused; but as their database didn’t tell them the circumstances of that refusal, I looked doubly suspicious to them. Since, however, they could not get away with further detaining me or deporting me, given they had no evidence of actual wrong-doing, I was allowed back into the country.

Which I then left again, almost immediately, with DK to get married in Cyprus. When we returned, the border agent seemed inclined to detain me again and questioned me pretty searchingly, but ultimately decided not to make an example of me.

At that point – with 4 days remaining on my work permit – I applied for a spousal visa, at a cost of producing more innumerable proofs of probity and a £465 ‘processing fee.’

Some weeks later, I received a letter commanding me to present myself for biometric enrolment – a condition of evaluating a spousal visa application. As I should have expected given their laughable identity management, the biometric enrolment officers were unable to tell me what would be done with my fingerprints and facial scans should my visa application be refused (again).

Here’s the new part – the shameful, jaw-droppingly incredible part – of the story.

Nothing further took place until mid-November, when I received, out of the blue, an email from the Tier 1 office which said:

Thank you for your letter of 5th June 2009 asking for a reconsideration of the decision to refuse your/your client’s leave application under Tier 1 (General) of the Points Based System.

Please accept our apologies for the delay in responding to your letter.

Due to you receiving the incorrect advice from the Immigration Enquiry Bureau I am exceptionally able to accept additional evidence to support your claim for previous earnings and will reassess your Tier 1 (General) application.

This, then, was the response to the pleading letter I’d written to the UKBA five months beforehand; and here it was also coming four months after my case had been reviewed at the special request of my MP and definitely refused by the Deputy Chief Director himself. What, I wondered, is all of this?

I sent along the additional evidence, of course, with a curious question about why the DCD had changed his mind. This was the UKBA’s reply:

Having spoken to Managers and checked our system we are unable to find any record of the MP’s correspondence or your application being reviewed.

Therefore, can you please send me the following documents:-

********** to cover the period stated in my previous email
Your passport
Copy of the MP’s correspondence you received.

Um, what? No record of my MP’s correspondence? So I posted my copies of those letters along, too.

Less than a week later, another email from the UKBA:

I can confirm that we will be overturning our initial refusal decision as I have sufficient evidence to award points for previous earnings.

As soon as I have received your passport I will ensure your leave is endorsed ASAP.

As you Tier 1 (General) application is now a grant what would you like to do regarding your spousal visa application. If you are no longer wishing to continue with the spousal visa application please let me know and I will arrange for the application to be withdrawn and the relevant fee refunded to you.

Result! I get the Tier 1 permit after all (only costing me £820, seven months of stress and anxiety, one job, and to date loss of four months’ earnings) and a refund for the spousal visa application! And yet, what about this correspondence of which there is no record?

The MP’s letter does state that someone has reviewed your application and decided to uphold the initial decision. However, having discussed your case with my Manager and the department who deal with MP’s
correspondence we could find no record of the response you received. It appears that its an administration error in the fact that this letter or the review haven’t been logged on the system. I am currently taking this forward with the relevant department.

Okay, so… neither the letter my MP wrote, nor the review it resulted in, nor the response he received from the DCD were logged into the system. Because of ‘administration error.’

Riiiiiiiight.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s worked out well for me. The visa itself arrived, shiny in my passport, last Friday. (That the visa is now firmly in my sticky paws is the reason I feel able to describe the climax and denouement of this whole sorry business.) But I can’t help suspecting that the complete absence of any kind of record of my MP’s involvement means something vaguely dodgy has gone on.

The MP in question is a well-thought-of guy, clean on expenses, and generally praised as being a model of integrity (as much as a politician can be such a thing). I doubt very much that he fabricated a review that never took place and forged a letter from the Deputy Chief Director of the UK Border Agency. Which leaves me wondering: did the DCD, or his minions, bullshit my MP? Because it mos def looks that way from where I’m sitting. And I’m certainly wondering if I should contact him again and tell him all of this. I imagine he’d like to know.

Especially given what Phil Woolas has been shooting his fucking mouth off about today: £295,000 in bonuses for UKBA senior officials! I wonder if the Deputy Chief Director and his non-existent reviews administration errors will be receiving some of that money.

Mr Woolas told presenter John Humphreys: ”I think the UK Border Agency should be praised – they are very brave men and women who protect our borders and they are getting on top of the situation.

”The chair of the (Home Affairs) Select Committee has said we are not yet fit for purpose and I’m defending my staff who put their lives on the line for us.”

Yeah, okay. Whatever. The UK Border Agency is a clusterfuck of gargantuan proportions and its officials patently couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery. And Phil Woolas is a colossal asshole who should be first against the wall when the revolution comes.

And for the record, I still don’t know what’s happened to my fingerprints and facial scans…

Nov 042009
 

In the words of David Osler:

This place is poor; in your face, 40% below the poverty line, smack addicts congregating in the shopping centre, poor.

Things have pretty much always been that way, of course. One hundred years ago, Springburn was the site of the largest workhouse in Scotland. A century of progress later, and levels of deprivation remain among the highest not just in Britain, but come near the top of the table for western Europe as a whole. It never got noticeably better at any point in between, either.

The constituency goes to the polls in a by-election in two weeks’ time, and normally the result would not be in any doubt. The seat and its predecessor have effectively been Labour non-stop since 1935, and may well stay that way…

A century ago, Glasgow NE was gut-wrenchingly poor. After 75 years of ‘non-stop’ Labour representation, the area is…still gut-wrenchingly poor. In fact, it’s never become ‘noticeably better.’

Oops.

Oct 302009
 

They really can’t help themselves. Every goddamn thing this government proves even further that they’re not only unfit for office, some of them are unfit to live.

Alan Johnson has sacked Prof. David Nutt, head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

This advisory body is supposed to provide the government with the scientific data it needs to inform its drugs policy. So why has Prof. Nutt been sacked? He hasn’t been providing data that matches what the Home Office wants its policy to be.

Earlier this week Prof Nutt used a lecture at King’s College, London, to attack what he called the “artificial” separation of alcohol and tobacco from illegal drugs.

The professor said smoking cannabis created only a “relatively small risk” of psychotic illness, and claimed those who advocated moving ecstasy into Class B had “won the intellectual argument”.

This didn’t jive with Alan Johnson’s policy-based evidence making*:

In a letter, the home secretary wrote: “I cannot have public confusion between scientific advice and policy and have therefore lost confidence in your ability to advise me as Chair of the ACMD.

“I would therefore ask you to step down from the Council with immediate effect.”

Prof. David Nutt: This is reality, minister. Let me show you it.
Alan Johnson: No! That’s not how I want reality to be! [throws toys out of pram]

Cunts.

*H/T the Heresiarch, where I read this term first. It’s great.

Oct 212009
 

It seems I’m not the only one who understands Peter Hain’s reluctance to appear on Question Time with Nick Griffin. As I said moons ago, the only thing that differentiates the BNP from the ‘social justice’ platforms of the three main parties is its racism.

Richard Littlejohn agrees:

Interviewing the shifty and unsavoury Griffin was like trying to nail jelly to a wall. We went through his ‘manifesto’ point by point.

There was little in it which couldn’t have been espoused by any of the main parties.

His law and order policies, for instance, were straight out of the David Blunkett song book.

He was against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, just like the Liberals. The Tories and UKIP were both promising to repatriate powers from Brussels.

I put it to Griffin that what set the BNP apart was the large elephant not in the manifesto, namely that it is the ‘Wogs Out’ party.

Even when I confronted him with the incontrovertible evidence in chapter and verse, he shrugged and shuffled, mouthed a few platitudes and that was about it. I may have pressed him again on the overtly racist appeal of the BNP, but it didn’t achieve anything.

Needless to say, I shall be watching Question Time tomorrow night with great amusement. I’ve even stuck a reminder to myself on the television set so that I don’t forget.

H/T Obo the Clown.

Sep 272009
 

A piece by Simon Jenkins on Comment is Free got me thinking this evening about third-party voting and why (or why not) people might engage in it. Jenkins’s essay is a particularly interesting example of this political question, because he essentially demands the existence of a third party he would not actually vote for, but which he would expect other people to vote for, so as to create some sort of actual choice in what is currently, for all intents and purposes, a two-party system:

I want a Liberal party, a proper one. I might not vote for it, but I would like one around: a party that believes unashamedly in the supremacy of the individual, whose freedoms are protected by government against government, in personal risk and identity, in a safety-net welfare not an all-encompassing one.

His problem is, of course, that the Liberal Democrats do not truly present a third alternative, sharing, as they do, many policies with Labour and the Conservatives.

Clegg trooped yesterday to the Liberty fringe at Bournemouth, to preach his opposition to ID cards, control orders and detention without trial. But the Tories also oppose these.

The party is a fair-weather friend to personal freedom. It has not been protesting at the responsibility-sapping inanities of health and safety laws. It does not campaign in defence of church ladders, the right to swim, or the freedom to photograph children. It is in favour of those most useless of nanny state inventions – asbos – and even wants them supplemented by “acceptable behaviour contracts” between state and parents.

The party is nowhere on the classic libertarian agenda, let alone an anarchist one. It does not oppose seat belt and helmet laws, or support risk thresholds, naked streets and shared space. I can find no sign of opposition to stringent planning. The party appears in favour of enforcing wind turbines. It cheers on each health scare, from foot-and-mouth to swine flu, as if it were a slave to the beef lobby or the pharmaceuticals industry. It never pleads the cause of letting people look after themselves. To Nick Clegg, “something” must always be done.

Today’s Liberal Democrats are yesterday’s collectivists ill-disguised: witness their grimly uncritical support for regional government and for ever greater European integration.

Jenkins wishes, instead, that there were a party that

…would champion smallness in everything. It would back families against neighbourhoods, neighbourhoods against councils, councils against regions, regions against Whitehall and Whitehall against Brussels. It would stage a bonfire of controls and regulations. Smallness and autonomy are the only guarantees of personal and institutional freedom, with a commensurate rise in responsibility.

However, let us remind ourselves that he asserts initially, ‘I might not vote for it, but I would like one around‘.

Some of the commenters point out to him the existence of LPUK and UKIP, all to the good.

But I find myself instead asking, ‘What is the point of wishing for the existence of a party you expect other people to vote for, but would not vote for yourself?’ He wants a true opposition party to exist, but is not willing himself to take the electoral risk that would allow such a party to gain momentum or a more powerful voice.

This is a classic example of the Prisoner’s Dilemma that crops up in the present electoral system. In Britain, what we have is Duverger’s principle illustrated on a massive scale: our single-member district plurality system means that two parties dominate, and a vote for a preferred third party often translates into a vote for the least preferred of the two major parties. This principle was all over the news in the US in 1992 (when people who voted for Ross Perot were accused of thereby diminishing the Republican vote count) and again in 2000 (when people who voted for Ralph Nader were accused of thereby diminishing the Democratic vote count).

In this sort of electoral system, it is not rational for an individual to vote for his first preference if it is a third party, simply because he perceives that doing so will hamper the chances of his second choice winning, and therefore contribute to the victory of his least preferred party – i.e., ‘If I vote for the Lib Dems, it will take away a vote for Labour, allowing the evil Tories to win.’ If most potential third-party voters make this rational decision, the third party will not win, but neither will the least preferred party – meaning that most potential third-party voters end up casting their ballot for their second choice, the compromise between the party they prefer and the party they despise.

The only way to avoid this, as the Prisoner’s Dilemma illustrates, is if potential third-party voters unanimously agree to cooperate and vote for that third party. Only with unanimous cooperation can they hope to achieve their desired outcome, rather than a least-worst compromise. This outcome almost never happens, however, precisely because of people like Simon Jenkins; if one person defects, the most rational decision for everyone else is to defect, too. It is one of those curious instances wherein rational action produces a less favourable outcome.

If this is rational action, then, how can libertarians – who are almost all potential third-party voters – overcome the electoral dilemma?

Since unanimous cooperation is not impossible, we could certainly try to create a voting bloc in which everyone promises to vote for the preferred third party. Assuming everyone followed through on his promise, such a plan could work. On the other hand, what if the number of unanimous voters is still not large enough to put the third party into power? If that were the case, it would again become more rational to defect, since even unanimous cooperation would not result in the preferred outcome. The only way to overcome this problem, then, would be to ascertain before balloting the number of potential third-party voters who might be persuaded to cooperate.

This is why PR finds so many advocates amongst potential third-party voters. Not only does it allow us to know how many people prefer the third party as their first choice, it protects that (presumed) minority from seeing their vote metamorphose into an advantage for their least preferred choice. The critique I hear levelled most often against PR is that it rarely returns a legislature with a clear majority party – often it results in coalition governments. There is something to be said in favour of coalition governments, however: quite often they are unable to accomplish much, which for a minarchist is no bad thing. But that, ultimately, is still the least-worst compromise: what a voter implicitly wants is for the party he votes for to hold a majority. I do not want a coalition government that does comparatively little; I want a libertarian-majority government that does practically nothing at all.

The electoral Prisoner’s Dilemma is something that I would guess all non-centrists bemoan; it is very difficult to achieve unanimous cooperation, and even if you could, it might still fail to deliver the preferred outcome. What, then, can we do?

James Hanley, at Positive Liberty, gets right to what I think is the heart of the matter: the single vote with which we are endowed in populous countries is, statistically, ineffective. In that case, then, ‘winning’ can no longer take priority of place in our decision-making process. The secondary value of voting is to exercise our democratic power in what is, essentially, the only mechanism left to us as individuals for doing so. It is only by voting for our first preference that we actually fulfill the democratic function of the individual:

There is one final critique of Scott’s argument that, on a personal level, I can’t ignore.

Otherwise, the voter truly misses out on democracy; he is merely a statistical deviation, instead of being part of a current of public opinion… Your argument is…potentially damaging to the notion of democracy.

I admit that I just don’t get this. I can’t make the same kind of definitive technical argument I have above, as we’re in much fuzzier territory here, but it strikes me as being a very collectivist notion of democracy. If I vote Libertarian because that is my true preference, how am I missing out on democracy? I get the point that I am a statistical deviation – .32% of voters cast votes for the Libertarian candidate in the 2004 presidential election, so it’s accurate to call us deviants, from a statistical perspective at least – but I did vote, and I did engage in argumentation and debate about the candidates, so it seems to me that I didn’t miss out on democracy at all, but was quite engaged in practicing it. And how an individual following their conscience and casting a statistically insignificant vote could endanger democracy is, to me, wholly unfathomable.

It seems a strangely collectivist notion of democracy, in which the individual is only a real participant if he sublimates his own beliefs and desires and joins in with one of the prevailing mass movements. And that, it seems to me, is the greater danger to democracy, because then we can demand that people set their conscience aside, that they do not oppose the mass but surrender themselves to it. We then end up with a Roussean society, which requires

…the total alienation by each associate of himself and all his rights to the whole community [and] since the alienation is unconditional, the union is as perfect as it can be, and no individual has any longer any rights to claim. (The Social Contract, Ch. 6.)

I am not accusing Scott of advocating that, as nothing in his post suggests that’s what he meant. But it seems to me to be the necessary conclusion of his premise, that the individual is not participating in democracy if they are not persuaded to join a major voting bloc.

Whether it is rational for an individual to vote third party and whether it is democratically legitimate to do so are very separate questions. The answer to the first is a clear “yes,” but the answer to the second depends on our understandings of democracy. My understanding of democracy is that it is a constraint on the state (or at least more likely to constrain the state than is autarchy), and that it constrains the state by allowing each individual to follow his or her own conscience when casting a vote. It certainly includes – with absolute necessity – the right to try to persuade others and to try to create a voting bloc, but the refusal to join a voting bloc comports with my understanding of democracy. And while it might be said that my vote is, consequently, a futile gesture, my vote’s inability to change the outcome means it is no less futile when I cast it for a major party.

One can argue about whether the individual has a democratic function – in fact, there are many libertarians, particularly in the US, who insist that voting in any way whatsoever for anybody merely puts the stamp of legitimacy on what is a fundamentally illiberal system of governance (in other words, any attempt at democracy always becomes the tyranny of the majority, in which the rights of the minority are trampled upon by force in the name of the common good) – but if you believe voting is ‘a right that should be exercised‘, as many people do, then prioritising that democratic function when winning is perceived to be impossible cannot fail to be at least a little bit seductive.

And who knows – maybe libertarians do have the critical mass needed to win a majority, and we just don’t know it yet. But we’ll never find out if we allow ourselves to remain trapped in the Prisoner’s Dilemma of settling for second best.

Sep 252009
 

Being a politician must be so hard sometimes. Sandwiched between three mutually exclusive needs – to promote himself, to cover his ass, and to appear to be a normal human – any successful office-holder will, from time to time, find himself forced to make statements of extremely dubious morality, not to mention crass stupidity:

The paper quotes the mole as saying: “It’s not easy to watch footage on the television news of a coffin draped in a Union Jack and then come in to work the next day and see on your computer screen what MPs are taking for themselves.”

The mole claimed the contrast between conditions facing soldiers and the MPs’ claims “helped tip the balance in the decision over whether I should or should not leak the expenses data”.

Asked on Sky News if he understood the motivation for the expenses leak, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: “I don’t think so.”

What’s happened to you, Gordon? Did somebody polarise your moral compass to point south? Or do you truly not understand why somebody might feel morally obliged to expose how the nation’s representatives were busy enriching themselves at the expense of the lives of the nation’s defenders?

Hey, though, at least the soldiers have helmets, boots, and socks. What more could they possibly need? Never mind that, by your own admission, the taxpayers’ cash you spent on refurbishing your kitchen could have equipped two extra soldiers – or given nine of them a £1000 pay rise. But where’s the point in that, right? The more of them who die from lack of equipment, the fewer you have to pay for, making the pot of money available to you that little bit bigger.

Sep 212009
 

The BBC has posted a link to part of an interview George Stephanopoulos had with Barack Obama in the wake of the Jimmy Carter ‘People oppose Obama because they’re racists’ declaration.

In the bit of the video that you can watch, Obama actually says something that surprises me, not because it’s not correct, but because it is – Obama has demonstrated in under two minutes that not only does he understand why so many people oppose his policies, he’s also willing to say so when it would be easier not to:

Obama:Now, there are some who, setting aside the issue of race, actually I think are more passionate about the idea of whether government can do anything right. And I think that – that’s probably the biggest driver of some of the vitriol –

Stephanopoulos: That, are you going to raise their taxes.

Obama: It – well, it goes beyond taxes. Anytime there is a president who is proposing big changes that seem to implicate the size of government, that gets everybody’s juices flowing.

Leaving aside the indelicacy of mentioning flowing juices – whatever he means by that – it’s quite obvious that Obama understands the conservative position vastly better than his supporters, including Stephanopoulos by the way, who are busy ejaculating accusations of racism and greed all over the place rather than taking issue with the fact that many Americans simply do not agree that the federal government has any legitimate role in the provision of health care, however unfair or unworkable the current system might be. When Stephanopoulos opines that such people are only interested in the number on their tax returns, Obama rightly corrects him. It’s not all about taxes.

Every now and again, Obama says little things that like this which indicate to me that he may actually be willing to engage with the meaningful criticisms of his policies – that he may actually acknowledge that the size of the state, and the extent to which it interferes with people’s activities and behaviour, is a topic worthy of reasonable debate. And I feel a little bit of this much-vaunted ‘hope’ well within my breast, because I very rarely encounter anyone from the other side of the political divide who is willing to debate that without resorting to calling me an anarchist (‘We need government to rein in people’s baser natures! Hobbes said so!’), a hater of democracy (okay, so this one’s kind of true), or a tinfoil-hat-wearing paranoiac (‘Bitch, please – this idea that governments want to turn us all into serfs is just a crazy conspiracy theory. Run off to your log cabin in the mountains with your shotgun, why don’t you’).

Then I remember that Obama said this, too, and the tiny, fragile, puppy-dog-eyed bit of hope curls up and dies.

Obama: But I don’t want the folks who created the mess – I don’t want the folks who created the mess to do a lot of talking. I want them just to get out of the way so we can clean up the mess. I don’t mind cleaning up after them, but don’t do a lot of talking. [crowd cheers madly] Am I wrong, Virginia?

[crowd shouts ‘No!’]

Sep 082009
 

The Appalling Strangeness highlights Peter Hain’s refusal to appear on Question Time with the BNP and comments:

No doubt Hain sees his boycott as a chance for him to champion himself as a progressive politician refusing to give the cowardly and ignorant BNP a real platform in this country. Unfortunately, he comes across as the coward. He comes across as a man who won’t debate the BNP because he is afraid of making his case. Regardless of his intentions, ducking a debate with the BNP isn’t the noble thing to do. The BNP are a political reality in this country. Failing to engage them on their idiotic policies will only work to help them. The more they are unchallenged, the more influential they will become.

This is no doubt partly true. But given what the ASI lists as some of the BNP’s policies, I suspect Hain doesn’t think them idiotic at all:

  • The protection of British companies from unfair foreign imports
  • The renationalisation of monopoly utilities and services
  • Bring hospital cleaning back in-house and make high cleanliness a top priority
  • More emphasis must be placed on healthy living with greater understanding of sickness prevention through physical exercise, a healthier environment and improved diets
  • Develop renewable energy sources such as off-shore wind farms, wave, tidal and solar energy
  • The introduction of a system of workfare for those in unemployment benefit for more than six months with compulsory work and training in return for decent payment
  • Take all privatised social housing stock back under local democratically controlled council ownership

Perhaps Hain sees, as do the rest of us who are not blinded by polemic, that the only thing that separates the BNP from its more traditional rivals is its racism. And if the BNP refuse to be engaged on their racism, and want to talk about their platform of social justice instead, Hain and everybody else are going to find themselves in the unenviable position of agreeing with the BNP but not wishing to admit it. And so the BNP will come across as being quite firm in their ideas, whilst the three main parties flail about trying to show that their sort of social justice is somehow demonstrably different from the BNP’s.

It isn’t.

Aug 252009
 

The government has finally decided, it appears, to ban what people are calling ‘legal highs’: unscheduled party drugs that, like any other substance on the planet which you choose to ingest, can kill you in certain circumstances.

The two drugs, known as BZP and GBL, have been linked to a number of deaths.

‘A number’? How many, exactly?

In May, a coroner in Sheffield linked BZP, also known as herbal ecstasy, to the death last year of 22-year-old mortgage broker Daniel Backhouse.

It is understood that Mr Backhouse had also taken ecstasy.

This is a bit like saying, ‘A coroner linked BZP to the death last year of Daniel Backhouse. It is understood that Mr Backhouse had also been run over by a backhoe.’ Classic post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. But still, that’s one of our ‘number of deaths.’

Here’s another:

Hester Stewart, who was 21 and a medical student, died after taking GBL in Brighton. Both drugs would be classified as Class C.

Hester Stewart’s mother, Maryon, has campaigned for legal highs to be banned.

She told the BBC News Channel: “I’m delighted. I think the Home Office is moving in the right direction.

“We need to tell people that GBL plus alcohol can equal death. Hester hadn’t had that much alcohol and then later on that evening an old friend of hers gave her half a dose of GBL which he said was safe.

“So the two mixed together just sent her into a coma and she didn’t wake up…”

Maryon Stewart is the same woman who, back in April, was weeping all over Telegraph reporters that if the government had just banned this shit ages ago like it promised, her daughter would never have died:

“How can the Home Office not be accountable for something like this? How come it’s not classified? How could this happen?

“Some pen-pusher somewhere should be able to work out how to ban it,” said Mrs Stewart. “How come they hesitated?

“This is a disaster. It’s just beyond belief that something like this could have happened to such a brilliant, caring, intelligent girl who had so much to offer the whole world, not just her family.

“I feel gutted, I feel cheated, I feel bitterly frustrated and angry that this has been allowed to happen.”

I tried to be vaguely sympathetic the last time I wrote about this – some may claim I failed even then – but now there is simply no excuse. This interfering fucking busybody exemplifies all that is wrong with a certain sort of person today. In blaming the Home Office for failing to ban this drug and thus prevent her daughter’s death, she absolves herself (and her daughter) of all responsibility. By her own account, a friend gave her daughter the pill, claiming it was safe. WTF? I like my friends, and by and large I trust them, but even at the relatively still-stoopid age of 21, I would never have taken a random pill at a party without knowing what it was. I’m sure many people would, and do, and nothing bad happens, but that’s the chance one takes. Didn’t Maryon Stewart teach her daughter this stuff? She is, after all,

a founder of the Natural Health Advisory Service and presents a series on a satellite television channel. “In my work I teach people how to look after themselves and all the stuff I do is caring about people, and that’s the kind of environment Hessie’s been brought up in,” she said. “I’m just gutted the Home Office didn’t care enough.”

That’s right. It’s the Home Office’s fault for not caring enough about

the third person to have died in the past 12 months after taking GBL

Yup. There’s our ‘number of deaths.’ 3.

Last August, the Government’s drugs advisers told the Home Office that the substance should be classified as a Class C drug.

But because it also has a use as an industrial solvent – in the plastics industry and as a nail polish remover – officials have been delayed in framing the legislation. It is banned for personal use in America, Canada and Sweden.

Who are these drug advisers? Is it the same Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs who recommended the downgrading of ecstasy to class B, amongst other things – most of whose recommendations about drugs policy (that is, in fact, what the ACMD exists to make) are ignored by the government when they conflict with the Daily Mail’s anti-drugs crusade?

Probably not, or the article would have told us. Instead, we must wonder at these shadowy drug advisers who wish to pursue anti-drugs policies that have been super-successful in such utopian drug-free countries as…the United States.

(Leave aside the fact that GBL is an industrial solvent used in nail-polish remover. Have you ever smelled that stuff? It says right on the bottle that it’s not for internal consumption. Only a fucking idiot would ingest it.)

But all of this is by the by, really; here is what’s happened. Slightly rebellious young adult goes to party, does the equivalent of slurping nail-polish remover, dies. Mom-in-denial blames Home Office. Home Office bans slurping nail-polish remover. The one-woman crusade has succeeded. Surely the biggest problem here is not the drugs, nor even the banning of them, but the fact that one guilt-stricken grieving woman has the power to influence government policy.

Wait, that’s happened before?