Sunday, 26 December 2010

Justice for the police.

Finally, someone has realised that what was done to children and young adults at the tuition fees protests isn't acceptable, and are duly sueing the police. False imprisonment, assault, exposing minors to inhuman treatment, all valid accusations now being levelled at the men in charge of the police force.

Every time I write about this I feel the need to start with a disclaimer. I am not some kind of anti-police anarchist, who will use any opportunity to have a dig. I am not making sweeping generalisations about police men and women, most do their duties admirably. But equally, that doesn't mean I will excuse the horrifying sights of young children being charged at by police on horseback and of a protester being carried away from the scene with a brain haemorrhage. Those responsible have to be held to account.

The whole tactic of kettling itself needs serious scrutiny, I've never understood how it can be defensible in the kind of situations that it has been used recently. The tuition fees protests were not innately violent, they started peacefully, and remained that way other than a few isolated incidents. The fact that the media refused to show the peaceful aspects in lieu of the small pockets of violence means many have a warped sense of the atmosphere at the protests.

There are plenty of videos and accounts which describe how rather than being used as a last resort by police, kettling was used even before any violence broke out. Anyone with more intelligence than your average chimp can see that if you lock people up in a small area, in the cold with no food and water, not even toilet facilities, and keep them there for hours on end, then violence is going to flair up as people become understandably frustrated. Kettling might contain violence, but without being kettled the violence might not start in the first place.

And then you have the disgusting violence towards protesters, which was completely out of proportion. You can see this through the use of charging horse, overly officious use of batons, and the denial of medical care to protesters who had been seriously injured.

Protest is a vital part of any democracy, people need to have a voice, especially when the people who they voted to represent them so shamelessly break the promises they peddled to be elected in the first place. We should protect the right to protest, not discourage people by treating them like second-hand citizens.

We treat our prisoners better than the people who take to the streets because they want to have their voices heard. Can you imagine a prisoner suffering a brain haemorrhage after being hit by a baton, the media would rightly be all over the story like a bad rash. Why not the same for protesters?

I hope this legal action succeeds, and I hope it forces the Met to review their tactics. They can't carry on like this, at least not if they want to keep the respect of the people they serve.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Santa is the reason for the season.

I haven't posted for a while, all the excitement of the holidays has kept me away I'm afraid, but I thought I'd do one last one on Christmas Eve to wish you all a Merry Christmas. I'm essentially a 5 year old child when it comes to Christmas, it's by far and away the best time of year, almost as if it's everyone's birthday all at once.

And here's a Santa tracker for everyone wondering where he's up to:

The title is an allusion to the idea spouted by some that you have to be religious to enjoy Christmas because they imagine that it's a Christian festival. I'm not going to have my Christmas spirit dragged down by a serious post but needless to say the Christian faiths links to a holiday on the 25th December are very tenuous indeed. It'd be much more appropriate to say that you can't celebrate Christmas unless you believe in the power of the unconquered sun. Christians just came along later and nicked the date for their own.

If you want to be technical, then actually its axial tilt that's the reason for te season, not that nice chap called Jesus.

Christmas is for everyone, whatever faith or lack thereof, so stop trying to make claims to it. And with that, I bid everyone Happy Holidays, in recognition of the truth of Pastafarianism.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Prohibition: Stop screeching.

Those with an interest will have noticed an odd observation, the fact that former drugs ministers, who are now safely out of the limelight, have a habit of condemning the prohibition policy they once so staunchly advocated. The latest is Bob Ainsworth, who of course has been barracked from all sides, but that doesn't mean he's wrong.

I've already written about the case for prohibition, which is all to rarely never given a fair hearing simply because of the screeching from the likes of the weekly edition of Mein Kampf (known by its publication name of the Daily Mail) about people being too 'soft' on drugs, and how it's likely that one day an immigrant with a knife who is high on smack will give you cancer. That really would be their dream headline. But in actuality it's not about being hard or soft, its about being smart or stubborn and stupid.

The idea that banned drugs are safely away from kids on the streets is ridiculous, it's insultingly easy to get drugs on the street, illegal or not. The only difference illegality brings is that in order to get the drugs gangs become involved. This jacks up prices (leading to a rise in crime to fund habits), knocks down purity to make bigger profits (leading to much greater health risks) and means millions around the world are caught up in the crossfire from turf wars.

I've already done detailed posts on the case for prohibition, as has the far more qualified Johann Hari, but that's not the point of this post. You don't have to think drugs should be legalised to agree that we at least need the debate, so that both sides can make their case.

As soon as Ainsworth came out and simply asked for a debate on the issue of drug legalisation we had one Tory say he was not just wrong, but 'dangerous', and Labour's John Mann criticise him for wanting nothing but an 'intellectual debate'. We're in a sorry state of affairs when wanting an 'intellectual debate' is something to be criticised.

I understand why party leaders would want to keep well away from his views, admittedly they don't resonate with the majority of the public, but surely much of that could just be down to the fact that we're never allowed a real debate on the issue. Disagree with him by all means, but don't start with the hyperbole in order to shut him up, we need more people like Bob Ainsworth with a backbone around or we'd never discuss anything controversial.

When I talked about prison reform, and why prison manifestly does not work for many people, I mentioned at the end how, surprisingly, the last person to cut prison numbers significantly was not a namby-pamby liberal at all, but Winston Churchill. And so it gives me a little hope that, when safely out of the limelight, another MP from the backbenches asked the then Labour government to discuss with the UN the possibility of legalisation and regulation of drugs. He added, "I ask the Government not to return to retribution and war on drugs. That has been tried, and we all know that it does not work."

The young hotshots name was David Cameron, whose personal views clearly differed from the political viewpoint he's now forced to espouse as Prime Minister. Let's hope he has the kind of steel we haven't seen from him or his deputy as yet and whether he decides to let the country have a genuine debate on the subject.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

The trouble with referendums.

What with my normal posting you might think I'd be all for as many referendums as we could handle, surely it's the ultimate form of democracy? But actually, referendums are far from perfect, and can often end up being far less democratic than you may think.

The big one coming up in the next year is the vote on the change to our voting system, from the archaic First-Past-the-Post to the Alternative Vote. Whilst I think it can be argued that this is a worthwhile referendum to be had, there are plenty of other occasions where it would be much more appropriate to have a vote in parliament as opposed to a national referendum.

A brilliant example of the problems with constant referenda can be found in California, a state rich in resources, but in massive trouble economically. The state that houses Silicon Valley and Hollywood recently had to start handing out IOU's, and in no small part because of the problems in untempered direct democracy. Anyone with enough signatures can put forward a proposition in California, and need only a simple majority of those bothered to vote to get it passed. Because it would be difficult to imagine anyone wanting to be taxed more or given less from the state they now have a state of affairs that is totally unsustainable, they've wanted low taxes to cover expansive public services.

But it's not so much the idea of direct democracy that's the problem, but the way it can be perverted by special interest groups. Rich individuals, companies and others with a particular axe to grind can pay volunteers to get in the required signatures and then use massive advertising campaigns to bring in the votes. However much people like to think they are independently minded, no-one is immune to the effects of advertising, that's just a psychological fact.

Rather than having governance of the people by the people, you have governance of the people for the benefit of those with enough cash to buy one side of the argument.

But that's not enough of a reason to criticise referenda, after all, no-one is proposing that kind of direct democracy here. However, some of the problems are still present, particularly the role of special interest groups in perverting the argument to their own aims. Far too much power lies in the hands of those with the money to pay for extravagant advertising campaigns and in the hands of media barons with an easy route to influence their huge readerships. Rather than power lying in the hands of elected officials it's handed over to unelected heads of pressure groups with no accountability.

Too often we aren't even voting on what we think. To use the AV referendum as an example, the No campaign claims to not only have the backing of those who support FPTP, but also those who want proportional representation. The question is framed in such a way that we aren't given the full range of options, and so you get a kind of perverse tactical voting. You can guarantee that if the No campaign wins, they won't be proposing a new referendum on whether to change to PR instead of FPTP, they will claim it as a victory for the status quo and say the matter of voting reform has been put to bed.

It's important to draw a line between democracy and simple minded populist governance. The opinion with the greatest number of supporters isn't always the right one. What should be encouraged is open and fair debate, based on facts rather than emotional screeching as so beautifully demonstrated by a whole plethora of Daily Mail articles. If, after an open and fair debate, the majority still supports a certain standpoint then that should be upheld, but referenda often don't allow that fair debate to take place. Nor, I would suggest, does the current set-up of our parliament.

A democracy that gives in to dumb populism in the face of reason loses its credibilty, and loses sight of its most important facet, government of the people by the people.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Water Cannons to keep the peace. Oxymoron?

We were told at the election that our civil liberties had been attacked for far too long (which arguably they had) and that this coalition was going to give us all our liberty back. A few months in and that sentiments out the window as the right to protest is being curtailed, and now the latest weapon is wheeled out for inspection, the water cannon. Funny how times change isn't it.

People, and me included until recently, seem to think that water cannons just get the protesters a bit wet, a bit cold, and annoy them so much that they end up leaving. The truth is much more sinister, the power that the water is sprayed at can cause serious damage. It can cause serious damage and make people stuck inside the protest feel unable to breathe. The man in the picture above is a protester from Germany, who was hit full in the face with a water cannon, his eyes are swelled shut and bleeding. I'm not sure if there's been a follow up story since (I can't speak German and wouldn't know where to find it) but at the time his doctor confirmed that the man was blind and may never recover his sight.

The idea that the police see this as a logical next step, and that Theresa May sees it as acceptable, speaks volumes for the disdain towards protesters. We always hear how politicians respect people's right to peaceful protest, but for protest to be peaceful there has to be mutual respect between police and protester. Charging people on horses, cracking them over the head with batons, and now considering spraying them with high velocity blasts to water leads to nothing but more anger, and that doesn't benefit anyone.

I am not someone who is typically critical of the police force, they do a very difficult job and usually do it admirably. It would be a sweeping generalisation indeed to say that the police are 'all' anything, but recently the police have lost the respect of many people, and that doesn't bode well for their ability to keep the peace in future demonstrations.

They blamed the problems at the last demonstration on the protesters changing their planned route. The only reason people changed the route, and it is becoming an all too familiar story, is that the police refused to let them complete their march. People at the head of the march saw a police line forming in front of them and, understandably not wanting to be holed up in a kettle for hours, decided to try a different route. Every time they saw a line forming, they changed paths.

The act of the police trying to contain people before any hint of violence had broken out meant that they actually made their own job much harder. Instead of policing a pre-agreed route, their tactics led to a very unpredictable march, where they could never hope to have full control.

And all of this isn't helped by the wild hysteria coming out of David Cameron's mouth. He has now changed his tack, saying that most protesters were there just for violence, refusing to listen to the voices of thousands of students, and wrongly asserting that a policeman was 'dragged off his horse and beaten'. I think he owes protesters an apology, after the video clearly shows the injury of the policemen on the horse had nothing to do with students, he just fell off. I won't hold my breath though.

To control future protests police need to show more respect, and in turn they will win back respect. Firing water cannons at people who are simply exercising their democratic right to protest is no way to achieve that aim.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The Catholic Church: A Force for Evil

At first I thought I might write a post based on the points from this video, but then realised I could never dream of putting the argument as eloquently and succinctly as Stephen Fry makes it. For that reason, I've simply re-posted the video here, to watch at your own leisure, it really is sensational, and I agree with every single word of it.

The first thing he goes into, and is important to him and me, is that he is not criticising members of the church. It would be condescending in the extreme for me to lecture believers as much as it is for Jehovah's witnesses to ram their religion down the throats of people relaxing at home. But that doesn't mean I'm unintitled to my own opinions, and that is to say that the catholic church as an organisation causes more harm in the world than it does good.

It's in the second half of the clip that he really gets into the modern problems with the church, and the longer he goes on the more passionate (and more persuasive) he gets. But I certainly wouldn't recommend skipping any of the video to get to the heart of the argument, because the introduction is brilliantly delivered.

Here's a few sound bites to look for:

- From 7.25: "The idea that the catholic church exists to disseminate the word of the Lord is nonsense, it is the only owner of the truth... because those billions are uneducated and poor, they are the ones they can tell, and bully, and domineer."

- From 9.20: "What it (Vatican City in union with major Islamic states) did was to hobble and veto any possibility of women's sexual freedom in the world, because as we know the Islamic religion and the catholic church have never been anything other than implacably opposed to women's choice in their own bodies and their own destinies."

- From 10.20: "His (Current Pope, Ratzinger) first act was to write to the bishops ordering them, on pain of excommunication, not to talk to the police or anyone else (about priests accused of child rape), and to handle investigations 'in the most secretive way, restrained by perpetual silence'."

- From 11.45: "It's a little hard for me (Stephen, as a gay man) to know that I am disordered, or to quote Ratzinger, 'guilty of a moral evil', simply by fulfilling my sexual destiny as I see it, because I see myself as someone who is filled only with love."

- From 13.05: "The celibacy, the nuns, the monks, the priesthood, this is not natural and normal, for me to be called a pervert by these extraordinarily sexually dysfunctional people."

- From 14.50: "I am not denying that abstinence is a very good way of not getting AIDS, it really works, so does being faithful. But so do condoms, and do not deny it! And this Pope... he spreads the lie that condoms actually increase the incidence of AIDS."

- From 15.55: "It (the church) is obsessed with sex. They will say we with our permissive society and our rude jokes are obsessed with sex. No, we have a healthy attitude. We like it, it's fun, it's jolly, because it's a primary impulse it can be dangerous and dark and difficult, it's a bit like food in that respect, but only more exciting. The only people who are obsessed with food are anorexics and the morbidly obese, and that, in erotic terms is the catholic church in a nutshell."

- From 17.30: "Do you know who the last person ever would be to be accepted as a Prince of the church? The Gallilean carpenter, that Jew. (Jesus, obviously) They would kick him out before he tried to cross the threshold. He would be so ill at ease in the church, that simple and remarkable man. What would he think of St. Peter's? What would he think of the wealth, and the power, and the self-justification, and the wheedling apologies? He would be horrified."

And finally, the most powerful part:

"The Pope could decide that all this power, all this wealth, and this hierarchy of princes, and bishops, and archbishops, priests, and monks and nuns, should be sent out in the world with money and art treasures and put them back in the countries they once raped and violated... They could give that money away... And then I could stand here and say the Catholic church may well be a force for good in the world, but until that day it is not."

Friday, 10 December 2010

Dear Future Students, we're sorry.

I wanted to write this last night, but it would have ended up being 95% rant and 5% mashing the keyboard with my face, so thought it best to wait until today.

As a side note, a question to anyone reading. Which of these two scenarios would you consider more news worthy? A man being driven through the protest having his car kicked and pelted with paint or, a protester in the crowds doing nothing more than try and get out of the area, being hit so hard over the head by a policemen that he suffers a brain haemorrhage? The BBC, Sky and seemingly every other news outlet decided to go with the former. Purely because the man in the car happened to be born from the womb of a nice lady called Elizabeth. But I digress, the real news is the demolition of higher education voted in by all the Tories bar eight, and 28 Lib Dems.

Last night, after a mere 3 hours of allowed debating time, 11 MPs condemned future students to a tripling of fees and many of the poorest to a future without the hope of higher education. That's what it comes down to, 11 MPs switching sides would have defeated the vote.

It seems that no matter how much you protest, how much the general population agrees with your cause, how much you are willing to put yourself in front of a charging horse, or even suffer brain damage from a policeman's truncheon, David Cameron and Nick Clegg can simply put their fingers in their ears and pretend we're all stupid. We keep hearing that people don't agree with the new proposals because students are 'peddling myths' about what they'll actually mean. In light of this, let's have a look at a few myths.

- This increased funding means our universities can compete against the best in the world.

No, the increased money coming from tuition fees merely fills the gaping hole left by the pull out of government funding from higher education. Our fees will be the highest to attend public university in the developed world, and all David Cameron could offer was 'they're not as high as in America' (which are privately run, so completely misses the point). How that counts as an argument in favour I'm unsure, would 'Our human rights aren't as bad as China's.' be a valid argument point in that case? It is fair that graduates make a contribution to their education, but it is wholly wrong that the state should abdicate its own responsibility for funding, after all, it benefits massively from the wealth creation of graduates.

- The system is progressive because people pay less than they do now.

Not the case, not even nearly true. The IFS showed that 25% of graduates would pay less than now, which of course 75% pay more. And besides that point, the argument is between a new system and the status quo, it's between the system proposed and other alternatives, such as the graduate tax, which could be far more progressive. In fact, further analysis by the IFS actually showed that people from every background will be worse off after these proposals.

More than that, we have to look at whether people from the poorest backgrounds would even bother applying in the first place. (The massive issue over the scrapping of EMA has rather been sidelined, but that will come another day) People from poorer backgrounds are far more debt averse (with good reason) and a massive 70% of students would be put off applying at all.  Its no good if people could end up paying less (which they won't be) if the poorest never get to go to university in the first place, social mobility it seems is old-fashioned talk.

(Interestingly, Michael Gove said in his time as Shadow Education Secretary that large amounts of debt putting the poorest off the idea of university would be a good thing!)

- The fact you have to start repaying at £21,000 makes the whole thing progressive.

First off, you don't have to treble fees to bring this measure in, so to try and use it as an argument for the 80% cut and trebling of fees is completely ridiculous. But even accepting that it's part of the package, the jump in the threshold really isn't as large as you might think. This threshold comes into place in 2016, by which time that £21,000 will be worth just shy of £18,000. An increase yes, but hardly enough to undo the damage from the rest of the package.

- People would like it if only they understood you don't have to pay up front.

The general populus isn't stupid, Messrs Cameron and Clegg, we get it. You don't pay up front, but you conveniently skirt over the issue of the massively increased debt. Whilst they talk of the government debt in apocalyptic terms (which is comparatively low when viewed within historical trends), they seem to think personal debt is something to be championed. Just because payment is postponed doesn't mean it disappears, it just means that it will cripple people for years to come.

One of the biggest problems I have with this whole debacle is that confidence in politics has hit rock bottom, lower now than at the height of the expenses scandal. A lot of people are apathetic about political matters, one reason behind our low turnouts at election, and I've always tried to argue that politics matters. How can I, or anyone else, now argue that people should ever trust a word that comes out of a politicians mouth? At the election we had three main parties, two didn't tell us where they stood, and the one that did tell us went completely against there word the moment they got a sniff of power. Nobody trusts politics any more, and I can no longer blame them.

Before the vote took place the best policy was to target Lib Dems, as they were the ones most likely to switch sides and possibly defeat the government. Now that it's happened we can switch the narrative, yes Lib Dems who voted for the proposals are spineless nothings, but we should focus more at the 299 Tory MPs who also voted it through. For them, Nick Clegg is a handy human shield, but they were the ones responsible for pushing this through. They should be punished just as viciously as Nick Clegg is being targeted right now.

Students won't stop protesting just because the vote has passed, and they won't forget come next election.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Hackers, Fees and Morons.

Haven't really got the time away from work at the moment to right a long, rambling blog to fit in with the many other similar posts around here, so instead I'll just write a little bit on a lot of the stories floating around.

Julian Assange Arrested -

Well, this wasn't exactly unexpected, I doubt he'll even get extradited, never mind sentenced, and all in all it doesn't matter one jot to the future of WikiLeaks as an organisation. The charges bought against him have already been laughed out of court once in Sweden, and there doesn't seem to be any new evidence since then. The only reason this has come back to the surface is some busy body politician in Sweden has had a quick word with a smaller court and they've decided to reopen it.

I'd like to think that our judicial system is more robust than that and so won't cave in to the massive political pressure to extradite him. As I said though, even were he to be charged this would make no difference. As of right now, WikiLeaks is much stronger than just one man, who is essentially now just a front man. He acts as a lightening rod whilst the thousands of other journalists and cyber-geniuses at WikiLeaks get on with releasing the rest of the leaked cables. It's strange to think we've got so much information so far and we're not even up to the 1,000 mark out of 250,000 cables.

It'd also be interesting, to put it very mildly, if he did get charged and WikiLeaks decided to release the passcode for the 'insurance file' they uploaded. I dare say there's likely to be some pretty explosive stuff in there.

Tuition Fees come to a head -

Tomorrow's the big day, the tuition fees vote. I expect it to go through, but we can only hope that more MPs see sense between now and then. Only a moron like Clegg could claim that slashing HE funding by 80% and then trebling fees is in some way 'progressive'. he then dismisses a Graduate Tax as 'unworkable', without a seconds pause for thought. It has far more going for it than the plans currently on the table.

Yes, some people will pay less under these new proposals, but the majority will pay more. And this funding isn't upping the money that goes to universities, the fees coming out of students pockets is just being used to plug the gaping hole left by the withdrawal of government cash. For the large number of people on middle incomes, too rich to get support, but too poor to quickly pay off loans without incurring interest, then these proposals will hit you hard. Very hard.

And the idea that all is well because you only start paying back at £21,000 is complete tosh as well. Although they made it slightly better today by making the amount rise with inflation, the fact remains that by the time the plans come into effect that £21,000 will be worth less than £18,000 in today's money because of inflation. Hardly a massive jump is it.

The Lib Dems have a choice, be loyal to the Tories, or be loyal to students and loyal to their word. Only a No vote is acceptable, abstaining is not nearly enough.

Lansley completes his collection -

My favourite figure Andrew Lansley has succeeded in completing his collection, after his plans were trashed by his own side, following of course the objections from GPs, the BMA, Health Workers and many others in the profession. The Tory chair of the Health Select Comittee has already warned him about the pace and scale of his reforms, and now a figure from within No. 10 has told the Financial Times:

"Andrew [Lansley] has all the answers when he is asked the questions about how the implementation of all this will work. We're just not sure they are the right ones.” Ouch.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

The Mess at the Top of World Football

Is something really wrong with FIFA, or is it just us English being a little upset that we didn't win the bid?

Far be it from me to lash out in sour grapes, but I think it's clear to many right now that something is very wrong at the heart of FIFA. It's not the fact that we didn't win the World Cup bid that riles me, I could have accepted coming second, but to finish with just one vote other than our own is insulting. And Qatar, rated as 'high risk' by FIFA, winning the 2022 bid shows that something really is wrong with the selection process.

Let's look at the facts from the bidding process (an idea which apparently evaded those 22 men with the votes):

  • England was rated a 'safe' host, with eventual winners Russia rated as 'Medium risk'. 
  • We are widely acknowledged to have the best technical bid of the 2018 candidates, all our infrastructure is already in place.
  • We had the best commercial bid of all, no-one else could have provided FIFA with as much cash that they so desperately crave.
  • Our presentation was amongst the best, with us sending our most senior people, unlike other competitors.

The one thing I could possibly see us being marked down for is the legacy aspect of the bid. We may have included football development in Africa as part of our bid but back in England there is little scope for further football development as we already have it all. That one downside is the reason I could have stomached (begrudgingly perhaps) coming second to Russia, who clearly have a detailed plan for the legacy of the World Cup. 

What I find appalling is that all the other positives, put together in a bid that cost us £15m, could count for absolutely nothing. If the rules of the contest were that actually all the stuff about inspections and economic reports counted for nothing, surely we should have been told?

And now certain members of the executive committee show their true colours, in coming out and blaming our loss on the fact that we as a country have a free and independent media. It is now clear that the reason we lost is that FIFA members are part of a club which is secretive, and hold grudges on all who dare investigate the corruption that sits only very slightly under the surface.

We're not talking about the English media smearing people here, the Sunday Times and Panorama both had hard evidence of corruption. The press didn't say 'England doesn't like FIFA', they showed exactly how bribery played a part in the decisions of some members. If outing the truth about corruption loses you a bid, then I think we can safely say that England has lost, but for all the right reasons.

I'd have loved to see the World Cup in England as much as anyone else, but not if it was at the cost of our integrity and us having to sink to the level of corruption and political positioning that is obviously far more important to FIFA than the actual strength of a bid.

The Sunday Times and Panorama were both absolutely right to release the information they had when they did, its FIFA that has the problem, we shouldn't sink to their level. The IOC had a similar problem not so long ago, and they soon turned it round. Maybe some good can come of this furore and FIFA will soon follow the IOC on the road to transparency and respectability.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Wikileaks: The Invincibles

This is the first blog in a week, for two reasons really. First, I've had a lot of catch-up work to get done, and perhaps more importantly, I got Assassin's Creed this week which has taken up a good chunk of my life. Today's will look at Wikileaks, not so much this particular leak, but why they're now in such a position of power.

Much has been made of the latest leaked US cables, and the various revelations within, from the calls to have an air strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, to China calling North Korea a 'spoiled child', and allegations that Russia has effectively become a 'mafia state'. How accurate all these allegations are remains to be seen but it's clear that they've made not so much ripples but tidal waves in international relations.

I think, however, that criticism of Wikileaks and Julian Assange in particular fails to see the important point that has come out of the past few leaks. Even if Assange was locked up tomorrow and Wikileaks disbanded, their ethos and skills would be passed on. Nothing would change, leaks would still happen just as often and with just as much impact. You can't kill an idea.

So much of the discussion about Wikileaks is about whether or not they can be silenced and whether they should be. You can be sure that if Wikileaks weren't the people making these things public then there'd be plenty of other people who'd be willing to fill the niche.

And even more than that, the media frenzy over them that is fed by hyperbolic statements like that from Hilary Clinton saying they were an 'attack on the international community', only feeds their influence. Just look at what happened when the British Police tried to muscle in and police the internet.

After the first student protest, a website gave advice to those present about how to avoid prosecution. It was a relatively small website and I'd hazard a guess that few people had heard of it outside certain small circles. Then the Met decide that they don't like that information being available on the internet and try to ban it, succeeding in taking down the website. Within minutes dozens of sites posted their own copy of the offending text, and the original website found a new home within a day. All that was achieved was that the police ensured that the traffic to the website sky-rocketed because of all the publicity. Completely counter productive.

The same thing happened with Wikileaks. Their original domain name got taken down, it took them a matter of hours to get it back up. And the fact that they've managed to keep online despite massive hacking attacks is nothing short of remarkable.

It only takes a tiny minority of people in any given organisation to have a sense of moral duty to lead to these kind of leaks. Once you have the motive, the actual getting hold of the information doesn't tend to be all that difficult. Just as technology means it's easier than ever for leaders to keep tabs on their electorate, so it works the other way around. In days gone by you'd need to smuggle out hard copies of incriminating evidence. These days all it takes is one USB and suddenly you can carry around hundreds of thousands of files.

Once you accept that future leaks are inevitable, you can move on and try to find a way to minimise the likelihood that someone would want to leak data and minimise the damage done by said leak. I think a lot of the attraction to whistle blowers stems from the fact that too many governments are over eager to use the 'national security' defence to withhold embarrassing information. Of course some information needs to be secret, but too often things are kept private simply because they wouldn't look good out in the public.

How far should we go to make sure governments and organisations share information and how do we decide what information should be protected?

That's where we need to look, not to whether or not Julian Assange is a good guy, that's irrelevant. He's the front man for a much bigger organisation, and that organisation is just the current manifestation of a trend that is here to stay. As long as you have disaffected people, you'll have leaks, so you can safely assume they'll be here for quite some time to come.