Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Brazen lies and sick campaigning from No to AV.

I'm getting sick to the back teeth of brazen lies that are perpetually coming from the No to AV campaign, and so thought I'd write this to show exactly why they are completely wrong in their claims,.

They claim that a switch to AV would cost £250m, and then proceed to ask people what better uses that could be put to. First off, I don't think money should be an issue, a dictatorship would be much cheaper than a parliamentary set-up, but somehow that's never wheeled out as an argument for change to having a dictator. Second, the idea that it will cost £250m is a lie, not a misconception but a lie, and a lie upon which No2AV seem to be basing their entire campaign.

To make the massively inflated figure the No2AV campaign had to include the cost of two things, the cost of the referendum itself, and the cost of supposed 'necessary' voting machines.  Point one. How can you claim the cost of AV will include the referendum? The referendum will cost money regardless of whether you vote Yes or No. Are they now campaigning against the referendum itself? Because if so, they could forfeit and save the country a whole lot of money it might otherwise have wasted.

Point two. They claim we will have to spend vast amounts of money on counting machines. The only problem with this claim? An expert from Australia, where AV has been used for a considerable time, has stated that there is absolutely no need for counting machines under AV. And even if we did switch to machines, it was a switch we were looking at making under FPTP anyway! It is not an AV cost, it is a cost of any election.

That leaves a grand total of £26m for the switch to AV on voter education, and even that is a wild exaggeration based on the cost of educating Scottish voters about the STV, an entirely more complex form of voting that required far more information than simply putting numbers from 1 to 5 in order, I imagine the cost of that is covered almost entirely by the teaching given in Reception of Primary School.

If we're going to have a serious debate leading up to this referendum, and there is a debate to be had, then the No campaign needs to stop playing dirty and stop taking voters for mugs. Tell the truth, make your argument, and hope that people side with you. That's how this should be conducted. Or perhaps they're running scared?

Edit: I was linked to this yesterday, turns out not only are they lying to people, but they're resorting to the most sickening campaigning tactics.

NOT how a debate should be held.

Monday, 21 February 2011

The author of protest.

Found this pretty interesting on the BBC today, an article about Gene Sharp, an author whose book 'From Dictatorship to Democracy' seems to kindle for the fires of revolution that we are seeing in the Middle East at the moment, as well as in previous revolutions in Serbia and Ukraine.

It's a pretty interesting read, stressing that by protest turning violent it plays into the strongest hand of the oppressors, and has several key factors for revolutions.

  • Develop a strategy for winning freedom and a vision of the society you want 
  • Overcome fear by small acts of resistance 
  • Use colours and symbols to demonstrate unity of resistance 
  • Learn from historical examples of the successes of non-violent movements 
  • Use non-violent "weapons" 
  • Identify the dictatorship's pillars of support and develop a strategy for undermining each 
  • Use oppressive or brutal acts by the regime as a recruiting tool for your movement 
  • Isolate or remove from the movement people who use or advocate violence

But, of course, it would be wrong to attribute all or even most credit to this one man for successful protests. The major strength of what is happening at the moment is the strength of belief and character of those on the streets, and that is something no book can teach you.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Barclays 'Bail-In'

I know I've had quite a few posts about UKUncut, but they really are a brilliant example of spontaneous and fun protest that can really get a story into the public eye. Their latest day of action aimed at Barclays, who were recently revealed to have effectively paid 1% tax on their UK profits, was a great success, with branches up and down the country turned into comedy clubs, libraries and all manner of other things.

The reasons they've taken to targetting banks were outlined in a brilliant blog post. And the anger is only fuelled further by the news that big companies, banks included, are soon to be handed a massive tax reduction as the government changes the rules on corporation tax. It's fairly obscure tax law, but it means that rather than the situation at present where a companies with profits overseas has to pay the difference between the tax rate of the other nation and ours, they soon won't have to pay anything at all. It's explained more here.

It just seems that no-one in government has the balls to make the banks pay for the mess they created, perhaps because as David Cameron told bankers, 'My father was a stockbroker, my grandfather was a stockbroker, my great-grandfather was a stockbroker. The city is in my blood'.

Massacre in Libya

Since the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt a new wave of protest has kicked off in the Middle East, but the protests in Libya in particular seem to have taken a dark turn, with snipers, artillery, and helicopter gunships being used against protesters, it's horrifying.

Here's the article from the Telegraph, and an article about the differences between protests in Bahrain and Libya.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Lansley promotes sham treatments.

As if destroying the NHS wasn't quite enough to be getting along with, Andrew Lansley has decided to put his neck on the line by defying the EU to help protect the market for Chinese Herbal Remedies. He's getting around the new ruling by the EU by reclassifying 'Herbalists' as authorised healthcare professionals.

I'd suggest that while he's at it he also suggests a name change, from Herbalist to 'Crackpot sellers of magic leaves'. Yes, some traditional medicines do have health benefits, and the ones that do are now 'Medicine'. Anything that falls into 'Alternative Medicine' is there for a reason. It doesn't work.

I suppose that when you're buggering up the NHS it can't do too much more harm to encourage the sale of medicine that doesn't work.

The next ruler to fall?

After the fall of Ben Ali in Tunisia, and of Mubarrak in Egypt, could it be the turn of Bahrain to jump on the bandwagon of revolution that is gaining pace? Live rounds have apparently been fired at anti-government protesters in the streets, a sure sign that the regime is fearful.

Just like in Egypt, new media has given the world a glimpse of what is happening. Some of the stories coming out of the country are quite disturbing and frightening. One person from Bahrain was Tweeting from a protest at a roundabout, where her updates included, "I see them [riot police] on the bridge, hundreds of them", "They're shooting at us", "They're attacking from everywhere", and "There are women and children inside the roundabout when the attack started, people were sleeping when the attack started."

Here's hoping that the protesters get the reform they long for without any more tragic deaths.

Monday, 14 February 2011

The Good Society

It would seem David Cameron's big centrepiece to the election, the 'Big Society', is in serious trouble, with him having to relaunch it just a few months into parliament. Already councils that had signed up to the idea are pulling out because they have realised that you can't build a big society at the same time as making swinging cuts. So, with polls showing most people have no idea what the big society even is, I thought I'd provide some reading material.

Courtesy of Dave Brown

From the BBC.

From Cameron himself.

And the reply from Ed Miliband.

I don't think anyone across the political spectrum has a problem with the basic principle of voluntary groups being able to take control of projects if they so wish, and as such most agree with the underlying theme of the big society. But, the issue is that you cannot encourage this whilst at the same time removing state support. Cameron's assumption that removing the state leads to more public initiatives is wrong. These groups need the support of the state, they are often not strong enough to 'go it alone.'

It seems to be a cover for the cuts, instead of saying 'we're going to close down this library', he can say 'we're giving you the power to take over the running'. Knowing full well that the public don't have the expertise and know how to run it, and it will inevitably shut down, whilst keeping his hands sparkly clean. Ditto for the forests.

So, whilst we mostly agree on the premise, in actuality, Cameron is killing the big society more than he is nurturing it.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

We won't forget.

I thought this post from UKUncut about why they're now also going to target banks as well as tax avoiders was really good, so thought I'd share it here.

It starts with the quote, "The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting" and goes on to talk about as time has gone by the banks have hoped we would forget that it was they who caused the crisis which meant we are now in such a financial mess. With my favourite part of the post being this:

"They are praying that we don't remember what caused the economic collapse. They want us to believe that the public sector is to blame - that our welfare state became bloated. They hope that we buy the lie that we've lost our jobs because our nurses cured too many sick people, our libraries had too many books, we cared too much for older people, and invested too much in the young."

It's true, and by targetting the banks hopefully we can make sure they pay back their fair share of the burden, rather than the pathetic bank levy or the new arrangement under Merlin which means they can essentially do as they please with all it's various get out clauses.

It's not banker bashing, it's about asking them to pay for the mess they have caused, and I don't think they've even started yet. Every time a sure start closes, or a young student can't afford to go to university because of fees, or a young child can't get access to books because their library is closed, or a patient can't get treated because their illness isn't 'cost-effective' in the newly privatised NHS, we'll remember the bonuses that the men who caused the pain paid themselves.

They privatised their profits whilst nationalising their losses. And now we're all paying the price.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Universities head for maximum fees.

And so it has begun, first Cambridge and Oxford have set about the necessary motions for them to be able to charge the full £9000 maximum fees to their students. Whilst this might not be a surprise, they are the two most prestigious universities in the country, what is more worrying is just how many others are planning the exact same thing, in complete contradiction to the promise that £9000 fees would only be charged in 'exceptional' circumstances.

£21,000 will be relatively low for final debt when the new fees come in.

Rather than being the exception to the rule, it seems that at least a third of universities are ready to charge the full amount, which is understandable following their budget being cut by 80%. Which all means that students will pay three times as much, for no better education than they have had previously. Seems like a pretty raw deal to me.

Of course, those in support of the fees will claim it's all fine, after all we're not paying up front. As if students were all mindless peons who couldn't quite grasp this basic fact. People are aware this is not paid up front, but somehow the spectre of more than £30,000 worth of debt is more than enough to make them question if university is really worth it, and we will lose many brilliant minds simply because they cannot afford to learn.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Sexism rife in Russia.

This is a quite unbelievable story I found out today from @stavvers, about a woman who lost her sexual harassment case in Russia. Whilst that might not seem like a major headline, the verdict given by the judge is shocking. He didn't throw it out because of lack of evidence, but rather because he admired the man, adding 'If we had no sexual harassment we would have no children.'

It's like a window to the past, where the men were in charge and women had to do as they were told to live a quiet life. A survey quoted in the Telegraph (I can't vouch for its accuracy) suggests that 100% of women in the workplace had suffered sexual harassment from their bosses, 32% had had sex with their boss at least once, and another 7% claimed they had been raped. 80% said they felt it was impossible to get a promotion without having sexual relations with male superiors.

For a nation like Russia, such a major power in the world, this is disgraceful. I honestly could never have imagined this still happened in such a developed nation in the 21st century, how naive I was.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

A vision of true multiculturalism.

Speaking in Berlin yesterday David Cameron launched his most scathing attack yet on multiculturalism in Britain, saying that we should use 'muscular liberalism' to enforce equality, law, and freedom across society. Whilst the message about enforcing equality and freedom is one I think we can all sign up to, I do question the manner, the tone, and indeed the timing of this speech, and wonder if it wasn't a little reckless.

Multiculuralism isn't an experiment, it's a way of life.

The reason I question the speech is that whilst the aims are noble, he has targeted the rhetoric towards a minority in an unfair and lazy way, which could fuel ignorance and hatred of other cultures. When an EDL leader welcomes your speech, you should pause for thought.

An example of this is his insistence that no Muslim group should recieve state funding unless they endorse women's rights and promote integration. Now, neither of these are bad things, but again the targetting is the part I have an issue with. Why Muslim groups in particular? Will he put the same onus on the Catholic church as it refuses to acknowledge women priests, or as it condemns homosexuals? If you're going to enforce equality, then do it across all groups, you cannot single out one bad apple from a rotten orchard.

I fear that all this speech will do, rather than setting out any new solutions to the problem of integration, will fuel the ignorance of far-right groups who like to pretend that Islam is the problem, the sole problem, and being rid of it will solve all our nations problems. Assigning blame to Muslims for not integrating whilst completely ignoring those factions within British society who are generally far more violent (such as the EDL, who had a major rally on the day of the speech) is reckless, and will do nothing to benefit anyone.

Multiculturalism is not something that can fail or succeed, it is not an experiment, it is simply a description of the current state of affairs of our nation, where we have a range of cultures living side by side. Cameron himself said in 2007 that, 'We wouldn't be half the country we are without immigration.' The answer is not to bully people into adopting one culture and one culture only, it is to allow a state of affairs where we have different cultures, but not distinct social identities, where cultures overlap and you are free to move between them.

Paul Vallely in the Independent gives a simple example of this from a school in Moss Side, Manchester. Children there are encouraged to embrace other cultures as well as their own with the result that 37 nationalities can learn harmoniously, and you have 'black children there doing irish dancing, and white kids play in a jamaican steel band'.

This is the kind of multiculturalism I'd like to see, where you have the best of all cultures, living not only side by side but interspersed with one another. Where you break down barriers and stereotypes at the very youngest age. And I don't think David Cameron's ill-judged attempt to appease the right wing of his party, by suggesting we churn out clones who all share the same culture, is the right way to build a society, or indeed to solve any problems currently present.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Free Schools put to the test.

A rather big challenge has come up for Michael Gove, a man who has proved adept at flapping every policy announcement he's ever made, and so we can expect an entertaining response. It comes as the very reputation of his 'free schools' programme is put on the rack, with a school which teaches Creationism making an application.

It might look pretty, but is toxic to your brain.
Now, I'd imagine most of my readers have intelligence above the level of a baboon and so can see fairly clearly that evolution is only a theory in the same way as the earth being round is a theory. It is not about opposing views, evolution is fact, creationism is ridiculous. So to subject young children to the idea that these two ideas deserve equal merit is very dangerous indeed. We may as well teach them at the same time that 'the earth might go around the sun, but it's just one possible theory'.

Surely, this application has to be turned down? For if it isn't, the free schools programme instantly loses all credibility and you literally have a free market to put whacky ideas in childrens minds. It is one thing to say that a school doesn't have to follow a national curriculum, it is quite another to say they can teach them fairy stories in place of hard science.

Pope is 'too holy' to save us.

Apparently being Pope absolves you of all need to care about the fortunes of other less fortunate souls. His Holiness has moved to squash the despicable rumours that he carries a donor card, with his private secretary stating that now he was head of the Catholic Church, his organs would be not be available for transplant.

You'd have thought he'd want to make up for all the lives he's ended as a result of his stance on condoms.

The Independent article is here.

All this coming of course after a speech three years into his tenure as Pope where stated his support for donation at an international congress. It would seem yet another case of 'do as I say, not as I do'. And just when I thought I'd at least found one reason to respect him. Oh well.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Votes for Prisoners

The issue of whether or not we should let prisoners have the vote keeps coming up time and again recently, and is far from being party political as can be seen from the fact that big names in opposing parties can join up to campaign on the same side. It's not a black and white issue, so I thought I'd outline why I'm in favour of giving prisoners the vote, albeit that there are kinks to work out.

I'm well aware that I'm not on the side of popular public opinion on this one, but do believe there is a case to be made that denying prisoners the right to vote is wrong. Already our prison system focusses too heavily on punishment, with very little done by the way of rehabilitation. It may make the victim of crime feel better to know that the criminal is punished, but it is of little comfort to those who are affected by crime when they are released having being insufficiently rehabilitated.

There are many misconceptions about prisoners, as I have written previously many have serious mental health issues and others are simply a product of their environment. Yes, there is an element of free will, and some people commit despicable acts through nothing but there own volition, but anyone who suggests a criminal is not in any way shaped by their surroundings flies in the face of decades of psychological research.

Now, why is this all relevant to the issue at hand? Because, in my view, the argument against giving prisoners the vote has emotion very much at its heart. It generalises all prisoners to be the same evil beings with nothing but malice in their hearts. If you take that emotion out of the debate, then you can have a much more constructive sharing of opinion.

In my view, taking away the vote has no benefits, no-one is put off crime because of the fear they will no longer be able to vote, and I don't honestly believe any criminal sees their disenfranchisement as a serious punishment for the crime.

However, whilst it doesn't have benefits, it may well have negative consequences. You disenfranchise people from the political process, which could be irreversible. It means you have a system where voting is not an inalienable right but something which is earned. It would not be something I objected to if it was shown to produce results, but as I mentioned, for this loss I see no compensatory benefit.

The proposals that were put forward by Kenneth Clarke seemed to me to be a perfect compromise. I understand some people have strong feelings against serious offenders having the vote, but giving it to those in prison for under four years seemed very modest indeed.

Elections, under the new fixed parliament legislation, would be every five years. This would mean that someone imprisoned for under four years could leave prison and live in a society governed by people over whom they had no vote. It keeps the right to vote away from serious offenders, and even many moderate offenders, but means that those living in free society have a say over who governs them.

It saddens me to see some in my own party oppose even these very moderate suggestions, and of all the things I would wish a backbench Tory rebellion over this is the one I would least like to see. They rebel over these very modest changes yet stay staunchly loyal when Cameron and Clegg bend students and the NHS over a table. It's simply wrong.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Gossip run wild

Sorry for the post-exam break, gave myself a holiday with my new found freedom from revision and blogging didn't come top of the list. I should be back to regular posts from here on though.

Anyway, I found this whilst flicking through BBC News today, and thought it was a bit stupid and reckless. It's basically a website where users can go on and anonymously post gossip about named individuals, where others can then search for their school/university and find all the gossip about their classmates. The potential for bullying and other negative consequences should be obvious to a baboon.

The idea that you can specifically search within your institution and have the gossip named is what tips this idea from simply being stupid to one that is actually harmful. And the fact that despite apparently making precautions against people under 18 using it (a title page asking if you're over 18) there are still schools on the list.

I'm aware that even by writing this I'm giving it undue publicity, but it stuns me that someone can be idiotic enough to consider this a good idea. And just to add pizzazz to the post I'll leave you with an appropriate quote from Eleanor Roosevelt which I really like:

"Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people."

With readers of the Daily Mail and the creators of this website clearly falling into the latter category.