Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category.

Ideas for a ‘zombie’ government

Apparently our government has run out of ideas as to what to do with itself in the final parliamentary term before the next election. Given this I thought I’d be very public spirited (how is the Big Society going?) and help them out by offering up some useful ideas to start them off:

  • Repeal lifestyle laws, e.g smoking ban
  • Repeal the handgun ban
  • Decriminalise drugs
  • Decriminalise acts associated with sex-work, e.g brothel-keeping

Feel free to add your (non-authoritarian) suggestions below.

Kipped out

And so the quinquennial farce that are the European Parliamentary Elections draw towards an end as those who can be bothered to cast a ballot get the opportunity to do so at various times over the next 4 days with the results starting to be announced after the polls finally close on Sunday evening.

Farce, you cry? Well yes. What else do you call voting for a parliament with few powers? The real power lies with the European Commission and the members of that august body (no sniggering at the back) are appointed by national governments without any voter consultation.

Given that, is it any surprise that the European electorate aren’t expected to bother? Barely 43% bothered in 2009 – ranging from as high as 91% in Belgium and Luxembourg to just shy of 20% in Slovakia (the UK managed just over 1 in 3) – and I doubt it would surprise anyone if it is lower this time around.

As any UK resident will be aware, the main media story of the campaign in this country has been UKIP and the likelihood of them topping the poll – thus leading to them taking more seats on the European gravy train than either Labour or the Conservatives.

To call the campaign acrimonious would be an understatement. With it being impossible (since they have no effective power) to formulate an election strategy based on what the pan-European electoral grouping each national party is affiliated to might achieve should it become the biggest (pretty much nothing), the UK parties have fallen back on national issues. Therefore the election will (in the UK at least) be seen more as a protest against the ‘Establishment’ rather than as a serious attempt to produce a ‘Government’ (in the loosest sense of the word).

I suspect only those who have been concentrating will be able to recall anything memorable that iDave, Millipede Jr or Nick have said during this campaign but, thanks to the media attention focused on the party, can probably mention several things said by UKIP leader Nigel Farage and various candidates (whether for the European or the local elections) – especially the ones that cast the party in a bad light.

The charge of racism has been levelled at them since they made immigration (or the right to live and work anywhere within the EU) the focus of their EU election strategy and various comments have shown that there are certainly some candidates who have distasteful views regarding skin colour or, more generally, anyone perceived to be ‘foreign’.

I very much doubt that those sentiments are confined to just UKIP supporters or candidates but the repeated accusations and exposures of candidates opinions has, it would seem, demonstrably failed to make any negative impact on UKIP’s polling figures. We shall find out the truth of the matter on Sunday. What has been rather more amusing is watching the development of a bunker mentality amongst the more vocal of their supporters on social media and a run on tinfoil as their belief that this is all a conspiracy grows.

In the end though it matters not if UKIP top the European Parliament ballot in Great Britain. Until they manage to get some MPs they are going to remain an even more useless protest vote than the Lib Dems.

If you wish to vote UKIP (or, indeed, anyone else) then go ahead. Just don’t think it will change anything.

MPs drink ‘to point of oblivion’, official warns

A parliamentary culture of heavy drinking can see MPs “drinking to the point of oblivion” the person responsible for security and keeping order within the Commons has admitted as he faced calls to scrap subsidised drink in parliamentary bars.

The Serjeant at Arms told an MPs committee the Government should do more to rein in a boozing culture within Parliament.

He also faced calls to end cut price alcohol in parliamentary after one MP complained she had once been charged only £1 for a treble gin and tonic while in the Strangers’ Bar.

Mr Ward told the Administration Committee he was not a “killjoy” and recognised people with stressful jobs needed to let their hair down.

However he said: “I am not convinced that we couldn’t do more about the culture of drinking in Parliament,”

“I’m not some killjoy. But sometimes there has been an attitude in the past that it was acceptable, as part of that de-stressing process, to all go out and consume vast amounts of alcohol as part of that camaraderie and that letting down of the hair.

“There is nothing wrong with some of that, but the levels of drinking to the point of oblivion and all the rest of it is a culture which I don’t welcome in any workforce.

“The incidence of binge drinking, the quantities of alcohol, across society are beginning to diminish. I would hope that would be the same in Parliament.”

His concerns had been heightened by the actions of the MP for Falkirk, Eric Joyce.

He told MPs “There were many things in that incident that concerned me. One of them, quite clearly, the culture of heavy drinking.”

Madeleine Moon MP said ending the “high level of subsidy” enjoyed at parliamentary bars would help to curb drinking.

She said she got the “fright of my life” when she was charged only £1 for a treble gin and tonic when setting foot in the Strangers’ Bar two years ago.

The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) has been tasked by the Serjeant at Arms with finding ways to cut problem drinking in parliament – and its report is due later this year.

A parliamentary spokesman said: “Much like wider society, MPs accept that the moderate consumption of alcohol can be part of life.

“However, we always encourage sensible drinking and have a number of programmes designed to raise awareness and prevent alcohol misuse.”

Advice on the dangers of excessive drinking forms part of wider initiatives to encourage a healthy lifestyle among MPs, officials indicated.

Cheap drink and/or food is available to MPs and staffers in all parliamentary bars and restaurants and is subsidised.

NB: Some of the details of this story may have been changed.

Information censorship

According to leaked information about the forthcoming Queen’s Speech, the government wishes to close a ‘loophole’ in the law which allows paedophiles legally to download manuals on how to groom children by treating those who download such material in the same way as those who download material which might be used to build bombs are.

This is not the criminalisation of actions which cause non-consensual harm but the criminalisation of viewing information which the government objects to.

Information is neutral. It can be also be distasteful but knowledge of bomb-making (i.e. chemical reactions) does not make one a terrorist. Neither does knowing how those who do wish to abuse children might operate make one an abuser.

Deciding what people can (or can’t read) is censorship.

Yesterday the excuse was terrorism. Today it is paedophiles. What will it be tomorrow?

Paying tax is not an aspiration

George Osborne is alleged to have told some backbench Conservative MPs:

“Let’s not forget there are advantages in more people paying tax at 40p.

“It means they feel they are a success and joining the aspirational classes. That means they are more likely to think like Conservatives and vote Conservative.

“If they are paying 40p tax they have a greater interest in cutting Government spending because they are paying for it. All the polling evidence suggests that I am right.”

Whilst I would prefer to earn more money, I see paying more tax as a bug, not a feature – and I certainly don’t aspire to pay more of it which is why I take measures (subject to the limitations of PAYE) to reduce the amount stolen from me each month.

However I can see that there is, in a perverse and twisted way, some logic to what Gideon is saying – especially in the last line of quoted above. The problem is that whilst those who are paying more for government certainly have a greater interest in cutting government spending, the reality is that government isn’t cutting spending, has deliberately squeezed the basic tax rate band in order to catch more people in the 40% band and shows no indication of stopping doing either.

And George wonders why the ‘aspirational classes’ are disillusioned with him and his party.

Dr. Wollaston and the Case of the Smartphone Ban

Known bansturbator Dr Sarah Wollaston was reported by the BBC yesterday (before the story was subjected to some rewriting) as apparently being in favour of banning teenagers from using smartphones in order to save them from the dangers of sexting.

The original BBC story was based on the exchange between Dr. Wollaston and Norman Baker (Minister for Crime Prevention) during Home Office questions yesterday afternoon (emphasis mine):

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con):
What steps she is taking to prevent harassment through the sending of unsolicited sexual images via the internet and telephone.[902169]

The Minister for Crime Prevention (Norman Baker):
The coalition Government takes all forms of harassment, whether online or offline, very seriously. We have robust legislation in place to deal with cyber-stalking and harassment, and perpetrators of grossly offensive, obscene or menacing behaviour face stiff punishment. We will continue to work collaboratively with industry, charities and parenting groups to develop tools and information for users aimed at keeping society safe online.

Dr Wollaston:
I welcome the measures that the Government have taken to prevent sexual violence against women and girls. The Minister will be aware that many young people have been pressured into sending intimate photographs of themselves only to find that those images are sometimes posted, distributed or shared without their consent, which is an important form of bullying and harassment. What measures have been taken, and does the Minister support measures to prevent smart phone use by those who are not mature enough to understand that it can result in an important form of bullying?

Norman Baker:
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes an important point. We have given teachers stronger powers to tackle cyber-bullying by searching for and, if necessary, deleting inappropriate images or files on electronic devices, including mobile phones. It is critical to educate young people about the risks of sending intimate photographs. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre has developed a specific educational resource to tackle sexting that is designed for use by teachers. There are numerous laws in place that can be used to deal with those who behave in this appalling manner.

On the basis that we should be able to trust Hansard, I’d say that the original BBC piece (sadly now lost unless anyone managed to screen grab it) entitled “‘Sexting’ abuse: Wollaston urges teen ban on smartphones” was an accurate representation of the words spoken in the house.

However Wollaston took to twitter after the the story was published and people started to mock her to say that…

before going on to ‘clarify’ her remarks…

All of which may or may not be more reasonable but if that was what she meant, why not say so at the time (she did have follow-ups prepared before she walked into the chamber, didn’t she?) rather than having to issue her clarifications in the face of laughter from an audience all too inclined to believe that yet another MP is out of touch with reality?


SSE also said in yesterday’s statement that it would be investing less over the next five years.

An SSE spokesperson attributed this to “uncertainty in the underlying [regulatory] framework”.

I’m sure that the SSE spokesperson wasn’t alluding to Millipede Jr’s proposed freeze in energy prices. Honest.

On the proposed NMW increase

In an interview with the BBC yesterday George Osborne said that he would like to see above inflation increases in the National Minimum Wage (NMW), potentially increasing the rate for those aged 21 and over to £7/hour. Whether this was a pre-emptive strike or a panicky reaction ahead of Millipede Jr’s speech on the cost of living today is left up to the reader to decide based on their own particular biases.

The bare numbers (courtesy of Listen to Taxman) for someone doing a 37.5 hour week in the 2013/14 tax year are as follows:

£6.31/hour £7.00/hour £ Change % Change
Gross Pay 12,304.50 13,650.00 1,345,50 10.94
Income Tax 572.90 842.00 269.10 46.97
Employee National Insurance 546.78 708.24 161.46 29.53
Employer National Insurance 635.97 821.65 185.68 29.20
Nett Pay 11,184.82 12,099.76 914.94 8.18

Increasing the NMW to £7 would (in this tax year) make the employee £914.94 better off, the government £616.24 better off and the employer £1,531.18 worse off.*

Yet increasing the thresholds for Income Tax and all types of National Insurance to £12,304.50 would leave the employee with an extra £1,119.68 in their pocket, the employer with £635.97 per employee to spend on something else and a reduction in the amount taken by government of £1,755.65 – which would no doubt be offset by a reduction in the need to hand out quite so much in in-work benefits (and, potentially, reduce the admin overheads involved).

Not that it will happen though.

*Obviously this assumes that nobody loses their jobs because their labour isn’t worth the increased amount because at that point the employee and the government are both worse off…

The mask of civility and reason

For one of the few MPs with supposed libertarian leanings, the following tweet, even given the character limitations of twitter, hardly ranks amongst as Douglas Carswell’s finest utterings:

It doesn’t take much imagination to realise that this went down like a cup of cold sick with those who are in favour of free speech no matter how distasteful it can get and he came in for a bit of stick from them.

Carswell went on to ‘clarify’ his opening remarks in replies to some of the responses he received, saying that he’d like to be able to ‘exclude anonymous posters from one’s time line’ – an idea that perhaps (as a user-enabled setting) has legs assuming that anyone can come up with an acceptable definition of ‘anonymous’. Given that Guido and Old Holborn still use those identities even though pretty much everyone knows who Guido is these days and Old Holborn’s name was made public earlier this year, which side of the line do you place them? What about those like me who use a pseudonym as a handle but have their forename as their display name? Personally I’d place the odds of coming up with something that might suit Doug, let alone anyone else, at about the same as producing a useable internet porn filter.

The ‘explanation’ however leaves something to be desired as an optional block is a world away from wanting to sync twitter handles with the electoral roll in a cack-handed attempt to force civility on tweeters. Whilst I tend to be civil online (although my language is known to get somewhat fruity in meatspace), others are just as forthright in person as they are online so, anonymous or not, civility is not a certainty just because you know the real name of the person who has just suggested you perform some anatomically impossible act or has called you names that are slang for parts of the body.

Since Carswell is someone who has previous lauded the idea of the internet as a way of doing without big government, it is rather depressing to see him fall into the exact same trap. Is this simply the result of drinking the water in the Palace of Westminster or has his mask finally slipped?

You will be tolerent… or else