Tag Archives: 38 degrees

The state of us

It is becoming increasingly clear that the things we need to have happen in order for a fairer, more just society to emerge, from economic reforms to climate change measures, as well as improvements in education, health and social care are further away than ever.  The systems of government hamper more than they help, either by way of elected officials for reasons of ideology or because they are in the thrall of lobbyists or the Sir Humphreys of this world:

Yes, yes, yes, I do see that there is a real dilemma here. In that, while it has been government policy to regard policy as a responsibility of Ministers and administration as a responsibility of Officials, the questions of administrative policy can cause confusion between the policy of administration and the administration of policy, especially when responsibility for the administration of the policy of administration conflicts, or overlaps with, responsibility for the policy of the administration of policy

Quite.

Regaining control will be more of a headache than marking an ‘X’ every five years and expecting that to do.  It requires engagement and understanding and other words which have become sullied by overuse in the kind of overeager council leaflet often used to line kitty litter trays.  But if the last nine months have shown anything, it is that the kind of people who seek elected office can in no way be trusted with the responsibility of it.

On everything from tax kickbacks for the rich to flogging off the forests, our ‘leaders’ are dangerously out of step with what rational thoughts and future generations require.  To justify it they point to a woeful majority of voters who agree with some of their policies, although not many of these were explicitly laid out in the manifesto.  They can ignore scientists, economists and the advice of history as they run amok and seek to dismantle in months what it took our forefathers generations to establish.  The only response we have is to change them for another, similar shower in different coloured rosettes with slightly nuanced policy differences in half a decade.

It’s almost enough to make you turn to drink

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The Clegg and Compo show

Here we all are then, the Dave ‘n’ Nick show opens with the release of the initial and snappily titled ‘Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition negotiations agreements’ on how we are to be governed.  You can read the whole thing here.

The agreement does demand close inspection, because there are at least a couple of hopeful messages for the future directed at those who may be feeling concerned.  Here is one such commitment that initially caught my attention, something which you might have hoped would never need to be carved into tablets of stone in a civilised country, had recent events not so manifestly demonstrated otherwise:

We will end the detention of children for immigration purposes

Almost gives you hope, doesn’t it.  Add to that:

  • a commission charged with separating retail and investment banking
  • action to tackle unacceptable banking bonuses
  • funding for the NHS should increase in real terms in each year of the Parliament

and you might find yourself questioning if the Conservatives had actually won on any of the negotiating points.  Don’t run away with that thought, though, because of course they did:

  • modest cuts of £6 billion to non-front line services… within the financial year 2010-11
  • a review of the long-term affordability of public sector pensions
  • an annual limit on the number of non-EU economic migrants.

As playwright (and exotic dancer) Dan Rebellato commented on Twitter:

 

so I agree, it is vital for us as voters to retain some cynicism about the whole process.  On the other hand, it is equally important for the Conservatives that they don’t cause undue alarm in this initial period, calming the nerves of people with a visceral hatred of all things Tory, reaching out to wavering Lib Dems and making us all believe that they have our best interests at heart.  There are even some reports of a much deeper change in outlook, if Tory blogger Tim Montgomerie is to be believed:

‘They don’t believe us when we say we’re not two-headed, monstrous Thatcherites so we’ll just have to prove it in office,’ was the conclusion of one leading Cameroon.

I find myself with the words of Mandy Rice-Davies echoing in my head: ‘well he would say that, wouldn’t he?’  When most of the Cabinet count their small change in the millions rather than in silver and copper, you have to question how far we can realistically expect them to understand the concerns of us plebs.  Are they likely to protect the hard-won services and policies that may seem like an unnecessary extravagance at this time of extraordinary economic turmoil, but which we recognise as essential in the battle to keep body and soul together?  I wonder.

Similarly, it is difficult to feel much confidence in the sudden raging appetite for political reform amongst those who typically consider themselves to be the natural party of government.  Having been kept away from the top jobs for over a decade, they won’t be keen to vacate them so readily.  The Alternative Vote system proposed in the agreement is a long way from the demanded Proportional Representation,  as noted by John Q Publican:

It’s about safe seats. AV is the only one of the alternative systems which preserves them intact. Safe seats are graphably the reason for the expenses scandal. Safe seats allow parachuting of candidates, placing too much power in the hands of central committees over local candidates and parties. Safe seats are wholly counter-democratic. And the LibDems have almost none of them, but the other parties have quite a few each

 It does seem that if we are not very careful, what we could end up witnessing is a rapid return to what Rosemary Bechler calls ‘business-as-usual politics’, instead of what benefits us as voters:

We want open discussion and robust decision-making that takes in a range of options we can keep our eyes and ears on.  We want people who answer to our criticisms face to face (as opposed to Jeremy Paxman’s). We want people who ask us what we think much more often.  And we want a democratic, fair, adult, proportional electoral system

So how do we go about getting that?  I believe we must keep up the pressure by demanding a fairer voting system until we get it – the Take Back Parliament campaign is one way of doing this.  Another is to join 38 degrees in deciding what comes next, following their successful actions during the election to counter adverse publicity about hung parliaments and challenge candidates to support electoral reform. 

Whatever the outcome of this, the first UK hung parliament since 1974, it must not be more of the same.  Keep watching!

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A ringside seat

At the risk of sounding self-indulgent, blogging seems a bit redundant at the moment.  The situation changes so rapidly, while Stephen Fry, John Q Publican and the Flying Rodent say everything I want to, but better.  It seems ridiculous to add another opinion to the fog of disinformation as the news media continues its descent from the sublime to the ridiculous:

But it is not ten minutes hate‘s style to drown in such self-indulgent waters for long.  Instead, let’s take a couple of lungfuls of air and attempt to doggy-paddle towards a distant yet sunny stretch of beach.  For the first time that I can remember, people are interested in politics again, and not the stupid, ‘leader’s wives’ version of it eternally peddled by the tabloids, but the ancient mechanics behind how the system should work and if in fact it does.

The brightest dot on the horizon must be that we have had no government for five days now and the sky still hasn’t fallen in.  If you turned off Sky News and ignored the papers, you would barely even notice.  This either points to an unelected cabal of civil servants being the real power in the country or a dizzying scent of anarchism in the air:

…when the most thoroughly organized, centralised institution, maintained at an excessive national expense, has proven a complete social failure, the dullest [mind] must begin to question its right to exist. The time is past when we can be content with our social fabric merely because it is “ordained by divine right,” or by the majesty of the law.

– Emma Goldman

So I say, let them squabble.  While they distract themselves with the scintillating prospect of live, 24-hour coverage of some suits chatting in a room, we can get on with some direct action.  Take Back Parliament, Mend our Voting System, Unlock Democracy, there are plenty of campaigns to get involved with, many of which don’t even require you to get up from your desk.

Of course, you could argue that engaging with the election process in any way other than setting fire to your ballot is a betrayal of true anarchist principles.  Though ‘whoever you vote for, the government always wins’ seems to have been knocked on the head a bit this last week.  I also think that so many of us turning our backs on the process – 35% of eligible voters didn’t engage on Thursday and not all of those were locked out of polling stations – is what has allowed the expenses-fiddling and lobbying to become so endemic. 

If they think we are watching, maybe they will take the piss a little less.  Let’s make the bastards work for those free, taxpayer-funded bath plugs!

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Computer love

The internet has taken an awful lot of flak lately, accused of all sorts from murder to drug dealing via rampant piracy.  It is little wonder that our brave Government feels the need to rush in and DO SOMETHING before the evil being emitted by our Netbooks and iPads swamps the earth.

As even casual observers will know, passing legislation on the hoof is rarely a good idea and unfortunately ‘doing something’ in this case has meant using end-of-Parliament rules called the ‘wash up’ to pass a draconian Digital Economy Bill without proper debate in the House of Commons.  Instead, party whips will negotiate between themselves to get the law onto the statute books before Parliament dissolves for the election.

The main causes for concern are:

  • A proposal to remove internet access from persistant file-sharers on a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy;
  • Making website owners responsible for all content, even if posted by users;
  • Forcing internet service providers to pass details of persistant offenders to copyright holders such as music or film companies

Each of these clauses has been amended and altered a couple of times, with the result that it is no longer clear exactly what will be outlawed by the law if it is passed.  This is an absurd situation.

So what can you do?

Campaigning organisation 38 degrees have set up a simple website for you to email your MP.  You just need to go here, fill in your postcode and the site will do the rest.  As they get ready for the election, let’s remind them that we are here, that we have a voice to be heard and that we want our internet to remain free.

Take the time to show your computer some love.

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