UK Politics

Voter Form - Fail!

Today I received my electoral registration form. As usual, no changes - so very easy. However, I did not one logical fallacy on the form.

We are supposed to register everyone at the address on the 15th October - but in order to save the costs of a reminder message, they would like people to do this by the 15th September. This is a physical impossibility if one is striving for accuracy!

As no changes are expected, I took advantage of the 'as far as I am aware' clause and registered by phone (you dial a number, and key an ID and pin code, printed on the form).

Now That's British!

"When Gordon Brown called on the British Library to stage an exhibition about Britishness he perhaps envisaged a patriotic celebration of the national identity. " begins the story in The Telegraph. It continues to tell of the new exhibition called 'Taking Liberties' - which is a very British response to such a request from a Prime Minister seeking a publicity tool. It's an exhibition looking at Civil Liberties in the UK, and how they've been slowly but steadily eroded since 1997.

David Davis, the former shadow Home Secretary who recently stepped down from the Parliament to force a by election on the issue of civil liberties, said: "It is an astonishingly good idea but is clearly a snub to the Prime Minister and must be accurately embarrassing for him. Gordon Brown likes to talk about Britishness a lot without understanding that liberty is at the core of Britishness. It is our institutional DNA. Our history and tradition of freedom run longer and deeper than any other country."

(snip)

Iconic objects such as the Magna Carta, the death certificate of Charles I and Cromwell's Oath of Loyalty from 1857 will be on display among less well known items some of which have never been on display before.

The exhibition will open on the 31st October and end on the 1st March 2009. Be careful what you ask for, you might just get it.

The British Library is at St. Pancras - very convenient for tube and rail connections.

Number 10 and Wordpress

Number 10 has modified their site to use WordPress, and it does look good. At first.

Unfortunately, they're not using the full power of WordPress - I note in particular that comments are switched off for everything at the same time that they're talking about 'dialogue'.

What I find particularly amusing is that the first, most obvious link on their homepage, which promises us "Number10TV" and the ability to "watch the PM’s introductory film." gives this result:

I think the phrase they need is 'Whoops'.

Epic Fail. Says it all really.

Original heads-up from ocaoimh.ie

When starting from scratch (as opposed to migrating a site over from another URL or software system), there is really little excuse for broken links in WordPress, especially when you're paying developers to manage it for you. Hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, manage it quite comfortably.... and there is especially no excuse for a broken link on something that takes up half the screen on the homepage - the first thing people see.

Update: The 404 has been fixed.

The Nasty Party

'The Nasty Party' used to be a term applied to the Tories. This is most emphatically no longer the case. Putting aside historical issues for a moment and looking at recent weeks:

Kathz wrote about an issue (mirror) which I noted, but did not post about until now. That is of Labour playing nasty in Crewe.

The Labour Party is putting out an official leaflet which carries a picture of the Conservative candidate and the question, "Do you oppose making foreign nationals carry an ID card?"

Maybe the Conservative party policy isn't clear on the issue. But Labour (government) policy isn't just about foreign (non-EEC, by the way) nationals. Soon we shall all have to carry ID cards. The government is preparing to collect our biometric details so that it can store them on a database. The ID scheme targeting foreign nationals is simply starting with a soft target - people who don't have votes.

The Labour leaflet in Crewe hasn't been published to open up a debate on ID cards. The government has made it very clear that the introduction of ID cards is not open to debate. This leaflet is about race. It's about fuelling fear and race hatred to hold a vulnerable seat in a parliamentary by-election. The implication of the leaflet is that foreigners are dangerous and only the Labour Party will keep them under surveillance.

Spreading suspicion is dangerous. Mistrust is often a two-way process.

(Another source)

In other news, Labour want to institute a database recording the internet activity and phone calls of everyone in the country 'just in case'. (source)

Jonathan Bamford, the assistant Information Commissioner, said: “This would give us serious concerns and may well be a step too far. We are not aware of any justification for the State to hold every UK citizen’s phone and internet records. We have real doubts that such a measure can be justified, or is proportionate or desirable. We have warned before that we are sleepwalking into a surveillance society. Holding large collections of data is always risky - the more data that is collected and stored, the bigger the problem when the data is lost, traded or stolen.

Let us all recall that Government doesn't have a good track record with large databases, with multiple leaks over the past year - including the one leak of the records of some 25million families.

As an interesting aside, Guido notices that the number of stress related sick days at the treasury has dramatically reduced since Brown became PM.

Gordon's Apprentice

As I started to note last night when the story was breaking (I was writing about Caroline Flint), the papers are full of a second memo held by Hazel Blears which reveals that there have been talks of featuring Gordon Brown in an 'Apprentice' style TV programme for wannabe politicians. This had the potential to make him 'more popular than Alan Sugar', according to memo.

Yeah. Right.

They have a long way to go. By public Vote, of 84% to 16%, Gordon Brown has become the first sitting PM not to appear in Madame Tussauds for over 150 years.

From the Madame Tussauds site:

In the last week 6333 people registered their votes in a poll to decide if the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is immortalised in wax here in the World Leaders Zone at Madame Tussauds. By a convincing consensus he is duly voted out of Madame Tussauds, becoming the first incumbent Prime Minister not to be featured in the attraction for over 150 years.

THE RESULTS:

FOR Gordon Brown to be featured in Madame Tussauds – 1025 (16.2%). AGAINST Gordon Brown to be featured in Madame Tussauds – 5308 (83.8%)

Thank you to everyone who voted.

Here is a screen capture from the Madame Tussauds Site:

Gordon Rejected from Tussauds

Caroline Flint Memo

Photographers have taken a pic of a cabinet memo, held by one Caroline Flint on her way to the meeting. One has to feel slightly sorry for her to have her thoughts placed in the public domain like this (with the photograph plastered all over the news sites). (Pic of memo) This is what it says (with some guesswork, which is in italics):

Caroline Flint - Speaking Notes for Cabinet

  • Colleagues will know tha (obscured by a sticker with the text 'Papers for Cabinet Meeting 13 May 2008) present.
  • Leading house prices ind (obscured) falls for the first time in recent years. Given present trends they will clearly show sizeable falls in prices later this year - at best down 5-10% year-on-year
  • House building is also stalling. New starts are already down 10% compared to a year ago. Housebuilders are predicting further falls. Having seen net additions reach roughly 200,000 in each of the last two years, the figure for 2008-09 is almost certain to be well down on that.
  • Repossessions are also rising, although we need to remember that the 2007 figure was still only around a third of that in 1991.
  • Underlying demand for housing remains high and the fundamentals of the economy are sound. But the market is being affected by the global credit crunch, which is making it difficult for many who would like to buy to do so.
  • We can't know how bad it will get. But we need to plan now to put in place effective measures against the risk that it does get worse and to prepare for the up-turn.
  • We are continuing to monitor the situation, and take appropriate action.
  • The Chancellor and I met some of the largest mortgage lenders recently to continue discussions on what more the Government and the industry could be doing. I have subsequently met a number of the smaller lenders.
  • We are playing our part to get the market moving with the Bank of England's £50 billion liquidity scheme. We have also put in place new measures to ensure the small minority of buyers facing repossession receive the support and advice they need. And I will tomorrow announce a package of measures to assist first time buyers.

But it is vital that we show that at this time of uncertainty we show that we are on people's side:

Repossessions

  • Last Friday Alastair and I announced a new package of measures to support home owners who may be facing difficulties with their mortgage....

The biggest concern I have with this document is importance attached to the phrase: 'it is vital that we show that at this time of uncertainty we show that we are on people's side'

Surely the most vital thing is to take the appropriate financial decisions. Not to concentrate on spin and PR.

Silly me, for one second I forgot it was 'New Labour'.

Before posting, I had a quick trawl around, and I'm not the only one taking this view. For example, someone calling themselves 'The Hunstman' says:

Instead of reminding themselves of the Party Line on how to keep the ravening mob from the door, might not this sentence have proceeded, for example, thus:

"It is vital that, at this time of uncertainty, that we take bold positive steps to remedy the problem. To that end we should proceed to a programme of tax cuts and radical deregulation designed to breathe new life into the economy so that the worst effects of the housing crisis which our policies have in large part created might be mitigated".

Instead Flint and the rest of the crew take the position that, whatever else happens, they must make sure the public do not think for a nanosecond that they are responsible in any measure for this mess.

Guido Fawkes says:

The final sentence visible concludes, in bold type, that most importantly: "... it is vital that we show that at this time of uncertainty we show that we are on people's side". You see that is the thing with New Labour politicians, what they care most about is covering their arse. Not that they would think to introduce an emergency growth package as Bush has done in the U.S., or cut taxes to boost growth like they have elsewhere in Europe. No, the most important thing is that they push their disingenuous spin slogan that they are "on people's side".

LabourHome has a copy of the text though all they can say it 'Not much in these speaking notes that hasn't already been speculated in the newspapers.' (what, no comment on the finale of spin, chaps?)

RainerPR links to a few sources, saying:

We know the Labour Government is lousy at keeping secrets, but Housing Minister Caroline Flint dropped a clanger today, unwittingly allowing paps to get a shot of her Cabinet notes which acknowledged the state of the housing marketing in the UK.

Although I think blogger Guy Fawkes is over the top in calling for Flint to be charged under the Official Secrets Act, I do agree that Flint’s closing statement is classic New Labour bollocks: “... it is vital that we show that at this time of uncertainty we show that we are on people's side,” she writes.

What’s required is firm action, not a few clumsily-spun words.

I quite agree.

At the time of writing, the above links to every article that google and technorati produce on this matter.

To make this as complete a roundup as possible, here are some conventional news sources on this issue. As I searched for this, another story started to break about a second leak today. I've mixed these in too....

What was that, Darling?

Always nice to reference Blackadder. So, Alistair Darling has sought to dig Labour from a hole of their own making by raising the personal tax-free allowance by £600. Not only does this allow stupid people to think 'Oh good, I'm £600 better off' (when they're not) he's paid for it by borrowing £2.7billion - i.e. the country is going further into debt to dig Labour from this hole - one that anyone with any sense saw coming a year ago.

He is also going to 'lower the level at which 40p tax is paid - so higher earners did not gain from the change.'

Yep, and some more of the middle classes get moved into the top tax bracket.

It's a threshold raise for one year only (they 'aim' to continue the support, but....)

Of course, this is nothing to do with the upcoming by-elections. Oh no. Just as certain tax breaks made as 'one offs' had nothing to do with the general election in 2005. 'A one-off council tax refund of £200 for every household with a member aged 65 or older. Annual winter fuel payment of £200 for over-65s and £300 for over-80s' (source)

On the other hand, it is better to have a government which realises they've cocked up and seeks to put it right - but they've put it 'right' by increasing national debt. They could have saved a lot of cash by removing the expensive and also pointlessly invasive ID card scheme. A scheme which has the appearance of increasing, but doesn't substantially increase actual security. Scrapping this illiberal scheme would have also righted another mistake.

Yes, it's a tax break today (or rather it's removing a tax increase) - but it'll have to be paid for tomorrow.

Taking Liberties

Taking Liberties is to be shown on More 4 tonight Taking Liberties

Details on the broadcast are available online. It is to be transmitted at 10pm, and repeated on more4+1. at 11pm. It'll be shown again at 1:10am in the morning.

Blurb from the More 4 site:

About the film Riding in on a wave of optimism and real belief in their mantra that things can only get better, they proceeded to enact some of the most authoritarian legislation in recent history.

With fast-paced satirical style, this Bafta-nominated film shows how, in just over a decade, some rights and freedoms that took centuries to build up have been rolled back or cut away.

Erosion of civil liberties The entitlement to habeas corpus – no detention without trial – established when the barons took on King John in the 13th century has, in some circumstances, been abolished.

Millions of CCTV cameras up and down the country undermine our right to privacy.

A series of measures has made it more and more difficult to exercise freedom of speech and already led to the arrest of a large number of peaceful protestors.

Director Chris Atkins has assembled footage to demonstrate how oppressive these new powers can be.

Walter Wolfgang The 82-year-old holocaust survivor was lifted bodily from a debate at the Labour Party conference for, as talking-head Tony Benn points out, "rightfully" saying that Jack Straw is talking "nonsense" about Iraq. We see a man who tries to protest against the treatment of this old man also set upon by security, and learn that he was later handled roughly – and that poor old Wolfgang was next detained by the police under the 2000 Terrorism Act.

Moulad Sihali We meet Moulad Sihali an Algerian refugee. He was cleared of all charges relating to a non-existent plot to manufacture the poison Ricin (a non-conspiracy that was "discovered", conveniently enough, in the propaganda run up to the invasion of Iraq), but has now been made a prisoner in his own home. He's been fitted with a tracking device, is only allowed outside at certain hours – and then only within a one mile radius of his house – and is forbidden to meet anyone who hasn't been vetted by the Home Office. The specific charge against him? There isn't one.

We hear how Maya Evans, a vegan chef, and her friend the writer Milan Rai were arrested under the Serious Organised Crime and Police act for reading out the names of people who have died in Iraq and occasionally ringing a (very quiet) Buddhist bell.

Brian Haw We watch David Blunkett describe in a Commons debate how he is going to use a "sledgehammer" to "smash" a "nut". The "nut" he's referring to, ("and he is a total nut" booms Blunkett) is Brian Haw, a man whose peaceful protests in Parliament Square so enraged the then home secretary that the law had to be changed to get at him – and more than 70 police officers used to remove his one-man anti-government stand.

And so it goes on.

Occasionally the footage is very funny. The police justify taking Haw's signs away on the grounds that "terrorists can hide bombs in protestors' placards", for instance. Elsewhere, protestors are told that if they step off the grass verge they have been crowded onto they could be arrested for blocking a public highway. They are told this by a massed group of policemen who actually are blocking the road.

Maddening revelations There are recordings of the police intimidating grandmothers; protestors being strong armed; 80-year-olds being dragged along on their backsides by police; Tony Blair staring on silently (in contravention of international law against complicity with torturers) as George W Bush praises the facilities at Guantanamo Bay.

Atkins even succeeds in arousing sympathy for a group of bankers – the Natwest three. Thanks to a 2003 treaty they were extradited to the US – for a crime they allegedly committed in Britain but that British authorities declined to prosecute due to lack of evidence. The ability of the US to take these men from their homes and support networks without presenting any new data to the British government is enraging. "In this matter we are the 51st state" says one observer, and it's hard to disagree.

Shock tactics As you might expect from a product that shares a co-producer with Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, Taking Liberties is partisan, loud, in your face and all-the better for it.

"This film uses shock tactics. We needed to be unashamedly populist," said director Chris Atkins and his judgement has been vindicated.

The complex legal issues surrounding civil liberties may not set everyone aflame, but the great gift of Taking Liberties is to show how vital they are.

True, Atkins sweetens the pill with all that dramatic footage and eloquent contributions from talking heads like the ever reliable Mark Thomas and Tony Benn, but it's the central message of the film that really hits home.

The erosion of these rights and freedoms has the potential to impact seriously on each and every one of us – and if we don't do something about it, things will only get worse.

Labour got a bloody nose...

Ha! Labour's got a hammering in the local elections. I'm pleased. Why? Not because of the 10p tax rate, or because of the continual tinkering Labour has done to our constitution without a clear plan. Not because of the imbalance they've created in our constitutional settlement by giving each part of the UK a degree of self determination except England. Not because of the spin or the lies. Not because of the wars. Not because of the increased cost of living with house prices much higher than incomes.

Well, maybe I'm a little annoyed for those reasons.

Why am I mostly annoyed with Labour?

Mostly because of the way they've systematically undermined civil liberties in the UK. It's been a little chip-chipping away. Detention for 90 days without trial. No? 28 days then... let's make it 42... ID cards (if you have nothing to hide), terrorism bills used on people who shout 'nonsense' or wear a T-shirt in the wrong place, removal of the right to protest in central London (people have had problems having a tea party in parliament square, must have been the protest cake).

All done with the best of intentions, and, as it's to 'help the fight against terror', done in a way that the vast majority won't mind; until, like the proverbial lobster, they find the water temperature has been gradually increased and it has become too hot.

When I grew up, the IRA were regularly blowing places up (yes, I know about July 7, I was in London, that doesn't change the point). Regularly. They blew up central manchester in one of their last acts before the ceasefire. They blew up parades, children got killed. They even blew up the government of the day during their party conference.

The UK never took measures like the current lot feel are necessary. It's Orwellian... keep the populace scared of the 'invisible enemy' and you can keep power....

Gits. They've done more to disrupt the 'way of life' in the UK for the long term than any mis-guided bomber(*).

For that reason alone, they deserve to lose the power they temporarily wield.

Next week on More 4 at 10pm, a documentary called 'Taking Liberties' will be shown This is repeated at 11pm on more 4+1. Please try and watch it.

(*) Yes, it's true that really devastating attacks are possible, dirty bombs and all sorts. However, one can never totally shield against things like that. Even if we choose to live in a full-blown totalitarian regime. Is that truly how we want to live, on the off-chance that it might stop a theoretical risk?

By the way, I'm feeling much better now. It's all good. Thanks for asking (or not).

Cameron on Marriage

On Newsnight today, Cameron made the case for Marriage. He said that if you look at a random child of unmarried parents, by the age of five there is a 1 in 5 chance that the parents will have separated. The chance for a married couple is 1 in 12. Therefore, he argues, marriage provides a more stable basis in which to raise children.

He's fallen into a logical fallacy here. Correlation doesn't imply causation. It could simply be that couples which are more stable are more likely to get married.

To make it a fair test, you would have to take a random sampling of unmarried people with a newborn child and then randomly assign them to be married or not married (with no option to become married). I very much doubt if this has been done, not least because of the ethical issues.

If you're going to make an argument, you should use the data fairly - or at least tacitly admit its flaws (i.e. 'it looks like marriage is a more stable arrangement in which to raise children'). I'd like to think that Cameron realises the flaw in his argument, but is paraphrasing for the benefit of the camera - I'm slightly worried that a potential Prime Minister hasn't spotted the logical flaw and what this implies about his reasoning ability.

It is a shame that nobody who interviewed Cameron understood the distinction between causation and correlation.

Boris for Mayor

So, it's official. The fluffy-haired Boris is to run for London Mayor against Livingstone. He's probably the first serious challenger other than Livingstone for that position. The thing is with that position, is that it affects more than just the people who happen to live in London, it affects those who commute to London each day as well as those who merely live nearby.

Unfortunately, that category of people don't get to vote.

It should be an interesting race.

Cash For Honours

Now that Brown has settled in, I wonder idly.... Whatever happened to that Cash for Honours dossier? I did a quick search, and learned the following:

  1. Brown chose yesterday to release the details of donations to his leadership campaign. I wonder what he needed a campaign for. After all, he was unopposed!
  2. An American Porn Star was flown to London yesterday as part of the investigation, though unfortunately for the gossip columnists: [Scotland Yard] spoke to her in person but [police] decided she did not have anything of interest to say so she was not formally interviewed. In effect, she was time wasting.
  3. The Birmingham Post, in an article primarily about the renumeration of the PM, looks at the History of Cash for Honours: 'Throughout the first half of the 20th century politicians routinely accepted subsidies from wealthy backers. The newspaper magnate Lord Beaverbrook funded several, including one Prime Minister - and Nye Bevan was unusual in refusing the Beaver's offer of a country home.'

It'll be interesting to see how the Cash for Honours affair progresses. Brown has resisted appointing Lord Levy, who has recently been rebailed.

I didn't think I'd write this...

Of all the things I thought I'd be writing this evening, it wasn't the following sentence. Gordon Brown impressed me today.

Crikey, strong stuff.

What did he do to earn this accolade?

After the speech, he went into Number 10, and his first act as Prime Minister was to

rescind special legislation, introduced in 1997, allowing Number 10 political advisers to give orders to permanent civil servants. (source)

He held a meeting with cabinet secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell, and immediately revoked the Orders in Council which had allowed special advisers to instruct civil servants. (source)

Yes Minister & Yes Prime Minister - The Complete Box SetYes Minister - Series 1-3 Complete [1980]This may prove to be cosmetic, but I'd like to believe it isn't. The civil service provides expertise between governments (despite the 'Sir Humphrey' image), which is undermined at our peril - it's good to see that he's rectified at least one of Blair's errors before he leaves office (one down, how many more to go?)

Unfortunately, he spoilt it all by reportedly saying:

"I don't want to be called anything but Gordon. Let's work together.” (Source)

Call me old fashioned, but I don't want to be on first name terms with Iraqi dictators (Saddam), Prime Ministers (Tony or Gordon)... or people who I ring in order to buy car insurance. There are times when a bit of formality doesn't go astray, and first names seem forced (I've mentioned this before)