I just got a text from the government about the new regime. I assume everyone did. I didn’t know they could do that. It just has this link.


Scattered Thoughts on the General Election

An Election Unlike Any Other

This election is going to be completely unique in our lifetime, probably ever. Because people will be torn between voting on the normal things they care about: health, security, homes, welfare, the economy… — and the big thing of our time: Brexit.

There were close to half the electorate who voted to stay in the EU (close to half the turnout, anyway). There’s no reason to suppose that any of those have changed their minds, even if many now talk in terms of acceptance. There are plenty who voted the other way who wish things had gone differently. And the non-voters are an unknown.

If a party — or a coalition — were to clearly stand on a platform of stopping Brexit, or even of promising a second referendum, they would be in a position unlike any party ever. Or so it seems to me.

Unfortunately only the Liberal Democrats seem to be even close to that position.

I Can’t Vote Labour

I can’t in conscience vote for a Labour party that won’t clearly place itself against Brexit. I just can’t. This means I have to leave the party, I guess. Corbyn called today for “A Brexit that works for all.” No, no, no.

I imagine this means I’ll be voting Lib Dem. Possibly Green. I’m not sure where they stand yet. In one sense, of course, it doesn’t matter, as I live in one of the safest Labour seats, but that’s not really the point. I’ll be writing to Diane Abbot to explain my position, but I don’t imagine it will change hers, which is to support Corbyn, even though her constituency is one of the most pro-remain in the country.

I voted for Corbyn as leader twice, but he’s very disappointing now. Though I have to say that his policies on literally everything else would be dramatically better than the Tories.

Why, and Why Now?

Why has Mayhem changed her mind on a snap election, and why now? The obvious thing is the Tory lead in the polls, and to take advantage of Labour chaos. Nothing to with Brexit at all, not directly.

But something I was seeing on Facebook tonight was the idea that they were about to lose their majority, when the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) brings charges for electoral fraud against up to 30 Tory MPs. The prosecutions will still happen, but they won’t affect the position of MPs who get elected this time round (well, unless they get convicted, of course, but I’m guessing the Tories will quietly deselect the ones who are likely to go down).

Effect of Fixed-Term Parliaments Act

My first reaction was, “They can’t: what about the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act?” Turns out that contains a clause that lets the sitting parliament ignore it, as long as they get a two-thirds majority. The irony of that figure was not lost on me, as possibly my most-retweeted tweet shows:

Without Labour voting with the government they wouldn’t get that two-thirds. Corbyn has cheerfully agreed to go along, missing an open goal. First, the opposition should oppose the government, as a general principle. Unless the government is doing the right thing, which is not the case here. More amusingly, if they didn’t get the two-thirds, they would have to go for a vote of no confidence. That is, a Tory MP would have to stand up in the House of Commons and move that “This house has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.” Even if they could come back from that, Corbyn should have forced it just for the lulz.

Polls Can’t Be Trusted

All is doom and gloom, because the polls look so bleak. Except… if there’s one thing the last few years have taught us, it’s that we can no longer rely on polls.1

On Newsnight tonight Paul Mason says he thinks Labour will win. Gotta admire his confidence, at least.


  1. Or the bookies, and don’t get me back onto that argument about how bookies’ odds can be mapped to percentages of expected voting. ↩︎


Homophobia in SF Fandom

As well as being in charge of the website of the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA), I also admin the association’s Facebook group. Yesterday a member posted a link to the BBC story about the sexuality of the new companion in Doctor Who. “Doctor Who gets first openly gay companion,” it says. Nice to know, but no big deal in 2017, right?

Wrong, sadly. I woke to 81 comments on the FB post. That’s a huge number by the normal standards of the group. It’s not very chatty. It turned out that a raving homophobe had stormed into the group and started to shout about the corruption of youth and I don’t know what all. The comments were a combination of his, and of calmer and more tolerant heads both calling him out and trying to debate rationally with him. To no avail.

I had no choice — nor any desire — but to kick him out the group and block him. I wrote the following, and I thought I should preserve it here;

I’ve just had to eject a member from the group for making offensive remarks to other members. And worse, making remarks offensive to other members.

Specifically he was being offensive to all our LGBT members, and everyone who supports them, or who just supports humanity and common decency.
Oh, wait, that’s all the other members, isn’t it?

Folks, I don’t need to tell you this, but it’s 2017. You can no longer argue that characters in popular TV programmes should not reflect the whole range of people in society. Nor can you make the argument that a character’s sexuality should have no place in Doctor Who, when it plainly has had a place at least since 2005.

Or don’t these people remember Rose being in love with The Doctor? Martha pining over him? Hell, go back further: Jo went off and married a male ecologist. And I’m sure at least a couple of other female companions went off with guys.

Flaunting their heterosexuality.

We won’t get any of that with Bill, at least.

Unless the next Doctor is a woman.


The Night Before

I couldn’t let this night pass without acknowledging that tomorrow will be the start of us losing something great. In years to come the names of Cameron, May, Farage, Gove, etc, will be reviled, of course, but that doesn’t help us now. It doesn’t help us prevent the slide into the abyss of small-minded, inward-looking ugliness that I fear we are headed for.

I don’t want to see these islands turning into the nightmare archipelago that they could if we let the insane clowns in government lead us into a cesspit of deregulation, rejection of human rights, and economic disaster.

I reject all that. I choose optimism.

I choose to believe that most people are basically decent and want the best for everyone, even if a small minority of them made a bad choice in voting, guided by liars.

I choose to believe that there is such a thing as progress in society, in culture. It isn’t constant and it isn’t guaranteed, but its arc does bend towards justice.

I choose to believe that the forces of backwardness — the racists, the misogynists, the homophobes, and everyone who condemns their fellow humans for what they are, what they believe, how they live or who they love — that those people will be washed up by the tides of history, left flapping on the shores of the future, and waste away.

Tomorrow we will still be in the European Union, but no longer of it. Brexit can still be stopped, but if it isn’t, if it goes ahead at full crashing speed the way the Tories seem to want: I choose to believe that we can still be the open-minded, welcoming society that I know we are.

And one day, Europe, we’ll come back.


Beginning of the End

A total of 47 Labour MPs voted against the Brexit bill, joining 50 SNP MPs and seven Liberal Democrats. Just one Conservative MP, Ken Clarke, joined them in the division lobbies, to applause from Labour rebels.

A fifth of Labour MPs defy three line whip to vote against article 50 bill | Politics | The Guardian

Well done to all the rebels. But really, Tories: only one? Only Ken Clarke? Is that really you doing your duty, acting in the best interests of the country?

We’re living through the death of representative democracy.


Democracy, Representation, and the Will of the People

Further to my letter to Diane Abbot, I saw her last night on Question Time. Disappointingly she was trotting out the line that, irrespective of what they believe, MPs are now tied down by the “democratic will of the people.”

That is utter nonsense.

Did the Referendum Give a Democratic Mandate?

The referendum, as I have said before, did not provide a sufficient majority to change the country’s constitution. In fact, it did not provide a majority at all: thirty-seven percent of the electorate voted to leave. That is under no circumstances a democratic mandate.

Do MPs Have to Abide by the Referendum’s Result?

The referendum was advisory, not binding. That was very clear in the act of parliament that enabled it, though it wasn’t mentioned at all in the discussions running up to the event itself. The MPs were asleep at the wheel when the bill went through parliament: if they had given it the thought it deserved, they would have made its advisory nature explicit in the wording of the question; and more importantly, they would have set a proper threshold for it to take effect. A two-thirds majority is common in cases like this.1

MPs make up the house of commons, half of parliament, the sovereign body in the UK. Their role is to scrutinise legislation and to vote on it in accordance with what they understand to be the best interests of the country.

No-one can say that Brexit would be in the best interests of the country. (Well, OK, they can say it; but they are demonstrably wrong.) MPs not only can vote against the triggering of Article 50: doing so is their duty.

Why Have Most MPs Switched to Being in Favour of Brexit?

Or at least that’s the way it seems.

I honestly don’t know. I have my theory, though. They are running scared of the tabloid newspapers. And maybe, as one of my friends suggested on Facebook the other day, literally scared for their lives if they were to resist the Brexit onslaught. Remembering the tragedy of Jo Cox, of course.

If the latter is really why they are doing it, then the terrorists have won. And even if it’s only fear of the tabloids, then the tabloid terrorists have won. If I were inclined that way I would call the Daily Mail and Sun traitors to their country for trying to ruin the British economy and damage British society, by forcing us out of the EU and assaulting the European Convention on Human Rights (which, if it needs to be said again and again, was written by Britons and is nothing to do with the EU).

What’s to be done?

Buggered if I know. If our democratically elected representatives won’t do what they’re elected for and act in the best interests of the country, then I can only conclude that we’re fucked.


  1. And to be fair, we, the public, and the media, were equally inattentive to what the bill actually said. ↩︎


I Wrote to my MP

So the Supreme Court agreed that parliament is sovereign Good for them. Must’ve been a hard decision. I decided it was time to ask my MP, Diane Abbott, to do the right thing:

Dear Ms Abbott,

Now that the Supreme Court has made its decision, affirming parliament’s sovereignty, I strongly urge you to vote against triggering Article 50.

The most urgent issue facing our country at the moment is Brexit, and the only solution to Brexit is to stop it happening. As a Labour Party member, and one who voted for Jeremy Corbyn as leader twice, I’m very disappointed by the recent reports that he is planning to require MPs to vote in favour of triggering Article 50.

I know it would be unpopular with certain tabloid papers if parliament were to prevent Brexit. But in truth I think it would be popular in the country. It seems highly likely to me that if there were a second referendum now, the majority would vote in favour of staying in the EU.

That may be wishful thinking, but I don’t believe so: people have both realised they were lied to, and seen something of what Brexit will mean to the economy, to jobs, and to British society.

And in any case, parliament is sovereign, and the majority in the referendum was far too small to justify what is, in effect, a constitutional change. Surely an MP’s duty is to vote in the way that is best for the country, and it is clear that leaving the EU would not be in the UK’s best interests.

I urge you to resist the tyranny of the right-wing press, and go with the majority of Hackney North and Stoke Newington voters, and please: vote against triggering Article 50.

Yours sincerely,

Martin McCallion

That ought to do it, eh?


On Corbyn, Electability, and Compromise

The other night we watched Lincoln, Steven Spielberg’s 2012 film about the US president. It covers just a few months towards the end of the civil war and his life, during the time when he was trying to get the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution through the House of Representatives (the Senate having already passed it). That’s the amendment that outlaws slavery.

It was dramatised, of course.1But what struck me, and what held resonances with our current situation, was the sheer amount of compromising he had to do.

Then I read an article on Vox about Hillary Clinton, which included this:

politics, as Clinton never tires of reminding audiences, is about getting real things done for real people.

This is the problem that Labour is having now. Whether it’s Jeremy Corbyn’s fault or that of the MPs not backing him, in Labour’s current position it has no chance of getting into government. And if we don’t get into government we can’t do those “real things” for “real people.”

However, I’m far from being convinced that Owen Smith, even if he were to be elected as leader, would put us in any better a position. As well as being largely unknown in the country, he has what looks a slightly shady past, with his lobbying for Pfizer and speaking against the NHS. Though to be fair he rejects any talk of privatisation now.

Corbyn is constantly criticised for not building bridges, not reaching out to people within the party – even within his cabinet, as I linked to the other day. I think it’s fair at this point to say that he is at fault to some degree on the Remain campaign. And I’m certainly unhappy with his call, early on the day after the referendum, for Article 50 to be invoked immediately. That does strongly suggest that his support of the Remain campaign was only ever half-hearted at best.

But even if that’s all true, it doesn’t mean he is solely or even mainly to blame for the disastrous result of the referendum.

And the ongoing, slow-motion disaster that is besetting the Labour Party is at least as much the fault of the plotters. In particular, their behaviour at Prime Minister’s Questions the other day was disgraceful. Their point – renewing Trident was party policy, so the leader should not be speaking against it – was a valid one, but the floor of the House of Commons during the most important event of the parliamentary week, is not the place to argue about it.

The idea of Britain still being a nuclear power, and the doctrine of deterrence, are even more ludicrous now than they were during the 80s when I was a member of CND. But like I say, there’s a time and a place to have that argument, and it’s the party conference.

Maya Goodfellow has a great piece about it all in The Guardian:

The coup itself is unique in recent times, but Labour’s navel gazing is not.

The tribalism that grasps the Labour party is part of its problem. There’s an idea among lifelong supporters and MPs that you’re born Labour, you call the party your own and you will never leave it. This makes some sense – these are people whose families for generations have been Labour members, who spend their weekends canvassing and invest all their spare time, emotional energy and money into the party. They want to feel they have control over it.

But it [the tribalism] is also partly responsible for the current divisions. The people who feel entitled to call the party their own have competing viewpoints; some of them want to see a leftward shift and others range from wanting Miliband 2.0 to the rebirth of Blairism.

The idea too often seems to be “Vote for Labour because we aren’t the Tories”.

Instead of slinging insults at opponents or branding them all Blairites, Corbyn supporters would do better to focus on the task at hand – winning a future general election.

That idea of the divisions on the left go further than just the Labour party. I thought it was well summed up by this banner that I saw on the Palestine Solidarity march two years ago: March with banner showing 'CPGB-ML Communist Pary of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist)'

“Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist),” it says. You can just feel the layers of splits down the years that have led it to such an unwieldy name. Splits on the left are far from new. It’s an old criticism that we spend more time fighting among ourselves than fighting the real enemies.

Or in this case, than working out how to get back into power. Because going back to Lincoln2 and his compromises, to Hillary and her desire to get things done: it’s all for nothing if we don’t get a Labour government into power.

The problem is that Corbyn is “unelectable.” Is he? I’m not sure we know that. He’s sometimes compared to Michael Foot, who famously failed to win an election. But things are very different today from how they were in the eighties. It won’t be easy, but a Labour Party that got fully behind a left-wing leader might well be in a position to win power in 2020, when the next election is due. Or sooner, if May goes to the country over Brexit or otherwise.

In the end I wonder if Corbyn’s biggest problem isn’t just handling the Media. Maybe he needs an Alistair Campbell figure (or hell, why not: a Malcolm Tucker one). Does he even have a press secretary or Director of Communications?

All of this leaves me not knowing how to vote in the new leadership election. My heart is with Corbyn, as most of his policies match my own principles. But if the MPs won’t get behind him again, then we’ll be right back where we are now, with the party not providing a useful opposition, and with no likelihood of electoral success.3

Owen Smith, on the other hand, seems more likely to fight for us to remain in the EU. But can we trust him?

And either way, what will it do to the party as a whole? A party divided against itself, or worse, a party split in two, has no chance of forming a government.


  1. Though I wonder whether anyone with less Hollywood power than Spielberg could have got a film made that was so much about talking and legal and political manoeuvring. ↩︎

  2. No left-winger, of course, though seeing the Republican Party today, it’s impossible to understand how he could have been one of its founders. ↩︎

  3. Because, I contend, of the split, rather then necessarily the leadership. ↩︎


Putting the "Mental" into Governmental

This is beyond insanity: Government axes climate department - BBC News


The Reinvigorated Programmer on the Referendum

The Reinvigorated Programmer has some good thoughts, including blaming Star Wars:

Folks: turn on your targeting computers. Use the facts.

Source: Let’s Take Back Control! We Want Our Country Back! | The Reinvigorated Programmer

His followup posts, about bedfellows and fear, are also well worth a look.


More Referendum Thoughts

A few more thoughts to follow on from last night's post:

Turnout

Turnout is crucial. If the majority is narrow, and especially if the turnout is low, the losing side will have a very hard time accepting the result.

For example, imagine if the vote goes 55% for Leave, and the turnout is only 60%. That means that only 33% of the electorate has said they want to leave. 27% would have expressly said they don’t want to leave, and 40% abstained.

But abstention can – and in my view should – be considered as being happy with the status quo. Yes, you can argue that it means that the abstainers are happy to go with the will of the majority of voters, but for such a major change – effectively a constitutional change – I don’t think that’s a safe assumption

So there ought to have been a requirement for a minimum turnout, and/or a majority of the electorate. In fact, for something this major, I’m inclined to think that a mandate to leave should require something like a two-thirds majority – of the electorate, not just of the turnout.

Something like that was the case in the original Scottish independence referendum – approval had to be by 40% of the electorate, not just a simple majority – though not in he 2014 one. I have criticised that fact in the past, but thinking about it now it seems right.

Parliament

Of course, this referendum will not be binding on parliament. If it goes to Leave, it’s possible that a majority of MPs could vote against the legislation that would have to be enacted to start the actual departure. That would have interesting results.

And if the majority is very slim in either direction, there will be calls for another referendum. Whatever happens on Thursday, we won’t have heard the last of this for a long, long time.


Referendum Thoughts

I have, of course, been meaning to write about the referendum almost since it was called. And let’s go right back to that point: of it being called, and why it was, and whether it should have been.

It was called, as anyone can tell, because David Cameron wanted to finally end the feuding in his party over Europe. The Tory party has been at loggerheads about it for decades. I have never known a time when they weren’t fighting about it.

So Cameron promised a referendum, thinking that if they were elected he could lance the boil, as they say. In fact what has happened in the end is that the boil has grown alarmingly, become infected, and is poisoning its host.

But we shouldn’t gloat. The Tory party in its death throes could take a lot of good things down with it.

I read one piece recently that suggested that he didn’t actually want to do this. That he made the promise fully expecting a hung parliament in 2015, and then he’d be able to say that coalition partners had insisted on no referendum.

Which may well be true, but it doesn’t help us where we are now.

The poison has spread into the body politic of the whole nation, and we are all in danger of becoming infected.

Or am I stretching this metaphor too far?

So much for that. The decision we make on Thursday matters, probably more than any visit to the polls in my lifetime. A decision to leave will be irreversible.1

Not that I think we would be utterly unable to survive and thrive outside the EU. We’d get by. But we wouldn’t be the best we could be, nor in the best position we could be in.

The EU is far from perfect, but so is the Westminster parliament, the Scottish one, and every other democracy.2 But above all, if we’re inside it, we are able to influence it – specifically, our democratically-elected representatives can – but if we’re outside, all we can do is look in.

While having to abide by its oh-so-terribly-onerous regulations if we want to trade with it.3

The Guardian’s editorial today advises us to “keep connected and inclusive, not angry and isolated,” and I think we can all get behind that, surely?

Oh, and don’t let me hear any of that “both sides as bad as each other” nonsense. The Remain4 campaign has been lucklustre, certainly, and I’d have liked to see more dynamism from Jeremy Corbyn and the rest of the Labour leadership – if only to reduce the impression that it was all about Tory infighting, or that anyone should vote Leave because Cameron wants the opposite. But lacklustre does not equate to vicious, poisonous, and lying.

“Project Fear,” they called it. I even heard one of my colleagues accuse the Remain campaign of fearmongering. But fear is not being “mongered” when we have a genuinely scary situation.

To end on a more cheerful note, if you only watch one video about the matter, make it this one from John Oliver:


  1. Well, Conceivably we could, at some time in the future, petition to rejoin; but if we did do that, it would be on quite different terms from those that we’re on at present. For one thing, we’d have to join the Euro, as all accession states do. For another, we wouldn’t get the rebate that we currently get. Loath her or despise her, Thatcher did renegotiate our country’s position into a more advantageous one. We won’t need that if we’re out, of course, but we won’t get it back if we ever have to crawl back. ↩︎

  2. And the EU is democratic, despite all the lies of the Leave campaign. ↩︎

  3. Not that onerous, and if they are they’re mostly for good reasons. ↩︎

  4. And shouldn’t the opposite of “Leave” be “Stay,” anyway? ↩︎


A Day of Infamy

Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen.
From The Spectator. Something terrible did, of course, happen. I hadn't heard of Jo Cox before today, but she seems to have been a thoroughly decent person.

Memories of 2003

It's only twelve years ago. Twelve years, and it feels like everyone -- the bulk of MPs, at least -- has forgotten about the dodgy dossier; about shock & awe; about Abu Ghraib and everything that followed.

Because here we are again: our elected representatives are banging spears on shields and baying with the desire to follow a weak, shoddy prime minister to war.

Classic political distraction, of course: things are bad at home (to say nothing of in the government’s party), so let’s have a war to distract the populace; the electorate; the “patient millions/Who put them into power,” as Billy Bragg put it.

So far, so unsurprising. But it’s Labour MPs who really bother me. I thought perhaps we had turned a corner with the election of Jeremy Corbyn. That maybe we would return to being a proper opposition, by actually opposing Tory excesses. And by doing so, show the nation that here is a true alternative to the politics of the last couple of decades; to right-wing versus slightly-less-right-wing. Show the potential for a more peace-loving Britain.

But here they all are, the party grandees, howling for bombs alongside the Tories. I shouldn’t be surprised, of course: it was a Labour government that took us into Iraq twelve years ago. In my defence – and theirs, to some extent – we were deceived , then – them by that dossier, us by them. Millions marched against it,1 but many thought that there must be something to all this talk of us being 45-minutes away from an attack. That the government must know something.

Back then my son was nearly six. When we told him – in an age-appropriate way, as they say – that it looked like there was going to be a war – his first response was, “Will I have to go away?” Those tales of World War II evacuated kids burn deep for a Londoner.

We reassured him that no, the war would be far away, and wouldn’t affect us directly. Two years later we were proved wrong, when the war came to his hometown. 2

And just two weeks ago the current war came to Paris. Does anyone doubt, if our leaders go ahead and escalate this war, that we’ll see it come back to British streets? Maybe London again. Maybe Birmingham, Manchester, Belfast, Glasgow.

More blood on British streets. Blood, which – along with that of the innocents who die in Syria under RAF bombs – will be at least partly on the hands of the MPs who go through the division lobbies with the government tomorrow.


  1. I was sadly absent from that through having small kids and a visiting aged parent. I was there in spirit. ↩︎

  2. Looking back I find that I predicted it. I was far from alone, of course. ↩︎


The night after, and shame

Well how the hell did that happen?

There are two questions there:

  1. How could the opinion polls be so wrong? and
  2. Why did all those people make such bad choices?

On the radio they were talking about “shy Tories” as an answer to 1. That’s a term that was coined after the 1992 election, apparently, to describe all those people who voted Tory but who had never let anyone know that that was what they were planning. I remember the aftermath of that one, and the thing that struck me was all those people I worked with who read the Telegraph “for the sport”; and how smug they looked that morning.

I became wise to that. But nowadays no-one comes into work with a paper any more, so it’s harder to tell such things. And how would it help, even if they did and you could?

The thing is, the pre-election polls must have been deceived.

Of course, no-one is obliged to tell the truth to a pollster. No-one is obliged to even answer their questions. But if you do agree to answer their questions: why would you lie?

I can think of only two possible reasons. Maybe you want to deliberately skew the poll results. But that seems unlikely. Sure, some people will feel like that; a few. But not lots. Not enough to actually have a deceptive effect.

And the other reason why, if you answered, you might lie; the only other reason I can think that might make people lie to a pollster.

Because you’re embarrassed about your answer. Or stronger: because you’re ashamed of it.

Shame can be a powerful influencer.

And it makes sense that people would be ashamed of voting Tory. Most of us were brought up to know that we shouldn’t be selfish; that sharing is best, and just being out for yourself is bad. We learn that at our mother’s knee, generally.

This tweet from Irvine Welsh sums up what I think is a good approach;

If you’re reasonably comfortably off, and you’re voting for the party that you think is going to make you better off – no matter how wrong you might be;1 and if you’re doing it mainly because you think that – then you are selfish and ought to be ashamed of yourself.

And in that attempt to answer the first question, I appear to have answered the second one as well. Why did all those Tory voters make such bad choices?

Selfishness.

It’ll hurt us all.


  1. And that’s a whole nother discussion. ↩︎


EU 'benefit tourism' court ruling is common sense, says Cameron

I’m assuming the UK government won’t be bound by this European court ruling. After all, UKIP don’t like European court rulings, and government policy these days is all about keeping the Kippers sweet, isn’t it?

EU ‘benefit tourism’ court ruling is common sense, says Cameron


Religion, Faith Schools, and 'The Great Pumpkin'

Another from the "never posted" series. Again, I don't know why I didn't post it. It seems pretty finished. It's also wildly out of date, stemming is it does from 2006. 2006! That's eight years ago now! Where the hell does the time go?

Anyway, the original piece follows.

Religion is much in discussion at the moment, it seems, and atheism even more so.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that

the ideal of a society where no visible public signs of religion would be seen — no crosses around necks, no sidelocks, turbans or veils — is a politically dangerous one

But no-one has been trying to do that. True, there have recently been two cases in which employers have restricted what their staff can wear, with regard to items related to religions. Now, whether employers should be able to insist on such restrictions is one question, and a valid one to be asked; but it’s not something new, nor unique to religious clothes.

And it’s not as if anyone other than British Airways has done anything to restrict the display of Christian symbols. The woman in question there was in a uniformed occupation, and the cross violated the uniform code. Case closed. Do you think it would have been any different for a police officer or ambulance driver? If you want to get the uniform rules in your job changed, speak to your employer, go through your union, or whatever: but keep the courts out of it. Similarly if you are in a non-uniformed job with a dress code.

All of which is different from – almost orthogonal to – the case of Jack Straw asking Muslim women to remove their veils during a conversation (note: asking, not insisting; during a conversation, not forever).

I got the impression from the radio news this morning that the ArchieCant was trying to play the “persecuted Christian” card, railing against the overwhelming forces of our secular society. But having scanned his actual article, I see that that is not quite so. Rather, he is warning of the dangers of a society which only allows state-sanctioned religions to exist. Fair point, but again, not something that anyone is suggesting in Britain.

There’s no excuse for a Christian leader to complain about his (and it is always “his”) religion’s place in modern Britain (or, even more so, America). The various Christian churches, and the church of England in particular, hold a remarkably privileged position in British public life, from the head of state being also the head of the church, through the tax-free status of religions, right up to the exclusively-religious nature of Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’ (and that’s not even mentioning the ‘Daily Worship’ or the complete takeover from 8 on Sunday mornings).

Then the Education Minister Alan Johnson has changed the former intent of the government regarding allowing non-believers (or different-believers) into new “faith” schools. Now don’t get me wrong: I am utterly opposed to “faith” schools: one great thing that America gets right, in my opinion, is it’s implementation of the separation of church and state that bans states from enforcing religious observation in schools, and I would happily see it removed from schools here. But we are where we are, and if there are going to be new, state-funded schools that base part of their teaching on a religion, then I think that the worst thing possible would be for them to be exclusively pupilled by kids from families who are followers of that religion.

And remember I went exclusively to state Catholic schools in Scotland.


Olympian Achievements

Initial scepticism

Back in 2004, 2005 or so, when London was bidding to host the Olympics, I was against it. My concerns were the cost, the crowding, and the general disruption of it all. I was, I admit, cynical. I recall being annoyed by the fact that the people running the bid published a number to which you could text “yes”, to say you supported the bid; but there was no option to text “no” to say you opposed it.

Looking back to what I wrote at the time, I see that my biggest concern was the effect on the Lower Lee Valley. It turned out that the removal of wilderness didn’t stretch as far as my fears suggested; and of course much of the land that has been used was polluted, abandoned, brownfield industrial sites. Bob Stanley of St Etienne (the band) has an interesting piece in The Guardian about that.

Coming round

But then London won the bid, and I though, “OK, fine, it’ll be interesting at least.” I had enjoyed watching the previous ones, and there was the regeneration for East London that looked promising. And the fact that it would just be down the road for me added to the interest. After all, that would make it easier to get tickets, right? Obviously there would specific tickets made available to to locals.

Hindsight even makes me wonder whether the events of the very next day didn’t make me more supportive: blitz spirit, don’t let the bastards grind you down, “soft power”, and all that.

The intervening years

Worries

In the years since then I’ve gone through various thoughts about the whole thing. Obviously there were the concerns about how long we would be paying for it all. And more recently there were the worries about the security preparations and the expected madness of the precautions. Of course more recently we’ve had the G4S fiasco, and the drafting in of extra soldiers.

More bizarrely we’ve seen the growth of the Olympic “brand police”, the forbidding of certain words and combinations of words (including, ridiculously, things like “summer”, “bronze”, and “2012”).

Cycle-friendly or not?

But closer to home one of the things that has annoyed me is the way they’ve treated our towpath.

The main stadium sits between two branches of the River Lee (or Lea): the river itself, and the Lee Navigation or Cut, which is essentially a canal constructed as a tributary1 of the main river. The towpath of the Navigation is a popular cycling and walking route for us local types. As we watched the construction site form and the massive buildings grow (and in my case moaned about the ugly fencing round it), we were able to keep a close eye on it all by going along the towpath. And indeed, a minor, but pleasing, instance of regeneration has been the resurfacing of the towpath, making it much more pleasant to cycle on.2

Above all, it seemed obvious that we would use the towpath to actually get to the Olympic Park. How else?

Until a few months ago when it became clear that the towpath was going to be closed for the duration of the games. The reason given – of course – was “security”. But what exactly is the security risk of providing access via the towpath?

In all honesty, I had my doubts about its use during the games; but I wasn’t concerned about terrorism. Rather I feared for people’s safety. It’s a towpath, after all: relatively narrow, unfenced, and unlit. And, critically, next to a polluted canal. If thousands – or even only hundreds – of people were trying to leave the park that way all at once – after the opening ceremony, say – then I could see that it would be problematic.

So I begin to wonder whether the “security” excuse was brought out to hide the more mundane, but always-criticised-by-the-tabloids truth: health and safety.

Then we heard that bikes would be among the banned items in the park; but also that there would be cycle parking: it sounded like mixed messages, but we would have to wait and see.

Those pesky tickets and the getting thereof

Ah, the joys of Olympic ticketing. Even as I write, on the third full day of the Games, they don’t seem to have really sorted it all out.

It’s a massively complex task, to allocate and sell tickets for hundreds of events over dozens of venues, all taking place in such a concentrated time period. But it’s not like they’ve never done it before; it’s not even like they haven’t done it in the Internet Age. It should largely be a solved problem, it seems to me.

We had decided to treat the Olympics as our family holiday: we would take a couple of weeks off, buy a load of tickets, and that would be our main summer break. After all, it would be just down the road, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, etc. So we signed up for the ballot, spent time listing events we might like to see, and so on. When the time came we hit the website and listed a summer holiday’s worth of tickets (hampered slightly by me having a MasterCard, which of course is the black sheep of Olympic ticket-buying).

In the end my beloved was allocated tickets to three events, and I got none (had they detected that invalid-card possession?)

However, that was just the initial ballot; and because I had been unsuccessful there, I was entitled to try to buy tickets in the conventional way in the second round.

On the day I woke up early and grabbed my laptop. The site, inevitably, crumpled. I went back to sleep for a bit. Tried again later.

I don’t recall how long it took, but in the end I managed to get a further three events.

And that was that. Remember when I said up there, “it would just be down the road … that would make it easier to get tickets”? Yeah. Somehow that didn’t happen. The Olympics is clearly not meant for the people who live near it. Or not particularly. I’m not suggesting it should be only for locals; but how hard would it have been to allocate a percentage of tickets to residents of host boroughs – or the whole of London – in a first pass? If they didn’t get bought they would be offered on, of course. The answer is “not very”; the Hackney Weekend festival did exactly that, after all. Glastonbury gives free tickets to residents of the nearby village, I seem to recall.

Anyway, that’s where we are. We later added a Paralympic athletics day, which will finally get us into the main stadium; and a set of Olympic Park passes, so we can go and have a wander round and soak up the atmosphere on Wednesday. But as I write there are still tickets available, even for swimming, even for the main stadium.

If you’re made of money, at least. Hell, you can still go to the closing ceremony if you’ve got £995 or £1500 to spare.

But still…

But I don’t mean to turn all negative. I’m actually really excited about it all, and thoroughly enjoying everything I’ve seen on telly; especially, of course, Danny Boyle’s masterpiece of an opening ceremony. Much has been said about that elsewhere, so I won’t say a lot. Just that it was far better, and a far truer representation of Britain than we could have imagined, or even hoped for. Part of the fun was following along on Twitter, of course (when it wasn’t too distracting to do so). And my favourite comment of all was one that Mitch Benn retweeted from Simon Evans:

It's not that I'm proud to be British. It's that I'm grateful.

So true.

And I’ve been enjoying seeing the first few days worth of events on telly. Some thoughts:

  • The tennis is just like Wimbledon, except with colour, and Omega timing instead of IBM. And "London 2012" logos, of course.
  • I normally go from one Wimbledon to the next without watching any sport; now, suddenly, I'm almost fanatical about everything (except boxing and anything with horses; and archery is much more boring than you might expect).
  • Seeing those cyclists in the road races made me want to get on my bike; not for those kind of distances, though.
  • Similarly, badminton & table tennis; maybe there will be a knock-on effect on people doing sport after all.

I should write about legacy (and sustainability3), but I’ve gone on long enough, and anyway, it’s another whole discussion. But I cycled down that way on Saturday; along the part of the towpath that’s still open, across Hackney Marshes (by a new, temporary path) and to the bridge across the river where there is access via Eton Manor Gate. There is a vast cycle park there, and from the gate it’s only supposed to be a few minutes walk to, for example, the Basketball Arena. So it’s all good.4

We visit the park on Wednesday, and start seeing actual events from Friday. I may report back.5


  1. Or really an inverted tributary, as it forks off the main river in a downstream direction. ↩︎

  2. There are still a few spots of cobblestones, but we can cope with those. ↩︎

  3. Yes, that’s a Twenty Twelve reference; if you haven’t watched it, you should. ↩︎

  4. Yes, so was that. ↩︎

  5. But under no circumstances will I post photos, OK? ↩︎


Moat Again

I spelled Raoul Moat's name wrongly in my last post. Now corrected.

I have to say that my sympathy for Moat was increased by reading an interview with his brother in The Guardian. A sad family story, there’s no doubt. But even Angus, the brother, condemns the Facebook page (which has now been removed by its creator).

Sympathy, yes; but he’s still not a hero, or a “legend”. Charlie Brooker talks sense on the matter, as you might expect.


Who Lays Flowers for a Murderer?

When I sent this tweet:

Floral tributes for murderer just because he camped out for a while, apparently. Very strange.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck

I was thinking about the literal, physical flowers that some misguided people had laid on the river bank where Raoul Moat died. Misguided, or possibly, grieving family members. Just because someone is a murderer, it doesn’t mean that no-one grieves for their death.

But now, it seems, things have gone beyond that. Facebook tribute pages celebrating Moat’s life, and especially his last few days in hiding from the police.

Go on the run, camp out for a bit, become a kind of hero: all very well (though I can’t say I’d recommend it as a career path) if the crime were minor, or victimless.

But this guy murdered a man, and shot two other people. One of them has been left blind. The other is still in hospital.

This guy wasn’t some Robin Hood figure. He was in no way a good guy. He was a grade ‘A’ bampot, a fuckpig of the first water. And I’m disgusted that anyone could think of celebrating his acts.


Con/Dem Nation?

Betrayed?

My initial reaction to the Liberal Democrats' decision to form a coalition with the Tories was a combination of disappointment and a sense of betrayal (with a side order of impending doom, of course).

I was, perhaps, naive. I said that I was voting LibDem, and that I actively wanted Labour to lose (while stressing that I wanted the Tories to lose even more). I was, I think, hoping for a hung parliament, which of course is what we got. But I was labouring (heh!) under the delusion that the LibDems were ideologically relatively close to Labour, and far enough away from the Tories that siding with them would be unthinkable.

Clearly I was wrong.

I had convinced myself that the only reaction of the LibDems to a hung parliament would be to join with Labour; and that seemed like the best possible solution.

Wasted?

On election day my friend Tony Facebooked to the effect that he had wasted his vote (and it’s really annoying that, as far as I know, there’s no way to link to an update or a comment in Facebook). I answered:

I don't agree. The only way you can waste a vote is to not use it. For example I voted LibDem in a safe Labour seat, but that isn't "wasted". In fact, it would have been more of a waste to vote Labour.

My son made the same point when I told him about that discussion. Diane Abbott got 54% of the vote in Hackney North and Stoke Newington. (That’s a proper majority.) My vote wouldn’t have made any difference, though, would it?

But in the days immediately after the election, as Clegg took his party into talks with the hated Tories, I began to regret my decision. It really felt like I had “wasted” my vote; or maybe misused is the better word.

Things Can Maybe Get Better?

However the coalition document that they published today is remarkable. If you’ve read any of my political posts over the years, you’ll know that the biggest thing going on for me for some time has been ID cards, and all the associated post-9/11 terror-panic fallout. So to read this, from the wordprocessor of the Tories (and LibDems) is remarkable:

  • A Freedom or Great Repeal Bill.
  • The scrapping of ID card scheme, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the Contact Point Database.

  • Outlawing the fingerprinting of children at school without parental permission.

  • The extension of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.

  • Adopting the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.

  • The protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury.

  • The restoration of rights to non-violent protest.

  • The review of libel laws to protect freedom of speech.

  • Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.

  • Further regulation of CCTV.

  • Ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason.

  • A new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.

I mean, that's pretty much everything we could want on civil liberties, right there.

And a few other points are good. As my friend Stuart said:

Most important line of the agreement? - We will end the detention of children for immigration purposes. #ge10Wed May 12 14:23:57 via TweetDeck

(Gotta keep embedding those tweets, you know.)

Dismal Science?

On the other hand, I’m no economist; but as I said before, I don’t trust right-wingers to run the economy. And right now, I have a gut feeling that cutting back on public spending during a recession is exactly the wrong thing to do (cutting back on most public spending is nearly always the wrong thing to do, of course).

Keep On Keeping On

In conclusion, I agree with Charlie, pretty much. I don’t trust the Tories, but let’s see whether Clegg & co can keep this thing on track. And let’s keep a close eye on them all, and keep that list above in mind.

You never know: maybe this really is “The New Politics”.


The Big Disappointment

The Boundaries of Voting

I’ve been boundary-changed, and it’s made it harder to decide who to vote for.

At the last election (and until a couple of weeks ago) We were in Hackney South and Shoreditch, which was Meg Hillier’s constituency. Meg wasn’t a bad constituency MP, at least inasmuch as she answered my emails the few times I got in touch with her. Not always in ways I agreed with, but still.

But “ID Meg”, as I liked to think of her, was the government minister for ID Cards and the Database state; the biggest issue at all recent elections for me. Amusing, really, that she got into that role, if you consider my correspondence with her in 2005

If we had lived on the other side of our street back then, we’d have been in Diane Abbott’s constituency. She was opposed to the war, and to ID cards. Plus I like her on the telly (though some, apparently, complain about her second job; at least it’s a political programme she’s on, even if it’s lightweight to the point of triviality).

Five years ago I’d have voted for Diane. Today, with the boundary change, we’re in Hackney North and Stoke Newington, so I can.

And I’m not going to.

It’s all gone too far. Our electoral system is too fucked up; our Labour party is too fucked up, too corrupt. They have developed an alarming reflexive response, it seems, to always do exactly the wrong thing. A hung parliament – or, hey: a Liberal Democrat majority – might be just the change we need.

At least that way there’s a chance we’d get some taste of electoral reform.

Houses. Plagues. You Know the Rest.

Diane’s leaflet came through the door today, and it tells me that she’s still against ID cards and the Iraq war. Why, then, I have to ask, does she still retain the Labour whip? It would be more honourable to resign.

And I can’t honourably vote for the former Labour party any more (not that I did last time, but remember, I was actively against the candidate then, too). We’ve come a long way now: we’ve reached the stage where I want Labour to lose. It’s a strange place to find myself.

Maybe, I’ve always been more of a natural LibDem voter anyway. Any time I’ve done those “Political Compass”-type questionnaires, they tell me that the LibDems most closely match my answers.

But even more than wanting Labour to lose, I want the Tories to lose. I remain profoundly mistrustful of them; I lived through the Thatcher years, you know? And It’s clear that, no matter how shiny Cameron may be, lots of his members remain the same old bastards. Witness this “I cure gays” bollocks from Phlippa Stroud. And Cameron has now backed her, I see. And she has denied it.

So much for that. We know the Tories are the opposite of socially liberal; we know they take a reflexive antagonism to supporting public services; and we know we can’t trust them with the economy (you never can trust right wingers, because they believe the market is guided by an invisible hand; I mean, come on).

I Can't Do Both, Gordie

So now Brown is saying, ‘Vote for the kind of country you believe in; and come home to Labour.’ Sorry, mon: Labour no longer represents the kind of country I believe in.

Keith Angus will be getting my vote.


Link: "Long-standing party loyalties, even in a less tribal world, are not easily suspended"

"... But May 2010 offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape politics for the better. It must be seized."

Fascinating list of signatories to this letter in The Guardian: “Long-standing party loyalties, even in a less tribal world, are not easily suspended


Corporal punishment: not on my watch

There was an arse on the ??Today?? programme this morning, calling for the return of corporal punishment to schools. One in five teachers, he says, want it 'as an option'.

Two points, then: a) that means four in five don’t want it, and b) why do you think it’s all right to use violence against children? (and as a corollary, how do you think doing so will make them less prone to using violence themselves?)


42 referendums and and a resignation

I can't decide on this David Davis thing. Is it just a stunt? Is he genuinely concerned enough about civil liberties to take the chance (small though it is) of losing his seat? Certainly he sounds sincere when he talks about his concerns about the growth of state power; and Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty counts him as a friend, it seems.

But as others have pointed out he has a bad reputation on some other rights votes.

Still, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’d be better than “Kelvin Mc-bloody-Kenzie”:… (as backed by Rupert Murdoch, of course).

The most concerning thing, though, is the talk to the effect that the public is in favour of 42-day detention without trial. This member of the public most certainly is not, and I’m sure I’m by no means alone. And honestly: would people who’ve really thought it through be in favour of this kind of thing? I find it hard to believe. What happened, if it’s true, to the great British sense of fair play, of support for the underdog, even of disrespect for authority? Is this another facet of the grumbling about human rights that I wrote about before?

Maybe we need to re-educate people about what is good and right. But how?

And then Ireland have voted ‘No’ to the EU treaty. I can’t help but think that this is a bad thing. The EU itself has been a net good for Europe and the world, as I’ve probably said here before. Whether these reforms will really make it better and more democratic, or not, I can’t say: I haven’t studied it.

Thing is, though, I would probably have been in favour of the EU constitution; if only because we could do with one in the UK. Admittedly, I’d want one that got rid of the monarchy and introduced an elected upper chamber in parliament, but one that further enshrined the European Convention on Human Rights would be a good start.

It would be quite difficult to amend it, mind you, since you’d need a Europe-wide referendum.

But I’m havering fancifully here: it was never meant to be that kind of constitution.

What now, then? Who knows, really. I expect they’ll either re-work it slightly and try again, or just apply various components of it without the treaty.