Dear Govt.

We haven't exactly been on good terms for some time now, but even so, please understand that if it gets to the point where I read a Mail on Sunday scare story entitled "Stasi HQ UK" and find myself agreeing with them against your actions? You're Doing It Wrong.

Seriously, know any vegetarians? Or someone involved with a "foreigner"? How about a fear of flying so you prefer sitting above the wing, or a tendency to make last minute decisions on travel plans?
An internal Home Office document obtained by The Mail on Sunday reveals that during testing one 'potential suspect' turned out to be an airline passenger with a spinal injury flying into Britain with his nurse.

'Suspect' requests likely to cause innocent holidaymakers to get 'red flags' as potential terrorists include ordering a vegetarian meal, asking for an over-wing seat and travelling with a foreign-born husband or wife.

The system will also 'red flag' passengers buying a one-way ticket and making a last-minute reservation
There are, we know, nasty people out there. And some of them want to try to blow up aeroplanes. But treating those who believe animals deserve a little bit of respect as potential terrorists?

That's fucking stupid!

I tick so many boxes on this system it's silly. And I know several friends (including those reading this) that tick even more.

FFS. My friend Dr Packula has created a Facebook group, which essentially will share information and link to WriteToThem. Contacting your MP about this insanity would probably be a good thing.

I need to go hit something. Oh, wait, the bread is rising downstairs, I'll go hit that before it goes in the oven. I have photos. If they come out, a post may be pending.
Spent the last weekend at the spring Liberal Democrat conference just up the road in Harrogate. It's one of those events that holds a soft spot for me—my first one was 2 years ago, just 2 weeks after I'd met [ profile] theyorkshergob, so I spent both evenings with her in Leeds—we both think we'd have ended up together regardless, but the ability to meet up in Yorkshire really did speed things up. Anyway, it was a damn good weekend.
Met Howard Dean )
Official Voting Member—the POWER )
Faith Schools—they're WRONG, damnit! )
If, like me, you want to see the end of faith schools, take heart from this policy, it's a damn fine step in the right direction, and much better than what any party had before. If you think they're a good idea? I refer you to the words of the Accord chair, Rabbi Jonathan Romain:
I want my children to go to a school when they can sit next to a Christian, play football in the break with a Muslim, do homework with a Hindu and walk back with an atheist - interacting with them and them getting to know what a Jewish child is like. Schools should build bridges, not erect barriers
Amen to that.

G'night all. Gotta take the Shrub to school in the morning, and Jennie's getting an 8am train back.
Jack Straw has decided not to appeal a decision and instead the Cabinet has voted, using the power allowed it by law the law, to prevent the release of documents, for the first time since the FOI Act was passed. Y'know what? I disagree with Jennie and most Lib Dems on this. He's right to do so. We can, and should, be attacking this, but not because Cabinet minutes aren't going to be released. Cabinet minutes should not be released, it's one of the basic principles of our Parliamentary democracy. Here's how it's supposed to work:
  • The House of Commons is elected as a representative cross section of British interests and opinions
  • A Cabinet is formed representing the views of enough members of the House to command a majority
    • Appointments are made based on support within the house and talent
  • The Cabinet discusses all major aspects of policy and agrees major decisions
    • The Cabinet is bound by Collective Responsibility and do not disagree in public
    • Ministers that cannot agree to a decision at all should resign
    • If the Cabinet no longer commands the support of the House, then the government should fall
In order for this system of government to work correctly, ministers have to be able to have free, open and frank discussions within Cabinet. If after discussion is over they come to a decision that a minister personally dislikes, the minister chooses whether this is a resigning issue or not. Robin Cook chose to resign before the Iraq War started. Clare Short was given assurances by the PM and had those assurances broken, so resigned after the war.  That's the way it's supposed to work. That the Government didn't fall is not the fault of the Cabinet/Parliamentary system of government.

The problem lies not with the way this individual decision was made. The problem lies with the corrupted system that our Parliamentary democracy has become.  This is the way it actually works:
  • The House of Commons is elected using a gerrymandered system created in 1947 that encourages:
    • an unrepresentative House with a two-party duopoly
    • A predominance of white middle class men in suits
    • Safe seats allocated by party fiat in which the rebellious are penalised
    • Party loyalty over individual thinking
  • A Cabinet is formed by the party leader, made up mostly of his/her friends or political allies
    • Appointments are made based on presentational ability and sucking up
  • The Prime Minister makes most major decisions and reveals them to Cabinet
    • Groupthink is both likely and encouraged
    • Discussion and debate is discouraged
    • Ministers who disagree with the PM are aware that challenging is a threat to their career
    • Super majorities from one party mean the Majority is rarely threatened
If a precedent is set for Cabinet minutes to be revealed during a period in office, then full and frank discussion within Cabinet is threatened. That it currently doesn't happen enough is part of the problem. If we are to retain the good aspects of the British system of Goverment, we need to get rid of the corruption and the parts that aren't working. Not attack the chances of the bits that sometimes do from happening.

British politics has allowed, over the last 60 years, to become increasingly corrupt and partisan. This is a fault of the electoral system, and specifically the introduction of uniform single member constituencies and the abolition of alternative voting methods made by the Representation of the Peoples Act 1948. We need to remake and revitalise the Parliamentary system of government. For that to happen, we also need to examine how and why the Cabinet system works.

If it's decided that the Cabinet should have disagreements in public, that Collective Responsibility can be abolished, etc, then so be it. I can see arguments favouring that, especially in the new information age.

But to call for the abolishing of a fundamental feature of the British system, that has been working effectively for over 300 years, over a single, specific issue in which an abominable decision was made, is to throw out the baby with the rather murky bathwater.

Parliament voted for the Iraq war. The nation almost certainly opposed it. That is the real problem. In defending the principles of our democracy, for once in his life, Jack Straw is right.

And if you think I liked typing that last sentence you really don't know me.
Have I mentioned how cool it is to have a US President who feels like one of us? IT literate, a bit geeky, smart, likes a good debate, enjoys being challenged on ideas, etc. It's cool, isn't it? Thing is? He's just another political leader. Who am I talking about here:
Relatively obscure politician with a legal background, went to an expensive school and a top university, came out of nowhere while in opposition, good line in rhetoric and appealing to a broad church, very capable and intelligent wife, young family, wins on a landslide with the wishes of the nation having mobilised a massive national effort seeing record membership for his party. Promising change.

Yup, you're right. It's Tony Blair. And Barack Obama. Worse? Watch this ((via):
Comedy Central's The Daily Show video with Jon Stewart covering the inauguration )
Scary, innit? Reminded me of something though. From a few years back, while Blair was still in office, while Cameron was still trying to build his 'brand'. I know, I know, he's still trying to build his brand, but still:
YouTube video of Armando Ianucci's Time Trumpet comparing Blair to Cameron )
President Obama sir? I really hope I'm wrong on this one. Please don't turn into another Tony Blair.
I guess an advantage of moving to a new area is not knowing exactly how your MP will react. My old one was Adrian, who I trusted before I got to know him and I got involved in party politics again, but my new one? She's one of the Labour "awkward squad", but I never know on what issue she's going to rebel. Problem of course being that Gordon Brown is to order Labour MPs to back a controversial plan to exempt details of MPs' expenses from the Freedom of Information Act. And she's been absent for most previous votes on this issue.

She first was elected in 1997, and the Freedom of Information Act was, to me, a crucial part of the Labour 1997 manifesto. While there is a lot of overblown hype about MPs expense claims, there has been some corruption, and there are some stupidities; I agree completely with Jennie when she says stuff like You pay peanuts, and you get Hazel Blears. And Derek Conway, frantically defrauding the expenses system. Lets at least pay bananas and get apes ;) or:
I am one of those rare people who thinks that MPs should be paid a lot more than they currently are for basic salary - on the grounds that if we want the best people to represent us, we should pay the sort of wages that will attract the best - but I also think that people HUGELY resent the fact that MPs get to claim expenses for the sort of things that normal people have to buy from their own wage.
ETA: Brown has backed down. Good. [ profile] caramel_betty thinks Whips tell Brown rebellion will be BIG. No, bigger than BIG. HUGEMONGANTIC. Still worth writing to them, they'll try and do something else. Rest of original entry below:

Letter to my MP about the vote in Parliament tomorrow )

If you live in the UK, take 5 minutes of your time

Use the easy tool with links and info that MySociety have created and contact your MP asking them to vote against this measure.
I'm awake, honest. I've had enough coffee to get me going again anyway. Doing some tidying up to my LJ, renaming tags, etc. This seems like a good enough reason to rename one of them, plus 2008 has ended so it's time to start a new 'life' tag for this year.

Appears I've posted less about what's been going on in my life this year than any other calender year that I've had the LJ. I guess being happy gives me less to write about, right? Completely skint, but there y'go, can't have everything.

I don't do new years resolutions, and, well, predictions are a bit of a mugs game, but, well, might as well.

UK: politics will dominate, likely election, bit of history explaining why )

Obama's honeymoon, potential pitfalls, hope he holds it together )

Europe, Referenda, Libertas and elections )

Meh, 7pm. Time to go pick the Shrub up from her Dad's.
Several people are linking to an ill-informed post by Mike Smithson at Political Betting entitled Is Labour about to clamp-down on the blogsphere? about possible reforms to the UK defamation and libel laws. I have no idea what Mike's source is, but mine is open and to the point. Padraig from Index on Censorship attended a Westminster Hall debate this week and wrote it up for Liberal Conspiracy.

He, and I, are very hopeful about the results of the debate, and the Govt has agreed a consultation that will pay specific attention to libel and the internet. As this is something I've been calling for for some time, it's great to see progress being made. My comment to Mr Smithson is below the cut for those that don't like wading through 350+ off topic tangents about unrelated subjects and discussions from previous thread:

ETA, before the cut, Padraig's posted an update on LC, definitely worth a read for everyone that allows open comments and talks about, well, people on their journal.
ETA2: John Hemming MP also agrees on comment screening—"In the mean time (and rightly) we have the odd situation that someone who moderates comments can be liable for libel, but someone who doesn't moderate comments cannot."
Summary of why Mike Smithson has got the wrong end of the stick )
I added a link to the Eady case as it's important, other useful links are:
Basic Libel for Idiots

All three have been in my 'to post' folder for far too long. Really should remember that a quick knockabout post with links is frequently more effective than articles so well researched they never actually see the light of day.
Today, I are mostly been sleeping. Then I did a lot of digging and wrote a post at Liberal Conspiracy about a certain Brian Coleman, London Assembly member and sexist git.

I first heard about the tedious cock in that post of [ profile] liadnan's, a long time before I moved up to London, and he's done nothing to impress me since. For quite awhile, my old post about him was top Google result for his name, it's fallen now to seventh. But I think he's more than a cock now, he's an expensive ignorant sexist git who deserves as much opprobrium as possible. So, given I no longer live in London, I don't have AMs or MPs to complain to. So I figure I'd hurt his rep on Google a bit instead.

If you fancy joining in, and have a publicly accessible website that's indexed by search engines, especially Google,
copying and pasting the below might assist in adding to the amusement—LC already has a good placing in search engines, but so do other sites that mention him. If lots of people link to that post with his name as the anchor, it should float to the top quite nicely...
You don't need to know anything at all about the farce that is the Torbay mayoralty to get this one:
Closure will actually breathe life into Eastphalia.'

The master plan would be for one developer to link the Woolies building, Victoria car park, Crossways and Station Lane sites and merge them into one massive regeneration project, including such things as a multiplex cinema, indoor bowling centre, new shops and homes, and with each financing the other. 'Ahmad Hatter explained: 'It's a brilliant plan, especially the way each thing will finance the other in the middle of the deepest recession in living memory. In fact we will probably end up knocking Woolies down to make way for the new 'porcine runway' - at busy times there will be pigs taking off and landing every five minutes
For the uninitiated, Westphalia=Torquay, Eastphalia=Paignton Brixham Fishhole=Brixham, Ahmad Hatter=some bloke even the local Tory Cllrs thought incompetent and got rid of, and Mayor Nick Bye=a useless waste of space that's achieved nothing except prove what a bad idea the Govts elected executive mayors system really was (and how awful the implementation legislation). The blog's syndicated at [ profile] thisiswestphali.

Oh, also, they've revamped the news section of the UK Parliament website. Using Wordpress. No idea how much they were overcharged, but the feed is: [ profile] parliament_uk

ETA: The MP for Torbay points out in the comments that Eastphalia is Paignton, not Brixham. Which makes more sense as Victoria Park and Crossways are both in Paignton. Um, about 5 minutes walk from the hospital where I was born. Oops. Thanks Adrian.
Before I start wading through loads of links, searches and similar, is there out there somewhere a simple guide on petitioning for a town council referendum? Brighouse is part of Calderdale Metropolitan Borough, but several local towns also have their own town council.

Not my area of expertise (yet) )
Went to the Halifax cabinet meeting, got a result, yay! )
And there'd be a lot of support for something I wanted to campaign for anyway )
Any other stuff people know'd be cool )
Really pleased that the radical shift to the left in taxation policy was passed at today's Lib Dem conference--couldn't make it into the hall to hear the debate unfortunately, but a genuinely redistributive policy that will genuinely help those earning the least in society has to be a bloody good thing.

Shift to the right?

For some reason there are a bunch of people convinced that it's some sort of shift to the right, and I haven't yet seen a decent explanation as to what definition of 'right' they're using. Admittedly, I've been utterly swamped on the registration desk and attending fringe events, so I've not had time to read through the debate, and as it's 3am and I'm back on the desk at 8.30am I'm not going to now.

Can someone please explain what the 'rightwards shift' is supposed to mean, as having finally read a copy of the Make It Happen paper I can see something that's both genuinely Liberal and nicely left wing in a genuinely radical way.

I'm not too keen on the tone of some of the marketing language they've used, and the over use of 'families' combined with 'no child left behind' did piss me off a bit, but having read the underlying ideas behind the rhetoric and knowing that it's aimed not at a BA politics type like me but at journalists and actual real, sane, normal people, I can get over that.

Decent left wing tax & reform agenda

So now we have a decent left wing tax policy reducing taxes for those earning the least combined with the traditional radically left wing political reform agenda. Now all we need is a commitment to level the playing field for those wanting to set up or convert to co-operatives, and this l'il liberal socialist will be very happy.

For the majority of non politics geeks that hang around this place, I'm at party conference in Bournemouth, I'm exhausted, and now I need to sleep. That's assuming Jennie's snoring doesn't keep me awake all night. Wish me luck...
Normally when I think of Kansas politics I think of things like evolution being banned in schools or those silly stickers they tried, but this is a refreshing change; an interesting and innovative use of the internet by a USian running for the Kansas state legislature and raising funds through an XKCD style webcomic. It's attracting reasonable coverage in the US media, including a fairly favourable write up in the LA Times, and he's getting record numbers of donations.

full comic / larger version
The nature of US politics makes it very different to directly translate fundraising techniques to the UK, even if it's appropriate, our focus on parties within a multi-party polity is very different to their focus on individuals within a two-party system (even if in most districts we have an effective two-party system anyway, gotta love Duverger), but this sort of thing is certainly going to appeal to the sort of demographic that should be voting Lib Dem anyway—wonder if anyone could come up with a more generalised UK version with a similar sort of message?
Two posts in a row by completely different blogs, both discussing the Bechdel Test, which I've always found fascinating[1]. If you're not aware of it, it's a fairly simple little test to apply to an entertainment:
1. Does it have at least two women in it,
2. Who [at some point] talk to each other,
3. About something besides a man.
See? How easy is that to fulfil as an objective? Everything should pass that one, right? Shame it's not true. Shame that, in reality, a huge amount of stuff, including stuff with strong female lead characters, fails it. Even authors that consciously try to ensure their work isn't sexist manage to fail it regularly, as Charlie Stross has found out. It seems though, that despite many of the writers gender neutrality failings, Doctor Who doesn't do too badly, even taking into account the added complication of the significant central character being male.

Of course, the test isn't perfect—there are some perfectly good films where none of the characters are realistic, male or female, and in some it would be innapropriate to try to fulfil it. But for most shows or films, that are supposedley 'realistic', don't you think it should be a fairly normal thing to manage? Charlie's conclusion goes further than I think I would, but he's probably not too far off[2]:
The current decade is characterized by ... a socially conservative culture, of retreat from liberalism, and a strong anti-feminist backlash. Our popular media, far from being the bastions of liberal values ... are actually belwethers of popular culture, ... reflecting our culture's normative values back at us ... What they're showing this decade is really rather disturbing if you happen to agree with the core feminist ideological belief that women are real people too, not just baby factories and sex objects.

TV has always been bad ... but of late, the messages coming at us out of the mass media are nothing short of toxic. If movies and TV objectified people of colour the way they do women, the only reasonable conclusion one could draw would be that a concerted propaganda campaign was under way to return us to the unquestioned institutional racism of the 1950s.
Given that I watch a lot less TV than most people, and even fewer films, is he right?

[1] Or scary, or just Plain Wrong, depending on how bad the film or show in question actually is. I'm pretty sure it was [ profile] innerbrat that first made me aware of it.

[2] I'm excising a lot of text from this quote, marked by elipses, I do think the whole post is worth reading in its own right though.
I always like reading Mr Steel--I don't always agree with him (y'know, trot and all) but he is damn funny. In an article about Obama's triangulation exercise:
when Obama meets Gordon Brown next week it's going to make Brown feel even worse. Maybe Obama will advise him "Gordon, you need to come up with a snappy three-word slogan that sums up your demeanour, the way I did with 'Yes we can'." And as a result the Labour Party's slogan for the next election will be "Where am I?"
Sounds about right for the moment. Or in the aftermath, regarding their MPs--"where'd they go?"...
There are times when I nearly remove a few blogs from my reading list, but just stop myself. One of them is written by Chris, who lives in Torquay. But sometimes, he comes up with a gem. This is one of them:
In 1992 Tony Blair mounted a daring expedition from Labour's heartlands to capture as much enemy territory as he could. Confronted by a worn out and divided enemy his raid was as successful as it was audacious. He managed to capture vast swaths of formerly Tory territory sweeping all before him like an all conquering Caesar.

Like Caesar Blair was eventually stabbed in the back by those that he had once thought his closest allies, but unlike Caesar the band that he was leading was not safe in their own territory at the time. They where still deep in the enemies native territory and desperately trying to find ways to hold their position.

Labour is now under Blair's rather less able former adjutant have found themselves, un-supplied, surrounded, and cut off from their reserves.
Go read the rest. Seriously. You have to excuse the typos and spelling, the best spell checkers can only help dyslexia so much at times, but the whole post is both spot on and very well observed.

I have, as it happens, been to the Teotoberg site, Arne took myself and [ profile] the_prince there when we stayed on after a tournament he organised, very scary to see how little space the Romans had to try to fight in, one of the best implemented ambushes in military history methinks.
Everyone's favourite insubstantial careerist appears to have made a bit of a cock up:
A personal computer holding sensitive documents relating to defence and extremism has been stolen from Hazel Blears' constituency office in Salford.

The theft may mean the communities secretary has broken rules on the handling of restricted government information, the BBC has learned.
On the one hand, crime, break in, naughty theives, get 'em. On the other, what was she doing leaving a laptop full of confidential data in her constituency office? Oh, wait, smug, complacent, convinced of her own rightness Blears. It didn't occur to her the rules her Govt itself created were there for a fucking reason.

ETA: Oh, what a surprise—it wasn't her fault,t hey were emailed to her by a flunky, and her chief bean counter has taken full responsibility:
Thankfully no damage has been done since the documents sent to her were not classified as secret or top secret. And in any event the computer was password protected ... I take full responsibility for ensuring this is done.
Completely ignored as an issue at PMQs as well FFS.

Via and also.
If Labour doesn't run he'll do it. He just said it on This Week[1]. Tim was almost right.

ETA Jennie has more. I hate to say this, but Labour would be better off with McKenzie as an independent candidate, Davis's vote is partially partizan lock 'em up Tories (not all Conservatives are Tories, really must write that post), and while Davis will get a big vote, his 'core support' might split off on the single issue to back Kelvin, especially with a media circus.

Interesting times. Is there a train station in town? If Kelvin runs, might need to actually go campaign against the git.

ETA 2: Iain has done the research I planned to do tomorrow, and has a roundup of other principled MP resignations, including a fair few I'd not even heard of. Dick Taverne and Tony Benn I knew of but some of the others are interesting.

[1] Approx 20 minutes in on the iPlayer, after he drones on about Wade's party at Rupert's
David Davis (Tory Shadow Home Secretary) has resigned on a point of principle and as I start writing this I hear that Clegg has announced the Lib Dems won't stand against him (ETA: confirmed at the Spectator).

Clegg is 100% correct

That was what I was going to suggest should happen, Labour were a distant third last time but as this is a single issue resignation in order to reinforce there is no mandate for the use of the Parliament Act, and Lib Dem party policy agrees completely with DD's stance, Clegg is correct to suggest no candidate. I believe that constitutionally the local party should be consulted, and I strongly hope that Haltemprice and Howden Lib Dems will not only acquiesce, but will also get out and back him on the campaign trail to strongly reinforce and fight on the issue.

Dodgy polls asking push questions show there is support for the 42 days measure, but an uninformed opinion based on a question that summarises the issue isn't enough.

I never thought I'd say this, but David Davis just went a long way up in my estimation.
Scarily, I agree with every damned word:
The Government has been saying, in a catchy, misleading piece of spin: “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” This is a demagogue's trick. We do have something to fear - the total loss of privacy to an intrusive state with authoritarian tendencies.

This is not a United Kingdom that I recognise and Parliament should not accept it.
Why is it scary? Because it's bloody John Major, he who was Prime Minister when I was 18, he who I campaigned against in '92 and '97, he who resigned and put himself up for re election when I was at Glastonbury (and Jarvis mentioned it on stage to a massive cheer). It shows how far this Govt has gone from it's early promise that a liberal socialist like me can end up agreeing with a former Tory Prime Minister on a key plank of Govt legislation. Lest we forget, this is a man who was chairing a Cabinet meeting when the IRA mortar bombed his home & office, a man whose party and friends had nearly been destroyed by terrorists when they blew up Brighton. When he says this is an unnecessary step too far? For fucks sake Gordon, wake up and smell the coffee.

Jennie has more:
The debate before the house is not referring to the total period a person can be kept inside before they have to be released. This is, in fact, about whether or not we should have 42 days of imprisonment for people before they are even told what they are supposed to have done wrong.
42 days detention for being an alleged terrorist. Note the definition of terrorism includes a lot of animal rights activism and similar these days as well.

matgb: Artwork of 19th century upper class anarchist, text: MatGB (Default)

British Liberal, house husband, school play leader and stepdad. Campaigner, atheistic feminist, amateur baker. Male.

Known to post items of interest on occasions. More likely to link to interesting stuff. Sometimes talks about stuff he's done. Occasionally posts recipes for good food. Planning to get married, at some point. Enjoying life in Yorkshire.

Likes comments. Especially likes links. Loves to know where people came from and what they were looking for. Mostly posts everything publicly. Sometimes doesn't. Hi.

Mat Bowles

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October 2015


Stuff and nonsense

I'm the Chair of the Brighouse branch of the Liberal Democrats & the membership secretary for Calderdale Lib Dems and run the web campaign for the local candidates. I have a job, a stepdaughter and a life.

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