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Posts Tagged ‘politics’

  1. So… are we in Europe, or out of it?

    December 9, 2011 by superlative

    I’m not sure what to think yet of David Cameron’s decision this morning to withdraw Britain from the new financial system being put in place in Europe. I’m deliberately not using the phrase ‘wielding his veto’, partly because the news is rather over-using it today and partly because, as the Economist has pointed out, vetoing something means stopping something from happening. That isn’t what he has done, because the rest of Europe has just carried on without us. So it’s not really a veto.

    In many ways I am sad to see the UK become less integrated with Europe. I don’t want our country to become isolated and to lose influence on the global stage by returning to being a single nation, even if we are above averagely rich. I have always been proud to be a European, and proud of our status as one of the ‘more important’ European countries with more financial and military clout than some of the others.

    At the same time, I have never regretted that we didn’t join the euro. At the time it was set up (I was a bit young to understand it properly), my view was that it wasn’t sensible to tie our fairly strong economy to that of other weaker countries, and to lose one of the strongest currencies in the world in the name of integration. Although I didn’t know much more about it than that, the last few years seem to have proved me correct in some regards, as not being too closely bound to the economy of Greece hasn’t seemed like a bad thing at all, and having our own currency gives us more economic options than they have had (such as devaluation). So I still don’t regret that we didn’t join the euro, not at all.

    While I am sad that some people see this as the start of our withdrawal from Europe, I also wonder about what the effects would have been if David Cameron had said yes. Greater control of our budgets by a European authority; penalties for running too high a deficit; closer links to other countries whose economies may yet implode. I wouldn’t have been very happy about any of those. So it seems like regardless of what the outcome of last night’s negotiations had been, I still would have found something to be upset about.

    And although President Sarkozy has implied that the Brits were being pig-headed and selfish, I can’t help but feel that the French have always been quick to ignore any EU regulations that they didn’t feel suited them, knowing full well that they were too important to be properly punished by the rest. This deal is much more beneficial for France than it is for the UK, so of course he was going to try to ram it through.

    There isn’t very much we can do now other than wait and watch the other nations thrash it out, and wonder what role we’ll end up having at the end. It is a shame though that compared to yesterday I already feel a little less European.


  2. Why I don’t agree with today’s strike

    June 30, 2011 by superlative

    I realise that this post will probably attract some negative comments. It seems that the only position you are allowed to adopt is the most left-wing one available, otherwise you are excoriated for being immoral or selfish. But I actually think my view on this strike – and yes public sector pensions is an issue that does affect me – is selfless rather than selfish.

    I do not agree with the strike being held by several public sector unions today over changes to the pension schemes of their members.

    My basic reason for disagreeing with it is that I do not believe that public sector pensions should be subsidised by the tax payer. In the past when public sector workers were on average paid less than in the private sector, I could maybe see an argument for it as an adjustment to their overall remuneration. But that is no longer the case. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, pay is marginally better now in the public sector in most regions apart from London. Why then should public sector workers get more out of their pension pot than the value of the investment they have put into it? And why should public sector workers receive a better pension than those in the private sector?

    On top of that, many of the people who are striking today are not the poorest public sector workers. Unison, which represents many of the lowest paid workers, is not on strike. Rather it is teachers and civil servants who are on strike, and generally they earn pretty well. They are in a better position to make provision for their retirement, so why should their pension be subsidised? It just doesn’t seem fair to me.

    Often one of the arguments made by today’s striking unions is that the need for stringency is due to the financial crash – they generally throw in the words bankers and bonuses somewhere as these are now to be universally condemned – and why should public sector workers pick up the tab for that? I don’t really buy that argument. I acknowledge completely that the problems with our public finances have exacerbated the pension situation; if the government was running a large surplus, they may not care so much about reforming pensions at the moment, or they may be able to do so much more slowly and lessen the impact. But the root of the problem with our pensions is demographic. People are living longer than they were when the pension schemes were set up, and that makes them more expensive. This will only continue to get worse, and so I do see that there is a need for reform.

    The unions also argue that people have entered jobs and professions partly because of the pension that comes with it. This may be true. Personally I don’t know anyone who genuinely did so; I think people typically look at the salary and the job when they’re starting out in a profession, and don’t think about the pension until a bit later. But it may be true for some people, even if I haven’t met any. So on this point, even though I still think reform is needed, I can see that it is harsh to be promised a reward and then have that taken away later. For me this is a question of how the reforms are introduced and over what time period, and it is here that negotiation and agreement are needed. I do see that the transition must be carefully managed and that workers and their unions should be involved in deciding how that happens. It does not mean that reform is not necessary, but I concede that people feel aggrieved when a deal gets changed later and gets changed unilaterally.

    From a personal point of view, the proposed changes would mean that I need to pay more into my pension. I am just as affected by this as other people in the public sector, so I feel entitled to comment. My partner is a teacher, and it therefore affects him too. Neither of us think that our friends’ children should inherit an ever-increasing bill to subsidise our retirement, not if we are given enough time to take account of it and make appropriate arrangements.

    That may be called a right-wing point of view, an attack on public sector workers, a selfish Tory attitude. I disagree. This is my pension, and I will be the one that benefits from it. But I do not ask for or expect anything from anyone else. This is my pension, for me, and I should pay for it.


  3. I can’t agree with David Starkey

    March 4, 2011 by superlative

    I’ve just watched this clip from a recent episode of Question Time in which David Starkey warns against creating a ‘new tyranny’ against Christians.

    Although I think he is quite a bright man, I can’t agree with his point of view.

    He seems to be confusing the issue of allowing Christians (or any other group) to hold personal beliefs with the matter of services that are provided by the state and businesses that are open to the public. I don’t think that they are a single issue.

    Yes, a religious person can hold whatever belief they wish, and can live their life according to that belief if they choose to, as long as they aren’t harming anyone else.

    But the state shouldn’t have to endorse that opinion, or make provision for it.

    In the case of the foster couple that he mentions, they would be free (unfortunately) to tell their own children that a gay lifestyle is not a good lifestyle. But the state has a duty to a child placed in their care – a child who may be gay themselves – and it has been accepted by the state that being gay is not harmful, nor is it a choice. What damage would be done to a gay child placed with that foster couple, to be told that the way they are is wrong? We may not be able to stop people harming their own children in that way, but the state has a duty to protect the children it places into foster care. It is rather hackneyed now to compare homophobia to racism, but for the sake of argument: if the couple had stated that they believe Asians are not to be trusted, would we consider them to be fit foster carers? No, probably not. Backing your argument up with religious doctrine doesn’t make it true.

    The second example of the Christian B&B owners is slightly more difficult, but the court’s ruling was based on the assertion that if you are going to provide a paid service to someone, you cannot discriminate over who you provide it to on the basis of sex, race, religion, disability or sexual orientation. I believe this is right and proper. It doesn’t prevent the B&B owners from believing what they want to believe; but if they don’t want to accommodate people on an equal basis, they shouldn’t run a B&B. If they had said “we believe disabled people are being punished by God for their sins in a past life, so we won’t have them in our home”, would we find that acceptable? No. If it were just their house, that’s up to them, but it is a place of business, and is therefore subject to regulation by the law.

    So I cannot agree with David Starkey, I think he is wrong. And to end his speech by saying being “nice and sweet about gays isn’t wholly a good thing” just seems absurd. It is good to be harassed and discriminated against, is it? He makes it sound like it is harmless character-building. People who argue for gay rights aren’t asking everyone to be “nice and sweet” about them; rather just for them to be treated on an equal footing as everyone else, with all the hardships, annoyances and stress that life entails, but without a whole load of extra difficulties heaped upon them simply because they are gay and some people don’t think that’s OK.

     


  4. Why I’m voting Yes to AV

    February 21, 2011 by superlative

    I’m currently planning on voting Yes in the referendum on the Alternative Vote system to be held on 5 May. That’s not to say that my mind can’t or won’t be changed – I don’t think it’s helpful to say you could never be swayed by the force of an argument – but at the moment my view is that it would be a change for the better.

    Here’s why.

    I think it is a better system that First Past The Post (FPTP)
    The FPTP system is not one you would particularly choose if you were designing a voting system. It favours two-party rule, and if you don’t happen to support either of the two main parties then it can leave you feeling unrepresented and without a strong connection to your own MP. You vote every few years, the party you support stands no chance, and even if your views are shared by a fair number of people in the country, they are under-represented in the parliament that is formed.

    This is an argument more for Proportional Representation than AV, and PR is something I would favour more. But PR isn’t on offer, and I think getting rid of FPTP is a good first step towards improving the way our democracy works.

    Under AV, you get to rank the candidates in the order you would prefer them. You don’t have to rank ALL the candidates – if you only like one, you can still just put an X next to that name and not express any support at all for any of the others. But under AV, if your preferred candidate doesn’t win in the first round and is eliminated, you have the chance to express a preference from among the other candidates, and potentially influence which one of them wins.

    I find it particularly galling that in safe seats under FPTP candidates barely have to campaign, because they know they will win simply on the strength of support for their party – the people who vote for them may not even know their name, they just tick the box next to the right logo. And if that candidate then wins the seat with say 40% of the vote, with the remaining 60% spread impotently around among other parties, I don’t think that is fair. More people didn’t want that candidate than did. AV would allow those people to express that, and band together behind a compromise candidate that they all partially support, albeit for possibly different reasons.

    I also think it would be good to shake up the way our democracy works, to generate more interest in voting, and to get people more involved in it. Turnout at our elections is shameful, and while AV in itself isn’t a solution for that, I think changing from an antiquated voting system to an alternative could revitalise politics for many people. 

    The No To AV arguments are simply incorrect
    I have tried to read as much as possible about this, including the arguments against changing our voting system. Often they are plain wrong, and are designed to scare or confuse people into sticking with the current system (without actually proving that the current system is better). So let’s look at some of them. These are the top reasons to vote No from the official No Campaign website, so presumably they believe they are the strongest.

    Changing to AV will cost £250 million
    This is simply untrue. Completely untrue in fact, and I am surprised the No Campaign leads with it so frequently. They are obviously hoping that at a time of national stringency people will simply see the headline figure they quote and think “God no, we can’t afford that”. But the £250 million is based on the cost of the AV referendum, the cost of educating voters on how to use the new system, and a huge bill for electronic vote-counting machines. It just doesn’t make any sense. The referendum is happening anyway – voting no won’t change that. And the cost of the referendum has been minimised by holding it on the same day as other votes. Many voters will know about how the AV system works by the time we have the referendum thanks to all the publicity this is generating, so I don’t know how much more education will be needed. And there is no evidence that we would actually need or would choose to buy vote-counting machines, particularly given that Australia manages its AV elections perfectly well without them. So I dismiss this argument completely.

    They even have stupid posters like this:

    As the Economist columnist Bagehot points out, “since when did we in Britain suggest that the cost of holding elections should be traded off against funding for the military?”

    It’s just absurd and slightly bizarre scaremongering that seeks to muddy the debate with other unrelated issues.

    AV is complex and unfair
    I don’t think it’s that complex – it only takes two or three lines to explain. As for it being unfair, they make the point that it can result in ‘second choice’ candidates winning – second choice by FPTP standards maybe, but possibly with the backing of more of their constituents. Is it fairer that someone can win a parliamentary seat for four years with 30% of the vote? I don’t believe AV is unfair, it’s just different, and given that we’re not being offered the fairest form of voting, proportional representation, I still think AV is better than the status quo.

    AV leads to more hung parliaments, backroom deals and broken promises
    No it doesn’t. Australia has had fewer hung parliaments that we have had during their years of using AV. FPTP produced the hung parliament that we have now. Canada uses FPTP and has permanently hung parliaments. Both systems can and do produce hung parliaments, and this argument against AV is predicated on the notion that hung parliaments are a bad thing. Many other countries survive perfectly well under regular coalition government, and I personally would be quite happy to see more compromise and centrist policy in government. People say it leads to ‘nothing getting done’, but I don’t buy that. Nothing gets done if parties won’t compromise – that choice is made by the politicians, not the electorate.

    They talk about backroom deals and broken promises, but again I don’t agree that FPTP produces less of this. Do we choose our prime minister or cabinet? No, the parties do. Cabinet members don’t even have to be elected – you can make them a peer and bung in whoever you like, like Labour did with Peter Mandelson and the Tories have done with Sayeeda Warsi. Can we control what policies parties enact once in power and which ones they ditch? No, once elected they often change their policies, conveniently forget about past policies, and even break manifesto promises simply due to the fact that the exigencies of actual government are different to the wishful thinking of a manifesto. We’re not used to coalition government in the UK and so there has been an outcry over the parts of the Lib Dem (particularly) and Conservative manifestos that got dropped after the election, but there are lots of manifesto promises that haven’t been met by previous single-party governments.

    As I quoted in a previous post:

    In countries where coalitions are the norm, election manifestos are like battle plans: they signal a party’s hopes and intentions, but are not expected to survive the first moments of coalition combat. Especially in countries with proportional representation, voters cast their ballots with a view to maximising the dose of their favoured ideology or special interest in whatever government takes shape.

    Once we are more used to this idea, these howls of skulduggery and betrayal will become less relevant.

    And that’s it. Those are the top three arguments highlighted on the No2AV website, and they’re rubbish. They make far too little effort to say why FPTP is a better system (although they do make a few spurious claims about that as well), but in general they’re leading their campaign with the above three points.

    In fairness, the Yes campaign website makes a few exaggerated claims of its own. But on balance I think their case is far more convincing.

    I shall be voting yes on 5 May.


  5. Coalition government and manifestoes

    January 11, 2011 by superlative

    I like this description of election campaigns and coalition government in this week’s Economist:

    In countries where coalitions are the norm, election manifestos are like battle plans: they signal a party’s hopes and intentions, but are not expected to survive the first moments of coalition combat. Especially in countries with proportional representation, voters cast their ballots with a view to maximising the dose of their favoured ideology or special interest in whatever government takes shape.

    I think it accurately describes the issues Britons have experienced in dealing with the first coalition government in a generation. We simply aren’t used to it, and so we judge the coalition by single-party standards and no part of the coalition comes off well.

    If the referendum on AV is successful, it’s something that we are going to have to get used to however, as coalitions could become a lot more commonplace, as indeed they are in many other countries already.


  6. A catch up on some political stuff

    April 29, 2010 by superlative

    I haven’t really blogged about the election campaign since it started in earnest. That’s not because I haven’t been thinking about it, but rather because I’ve been talking about it and watching it on the television and tweeting about it to such an extent that it was all starting to get a bit much for me. Even I, who am more interested in politics than most and try to be well-informed, have been flagging at times in the face of the relentless onslaught of the campaign, and the conflict it creates when you discuss it with people.

    But anyway, we are now just one week away from election day, so I thought I’d catch up a little bit on the stuff I’ve been thinking about and where I think my vote will be going (at the moment) when I reach the polling booth.
    The debates

    I have watched the two leaders’ debates with interest, and will be watching the third one tonight. I’m so pleased that they have held them, because it has really changed some of the feel of this election campaign for me, and it seems to have sparked some additional political interest amongst people who normally wouldn’t care.
    I feel that the format is rather dry, which is unfortunate, and I blame this mostly on the fact that the audience aren’t allowed to clap or respond in any way to what they say. What’s the point of having a mute audience? It just means it’s the three of them talking to camera for long periods, like a party political. It gets much more interesting once they start debating properly and responding to each other, instead of just rattling off pre-prepared answers.
    I felt that Nick Clegg was the clear winner of the first debate, based partly on what he said and partly on the way it changed public opinion of the Liberal Democrats. I felt he was always going to have the most to gain from it, as he was suddenly depicted on an equal footing with the other two leaders and people had to actually listen to what he has to say. And what happened in the polls once the three candidates were giving an equal platform? Suddenly it’s a three-horse race, with all the parties polling around the 30% mark. That came as no surprise to me at all.
    The second debate had no clear winner for me; not because Nick Clegg did much worse, but because David Cameron and Gordon Brown did much better and seemed to settle into the format much more. It was a little bit samey towards the end when they starting talking about similar issues to the previous week, but it was interesting nonetheless.
    Stupid party political broadcasts

    One of the things I really hate during any political campaign is scaremongering and negative campaigning. I realise that they’re always going to do it, but it annoys me intensely because it detracts from the real issues and is insulting to the intelligence of the electorate.
    There have been a couple of party politicals in the last two weeks that have riled me up in particular though.
    The first was an appalling Labour advert featuring Eddie Izzard, that made me think much much less of him. In it, he talked about the Conservatives (why bother talking about Labour policies, eh?) and said “These are Thatcher’s children! Be afraid, be very afraid!”
    Fuck. Right. Off.
    Seriously, how long are Labour planning on flogging Thatcher’s corpse (interesting image) as a reason to vote for them? She was in power THIRTY years ago. It’s fucking ridiculous! And contrary to the opinion of most uninformed socialists, she wasn’t the worse thing ever to happen to this country anyway. A modernised economy and inflation reduced from 18% to 4% during her time in office? Yes, DISASTROUS. Such a terrible effect on the country that she was re-elected TWICE with whopping majorities and therefore had a clear mandate for what she was doing? Yes, that really shows how the people hated her. Hated her so much in fact that even after the Tories deposed her, they STILL got re-elected the next time around. It’s not like everyone went running straight to Labour, desperate to be free from Maggie’s claws, is it?
    So anyway, I found that advert patronising, childish and irrelevant.
    The second party political that’s pissed me off is a recent one from the Conservatives, styled as a fictional advert from the Hung Parliament Party. Seriously, it looked like crap, like a GCSE Media Studies project, where it had been so hastily thrown together once the Conservatives realised a hung parliament was a distinct possibility. And it had a stupid noose logo everywhere, despite the fact that a noose would imply a HANGED parliament, not a hung one.
    But leaving aside the generally shitty aesthetic aspects of it, the content was what really annoyed me.
    A hung parliament would be undemocratic and would mean the country was governed via deals done behind closed doors, they said. It won’t be the utopia of cooperation some people would have you believe, they said.
    So they’re saying that the present system is MORE democratic are they? A system where only 60% of the electorate vote, and then a party is installed as a majority government having received only 35% of that? That’s 21% of the electorate backing the party that gains power, who then get to pick whoever they like to fill the cabinet and can spend five years legislating pretty much with impunity, even in the face of large-scale public opposition to any particular plan. How democratic is that?
    And on the question of cooperation, other countries seem to manage perfectly well with coalition governments, including Germany: the strongest economy in Europe. The problem actually is that our two main parties are very used to having all or nothing, and they don’t normally have to play nicely with the other children. They don’t have to negotiate or compromise to get legislation through, they can just force it through on the strength of a questionable public mandate and a large majority in the Commons. A hung parliament doesn’t necessarily mean an ineffective one, and the only way the Conservatives can guarantee there would be no cooperation is if they’re saying they won’t cooperate with any other party.
    Anyway, I can feel I’m getting more and more riled up as I write this, so I’m going to leave it there. My final point will be to describe where my voting intentions lie at present, so I can compare that with next week.
    At the moment I am voting Liberal Democrat. I would like to see them gain a much larger share of the seats in parliament, perhaps around 100, and for them to exercise that power to bring about political reform.
    I really, really wanted the Conservatives to convince me and win my vote, and I gave them ample opportunity. But at this stage, my principal feeling is that I can’t trust them. This is based particularly around the issue of gay rights, but has broader implications than that, and relates to the fact that members of the Conservative party don’t actually seem to agree with the official line we are fed by David Cameron. There have been too many homophobic views expressed, and it has been enough to put me off. How would these MPs actually vote in the Commons on gay rights issues, if this is how they feel? What value is the official party line if the party’s members don’t actually support it? And that lack of trust and credibility on gay issues has seeped across and eroded my support for them in other areas, and my whole opinion of them.
    My main disagreements with the Liberal Democrats are on issues such as the euro. I don’t want us to join the euro, I don’t think that we need it or that it presents sufficient benefits to us. However, as the LibDem pledge is to hold a referendum on the issue ‘when the conditions are right’, I can live with that. If we have a referendum, I’ll vote no. And if most people vote yes, I’ll just learn to live with it. It’s a democracy after all; if that’s what the majority of people want, then so be it.
    So that’s my political update and I’ll shut up now. Roll on election day because it’s all starting to get rather exhausting.

  7. Milk you can’t drink and politicians you can’t trust

    February 23, 2010 by superlative

    I have just realised to my horror that I haven’t posted anything on my blog for two whole weeks, so I thought I’d better do a bit of a catch up. I hate it when I click on someone’s blog and it hasn’t been updated for ages, it just looks a bit boring, so I’ve been a very bad superlative for letting it slip for so long.

    Anyway, these are some of the things that I have been doing and thinking about recently:

    Milk
    I watched Milk a couple of weeks ago, having previously known virtually nothing about it. I was aware that Harvey Milk was some sort of gay politician from San Francisco, but that was only really because I’d had a couple of drinks in a bar called Harvey’s when we were there, and they had information up on the walls about him.
    Anyway, the film was GREAT, as was the story of his life in general. He was the first openly gay man to hold public office in the United States, and he was just so dedicated to improving the lot of gays and other minorities in his city. What was most shocking to me however was how recently it all took place: it is set from 1972 to 1978. Having been fortunate enough to grow up during a period when homosexuality started to be properly accepted in society, I hadn’t really realised how much I’ve taken for granted the freedoms I enjoy. In the mid-70s in San Francisco, it seems the police would regularly raid gay bars and arrest and beat up their patrons. This was the POLICE, the people you’re supposed to be able to call when someone assaults you! Even if homophobia was rife back then, I hadn’t really expected on duty police officers to be engaging in it.
    Anyway, the film is about a lot more than just that, and although the ending is sad, I still found Harvey Milk’s courage and determination very uplifting. It made me feel like I could and should be doing more to overcome intolerance, and not just enjoy the benefits of the work done by others. I probably won’t of course, I’m fundamentally lazy and it was only a film, but it made me think at least and will keep me thinking in the future.
    Political things
    Sort of related to the above, I have been continuing to ponder my position as a gay man with semi-conservative views and the fast approaching general election. I still haven’t decided who I want to vote for, but I’ve still got a couple of months to go, and I’m quite enjoying researching the parties and thinking about it anyway.

    Attitude magazine has published an interview with each of the three main party leaders over its last few issues, and I’ve found that very helpful. I’ve taken everything the leaders have said in the interviews with a pinch of salt, because of course they’re just going to say whatever they think will appeal to the magazine’s gay readership, but it was useful to see them address those kinds of questions specifically.
    Overall I’d say Nick Clegg came off the best. I don’t like Gordon Brown, so he would have had to say something very special to change my mind, and he just didn’t. David Cameron’s interview and the accompanying articles they published were tremendously interesting, but only made me less inclined to vote Conservative than I had been before. It made David Cameron look very much like a ‘will say what you want to hear’ politician, even more than politicians are in general, and it was pretty absurd to read him denying he’d voted against gay adoption even while they waved Hansard under his nose showing that he did. I’m not going to base my vote particularly on what his party did in the 80s, but the voting record of the current Conservative front bench is important and doesn’t make for good reading.
    Nick Clegg seemed the most straightforward and honest, and said some nice things about equalities for gay people. My only reservation is that of course he can easily make generous promises: he’s unlikely to become prime minister and ever have to live up to them. Even so, I’d say the Lib Dems are currently winning in my estimations.
    On top of that, there is a debate going on this week about a bill the government is putting through parliament and its section on sex education in schools. After intense lobbying by religious groups, the Labour party has allowed an amendment to let religious schools teach sex education (including mandatory information on same sex relationships) ‘within their institution’s ethos’. So that means religious schools would be free to say “Yes there are same sex relationships. These are wrong, they are immoral, and they are inferior to heterosexual love and marriage”. I’m absolutely appalled by that and think it would be a big step backwards for the country. Some gay activists are even calling the amendment a modern Section 28.
    How would a gay child in that class feel to be told they are inferior and immoral? Shouldn’t they be free to be taught the facts of sex education without judgement attached, so they can make up their own minds? That seems like a fundamental right to me, and I really hope the amendment is removed. Labour have proclaimed themselves the only party that has championed gay rights over the last two decades, and this would be a terrible stain on their record.
    General bits and bobs
    This post is going on a bit now, so I shall cut the rest short.

    I’m very much looking forward to our holiday to New York in six weeks. So far we have booked to tour the Federal Reserve Gold Vault, where you can view $8billion of gold all stacked up, and we have bought tickets to see Chicago on Broadway. Both of those should be really good.

    Life is otherwise fairly good at the moment, but work is interminably dull and it is starting to affect my moods in the evening again. This feeling of unfulfillment I get creeps into my home life, and I become terribly listless and depressed. So anyway, I’m trying to be more positive at work, to fill my days with activity instead of endlessly clicking Refresh on Twitter, and to do some studying and other things in the periods when I really haven’t got anything to do. It’s worked for the last two days anyway, so I shall try to keep it up.

  8. Why I’m opposed to Sarah’s Law

    January 25, 2010 by superlative

    There has been a fair bit of coverage in the news over the weekend of the plan to extend the so-called Sarah’s Law from its four pilot areas around the UK to a national scheme. For a few reasons, I think that this is a bad idea that won’t achieve very much, and that it is being implement purely because it is popular and grabs headlines in the run-up to a general election.
    For those of you who don’t know, the Sarah’s Law scheme allows parents to ask local police forces if people who have contact with their children have convictions for sex crimes or have been previously suspected of abuse. The police then check the Sex Offenders Register and any other relevant databases, and if there is a cause for concern they will share a certain amount of information with the applicant. The parent is supposed to be legally bound to keep that information confidential and not tell any other parents or people in the local area. It is named Sarah’s Law after the abduction and murder of a girl called Sarah Payne by a convicted paedophile in 2000, and is similar to but not the same as Megan’s Law in the US. Megan’s Law is more wide-reaching, as it allows people to find out if any sex offenders live in their local area, without having to make an enquiry about a specific individual. The Sarah’s Law campaigners wanted the same thing in the UK, but instead this compromise scheme was introduced.
    I think the whole scheme is a bad idea with potentially dangerous consequences. Firstly, I would be extremely concerned about the possibility of vigilante reprisals against people who have details relating to them released under this scheme. I know that in the pilot areas they haven’t found this to be a problem, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future. The public, and particularly parents, are not at all rational when it comes to any kind of sex offender, and there have already been instances in the past of people being attacked, murdered or hounded from their homes because of previous allegations – whether those allegations were actually proven or not. For this reason, I think the monitoring of sex offenders is and should remain the job of the police and the probation service. Despite what some campaigners might say, parents are NOT appropriate people to do so.
    Secondly, I think that the Sex Offender Register is at times a highly imperfect system. People who pose no threat to children, or in fact no threat to anyone at all, can sometimes end up on the Sex Offenders Register for life. Take a 16 year-old boy who has sex with his 15 year-old girlfriend: technically, that is statutory rape, and could lead to him being recorded on the register for sex with a minor. Does that make him a danger to children? Most likely not. But if ‘previous sex with a child’ is shared with a member of the public, with no qualifying information, that person will then be labelled as a dangerous paedophile, and a hysterical reaction ensues. I am unsure quite what level of detail is shared with parents under this scheme, but I would feel that this is a significant area of concern.
    The scheme also includes people who have been suspected of or investigated for abuse, which I think is even worse. Of course that information may sometimes be critical to crime prevention, but it could also be due to a malicious or mistaken allegation that was investigated and then dismissed. How is it fair that that should be shared with local people should they ask about it? Qualified individuals should have access to that information, not members of the public.
    Further to that, the scheme of course offers no protection at all from people who have never been investigated for or charged with a sex offence. Yes I suppose it may offer some limited protection from those who have previous convictions, but as I understand it, people who are a danger to children are barred from working with them anyway, so what does this scheme add?
    Fear of paedophile attack has been whipped up to ridiculous extremes in this country, even though in reality I would expect the risk remains very low and has not increased particularly over the years. People may say “yes but any risk is too great”, or “we have to do EVERYTHING we can to protect our children”, or “it only has to happen once though doesn’t it?”, and yes those statements are true. But you could equally apply those statements to road traffic accidents, which do far more harm to children each year, and then say that we should ban all cars or not allow children to cross the road until they are 18.
    On top of that, as far as I am aware most cases of abuse still occur within families and extended families, and are not due to strangers snatching a child in the streets. Would this scheme help with that? Not really. A mother can check if her new boyfriend poses any danger to her children, the scheme’s organisers say. Well yes, I suppose so, but how many of them will? And what about fathers, uncles, cousins and trusted neighbours whom you’ve known for years? Any of these people could, and do, turn out to be child abusers, but you wouldn’t get checks run on everyone, and even if you did they probably wouldn’t have any previous convictions anyway.
    This legislation is pointless, and is just a convenient way for a government to look tough on crime and to be seen to be ‘doing something’. I feel its potential efficacy is going to be substantially less than should be required to outweigh its risks. It is very hard, however, for someone to publicly oppose the scheme, particularly politicians – do so, and you risk be called anything from ‘soft on crime’ to ‘pro-child abuse’. Calling it Sarah’s Law is a deliberate contrivance to make it even harder to criticise, as they can then slap Sarah Payne’s picture all over everything and use her murder to guilt-trip you into backing the proposal without properly considering it.
    I would point out however, that this scheme would not have saved Sarah Payne’s life. She wasn’t killed by someone her mother could have applied for information about. He didn’t have previous or regular contact with her. He snatched her from the streets – an abominable but extremely rare crime. The even more dangerous Megan’s Law could potentially have avoided it, but Sarah’s Law would not. The whole idea should be binned.

  9. More silly protests

    September 28, 2009 by superlative

    There was another anti-government protest in Brighton at the weekend, apparently attended by Sloth from The Goonies (see picture – courtesy of the Argus).

    As if the Labour Party Conference weren’t disruptive enough for the citizens of Brighton, we also have to put up with vague and pointless protests cluttering up our streets.
    Fortunately, this one seemed rather smaller than the Smash EDO idiocy, and by the time I ventured down to the seafront to take a look it appeared to consist of a man standing on a plinth and some bored-looking policemen. I was pleased to see that there were also stacks and stacks of unused placards on Madeira Drive, where they’d clearly not had as many people turn up as they’d been hoping for.
    As with the previous protest, it was the diffuse and varied aims of this one that really made it pointless for me. Some people seemed upset about bankers’ bonuses; some didn’t want cuts in public services; some thought Vestas should be nationalised (er, bit late); some were anti-war; and some were just generally anti-anything because they think protesting is cool. The problem with that, I feel though, is that the protest doesn’t end up achieving anything, because no one is really sure why they’re there.
    This one was particularly pointless because I’m sure it caused no disruption at all to the Labour Party delegates, who were safely tucked up inside the windowless Brighton Centre and probably couldn’t hear or see any of what was going on.
    I also don’t really get some of the arguments that the protesters make. Some of their placards said “Fight for the right to work”, which I found odd. There isn’t an unlimited supply of jobs out there, and I don’t think the Human Rights Convention says we all have a right to a job which the government must provide and pay for.
    The ‘no cuts in public services’ ones also seemed misguided. There is a huge deficit in the public finances which has to be repaired. Regardless of how it got there (I’ll come to that in a minute), it has to be remedied. The country doesn’t have secret stacks of cash it’s keeping squirrelled away – the only way to cut the deficit is to make cuts in spending, or raise taxes. They seem to think that just ‘taxing the rich’ more is going to sort it out, but it’s not realistic. Why do they think that all the major parties have acknowledged the need for cuts? Even Labour says so now, after trying to dodge the word cuts for ages. Efficiency savings won’t be enough, there need to be actual cuts, and we will all feel the effects. But the alternative is a much longer and more painful recession or depression – you can’t just ignore the problem and expect the economy to sort itself out.
    There was quite a bit of talk about bankers’ bonuses too, and apportioning of blame on the banking sector for our financial woes. While I agree it was the bursting of the credit bubble and overly-risky investing by the banks that dragged the economy down, outlawing bankers bonuses is a purely populist measure that won’t actually fix the state we’re in. Yes the banks behaved badly – but the problem was that they were allowed to do so. We should be talking now about much tighter financial regulation and imposed margins on the banks’ balance sheets, to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Complaining about bonuses doesn’t address the real issue at all.
    And yes it’s annoying that some of the people who caused this are still getting big bonuses. Fine. The banks shouldn’t be giving those people financial rewards, if they’ve even still got their jobs. But the issue isn’t an across-the-board one for all banks, and the backlash against the financial world will only discourage the bright and talented people we need to repair the damage from joining the sector. The same as with the social workers/Baby P thing: now no one wants to be a social worker, so there are no good social workers out there fixing a flawed system.
    Anyway, I’ve digressed a little. The protest was pointless, and to me it achieved nothing except some venting of anger and to confirm for me that lots of people really don’t understand economics, politics, or how the country works in general.

  10. BB ‘n’ BNP

    June 9, 2009 by superlative

    I’ve watched a couple of episodes of Big Brother since last week, and as predicted they’re largely a bunch of weirdos. They all seem to be pretty much caricatures of certain stereotypes, with a mixed bag of oddballs thrown in to fill up the gaps.

    There’s a posh boy who claims to be an entrepreneur, i.e. he spends Daddy’s money on ‘business ventures’ to amuse himself. There’s a rather extreme version of a lesbian, and a fairly camp tight t-shirted gay boy (not entirely unattractive though). There’s a couple of peroxided WAG-type girls. There’s a ‘ladies man’ who fancies himself rather too much and does not appeal to me at all. And then there’s a few others, including a dwarf girl, a scary Russian, a bizarre-looking ‘stylist’ with no style, and an American boy with his jeans around his kness. Oh yeah, and Wolverine from the X-Men.

    As I said before, how are we meant to relate to any of these people? There are only a handful who I could actually imagine meeting in real life, and even fewer who I’d want to have a prolonged conversation with. Maybe they’ll grow on me, I don’t know. As it is though, I’ve largely lost interest already. I might just dip in and out of it until there aren’t as many of them, that’s what I usually do.

    Also in the news, and rather sadly less noticeable than Big Brother, were the European and local elections. Labour got caned, which I found delightful, and it’s left their party and morale pretty much in tatters. They don’t control any local councils now, and they lost a fair few MEPs.

    I was surprised to find though that the BNP had won two seats on the European Parliament. It’s a fairly sad illustration of the effect of voter apathy and how pathetic the main parties are at the moment: although the BNP got fewer votes in total, turn-out was so low that it still resulted in them winning seats. And how does it make us look to the rest of Europe when we send over two far-right candidates with a rights-for-whites anti-Europe agenda? Lots of Britons seem thoroughly ashamed that we’ve elected them, but it’s the people who didn’t vote who are to blame.

    It reminded me of when I was living in Geneva and the presidential elections were being held in France. The socialist candidate crashed out of the first round, coming third place behind the National Front, and so the second round had to be fought between the incumbent (conservative) Jacques Chirac and the leader of the National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen. And the French were aghast that they’d let it happen. Naturally they rallied round to stop themselves electing a far-right president, and even the left wingers turned out to vote for Chirac, because what choice did they have? But it was the failure of the main opposition that caused it.

    Sadly for us, we don’t get a second round at the European elections and now we’re stuck with two BNP MEPs for several years. I just hope it teaches people a lesson for when we finally get a general election and that they come out and vote. Of course we’ll have to wait for Labour to get the balls to call one before we can worry about that.

    Oo get me, I’m all political today…