Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Cameron on Twitter

Why the kerfuffle about David Cameron's comments on Twitter this morning?

Watch the extended video. He says he doesn't use Twitter because politicians must be careful about what they say, before making the now infamous remark about too many twits making a twat.

He then goes on to add that politicians should be able to convey their message in few words for ease of memory. Now, I don't necessarily agree with 'soundbite' politics, it tends to obscure the real issues (see 'helicopters' for a rough example that leaps to mind), but being able to get your message across succinctly is important nonetheless.

So, going back, what did he actually say about Twitter?

That politicians must be careful about what they say. Read into that what you will. Does he mean they should be economical with the truth? Cautious of making false promises? It could have any number of meanings.

And as for the "twat" remark, judging by his delivery, it looks more like some failed attempt to be clever with a word that many people actually find rude, like an overzealous schoolboy who just discovered a naughty missive in a dictionary.

As a rampant Twitter user I don't feel offended by it, rather I get the impression it was aimed at tweeting MPs, rather than an attack on Twitter in general. Talking about the "instantness" implies that rash remarks could be foolish, hence "too many twits might make a twat".

The reason he actually gave for not using Twitter was that politicians ought to be careful with words. It's a lame excuse, admittedly, but I don't actually think Cameron thinks the service is populated by twats.

As for his comment about people being pissed off with politicians, we're all thinking it, aren't we? Just a shame it's taken this long for somebody in Parliament to be so publically honest about it.

Now, let's feggedaboutit and move on, there are more important issues at stake. Like why am I sticking up for David Cameron?

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Pissing in the wind

This video shows BNP leader, Nick Griffin, speaking at the European Parliament in which he draws attention to the efforts of UAF to disrupt the BNP's election campaign.

Whilst comparing Iran to the UK is a wholly unfair comparison to make, and I'm not entirely sure what he means about taxpayers' money being used to fund UAF, his point about "intimidation" is a fair one.

I'm not going to repeat what I've already written and I know this sounds all preachy and "I told you so" but, well, I did. If we resort to violent means to beat the BNP then we're simply playing into their hands.

Strangely, UAF tried to turn the tables on Griffin by pointing out members of the BNP who have been jailed for bomb making and stirring up racial hatred, not realising the hypocrisy of such an argument...

Monday, 20 July 2009

He does know about Vestas, right?

Ed Miliband has been spouting rubbish again.

On the Guardian's Comment is Free blog, Miliband has just written about how the fight against climate change is similar to the challenge of putting man on the moon; a huge technological feat, but possible nonetheless.

What stands out the most for me are his words on a shift in energy policy:

First, if we are in the persuasion business, all of us have to talk as much about the advantages of the low carbon choice as the disaster that awaits if we don't act. We don't do this enough.

Just look at energy. Two-thirds of the world's gas is in Russia and the Middle East, but renewable energy is homegrown and can help us stem a rising dependence on imports. In manufacturing, there is a thriving set of new industries dependent on low carbon and on ways of cleaning up old sectors, and a chance to build a broader-based economy. Only by making the transition, with government support, can we reap the benefits.[my emphasis]

You see, the funny thing is that only a few minutes before the link to this appeared in my twitter feed, another link appeared, announcing the worker occupation of a wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight which is threatened with closure.

The Vestas Blades site in Newport, which employs 700 people and is one of only two in the UK to produce wind turbine parts, is due to close at the end of July. Vestas blame their decision to close the plant on falling demand due to the recession.

The workers have been pleading for the government to step in and save the plant, by nationalisation if necessary, and the government and Vestas' recalcitrant position has led to the current occupation.

If Ed Miliband really believed in government support for the transition to homegrown renewable energy then Vestas wouldn't be allowed to sink without trace.

Likewise, as Miliband goes on to say, "change happens not just because leaders want it, but because people demand it".

Well then Ed, sit up and pay attention because quite a few people are demanding that you ditch proposals for a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth, among many other things.

Actions speak louder than words, no?

Thursday, 9 July 2009

The BNP need to be fought in the open

Unite Against Fascism (UAF) couldn't have picked a better day to release the analysis of their campaign against the BNP during the European elections. In an interview with a BBC reporter, BNP leader Nick Griffin made some utterly revolting remarks about "sinking immigrants' boats" as they try to make it to Europe. Such hideous views do a lot of the anti-fascist campaigners' work for them, revealing the BNP for the extremists they really are, no matter what kind of respectable veneer they may try to smear themselves in.

But looking at UAF's analysis document, you also can't help but wonder if the anti-fascists are making life difficult for themselves. Do not get me wrong, the UAF are doing important work, but it seems they are flirting with ideas that could well damage the anti-fascist campaign and undermine the hard work being done by the movement.

In the document, UAF hinted at their tactics for combating fascism in the elections by encouraging people to get out and vote:

"Throughout the campaign we put out 2.5 million leaflets and newspapers pushing a consistent message – that the BNP was a fascist party, that there was a serious danger of them winning seats, and that they could be stopped if enough people turned out to vote against them."

While this is undoubtedly vital it is only half the battle. What about the people who do and will vote BNP? Combating fascism isn't simply a case of winning more votes than the fascists, but engaging with those who, for whatever reasons, support the BNP. Focusing on winning more votes does nothing to tackle the existing racism, xenophobia and discontent. A lot of people still voted for the BNP, something the UAF do recognise, and these people are just as important as those who didn't feel inclined to vote at all.

More worrying however, is the belief UAF hold in restricting the BNP access to the media:
“Incidents such as these [racist attacks] highlight the fact that the BNP can¬not be fought on a purely ideological level but must be vigor¬ously confronted and excluded from our democratic culture. One vital aspect of this involves the media. The fact that there are now two BNP Euro MPs will lead to specific pressures on journalists and media workers to treat the party as if it were a legitimate political voice. This could mean interviews with leading BNP figures, invitations onto “Question Time” style panel debates, or even misguided attempts at “exposing” the BNP that end up merely sensationalising them.

“The danger is that the BNP will be allowed to worm its way into the media establishment. It will use any platforms it is granted to consolidate its presence in the political mainstream, normalise its racist arguments, pull the political spectrum to the right and build its organisations on the ground. And as the fascists grow, so do the pressures on people to capitulate to them. The danger today is that the BNP breaks through the “cordon sanitaire” to become a regular fixture in our media.”

How can you define a ‘legitimate political voice’? Is the working class man on a sink estate in the North-west not a ‘legitimate political voice’? Many of the issues they bring up, such as immigration, are ‘legitimate’ political issues and they have every right to air their beliefs.

We [apparently] have something called free speech in this country. As much as people don’t like it, this also applies to the BNP. As Noam Chomsky puts it: “If we do not believe in freedom of speech for those we despise we do not believe in it at all." The BNP have as much a right as the rest of us to talk about issues affecting Britain and if it strays too far and becomes incitement to racial hatred then they’ll be dealt with by the police.

The BNP need to be fought in the open.

Denying them space in the media forces the BNP ‘underground’ where it is harder to tackle the ideas they propagate and plays into the hands of the BNP rhetoric that talks of a ‘liberal conspiracy’ to exclude them from the political discussion in this country. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - let the BNP have their soapbox and then whip it away with reason, logic and well informed arguments. It’s not the medium that normalises the racist argument but the capitulation of a counter-argument.

Many of their policies are based on ignorance, such as the notion that migrants get favoured in social housing. People need to understand what exactly it is the BNP stand for and arm themselves with the arguments that can unravel the BNP. To deny the BNP a platform is to pretend the problem doesn’t exist and further reinforces the idea of a liberal conspiracy against their supporters. If we don’t win the intellectual argument, it vindicates their policies. However, if we do win that argument then we reveal them for the sham they are.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Democracy in action...

This was the scene in Parliament this afternoon, shortly after Alistair Darling delivered a statement on proposed financial regulation.

I think Channel 4 News' economics correspondent, Faisal Islam, sums it up best:

Israeli Tourism poster mislead about occupied territories

An Israeli tourism poster has been found to breach advertising standards after it misleadingly implied that the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Golan Heights were part of the state of Israel.

The 'Experience Israel' poster showed a map of Israel which included the disputed territories, prompting 442 complaints from members of the public as well as from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) Council agreed that the poster, distributed around London Underground in May, breached the advertising code on truthfulness and must not appear again in its current form. The posters were removed soon after the complaints were made.

The Israeli Government Tourist Office (IGTO) were similarly rapped when they published a map in the Radio Times in 2007 showing part of the West Bank as Israeli territory and for failing to respond to the ASA's correspondence.

The ASA said in its final adjudication on the Experience Israel poster: "We noted that the map showed border lines for the Gaza Strip and West Bank, but we also noted that those border lines were faintly produced and difficult to distinguish on the map itself."

"We understood that the borders and status of the occupied territories... were the subject of much international dispute, and because we considered that the ad implied that those territories were part of the state of Israel, we concluded that the ad was misleading."

The State of Israel Ministry of Tourism (SIMT), replying on behalf of the IGTO said that the map was not of a political nature, rather, "it gave potential visitors an idea of the location of the areas in and around Israel".

They further argued that any debate surrounding the disputed territories was political in nature and not relevant to a tourism advert.

According to the adjudication, the SIMT: "argued that the only impression a reasonable customer would get from the map was that it depicted the areas that could be practically reached and visited when travelling there."

Try telling that to the human rights activists who were arrested after trying to deliver aid to Gaza by sea.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Miliband, don't be a Siliband

More than 1,000 people formed a human chain around the Kingsnorth power station yesterday to protest at plans to build a new coal fired power station on the site.

The 'Mili-band' was made especially for energy minister, Ed Miliband, who has the power to reject the E.on proposal.

A new coal plant at Kingsnorth would create more than six million tonnes of CO2 per year, which is more than the combined emissions of the 25 least emitting countries, the kind of places that will feel the effects of climate change the hardest.

As the World Development Movement put it, Miliband "cannot expect his arguments for a fair and safe global deal at the crucial climate negotiations in Copenhagen to be taken seriously if he’s planning to build new dirty coal fired power stations at home."

We don't need coal to provide our energy. There is plenty of existing renewables technology that the government should be pushing and investing in rather than coal, in turn helping to get a green 'revolution' off the ground.

Daniel Vockins speaking at the Mili-band event at Kingsnorth, 4th July 2009.

This is why protesters turned up yesterday, to keep up the pressure on the government. Participants wore yellow sashes which said "Climate Change Kills" on the thirty minute walk from the fete/rally in Hoo to the power station. At the station the sashes were held between protesters to create a colourful band around the perimeter.

Photographs and videos of protesters chanting "Dirty coal not today, we must find a better way" will be sent to Miliband. Videos of protesters making pledges as part of the Big If campaign will also find their way to his desk. This involved people promising to take certain actions, such as not voting Labour or in one case burning their UK passport, if the Kingsnorth development goes ahead. You can take part in this yourself by submitting a pledge of your own via the Greenpeace website.

One of the most heart warming aspects from yesterday's demonstration was the wide range of people who turned out. This is an increasingly varied social movement, no longer the preserve of 'hippies', the jobless and 'crusties' as cynics like to tiresomely point out. People of all ages, races and backgrounds were present, mirrored in the coalition of groups who helped organise the event including the Women's Institute, Oxfam and the National Union of Students.

Groups like these, who are not commonly associated with climate change campaigning, are vital to building a movement of people who can press those in power for meaningful solutions. It is in the interests of everybody on this planet that we address this problem and with these groups' backing we can help gain the support of the ignorant and critical.

Shorbanu Khutun, speaking at the Mili-band protest at Kingsnorth, 4th July 2009.

On a final note, how sad of The Times to write about the event online but include a photograph from a different protest, showing protesters clashing with police. Yesterday’s demonstration was peaceful and passed off without a hitch. In fact, there was barely any police presence, in marked contrast to previous demonstrations at Kingsnorth, and the few officers there kept out of the way.

The image used by The Times distorts the view of the protest, painting it in a negative light and adding to the veil of ignorance that surrounds climate politics. Why on earth would they do such a thing? Maybe it was just lazy journalism. Couldn’t they be bothered to send a journalist to cover it, or even source an image from elsewhere like flickr? Or is there an ulterior motive at play? I’ll be taking a closer look at media coverage of such events in coming weeks.


A quick one to say I've just made a Tumblr at

I'll be using this to share links, pictures, video and audio that I find of interest but don't have the time to write about in more depth on this blog.

Don't forget you can also follow me on twitter.

Nuff love.