Thursday, 20 May 2010

Clegg's Constitutional Changes

So Clegg has declared his intention to "shake-up" our democracy with reforms he equates to a "big bang". Not only do the plans fail to match 'recent' obvious reform such as giving women the vote, I struggle to see how they come close to any kind of deep reform worthy of such rhetoric.

Overturning intrusions on our civil liberties such as ID cards and the DNA and Contact Point databases are undoubtedly welcome, but to suggest they are part of some great shake-up of democracy is fallacious. In some cases the reforms merely mean restrictions. Further, they shouldn't have been introduced in the first place; their removal is nothing more than setting the record straight, a system restore to an earlier date. Their professing of more liberty to the people is also hard to square with Theresa May announcement to give police more powers to press charges.

Nor does a partially-elected second chamber constitute major reform. Indeed, it is a step forward, but hardly one giant leap for British-kind that Clegg's rhetoric suggests, especially when there appear to be plans afoot to fill the Lords with Tory and Lib Dem peers.

As for electoral reform, we know the AV system is not as sweeping a change as full PR, but neither, in the current context, does it represent "a major step forward that would break decades of deadlock over voting reform". The hunger for reform following the results of the election surely meant deadlock was going to be non-existent on this particular issue, reform of some description was 'inevitable'. The 55% rule too is another example of window dressing on Clegg's behalf. Apart from not being included in either coalition party's manifestos, making it more difficult for MPs to try and dissolve Parliament is nothing to shout about.

As far as I can tell, what we are actually left with is unclear announcements on reform to donors and the ability to recall corrupt MPs. I'm struggling to understand how we will be given more control over the power of the state. In the same week that the right-to-strike was undermined, trade union powers were absent from his rhetoric, while a transparent government, for example, is not a mechanism to exercise control. It's not so much a big bang as a damp squib.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Why I Joined the Labour Party

At the weekend I joined the Labour party. For many of you this may come as a shock. I've lost track of the number of times I've spat venom about Labour-this and Labour-that as the last government trod all over our civil liberties and disappeared up its own arse on countless other policy occasions. I still have a folder of unpublished blog posts written in exasperation at Labour's efforts to square capitalism with socialism.

Despite this, they're perhaps the only major force the left can have any hope in, if that makes sense. I'm more closely allied to the Greens than Labour, but are the former really in any position to oust the Tories anytime soon, especially with firm electoral reform still pretty far away? While I'd love to see this country morph into a giant Zapatista-style commune, it isn't going to happen anytime soon, so I'm going to have be pragmatic about how I can help fight the right.

Many people have told me to join Labour and try change things from the inside, but most of the time, I can't stand party politics. Rather than get on with doing right by the people, partisan bickering brinkmanship and sniping clouds debates and discussions. There's too much politics within parties themselves and power relationships that the autonomist in me feels entirely uncomfortable with, especially when there are other ways to become involved in politics, such as Climate Camp or the Open Rights Group.

So, baring this in mind, why have I joined? To be honest, I'm not quite sure myself, it just sort of happened, but I think it comes down to one thing: fear of the Tories. I can't stand the thought of society being ruined as we lurch even further to the right. Don't get me wrong, Labour helped bring us to this point (not that I ignore many of the welcome social policies they implemented) but - please! - we have got to stop this pursuit of unbridled capitalism.

Now, I'm not naive enough to think Labour are a silver bullet. One of my key criticisms of Labour in recent years has been the usurping of the cause by the continued existence of the party. What is the party if it has nothing to believe in or fight for? I see the next few years as an opportunity for the left to find its feet again and reconnect with its core, and herein lies an opportunity for staunch lefties to try and exert some influence on Labour. This links back to what I said at first, that they're perhaps the only realistic option in putting an end to Tory government.

So I've tentatively joined the party. I don't feel comfortable with it and I don't really know what my 'game plan' is. I'm not accepting Labour on its current terms; that definitely isn't why I've joined. I have my core principles and ethics which I refuse to sell out or compromise on. I guess I'll take things as they come and hope I, and many others, can try and nudge Labour back to the left, to less authoritarian and more equitable terms. Hopefully I can help inject some of the introspection and self-criticism into the party which is sorely needed.

At some point maybe I'll draw together some kind of criteria which I think Labour should satisfy in order for me to remain a member (like Gordon's economic tests, ha!). And if I feel like these things aren't possible, that it's going to be more of the same, then I'll have absolutely no qualms about canceling my membership.

I guess you could call it a marriage of convenience; I don't know what to call it. I'm just trying to do right by my principles, trying to help change society for the better and maybe this move will help. I can but only try and I guess I'll find out soon enough.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Representation in the Cabinet

One of the key talking points of the new coalition government is the lack of women or ethnic minorities in the new cabinet.

While it really is a disgrace, I think ire is perhaps being directed at the wrong target.

The thing is, both the Lib Dems and Conservative parliamentary parties are lacking in female and ethnic minority MPs, which is undoubtedly going to have an effect on the composition of the cabinet.

If the Tories and Lib Dems had better representation across their parties and still Cameron had selected such a cabinet, then quite rightly these selections should be criticised.

But without meaning to sound like an apologist for the two parties, I think this is to take our eye off the ball. That we have a white, middle-class male cabinet is indeed a shitty thing, but calling for more representation in it doesn't really tackle the root problem, which is this lack of representation at MP level.

Twitter and the election

Twitter has been bothering me the past few days. I can't quite put my finger on it, so excuse me if the following sounds a bit jumbled, but my feelings go a little something like this...

A few days ago, I tweeted that "If anything, this #ge2010 I've learned that twitter is worse than rolling news. Moves too quickly for actual events, can't sustain itself."

I saw somebody, I forget who, tweet that the German media, long used to covering coalition negotiations in their own government, were taken aback by the impatience of our media who were making talking points out of nothing. (See the ridiculous helicopter coverage of party leaders being driven around).

It wasn't just the traditional media that were hankering for something tasty to talk about, so too were many people online.

My thinking was, and still is, that in the absence of actual developments in such a tense situation as a hung parliament, people on twitter only hear what they want to hear and willfully misinterpret or make inferences of other people's comments. Admittedly, this only comes from the people I was following myself, but these people cut across all political persuasions as did the type of behaviour I'm writing about.

This led to petty and reactionary squabbling over minor points or people simply airing their thoughts and pondering out loud. Reason and rational thought seemed to fly out the window as people struggled to have their voices and opinions heard over everybody else. All the while nothing was happening or actually being constructed in real life, away from the internet.

It was, simply put, a deluge of speculation. People were going round in circles of non-existent opprobrium, contributing to a gigantic mess of 'debate'. And it was all rather off-putting if truth be told.

That was before negotiations for a new government came to a disappointing close but I still stand by it. Moreover, I still think it's pertinent even after things came to a conclusion.

Now, my twitter stream is full of people expressing their dismay at the situation in a giant anti-Tory echo chamber. That's all well and good, I have nothing against that, but after you've seen the same sentiment for the 100th time it starts to get boring.

I now find myself in a strange position where I don't feel like I have anything worthwhile to contribute to the 'discussion'; much of what I feel has already been said. I tweeted that it was simply "ineffective fury". By this I mean fury that has no direction, no actual target. OK, the Tories are now in power, but it doesn't actually mean anything yet as we're yet to see this power manifest itself.

This differs from occasions such as Trafigura or Jan Moir, where wrongs had clearly been committed and twitter united to right them. Until there are policies and proposals that we can actually physically fight, all we have at the moment is a rather abstract idea of somebody being in power that we don't like, but with no real idea how to go about fighting it, leaving us with a public sphere in which people may as well just be shouting into an empty room.

I realise I'm making massive generalisations here. There has been the odd nugget of reason with people pointing out logical flaws or bringing others back down to earth. Still, I feel like twitter has become a beacon of impotent rage for the time being. Until this rage calms down, people begin to see the bigger picture and realise that being angry on the internet isn't always the best prescription, I'm going to resist jumping into the melee and quietly contemplate what can be done offline instead.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

My Absence

Seems I've not been blogging much of late. It's not that I've lost the passion, I still have it and there sits on my hard drive a fair few unfinished and unpublished posts. However, right now I'm somewhat snowed under with uni work and after spending all day with my head buried in books the last thing I want to do when I get home is spend another two or three hours getting my head around a blog post (I don't like to just 'bash things out').

This little flurry of academic activity will hopefully be over soon though and then I'll return to this little corner of the internet. I promise.

In the meantime, keep up with my gobshite opinions on twitter.

Voting Yellow

I thought I best write something about the election, so here's a quicky. I would go into more detail but the entire build-up is wearing me out to be honest.

I'm most probably going to vote Lib Dem. I say most probably because every time I think about tomorrow, my stomach lurches between hope for a Lib-Lab coalition and fear of a Tory victory. I shan't say anymore about the latter possibility, but it's enough to make me question whether voting Lib Dem in a Labour seat could let them sneak in the back door, even if it is relatively safe. I guess it's something I'll sleep on.

Whilst I completely recognise the many progressive achievements of Labour's three terms there are, without dwelling on it, many policies that I find utterly reprehensible. These include the erosion of our civil liberties on countless fronts, hawkish foreign policy, Trident renewal and the deluded Digital Economy Act. Furthermore, they've continually promised us electoral reform but in thirteen years have failed to deliver. I value democracy, freedom and my rights and genuinely fear for their future under further Labour rule.

Consequently, this is why I will be voting Liberal Democrat: in the hope of a Lib-Lab coalition in which the pair can temper the excesses of each other. Labour can stem the Lib Dems' appetite for liberal economics while the Lib Dems can try and bring to an end Labour's love affair with the police state. Imagine it: a government actually pursuing something akin to a broadly left agenda! Furthermore, maybe we'll finally get a fair electoral system. And ignore the hysteria about hung parliaments. If anything, every Parliament should be hung so we actually see some sensible deliberation and thought as bills pass through rather than combative, misguided power politics.

So there you go, my thoughts on the election summed up, sort of...