Sunday, September 28, 2003

The Daily Hate 

Reading the Daily Mail this morning (I was in a little chef and nothing sensible was available), I came across an article attacking Comic Relief because they dared to give money to a lesbian outreach group in Manchester. Why what comic relief spends its money on is any of the Mail's business or the Christian institute (who had obviously supplied the mail with the facts) I don't know.

Anyway what really annoyed me was a comment at the end that implied the gay groups don't deserve any help because Gays disproportionately middle class, white and have a degree.

No Mr. Mail homosexuality isn't determined by social class, it is just that the demographic you describe is also the most naturally liberal. Hence somebody from such a background is taking much less of a risk, both physically and mentally, coming out than say a working class black person. Therefore it is not surprising that middle class etc. Gays are more likely to admit to being gay when surveyed.

Now the whole point of the project that comic relief is funding is to try and reach out to women from ethnic minorities who generally don't have the access to a support network a white women might have.

But of course to grasp that would deny the Mail a chance of a good old fashioned queer bash.

Friday, September 26, 2003

compelled to vote for none of the above? 

Tom's comment on the problems of electronic voting, which are many and have been ignored by his own government in their mania to be seen to be doing 'something' about falling turnout, has lead to a debate about whether we should introduce compulsary voting.

One of the main reasons advanced as to why this shouldn't happen is that the non-of-the-above party would win hands down everytime. This begs two questions in my mind.

1) If we are going to force people to vote why give them a none of the above box? If we recognise the right of people not to vote, which is what a non-of-the-above box does, why force them to turn out at all wasting their time and the time of the votecounters etc. at the count?

2) More importantly in my humble opinion I don't actually think that many people would actually not bother to vote if they were actually forced into a polling booth. I personally think the idea that large swathes of the population does not care about politics is a myth. My experience of talking to people in Brent is that they do care just not enough to be bothered to get off their backsides and actually toddle down to the polling station.

Said is dead 

I was saddened by the news of Edward Said's death yesterday. Oliver Kamm has of course responded with an attack on him for not supporting the murder of his own people or something (I've given up reading his posts fully as they seem to be getting more incoherent by the day). Anyway my engagement with Said has always been on an intellectual level, as an undergraduate I studied his masterwork Orientalism and have been an admirer ever since.

Although Orientalism has many flaws, both as history and in intellectual consistency, his attempt to actually try and apply Gramsci and Foucault to the real world impressed me. More importantly his work opened my eyes, that of much of the rest of academia, to the problems inherent in being an oppressor trying to objectively study the oppressed (or subaltern).

Thursday, September 25, 2003

One path we don't want to follow Europe down 

Disturbing article in todays Guardian about two french school girls who have been suspended from school because they insist on wearing traditional Islamic headscarves. This is line with the very strict interpretation of the seperation of church and state enshrined in the French constituition.

Now I am all in favour of a constitutional spliting of the realms spiritual and secular on this side of the channel. I am either in favour of the scrapping of the whole concept of state supported faith schools and the ending of religious assemblies, (note despite what the Tories claim this is not actually lib Dem policy). However there is a difference between not using taxpayer's money to promote religion and state enforced atheism inside the school gates.

Although I find the idea of Muslim women covering themselves up at best the relic of more sexist times, and at worst a symbol of the continuing oppresion of women in certain parts of our society, I wouldn't dare presume to tell them that they can't dress as they want. Just as I wouldn't presume to stop somebody wearing a crucifix or cross to school.

The Liberal argument for secularism is that the state shouldn't favour any religion and therefore allow the flowering of an individual's beliefs, be they be in a 'god' or not, whatever they may be. Secluarlism which for a long time has been the battle cry of those minorities who have been oppresed by organised state religions, should not become an excuse for oppresion of the religious.


I was going to write something about the Lib Dem Conference but it seems Nick Clegg has beaten me to it. He might go far that lad you know.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Kennedy Holding the Lib Dems back 

According to yesterday's Star, quoted in the Guardian Charles is holding the party back because of his drinking etc.
Now Mr. Graham has dealt with the issue of Charlies drinking before, and I must say at the victory party in Brent there were several MPs who had obviously imbibed much more than Charles had.

Anyway despite what those in the westminister bubble might think having a reputation doesn't seem to do him any harm. The idea that the party is succeding despite Charles is frankly laughable, he might not be the most energetic leader in the world, and compared to Paddy who is?, but he is liked by the public. As Brent showed that is a huge asset, Charles was on maybe half of our literature I didn't spot IDS or Blair on any of the Tories or Labour. In fact our poll day literature, especially the squeeze stuff was covered in pictures of blair because we knew it would win us votes.

Personally whatever his alledged personal failings I would rather have a leader who is a vote winner than a loser like IDS or Blair!!

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Off with their heads 

Well LDYS' attempt to sign up the Lib Dems to Republicanism has failed, which is probably a good thing as it would only have distracted the media from the real issues.

Although the sane part of me finds the idea of any kind of hereditary power offensive, I still for some reason have an attachment to the monarchy. I don't know if it is the last vestiges of my Tory upbringing but the idea of actually getting rid of the Queen just seems unthinkable to me. She is the Queen for godsakes.

Anyway apart from this subconcious attachment to Bess I would also have probbaly opposed the motion on the grounds that nobody has ever shown me a system that would work any better than our current one (give or take some very serious tweaks). Quite frankly what is the point of replacing one figurehead with another, I mean can you imagine how much Golden Ball's haircuts alone would add to the civil list.

Of courseJames would tell me that we don't need a Head of State at all, but has never come up with a model as to how it could work.

Friday, September 19, 2003

What there was a byelection? 

I know I promised an indepth article on Brent but I haven't slept since 4am on thursday and quite frankly I've not managed to scrape myself off the ceiling yet.

Anyway some random thoughts.
The BBC's vox pop thingy (link off the main report): The sports shop guy actually works next door to the Lib Dem HQ. I can't believe that woman who says she didn't know who the candidates were or any of the issues. The Lib Dems alone delivered about 7 different bits of paper to every single letterbox in Brent East in the last four days, plus a "handwritten" letter to every single elector, and I have the blisters to prove it!

The cheek of the Torys to claim we ran a dirty campaign when for the last two weeks all, and I mean all, they have done is attack the other candidates. Not their policy's but the candidates. They even claimed that the poll we released on Saturday showing we were neck and neck with Labour was bogus. This when they were already planing to put out a poll day leaflet that claimed that they only half a point behind Labour and we were thirty points adrift. Now which do you think was a fabrication?

Ken Livingstone has done himself no favours, he was obviously lying when he claimed that the Tories were the main challengers. Labour's canvessing can't have been that bad. Second he has shown that he is by no mean invincible, he threw his full weight behind Evans and the voters of his own constitueny stuck two fingers up at him.

Finally the voters of Brent East have elected themselves a bloody good MP, one who is not only articulate and a natural with a media but also works amazingly hard and really does give a shit.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

More observations from Brent 

Well it is less than 24hrs until the polls open and if anybody thinks they can predict which way this is going to go then they are a fool. Oh except for the facts the Tories are going to be crushed, which is obvious.

I met both the other candidates yesterday while I was out delivering, Robert Evans is personable enough but clearly a blairite clone. The Tory seems to have suffered a complete sense of humour bypass, but then again in her position I think many people would have done.

It is interesting that Labour has suddenly started admitting that they might lose and it will be the Lib Dems that beat them. Considering that they have been colluding with the Tories to try and pump up the Conservatives chances in the last few weeks that can only hurt their credibility.

I will try and write a much more indepth article on friday once this all over.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Brent East 

I don't have much time so some quick observations from Brent,

It looks like it is going to be bloody close between Labour and the Lib Dems. We are winning by about ten to one on the poster front, but I think we might be seeing the appearance of silent blairites (still vote labour but too ashamed to admit to it).

Labour have problems, their activists don't like their candidate (bloody wa**er was how one put it to me) for a start.

The Tories are dead in the water and are desperatley trying to cling on to what they vote they have. That includes starting to play extremely dirty, printing downright lies on their literature we can get them on. The homophobic literature targeted at the Liberals that has gone around a lot of the old peoples homes reads like tory literature but it is unsigned so no way to prove it.

The labour campaign is totally centred around their candidate, ie. there is very little "Labour" branding on their leaflets. Which is strange as he was parachuted in from Surrey so had absolutly no public profile in the seat before the election was called. One assumes that his handlers think tying him too strongly to the government will only hurt him, which is nice.

Right I have another 1000 tabloids to deliver before bed.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Off to the Front 

I am going to spend the next week fighting the good fight in Brent, where it seems with a bit of luck Sarah Teather will be Britain's youngest MP by this time next week.

Anyway, I don't know how often I will be able to post but I will try and send back a couple of dispatches from the front line.

WTO etc. 

There is an interesting article on Guardian online by Nick Clegg MEP on why actually the WTO is a good thing. Seeing as many commentators who claim to be progressive have spent the last couple of weeks slagging the WTO off its nice to see some balance.

Historically I've always tended to ignore the economic side of politics as I am much more interested in human beings than figures. However, I feel I really should take an interest so can anybody recomend anything halfway readable on the subject of world trade etc?

Thursday, September 11, 2003


You may remember a couple of months ago that Lib Dem MP Norman Baker suggested that perhaps it wasn't a good thing that urban roads were being clogged up by 4x4s on the school run. His resoning being that they are a greater threat to pedestrains and produce more pollution than your standard family car. This was of course taken by the right wing press to mean that dear old Norman wanted to shoot anybody who had ever even looked at an SUV because he didn't like people having fun.

Anyway this week he has published a paper detailing what he thinks the problem is and how it could be changed. Which seeing as it is quite sensible, reasonable and has no capacity to be sensationalism has been generally ignored by the press.

I can't find a copy that is publicly available online (although I am sure the Green Libdems will be saying something about it soon) so I'll outline what I think are the main points here.

NB. These are Norman's Views, none of it is official Lib Dem policy (yet)

1) That the current government policy of rewarding those cars with low emissions with reduced Vehicle Excise Duty should be taken to its logical conclusion and higher rates (bands) introduced for those cars that are the worst polluters. (Many of which are 4X4s)

2) That those 4x4s that cannot obtain a minimum 2 star rating for pedestrian safety on the standard NCAP test should not be sold until they have been redesigned to make them safer.

3) That the sale of bullbars should be totally outlawed on safety grounds. Most manufacturers no longer fit them after bowing to public pressure and European law will soon make it illegal to sell a new car with them fitted. However, it will still be legal for an individual to buy a car and then have bull bars fitted privately and Norman wants this loophole closed.

4) That Company Car tax rules should be made more rational in their treatment of 4x4s. Currently the larger 4x4s are classed as vans even though they are used as normal cars, meaning their users pay substantially less tax than for example saloon car drivers.

Now to my mind none of this is very controversial. On the tax issues it makes sense that those people who do more damage to the environment should pay a greater share of the clean up costs, and the company car tax position is just a silly anomaly that should have closed before. On the NCAP and Bullbars, obviously all cars are risks to pedestrians but it seems right that manufacturers and drivers shouldn't be allowed to put cars on our road that are excessively unsafe due to personal vanity (bullbars) or cost cutting in the design stage (failing the NCAP tests).

So not an earthshatring policy development but a small and sensible step to try and make our Urban areas less poluted and safer.

The report can now be downloaded from the green lib dems

Happy Birthday to you 

The Greens are celebrating their thirtieth birthday, bless.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

It's all our fault 

Those of us criticising President Bush are helping the terrorists according to Donald Rumsfeld.

So in order to ensure our freedom of speech we must now only say what the Whitehouse wants us to.

If I was a US taxpayer I wouldn’t be as outraged by the fact that such imbeciles are in charge, (hell some of you even voted for them) as that the US government must spend millions on spin-doctors and still seemingly every time a senior member of the administration opens their mouth they promptly put their foot in it. Sod Tony Blair for President I would be campaigning for Alistair Campbell for Whitehouse Press Secretary if I were you.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Unions and the BNP 

The Commision for Racial Equality has announced that it will back any Union who is sued for expelling BNP members. Personally I think they should keep their noses out of internal Union business and actually try and do something constructive about improving race relations.

Anyway I have mixed feelings about the Unions expelling BNP members, on the one hand they are independent organisations so part of me thinks that they should be allowed to let whomever they want join. However, on the other hand I am philosophically opposed to unwarranted political tests and I worry that by expelling BNP members they are playing into their hands. A lot of the BNP’s literature plays on the idea that the establishment is out to try and silence them because we (and as a sane, normal human being I suppose I am member of the establishment for their purposes) don’t want the truth to get out. I would also be concerned that if the precedent is set that Union hacks can expel people they don’t like on the grounds of their politics we could see the Unions ripped apart in Soviet style purges as the SWP etc. struggle for control.

Monday, September 08, 2003

The silver ring thing (or yet another reason why the US is going to hell in a hand basket) 

I arrived at this article via green fairy and it scared the pants off me.

It is basically talking about the impact Bush and Co's love for abstinence only sex ed programs (ie. were they tell the kids only that you should wait to have sex until you are married) are having in the US. Now leaving aside the poor Gay kids who can't get married anyway (and the idea of them getting any decent sex ed in school is laughable), or the fact that funding such programs goes dangerously near the church state separation, this trend worries me. If you read the article it concludes that these abstinence only programs mereley delay the onset of teenage sexual activity they don’t prevent it. The scary thing is that once the kids who have only had abstinence only teaching (and that’s 35% of US kids and rising) start having sex they are much less likely to use precautions, not surprising really as they have never been taught about them. It is as if the US government has decided raise the driving age by a year but taken away the need to pass the driving test or wear a seatbelt.

Now the rate of teenage pregnancy across the US is already double that of the UK and the STI rates are horrific, especially in the conservative south where these programs are strongest. For example when I spent a year studying in South Carolina the University’s own health centre estimated that 1:3 of their students would catch an STI during their time on campus.

Quite frankly the ‘moral majority’, on both sides of the Atlantic, needs to realise that teenagers are going to have sex. Hell it is what they are biologically programmed to do, and we need to tell them how to deal with their hormones safely not try and deny they exist.

PS the quote about oral sex and pringles is one of the funniest I have ever read (try saying it in a southern US accent).

Zoe Williams has written a column on the same issue in today’s Guardian that manages to take a wider perspective on the issue. I suppose that is why she gets paid and I don’t.

Finally Children Get a Voice 

According to The Times the Government has finally woken up and is going to give English children a Commisioner to act as an independent voice for them, something Welsh, Scots and Northern Irish children have had for a while. At least it is an other victory for those of us who believe in institutional pluralism, the fact that the system has worked in Wales etc. has helped shame the UK government into accepting it might be a good idea for England.

They are also going to force local authorities to pool all the information various departments hold on children to try and make it easier to identify potential problems before they turn into another Climbie tragedy. Again a good idea although with obvious civil liberties implications, I will have to wait until I see the white paper to come to a firm judgement on that issue. The one weakness I can see is that if these databases are only kept at a local authority level it might be possible for kids to still slip through the cracks. For example if they are treated by an A&E department outside of their area for suspicious injuries this 'flag' about potential abuse might not make it onto their record. But the privacy, and technical, issues of a national database would be a nightmare so I suppose half a loaf is better than none.

Howver, the Children's Commisioner will only speak for kids up to the age of 16, which means that the 16-18 age group are going to be the only citizens in the country without representation at a national level. Votes at 16 anybody?

Not politics 

I am about a week late with this but I thought it was worth pointing out that us Brits are good at least one sport. Yes the brave boys and girls of the Uk Ultimate community have just won not one but three European Championships, including the blue ribbon "open" title, and came second in two others.

Normal service will be resumed shortly.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Time to go after Labour 

According to todays Observer Charlie K has declared all out war on Labour.

Amen says the choir.

That is not just because Labour have turned out to be a failure and are increasingly more interested in attacking each other and anybody else who dares contradict them rather than actually running the country. I truely think that it will help with what has to still be the Lib Dem's short term aim, elimanting the Tories.

What many comentators seem not to have realised is that attacking Labour will help them win Tory Seats. Obviously it will help attract Tory voters who are tired of the inability of the Conservatives to stop shooting themselves in the foot. However, more importantly many of the seats the Tories are vulnerable in still have relatively arge Labour votes. For example Michael Howard may have a majority of 6,000 but there are over 9,000 Labour votes up for grabs in his constiuency. Attacking Labour will only help the Lib Dems get them. So Mr 'something about the night' could actually lose his seat without a single Tory voter switching.

Of course attacking Labour will also help those MPs who have been relying on Labour voters to keep their seat, turning tactical votes into real support.

Anyway, especially if Sarah Teather sneaks it in Brent East, it will be interesting to see how Labour's spin machine reacts.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Labour throws it rattle out of the pram, again. 

Labour hates being beaten or proved wrong, and will spin and spin again to try and stop people finding out. Anybody who has watched how they tried to smear David Kelly could tell you that. It seems now the spin bug is biting even their Euro MPs. Take the case of a certain Richard Howitt MEP for example.

Now our Mr Howitt is the President of European All Party Disability Group, so you might have thought he would have welcomed the European Parliament passing a motion supporting the upcoming UN Convention of Disabled People's Rights. However he has actually described it as "a slap in the face for disabled people" in a recent press release (I can't link to it because his website is crap).

Why? you might ask.

Well it all boils down to the seemingly insignificant question of whether only groups made up of people with a disability should be given a role in the Convention or all those that represent them. By only allowing those groups that are run by people with disabilities to have a say you empower them and therefore overcome some of the patronising views of the disabled. However, the argument isn?t as simple as it first sounds which is why the author of the official report on the issue, West Midlands MEP Liz Lynne, backed by 8 out of 10 of the Vice Presidents of Mr. Howitt?s own group came down on the side of inclusiveness. By taking Mr Howitt?s tack the UN would exclude not only most disabled rights groups from the third world, which tend to lag behind western ones in being run by people with disabilities, but also first world groups such as the Royal National Institute for the Deaf. The RNID classes itself as a representative organisation, despite the fact 70% of its board has a disability, because it has able-bodied sign language interpreters. There are also some forms of disability, such as serious learning difficulties, which unfortunatly preclude those affected from being able to represent themsleves on the world satge.

The Parliament overwhelmingly decided to back Liz Lynne?s inclusive approach, at which point Howitt threw his rattle out of his pram. Instead of welcoming the fact that the report got passed decided to try and smear its supporters instead.

In his press release he claims that they have failed to listen to views of people with a disability, citing the support of his own position (which incidentally my Brussels sources tell me members of his own socialist group are describing as completely mad) by the European Disability Forum. What he fails to point out is that most of the board of the European Disability Forum, and most of its employees for that matter to, are able bodied. However, unlike the RNID they describe themselves as an organisation "of" people with a disability and would therefore stand to obtain special treatment under Howitt?s preferred draft.

So we have a Labour MEP who boasts that he is a supporter of disabled rights who now wants to see the most important global step forward in that area for many years fail just because he can?t have his own way. Not only that but he is trying to smear his opponents by somehow claiming that supporting the right of both the third world and those who cannot speak for themselves to have a voice at the UN is somehow contary to the interests of people with a disability.
But what else would you expect from New Labour.

Oh and for somebody who claims to be so pro disabled rights you might ask yourself why his website is one of the least accessible you will ever see.

Thursday, September 04, 2003


The Christian God is clearly either a psychopath or an extremely bad liar. He (and his stone age attitude to women could only be that of an alpha male) professes to love all his children, but in the same book commands his followers to stone innocents to death for being as he made them. Oh and he felt the need to drown virtually all of his ‘children’ at one point, not the act of a spiteful being at all. And people argue that we should let this nutter’s followers have a privileged position in running the country.

Now in writing this rather crude argument for the separation of church and state I have committed a criminal offence by publishing ‘an attack on the Christian religion, made in terms that are likely to shock or outrage the feelings of most Christian believers’. That my freedom of speech can is legally curtailed because I might offend somebody is an anathema to my conception of Liberty. The fact that if I replaced the word God with Allah I wouldn’t be breaking any laws makes it doubly so.

But that is the current state of the law on blasphemy, and it is a scandal that in an allegedly free country such medieval laws remain on the statute book.

My outrage was sparked by this article by the way.

The New Natural Law Party? 

Looking at the list of runners and riders in the Brent East by-election alongside the normal lunatic fringe, Socialist alliance/labour, monster raving loonys, conservative etc., I noticed the XAT candidate.

Their website seems to be promising a world without either taxation or shortages in public services (kind of like the Tories now I think about it) plus lots of other 'interesting' ideas.

Having been sorely deprived of election broadcasts full of yogic flyers the last couple of years since the Natural Law party folded perhaps we finally have a replacement.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Rifkind can't get in. 

Blatently nicking this from Nick Barlow but anyway it seems that Malcolm Rifkind has failed to get on the shortlist for selection as the Tory candidate for Windsor.

What amused me was that the shortlist was 46 people. Bloody hell if thats the shortlist I would hate to have seen the longlist, probably the size of a phone directory. In fact considering that the Torys have taken to putting out newspaper adverts begging for council candidates maybe it was the phone directory.

Anyway if they are going to be interviewing everybody and their granny you would have thought they would have had room to squeeze in one more, especially as he is an ex-cabinet minister. Perhaps they got lent on by Smith Square seeing as Rifkind has been touted as a possible leadership challenger if he can get a seat?

Fistfull of Euros 

Just to give more google juice to the new euro-centric blog 'fistful of euros' here is a link. It is early days yet of course but this looks like it might turn into an interesting forum for thinking about how we can make the EU work.

Making volunteering easier  

James has posted an extremely interesting piece about volunteering and how the State could and should do more to encourage it.

Now the remedy he suggests is a little extreme but the topic reminded me of how insane the rules surrounding unemployment benefit are. Last year after I graduated I decided to sign on until I could find myself a summer job. I was shocked to be told that I was restricted to doing only 15 hours of voluntary work a week if I was to keep my benefits. It seemed silly to me that the State would prefer to pay me to sit on my arse for three days a week than to be out doing some good in the community.

The more I think about it the sillier it is. I wanted to do voluntary work not just for something to do but also to increase my employability. Now for me that was not a major issue but for some people, the socially excluded you might say, voluntary work might be their only way to gain experience and skills.

So how about this for a policy? If people come into the job centre with a limited skills base why not let the job centre set them up with a two to four week placement with a voluntary organisation straight away rather than waiting six months until they qualify for a horrendously expensive training course. The jobseeker could learn valuable skills; the organisation gets the help they desperately need (when was the last time you went past a charity shop that wasn't advertising for help?) and society benefits from the work they do and all for the same amount of dole money (plus a small bureaucratic premium) they were going to pay them for sitting on their arse anyway.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

The health issue nobody wants to talk about 

I was going to try and write something based upon this article in the Guardian about self harm by teenagers but I couldn't think of anything that would do justice to the problem.

So just think of all those kids hurting and killing themselves up and down this country. Then think of when was the last time you heard a politician calling for greater emphais on providing a decent mental health service and tell me we don't have our priorities wrong.

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Monday, September 01, 2003

Who is wasting more of the public's money? 

The head teacher who stole £500,000 from her school gets 5 years in prison for her deed. Although I don’t have any sympathy for her, one has to wonder if prison is the answer? It is going to cost well over £100,000 to incarcerate her, probably a lot more if she stays in the full five years, money down the drain if you ask me. Instead of sitting on her backside all day in an already over crowded prison she could be on the outside making some kind of restitution to society. Meanwhile we could use the gaol time to lock up those violent offenders who need to be kept away from the public for longer.

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