Archive — Politics
A history of community politics, how it morphed to become people pointing at potholes, and ultimately undermined politics completely.
Activism was no longer about helping people get the power to solve their own problems, but rather demanding someone at “the council” solve them for them. Rather than “we can help you do things”, the message was now that “something must be done” and “somebody must do something”, but that somebody is almost always somebody else…
Activism based around ideology, empowering people and giving them the ability to sort things out is hard, activism based around being the most efficient local busybody and delivering the most leaflets is comparatively easy.
I have often wondered about political leaflets that are all about a hodgepodge of local issues, but are strangely noncommittal about what should be done about them. All of the leaflets, in every colour, say largely the same noncommittal things about small-to-medium-sized local issues. They almost always fail to adequately explain why Candidate X is the person to deal with it.
It’s all so uninspiring. Perhaps we need to present some actual political ideas again.
How Bart Simpson explains how we got into this mess.
If you give someone a joke option, they will take it.
Related to the idea that British people just aren’t interested in liberal ideas at the moment, Chris Dillow wonders whatever happened to right-libertarianism.
After outlining some reasons why this shift has occurred, he notes some less respectable explanations:
One is that we have lost the cast of mind which underpins right-libertarianism — that of an awareness of the limits of one’s knowledge. We need freedom, thought [Friedrich] Hayek, because we cannot fully understand or predict society…
We live, however, in an age of narcissistic blowhards who are overconfident about everything. This is a climate which undervalues freedom.
This articulates something I’ve been pondering for a while. Is the current political climate the result of a gradual erosion of the unwritten rules of civil society?
It turns out that the Civil Society in Britain is built on very shaky foundations. In the past few months we have seen the illegal suspension of Parliament, an act that carried no consequences whatsoever; we have seen Civil Servants bullied out of their jobs by politicians who were then rewarded for their harassment by promotion and increased status; we have seen the government spend £100s of millions on trying to deny the consequences of its own policy on Brexit and, in doing so, do possibly irreparable damage to the global reputation of the UK.
The post also makes an interesting point about how the BBC covers the UK in a way that assumes it is a stable democracy, and turns a blind eye to developments that would see other countries being scrutinised heavily.
Leaders in the past were guided by a strong sense of right and wrong — doing what’s right in the name of stability. Those days are now gone.
I found this a difficult election result to digest. Never would I have expected the Liberal Democrats to get fewer than 20 MPs, never mind with one fewer MP than at the last election.
Given that they increased their share of the vote, there is clearly a strategy problem at play. (My previous post suggests some serious organisational problems as well.) Uniquely, they increased their share of the vote in every region of the UK.
But it’s also difficult to escape the conclusion that voters are simply not interested in (or convinced by) liberal ideas at the moment.
It would be arrogant to assume that the voters are wrong. Yet, Jo Swinson was right to boldly stand up for liberal ideas of openness, tolerance and bringing communities together.
She is also right to highlight that Labour are every bit as dangerous as the other nationalist parties — the Conservatives and the SNP. Those parties are all dealing in the politics of easy answers — blaming others, and seeking to divide rather than unite people.
There’s a big challenge ahead. The ideas are not wrong, and we must fight for them. But liberals must figure out how to sell this story more convincingly.
Photo — 2019-12-13
Today I’ve received a timely letter from the former leader of the Liberal Democrats. To give you a flavour, here’s the end of it.
A clue on how social media can be better regulated, by looking at the porn industry.
Before anything can be posted to an adult site, it must be rigorously screened to make sure it’s not opening the site up to legal liability…
“Because we’re very aggressive in our patrol of content, the criminals know not to use us.”
It suggests that major social media services can have an active moderation policy and still “survive — even thrive”.
…given some of the horrors that the existing version of Facebook has unleashed, it’s worth considering whether a version of the site that had focused more on moderation and less on rapid growth might have been better for us all.
A balanced piece that considers the pros and cons of Labour’s proposal to nationalise Openreach and promise free broadband for all.
What’s notable is that the only reason we’ve reached this stage is because of the utter failure of BT to do this job properly (particularly in rural areas). It is constantly being “dragged kicking and screaming” to do the basics. This has left the UK needlessly lagging behind.
Still, they’ve got the Champions League rights, huh?
Why the Liberal Democrats are right to put candidates up against Labour.
Never mind that Labour would use its majority, should it get one, to negotiate a Brexit deal, and potentially campaign for it – to campaign for Brexit. This is an institutionally antisemitic organisation. It has, for years now, failed to tackle this issue. It is absolutely not suitable to be a party of government. The Liberal Democrats must play no part in helping put it there.
The idea that the Labour Party would be any less problematic than the Conservatives is deeply odd. Even beyond the frankly fanciful notion that Labour would put any effort into stopping Brexit, their appalling record on antisemitism makes them truly beyond the pale.
Photo — 2019-11-09
Received two big leaflets from our local Labour MP. But you have to get the microscope out to find out which party he’s from. Maybe it’s to practice looking for their votes.
Also, zero mention of Brexit-enabling Jeremy Corbyn.
In the grand delusion that is Brexit, the grandest delusion of all is the Brexiteers’ fawning adoration of the Technology God. According to Brexiteers, the Technology God will banish all problems, particularly those associated with the border on the island of Ireland. Grand Boffo Johnson ascended the mountain, and the Technology God conveyed the message that there existed no need for a border because the Technology God would solve everything. No evidence, no detail required, just faith in the Technology God.
Outsourcing your decision-making to vague promises from technology is a way of avoiding thinking about the people your policies will impact.
Technology isn’t neutral. It’s only as good as the intentions behind it. Technology is created by humans. It impacts humans. If you’re creating the technology, you must think of the impact on your fellow humans.
As people say in the technology world, “garbage in, garbage out”.
Boris Johnson has secretly ordered the Cabinet Office to turn the government’s public internet service into a platform for “targeted and personalised information” to be gathered in the run-up to Brexit, BuzzFeed News has learned.
In a move that has alarmed Whitehall officials, the prime minister has instructed departments to share data they collect about usage of the GOV.UK portal so that it can feed into preparations for leaving the European Union at the end of next month.
This is why I am unlikely ever to work for a government.
Govt spox tells me this is normal and legal, the data is anonymised, and it’s only about improving the efficiency of https://t.co/SsTD9HR8RA. OK, so why is it being done now with haste, and through the no-deal XO committee? They had no answer for that. https://t.co/STansZ6V0b
— Alex Spence (@alexGspence) September 10, 2019
This post is about how a policy (crashing out of the EU) that will do nearly everyone harm and some great harm seems to have considerable, albeit still minority, support…
You either have to assume that a third of the population has gone mad, or instead see this as a fundamental failure of information. The UK is a failed state because the producers of information have made it fail.
According to Simon Wren-Lewis, this information problem is being facilitated by the media.
In one sense, the idea that people don’t have enough information to make an informed decision is nothing new. As I’ve written in the past, ignorance is inevitable.
But there does seem to be something particular going on in Britain right now that is causing something even worse than mere ignorance.
A fascinating study from YouGov around people’s understanding of what is meant by left-wing and right-wing, and what policies people who self-describe as left- and right-wing actually support.
The article sweeps aside the idea that politics is better seen through an additional authoritarian/libertarian axis. Presumably a study for another day.
But from a liberal perspective, and as someone who doesn’t clearly view themselves as either left- or right-wing, this makes interesting reading.
This study shows that the majority of people who:
- Want a greater redistribution of wealth
- Think the minimum wage is too low
- Want to nationalise the railways
- Want to nationalise utilities
- Think the criminal justice system is too soft
- Want tighter restrictions on immigration
- Support capital punishment
- Favour powerful government over individual freedoms
It’s almost as if believing the government should have more control over economic activity, and believing the government should have more control over people are… somehow… linked. 🤔
Why the new Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson may be more pivotal to the future of the Conservatives than Boris Johnson is.
[W]hile the Liberal Democrat revival is taking Labour’s votes, it is costing the Conservatives more seats. Of the 82 seats that the Lib Dems hope to make their major targets, just three — Sheffield Hallam, Leeds North West and Streatham — were won by Labour in 2017.
On Jo Swinson, for what it’s worth, I’m very pleased that she is the new Liberal Democrat leader. I voted for her this time, and actually I really hoped she would become leader when Vince Cable did (although I recognise it wasn’t the right time for her).
Jon Worth has noticed that the wrong sort of thing gets traction on Twitter. This isn’t a new insight, of course — and it’s not just about Brexit. But he suggests a solution.
Make judicious use of Twitter lists. Retweet sensible stuff instead of confirmation bias sustaining content. Retweet people who themselves have a small audience, and could do with more exposure.
I’ve often thought of this like eating your greens. I’ve found myself unfollowing people I agree with, if they have the wrong tone and a myopic viewpoint. I’d also suggest actively looking to follow people with different perspectives or those you disagree with. Engage with people who contribute meaningfully and respectfully.
Photo — 2019-05-23
If you’re for the UK remaining in the EU, vote Liberal Democrat 🔶
The Liberal Democrats are the only party who have always committed to the UK remaining united with our neighbours in the EU.
The European Parliament may not have oversight of Brexit. But if you’re a remainer, you can’t afford to vote for Labour or the Conservatives. If you do, they will count your vote as a mandate for their unworkable and disastrous Brexit.
After the Tories lost over 1,300 seats in this month’s local elections, Theresa May and Labour interpreted it as a pro-Brexit vote:
I think there has been a very clear message from people to both main parties that they want us to get on and deliver Brexit, so I welcome comments from Jeremy Corbyn that he thinks we should be working to ensure we can deliver a deal.
This shows us how crystal clear we need to be in the message we send.
And before someone suggests voting for the SNP or the Greens, remember they want to take us out of the UK — which would automatically take us out of the EU — and would be even worse than Brexit anyway.
Change UK have changed their Twitter handle to something somehow even more incomprehensible. And in doing so, they have forgotten to protect the old account handle — meaning that someone campaigning for a hard Brexit now has control of it.
Even more unfortunately, anyone Googling the Independent Group to find out more about the newly formed party, will instead by directed to the hard Brexit account. And the party managed to lose its Twitter ‘blue tick’ which verifies that a user is genuine.
David Allen Green explains how the usual sources of information on British politics have been useless at explaining Brexit.
A Brexit historian with access only to the front parts of UK newspapers and to government publications would be like the classical historian convinced that the Romans were pre-occupied with crockery.
He notes that Brussels correspondents have been more informative than their Westminster counterparts. His point about Irish journalism providing better insights resonates with me as well. They’ve seemed much more switched on about certain aspects of the Brexit shitshow.
British politics is in a huge a mess at the moment. Is part of that down to the fact that British journalism has got stuck in a rut?
Required reading, whether you are pro- or anti-EU, from a Brexiter who is seriously considering that he may have been wrong.
I don’t agree with all of it. But it is a crystal clear analysis.
Amid the increasingly hysterical attitude from significant elements of both sides of the debate, this is a highly valuable contribution. This is the standard of debate we should be aspiring to.
Photo — 2019-03-30
It just so happened that my passport needed to be renewed this month. So I’ll have this burgundy European Union document for the next 10 years.
Chuka Umunna reminds us that centrism is not liberalism — Jonathan Calder, Liberal England
I’ve viewed the formation of the Independent Group with a mixture of interest, mild hope, and mild horror. Chuka Umunna’s latest vanity missive has tipped the balance further towards the horror end.
Chuka Umunna wish to bring in compulsory national service for 16-year-olds is a reminder that proclaiming you are in the centre does not make you a Liberal.
Amid Brexit, supported by the leadership of both the Conservatives and Labour, both of those parties are moving in ever-more extreme directions. With extremist views on the rise, I had begun to think of myself as a moderate. But the ‘moderate’ tiggers are little more appealing.
This is a reminder that liberalism isn’t merely moderate or centrist. It is a distinctive worldview. This reminds us of how liberalism should sell itself.
Both the Conservatives and Labour are authoritarian parties. Our job as liberals is to rail against those tendencies, not to split the (often very little) difference between them.
Could Brexit break the BBC? The tensions, the bewildering question of ‘balance’ — and how to get it right — Mark Damazer, Prospect Magazine
An impressively thoughtful piece from the former Radio 4 controller, on why the BBC is struggling to remain unbiased amid Brexit.
One senior presenter put it like this: “We should encourage debate… while being more militant about our core approach—that we are fact-based, and question and test all sides of the debate. We should not be doing vanilla ‘on the one hand’ versus ‘on the other hand’ journalism. I am sympathetic to the arguments about the danger of ‘false equivalence,’ and think we should be clear about the weight of arguments. But if a substantial number of people believe, so to speak, that bananas are blue we have to treat that seriously. Seriously, but robustly.”
This article also briefly covers some of the limitations of TV news bulletins, and explains why in some aspects radio performs better. I do find it difficult to watch a bulletin like the 10 O’Clock News (I think I even watched the piece he mentions from Mansfield, with my head in my hands). In that format, it is impossible to cover anything in real depth — and that seems to be the true problem at the moment.
Why Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again hat, was a wildly successful design, despite being reviled by gatekeepers of good-taste design.
The “undesigned” hat represented this everyman sensibility, while Hillary [Clinton]’s high-design branding — which was disciplined, systematic, and well-executed — embodied the establishment narrative that Trump railed against and that Middle America felt had failed them. “The DIY nature of the hat embodies the wares of a ‘self-made man’ and intentionally distances itself from well-established and unassailable high-design brand systems of Hillary and Obama,” Young says. “Tasteful design becomes suspect… The trucker cap is as American as apple pie and baseball.”
This reminds me of the story that the most “tasteful” office spaces are less productive. When given a clean-looking office cubicle, people fill it with garden gnomes.
I don’t agree with the article’s premise that this challenges the idea of design thinking. Surely it means that Hillary Clinton’s designers simply didn’t do a good enough job at it (because nice typefaces ≠ design thinking).
But this does provide a challenge to the received wisdom of what good design is, and whether tasteful design is desirable.
I’ve become obsessed with this song. It contains an important message that is beginning to be heard, but still needs to be heard more widely. This is a song for now.
Discovering Idles has felt a bit like discovering Pulp when they released Common People. Although 9-year-old me didn’t really understand what appealed to me about Pulp, now I think I do. Distinctive-sounding music, yes. But also lyrics that are interesting (a rarity in and of itself), and important, and for right now.
The first time I knowingly heard Idles it was when another song was played on the radio in the morning, Great. I remember sitting up in my bed, astonished at the lyrics. You don’t often hear songs that are so political, especially ones that actually hit the nail on the head — and say what I would want to say, but so much better.
Remainers condemn Jeremy Corbyn pledge to push on with Brexit
Anyone surprised that Jeremy Corbyn is keen to continue with Brexit simply hasn’t been paying attention. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party have done nothing more to stop Brexit than the Conservatives have.
Remember, Jeremy Corbyn was the first senior politician to call for Article 50 to be invoked — within minutes of the referendum result being announced. He was more enthusiastic about Brexit than any Conservative leader.
The idea that Labour Party is pro-Remain is the greatest lie in politics today. That this perception ever existed was perplexing, given that you could figure that out simply by listening to Jeremy Corbyn.
Note — 2018-12-11
This week I found out I won’t make the cut of that Scottish independence referendum documentary I was filmed for a few months ago. Due to a change in editorial focus, apparently.
It’s actually a bit of a relief because, as you’ll see from the original post, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with how it panned out. I could actually do without any hassle resulting from being on TV.
When I texted Alex about it, her reply was: “Oh good!!!!” You know it’s serious when four exclamation marks come out.
When I asked why, she said, “I was worried about your political views being on the BBC.” (To be honest, I think we should worry about all sorts of other people’s political views that are allowed on the BBC these days, but there we go…)
Still, it was interesting to be part of the process, and good to know my blog could still get noticed in this sort of way.
What the Sydney Opera House teaches us about Brexit
It’s well known that large projects often fail. Daniel Kahneman calls it the planning fallacy.
Academics have identified six indicators of a successful large project. But they spell very bad news for Brexit.
Whatever happened to Adur Liberals?
Jonathan Calder considers the decline of the Liberal Democrats in Adur:
Checking the relevant page on Wikipedia I find that, remarkably, the Alliance and then the Liberal Democrats had uninterrupted control of Adur between 1980 and 1999.
But something went terribly wrong after that. Today there are no Lib Dem councillors on Adur and a council by-election there this evening has no Lib Dem candidate.
He suggests that churn happens to areas as well as individual voters.
Robert Peston: BBC not impartial during EU referendum campaign
I do think that they went through a period of just not being confident enough. Impartial journalism is not giving equal airtime to two people one of whom says the world is flat and the other one says the world is round. That is not balanced, impartial journalism.
It is often said (including by me) that if you are accusing the BBC of bias, it is probably because you are losing the argument.
But Robert Peston is not the first to make this point, that the BBC is giving equal platforms to viewpoints with very unequal merits.
It’s getting difficult to disagree that this is currently a major problem for the BBC. It is particularly acute on particular programmes, such as the Today programme, which is more interested in generating heat than light.
The radio institution celebrates its 70th birthday today. I enjoyed this history of the programme from Andy Walmsley.
I had no idea that Any Questions? was originally developed as a stop-gap to fill a hole in a regional schedule. From its beginnings on the West of England Home Service, within two years it was being regularly broadcast nationwide — first on the Home Service, but quickly also on the Light Programme.
Within quite a short time, sixteen million people were regularly listening to the programme. Frank Gillard had got his mass audience.
(Despite its appeal to the masses, it’s difficult to imagine a programme like this on the modern-day Radio 2.)
It seems that the programme has changed little in its 70 years, which is an extraordinary feat of longevity. Not only that, its carbon copy TV version, Question Time, appears as popular as ever. I can’t really stand to listen to or watch either of them.
How computer software can make policy, explained by family separation at the border
How bad software design decisions can have a more devastating impact than bad policies.
At a time when Silicon Valley and the larger public are waking up to the government’s reliance on software to carry out its agenda, it’s more important than ever for tech workers to be thoughtful about how they can be a force for good.
Values and voting
How to measure levels of populism, and how that cuts across traditional measures of economic left/right and liberal/authoritarian sentiment.
Populist sentiments are more common on the left than the right of the economic dimension, and authoritarians are more likely to be populist than liberals but the patterns are complex…
The Labour party win a clear majority of the votes of those on the ‘liberal’ and ‘centre’ left. But their vote share is lower among the ‘authoritarian’ left than it is among the centre liberal position. In fact, the Conservatives gained greater share of the left-authoritarians (regardless of populist sentiment).
‘For me, this is paradise’: life in the Spanish city that banned cars
Pontevedra banned cars from its centre, pedestrianising 300,000 square metres.
Miguel Anxo Fernández Lores has been mayor of the Galician city since 1999. His philosophy is simple: owning a car doesn’t give you the right to occupy the public space.
“How can it be that the elderly or children aren’t able to use the street because of cars?” asks César Mosquera, the city’s head of infrastructures. “How can it be that private property – the car – occupies the public space?”
There are some interesting details in here about exactly what causes most congestion, and why car-filled cities are so undesirable.
Reading between the lines of the end of the article, the scheme isn’t without its critics, or its problems. But I think the time has come for us to more seriously consider how many car journeys in city centres we really need — and how much better the city might be if more people could walk and cycle around without having to watch for motorised vehicles.
Who’s laughing now? The science behind the UN’s reaction to Trump
The calculations that were going through Donald Trump’s head when the UN laughed at him.
Part of the way humans respond to laughter is to work out whether we are included in it or excluded from it, and whether we are being laughed with or laughed at. I see people’s brains truly light up in the MRI scanner when they listen to laughter, as they’re trying to figure this all out.
The centrist fallacy
Fascinating piece from Nick Barlow on why it is problematic for the Liberal Democrats to attempt to chase centrist voters. Because while most people report having centrist views, when you analyse what their views actually are, more people are actually economically-left authoritarians.
These views are the effective centre of views in Britain, but they’re not really at the centre of political debate and in conjunction they tend to be the most unrepresented.
What is concerning for a liberal is that there do not seem to be many of us generally. Moreover, Nick Barlow’s analysis suggests that liberals tend to be on the economic left, not the centre.
Health chiefs make urgent order for 112 ambulances amid Brexit shortage fears
When you’ve started stockpiling ambulances, maybe it’s time to admit that Brexit is a mistake.
The emergency vehicles, built by Mercedes in Germany and finished off in Ireland, are desperately needed by London Ambulance Service to help hit 999 response times over winter. Concern at the highest levels of LAS over a no-deal Brexit has seen the order rushed through to ensure they arrive before Britain leaves the EU on March 29 next year.
Thirty of the vehicles, which take months to build, will enter service by March, with 82 being “stockpiled” in case Brexit results in supplies drying up.
Talking ’bout my generation
How our political views throughout our lifetimes are shaped by our formative years.
If you were politically aware in in your teens and early 20s in the mid-80s, you’ll have vivid memories of how the SDP did indeed weaken Labour, and how early hopes for the party were dashed. Amongst 50-somethings, these memories create a jaundiced view of new centre parties – a view perhaps not shared by those younger than us…
The psychology here is simple. There is such as a thing as an impressionable age – in this context, our teens and early 20s. I, for example, have vivid memories of most of what happened between around 1976 and 1989, but everything before then is what I’ve only read or heard about, and everything since is a bit of a blur, mostly of minor significance.
I definitely feel that. I followed politics very closely in the late 1990s and into the 2000s. But for the past ten years or so, the day-to-day detail has all felt rather less significant.
Four in 10 think British culture is undermined by multiculturalism
This is so messed up, especially considering the concept of British culture is inherently multicultural.