Sunday, February 28, 2010

Weekending: on the right day and everything

Let me take you on a tour of the blogland, or at least a very limited part of it.

A couple of events coming up in London, both north and south;
  • This Saturday 6th March: Feminism today with Nina Power and Lindsey German at Housmans Bookshop, near Kings Cross, from 5pm.
  • This Sunday 7th March: Lewisham Peace and Justice event. Right on discussions, food, music, films including a chat from me about climate change. From 4 pm.
Spotted this at Suitably Despairing and thought I'd pass it on;

Thoughts on the Falklands

Recently there have been some minor diplomatic ripples over the Falkland Islands / Malvinas between the Argentinian government and the UK. It seems that British companies have been making a nuisance of themselves drilling for oil in these disputed waters and not everyone thinks that this is cricket.

The British government line is that the Falkland Islanders want to be British and so they shall be. It is simply a coincidence that they are parked on top of the most valuable resource in the world, but as they are that's ours too.

Falklands oil is culturally British and the most patriotic oil you might be able to imagine. So we'll set up our oil rigs where we like.

However, I have a compromise position that is bound to please everyone. The Falkland Islanders want to be British? Well, that's fine, they can stay that way - self determination and all that. Argentina can have the oil - which has no views on what nation should own it and is geographically far closer to them than us. That's fair isn't it?

After all the British government only cares about the rights of the people - every statement they make is on that very subject, and they skirt meticulously round the subject of the black greasy stuff - the only conclusion I can draw is that this is an issue they care nothing about.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Bully Beef: why these attacks were misjudged

On a purely clinical level bullying was as strong issue for Labour's opponents to try to tap into. Workplace bullying is a real social problem and one that many people will have witnessed if not experienced direct.

Not only is it clearly a 'bad' thing, it also feeds off the CCTV, ASBO, war of terror character of Labour's long years in power. Brown has pushed the people around, bullied Iraq with bombs and had a tendency to use legislation and force rather than diplomacy and persuasion.

However, on a purely anecdotal level the whole episode has failed to land a glove on the government for a whole raft of reasons. Firstly it's a personal attack on Brown. People don't like that, true, but more importantly when I talk to people who are going to vote Labour they never mention Brown. It isn't about re-electing *him* it's about using Labour as a shield against the Tories.

Second, quite a few people feel that Brown is a victim of bullying, so a load of headlines going for him can have a kind of Jade Goody effect of pushing people to defend him. I don't actually subscribe to that view, but I've met a couple of people who clearly feel that.

Third, and most damagingly, the way in which it was handled was so inept that it was difficult *not* to see it as a dirty tricks campaign as part of the election - which disarms the issue entirely.

When someone discredits their organisation breaking confidences like that it's a terrible thing to do, especially in order to make a cheap political shot. What Christine Pratt (pictured), National Bullying Helpline chief, has done is to destroy the reputation of her organisation and herself as well as undermining the confidence of anyone who wants to use *any* confidential service.

She's also clearly a dishonest idiot. Hopefully a soon to be unemployed one.

By using this kind of information in a clearly party partisan fashion she undermined any damage that had been done to Brown. She also turned the story from one about bullying, an issue that she is presumably passionate about, into one about confidentiality, an issue she clearly has less strong feelings on.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Gender equality

It's one of those stories that I read without even knowing why I'm reading it. apparently Geena Davis, the Oscar winning actress, is launching a campaign to address the way women are treated in the media. Very worthy and I definately applaud this.

She chose the UN Secretary General and the Duchess of York to accompany her on this worthy mission. However, Geena's message may have been ever so slightly uncut by Fergie's campaign.

While Geena was actively denouncing the stereo-typing of women in the media Fergie was enthusiastically embracing the same.

Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson, who is divorced from Britain's Prince Andrew, said the key to equality is "good mothering" because mothers promote education.

She announced a new initiative called The Mother's Army to "harness the collective power of mothers" to enable women and girls to "dare to dream".

I'm not entirely convinced the best way to attack one stereotype is by promoting another. Oh well.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Green Party conference: Animals, science and health

For those who've been following these things there has been an ongoing "re-evaluation" of Green Party policy around scientific evidence. This came about mainly due to a few journalists helpfully letting us know that there was some deeply dodgy stuff in policy. It certainly came as a shock to many of us who had not thoroughly read our voluminous policy documents.

This conference saw the first swath of re-orientating our policy on a more science friendly footing. As one of the Party members who've been quite heavily involved in trying to change party policy the experience has been instructive and, I think because we were friendly and open minded in our approach - taking our time rather than just trying to crush anyone who looked like they were in opposition to us, the whole process has been quite effective.

I've already mentioned this but conference started well, as conference passed the motion on abolition of the science pledge. A policy so offensive to scientists and 'technologists' that it makes me wince just to think of it. Anyway, it's gone. Hurray.

This was quickly followed by the passing of the science chapter enabling motion which means that the party has officially endorsed a review and rewrite of our entire science and technology section of the PSS, our core policy document. That's going to take some hard work and we'll be looking for people both inside and outside of the party to help us with that process.


However, some of the key problem areas were in the health chapter which is why a review of this section was prioritised and we voted on this new document on Saturday and this morning. There were a whole number of improvements made and it's to the great credit of the health group that these went through relatively smoothly.

Many of the amendments to policy were on subjects like patient empowerment, the way private medicine feeds off the NHS and breast feeding but I'll stick to the science stuff for the time being.

The headlines in this are that we state that we "will not make judgements on individual treatments or medicines" as that is the job of regulators and scientists which replaced a very specific and somewhat rigid list of treatments we, apparently, like in favour of others.

In HE312 we have removed the idea that health research will have a "particular emphasis" on "holistic treatments" and "complementary therapies". We removed the statement that "vivisection is of questionable value and incompatible with ecological philosophy" replacing it with a section calling for "a thorough evaluation of animal tests" which seems difficult to disagree with as it happens already.

In HE314 we previously had the difficult situation where we appeared to state that alternative therapies did not require the same kind of regulation as more conventional medicines. Conference amended this to ensure that all medicines are properly regulated and subjected to the same controls "based on the best clinical evidence available". We also deleted a long section on "natural medicines", whatever they might be.

Importantly HE315 now states that "We recognize that the assessment of treatments... should be driven by clinical need rather than either political or commercial influence."

Bizarrely, we did have a policy that opposed some stem cell research (but not using adult stem cells) and appeared to be, and maybe even was, the sort of thing George W. might have approved of. This was also problematic because it clashed with our 100% pro-choice agenda on abortion.

Now the policy reads that we look to the "benefits to humans and other animals from stem cell technologies, using both adult and embryonic cellular material. These benefits include direct medical advances, improved non-animal testing methods for new medical treatments, and the advancement of knowledge." What a relief!


As a last part of this process this conference we also took a look at the animal rights section and although the motion, C9, that I proposed was not passed the animal experimentation policy has been improved by removing direct reference to "scientific" grounds for opposing animal experimentation and the rather blanket reference to "superior non-animal technologies" which implied all animal tests had an already existing superior alternative that did not involve harm to animals.

However, my ambition to strip out all reference to scientific grounds for opposition to animal testing was not approved by conference. I had hoped to stick to the ethics of animal rights within this section and leave the policy on the utility of animal testing to the health section, which seemed more appropriate, but I think members thought this was a step too far and they wanted policy to reassure them they were objectively right on a moral stance. I'm determined to see the positives of this but secretly I'm gutted at this (single) conference defeat.

The debate itself was conducted in a very friendly way and I'm grateful to those who disagreed with me (us) for the open, honest and political way they debated the issues as sometimes these things can get very fraught.

When push comes to shove the Green Party has made great strides forwards at this conference and the focus is now to pull apart the science policy and make sure it's strong, evidence based and relevant to a campaigning political party that wants to see progressive change. All help much appreciated.

Party Conference: fair is worth fighting for

Now I'm back and conference is over I'll try to knock out a few posts to give a flavour of different themes going on over the last four days. I think it's only reasonable to start with the Greens theme for the election encapsulated in the slogan 'fair is worth fighting for'.

Green Party leader, Caroline Lucas, made a very focused speech to conference on the prospects for victory, geeing everyone up and urging everyone to do their bit in the coming election (you can see some of it here).

I particularly liked this bit though on social inequality;

Inequality And it matters because it is the most vulnerable people who suffer first,and suffer most, from cuts and closures. We see it all around us, every day. Britain under Labour has become a country of inequality.

Those at the top, those with the power and influence, making sure that they get more and more of the cake. And those at the bottom having to make do with just the crumbs. The top 10% in this country now have 100 times more wealth than the bottom 10%. A hundred times.

Nothing - no amount of hard work or talent or commitment - can justify that. Those who have less aren't afraid of hard work.

People in service jobs, working night shifts to keep the country going, put in just as much as the captains of industry. Working with disadvantaged children needs just as much talent as serving privileged clients in private banking. And as to commitment - think of the difference between social workers, struggling with bureaucracy, hammered by the media and often by their own management, and trying to do the best for often difficult clients.

Compare that to the commitment of the bosses of the Royal Bank of Scotland, threatening to walk out if their bonuses were cut back too far. That is Britain today.

Deputy leader Adrian Ramsay's speech the day after was also on the theme of inequality but also trained the focus onto privatisation, PFI and the way market deregulation undermines public services and yet still costs us more.

He praised the Sure Start scheme and warned that the coming period will see the need to mobilise against savage cuts in public services.

This was my personal highlight;

The job market is failing young people and in my county it's hitting hardest. Norfolk has the highest unemployment rate for 18-24 year olds of the whole country. It has the highest number of 18-24 year olds on Job-Seekers Allowance, and the highest number of job losses per head of population against any other county. This is the legacy of Tory and Labour governments. And this is what we need to address.

Those people on the dole, will they be helped under Labour? Today Labour launched their General Election slogan- ‘A Future Fair for All'. How can they be trusted to be fair when bankers are still getting bonuses, yet the recession is still putting thousands of other people out of work?

The people who gambled with our money, who built the house of credit cards that now has crashed, get bailed out, but everyone else picks up the bill. That doesn't sound like Fair for All. That sounds like a banker's ‘Free For All'.

We believe in fighting for fairness- not crossing our fingers and hoping for the best. Our proposals would create a million lasting jobs- not ones dependent on cheap fossil fuels or financial bubbles. We want skilled jobs in public services, renewable energy and low carbon industries. We would nurture small to medium enterprises to encourage domestic manufacturing and local agriculture.

It's this economic inequality that goes to the heart of where we on the left must be going. For instance, when Darren Johnson passionately spoke in favour of the maximum wage (although as comments have pointed out we haven't called it that, but that's what it is) if we're not addressing economic inequality we're not serious about social injustice.

(pics from Barnet Green Party)

Conference catch up

Apologies for lack of blogging - I blame science - but I have been tweeting away and will try to give a very quick round up of a few things before I get to bed.

It was good to hear the London FBU voted last night to financially back the Greens. They donated to Darren Johnson's campaign in previous elections and it's great to see their continued commitment, and I'm sure we'll keep up our commitments to them.

Much of the policy discussion has revolved around science. We're removed the ridiculous science pledge, ordered a complete rewrite of our science and technology chapter and our health policy has now got a far more balanced approach that regulates health treatments so, for example, alternative medicines would have to clearly label their ingredients and prove efficacy to get funding. I don't think we need ask more than that.

Prove it works and we'll use it. Simple.

Then we came to the animal experimentation motions, one of which I moved, which Alisdair blogs about here. Basically we find out tomorrow what the result of that will be. Sigh.

We've passed a really interesting policy on parental leave, and a citizen's pension - firming up our economic equality agenda, which is nice.

My personal triumph is that we've now renamed the Manifesto for a Sustainable Society - our core policy document - to the Policies for a Sustainable Society (PSS), which means we wont be entering into the next election with two manifestos, when in fact one of those is a list of all our policies not a campaigning document written for a specific election.

I have to say I think this makes the whole thing a lot clearer and although it's like chiseling with granite I think our processes, documents and policies are becoming far, far stronger. I think that's because we are taking them more seriously.

I'll try to write some slightly more interesting posts tomorrow about the politics of it all, but I thought you'd appreciate some detail on what we've actually passed. When there are places for me to link to of the passed motions I'll do just that.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Green Party conference: Day One

Had an excellent start to Green Party conference today. The first day as always had a good helping of admin and agenda tickling as members had their say on how their conference was run. It sounds nightmarish but it actually works very well. Good stuff this democracy.

We still had time to debate and pass some really interesting motions, although the first vote of the day was when few delegates had arrived and on whether a particular motion was in order or not. The vote was a cliff hanging 41 to 40 - woo!

So the Green Party now supports a maximum wage, like they have in Norway I believe, where the highest earners in a company can only earn a maximum of ten times the lowest paid and we're for introducing a cap on mega-bonuses.

We passed a motion on 'marriage equality' saying that we're for partners of whatever sex opting for civil partnerships or marriages. We also "support an end to the ban on civil partnerships being conducted in places of worship".

We passed the much awaited science enabling motion which allows for an entire rewrite of our science and technology policy chapter - which is going to involve quite a lot of work over the next year. Later in the conference we'll be voting on some of those policies straight away and the rewrite of our health policy which may contain some contentious elements.

We also backed Billy Bragg's campaign against RBS bonuses and the BMA and RCN campaigns on the NHS.

There were also a number of interesting workshops and fringes. I went to a whole swathe of animal discussions in preparation for tomorrow's motions, which I'll write about when we get to them and the science workshops which were really heartening and I'm hoping for more good news to come.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Green Party conference

Green Party conference starts tomorrow and lasts until Sunday. I'll try to blog when I can, put round ups at Green Dispatches and you can always follow the twitter hash tag which I'm sure a number of people will be using.

There's some interesting stuff on the agenda, including an over-haul of our health policy, the beginnings of our science and technology review, blogging workshop and technical constitutional reforms of which I'm probably a thousand times more interested in that you are.

There's also fringes on prostitution, which looks exceptional, Darren Johnson is discussing low wages with UNISON and London Citizens as well as other sessions with notables like Johann Hari, Will Hutton, Kate Pickett, Peter Tatchell, Caroline Lucas, and loads of others.

Quite the event.

If you're at conference and see me please feel free to say hi. It's going to be a busy few days as there's all sorts of non-conference stuff I need to do too which is a right pain - but that's life I guess.

That's ASDA price

I was forwarded this and thought it was worth cut and pasting as it is. It refers to a tribunal in which 700 ASDA staff had their pay cut unilaterally without their consent and it was ruled that this was perfectly legal as there was 'we can do what we like' clause in their contracts;

News from IDS Brief
Employer may reserve right to vary employees' contracts unilaterally

In Bateman and Ors v Asda Stores Ltd the EAT has held that employers reserve the right to vary employees' contracts unilaterally. While varying a contractual term without notice or consultation might amount to a breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence, no such breach had been asserted in this case and so the employer's unilateral variation of a pay regime was valid.

After extensive consultation, most of Asda's staff voluntarily moved onto a proposed new pay regime. The remaining staff were then transferred involuntarily to the new regime under a provision in the staff handbook allowing Asda to 'review, revise, amend or replace' the contents of the handbook, some sections of which were contractual, and introduce new polices to 'reflect the changing needs of the business'. B and around 700 others claimed, among other things, that they had suffered unauthorised deductions from wages in breach of S.13 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 as a result of being involuntarily transferred to the new pay regime.

The tribunal, referring to the Court of Appeal's judgment in Wandsworth London Borough Council v D'Silva 1998 IRLR 193, found that although, as a general rule, a variation of contract requires the consent of both parties, employers can reserve the right to vary contractual terms unilaterally, even if an employee suffers financial loss as a result. However, such a provision should be closely scrutinised to judge whether it enables the employer to make the change.

The tribunal noted that there may be exceptions where the employer's variation breaches the mutual term of trust and confidence. This could occur where the variation is unreasonable, arbitrary or capricious, or where the employer has failed to give notice of, or consult on, the change.

In the present case, it was not contended that Asda had breached the mutual term of trust and confidence as it had given several months warning to employees before transferring them. Thus, although on ordinary contractual principles Asda would have been required to obtain employees' consent to make fundamental changes to the employment relationship, this was not necessary where the handbook contained a clear and unambiguous power to vary contractual terms to reflect the changing needs of the business.

As Asda's desire to have only one pay structure fell within 'the changing needs of the business', it was entitled to vary the contracts unilaterally. The tribunal therefore dismissed the employees' claims. The claimants appealed on several grounds.

The EAT held that the tribunal was entitled to find that the power in the handbook was clear and unambiguous. It clearly allowed Asda to both amend the handbook and introduce new policies without employee consent. As there was no ambiguity in the wording of the power there was no need to invoke the 'contra proferentum' rule, by which the term would have to be interpreted in the claimants' favour. The EAT rejected the argument that the employees, most of whom were 'not well educated or even literate', could not have conceivably intended or expected that the effect of their contracts would be that Asda could reduce pay, holiday or hours without consent or notice. No evidence had been put before the tribunal to support this submission and there was no appeal on the ground that the tribunal should have made such a finding.

Similarly, the EAT rejected an argument that Asda's failure to make the effect of the power clear to its staff was a breach of the mutual term of trust and confidence. The issue could not be raised before the EAT as the claimants had expressly conceded before the tribunal that there was no issue in relation to the duty of trust and confidence. The EAT therefore dismissed the appeal.The case will be reported in a future edition of IDS Employment Law Brief.
Source: EAT 11/2/10

Monday, February 15, 2010

Some links

Having missed out my weekending again I didn't want to miss out some nice stories I'd spotted over the last week. So here are a few links you might enjoy;

  • Jason Kitkat has been graphing the Brighton election. Bliss!
  • Some spoof posters are weaker than others, but Bob Piper highlights one that tickled me.
  • It seems Pauline Hanson is moving to the UK. Is it ok to tell racists to go home?
  • Talking of racism the French 'New Anti-Capitalist Party' is fielding a candidate who wears a scarf and some people are getting hot and bothered about it. Because she wears a scarf for fucks sake!
  • Left Foot Forward had an interesting piece on the climate movement, not sure I agree with it all, but it's worth reading I think.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The sounds of sadness

Phil, over at AVPS, is having a miserable Valentine's Day. I've essentially been working so, as a good Stakanovite worker, I've been joyously happy all day long toiling away. However, the facts are misery is an emotion with depth in the way that happiness rarely is. Having said that when bliss comes, whew, it's powerful stuff.

In order to alleviate his temper Phil's suggesting a meme of miserablism down the ages and has, cheekily, tagged me. Seems diverting enough especially as it allows me to highlight a few of my favourite tracks. Phil has gone for an 80s, 90's and 00's song but I'm moving it one decade back and have gone for 70's, 80's and 90's.

If you want bleak heart felt angst rolled in a septic self loathing with a light drizzle of weeping, barely contained rage then allow me to introduce you to Joy Division. No song could be more appropriate on a wet Valentine's Day than this perky little number.

In the eighties flouncing about became the in thing. Nothing exemplifies this trend more this tune from 1983 by those well known doom-mongers, The Smiths.

Oh Morrisey. Deep sigh.

Moving on the 90's we have the dark prophesies of Portishead, but Phil's already bagged them so I need to look around for something equally substantial. I was always impressed by Catatonia's sweet lyrical style blending an essentially nihilist ennui that contrasts sharply with the optimism of their style.

Dead from the waist down represents this nicely.

If you fancy tagging yourself with the three decades of misery meme, feel free. Tell me about it in the comments and I'll be happy to link to youse.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Lindsay German: united fronts or just fronts?

I don't normally comment on this sort of thing but there are a couple of things worth saying about the resignation of Lindsay German from the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).

It's important for two reasons. Firstly because Lindsay is the convener of the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) the most important umbrella group in the UK organising against military aggressions. The second reason is because it helps illustrate a problem of how political activists involve themselves in broader campaign groups.

In brief, she has resigned after decades of service to the party after the national organiser of the SWP instructed her that she was not to attend a StWC meeting that she'd been booked to speak at that evening. Told that this was a matter of party discipline Lindsay knew that if she did speak at the event she may well find herself expelled and choose to jump rather than get the push.

This came on the back of a long running factional battle that goes way back into the split from Respect and a rather obscure set of mild differences over political perspectives which, once aired, have started to snowball into quite real differences in approach.

At this point I shall declare that I rather like Lindsay, although I haven't spoken to her for quite some time. It's also worth stating that the arbitrary rulings she was facing were not so very different from the kind of discipline she has expected of other comrades when she had the whip hand. I recognise though that not every dom can easily switch to sub.

Regardless of this she should not have been put in the position of having to choose between her commitments to the coalition she leads and the party that she supported.

The key point for me is that genuine coalitions, that include a politically broad range of organisations and members, united around specific set of demands have to have an independent life of their own if they are to maintain mutual trust. The difference between a united front and, well, just a front is whether one organisation can unilaterally trump the decisions of the coalition without reference to its structures.

I'm a member of the Stop the War Coalition and an activist in the anti-war movement. If I book the convener of my organisation to speak at a meeting I don't expect to be told that someone I've never voted for, who belongs to an organisation I don't belong to has cancelled my speaker for me. That would rather undermine my confidence that I'm a member of an independent organisation.

The issue is not whether it's nice for Lindsay to speak at a meeting, she may or may not feel it's personally unfair to be forbidden to speak. The issue is whether members of one organisation can cancel the plans of a different organisation unilaterally.

I can't hold the SWP national organiser to account, even if I could expel him from the coalition he'd still reserve the right to instruct SWP members however he sees fit within it. If the coalition chose to make an official complaint about this specific instance of stupid interference in its work the SWP would go into an immediate fit and insist this was a witch hunt against the left, because there's no one quite so adolescent as a petty dictator whose edicts have been politely questioned.

The fetish for centralised party discipline, where members accept arbitrary, overbearing and misjudged micro-management of their activity, is not my cup of tea. I'm also rather partial to the odd bit of democratic transparency in organisations I belong to.

The SWP may feel it owns its members, that's distasteful but something they submit to willingly. However the SWP does not own the movement nor the Stop the War Coalition. If it wants to work constructively with anti-war activists, trade unionists, or whomever in its campaigning work it needs to recognise the limits of its command structure ends where the democratic rights of members of different organisations begin.

If you tell someone they cannot speak at an event, you are also telling the attendees of that event that they cannot hear who they want to, in this case the leader of their own organisation. That can't be right. Lindsay was not speaking in a personal capacity but as StWC convener which makes the order for her to cancel not a matter of Lindsay's personal SWP membership but a matter of political control over the Coalition.

Treating a branch of the StWC as if it is a subsidiary of the SWP is not on, not least because the StWC is a larger, more influential organisation than the SWP.

There is also a broader point that can be made here.

All political activists that are involved in campaigning work and also happen to be members of political parties are, in a sense, the servants of two masters. When the orders of those masters conflict they have to make a choice and that's for them to decide how to react, but when they have a position of responsibility in a coalition no one has the right to tell them to betray their commitments or subvert democratically agreed decisions.

That's undue influence exerted through undemocratic means.

If the SWP does not want Lindsay to speak at a meeting I suggest it persuades the organisers of their case rather than issue orders that bypass their quite correct control of their own event that they are organising. The activists of the SWP do not hold some magical historical privilege that trumps the rights activists who are non-members.

Normal parties do not expect immediate, psychotic subservience to every dot and comma of party memos. Nor do they demand that every branch of any united campaigning organisation they are involved in should be subjected to the codes and rules of a party they do not belong to. If they were to do that it would be a very good argument for excluding members of that organisation from holding any position of responsibility in any campaigning organisation.

This tension exists for all parties that involve themselves in broader groups, but it only exhibits itself in this extreme form with organisations that are so insecure that they see any decision contrary to its position as a matter of hard discipline and any speaker who is not exactly on message as some sort of enemy.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Taxing speculation Robin Hood stylee

It's nice to see the Tobin Tax doing the rounds again, this time re-branded as the Robin Hood Tax. Although, to be fair, the organisers claim it's not the same thing at all, because Tobin wanted a way to slow down the rate of international financial speculation and the Robin Hood-ites just wants to redistribute some of the proceeds.

This Robin Hood Tax is the very simple idea that by raising a tiny tax (a puny 0.05%) on bankers' speculative transactions we would raise a phenomenal amount of revenue which could be put to good uses - nurses, international development, and the like. The hundreds of billions a year this tax raised could do an enormous amount of good rather than simply feeding the fires of the financial casino.

Mark Thomas was ranting about this idea tonight on Radio Four, Patrick Harvie MSP is raising the idea in the Scottish Parliament and even the gorgeous Bill Nighy is on board.

I think the idea of a micro tax on speculation is perfectly winnable, although rather than see it as a purely revenue raising technique I'd like to see that money raised specifically for international development so it doesn't just go into the nuclear weapons pot or the tax breaks for the rich silo. But no one listens to me anyway, grumble, grumble.

The more popular we can make the idea of the redistribution of wealth and a sustainable economy the better. This campaign is definitely part of that.

The campaign video is rather enjoyable, although I'll be honest and confess that I'd listen to Bill Nighy read out the phone book and still be perfectly happy. Obviously this youtube clip has a better political message than the phone book and so is much more worthy of your time.

Hilarious update: It seems that Goldman Sachs may have been up to some dirty games if this report in the Guardian is anything to be believed.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ben Goldacre on Placebos

I thought this was a very interesting short talk from Dr Ben Goldacre on the placebo effect.

The thing that surprised me the most was when he described how even animals feel the benefit from the placebo effect. I'd love to see the proof of that because it sounds absolutely bonkers.

I particularly like the way that he describes how placebos work but, because it's unethical to lie to patients we should not use them - but we should use the fact that they work in order to make pre-existing, proven treatments even more effective.

(h/t Neil)

Ali Dizaei convicted

The conviction of high ranking police officer Ali Dizaei on corruption charges has become an opportunity for certain elements within the police to smear the National Black Police Association and to claim that this case vindicates operation Helios, in which the force bent Heaven and Earth in order to secure a conviction, any conviction, against Mr Dizaei.

It does no such thing. Dizaei was accused of spying for Iran, but there was no evidence. He was accused of using prostitutes, but there was no evidence. He was accused of fiddling his fuel mileage, but there was no evidence nor any reason to think that he had. Just as there was no reason to believe he was an illegal drug user.

The resources the force poured into Operation Helios were phenomenal.

They bugged his phones, his family's phones, his friends phones. They followed him, taped him, watched him like a hawk with a team of officers assigned to his case round the clock. They even followed him to the US when he went to speak at a convention there. They intimidated his friends, lovers, even owners of restaurants he ate in. They tried a clumsy attempt at a sting operation. Even MI5 were brought in on the act.

When all of these efforts failed to turn up one scrap of evidence worth mentioning they still tried to convict him.

Whatever the merits of the current case it does not prove he was "always a wrong 'un" because if he did abuse his powers on this occasion it hardly shows he was working for a foreign power or forging his expenses documents like a cross between James Bond and Elliot Morley.

We have had coppers lining up to tell the media that they always knew he was a bent copper. Just as they used to say they always knew Winston Silcott really did kill that police officer even after the case was over-turned or that Jean Charles de Menezes was a rotten apple even if he didn't happen to be a terrorist.

The Met bears grudges long and hard. There will be many police officers celebrating this week that Dizaei, who dared to criticise the force, has been convicted. Not least among them will be the racists, the fit up merchants and the idiots who swallow canteen gossip years after the courts have shown the charges to be flimsy bullshit.

Dizaei may well have been guilty on this occasion, and having been victimised before should be no immunity from the law into the future, but this case is the culmination of years of attempts to destroy this man. The charges that finally felled him though were not around spying for Iran or leading the life of a mafia don, but revolved around whether he was poked in the stomach with a hookah pipe.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Brown's voting reform error

The news that Gordon Brown was proposing voting reform as his parting gift for the Tories probably did not go down as well as he'd hoped. Those who like the current system were never going to be happy, but by putting forward Alternative Voting as a method of heading off Proportional Representation didn't meet with much enthusiasm from reformers either.

What I hadn't realised at the time, although in hindsight it was predictable, it was also a way of Brown proving how rubbish the Labour Party is at unity. The BBC reports today that a number of Labour MPs are intending to vote against the proposals and, assuming the Tories go against it too Brown will have just found a way of inflicting a Commons defeat on himself on the eve of the election.

If you're going to get defeated you should at least make sure it's because you're reforms are too radical, not because people don't like your gruel that much. Oh well, one more nail in the coffin.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Endorsed by Lech Wałęsa

Of all the elections I'd expect Lech Wałęsa to get involved in I have to say that of Illinois Governor was possibly the least expected. Lech is a historic figure who led a mass independent trade union movement, Solidarnosc, against Polish Communism.

He's even got a Nobel Peace Prize, although everyone has won of those these days.

He was an inspiring figure once although the less said about his later behaviour as President the better. Anyway, this working class hero has popped up in the US to back his guy
Adam Andrzejewski who was running in the Republican Primary.

So what sort of guy is this Andrzejewski chappy? Shipyard worker? Solid trade unionist? Well, not quite - in fact he's a confirmed tea bagger, one of those ultra-conservatives who find the Republican Party just a touch too wishy-washy and liberal.

Even heavy weight scumbags like Rush Limbaugh had given this guy airtime, I wonder if there are other views he shares with the ex-President of Poland?

Sadly Republican voters were not wowed by Lech, who they don't seem to have heard of, and placed Mr Andrezejewski in fifth place out of six. In fairness to him, he did describe himself as a 'true outsider' throughout the campaign. Still, thank God Lech was in town otherwise he'd had clinched that last place and been humilated.

Sunday, February 07, 2010


Some bits and bobs spotted throughout the week. Apologies for the random order.

Chris Morris' new film 'four lions' is a comedy about jihadist terrorists. Fun for all the family.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Berlusconi does not exist

I stumbled across this picture of a rally in Italy yesterday. If you click the link or photo you get a bigger version so you can see him in all his magnificence.

From the picture you can see that the great leader is so popular that some people are actually attending the same rally more than once, simultaneously with themselves. Now *that* is pulling power.

However, as this pic is clearly falsified and having learned my science from the climate deniers I have decided that this means Berlusconi does not really exist. I mean, how can he? One of the photos showing him has been touched up!

Friday, February 05, 2010

An aside

Last night I was listening to someone talking about healthy eating and how important it was. They mentioned pies three times as an example of things that are bad for you.

Ever since I've not been able to concentrate for thinking about those naughty pies. Just a few minutes ago I finished a deliciously greasy steak and kidney pie, something I've not eaten for months.

Let this be a warning to others who wish to make me eat a balanced diet - you may do more harm than good!

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Haiti: children kidnappers

Before I begin: If you didn't donate to Haiti and regret it it's not too late. You can still check out my earlier post for suggestions on who to send your cash to.

Ever since it was revealed that religious groups were sending people to take 'orphans' out of Haiti to give them a 'better life' I've had a heavy feeling in my stomach on top of the heavy feeling created by seeing the suffering the people of Haiti have had to endure over the last period.

I'm more than happy for religious groups to mobilise people to help out and do good deeds. There's a question about how useful that can be, but without being on the ground it's difficult to know how (in)effective that help is and I'm not willing to criticise the aid effort.

However, when it comes to people trafficking it's another matter frankly.

There's a number of reasons why, even before we get to the specifics of this case, stealing children is wrong. First of all most orphans have living relatives. Taking kids out of the country means creating a permanent separation. There is no reason why you should be allowed to own children and indoctrinate them into your sect whilst denying them a reconciliation with their blood.

Second of all, during a disaster there is a fog where people lose people. It may be that people you thought were dead weren't, and it certainly is the case that kids that are lost because they have been taken away will be untraceable to their surviving relatives. Using the word orphan about a child creates the impression they have no one, but it's not necessarily true and the missionaries certainly do not know whether it's true - it's an assumption.

Third, waltzing into someone else's country and taking their children because you've decided they will have a better life isn't ok just because you're American. There is no entitlement that goes with US citizenship that says you have the right to circumvent the authorities in any country you go to.

The specifics

When you get to the details of the case it is even more worrying though. The missionaries might say they are "completely innocent" and they were legitimately taking 33 kids out of the country to a new life in their Idaho Baptist inspired utopia where they would also be eligible for adoption.

However, it transpires that many of the kids have at least one living relative, they were told that the kids were simply going to be schooled and would be able to return, not if they've been adopted they wouldn't. It is also clear that the group had no authorisation from the Haitian authorities, and don't even appear to think they needed any.

That's even though they were told before the attempt that they could not take the kids across the border. The Wall Street Journal reports that;
"the Dominican Republic's consul general in Port-au-Prince, said in an interview that he met with the group's leader, Laura Silsby, on Friday at the consulate in the Haitian capital and told her she lacked the documents to transport children."

She told Mr. Castillo she had applied to Dominican authorities for a permit to cross the border, he said. But Mr. Castillo checked and found no such application. "I told her I could authenticate Haitian documents but she had no Haitian documents of any sort,"
I'm afraid I've no sympathy for these people languishing in a Haiti jail. I'm not a hang them and flog them sort of person but I was very pleased to hear that they would be charged and face trial. It simply cannot be right for organisations to use their wealth and the weight of their government to determine the fate of children just because they live in a poorer nation.

good piece from Mike Gonzalez at the Guardian on Haitian reconstruction.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

You ask the questions: Adrian Ramsay

Adrian Ramsay is the Deputy Leader of the Green Party and one of our three target candidates at the General Election, standing against Labour's Charles Clarke in Norwich South.

I'm offering Daily (Maybe) readers an exclusive opportunity to pose questions to Adrian in a 'You ask the questions' special.

To ask a question simply email me at with your (real) name, where you're from (place and organisation, if appropriate) and your question. I'll collect them together and then pose a selection to Adrian. Difficult or hostile questions are welcome, although keep it polite and keep it interesting.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Alternative Voting thoughts

Out of the blue Labour announce they want to start reforming the voting system. Twelve and a bit years into their government they've finally got round to having a think about making a change that heads off any possibility of proportional representation.

The Lib Dems described it as a "deathbed conversion" which I thought was a rather neat turn of phrase.

So there's a proposal on the table about having a referendum on Alternative Voting, where you place the candidates in an order of preference. Although it's slightly messier than this the intention is to ensure that everyone who is elected has the support of at least half the electorate in the constituency.

This referendum would not take place under the Labour government (unless they win the election, ho ho) and in fact might not take place at all which introduces the prospect of Labour painting the Tories as anti-reform before they've had a year in office for not instituting something Labour couldn't be bothered to do in more than twelve years.

Anyway, there are a number of advantages to this over our current system of first past the post.

Firstly it means that someone who is passionately loved and loathed is less likely to get in as the system seeks the candidate who is acceptable to most voters. I've no doubt that part of the calculation here is that it may keep out various fascists, communists, and eco-terrorists although in practice it may well work the other way.

The English Democrat Mayor of Donacaster won his election on the basis of second preference votes coming over from the BNP and Tory candidates and the experience of the London Mayoralty is that the second preferences for the Greens always far outweigh the first preferences, indicating that where Greens can get a head of steam they may reach a tipping point where AV would be very useful.

The second advantage is that it does allow for a more mature political debate should the parties choose to go down that route. Being able to advocate a second choice vote for Ken in the Mayorals two years ago was a real god send and, in effect, the Greens ended up mobilising extra voters against Boris without having to stand down - under the current system it's hardly sensible for a party to say, "Well, if you're not voting for us I'd recommend so and so from a rival party."

That's a shame.

However, it's still a winner takes all system. It may in fact have the effect of entrenching the established parties rather than allowing for more pluralism and the results would still not be proportional leaving literally millions having voted for parties that get either no MPs or a tiny, tiny handful.

If the referendum was in place and taking place today I'd vote for the AV system. If I were rewriting electoral reform myself though it wouldn't look like this. House of Lords? Gone. Monarch? Gone. FTPT? Gone. And proportion elections for local councils as well as Parliament.

Gil Scott Heron

It's funny, I was only thinking of Gil Scott Heron last night as I heard that Obama had scrapped further moon missions in favour of public spending down here on Earth. Scott Heron's classic song 'whitey on the Moon' had a deep impact on me the first time I heard it and it seems particularly apt now.

Anyway, Gil Scott Heron, all these years later, has a new album out and there is an exclusive preview of it at the Guardian. Well worth checking out in my opinion.

Monday, February 01, 2010

A few links

A few links for your pleasure.

  • Tomorrow's Morning Star has a piece by me on the Tory wobbles on public spending. glad to be back after a break of two weeks.
  • I have a letter in the Metro that is so heavily cut I find it difficult to look at.
  • Peter Mandelson apparently said today that “There is no airbrushing Gordon Brown. It is sometimes difficult to hairbrush Gordon Brown.” That's quite funny.
  • The Lib Dems appear to be turning blue - literally.
  • The straight choice highlights sodokus on political leaflets. The mind boggles.
A few blogs.
Bonus tracks (ie late additions)
  • Boris Johnson goes disco with Darren Johnson AM. Must watch!
  • Salma Yaqoob on the Greens after members help her campaign.
Normal service will be resume... at some point... probably.

This is the news