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Liberal Democrat complicity in Tory ideology makes then irrelevant in 2015

Re: Vince Cable slams excessive Conservative cuts on working poor

The Liberal Democrats seem to think there are some sort of moderating government party, whose job it is to form coalitions and keep the majority partner on the straight and narrow.

Except that thanks to their complicity with the Tories since 2010 they have worsened inequality, eroded civil liberties and made the poor poorer while letting their rich mates get away with less than their fair share.

Because of this, support for the Liberal Democrats has plummeted and they ate likely to lose many seats in 2015. They are far less likely to be in a position to form a coalition government. And we’ll all be better off without this spineless bunch in positions of power.

Image: Institute of Physics

CC-BY-SA https://www.flickr.com/photos/rogersg/7944915940/

State surveillance is not comparable to online privacy issues

Often, when opposing state surveillance such as that revealed by Ed Snowden, activists are questioned why they use online services that actively collect data about them. There is one core reason why this comparison is unhelpful and irrelevant.

“You are the product” goes the saying, which is true. Companies like Google and Facebook collect streams of data about who we are and what we do. Some have called this “self-surveillance”.

When we “self-surveil” and grant companies the ability to use – and sell – our data, we expect – and get – something back. We get a service. We pay a small privacy price (largely inconsequential, I’d argue) in exchange for a service.

On the other hand, the state demands we let them take our data. They chose warrant-less mass-collection over targeting, leaving us in the dark about what they’re collecting. We get nothing in return – there is yet to be a convincing case, backed up with evidence, that the mass surveillance of the citizenry in any way makes us safer.

There is one, undeniably crucial difference however.

The state has the power to use that data against us in a devastating way.

We can be detained, without charge, for fourteen days – the longest pre-charge detention period of any comparable democracy. Previously this limit was 28 days, and there was an attempt to raise it to 90 – that’s 3 whole months of being locked up for being a suspect.

Outside of detention, the state has the power to severely limit our activities with only “suspicion” as a reason, destroying the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

I don’t see any social networks able to limit my civil liberties…

Image: CC-BY-SA George Rex

WordCamp Europe 2014: Sofia, Bulgaria

All images in this post provided under the CC-BY-SA license.

By User:Shaleiha guldam (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Banning the Niqab is not secularism and the NSS should know better

Just as I said about the French ban on face coverings, an English school banning the niqab is equally divisive. It’s disappointing to see the National Secular Society supporting the policy.

Religious Freedom

Banning the niqab is restricting the religious freedom of the individual. Why does a school have the right to decide what children can and can’t wear? Especially when attire is part of religious observance.

Facial Expressions

Teachers need to see a student’s whole face in order to read the visual cues it provides.

Every day I work, converse, collaborate, make decisions and develop friendships with people without seeing their faces. I do so with people in the same town or on the other side of the world. We learn from each other, too.

This notion that a niqab diminishes the ability of teachers and other pupils to interact with a student is nonsense. Yes, a large proportion of human communication comes down to body language, but removing that does not erect an impassible brick wall. Come on, do you really think the telephone would have taken off if that were the case?!

“Decency”

The school’s appearance policy states that “inappropriate dress that offends public decency or which does not allow teacher student interactions will be challenged”.

I beg your fucking pardon – offends public decency?!

1. What is indecent about covering your face? Walking around naked in public is indecent. Abusive behaviour is indecent. Not showing your face affects no-one. If I don’t want you to see part of me, that’s my right. It is categorically not indecent of me to choose who I show myself to.

2. An organisation that campaigned against the ridiculous provisions of Section 5 of the Public Order Act which effectively criminalised insult should be ashamed of using “offence” as an excuse to support curtailing a person’s individual liberty.

Islamophobic

The ban is not Islamophobic. It is not an attack on the religion of Islam. However, the decision, and the NSS’ support of it, does fuel the perception of ‘Islamophobia’.

Supporting a ban that does nothing to address real community division only serves to anger groups in the community and further divide them.

It’s also a little galling to see the NSS invoke Conservatives who are big supporters of the free schools agenda which the NSS knows full well further promote religious privilege and division.

Secularism harmed

The National Secular Society, by supporting a ban on religious dress are harming the cause of secularism in the UK.

They are further dividing communities, limiting individual religious freedoms and sending out the message that secularists are here to shut down religious expression.

Secularists believe in freedom from religion and freedom of religion. The NSS ought to remember that.

Image: By User:Shaleiha guldam (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Happy yes! by Ch1ris23

Hoping for ‘Yes’ on Scottish independence

CC-BY image by Ch1ris2

Why should I care? I’m not Scottish, I don’t live in Scotland. I’ve only been there twice – first when I was too young to now remember and second for a four day drinking binge in Glasgow triggered by Biffy Clyro.

Not only that but I’d rather the UK remain together! I’m against Scottish independence and yet at the same time hoping Scotland votes yes.

Cognitive dissonance (heard that a lot recently) indeed. Let me explain…

I believe (though question that belief often) in devolution. The ultimate devolution for Scotland is independence. What better way to devolve power than all powers.

As an English citizen I observe with increasingly depressing dismay as the Conservative-led (and driven) coalition government privatises public service after public service (including the NHS), pushes more and more families into poverty, unfairly demonizes immigrants, perpetuates cronyism, gifts tax cuts to the rich and maintains economically and morally indefensible public spending like Trident and HS2.

Keeping an eye on the Scottish independence debate I can’t help but feel a wave of excitement and hope for Scotland. I’m incredibly jealous.

Scotland has already been able to protect the Scottish NHS from privatisation using devolved powers, compensated victims of the bedroom tax, maintained free university education, banned unreasonable letting agents fees and more.

All this and yet more is possible as an independent state in full control of all it’s affairs, free from the tyranny of selfish and inhumane Conservative ideology.

Westminster politicians are increasingly complacent (their failure to plan for a yes vote one example). Despite declining political participation and the resulting diminished mandate, they fail, even when giving ample opportunity, to fix our broken political system and instead push reforms clearly anathema to the British public.

Delivering a Yes vote in three weeks would do two crucial things;

1) Scotland would finally get the government it votes for. Conservatives a minority, Scotland would be a liberal socialist state largely unburdened by conservative economic dogma. It would be prosperous – there is no evidence to suggest it wouldn’t.

2) Westminster politicians would be delivered a massive kick in the teeth. The British public will be even more aware of the better deal that Scotland has through devolution, and made aware of the possibilities when freed from the self-serving boys club of the Palace of Westminster. They will demand more.

I really want that to happen. If ever the status quo were ripe for challenging it is now.

Problem is, an independent Scotland would deliver a huge blow to the rest of us. Without liberal socialist Scotland we would almost certainly be doomed to have Conservative governments.

That’s why I both have hope for a yes vote but worry that it’ll happen.

Dispelling the myth of “unelected and invisible” police authorities

Amongst the media coverage of the PCC elections, both in 2012 and last week’s by-election in the West Midlands the Government has again trumpeted it’s “unelected and invisible police authorities” line in defence of the indefensible reform.

Police Authorities

First, some facts. Police authorities in England and Wales were;

  • Comprised of seventeen members
  • 9 were elected representatives of the local authority (i.e. councillors voted in by the electorate, hardly undemocratic). Those 9 members would also be reflective of the political make up of the authority, reflecting the vote share of the parties, a further acknowledgement of the will of the people.
  • At least 3 other members were local magistrates (i.e. people we already trust to pass judgement in our courts, and as such have a good handle on the justice system itself) appointed for fixed terms of four years.
  • The remaining five members (if there weren’t more than 3 magistrates) would be elected by the police authority itself for fixed terms of four years.

A fraction over half of the police authority were elected, then. Not only that, but the political make up was reflective of actual votes cast in the actual county council elections.

Clearly, the rest of the police authority was ripe for reform, but replacing them with a single person elected on a tiny proportion of the electorate’s say so is not an improvement.

West Midlands

Let’s look at the West Midlands in particular.

Note that West Midlands Police Authority didn’t follow the make-up outlined above exactly, from what information I could find (given their website is now gone), but did resemble it. This may be that Wikipedia is out of date, or it could be that the authority was changed as part of the move towards PCCs. I’d appreciate any clarifying information on that, if you have it.

Of the 14 members of West Midlands Police Authority, 7 were county councillors.

As the above shows, the locally elected councillors serving on the police authority commanded much more public support than either of the West Midland’s PCCs have done.

We can’t accurately get an overall turnout but every single turnout for each candidate is miles higher than the recent (and previous) PCC election for the West Midlands. I include vote share above for completeness rather than comparison, as the PCC elections use a different electoral systems that requires the victor to gain over 50% from a “run-off”.

Unelected Parliament?

Half of the police authority was elected, and half not. If this is the basis of the Governments dismissal of police authorities, it would be yet another shameful show of hypocrisy. Our Parliament is comprised of two houses: the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The former contains our 650 directly-elected MPs and the latter has 850 unelected Lords, many of whom are party donors. Just this simple fact arguably makes our very Parliament less democratic than the police authorities were.

Deceit

So while the police authorities could have been more democratic, they were certainly not the “unelected and invisible” authorities the Government’s deceitful rhetoric claimed. It turns out, as the above turnout figures show, that PCCs are less democratically accountable than the police authorities ever were.

We should abolish the democratic abomination now.

Restoration, or renovation

Restoring the police authorities as they were is clearly not an option – they had issues. But here’s some ideas that would all be far more representative and accountable than the Police and Crime Commissioners;

  • Simply remove the non-elected members
  • Replace the non-elected members with a citizens panel (randomly-selected citizens panels have been shown to be reflective of the population in many cases)
  • Have the members selected from local councillors based on proportional shares of the vote at the last local council elections
  • Replace the entire membership with a citizens panel.

Perhaps some of those would be good. At the moment, almost anything is better than Police and Crime Commissioners.

No mandate: PCCs need to go

One of my biggest gripes about UK Parliamentary elections is that successive Governments claim they have a “mandate” to introduce their ideological reforms (whatever the flavour) as if every single vote in their favour is a full and unconditional endorsement of their entire manifesto.

That is, of course, an absurd assertion but the ruling party invariably rolls out the “mandate” claim when challenged over the lack of evidenced need for new policy. It’s one of the many reasons we need a better electoral system for the UK. Instead, we have an elective dictatorship.

Mandate, or lack thereof, is the prime reason why the shambles of Police and Crime Commissioners must be abolished.

Last week’s PCC by-election in the West Midlands further demonstrates that nothing any PCC does has an appropriate mandate from the electorate. Before last week my own county, Staffordshire, had seen the lowest turnout for a PCC election at 11.63% but the West Midlands has now reduced that record to 10.38%.

Only 102,571 electors voted for the successful candidate, David Jamieson, out of an electorate of 1,974,518. That’s a ‘mandate’ of just 5.2%. David Jamieson is now free to make incredibly important decisions about policing throughout the West Midlands based on the support of a tiny proportion of the people who will be affected by those decisions.

Surely no one who supports the principle of policing by consent can possible contend that this pathetic election is in any way good for the people of the West Midlands. Couple that with the fact that PCCs cost more than the previous police authorities and you have an incredible insult to the electorate.

Tomorrow: Dispelling the myth of “unelected and invisible” police authorities.