Friday, May 27, 2005

A week is a long time in blogging. . .

And two weeks is an eternity. So I thought it long overdue to churn out some thoughts on events of the last couple of weeks. In no particular order:

  • George Galloway. Yes, he was entertaining at the Senate hearing, and I’m sure they’ve never come across anything like him before in their prosaic environment. But the man is still an odious little turd. Let’s not forget, either, that he might have come away looking like the victor, but he ducked some big questions that day. Not to be trusted. (The entire transcript of that hearing can be read here. Quite interesting.)

  • Liverpool winning the European Cup. A great match, and anyone who comes back from 3-0 down to beat AC Milan in the final should be allowed to defend their cup next season. But they’re definitely not the best team in Europe, whatever it says on paper. Over the course of 38 games last season, they weren’t even the best team in Liverpool. Still, give them Man United’s place and we’ll say no more about it.

  • Speaking of which, Malcolm Glazer’s protracted take over of Manche$ter United has been highly entertaining theatre and no mistake. Amusing to see these infuriated Man U fans spitting blood about somebody buying “their” club, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it has been a public company since 1991 so has not been “their” club for some time now. The flotation served them well in the 1990s as they became the richest club on the planet – weren’t complaining then, were they? So you can’t really be surprised when fat corporate scum like Glazer come over from the US with plans to make the company even bigger and richer. OK, he might fail and bankrupt the club if it doesn't work out. But it’s not all good news. He might make them even more wealthy and successful than they’ve been already – look at his track record, not notable for his failures, is he? Now shut up with your whinging. Man Utd aren’t a football team, they’re a brand name with a football team tacked on the side. Zero sympathy.

  • Looks like the French are going to return a resounding “Non” over the European Constitution, which might just derail the whole “European Dream”. Good. I’ve got issues enough with British democracy as it is without passing powers over to an even more undemocratic and distant bureaucracy. Call me old fashioned, but I like my governments small, efficient and transparent. Enormous, anonymous and based in Brussels? Non, non, non. Let’s keep the EU for what it was intended: an environment for economic cooperation and a free market. Ironic, seeing as France was a chief architect of the old Common Market, and their biggest objection to the European Constitution is that it will hurt their long-established protectionist economy. Fuck France and fuck a United Europe too. There, that’s me out of the Eurosceptic closet.

  • Another bullshit ruling today on use of cannabis for pain relief. Bottom line: if smoking a naturally occurring substance acts as an efficient method of relieving excruciating pain without any toxic side effects, then it should be allowed. Moreover, if anybody wants to consume a naturally occurring substance for whatever reason, be it recreational or medicinal, it’s nobody else’s business. The arguments for its continued illegality are flimsy and the money and time spent enforcing the law could be better applied elsewhere. Full stop.

  • The proliferation of teenage mums. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, we won’t get anywhere until we sterilise the working class.

  • That last one was a joke, by the way.

  • Bank Holiday Weekends. How I wish we had more of them. Hurray for the three day break, and just look at this weather. See you next Tuesday.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Ban This Filth

Originally posted by The Realist

A mixed day of liberal news yesterday, but the main story which caught my eye was the ‘banning of porn by post

I am horrified that anyone would even dare to try to stop what I, an adult, am able to watch and how I am able to watch it. If I want to watch Schindler’s Fist or Shaving Ryan’s Privates, I should be able to do so. This is a hideous throwback to the ‘would you want your wife and servant to see this?!?’ days of judges knowing best. The BBFC has finally allowed hardcore to be sold legally, albeit only through the seedy network of sex shops, but porn should be available to adults everywhere. And yes, even on tv. Well, on mine anyway.

This ban is academic on a number of levels. Firstly, as was pointed out in court, people will simply order, legally, from abroad, where there are fewer restrictions (you don’t have to be a connoisseur to know about the stuff that comes out of Germany…) Millions in lost taxes! In addition, the convergence of net (where there is no ‘abroad’!) and tv means that in two years from now, muck will be available 24/7 in people’s homes.

Well, in mine anyway.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

‘There are fewer more distressing sights than that of an Englishman in a baseball cap’

Originally posted by The Realist

That’s one of my favourite lyrics from the past couple of years. Pete Doherty is, clearly, a talented guy. I thought the two Libertines albums were good in a Chas n’ Dave meets Blur in the audience at a Jam tribute band gig in Croydon kinda way – nothing spectacular. Better than Kasabian, not as good as The Killers. Just a band. I must confess, however, that I do enjoy the rock and roll circus™ surrounding him. That’s how musicians should be – visceral, fragile, messed up, drug-fuelled and guttural. I’d take one of them over a million Keane-blokes and a world full of christian Athlete-blokes.


Originally posted by The Realist

Oh, it’s a liberal nightmare alright - what to do about be-hooded yobs (it comes from ‘boy’ spelt backwards, interestingly enough) and their presence in our beloved shopping malls?

As with all these things, the best approach is to take a step back and think. My thought process went something like:

Do I still feel 19 and, in essence, against ‘the man’ telling anyone what to wear? Or, am I physically sick at the sight of the menacing youths on my street corner every night? Is this whole ‘issue’ a spin off from some focus group in Enfield and I’m just getting caught up in the hysteria? Is this some kind of hideous middle-class backlash which I’m unwittingly becoming party to?

I then took another step back and thought:

Actually, Realist, this is a non-story. Private companies can insist on what people who patronise their premises wear. Nightclubs can insist on dress code, schools demand uniforms, high street banks don’t allow motorcycle helmets, so end of.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Apathy in the UK

The 'Mother Of All Democracies' is in stagnation. Even in an election fired up by enormous controversy over the war in Iraq and with a resurgent opposition really putting the heat on the incumbent government, the overall turnout last week was just 61% - the second lowest in a century. Not even two thirds of the country who are even registered to vote at all bothered to get out and do so.

There are numerous reasons for this state of affairs, but I would suggest that the most significant is that a great number of people do not feel engaged whatsoever with the political process. And this is hardly a surprise when you consider modern electoral campaigning methods. At this election, more than any other, the battle for hearts and minds took place in a small number of marginal seats - about 100 of the 646 available fell into this category. The consequences? Firstly, if you happened to live in one of the other 546 constituencies, you'd have had better odds of getting bum sex with the Pope than actually seeing a political candidate canvassing for your support. Far quicker (not to mention cheaper) for the parties to rely on sophisticated polling methods to determine where they really need to interact with their electorate. Secondly, because voters are being wooed in only 15% or so of the country, it is only in these places that the core election agenda is being set.

This further compounds the spread of voter apathy. The issues become more and more narrow and party policies more and more alike. The majority of voters realise that, whatever they do, it probably isn't going to make much of a difference to the outcome and, in any case, the two main parties are promising such similar things it's hardly going to matter anyway. Meanwhile, if you want to give your vote to the third party, our glorious first-past-the-post electoral system will make sure that, in most cases, your vote is effectively worthless.

The way that our system distorts the vote is absurd. Let's take a look at this year's election outcome. Overall, Labour received 35.2% of all votes cast, yet they won 356 seats - 55.1% of those available. 32.3% of the electorate voted Conservative, which translated into 197 seats - 30.5% of the House of Commons. The Lib Dems, meanwhile, despite getting 22% of the vote, got royally shafted again: 62 seats won - just 9.6% of those up for grabs. Nobody can tell me that this is true democracy. Under a system of proportional representation however, things would have been very, very different and the House of Commons make up would have been something like this:

Labour - 227 seats
Conservative - 209 seats
Lib Dems - 142 seats
Other - 68 seats

In other words, a genuine reflection of each party's popularity nationally.

Now, I'm fully aware of the arguments against PR. Yes, the FPTP system nearly always delivers a strong government, as opposed to the inevitable coalitions that PR would necessitate. But at what cost? Not a single government in the last fifty years has actually won an outright majority in terms of votes cast: 42% (or less in recent years) has always been just about enough to deliver a party to government with an enormous majority (most notably the Tories in 1987 and Labour in 1997), ensuring they can pretty much steam-roll whatever bills they want. Agreed, coalition government would be arguably "weaker", but when you consider some of the crappy laws that have been passed without proper debate or scrutiny I would argue that this would actually be a strength. Another argument that's always rolled out is that we lose local representation because constituencies would either be abolished, or MPs would be placed by a party-list system, which hands yet more power to the executive. Yes, but who actually votes locally anyway? Elections are increasingly presidential in their nature. In reality people are voting for either the party leader or at least the general principles of the party; rarely are they considering the individual merits of the candidates standing in their constituency. In any case, there would still be local authority elections that can address parochial concerns.

The fact is, less and less people are bothering to exercise their democratic right and this is a trend that needs to be reversed. PR is not a panacea for our electoral malaise, but it would go a long way towards improving voter turnout. Just think how many people you hear complaining that their vote is wasted purely because of where they live: perhaps if you could guarantee that every vote counted, we'd all be more enthusiastic about taking part in the process. Another positive consequence would be a broadening of the political choice available to us: a more pluralistic system would emerge, with parties better equipped to truly represent the diverse range of opinion in this country. Now that's got to be attractive to the 65% of the electorate that did not vote for the present government.

Labour actually promised a referendum on PR as part of their 1997 manifesto. Well, Mr Blair, we're still waiting. You've got a few years (perhaps less) to truly make your mark on our political system - how about concentrating on electoral reform and delivering us a truly world class democracy? PR would be an excellent start. Oh, and while you're at it, get stuck into the House of Lords again will you? Not a bad idea to have the upper chamber actually, you know, elected, is it?

Just a suggestion.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

More Harm Than Go(o)d

Originally posted by The Realist

A couple of weeks ago, I had a polite discussion with my father about the relative merits of religion. He was entirely unable to comprehend the concept that I felt that religion – all religion – is harmful. He spoke of the ‘good’ Mother Theresa did (that’s a whole separate blog right there) and about christian charity missions in cities. My assertions that the realities of this ‘charity’ were exposed in Orwell’s ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ fell on deaf ears. I argued that worthy types should do-good through the British Council or the VSO or any of the countless other secular organisations out there. Just keep Him out of it. Anyway, we agreed to disagree.

And then this.

This is not, of course, the first time this has happened – there have been half a dozen high-profile cases in London in the last couple of years of this kind of vile abuse.

When I first heard about it, my ‘Western’ mind kicked in and subconsciously dismissed it as backwards (even ‘foreign’) nonsense. This was also the tone of the press reports – however subtle. Your mind automatically categorises a news story and when the news story mentions ‘Witchcraft’, ‘African’, ‘Torture’ and ‘Angola’, it’s easy to think that this is a problem from somewhere else. But it’s not – it happened two miles away from my flat.

Is one religion more ‘civilised’ than another because its perpetrators are from the West? What about Serbian christians burning and raping their way across the 90s? Perhaps my dad and I should revisit our original debate.

I sincerely hope that the girl gets the justice she deserves and that the sentence (place your hand on the bible, folks) does not factor in the faith these, ahem, evil people adhere to.

Friday, May 06, 2005

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. find out what it means to me

A real shame to see the return of George Galloway at the expense of Oona King in Bethnal Green and Bow. I was sincerely hoping that this Stalinist throwback would disappear into the political ether. But alas, he's back, having ousted Oona King on a single issue: the Iraq war. Ms King has served Bethnal Green and Bow (one of the country's poorest and most ethnically diverse constituencies) since 1997 and has won plaudits for her hard work, especially on housing. In any other instance you would expect her to be returned without question. But Galloway, utilising his (unfathomable) popularity with Muslims, fought this election on a single, national (in fact, international) issue and won.

This is a man, as we all know, who snuggled up to tyrannical despot Saddam Hussein (whose hands were still warm from recently gassing thousands of Kurds to death), and said: "Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability." Apparently, this quote was "taken out of context". Really? Perhaps the preceding lines were full of fierce admonishment, but he stuck that on the end to finish on a positive note. Maybe the full text went something like this: "Saddam, you are a vile and murderous villain. A bandit elevated to statesman. You are human excrement but, sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability." He might as well have got down on his knees and gobbled the old tyrant's cock. No doubt that would have been "taken out of context" by the imperialist, capitalist media as well.

Galloway's return is a pox on us all.

A bespoke election

As desired, we got Labour with a reduced majority, and there were plenty of gains for the Liberal Democrats too. Perfect.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Why we’ll be voting Labour again in this election

Not with any great enthusiasm, you understand. This isn't 1997. There's no sense of change or imminent renewal at this election; just resigned acceptance of four more years of the same (not withstanding the inevitable swap of Blair and Brown at some point). But nonetheless, it's going to be Labour getting our vote again.

For several reasons.

Just picture the abject horror of waking up on May 6th (too old to stay up all night and watch the results come in now - not like in '97) and discovering that Michael Howard, that odious arse-leech, and his band of nondescript political lightweights (truly, the term ‘shadow cabinet’ has never been more appropriate) are suddenly running the show. Imagine Howard’s smug, grinning, punchable face on the front page of all the newspapers and just feel the dread that would still arise from having the Tories back in power, eight years after the landslide that buried them. It doesn't bear thinking about. Yes, it's a sad reflection on our current political situation, but the fact remains: for all New Labour’s faults (and there are many), their principal advantage is still Not Being The Conservatives.

The Conservative Party has fought a bitter, nasty little campaign. Who can blame them? They need all the help they can get. Their continued attempt to make immigration the central issue was vile, as were the personal attacks. They were also hypocritical: trying to make political capital out of a war they backed and continue to back is duplicitous in the extreme. Luckily, most polls show that it is all backfiring. Come Friday morning, Michael Howard will be considering his position and his party will be right back where they started: rudderless, visionless and offering no real alternative for anybody.

Not that this is good for our democracy, which requires an effective opposition to operate properly. Blair has been spoiled for eight years with a massive majority and a weak and divided opposition. The ideal situation for this election would be for Labour to be returned with a majority, but nothing like the one they have enjoyed these last two terms. Perhaps one that would require working more closely with the Liberal Democrats, who have yet to convince anyone that they are ready to run a bath, let alone a country. (Charles Kennedy seems like a very nice bloke, and he's probably a great laugh down the pub, but try and picture him at a sit-down with George Bush and Dick Cheney. You can't, can you?) But a Labour government with a small Lib Dem coalition would be ideal. Labour's authoritarian streak could be kept in check, Kennedy et al would get exposure to the actual running of government and the Tories would be relegated to Britain's third party. Everybody wins.

The fact is, with the divisive issue of Iraq aside, Labour are still the only party worth voting for in 2005. At least, the only party who can actually form a government. Even if you hate Blair for Iraq, it's not worth risking a Conservative government for it: they would have done exactly the same, perhaps even earlier. Instead focus on the facts: enormous increases, with more to come, for education and the health service. By 2008, when the spending peaks, we will actually be spending the same (or thereabouts) proportion of GDP on health-care as France and Germany. This is significant. Incredibly expensive, and it will result in inevitable tax rises some point soon, but significant all the same. Much can also be said about their handling of the economy. Handing interest rates decisions to the Bank Of England was a brilliant move and we have had eight years of continuous growth. Much of it has been serendipitous - a government can only take so much credit in a global economy - but Gordon Brown has been a very good Chancellor by anybody's standards and will also, we suspect, make a very good Prime Minister. This is important, because in a way we are voting for him on Thursday.

So, Labour. Not perfect, by any means, but in the absence of a true alternative, there is nobody else deserving of our vote at this moment in time.