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News International – why I was wrong AND right.

A few weeks ago, when all this broke, a mate rang me and asked what was going to happen.

Not much, I said. It’ll get covered up and I can’t see Murdoch suddenly becoming vulnerable.

Yeah, I know. I know.

That said, I think it was a rational expectation. Knowing what I know, it was hard to think it would go anywhere.

For a start, it’s nothing new. Rebekah Brooks admitted paying police for stories as far back as 2003. And this all really kicked off in 2005, with the Guardian’s revelations of Glen Mulcaire, then Operation Motorman and the subsequent Information Commissioner reports in the Guardian and BBC.

2005. Six years ago. It’s practically Paleolithic in terms of freshness. That Hugh Grant ‘bugging the bugger’ stuff happened in April, but it didn’t cause much of a stir outside of the small-circulation magazine where it was published. It’s only now he’s being invited onto Question Time.

Phone hackings, dodgy stories and a shocking corporate culture? Old news to those who read News of the World? Fake Sheiks and Royal Trappings, published in 2009.

Apparently staff used to record each others’ phone calls. Can you imagine working in an office with that kind of culture?

The public could have gone crazy at any of these points but they didn’t. They waited until the stream of shit was too much to ignore.

Then it kicked off because a dead white girl’s phone was hacked.

There’s a certain irony in that.

But there were other things that I said. One was that the Met was heavily compromised. I’m going to say that I was right on that one- with all the heads rolling I could set up my own bowls club.

The other – still yet to come through, but I’m sure that I’m right – is that this goes way beyond the News of the World.

For a start, the NotW wasn’t Mulcaire’s best customer. It only just made the top 5 at number five, beaten to the punch by that guardian of public totty morals, the Daily Mail – and it’s sister, the Mail on Sunday.

It would be nice to think that the mail was heavily investing in serious investigative journalism, but what are the odds?

The other reason is boringly corporate. NotW made money hand over fist with its stories, boasting a circulation most editors would kill their mothers for.

So do The Sun and Daily Mail.

And you know what sells? the dirty secrets of public figures.

Remember the McCanns? Putting them on the front page guaranteed a rise in circulation that day. People wanted to know about the saga of a dead white girl.

It’s not a shock – I know that the media is also supposed to be a guardian of the public, but they are also corporations that insist upon quarterly growth. Amazingly, corporations care more for money than anything else.

And I know the public are supposed to be informed participants in democracy, but mostly what they like is reading crap.

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Great Kid, Don’t Get Cocky

As we now know, Labour brought home a pretty impressive victory: + 800 councillors and +26 councils.

My local councillors have been particularly smug about it.

Especially given that Labour failed.

Yes, you heard me; Labour failed. It hoovered up votes merely not not being Tory or Lib Dem – not in government. And yes, I know; Labour gained a ton of councillors and councils, translating into effective power – how can I say they failed?

Because they didn’t win in Scotland. In fact, they got a fair kicking. The Scottish voters took some 20 seats away from Labour, 9 from the Lib Dems and 3 from the Conservatives – and handed them all to the Scottish National Party.

And what makes Scotland special? The Scottish National Party.

English voters have three viable parties to vote for: one is Labour, whose Blairite wing worked hard to alienate its base in government and still hasn’t had time to sort itself out (assuming it will). The other is the Conservatives, who have consistently trailed with negative approval, due to their counteractive cuts and badly-thought-out reforms to public services. The third is the Lib Dems, a party doomed for a kicking for giving up on so many election pledges and siding with the Tories’ worst economic instincts.

Scottish voters had a left-of-centre party they could vote for that wasn’t any of these groups.

But that leaves those of us south of the border with…what? What other parties have managed to distort the normal two-horse race enforced by the First Past The Post system to become viable politically repositories for our votes?

None, that’s how many. It’s great to see the Greens get a toehold in Westminster, but that’s only one MP out of some 650 of them That said, any small lefty wanting to try break out, should probably be doing it now. I’d like a serious, left-wing, party to vote for.

The desire for something different to the pre-market parties is clearly there – that’s what made punters give a resounding ‘meh’ to the Big Three last time around. Labour were obviously on their way out, but there wasn’t enough trust in the Tories to actually let them win and even the Lib Dems actually lost seats in that election.

But, until we get some choice in our politics, votes will simply rattle round from party to party like flies trapped in a jar.

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It’s A Brand New Day

Today is a glorious day. We have spent our rage at the Lib Dems by annihilating the party. No matter that the party at large had been taken over by the Orange Book mob, leading to the very Blairite shift that allowed the front bench to work with Cameron. No matter that the Conservatives are still trundling along without a mandate and are the real danger, with their incredibly badly thought-out plans that will mostly likely damage an economy still reeling from Thather’s reforms. No bother that people are returning to a Labour that broke many of the same promises, turning the NHS into a market system, wanting to privatise prisons, introducing tuition fees and more. We’re angry because we were willing to believe Clegg so soon after Blair and we needed to hurt the party.

No, wait, that sounds bad.

Today is a glorious day. The people, having realised their error, have flocked back to the Labour party in droves, willing to overlook Labour’s broken promises forgotten in the need to give Clegg a good kicking. No more will we have a third party, but we shall return to the two party my-turn-your-turn lack of political choice that has existed for the last century. The people shall return to Labour; they have no choice.

No, wait, that sounds awful.

Today is a glorious day. The Conservatives’ irritating ally, already junior, has finally been reduced to insignificance. Any braking effect the Lib Dems may have had is gone; those granola-munching, sandal-wearing wussy Liberal Democrats have been pushed out of sight. The left, as always, has again turned to factionalism and self-harm, proving that they weren’t good enough to run things anyway. Now to get on with fixing the economic dog mess they left behind by following in the footsteps of Thatcher and Friedman.

No, wait, that sounds even worse.

As you can see, I’m having a trouble finding an upside to all of this.

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The biggest argument so far for AV is the opposition

February 20, 2011 Leave a comment

This week I happened to blearily catch Tory and No to AV Finance Director Charlotte Vere on BBC ‘news’ (it’s not a patch on the Today Programme) arguing against the AV voting system.

Now, I’m not really a fan of AV; I think that it’s too small a step from our current system (First Past The Post) to really make a difference.  I also think that the other elements in the bill, such as redrawing the boundaries (like that won’t lead to gerrymandering) and  fewer MPs (further centralising power) makes the bill pretty unpalatable on it’s own.

But there is one thing that makes me vote yes; the ‘No To AV’ campaign.

Which brings me back to Charlotte Vere; 2010’s unsuccessful Conservative candidate for…the Green’s only success, Brighton Pavillion.

One of the things Vere argued was that AV was bad because it allowed fringe parties in.  I’ll bet.

But she started with a rant about how confusing and complicated AV is.

Because ranking your choice in order is really complicated.

Well, yes, I suppose it could be, but mostly in the sense of ‘which one of these do I actually want to vote for?!’ I’ve said it before, but what we really need is something that allows for ‘none of the above’ or even ranking against so you can say ‘whichever one gets in, for the sake of [insert personal deity here] don’t let this git near power!’

It’s insulting, basically.  Most organisations use some form of ranking method in their voting systems – the student union, national unions and even political parties for feck’s sake.

Political parties use some form of AV for leadership votes.  David Cameron was elected on an eliminationist ballot.  Labour used a straight-up AV method to pick Milliband.

At this point the No campaign (and let’s remember people in both major parties are involved there) isn’t just saying ‘you’re dumb’, it’s saying ‘you’re dumb because you’re not one of us’.

Classy.

And even Students’ Unions use an AV method for voting.  Students, a group constantly ragged on for being constantly drunk, not being able to write and without ‘life skills’ (whatever they are – usually ‘making money’ and not ‘learning to clean up after yourself’).

Of course, if you really want a laugh, compare the No to AV and Yes to AV ‘mythbusting’ pages.

Now, like I said, AV is a pissy method for our elections.  I know because I researched a project about it last year for my governance module.

You see, Labour promised electoral reform and quickly got on with an investigation into what worked.  The result wasn’t AV – it was more PR based.  But what it was didn’t matter, because Labour didn’t like the idea any more now they’d sussed how to work FPTP and kicked it into the long grass with another investigation.

Which said broadly the same thing.  As did a third report.  At that point they  put Jack Straw, a man who despised the idea of electoral reform onto the case, just to make sure it died.

So, yeah.  I don’t like the bill that’s been passed, but my influence on that is pretty low.

But I can vote for a new voting sytem and, which I think it’s far too little, far too late, I’ll go for it.  Because if you can judge a man by his enemies, you can do the same with ideas.  And on that count, AV starts to look pretty good.

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Bad news for the Coalition

January 23, 2011 Leave a comment

YouGov has a poll out today (.pdf file)- and it doesn’t look good for the government.

On the economic front opinion is down.  Last October, 46% of those asked thought that the cuts were too deep and could tip the economy into a another recession.  That number has finally topped 52%.  Only 10% ‘don’t know’, showing how polarising  views on the economy are.

Interestingly, 50% support making the 50p tax bracket permanent, an idea that seems to be unthinkable in parliamentary circles.  Although this question doesn’t have a comparator from a previous period, it does match social trends data, which consistently  said that lower earners should be paid more, while top earners were worth less than they received.

Things are less certain with the government’s planned NHS reforms (which, I should point out, are very reminiscent of the GP fundholding scheme they failed to bring in last time). 25% approve of the changes, while 39% think they’ll end badly.  Interestingly, 36% don’t know how it’ll pan out.

In addition, only 16% think they NHS plans are well thought out, while 50% think they’re not.  Hardly faith in the coalition’s competence.

Things aren’t much better in Free Schools: those polled are split almost equally on whether or not ‘free’ schools are a good idea/bad idea/don’t know.  Interestingly, the ‘Big Society’ element is a non-starter: while only 26% would like a ‘free’ school in their area (compared to 33% against), only 6% would actually want to get involved.

It kind of strengthens the argument that some things are state activities, some are charitable/community acts and that people want schools to stay in the former area.

Overall, I’m not surprised.  Again, it’s worth remembering that even after 13 years of New Labour rule, the Iraq war, various scandals and rising indequality, the Conservatives still couldn’t scape up anything like a majority.

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Baroness Warsi: Still Pointless

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Yesterday, the newspapers were full of Baroness Warsi’s apparent plans to claim that anti-Muslim ‘Islamophobia’ is the last great bigotry of our time.

Of course, that’s not true;  the Baroness used homophobia in her election leaflets. The ones saying that the reduction of the homosexual age of consent to 16 was:

“allowing schoolchildren to be propositioned for homosexual relationships.”

Not to mention the Daily Mail’s hideous cartoon about the gay couple and the Christian B&B.  So there’s at least one other form of bigotry it’s OK to indulge in…

Oh, and she also said that three MPs owed their seats to electoral fraud (but has, to date, refused to back up her claims).

I’ve asked before what use she is and I still don’t have an answer.

EDIT: This was about Warsi, but the more I think about it that’s a bad thing.  She’s just the messenger for a bigger problem, as described below:

The Baroness used speech yesterday to yet again push the government’s religious agenda; a more important item than the one focused on the papers chose to talk about and what this post now focuses on. Of course, it’s a load of crap.  So let’s unpick it, shall we?

I want to make the case against the rising tide of anti-religious bigotry.

(Which, according to the online dictionary means:)

big·ot·ry

bigotry pronunciation

/ˈbɪgətri/ Show Spelled[big-uh-tree] Show IPA

–noun, plural -ries.

1.stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.

It’s an interesting word, really; I mean, it’s pretty absolute and lacking in nuance.  In India, widows used to be burned alive on pyres.  If I say ‘this is a disgusting practice and the people who do it are monsters’ am I being bigoted?

Or am I rightly pointing out a terrible abuse against the person carried out in the name of tradition?

Faith and Reason go hand in hand.  This is a point the Pope has made consistently over the last few years.

You know, I don’t really think that appealing to pope as a moral authority is really going to work.  Got someone who hasn’t systematically covered up child abuse?

Also, faith and reason don’t go hand in hand.  That’s the point. One says ‘I believe’, while the other says ‘prove it’.

And I’m all up for things being proven.  Seriously, if all this were proven tomorrow – the world being made in seven days, everything designed by one creator, Heaven and Hell, all that jazz – I would change my views.  Or, as Tim Minchin put it,

“I will take a compass and carve ‘fancy that’ on the side of my cock!”

And we’re just getting started…

Controversial stories are inflated by the media…detracting from serious faith-based debate…and leaving us with a situation where instead of philosophy, we’re fed anti-faith phobias.

Well, at least she’s almost half-right about something – the media does come up with bullshit ‘news’ items that work on ‘scary muslim furriners’.  How do we know?  Well, look up blogs like The Media Blog, Angry Mob and Enemies of Reason.  These, and more, do a lot to pick apart stories based on deliberate misunderstanding to blow up a story.

And, as gets pointed out repeatedly, the point isn’t about religion (probably good, given that these papers tend to push their own Christian sensibilities – they’d be swapping one Middle Eastern import for another Middle Eastern import).

The point is that ‘Muslims’ has become a code phrase for ‘darkies’, The Other – they who are visibly different, who Aren’t Like You And Me, We’re All Right Eh?

There’s a reason why the Daily Mail is popular on Stormfront and it’s not for the financial section.  Anyhow…

A phobia is an irrational fear.

This is important, because it’s actually a good point for a change (don’t worry, it goes back downhill from there).  Phobias are irrational and that’s why I get angry when my thoughts on the Abrahamic faiths (seeing as they’re the big ones in our society) are passed off as irrational and wrong.

Beyond the central conceit (that books with people so primitive they thought periods were spiritual uncleanness and not a necessary part of fertility, can somehow hold secret truths of the universe)  I can point to all kinds things simply unacceptable in the modern world.  Slavery  (Exodus, Leviticus, etc), misogyny, the domination of man over woman (Genesis 3:16 – and the rest), homophobia (Leviticus, et al), child abuse and all kinds of immoral stuff.

I can also point to similar unacceptable views within the Koran, but I think you’re getting the point -and as an Abrahamic faith, it covers much of the same ground.  And, for the really quite freaky views of Haredi/Charedi Jews, try this podcast.

The Skeptics’ (sic) Annotated Bible is quite good if you have spare time as it provides the quotes in context.

And if that’s not recent enough for you, consider the Catholic child abuse scandal.  Not ‘dodgy priests in Ireland’ as she downplays it, but the fact that a huge global church co-ordinated priestly protection after raping many children – up to three figure numbers for individual priests.  Not to mention hiding assets so that they don’t lose anything when sued and playing the waiting game (sadly an effective one, given the high death rate amongst victims of abuse).  If this was a state institution it would be torn down, its staff sent to prison and the papers screaming blue murder – none of which we see happening to this religion.

I’m not saying that religious people can’t be moral or have progressive views or whatever, but for every faitheist who lives a quiet life and is good to their neighbour, there’s another who demands special rights to act…well, like a bigot…based on what they can’t prove to be a superior truth.

Both claim to work from their faith, which does make me scratch my head.  How can the ‘Good Book’ be so terrible and encourage such terrible behaviour?  When I do something right or wrong, I don’t have an excuse to hide behind; when I’ve formulated a course of action, all I have is my own reason.

And this is why I can’t understand the government’s rush to ‘do’ religion.  As Channel 4’s Factcheck pointed out when the Pope came over, about half of the country described themselves as having ‘no religion’.  That leaves about half of the country split between the Big Three, Sikhism, Buddhism and the rest.

She then goes on to use a scene from The West Wing, where the president silences a critic by bringing up all kinds of Old Testament nuttery.  To the Baroness, this means:

These texts from the Old Testament could so easily be manipulated to cause mischief, and indeed have been manipulated in the past.

But being religious means making choices and understanding the central values of your faith.

It also means considering the context in which that faith was formed.

To be an adherent, one must also be a historian.

To me, it simply proves that the moral superiority claimed by religion is so much rubbish.  Things change, and social mores change with them.  Many philosophers and influential figures of our time have had feet of clay; we can work around them and their dodgier elements.  The difference is that the people who act cultishly around them *coughcoughrandianscoughcough* are worshipping people who can be taken down because they were simply people.

When the source is proclaimed to be some moral force beyond human comprehension (kind of Cthulhu with feathered wings) it puts them beyond proper scrutiny.

The thing is, government is secular; it has to be in order to function, to be all things to all people, as is required, not favouring any one group of them.

Until then, there’s always going to be a divide, and the coalition’s willingness to have secular government to ‘do’ religion is just another example of them rushing out yet another ill-thought plan that will, once again, screw things up .

Coming Back

January 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Well, my stint as the student mag’s Executive Sub Editor is coming to an end.

This means I’ll be giving up my editorial blog and coming back here.

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