Sunday, December 24, 2006

Robots Are Not Going To Demand Legal Rights

There are some government sponsored reports that really make you laugh. Unfortunately you then realise that we are bloody paying for them. This article from the BBC gives a prime example.

"Robots could one day demand the same citizen's rights as humans, according to a study by the British government. If granted, countries would be obligated to provide social benefits including housing and even 'robo-healthcare', the report says."

This idea is pure, unadulterated rubbish. Robots will not be demanding rights in 20-50 years if ever. As one internet commentator put it "My roomba can barely find it's way out from under a chair, much less petition for a revised Emancipation Proclamation." In any event, if robots demand rights then we can deal with it at the time. What is the government possibly going to put in place in case this happens?

To put the current state of robotics into perspective, the Toyota robot (shown above) fell over at a recent public event. Unfortunately, it isn't able to get back up again on its own. I suppose it could be offered the same rights as the morbidly obese - they suffer from similar issues.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Disgraceful Waste of Money

Good to see that the television licence tax fee is being put to good use. A story in The London Paper reads as follows:

The wild Radio 1 Christmas party left bosses with a sore head as they paid a £30,000 bar bill for DJs and staff last night.

The likes of Vernon Kay, Fearne Cotton and Pete Tong all gathered at the three-floor Sound club in Leicester Square, which has recently undergone a multi-million pound refurbishment, enjoying the fresh sushi and huge amounts of alcohol.

I hope they enjoyed their sushi and alcohol paid for by 228 hardworking houses. I cannot take the BBC's demands for a licence fee increase above the rate of inflation seriously while they waste money on events like this. Privatise it.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Monster Raving Boring

I know that the Monster Raving Looney Party is supposed to be pointless, but for many there has always been a little sense of affection for their lightening of the democratic dialogue. Unfortunately, I think their time and any possible relevance has passed, even though party leader, Alan Hope, looks remarkably like Boss Hogg.

A recent stunt (reported here at the BBC) was an effort to drum up publicity. The big idea: make Mondays part of the weekend. What a crazy, mad cap idea. I would love to meet the comic genius that came up with that one. Surely there were a million better ideas. In fact, why did they choose an idea that has already been adopted by most socialist governments in the EU?

The sad part of all of this is that Ian Duncan Smith will probably be forced to announce this idea as part of a Tory policy review next week.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Please Send Cash

Hazel Blears has apparently "spilled the beans" about the potential for a snap general election. In a letter to Labour Party activists she is quoted as writing, "In the New Year we face real challenges, the election of a new leader, local elections and the need to prepare for the forthcoming General election, which may be less than 16 months away." That would put the next election at around March 2008. The Mirror chides her for revealing this top secret knowledge, but I can't be the only one that sees it as a transparent cash call ahead of loan repayments. There is a distinct smell of desperation here...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Best To Think Again On This One

A Department for Work and Pensions press release has revealed an unfortunate acronym. The press release here refers to the fact that all public sector bodies had to set out how they plan to promote equality for disabled people by December 4th. Unfortunately, this initiative is known as the Disability Equality Duty or D.E.D. How did that pass the scrutiny of a raft of consultants?

The Harsh Hand Of History

We aren't the only ones that think George W. Bush might be the worst President that the US has ever had. An article from the Washington Post entitled 'He's The Worst Ever' concludes the following:

"Historians are loath to predict the future. It is impossible to say with certainty how Bush will be ranked in, say, 2050. But somehow, in his first six years in office he has managed to combine the lapses of leadership, misguided policies and abuse of power of his failed predecessors. I think there is no alternative but to rank him as the worst president in U.S. history."

Monday, December 04, 2006

Jesus Camp

Watch the complete movie of Jesus Camp, the controversial documentary that follows an evangelical Christian summer camp for children to learn and practice their "prophetic gifts" and prepare to "take back America for Christ."

This really is quite scary...

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Fellow Blogger Highlights BBC Music Monopoly

This is a couple of days late, but I wanted to highlight some research for the ERC conducted by fellow blogger Andrew Ian Dodge (Dodgeblogium). I personally think he has this point absolutely spot on. It's not surprising that the effective State monopoly on music distribution has ruined its competitiveness in the same way as it has other British industries in the past.


Britain's music industry is is in crisis; sales of singles and albums are collapsing while digital downloads - often illegal - are exploding. Meanwhile UK artists are failing to exploit the new technologies and sales channels that could give them a competitive edge and the record companies continue to work on a pre-digital redundant business model - one where they have a monopoly of recording, releasing and distributing music.

The Economic Research Council, Britain's oldest economic think-tank,has commissioned music technology expert Andrew Ian Dodge, and a published author, blogger and rock musician to explore how the UK could regain its past glory in the music industry. Jo-Anne Nadler, former Radio 1 producer and now an established political commentator and author has written the foreword. The paper describes the current crisis, how artists and the recording labels could adjust to the new digital era and what policy changes government should enact to make this possible.

Please find below a quote from Dodge based on his paper, which is entitled, "Creative Destruction in the Music Industry - THE WAY AHEAD"

Dodge, highly critical of the BBC's monopoly of the airwaves which has stymied musical innovation says; "Still top-quality British music is ignored in favour of BBC-approved bland pap."

Furthermore, Dodge bemoans the music industry's failure to adjust to the new digital era.

"Choice for consumers to access music and for bands to promote and produce their wares continues at an impressive rate. The music business continues to stare at the oncoming future like a deer in headlamps."

Poor Losers

There is a great article in the LA Times that discusses the underlying reasons for the hardening of US public opinion in relation to Iraq. This short excerpt gives you a taste of the author's view:

"Indeed, when partisans claim that the American people are fed up and want our troops home, they're deliberately muddying the waters. The American people have never objected to far-flung deployments of our troops. We've had soldiers stationed all over the world for decades.

"What the American people don't like is losing — lives or wars. After all, you don't hear many people complaining that we still have troops in Japan and Germany more than 20,000 days later."

Deluded About Delusion

I am increasingly using Political Opinions to sift through the mountain of political commentary posted daily on UK blogs. Every now and again I come across a posting that is either brilliant and deserves praise or terrible and deserves ridicule. I came across one at Chris Whiteside's blog that unfortunately falls into the latter category.

Chris describes himself in the third person as "a Conservative activist, living in Cumbria with his wife and young family. He has held a wide range of posts both in the Conservative Party and as a councillor and school governor, and is currently a Vice President of Copeland Conservatives."

Chris posted an entry a few hours ago that left me Engaged and Angry rather than Disillusioned and Bored. I tried picking out pieces of the article here, but I felt that I was doing him a disservice and that I could be accused of taking him out of context. So regrettably, here is the entire text:

The Dawkins Delusion

Professor Richard Dawkins is brilliant at explaining biology in a way which many people can understand. However, his objection to religion sometimes verges on the unhinged.

Ironically, both his recent book, "The God Delusion" and his plans, if correctly reported in the press, to send rationalist material to schools, are open to exactly the same charge which he has brought with some justice against the supporters of so-called "Creation Science" and those who want "Intelligent Design" taught in schools.

From now on, I shall use the expression "The Dawkins Delusion" to refer to the fallacy that science can either prove or indeed disprove the existence of God.

Science is a means of testing how the physical world works. It is a very effective method, and nobody who is interested in the truth has anything to fear from it.

The scientific method consists of putting forward a hypothesis which is capable of being tested and disproved by real world evidence, and checking that hypothesis against the evidence. If the facts line up with the hypothesis, you stick with it: if repeated tests fail to reject the hypothesis, it is promoted to a theory. But if the facts disprove a hypothesis or theory, it has to be discarded, and replaced either with a completely new idea, or a new, modified version which can explain the new data: and which has itself to be tested against the facts.

However, only ideas which are capable of being disproved have anything to do with science. In the past, various religions used to put forward ideas about how the real world works which were indeed capable of such checking: for example, the idea that Heaven and Earth were created on 26th October 4004BC at 9 o'clock in the morning, or the idea that Winter is caused because the daughter of the Goddess of the Harvest had to spend six months of the year in the underworld. We now have very strong evidence suggesting the likelihood that the origin of the earth is closer to 4000 million BC than 4004 BC, and we can explain Summer and Winter because the axis on which the earth spins is tilted towards the sun for part of the year at any given latitude, and away from the sun at other times.

But while some ideas or religious origin are capable of being scientifically tested, others are not. For example, the structure of ethics which is associated with any religion, and also fundamental to the running of human society, can be assessed using logic, but is not subject to science. How could you devise a scientific test of the principle that murder is wrong, for instance ?

Further, both belief and disbelief in a God are philosopical and religious positions, but not scientific ones. I do not believe that any human test could possible be devised which could prove beyond reasonable doubt that God exists, or that He doesn't. Both the Theist and the Atheist have to make a leap of faith.

"Intelligent Design" does not belong in a science class, because there is no way you could conclusively disprove it. Neither do Professor Dawkins's atheist views for exactly the same reason. His belief that this religious position is scientific is The Dawkins Delusion.

I'm glad that Chris bothered to write the article because it will be clear to any reader that he doesn't understand a word of The God Delusion. Has he even read the book? It might be a good start.

The examples Chris gives in his article of scientific progress are not really cases of "putting forward a hypothesis which is capable of being tested and disproved by real world evidence". They are in fact examples of evidence backing up a hypothesis. The balance of this evidence is then used to discredit views based on weaker or no evidence. His penultimate paragraph sums up his misunderstanding when he says "Both the theist and atheist have to make a leap of faith." Wrong, wrong, wrong! The point is that there is NO leap of faith. Rational decisions based on the balance of evidence are made, rather than blind judgments based on dogma. These views will then be adjusted when new or better evidence comes along. This is the strength of a rational, scientific point of view, not a weakness. Intelligent design doesn't belong in a classroom because there is no evidence to support it, not because it cannot be conclusively disproved. Darwin's theory does, because there is.

There is no requirement for the atheist to prove that god does not exist, the burden rightly falls on Chris to prove that he does. He should try proving that a tennis ball that I insist is invisible and untouchable doesn't exist. Hard isn't it? Does this put it beyond the scope of science? No, it probably puts me in a loony bin!

In his book, which incidentally I do have on my desk, Dawkins quotes the following from Bertrand Russell who puts it far more eloquently:
"Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than the dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time."

Dawkins also covers Chris' points on intelligent design and ethics, but I'm afraid this post has gone on far too long already. Maybe he should buy the book here.

Update: I just wanted to add the following from Wired on Dawkins' view of the disproval approach to science that Chris is so fond of:

"Dawkins' style of debate is as maddening as it is reasonable. A few months earlier, in front of an audience of graduate students from around the world, Dawkins took on a famous geneticist and a renowned neurosurgeon on the question of whether God was real. The geneticist and the neurosurgeon advanced their best theistic arguments: Human consciousness is too remarkable to have evolved; our moral sense defies the selfish imperatives of nature; the laws of science themselves display an order divine; the existence of God can never be disproved by purely empirical means.

"Dawkins rejected all these claims, but the last one – that science could never disprove God – provoked him to sarcasm. "There's an infinite number of things that we can't disprove," he said. "You might say that because science can explain just about everything but not quite, it's wrong to say therefore we don't need God. It is also, I suppose, wrong to say we don't need the Flying Spaghetti Monster, unicorns, Thor, Wotan, Jupiter, or fairies at the bottom of the garden. There's an infinite number of things that some people at one time or another have believed in, and an infinite number of things that nobody has believed in. If there's not the slightest reason to believe in any of those things, why bother? The onus is on somebody who says, I want to believe in God, Flying Spaghetti Monster, fairies, or whatever it is. It is not up to us to disprove it."

"Science, after all, is an empirical endeavor that traffics in probabilities. The probability of God, Dawkins says, while not zero, is vanishingly small. He is confident that no Flying Spaghetti Monster exists. Why should the notion of some deity that we inherited from the Bronze Age get more respectful treatment?"

Friday, December 01, 2006

Time For A Shake Up

Over at The Appalling Strangeness, the newly named(?) Nameless One has had an epiphany about the Conservative party. In his own words:

"Fuck the fucking fucks who are in charge of the Tory Party. I have had enough. Fuck 'em. I didn't vote for Cameron, and thought he was a bad idea as party leader. But I never realised he would be this bad. I never realised he would sell the soul of the party for a cheap headline over and over and over again. And I never thought that the likes of Hague would join the crappy Cameron revolution, but it turns out I was really wrong. Really very wrong. The entire Conservative leadership has dropped everything and started panting like a teenage boy on heat at the first glimpse of the pussy lips of electoral success."

He goes on to say:
"I have no idea what the Tory party stands for anymore, but they sure as fuck do not stand for what I believe in."

And herein lies the essential problem with the British political system. Put simply, the first past the post system has led real political debate to the lowest common denominator. It is like the old economic example of ice cream sellers on the beach. In this tale, two ice cream sellers start at opposite ends and get 50% each of the potential business. One guy has the bright idea that if he moves to the middle then he can take all of his half and half the other guy's business as well. So, where does that leave the other seller? Well, he has to move to the middle as well in order to get his business back.

The razor thin difference between the Labour Party and the Conservatives is the political equivalent of the ice cream sellers. In purely rational terms, Cameron is in exactly the right place, but in terms of a vibrant, relevant democracy we are falling very short. A system that is supposed to be representative at its heart is anything but.

Now I'm no fan of ideology and ideological difference. It is ideology that led us into two world wars and that shaped the second half of the twentieth century through the cold war. Let's face it, we don't want a return to the rabid left/right politics that leaves no area for understanding and consensus, but neither do we want watered down political choices. In my view this points us in the direction of a true multi-party system in which the political framework serves to aggregate views rather than the failing, over-mighty party structures. In essence, a more proportional system in which voters can choose a political party that more closely maps their views. These would be parties with a real chance of power sharing and an ability to shape government if they were part of a ruling coalition. This would be in sharp contrast to today's minority parties that make shrill, niche demands knowing that they will never have to deliver.

Many people will throw their hands up at this concept and use the old adage that a proportional system of government is a weak one. My response to that is four-fold:

1) This need not necessarily be the case and there are examples of countries in which single parties do get a majority of the electorate to support them;

2) The way in which a more proportional multi-party system is implemented will have a major impact on the government's strength and weakness (more on this below);

3) Arguing purely for strong government rather than a truly representative democracy is a little like arguing that certain people shouldn't vote. As a democrat, I am happy to bow to the will of the people and would rather that is expressed truthfully rather than filtered through the FPTP system; and

4) Do we really want or need strong government? One lesson from both the Labour and Conservative periods in office is that strong government does not necessarily mean good government. I am not opposed to gridlock and I'm certainly happier with gridlock than the ever tightening grip of a government elected by a minority of people. It is this "strong government" that enables the passing of countless additional laws.

So how should a more proportional system be implemented? One of the major criticisms of proportional systems is that we would lose the link with constituencies. This need not be the case. Why not have a model that increases the size of constituencies from the existing 60-65,000 to 600-650,000 electors. Have 10 seats for each constituency and award these proportionally on a constituency basis. I'm no mathematician, but this would much better reflect the desires of voters than first past the post in which a majority of votes can effectively count for nothing. At the same time, this system would enable smaller parties, of many different shades, to campaign on local and national issues and gain representation if enough of the electorate shared their views. I see no problem with that.

While no system would be perfect, it is likely to address the issues highlighted by the Nameless One. He would be free to set up a party with other like-minded souls and, if enough people shared their views, they could get representation. I for one would feel less Disillusioned and Bored.

P.S. I am not a Liberal Democrat and please don't confuse me with one.

Well Done Britain!

A regular column from Our American Cousin...

As I have written before, we Americans frankly pay very little attention to your politics over there. True to that, this is not about Tories, Whigs or the Queen's marmalade and whatsuch.

Rather, a recent study by two Welsh professors has caused quite a stir over here. I am referring of course to the Antikythera mechanism recently "decoded."

It raises real questions, namely, how does the material record go from no "part" calculators to a full blown lunar calculator? Didn't someone start with a Jr. version that could at least predict the phase of the moon for the next day? I mean, 82 pieces is a lot for being the only one.

But those musings aside, I just wanted to say well done by Wales! Glad to see Cardiff in the news, reminding us Yanks that Britain isn't just London, but a big country with a lot going on, even "two hours and a million miles away."

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Leave The Kids Alone

We are obsessed with sick children in this country. If you were as unfortunate as I was to watch little Nikkita on GMTV this morning you will have probably been as disgusted with the show as it made me. A patently miserable child was paraded in front of the British viewing public to try on wigs to cover her alopecia. The cooing by the presenter Kate Garraway (yes, the one married to New Labourite Derek Draper) when the eight year old put on her wig probably reinforced the inner views of the child that she looked terrible without it. On the contrary, Nikkita looked like a perfectly sweet child without the wig and very uncomfortable with it on. GMTV describes this as making a child's Christmas wish come true. That's a fantastic, somewhat gimmicky goal, if true, but does she really need to be paraded on national television to "earn" this wish?

GMTV also led their news with footage of Gordon Brown. Now I'm sure we all feel terribly for any parent who has a child with an illness and this certainly extends to Gordon Brown, but have we become such an emotional wreck of a country that these stories need to be front page and headline news? What has happened to a respectful silence and distance on these issues?

Update: I have been linked to by Team Alopecia and wanted to welcome visitors from that site and invite any thoughts or comments on this story.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Adoption Of The Voluntary Code Free Zone Badge

So far I have received confirmation from the following sites that they are using one of the Voluntary Code Free Zone badges on their sites. Please comment below if you have added and would like to be listed here.

Self-Confirmed Badge Adopters
Musings of an Owl
The Appalling Strangeness
Right Links
Corporate Presenter
Looking For A Voice
Danvers Baillieu
Saxon Times
The Select Society
The Chosen Man
The Last Ditch
Prague Tory
I'm About To Be Brilliant
The Thunder Dragon
Not Saussure
Famous For 15 Megapixels
Robert Sharp
Out From Under
The Morningstar
Nourishing Obscurity

Update: A brilliant article at The Select Society comparing the blogosphere with mainstream media.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I Will NEVER Sign A Voluntary Blogging Code

If there weren't already too many intrusions into our daily lives, with CCTV cameras on every corner and substantial data mining of our every digital activity, the Press Complaints Commission Director Tim Toulmin has today called for a voluntary code of conduct for blogs (here). I have never heard of a more ridiculous concept and any suggestion of this in the United States would be shot down in seconds.

Alastair Campbell was quoted as saying that "some of the most offensive stuff" comes from blogs. Well I suppose he'd know, but so what? Why is nothing allowed to be offensive anymore. Here's something offensive for them: I think Alastair Campbell and Tim Toulmin are shitheads and parasites, sucking the life out of the country.

There are two main reasons that I will NEVER sign a voluntary code:
1) Existing laws of libel cover everything written on this site
2) I believe in the internet as a free speech zone. This blog should not have to be answerable to a Quango

I'm sure that there will be some that look at a voluntary code as a way of preventing legislation. This is not a reason to sign. We should also fight legislation above and beyond existing laws. Now is a time to campaign forcefully against this before it builds a head of steam.

The New Cold War

Great commentary here from a fellow blogger at The Appalling Strangeness on the recent killing of Litvinenko. I agree that this was probably a state sponsored killing designed to send a message to other critics of Putin's regime.

Like something out of a spy thriller, another leading Russian and 72nd Richest man in the world was critically ill after "crashing" his Ferrari Enzo in Italy (here). The plot thickens...

Tough Times Ahead At The Beeb

With Michael Grade's departure to ITV, the BBC looks like it is going to have more trouble getting through the proposed licence fee increase above the cost of inflation. It now seems as though getting an increase even in line with inflation will be tough.

I'm a fan of the BBC. I like some of their programming and enjoy both the news website and their radio content. However, as a firm believer in free markets, I think the BBC distorts and disrupts the UK media market. I can fully understand the desire to cater to niche markets, sports and areas of public life that we feel need to be protected, but why on earth does the BBC need to chase ratings with programmes like Eastenders. That is a show that could be entirely funded by third party advertisers and certainly needs no public subsidy. The same could be said of the extremely funny and extremely overpaid Mr Ross. Of course he does a great job with his chat show, but this raises the same questions about what the BBC exists to provide. There are many top UK business executives (Michael Grade might now be among them) who would be hauled over the coals for receiving a pay packet this large. How on earth can it be justified for a man who is effectively a civil servant?

The BBC should be stripped back to core programming. There is no need for it to have four or five digital channels. The website should take advertising revenue and a smaller core should be refocused on high quality, public interest programming. The rest can and should be provided by the private sector.

Arguments for retaining the BBC typically turn on the quality of the shows produced. I would understand this argument if I saw shows that lived up to this promise - Celebrity Scissorhands certainly doesn't. The US model proves that when media companies are left to their own devices they produce great output. Think of ER, The West Wing, The Sopranos etc., etc. Where are the UK equivalents? ITV is in their current position precisely because they let quality deteriorate. The market has spoken and ITV now has to lift its game.

The BBC is the second largest public body after the NHS. Is this really appropriate in a modern western democracy?

Triangulating The CBI

There has been a massive amount written in the last few months about the triangulation tactics of David Cameron. His decision to miss the CBI conference and head to Iraq instead is the next move in his repositioning of the Conservative Party. James Harding, writing in The Times, states:

"The conservative leader has been an energetic advocate of the peripheral, if valuable, role of corporate social responsibility. He has been a champion of the climate change agenda, which may be a global good but is still a cost to business. He has talked more about work-life balance than the balance of payments; he has called on people to look beyond GDP to GWB, general well-being. He has not yet shown himself to be comfortable with capitalism, a champion of British companies committed to the grubby but essential business of wealth and job creation.

"The mistake will only add to the growing doubts about the Tory leader in British boardrooms, stoking the perception that he has an unreliable and ambivalent attitude to business."

He totally misses the point. There is no doubt in my mind that Cameron is as pro business as previous Conservative leaders. The difference here is that Cameron understands the value of symbolic gestures. It is entirely in his interest for the CBI to be up in arms about him missing the conference and the more public this spat becomes the better. The image that it plants in the mind of the electorate is that he's pro the little guy rather than big business. This is in sharp contrast to Tony Blair who was at the conference this week giving advice to British Airways on their religious obligations.

What surprises me is that there are many in the media who are sucked in by these blatant political tactics. I suppose it proves that you can still fool some of the people all of the time.

From The Streets of Cuba

From dig4beats at Flickr. The guy on the right is Luis Posada Carriles:

The Full Monty

The first test of the Ashes series was a huge disappointment. England didn't look as though they could bowl the Australian cricket team out once, let alone the twice that will be needed to win a test. So, the first change England need to make is the substitution of James Anderson for Monty Panesar. More late nights and miserable mornings to come.

Monday, November 27, 2006

BA At A Cross Roads

I have read with interest the debate about whether British Airways employee Nadia Eweida should be able to wear her cross to work. Setting aside the fact that television interviews show that she is clearly barking mad, I still believe that BA has every right to ask her to remove this religious item.

Tony Blair weighed into the debate today at the CBI with the following, "If you want my really frank advice on this: one of the things I have learnt in politics is there are battles really, really worth fighting and there are battles really, really not worth fighting. All I would say to you is get the right side of the line on that one. That's my honest advice." An interesting view of the world from a man who claims to be a conviction politician, but not surprising given Tony Blair's own religious beliefs.

The battle lines have been drawn on this issue and I am a firm believer that it should become a wider debate about the role of religion in society. For those of you that have not read Sam Harris' excellent book "The End of Faith", he makes a strong case for taking the debate to religious moderates. I have attached a video below of a talk he gave in 2005. Well worth a watch (just skip the first minute).

Great Political Ad

This is a terrific political ad from Argentina. Much better than the usual bad mouthing and negativity.

Crimethink On The Rise

The police are putting together a database of men who are most likely to commit crimes in the future (here). In an extraordinary step, this will allow the police to single out people who fit a profile of potential criminals. In the words of Laura Richards, a senior criminal psychologist with the Met's Homicide Prevention Unit, "“My vision is that we know across London who the top 100 people are. We need to know who we are targeting... There are some pretty dangerous people out there, so you need these risk models to wheedle them out, separate the wheat from the chaff". Why am I not surprised? One more step on the road to totalitarianism. It all sounds very reasonable, sensible even, until they're knocking at your door.

"The thought police would get him just the same. He had committed—would have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper—the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it. Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you."
- George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 1

Why Should We Apologise

Tony Blair has come under pressure today to issue a formal apology for Britain's role in the slave trade (here). While he's apologising for that, he might also want to apologise for the numerous deaths that occurred in the Tudor period. Many innocent people were killed in the religious and political struggle to keep one family in power. In particular, the Prime Minister should issue an apology to the family of Richard III, a man who was cut down in his golden years by a future head of state. Alternatively, we could realise that apologies for the sins and events of generations past mean little and achieve less.

Defending The Right To Cause Offence

More calls from the police to curb our freedoms (here). This time, it isn't the burning of flags that's an issue, but it is coming from the same source, the Met's Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur. The Met is now calling for powers to crack down on protesters that are causing offence. A recent report states, "there must be a clear message that we will not allow any extremist group to display banners or make public statements that clearly cause offence within the existing law".

I'm disgusted by these continued attempts to curtail our rights. We must defend the ability to cause offence. As despicable as many of these protesters are, they must be able to put forward their views. We can then counter them with our own reasoned arguments if we disagree. What we shouldn't do is put the police in charge of censorship. That road leads to a dangerous and dark place.

Scarier still is this quote from the same document, "The result has been to create an imbalance in public perception that is manifesting itself in passionate responses from elements of the community not traditionally given to publicly protesting. What we are seeing in effect is a rise in the politicisation of middle England and the emergence of a significant challenge for capital city policing." I for one am all for passionate responses and the politicisation of middle England despite misgivings from the police.

Intelligent Education?

An extraordinary article here in the Guardian that reports on a number of schools that are teaching Intelligent Design as "a critique of Darwinism". Any teacher that promotes this pseudo-religious nonsense has no place in our schools. It is not part of the curriculum and has no role in a science lesson. If we are going to go down the creationist path in the UK then we will be unravelling hundreds of years of enlightened thinking based on evidence, experiment and peer review. Unfortunately this is the logical next step in our crusade for religious tolerance, with tolerance defined as not being able to question another's unsubstantiated beliefs.

Here is a terrific lecture by Richard Dawkins on his new book "The God Delusion"

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Environmental Camouflage

A quick read of the Early Day Motions always yields some interesting rubbish. I found this entertaining motion that was submitted by Timothy Farron, Lib Dem MP for Westmorland & Lonsdale:

"That this House notes with concern that the world's largest container ship, Emma Maersk 3, is to land in the UK from China bringing with it 45,000 tonnes of Christmas gifts and foodstuffs, all of which could have been purchased from British manufacturers and farmers; deplores the impact on the environment of transporting halfway around the world items that could have been produced nearer to home; calls upon the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to launch an immediate review into the economic and environmental costs associated with the Emma Maersk 3's cargo and journey; and calls upon the Government to take action to tackle damaging effects of unfettered free trade."

Now let's think about the real motivation for this post. Is it
a) The environmental harm done by shipping goods and services; or
b) No regard for the environment, but a love of protectionism, higher prices for consumers and probably higher inflation?

The environment has become the absolute base case answer now to any issue. Have a problem with the NHS? It's the environment. Have an issue with Christmas shopping? It's the environment. Fell down and scuffed your knee? It's the environment.

At least there aren't many MPs that feel the same way. The only other Member that has signed it is Bob Spink, but hold on he's a Conservative. Does anyone else think this is a case of a Tory going mad?

UPDATE: Bob Spink and Tim Farron have been very busy. Tim submitted nine other Motions at the same time and wow, Bob Spink has signed seven of them. What a lunch that must have been!
Bob Spink must be a "renta-signature" as he seems to sign almost any EDM put in front of him. What I don't understand is why Spinkers didn't sign the Public Lavatory Provision Motion below. Maybe he doesn't like public lavatories.

"That this House believes that the provision of public lavatories is a vital public service and notes with regret the closure of public lavatories over recent years, including a quarter of those in South Lakeland; recognises that these closures have a particular impact on older and disabled people and those with young families; also notes the recent National Consumer Council survey of 2,000 adults, which branded Britain's public lavatories a `national disgrace'; and calls upon the Government to make the provision of public lavatories a statutory duty for local authorities and to provide the necessary resources to enable them to do so."

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Political Kids

Here in the UK we are pretty tame when it comes to the children of politicians. Apart from Euan Blair being found in the gutter drunk underage, there aren't many stories. Not so in the US. There is a fascinating 'blind item' on Wonkette entitled "Guessing Game Results: The Cokehead Daughter". It is from April this year, so I'm a little behind, but I only found it because of this article (here) that discusses New York Governor, George Pataki's daughter Emily. Apparently she failed her New York bar exam. The things you learn on the internet eh.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

National Statistics

There is a great article by Liam Halligan in today's Sunday Telegraph (here) that examines the current role of official figures and the steps being taken by the Labour government. It makes for pretty grim reading. Here is a snippet:

What concerns me most is a practice called "pre-release" which allows ministers to see official data before it is made public. Most developed countries don't allow this. Of those which do, the United States gives ministers data 30 minutes before publication. In France and Ireland, it's an hour.

In the UK — uniquely — our ministers get to see official numbers at least 40 hours before publication, and in some cases no less than five days in advance.

This allows our rulers to issue their own press release at the same time as the official numbers are published. In other words, they can capture the news agenda — which, as Holt says, means "objective, independent, authoritative analysis of what is happening in our economy and society is simply swept to one side".

A national disgrace.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Big Deal

The Iraqis must be ecstatic. Gordon Brown has promised them £100 million to help rebuild their country (here). What a ridiculously small and wasteful offer. The US has spent more than $30 billion on reconstruction, so what's a feeble £100 million between friends other than more taxpayer money wasted.

UPDATE: This is actually over three years!

Friday, November 17, 2006

When Will The BBC Learn?

I am genuinely sick and tired of comedians appearing on Question Time. For a program that is billed as the BBC's premiere panel discussion it is simply not good enough. I don't want to hear any more crap answers from people who know less about the topics being discussed than most of the audience. That seat would be better filled by somebody who can add something to the debate.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Channel 4 News Podcast

Part of this blog (here) was read out on Iain Dale's Channel 4 political podcast today. You can listen to that podcast here and you can visit Iain Dale's blog right here.

He's Finally Let Them Down...

I love the coverage in today's press (here and here) that has criticised Michael Jackson for not performing at the World Music Awards. I'm particularly fond of the fans who are quoted as saying that Michael "let them down". Good to see that this is what finally let them down and not the numerous child abuse court cases. I think some people need to put Michael in perspective. Personally I wouldn't have let him into the UK and certainly wouldn't let him perform. I get the same level of discomfort listening to Michael Jackson as I do hearing anything from Gary Glitter.

Gordon Brown Through The Ages

The Times has an interesting article here on how Tony Blair has aged over his time as Prime Minister. I thought it might be interesting to do the same for Gordon Brown. The results are quite scary.

Can you guess which one is the before and which the after?

George H. W. Bush Blames Bloggers For US Political Climate

Last night on Fox News, former President George H.W. Bush said the current political climate has “gotten so adversarial that it’s ugly.” Asked to offer an explanation for why there is this “incivility,” Bush pinned the blame on bloggers. Unfortunately, blaming bloggers for the political climate is a little like blaming the clouds for rain. It might seem that they're causing it, but it's a gross simplificaton. Bush Sr. should know better.

You can watch the video here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Blair Bursts Cameron's Bubble

It's amazing how quickly smiling and small talk can turn to cutting and stabbing. If you'd seen Tony Blair and David Cameron walking from the House of Commons to the House of Lords you would have thought that the two of them were best of friends, sharing a laugh a joke and a story about their kids. Fast forward 35 minutes and you'd be forgiven for thinking that they wanted to disembowel each other.

The imminent lifting of a burden can have a liberating effect and that was certainly the case for Tony Blair in his post-Queen's Speech exchange. It was as if the shackles had finally come off. In fairness, Blair was helped by the large number of ridiculous things Cameron said over the course of the summer. In particular, the hideous comment about "sunshine ruling the day" came back to haunt him.

Gordon Brown looked as if he was about to prolapse on the seat next to Blair. I expected to look in the dictionary and see Gordon's face under the phrase "the cat that got the cream". The only problem is that there's an election process to go through. Gordon looks well placed today, but things can change in a heartbeat.

The lesson from today is that Cameron is vulnerable. Blair finally burst the honeymoon bubble and there will have been a lot of nervous Conservative MPs sat behind him. I've said it before, but I think the Labour Party will be full of regrets as they wave goodbye to their best political operator.

Queen's Speech Promises Even Less Freedom And A Little More Interfering

What a fascinating Queen's speech. The number of plots and sub-plots playing out were extraordinary. Firstly there was the terrific symmetry of this being Tony's last State Opening of Parliament as leader and it being David Cameron's first. Then there was the fact that Gordon Brown's shadow hung over the affair like Charles Clarke's stomach over a belt. And if that wasn't enough we also had Gordon Brown walking along side Menzies Campbell, his potential partner in a hung parliament. Phew... and that all took place before the Queen even started speaking.

A lame duck Prime Minister is a wonder to behold. The very nature of political power in the UK is such that governing is through the will of your party. John Major learned this to his cost as he saw his majority slowly whittled away and his supporters defect. For Tony Blair, the loss of power has been his own doing. He is definitely now "in office but not in power" and Gordon Brown's fingerprints were all over the speech without being entirely visible.

In terms of content, the speech set out a very busy legislative agenda. The main focus: security, law and order. In other words, how many more ways can we restrict the rights of decent law abiding British citizens without doing a single thing to combat the real causes of terrorism or societal breakdown. Other key areas were the tightening of regulations on estate agents (?), scrapping the Child Support Agency (a good idea) and the extension of road pricing schemes (a bad idea).

Two other areas are of real interest. The first is the extension of powers for the Mayor of London. I simply cannot believe that we need to put more power in the hands of Ken Livingstone. If ever there was a poster child for greater government centralisation it was him. Giving him greater power will just continue London's land grab for more and more tax payer money. If anybody thinks that the congestion charge is about the environment then they need their head examined. The second is the creation of an independent board to monitor government statistics. I have written about the issue of poor government statistics here before. I think that this independent board is a good first step, but why not put it in the hands of the Opposition. At least then it will have political teeth.

So, all in all a pretty interesting day in UK politics, but more for what was going on in the background and behind closed doors than for what was happening in the full glare of the Royal set piece. What is clear, though, is that this Labour government still hasn't learned that less is more as far as legislation is concerned - 29 bills!!!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Gordon Shows His True Colours

I am no fan of the BNP and find most of what they say repugnant. However, Gordon Brown has shown an extraordinary contempt for free speech in his latest comments (here). Gordon is quoted as saying "Any preaching of religious or racial hatred will offend mainstream opinion in this country. We have got to do whatever we can to root it out from whatever quarter it comes. And if that means we have got to look at the laws again, we will have to do so."

What on earth has the offence of mainstream opinion got to do with anything? The whole point of speech being free is that it should be allowed to offend. We are searching for truth, not the lowest common denomominator of offence. It is this focus on not offending people that leads to a plethora of subjects being beyond debate in the UK. This is particularly true in the current war against terror.

If we have a problem with what the BNP is saying then we should debate them and win through the strength of our arguments rather than through a banning order. Today, we are not taking on their ridiculous remarks with logic. Instead, we are in danger of turning them into martyrs for freedom.

Charles Bradlaugh, the 19th Century political activist, once said "Without free speech no search for truth is possible... no discovery of truth is useful... Better a thousandfold abuse of free speech than denial of free speech. The abuse dies in a day, but the denial slays the life of the people, and entombs the hope of the race." It is about time we rekindled this spirit.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Weasel Strikes Again

Alan Johnson might be the greasiest of greasy political operators and it comes as a surprise to nobody that he has decided to take himself out of the running for leader of the Labour party. In what can only be described as "careful" language, he has set out his reasons for supporting Brown:

"there was a feeling throughout the party that Gordon Brown is a towering political figure" and "a great intellect"

Why is it a "feeling throughout the party"? Is it not the feeling of Alan Johnson? As always, New Labour statements are more about what they don't say than what they do.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Two Of Britain's Better Political Commentators

Unfortunately they both live and work in the US.

The More Things Change...

A regular column from our American chum.

Well, big news today from your former colonies. The Democrats have taken control of the House and quite possibly the Senate. I am very excited by it, and not because I think much is likely to change. After all, that's the way the system is meant to work. Outside of a supermajority in Congress like the Republicans had after the Civil War, our system is designed to stifle radical change (our founding fathers took the lesson of Athens and the Mytiline debate to heart). And with the razor-thin majority the Democrats won, I don't expect them to be able to make any significant moves.

Rather, I am excitied today because of the shock I expect this will send through the corridors of the White House. Our executive branch was beginning to fancy itself a little bit too much like your executive branch (e.g., HRH ERII). The idea that referendums can occur more than every four years, that power must be shared among three branches and can be reassessed every two years by the people--this is likely an alien concept to Bush & Co. So what will happen today, as they wake up on Mars? Initial platitudes about bipartisanship, of course, but I expect by March we will see fierce and intractable gridlock and deadlock in Washington. Power is never surrendered easily.

Given all the challenges before us--budget deificits, the war in Iraq, rising healthcare and entitlement costs, education, transportation infrastructure, and clearly divisive social issues--many would argue deadlock is the last thing we need. But I would disagree. I will take checks and balances over imperial presidencies any day. We must always remember that when our government can't get anything done, it is working just the way the founders intended. 200 years later, and the system still works--so a great day indeed!

The Minuteman

The Death Of Privacy - Part 2

I didn't have a chance to blog last week, but it was interesting to see the UK Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, come out and state that we are now in a "surveillance society". I wrote the same thing here a week before his announcement and I agree wholeheartedly. My concern remains that politicians and political parties are too spineless to confront these issues. As with so many issues, there is not a clear party choice for those of us that would like the State to mind its own business.

EU Regulation

The letter that Iain Dale has received from MEP Christopher Beazley on internet TV regulation (here) is precisely the reason that I cannot stand the European Parliament. What a lame, democratically impotent institution it is, populated by turkeys and idiots.

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

It comes as no surprise that the government figures given in a question about tattoo removal on the NHS were wrong (see BBC here). It follows a large number of high profile mistakes by a number of departments. The most notable of which was the recent Home Office account of the number of foreign criminals on the loose in the UK. These cases lead to two questions. The first is whether we should take any government statistics at face value and the second is how we ensure suitable oversight. The answer to the first is that all government statistics should be treated with scepticism. The second is more difficult to answer. I think it might be time to put in place a fully funded "Opposition Civil Service". This would be an organisation funded by the tax payer and answerable to Her Majesty's Opposition. They would be experts in their specific fields and would be able to provide the figures that could expose the continually poor data coming from the government. We can no longer leave this oversight role to amateurs and luck.

The Attorney General Must Step Aside

There has been much written on this topic on other blogs and in the mainstream media and I wanted to add my voice to the rising volume of discontentment. The Attorney General cannot and must not have an oversight role in the cash for peerages scandal. He is a direct appointment of the Prime Minister, a man who is at the centre of these allegations. He must recuse himself from any involvement in this prosecution.

Read more at Guido. Check out Angus MacNeil's Early Day Motion here.

Monday, October 30, 2006

What On Earth Is He Talking About?

I have now watched this post from David Cameron about five times and still can't figure out what he's trying to say. It feels a little like Conservative strategy is being developed on the basis of whether something sounds cool and new rather than rigorously thought out. It also feels directionless and a little pointless. Seems a bizarre way to conduct policy development, but each to their own I suppose.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Spineless Johnson Damages His Deputy Leadership Bid

Good article here from the Guardian that links Johnson's decision to back away from taking on faith schools to Labour MPs who were worried about losing their seats. Good to see that he's a conviction politician who's willing to take on his critics in order to convince them of the strength of his argument. He's shown the same spinelessness on this issue that he has demonstrated by only shooting for the number two job. Nice to see a politician found out before he does too much damage in a senior role.

Update: Oh dear, Hazel Blears is now going to run for Deputy. British politics is now just a celebration of mediocrity.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Protect Flag Burning

There is an article on the BBC website (here) that quotes police chiefs as being in favour of banning flag burning. There are two issues raised by this. The first is where on earth fo the flag burners get all these flags? The second is that flags are not sacred objects and as long as their burning does not give physical harm to others then the right to burn them should be protected. The police will always demand greater powers. We must demand that our politicians keep them in check.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Death Of Privacy

We aren't so much sleep walking as charging head on into a world in which the State can follow our every move. There are CCTV cameras in every town centre and on nearly every road in the UK. Traffic cameras can read our car number plates and will soon be able to automatically track our movements on the roads. Internet and telephone records can be searched by the police with the appropriate approvals. Most financial transactions are digital and can be tracked. An ID card is in process that is likely to become a piece of compulsory documentation. The NHS is building a system to keep track of all of our health details for life. Children from "high risk" backgrounds are being identified at birth. And now The Times is carrying an article about Blair's endorsement of the police collecting the widest possible database of DNA.

Blair is quoted as saying: “Politicians are more resistant (to the database) than the public. The public think, if this is helping us track down murderers, rapists . . . then go for it.”

This is the standard argument put forth by those that would like to curtail our freedoms. Now, I have nothing to hide and would feel very comfortable giving my DNA to the police to exonerate myself from a particular crime, but I don't believe that this data should be saved indefinitely and used to sweep randomly. My concern is not with being accused of acts deemed major crimes today, but the potential for the government to impose future laws that I may then fall foul of. As the State becomes better at linking data from different departments, who knows where future connections will be drawn.

Is it beyond our imagination to picture a future in which even our genetic make up is scanned at birth and our lives effectively mapped out for us on the basis of prior data. A national database would be the first step and then the connections with other data would begin: crime, health, education. Where will data collection and analysis stop and State coercion begin?

The government doesn't need this data and the idea that all the citizens of the UK need to lose their basic freedom - privacy - in order to catch a tiny number of criminals that could not be pursued on a case by case basis is lunacy. It's like using a steam roller to crack a nut.

Tony Blair makes an interesting observation when he says that "politicians are more resistant". They should be as our elected representatives. My concern is that they will not be resistant enough.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Can Of Worms

Iain Dale and a number of others (collectively the English Constitutional Convention) have co-signed a letter to the Daily Telegraph (here) calling for an English parliament and the resolution of the West Lothian question. I admire the sentiment and understand why calls for constitutional change have arisen. However, simply setting up an English parliament is unlikely to happen without raising a number of other issues.

The constitution of our country has developed over many years and is not enshrined in a single document in the way that it is in the US. In addressing the constitutional issues raised by this group, we are bringing forward the need for one. David Cameron has already called for a separate Bill of Rights and this is part of the same trend. A written constitution will only be as good as the people who draft it. I have absolutely no faith in our politicians to deliver a document that can stand the test of time in the way that the US constitution has, so who would be involved. Clearly, it would have to go to referendum, but who would lead the debate on the issues and how? Can we avoid anything other than a messy compromise? Is that necessarily a bad thing?

While we are debating a written constitution, there are three other areas that will be obvious and likely areas for debate. The first will be the role of the monarch, the second will be the electoral system and the third will be the Union. I welcome this debate and I think there is much that is wrong with the political system, but let's be clear that any changes will be sweeping.

So, let's open the constitutional can of worms, but we need to beware of the consequences.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Are You Having A Laugh?

You have to read this story here in the Telegraph. It claims that the British Council is sending "comedienne" Shazia Mirza to India to make jokes about the veil. This is supposed to show that Britain is a free and civilised society. Anyone in India who has the misfortune to see Ms Mirza is more likely to get the impression that the British have lost their legendary sense of humour. She is NOT funny. I've seen her a couple of times, once in a New York comedy bar, and she is dreadful. An interesting lesson for those wearing the veil: take it off, mock it and achieve far more than you deserve.

Leave Sport Alone

Richard Caborn is calling for the Jermaine Defoe "bite" to be investigated (see BBC here). For those of you who didn't see it, the Tottenham striker took a nip at West Ham's Javier Mascherano. It wasn't a terrible incident and certainly wasn't the Eric Cantona two-footed kick into the crowd. The Football Association is likely to deal with it based on their own established processes and rules, however, Caborn feels the need to interfere. Why is this something that a Cabinet Minister feels that they need to comment on? Government has no role to play in this.


Our regular column from Our American Cousin.

I spent the weekend in the wilds of Connecticut, and saw a fresh crop of signs for our impending mid-term elections. Mathematically, I take it as a foregone conclusion that "Joltin' Joe" Lieberman will win as an independent: the Democrats were split, so he's got some of their votes, the Republican is literally a gamble-holic whom his own party won't back, so that gives Joe a nice slug of the Republican vote--which puts him over the top. In and of itself disappointing, as he is quite boring, but even more disturbing because he will likely hold the balance of power of the Senate in his hands. Am I terrible for minding that mostly, not because of policy, but because I find him insufferable to watch. He sounds like the dad from A.L.F., whiny and ineffectual.

Hopefully the Nutmeg State will come to its senses, and save the rest of us from six more years of this very boring human being who mistakenly believes we enjoy seeing him in the spotlight.


I Can Smell Bad Legislation

An article in today's Times (here) analyses the reform of the Lords that Blair is looking to "rush through" parliament before he stands down. The parliament act will be used to override the Lords and ensure that the debate on the options is curtailed.

If this is going to be the modus operandi of the last few months of Tony Blair's "presidency" then ill thought out, bad legislation will be the order of the day. This Labour government will never understand that with legislation, sometimes less is more.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


As the election process warms up in the US and focuses more and more on the external terror threat, here is a campaign ad from Lyndon B. Johnson. This is one of the most famous campaign ads in US politics.

Ummm Secular State Anyone?

The Sunday Times carries an excellent article today by Bryan Appleyard (here) that looks at the role religion should play in the UK. The associated editorial is one of the lamest that I have ever read. You can read the entire thing here, but my favourite part is " it time to move to the American or French models with their formal separation of church and state? There is no easy answer. But it is a pressing question." Er, thanks very much for raising the question. A point of view would be helpful. Why does nobody in this country have any convictions any more? Why are people not able to say what they think?

Trevor Phillips Isn't Helpful

I've grown more and more irritated by Trevor Phillips over the last few years. Now, as head of the Commission for Racial Equality, he has gone too far. I have no idea which side of the debate Mr. Phillips is on as he talks out of both sides of his mouth and is impossible to pin down. His comments this weekend about the potential for race riots over the veil debate are fuel to the fire and could make riots that little bit more likely.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Falling Short

So, Clare Short decided to resign the Labour whip yesterday. Here is her 2005 general election campaign leaflet. I notice that there is no mention of electoral reform. However, she does ask people to "vote for me so that we can work together to build on the good things and correct the mistakes." What a difference 18 months can make.

In Short's letter, that you can read in full here, she argues that "after a lifetime of service to the Labour Party and 23 years in the House of Commons I think I am entitled to discuss what has gone wrong with the government and our political system in my remaining years as an MP." I heartily disagree. I am no fan of our political system and the way in which the party whip is abused, but Clare should have thought about this in 2005. Her electorate voted for her based, at least in part, on the leaflet above and the official Labour manifesto. If she wanted to stand on her own platform then she should have run as an "Independent Labour" candidate. She didn't because she knew she'd lose.

Her resignation of the Labour whip is the last publicity stunt of a tired and shameless politician. The electorate in her constituency should be calling for her resignation and a by-election. If she truly believes she is supported by the people who voted for her then she'll be happy to oblige.

Conservatives Should Be In Favour Of Scottish Independence

It doesn't take a genius to look at the electoral map of the UK to realise that the only party that shouldn't be pro Scottish independece is Labour. For the Conservatives, the debate is a little more complicated and has to balance traditional Unionist instincts with electoral reality.

There is now a distinct possibility that the next election will deliver a hung parliament. These have a chequered history in the UK and have typically been short-lived. The 1929 hung parliament survived until the election in 1931 and the 1974 hung parliament didn't even last a year. A key issue for the Tories will, once again, be the lack of seats in Scotland and Wales.

In the 2005 election, the number of Scottish seats at Westminster was reduced from 72 to 59 in order to rebalance the system following the formation of the Scottish Parliament. The results were Labour 41, Liberal Democrats 11, the SNP 6 and the Conservatives 1 (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale). While this wouldn't have meant a Conservative government in 2005 (the overall results were Labour 356 seats, Conservatives 198 seats), it would give the Tories a better chance of winning at the next election.

The constitutional jumble that has been created by a meddling Labour government has already created a two tier system of MPs, with Scottish members able to vote on issues that do not impact Scotland. It is difficult to see how this "West Lothian question" can be resolved in the near term and there seems little likelihood of the costly Scottish Parliament being aboloished, so where do the Tories go?

The Unionist instinct would say "keep the Union intact at any cost". However, the alternative may not be that bad. The divide between England and Scotland has grown wider and wider over recent years and this was highlighted earlier this year when a number of high profile Scots refused to support the England football team in the World Cup, reflecting broader public opinion. They've never really wanted to be governed from London and the resentment continues to deepen.

Today, a strong European framework exists for Scotland and England to be close political and economic partners. Indeed, an independent Scotland might stimulate economic growth on both sides of the border. There would be no barriers to people or trade and Scots could continue their roles in all aspects of the English economy. If there is an EU dividend then perhaps this would be it. National borders are no longer as meaningful as they used to be.

The argument that this would lead to a break up of the rest of the UK doesn't hold water. Northern Ireland continues its drift further and further away from Westminster control anyway and Wales has no economic option other than to stick with England.

Edmund Burke said "You can never plan the future by the past." It is time to look to a future without Scotland.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Can A Woman Make a Full Contribution In a Veil?

This question was asked on Question Time tonight and the audience contained a suspiciously large number of veiled women. This suspicion was proved when Salma Yaqoob, one of the panelists and a muslim woman, claimed that only 1% of muslim women in Britain wore a full veil. Hmmm...

The full veil is ridiculous. You only have to look at the pairs of eyes gazing out from the Question Time audience to realise that. A man wearing such a garment would be presumed to be a bank robber or worse. The face plays a vital role in human communication and hiding behind a piece of fabric does nothing for integration or interaction.

The hand wringing and complaining from segments of the muslim community is equally ridiculous. There are very few countries in the world that have the number of liberties that are available to all sections of society in the UK. Certainly there are no majority ruled muslim countries that offer these freedoms. Nobody is talking about legislating against veils, but part of living in a free society is the ability to discuss these hot topics.

Oh and on the specific question, my girlfriend made a good point that wasn't made by the panel. Women in a veil cannot participate fully with deaf lipreaders. Which minority should we protecting here?

Experience Required

So, the line-up for tonight's Question Time panel includes Hilary Armstrong, the Cabinet Minister for Social Exclusion. It got me thinking about what sort of experience you need to have in order to get that job.

It's a ridiculous Cabinet position and smacks of classic New Labour speak. I wonder if Cameron will have a Cabinet Minister for Social Responsibility. Can we please stop this nonsense.

Maybe The Next President Of The United States Should Be A Student Of History

President Bush gave an interview last night to George Stephanopoulos on ABC. In this interview he finally admitted that he saw some parallels between Vietnam and Iraq.

I think the world needs a US President that "has that deja vu feeling all over again". Perhaps if George W. had read history books in his youth rather than running failed businesses he would have spotted the similarities between Iraq and Vietnam a long time ago, possibly before the US went in. He might also have spotted the similarities between the client state put in place in Iran under the Shah and the client state put in place in Iraq. Is it the 60s or the 70s revisited? Maybe a little of both.

Watch it here at

Full transcript:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Tom Friedman wrote in the New York Times this morning that what we might be seeing now is the Iraqi equivalent of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam in 1968. Tony Snow this morning said, “He may be right.” Do you agree?

BUSH: He could be right. There’s certainly a stepped up level of violence, and we’re heading into an election.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But what’s your gut tell you?

BUSH: George, my gut tells me that they have all along been trying to inflict enough damage that we’d leave. And the leaders of al Qaeda have made that very clear. Look, here’s how I view it. First of all, al Qaeda is still very active in Iraq. They are dangerous. They are lethal. They are trying to not only kill American troops, but they’re trying to foment sectarian violence. They believe that if they can create enough chaos, the American people will grow sick and tired of the Iraqi effort and will cause government to withdraw