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.

Joementum

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.

Yawn.

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

Daisy

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 "...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.