Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

Democracy, petitions and agendas

6 August, 2011

Last Thursday, the British government launched a new e-petitions site to replace the one that used to live at number10.gov.uk. The Guardian‘s report of this was headlined Death penalty could be debated in Commons after e-petition calls, and a surprisingly similar story was later printed in The Metro. At least the latter story had been printed after the launch of the site, and the journalist had done a little checking. The article made reference to the number of signatures on the petitions, which were failing to support the suggestion that “a groundswell of voters” support the return of capital punishment.

The Guardian story, by contrast, gave every appearance of being that laziest form of journalism, the recycling of press releases (often dubbed churnalism). I visited the site as soon as I read the story, to find that it was not yet live. A notice on the front page informed me that it was to be launched that day. Just a little endeavour on the part of The Guardian might have have led them to conclude (as I did) that there was no substance behind the headline. Since the site has been live, the most prominent Petition to retain the ban on Capital Punishment has had significantly more signatures than the top three petitions to restore it. As I type, the figures stand at 15,780 signatures against vs. 10,743 for. We shouldn’t be complacent about this, and I would encourage everybody to add their e-signatures to Martin Shapland’s petition, but as it is the hopes of “Guido Fawkes” seem to be fading.

A more interesting aspect of the story, though, are the words of the leader of the Commons:

Sir George Young warned that it would damage democracy to ignore strong opinions among members of the public “or pretend that their views do not exist”.

The government has, apparently, set a threshold of 100,000 signatures. Any petition passing this figure will go forward to the Backbench Business Committee, who will consider whether it gets debated in parliament. Clearly, George Young was hoping for a stream of reactionary petitions, that would give the government legitimacy to push through measures that are a Monday Club member’s wet dream. Here, they may have shot themselves in the foot.

On March 26th this year, between 250,000 and 500,000 people marched through London to protest against the government’s savage cuts to jobs and public services. If the trade union movement can get such numbers to travel from across the country, to make their voices heard, it should be an easy matter to get less than half that number to sign a petition online. Prominent petitions in defence of the NHS, against cuts, against tax avoidance could be propaganda victories against the Tories. Even if the petitions never get debated, business committee papers should be available, where they will have to give a reason.

However, all that assumes that the system is administered fairly. Will those (potentially embarrassing) petitions ever make it onto the site? It is instructive to look at those petitions that have been created on the NHS. It beggars belief that these petitions represent the true feeling of the British public on our health service:

  • NHS should not be free to all (19 signatures)
  • NHS Priority for Workers (8 signatures)
  • NHS Rules for eligability for free healthcare. (14 signatures)
  • Stop suing the NHS – an alternative petition with a solution (71 signatures)
  • STOP THE NHS’S DISCRIMINATION AGAINST ALZHEIMERS SUFFERERS! (45 signatures)
  • Opt-Out Organ Donor System (55 signatures)
  • Fine patients who fail to attend hospital/gp appointments without giving prior notice. (35 signatures)
  • (four petitions that were not really about the NHS have been omitted from this list)

I am sure there must have been petitions created on the site, calling on the government to withdraw the current Health and Social Care bill, and reverse the process of creeping privatisation that has led the NHS to its current crisis. In fact, I know there has, because I created one titled “Keep Our NHS Public”, yet I am still waiting for the promised email about this.

My petition may simply be stuck in a queue, alongside tens of thousands of others. Maybe the bias in the current petitions can be easily explained by the government inviting a few of their mates to create petitions for the launch day. Or maybe not. I’ll keep you informed…

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tpuc.org, the British Constitution Group and the attack on Council Tax

13 March, 2011

A number of my Facebook friends have recently been putting up links to posts on refusal to pay council tax, YouTube videos showing attempts to arrest judges for treason, and the like. However, there are grounds to be deeply suspicious of the organisations behind these activities, and I remain unconvinced that their cause is a progressive one.

The organisations

The organisations are tpuc.org, The British Constitution Group and Lawful Rebellion. They all have a similar focus: an emphasis on ancient rights under Magna Carta, British sovereignty and conspiracy theories about Zionism, the Bildeberg Group and the New World Order. A whois search shows that the domains are registered to different people, but they link to each other, and there is a certain similarity in visual style. A tenuous connection, maybe, but it seems to me that a connection is there.

Footer of the Lawful Rebellion site

Footer of the Lawful Rebellion site

I can see why their message is attractive to people. At a time of attacks on our standards of living, our jobs and public services, these groups are calling lively protests and sticking it to the man. What’s more, their style is different from the mainstream protest groups. There is a certain new-age-iness and “positivity” about it.

However, these groups have uncomfortable bed-fellows. At a time of rising international resistance to authoritarian governments, austerity, unemployment and cuts, they place an emphasis on Britishness. This tends to lead away from internationalism, and bind them to (elements of) our own ruling class. What’s more, Liverpool antifascists in Liverpool reported the involvment of the BNP in British Constitution Group activities. It seems likely that, similarly to the EDL, these groups have been set up as a kind of united front of the right, aiming to draw in people from autonomist tendencies / the unorganised left.

Is their cause progressive?

One of the campaigns being run from tpuc.org is a challenge to the lawfulness of council tax. For instance, they claim that Wirral Council has admitted to an anonymous person referred to as “Jim” that Council Tax is unlawful. The scanned letters they have posted up, in fact contain no such admission. Assuming they are genuine, all they show is that, in one case, Wirral Council declined to contest a legal challenge.

I admit that I have not taken the time to properly assess the large number of legal assertions contained on the sites of these groups, and that I do not have the legal background to properly assess them, without months or years of study. I also do believe that Council Tax needs to be replaced by a fairer system. However, let’s assume they have proved their case, and Council Tax is unlawful. What would be the implications?

As I see it, if we were all free to refuse to pay our council tax, and all did so, it would mean less funding for councils at a time of cuts by central government. This would mean further cuts to our public services. More libraries would close. Bins would go un-emptied. Social care services for older and disabled people would be cut back further. This would not, of course, affect millionaires in their mansions and gated communities. It would only mean a lower standard of living for people on average incomes and below. It is a campaign that runs in the opposite direction to the attempts by UK Uncut and related groups to raise the issues of tax-avoidance by the rich.

It seems to me that the political standpoint of these groups, while new to the UK, is a familiar one in the US, where conservative libertarian groups such as the Tea Party Movement organise to push for tax breaks for the rich, and  to oppose immigration, socialised healthcare decent welfare benefits, and many other hallmarks of a civilised society. It is a devil-take-the-hindmost political philosophy, where the freedom you enjoy depends on your wealth or ability to impose your will on others. It is something to be opposed.

This drug policy is criminal

2 April, 2010

Yet another member of the UK government’s drug committee board has resigned in disgust.. In his resignation letter, Eric Carlin says:

"We need to review our entire approach to drugs, dumping the idea that legally-sanctioned punishments for drug users should constitute a main part of the armoury in helping to solve our country’s drug problems. We need to stop harming people who need help and support… I am not prepared to continue to be part of a body which, as its main activity, works to facilitate the potential criminalisation of increasing numbers of young people."

I agree completely. It is evident that the current policy of criminalisation of drugs does not work.

  1. It does not restrict the supply in any meaningful way – cannabis, heroin, cocaine, etc. are readily available if you want to seek them out.
  2. The supply is unregulated, meaning that it will often be impure, mixed with unknown substances and of unknown strength, increasing the risk of overdose and other adverse effects.
  3. The supply is placed in the hands of criminal organisations whose business methods are, by definition, unregulated.
  4. Users are criminalised, creating a barrier to those who need help getting it, meaning that a bust as a young person can have drastic effects on future life opportunies.
  5. The policy has no credibility when relatively safe substances, such as cannabis and MDMA are illegalised, while more harmful ones, e.g. tobacco and alcohol, are not.

In fact, illegalisation of drugs has had much the same effect that prohibition of alcohol had in the US in the 20s and 30s. This is not to deny that the drugs in question can be harmful. People need to be educated on the potential risks of using them, and how to minimise the risk if they do choose to do so. It is not helpful when scares stories are published about a handful of deaths from an illegal (or soon-to-be illegal) substance, and when moral panic and proof-by-anecdote replace rational debate.

It needs to be accepted, though, that drugs’ like alcohol, are used for many reasons, and can be used as well as abused. David Nutt, the former head of the advisory committee, has advocated the legalisation and regulation of certain substances. I believe we need to go much further than this – we need to legalise and regulate all drugs.

“BNP members [being] targeted…” are they?

19 November, 2008

I am trying to feel some sympathy for the BNP members whose details were published online. Trying, but mainly failing. Along with many other socialists, trade unionists, teachers, journalists, my details and my photo have been on the despicable redwatch website for some time. Leading members of the BNP have links with this site, which tries to intimidate those who stand up to the peddlers of hate, fear and division in our society.

Unfortuantely, this story has gained them a fair amount of attention in the media, including most of the front page of today’s Metro free paper. They quote an unnamed person in the story as saying “God help anyone who is in the army, the prison service, health care, police officer [sic] or a teacher.” No. God help anyone who has to look to a BNP member for education, justice or care. Police and Prison Officers are banned from membership of the party. If this results in a few fascists being removed from positions of authority, then it will be a good thing.

If and when the BNP condemns redwatch, and makes a sincere effort to get it taken down, I might feel a little sympathy for their members. Doubtful, though.

Police acting in a calm and controlled manner…

30 October, 2008

It is nice to know that if I am ever shot by the police, they will not be jumpy, panicked or frenzied when they do so.

“Everybody is human and we all get excited occasionally but it is the training that enables us to carry out the duties as happened on this day in a calm and controlled manner.”

So says Chief Inspector Vince Esposito. Almost makes you forget what it was they did in such a responsible and public-spirited manner. Shot a man as he was pinned down. Seven times, at close range.

The BBC website has a timeline of the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes , which has one very interesting snippet that had passed me by. At 9.47, more than a quarter of an hour befor Jean Charles was shot, a “senior firearms officer” told the Operations room that surveillance teams had said that the man they were following was not the suspect Hussein Osman. Yet still he was shot, and still lies were told afterwards about how it came about.

Eyewitnesses on the train have told the inquest that they heard no warning given and in fact thought that the police were terrorists. And indeed, if the police are free to act like this, then Terror has won a victory over Freedom and Democracy.