Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Ghostwatch - 25 years on

Tonight is the twenty-fifth anniversary of one of the most notorious of all BBC broadcasts - Ghostwatch. To a casual viewer it looked like a live investigation of alleged paranormal activities, completely with a Crimewatch style studio of presenters and a live phone in. It was fronted by known presenters Michael Parkinson, Mike Smith, Sarah Greene and Craig Charles, along with an academic expert. It even questioned whether the events were a hoax. But over the course of the night things got odder and odder, culminating in the realisation a mass seance had unleashed a poltergeist across the whole country. It ended with the outside broadcast going chaotic, Sarah Greene seemingly dying, the studio collapsing into darkness and Michael Parkinson possessed.

Ghostwatch was in fact a fiction. But it presented itself in the style of reality television, complete with faces known mostly for presenting rather than acting (with the possible exception of Craig Charles), and seemed real. And the giveaways that it wasn't were easy to miss. The BBC subsequently protested that there was a cast list in the Radio Times but this was a year after the deregulation of TV listings that made the magazine less widespread (and in any case it had never had a 100% circulation). There was a caption at the start of the show but many missed this or tuned in after the start. The slot it was broadcast in normally contained drama - but few viewers either followed the schedule in such detail or would have made the connection given the special nature of the night. Not everybody called the telephone number given (which was the standard BBC number - 081 811 8181 - used on real shows like Going Live and Crimewatch). And there were no EPGs then to automatically display information when turning on or over, whilst many television sets, especially bedroom ones, did not have Ceefax.

Did I think it was real? To be honest - sort of yes. At first it seemed as though the family at the house were fooling the BBC and the nation and this double-bluff did convince many. But towards the end things went off the rails and I think it was my sister who realised this was all a fantasy. It's easy to see why so many believed this was a genuine thing and caused such an upcry.

So a lot of people were taken in and there was uproar on a scale not seen perhaps since Orson Welles's adaptation of The War of the Worlds (which was also broadcast at Halloween). For many years the tape of Ghostwatch was confined to a restricted part of the BBC archive, to never be seen again, though they've since relaxed and it's now available on DVD. But it remains unrepeated on British television.

For a whole generation it remains one of the strangest things they've ever seen broadcast. And some rewatch it on cue - tonight look out for #Ghostwatch on Twitter as many replay it at the exact anniversary.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Ukip splinter parties

It's happened yet again. Another new party is to be created by a prominent figure leaving Ukip. How many times has this happened now?

Here's my best attempt at a list, limiting it solely to those created by MEPs, Assembly Members and leadership contenders:
  • Veritas - founded by Robert Kilroy-Silk MEP in 2005
  • One London - co-founded by Peter Hulme-Cross, London Assembly Member, in 2005 *
  • We Demand a Referendum Now - founded by Nikki Sinclaire MEP in 2012
  • An Independence from Europe (and various other names) - founded by Mike Nattrass MEP in 2012
  • New Deal - founded by Alan Sked, Ukip's founder and first leader, in 2013
  • Affinity - currently being founded by John Rees-Evans, leadership contender in 2017
  • "For Britain" - currently being founded by Anne Marie Waters, leadership contender in 2017

(* Lest anyone argue this is actually a splint from Veritas, this one's convoluted because Hulme-Cross's party was confused for a while. When fellow Ukip AM Damian Hockney defected to Veritas there was concern that with one member each neither party would be recognised as a grouping on the London Assembly with access to resources. A "Veritas-Ukip" group was formed to overcome this obstacle but Ukip weren't happy and kicked Hulme-Cross out. Subsequently Hockney left Veritas and the two founded this party together, hence it appears on this list.)

No less than seven.

And that's without including the numerous MEPs who've left to become either independents or join other parties over the years. Or the various other parties formed by local candidates that haven't gained as much prominence.

Have I forgotten any? I'll update this post where necessary.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Who looked for "the 75%"?

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Welsh devolution referendum. Today Welsh devolution seems fully entrenched, with calls for abolition limited to the margins - Ukip were the last significant party to oppose devolution and they ditched that several years back. Last year a group called Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party/Plaid Diddymu Cynulliad Cymru took less than 5% of the vote. Whatever the debate over the detail of powers, devolution looks set to stay.

But devolution wasn't always so popular.

Back in 1997 the referendum passed by just 6721 votes. On a turnout of 50.22%, 50.3% of voters voted for the assembly. This is, I think, the narrowest margin of victory in a referendum ever in the history of the UK.

There are many parallels to the more recent Brexit referendum. A narrow margin of victory. Disagreement about the franchise used for the referendum (it used the local government franchise rather than the Westminster). Dissatisfaction about the timing of the vote (particularly holding it a week after the Scottish vote in the seeming hope of harnessing momentum to encourage a yes vote). A belief the campaigning was one sided with the government of the day promoting their view. Fear that the outcome would inadvertently lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. And so on.

But at the time very little of this meaningfully manifested after the vote. Some of the controversies had arisen during the passage of the legislation to hold the referendums, but the government of the day was highly dismissive and frequently just pointed to its recent election victory as meaning critics should just shut up. The main controversy about the resource imbalance of the campaigns came over a year later when Lord Neill of Bladen's report into political funding said that "a fairer campaign might well have resulted in a different outcome". (12.32 - a PDF of the full report: The Funding of Political Parties in the United Kingdom.)

Notably there was no great attempt after the vote to set it aside. Nobody talked of "the 50%" or "the 75%" or even "the 81%" who hadn't voted for it. The media did not search for regretful voters to hold up as "proof" the mandate had lapsed. There were no noticeable cries of "advisory" or appeals for Parliament to disregard the outcome. When the Neill report came out a year later there was only a minor flurry about its findings and no overturning of the Government of Wales Act, which was already on the statute book.

The odd voice was raised in objection but was invariably dismissed with reference to the democratic outcome. Demands to rethink or review were dismissed. In this regard, it should be unsurprising that more recent referendums have seen much the same attitude after the event.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Why we keep remembering Diana

With the twentieth anniversary of her death there's been an inevitable round of revisiting the life of Diana, Princess of Wales and once more revisiting her death. And naturally many wonder why we do this - surely this isn't the British way? Shouldn't we all have moved on?

But this misses much of the point of that strange week twenty years ago. In many ways it was the closest the UK has come to a revolution in my time. People were sad but also angry. And in particular they were angry at being told what was the "proper" way to do things.

At the time it manifested itself in the uproar about the lack of a flag at half-mast at Buckingham Palace. This was down to "protocol". But much of the public neither knew this protocol nor cared for it. Diana had broken the mould in many ways in life and a large section of the public would not accept old moulds in death. I was one of many in the crowds outside Westminster Abbey and remember the surge of emotion when Earl Spencer delivered his eulogy. The massive applause was the crowd agreeing that the old ways would not return.

That act of rebelling against protocol and tradition has continued. And by its nature people who still commemorate Diana's life and death are not going to meekly stop when someone tells them how things are supposed to be done.

Diana's death was also perhaps the last time the country seemed to be as one. This was probably the last big news story before the internet really took off and gave a platform for alternate and dissident voices. Instead the broadcast and print media still gave most of us the news and there were few ways to say "Not all of us!" Thus for perhaps the final time a single mass mentality could truly drive events. And it rejected traditional steering.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Explaining "Hexit" in maps

For those who haven't seen it, a motion has been tabled in Havering council for the borough to renegotiate its relationship with London. (More details in the Evening Standard: "'Hexit' vote to be held in bid to solve London borough's 'identity crisis'".) Dubbed "Hexit", this proposal, submitted by a Ukip councillor, has generated some interesting posts.

One that caught my eye is Jonn Elledge's piece in CityMetric "The threat of Hexit: could the London Borough of Havering really be about to secede from the capital?". In it he suggests this is because Havering's demographics are far removed from the rest of London. However there are some more obvious reasons why many in that borough in particular haven't always felt part of London.

Havering, for those wondering, is the eastern most London borough. It's named after a royal manor (recorded in the Domesday Book as "Haueringas") which in turn gave its name to a palace and then the village of Havering-atte-Bower ("atte-Bower" means "at the royal residence"). As with a number of other London boroughs, "Havering" is a compromise name, in this case using the name of a small settlement rather than dealing with the rivalries between Hornchurch, Rainham, Romford and Upminster. (Merton and Haringey are similar examples.)

(To save time in the rest of this post, I'll use "Havering" to refer to the area of the current borough, including before its formation.)

Greater London has been around since 1965 but a glance at various maps (all from Wikipeda) will show how both before and afterwards various definitions of "London" have missed out Havering. Let's start with the Metropolitan Police District, which before 1965 was often used as a formal definition of "Greater London" when urbanisation took the natural metropolis beyond the London County Council boundaries.

(The Wikipedia file for this map is confused as to whether it's for 1933 or 1946, but for this post's purpose the relevant part of the boundary is the same.)

Note that in the years leading up to 1965 the Metropolitan Police District incorporated nearly all of what came under the Greater London Council (and some parts that didn't), but there is one conspicuous exception on the map. In the original proposals, it wasn't the only one, but Esher was one of a number of authorities around the edge of the proposed Greater London that were initially to be included but which successfully secured exclusion. Romford, however, tried and failed.

But in day to day life the most significant indicators of where someone lives have tended to be in communications. Landline uptake and usage is now in steady decline, but the London telephone numbers have been a significant indicator. There's been no significant external change to their area since 1959 (the less said about the internal split and re-merger of the 1990s, the better). And so here is a map of the London phone numbers (in red) overlaid on a map of the London borough boundaries:

Note that almost he whole of Havering is outside the London phone code. Sure it's not the only area but it's the only omission that almost completely aligns to a single borough.

A smaller area is the London postal district. Postal addresses are often confusing because they haven't always been adjusted with local government changes, and London is one of the worst areas for this, not having been revised in the 1960s, partially due to funding, partially due to potential confusion between the LONDON postal town and a Greater London postal county. (MANCHESTER and Greater Manchester suffer similar problems.) As a result, the LONDON postal address covers a smaller area than the whole of Greater London:

Havering is one of three boroughs that have no "LONDON" addresses in them at all. (The other two are Hillingdon and Sutton. Some of the other boroughs have only very slight coverage - as little as one road in the case of Harrow.) A related issue is the continued use of "Essex" in addresses. Until 1996 it was a requirement in much of the UK for postal addresses to include the county of the postal town used, even when the postal counties no longer aligned to administrative boundaries. (The Wikipedia article Postal counties of the United Kingdom has the basics.) One curiosity is that "Essex" was never actually needed for address in the ROMFORD postal town. It was one of the 110 towns that did not require a county due to their size (or giving their name to the county).

The requirement for a county was formally dropped in 1996, largely due to a change to optical character recognition technology that did not need it. (But also, another round of local government reorganisation can't have enthused Royal Mail, especially given the confusing situation of some counties like Berkshire continuing to exist without a county council but others like Humberside being almost completely abolished. Just to make matters worse, the changes came in stages.)

One other minor point stands out from some of these maps. The M25 motorway is often wrongly assumed to be the division between London and the rest of the country, to the especial annoyance of many who live or have lived between London and the motorway. Havering is right up against the motorway and even has the biggest chunk of London that's outside it.

Now these maps are obviously not the be-all and end-all of the situation and there are many other ways in which Havering gets the London experience (Freedom Passes for a start). But they do show some of the problems in forging the London identity when not every institution and service uses the same boundaries and thus for many residents "London" is not an ever present part of their own home lives, instead often being something elsewhere. And whereas in much of Greater London the 1965 expansion was clearly a case of administration catching up with the expansion of the metropolis, in the case of Havering London-wide bodies all suddenly arrived at once. It's surprising how long it's taken the 1965 changes, both to the London boundary and the individual boroughs, to settle in. Even today you can find boroughs still pursuing policies to integrate their separate components, such as "one borough" mottos or locating new council buildings directly on the old internal boundaries.

If the postal addresses and telephone codes had been adjusted back in the 1960s then it's probable this issue wouldn't have come up. That, rather than the demographics, seems the more likely explanation for the underlying issues behind this, even though the Hexit vote itself feels more like posturing by a political party in severe decline.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Arrival of the Cybermen

For those who enjoyed this evening's Doctor Who, here's a special blast from the past - the first full introduction of the Cybermen from The Tenth Planet back in 1966:

Note that you can see the actors' eyes under those masks. With any other monster fans would cry out. But with the Cybermen it's very appropriate...

Thursday, June 01, 2017

The This Week election introduction...

Well the one from 2005. They haven't done a recurring one since, so here's a reminder of a different age.

Unfortunately embedding is disabled (perhaps someone's trying to hide it?) so here's a link to Andrew Neil Amarillo spoof song.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

There's an election on...

...so my apologies for not posting much this month. In the meantime, here's the classic election video:

But if you're a candidate or agent, please remember that this represents several serious breaches of election law. Can you spot them all?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Shadow Cabinet turnover

I prepared this post for the next Shadow Cabinet resignation as they've come so frequently, but with a new general election now looming it's best to post these statistics now.

Since the last general election there have been:
  • 5 Shadow Business Secretaries
  • 5 Shadow Culture, Media and Sports Secretaries
  • 5 Shadow Defence Secretaries
  • 5 Shadow Welsh Secretaries
  • 4 Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretaries with a fifth to come
  • 4 Shadow Attorney Generals plus a vacant period
  • 4 Shadow Chief Secretaries to the Treasury
  • 4 Shadow Education Secretaries
  • 4 Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretaries
  • 4 Shadow Health Secretaries
  • 4 Shadow Leaders of the House of Commons
  • 4 Shadow Ministers for Women and Equalities
  • 3 Shadow Home Secretaries
  • 3 Shadow International Development Secretaries
  • 3 Shadow Ministers for the Cabinet Office
  • 3 Shadow Ministers without Portfolio
  • 3 Shadow Northern Ireland Secretaries
  • 3 Shadow Transport Secretaries
  • 3 Shadow Work and Pensions Secretaries
  • 2 Shadow Chancellors
  • 2 Shadow Foreign Secretaries
  • 2 Shadow Housing Secretaries, plus a period of being vacant before the previous holder returned
  • 2 Shadow Justice Secretaries
  • 2 Shadow Scottish Secretaries
  • 2 Chief Whips in the Commons
  • 1 Shadow Leader of the House of Lords
  • 1 Chief Whip in the Lords
Posts created since the start of the current Parliament:
  • 2 Shadow Brexit Secretaries
  • 2 Shadow Ministers for Mental Health and vacant for a period in the middle
  • 2 Shadow Ministers for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs
  • 1 Shadow International Trade Secretary
  • 1 Shadow Lord President of the Council
Posts abolished mid Parliament:
  • 3 Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretaries
Posts created and (apparently) abolished mid Parliament:
  • 1 Shadow Minister for Diverse Communities
Posted without comment.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

With apologies to General de Gaulle

We don't say it enough but Charles de Gaulle was right to say "Non".

Yes he was primarily concerned with France's national interest. That's not a bad thing for a national leader to be concerned with. But he also spotted when interests were different and incompatible. When he vetoed our original membership application for what was then the European Economic Community he stated:
England [sic] in effect is insular, she is maritime, she is linked through her interactions, her markets and her supply lines to the most diverse and often the most distant countries; she pursues essentially industrial and commercial activities, and only slight agricultural ones. She has, in all her doings, very marked and very original habits and traditions.
It's a statement that could have been made by almost any British Eurosceptic over the last fifty years. And it's ultimately proved correct.

The United Kingdom never shared the vision of the European Union as a whole. That's why we ultimately could never be satisfied. When we did eventually get in (Georges Pompidou was wrong to say "Oui"), we kept needing to be satisfied. Either the project had to be transformed to our approval or the UK had to go places it really didn't want to. And so began endless fudges - renegotiations, rebates, opt-outs, Europe a la carte etc... even while the project as a whole advanced. The situation became ever more messy. In fact, I'm surprised the EU never decided to throw us out.

For sure not everyone in the UK took the same view. Some embraced the European dream. Others came to see it as the wrong direction. And some tried to fudge it for the advantages, but the benefits and drawbacks were not shared evenly. The result was debate over decades as the EU increasingly headed onwards, crippled by a lack of a direct democratic mandate for what it had now become. Holding a referendum on staying under the 1975 renegotiation meant the door of direct democracy had been opened on this. Promises of further referendums never materialised despite expectations being raised. At some point one would have come, forcing the issue to be settled.

Today we trigger Article 50 and begin the process of extracting ourselves. And it's also time to posthumously apologise to De Gaulle for spending so long trying to prove he was wrong.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Democracy will not be crushed

The news from Westminster today has been horrific. Knowing the area well, and having been in New Palace Yard only last week, it's been shocking to see what's happened.

The police do an incredible job, risking their lives to protect the public. Sadly an officer has today lost their life protecting others. I salute their bravery.

An attack on Parliament is not merely an attack on a building or the people in it. It is an attack on democracy. But democracy will not be crushed.

Parliament has been attacked before and thrived. It will do so again. Not even the destruction of the Commons chamber could destroy it. Nor will this.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Labour - the new Jacobites?

Even today there are still people who assert that the rightful monarchs of Scotland and England are the heirs to James II & VII, the current heir being Franz, Duke of Bavaria. From time to time they can be found toasting the "rightful" king. A few have even popped up outside Parliament to protest the validity of all monarchs and laws passed since 1688. (I would not be surprised if a hard-line Eurosceptic had advanced this argument as a means to get us out of the European Union.) I've even seen opinion polls that ask if the Queen should be succeeded, either upon her death or in a separate Scotland, by a Stuart heir. Looking back to the heyday of Jacobitism in the first half of the 18th there is much to romanticise. It was a cause that had a lot of popular support and much hope that the silent masses would rise up at the right moment. Its followers were convinced it was right. It could well have succeeded but for events beyond their control. But it didn't succeed. And for two and a half centuries the cause has been little more than a romance of history with only a few present-day followers.

How long before the Labour Party goes the same way?

The idea that one of the UK's major political parties could collapse into complete irrelevance may seem incredible. After all the death of parties has been predicted before but both the Conservatives and Labour have come back after prolonged periods in opposition when many commentators and even some leading members began to wonder if the party would ever return to government. The Liberal Party had a more prolonged crash but managed to convert to and survive as a third party. But Labour seems to be in almost terminal decline:
It has taken batterings from all sides and seen heartlands evaporate. Its ratings suggest something bigger than mere short-term problems are afoot. Worse still it seems unable and unwilling to even try and break out of its mess.

That's not for want of trying by some Labour members. But it seems that the Corbynistas just will not be shifted, no matter what happens. And although Corbyn is clearly a contributor to Labour's problems they didn't start under him - they go back to Blair. The party members are bitterly divided - see YouGov: A tale of two parties – what we learned from our Labour membership surveys. One side seems unable to turn things around. The other seems unwilling to do so.

At what point is the Labour Party going to become a hopeless lost cause, which may still stir people's hearts but which is recognised as an utterly impractical prospect? The Jacobites' last real chance of winning power came in 1745. The last serious plan for a restoration came in 1759. But the last direct descendant of James II & VII, "Henry IX & I", still asserted his claim until his death in 1807. The Labour Party might carry on for many years as a shell of what it once was, with successive hard left leaders still hoping. But when will the moderates give up trying to recapture the party and turn it around? Is there a point of no return?

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

When you're on the losing end of the vote

Here's an extract from a piece I recently wrote over on the Mars Hill blog, explaining why so many Brexiteers have the attitude they do to the post referendum legislation debate, namely because of how things went when many were on the losing end of votes:
In many ways, it feels as though the country has turned full circle from the late 1990s. Back then it was pretty miserable to be a right-winger, losing elections heavily, facing an almost impossible route back to power, losing referendums, being told from all sides that the great debates were permanently settled and you had lost and so forth. There was much talk of "this election will be the last fought on ideology". Eurosceptics were bluntly told that their opinion was invalid because so many had voted for pro-European parties. There was a real sense of having it crushed down that not just a battle but a war had been won and a new permanent settlement was here to stay.

Sound familiar?

However, what is definitely different is the media reaction and coverage of those who lost at the ballot box. It was never mentioned then that in 1997 Tony Blair and New Labour swept to power with the backing of about just 30% of the total electorate. Instead New Labour swept all before it. The Welsh devolution referendum passed by 50.3% on a 50.22% turnout. But very few talked about the "49.8%" or the "75%" or whatever the percentage of the total population of Wales was. The media did not go hunting for regretful Yes/Yr voters. The referendum had to be followed up by primary legislation but few argued that it was only "advisory" and that Parliament should not enact it. Those who did were dismissed as anti-democrats who were disrespectful of the will of the people. There was no talk of further referendums on the final settlement or when question marks were raised about what had influenced voters.

(Ironically the one referendum whose implementation did get challenged a lot was the only one that did have the backing of over 50% of the total electorate, namely the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland.)

You can see from this why so many Eurosceptics are both gung ho and apprehensive about the current situation. Having been on the other end of the stick, they know all too well the importance of getting the great democratic mandate enacted as quickly as they can. They have little sympathy for those who showed them none. But they also don't feel as confident in their position as New Labour did. And they fear that victory will be snatched from their hands. They've lost time and again on European treaties. They've seen politicians promise referendums only to not deliver them, sometimes taking refuge in how proposals have been repackaged. They are aware of how pro Europeanism has consistently been much stronger in Parliament than in the country. And they see a significant chunk of political opinion that claims to want to have a say in shaping Brexit when it actually wants to stop Brexit altogether. Few believe that Gina Miller brought her court case merely because she wanted to see a debate in Parliament but because she and her supporters were trying any method they could to derail Brexit altogether.
(The full piece is at "Arise Lord Brexit".)

Campus freedoms

Once again, the question of freedom of speech on campuses has come up, this time with the news that the University of Lincoln Student[s'] union bans Conservative society from speaking out - because they challenged its position on free speech (Daily Telegraph). It brings back memories of my once having found myself having to wade through this mess but also highlights how the debate has shifted a lot over the years.

Many years ago, now I was elected as the University of Kent students' union Anti-Racism Officer and so I found myself handling considerations about whether or not the students' union should reintroduce a "No Platform" policy; the previous one having lapsed in earlier years (in part, it has to be said, because one those proposing its renewal was frankly not trusted by some groups on campus). The issue was on the ascendancy in wider student politics at the time - during that year there was a general election with the BNP vote rising and it was also in that year that the National Union of Students added Al-Muhajiroun to the list of organisations banned nationally.

(This is as good a place as any to tackle the first big misconception and problem. Unless things have changed in recent years, the NUS policy is not binding on individual affiliate students' unions who are free to adopt their own policies. However, NUS has long encouraged individual affiliates to adopt a No Platform policy as well. Many have simply reproduced the text and some even automatically use the banned groups list as defined by the NUS.)

It rapidly became clear that the standard No Platform policy within the student movement is a complicated affair that years of poor institutional memory and localised practice have turned into a difficult to understand, explain and defend mess. This stems from it being an awkward hybrid of a public order measure, a more general welfare measure and gets into a political measure. The aims can be quite distinct and so mixing them all together results in confusion and anger over just what the policy was or is aiming at.

Thus, what was originally intended as a measure against violence on campus by not allowing groups with violent track records to rally on students' union owned or booked facilities has steadily turned into a more political weapon to also deny a platform or refuse to share one with people who make entirely peaceful expressions of opinions deemed racist and fascist - with a very unclear process for determining exactly how that deeming is carried out objectively. It's made even worse by meeting procedures that often require deeply complicated philosophical questions to be expressed in a speech just a minute or two long. The result is the policy gets poorly explained and misunderstood, both by its detractors but also by those who find themselves having to operate it.

Now other organisations have No Platform policies as well. But a combination of the organisation's overall scope and a much stronger historical understanding of the policy's purpose means that it is much clearer what it's for, what it's aiming to do and how to explain it clearly. However, students' unions are very heterogenous bodies with numerous societies and media forms, with the result that there's far more potential for issues to arise. So it gets over used and at times abused.

Worse still it encourages a more general approach to trying to fight ideas through bans.

And that's before we even consider the potential legal mess that can arise out of this, with those keenest often not the ones legally responsible.

A return to basics of stating clearly that an organisation will not host particular organisations, will not allow them to use media outlets and will not have its office holders appear in official capacity at events with them (e.g. appearing on panels or in debates) should be a priority. Trying to police individuals' speech is a route doomed to failure. Where necessary, there are laws in place for that.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Pancake Day

Here's a treasure from my childhood - the "Pancake Day" song from Maid Marian and her Merry Men:

And for those wondering, yes that is Danny John-Jules, best known as the Cat in Red Dwarf.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

How MPs should vote on the Article 50 Bill

Quite simply in favour.

There are two main lines of argument advanced for them to vote against.

The first only applies to some, with the argument being made that they should vote against because a majority of voters voted Remain in their constituencies.

Leaving aside the fact that the results were not counted by constituency and the estimates are not unanimous, this raises the potential problem that we could have had a majority of constituencies voting one way and a majority of the voters voting the other. The precedent that would be set would be for MPs to ignore a national vote and substitute the constituency results. Such a referendum outcome could never be sustainable and is undesirable. MPs have multiple duties, including to vote for what is in the best interests of the country as a whole. By calling a UK wide referendum they gave the question to the UK as a whole and should not rewrite the rules afterwards.

The same applies to the argument being thrown about that MPs should replace the electorate's decision with their own judgement. This appeal to parliamentary democracy is fundamentally weakened by the very use of a referendum which has meant that MPs have already passed the decision to the people. And it wasn't an "advisory" affair but a decisive vote. Prior to the results everyone involved, MPs, voters, the EU etc..., knew that a Leave victory would mean the UK leaving the EU.

To deny the referendum outcome would be a negation of democracy. At a time when there is a crisis of participation it is essential that democracy is seen to work, especially with the highest turnout vote of the 21st century.


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