Category Archives: politics

The tail that wags a very big dog

Our new Prime Minister famously said “brexit is brexit”.  The general media responded straight away with “but what is brexit?”.  OK, they’re onto the troubles with it.  No need for me to say anything more.  Right?

Well, something less than half-right.  They’ve grasped the Humpty Dumpty nature of the word “brexit”.  But they’ve failed miserably to follow through and consider the implications.  Dammit!

So what’s the problem?  Brexit is a coalition of differing views, ranging from on the one hand some who see it as an opportunity for more trade and more immigration (like Tim Martin, who had “vote leave” messages printed on beer mats at Weatherspoons, a chain of about 1000 pubs, predominantly big ones in city locations), right through to outright racists and xenophobes who won’t be satisfied until their streets are purged of anyone speaking foreign.  Plus of course a general protest vote.  No outcome is going to satisfy all the brexit voters.  Indeed, it seems unlikely even to satisfy a majority.

So now a majority – the 52% – have a sense of victory and entitlement to their agenda.  Among them, the outright racists have been making the most noise: within 24 hours of the result they’d screamed “traitor” at Boris (who had been so bold as to hint that brexit didn’t necessarily mean closing the doors to all immigration), and even at Farage.  There were also posts in public fora prophesying blood in the streets if any doors remained open.  How things have changed since Enoch Powell!

That’s an agenda claiming – and believing they have – a 52% electoral mandate, yet not really representing even the whole of the BNP/UKIP.  Give them their isolationism and we can rapidly slip back to poverty, and with less food or energy security than even in the 1970s.  Deny it to them and it seems most unlikely they’ll shut up.

Even the Tory party’s internal troubles, which the referendum was intended to deal with (hence the gerrymandering in favour of Out), seem unlikely to go away.  Mrs May is making a valiant attempt by putting brexit leaders in charge, but some of the backbenchers will surely be back on the warpath as soon as there’s any whiff of compromise in the air.

Thought experiment.  UK general elections give us a choice of several parties and candidates to vote for.  A party that gets 40% of votes cast becomes a clear winner.  If we voted 48% for the status quo (Tories) and 52% for all other parties, that would give the Tories the biggest landslide victory of any party in our history. And that’s how the referendum campaign was conducted: on the “in” side a lacklustre status quo, on the “out” side a coalition of different agendas each with utopian promises they had no expectation of having to deliver.

Well, we voted 52% for the array of promises that were “not the status quo”, and could be handing that 52% not to the mainstream opposition (Labour, or perhaps the SNP – the opposition party with a real mandate in its home turf) but to a loony-fringe party that happens to shout loudest.

And perhaps the worst of it?  Whereas Tim Farron (libdem leader) promised to make it an election issue for positive reasons, Labour hopeful Owen Smith is doing exactly the wrong thing jumping onto that bandwagon with an entirely negative and condescending “you got it wrong” message.  Cameron already alienated enough people to tip the balance, and Smith is consolidating that alienation.  I hope Corbyn firmly beats him.

DoS attack?

Government system to register to vote in the referendum gets overloaded.  Deadline gets extended.  Cockup or conspiracy?

News reports tell us the best measure of traffic they had was the peak of registrations ahead of last year’s general election, and they built the system to cope with many times more traffic than they’d had then.  Yet traffic surged way beyond even that ‘surplus’ capacity.  So while cockup is entirely plausible, it’s by no means inevitably the cause.

It is widely supposed that late registrations come predominantly from younger people, and that younger people are more likely to vote In.  So bringing the system down ahead of the deadline would favour “out”, while extending the deadline would favour “in”.  Overall my best guess would be they more-or-less balance – at least if the system doesn’t go down again.

Most campaigners on both sides seem to accept it’s just one-of-those-things.  But a few “out” campaigners have been remarkably quick to jump on it.  It’s gerrymandering (Ian Liddell-Grainger).  It could be cause for Judicial Review in the event of a narrow “in” vote (Bernard Jenkin).

Hmmm, cui bono?  Jenkin’s line of reasoning points to a vote-again-until-you-get-it-right scenario.  We have a motive: someone stood to gain from the system failing on the last day.  If the deadline is not extended, a chunk of predominantly-in voters are excluded.  If it is extended, they’re preparing the ground for judicial review: get the courts to decide.  A win-win.

A Denial of Service attack can bring any system on the ‘net down for a while, and is very easy to mount (buy yourself control of a million virus-infected PCs and have them all bombard the target system to overwhelm it).

Cockup or Conspiracy?  I anticipate some more evidence, albeit far from conclusive.  If it goes down again tomorrow, that signals cockup – unless someone could organise a new DoS attack remarkably quickly.  If it survives to the new deadline, it smells more of conspiracy.

People’s Front of Judea

(The title is of course from the gentle send-up of loony fringe politics in the Life of Brian).

Our referendum doesn’t just have two opposing sides, it has a bunch of opposing teams on the “out of Europe” side.  Not to mention opposing views among them of what Britain might look like and what direction it might take outside the EU.

That leaves our electoral commission with a bit of a dilemma.  Some horribly unfit-for-purpose rules say it has to hand various resources – like public money and TV airtime – to each side in the campaign.  In order to do so, it seems to have to designate one of those “out” groups as the official campaign, at the expense of the others.  That’ll leave the losers crying foul.

Here’s a plea to them.  Give it to Farage’s lot.

Farage will be insufferable anyway.  Not that I can really blame him in the circumstances: this is the consummation of his entire political career.  And he’s media-friendly: he’ll get  more airtime than pretty-much anyone else regardless of the electoral commission’s decision.  And he’ll tell bigger and more blatant porkies than the mainstream politicians, with a straight face.

If he doesn’t get the money, he’ll not just be ubiquitous, he’ll have a real grievance.  That might in itself make him as unstoppable as Trump: the more outrageous he gets, the more popular it’ll make him.  Better he have the rope to hang himself than to hang the country.

A Hollow Crown

Our prime minister returns triumphant from Brussels, his enemies vanquished.

Or perhaps, he returns triumphant from annoying his friends, bringing with him ammunition for his enemies.

Or does he play a double game against all of us?  But more on that later.

His brief speech we heard on the radio news this evening actually sounded genuinely interesting in parts.  The story told in the media has been consistently different.  Doubtless both based on an element of truth and spun from there.

The big story the media concentrate on (though what they say may not be entirely accurate) is about curbing benefits to migrants, on the face of it something entirely reasonable.  Or rather, something utterly preposterous: it’s only because our benefits system is monstrously broken that EU rules (accidentally) apply to it in the first place.   Germany, for example doesn’t have our “in work benefits” problem.  But instead of fixing it, he inflicts  gratuitous discrimination on (some) foreign workers, in the hope that one more wrong piled on to the mess might make a right.

It’s supposed to reduce net migration.  That seems unlikely to happen.  Farage & Co are saying so, and the nutters are much more dangerous when they’re also right about an issue.  I expect Cameron will pull a rabbit or two from his hat to wrong-foot them ahead of the referendum, but this fundamental point won’t budge.  Two wrongs make an anti-right.

Which brings me to the conspiracy idea: is Cameron in fact saying one thing but working for the opposite (as The Liar did over hunting)?  He has gerrymandered the electorate, conveniently setting aside a manifesto pledge to extend the vote to Brits long-term abroad (who may naturally have the strongest reasons to vote stay) and will also exclude EU citizens resident and working in the UK (ditto).  He’s promised everything the Europhobes asked for in terms of re-formulating the referendum question and terms of the debate, yet no word on conceding to the (europhile) SNP on the subject of the referendum date not clashing with their election.  In short, he seems in his actions to be working for an exit!

Time will tell.  But on a personal level, should I get out now, ahead of a time when there might be serious barriers to a move?  Ugh.

Oh, and if you pay more child benefit to children in the UK than in their home countries, doesn’t that risk incentivising foreign workers to bring their complete families?  So they burden our schools all the more, and become altogether more likely to remain here long-term or permanently. Unintended consequences, or misleading reporting?

A choice of poisons

How have I failed all this time to post a good rant about the election and its participants?  A plague on all their houses, including the media reporting them and staging silly events.

Well, I have to report, our beloved Prime Minister and his colleagues have accomplished something quite stupendous with their headless chicken act forever aping whatever party is flavour-of-the-month, and their pork-barrelwarehouse blank cheques[1].  They’ve convinced me Miliband is the lesser of two evils!  And that’s despite some of the horrors that surround him (Balls and Harman spring to mind, though they have strong competition from the likes of Pickles, Shapps and Osborne).

Looking to the future, whoever loses will probably have a change of leadership.  Since the worst imaginable outcome is Balls as PM in five years, there’s another reason to consider Miliband now.   Ugh.

As against that, Cameron has one thing going for him.  He’s no leader[2], but his record of holding an uneasy coalition more-or-less together speaks well of his managerial skills.  And his announcement that he won’t serve more than two terms speaks of unusual commonsense.  Blair/Brown, and previously the thoroughly-nasties who undermined Major, might prove mere foreshadowings of how bad things could get within a governing group.

So who can I support?  Well, amongst the parties it’s a clear None of the Above.  They all have some good things to say, but on the overwhelming balance I can only wish a plague on all their houses – including the aspiring minor parties (Green and UKIP) as well as the more established ones.  However, I can look at my local candidates and decide who appears least objectionable.  I’ve done that, and decided my vote is going to a man with a decent background of hard work in a real job, including starting his own company.  But since this is a marginal constituency, and my candidate doesn’t belong to either of the parties with a hope of winning it, he’ll be squeezed and my vote wasted.

[1] Dammit, when the NHS asks for an extra £8billion, that’s supposed to be a bloomin’ negotiating position to start from.  And that’s not even the worst of the wildly reckless pledges: it’s looking increasingly like I’ll reach retirement age with my taxes paying ever more to price me out of housing!  And look at the number of things I didn’t have to mention!
[2] Boris (or Other) might just be.  That remains to be seen.

I, for one, welcome our new foreign masters

Today the Scottish Nationalists – who might possibly hold the balance of power after this year’s UK election – have explicitly announced what they’ve been strongly hinting since the referendum.  They will come down from the moral high ground they have hitherto occupied, and start to exercise their constitutional right to a share in the rule of England.  That is, in addition to their legitimate minority share in the rule of the UK (and indeed EU), of which England and Scotland are both parts.

Let’s be clear.  I don’t want to be ruled by the SNP.  I particularly don’t want to be ruled by their socialist economic policies (though the alternatives look pretty bleak, too).  But I have applauded the SNP for taking the moral high ground in the past, unlike the utterly corrupt Labour party who first created our constitutional brokenness and have always abused it.  I applauded the SNP for their heroic efforts to rid us of this brokenness (e.g. here and here).

Now I applaud them once again.  The moral high ground is in practice ambiguous and impractical: that is all part of Blair’s terrible legacy.  And it is far too broken to apply sticking plaster as the Tories now seem to want, or to kick back into the long grass as Labour are desperate to do.  How better to try and combat those things than by provoking the constitutional crisis that’s been inevitable since Blair?  How better to do that than for Scottish MPs to highlight unfairness to the English?

And their choice of issue looks like a stroke of genius, encompassing not just (inevitably) the Westlothian Question, but also the Barnett Formula.  The latter is of course one of the complexities that renders both their former moral high ground and the Tories sticking plaster hopelessly impractical.

Dodgy Data

Oxfam grabs a headline with a report telling us the richest 1% will own half the world’s wealth in 2016.

As with many reports coming from lobbying organisations, this one provokes scepticism.  Not outright dismissal, but a “really“, and a need to know what they’re actually measuring before I can treat it as meaningful.  It also provokes mild curiosity: how rich do you have to be to be in that 1% (not least because I have a sneaking suspicion it includes a great many people who our chattering classes don’t consider at all rich).

The Oxfam report itself is a mere twelve pages and disappointingly light on data.  If there’s any attempt to substantiate the headline claim then I missed it.  But googling “World Wealth” finds this report, which tells me total world wealth is projected to be $64.3 trillion in 2016.  OK, that’ll do for a ballpark calculation.  $64.3 trillion between 7 billion people is an average of about $9k per head.  If the top 1% own half of it, that’s $32.15 trillion between 70 million people: an average of $459k per head within that top 1%.

That’s £300k.  There must be a millions in Blighty with that much in housing wealth alone (and others correspondingly locked out).  Not to mention in other high-cost countries around Europe, America, Asia, and I expect even a few in the third world.  All above the average of that fabled top 1%.

But of course housing isn’t our only asset.  In Blighty and around the developed world, a big chunk of our wealth takes the form of Entitlements.  One such in the UK is the Basic State Pension, which is worth £200k, and even the poorest Brit is entitled to it.  It seems you can be in that top 1% without being rich enough to buy a house in Blighty!

Hmmm.  Oh dear.  Maybe Oxfam’s spin isn’t really very meaningful at all.  Except perhaps to highlight how incredibly egalitarian we are within Blighty – and probably all developed countries – once you include the effect of government actions.

They could have told us!

A report into the killing of a soldier outside his barracks points the finger of blame at an unnamed foreign Internet company, where one of the killers had apparently made comments about wanting to kill a British soldier.  The BBC tells us it’s Facebook, so let’s go with that, though really the identity of the company in question is neither here nor there.

The implication that Facebook should have told the security services and are to blame for not doing so is just too bizarre to be credible.  The authorities would of course be deluged with millions of notifications every day of threats of violence from whatever automatic tools might analyse Facebook posts, and of course spammers have proved (if proof were ever needed) that all such tools have a significant failure rate.  Of course 100.00% (to the nearest 0.01%) of those threats could be dismissed as completely non-serious given a bit of context, but digging up that context would be far from straightforward, even given all of today’s state-of-the-art Big Data and NLP tools and a layer of sci-fi on top.

Wouldn’t it be good to kill a politician by burning at the stake?  Now, WordPress, you’d better report my death threat to the spooks.  What, you mean you don’t read my every post?  How remiss!  Perhaps Google might also get blamed for failing to report it.  At least this one should be easy to analyse: it doesn’t need cross-referencing to any wider discussion to get the context!

So what’s it really about?  The report coincides with another Orwellian surveillance bill[1] coming from the government.  Or rather, as the report’s authors point out, the 1984 bill coincides with the long-scheduled publication of the report.  Yes, how jolly convenient.  Dammit, have I admitted yet in this blog how comprehensively wrong I was when I thought the current government would roll back some of Blair’s police state, or even just halt the advance of it?

But I’m uneasy about even that explanation.  This particular finger of blame is just too absurd to stick.  The meeja, of all political persuasions, will surely tear it to shreds once someone gives it a moment’s thought (the techie media already have).  The government’s case based on this – if such it be – is surely too weak to be credible even with supporters of a surveillance state.  How could anyone suppose otherwise?

So what’s really afoot?  What are we being distracted from?  I fear I don’t know that.  I may have missed some clues whilst at ApacheCon.  I may pick up some clues as this plays out.  Hopefully at least someone in the mainstream meeja will take an interest and not be too intimidated by Leveson.  Or maybe it really is nothing, and they just misinterpreted whatever they may have known or expected of the report?  Or maybe the reports to date are just misleading?

On the subject of this soldier’s killing, it’s not just Orwellian surveillance at issue.  We also have a heavy dose of Orwellian Newspeak, with two words being corrupted: terrorist and murder.

Terrorist?  Back in the days of the IRA, that word implied a threat to innocent civilians.  Yet the killers in this case went to great lengths to make it clear that they were absolutely no threat to civilians, including those who looked on in horror and went to the aid of the dying soldier.  If the IRA had committed no worse atrocity than that, they might just have enjoyed – and continue to enjoy – widespread support amongst their community and respect outside it.  An act of War, but not of Terror.

And murder?  That’s at least supportable, but if killing a soldier is murder then it’s not just many of “our” soldiers who are murderers, it’s also those heroic but now very old men who defeated Hitler back in an era when we stood for Freedom.  The right word for the crime – executed with precision against the arm of the State – is surely Treason.

[1] Lest it be thought mine is a knee-jerk libertarian reaction, let me add that I think it entirely plausible that there is a valid case for updating police powers, of which the Home Secretary and her department obviously know far more than I ever will.  And the current bill isn’t really about surveillance so much as Blaming Facebook or the above post might suggest.  It’s just that the coincidence with the “Blame Facebook” report suggests it might be yet more sinister when it claims to be too weak on the subject of Internet surveillance!

Faintheart

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!

What a letdown, Jock.  Your poet must be spinning in his grave.

A tea party in Boston and Skegness

A junior minister quits the government.

He takes a job in London while his family live elsewhere: what does he expect?  Did he not realise the job was in London?  OK, lots of people have to do that kind of thing, but in his case there’s a real difference: as a member of the legislature, his job is supposed to be about improving the way things work.  He could see the problem, he suffered from it himself: did he never think to DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT?  At least, use his position as a platform from which to campaign, even if he can’t persuade the government to do anything.

As reported, he seems to be saying that being an MP is incompatible with his family life.  WRONG: being an MP is just incompatible with NOT being a Londoner.  If you’re not a native Londoner, you become a adoptive one by taking the effing job.

That’s why those of us out in the sticks are constitutionally excluded from representation in parliament.  There can’t be many who are such complete idiots as to stand for parliament without wanting to live in London, or at the very least being indifferent to it.  This man with family in Lincolnshire probably represents the place better than anyone qualified to be an MP.  Or would have done, if only he hadn’t so totally wasted his opportunity to put our democratic deficitvoid onto the political agenda.

What a total idiot!