Monday, 29 June 2009

Personal stuff

I've just been asked not to take a Masters in Philosophy. Apprently it makes me argumentative.

But I do think someone should do it. The ghost of John Rawls needs a good kicking.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Me Me Me

I have to say, aphasia makes posting hard sometimes. I had the beginnings of some exposition ready to go in my head earlier, and now they are gone. It is gone. Whichever it was.

On the other hand, I listened to the Beeb Profile of John Bercow. Damned with faint praise would sum it up, if there had been any praise.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Frank Field MP

I will be looking at This speech, which seems to me to be reasonable and rational. So let's tear it to pieces and see how reasonable and rational I am.

Even if the winner is not a reformer, I don't think their tenure will stop the voters' demand to be more involved. I think this is a bit naive, because demand does not translate to ability, or even to concerted or long-term demand. The bankers made a good target. Now MPs are making one.

If we swing back in time we see that the crowd always played a crucial part in the legislative process, making their views felt, long before there was universal franchise. Well, yes. In true democracies, they do. But it's not efficient. The greatest good for the greatest number of people lets some people be very miserable indeed. There are two ways a crowd can make its point felt, and one is shouting loud enough to deafen other things. (The other is by being obviously right, but it doesn't often happen.)

But political parties are now dying. Mmm. That's going to take at least another generation, if they /don't/ find some way to renew themselves. The thing about parties is that they allow filters on the voice of the outside. So the crowd roars, and MPs speak, and a very few people decide.

It's the electorate that is demanding a bigger political say than has been offered by a vote every five years in a general election. Oh, Frank. And you were doing so well. Everyone who can think knows that a general election vote is the smallest contribution you /can/ pay to politics. If you want to make a difference, there are many ways. For one thing, people in Birkenhead can write to you directly. I can write to my own MP. For another, MPs are a loud and flashy show. One person trying to influence things without money can seldom make a difference. (Seldom, but not never.) There are ways to engage with the political process that do not involve waiting five years to make one cross on a piece of paper. Many many matters are and should be dealt with at a local level. If people are demanding more, it is not up to the speaker to give it. It is up to /them/ to find out what they can do.

How many people have read the Telegraph and actually done something other than tell people how angry they are? A 5% increase in circulation and for what? The general election will roll around, and in a year or two this story will be history.

There is also a wish to have a say on who should be the candidate in our safe seats. Well, alright. Personally I don't care about the safe seats. I want to be able to decide who a party puts up in unsafe seats. Then I might actually /join/ one. But I see where you're coming from. Parties don't want to risk their vote in seats that matter. So... safe seats? Alright. I'd like to see primaries there. But I'd like to see fair open primaries that don't have prohibitive costs of entry and advertising. Perhaps I'm preaching to the converted here.

Referenda? Someone learned Latin! But no. Referenda (I learned Latin too) are a way of letting people who are not otherwise engaged shout loudly 'black' or 'white'. They are one of the worst parts of populism, because they combine the slow response of proportional representation with the idiocy of having to put a question to the lowest common denominator, and then make the answer into law. No, no, no...

...where is our vote on the Lisbon Treaty? Tony Blair had it. It's been ratified. Stuff happens. Live with it. Don't make the mistake of speaking about it in the present tense.

We will, in fact, import the Swiss system of referendums into our parliamentary system so as to give the big decisions a legitimacy which they now lack owing to the death of parties. I might /like/ parties to die, but I don't think they will. The whip system allows for a relatively binary approach to the floor. Oh, and then there are Liberal Democrats. A three-party system would be better than two, I think. But there is one heck of a lot of inertia here, and even if one party dies, that will more likely make room for another than cause the demise of their political enemies.

If Coca-cola goes out of business, people buy /more/ Pepsi, not less. Even if they know that soft drinks are bad for them. They're cheap, and they make you feel good.

I know that the pressure from voters for reform is so strong that whoever wins the Speakership will not be able to turn back the tide pushing for a greater voter involvement in how they are governed. I want to believe you, Frank. But I don't. I think you're putting on a brave face. There always has been involvement. There will be a greater delving into those ways.

At least, I hope so. Because I do not want to be in a world where I have a referendum on things I don't care about, but have to attend because otherwise it's apathy.

Last three elections, I've gone to the booth to refuse to vote. How many more times do you /want/ me to do that?

Searching for news

In my hunt for someone to agree with, I have so far found out Bercow Baby won the 12:30 at Ascot, and that the BBC website sorts things by popularity instead of newsworthiness.

Keeping up with keeping up

Given the business of my life, and how tired I often am when I sit down, I sometimes forget to think. Not good enough. Keep it up.

So today's task is finding someone I agree with, and knocking holes in /their/ argument for a change.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Then I would say, "Oy, Poseidon, No!"

Guido Fawkes tells the public that the price tag for Trident Renewal is £100bn. The BBC are putting it at £20bn. Are they talking different numbers? Replacing the subs as well as the missiles? I can't see a place I can find out.

Spot the Deliberate Mistakes

Mike Smith on the Labour List has written a bombastic and yet terrifying article about making policy into law. The Devil's Kitchen intends to boil it up later, but I'm going to take a quick look at it myself. I'd invite my readers to, but I don't have any readers. And anyway, there would be such an overlap between me and the DK if I did, that you'd all know about it.

So here are a few bits... Sentence 1: The Government needs to expand on Yvette Cooper's announcement last week and start to entrench our values and policies in law...

I admit, I missed the announcement. I had to go look it up. And then I had to go floss my head. But the concept of a government not entrenching values and policies in law seems a strange one to me. What have you been doing, boys? Sitting on your hands? You've had since 1997. I just pointed out my own view on this. Labour is the radical party that has done nothing radical this time round. I can't think offhand of much they have done. However, I admit to being only newly awakened from my dogmatic slumbers.

They want to to stop a potential Tory government undoing Labour’s achievements of the last decade. But Tory governments don't tend to dismantle what Labour governments create. That's what being a conservative is about. Small changes, not radical ones. And if the government makes a big swing or changes to society while you're in opposition? Best to leave it there unless you can prove it's broken.

That's just the first sentence. But it seems to me they are holding up the Tories as a threat there, so people will be motivated.

A bit later on: If Labour could shift the ‘centre ground’ of political debate left... New Labour achieved office because the Tories were on the downturn /and/ there was a shift to the right /by/ Labour. I don't know how much weight to give to either of those, but NL certainly didn't want to shift the ground to the left back then. I see this as an appeal to the working class. "We haven't abandoned you. We were just pretending to."

(I recall Blair shocking the Labour party by saying that they needed to be more Thatcherite - not just in their conviction politics, but actually in their economics. Alas, I can't cite this. If anyone /does/ read this blog and can help me, I'd love to know.)

The entirety of paragraph 2 makes sense if paragraph 1 is correct. Given that Labour had time to get into power and keep it, there is room for a swing to the left that drags politics along with it. But I don't believe it happened. I believe that Labour pandered to the working classes without giving them anything that could be supported. Remember, 'pander' is a work that means 'to pimp'. Increasing public spending is not left-wing. It is bribery. Left wing policies work to improve the safety net for the poor, and to make it more comfortable to land on and less inviting to stay on. Producing a class of NHS middle managers so that they can pay for your housing boom is not left-wing. So I attribute the 'hug a hoodie' campaign to Tory disarray, and a perception of the central ground having moved, not its actually having done so. Civil partnerships and environmental change were always going to be on the cards, and it was always likely that the conservatives would be dragging their feet on them. It was just 'steam engine time'.

Alright. Paragraph 3. Parliamentary sovereignty means that the British people have no fundamental rights and there are no laws which parliament cannot change or abolish with a simple majority. Apparently this is only a bad thing if the Tories are in power. The Terrorism Act is used to stop people on the streets if policemen have had a bad day. (See Eyes passim) That is one law that I really do not want enshrined any further. There are others, most of which have to do with my personal information being held by 300,000+ potential idiots.

... Given this, the Tory response to this ‘unprecedented’ crisis could be truly terrifying and hugely damaging. Crises are by their nature unprecedented. Otherwise they'd have known solutions. And yes, I think it will be a very damaging and painful experience. Amputation usually is, and we don't have the money left for anaesthetic. Or, to put it another way, the public sector is going to have to shed jobs until the Job Office bursts at the seams. And then there's still the balance of trade problem.

Paragraph 4 is basically Labour threatening to stab the football if they are put in goal. The proposals announced by Yvette Cooper to introduce a legal duty to tackle child poverty could provide a model to embed the gains made over the last 12 years. Last I looked UK child poverty was still shamefully high. 24th out of 29 European countries. At least we're better off than Lithuania. We are not going to hit the 2020 target of abolishing it. When that was announced, I thought it was a pipe-dream, but I'm veering towards idiotic statement of intent. And then a constitution for the health service and a requirement to provide certain levels of care... I'm going to leave that one alone. Everyone knows the current NHS system is moribund, and it needs taking out and shooting. And everyone knows that the new contract system happened under New Labour, and I'm pretty certain everyone knows that junior doctors don't get the time on the wards that they need any more either. And if I get off on a rant about this, it'll never stop.

What is being proposed is a general increase in public spending by providing more bureaucracy. I can't see another layer of systems improving efficiency, really I can't. It's like nailing go-faster stripes made out of wood onto a donkey. It doesn't help, and it's only satisfying for the people doing it.

Paragraph 5 is good 'tell 'em what you told 'em' stuff, thus revealing that Mike Smith studied essay-writing. It's preaching to the choristers - and given the current situation, it's preaching to those who have arrived despite the snow. Those are either the ones who really believe in God, or the ones who want to impress the choirmaster. People who go to LabourList are unlikely to be politically neutral. So what Mike is doing is helping them to word their own arguments, and telling them they are right to feel worried about the Tories, and they should spread the word. It's setting up the fight as Red vs Blue, Left vs Right. This is, to my mind, a bad thing.

So, not a fisk. But you do get a nice image of someone nailing things to donkeys to take home and try to forget.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Outlook is Negative

Standard and Poor rate credit for countries. Today they said that the outlook for government debt in Britain was negative - which means that it's hard to sell money, if you're British.

Which is good, right? You don't want to be going into debt. Except that this just means you have to pay a /premium/ to get into more debt.

As far as I can work out, every time since the war that Labour has got into power, they have done something radical and very expensive. Then the Conservative party has taken over and been conservative - not undoing the radical thing, but not changing much. They've also paid for it, by hook or by crook. Often, this is painful, and sometimes they do things like get into a war over 2000 sheep and some penguins.

But this time around Labour has been expensive and I can't think of a single radical thing they have /done/. What have you done with our money? 2000 sheep want to know!

Monday, 15 June 2009

Paying MPs

Today, I'm going to look at a particular matter. MPs and Pay.

The current annual salary for an MP is £64,766, according to UK Parliament website. Some get more money if they have particular posts, like Speaker.

The UK median average annual salary is around £25,000. So MPs get paid more than twice the average salary.

Question: how many hours do they work, compared to someone who /does/ receive the annual national wage? Because they sit in the House about 40 weeks a year. Sometimes they can argue all night, but there's not always a call for them to do so. However, I'm certain that it's above the national average, and probably significantly above.

The question now becomes why you should pay MPs. I think that right now, you have to pay them because otherwise intelligent and charismatic people will have no reason to move into politics from wherever they are.

I am flailing in all of my presentations to the blog-reading world because I believe there is a disjunct between democracy and what democracy does.

Democracy ensures that majorities get what they want, in blunt terms. If you're in a good one, then it's not just one majority, and if one advantage misses you, another will pick you up next time around. But that doesn't always happen.

What has this got to do with MP pay? Well, money is what you give people to do things that they wouldn't otherwise do. And right now there is a perception problem with politics. An us vs them mentality exists, with us saying 'they do not care about us'. What we should be saying is 'we care about us, and we do it via democratic methods'. That is, we take real care over the selection of our MPs.

The current view gives people who have business sense and acumen no reason at all to enter politics. Take a pay cut just to be told I'm useless by association? No thanks.

So either we need to bribe people more, or we need to blame them less.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Yes, I read the Torygraph. Sometimes

Daniel Hannan writes for the Telegraph that 'the only parties that still talk of "reviving our manufacturing base" are Respect, the Scottish Socialists and the BNP.'

He says that as if reviving the manufacturing base is insane. But the current UK deficit is over 50% of what we earn per year. I don't know exactly where to get the latest figure, so by now it might be through that window and breaking into the house next door.

As I understand it, you can export things or expertise. And you can import things or expertise. And if you import more than you export, you pay the difference. This is fine if your economy is growing, because you can link the amount you bring in to the rate of growth. So you can add to total debt, but not add to the percentage debt that your country has. But in real terms, Britain has the biggest public debt ever. Some of this came from throwing cash under the wheels of banks to help them gain traction again. It's hard to slow down a juggernaut. I'm going to assume for the moment that I can't solve the problem of whether it was worth doing that, and just look at debt as 'about 50% of GDP'. The working population is a bit under 30 million. And here's the kicker. There's a UKP200bn deficit. That's the gap between stuff coming in, and stuff coming out.

Even with huge public sector cuts, there's a massive debt to service. Even if the deficit leak is plugged, there's an awful lot of money to pay back.

So either the economy has to grow within itself, so there's more money but a pound maintains its value, or it has to export things and/or expertise.

But subsidising manufacturing is much the same as a high rate of public spending - it is subsidising the job market. Taking money that could be paying off debt, and using it inefficiently. If you get a 2% increase in growth and a 5% increase in debt you've just damaged the country. Those numbers don't come from anywhere. They're just an explanation for myself. But a 200,000,000,000 pound deficit is a staggering amount of increase in debt. Manufacturing won't deal with it.

So the next task I'm setting myself is finding out which sectors of the economy move how much money to where. I won't go into it in details, but I want to find out what Britain is good at. Other than losing at cricket. Bah humbug.

Vote of (no) confidence

There's a problem with me reading political blogs to try to catch up on politics. I've been irritated ever since I had it pointed out that people who study in an area think that area is important. People who don't, generally don't believe it. But now, in an effort to become politically active (which I think is a good thing) I am crossing the floor. I'm becoming one of a self-selecting sample.

So please put your hands up, everyone who doesn't read this blog. Nobody? Sweeeeeet!

Saturday, 13 June 2009

In which I beat an analogy to death; blindfolded jaywalking

I've just worked something out. The reason that I object to big-party politicians. (Please note this isn't the same as big-party politics. I'm going to look at that separately.)

People who have power over you, the reader (who probably doesn't exist yet, but that's beside the point) are just people. But they tell you that they know better than you about what is good for you.

The basis for this is that they believe that there is a definition of 'good' that is external to you. It exists and they have magical access to it because they are in a position to look at it.

That's all very well and good, but they should be making damned sure you have access to it as well. If I choose not to let you walk into the road blindfolded, I'm saying that my decision is better than yours. But I've defined the field 'better' for myself, as one where I don't want you run over. It might be that walking into a road blindfolded is absolutely fine. If your ears are good, and it's not bicycle country.

This is the big question about society that bothers me. How far is someone else allowed to make decisions for you? Is it as the point where you want to be blindfolded while jaywalking? Because that's an analogy, and I know that some people will say 'line x is the blindfold'. And other people will say 'line x is walking into the road with your eyes open'. And others will say 'line x is doing it with intent to stop traffic'.

Big party politicians affiliate themselves with assumptions. One of those is that they know best. That really pisses me off.

Mind you, small party politicians may do the same. I just haven't got there yet.

Is the BNP left-wing?

Answer: no.

Longer answer: they are a one-policy party, with extra, populist, ideals tagged on. These generally appeal to working-class voters, but if PLCs had huge voting blocks, I'm pretty certain the BNP would be in favour of open trade and against protectionism. They would still be scared angry little people, though. And then the voting populace is scared and/or angry, they chime better with the BNP tune.

Left -vs- Right

Alright. Essay number 1. Left vs right.

sic scribit Wikipedia:

The perspective of Left vs. Right is a broad, dialectical interpretation of a set of factors or determinants.

Translation: this page was written by someone with a Latin education. What is says is that there's an artificial (that's the dialectical bit) divide. Socrates used the method of having person A talk to person B, and try to persuade them of things. This is dialectics. But a 'dialectical interpretation' seems to me to mean that 'Person A identifies with one thing, and identifies person B with another thing'. And then they both agree that they are different, and it makes them feel good.

But I'm going to buy into this system for a moment. Left and right are different approaches to solving a scarcity problem. That's what I think it boils down to. There's been a lot of drift over the course of history. The corn laws are pretty pro-capitalist, but nobility (read, landowners) opposed them. I'm going to stick to contemporary definitions.

The problem is that the easy 'vs' definition is a lie. What you have is more a cloud of little magnetised bars, with 'L' and 'R' instead of N and S. So 'tax the rich' is economic-left. But it's not much to do with other spheres. 'jail should be a punishment for offences' is further to the right than 'jail increases re-offending rates'. Both are then used in dialectics (see how it creeps in?) to persuade other people of things. Pulling numbers out of a hat would be cheaper, and you could tie it into the National Lottery ball machines for added pizzaz.

So in loose area, the contemporary right is concerned with ensuring that individuals have the freedom to operate as they wish to. The left is concerned with ensuring that individuals have the freedom to operate as they wish to...

Oh. You see the problem here, world? So let's think of the right as car A, and the left as car B. The driver of car A decides to drive around London. He uses the M25. The driver of car B decided to drive around London. He uses the North Circular. Which one 'wins' this race can be measured, but only for a particular time. Sometimes, the M25 is the orbital car park it's famed as. Sometimes, weight of traffic on the North Circ means driver B should be taking a bike. Or the tube. Or a unicycle.

But the important thing is that both drivers believe they are getting around London in the best way.

So: to do the best for people, the Right says 'leave them be, let them help each other' and the Left says 'give them a designed structure within which they cannot fall too far. This will help them'.

I think that's the difference between left and right.
The Devil at Devil's Kitchen has drawn my attention to a strange thing. He says that the BNP is ultra left-wing. This gives me my first project. I'm going to understand that statement.

I need to know what the right and the left represent, in that case. As far as I recall from history lessons and hearsay, 'left' and 'right' come from the French pre-revolution period when the nobles sat on the king's right in parliament, and the rabble sat on his left, in a position of less honour. Which sure made him popular with them.

Regardless of whether that's true, or simply good to hear, I'm going to look into left vs right. I'd tell people to wish me luck, but there aren't any people yet.

Oh, hi there, WoW spammers.


There's a lot of work out there. But it's time to pick up my sub to Private Eye again, and work out what else I should be reading. I don't want to set a maximum budget, but I'd like to think about a minimum one.

Then my plan is to look at a couple of issues that are hovering around eye-level with neon lights on, and actually notice them.

I swore I never would touch politics from the inside.

Ah, but was I sober when I swore?

First things first

I think I need a list of places I can go for information, and I also need to do a bit of grubbing for whether that information can be trusted.

I have always despised blogging, and here I am

And I'm here because I'm interested in something that might or might not interest followers as well. I used to be a political animal. Life changed, and I let that slide. I barely follow the news.

I want to see how easy it is to get up to speed with UK politics, and what the bars to entry are, when trying to understand it. I have very few ideas on how to start.