Monday, 19 April 2010

How many seats can the LibDems win?

Only a few months ago all and sundry were telling us that LibDems were on course for electoral devastation on the back of polls showing the party in the mid-teens and were poised to lose up to half of their MPs.

Now, on the back of a stunningly well-recieved performance in the first leadership debate the same pollsters are telling us that the LibDems are on course to double the return.

As long as two years ago I predicted the LibDems should be aiming to continue making gains and that any increase in the number of MPs was good news. But now expectations have risen: the party is playing on a level pitch with the public and there is a perception that what Nick Clegg says is resonating - at the very least Gordon Brown agrees with Nick!

So, rather than inching forward from the 60-odd seats now held it almost looks like anything less than a three-figure haul will be considered a missed opportunity.

Oddly enough, electoral calculators continue to predict Labour as the largest parliamentary party even should they come third in the popular vote. So electoral reform is now strongly on the cards and the tories are the main obstacle to acheiving it.

It is striking that the LibDem spread of votes countrywide may mitigate against the public thinking a vote is meaningful, but with every polling point the party advances this argument diminishes and the potential tipping point is reached - while 31% or even 33% may be seen as a surmountable problem for the old duopoly 36% or 38% sees the LibDems heading towards a majority of their own!

So every vote will count extra if it is a vote for the LibDems this time round.


UKPR's excellent list of published polls.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Songs of the week

Change is the big theme of the election.

Controversy was initiated when the PR team behind tory leader David Cameron decided to use Keane's song as an anthem for their manifesto launch against the wishes of the band when apparently members had already granted exclusive use to the LibDems.

The tory machine has clearly thought they've found a theme which taps into the pop culture consciousness as they've signed up Take That's Gary Barlow to front a policy initiative to unearth new talent in an X-Factor style search.

But it is eerily reminiscent of previous criticism of David Cameron for naming The Jam's 'Eton Rifles' and The Smiths as his favorites.

The only fair conclusion to be drawn is that either the tory leader doesn't listen to the content of the music he listens to and has failed to grasp the intent behind it or that his acolytes are cynically pushing him into adopting it.

Obviously the tories are only talking change since their rhetoric doesn't chime with reality.

Will Young is another LibDem who'd also be opposed to the tories using his songs.

And you just have to wonder how long it'll be before they make overtures towards David Bowie.


more music

Friday, 16 April 2010

Song of the day

Well, there are two big news stories today.

They are the 'historic' first leadership debate between the prime ministerial candidates and the grounding of thousands of flights over northern Europe due to volcanic particles entering the flight paths of aeroplanes following the eruption of the wonderfully-named Eyjafjallajokull volcano.

Amidst all the cynicism about politics in the aftermath of the expenses scandal, Iraq and everything else this oldie is strangely appropriate.

I particularly like the line: "...come back as fire, burn all the liars and leave a blanket of ash on the ground."

Handily Greg Neale recalls a story I also remember about how an eruption of the Laki volcano in 1793 conspired to add to the general toxic atmosphere of pre-revolutionary France. According to Gilbert White an acid, acrid 'red mist' descended on the land (and is blamed for the death of up to a quarter of the global population as 120m tonnes of sulphur dioxide was released into the sky, together with changed climate patterns and subsequent failed harvests) which contemporaries such as Ben Franklin saw as an indicator for the forthcoming social tumult.

Perhaps it was more a case of the retrospective wisdom of commentators who latched onto the event as a metaphor for the times than a direct indicator (in a similar way to the sinking of the unsinkable Titanic foreshadowed the death of the ancien regime), but nevertheless it is inescapable that the comparative mindsets of the people on either side of the channel and their reactions contributed to the political climate.

The dogmatic and volatile religious fervour in traditionally-Catholic France (exemplified by the replacement of one absolutist cult after another, from Louis XVI to Robespierre and the Jacobin Reign of Terror to Napoleon himself) which viewed their supreme deity as having forsaken the people or betrayed their trust contrasts with the gently sceptical and scientific Protestantism at large in the mind of Britain (eptiomised by Hampshire's country pastor and naturalist White) which tends towards self-reliance and a generally inquisitive attitude.

I may be being optimistic, but with all the new outlets for information and comment including this humble blog and the first televised debate last night I actually have some serious hope that all the liars will be burnt as they are exposed to a more intense level of scrutiny - something that already seems to be happening with Cameron's claim about a £73k Lexus as indicative of waste in the Police force, Brown's claim that Police will be 'visible' on the streets 80% of the time being hung out to dry and a greater focus on all the claims made by each side.

LibDems traditionally suffer from a lack of profile and also from a consequent lack of scrutiny of their manifesto figures and actual policies, so although I'm pleased that Nick Clegg has been resoundingly named the victor of the first debate (whatever that means) I think it will serve the party better should we see a significant rise in the number of votes and seats gained, or even should the state of the LibDems become decisive to the formation of the eventual government: the threat of scrutiny is nothing to be feared!

It's ominous that experts are already suggesting that we should be prepared for a second, larger eruption from the neighbouring Katla volcano - one of Icelands twin 'angry sisters'. Although Eyjafjallajokull has only exploded 3 times in a millenium, each time it set off Katla... maybe this time the people will really look at the manifestos on offer and overturn the assumed consensus that hard-line policies are most popular.

Don't get me wrong, I like procedural rigour, but without the imaginative perspective to go with it and be able to see where we're headed politics offers nothing but excuses for past mistakes. This country really does need to explode the myth that perpetual top-down clampdowns is any way forward.


More music

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Gearing up for the leadership debate

I've switched on. I've got my popcorn. And I've got a bottle of rum and a shot-glasss for all the standard cliches Brown, Cameron and Clegg will make during the course of the show.

Interestingly I see the Greens have tried to muscle in on the action by using today as the formal launch of their manifesto.

It looks like Caroline Lucas is clearly positioning them as the high-tax party, although I doubt this will have major appeal it will attract the state socialists and in doing so has set a backdrop for what will be said tonight. So I will be watching to see how the leaders of the 'big three' parties respond to the political challenge this presents.

Now let's go.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

A conversation about immigration

Following on from my previous post where I argue liberty can only be found by balancing equality with justice it is important to discuss the issue of immigration.

I said:
"there needs to be a wider acknowledgement of the pluralistic values inherent to a secular state, that positive discrimination and the unfair promotion of minority interests can be equally threatening as negative discrimination and the unjust suppression of majority concerns."
In many ways unfair promotion or unjust suppression of interests and concerns can equally relate to both sides of the argument, whether it is from a majority or minority perspective.

I think this is important for its relevance to how we understand social relationships can be constructed in a positive and creative way, rather than used to scapegoat certain sections of society.

In a recent discussion over on Left Outside with BNP supporter 'Dan Dare', he contends that 'indiginous groups' are being harmed by the subordination of their majority rights to the concerns of minorities, that immigration needs to stopped to prevent harming this country and that immigration needs to be justified because it is currently unmandated and is not supported by the 'overwhelming majority' of people in this country.

I disagree strongly with this claim, stating
"immigration is a process. As a process it has a variety of certain, specific, uncertain and inspecific effects, the balance of which can be either positive or negative depending on how they are handled."
The consequence of this is that many people can easily be lead to believe from a selective interpretation of the current circumstance where government policy is suffering from a range of failings that immigration is the problem - rather than the way it is being handled.

It is a matter of perspective.

'Dan Dare' has challenged me to continue the discussion, and I'm more than happy to oblige by engaging with him on the basis that the real issues may be brought out into the open to foster greater understanding of the challenges the situation presents to enable a more rounded perspective on the actual state of affairs and what should be the course of action going forward.

So if readers wish to pipe up and join in with a constructive approach I think we'd all benefit from a frank exchange of views.


Note: I recognise this is a highly contentious issue which can get heated, so be warned that I am prepared to moderate comments on this particular thread if passions get too heated or are designed to provoke rather than inform.

And while I'm at it I think I'll post this video as a good piece of advice worth following.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Balancing Equality With Justice

It has to be said the Equality Bill continues to cause controversy.

After a gay couple were turned away from a B&B in Cookham the tory party's shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling has been exposed as wishing to overturn anti-discrimination legislation thereby allowing guest-house owners to vet future clients.

But that ignores the service provided by the accomodation trade: they accomodate.

There is already a clear distinction between the public and the private spheres, so really this shouldn't be a cause of contention. Yet it does uncover an inherent instability created by the legislation passed to bring about greater equality.

When the laws were written they were designed to introduce the principles of Human Rights in tangible ways to prevent discrimination in a variety of areas. First came moves to ensure sexual and racial equality (which primarily affected employment laws), these were eventually followed by laws which made it a crime to discriminate on the grounds of physical ability, sexual orientation, religion/belief and age.

Which all sounds just perky on initial reading. But as all these laws were collected into its latest incarnation earlier this year it started to become clear that parliament has created a massive grey area by failing to explain what happens when these different rights come into competition with each other, which naturally gives rise to conflicts of interest.

For example, is the law against racial incitement at conflict with the right to free speech? Whose rights outweigh the others, and most importantly, how do we decide?

In effect the anti-discrimination legislation is forcing a choice upon us where society must decide upon a heirarchy of freedoms. The consequence of which is a wealth of confusion and anger as each group feel victimised by those they must defer to with a result that a sense of inequality grows. And we begin to see that action to ensure equality has the reverse effect!

So how do we find a way round this problem by balancing the competing rights to avoid official sanctioning of ill-treatment of people and the sense of victimisation that comes with it?

Equality on it's own simply isn't enough, we must use the balancing force of justice - at which point it becomes helpful to redefine discrimination into negative and positive forms so the law can be clearer about exactly what kind of behaviour it is trying to stop and what is to be encouraged.

Historically democracy has been underpinned by the secular demand for freedom of conscience and the separation of church and state, but when we hear the many vociferous proponents of anti-discrimination legislation using it to further atheist ideology we can start to see how it is no longer an attack on certain forms of 'undesirable' ideas, but on the very pluralism essential for effective democracy.

Rationalism is good in the public sphere and the policy-making process, but it's impossible to police the private sphere where millions of individual decisions are made every second. Furthermore, the consequence of trying is precisely the authoritarian Jacobinism Britain defeated when the Bill of Rights safeguarded the freedom of conscience in 1689 to pave the way for parliamentary democracy and the foundation of the modern secular state.

Which brings me back to the case at hand of a religiously-inclined owner of a B&B turning a gay couple away from her guesthouse, which also happens to be her family home.

In this case there really is no conflict because the boundaries between the public and private sphere have already been defined by the owner for tax purposes (as la Mortimer details). It is merely a matter of confusion caused by ignorance about how, where and when these apply in reality.

It could fairly be said that the Equality Bill is a well-intentioned way of putting us on the road to hell, but we can find diversion from this seeming inevitability without abandoning any hope of achieving a fairer, more just society.

For this there needs to be a wider acknowledgement of the pluralistic values inherent to a secular state, that positive discrimination and the unfair promotion of minority interests can be equally threatening as negative discrimination and the unjust suppression of majority concerns (I think I'll need to return to the question of immigration later).

From all that it should be clear that I don't agree with the hyped-up anger that Grayling's comments opposing the equality legislation shows him to be a homophobe, but I do think it shows him willing to pander to the vested interests of groups potentially motivated by homophobia - which, in many ways, is worse.


Now, as I like addressing controversial areas it would be inconsistent for me to avoid stirring the pot by asking a testy question: are governments of developed economies tacitly supporting the spread of homosexuality in order to address demographic questions such as over-population?

Or, as it was put to me, isn't it our 'duty' to form 'unnatural' relationships in order to save the environment and make a better world?

I can't imagine how that person thought it would be a successful chat-up line - especially given the range and type of 'unnatural relationships' that might encompass!