Tribalism and British politics, and the need for progressive electoral cooperation

I’m an advocate of proportional representation. My belief is that parliament should broadly mirror the votes made by the public, rather than being hugely imbalanced. I’m also keen on the idea of electoral pacts, in the event that parties outside of the conservative sphere have little other chance of making headway.

Polling suggests in the upcoming general election, a pact might not be enough to stop a Conservative majority anyway. But with a fully strategic approach, it’s possible many of 2015’s Liberal Democrat losses could be flipped (not least due to the party’s pro-EU stance), the Greens could make minor gains, and Labour could benefit in key seats through being backed by a majority of Liberal Democrat and Green voters.

The tiny snag is political parties and the voting public in the UK often won’t have any truck with this. The country en masse reverts to tribalism, and I just don’t understand it. Earlier today, I on Twitter spoke of a fantasy idea where the broadly progressive parties sat down and mapped out a way forward. A response I received was as follows:

Would this result in people being denied a chance to vote for policies they believe in, due to the party candidate tactically not standing?

I think this is the wrong way to look at things, but it’s also commonplace. The British have been trained to take an ‘all or nothing’ approach to politics. Compromise, concession and collaboration are all dirty words in the minds of a great many people across the entire political spectrum.

To illustrate this point, I for a while was a member of a Green Party group on Facebook, largely to try and get across to its members my thoughts on the party’s approach to copyright (which I considered deeply flawed) prior to the 2015 general election. There were people there fuming at the prospect of any cooperation with parties that supported nuclear power. When asked what their plan was, they responded they would wait until the time there was a Green Party majority government that could implement its policies in full.

The reality is that there will almost certainly never be a Green Party majority government in the UK, and nor will there be a Liberal Democrat one. There cannot be Plaid Cymru or SNP majorities, and it also seems vanishingly unlikely Labour will be able to get a majority either. And so we again come down to tribalism versus compromise.

My position is that I’d rather have most of what I want than nothing at all. Under a Lab/Lib/SNP coalition, the resulting policy will be more authoritarian than I’d like, with – due to Labour – more overt compromises on Europe. Similarly for those anti-nuclear Greens, imagine a coalition where Caroline Lucas is in government with the energy brief. She wouldn’t be able to shut down all the nuclear power stations, but she would be able to begin transforming the UK’s energy situation, rapidly increasing renewable power.

In other words, the compromise position will always likely be better than what you get in deciding on all or nothing. But, as ever, despite the most urgent need for electoral cooperation in modern British history, the chances of that happening at the party level are almost nil. In part, the voting system is to blame – with a proportional representation (or even a run-off) system, you’d be able to vote with your heart and provide subsequent pragmatic ‘support’ options for other parties. But mostly the lack of political will among fairly like-minded parties (most notably right now Labour and the Liberal Democrats) and among voters will stop millions getting anything close to what they want, and will leave them with nothing.

April 21, 2017. Read more in: Opinions, Politics

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Burger King, ‘OK, Google’, and the effect of intrusive advertising

You’ve probably heard by now that Burger King in its infinite wisdom decided to run an advert that had someone leaning into the camera to say: “OK, Google, what is the Whopper burger?” Cue: every Google device within earshot obediently reading the Wikipedia article about one of the company’s burgers.

Google’s since put out a fix, which I assume had the code name ‘Die, Burger King, die’, and reports suggest the company’s working to have devices respond to owners rather than anyone.

Speaking to BuzzFeed, Burger King president José Cil argued it was a “cool way to connect directly with our guests”. I’d argue it was a clever way to get column inches, but the company seemingly makes the assumption everyone is a potential Burger King customer, and is happy to be in on the experiment.

More bafflingly, in the Guardian’s report, Charlie Crowe, president of a publishing and events company, appeared to back Burger King, although he started well when talking about the nature of the advert. “Any advertising or media idea which provokes us to think about the absurdities of modern day digital life is, in itself, a good thing,” he said — and that in itself is a good point, as is: “Perhaps what is so unnerving about this is that it makes us think about how digital technology is impacting our lives in ways we are only beginning to appreciate.”

But then he added: “Maybe this all is a little uncomfortable… so why shouldn’t this make us want to leave our homes and visit a Burger King with our friends?” Frankly, any company overstepping the mark into my living room and disrupting my world uninvited can piss right off. But perhaps this is it now: intrusive and aggressive advertising is here to stay. It’s not about winning you over, but bludgeoning you into submission, so you’ll buy something or visit an outlet, in the hope that the companies in question will eventually leave you alone.

April 13, 2017. Read more in: Technology

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Find your iOS 11 games death list – and learn how to save your favourites

As outlined in Alex Hern’s Guardian piece, iOS 10.3 provides a death list for apps and games. Without updates, these products will all cease to work in iOS 11. You can find the list in Settings, by navigating to General > About > Apps. Of the 74 favourite/stored games I have on my iPhone, the following are currently listed as having no updates available:

Beat Sneak Bandit; Bit Pilot; Crazy Taxi; Critter Panic; Devil’s Attorney; Drop7; Drop Wizard; Flick Kick Field Goal; Flight Control; Forget-Me-Not; Gridrunner; I Am Level (which in some ways is the saddest entry in this list – here’s why); Infinight; LEX; Mikey Boots; Mikey Hooks; Mikey Shorts; Mini Motor Racing; Mos Speedrun; Osmos; Relic Rush; Ridiculous Fishing; Spell Sword; Strata; Trainyard; VVVVVV; Westbang; Zen Bound 2.

And that’s just the games on my iPhone. On my iPad, which has far more games stored, you can add: Active Soccer 2; Big Big Castle; Crazy Taxi; CRUSH; Darkside; DRM; ElectroMaster; Halcyon; Helix; HungryMaster; Magnetic Billiards; Minotaur Rescue; Minotron; Ms. Particle Man; Mutant Storm; Nightmare Cooperative; Puzzlejuice; QatQi; Reckless Racing HD; Sailor’s Dream; Slydris; Space Invaders Infinity Gene; Space Junk; Sprinkle Islands; Stealth Inc.; Sunburn!; Super Crossfire; Twelve A Dozen; Wave Trip; Wonderputt; World of Goo; Year Walk. That’s… a lot of games.

There are still five months until iOS 11 drops, and some may be updated by then. VVVVVV’s author has confirmed to me that his game will be, as has Darkside’s. Mos Speedrun’s author readied a 64-bit build within a couple of days of me flagging the game as under threat on Twitter. Simogo is also aiming to make its games compatible. However, I also know several games on the above list definitely won’t be fixed – either because it’s impossible/not viable to, or because the creators would rather you grab sequels/follow-ups instead. Worryingly, several developers I’ve contacted weren’t aware there was even a problem with their apps.

This piece isn’t a criticism of Apple, note (although it would be good if the company would again politely nudge developers of apps in the firing line). We no longer live in a world where mobile games systems are a single unit, living for a finite time, and offering one generation of backwards compatibility if you’re lucky. Instead, mobile systems in the sense of smartphones and tablets are all about incremental upgrades. Things break all of the time, as OS upgrades cause issues with older software. But iOS 11 looks like it’s going to be a doozy, so you’d best come prepared.

I outlined how in a feature for Stuff a short while ago, which also explains the history of this particular transition, warnings Apple provided to developers, but also the sad reality that in many cases it’s simply not worth a developer’s time to update a game. So, again, welcome to gaming’s future – it’s not especially bothered about even its relatively recent past.

April 4, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Gaming

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Taking back control: freedom from freedom of movement

Various sources report Theresa May will announce the end of free movement for new EU migrants in March. I find this terribly depressing. My family exists because of free movement. In 2002, I moved to an EEA country, because I could, and to see how things would turn out with someone I’d met and who subsequently became my wife. I was – as now – a freelance writer, but that didn’t matter. I didn’t need a visa. I didn’t need a job and a work permit. I just showed up, lived, worked, paid my taxes, and so on. After a while, we switched countries and moved to the UK.

Now, we’ve no idea what the future holds in the country of my and my child’s birth. The government has at varying turns suggested it would guarantee residency rights for EU and/or EEA nationals. But then there have been various caveats tossed into the ring: EU27 specifically (i.e. not necessarily EEA/Swiss); only those making “full” use of rights (i.e. in work); residency only (i.e. not necessarily including access to healthcare, making staying unviable for many and problematic for a great many more); and residency only for those who meet the UK’s arbitrary earnings threshold. Additionally, those people wishing to secure residency or citizenship have found the process opaque and in some cases blocked by broadly unknown technicalities.

It’s not a good time for those of us in this situation.

But while this kind of story is already somewhat in the public consciousness, I do wonder how many Brits – and especially those who voted to leave the EU – realise this cuts both ways. I’ve seen various surveys that show a huge disconnect in the way British people see immigration. Such surveys asked British people whether EEA nationals should have the right to settle in the UK, which met with a broadly negative response. The same people were asked whether British people should have the right to settle in the EEA, at which point the majority view switched. It probably doesn’t help that language in the media and beyond for years has referred to Brits overseas as ‘ex-pats’, as thought they are somehow different from other immigrants.

They are not, and this is something the UK is going to become very suddenly aware of. Because when we are free from freedom of movement, that adversely affects the British too. Had your eye on retiring in Spain? Tough. Fancied moving to Sweden, just because you could? Too bad. Got kids hankering after university in Germany or the Netherlands? Best hunker down with a pile of paperwork for visas and hope for the best.

I mentioned this on Twitter earlier, wondering at what point we’re going to see the Daily Mail and co. recognise this problem, and scream about “EU SPITE” regarding their readership’s rights to reside overseas suddenly evaporating. Someone noted Daily Mail readers were up in arms on day one. One political commentator I follow online also mentioned a while back that a Conservative MP in a Commons debate said many Brits want to retire to Spain, and this “important right” should be retained – all while his party was dismantling the regulations that make such movement possible.

And yet for some Brexiters, even none of this is a concern. They slam residents here for not taking citizenship (even if many cannot, for various reasons), and note that British people have for years been able to move, live, work, study, and love in countries beyond the EEA. The movement point is of course true, but freedom of movement within the EEA was broadly about security and ease. It didn’t come attached with massive costs and administrative burdens, the immediate threat of deportation if you lost employment, the limitation of a single country, and a lack of security on your status always looming in the background.

Brexiters like to think that without immigrants, the UK will suddenly revert to some kind of glorious age – but they’re wrong. (And which age? That halcyon moment never existed anyway.) They also think that the British will benefit when freedom of movement is abolished, and that this doesn’t come with any downsides. They’re wrong about those things too.

February 27, 2017. Read more in: Opinions, Politics

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The Guardian vs Brian Eno or the interviewer vs the interviewee

I was recently pointed at a Guardian interview with Brian Eno. The piece is perhaps most politely described as confrontational. At one point, Eno apologises for being ratty, but the write-up mostly showcases a writer slamming into a wall on discovering what an artist wants to talk about isn’t what he himself had in mind.

Often, it seems Simon Hattenstone, for whatever reason, has an obsession with Eno’s past. There are questions about Eno’s background, and of his many collaborations. Eno is not interested in discussing such things, at one point noting the journalist can find answers to such questions in countless interviews elsewhere (“But you can do research. That’s your job!”), and so a big chunk of what’s reported seems to paint him as controlling. Relatively little of the piece is about the things Eno’s currently interested in: art; ambient and generative audio; society.

It’s an uncomfortable read, not only as a typical reader, but also as a writer. I’ve interviewed plenty of people myself, and you’d perhaps expect me to side with the writer here, but I don’t. I always prefer interviews where I get out of the way. Once, I interviewed Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov, but the transcript is closer to a lecture. I just sat and listened as he spoke about the things he wanted to and was interested in. The end result was far better for that.

Additionally, I find the notion of repeatedly revisiting the same old thing curious. If you’re going to get a short time to chat with someone like Brian Eno, why on the day dredge up his dad being a postman? Why waste time grilling him on working with Roxy Music, Bowie and Talking Heads, when he’s talked about that so many times before? Why not instead spend the time finding out something new, talking about ideas, thinking and projects that cement the interview in the present? That’s got to beat unnecessary confrontation, and trying to get someone to reword something they’ve said many times before, on subjects they’ve long had enough of discussing.

February 15, 2017. Read more in: Music, Opinions

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