UKIP reminds me of an election fought by schoolchildren—literally

As a child, I went to a well-meaning but mostly awful primary school. It was very modern, with a huge conservatory, fish pond and aviary, but the teaching staff and methods didn’t exactly set you up for a strong shot at success in secondary school. Our final year largely involved us spending an awful lot of time learning about the Hebrews from our ageing and ferociously religious battle-axe teacher, the net result being that most of us subsequently aced Religious Studies the following year, but had no idea how to properly punctuate in English.

The school was also very big on assemblies, having 200 or so kids sit on a hard dining room floor, mumbling some hymn or other while a teacher almost exploded with joy, hammering away at a piano. Occasionally, though, teachers would try something a bit different, and one day we were told we would be having an election.

Our class was split into groups, to form political parties. We were told we’d have to campaign, win over the electorate, and then the winners would be announced in a subsequent assembly.

My memory’s fuzzy on precisely what we were taught regarding the basics of politics, but my guess is not a lot. Instead, our ten- and eleven-year-old brains fired up, figuring out the best way to win. Each team’s tactics, it seemed, were very similar: make a load of promises and attempt to bribe the electorate. Breaktimes became a flurry of snacks (and, unless I’m misremembering, small amounts of money) being foisted on younger voters, while the promises became ever more elaborate. Post-PE showers (which, depressingly, the school didn’t offer)! A special pupils-only telephone (this was, note, 1986)! Longer break-times!

On election day, everyone got their chance to spell out their manifesto one final time, and sing a catchy election song, further ramming home the promises. Then it was time for the vote. Our party won, largely on the basis of making the most outlandish promises (although we were, it has to be said, not the best bribers—our baking skills didn’t match those of our rivals). Boom! Victory!

But any period of joy was short-lived when it suddenly became very clear we couldn’t fulfil anything we’d promised. Not only did we have no power, but the school didn’t have any extra money nor any interest in putting such promises into place. Time in the playground for a while involved attempting to placate angry voters, while our smug teacher helpfully noted that we were getting precisely what we deserved. We’d had a lesson in politics after all, and were learning the hard way.

In today’s British political landscape, I can’t help thinking that Nigel Farage and his UKIP chums were somehow taking notes the day of our election, but didn’t stick around for the aftermath. His party appears to simply suck up every policy the electorate responds negatively to, spin it and spit it out again. It’s the common-sense party, despite having no substance; and every attack on said lack of substance is waved away as some kind of coordinated smear campaign by a ‘LibLabCon’ cartel.

At tomorrow’s European elections, the party’s predicted to perform very well, despite frequent alarmingly racist comments from its members, outbursts that border on fascism, questionable activities regarding expenses, and the party leader disowning his own 2010 manifesto as “drivel”. I hope enough people vote for politicians who want to do better—and who can do better—but I’m fully expecting to be disappointed with a bunch of MEPs being elected who, if anything, have less political promise than children had that day at my old school.

May 21, 2014. Read more in: Politics

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Bank holidays don’t necessarily cost the economy anything

If you’re not British, you perhaps won’t know that the country currently has a government that is, to put it bluntly, rather toxic. It’s set about systematically dismantling the welfare state, including the NHS, and reducing taxes for anyone earning over £150,000, despite yelling “we’re all in it together”. The latest murmurs are that bank holidays are in the firing line, backed by reports arguing if bank holidays were scrapped, the UK would be £19 billion better off (BBC News).

These kinds of reports drive me nuts, because they are based on dry numbers and not how humans work and interact. Simply measuring the UK’s typical output and applying it to days off is simplistic in the extreme. This is because holidays give many people time to rest and recharge, and they enable people to do things together, thereby increasing morale. By removing holidays, productivity during some of the working days that would replace them would be lower, and that £19 billion would end up being a very optimistic figure. This is even more the case when you examine the losses that would impact the leisure industry if those in the UK by default had fewer days off.

Another argument in the same article, is merely to spread out the holidays throughout the year, because they’re currently mostly in the spring and summer:

[ Centre for Economics and Business Research founder Douglas McWilliams] said that by spreading out public holidays, rather than scrapping them, people would enjoy them more.

Spreading them out is certainly a better idea than scrapping them altogether, but why would people enjoy the holidays more if they were moved to less appealing times of the year? That the UK has most holidays in spring and summer is beneficial, because people can make better use of them. Move one from August to November and you just have people moping about on a day off, staring out the window at grey drizzle.

Before I became a freelancer, there were two things I steadfastly believed employers should never mess with: pay and holidays. Oddly, many employers do screw around with both, but those that don’t generally have more content staff. Whatever goes wrong at work, people at least know they have their days off and their pay cheques. The UK, though, now has a government that’s happily assaulting the incomes of more or less anyone who’s not hugely wealthy (Guardian), and I wonder if it’s only a matter of time before some halfwit Tory or Lib-Dem MP argues in front of the Commons that no-one really needs bank holidays anyway—before one of Parliament’s extended breaks, natch.

April 9, 2012. Read more in: Politics

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Did technology and Twitter cause the London riots?

I’ve purposely invoked Betteridge’s Law of Headlines for this article:

Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word ‘no’.

The reason is that the headline I’ve used is the natural stance for the press to take, along with claiming the riots were in part caused by videogames. (As I said on Twitter yesterday, it’s terrible how videogames can lead you into a life of crime. After playing Nintendo games, I cannot pass a turtle without either stamping on it or hurling it at a passing car, so I can overtake.)

It would certainly be naïve to suggest that the likes of Twitter and BBM had nothing to do with aiding the rioting, since they were in part used to plan attacks, but as Paul Chambers said:

Aren’t social networks to blame? Yes, I saw a social network hurl a petrol bomb right into a kitten’s face.

Also, it would be easy to argue rolling news coverage, showing how overwhelmed the police were and how easy it was to loot might just have encourage some additional people to get involved, but I can’t see the press running with “We are in part to blame for riots. Oops” any time soon.

Social networks, though, are just tools, and they can be used for positive and negative acts (unless you’re a Daily Mail reporter, of course—see the BBC’s report for how that publication despicably edited and doctored innocent tweets to make them look malicious). @buttonista also makes a great comment on such technology being to blame for the riots:

If you’re going to blame Twitter, Blackberries etc. for #londonriotsyou might as well blame cars for transporting looters & loot.

And late last night, social networking as a force for good in the riots became astonishingly clear with @riotcleanup and associated hashtags; these have organised mass clean-ups for London, Liverpool and other affected cities, getting things closer to normal far more quickly than councils and locals alone would have been able to. I guess we can await the “Twitter helps with riots clean-up” front-page headline from the Daily Mail any day now, yeah?

Also, a public thumbs-up to @34SP, hosts of riotcleanup.co.uk, which got slammed by traffic and went down (along with other sites on the shared server); the company has now shifted the site to dedicated hosting for free, for a few days.

 

August 9, 2011. Read more in: News, Opinions, Politics, Technology

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UK to drag copyright law out of the 1980s, but some idiots are still whining

Via Sky News, it looks like the UK will finally allow format-shifting by law if proposals go through. Although the BPI has said in the past that it will not sue users ripping CDs to MP3 (or other digital formats) for personal use (Out-Law.com), there’s no provision for this action in UK law. I wonder how many British people even realise format-shifting for personal use is illegal, bar rare exceptions such as television recordings? (Hell, I bet many Brits don’t realise sharing media is illegal.)

According to Sky:

Today the Government is putting the wheels in motion to change this, allowing people to transfer content and make copies for their own and immediate family’s personal use.

The immediate family provision is interesting, because that will also enshrine in law the ability to make a copy that your family can use, which makes sense. Sadly, some people have repeatedly hit themselves with the stupid stick to the point that they don’t recognise what fair-use should entail. Jonathan Shalit, chairman of Roar Global, told Sky News:

The minute you say it is legal to copy something you’re then legitimising it

Oh do fuck right off, Jonathan Shalit. Are you honestly saying that you shouldn’t legitimise fair-use copying? Ah, of course you are: the repercussion for your clients is the inability to resell the same content again and again and again, on whichever media format is the flavour of the day. Again: fuck off, Jonathan Shalit.

and where does the barrier or boundaries of immediate family end.

Gosh, who knows? Maybe that can actually be defined in law, eh? Maybe the new laws will actually have details and stuff, like other existing laws? But here’s my guess: ‘immediate family’ will mean your immediate family. It’s not that tricky to comprehend as a concept, and is presumably designed for household use (i.e. you buy a CD and your wife can use the ripped version). This is sensible, unless, of course, you’re Jonathan Shalit.

I think it has not been well thought through and a lack of respect remains for artists who create the original product.

Those poor, starving artists, who are going to be BANKRUPT through people being able to legally format-shift (something they already do). Hey, how about this, Jonathan Shalit: why don’t we start respecting the consumers? Why shouldn’t I be able to buy a DVD and rip it to my Mac to stream to my Apple TV? Why shouldn’t I be able to buy a CD and then bung it on my iPod? The days of rebuying content whenever a new playback format arrived are dead. And I’m absolutely stoked to see the UK government—typically one of the least tech-savvy around—realising that content purchasers making copies for their own personal use are doing nothing wrong at all.

August 3, 2011. Read more in: News, Opinions, Politics, Technology

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The warnings from a billionaires’ coup in the USA

Debt deal: anger and deceit has led the US into a billionaires’ coup by George Monbiot starkly highlights the ongoing bizarre nature of US politics and voting, mostly with regards to the latest political spat surrounding the debt bill.

There are two ways of cutting a deficit: raising taxes or reducing spending. Raising taxes means taking money from the rich. Cutting spending means taking money from the poor.

Monibiot says there are exceptions to these rules, but they’re largely solid. In the US, like most countries, there’s absolutely no balance between rich and poor:

As the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz points out, in the past 10 years the income of the top 1% has risen by 18%, while that of blue-collar male workers has fallen by 12%.

In fact, in the US, as in other countries, even the middle classes are now finding costs spiralling. Logically, then, the vast majority should demand over the short term to make the super-rich pay more tax, in order to rebalance society and not have everyone but billionaires screwed over. But in the US, the reverse happens, because the super-rich control the media and have a sneaky plan:

So the rich, in a nominal democracy, have a struggle on their hands. Somehow they must persuade the other 99% to vote against their own interests: to shrink the state, supporting spending cuts rather than tax rises. In the US they appear to be succeeding.

Thus, you have poor, jobless people and even the reasonably well off fighting tooth-and-nail against tax rises that wouldn’t affect them but that would potentially make their lives better, and demanding breaks for people who already have more money than they know what to do with. As Monbiot says, many people in the USA therefore

mobilise against their own welfare.

It’s a depressing state of affairs, but the UK’s getting sucked into this way of thinking. Rather than looking east (or north-east) at the genuine big societies of Scandinavia, where there’s a high-tax but also high-support and high quality of life agenda, we have people begging for taxes to be slashed, while the Tory-led government argues for a Big Society that means “deal with everything yourselves, but we won’t support you and, in some cases, we’ll demand you don’t do what you want to, if we decide you shouldn’t be doing it”. Marvellous.

I’m really not sure what the solution is. UK politics will in 2015 take a depressingly huge swing towards partisanship again, when the Liberal Democrats return a dozen or fewer seats. We’ll again see the Tories and Labour trading blows, trying to win an election by using policies to seduce a few important seats, probably in part by pledging to keep taxes low, even for people earning millions. (Scotland will be a partial exception, since the SNP will remain strong, although that party’s tax plans appear to be in almost constant disarray.)

I don’t want to see a return to the kind of Wilson-era supertax, which inspired George Harrison to write Taxman. I don’t think a 95% tax on the super-rich is sensible, and it would almost certainly be detrimental. You’d end up with a ton of tax exiles, more tax cheats, and a lack of willingness in the entrepreneurial space. But the Tories seem determined to scrap the 50% tax band (applied only to earnings over £150,000—about seven times the skewed national average), which doesn’t seem a particularly sensible move. And when you look at the compromises in the USA—slashing benefits for the poor, in order to ensure the rich don’t have to pay an extra penny in taxes—arguing for a low-tax society seems like precisely the opposite of what civilised nations should be doing.

August 2, 2011. Read more in: News, Opinions, Politics

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