Direct Democracy… a Possibility?

I received this tweet yesterday, after slagging off Meg Hillier MP and posting my rant reply to her group email:

@Saronimo Hi – I’m your local independent candidate.
Fed up with an MP who ignores her constituents?
Check out my site: http://getavote.org

So naturally I decided to check out the website of a local independent, Denny de la Haye. Seems quite interesting: he pledges to implement a constituency wide ‘referendum’ for each instance where he is called to vote in Parliament with 3 exceptions: he will always vote for laws that 1. Improve equality, 2. Improve civil liberties and 3. Improve democracy.  Well who wouldn’t, right? *Cough* #DeBill *cough*.

This greatly improves on the current voter power of the constituency to which I belong which is, according to this website 0.039% and, assuming that I’m either voting with the mobile vulgus or Denny de la Haye himself (in the case of the mob voting against democracy, equality or civil liberties), would mean being part of a Shoreditch-wide ‘direct democracy’.  How very Bohemian.

This got me thinking. With the prevalence of the Internet in the second decade of the 21st century, this kind of electoral reform could work – the kind that utilises the power of this world-wide, instantaneous, ubiquitous communication tool.

There would be an issue, of course, of proving your identity when it came to casting your vote. No more, in reality, than there is currently. (Turning up to the polling station with your voting card is hardly foolproof!) Just as an example,  we could all be provided with a polling identity number which we would use to log onto our local MP’s secure server along with, say, passport number (NOT ‘ID card’ number – let’s keep cost to a minimum!) as a double layer of entry and voila! cast your vote. [Caveat: possibly not foolproof either, but I’m writing this in my lunchbreak!]

I’m sure every generation say this, but times have changed. Whereas the #Trafigura super-injunction against The Guardian was reported, (wiki)leaked and posted, re-tweeted, blogged about and generally disdained just in time for elevenses, a Parliamentary debate can last hours and predominantly consists of personal attacks and farmyard animal noises (the irony of which I’m sure escapes them). In other words 20 years ago it would have been impossible to undertake referenda in a country our size because of timing issues, but now: definitely not.

In short: we need electoral reform. Direct democracy should not be discounted.

Please feel free to comment and share thoughts on the practicalities/technical side of anything I have written!

I should probably say that, along with my (in hindsight) clear preference in my views on the ‘Science in the General Election’, I am not aligning myself with a particular candidate here. The search continues…

Reply (finally) from Meg Hillier MP on the Digital Economy Bill

After 2 emails to Meg on this issue alone, finally I get a group response. Please see below for the vague, non-committal, generic email.

Thank you for contacting me about the digital economy bill. Please accept my apologies for the group response. I have had a great number of e-mails about this bill.

I agree with you that the bill should have time to be properly debated in the House and I have raised my concerns about the timing of the progress of this bill.

When Parliament is prorogued (i.e suspended before the election) all remaining bills are put into what is commonly called the wash up. This is a process which requires both major parties to agree which bills they pass into law. Early signs are that the digital economy bill may be agreed between Government and opposition.

A number of people have also written to me specifically about the copyright of ‘orphan works’. I am concerned about how this part of the bill will affect photographers (professional and amateur) and I have spoken to the minister personally about this.

I have been reassured somewhat that even if the bill is passed next week, the measures effecting photographers need not be enacted in regulations (legislation after a bill becomes law to enforce certain parts of it) if photographers do not want it. This means that even if it’s passed, we can work to stop the proposal being enacted and I would take this up after May 7th if returned to Parliament.

Thank you for taking the time to write to me about this issue. I will keep you updated with any developments.

Yours sincerely

Meg Hillier MP

****** New: I replied today – see below:*******

Good afternoon Meg,

Thank you for your reply.

It is good to know that you are concerned with the timing of the progress of this bill. I appreciate you voicing your concerns and speaking to the minister personally about the issue of orphan works. I am glad to see that, after the second reading, clause 43 of this bill has been dropped, that was something that would further distort the balance of intellectual property in favour of those with deeper pockets.

Something I am still concerned about, however, is the amendment to clause 8. In particular, the wording: “…is likely to be used for or in connection with an activity that infringes copyright”. One angle of the problem is obvious – the wording ‘is likely to be used’ could include sites like wikileaks, as argued by John Hemming at th second reading, or even sites which have *not yet* committed copyright infringement. (I’m sure I don’t have to quote article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or even use the phrase ‘innocent until proven guilty’.)

The other side of the coin is the growing number of free anonymity software available. I’ll leave you to research these in your own time, but these essentially mask IP addresses in different ways and are widely available and will have the effect of send illegal downloading underground. (This is an important factor as to why any monitoring of Internet activities is not only a breach of human rights, but a pointless and very expensive waste of resources).

As you said yourself, many people are upset by this, and also feel very strongly about it (please see WWW.TWOMONTHSNOMUSIC.BLOGSPOT.COM for more details, this is a blog written by Patrick (twitter handle @patrickolszo) that I found through reading other people’s views on twitter. He is a music fanatic has decided to boycott music for 2 months as a personal protest to the digital economy bill.)

In light of your comments and assurances that you were worried too, I’d like you to explain to me why you did not attend the second reading of this bill, please? You said in your email that many people had contacted you about this bill; you said yourself that you were concerned and worried by the timing and the fact that you were not able to debate it in Parliament and so this leaves me with a sense of confusion as to why you were not present.

I should remind you that you work for us. You are our elected representative and I question your ‘sincerity’ that you did not turn up to a reading of a bill you know provokes strong reactions in the constituency. This is fast becoming an election issue for many, especially of the younger generation, and so I welcome your explanation.

Yours sincerely,

Saronimo
N1

Tragic Facebook Murder and the Raging Privacy Debate.

The sentencing of Peter Chapman this week for kidnapping, raping and murdering teenager Ashleigh Hall has, quite rightly, led to numerous articles and commentaries in the mainstream media.

From what I can gather this man was a registered sex offender who was released on license on the proviso he complied with a strict set of instructions. In Jan 09 officers visted his home to find him not present, and then subsequently attempted to discover his whereabouts. In September 09 – 8 months later – they then issued a wanted alert. Mersyside Police have since submitted themselves to IPCC for investigation.

What does concern me is the angle that some articles have chosen. Namely this in The Telegraph, this in The Daily Mail and even this in The Guardian.

Firstly may I say that this is an absolutely tragic crime. My heart goes out to the friends and the family of Ashleigh Hall, whose grief and pain is unimaginable; to Ms Hall herself, whose final, harrowing moments need no further portral of despair; even to the individual officers of Mersyside police, who will be feeling guilt and shame – so much so that they referred themselves to be investigated by the IPCC. I do not in any way mean to diminish the severity of this crime.

But this crime is not a characterisation of the modern world; this is not a new crime. It is a heinous crime, yes, and its exact method would not have been seen 20 years ago. But policing the internet and monitoring emails is not the answer.

Facebook may well introduce a panic button, but this crime would not have happened if this man had not gained the trust of his victim – panic button or otherwise. Sex offenders emails may well be monitored, but we’ve seen how things can be overlooked when monitoring is supposed to be taking place. Surely education is the answer, for young people especially? IT as a core subject; introduce a module into the new ‘compulsory’ sex education bill on the internet; alert parents via a school newsletter and alert children to the dangers of being too trusting.

We can’t let ourselves be manipulated into giving up our privacy and freedom. It will start with the ‘high-risk’ parts of society but, make no mistake, a lazy, controlling government will see this rolled out nationwide in no time at all.

Homeopathic Methods Applied as a Case Study.

I recently read ‘What actually gets taught on a homeopathy course: part 1’ revealed by Professor Colquhoun in his website and it got me thinking about application of these ‘scientific’ methods. Since the treatment is often constructed based on the idiosyncrasies of the ailment at the hands of a ‘trained professional’, this leaves the root of the problem often open to interpretation.

‘Like with Like’ is the claim made on The Society of Homoeopaths website. So, for a person suffering with insomnia, ‘coffea’ could be recommended (a thoroughly watered down coffee) – to generalise, a substance that would cause symptoms in an otherwise healthy person is used to create a remedy.

On that note, I’ve imagined that ‘The Economy’ has walked though into my ‘pretend diagnosis’ room (sounds about right). Poorly and unsure of the root of the problem, given the length of time between acknowledgement of a problem and any diagnosis or action, I’m not surprised she sought alternative therapy. Not that I want to propogate a self-fulfilling prophesy, but unless something dramatically alters, we’ll see a Conservative government voted into power within the next year and this probably means that deregulation will be among the diagnoses of the financial woes presided over by The Labour Party in the past 12 years. So if I were a Conservative* Homeopath* I might concoct a remedy based on regulation watered down so much that there appears to be very little substance left. That sounds familiar.

When labour came into power 1997 after the systematic deregulation and privatisation of many public services by a conservative government, they tried to claw back some financial regulation with the introduction the FSA and FSMA 2000. Consolidating 7 regulatory bodies into 1, their watered-down, ambiguous Primary Objectives appear to have, without going into too much detail, errr… failed. Not only that, but they have kept very quiet about their accountability,  allowing blame to lie with individuals who are supposedly authorised, regulated and penalised by themselves. In fact, the Principles of Business are so watered down they leave many of the judgement calls on ethos and even individual trades to the very people that profit from them, and retaining what some may opine to be very little substance themselves. Hmm…

The continued application of such ‘remedies’  with, at best, zero proof of efficacy is commonplace in policy making, displayed by the recent dismissal of Professor Nutt. You’d think that drugs policy would be one of the easiest areas to turn into a near exact science. Legislation could easily be based on scientific results from data collected in studies relating to physical/mental health rather than applying the same old ‘classification rehashing’ to a problem caused by prohibition and characterised by criminalising addicts. Apparently not.

I really hope** that the next government discontinue the use of out-dated methods of applying remedies, we’ve come a long way scientifically in the last 100 years and we don’t really need to still be using the same archaic MO.  Regulation and state-control are not necessarily the enemy; poorly justified, ambiguous, unaccountable, watered-down regulation, however, is.

* I’m not.

** While my hope is rational, it is wasted. So instead I heartily look forward to the ribbing that the main parties get when their ‘science’ is put under scrutiny.

How is the right to ‘Fame’ more important than the right to the truth?

I was reading an article earlier about the Iraq war enquiry and was struck by something Sir Ken McDonald (former Director of Public Prosecutions) said:

But Macdonald also expressed concerns about the Iraq inquiry, suggesting that some of its questioning has been “unchallenging” and that Sir John Chilcot and his team will be held in “contempt” if they fail to uncover the truth about the war.

For the past 18 months I have been closely following Simon Singh’s ludicrous libel case brought against him by the British Chiropractic Association.  He claimed in an article he wrote for a national Newspaper that the BCA were making bogus claims when they say that they can treat non-rheumatic conditions in children, such as asthma.  An excellent analysis of the ongoing saga can be found at Jack of Kent’s site. Jack of Kent is a UK based legal blogger and part of a group of highly intelligent people who drag me out of despair when I can’t find a New Scientist in a news agents because the shelves are full of Nuts, Heat or other such crap.

I digress.

In the same article Sir Ken McDonald has also accused Tony Blair of being a sycophant and misleading the public. While this is not new information for anyone, this is the first time that someone in the public sphere has come right out and categorically said that Tony Blair was being deceitful. To phrase it another way, his argument to the British public to gain support for the war was bogus. (Subterfuge was the word Andrew Sparrow used – good word.)

I do realise that there is a difference in a legal sense between choosing to write an article for a national newspaper and being under oath in a national enquiry, in addition the word ‘bogus’ is an issue, but to the layperson the motivation behind both comments are the same: the desire for truth.

There has been a creeping air, over the past few years, of oppression and  whitewash. A kind of forcible ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’. I first noticed it around the time the Iraq war broke out when several of my friends made their way down to London to join the million strong protest, although no doubt others were quicker on the mark. We can see this in many areas of public life: expenses; the Iraq war; G20 protests and the death of Mr. Tomlinson; libel tourism; you’re not allowed to give a bad reference to staff these dyas, even if it’s true.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press is something which is absolutely imperative to maintain our freedom as a nation. We think we are a long way from China, whose Government kindly censors the internet for them, but are Mandy’s plans not of censorship? At what point do we say enough is enough?

We understand that with our right to freedom comes the right of others to freely judge you for what you say(/write ) and that defamation of character can be a nasty business, but we need to be able to trust that what we hear is the truth – at least in somebody’s opinion. There needs to be some sort of balance between being free to speak your mind and challenge what you believe to be untrue, and the ‘right’ not to be ‘defamed’. Currently the balance is obsequiously in favour of those who can afford it, with celebrities and businesses bullying the pot until individuals are forced to fold.

Sign the petition below to support reform of the Libel Laws in our country.

http://www.libelreform.org/

Freedom to Create Straw-Man

I had arranged to meet with my old University comrades at the weekend. We met in a pub and, of course, started talking about work, in particular any new jobs amongst us. One of the group had moved down to London fairly recently and was talking in general about the hedges made by the commodity trading company he works for. I asked him the name of the company, out of interest. He seemed to mumble into his glass. “Speak up, boy, what’s the name?” I asked, confused as to why this chirpy, loud, northerner was shrinking behind his pint.

Imagine my surprise when it turned out he works for Trafigura. Yes – THE Trafigura – child-killing, freedom-of-speech inhibiting Trafigura. After my initial shock had calmed down and I had retreated from trying to physically attack him with my umbrella, we started to talk about it as some in the group had never heard of them so a couple of us explained the situation.

This got me thinking. The Guardian, of course, have been keeping tabs for a while and a number of articles are categorised away in their own section on the website, helpfully entitled: ‘Trafigura’ which have, as far as I can tell, details on the main bulk of the situation starting May 2009.

So I wondered to myself, as I was telling the story (adding in my own adjectives, which got progressively more sweary as the night went on), after the Newcastle-under-Lyne MP Paul Farrelly asked his question in Parliament, (which us Plebians weren’t meant to know) then after twitter went crazy for the treasure hunt and spilled the beans (because the questions asked in Parliament are published ahead of time anyway and the name Carter-Ruck were given in the article), the actual Minton Report was bandied about, then the injunction was lifted after it was dropped by Carter-Ruck (one assumes at the request of Trafigura)… Then what happened, after the outrage died down?

Did I even know what Jack Straw said in answer to the question, or was my outrage enough as a standalone object? At what was my seething rage directed? Well the curtailing of our human rights, of course. Under the Bill of Rights Act 1688 no-one must inhibit the freedom to debate and speak in the Houses of Parliament.

So what happened then, in a nutshell?  The Guardian planned to report, as it had been doing since May 2009, on the on-going saga involving a company outsourced by the entity in question, Trafigura and the illegal dumping of Toxic Waste. This time, the story had been taken to Parliament and to our very own Secretary of State for Justice, Mr. Jack Straw.

Paul Farrelly: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice (1) what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of legislation to protect (a) whistleblowers and (b) press freedom following the injunctions obtained in the High Court by (i) Barclays and Freshfields solicitors on 19 March 2009 on the publication of internal Barclays reports documenting alleged tax avoidance schemes and (ii) Trafigura and Carter Ruck solicitors on 11 September 2009 on the publication of the Minton report on the alleged dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, commissioned by Trafigura; [293006]

The super-injunction was sought only 24 hours before the Parliamentary session. There is no doubt in my mind that Carter-Ruck have a team that scour the media looking for incidences of libel. They also would have known that The Guardian, especially, would not just sit there and have the whole Bill of Rights Act called into question without piping up, given its previous articles on Trafigura and their ‘situation’. I have made 2 assumptions there, but, quite probably, neither is a leap of faith.

But that made me think. Did Carter-Ruck/ Trafigura also know that their ‘super-injunction’ wouldn’t last very long? One presumes so, as they would have known about the Bill of Rights Act and the reporting of Parliamentary debate – one of the corner stones of democracy! They may have expected the injunction to last longer; they may not have expected Twitter and her real-time response to act so quickly and accurately, but respond they did. By elevensies we had the name Trafigura and The official Minton Report into the hands and onto the desktops of many. I had read all the Guardian articles I could get my hands on and anything on WikiLeaks.  So, while I went merrily on my way, asserting my right to share information online, like many others I’m sure I gained much more knowledge on the subject.  But only The Minton Report (2006) was new to broadcasting.

So what had I done? I had jumped on the straw-man bandwagon – provided (purposefully or otherwise) by Trafigura and their Carter-Ruck – of free-speech. The outrage I felt, that was reported in the media, and proclaimed on Twitter was at the blockade of freedom of speech.

This is all very well; it is outrageous. It was a bold, pugnacious move by Team Trafigura.  A move that seems to have, for now, diverted attention away from them and their disgraceful outsourcing of waste disposal and onto Carter-Ruck, who are merely agents for Trafigura and their whitewash; their spin.

Indignantly declaring our disgust that our Human Rights, the very rights that put us (we like to pretend) at the forefront of social progressivism, have been forsaken at the expense, yet again, of the Big Business. Our elected MP and, by extension, our Freedom of Speech has been bruised.

Hang on a second… wasn’t the toxic waste dumped in The Ivory Coast? Isn’t that the main issue here? We have an unrivalled tool to grant us freedom of speech – the uncensored internet – luckily for us, no one has tried to censor that (yet) and while I do think that the freedom to report Parliament, the freedom to debate in Parliament and the freedom of the rabble to discuss are incredibly important, that’s not what was at stake, surely? Building a Straw-man and knocking it down is all well and good, but let’s not lose sight of the original fight.

P.S. What’s that about Barclays and Tax Avoidance Scheme? Hmmmm…..

British Plan of Action to combat the election of TWO BNP idiots:

1. Sign this to express your disassociation from the BNP http://action.hopenothate.org.uk/notinmyname.

2. Laugh at this:

griffin

3. Laugh at this: http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1810&Itemid=28

4. Cry, because the hate and laughter have caused an emotional rollercoaster.

5. Vomit, because the emotions are getting too much (and Nick Griffin’s face has just popped into your head).

6. Grumble a bit about northerners.

7. Get a cup of tea.

8. Continue with your day.

Well done to @stopsatgreen for the photo, hope you don’t mind me using it?!