Can You Dip Your Toe In The Same Streamingful Vote Twice?

Hah! Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow has told the Prime Minister she cannot bring her Brexit Withdrawl Agreement to a vote for a third time if it’s ‘substantially the same.’

I see the logic behind his position and the parliamentary rule that underpins it. Bringing the same question back time and again is a recipe for political stagnation.

But a vote on a motion is not just about the precise wording of that motion. It is also about the context in which that motion is being voted upon. And that context is surely ever-changing. As we get closer to the (original) Brexit day of 29th March, decisions may be made elsewhere (at an EU-27 Council meeting for example) that profoundly alter that context. A vote last month is different to a vote this month because the context has altered.

I still think Theresa’s May’s tactics in this regard are rather anti-democratic and to be condemned, they shield the fact that she has failed to do any of the proper political work that a good leader could and should have done, such as the forging of alliances, brokering of compromises and obtaining some kind of ‘losers consent’ that could win the support of a majority in parliament and of the public.

But I do not think that anyone who is calling for a second referendum on leaving the EU should cheer for Mr Bercow’s ruling. Surely the entire campaign for a People’s Vote is based on the premise that a new context means that we might get a different answer to the same question, if it were asked again.

Shamima Begum: We’re Being Played By ISIS and the Tories

Sajid Javid

The Shamima Begum story keeps on rumbling, in part because ordinary folk like thee and me keep blogging about it. This is my third post in a row about the controversy.

But the main reason it persists is because it suits the media and the politicians to keep the argument going. The question of whether to facilitate Ms Begum’s return to the UK or to revoke her citizenship, is perfectly polarising, which makes it ideal click-bait. Every news item on each fresh new interview, and every clipped soundbite from presenters and politicians on LBC gathers angry comments. Perfect ‘engagement’ for the algorithms. Continue reading “Shamima Begum: We’re Being Played By ISIS and the Tories”

Shamima Begum: Two Minutes Hate

The development of the Shamima Begum story, and the discourse around it, has been fascinating and depressing.

Last week I posted the argument for why I thought she should be brought back to the UK to face British justice. Since then, in a rare foray into the jungle, I’ve posted similar arguments in various Facebook comments sections. In response, people have posted the most vile things, entirely unaware of the irony of doing so. Continue reading “Shamima Begum: Two Minutes Hate”

Shamima Begum is British: Bring Her Home

When the news broke about Shamima Begum wanting to return to the UK, a couple of people said to me, in jest, that they expected I would defend her because I support ‘political correctness’…

Well, I do support her right to return and I think that the British Government should facilitate that. But not because of wishy-washy liberal political correctness but because of hard principle about what it means to be British. Or rather, what it means to be a citizen.

To recap: Begum left the UK in 2015 with two of her friends, to join ISIS in Iraq. She was 15 years old at the time. In the past few years she has had two babies who have died, and is now pregnant again. She is currently in a refugee camp in Syria.

In comments made to The Times, she does not appear to show any remorse for her actions. However, there is something about the interview she gave to Anthony Lloyd that makes me think her words are face-saving bravado, rather than genuine conviction.

The knee jerk commentary I’ve seen, heard and read about this seems to be uniformly of the idea that ‘she has made her bed and now she must lie in it.’ By joining ISIS she has effectively declared war on Britain and we should not help her get home.

I reject this. I think the British Government should be eager to bring her back. Continue reading “Shamima Begum is British: Bring Her Home”

Liam Neeson and #BlackLivesMatter

The actor Liam Neeson is all over the news this week, following some comments he made in an interview with Independent correspondent Clémence Michallon. While discussing his latest film Cold Pursuit, he revealed that several decades ago a friend of his was raped. Since the perpetrator was black, his response was to spend a week prowling the streets, hoping he would find a black man to kill in ‘revenge’:

“I went up and down areas with a cosh, hoping I’d be approached by somebody – I’m ashamed to say that – and I did it for maybe a week, hoping some [Neeson gestures air quotes with his fingers] ‘black bastard’ would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could,” another pause, “kill him.”

This has caused justifiable concern, that Neeson behaved in such a dangerous and racist manner. Many people have noted that this is the literally ‘lynch-mob’ mentality, where the protection (or avenging) of women, is considered justification to murder black people. Continue reading “Liam Neeson and #BlackLivesMatter”

Discussing the UK visa system in The Bookseller

UK Border

Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, has warned that the UK visa system alienates cultural visitors and is in dire need of an overhaul. In recent years, participants in the EIBF and other major UK festivals have had trouble getting permission to enter the UK – a huge freedom of expression issue for them, and for British audiences who have a right to hear them speak.

I’m also quoted in the piece, noting the many ways in which the UK visa system conspires to discourage cultural visitors.

“Here, I’ve noticed that the issue with visa refusals is not just the culture of ‘suspicion’ which leads to some authors and writers, usually young and usually from countries that are poor or which have security or human rights issues, being refused. The visa application system itself is too complex and it’s too easy to make a mistake or to provide incomplete information, which can also lead to a refusal. And the Home Office never provides any opportunity for the applicant to clarify or amend an application.”

He added: “The system is a combination of hostility and complexity that turns people off as well as turns people away. That this is a case is absolutely a political choice – yet another way in which antipathy towards immigration hurts British culture.”

A Macabre Game of Happy Families – Another vigil at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia

25 January 2019: Vigil for freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia, outside the Saudi Embassy in Mayfair, London.

Today I joined another vigil for freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia, along with friends from English PEN, Reporters Sans Frontiers, the Peter Tatchell Foundation and the Society of Authors. I recorded a short video, documenting the growing number of faces on our campaign placards.

You can watch and share via the embedded player above, on YouTube or Facebook.

Continue reading “A Macabre Game of Happy Families – Another vigil at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia”

The Misattribution of Evelyn Beatrice Hall

Last year I posted some notes about the famous free speech formulation “I hate what you say, but defend your right to say it” which is erroneously attributed to Voltaire. I think the fact that it was actually written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall about Voltaire’s philosophy is now quite widely known, as evidenced by the extent of the gleeful crowing of ‘well actually’ every time some-one prominent (like education minister Sam Gimyah MP in The Times last year) gets the attribution wrong.

While writing my post about Hall (whose pen-name was S. G. Tallentyre) I naturally searched for a picture of her online. A Google image search for ‘Evelyn Beatrice Hall’ throws up dozens of versions of the image below: a young, determined looking woman with a sword. Many of the images that the search yields include the famous free speech quote, properly attributed to Hall. Continue reading “The Misattribution of Evelyn Beatrice Hall”

Hey, Haifa! 1999 called and it wants it’s controversy back!

At a museum in Haifa, Israel, a sculpture called McJesus has been removed from display.

The name of piece by Jani Leinonen tells you exactly what it looks like and also gives heavy clues as to why it is controversial: it is the crucifixion of Ronald McDonald.

There have been angry protests against the sculpture by Israeli Christians who consider it offensive and blasphemous. There were threats of fire bombing.

The sculpture brings to mind another crucifixion mash-up, Immersion (Piss Christ) by Andreas Serrano (1987). I also think of The Holy Virgin Mary by Chris Ofili (1996), a picture painted using elephant dung and which features pornographic imagery. Rudi Giuliani, then mayor of New York, called it ‘sick’ when the painting was exhibited there in 1999.

Continue reading “Hey, Haifa! 1999 called and it wants it’s controversy back!”

Stop calling it ‘Revenge Porn’

What’s in a name? Quite a lot, actually. The labels we put on various phenomena, old and new, profoundly affect the way with think about them.

Writing on GenderIt.org, Sophie Maddocks points out that the term ‘revenge porn’ is a wholly misleading name for the non-consensual sharing of intimate images. Its not ‘revenge,’ its not ‘porn,’ its not entertainment, its not a new phenomenon, and it covers a very wide range of behaviour.

I’ve written about ‘revenge porn’ before and may have to do so again, but I will be mindful to use the term ‘Non-Consensual Dissemination of Intimate Images’ (NCII) in the future.