Category Archives: Diary

Things that happen to me, or things I do

Angel Window by Aidan McRae Thomson

The Pragmatic Idealism of Team Corbyn

How irritating.  I had drafted a short, blistering blog about how the NHS, the sacred cow of British politics, is a massive socialist project.  “If the NHS did not exist”, I would have said, “none of the Labour leadership candidates but Jeremy Corbyn would dare suggest we invent it”… And when he did, everyone (other candidates, the Tories, the media and yes, much of the British public) would have accused him of being a bonkers socialist, happy to squander billions of pounds of taxpayers money. Continue reading The Pragmatic Idealism of Team Corbyn

houses-of-parliament-by-robert-sharp

What if it’s all just cyclical?

More banter from the political past today as John Prescott criticised Tony Blair’s “get a transplant” jibe.

Meanwhile, Margaret Beckett has somehow branded herself a ‘moron’ because she was one of Jeremy Corbyn’s sponsors, nominating-but-not supporting him so the Labour Party could have a debate.

Well, a debate is being had.  A wider range of policies are being debated and the other candidates have found they are unable to triangulate their way to a victory on points. The contest is going to be far more interesting than any that has gone before and—here’s a radical thought—it could be that this moment of public disunity and ill-tempered argument could end up strengthening the eventual winner. Survival Of The Fittest, Whatever Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger, &cetera.
Continue reading What if it’s all just cyclical?

Can Labour give the country what it wants?

Tony Blair gave a speech today, warning the post-defeat Labour Party of a lurch to the left.  Meanwhile, the most left wing of the four Labour Party leadership candidates, Jeremy Corbyn, is apparently leading the polls.

I find the pragmatism of the centrists in the Labour Party to be enticing.  If you want to win power and achieve social justice, they say, there is no point in positioning yourself too far away from the electorate.  To place Jeremy Corbyn at the top of the Labour Party is to distance the party from the rest of Britain.  And that means further election defeats.  Instead, the answer is to be more centrist, more Blairite, because at least that is where the rest of the country sits. Continue reading Can Labour give the country what it wants?

Cory Doctorow, China Mieville, Robert Sharp

Cory Doctorow and China Mieville in Conversation in 2010

I am rather shocked by the realisation that the discussion I chaired with authors Cory Doctorow and China Mieville was exactly five years ago today.

I recall that a couple of short excerpts from the event were included in a podcast at the time, but the entire discussion was never posted anywhere for people who could not attend.  Happily, yrstrly took a recording of the discussion on my phone and I post it here (and on Soundcloud) for posterity. Continue reading Cory Doctorow and China Mieville in Conversation in 2010

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Heckled about Free Speech and Charlie Hebdo

Last week I spoke at the launch of Draw The Line Here, the book of cartoons published by English PEN in response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

I touched on a few things that I have already noted here: the punctured optimism after the 7/7 bombings, for example.  I also explicity noted the fact that, on the day after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, all but two British newspapers carried the same terrible image of the murdered policeman Ahmed Merabet, yet only those same two newspapers (The Guardian and The Independent) felt able to reproduce the relatively benign image of Mohammed on the cover of Charlie Hebdo the following week.

Amazingly, I also encountered a heckler during the speech!  He protested that the incredibly crass cartoons that sometimes found their way into the pages of Charlie Hebdo were not worth defending.  I unequivocally disagreed.

A recording of my speech is embedded below (and also on SoundCloud). Continue reading Heckled about Free Speech and Charlie Hebdo

Rainbow-flag

How Gay Marriage Persuaded Me To Get A Straight Marriage*

Hooray for five ninths of the Supreme Court of the United States of America!  Today the Court ruled that bans on same sex marriage are unconstitutional.  Same-sex marriage, which was already legal in many states, is now legal throughout the USA.

Blogger and gay marriage advocate Andrew Sullivan has returned to blogging to welcome the news.  He’s been agitating for this since 1989.

Opponents of same sex marriage often claim that it will somehow undermine straight marriage.  That’s nonsense.  In fact, I think the opposite is true.  Here’s why. Continue reading How Gay Marriage Persuaded Me To Get A Straight Marriage*

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Flags Matter

Flags are symbols, full of historical meaning.  Just ask Emily Thornberry.

Following the despicable shootings in Charleston, South Carolina last week, there has been renewed debate over the Confederate Flag, the banner under which the secessionist Southern states fought the American Civil War.  Some people claim that the flag is simply a symbol of Southern culture and ‘heritage’— that flying that flag is merely an expression of an independent, libertarian spirit.  But that is disingenuous.  The Confederate cause was explicitly racist, about fighting for the right to subjugate black people.  Ta-Nehisi Coate catalogues the unequivocal words of those men who rallied their fellows to the ideology of white supremacy, and argues “Take Down The Confederate Flag—Now“.   The recent discussion has unearthed this article by Christopher Hitches from 2008, where he excorates the former Governor of Arkansas and (at the time) Presidential Candidate Mick Huckabee for lauding those who would fly the Confederate flag.  A “straightforward racist appeal” for votes, Hitchens called it.

On a more positive note, watch this wonderful TED Talk, done in the style of a radio show, by Roman Mars (my favourite podcaster).  His show, 99% Invisible, is all about design, and the talk is about the importance of flag design.

Roman outlines the principles of good flag design, draws attention to some good city flags, some bad city flags, and some truly terrible city flags.  He also explains why we should care.

A well-designed flag could be seen as an indicator of how a city considers all of its design systems: its public transit, its parks, its signage. It might seem frivolous, but it’s not. .. Often when city leaders say, “We have more important things to do than worry about a city flag,” my response is, “If you had a great city flag, you would have a banner for people to rally under to face those more important things.”

 

personal-views

The Internet urgently needs a new ‘personal opinions’ icon

I posted this on Medium last week to almost deathly silence.  I thought it would be something people might share but clearly I’ve not built up enough of a network.


One aspect of the Internet that makes me a little melancholy is the fact that so many people have to put the same phrase on their social media bios: “These are my own views and not that of my employer” or variations of that theme.

It’s sad because the Internet was supposed to be a place where people have the freedom to explore new ideas, identities and friendships. Instead, our online discourse is polluted by the anxieties and the obtuse reasoning of the corporate world.

The all-to-common “personal opinions” disclaimer reminds us how our freedom of thought and of personality is curtailed. My heart sinks whenever I read such words, because I know that the person who is writing them is on their guard, insuring themselves against some future misunderstanding or invasion of their work life into their personal space.

And yet we need such disclaimers, because on the Internet there are a remarkable number of people who are happy to conflate the views of an individual with that of the organisations they work for. Continue reading The Internet urgently needs a new ‘personal opinions’ icon

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Human Rights as a Thought Process

Last week I was invited to attend a speech by Rt. Hon. Harriet Harman MP, interim Leader of the Labour Party, entitled ‘In Defence of Human Rights‘.  She gave a robust defence of the Human Rights Act 1998, which the Conservative Party seeks to repeal.  She called the Government’s plans ‘politically and constitutionally destabilising’ and made important points about how the proposals would give authoritarian countries the ‘green light’  to start defining human rights in ways that suit those in power, rather than their citizens. Continue reading Human Rights as a Thought Process