American Tribalism

By chance, I heard Andrew Sullivan’s radio essay about Donald Trump and tribalism in America on BBC Radio 4 yesterday evening.

Following the shock presidential election result last year, I had heard many of the insights that Sullivan set out in the monologue.  But the particular format of this piece, coupled with Sullivan’s great writing, makes it a particularly powerful iteration.

Crushingly, Sullivan offers no road-map for how this American (and therefore, global) crisis might be reversed, other than the hope that another ‘Lincoln’ might appear to save the country from itself. But isn’t a faith in saviours what has put America into this position in the first place? Obama and Trump are very different characters, but both took on a definite totemic status for their supporters. What is needed, it seems to me, is for the resolution to take place not within a single unifying figurehead at the top, but with a million acts of reconciliation among the citizenry. And we’re all out of ideas for how to bring that about. There is a chance things might get worse before they get better.

A Point Of View episodes are available indefinitely as a podcast. Visit the BBC website to listen again.

People Are Sharing This UK Supreme Court Judgment And It’s Democratic AF

The United Kingdom Supreme Court today handed down its judgment in the case of R (UNISON) v Lord Chancellor – a case about the charging of Employment Tribunal Fees. The court ruled that the way the government was charging fees for tribunal claims hampered access to justice, and was therefore unlawful. A defeat for the government and a success for UNISON, the union that brought the case.

The Court’s judgment [PDF] is 42 pages long, but lawyers on Twitter have been urging everyone to read the section entitled ‘The constitutional right of access to the courts’. Lord Reed, writing the unanimous verdict, reminds us that access to the courts is “inherent in the rule of law” and that the people, even those of slender means, must be able to access the courts in order to have the laws passed by parliament enforced. Continue reading “People Are Sharing This UK Supreme Court Judgment And It’s Democratic AF”

Free Speech and Democratic ‘Buy In’

Yrstrly in the House of Lords

Last month I was privileged enough to participate in the annual House of Lords Chamber Debate.  It’s the one time during the year when people who are not members of the House of Lords are allowed to sit on its benches and debate.

This year the debate was about free speech and its limits.  I made a short contribution about the practicalities of censorship and surveillance, and said that free speech should be about dialogue and conversation. Continue reading “Free Speech and Democratic ‘Buy In’”

No-one In The Labour Party Has Staged A ‘Coup’

The worrying news from Turkey has made me think about the way in which the recent political machinations within the British Labour Party have been described (usually by supporters of Jeremy Corbyn) as a ‘coup’.

I’m sure the people who use that word do not mean to suggest that the 171 Labour MPs who want Mr Corbyn to resign are equivalent to soldiers with guns.  But use of the word does imply that the manoeuvrings are anti-democratic.

But they are not.  They are profoundly democratic. Continue reading “No-one In The Labour Party Has Staged A ‘Coup’”

#Periscope needs a ‘handover’ function

I’m really enjoying Periscope, the new app from Twitter that allows live broadcasts direct from your phone.  It was launched very soon after its rival Meerkat and has, I think, better sharing and comment functionality.

Both apps, however, offer something utterly compelling — a live window into someone else’s world.  In 5 minutes on Periscope, you can jump accross continents, watching forest fires in the Rockies, a sunset over the Pont Neuf in Paris, dinner with a family in Pakistan, or a toddler in Canberra learning to walk.  Its magic, in the Arthur C Clarke sense.

With other forms of communication, the most fascinating developments come when the users push the platform in ways the developers had not anticipated.  For example, the @ and # functionality in Twitter was something developed by the users and not by Twitter. Continue reading “#Periscope needs a ‘handover’ function”

Debunking the myth that MPs are lazy and selfish

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On the Spectator blog, Isabel Hardman does a fantastic job in exposing a particular internet meme as a straightforward lie.

You probably know the message in question. It’s the one that has two pictures of the House of Commons side by side – one empty chamber, labelled ‘debate on welfare’ (or something like that); and another of a full chamber, with the label ‘debating MPs’ salaries’. The idea being that MPs are lazy and selfish.

I’ve just posted a comment on the article, and thought I may as well paste it here too. It fits very nicely with the counter-cultural ‘politicians aren’t all bad’ contrariness of other offerings.

Continue reading “Debunking the myth that MPs are lazy and selfish”

The Leveson Report (As It Should Be)

Its about time I publicised a project I’ve been working on in my spare time:
The Leveson Report (As It Should Be).

No, this isn’t a rewrite of the report where I change all Sir Brian’s recommendations to suit my politics! Rather it is

An open, linkable, HTML version of Lord Justice Leveson’s report into the culture, practices and ethics of the press

Over on the project website I have published a short explanation of why I initiated this project. In short: I think in a modern democracy, publishing accessible versions of public documents is essential. Having a simple HTML edition of a crucial text such as the Leveson Report means that more people can read and engage with it.

I hope the site is easy to navigate. To view a particular chapter of the report the site visitor simply has to type the part and chapter number after the website address. So to visit chapter 2 in Part B, you would type:

http://http://leveson.robertsharp.co.uk/B/Chapter2

In a similar manner you can jump straight to a particular section or even a single paragraph in the report. Full instructions are available on the project website.

My hope is that other people can take this project and run with it. All the HTML pages that make up this version of the report are available on GitHub, so anyone can download the files and host their own version of the report (here’s a handy ZIP file). I confess that the underlying markup (i.e. the raw code of each page) is not completely perfect, and I would welcome any help in polishing the pages. On GitHub, anyone can ‘fork’ the project and begin making alterations.

I have set up a mailing list. If the Leveson Report (As It Should Be) project is of interest, please consider subscribing. There are options to be notified of every change to the site files, or just major changes and developments with the project.

For fun, I’ve created a Twitter account, @LevesonAISB, which is automatically tweeting links to various sections of the report. I’d love it if someone helped me set up randomised Tweeting of sentences pulled from the document.

This is not the my first project on the subject of making public documents more public. See also The Defamation Act: Complete & Unabridged, Get Yourself A Cheap #Leveson Report, and Tracked Changes In the Defamation Bill.

A Leveson Word Cloud
A Leveson Word Cloud, generated using the HTML files from The Leveson Report (As It Should Be) project

If you abdicate, that should be game over for the monarchy

King Juan Carlos is to abdicate. I love this simple poster design, campaigning for a referendum on the future of the monarchy.

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The abdication reminds me of the point I made in last week’s post about MP recalls, where I said:

If the electorate cannot get rid of their representative outside of election time … I think its is only fair that the representatives cannot rid themselves of their electorate either.

I think a similar principle holds for monarchies.  If the hereditary principle means that people cannot choose their head of state, then its inconsistent and wrong for the monarch to be able to choose whether or not they serve as head of state!  If we allow blood-lines to play a part in our constitution then we have to accept whatever gaffe-prone idiot that genetics throws up… and that idiot is stuck with the populous too.

To my mind, a single abication undermines the whole idea of hereditary monarchy.  Any country where that happens should transition to a full democracy with an elected or legislature-appointed head of state (I prefer democracies with a nominal, not executive president but I’m sure there are arguments for and against both models).  I hope that the abdication of the Spanish King triggers a referendum that ends the anacronism.

 

Is this the birth of the British Tea Party?

In recent years, America has been blighted by the rise of an extreme and uncompromising strain of political conservatism.  ‘Tea Party’ groups attack moderates within the Republican party, forcing primary challenges on incumbent senators and congressmen who either have liberal leanings, or who are otherwise willing to co-operate with Democrats in Congress and the White House.  The result has been a legislative impasse, with the Republicans disengaging from the process of government by consensus.  Earlier this year they almost broke the US economy (and by extension, the world economy) due to bloody minded intransigence.

Thank goodness we do not have that sort of nonsense happening over here, eh?

I worry that the deselection of Tim Yeo MP from his seat in South Suffolk might signal the beginnings of the ‘teapartification’ of British politics, too.  Yeo is a senior and respected Conservative MP, chair of the Energy and Climate Committee.  And yety his local Conservative Association has deselected him as their candidate for the next General Election.  Speaking to BBC Radio yesterday evening, Yeo pointed out that he was a strong believer in climate change and voted for the Same Sex Marriage laws, socially liberal positions that angered the few hundred members of the South Suffolk Conservative Association.  These opinions appear to have cost him his seat. Continue reading “Is this the birth of the British Tea Party?”

Modern Transcripts with SayIt

Readers of this blog will know how irritated I get with the quality of parliamentary and government papers online.  Transcripts and other documentation are frequently uploaded as PDFs, as if the only thing a researcher or campaigner plans to do with the document is print it.  The online version of the Houses of Parliament Hansard still retains references to columns and pages, and linking to excerpts of text is a laborious process.

For more on this, read my rant: The mess under the bonnet of the Houses of Parliament website.

So imagine my delight to see the launch of Say It, a new tool from MySociety.  It provides a tool to put transcripts of debates, court cases, and official inquiries online.  The tool has been launched with a searchable, linkable version of the Leveson Inquiry sessions.

It is this sort of thing that empowers grassroots campaigns and catalyses democracy.  And by ‘democracy’, I don’t just mean voting, but the idea that citizens make the decisions together.

SayIt dovetails nicely with a project I have been tinkering with in my spare time – converting the text of the four volume Leveson Report into HTML, (though I confess I almost had a heart attack when I saw the link to the MySociety tool – I thought that my efforts had been duplicated!)