Tag Archives: UK

Anyone calling for candidates to drop out of the Labour Leadership race is an innumerate idiot

A quick point, if I may: You know how Jeremy Corbyn is now 20 points ahead of his rivals, and some people are urging the lesser candidates to consolidate behind a single Anyone-But-Jeremy candidate?

That’s stupid and wrong.

Its stupid because the election is being conducted on an Alternative Vote system.  The electors rank the candidates in order of preference.  The candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and their votes are divided up amongst the remaining candidates.  That process is repeated until one candidate has a majoirty.

Mathematically, that is exactly the same as if the lesser candidates had pulled out… but with one important exception: its more democratic.

The ‘drop out’ suggestion is also morally wrong.  With the AV system, each elector gets to express a preference for who drops out and in what order.  That’s far better approach than a candidate being peer-pressured or media-pressured into dropping out mid-campaign, which is anti-democratic and makes the entire contest a hostage to bad opinion polling.

The fact that people are calling for the poorly polling candidates shows that they are stuck in a First Past The Post mentality, even though the election is being run with more sophisticated and fairer rules.

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?

Academic self-censorship: is  ‘offence culture’ really the problem?

A couple of people have asked me my opinion on an article published on Vox this week.  Writing anonymously, a university lecturer laments the entitled, consumerist tendency amongst his students, which means that they complain whenever they are exposed to ideas or opinions that make them uncomfortable.  The article carried hyperlinks to examples where academics—both students and in some cases teachers—have successfully shut down discussion or caused events to be cancelled because they were deemed ‘offensive’ or upsetting.

If this is a real trend then it’s appalling.  As I and others have argued previously and constantly, there are numerous benefits to having offensive statements made openly.  Such statements can be countered and challenged on the one hand; but they may actually have some merit and change minds and morality (for example, women’s suffrage or gay marriage).  Offence can shock people out of complacency, or be the only thing that makes people question traditional values and the structure of their society.  Finally, it’s far better to have offensive views out in the open, rather than driven underground where they can fester and grow, and where those who have been censored can claim to be a ‘free speech martyr’.

I do want to raise a few aspects of the article that give me pause for thought, however. Continue reading Academic self-censorship: is  ‘offence culture’ really the problem?

A Grim Future for our Unions and our Rights

Crikey. I’m dismayed by the result of the general election.

First, I should note just how wrong my own perception of the election campaign turned out to be!  After the leaders debates I said I expected Ed Miliband to be Prime Minister in May. That is clearly not going to happen.  And earlier this week I said I perceived a decline in the influence of the mainstream media on election campaigns.  After the apparent last minute shift in voters’ intentions, that appears to be incorrect.

However, my dismay comes not from the injury to my pride which results from making poor predictions.  Rather, it’s the prospect of what comes next for our unions (yes, unions plural) and our rights as citizens.

First, the fact that David Cameron will attempt to govern alone with a minority government, or a slender majority, will mean that the more Euroskeptic elements to the the right of the Conservative party will be able to hold him to ransom—just as the SNP would have apparently held a Labour government hostage.  The Conservatives have already promised that we will have a referendum on our membership of the European Union.  We now face the prospect of leaving the EU, sundering and cauterising our cultural and economic links with the continent.  This isolation will not be good for the UK.

A ‘Brexit’ will further strengthen the already jubilant Scottish National Party.  Despite the slightly skewed results that our ‘first past the post’ system delivers I just do not see how another referendum on Scottish Independence can still be ‘off the table’. For goodness sake—all but three MPs in Scotland are from the SNP!   If the UK leaves the EU, and with the other parties’ reduced political presence, another plebiscite on Independence would probably yield a ‘Yes’ vote.  Bye bye Scotland.

Finally, the Conservatives have also promised to scrap the Human Rights Act, a pledge that lawyers think is ‘legally illiterate’.  The so-called ‘British Bill of Rights’ will water down the rights that we currently enjoy.  And since the Tories gutted legal aid provision and squeezed the judicial review process, it will be harder than ever for citizens to hold the government to account when it deploys discriminatory policies against us.  

So by the time of the next general election in 2020, there is a very good chance that those of us living in rUK will have lost the political protections of the EU, will have lost the guarantee that out human rights will be protected, and will have lost a progressive political counter-weight to the Tories that may be found in Scotland. And the right-wing media will cheer it all.

Grim, grim grim.

The #Sunifesto is confused about free speech

We’re 100 days out from the election, and the Sun has launched a manifesto – a #Sunifesto – for Britain.

Their last bullet point is about free speech. Incredibly, this is not about press regulation, the harmonisation of our libel laws, extremism ‘banning’ orders or police abuse of RIPA to track down whistleblowers. This is odd because The Sun is at the heart of all these issues.

Instead, it’s about the dangers of Twitter mobs.


The paper complains about the police “wrongly” acting against those who have caused offence. “Unless it’s illegal, it’s NOT police business”.

The problem with this is that causing offence is illegal. Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 expressly criminalises ‘grossly offensive’ messages. And of course, what constitutes gross offence is in the eye of the beholder. So the highly subjective test in the law enables and encourages abuse.

The Sun blames political correctness for this and implores us to #forgawsakegrowapair. But it’s not political correctness that causes the mischief here. The principle of free speech permits not only the right to offend, but the right to say that you have been offended, even on Twitter. For many people it takes courage to speak out and tell a powerful newspaper columnist that they’re being crass and prejudiced. For many, politically correct fury is indeed “growing a pair” (we’ll ignore the sexist overtones of that phrase for now).

Appallingly, people in the UK are given prison sentences for making tasteless comments online. The Sun claims to stand up for Free Speech, but (as is perhaps inevitable, given the name of the paper) it’s a fair weather friend. Where was the Sun when Robert Riley and Jake Newsome were jailed for unpleasant social media postings?

For social media, the free speech policy must be reform of s.127. Free speech cannot just be for the newspapers. It must be for the Tweeters, too.

Political Correctness in Rochester & Strood

I’ll start with the happy ending: Nigel Farage is a big fat hypocrite.. Now you know where I’m going with this, I can begin.

Last week’s political storm concerned Emily Thornberry, the MP for Islington and until recently the Shadow Attorney General. In the last hours of the Rochester & Strood by-election camapign, she tweeted a photo of a house bedecked with St George flags and a white van outside. Caption: “Image from #Rochester”.
Continue reading Political Correctness in Rochester & Strood

Halal pizza and the demonisation of Muslims

The latest multicultural controversy feels entirely manufactured, but I’ll bite anyway.  Apparently, Pizza Express is serving Halal chicken to its customers, but not announcing this fact on its menus.  The Sun is outraged, and the story was on the front page yesterday.

Unfortunately the entire article is behind a paywall, but I read it on paper and its a sneering, conspiratorial piece that seems to imply that this choice by Pizza Express is evidence of some creeping Islamic takeover of Britain. Continue reading Halal pizza and the demonisation of Muslims

Are Human Rights a vote winner?

Writing in the New Statesman, Labour Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan brazenly declares that the Liberal Democrat’s record in Government has left Labour as the party of civil liberties. This has kicked off predictable outrage from Lib Dem activists and in the comments, with most people citing the poor record of the last Labour government.

Despite the Blair Government’s terrible approach to civil liberties and counter-terrorism, its wrong to call Khan a hypocrite. For starters, he was one of the Labour rebels who voted against Tony Blair’s 90-day detention policy, back in 2005. More recently, he has admitted the party’s mistakes on human rights and civil liberties. Part of his Charter 88 anniversary lecture was a scathing critique of the last Labour Government’s approach:

And I hold up my hands and admit that we did, on occasions, get the balance wrong. On 42 and 90 days, and on ID cards, where the balance was too far away from the rights of citizens… On top of this, we grew less and less comfortable with the constitutional reforms we ourselves had legislated for. On occasions checked by the very constitutional reforms we had brought in to protect people’s rights from being trampled on. But we saw the reforms as an inconvenience, forgetting that their very awkwardness is by design. A check and balance when our policies were deemed to infringe on citizens’ rights.

If an opposition spokesperson says this, I think they ward off the charge of hypocrisy when they subsequently criticise the civil liberties failings of the Governing coalition. We want political parties to admit their mistakes and reverse their policies, don’t we? Whether the voters believe Labour or not is another matter, but I think the fact that the spokesman is someone who was a Government rebel on 90 days, and who has been a target of surveillance himself, make Labour’s position that little bit more credible. Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, included similar nostra culpas in her Demos speech on security and surveillance.

Continue reading Are Human Rights a vote winner?

By the way, the Monarchy is still sexist

First things first: The idea of a monarchy is inherently inequitable. It institutionalises privilege and injects unelected, inherited power into the heart of our political system.

But at least its not sexist, right?!  Section 1 of the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 finally eriadicated the preposterous rule that gave male children of the monarch priority over the female children (this blog demanded cognatic (equal) primogeniture back in 2006).  So we should be fit for purpose, yeah?

Wrong.  A crucial bit of sexism remains, and it is this:

  • When the reigning monarch is male, he is called ‘King’ and his consort is called ‘Queen’.
  • When the reigning monarch is female, she is called ‘Queen’ and her consort is called Prince.1

Why the discrepancy?  Well, because a ‘King’ is greater than a ‘Queen’!  There is obviously no practical reason for this inequality.  It is just that our culture is sexist.  The problem runs deep: Think of how a King is worth more than a Queen in card games.

My prescriptions:

  1. If we’re going to stick with a hereditary monarchy, then future male consorts of reigning Queens should be called ‘King consort’.
  2. You know how we change the official wording of things when its a Queen and not a King (for e.g. Queen’s Counsel; God Save the Queen)?  British people should make the same changes when it comes to card games.  ‘British Rules’ poker and bridge should see the four Queen cards trump the four King cards, when the monarch happens to be a woman.

1. In reverse chronological order:  Prince Philip is married to Queen Elizabeth II Prince Albert was married to Queen Victoria, and Prince George was married to Queen Anne.  Both Queen Marys were married to people who were reigning Kings, and Queen Elizabeth I never married.  Empress Matilda was never called Queen herself.

"A looming democratic deficit"?

The folk at the brilliant OurKingdom blog commissioned a piece from me on the next steps for Libel Reform.  The crucial issue:

During the Parliamentary debates, the Government flatly rejected proposals to extend the Derbyshire principle to private companies spending taxpayers money. British citizens are therefore confronted with a looming democratic deficit. As private companies take over the running of prisons, waste collection, school dinners, care homes, and large swathes of the NHS, the space to criticise them is squeezed. By leaving the Derbyshire principle to the courts to develop further, the Government have introduced an unwelcome ambiguity into our public discourse, especially at the local level. It will be left to citizens to closely monitor how the big subcontractors behave in this area. Any hint that these corporations are stifling public criticism through use of the libel law must be met with a public outcry.

Read the whole article, What next for libel reform?, on the OurKingdom blog.