‘That Bastard Pardon’ –Writing on Myanmar Journalists for the New Statesman

English PEN banners protesting the imprisonment of Free Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, the two Reuter’s journalists unjustly imprisoned in Myanmar, have been released.

I have written a short piece for the New Statesman, commenting on how presidential pardons do nothing to tackle the underlying injustice, and perpetuate the chill on freedom of expression.

Pardons have a particular place in judicial systems. There may be unusual circumstances where a person has indeed broken the law, but the sentence imposed is inappropriate. A pardon asserts that the conviction was correct, but alleviates the punishment.

That is wholly unsatisfactory in cases where the law has been abused, as it was in the case of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. Although they are out of prison, there has been no acknowledgement by the state that the convictions were a clear miscarriage of justice. In fact, the pardon reasserts the just opposite – that there was nothing wrong with the imprisonment.

Read the whole thing on the New Statesman website. Continue reading “‘That Bastard Pardon’ –Writing on Myanmar Journalists for the New Statesman”

Censorship and Capitulation at the Saachti Gallery

Oh dear. The Saachti Gallery has covered up some paintings after complaints that they are blasphemous.

The gallery, founded by the advertising magnate Charles Saatchi, rejected calls from some visitors to remove the paintings, arguing it was up to visitors to come to their own conclusions on the meaning of the art. However, in response to the complaints, SKU suggested as a compromise the works should remain on the gallery wall but be covered up with sheets.

“It seemed a respectful solution that enables a debate about freedom of expression versus the perceived right not to be offended,” he said in a statement to the Sunday Times.

I’ll tell you what’s offensive — capitulating to censorious complaints, and then trying to dampen the impact of your decision by saying that it ‘enables a debate about freedom of expression.’ Continue reading “Censorship and Capitulation at the Saachti Gallery”

‘People’s Vote’ and ‘Revoke Article 50’ have no place in Parliament’s Indicative Vote Process

Yesterday, the British Parliament once again ‘took back control’ of the Brexit process from our hapless government. MPs held another round of indicative votes on what Brexit policy might possibly secure a majority in the House of Commons. Once again a set of motions were tabled, and once again our representatives set about voting Aye or No to those selected.

Yet again, no motion secured a majority.

Other people have commented on how a series of binary votes is probably not the best method for weighing up many competing options. It prompts people to abstain or stick to only their preferred option, in the hopes of hanging-in-there, becoming the last idea standing. A ‘single transferable vote’ option, where MPs rank the proposals in order of preference, would be better.

But I’m not here for that. Instead, I want to say this: The ‘People’s Vote’ proposal (put forward by Peter Kyle MP) and the ‘Revoke Article 50’ proposal (tabled by Joanna Cherry MP) should have had no place in the ‘indicative vote’ process.

Why? Well, for two reasons. First, MPs are still considering how we might leave. What they need to show (to the European Union, to the government, to their colleagues, and to us) is what could plausibly be written into the Political Declaration that accompanies the Withdrawal Agreement, setting out what we hope the end state relationship with the EU will be.

Neither #PeoplesVote or #Revoke are about leaving the EU.

Instead, they are about process. The People’s Vote idea is compatible with any of the proposals for leaving the EU. It could be a requirement of Theresa May’s thrice rejected deal, Ken Clarke’s Customs Union, Nick Boles’ Commons Market 2.0, or George Eustice’s EFTA/EEA (which wasn’t voted on again last night).

Meanwhile, Joanna Cherry’s proposal is nothing at all to do with the Political Declaration. It is a sensible insurance policy against No Deal Brexit, saying that if we are in danger of crashing out of the EU then we either approve No Deal, or Revoke Article 50.

So while I think a People’s Vote and the Insurance Policy are both desirable, it makes no sense to consider them as options alongside proposals about markets, customs and trade. I actually think that the prospects for both proposals have been damaged by being mis-categorised in this way.

Beyond Beginners Rubik’s Cube Tutorials

I think I’ve mentioned before that I recently taught myself to solve a Rubik’s Cube. I often take my cube onto the bus or train and solve it, as an alternative to messing about on my phone.

The beginners’ method of solving the cube is quite inefficient. It teaches seven algorithms, which sometimes have to be repeated until the right pattern emerges.

There are loads of internet resources for people who want to get into speed-cubing. But I have found very little for people like me who just want to be slightly more efficient at solving the cube.

It is for this incredibly specific niche that I have launched a series of YouTube video tutorials entitled Beyond Beginners. They’re a bit cheesy but I had fun making them. Continue reading “Beyond Beginners Rubik’s Cube Tutorials”

#Brexit: Democracy begins with a vote, but it doesn’t end there

I was unable to attend the Put It To The People march at the weekend for secret reasons, but I have signed the poorly worded petition to ‘Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU’.1

While the march was taking place, I spotted several snide comments on social media, repeating the mantra that it is essentially a campaign to ignore or overturn democracy. Giles Fraser and Sarah Vine, for example.

This prompts a return to the thoughts and conversations I have been having over the past few weeks about the nature and definition of ‘democracy’ and how a free society makes decisions.

Too often during this crisis the political debate has focused on just one aspect of democracy: The vote. And not just the concept of voting in the abstract, but specifically the referendum vote of 23rd June 2016 that delivered the mandate to leave the European Union. Despite the narrow margin, and despite the fact that the Leave.eu campaign broke electoral law, the result was and remains a powerful political fact.

But there are other aspects to the concept of ‘democracy’ that have, in my view, been underweighted. A fully functioning democracy requires way more than a vote. There are plenty of oppressive countries that allow citizens to vote for the government (Iran, for example) but nevertheless constrain freedom in other ways. The vote is a necessary but not sufficient condition for democracy. Continue reading “#Brexit: Democracy begins with a vote, but it doesn’t end there”

Cultural juggernaut of which I was subliminally aware

Posted this on Facebook in September 2018. No idea why I did not share it here too.

Here’s Michel Teló singing ‘Ai Se Eu Te Pego’.

So what I like about this is

  1. Just imagine what it much be like to have so many beautiful Brazilians singing the lyrics back at you; and
  2. This is a tune that I was only subliminally aware (like, I think I’ve heard it before but dunno where) and yet, and yet, it’s clearly a cultural juggernaut and has huge significance for millions of people around the world, especially in Lusophone countries. Stumbling across stuff like this a useful jolt out of one’s solipsism and a handy reminder that our cultural bubbles aren’t all that.

Cultural juggernaut of which I was subliminally aware

Posted this on Facebook in September 2018. No idea why I did not share it here too.

Here’s Michel Teló singing ‘Ai Se Eu Te Pego’.

So what I like about this is

  1. Just imagine what it much be like to have so many beautiful Brazilians singing the lyrics back at you; and
  2. This is a tune that I was only subliminally aware (like, I think I’ve heard it before but dunno where) and yet, and yet, it’s clearly a cultural juggernaut and has huge significance for millions of people around the world, especially in Lusophone countries. Stumbling across stuff like this a useful jolt out of one’s solipsism and a handy reminder that our cultural bubbles aren’t all that.

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.

Update

The door swings both ways on this argument of course. Brexiteers arguing that they should have another chance to vote on something already decided only reinforces the argument for a #PeoplesVote.

https://twitter.com/Cornish_Damo/status/1107725191986188289

https://twitter.com/Cornish_Damo/status/1107725191986188289

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”