Too Little Empathy, Way Too Late

Not much on the blog recently. I disappoint myself. When I started this site nearly fifteen years ago, the narcissist in me expected it would become a chronicle of my times, and any given historical event would have a corresponding blog post in the archives. In reality it’s far more hodge-podge, and I find I’ve written very little about the most turbulent political era of British politics that I can remember.

There were EU elections yesterday, yet I posted not a word about the campaigns or who I would be voting for. I suppose that’s a symptom of the political mess that we are in: that so many people are baffled and dismayed by the state of politics that they become demotivated. I could have been out there campaigning for someone, but instead these past weeks have been a retreat into exercise and Game of Thrones.

I suppose I should make a few notes on the resignation of Theresa May. It just happened, and I have a few thoughts I might as well publish. Continue reading “Too Little Empathy, Way Too Late”

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”

Loser’s Consent

This short but compelling tweet thread by Richard Wyn Jones puts a name to the thing about Theresa May’s approach to Brexit that has made me (and I suspect, many other people) so angry. It is that, despite the small majority for leaving the European Union, there was no attempt to seek ‘loser’s consent‘ to the referendum result.

This is despite people like me beginning the Brexit process with the very clear intention of giving that consent. Continue reading “Loser’s Consent”

It’s fine to call an MP a Nazi. But it’s not OK to threaten them

Well okay, it’s not fine. It is almost certainly not true, it is very rude, it coarsens our political discourse, it widens divisions, and I really really wish people wouldn’t do it.

But when pro-Brexit protesters call a Remain-supporting MP a ‘Nazi,’ that most certainly is political speech and should be covered by free speech protections.

By contrast, it is not okay to physically intimidate anyone, whether that person is is a man, a woman… or an MP. Continue reading “It’s fine to call an MP a Nazi. But it’s not OK to threaten them”

Perpetuation

Happy New Year everyone.

I retweeted this earlier.

https://twitter.com/SpillerOfTea/status/1079026065958453248

The U.K. spent the dying days of 2018 in a panic about a so-called ‘migrant crisis’ even though the numbers of people involved are dwarfed by those affected by the food bank crisis, the housing crisis… and lots of other crises.

And yet the media and politicians were all motivated enough to spend countless column inches and broadcast hours on the issue of a few migrant boats coming to our shores, filled with people who want to contribute to our society because their own is dangerous, dysfunctional and/or non-existent.

We are told repeatedly that the Brexit vote of 2016 was ‘about immigration.’ Among those who opposed the vote, many blame the fact that the ‘threat’ from immigration (legal and illegal) was relentlessly touted by vote-seeking, populist politicians, and racist tabloid hacks. This feels true to me.

Why then, do we allow the news agenda to be set for us in this way? Why do we allow the manipulation to continue? Why, when the problem was adequately diagnosed so many years ago, cannot it not be countered? Why is our opposition to this pernicious messaging so inadequate? Continue reading “Perpetuation”

Proroguing Parliament and the Trampling of Tradition

Houses of Parliament at dusk. Photo by yrstruly on Flickr (CC licence)

Lost in the noise, this tweet from Labour Stephen Doughty MP:

https://twitter.com/SDoughtyMP/status/1072550760314007552

Events have over-taken this prospect. The Chair of the 1922 Committee received the required 48 letters on Tuesday, and so on Wednesday Theresa May had to weather a confidence motion from Conservative MPs. The opposition parties are keeping their powder dry on a confidence motion of their own. There is now no vote to avoid by proroguing parliament.

Nevertheless, the very thought of such manoeuvring should give us pause for thought. In the case of this Government and this embattled Prime Minister, the tactic would have surely backfired. While proroguing parliament is procedurally allowed, the British public would have considered it somehow ‘cheating’ and taken a dim view. Meanwhile, Members of the House of Commons would have been angry at having been denied the opportunity to censure the Government before Christmas, and would have returned in the New Year smarting for a confrontation. Continue reading “Proroguing Parliament and the Trampling of Tradition”

Anecdoche

In an essay entitled ‘What Do We Do About A Woman With A Penis‘ by Cassie Brighter, she writes:

Anecdoche — I stumbled into this word recently. It defines that condition when everyone is talking, and no one is listening. I see people expressing very polarized, angry views. I see people speaking from hurt, from fear and from hate.

For a moment I was slightly shocked that I had only just learnt the word now. It’s so useful and apt for the way online discourse (and indeed, political discourse in general) seems to unfold right now that it should be in common use.

It turns out that the word is a deliberate neologism, an invention of the Dictionary is Obscure Sorrows, a creation of John Koenig. Here’s his version:

a conversation in which everyone is talking but nobody is listening, simply overlaying disconnected words like a game of Scrabble, with each player borrowing bits of other anecdotes as a way to increase their own score, until we all run out of things to say.

While it’s great to be able to express this concept, it’s also slightly annoying, because the word does not mean what one might expect it to mean. Anecdoche is clearly a portmanteau of ‘anecdote’ and ‘synecdoche’.

  • An anecdote is an account of a personal experience, usually retold to make a point or reveal some truth;
  • Synecdoche is a part that stands for the whole. “Send me fifty swords” to mean, “send fifty people armed with swords”.

So an anecdoche could be a single story that becomes a stand-in for, and accepted truth of a particular issue.

This would be a useful word to have because this sort of thing happens all the time in political debates. It’s particularly relevant to transgender activism, which appears to have been reduced to a single, unhelpful question, over whether trans women should be able to use women’s toilets and gym changing rooms. The issue is way more complex and interesting than that.

Discussing the Online Forums Bill on Sky News

On Tuesday 11th September, Lucy Powell MP introduced the Online Forums Bill to Parliament. It was a ‘Ten Minute Rule Bill’, a mechanism by which opposition and backbench members of parliament can introduce legislation.  The text of Ms Powell’s speech may be found in Hansard and there is a video on Parliament.tv.

The speech makes some challenging points. How is it that Facebook groups can grow to tens of thousands of people in secret, with no oversight or scrutiny? One such group, which discussed autism, recommended that parents give their kids ‘bleach enemas’ to cure the condition.

Powell also points out that members of these groups often feel too intimidated to speak out against the most vocal and radical members of the group. This shifts the dynamics of such groups to ever more extreme positions, and is a very particular free speech issue in itself.

The bill proposes that online forum operators like Facebook be forced to take greater responsibility for what is published on their platforms. Just after the parliamentary debate concluded, I was invited onto Sky News to discuss the proposals. The segment can be viewed below or on YouTube. Continue reading “Discussing the Online Forums Bill on Sky News”

Why Are We Following Panic Brexit?

On the morning of 24th June 2016 I wrote a post on my blog entitled ‘Here’s What We Need To Do Now’.

Here’s What We Need To Do Now

The ‘we’ in that post were the Remainers. I recommended we refrained from moaning about racist, insular Brexiteers and instead adopted a conciliatory attitude. To accept that a bad decision had been made but then endeavour to make withdrawal from the EU work.

None of that happened, of course. Continue reading “Why Are We Following Panic Brexit?”