January 15th, 2011 § § permalink
City firms are doing government work for free in the hope of getting future contracts when times are easier and the public aren’t looking:
On one recent government contract five contractors all bid to undertake the work for £1, he said. But Downey also acknowledged that there was a degree of self-interest on the part of firms, which are expecting a resurgence of consultancy in government in the near future.
It’s like medieval nobles showering the king with gifts, knowing he’ll repay them ten times over with other people’s possessions.
November 30th, 2010 § § permalink
K-punk on UK student protests:
the ruling class are counting on the street militancy fizzling out as suddenly as it flared up. We have an opportunity here, not only to bring down the government – which is eminently achievable, (keep reminding yourself: this government is very weak indeed) – but of winning a decisive hegemonic struggle whose effects can last for years. The analogy that keeps suggesting itself to me is 1978 – but it is the coaltion, not the left, which is in the position of the Callaghan government. This is an administration at the end of something, not the beginning, bereft of ideas and energy, crossing its fingers and hoping that, by some miracle, the old world can be brought back to life before anyone has really noticed that it has collapsed.
October 5th, 2010 § § permalink
The Guardian don’t really explain their reasoning on this, but apparently an “Unemployed lorry driver living with his wife and three children in inner London, paying £320 a week rent” stands to lose 7,136 from the cuts.
April 25th, 2010 § § permalink
I’m less than overwhelmed by Michael Bracewell’s book England is Mine. I do have to admit, though, that he has a nice turn of phrase — even if it is in a style that must have landed him in Pseuds Corner:
So pop, despite itself, became arty. English society, high on the new convenience foods, allowed English culture to develop a kind of boil-in-the-bag popism as the successor to the beans on toast of social realism. 
[slightly less entertaining on re-reading, when I realise that “boil-in-the-bag popism” probably means music rather than the Bishop of Rome]
April 23rd, 2010 § § permalink
Johann Hari on good form:
something stranger still is happening in The Election That Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Every day in this country, two big forces artificially drag the British government way to the right of the British people, making it enact policies that benefit a small, rich elite at the expense of the rest. We are not supposed to notice this, never mind try to change it. Yet suddenly, in this election, those forces have been exposed.
April 22nd, 2010 § § permalink
Comment on post-election PR in the UK:
I’m afraid that this has been predicted in every close-looking election since … well pretty much since Labour rose to power a century ago, without ever coming close to occurring.
April 12th, 2010 § § permalink
Bracewell’s “England is Mine” turns out to be excellent page by page, but a bit of a letdown overall. He’s taken as his basic thesis something entirely vagye and anodyne, namely nostalgia for the countryside within English culture and pop music. He calls this “Arcadia”, although it’s unclear what makes this a peculiarly English form different from the adoration of an imagined countryside that is present in just about every country in the world. Likewise, the breadth and commonness of the subject makes it hard to trace any intellectual ancestry for the views he describes: who is to say whether different longings for “Arcadia” are directly related, or just parallel expressions of the same common human urge?
That said, I’m only on page 37; all this could well be resolved later.
April 12th, 2010 § § permalink
Or, as Helen puts it: Your goal for this election period is to challenge apathetic non-voters. This has got to stop being a socially acceptable position to take.
April 12th, 2010 § § permalink
remember, every time Cameron talks about disillusionment with politics, what he’s really saying is “lefties, don’t bother coming out to vote”. I’d bet money that this is a conscious strategy to keep the left home on May 6th.
January 2nd, 2010 § § permalink
“until less than ten years ago, the locks on RAF nuclear bombs were opened with a bicycle lock key. ” [BBC]
Admittedly, this looks like a case of auntie spinning their info as far as it’ll go. e.g. no bicycle lock itself, necessarily, just the same kind of key.
January 2nd, 2010 § § permalink
More optimism from Hari, this time idolizing JJ & co:
It works. Look at Britain. Three years ago, eight new coal power stations were being planned, and the third runway at Heathrow was all but inevitable. A few thousand heroic young people took direct action against them. Now all the new coal power stations have been cancelled, and the third runway is dead in the water. Here in the fifth largest economy in the world, they have stopped coal and airport expansion. Politicians felt the heat. That was done by a few thousand people. Imagine what tens or hundreds of thousands could do.
May 26th, 2009 § § permalink
[38 Degrees](http://38degrees.org.uk/) has just launched. It’s aiming to become a UK counterpart to Avaaz: a large non-party campaign organization built around a stonking big email list, picking winnable campaigns and feeding their supporters with small, easy ways of contributing.
They’re kicking off with an attempt to bounce of the MP expenses kerfuffle to give constituents the power to recall MPs. So far they’re pretty vague about what this would entail, and I’m not entirely clear on the benefits. Sure, a few immensely corrupt MPs might be removed. But I dread to think how many local campaigns could end up diverting their energies into unwinnable attempts to remove their MPs.
I’m mildly concerned about a few aspects of their site: the [petition page](http://www.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/recall) doesn’t make it clear whether 38 Degrees will hold onto your email, and they aren’t offering any email address to get in touch with them. But it’s early days yet, and these are things that will doubtless get ironed out quickly. Plus David Babbs is involved, so I already have a fair amount of unpleasantly old-boyish confidence in them.
May 12th, 2009 § § permalink
Linkies! [The Straight Choice](http://www.thestraightchoice.org/) is a new website collecting campaign leaflets from UK elections.
If it takes off, this could become a very useful resource. Leaflets ofen show campaigns at their most brutal and desperate. Enhancing the collective memory of what politicians have done is a great way of holding them to account. That goes for the outrageous behaviour that comes out during elections (who [remembers](http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa5391/is_200410/ai_n21358424/) the Tory slogan “if you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Liberal or Labour.”? Would pictures help?). More importantly, it goes for the little promises that are made and then ignored, safe in the knowledge that what’s said in the campaign vanishes soon afterwards.
Of course, libraries do have collections of this stuff; there’s one at [LSE](http://www.lse.ac.uk/library/archive/gutoho/election_ephemera.htm), and another in Bristol. But I doubt they get much attention, except from academic historians and the occasional zealous party worker. Online images have much greater potential, provided the intial enthusiasm is enough to start it snowballing.
April 8th, 2009 § § permalink
The London G20 protests, if they achieved nothing else, have certainly radicalised a lot of people. Or at least, have made them distrust and dislike the police.
Now there’s a (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/apr/07/video-g20-police-assault), showing Ian Tomlinson being attacked by police just before he died.
No, the police probably didn’t plan to murder him. They did beat him (more severely than is shown in the video, according to eyewitnesses), and fail to help him. And after his death they tried to conceal what happened.
The fact that he died is the only bit of chance here. Everything else was a deliberate strategy, chosen by the police. And many people will be looking differently at the police – if not because of this, then because of kettling. Keep people trapped on a street for hours on end, and they won’t like you for it.
The [Guardian](http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2009/apr/07/civil-liberties-g20-police-assault-ian-tomlinson?commentpage=4&commentposted=1) also pick up on the media response, so far:
Although the Guardian reported the death on its front page, almost all the coverage elsewhere ignored it completely or concentrated on a version of events that suggested that the police’s only connection with Tomlinson had been to try to rescue him from a baying mob of anarchists.
Now, the video has got the story more [mainstream](http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/lawandorder/5121597/G20-protests-death-Ian-Tomlinson-shoved-to-ground-by-police-officer-video-shows.html) [attention](http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article6054713.ece), and even the [Mail](http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1168315/Caught-camera-The-moment-G20-bystander-flung-ground-police.html) is criticising the police. Strangest of all, I find myself agreeing with many of the comments on the Mail article.
April 4th, 2009 § § permalink
Some more from Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News, this time him being particularly damning about the Mail:
Perhaps I have been unlucky, but hI have never come across a reporter from the Daily Mail who did not have some similar story, of black people being excluded from the paper because of their colour. A district reporter told me he would call up from Manchester to tell the news desk a story, ‘and they would always ask: “Are they our kind of people?” i.e. “Are they white, middle class?” Or more often it would be: “Are they of the dusky hue?” And if they were of the dusky hue, then they didn’t want the story.’
I mentioned this to another reporter, who has spent several decades on the Mail, and he immediately named the senior news executive who was most keen on the ‘dusky hue’ euphemism. And this is not a thing of the past. While I was writing this book, I spoke to a local news agency who had just had the Daily Mail news desk on the phone, checking out a murder on their patch and asking if the victim was white or black so that they could decide whether they wanted the story.
March 31st, 2009 § § permalink
Rare thing – a [sensible comment](http://www.libdemvoice.org/porn-on-expenses-jacqui-smith-nothing-to-hide-12986.html) on the Jacqui Smith porn storm-in-teacup:
And why, you might ask, am I, um, handwringing over this in quite so prurient a fashion?
Simple. This is just the kind of happy little vignette that it’s apparently just fine for three hundred thousand civil servants and ministers to know about the rest of us. Every internet transaction, every site visit, every email. So what if outrage, mortification and a publicly damaged relationship results? At least the government have been able to verify to their own satisfaction that you’re not doing anything wrong.
Come to think of it, if adult-rated content were to show up in anybody’s records, Jacqui would probably be the first to advocate just nipping in to people’s private purchases and checking them for, say, consensual violent content.
March 30th, 2009 § § permalink
Superficially hilarious, but deeply dispiriting. 60 Westminster CCTV cameras have to be turned off during the G20 summit – not on any kind of civil liberties grounds, but
because their pictures aren’t high-enough resolution:
Under the legislation, traffic cameras must be capable of recording at 720 x 576 pixels, an analogue broadcast standard.
Westminster’s wireless network of road cameras, introduced last year, is the only fully digital traffic enforcement system operating in the UK, and is regarded as one of the most advanced in the world. But its picture quality is only 704 x 576 pixels. The DfT’s enforcement branch, the Vehicle Certification Agency, has ruled it does not comply with the law.
Not much of a comeuppance, though – 60 cameras out of perhaps [5 million](http://www.newstatesman.com/200610020022) in the UK
December 18th, 2007 § § permalink
Missed this one last month in the UK: a woman was convicted for “possessing records likely to be used for terrorism”, whatever that means. As far as I can see, she had downloaded some documents on guns and bombs (like, er, just about every teenage boy in the country), and written some angry poems about killing people.
So, basically, she’s been fantasizing about being a jihadi rather than fantasizing about being James Bond.
For this she’s already been in jail for 5 months, and has a 9 month suspended sentence.
October 10th, 2007 § § permalink
My biggest unresolved question about New Labour is whether they’re betraying the left, or stealthily implementing leftish policies in a way that doesn’t infuriate the right. This is one point for the latter: persuading independent schools to join the state sector. [via Crooked Timber]
November 27th, 2006 § § permalink
[Update: I finally got round to adding legends to the maps]
Which countries get talked about in parliament? With data from [They Work For You](http://www.theyworkforyou.com), I’ve put together these maps of where MPs like to talk about. Here’s the number of mentions a country has had in parliament recently, adjusted for population:
|< - Few mentions
Looking at this, I’m actually surprised at how globally-minded Parliament is. Sudan (pop. 34.2 million) gets 2,302 mentions; Germany (pop. 82.5 million) has only 3,695 mentions in parliament.
Far from being ignored, Africa actually gets mentioned well beyond its economic importance to the UK. South America, on the other hand, is basically ignored.
Then there’s the size bias: small countries get more mentions than big ones, once you adjust for population. Look at Mongolia: Westminster, it seems, finds Mongolians immensely more important than Chinese. The bias can partly be discounted as a problem with measurement: parliament is prone to lists of foreign relations and trade issues, for instance, which mention every country regardless of how small it is. Also, it’s possible MPs talk about areas within China or India, which I wouldn’t have picked up on.
But there’s more to it: larger countries really do get short-changed in the attention we give them. China has a population perhaps 150 times larger than than of Bolivia – but we don’t hear anything like 150 times as much news from China. We’re all biased by imagining a world made up of nations, and giving the same weight to nations of all sizes. Small islands got discussed an incredible amount – particularly places in the news, like Tuvalu and the Pitcairns, but others as well.
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