Sunday, September 13, 2015

What next for Labour

Labour has a new leader. Jeremy Corbyn won 59.5% of the vote. The party seems quite clear about this choice: Corbyn won a large majority - not just among recently-joining affiliates, but also among the full members of the party. They are clearly in it for the long haul - this was not just a campaign by a few blow-ins who wanted to sabotage the election.

And yet senior figures in the parliamentary party are resigning from their shadow ministry and spokesperson roles in protest. They fear Corbyn is unelectable, and will drag the party towards a position the electorate will not accept. Perhaps he will - or perhaps not.

But what these senior figures are missing,  or choosing to ignore, is that the party has rejected what they themselves are offering. They should think long and hard before plunging their party into a feud that will indeed make Labour unelectable!

Their party seems quite certain it does not want "more of the same." Now might be a good time to sit down and come up with an alternative to Cameron's Conservative austerity and Blair's almost-Conservative austerity lite.

picture: (c) Jim on Flickr, some rights reserved.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Party like it's 1997

It seems like both of Northern Ireland's main Unionist parties are stuck in the last Millennium, partying in the last chance saloon like it's 1997. The trigger was a murder, believed by the Police to be by members of the IRA, although sanctioned neither by the IRA's leadership nor by Sinn Fein (formerly known as the IRA's political wing).

First the Ulster Unionists walk out of the Executive. Then the Democratic Unionists join in the brinkmanship, with a secret ultimatum to the UK Government.

I'm not sure what to think.

Either the Unionist parties are still stuck in the 1990s, and have not noticed that Sinn Fein is firmly wedded to the political process, with no appetite for a return to "war" - or the two Unionist parties want to avoid the blame for the impending welfare cuts (and they hope that business as usual can resume after their teacup has calmed down, and their toys have been returned to the pram).

Is it too much to ask for some grown-up politics?

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Crisis in Calais?

How is a strike in Calais suddenly all about immigrants?

If you've been watching the news on the BBC, you'll know there is a huge crisis of illegal immigrants swarming through Calais, and causing traffic chaos throughout southern England. At least that's how the BBC and other outlets have been telling it. But is this really what is going on?

Sort of. A bit. Apparently a ferry company is stopping a route, and the ferry workers in Calais are on strike. Hence the traffic delays, as lorries pile up in Kent, waiting for the routes to reopen. There are huge queues for the tunnel, and the migrants and refugees camped near Calais are taking the opportunity to sneak on board vehicles bound for the UK.

So a strike is causing traffic delays, which have allowed a few hundred illegal immigrants (or, quite likely, refugees fleeing from war and oppression) to try to enter the UK. But somehow in the media the story is an immigrant crisis.

Something is wrong, somewhere.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

How history is made

Picture: Greg Gjerdingen
Henry Ford (of motor car fame) famously said that History is Bunk - or so we think. What he actually said, in the Chicago Tribune in 1916, was: "History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history that we make today."

He wasn't really talking about History though - he wanted people to work for the future, not to live in the past, But when he talked about "the history we make today," he said something very true about how history comes to be. History is not just remembered, or even discovered. History is made.

Back in May, we all knew that the Coalition's days were numbered. We knew there would be a new coalition. We knew the Tories were on their way out. But on 7th May the people spoke - and they didn't say what we had been told to expect.  Suddenly what we all knew wasn't true any more. The press and pundits had been caught out.

But just as Nature abhors a vaccuum, pundits need a Truth to tell. A Truth had to be found - and quickly! Labour needed to know why they had lost. Pollsters needed to know why they had been wrong. And we who had been following the news wanted to make sense of it all.

Some pundits and pollsters got in fast with Shy Tories: the voters on the right who didn't like to admit their right-wing tendencies in public (and especially to pollsters).  Although the UKIP campaign suggested that people weren't all that hesitant to speak out against what they saw as a "progressive" project of "uncontrolled immigration".

It turned out when the polls had been digested a bit that it was more "lazy lefties" that "shy tories" - voters on the Left had, for some reason, failed to turn out. The next question, in the solidifying narrative of how the election was lost, was "why". Why hadn't more people voted Labour? We already "know" why voters deserted the Lib Dems, but that's a whole different story.

There were a few theories to explain Labour's defeat. Ed Milliband had moved too far to the Left. Ed was unelectable. The campaign was ineffective. Their economic programme was not credible. The media were against them. Aspirational voters were turned off.

There was merit in many of these ideas, but the debate has been shaped by the Labour leadership contest - and in that contest, there are three broadly Blairite candidates from the right of the Party, and Jeremy Corbyn, the old-school candidate who is proving unexpectedly popular. The other candidates need to show that Corbyn is not the answer to whatever question we should be asking. And (post-Levenson) much of the UK's press is worried by any challenge to the narrative of deregulation and freedom for "wealth creators" (and mainly multinational wealth creators). So we have seen a sustained drumbeat of "too far to the left." A consensus is forming. The fluid Present, with its many competing stories, is solidifying into History before our eyes.

Soon history will be written in stone. We will all know that the UK electorate has no appetite for redistributive taxation or a non-punitive welfare system... that people don't believe we can fund adequate care or pensions for the elderly... that we won't vote for enough taxation to pay for public services... that people think regulation of rapacious multinationals and the finance "industry" will hurt the economy and cost jobs.

Perhaps before this becomes solid, unquestionable history - the stuff that "everybody knows" - we should look again at some of the unspoken assumptions that underlie this worldview, and consider some alternative possibilities?

Thursday, May 07, 2015


Just got around to watching the Northern Ireland Party Leaders Debate.

I can't remember when I last heard so much whataboutery from a single person. I'm struggling to think of a single positive thing the DUP representative said. It's depressing.

The political culture here in Northern Ireland, particularly in the DUP, really is incredibly negative and fixated on the past.  Could we get whoever is organising these debates to do something about whataboutery?  If sluggerotoole can do it, why not the BBC?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Who is the war criminal when a military robot starts killing civilians?

First autonomous flying "drones", then driverless cars, and now it seems autonomous killer robots are being planned. If it's possible, and military planners seem to think it may be, just think of the problems.

Campaign to stop killer robots
In real life Asimov's "three laws of robotics" which prevent harm to humans do not exist. Such a law, which would work reliably, is not even possible. So if machines are built which are intended to kill people without any human control, they will inevitably kill "innocent civilians".

I know that war is messy and great evil happens in current wars with current weapons. But at least that evil is the direct result of a human action, and humans can be held to account - at least in principle.

photo: Get t y images
This is not possible with autonomous killing machines. Who would be guilty? The programming team? The software designers? The builders? The person who fitted the weapons or loaded the ammunition? The commander who ordered the deployment? The politician who authorised the purchase or the deployment in the field? Or maybe the voters who said nothing, and allowed these weapons to be deployed in their name?

This is why such weapons must not be allowed.

The UN is discussing the Inhumane Weapons Convention in a session which opens on 13th April. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is lobbying to have autonomous killing machines pre-emptively added to the list.

During this election campaign, when our politicians are at least pretending to listen to us, is a good time to challenge them about this issue.

Human Rights Watch has a detailed report on the dangers.

And the Guardian has a rather shorter article.

We must stop this!

Monday, March 30, 2015

This Show is Dead

Me: Ello, BBC, I wish to register a complaint. This show is dead.

BBC: We're closin' for lunch.

Me: Never mind that, my man. I wish to complain about this show what I tried to watch not half a week ago on this very channel.

BBC: Oh yes, the, uh, the Top Gear...What's,uh...What's wrong with it?

Me: I'll tell you what's wrong with it, my man. It's dead, that's what's wrong with it!

BBC: No, no, It's uh,'s resting.

Me: Look, matey, I know a dead show when I see one, and I'm looking at one right now.

BBC: No no it's not dead, it's, it's restin'! Remarkable show, the Top Gear, isn'it, ay? Beautiful Cars!

Me: The cars don't enter into it. It's stone dead.

BBC: Nononono, no, no! It's resting!

Me: All right then, if it's restin', I'll wake it up! (shouting at the TV) 'Ello, Mister Clarkson! I've got a lovely fast Maserati for you if you come to the studio…

(BBC fires the presenter)

BBC: There, it's running!

Me: No, it isn't, that was the news. You fired the presenter!

BBC: I never!!

Me: Yes, you did!

BBC: I never, never did anything...

Me: (yelling and typing into Youtube repeatedly) 'ELLO Top Gear Presenter!!!!! Testing! Testing! Testing! Testing! This is your Unemployment Channel interview call!

(Takes smartphone and thumps it on the counter. Throws it up in the air and watches it plummet to the floor.)

Me: Now that's what I call a dead show.

BBC: No, no.....No, The Producer's stunned!


BBC: Yeah! You must've stunned him, shoutin' like that, just as he was wakin' up from his bleedin' lip and two hour trek to Casualty! You don’t get much sleep when you spend a night in casualty you know. And Producers stun easily, Major.

Me: look, mate, I've definitely 'ad enough of this. That show is definitely deceased, and when I purchased my TV licence not six months ago, you assured me that its total lack of scheduling was due to it bein' tired and shagged out from the traumatic evacuation after the latest Top Gear Special!

BBC: Well, it''s, ah...probably pining for the fjords.

Me: PININ' for the FJORDS?!?!?!? What kind of talk is that? Look, why did it vanish from the screen just as the series got going?

BBC: The Top Gear prefers bein’ off the screen! Remarkable show, innit, squire? Lovely cars!

Me: Look, I took the liberty of examining the press coverage before I left home, and I discovered the only reason that it had been knocked off its perch in the first place was that you'd suspended the presenter.


BBC: Well, o'course we'd suspended 'im! If we hadn't suspended 'im, e'd 'ave beaten up all the crew, shot them in front of their families, and got a number plate mocking them. So we're hiring new presenters. VOOM! Feeweeweewee!

Me: "VOOM"?!? Mate, without Clarkson and the gang this show wouldn't "voom" if you put four million volts through it! It's bleedin' demised!

BBC: No no! It's pining!

Me: It's not pinin'! It's passed on! This show is no more! It has ceased to be! It's expired and gone to meet its maker! It's a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! It's pushing up the daisies! If you hadn't kept the story in the news with comparisons with Jimmy Saville it would be out of the papers and off the telly! It's metabolic processes are now 'istory! It's off the twig! It's kicked the bucket, It's shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-SHOW!!


BBC: Well, I'd better replace it, then.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Democracy in action

It seems the EU Commission is in secret negotiations with the US and Canada on rules to harm consumers and governments and benefit US & Multinational corporations. Secret as in they refused for a long time to tell the public what they were doing - even when the EU Parliament demanded to know, earlier in the process. And now that they have been rumbled, they are emitting clouds of spin, managed by specially recruited corporate lobbyists.

Here are some articles from the Independent and the Guardian And the Guardian has an article here about the similar Trans-Pacific treaty:

Some details have leaked. Things like:- give multinationals the right to sue if consumer protection or public health laws cost them money - set up special courts for multinationals, run by corporate lawyers - make it harder for states to regulate things like fracking or genetic modification - weaken financial regulation - (And in the Trans-Pacific treaty, also unknown new rules on tobacco, requested by industry - export subsidies only to be allowed for USA producers - reduced protection for users and consumers from copyright and patent law, and criminalisation of even accidental, non-commercial infringement).

I don't think it is healthy, in a democracy, for laws to come out of secret negotiations with the corporate sector. Negotiations from which anyone who represents civil society, or anyone who advocates the common good, is barred.

Petition on the Stop TTIP site, here:

For UK folk, a link to write to your MP, MEPs, MLAs here:

But hey, I could be wrong. Maybe the finance sector has become suddenly honest and public-spirited. Maybe corporations are now putting other people first. Maybe the US government is trying to help the rest of the world, and its own people, rather than those who fund its re-election campaigns.

Tell me what you think...