Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The "Security vs Liberty" fallacy of #DRIP law

MPs are continuing to abuse your liberties in the name of "crime" and "terrorism". They say that the law they are debating in the space of one day, because the previous 3 months were not long enough to discuss the wholesale recording of our movement online and over the phone, is the "right balance" between security and liberty.

This law, supposedly well balanced, says that every phone call you make, every website you visit, every person you talk to on Facebook, every person you text, every person you message on a dating site, every email you send and much, much more may be able to be required to be stored in a database for up to 12 months.

It also says that without a court or a judge ever hearing about it, a government minister can assign whoever they want to be able to query that data. The police and other security services are included by default, naturally, but it could be anyone that a cabinet minister believes (or is convinced to believe) deserves access to this kind of information about you.

It is law that is supposedly going to be ok because there will be "reviews" and "checks and balances". Naturally again, none of these exist within the law which will come first and be legally binding, while everything that comes after will merely be bureaucratic agreements and process that can be changed on a whim.

To every one of the hundreds of MPs that voted for the law, I would ask them to go back to their constituents and ask them this:

"Would you mind if someone followed you around every day, noted down who you talked to and what shops or offices you went in to, and then logged this in a database that would keep this information for access by anyone that the government wishes to give it to for 12 months? They wouldn't look at what you bought in the shop, but they would know the date and time you went there. They wouldn't know why you went to that other person's house, but they would know who was in there and who talked to who. They wouldn't know what you talked to the person in the pub about, but they would know how long you talked to them for and when. Is this something that is ok for us to do in order to help prevent crime?"

If they can't have a serious conversation about the removal of people's privacy in the "real world" then they have no right to discuss removing it in the "virtual world". It's time that these out of touch MPs stopped treating how we live our life as somehow permissibly scrutable because it's done in a method that is cost-effective to monitor, when the exact same action done "offline" would draw instant, and disgusting, parallels with some of the worst dictatorships in our history.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Emergency Data Retention Bill, 2024

It has emerged today, Thursday 11th of July 2024, that emergency powers to ensure police and security services can access records of which shops or buildings you have visited, who you talked with in person and what actions you take in your own home are being rushed through Parliament.

The Prime Minister has secured the backing of all three main parties for the highly unusual move.

He said urgent action was needed to protect the public from "criminals and terrorists" and that "a price cannot be put on the safety of our citizens, especially our children"

But civil liberties campaigners have warned it will invade people's privacy.

The Prime Minister defended the move in an early press conference, saying this was about making existing laws logically extend into all feasible areas of application - not about creating any new practices that the British public are not already subjected to on a daily basis.

He also said he had secured agreements with the opposition leader for a wider review of the surveillance powers needed by the security services, to report after the next election.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

And the worst bill of the Queen Speech 2014 goes to...

...SARAH!

Oh yeah, it seems that the Tories are taking to the bullshit motivational speaker style personification of things, in this case a bill that appears on the basis of it's description to aim to diminish and water down the rights of workers and individuals and to let those with responsibilities off with doing their job properly. Let's take a look at Grayling's new mistress, SARAH, shall we?

Take the responsible employer who puts in place proper training for staff, who has sensible safety procedures, and tries to do the right thing. And then someone injures themselves doing something stupid or something that no reasonable person would ever have expected to be a risk. Common sense says that the law should not simply penalise the employer for what has gone wrong.

If an employer has correctly followed Health and Safety procedures, and has created risk assessments (and followed them) for any task that someone wouldn't normally be expected to face as part of their daily lives outside of work, then the law does not "simply penalise" the employer for their employee's stupid behaviour.

Or the member of our emergency services who feels that they can’t come to the rescue of someone in difficulty because of the fear that they will end up in trouble for breaching health and safety rules.

No member of the emergency services feels that they can't rescue someone because of health and safety. Find me one fireman, policeman or paramedic who out "in the field" would refuse to do their job to save someone's life over some idiotic notion that they would be criminally charged with contravening health and safety law and I'll show you a liar.

Those who are concerned about health and safety law are the higher ups, the managers in their offices, the ones that should be keeping abreast of the potential risks their ground forces may come up against and planning ahead to mitigate them. Those who want health and safety law watered down for emergency services are those who don't want to be held accountable if they fail to take the proper responsibility for the lives of their staff and the public that they interact with.

Or the person who holds back from sweeping the snow off the pavement outside their house because they are afraid that someone will then slip on the ice and sue them.

The government here is deciding it will use the fear of something that doesn't exist (the ability to be sued for clearing snow) to in some non-descript way water down safety legislation? Hopefully all this means is they're going to make it clear in law something that no-one seems to question as being not against the law. Pointless to the extreme.

But those who are trying to do the right thing should believe that the law will be on their side.

Why? Why does being an affable fool get you off the hook when you're negligent? I'm sorry, but if someone has done something wrong they need to face the consequences of that. Being good natured in your intentions may be something that can be taken to account when it comes to punishment, but strangely enough the kid who threw a fire extinguisher off the roof of a building and did *zero* harm to anyone got treated as if it had. Intentions or not never came into that case of a young protester, but we're going to protect managers who turn around after the fact and say "Hey, I didn't realise it'd end up like this!"

I want the Good Samaritan who comes to someone’s aid, the small business employer who is doing their best, the person trying to do something positive for their community, all to feel that the country and the system is on their side. Time and again we see stories of a jobsworth culture or a legalistic culture that seems to stop common sense in its tracks.

Yeah, and also stops deaths and injuries in their tracks too, you jerk. But who cares about the wholesale improvement of working conditions and public safety while you're in an election year trying to score the votes of small business owners?

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The route to General Election 2015...

...or how I learned to stop making policy and attack the other team

The next year is going to be interesting, and I don't think it's going to be very pretty. Due to the way the nation is viewing the various parties right now it feels like we're going to be in for some of the, well let's say "not most edifying" months of UK politics. The Tories are threatened by a Labour opposition that naturally will gain votes simply by being that opposition, but also from the other side by UKIP and the incessant coverage they gain which will offer them a fresh challenge. Labour look to absorb disaffected Liberal Democrats but also somewhat fight off UKIP on the immigration question. Liberal Democrats, as it happens, appear to have the simplest job to me and that is just to argue their own relevance. Whether they can ever succeed in that now is another question.

I think we'll see a period of everyone attacking each other, and the negative politics that ensues is surely likely to put voters off as much as pull them in. However with such little policy difference between them, and little more policy to add, it looks like the only option on the table they've got.

The Conservatives need to fight off UKIP as well as somehow helping the Lib Dems shore up their vote. It's vital for the Tories to help Lib Dems because every vote that returns to Lib Dem from 2010 is another vote towards them retaining seats, outside of the Tory/Lib marginals of course! I imagine we'll ultimately see the Tories turn on the Lib Dems in one of the most beautiful expressions of political friendship. They'll claim the Lib Dems held them back, that the Lib Dems stopped them moving ahead on Europe, that they stopped them from reforming on immigration, etc, etc. Lib Dems would be crazy to not graciously accept the attacks, print them on their leaflets and give them to their current GE2010 "don't knows"

In line with this they'll make a big deal about how, free from coalition, they would go further on Europe and immigration in an attempt to hold off UKIP. They know that UKIP support is burgeoning right now but they also know that a significant proportion of them would come back to vote Tory if it was the difference between that or Labour getting in. I'm generalising here, but there may be a hope in some quarters (particularly Labour's) that the UKIP vote will split the Tories and allow them to sneak through. I'm sure it'll happen to some degree, but not as high as current predictions would suggest...a majority of UKIP supporters are not coming from previous votes for the big three.

With this in mind Labour will be fighting hard on it's own two fronts. First to highlight how there are a lot of things the Lib Dems helped the Tories with. It seems to be their strategy now, an all or nothing one. They seem to not be too bothered that there is still a real potential that they could end up without a majority and need other parties to push through their legislation, and that creating real ill feeling in the remaining Lib Dem ranks may be contradictory to that need. The next is that they'll big up the UKIP vote, disgustingly as some may find it. The best thing for Labour is for it to steal votes, be they through Lib Dems disgusted at a frankly disappointing Lib Dem effort in government coming to vote Labour, or UKIP taking those Tory votes and letting Labour sail past even with only modest gains in votes.

I think this is why we're not seeing Labour come out with real policy right now. They don't need it, or so they seem to feel. If they feel they don't need to actually win the support of people on their own merits then that is their choice, but it seems a rather pathetic one to me. It is clear that they'll continue much of what the Tories have laid down, having started an amount of it before Tories took office, and so I guess I'm not surprised that they'll be concentrating more on trying to make people feel angry at other parties. It may not get them votes, but then people forced into apathy after previously voting Lib Dem or Tory is not exactly a loss for Labour either.

Lib Dems have the most freedom but also potentially the least credibility. They can once again actually throw out policy ideas knowing that they won't really have much chance to implement them, if at all, even if in another coalition. They'll also want to return the favour on the Tories and make a case for the various progressive policies that Lib Dems and Tories got through and of course paint it that they'd not have happened without the Lib Dems. Out of all of the parties they have the most scope for actually putting forward a positive case for voting. Coupled with, I would assume, a tightening and reverting back to core targeting strategies I expect them to be more resilient than people want to believe.

We'll also see them attacking Labour in places, though I suspect that they won't be playing that up too hard. The reality is that Labour is their best chance of continuing power in some form or another (and that is clearly a tenuous prospect at best right now) and their wavering voters are sympathetic to some of what Labour is saying. Going on the attack here isn't going to be the strategy that wins, not if they can get the right message together on what they have done, and more importantly *what they will try to undo*.

And then there is UKIP. I expect their support to reach around 16% nationally if the Tories don't play the game right...but Tories have been playing this game for a long time. While they have very little positive to say, and will do as they have done for years and attack the other parties for letting immigration get out of control (hah!) they also are probably the only party that'll have a competent policy portfolio...even if the majority of the country actually disagree with it. But that doesn't matter, and it will potentially keep them votes they've gained this year as they present possibly one of the most professional campaigns....outside of the gaffes and outrageous remarks that a fair number of their membership and leadership will utter...in the areas they focus on.

So UKIP will be attacking everyone, Tories will be attacking Lib Dems out of love, and attacking Labour for not having any ideas out of "the mess(tm)" while undermining UKIP. Lib Dems will be attacking Tories, though a not for the same reasons the Tories are attacking them, and Labour will be sitting there hoping to create a storm of immigration apocalypse controversy while explaining to everyone that the Lib Dems are simultaneously irrelevant and evil incarnate.

Here's to a "fine" year of politics ahead.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

UKIP, BBC, Vote Shares and Earthquakes

That BBC coverage eh?

Sarcastic clapping animation

I think we can all be agreed that the #Vote2014 coverage of local council elections left a little to be desired. An over emphasis on the situation with UKIP, the audacity of sending reporters to clearly UKIP friendly areas and being flabbergasted at the fact that UKIP is something people talk about when asked about the elections, and generally spending their air time talking to politicians about what the public must be thinking based on the votes coming in rather than...you know...asking the public. At one point we genuinely had a two labour figures being interviewed against each other about the state of politics. Crazy.

However I'm sensing around social media that people are firmly still in the "denial" stage of grief when it comes to UKIP. You may argue with the term "earthquake", but it is utterly delusional to not agree that UKIP are facing a frantic surge in popularity every time an election rolls around. The reason why some are calling this an "earthquake" or a shake up of politics, or the beginning of four party politics, is that UKIP support is spreading (outside of London) and entrenching.

In 2012, the first real year of local "success" for UKIP they didn't have enough support to warrant giving them their own spot in the "projected national share" projections that the BBC creates from the councils it gets full results for. They polled 13% in the few places they stood, but this wasn't a wide enough base to give them any meaningful peg on the national vote share ladder.

Then came 2013, and a whopping 23% prediction of the national vote if this had been a general election.

slow realisation animation

However, yesterday comes and UKIP are "only" pegged at 17% in a projected national share, a full 4% above the Liberal Democrats and in third place. By any standards, in an election where such a large amount of the country's local councillors are elected, this is a big deal.

Labour 31%, Conservatives 29%, UKIP 17%, Lib Dems 13%, Others 10%

Cue "The Mass Denial". "Their support is dropping!" they say. "This doesn't matter because turnout is so low!" they say. "It's just a protest vote, it'll go away!" they say.

Dr Who shaking his head

One of the sad things about politics, I find, is that generally people vote the same whether it's 20% of people voting or 70%. There are of course not insignificant variations as different interest groups and political groups are brought into the fold by higher turnout, and higher turnout has the general effect of moving the pointer from one direction (usually the disaffected protestors) to another (the prgamatic and loyal). You can see it from previous projected national shares of the vote, taking what people do on a turnout of 35% nationally can translate into a fairly decent idea of what would happen at 60-70% turnout.

Look at 2009. Lib Dems are a viable third place party by this point, however they were also seen as a party propped up by protest votes. The BBC gave them a projected national share of 28% compared to Labour's 23%, with the Tories on a downward trend at 38%. The actual 2010 result? Tories 36%, Labour 29% and Lib Dems on 23%.

Labour voters turned up at the General Election in a way they didn't at local elections, and by contrast Lib Dems fared worse on vote share nationally with their MPs than their councillors. Is this the key to showing that UKIP's support is a protest vote like Lib Dems? That their 17% will fall to 12% or below?

Perhaps, or perhaps because demographically the Lib Dems and UKIP are mirror images of each other, with UKIP commanding a legion of fringe supporters that are a) Motivated for wholesale change rather than just no tuition fees and b) part of a generation that holds a sense of civic pride in voting, the chances of their share dropping quite so high as that of the Lib Dems circa 2009-2010?

But what of this idea their support is dwindling? A fantasy, as far as I'm concerned.

Homer Simpson imagining an overturned beer truck and prancing in it's spraying contents

In 2013, the first year where the BBC deemed it necessary to give UKIP their own slot on the projected national share, was a year where many councils were electing their councillors, but not London, not Wales, not a number of larger areas and cities. Previously UKIP had been part of "Others" which had a share of 15%, but were left with 9% when UKIP moved out.

Going from around 5-6% as part of the "Others" to 23% was always a monumental leap. It was likely questioned at the time by the very people now using it as gospel to show that UKIP are "on the slide" rather than on a surge.

animation of a man growing in happiness

But it didn't include areas that we now know are not very UKIP friendly, predictably areas with higher proportions of migrants and diverse communities. If you take the results from places like London away this notion that UKIP have done worse than in 2013 slips away very easily. They have, more accurately, performed about the same as last year if not a little better.

Their council seat wins are consistent with 2013, and in seats that they didn't win they've started to put themselves in 3rd or even 2nd spots. They've not won any councils, but quite frankly it would be a thunderous earthquake if, in the space of two years, UKIP gained control of a council let alone more than one.

Then there is national polling.

don't you watch the news?

Opinion polls are fairly reliable. People that aren't seeing the results they want like to believe they're not, and people that are seeing results they want maybe put a little bit too much stock in individual ones. Take the Greens. They feel they're surging, despite their opinion levels being fairly consistent except into the run up of the EU elections for years (and in the EU polling they're doing no better than 5 years ago). But I digress.

In 2012 ICM (in my opinion the most accurate pollster) put UKIP around the local election dates on 3-4%. In 2013 at the same point of the year it was 18%, though this was a clear outlier where a support level of 7-9% is more accurate, and in 2014 is is keeping around 9-11%.

UKIP support from April 2012 (4%) to April 2014 (15%)

This is not the trend of a party losing support, it is one of a steady rise in support of nearly 10% in two years, though we should wait a few more months for these particular elections (and the outliers they seem to generate) to see how much more this could potentially rise. It's also worth noting that these spikes in support really seem to translate in to spikes in voting. In my opinion it's not all coincidence their support was around 18% in the lead up to the 2013 local elections and the 17% they're projected right now.

UKIP are here, and they may not realistically be much more of a party than the Greens are as it stands, but they are also showing all the signs of taking this seriously. The BNP were just a bunch of ranty, illiterate, racists that managed to somehow pool enough brainpower to form a party. UKIP are already talking, quite sensibly, about how they're going to target seats to grow their support, to grow their volunteer base...to do all the things a serious political party does to move from being a protest party into one that retains consistent base levels of support.

Best case scenario at the moment is that their support plateaus while the other parties work out a way to mitigate the effects of the UKIP narrative, but with Labour seemingly happy to play deferentially to UKIP as if they have the answers, and Tories not quite sure whether they should be attacking UKIP or trying to show people that they're not that different from them, I'm not sure that's a guaranteed outcome either.

Sitting and pretending the rise of UKIP isn't happening, or being anal over whether or not this constitutes an "earthquake" or not is a waste of effort. The question right now is if the large number of people not voting feel proportionally any different to the proportion of people that voted, and for the other parties to find the solution to getting those usually non-voting people into the voting booths...and to find that solution fast because UKIP seem to have got a solution all of their own and they're already using it.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Why are UKIP getting support?

Interesting article in The Independent today, that has a few choice quotes from generally-not-racist-but-kind-of-xenophobic people that supposedly should be voting Labour, but seem like they'll be supporting UKIP. So why are they?

Let's take a look at some quotes...

“The country is full up with everybody coming in,” says Mr Harmer.

Is it really full up? There are two ways to look at it, the first is in terms of actual area available for people to live in the UK. It's clear that we live in a tiny percentage of the space in this country and that far more space is used for farming, etc (Daily Mail link warning).

Better use of space we already use, along with a change in our views on how much currently non-urbanised space could become space to build and expand into, means we are far from full up.

But this brings us perhaps on to the real reason people feel that the country is "full up", and that is that there appears to not be enough stuff to go around. Housing, schools, A&E waiting time, jobs. You name it we ain't got enough of it. Right now we are facing a schools shortage that will ripple from current primary schools through secondary schools over the next decade thanks to a baby boom driven by higher birth rates at a time of recession, a clear and present sign of just how on the edge our politicians have left the building of infrastructure in this country.

In this case we are only as full up as we're prepared to limit ourselves. Politicians for years seem to have been doing a great job at making sure we're limited, to the point where even without immigration we're running out of services and stretching those that exist to the limit.

His wife, Margaret, will also vote Ukip. She’s upset because she doesn’t get a full pension because she took time off work to look after her children – while immigrants can claim benefits.

“It’s not right,” she adds.

Nor is it actually true. The hypocrisy here is that Margaret seems to believe she is entitled to more than she has put in, but is upset at people that are entitled for things (because they put money in) are potentially taking some of that entitlement on in benefits. (and I say potentially because EU migrants claim less benefits than us Brits do)

Does the blame for successive parties not catering for looking after women that, for either financial necessity or belief that it's the best option for their kids, stay at home in the early years of their children's lives really lay at the feet of migrants rather than the politicians?

Or take Sarah Everitt. Her complaint is the 14 foreign children in her daughter’s class – some of whom have difficulty with English.

“The teachers spend more time with these children than the rest,”

We're freezing council tax, we're tightening the money we spend on teaching staff, and yet we can seemingly also complain about how there aren't enough teachers to go around? If the children weren't "foreign" and had trouble with their english, but were instead just less bright than Sarah's kid and needed the extra support from the teacher...would this be the same conversation?

Of course it wouldn't, there'd be questions about whether or not the school has the teaching assistants it needs to free the teacher up for their proper duties educating the whole class, and whether the funds are there to allow it.

“And they get housing straight away unlike the rest of us.”

Except, again, they don't. The few that may get it ahead of others are deemed by the local authority to be in more need. Why is there a waiting list at all for social housing anyway? Because politicians have failed to ensure that enough houses are being built to house even our population even without migrants coming in!

There is a trend here, isn't there?

Years and years of neglect by the country's leaders when it comes to investing in our country. We sit in the midst of a housing shortage that is pushing rents to unsustainable levels and house prices and their mortgages higher than when the bubble burst. We don't have enough school places for those that UKIP or BNP supporters may call "indigenous" in the coming years because we are not flexible or prepared enough to deal with a baby boom. We don't have the money to pay for future pensions because of a previous baby boom that is skewing the balance of paying in vs paying out.

So why are UKIP getting support? Because the Tories and Labour have made their bed over the decades, they've let migrants become a scapegoat for their own failings in taking care for this country. Migrants are an insignificant cost to the country, if they're even a cost to us at all and yet we reserve so many lines of newspaper columns, news analysis and talk show time for them when the people who have stalled the country are being given a free pass.

And the tragic comedy in all of this is that UKIP have policies that quite frankly are only going to further dent our progress in managing our future. a flat rate of tax that reduces the tax bill for those earning the most money, pulling out of the best trade deals we've got in preference for a non-existent and probably never-will-exist trade union of countries that could quite frankly get a better deal if they just dealt with the EU (as they probably already do), and continuing the privatisation of our services.

Our unhealthy obsession, and excuse making, towards migration has to stop. While I'm not claiming you need to embrace migration, we do need to prioritise what is a problem in this country...and whether it's population rise by British birth rates rising (and death rates dropping as we cure and heal more diseases), or by migration, our problem is the state and/or the private sector, if you prefer, not doing what it needs to do to ensure we have everything we need.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Where do the Lib Dems go?

We are roughly one year away from the machine starting to creak into motion for another General Election, the first time we can be so sure in advance of when we'll be going to the polls. Just over 4 years ago I hoped that we would be heading into this time with a stronger democracy, more accountability at regional levels thanks to a better voting system. I hoped that we would have seen 4 years of principled coalition involvement by the Lib Dems that would have proved to the country, as well as to myself as a life-long voter, that the amount of support and effort that went into getting the party into that position of power would be rewarded.

It's easy to hope.