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.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Is it "human nature" to live in groups of people "like you"?

It seems strange to me that anyone would seem to think that the reason that we "choose" where we live is down to anything other than simple economics, rather than human nature. If there is a human nature in anything about where we choose to live, it's that we always want the best we can afford. Capitalism is built on the fact people want to maximise what they get from the money they have to spend it on, we see this human nature all too regularly.

But when it comes to housing, do we choose anything? If we are lucky maybe we have plenty of different options to look at, but the reality is that you'll have a budget, and this will give you a radius around your desired area to buy from. We go for the best we can afford, and this generally means we live with people who have similar earning potential to us...though there are still a legacy of 1980-1990's home buyers that live in areas that are no longer within their pay grade due to the crazy rise of the housing market over the last several decades.

Are these people like us? I guess there is a chance they are, more so the further up the scale of expense you go when owning your home. But is this your active choice, or just a coincidence? Do you vet your neighbours for their views on free markets? the EU? Their religion? hobbies and activities they enjoy? Of course not.

We make some assumptions, if we're moving in to a city center location then we assume our neighbours will be professionals with a penchant for some evening partying. The 'burbs? Family folk. A house in a village? Friendly retirees and those trying to enjoy the slower life. But we don't *know* do we?

In fact let's look at that list again. City center living? You're moving there because YOU want to be in the nightlife, and a quick roll out of bed to your work's doorstop. Does it matter that everyone else may be like that too? Not at all. In the 'burbs? You're probably moving there because you can't quite afford the out-of-center life, because you have an eye on that school near by. Does it matter to you that other people might be doing the same? No, you're moving there because of what YOU need. And moving to a village? YOU want the quiet life. YOU want to be away from the hustle and bustle.

This isn't about what other people are like, because unless you can visibly see that your neighbours are likely to trash your garden, or hold all night raves, or bug you to do some civic duty when you just want to sleep off a hangover, you choose a place because it suits your needs, within your budget. Location, Location, Location.

The problem right now in the housing market is that the choice for where you can live, affordably, is dwindling. School places are too few, and it's driving the price of housing nearest the best schools sky high, creating a defacto social rift that means over the next decade or so your parents' wealth is one of the key factors that will decide how well educated you are. Snapping up property in estates in new psuedo-towns and developments is an art-form in order to keep your commute down to around about the hour mark, if you're lucky, because it is the nearest place you can get to your work. There is no choice here, there is only inevitability.

Meanwhile housing benefit is reformed, those who are poor are being kicked out of homes in areas that allow them to be close to work and schools and forced into these non-choices to live much further away than they need to be, with the extra costs that entails, creating slightly more choice for those on middle incomes and above, but less choice for those below. Surely if this were all human nature, those poor people wouldn't want to live where they are being kicked out of anyway, those around them "aren't like them" after all, are they?

It's sad to see how humans compare themselves reduced to a single factor.. the repayments they can afford each month based on a lump sum of cash they've managed to save.

I for one think that this doesn't tie us together at all. We can find great affinity with those who are running FTSE 100 businesses just as well as those who are struggling to raise 3 kids and are unable to find jobs...because our lives and our loves are not defined by what is in our wallet. And worse than this, we *know* that diversity in demographics is a positive when it comes to progressiveness and equality. We know, for example, that a lack of women in tech jobs is actually hampering the progress of creation of ideas...the extra diversity of a group helps drive the group to more and better solutions.

The same can be said for the rest of our life. Benefit hate, banker hate, immigrant hate... how much of this is because we just don't realise how similar we all are any more? If more of us had to live next to one another, regardless of our job, our status, our wage... would we perhaps spend more time focusing our frustration and anger on the real problems facing us, instead of the scapegoats of these various groups of people we never see because a faulty housing market has conditioned us to all be separate?

Our human nature is to fear the unknown, I think I'd welcome any move that helps us know each other better, and nurture that other bit of "human nature"... compassion.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

The "lawful" killing of Mark Duggan

This is going to be an emotionally charged time, it seems the jury at the inquest into the shooting of Mark Duggan have decided that his killing was lawful, by 8 members to 2 (it's worth noting that the 2 others didn't believe it to necessarily be unlawful). Confusingly the jury also believed that Mr Duggan didn't have the gun in his possession at the time he was shot.

Unfortunately emotions are taking over here, and we need to remember that lawful doesn't mean "right".

The timeline as being reported from the inquest is this... intelligence found that Mark Duggan had gained ownership of a gun. Police moved to arrest, and Mark Duggan seemed to be aware this was happening. He is believed to have tossed the gun out of the cab he was in before contact with the police and was unfortunately shot dead.

It's important to understand that the police believed him to be armed, and so the question is not whether he had a gun in his possession, but whether the police believed he had and whether they believed him to be a threat enough to shoot.

It's always worth remembering that the police always shoot to kill, there is no "shoot to disarm" or "shoot to maim", because if they shoot on that basis and then kill a person they will have unlawfully killed them. The decision is centered around an immediate threat to the life of an officer or nearby person, and if that threat is determined in the heat of the moment to be credible and immediate, those police trained to operate firearms are lawfully able to take the shot.

It's clearly unfair that Mark Duggan was killed, it clearly isn't right...however that alone doesn't make it unlawful. For it to be unlawful the police would have had to have shot him despite knowing he was unarmed, that he wasn't an immediate threat to those in the area.

Did V53 (the police officer who shot Mr Duggan) honestly believe that the victim had a gun on him until the moment he was down? Without other witnesses, how can the operation be assessed?

Far from this sending a message out to police that it is ok to shoot an unarmed black man, as many a twitter comment like above will say, it shows that if you shoot someone there is every chance it will blow up local tensions, and have you as an officer scrutinised for years on the back of that momentary judgement. However it also does say that as long as you and your fellow officers stick together, and there are no witnesses, you may be able to come out of the end of that scrutiny without any kind of criminal conviction, even if there is a chance you could lose part of what your job is.

I don't think it's helpful at this time to descend into hyperbole, nor to assume the motives of the police any more than you believe police assume the motives of, in this case, young black men.

There may be things to learn here, about the quality of training given to officers (did the training fail V53, or fail to determine their ability to make rational and objective decisions in the heat of the moment?), and perhaps about the transparency of these operations. Should armed police be required to wear functioning AV equipment to document what they do? Perhaps independent individuals should be part of a scrambled armed response team to be able to provide an unbiased account of the operation if it turns sour? (let's leave talk of cost and that person's safety aside for now)

The way firearms operations are carried out needs to change somehow so that we are not relying on the evidence of an individual's "belief", but as the law stands even if there was a camera pointed, as well as a gun, at Mark Duggan in 2011 that showed irrefutably that he was unarmed... if Mr Duggan had moved in a way that could give that instinctive response to an officer *expecting* to see a firearm, you would probably have seen the same verdict found. The question we should ask ourselves is if this is the fairest way to deal with whether the officer is charged with a manslaughter or murder charge, or not?

Friday, 13 December 2013

UUK and that segregation guideline...

...bit of a storm, wasn't it? Whether it was in a teacup or not is still to be seen.

However I've been trying to discuss the issues on Twitter, and naturally it's the worst kind of forum to do it in (though people are being very respectful about it, so cheers!). While I understand that the UUK guidance itself given in the now removed "Case Study 2" may have been too woolly, that it inferred things that weren't based in legal fact, I'm not sure those celebrating have won the victory they think that they have.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Statement re: Bristol Central Library and Cathedral Primary School

The following letter has been sent to the council for consideration alongside many others from those concerned about the legitimacy of both the plans and the process that agreeing on them has taken. The decision is set to be made tomorrow (5th December).

Dear Members,

I have been following the discussion that has been going on in some areas of the public regarding the Bristol Cathedral Primary School (Cathedral Primary) and the Bristol Central Library (the Library) with interest. Since first learning about the plans I wondered why we'd see such a situation come to pass; the near-certain reduction in services or service efficiency of a city-wide asset seems like strange to trade off against primary school places, instead of finding a solution that would see both the library remain functioning as fully as it is today and the primary school a home.

Since the plans have come to light there have been numerous calls by supporters of the Library for Cathedral Primary to find a more suitable location that doesn't require the requisition of space from a city asset. There has in public discourse been mentioned various empty spaces that could provide capacity for our city's growing child population, none more interesting than St Mary's Hospital on Brandon Hill which is situated only a short walk away from the current proposed space.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Russell Brand and 2011

In 2011 a lush green pasture of possibility lay before us. Alongside local elections we were given the opportunity to change the way that our lawmakers were elected, ensuring that once and for all a well supported but otherwise net-unpopular MP could no longer "represent" us in our constituency. A positive result would have given more weight and momentum to the second part of the revolutionary change to our politics that would ensure no small voice would be left unheard, no doubt allowing Labour to jump properly on the bandwagon instead of stalking it; the change from our Lords as an unelected body to one that is elected in proportion to our political views.

Fast forward past the unsuccesful result, one that in my opinion actually did more harm than if we had never had the referendum in the first place, to the modern day where one Russell Brand is touting a democratic and constrained revolution of our interaction with the state. I don't disagree with him in general terms, but then I also voted in 2011 to say "Yes" to a new voting system.

There are those out there championing Brand right now, probably not as the instigator of these ideas...he says himself that is too false and lofty an accolade for him to claim...but as a figure that is focusing the issue of disenfranchisement in the UK political system. I'm glad, we need people to be actively thinking about how the state and the people form their contract, and how they continue their interaction; but at the same time I'm frustrated. Where were all these voices in 2011?

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Questions remaining of Bristol Cathedral Primary and Bristol Council

It's coming up to 2 whole months now since I learned about the plans for Bristol Cathedral Primary to replace book and resource storage in the Bristol Central Library, a month and a half since I asked questions about the reasoning behind it, and 2 weeks since I asked further questions based on their somewhat ambiguous Q&A, strangely jointly issued with the City Council that has supposedly not made a decision on the plans.

The school asserts that it will, at some undefined point, respond to at least the latter "by other means", feeling a little hurt that I deleted their comment to my blog after they attempted to misconstrue that when I talk of a threat to the library, that I was attempting to mislead you, reader, that they were shutting the library down to replace it with a school. Whether they will ever respond I do not know, they may instead choose to continue their apparent campaign of either ignoring their critics, or to belittle and insult those that are campaigning not actually against additional primary school provision, but against the impact on library services while other options may be available for the school.