Friday, April 21, 2006

I know plenty of others have already flagged this, but our own Mr Worstall in today's Times really is superb in his Charles Clarke demolition job. In fact, it would appear that a hatred of Charles Clarke - and the violently illiberal policies he consistently promotes - is one of the few areas of politics on which there is a consensus across blogland's political divides.

Yes, Blair needs to go - but until they slice out the cancer at the heart of the Labour party that is allowing the likes of Clarke to rise to positions of influence, none of them can be trusted. That cancer may be centred around Blair, but I fear it has already spread too far for the party to be saved without far more wide-ranging surgery...

Is David Cameron a blogger?

Much like us pyjama-wearing spotty nerds, dwelling in our parents' basements and obsessively updating our "onliine diaries", the dear leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition seems very good at criticisng the way the government does things, but rather less capable when it comes to proposing workable alternatives*. To wit:

"Under a Conservative government, the climate change levy will be replaced by a more effective method of reducing carbon emissions"
"This is rubbish - if I were in charge I'd scrap it and replace it with *mumble mumble mumble* - so ner to you Mr Blair!"
Labour have been lampooning the guy as a chamelon. Considering the awe-inspiring speed with which he's been changing the Tory party, a sloth would be more appropriate.

Oh for the days of a proper opposition with, you know, old fashioned things like POLICIES and stuff...

* Please note that I've come up with no workable policy solutions for Cameron in the course of this post. Oh, the irony, etc.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Oh, and if you haven't already, check out Phil on the continuing Italian elections nonsense - he keeps updating with more insanity, and Berlusconi keeps on refusing to accept the truth. I'm beginning to wonder how much longer it can go on before the EU/Council of Europe begins to step in with a few words...

The EU, UK and ID redux

Is the EU going to save us from the database state after all? The European Data Protection Supervisor, Peter Hustinx, who has been consistently vocal in his opposition to new (Blair/UK-proposed) EU data retention regulations, has warned in his annual report (.pdf) that he's going to give the EU until next year - a year before the UK's ID database scheme will start coming into effect - before he starts clamping down on privacy abuses.

Although his remit only applies to EU bodies and institutions, if we're lucky and he succeeds in his quest to get privacy regulations effectively imposed throughout the central parts of the European Union, Brussels may start to take notice, and use its powers to impose similar restrictions on national governments.

A lot of "ifs", perhaps, but it's the best we've got at the moment, as the EU is the only body capable of forcing our delightful govenment from backing down on its ridiculous database and ID card plans.

In any case, considering that identity theft, organised crime and terrorism (still the main bogeymen used as justification for Labour's ID card white elephant) traverse borders - and especially considering that Irish nationals' right to enter the UK freely will still stand, and that foreign visitors of less than three months will be exempt from the scheme - trying to deal with the supposed threats on a national level is simply pointless. Only if Blair and Co's ID scheme applied to every single EU citizen and every single visitor to the EU would they have any cause to claim us to be safer than we currently are - and even then there would be ways around it.

Either way, I can't see the EU - containing as it does so many nations which have experienced fascist/communist police states within living memory - agreeing to the kinds of intrusive measures that Blair's planning for us Brits. And though I'm no lawyer, unless the ID scheme expands to cover the EU, if the EU starts clamping down on unnecessary and intrusive data retention I'm fairly certain that us Brits will be able to use European Courts to challenge the usurped right of the British state to force us to hand over so many unnecessary details to our government.

After all, why should there be such restrictions on EU institutions without similar safeguards placed on our national governments? When was the last time a supranational organisation instituted widescale civil rights abuses? These have always come from nation states.

We've lost the ID fight in the UK. We've yet to lose it in the EU. And Peter Hustinx will, for the next few years, be our key ally.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Journalists "finding it easier to write a load of nonsense about something vaguely similar to their dayjobs than to go out and uncovering genuine news stories" shocker! Or, in other words, a study has found that
"blogging has received disproportionate media coverage and the whole idea of citizen journalism is overhyped"
Next month, more shock new findings about the way the media operates: Journalists "less likely to check facts or make much effort near to deadline"; Comment pieces "far easier to write than proper news, and infinitely better paid"; and Newspapers "desperate to fill space with any old pap that might get a few suckers to buy the sodding things and keep their ABC figures high enough to charge advertisers rates that'll allow a profit".

Why do I get the feeling that today's PMQs could prove significant in a couple of years' time when we get a few more leaks of classified documents? Oh, I know - it's this explicit denial from the Prime Minister:
"Nobody is talking about a military invasion against Iran or military action against Iran. We are taking diplomatic action through the UN security council."
One single bit of evidence of planning meetings discussing strategic missile strikes or the like against Iran prior to 19th April 2006 - Blair has lied to parliament. (And, please note, if they haven't had some talks of this kind they'd be - from a strategic point of view at least - almost as insane as they would be to try and invade the place...)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A quickie on multiculturalism

Sunny's post on the BNP at Comment is Free - which I'd missed earlier - is interesting stuff, but it was the comments that sparked a semi-related thought. Sunny was talking about the BNP's appeal to alienated working class voters, and soon the usual "multiculturalism" buzzword cropped up in the comments.

Why is "multiculturalism" used almost exclusively in reference to a perceived culture clash with recent immigrants? It has become almost a synonym for "multiracial", yet the difference in cultural background between a university-educated member of the middle classes and that of an undereducated single mother living on benefit on a sink estate is arguably almost as vast as that between a white Englishman and a first generation Pakistani immigrant... Being pretty solidly middle-class and decently-educated myself, I'll generally have far more in common with a fellow middle-class black or Asian Brit than with any number of unemployed and impoverished white Brits with one GCSE, no matter how much more our genetic makeup may be simliar.

At the risk of sounding like a Marxian, these economic and education-based manifestations of the multiple cultures within the UK have generally struck me as being at the heart of many of the problems so often blamed on the racially-tinged "multiculturalism" shorthand. This lazy conflation of culture and race (hand in hand with religion and race) has also made it far harder for moderate voices to try and sensibly point out that there are indeed aspects of certain cultures which are unpleasant without instantly being shouted down as racist by well-meaning (but often not so well-thinking) liberal voices.

This is a debate that could help clarify much fuzzy thinking from all corners of the political divides, yet is currently one that many shy clear of for fear of the racist brand... (And, of course, if you come from a middle class background and raise the issue of sections of the unemployed and benefit-dependent population being a problem, you'll often find yourself dismissed as a Daily Mail reading classist from the self-same well-meaning quarters...)

A false fascist fear

With local elections coming up, it seems that once again we are facing the spectre of a boom in the BNP vote. But you know what, as much as I dislike the buggers, it's really nothing to worry about. In fact, it could well be a good thing if the BNP do well on May 4th.

This time around they're putting up the most candidates they've ever managed - 356, out of 4,360 possible seats up for grabs, or just 8%. At last year's General Election they managed to attract around 0.7% of the national vote - a record for them - while at the 2004 European Elections, always an event to spark low turnout amongst almost all but the nationalist and eurosceptic extremes as no one else cares - they claimed 4.9% of the vote in England. During the same year, their annual accounts (.pdf from the Electoral Commission) claim an increase in membership from 5,737 to 7,916. (Which is around the number of readers this site attracted every week up until a few months back.) During 2004, despite their major European Elections push, they managed to raise just £228,000. Hardly stunning - and not even enough to buy yourself a knighthood, let alone a peerage...

So worst case scenario - assuming they attract almost double the number of voters they managed in the European Elections - we'd be left with a total of 380-odd BNP councillors (combined with the 20 or so they've got now). They'd finally be a bit of a force in local politics, rather than merely a scattered and isolated presence. You can understand how some people might find this worrying.

But no one need be concerned about the research suggesting that "25% of people have thought about voting for the far-right party". We're nine years into an increasingly unpopular, largely centrist government that's still facing no real opposition from its two main rivals, both of whom are also struggling for the centre ground.

It's only natural at this stage in the government's life cycle that people are pondering protest votes, and that the parties on the extreme political wings - be it the BNP, UKIP or Respect - are going to be the ones proportionately to benefit the most. If anything, a boom in support for the BNP would be a sign that our democracy's rather healthier than many have feared, and that people still care - even if they care primarily about not having a dark-skinned neighbour.

Yet the racial issue is not prime for many who are attracted to the BNP. You only need look at the harshness of Labour's approach to immigration over the last few years (backed up by the Tories' General Election "It's not racist to impose limits on immigration" campaign), with dawn raid deportations and the like, to see that the BNP's major policy of harsh immigration controls has been claimed quite effectively by the major parties.

It is instead the desire for a viable right-wing alternative to the rather ineffectual Tories or comically divided UKIP that is gaining the BNP support. Since the Tories collapsed in on themselves from the mid-90s onwards, and following nine years of constant leadership crises in a vain attempt to deal with Labour's lurch towards the right, the full-on right-wingers have had nowhere to turn. (And please note, my lefty chums, that "right-wing" and "racist" do not necessarily go hand in hand, as it would apear that many on the left appear to think...)

Meanwhile, the BNP have constantly been trying to shift the perception that they're a single-issue, largely racist party in an attempt to appeal - especially - to the working-class Tories who have abandoned their old party in the last decade. (The idea that the Conservatives are made up exclusively of ex-public school middle class middle-Englanders is a nice one for right-on centre-lefties with a vague memory of something called "the class struggle", but a complete myth.)

At the same time, BNP ventures into trade unionism and the former industrial heartlands of the midlands and north have been stirring up local resentments amongst former Labour voters who feel that their party, with its shift to the middle-ground and leadership by the Islingtonian cocktail party set, has likewise abandoned them.

But despite this encroachment onto the territory of the two major parties, the BNP are best left ignored. They are as tiny and insignificant as they are at heart unpleasant. For the Tories or Labour to do any more than dismiss them with a curt put-down - in much the way David Cameron recently brushed off UKIP - would be far more effort than they are worth.

To regain the votes of those who have been lulled to the extremes, it would be insane for Labour to shift back left or the Tories to venture back right. They know full well that they'll alienate more voters than they'd regain - and that despite the power of the likes of Respect, UKIP and the BNP to cause some localised upsets, the votes they attract are not significant enough in number to make any major difference. (A case can be made for UKIP having affected the last General Election, but only if you assume that every UKIP voter would otherwise have voted Tory - and even then only around 30 seats would have been affected, not enough to swing parliament back to the Conservatives.)

In dealing with the BNP, the three major parties should learn from the mistakes the Tories made with UKIP. By treating them as if they are a threat or an issue, big parties end up giving the smaller, fringe groups far more publicity than they could otherwise afford on their tiny budgets and with their tiny numbers of volunteers. When the Tories were battling UKIP for the small number of voters who actually care about the perceived negative impact of the EU, UKIP began to boom under the new oxygen of publicity. And it was this very success that has begun to cause that party's downfall.

Since UKIP actually gained some seats in the European Parliament, their support has fractured - with Kilroy-Silk's short-lived Veritas ego trip being only the most obvious example that the party's anti-EU supporters have been rather less than impressed with their performance since they managed to gain positions of influence, rather than their traditional shouting from the sidelines role. UKIP has achieved little to nothing in the European Parliament, and stories have continually emerged about their various MEPs' failures to attend votes that have, if you're being cynical, shown them just as happy to sit about the Brussels gravy-train as any of the "Europhile federalists" they spent so long attacking.

The same is true of the BNP. The few councillors they have managed to get elected have been at worst imbroiled in scandal and crises (from arrests for drug dealing to official accusations of negligence and misconduct), at best found to have poor voting and attendance records. With fewer than 8,000 members from which to select candidates, and with a core of activists who sprung out of the National Front and Combat 18 culture of thuggery, they have fewer still who are cabable of fulfilling the duties of an elected representative.

In other words, the best way to prove that a vote for the BNP is a wasted one is to sit back and wait for them to balls it up once they've gained a few more seats. With just twenty or so councillors, the cock-ups and corruption can be dismissed as an unfortunate abberation. With a hundred, it will be far harder to ignore, and voters who have been tempted by them will soon come to see their mistake. Equally, once they are elected councillors, the BNP's lackeys will be bound by innumerable bits of red tape and regulation, ensuring that the slightest breach can quickly lead to disciplinary action - along with all the local negative publicity that will cause for the party.

It is very easy to criticise parties when they're in power and have records you can point to - it is much harder to demonstrate a party's poor record if their lack of any political office means they simply don't have a record to attack.

At the same time, if a professional politician from one of the major parties starts lecturing already disillusioned voters on why a vote for the BNP is a stupid one, they are more likely to consolidate protest vote support for the far-right nutters than convince anyone to return to the mainstream fold. For once I find myself agreeing with Home Office minister Andy Burnham - "I am worried that if we give them too much coverage, it can back up the notion that they are a potent protest vote."

Letting people find out for themselves that the likes of the BNP are fringe loons is by far the most effective way of tackling them. It is for the same reason that their leader, Nick Griffin, should not have been taken to court for stirring up racial hatred - it merely gave them free publicity and made him look like the persecuted little man silent majority he so often claims to be speaking up for.

They should be allowed to spout their nonsense as much as they can - for the more they do, the more obvious it becomes that nonsense is all that it is. If the BNP can gain a few more council seats, it can only be good for the major parties who have so often mistaken them for a threat.

The BNP are regarded by those tempted to vote for them as potential saviours after years of political isolation. So were the Labour party after 18 years of Tory rule - and just look how they've turned out... I believe the phrase I'm looking for is "give them enough rope to hang themselves..."

More takes: Paul at Great Britain, Not Little England seems to agree with my take, while Chris at Qwghlm expands on some of the issues I've only briefly covered. At The Devil's Kitchen, the G-Gnome reckons the Tories should act and also tackles the "working class" problem, Sunny at Pickled Politics also looks at the issue (though irritatingly I don't seem to be able to access the site at the moment), and Pigdogfucker has the most succinct response. That'll learn me for staying prety much offline for four days - I missed a load of stuff and came in late again...

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