Brown a bully?

February 22, 2010

“Some have downloaded information; some have actually called our helpline directly and I have spoken to staff in his office.” – Caroline Pratt

This is a serious situation if it actually is happening. Unfortunately you just can’t tell from a statement like this.

Always be wary of words like ‘some’. Three sets of some can be the same one. In particular, the inference that some have downloaded info from the website – how do they trace that, or figure that its a unique contact? By host ? It seems to me that especially could be the same person who called.  You cannot infer context from an HTTP request. Frankly, I was just on their website there, but I’m not being bullied. I hope they wouldn’t say ‘some have contacted us from the physics department of university X’.

I go on the website of the BNP from time to time. I happen to think its an awful party, I hope someone wouldn’t infer from my visit to their website that I was considering voting for them. I might have simply gone on for research purposes. Its a dangerous world we’re creating if we infer context on an HTTP connection.

This is a really serious topic and I fear that Caroline Pratt has been fairly careless in how she’s dealt with this. The counter argument is that the civil service were not contacted by the helpline (which is not to say they were never contacted) and therefore these cases, if there are more than one, were not properly weighed and investigated. I really think that, given the seriousness of this, we do need more information, whilst also respecting the privacy of those involved.


First Class

February 18, 2010

Guido has been sinking his teeth into Conservative MP Nicholas Winterton over his preference for first class train travel. One would think giving my allegiances I would be doing he same. I find myself in two minds about it. His comments are out of line , phrases like ‘a different sort of people in standard class’ suggest an unfortunate attitude. And he probably doesn’t have longer than a two hour train ride to get back to Macclesfield. However he did raise a point about whether it is ever appropriate for MPs to travel first class in trains.

I frequently travel 6-8 hours on the train, always in standard class, and often do wish to spend the time writing a science paper, programming or running a simulation – activities which require a laptop pc, table and power supply – and frequently also, an internet connection. Most of the time I manage to do this without any insurmountable problems. (of course, the seat reservation system won’t be working as usual but thats for a separate post the next time I’m on a virgin train. Assuming I switch to an east coast train with free internet)

However, you can’t be assured that you’ll even get access to your seat. Very often its standing room only, and then you really can’t work – frankly its ridiculous. Access to a power outlet, free internet, etc, is not guarranteed by seat reservation in standard class.

The amount of time a train actually takes to get from one side of the country to the other is a national scandal. That time cannot be a dead loss. You cannot simply take a day off work to get there and another to get back every time you want to make a trip by train.(I’m talking Glasgow->Oxford here)

The fact is an MPs work should in principle be confidential, and I am not comfortable with my MP, if he is working during his journey, dealing with confidential documents in an unnecessarily crowded space.

Although this MP in particular has certainly gaffed, lets get a grip and remember there are practical reasons for travelling first class.

On the face of it that would seem surprising.


1) Most students are arts students. They don’t even know who they are.

2) It was carried out by Unite, a student accommodation provider. So you have a disproportionately high number of first year students, as well as a disproportionately high number of international students. I don’t expect someone from China to know who Nick Clegg is.

3) If elections are in May, during exam time, the effect is not so alarming. Then most student voters will be concentrated in a small number of constituencies, assuming they are registered to vote anyway (it seems they register you on your behalf at my university)

The fact that 66% could place Gordon Brown & David Cameron is a pretty good sign!

Election Cancelled

February 17, 2010

The whole idea that the next GE campaign will be fought on the internet leaves much to be desired.

Hardly anybody is on Twitter. Nobody really cares to read comments on blogs, posted by ‘rapid reaction task forces’. Editing party posters on websites is amsusing, but never hilarious.

The conservative party have some good ideas about websites. The idea of launching your own campaign from a web 2.0 style interface goes a long way to engaging people in politics in a constructive way.

But how many constituencies are going to be really rocked by the reality bloggery, and opinionless drivel that we read these days? Sure you might have the odd scoop on Guido Fawkes (please don’t read the comments) or whatever, but in the main its just news people and politicians twittering to each other. As long as they believe they are setting the agenda, they won’t.

I’m sure local people have for the most part decided what they will vote, although thats not to say that polls of how they feel can’t change.

If people want to campaign for a GE, do it not by telling people what you believe, but by living it. I left the Labour party because I thought I could do what I wanted to do more easily, or at least find more people with the same interests, within the church than politics. I mean I’ll still vote Labour. I’ve made my decision. But instead of handing out petitions for other people to act on some local issue, why not do it yourself?

I tried to organise some folks to go around to clean up estates etc, provide real assistance to single parents etc.
‘Ah its an election year though, maybe another time’ was frequently the lukewarm excuse, from various aspiring tony blairs.
Yet people from the church sign up in droves – from all affiliations. I think that folks would find it far more credible if political party groups spent the entire time between elections not as a rapid reaction blog comments task force but as a social action task force in their local area. Clean streets, redecorate flats, build parks, if you really believe in what you say you do then do it.

If you catch yourself trying to get people to vote for you, you’re on the wrong track.

Around £230 million is spent on performers and presenters at the BBC. Who cares?

We are talking about one of the best if not the best broadcasters in the entire world, which provides a public service not only to Britain but globally, with their repeats of Keeping Up Appearances and or you’re lucky, Doctor Who.

Do we really want our TV to go the way of our european counterparts? Do we want Spanish, or Italian tv solutions? Or do we want our best talent drained to America?I have no problem with entertainers becoming filthy rich. Who really cares? If we aren’t content with our lives we should address that within ourselves rather than requiring everyone else to make changes. With all the fuss about remuneration, sometimes I think we’re becoming more communist by the second – how long until everyone is paid the same rate as a bus driver?

MPs are putting pressure on the BBC to disclose more about their reward structures. It’s like a warning shot – the more you cover our expenses, the more we’ll spotlight what happens in the studio or the newspapers or the lobby. And I agree in so far as it is absolutely legitimate to shine a light on expenses claims etc in the public sector. But their pay is their pay, there can be no allegation of fraud here.

Obviously of order £135 is a lot to spend on an annual tv license. You want to hope that this is being spent well. Turn on your television and make your own mind up. By all means criticise what bias you can find but be sure to then go to or (popular uk blog) or take a walk down your newsagents and see whats waiting, when there’s no BBC.

Jim Devine

February 6, 2010 (video of interview with Jim Devine)

I don’t want to comment about this case in particular, but the new argument that arises in teh video, beyond ‘it was in the rules’. Specifically, that you can ‘move money from one account to another’. Surely when you are claiming expenses, the account belongs to the Parliament and not to you. There is an account code you claim against. But you personally do not have, say, a communications account with £10,000 in it. You have an allowance you can claim against to a maximum of £10,000.

There is a world of difference between having an account that you are given to spend as you like and having a facility for claiming expenses. The use of the word ‘accounts’ alarms me. Someone correct me if I’m wrong here.

We wait to find out if he’s innocent or guilty, based on a better process than a tv interview, as Jim says, in the courts. Either way I still think, vote Labour 🙂 I mean, we need economic creativity right now! Ahem. But seriously. Labour. G’on.