July 6, 2010

I’m in Finland. Finland’s great. I ought to blog about the forests, summer cottages and lakes not to mention the marvelous weather we’ve been having.

But I’m British so I’ll have a good moan anyway.

I sometimes think our geography in the UK means we have a scattered experience of other European states. We’re pretty slow to borrow their great ideas. Our expectations are lowered because not enough of us have experienced the French transport system, the Finnish education system, the German beers. What we’ve had has been great for so long we haven’t really checked other countries to see if its still relatively great. We are pretty keen to hold back power from Brussels, but sometimes we’ve just got to stand back and admit Big Europe does it better.

Recycling is an example. I’m a recycling cynic. It comes down to three things:

– Why do we mainly recycle renewable things? Are we running out of sand for glass? Can we not plant trees?
– Why does our recycling mainly come down to giving companies things for free? I can pay some nominal charge for a plastic bag , but will I be refunded if I bring any bags back to the shop ? (Some shops do offer rewards for sustainable behavior but its too patchy and not locally available where I am) If this is not a cynical money making scheme why do they not switch to using bio degradable materials for bags as some shops have?
– It can be a placebo. We can think we are saving the planet and keep our emissions as high as ever. Surely our first priority ought to be to reduce our emissions drastically, whether we believe thats to avert a man made catastrophe, or manage inevitable natural variation, or something in between.

Whether its a beer can or a bottle, in Finland you can expect 15 or 20c to be refunded when you return a used container back to the shop. Thats how it ought to function. You can bet Scotland would be close to 100% efficient if they thought there was money in it. So far I’m aware of only Irn Bru doing this. You won’t find an eligible bottle lying anywhere, the consumer will be only too keen to return them in bulk to the supplier for financial reward. Here you can even see homeless people collecting cans.

Its not a uniquely Finnish example at all. Perhaps the UK is more in the unique position of taking the least effective approach to recycling and treating it as some kind of hobby instead of a serious part of our buying and selling.



January 26, 2010

For all the chat about twitter, and how its going to change the face of the election etc, I remain unconvinced.

A hundred thousand people following labour MPs and the like really isn’t going to matter. Subtract from that journalists, civil servants, charities etc, divide the number over the whole of the country and how many people do you actually have in a given marginal? Given that most of them are Stephen Fry, using another account, pretending he’s fallen out with the thing again.

Its honestly not that many people. Sure, you can compare it to newspapers. But the articles in newspapers are in significantly more depth, and not 140 character trickles in a sea of similar drips. Say you have 100 labour MPs. Less than 100,000 followers is not a lot for self professed celebrities, who feel twitter is useful to people. It means about a thousand each. I wager there are many people who aren’t celebrities who have around ~1,000 facebook friends.  700-800 is not unusual. Its really not a great achievement for people whose job is representing people.

Twitter is the true representation of the Westminister Village on the Web. It is simply journalists talking to journalists – no wonder the thing is left wing, half of them are employed by the bbc.

I would like Labour to win the next election (or at very least I would prefer it) but I don’t think twitter will make the difference. Its only asset is that it can seize the media narrative. If you are a journalist turning up to work, deciding in the end not to work, checking your email, your facebook, etc and you find something happening on twitter, well, why not make a story out of it from the convenience of your desk? #welovenhs may have been a big hit on twitter but it failed to dent the polls.

Sooner or later people will get fed up with all this lazy twitter chat. Its just not relevant to people.

But this blogpost is totally relevant 😉

1) It shares all of its symptoms with some of the most common conditions out there. The guy that discovered it was a hypercondriac, everyone that contracted it was a hypercondriac and the only actual outbreak is an outbreak of the internets. The real news is that tamiflu is an antiviral drug which can help hypercondriacs. Speaking as a hypercondriac who has diagnosed himself as having been suffering from swine flu for the past week (btw : this means you’re probably about safe from me now) my first thought was I wonder if this means I can get a stronger placebo.

2) Swine don’t actually get swine flu

3) British people are better off than most. Apart from the nausea and vomiting the worst symptoms are feeling like you can only eat very boring meals. So no change there then for the Brits

4) There is a really good joke about swine flu I heard somewhere. “I thought that pigs couldn’t fly but then I read in the news: Swine flu”

5) More people die from diarrhoea, annoying their doctor, bad television and poor news coverage.

GB is damaged property as far as the press are concerned – even when he does something good, which actually does happen sometimes, he won’t get enough credit.

Although mainstream media frequently deride the assumption that ‘They are all at it’ its the only view thats been robust to the revelations of the last week. All MPs have to be audited and exposed, in a political context. They don’t care about accountability to the public, so get as much politics in it as possible and make them accountable to one another.

I prefer GB’s proposal to audit all MPs to David Cameron’s forcing just a few people who comprise the shadow cabinet to repay.Ideally you might have both – all MPs should repay.

That repayment should be compulsory but better the reward for the Lib and Lab MPs  who repay now, voluntarily.

The solution isn’t to simply reduce the number of MPs, but being from Scotland, I would say this.

Righteous Immigration

May 13, 2009

The BNP are determined to make immigration an issue again at this election. Apparently we have to look after ourselves first, its just too risky to let impoverished foreign workers take the most dangerous jobs, the ones we won’t touch.

Speaking of extremism, if there was one minister I’d shuffle right out of government it would be Phil Woolas. He was perhaps appointed as one of the few MPs more extreme on this issue than the British public. As recently as March he accused the office of national statistics of ‘whipping up anti-foreign sentiment’. Sounds like the work of statisticians to me.

But imagine the opposite case – what would happen if we were to have unlimited immigration? Apocalypse, according to the Daily Mail. But really, what would happen?

We already have had, historically, a policy of unlimited emigration. We didn’t really care about the indigenous people when we sent our criminals to Australia. We didn’t ask the French when we went to Canada. There are numerous examples of unlimited emigration in our history, but we don’t like it when it comes back to us.

What if we were to send back our dear Polish workers and receive in return all our pensioners from Spain? It would be another of those ‘economic storms’ blowing over the Atlantic. Immigration, in the face of a declining British population, is one of the few factors which assist in securing growth.

Already people come freely from accession countries like Romania. They can come here no problem. But as far as we are concerned, they can starve here. Because we don’t give them work permits, although we dangle some calendar years in front of them saying stay for a bit, maybe next year we’ll allow it – but we don’t. So that’s the solution? Immigration without employment? Will this help poverty, will this help crime?

When people come to this country despite our attitudes there’s something of a compliment in that. So what if, for a little while, lots of people came? I want my kids to grow up in a school surrounded by lots of different cultures and languages. I want them to learn about life in the world outside our island bubble, and feel like a global citizen. I want them to learn how to cook.

Nobody has a deed to this island.

Something not about expenses for a change…

I was speaking recently at a “parliamentry debate”-style night hosted by a dialectic society. One of the mock bills brought forward sought to elect the house of Lords entirely by lottery of national insurance number. You can read more about this kind of proposal would work in a book by Anthony Barnett and Peter Carty.

The idea we debated was to create in the house of Lords a very large citizens jury, within the protection of the Parliament Act. They would remain an amending body, brought together from all walks of life, a sample normalised in such a way as to be representative of the national insurance pool.

“Its not for the shoemaker to decide whether the shoe fits” was one of the quotes of the night.

Those taking part in the exercise would be paid a salary and serve for a year.

At no point in the legislative process do the subjects of legislation have the power to amend an existing bill – this would change that, and power is the right word.

It would also enable those who have served in such a second chamber to use the experience to better fulfill their maximum potential in the democratic process – more engagement with less apathy.

Most of all it would achieve what must be the goal of any progressive government: making peerages affordable for the working class.

There seems to be a notion ubiquitous in the commentariat that the recent allowance scandals bring the profession of being an MP into disrepute, dissuading good candidates from running.

Some general points:

1) Clearly bad candidates have been running up to this point. The British people need to move on from satire and derision into a pro-active realisation that a very large fraction of their politicians are corrupt. The insistance that MPs are respectable is out of touch. 

Remind me why the BNP want to stop aid to africa and spend it all domestically? Because of corruption – maybe they’d prefer to keep it for themselves.

2) MPs are not the only ones who have to work a transparent allowance system. We seem to have less scandals about bailed out bankers these days. Their system is different from that of everyone else – to insist on respectability is out of touch.

3) You can’t call being a politician a profession. To do so is…oh you get it…

On the last point…

For something to be a profession it must have a professional body which acts with neutrality in providing guidelines for best practice, basic standards for its chartered members and instruments for the discipline of its members in the event of unprofessional conduct, or conduct which brings the profession into disrepute.

I’m not saying it is possible to have such a body, but politics is what it is. It hasn’t grown more corrupt over time. Its always been like this through history, all thats increased is transparency, with a few blips, so we see whats really going on. 

Politicians won’t lose the good reputation they never had. The opportunity of course is to make it credible for the first time – this is a genuinely exciting opportunity. But respect cannot be assumed, asserted or demanded it must be earned.