Friday, 29 July 2011

Why I'm against the death penalty

ByrneToff writes on twitter...
Only reason I can find against the death penalty is the inability to remedy miscarriages of justice. #hotvote

The reason I can never support the death penalty is that a) even if this were the only reason, it's an important one. Our justice system is not infallible, juries not always unbiased, judges not always privvy to the absolute sum of evidence that may change a sentence. To kill a person is an absolute act that can't be done, and so at the very least we need to be 100% sure the decision to do it is based on completely solid basis...which we can't be sure, ever.

But also b) I value human life. I also value the worth that a human life of an unusual disposition can bring, and that reformation of a person someone would think worthy of the death penalty is a net benefit to society. At best the death penalty is stagnation, given the other option would be to remove the individual from society anyway.

If we have people that are capable of doing things that require the death penalty... serious premeditated murder for example, then they are people we need to understand. Can we gain any more insight in to human psychology and even effects of society on individual behaviour if we simply kill them and be done with it? Why waste such an opportunity purely for retribution?

And of course if you manage to reform the individual, to be confident of their ability to be a positive force in society...even if this is still done from within some level of detention or supervised living...then society has benefited from turning a bad apple in to a good one.

Most support for the death penalty comes from those that are either driven by bloodlust, unable to see that there are no overall benefits to killing a person for their crimes other than for the *potential* temporary good feeling that revenge may or may not bring...or they are those that see these people that are a drain on the state and would rather they weren't, through non-existence.

It's actually the second people I fear the most, as the line between being a drain and a criminal and being a drain and not being a criminal is not very wide at all. But if they have a point it's only because we hamstring our ability to lessen this "drain" by catering too much for the original bloodlusters.

We're too afraid that actually making prisoners productive for society, within the realms of modern human rights, will send the bloodlusters in to a frenzy of outrage...and politicians obviously believe that a significant amount of their electorate are those very type of people.

It just doesn't make logical sense to support the death penalty. We can benefit much more from engaging with criminals, authoritatively and firmly, but humanely...aiming to bring about a net benefit to society regardless of (but especially if) they are rehabilitated. Killing them denies any potential benefit, and results in no better holistic outcome for society than our current system.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

British Gas and a worrying trend

You may well have already heard, British Gas and their parent company, Centrica, have posted some profit numbers and they're "disappointing" for the company. £1.3bn profits, a 19% drop in profits, is seemingly not good enough news during times when wholesale energy prices are rocketing and the economy is stagnating. British Gas itself seems to have taken the brunt of the "loss" with an over 50% drop in their operating profits to £270m.

As Ben Goldacre here says... the reporting is lax, there is no context. £1.3bn is huge, but it's especially huge if the company was only taking, say, £1.4bn in turnover. The reality is that their revenue was £11.5bn, a margin of around 13%. I have no figures to back this up, but an anecdotal search shows this is about "normal" for the energy industry, as far as profit margins go...maybe even "good". In the solely British Gas court, the first half of 2011 residential revenues are £4bn, which paint it as a particularly weak arm of Centrica this first half of 2011.

But shouldn't we have more context? By allowing the press release to essentially be regurgitated we're forgetting the history of how British Gas got to a profit of £270m in the first place, from profits half a decade ago of only £90m, and the situation Centrica are in as a long term trend.

For a start Centrica are currently looking at a 13% margin, this is really no different from where they've been in the past (slightly down in terms of real profit amount, though insignificantly so), 2005 saw around 11% margins, 2006: 9%, 2007: 12%, 2008: 9%, 2009: 9%, 2010: 13%...all the time with increasing revenues from 13bn to 22bn in this half a decade space of time.

Then there is British Gas (residential only), 1.5% margin in 2005, 2006: 1.3%, 2007: 9%, 2008: 5%, 2009: 8%, 2010: 9%. It's currently looking like 2011: will end up being somewhere below that 9%, perhaps as low as it's 2008...yet still with profits that are 3 times what they were half a decade ago, and almost doubled revenues to boot.

Note: you can get all these figures from the Centrica website, such as here.

Let's never forget, this is a company that still hasn't acted fairly to consumers over the disparity in energy charges versus wholesale energy prices. Indeed this is an industry that still hasn't acted fairly.

The interesting thing may well be *why* the price rises are being justified, If you look at todays release you'll see the following statement...

In residential energy, the combination of higher commodity prices and significantly lower consumption resulted in operating profit being less than half the level recorded in the corresponding period last year. Average residential gas consumption fell by 18% in the first six months of the year, and electricity consumption was 3% lower, reflecting the milder weather conditions together with underlying energy efficiency improvements.

This is the danger of a business mentality operating our core utlities in the country, profits come first, and a drop in usage of services (and thus a drop in revenue) is seen as a reason for declining profits. If the danger to Centrica/British Gas's business is lack of use, be it from warm weather conditions, or energy saving measures, then it's only answer is to cut parts of it's business, a potentially unworkable solution given the inevitable rise in the demand over winter, or to raise prices.

When not using energy becomes a reason to increase the price of energy, the exact opposite of the way supply and demand works, we surely have to ask the question of whether or not businesses are fit to run these vital services in the model they currently do. Beholden to their share holders, when the only way to keep both your profits and your profit margin up, to keep your profits in growth, during a time when less energy is being used for a myriad of reasons...the only answer is to increase prices.

The question has to be where do we go from now without solutions like Nuclear and/or accelerated roll out of sustainable local energy? As consumers it is now both in our interest to not use energy (lest we help push up wholesale prices as supply diminishes) and to use energy (lest we not use enough of the potential supply and force companies to increase prices anyway to cover their losses), truly stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Open University fee increase, blame where it's not due?

A tweet this morning...

lecanardnoir retweeted by dnotice2012
Tories/LibDems forcing Open University to more than treble its prices. Destroying something precious for ideology.

The basics are this, the Open University has declared that their 60 point courses will now cost £2500. This is up from £700, a £1800 increase. It's an institution with 250,000 students, of which around 70% are likely to be doing no more than part time (60 points or less), while 30% are doing full time courses. There were about 83000 full time equivalent students.

Now, HEFCE funding was to the tune of £140mil in 2009/2010.This amount of central funding is about the same as 2011/2012.

The tuition fees in 2009/2010 were in the region of £650 per 60 points, a full time equivalent cost is therefore £1300. 78000 students needing to pay an extra £3700 per year for full time equivalence of a new £5000 fee is £307mil extra money for the OU as income.

This is more than double the current HEFCE funding in it's entirety.

Blaming the government for the current fee change seems a little premature. Obviously the policy of reducing central funding is a bad one, one I don't get behind at all, but even if we assume all OU courses fell in to a category where HEFCE would think of cutting funding significantly (potentially all together) the OU would only need to increase fees to £3000 for a full time course, or £1500 instead of £2500 for the 60 point module.

The reality is that with over 20% of OU FTE students studying courses that fall under funding that wouldn't be fully cut in the ategories HEFCE has for subject types, not even all of this £140mil will need to be found elsewhere in a worse case scenario.

Funding cuts are set to bite, but universities are savvy businesses more than altruistic learning centres. Yes the OU has to put up it's prices because of government policy to cut fees (government policy that the Labour party were completely on board with implementing themselves when in power, so let's not pretend that either the Tories or Labour are any different in this), but it's gone further than that. Unless it is also receiving significantly less funding from other funding bodies, and the type of student attending is drastically changing in terms of numbers of "paid by employer" places, the OU seems to have simply used the opportunity to pad their margins and make themselves more comfortable for the years ahead.

The OU sets out it's stall in this press release, and while it makes a passing comment about funding changes the main gist is one of carving it's niche out further. With funding changes to allow students on part time courses to receive maintenance loans, and their perception of an increase in students wanting to go in to part time study while they seems the OU sees an opportunity to increase it's margins while still coming off as extremely good value for money by comparison to traditional universities.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Hot air ruining our economy?

I'm not going to spend an age going over how ridiculous the ONS and Gideon's appraisal of our economy is. I'm not going to dwell on why forecasters didn't appropriately factor in the effect of an extra bank holiday to their GDP growth estimates. I'm not going to ask how it is that a predicted economic boost around olympic ticket sales has somehow turned in to an economic drag.

What I am going to say though, is this notion that somehow the weather is to blame for our economic situation is utter bullshit.

I can understand that the weather may have certain effects, slight ebbs and flows that can make some minor changes to our economy. I can even slightly accept that yes...maybe a bit of snow and freezing weather does discourage some people from going to work those few days...discourages them from spending. But today's claim that it's too WARM? Pull the other one.

Take a look at the GDP growth data over the last few years. The temperature of our summer's has increased every year (pretty much) for the last decade or so. Perhaps it's a crass analysis, but GDP hasn't stalled as the country has had warmer and warmer years, infact it has been very consistently rising...recession aside.

If warm weather, and indeed cold winters, were really a problem for economies, then we should be seeing a tailing off of GDP growth from 1998 to 2008, not a straight trend line.

I am not prepared to accept is that we should at all focus on what must be a miniscule impact on our economy from the weather, it is political opportunism to pick on the weather as an excuse; it shows just how little of the economy is out of the control of government influenced factors if anything, since this is the best excuse they seem to be able to come up with.

The problems with our economy lie at the heart of the decisions made by the Treasury and this government, not with abstract or uncontrollable factors.

If people had jobs they weren't afraid of losing at a moment's notice, with a good salary that wasn't eaten away by inflation every month, if food prices weren't soaring, if fuel prices weren't allowed to increase by over twice the rate of inflation, and if we weren't in post-banking-crisis that helped to ensure borrowing for those suffering from all the above was even harder than normal...maybe then they'd be out spending more, working harder, living happier and putting our economy on the real road to recovery that we seem to have missed the turning for many, many months ago.

We are, like it or lump it, a consumer economy right now. Extra exports would be ideal, but no-one can magic up a manufacturing industry to save our economic growth in a single parliamentary term. If this government want to keep us out of another recession they need to realise their mantra on "private sector creating jobs" just isn't going to cut it. Even if they currently are creating jobs, the signs are that the jobs are part time and not at all conducive to either a) increasing our GDP by any meaningful factor or b) allowing those people to spend money, since they will not have enough to do more than purchase essentials. If this government is serious about the economy they will take the lead like only a national government can and make those jobs happen themselves, directly or indirectly, and do the right thing for the short term recovery of this country...and therefore hopefully lay the foundations for a longer term return to normal.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Dear Right wingers...

Your own views, as disgustingly selfish as they can be, are not being called extremist. Stop getting your underwear in a twist over people legitimately saying someone who holds the same type of views as you is extremist in their views.

Wanting to end all immigration? Selfish, backwards thinking, ironic given your stance on free markets. Wanting to kill people that you feel have advanced the cause of immigration too far? Extremist.

Your tendency towards the traditional family unit, and fear of homosexuality? Old fashioned, bigoted, sexist. Wanting to kill people that work towards gender and sexual equality? Extremist.

I hope you can see the difference, and in the future maybe see the same differences between your Muslim kin too, you're really not all that different.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

The problem with Police and Crime Commissioners

Plans are afoot for a move in this country to elected police and crime commissioners. The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill 2010-11 is currently going through the House of Lords and will see it's third reading on Tuesday. They've been pushed forward by the Conservatives, the only party to suggest such a plan in their manifesto.


In short, to quote Mrs Theresa May (Home Secretary), the plans put forward are to "shift power directly into the hands of the public as they elect police and crime commissioners to lead the fight against crime and disorder in their areas."

This means elections held at the same time as "normal" elections, such as local or general elections, to put a single person in charge of strategy for local policing, to decide budgets, and to take responsibility for the senior officers in the police force.


Is this plan genuinely seen as the best option by the government for deciding police strategy? Is it fair to assume there is a hidden agenda, that there is a desire for greater political involvement in our police forces?

New governments mean new changes, sometimes to situations that have already been tried and failed in the past. Policing seems to be one of those areas where politicians feel the need to make a change regardless of the need, cost or sensibility of the alterations.

It makes little sense for this government to push these plans go ahead, given that it may very well result in police forces being run by politicians from either Labour or Lib Dem colours rather than Tory ones, and so it also must be that the Conservatives also feel that this change won't, ultimately, make much of a difference to the national strategy of policing.

Governments may well be able to say they wish to take power away from centralised sources, but I doubt any would say they want to lose power of the country's law enforcement after all.


What the plans may do is reflect well under current methodology of police approval studies, and give the Tories something to crow about nationally come the next election. But as we can see from the British Crime Survey 10/11, there's already a long term trend of increased approval of the police, and crime itself is on a downward trend.

This isn't to say that new plans couldn't improve these trends, to make crime fall and approval rise faster.

If the public feel they are influencing the police force, albeit making them happier about the force in the process, this doesn't also mean the police are more effective at their purpose and stated aims. It doesn't mean that the police will be operating cost-effectively. And it does run the very real risk of the public thinking they should be having more influence than they ultimately will end up having, potentially damaging approval ratings, and trust in the force.


Simply put, having people elect the person responsible for police strategy (on what would likely be a low 30% level of turnout) doesn't mean that someone right for the job makes it in. Far from it. We know that rather than knowledgeable individuals with experience in the field, parties will field politicians, and the election material will be "Let Labour run your police force" or "Lib Dems for more police on the beat".

We won't be electing individuals that fit the task at hand, though some of us may try to find out what the stances of each candidate for our area are, most will align with their political leanings and go with what their preferred party tell them to do. You vote Labour for your local elections, you'll probably vote Labour for your local police commissioner too. As far as accountability goes it's pretty thin on the ground.

And there is very real evidence that people that intend to get in to this position will do so by playing up to populist stances, without it necessarily being the right direction to take. Take this research conducted on the actions of public prosecutors (mostly elected) in the US.

The theory predicts that when re-election pressures are high prosecutors increase the number of cases taken to trial and plea bargain less. Data from all forty-three districts in North Carolina over twelve years provides empirical verifcation.

As a job, it's not comparable, but it shows us really what we already know...where personal power is predicated on the "success" of persecuting others more compared to your rivals, you will do what you can to achieve that. It's not a remote possibility that elected police commissioners here would seek to tie up police budgets on schemes that aren't cost effective but do provide favourable figures in the eyes of the public...or at least the area of the small handful of the public that is likely to return them for a second term.


The main gist of the whole plan is clearly the drive for more democracy, or perhaps as is more likely the greater illusion of democracy; Yet my stance is no, the public shouldn't have a larger direct say.

For a start, what do the public know of the nuances of police budgeting and crime fighting strategy? Some may have very detailed knowledge, many will have none. As I say above, the public will rely on trusting parties, at which point the public are merely delegating their voice to a party machine rather than having a true say of their own.

What the public should have is confidence that their communities issues are being listened to and dealt upon, something that doesn't need a directly elected official, and confidence that where there is wrongdoing or incompetence on behalf of the police force that it will be quickly and comprehensively dealt with. What it needs on the issue of crime is that common sense is applied as to who is being brought to justice, a remit not even in the hands of local police forces themselves. With criticisms of both the IPCC and CPS, as well as the invisibility of the police authorities that currently run some of the tasks that the police commissioner would take over, there are much more concerning areas of policing that could be improved and bring trust in the entire crime and justice system up another level.

Nick Herbert, a Minister involved in pushing the legislation forward, has called views like this "Elitism", which is a very crass way of trying to switch off the political debate about such a potentially large change to the way our police attempt to do their job.


I for one don't think it's elitist to ask that we don't make policy up on the hoof, that we set out a proposition (That the police could be reducing crime faster, and improving public relations quicker), and then carry our appropriate research in to similar models, how they've worked, how frequently they're used, and if the model isn't used then why not; to legislate potentially for small scale pilot study of the model that seems most in tune with out aims.

I don't think it's elitist to use all this data to make sure we have a good idea that is likely to work before we spend £130 million to implement it.

The Lords seem to agree with this, when on the 11th of May they voted for Amendment 1 on a margin of 188-176, scrapping the notion of an elected police commissioner completely from the legislation (though the government have presumptuously said they shall keep on with it)

[The Lords must] ask ourselves whether we really understand what we are changing and why; and, above all, whether we fully appreciate what the consequences of that change will or could be. I am not against change, but if it is to be positive it needs at the very least to do more good than harm, and preferably it needs to demonstrate that what it creates is better than what came before. I am very concerned that the evidence base for making this change is incredibly thin, and that the consequences of implementing it have not been thoroughly researched or properly thought through.

Baroness Harris of Richmond

I urge people to read the debate held in the Lords on 11th May, as it's an incredibly sensible one that cuts through a lot of the supposed benefits of this plan.


When it comes down to it, this legislation doesn't follow standard practices for our democracy, we understand the need for local democracy and that's why we elect entire councils of local politicians rather than a single politician for the entire area, and when we elect our representatives for the entirety of the UK we don't just elect a single individual or a party and give them full control of our nation.

The principle of more direct accountability of police authorities is one that can be positively discussed, it's a model we all understand. By contrast the nearest we have as a model in the UK to police commissioners are elected mayors (such as Boris Johnson in London).

If there is one thing that perhaps the last few weeks have shown us is that power corrupts, the involvement of the police and politicians in collusion with the press for their own self-serving ends shows the danger of a lack of independent oversight and the danger of an organisation or set of individuals feeling beholden to someone with an over-abundance of power.

Do we necessarily need a single individual holding all the cards, pandering to populism (though only in the majoritarian sense, since the views of the minority that take part in their elections shall be all they need to concern themselves with), and significantly more vulnerable to media (tabloid) attacks on their actions due to their single party standing?


So surely, with all of this in mind it is not the right time to think about plans as "grand" as this? Now is not the time for creating a job so easily corruptible, not when we have organisations that are much better suited for the job of holding police forces to account, if only they had a little more power.

Police authorities are unelected bodies, but are made up of people that are both interested and knowledgeable parties, as well as politicians that have been elected (yes, directly elected!) and are a more accurate route of information from local communities around a police force's area to those that hold that police force to account.

There is no doubt that these police authorities need to change. They're silent, they lack teeth, they essentially don't justify their own existence as it stands...yet it would take minimal changes to give them the powers that the government wishes to gift to the single role of police and crime commissioner. Administrative reforms that make it clearer who they are, how they can be contacted, and what they've been well as a larger move to publicise their existence, would cost significantly less and be significantly more balanced than trying to get the same work from a single elected party line politician.


If the latest Lords bill is to be believed (though it is a little contradictory since the amended bill has been published), what will return to the commons is a plan for a non-elected body, made up of representatives that are stakeholders in local areas, that will alone have the power to create this police commissioner from it's own membership as it sees fit.

We have the opportunity to tell our MPs, when this bill finds it's way back to the House of Commons, that we would prefer that they don't politicise our police force any further than it already is, without proper study at least, and that we also don't want our time and money wasted by trying to revert the Lords' plans back to their own when they now provide a more stable reform.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Liberalism and sentencing

The problem with the Charlie Gilmour conviction, for those that support and take part in UKUncut, is that he's probably the best example of someone actually genuinely deserving of a punishment. His actions (and those like him) made young people look bad, they undermined the efforts of the protestors, they strengthened the defence for what was a shambolic and dangerously organised police force, caused very real damage, targeted the head of state's son, was allegedly uncontrollable while on intoxicating substances, and (if we believe one Lib Con commentator) clearly didn't care much whether he did real serious harm to the police either.

Yet he was standing on the side of UKUncut, and they as well as their supporters seem unable of accepting that people on their side need to be punished any more than those on the right wing press and in the government wish to accept that the authorities acted out of line. It's blatant and disgraceful hypocrisy.

So of course, it seems, the only action is to try and claim that it is perfectly acceptable to do such things, as long as it is in the face of the state authorities...that "he didn't really hurt anyone" and that therefore his actions should be ignored. The stance seems to be as socialists (ironically) and as liberals we should just let it slide.

But the law is a liberal tool as much as an authoritarian one. Charlie and his fellow protestors may not have actually hurt the Royals in their car that day, not physically, but psychologically they clearly had some effect. This is just as relevant when it comes to the intimidation effect that violence can have when perpetrated by any side. But a different object picked up, a different direction thrown, the result could have been very different.

The law rightfully chooses to condemn actions and intentions, not outcomes. The kid that threw a fire extinguisher off the roof of a building, narrowly missing a police officer, was charged not for "almost killing someone", but for doing something that was clearly extremely dangerous, regardless of how likely it was to injure anyone. (Though I will come to Woollard's charge shortly)

So if it is perfectly liberal to accept that charges are right to be brought, for the purpose of the protection of other people's liberties, is it liberal to suggest that the sentences that they also carry are fair?

Ultimately this isn't a question of liberalism, but of logic and realism. The realities are that judges have a good idea about where their sentences need to start from and for what reasons. Previous examples of sentencing may help to give context to that judge. As such it's unlikely for a judge to ever give a suspended sentence, or a community sentence, to someone who has done something that (under the law) is just as serious as someone that got jailed traditionally for the same level of activity.

Indeed, the point I raised wasn't that the sentence itself was the best type of sentence that could be handed down, or that I agree with how the law of violent disorder is sentenced; it was to point out that claims that the sentence was politically motivated, or that it was inflated unfairly, as I was reading by various UKUncut supporters yesterday on Twitter, is a nonsense point of view to take.

It's just diresepectful and false to claim that this sentence is anything other than what someone else doing the same thing outside of a protest would have also got.

I guess this is where those people are getting their panties in a twist, they can't quite make out the difference between understanding that due process has been carried out fairly, and understanding that a sentence range for a particular crime might not be the right punishment.

This is where nuance is needed. Mr Woollard, who threw the fire extinguisher off the roof of a building, showed real remorse for his actions...acted in the heat of the moment...he was stupid but he was not violent. He is actually, in my mind, the victim of being the first and most public figure in this situation; as such I am not surprised but am saddened he was found guilty of his charge of violent disorder.

So in this case I feel that the sentence is out of step with reality, that Mr Woollard's intentions have not been adequately considered. I hope that an appeal will go ahead, and I hope that at the very least he has his sentence drastically reduced now that the public furore has died down, if not his charge over turned completely.

The other person charged by the same judge presiding over Charlie Gilmour's case, who threw sticks at the police, was on the other hand clearly violent. However my view on his sentence would vary depending on the situation. Was this person kettled when he was acting violently? Was his throwing of things at the police only something he did in one incident (as long as that incident spanned)? Did he come to the protest without the intention of fighting the police? If the answer to all of these is yes then I feel that not enough of a mitigating factor is made of how police provoked such reactions. If the answer to any is no, then his sentence starts to becomes more reasonable, though in my view suspending it if he is a first time offender would make the most sense from a liberal stand point.

Which brings us to Charlie. We know that in the situations he was being charged for he was not provoked, we know he went from one incident to the other with ample opportunity to "calm down", we also know that he was under the influence of serious drugs which is never going to work to your favour (nor should it) in sentencing. But again, prison is unlikely to really serve anyone involved with the best outcome. To be humbled by the process of publicly being dragged through the courts is likely to be enough, a suspended sentence to keep you under control for a while a good chance to reflect on how to not let your fellow protestors down in the future.

As a liberal I will question the public need for bringing some of these convictions, and I'll always question in a more wider sense whether the sentencing is appropriate for the crimes in modern day Great Britain, but liberalism doesn't even come in to the subject of whether or not due process, with all of the rules it has to abide by, has been carried out properly. Illiberal for saying that following a fairly transparent procedure is the right thing to do? Please...

Friday, 15 July 2011

It don't matter if you're left or right

Earlier I posted about Charlie Gilmour, an idiot that decided to put himself in the crosshairs of the authority, antagonised police, riled up protestors with rhetoric to break the law, attacked (however feebly) a royal convoy, allegedly threw paving stones at police, and caused property damage, all while on LSD and Valium. He got 16 months for a portion of this, and within the law got exactly what could be expected.

The thing that was a little unexpected for me was just how right wing the left wing could be. There are, of course, several tactics in the blogging/discussion world to try and undermine or derail an argument. Reductio ad absurdum, where you try and make too simple a case about something in order to disprove another's point; whataboutery, where you almost accept that the other person has a point but aim to "disprove" by talking about something similar as if it's more important; and hyper-comparison (for want of a real term), where you take two points made and attempt to portray them as something the other person has linked much more closely than they have and then use that strawman (false argument set up to be burnt down) to claim to disprove something else.


These are all tactics I see over and over again with vehement right wingers on issues such as Climate Change, crime rates, immigration, over-eager legislation (on subjects like Terrorism), internet freedom, etc, etc.

I guess I just didn't realise that these kinds of comments, Daily Mail-esque in their simplicity and lack of objectivity, aren't really the purview of "The Right" anyway, but of people in general that are unable to distance the realities of the world from what they wish to be true.

Yes, I don't think Charlie Gilmour should have got 16 months, however the point of contention for that view is not this particular case but the oversight of the CPS and, to a greater extent, how fit for purpose some 25 year old laws are which are now used by the CPS.

Does what the police also did on the day matter to this reality? No. Does it mean I agree with the police action of the day? No. Perhaps this is too multi-faceted and complex stance for those in the UKuncut movement to comprehend, I'm not entirely sure.

What I am sure of, and now glad to know, is that in reality it is just heavily partisan people that get down and dirty with the tactics of not engaging with the real subject, and skirting around the facts of the matter, regardless of whether they'd describe themselves as Left wing or Right wing.

Charlie Gilmour - sentenced fairly within the law

There's a bit of a fuss going on about Charlie Gilmour, and how apparently it's outrageous that he has been sentenced to 16 months in prison (which, we all know, will only end up being 8 or so).

This outrage is bollocks.

You only have to take a look at the sentencing history for "Violent Disorder", coupled with Mr Gilmour's nature in court (allegedly giggling at scenes of his actions), tempered by the fact he pleaded guilty and apologised for certain (but not all) actions...

Attacking a police officer by throwing bottles - 10 months
Encouraging others to KILL police officers - 12 months
Revenge attack on property, with "attack" of person, person of good character - 18 months
Taking part in a riot, repetitive attacks on riot police with state of mind to "re-arm" with projectiles, second offence - 3 years

16 months, given that Charlie doesn't exactly seem remorseful of the main elements of the charge (which is the threat, as little as it was in reality, he put members of family of the head of state under, and the encouragement for others to break the law), seems pretty much bang on all things considered, doesn't it?

Now, perhaps the sentencing range (maximum 5 years) for this offence is too harsh, that'd be a fair stance to take...but to call this sentencing "political" or "outrageous" is to just not have bothered to check what is normal in sentencing this kind of offence, as it stands in law.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Why yesterdays strikes were more successful than most

I would usually start this kind of entry by saying "People aren't stupid", unfortunately a year's worth of politics where people have been given the opportunity to prove it has actually proven opposite. Instead I will say people are selfish, and very prone to putting things in to their own frame of "would I win or lose if it happened in my situation" versus "does them getting what they want detriment me also?".

It's for this reason why I feel that yesterdays strikes were successful, unlike strikes by other parts of the public workforce that have happened periodically through the past.

Past strikes have never tended to breach past the "selfish" barrier. Calls to get an even bigger pay rise than they're getting just don't go down well, regardless of how justified they are. Yesterdays calls were not that simple though. While publicly about the pensions public workers get, those that listened to supporters of the strike through the day would have got the message that pensions were already reformed to not cause a strain on the tax payer, and that further reforms are just a pay cut.

Here it's where people put their own selfish frame of reference to the test...and see no reason to be petulant. It's not going to actually cost them any more (or less, taxes aren't going to be reduced because of any further reforms), and they can equate it to their own job. "Would I be happy with my boss taking away some of my pay but not giving me anything in return?"

Overall the framing of yesterdays strikes, clumsily handled into a failure by those that spoke against them (Check out the Today show on Radio4, which led to this factcheck, among others, about affordability of public sector pensions), meant that no-one could see any detriment to themselves, and therefore were free to feel empathy for the situation those workers find themselves in.

And for that reason I think those unions that took part were very much right to go ahead, despite negotiations still ongoing. It's all well and good to claim that you should wait until negotiations have finished, but that assumes that both parties are going in to the boardroom on an equal footing, and that those holding the purse strings intend to be objectively fair. Leaving a strike until after the negotiations stall only leads to the striking side being painted as wanting too much out of the deal, of being unreasonable in negotiation.

By striking now it has been nothing more than a protest, a statement that this avenue is not one that public sector workers are going to accept without a big fight. Sometimes that is necessary to make the balance of power more even in that negotiation room. And when you have a subject like this, it isn't hard for the public to find themselves on your side either, so why not take that opportunity and get that message out while you can?