Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Racism vs Authoritarianism

If there's one thing that is sure in the world it is that the days of "shipping people out of the country" for the colour of their skin alone are long gone. While the odd convicted criminal may be deported along side some perfectly innocent foreigners fleeing persecution, the mass general public is not going to seriously consider that it is sensible when the "Racist Tram Woman (RTW)" says that her various self-appointed enemies should not be in this country.

The rantings and ravings of this person, perhaps in more than one occasion caught on video, are disgusting views...and they aren't to be applauded. The trouble is that they are just someone's views, able to be ignored or challenged as one wishes. Such mature beings are we that we're meant to be able to disagree without causing any harm to each other, save perhaps a little bit of tweaked nerves and a heightened sense of anger. It is depressing then that the woman has been arrested, for something that shouldn't be cause for arrest, as Sunny Hundal says over at the Guardian.

People get wholly unrational when it comes to racism, which is natural given it is such an emotional subject. But the views of this woman are nothing more than extreme and voiced in a anti-social manner. They are, in an objective sense, no worse than when you have to listen to the misogynistic braggings of a guy behind you while waiting to get served at your lunch break, having to hear the preaching of your city centre evangelist, or being with that person at a party that just won't shut up about the state of politics in this country (Yeah, sorry, I'll try to keep it to myself in the future!)

They're opinions, we can ignore them, we can challenge them, we can (ultimately) walk away. Yet unfortunately there is a law that exists that can lead to up to TWO YEARS imprisonment for simply getting on some people's nerves with racist connotations.

Worse still is the growing number of people that are in agreement with each other that perhaps this woman should lose custody of her child. To me this is mindboggling. There is no evidence at all that she is a bad parent, only that she is a woman that we don't really like the look of. I could give up half a dozen names each week to child if the threshold for "being a good parent" was whether or not I personally had a good feeling about them or not, thankfully a persons ability to raise their child is not about such childish and trivial measures.

Yet there are people that would have it this way. She has said a naughty thing, therefore her son is CERTAIN, they will lead you to believe, to become as bad a racist as her, if not worse. Forgetting all of the other influences that a child has, the community around them, teachers, friends, the culture they aspire to be a part of, it is not even certain that a child will take their parents views as their own. Yet these people will assume that this small possibility is a great threat, that needs to be snuffed out.

But why? Even if they're right what is another racist person on the streets, assuming that he has not got violent tendencies (which would tend to be present regardless of world view...but then beating up other same coloured people in a drunken fight because of their class would acceptable to these same masses, no doubt, at least more acceptable than the exact same action committed because of skin colour as the primary factor in target...), what actual harm is that placing us under so much that we need to intervene by breaking up the family unit?

Are we so untrusting of our public education system, of the rest of society at large, that this kid will not have any other scope over the next decade and a half to come to understand the ridiculousness of racist sentiment? It seems funny to me that the same people that fear for how this child has no hope unless the mother is taken out of the equation, and therefore lack faith in both the child and society to be a stronger influence on their own beliefs, also applaud the general public view of the racist outbursts as one of "proof" that people are sane and won't stand for this kind of belief in modern Britain.

Where do these people get off stating that one person telling another that they should "fuck off back to where they came from" is any more morally corrupt than their own statement of "You don't deserve to have your kid so I want him taken from you JUST because I don't agree with this opinion of yours"? Seemingly if the racist woman had shut up and another person on the train had started shouting at her that she shouldn't have her kid, that the state should take him from her, this would be applauded. It would be just as much a "criminal action" (though a slightly different crime), yet I am not sure we would have twitter campaigns to track down that individual and get them arrested.

Such is the danger of the law we have in this country against combative speech. If you offend a lot of people the law will come down on you, if you offend one person then the law...just as applicable...will pass you by.

You'll have to forgive me if I worry more about those that advocate greater state involvement in family life, for tenuous concerns based on opinions alone, than a woman madly ranting on public transport. There are those all too ready to make connections to Nazi Germany, and that we shouldn't "let these views go unchallenged", and perhaps that is where the whole "save the kid from this filth" mentality comes from too. I just find it depressingly ironic that it was just that kind of mentality, stamping out things like homosexuality and religion like Judaism, that we fought against the Nazi's for. The Nazi's thought they were absolutely morally correct too, and used that as justification for their state intervention in the affairs of people's choices and views.

I sincerely hope that the talk of her getting a jail sentence is just optimistic from the "baying for blood" brigade, that she gets a slap on the wrists, a mental health assessment and an obligation to attend anger management classes. In the end we shouldn't cheer people getting put away for offending people, it's all too easy to offend others and we never know when we might be just out of step on public opinion ourselves.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Strikes and November 30th

I don't have a good and generous feeling towards strike action, I have generally agreed with politicians like Cable that have suggested the action of striking needs reform. I'm staunchly pro-worker rights, I think it's disgusting that there have been moves to remove the ability for people to claim unfair dismissal until after 2 years of employment, I don't understand why anonymous applications for jobs haven't become law, and on the issue of pay I agree wholeheartedly with the idea of the minimum wage in an organisation being no worse than a set fraction of the top paid position (for example, a CEO wishing to pay themselves £100k a year would have to ensure the lowest paid workers got no less than £15k).

But strike action just feels to me to be an archaic and blunt weapon used by workers to get/keep their rights, almost exclusively used in an inappropriate manner these days, that fills a void that better legislation towards resolution of conflict could achieve so much better.

Those that strike on Wednesday will be doing so off the back of an endorsement carried by a small percentage of their population. I know..I know...I've heard the arguments about a Tory government being elected on the same percentage, and of the "overwhelming" support by those that turned out. I also think those arguments are disingenuous.

It may well be the case that the vast majority of workers that had the right to vote in the strike ballot, but didn't, do indeed support going on strike. It may also be that they don't. The lower the turn out, the lower the chance of the verdict being 'correct'. Combine this with the fact that those that wish to turn out to these kinds of events are those that are predisposed to striking at the drop of a hat, or feel for the first time that they need to go out and support strike action, as well as the varying shades in between...the "sample" of voters is unweighted and completely biased.

The taking of a strike ballot is akin to YouGov going out with a loaded question such as "The Tories want to give you lots of free money, while Labour are trying to take away your hard earned cash...who will you vote for in the next election", and asking only those in the heart of Witney.

We don't take abstentions during General Elections to mean support for any one party, indeed abstention is a mark of "don't care", or of actually voting against the process in general. Yet the union leaders will put a completely different spin on abstention during strike ballots, I saw one article or blog in passing (didn't keep the link, sorry) that suggested that not voting wasn't a vote for the status quo. How they worked that out I will never know.

And so people will strike, assuming that no deal is reached between the government and unions...in reality there is little reason for either to give much way outside of trying to build a narrative of "being reasonable" with their respective friendly media outlets. The Unions want to show the Government up as not being in control, of the people being more powerful than the government is (quite rightly so in that respect alone). Meanwhile the Government wants to show the opposite, and that the unions themselves are unreasonable and selfish. With a single strike on the cards both parties can play this card effortlessly, and nothing will change. The die will have been cast before the day's strike action starts, with only a violent clash or two likely to sway public opinion (and then only towards to the government, in net effect).

Strike action is neither effective, nor reasonable...it hits this middle ground of posturing for the sake of it. If the proposed strike action was to go on for days...weeks...as it has done in the past with the firefighter strikes (which I have always, and will always, be morally against) and postal strikes...maybe it would be a different story. The government wouldn't be able to just "write off" a day's worth of economic productivity as they would do with a special bank holiday, and the unions wouldn't be able to meander in to the action without a much stronger and publicly acknowledged stance.

But then, as said above, I don't like strike action. I believe it needs to be a final option for workers, you can't take away their ability to simply protest...but if there are avenues of actual prosecution/fine by tribunal for unfair employment practice the chances of anything getting to that stage would be greatly reduced. Right now we'd be seeing the government having to seriously justify the option they have taken, to have gone through much greater consultation with all of the workers that are affected rather than just putting some sums together and deciding "here's where we save the cash".

In the end I find the prospect of Wednesday's strikes a little "meh", I strongly believe that the workers have a case, Labour already mucked with their pensions and there are significant amounts of public sector workers, especially those who have given service to this country for decades, that are going to be significantly out of pocket. That said, the government has been fair in negotiation to ring-fence those very workers that are set to lose out the most. To me it seems like the two sides could negotiate for much longer before having to break out in to an all out fight, but the environment of how we deal with these disputes in this country aren't conducive to taking this more mature and less disruptive/futile path.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Why the Tories will live to regret their anti-AV campaigning

UKIP polled 3% of the national vote in 2010, and yet their stock has risen to nearer 6% in latest opinion polls; a rise fueled in no small part because of the Tory party becoming a little more moderate in coalition and certainly because of their cooperative stance on the EU.

My calculations are far too rough and laden with assumptions to publish fully, but taking the notional results based on the 2010 elections under the proposed new boundaries for Scotland and England (assuming equal changes for each party in Wales, as their review isn't out yet to my knowledge), and attributing a rise to the UKIP vote of 3% universally at the expense of the Tories in it's entirety will mean the difference in 2015 between another Tory/Lib Dem coalition, and a Labour/Lib Dem coalition (or minority governments of either of the leading parties aforementioned).

In simple terms, the rise in UKIP support does nothing but split the vote of the "right" of the political spectrum, i.e. the Tories. Given also that we know that the Tories are suffering in marginals where the Lib Dem vote is holding it's own (most likely due to tactical voting by Labour supporters that still understand ends justify the means in a FPTP system). The effect of this is that such a rise of the UKIP party's vote shifts about 20 seats to Labour as it loses it's marginal Labour/Tory fights even more easily than the current rise in Labour support would suggest.

The future is less than certain and all kinds of changes could happen in what is a very volatile political landscape over the next 3 years, so none of this is a given. UKIP support could fall back as the Tories find a way to placate the far right, or it could rise higher as disenfranchisement grows. Lib Dem's stock could be anywhere in 2015 and the battle between Labour and the Tories is far from over with the cuts and growth outcomes uncertain.

One thing is very probable though: When taking in to account UKIP's numbers, if those people were to put the Tories as their second preference under an AV election, the Tories would have a narrow but absolute majority of their own, even if Labour was as popular at the next election as they are currently in the polls.

I think that the Conservative party will come to rue standing against the idea of an AV system in the end, and perhaps AV supporters like myself will end up having the last laugh after all.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Greece: More reasons against direct democracy

So the Greek Government want to give their people a referendum? How very "democratic". How very wrong.

There's a time and a place for all kinds of different aspects of democracy, and referenda, a form of direct democracy, only really stand relevant in one place; a referendum is needed when the law of the country is changing as to how the people are governed, or interact with being governed. Outside of that, it is used as a tool by governments crying "democracy" to get their own way.

Take Iceland. They were loaned money by the UK and Denmark to get them out of a similar spot to which Greece find themselves in, to be able to fulfil their legal obligation to provide a safety net for savers in their national banks. Then they held a referendum to ask the people if they wanted to pay it back. This is both democracy and not democracy. Asking people what they want, but on a subject where the people (unfortunately for them) have no right to a say without bringing in a wider audience...namely the public of the countries that loaned them the money to get them out of their mess.

This is what is happening now with Greece. Papandreou, realising that he is on a knife edge, if he hasn't completely killed all chances of his party's re-election in 2013 already, has turned to a referendum to hold a politically cowardly position. To the EU he can say that he wants to get this situation resolved as quickly as possible, to the people he can say this is their opportunity to put a stop to the austerity plans that will be increased.

What he doesn't care about is the ongoing effect of this political cowardice, and those that are championing this route of "democracy" are out of touch with how much democracy has gone on to this point.

The people of Greece don't need a referendum to make it clear that they don't like the route their government is taking, they've made that clear already. But then who would like it? Higher taxes, cutting services, this isn't a time to be asking turkeys to vote for Christmas.

But let's say that the pro-referendum people are right, that it's correct to follow through with this most obvious of direct democracy. We have no date, we have no question, we have no clue about where this is going. In the mean time Italy is going to the brink, and the question has to be asked as to how many other countries are still under threat of being pulled under.

It could be weeks, if not months until the referendum is actually put to the people. Will it be about accepting the bailout or not, as Papandreou has suggested, or will it actually have meaning? I say this because simply phrasing the question as a "accept this or not?" question doesn't solve the problem of stabilising markets. So you don't want the deal, but you do want to stay in the EU? Or don't you? Or is it just the Euro you want out of? Or do you want the money but not the austerity? Do you want to have your government find another route out of this without leaving the Euro?

Edit: I've just read that there are assurances this referendum isn't about the Euro. Perfect. A pointless referendum that serves only to weaken the system as a whole. The only problem with Papandreou shooting himself in the feet over this is that he's using piercing rounds, and lying on his back with his feet facing towards Italy.

A referendum, blunt instrument as it is, will not provide the answers that can accurately portray the will of it's people. Condensing the options down to two extremes may be best, but will also risk ignoring the preferred wishes of a more moderate majority.

Then once the referendum is done, what next? Hopefully it would be an issue of simple constitutional due-process. But the reality is that a referendum like this is a political football, and it is also non-binding until the parliament and president of Greece sign it in to law. Will the opposition play ball? Will the president? One PASOK MP has resigned, others have said they will if this referendum goes ahead. If this is true then the government would no longer have a majority to push the referendum result through, regardless of how together the cabinet may be on the subject.

It should be as simple as not going against the wishes of the public and may well go that way, but if the referendum is put in as vague and potentially extreme way as it seems it must, then there is plenty for those in power to argue about it's very legitimacy.

Even if there was an option on the question paper that led to immediate action, the politicians could still try to use it as a further bargaining chip while the Euro burns.

And this is the reason why Germany and France haven't already jettisoned Greece. A lot of stability for the Euro relies on people being happy to use it. If Greece is able to be got rid of, or leave when the going gets tough, there are serious questions over the value of the Euro to financial markets. It would seem that the high powers of the Eurozone would want the Greece problem to go away quickly, but they're powerless to make this happen without undermining their own power base.

If Papandreou wanted to do the best for Greece then he would be a real leader and make decisions, ideally based on some kind of knowledge of what his people want through the perfectly adequate representative structures that exist in his country. He could soldier on, or he could go down a different route...and he could do either of those today.

A referendum just draws this out, doesn't necessarily provide a definitive answer at the end, and damages all involved while indecision and bickering takes priority. This is why direct democracy simply isn't the answer to all of our political ills, and may in this case actually be fuel on the fire.