Tag Archives: politics

The Smearing of Nick Clegg

I can smell blood in the water, and it ain’t Nick Clegg’s.

The debate and the Lib Dem surge it provoked have thrown this election campaign wide open, and it’s scaring the Fourth Estate shitless. I can’t blame them; they’ve been witness to an event which aptly demonstrated their own irrelevancy.

A Liberal Democrat was allowed to speak – unmediated – on equal terms with his rivals directly to the public, and the public liked what they saw. They didn’t need pundits or commentators to view events and decide what to think on their behalf (although various papers did try to sell conclusions totally at odds with the evidence; despite what the Mirror thought, Brown was not the winner). The journalists are used to setting the narrative, creating the structure of events as much as reporting them, and the story they wanted, expected, to tell us was of Dave, the compassionate Conservative, brushing Brown aside on his inevitable ascent into power.

But that hasn’t happened, and the papers are crapping themselves.

The current smear stories are laughable; one is an out-of-context quote from 8 years ago, the other is a non-story: Clegg received money from donations into his personal account, the money was declared with the relevant authorities, and the donors are satisfied that their money was used for the intended purpose. The worst case scenario you could claim, I suppose, is that he pocketed it. That would be a pretty serious allegation, and one the Telegraph is studious to avoid; likely because such an allegation would probably attract a libel suit that they would almost certainly lose.

If anybody had any real dirt on Clegg, they would have used it by now. Toppling a Lib Dem leader makes a pretty good story even when there isn’t an election. No, this latest behaviour just reeks of desperation. If this is really the worst they could dig up, you have to wonder what weak stuff they didn’t print.

They’re throwing whatever they can at Clegg to try and recapture their narrative for this election; to try and spin the Lib Dem surge as a temporary blip, a blip that will be corrected back to story we’re supposed to be reading, the story of the triumphal coronation procession of David Cameron, finally taking his rightful place behind the famous black door of Number 10.

Fuck that.

I think this election can be different; we finally have a chance here to smash two-party politics that we haven’t had in decades. Power doesn’t have to shift from Labour to Conservative and Conservative to Labour as sure as the swing of a pendulum; we can vote for something different. We can have something different. Words can’t quite express how happy I am that in my first General Election the choice isn’t just between the lesser of two evils.

Trident

I’ve had this discussion possibly a million times with various people, so I think I ought to post once what I think, and then never again get drawn into this argument. So, here goes.

Trident missiles are incredibly sophisticated, unimaginably destructive weapons; they enter low-earth orbit before releasing multiple 80-100 kiloton warheads onto their preprogrammed targets, utterly obliterating them within half-an-hour from the initial fire order. Each of these nukes is 4-5 times the power of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. There’s a submarine armed with a few dozen of these bombs constantly on patrol somewhere in the world. We have phenomenal, near instant, world-wide destructive power at our fingertips.

Trident, and its predecessor systems, were designed and built for an extremely specific purpose: to nuke the crap out of Soviet cities in the event of a Soviet first strike against Britain. As soon as we detect the Soviet launches, we issue the order to fire back, and then a few minutes later everybody dies. Well, the lucky ones, anyway.

That threat is gone. Here is the unassailable fact: we have no geopolitical enemies with the will or finances to build ICBMs. We can’t even build them ourselves; Trident is American technology. There are no such enemies on the horizon. People argue that we might not know who our enemies will be in 50 years, but look at the past: it wouldn’t take a genius to realise that the Russian Revolution and the rise of Soviet Communism would become a problem. There is not even a hint of a credible emerging threat on that sort of scale.

Sure, Iran or North Korea might well be developing nuclear weapons, but they have no method of deploying them to our shores, and certainly not in any kind of scale, or on timescales of less than an hour.  Nor are they ever likely to! Trident is overkill for insurance against Iran. Similarly, the idea that Trident is a deterrent against China is laughable; they honestly have no reason to attack the West, and they have more than enough conventional firepower to fuck us right up anyway.

I’m not advocating Britain’s total unilateral disarmament. I agree that that would probably be a mistake. We should maintain a store of nuclear weapons, albeit probably reduced from our current stockpile, with some alternate deployment strategy, e.g. short-range missile or air drops,  in order to counter any future threat.

We should, however, be comitted to a multilateral process of disarmament. How can we take the moral highground against Iran, telling them to not develop the bomb, when we’re replacing Trident? It makes us hypocrites, frankly. There’s nothing that hurts our diplomatic standing more.

To sum up: I don’t believe that there is a single possible reason why we would need to spend £100 billion to continue to be able to utterly annihiliate any location in the world in 15 minutes. We could easily maintain an ability to deploy bombs – we did a fairly good job of participating in shocking and awing Baghdad – while scaling back the ludicrous overkill represented by Trident. We should do a proper Strategic Defense Review to validate these ideas, but I find the idea of dogmatically sticking to a straight replacement for Trident unsettling.

And that’s all I have to say about that; comments are disabled on this post because I’m not really interested in discussing this topic any further. If you want to present your own views, please make your case on your own blog. Thanks.

America, Part II

The American mythologisation of their own political history is something I find fascinating, as evidenced by some of my previous writing on the subject.

The history of the US is to this day blighted by the legacy of slavery; this is not to say that other countries haven’t got their hands dirty with slavery too;  many countries bear the social ills of deprivation and poverty which can be traced back to the trade in people; nevertheless there is a definite tension to that particular racial history.

Which I find a little weird, frankly, because it was the Native Americans who got a lot more screwed by the incursion and growth of the European transplant American nation. At first contact, it’s estimated that there were around 20-50 million Native Americans; by 1890, there were only 250,000, and today there are but 2.8 million. They were ravaged both by the transmission of European diseases, and by deliberate policy to drive them from their lands and way of life.

The history of the relations between the Native Americans and the new nation show the hypocrisy with which the lofty ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were treated. 800 treaties were made between the United States and various Native American nations; 430 were never ratified by the Senate (though their conditions were still taken to be binding upon the Native Americans) and the United States violated provisions of the remaining 370 treaties which it did ratify.

When they said “all men are created equal” they meant: “all white, preferably Anglo-Saxon, males are created equal”. The consent of the governed meant nothing if you were black, or Native American, or god forbid, a woman. Black people were counted for 3/5ths of a person in determining the number of seats in the House of Representatives, for instance, and neither black people nor women could vote at all.

I should point out that the only crime displayed here is that of hypocrisy; the ownership of African slaves and the brutalisation of native peoples by colonial powers were entirely commonplace in the rest of the world, and a thing to be remarked on as abhorrent only in their totality; singling out any one nation only serves to obscure the collective nature of our guilt.

The extent to which the founding documents of the United States, and the men who drafted them, are venerated is totally incommensurate with their intrinsic worth. The trouble with this veneration is that it makes these ideas inviolate; one cannot hold these founding documents up to critical scrutiny, let alone revision, without committing blasphemy against this mad secular religion.

For instance, gun-lovers point to the second amendment to the Constitution almost like it was scripture, guaranteeing their right to possess arms as if it were holy writ.  The easiest way to solve the gun control issue would be to simply amend the second amendment itself, and remove the right to bear arms, or at least clarify the notion of a well-regulated militia.

Unfortunately, this will never happen; as a brief historical note, the first ten amendments constitute the American Bill of Rights, and are more-or-less contemporaneous with the Constitution itself, and can thus be considered as de facto part of it. The possibility of amending the second raises the spectre of amending the first (the right to free speech) or the fifth (the right to not self-incriminate). One wonders what the outcome will be when the language in which the Constitution is written becomes ever staler and divorced from the English of the day, and the meaning of the words is slowly shifted to something steadily more unrecognisable, the text left unaltered as the language evolves around it.

This is luckily not a problem in the UK; that great document of ancient English freedom, the Magna Carta, has been more-or-less entirely repealed and replaced with newer legislation, the most recent of which being the Human Rights Act. It’s never the document that’s important; the document is only a symbol. What’s important are the ideas, and the principles, and keeping those principles alive in the hearts and minds of mankind. Our documents should never be inviolate; our ideals should be.

Some facts and figures on Native American populations and treaties were drawn from the book “Why Do People Hate America?” by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies. Others were from Wikipedia. Interpretation and conclusions entirely my own (terrible) work.

America

American politics is a strange and funny thing. I like how their whole political spectrum is shifted pretty far right when compared to a British or European norm. Obama is being accused in the US of being a socialist, but in all honesty he’s probably further right than David Cameron. It’s very peculiar.

They also have some very funny ideas about liberty and what it means to be free; mostly when Americans (both politicians and the public) talk about freedom and liberty, what they really mean is naked self-interest, and the ability to fully persue such a naked self-interest without any interference, no matter the consequences to themselves, society, or the world at large.

This leads to some truely Orwellian constructions in which the concept of liberty is invoked in attempts to undermine liberty, for instance the USA PATRIOT Act; which in and of itself is fascinating because it’s an intricate piece of branding, it’s actually an acronym for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”, and the name serves to suggest that anybody who opposes it is not a patriot. Genius!

I think we can all by now agree that the American-led interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq were not to promote liberty or freedom. I think that in some part the utter failure of these projects to create anything even approaching a liberal Western democracy can be placed at the door of the odd American mythology.

To put it bluntly, the Americans give a massive shit about their constitution, as if it and it alone were the instrument of liberty, the defining feature that seperates freedom, truth, justice and the American way from the barbarians of the outside world. They often believe that their constitution is perfect and inviolate, that the founding fathers were political geniuses unmatched in their own or any other era, with only they having the foresight to build a perfect political system.

This is a load of bollocks, naturally. The constitution is a document written and signed by a bunch of dead white men. It’s not a guarantor of freedom, it’s a piece of paper (or parchment, whatever) with words handwritten on it. I could write the best constitution the world has ever seen on some loo roll with a biro and it wouldn’t be an instrument of liberty (but it would be quite an achievement; biros tend to tear up loo roll). The constitution, and the writing and ratification of it, is not important and have never been important.

What was important was that a group of people decided that they’d had enough of autocratic rule and decided instead to govern themselves democratically; that the democratic spirit and dedication to the rule of law survive to this day. The same process happened organically in Britain, as the power of the monarch yielded to the power of the Lords, and the Lords yielded to the Commons. Our constitution is to a good degree unwritten, and the rest is a patchwork of Acts of Parliament strung together over the centuries. It wasn’t planned or constructed by geniuses or otherwise, and it’s certainly not perfect, but it is at least an evolving mechanism. The Queen legally still has enormous power, but that doesn’t need to be regulated by lines on a page; we all know that any attempt by her to exert her power would be extremely undemocratic and unwise. We don’t need a piece of a paper to tell us that!

The power shift from autocracy to democracy was a long and hard fought process by the people against arbitrary rule, everywhere that it’s happened, be it in England, or in the French Revolution or Classical Athens. That is the essence of liberty, the liberty the founding fathers meant, an idea of liberty that is essentially British; it’s a liberty from arbitrary rule, rule by whim rather than due process under the law. This is why the recent American “Tea Party” protests are retarded. The original tea parties were in protest at the arbitrary imposition of tax. The current US Government has a pretty strong democratic mandate, it’s an incorrect historical allusion.

This mythologising of the constituion and the men who wrote it is pathological for several reasons. It obfuscates the true source of power and the nature of liberty, it discourages modifications and questioning of the wisdom of the provisions of the constitution, and it makes people think that democracy follows from the constitution.

It’s this last point which has surfaced in Afghanistan especially. You can install a Western-style constitution by force, but you can’t install democracy by force. Democracy comes from the bottom up, it happens because essential socio-economic forces make it happen. Democracy as we know it in Europe and the West is the result of hundreds of years of evolution and struggle, and you can’t just jump in and short-circuit the process. The  political force of democracy will forge itself a constitution, but a constitution can’t forge a democracy.

I wish I had time to focus in on some other things, like how some Western behaviour e.g. Guantanamo, makes us look like hypocrites for not following our own avowed principles, but alas, I will have to leave it here.

Until next time, dear reader.

Europe

Through awful necessity I’ve been trawling through the regulations required to bring a medical device to market. It’s highly Byzantine, which convinces me it would really be very sensible to pay someone to do this for you.

Anyways, happily the regulations required for doing so and getting a CE mark on your product are harmonised across Europe, so a device fit for sale in the UK is automatically good for sale anywhere in the EU and EEA, and even a few places beyond that which trade with the EU.

These regulations are implemented via EU directives, the aims of which are incredibly noble; rather than having to conform to regulations in every country you want to go to market in, you need only comply in your own country, and you comply everywhere in Europe.

Now for this system to work, it’s necessary for every country to transpose the directives into national law, as is the process for all EU directives. In the UK, these directives are implemented as part of a Consumer Safety Act, and policed by several bodies, including Trading Standards, the Health and Safety Executive, and the Medical and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.

So for the aim of these regulations to succeed, that is, make it easier for business to work in Europe, EU law must form part of National law; some part of our sovereignty must be ceded to the EU. In return, we take part in the political structure that then forms those regulations, we elect our MEPs, we help write the constitution Lisbon treaty, we get the (formerly) rotating Presidency for a few months, etc.

If we pulled out of this political structure, we’d just end up receiving the same regulations, but without any say in how they are written. This would not be an improvement. Pulling out of the economic harmonisation endeavour entirely would be both stupid and pointless; all having an entirely seperate British regulatory system would do is force businesses to go through red-tape twice if they want to export to Europe.

Basically, the upshot here is that UKIP , the BNP and eurosceptic Conservatives are basically retarded. The goal of helping our businesses through economic harmonisation necessarily entails a corresponding political harmonisation. You cannot have one without the other, and our current way of stubbornly denying this fact is entirely mad.

Instead of a reasonable framework in which laws passed in Europe just apply in the UK we have a ridiculous process of transposition of directives, instead of a proper constitution we have a treaty that crudely patches together all the existing treaties, etc. It’s silly, and based on nothing more than the essentially odd idea of nationalism; the loyalty to whichever strip of land you happen to be born on, rather than on something more important like values and ideals.

I guess I’ve made a firm decision that a properly federal Europe is a good idea, for reasons with a little more substance than naïve idealism.

Concerning Drugs

I realise I’m now a little behind the curve on this story, this has been sitting in my drafts for a while.

The government recently sacked Professor David Nutt, the chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) after he spoke out on the scientific evidence on the relative harm of illegal drugs like cannabis and ecstasy compared with legal ones such as alcohol and tobacco.

He’s previously been criticised in the press for an examination of the public view of risk of two activities, taking ecstasy and horse-riding (which he calls, for hilarious effect, “equasy”). The public reaction made him sound like he was making an insane comparison, but his argument is well backed up by the evidence. Don’t take my word for it though, you can read his actual paper (don’t worry, it’s not very long!) here.

This time round, Nutt made the not-unreasonable point that looking at the actual harm done, alcohol and tobacco are worse than ectasy, LSD and cannabis, so our current policy at looks at best somewhat hypocritical.

This view, like his view on equasy, is based upon a synthesis of the available scientific evidence, not opinion or political whim. However according though to the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, this isn’t a dry statement of the facts, but instead consitutues an attack on the Government’s policy on drugs, an act incompatible with his position as a Government advisor; this seems to me to be a statement of an implicit definition: a Government advisor is only someone who adds an air of authority to whatever it is the Government wants them to say.

This is a ridiculous attack on intellectual and academic freedom, evidence-based policy, and indeed upon science itself. The Government has decided that objective evidence has no place in public policy; they are concerned only with receiving a “scientific” rubber-stamp on what they think will play the best with voters and the tabloid press.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that a hypocritcal notion of moral certainty has long dominated public drug policy; we are lead to believe that it is somehow intrinsically morally wrong to consume illegal drugs. I would say that it is more plainly obvious that the social harm we are told is caused by drugs is in fact caused more by the prohibition of drugs than it is by the effects of the drugs themselves.

Prohibition forces supply and manufacture into the hands of organised criminals who make vast profits delivering sub-standard goods. Look at the example of American prohibition of alchohol, which did nothing but embolden and enrich the gangsters and the Mafia, not to mention compounding the problem of alcoholism by resistricting the availability of weaker drinks like beer and wine in favour of the more easily transportable and strong spirits.

Likewise the prohibition of drugs encourages more powerful drug variants like skunk cannabis and crack cocaine and encourages dealers to cut their products with additives to make the same product go further. The vastly inflated prices encourage crime and enrich criminals, and the underground nature of the whole business discourages addicts from seeking help.

Legalised drugs could be taxed and regulated, like we do with cigarettes and alcohol today, which would bring in a revenue stream that could be reinvested in tackling addiction and the health consequences of drugs. It would ensure that drugs are clean and free of dangerous impurities. It would prevent people being tempted to try stronger drugs like crack or heroin by corrupt dealers offering a free hit to get people hooked.

It would certainly be an infinitely saner and more evidence-based policy than the one dominated by hypocritical moralising we have today. Alas, no politician can ever been seen to be “soft on drugs” so our current failing policy will remain.

The Case for World Democracy

This week saw intense world-wide media coverage of the inauguration of President Obama, replacing the hated Bush, and it got me thinking.

In the interconnected globalised age we find ourselves in, it’s starting to genuinely matter to the rest of the world who ends up in power in the US. As the old saying goes, when the US sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold, and they’ve been pretty much laid up in bed with the flu for the past 8 years.

Even though the policy of the man at the top has far-reaching implications on the world at large, we’re unable to project any influence upon that choice of leader – he is remote and unaccountable to anyone but a small fraction of the world’s population.

What I think’s notable about this is it seems almost like a blown-up version of society thousands of years ago; a small group of the nobles and the king together dictate policy, while the great unwashed mass of the population have no say at all. Maybe that’s a flawed analogy, but it feels to me like we’re hitting a transition point; just as the scattered tribe gave way to the city-state, and the city-state gave way to the nation-state, so too must the nation-state give way to something greater; perhaps continent-states, maybe even a world-state.

I feel the real question  is if the process of evolution towards a global state will be smooth and frictionless, or if pressure will build along the fault-lines until it’s released all at once in a violent earthquake.

Clearly though, we need to give organisations like the UN and EU much more in the way of balls than they do right now. At the moment they’re unions of nations, not unions of people, and this is a severe failing.

I think we need to try and wean ourselves off the old ideas of patriotism, the focus on the things that make us different, not the things that make us the same. There’s no shame in federalisation! Great cities like New York, London, Rome, Athens etc. are not diminished because they are a part of larger nations, and the UK is not diminished because it’s a part of the EU. The French aren’t that bad, really.

I almost certainly won’t see a global state in my lifetime, but I really do kinda hope that we’ll see the beginnings of such a thing. If a black man can get elected as the President of the United States, then I guess I can have hope for anything.