Sunday 31 May 2009

The Observer half endorses us, Rawnsley doesn't

I have decided that I am no longer going to be grateful for small mercies.

It is a small mercy that Andrew Rawnsley has said very nice things about us in the Observer today. He says the LibDems alone are truly serious about electoral reform. He skewers Cameron for his non-credentials on the issue. He excoriates Brown for his puny record on constitutional reform and his opposition to voting reform. He says quite correctly that the Liberal Democrats are the only party that has been consistently in favour of transparency about expenses. (How David Cameron must wish for a bit of Stalin's power to rewrite history so that he could forget the Conservative attempt - abetted by Labour - to exempt MPs from the Freedom of Information Act). He says if you want serious constitutional reform you should vote LibDem. And then he says - "This is not an endorsement of the Lib Dems." I'm sorry, Andrew, but why can you not bring yourself to give us an endorsement? Where is the logic in saying all that you have just said, and then saying that you are not going to give us your backing? You have just become a microcosm of the self defeating political behaviour of this country. Yes, we're great, you say. Yes, we are the party with the consistent policies on green issues - which you like. Yes, we are the party with the consistent policies on the economy - which you like. Yes, we are the party with the consistent policies on poltiical reform issues - which you like. Yes, we are the party - the only party -with the consistent policies on transparency issues - which you like. Yet, you are still not going to endorse us. Why not, Andrew? Why not? We are the party with the answers you like on environmental issues, on reform, on transparency, on Europe, miles ahead on the economy. Stop being so mealy mouthed. Put us in power and give us a chance to show you what we can do.

It is also a small mercy that the Observer has editorially endorsed us for Europe on Thursday. That's nice. Here's what they have to say.

"On the environment, on civil liberties and on the mounting debt bubble, the Lib Dems were quietly but consistently ahead of the Westminster curve.

"Likewise on transparency. In 2007, they opposed the Conservative move, tacitly encouraged by Labour, to exempt Parliament from the Freedom of Information Act. The Lib Dems alone took a party line for openness.

"That is worth recalling as Mr Cameron and Mr Brown engage in an unseemly scramble for reformist credentials."

And yet despite being accurate about our policies and our consistency on major domestic and international issues as well as Europe, they have only endorsed us for the European elections. They haven't said a word about the local elections happening on the same day. Why ever not? We have a great record on local government as well as all the nice things they said about us in their editorial. But still only half an endorsement. I said it to Rawnsley, so I'll say it to the Observer. We know we can do it. You know we can do it. You've just given all the reasons why we can do it. Give us your backing and give us a chance to do it.

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Dorries is back

I'm very glad that Nadine Dorries' blog is back up. She should never have been taken down in the first place. But, my, what a pile of self pitying drivel.

Saturday 23 May 2009

Meanwhile on the duck island front

Hampshire's Daily Echo has an article on how you can build a duck island just like Peter Viggers' for £20. Read it here.

Hat tip: I spotted this on another blog, but I regret to say that I have lost the link now. (Got carried away writing letters of complaint about the treatment of Jo Swinson and Nadine Dorries.) Whoever it was, if you let me know....

Nadine Dorries

Nadine Dorries' blog has been taken down at the request of the Daily Telegraph. This is quite shameless behaviour by the Telegraph. They started out doing us a service by publishing a lot of detail about MPs' expenses that might well never otherwise have seen the light of day. But they have really taken their eye off the ball since the first few revelations. They must have about 200 decent stories to tell about moats, duck houses, flipping and mortgages, but they have started to fabricate stories around the flimsiest evidence. To be fair, they have published a few saints as well as the many sinners, but it seems they are more interested in finding more sinners than in telling the truth. Their treatment of Jo Swinson, dipped in sexism and innuendo, demeans them, and so does, now, their treatment of Nadine Dorries. Dorries is a Conservative, a fairly right wing one, and I am a Liberal Democrat. I disagree with practically everything she says. But I defend absolutely her right to say it. The Telegraph have used an imbalance in the law to compromise freedom of speech. They should be ashamed, but I doubt they will be. They are now flirting with gutter politics as well as with gutter journalism.

Friday 22 May 2009

Who said, and when?

Who said "It is difficult to think how much lower our collective reputation might sink" and when?

It was Frank Field, in January 2008. The quote is from a BBC report at the time. (Hat tip to Liberal Vision for that one.) The occasion was the outing of Derek Conway's little scam. For more details of that, go to A Man For All Sleazons, and scroll down (you'll have to scroll a fair way to get past all the other Tory crooks.

Thursday 21 May 2009

The matchless Anthony Steen

Tory MP Anthony Steen reckons it's all the wretched government's fault for introducing the Freedom of Information Act, because otherwise he wouldn't have been caught. Listen here - it's priceless. When the election comes this deserves to be played over and over again.

Thursday 14 May 2009

The hope, the despair

So, after all the hype and the preparation, all the promises and the optimism, all the hopes of glory, the UK bows out once again before the semifinals, beaten by the likes of Russia, China, Belarus and even weedy North Korea. Yes, Cryptohippie's "Electronic Police State - 2008" gives us a mere fifth place in the world rankings. No doubt some among us will try to save some vestige of self respect by noting that we are the top non ex-Communist state in the rankings, and no doubt some of us will be heartily cheered that England and Wales did so much better than the pusillanimous Scots (a pathetic thirteenth place). But, frankly, what is that worth? After all the time, money and effort we have poured into this, after all the promises of turning us into a centre of excellence, a world leader in the business of spying on our own citizens, all the investment, all the assurances that we would recover our greatness in the world, our position as a leader among nations, we still end fifth, behind a bunch of ex-Commie panelbeaters.

Of course they started with an advantage. Not so long ago, we were a relatively free state. The Commies were light years ahead of us in intrusion, surveillance, detention without trial, setting husband against wife, father against son. To be fair we've made up a lot of ground since then. We can give them a run for their money on CCTV any day; in kettling we are world leaders, and on ID we are making significant inroads. And we can be proud of the efforts our police are making to break down community cohesion and make sure that nobody trusts anybody else. But the fact is that we are still less professional than they are, less ruthless, less unforgiving, less perfectionist about the little things that really matter.

Take this example - the police try the professional approach of getting surveillance data on anybody doing anything, and some bumped up bureaucrat tells them off. That's not the sort of attitude that wins world titles, is it?

And this case, where the Met did their job, tightening the screws on all forms of learning and self-expression, and then when they had it in the bag, they actually let themselves be manoevred into removing the boy's data from their database. You wouldn't find the Russians or the North Koreans doing that would you?

The moral is clear - we have to raise our game, if we are to take our rightful place at the head of the world ranking for electronic surveillance.

Readers of this post who cannot understand the concept of irony might like to look it up on Wikipedia.

The joys of a silent keyboard

I went to a conference recently on Technology for Health Systems Strengthening (THeSyS). Not a huge conference, about 30 people altogether. (Great conference - really enjoyed it.) There was the usual request to turn off mobile phones, but I noticed that several other people didn't so I didn't either. That suited me because I was able to use my WAP connection to twitter and text from the conference to various people.

This post is partly about manners, partly about psychology and partly about technology. Manners first. I knew I was OK in a sense because my phone is set not to make any noise. Texts arrive silently, and phone calls are set to vibrate. Other people don't have that, and apparently don't know how to set their phones to silent for the duration of the conference, so we did get a couple of interruptions from quirkily individual ring tones.

I continued to work on the assumption that my phone was OK, and I sent a series of tweets during the two days of the conference. You can find them in my Twitterstream.

I was recently at another conference where one of my fellow delegates was using his computer to microblog from the conference. Fair enough, but he said afterwards he thought it was acceptable because he was typing quietly. I was sitting four seats away from him and the noise of his keyboard was enough to distract me from what the speakers were saying (combined with poor acoustics and speakers who mumbled a fair bit...) He seemed to take exception to being told that. I think part of the issue here is that people don't hear their own noise - what's quiet to the creator can be quite a nuisance to somebody else. But it points up the need for an etiquette of conferencing.

I noticed by the same token that once I was using my mobile phone this way, I became a lot more tolerant of other people's. When other people's go off in meetings I usually find it a complete wind up. In fact I don't go into the quiet carriage on train journeys, because they're never actually quiet. There is always a succession of idiots who don't care what noise they make or haven't noticed that it's a quiet carriage, and that makes my blood boil so much that it's not worth it. Not all phone users are like that, but there is a sufficient minority who really don't care about other people to make it difficult for all of us. But this time I minded a lot less. I almost completely forgave the mangled sound of REM. I guess that it was infrequent enough and gentle enough not to interrupt the flow of the conference. And I was involved as well, so not only could I not complain, I didn't actually want to.

Those two experiences have set me wondering about what to do next. I was intending to buy a netbook to do my mobile computing on. I had thought I might continue to use my phone for conferences, but it's quite clunky. Its chief benefit is that using it is silent (as opposed to just "quiet"). But texting takes an age. I have an HTC TyTn, with either a stylus or a full, but minute, keyboard. I can use either with facility but both take a while. And connectivity is often a pain. I lost count of the number of times I rebooted it at THeSyS just to try to get a connection again. This may have distracted me from the business of the conference - I don't think it did much as I have 13 pages of notes. So I have begun the search for a computer with a silent keyboard. Not many of those about - maybe there's a gap in the market there.