Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Brian Haw survives again

Yesterday the High Court granted the GLA an injunction to remove protesters from Parliament Square under the law of trespass. However, Boris may allow Brian Haw, the anti-Iraq War protester, to remain. He'll find it difficult to budge him.

In 2005 Charles Clarke, a veteran of NUS protests when he was Chairman but by then New Labour Home Secretary,put the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act through parliament which forbade protest near parliament without the permission of the Met, a provision specifically designed to remove Brian Haw. Ironically, when Haw was prosecuted, the court ruled that his protest predated the Act and therefore he is the one man who cannot be removed under the Act.

This time , Boris claimed the protesters presence in the square "prevented its peaceful use by other Londoners". Strange ! Last month, my sons and I had a perfectly peaceful picnic in the square along with many others. I introduced them to Brian Haw and congratulated him on his protest.

Tessa Jowell, as Culture Secretary, tried to stop the anti-Iraq War demonstration in 2003 from using Hyde Park, because it would damage the grass. Jowell and Clarke, of course, supported the illegal invasion of Iraq which, I imagine, rather prevented the peaceful use of Baghdad and the whole country and damaged more than the grass.

Gun Law

Sahil Kapur writes in the Guardian about the US Supreme Court's decision to strike down gun control laws. The statistics stack up the cost of America's 2nd Amendment. About 100,000 people in America are shot ever year and more than 30,000 die. On average, 85 people in America die every day from gun violence, nine of whom are teenagers and children.

A 2009 study in the American Journal of Public Health also found that gun owners are more than four times as likely to get shot in an assault as individuals without a gun. But most Americans won't let the truth get in the way of their right to bear arms. Nor will American politicians, scared of a gun lobby which last year even defeated attempts in Congress to preclude terror suspects from buying guns. The same individuals that are deemed too dangerous to get on a plane can freely purchase firearms.

Wikipedia notes the origin of the right to bear arms in the English Bill of Rights of 1689, which put it like this:
"That the Subjects which are Protestants may have Arms for their Defence suitable to their Conditions and as allowed by Law.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The coconut debate

If you want to see what was said and how it was said, the BBC have a clip of the remark.

Football and Xenophobia

I am famously uninterested in football but I can't help noting the casual xenophobia following England's departure from the World Cup. Never mind the English players, fire the Italian !

Monday, June 28, 2010


A Bristol Liberal Democrat Councillor, Shirley Brown, has been found guilty of racial harassment. She called Asian Conservative Jay Jethwa a "coconut" during a debate at Bristol City Council in February 2009, because Jethwa had backed a proposal to cease funding for an organisation set up to support ethnic minorities in Bristol. Mrs Brown's words were:
"In our culture we have a word for you, a word which many in our city would understand, and that's coconut. At the end of the day I look at you as that." The term coconut is used to accuse someone of betraying their race or culture by implying that, like a coconut, they are brown on the outside but white on the inside.

Section 3A of the Race Relations Act provides that harassment occurs where:
"A person subjects another to harassment ... where, on grounds of race or ethnic or national origins, he engages in unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of:
• violating that other person's dignity
• creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him
• conduct shall be regarded as having the effect specified (above) only if, having regard to all the circumstances, including in particular the perception of that other person, it should reasonably be considered as having that effect

Well, I suppose that being called a "coconut" in those circumstances and with that special meaning is insulting but does it violate a person's dignity, as the magistrate must have concluded ? The insult can only be delivered sensibly to someone with a dark skin but the burden of the insult is about the person's behaviour not their colour. As I write this I am listening to a succession of Labour MPs making similar insults about the behaviour of Liberal Democrats, accusing them of betraying the people they represent, but there's no racial element so you can violate their dignity as much as you like. Above all, I question whether making a remark like this in the absence of violence or any threat of violence should be a crime ? This case is a good example of how easily we limit freedom of speech when we make being offensive a crime. The logic is that you can legally insult me for being a Liberal,a lawyer, a ballet dancer, a fox-hunter or a train-spotter (I am only one of these) because these are all choices I can make. Of course you can also legally insult me for being middle-class, red-haired, short, fat and bald ( I am all but one of these), but I have no choice about any of them. Most of these characteristics are genetic inheritance as much as race is. As a society, we have decided that certain insults are so much worse than others, that they are criminal.

Surely an apology, which I understand was given, should have ended the matter. I have grave doubts that the criminal law is helpful in this situation. Indeed, there is a danger that such cases assist recruitment to the dreadful BNP.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Thumbs down for the budget

The more I think about this budget, the less I like it. James Graham sums it up well in the Social Liberal Forum: deficit reduction too fast, ratio of cuts to taxes too high, choice of taxes unfair. The main argument deployed to defend the budget is the need to reassure the money markets. My fear is that the initial confidence of the money men will disappear when it becomes clear that the coalition's ambitious cuts cannot be achieved in the timescale. A more practical and slower plan would have been better economics, better politics and better for the markets too.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Budget leaks

Amidst all the speculation on the budget, I hear so many reports of government plans - not so much leaks as news management. Whatever happened to the Chancellor's traditional purdah ? What happened to promises to announce things in parliament first ? We used to demand that in opposition.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The budget and the size of the state

As we await the budget cuts, some Liberals have started to argue about the size of the state. Define "state". The largest chuck of public spending is £135.7bn for the Department of Work and Pensions which is mainly dispersed in transfer payments which are then spent by individual citizens. Does this make the state large ? The second largest is £109.5bn spent by the Treasury on saving the banks, which in due course we will sell again.

IMHO the arguments about the size of the state are beside the point. The actual political issues are the speed of reduction of the deficit and the balance between spending cuts and tax increases. The government's unseemly haste to cut the deficit may serve political purposes and kowtow to the financial markets' usual short-term views but they will be less pleased in due course if a double-dip recession results.
If you think the haste is NOT unseemly, don't take my word for it, read Sam Brittan in the FT.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Matthew Parris on Afghanistan

Parris writes in The Times "Cameron and Clegg have made a calculation: sacrifice more soldiers in Afghanistan to keep on side with the US"

Friday, June 11, 2010

The price of power

Liberal Democrat policy is not to replace Trident with a like-for-like system, but the price of sharing power in the coalition is becoming clear.

The coalition agreement approved by the conference in Birmingham said:
"The parties commit to holding a full Strategic Security and Defence Review alongside the Spending Review with strong involvement of the Treasury. The Government will be committed to the maintenance of Britain’s nuclear deterrent, and have agreed that the renewal of Trident should be scrutinised to ensure value for money. Liberal Democrats will continue to make the case for alternatives."

I (and others) took this to mean that Trident WOULD be included in the SDR. The fact that the drafting put Trident in a separate sentence should have been a warning.

Strangely the Coalition Programme for Government doesn't mention the SDR but repeats:
"We will maintain Britain’s nuclear deterrent,and have agreed that the renewal of Trident should be scrutinised to ensure value for money. Liberal Democrats will continue to make the case for alternatives"

On Tuesday night this week (8th June) the Commons voted on Angus Robertson's amendment to the Address which called for Trident to be included in the SDR. As far as I can tell there was not one speech in the debate which mentioned the amendment ! In the vote, the Labour opposition (with very few exceptions) abstained despite the fact that in government they had no intention of including Trident in the review. Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs voted AGAINST and defeated the amendment.

Nothing in the coalition agreement says that Trident should or should not be included in the SDR. Yet Liberal Democrat MPs have voted against something they surely believe in. Presumably excluding Trident from the SDR was a cabinet decision followed by a three-line whip. It seems that MPs are not only committed to support items in the agreement but also to oppose items NOT in the agreement. We can, it seems, "continue to make the case for alternatives" but not in parliament ! Where then ?

Jolly boating weather

A few views of the Grand Union and Stratford canals
Sadly "New technology defeated old hack" when I was on the canals last week. Couldn't get camera to talk to laptop, nor laptop to internet whilst actually travelling.