Thursday, March 31, 2011

Liberals in literature and films (1)

Those of us who have spoken on behalf of the Liberals from time to time may have some sympathy with Richard Hannay on the run in John Buchan's 39 Steps, when he finds himself unexpectedly addressing a Liberal meeting in the Highlands. The book makes it clear that it's a Liberal meeting but Hitchcock's film (1m 25s in) does not whereas the BBC's recent version does. Whilst one can see that the Czech stage version does indeed feature the candidate Mr Macorquodale, whether or not it makes clear that he's a Liberal I cannot tell as I don't speak Czech.

Please sign to help this woman

Last Saturday, a young woman lawyer named Iman al-Obeidi burst into a Tripoli hotel and pleaded with foreign journalists for help, showing bruises and crying that she had just been gang-raped by 15 of Qaddafi's men. She screamed as she was dragged away by Libyan agents and has not been seen since.

Whether or not you agree with the UK's military involvement in Libya, please sign this petition which may help to save a woman's life.

To sign, go to Avaaz website.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Bush and his fellow schmucks

As Obama said, "If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible...". If there is anyone out there who still doubts that George W Bush and his coterie were not the biggest bunch of schmucks ever elected to run a democratic country, consider the case of Valerie Plame Wilson, who appeared on Radio 4's On the ropes today. The story is also told in the film Fair Game. This is the woman who was exposed as a CIA agent, not by the Russians, not by Osama Bin Laden, no, by her own government. She was not exposed for betraying her country, nor for incompetence nor for corruption (practices not unknown to her exposers). She was exposed because her husband, Joe Wilson revealed that he found no evidence in Niger in 2002 for the suggestion made by Bush, Blair and Jack Straw that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium there.

Whether or not you agreed with the Iraq War, whether or not you accept that Joe Wilson should have published the truth, there can be and is no justification for a government that exposes its own agent because of what her husband has done. This is the morality of a gangster. We all know that Bush has blood on his hands. This story tells us how his mind worked.

University of Chard welcomes new police project !

Somerset and Avon Police have announced a surprising and possibly doomed project: to increase intelligence in Chard. I note that TESCO is already in on the act. We at the University of Chard of course welcome any opportunity to get our hands on public money, ahem, I mean to increase the educational opportunities in South Somerset. It won't cost you £9,000 to get a degree here !

Monday, March 07, 2011

Not very taxing !

Much public disgust at Bob Diamond's bonus. In a free society, government can't start dictating incomes for particularly industries. Apostles of the market usually argue that competition brings down costs, but not when it comes to bankers' incomes. The solutions shouldn't be too taxing for the First Lord of the Treasury nor all the politicians and civil servants who report to him, with their 1st class degrees in PPE or just economics.

Firstly, bring real competition into banking by breaking the banks up into smaller units. If that damages their ability to compete with foreign giants in the money markets, first bring back the old split between merchant banks and clearing banks, then split up the clearing banks.

Secondly, as society develops some people's labour becomes increasingly more productive as they control more and more capital whereas most people's productivity lags far behind. Thus we get an ever-growing gap between rich and poor, which distorts the ability of markets to allocate resources because the rich minority's demand is so much more effective than the poor majority's. Again the solution is well-known - tax higher incomes (whether bankers' incomes or anyone else's) at higher rates. British income tax levels are pretty low. Even modest increases would raise revenue which would help to reduce the deficit and would be fairer than cuts which hit the poorer. Why ever not ? The constraint is political. Since the 1992 General Election it has become accepted wisdom than raising taxes is unpopular and will be punished by the electorate. This is a clear constraint on the Labour Party but what is to stop the Coalition Government raising Income Tax ? Surely our leaders don't fear that the voters will desert to the Labour Party because of higher taxes ?

Saturday, March 05, 2011

"Proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon"

When Mordecai Vanunu told the world that Israel had nuclear weapons, the Israeli authorities locked him up in Shikma Prison in Ashkelon for more than 17 years. Israel still refuses to admit to nuclear weapons and the UK and the USA still refuse to challenge that deceit. They are too busy worrying about Iran which doesn't have them yet. How does this bias look to the rest of the world ?

It seems that like the Israelis, we still follow the words of 2 Samuel 1:20:
"Proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon,
Or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice,
The daughters of the uncircumcised will exult.

I was going to suggest listening again to Radio 4's play broadcast today, "Vanunu: a time to be heard" but the website says it won't be available. Apparently that time has passed. Why ?

It is available now on I-Player.

Changing the world takes a little longer

I came across the campaign Climate Rush when a member of my family (nearly) took part in singing re-written carols in Central Lobby in the Palace of Westminster at Christmas to highlight climate change. Searching I found the campaign had done many good things which I do admire. Here comes the but. They are, however, a little too please with themselves. The film "Deeds not words" tells the story of a few weeks of preparation for a rush on parliament 100 years after the suffragettes did it. Climate Rush mobilised a 1,000 people to demonstrate. Their motivation and organisation were excellent but the result was NOT historic as they seem to think. Many of us have found that it takes years and years of activity to change almost anything in society. It's called politics and, yes, it can be boring, it can be disheartening but as Bernard Crick wrote "Politics and love are the only forms of constraint possible between free people".

I too demonstrate. Sometimes you just have to. You have to bear witness. You have to show your disgust, your anger, your demand for change. Yet I cannot honestly say that any demonstration I have taken part in has changed the world. The minor changes I have contributed to in environmental policy I did by the old-fashioned ways of politics and lobbying. So, yes, let's demonstrate when we must but let's do the long-term grind as well.

Friday, March 04, 2011

"Even a worm will turn, just as a sausage will if you keep it long enough."

Great quote by Peter Wrigley, Keynesian Liberal, commenting on Jeremy Hunt's decision on Murdoch. Peter doesn't call for the coalition to end but for Liberal Democrats to stand up for their beliefs.

Barnsley: What's the Lib Dem message ?

The dreadful Barnsley bye-election result must hammer home the need for the Liberal Democrats to have their own message and to express it clearly. As long as we are seen as little Sir Echo to the Tories, why would anybody vote for us ?

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Stop Murdoch !

I have just sent this message to Nick Clegg and other ministers. Please send one yourself here directly or using the Avaaz website.

Dear Prime Minister Cameron,
Dear Deputy Prime Minister Clegg,
Dear Ministers,

It is astonishing to me that the United States has stronger laws to prevent concentration of media ownership than we do in Britain. Tony Blair failed to stand up to Murdoch when he had a huge majority. Please show us all that this government cares about competition and diversity, particularly in the media.

Granting Rupert Murdoch controlling ownership of BSkyB would make a mockery of our already weak media ownership laws and damage our democracy. No one person should be permitted to control nearly half our country's mass media, certainly not someone with such a clear record of abuse of media power for political influence and personal gain. Opinion polls show that opponents of the Murdoch bid outnumber supporters 9 to 1. We strongly oppose any deal made with Murdoch, and pledge to hold you accountable for this crucial decision for the future of our democracy.  

Nick, I nominated you for leader. Show me I was right.