Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Not Enough

OK, I've read David Cameron's letter on the subject of EU reform.  You should, too.  I've thought about it for a bit (yes, you should, too...).  It's not enough; even if he is given everything he wants, I'll still be voting to leave.  And we know, of course, that he won't be given it all, even though he will claim that he has. 

My reason is quite simple; he has approached EU reform from entirely the wrong direction.  He has identified areas that are within the sphere of EU policy and which are - today - causing some political friction.  He then asks for special terms for the UK in those areas.  That is ok insofar as it goes, but this is the run-up to an in/out referendum; it is a once-and-for-all opportunity to look at our position in the EU as an institution.  We last had a referendum on this subject 40 years ago - we should therefore be looking to the issues that may arise over the next 40+ years, the kind of issues that our experience since 1973 shows are likely to arise from the nature of the EU and the way in which it operates.  So we need to be a lot more ambitious than this. 

What we should be doing is the reverse of what Cameron has done.  Instead of identifying areas that we want to push the EU back from, we should be identifying the areas where we agree that the EU should have primacy in policy, and defining those areas carefully.  Then, any area not covered by those definitions is to be automatically excluded.  This is based on simple experience; the progress of the EU over the years has been characterised by a  steady growth in the areas of "competence" of the EU, and our relationship has been one of weary resistance, constant damage limitation.

He hints at this, with the request for an exclusion for the UK from the principle of "ever closer union".  But that highlights my other point; these reforms should be for all, not just the UK.  As it stands, even if he is allowed this, every other member will be committed to ever closer union and that will be the direction of the EU from then on.  The EU will continue to identify "competences" that it should acquire and will work on that.  What, exactly, will the UK opt-out from "ever closer union" mean then?  We will carry on with endless rearguard action, still slipping on the ratchet of integration.

So no, I'm not persuaded.  What would have brought me on board would have been a list of defined areas - trade between member states and the ability for EU citizens to live and work in other EU states (for example) - and a treaty commitment that the EU does not have and is not to seek competence in any other area.  Then, we could have done the same to the UK Government, and to local councils.  We could have renewed our democracy, defined the purpose of our institutions, and reinvigorated them both.  Instead, we just have a list of whinges that we want special treatment for. 

Vote OUT, then.  Let's have a Brexit. 

Monday, 11 May 2015

A Quandary, Surely?

I do have a little sympathy for the senior figures within Labour on one small, specific point.  It must be really upsetting to hold dearly to a set of views which you hold to be true and right, and also to know that when you stand up and honestly tell the world that you hold those views, they reject you:

...but when you spin the truth so as to present yourself as having a different set of views and conceal your socialism, you get elected instantly...

What to do.  Hmmm.  Toughie. 

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Same old Labour

So, there won't be a Labour-SNP coalition.  Unequivocally, no.  It will not happen:
"Ed Miliband has ruled out a Labour-SNP coalition in the event of a hung Parliament after May's election."
Well, that's the message he wanted to send, anyway.  But that's just the BBC's summary.  What did he actually say?
The Labour leader said any alliance would "not happen" as there were "big differences" between the two parties
Ah, see, that's not quite the same, is it?  An alliance will not happen because there are differences between the parties... at the moment.  This isn't a statement of principle, this is a procedural point, that the two parties cannot in practice be reconciled because there are policy differences (as of today, anyway).  The day after an election, when the keys to No. 10 are dangling in front of them, who is to say that Ed might not be "persuaded" to adjust his views on areas where Labour and the SNP differ?  Then, the "big differences" between the parties would have evaporated, clearing the way for an alliance.

Then, immediately after that, there is the "clarification" as to what he really meant:
"There will be no SNP ministers in any government I lead"
None of that rules out the two parties co-operating on the floor of the House to secure specific policy aims, and (in particular) to exclude a Tory government.  It just means that Milliband intends to get his way in Cabinet.  This isn't a promise to the electorate, it is the first shot in the coalition negotiations - a warning to the SNP not to set their sights too high. 

So it's the same old Labour that we are used to from the Blair days.  Say whatever is necessary to get into power, but always make sure to leave yourself a little wriggle room.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Driving the technology forwards

I'm a big fan of technology, and its tendency to keep advancing.  I could hardly be otherwise, of course, given that I make my living from that same tendency.  I'm also quite a keen driver (as you may have noticed), so when the two come together you would think I would be doubly keen.  So why am I worried about the prospect of the driverless car?

Many worry that driverless cars won't be safe - that the technology won't be good enough.  After all, Windows crashes all the time, right?  Why wouldn't a Windows-powered car?  Well, I reckon the technology will be better than most drivers.  I suspect it already is, but that's mainly because I've seen what most drivers are like...

There is the old chestnut of driverless cars taking all the fun out of it, of course.  I don't subscribe to that, either; I think that driving will bifurcate into the mundane day-to-day stuff like getting to and from the office and the shops, which driverless cars will do, and recreational stuff like heading for a country pub in the summer with the roof down, for which we will still use sports cars and the like.  The main difference will probably be that the sports cars will all be carefully-preserved classics, which may not be a bad thing at all.

Then there are the ethical concerns, raised in various articles and recently mentioned by His Clarksonness himself in the Top Gear news section.  Essentially, this assumes that the car will have to make choices, and in some situations one of the options might be to sacrifice itself for the greater good.  A situation such as (say) a gaggle of children running out in front of the car, too close to stop in time, and the choice is to rely on the brakes and (inevitably) slaughter many kiddies, or to use the lamppost for additional braking and probably destroy the car and kill the driver in the process.  It would be somewhat galling if the car you paid a lot of money for decided to kill you, but I doubt that would ever actually happen.  Our wonderful lawmakers can be expected simply to slap an ultra-low speed limit anywhere that there might be pedestrians, so that the stopping distance is so short as to avoid the problem entirely.  Ta-dah...!

The real problem that worries me came to mind while I was thinking through the ethical one, and it is this.  At the moment, we teach children to cross the road only when they can walk to the other side before the oncoming cars reach them.  The reason for this is simple, if you think about it; the oncoming driver might be asleep, fiddling with the radio, chatting, on the phone, texting, daydreaming, or any combination of these, so there is a distinct risk s/he might not notice you starting to cross.  Therefore, you need to choose an option that fails safe, so you only walk if you will still survive even if the driver is comatose.

Once we reach a situation where most or all of the cars on the road are driverless,  this assumption will no longer apply.  We can confidently step out, knowing that the oncoming car will brake to let us cross.  The alternative is to program the cars to kill jaywalkers, which I doubt will happen.  Now, let's apply some knowledge of human nature, and think this through.  Imagine a busy town centre high street.  Shops on either side, pedestrians on the pavements, and a busy road through the middle.  How many pedestrians are going to wait for a gap in the traffic, and how many are going to make their own gap by stepping in front?  I think it's safe to say that a lot are going to take the latter option.

So, from the point of view of the driver/passenger, roads like that are going to be a nightmare - emergency stop after emergency stop.  The car's systems, by offering a level of reliability that humans cannot manage, will have effectively handed right of way to any pedestrian who feels like crossing the road.

The result will have to be the closure of all town centre roads, and their conversion to pedestrian precincts.  To keep the shops trading, they will have to provide plenty of car parks at the edge of the pedestrianised areas, and all the towns where the main roads pass through the centre will have to have bypasses built.

Actually, on further thought, that might not be a bad thing at all...

Monday, 26 May 2014

Some free advice for the Conservatives

 Offered on the blog of my MP, Steve Baker, in response to his article arguing that the UKIP surge is actually a vote for disengagement with politics, pointing at the low turnout figure.  He comments:
It is a tragic fact that politicians are once again talking to themselves while commentators encourage them to do so. We have failed to inspire the public even to throw us out.
The challenge after this election is not how to defeat UKIP. It is how to speak truthfully, hopefully and realistically to a population thoroughly disenchanted with the entire political system.
My response:

You're right that there has been a strong shift towards not voting; this has been developing over several General Elections and is symptomatic of a general mistrust of politicians.  There is a cosy stalemate that has emerged between the media and senior politicians, whereby the media limit their questions to ones designed to catch politicians out and trip them into saying something that can be misinterpreted, and politicians avoid saying anything of any substance or meaning in reply.  Both tendencies reinforce the other.  Both lead to people switching off.

UKIP have succeeded in tapping into this and presenting themselves as a break from the old order.  In that regard, by focusing on "gaffes" made by UKIP spokesmen or candidates, the traditional media have played into their hands by confirming that UKIP are not part of the club and that the Establishment is ganging up on them. 

There are opportunities in this for the Conservatives, though.  Labour have shown themselves to be a failure (I think it has been quoted that no opposition party has ever not won a Euro election until now?), so the clear focus must now be on UKIP.  The question is, why have so many Conservative supporters left for UKIP?  My suggestion would be that a general mistrust of Cameron, a feeling that when the day comes he will wriggle out of the referendum promise, and a feeling that he is a highly experienced politician and "one of them", are the main reasons.

To an extent, Cameron's shiftiness on policy has possibly been because he has been hamstrung by the constraints of coalition politics.  But now, with the Liberals effectively dead in the water and the EU staring at a clear mandate for a British exit if current terms are maintained, he can afford to strike out, say what he thinks, and maybe even do it.

In his shoes, I would

(a) Describe the exact form of EU that he would wish to see.  I for one don't actually know what that is.

(b) Set. A. Date. For. The. Referendum.  Also, publish the question that will be set.  That way, it might look as if he is committed to it.

(c) Go to Brussels and ask for his vision of Europe.  Explain bluntly that they can say "no" if they wish but it appears that the UK will leave if they do so.  Point out that there is now a hard, immovable deadline.

(d) Don't be afraid to tell interviewers they've asked a stupid question, or one based on a truckload of false assumptions.  Stop being a Westminster pansy and speak up.  Don't let them dictate the terms of the interview.  The media are not your friends, stop treating them as such.  Show a little steel.

I know of two Wycombe votes that may go back from UKIP to Conservative if this happens.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Nothing Moves Like Music

No politics this time.  I want to talk about the power of music tonight.  It's late, and I can't sleep, because I caught a snatch of a piece of music this evening on a film trailer.

The trailer was this one:

Did you catch it?

It's only brief, about 30 seconds at most.  It is "Speigel im Spiegel", by Arvo Pärt.  Here's the full version:

It's a beautiful piece of music.  I love it, I love the image it creates in my mind of a calm and peaceful place where I am safe and secure, where I can rest and relax and let any and all worries leave my mind.  And every time I listen - every single time - I will well up and I may well cry.  If I'm alone, I'll probably let it out, but if I'm in company I will probably just go quiet and maybe a little distant.  It has done that to me ever since maternal grandmother left this world over ten years ago, because every time I hear it, it reminds me of her. 

I have no idea why.  We never listened to it together, I have no idea whether she ever even heard it.  She wasn't especially into music, but the little music she did have was very, very different.  There is no logic as to why it should be this piece in particular, but it is so, nevertheless. 

There's another piece of music that does this to me.  It's in a rather different style, and a little more recent.  Pärt's piece is moderately highbrow, this very definitely isn't - it is simple, straightforward, and commercial.  It's this:

This one reminds me of Mum.  The link here is even more tenuous - she cannot possibly have heard it, as it was released after she died.   Common sense says the song can have no connection with her, but my own personal logic has connected them; every time I hear it, she is in my mind, and I am back there with her on her sofa in the last few weeks, with her (exhausted) sleeping against my shoulder with my arm around her.

Nothing triggers my memories of these two wonderful, strong women with the intensity of these pieces of music.  I want to hate them both for the effect they have on me, but I can't.

I love both pieces.  I love them for the connection they give me.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Bye bye???

Well, I did predict that online safety filters would be a little bit impossible to run properly. I hate to say I told you so, but it seems that the following sites are blocked:
  • The Vatican 
  • The British Library 
  • The National Archives 
  • The National Library of Wales 
and, to make it just perfect:
  • Childline
Less seriously, but (spookily) exactly as I predicted also blocked is:
  • This blog