Tag: rant

The Weekly Rage

Every week I listen to the Sunday programme on Radio 4, largely through inertia. Most weeks it manages to wind me up. I was a bit worried that I may be repeating myself here, so regular is the rage that I thought I must have written about it before. It turns out I have, but on a different topic.

The specific cause of my ire this week is the Church of England, the Equalities act and the inadmissibility of gay bishops. Forced by the Equality Act 2010 the Church has sought legal advice on how it should treat its gay clergy, it turns out they think that they may be obliged to accept gay bishops but that they can demand that they are celibate. You can read the BBC report here.

Why should this concern me, as a British atheist? Several reasons:

  • the Church of England is an established church, it takes (unelected) part in our legislation through the Lords Spiritual, it has a special position in teaching our children;
  • the Church of England claims moral authority, it specifically claims that it’s views on morality are superior to mine because they are faith-based. See the Bishop of Oxford’s comments this week on the Today programme;
  • I am ethnically Christian and English, so their position reflects badly on me;
  • the church’s position puts us all on shaky ground when we argue against inequality in other communities.

The Church could take a principled position that any group should be able to follow it’s faith: that the BNP should be allowed to exclude non-Caucasians from their number, for example. It could take the principled position that it should be subject to the same laws as the rest of us, without exemptions. It choses to do neither of these things, it choses instead to lobby for exemptions from the law and work out the minimum they can get away with in complying with that watered-down law.

What is the Church trying to tell us through this position? That the gays are OK, but not for them and not for positions of power?

Can you imagine a company, such as the one that I work for, demanding of it’s employee’s that they not only reveal their sexual orientation but also their sexual activity and if they confessed to the wrong sort of sexual activity they should be denied promotion?

“Progressive Alliance”

I keep hearing about the “Progressive Alliance”, and it never fails to irritate me. In the UK “progressive” is taken to mean “Everyone except the Tories and UKIP1”. Progressivism is defined (in wikipedia) as:

…a political attitude favouring or advocating changes or reform through governmental action. Progressivism is often viewed in opposition to conservative or reactionary ideologies.

This seems to me a definition sufficiently broad as to be largely useless, Tories could claim the progressive mantle through any legislation they care to enact and liberals could lose it through their opposition to authoritarian measures such as the ID card scheme, and for economic liberalisation.

The problem I’m having here is that Labour only start getting interested in “progressive alliances” when they’ve lost an election, whilst in power they ignore other progressive parties. Labour will only form a “progressive alliance” if they are electorally forced to do so, and otherwise seek Liberal Democrat annihilation.

Since the General Election there’s been a great deal of effort spent by Labour in trying to split the party into Good Liberal Democrats (Social Democrats, who they wish to absorb) and Bad Liberal Democrats (Orange Bookers, who they think the Tories should absorb). The “progressive alliance” is part of this – we should not be playing to this narrative. The truth is that Labour and Tory only get into government when they’ve convinced the electorate that they are close enough to the Liberal Democrat centre ground so as not to be scary.

Ed Miliband can frequently be found “reaching out” to Liberal Democrats but this reaching out is solely about recruitment to the Labour Party and the planned extinction of the Liberal Democrats. I’m a pluralist, as such I value the existence of other political parties – but I see little sign of this respect for the existence of others in the Labour Party.

In opposition their key strategy has been to attack the Liberal Democrats and their policies, rather than the Tories, who they claim lead the Coalition. Labour consistently opposed the passing of the AV referendum bill. Indeed they spent more energy opposing the AV referendum bill than any other government measure2. Their campaign for the Yes vote was fatally flawed in that it was largely seen as a platform to attack Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats: every outing of “Labour Yes” involved a ritual statement of how venial the Liberal Democrats were and, if Ed Miliband was involved, a discussion as to why he would not share a platform with Nick Clegg. It looks like Labour are summing themselves up to oppose Lords’ reform as well – both this, and the AV campaign, are “progressive” goals.

There are a number of Liberal Democrats who are keen on the “progressive alliance”, and since I’m an open-minded sort of chap I’m assuming they’re not deranged, but can you tell me – why are you engaged in this? I don’t rule out discussions between our parties but those engaged in such discussion need to be clear what the benefit to us is, because at the moment all we’re getting is another forum in which Labour can abuse us and attempt to divide us3.


  1. Technically I should probably put the BNP in here but they’re not a serious political party.
  2. At this point Labour normally complain that the bill also contained “gerrymandering” measures regarding the work of the Boundary Commission. However, the current system gives them a 90 seat advantage for parity of votes with the Tories, so it’s substantially “gerrymandered” in Labours favour already. The chances are that boundary fiddling will do little to address this and really the only solution to such problems is to go for some form of proportional representation, neither of the two main parties has the honesty to recognise this.
  3. None of this is to say that the Tories are not trying to destroy us as well!

Far, far away

This week I have journeyed into the heart of darkness.

Actually it was my company’s IT outsourcing system. I work for a very big company: it has about 150,000 employees spread across the world. I work in north west England amongst other things I look after a little unit which uses a particular piece of bespoke software, the unit involves seven people in an office a couple of hundred metres from where I sit at work. The tale of our new bespoke software is long and tortuous and I won’t go into it here but to relate my adventures in getting the test version of the software copied onto the live system today.

The servers on which this software resides are located in North Wales (15 miles away) and a spot down the road about 8 miles away. The outsourcing of our IT services means that the manager for this process is located in the Netherlands, and the person actually doing the process, Supriya, is in India. I can tell she is in India because she has an Indian phone number. Her e-mail signature says her “office base” is in North Wales, it must be a bit inconvenient having your “office base” in North Wales, a location I suspect Supriya has never visited, and a phone in India. Do my company think I am some sort of dribbling BNP little Englander who would dissolve in rage if I thought I was dealing with someone in India? I regularly work with people from China, France and even the US, trying to obfuscate where someone works is frankly patronising and offensive – particularly if you do it so ineptly.

I’ve spoken to Supriya before – she’s a friendly and helpful lass but she doesn’t half ask some odd questions: “Could I confirm that Ireland was not going to be impacted by the change I had requested?”. “Had I notified NL service mfgpro(users)?” Just to be clear: I have no idea how Ireland might be affected or who the “NL service mfgpro(users)” are, these aren’t recognised code words for me. I clearly provided the right answer in these cases because I was informed that both Ireland and the Benelux countries had given their approval. But the fear arises in my mind: I’ve not cleared things with the Austro-Hungarian Empire – could I have inadvertently started World War III? This is yet to be determined.

The process doesn’t go entirely smoothly, largely because Supriya is too polite to tell me that the procedure she’d been asked to carry out throws up some errors. I can’t help because I’m not given permissions to see the servers where the software resides, Supriya has a difficult time because she has no absolutely idea what the software does. However, with the help of  James, who wrote the software, based in Manchester but whose boss is in Sunderland we do manage to get everything sorted out by the end of the day (or about 10pm in Supriya’s time zone).

This is not an isolated incident: receipts for my travel claims are sent to Iron Mountain (a company just outside Birmingham) where they are converted to electronic form before being sent to Manila (I can’t help thinking this may have been due to a misunderstanding involving envelopes) and paid via India. In a fit of tidiness I once decided to get a stash of 6 computers removed from a desk in my office: they’d been left by a sequence of unnamed, and now forgotten contractors. I received endless fractious e-mails from a centre in Bulgaria, belonging to the leasing company, demanding to know who all these computers belonged to, or why I appeared to be in possession of 6 computers.

The old way of doing things involved a prescriptive system of doing stuff where you filled in a form and it went through a process and something got done. But actually it didn’t, actually you learnt who was going to do what you wanted, went over for a little chat whereby you found out what incantation you needed to inject into the system in order to get your job squared with the system whilst they got on and did the job. Outsourcing frequently loses this human contact, in fact it purposefully eliminates it.

No Merger!

Once again, rattling around the wires is the idea that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties should merge. The origins of these mutterings are largely Conservative, for example, Fraser Nelson in the Telegraph, or René Kinzett on ThinkPolitics. I’d like to put a Liberal Democrat view as to why this is utterly implausible.

A key motivating factor for this talk is the low performance of the LibDems in opinion polls at the moment. However, there are two issues here:

Firstly, members of both Labour and Conservative parties see polls in a different light to LibDems. In part because the other parties are programmed to believe in a steady pendulum swing which sees power passing to and fro between them with a period of years. Therefore for them regaining power is largely a matter of waiting for the pendulum to swing. The LibDems do not lie on the pendulum swing, they do not have this expectation. Aside from the national coalition during the Second World War, the Liberal forbearers to the current party have not been in office since 1918. You can see this in action in my immediate post-election blog post, which is characterised by gloomy resignation at another disappointing general election. Broadly the reaction of a long term LibDem to a general election is crashing disappointment. So facing so-called “electoral annihilation” at a future general election the LibDem response is “no change there then”.

Secondly, as my previous post alludes: the opinion polls are not a great predictor of electoral success for the LibDems. Just to give an example: in the 1983 election the SDP-Liberal Alliance got 25.4% of the vote and 23 seats, in the 2010 election the LibDems got 23% of the vote and got 57 seats. This is only a very small rise in the % of the vote since the 2005 election (just 1%) and a drop in the number of parliamentary seats (5 seats). If you want to see some more numbers, go have a look at the wikipedia list of UK elections.

At the heart of this believe that there should be a merger seems to be a problem with counting, one alluded to in the title of this blog; it seems to be in the UK that there is a serious problem with counting parties beyond two. It’s seems to go “Labour, Conservative,……… nope can’t cope!”. This is in no doubt partly driven by the first-past-the-past electoral system which encourages the merger of parties into two blocks (know as Duverger’s Law).

It’s also a mistake to see a major schism forming between a party leadership in government and the rank-and-file membership. A naive view is that the leadership have “gone Tory” at the head of what is essentially a left-leaning organisation. However, I understand this more in terms of the way I see the large company I work in operating. At some level within the company there are discussions about the way forward for the company should be, and at points in time a decision is made as to what the way forward actually will be. At this point everybody gets on and does it, at higher levels the company appears unified – the message from senior management is consistent, at my level I have the opportunity to gripe about stuff but ultimately I have to get on and help execute the plan. What we see in government is, I argue the same, LibDem ministers have argued for their beliefs in coming to a plan: where they have prevailed they support the agreed plan but where they don’t agree they still work to enact the agreed plan – sulking, griping and refusing to support where you did not prevail is not an option.

The other thing to consider is how the LibDem party works: even in the event of a proposed merger by the leadership of the party the likely response of the membership would be a resounding “no” and in the LibDems that means something. And just to be clear on my own position: if there was a successful proposal to merge with either the Labour or Tory parties I’d be off to form the Continuity Liberal Democrats – and I wouldn’t be alone! As Simon Cooke (Tory) accurately points out, any LibDem is free to leave the party and join either the Conservatives or Labour, or the Greens (or no party at all). In the deeply untribal view of this Liberal Democrat they should feel free to do so (and positively encouraged if that’s what they want). But don’t expect to see this happen in any great numbers, at the very least Nick Clegg and David Laws have had serious offers from the Tories to join them in the pre-2010 election past but chose to stay in the electoral unsuccessful LibDems. I’ve no doubt that similar applies to offers from Labour during the 1997-2010 governments.

Finally there is a question of political positioning, ideology if you like. It seems to me that the LibDems are precisely where they should be: on the centre ground and they shouldn’t be thinking of moving from there. Labour and Conservatives have come to power when they have decided to be more like us. You can still find our manifesto on the Liberal Democrat website, largely these are the things I still believe in and these are the things I will fight for, of the Labour manifesto I find no sign on their website.

Viva the Continuity Liberal Democrats!

This makes me angry

This makes me angry:

Instead nice, gentle Nick Clegg has secured the position of Britain’s most hated man. He has been burnt in effigy by student rioters. Police have told him that he must no longer cycle to work for fear of physical attack. Excrement has been shoved through the letter box of his Sheffield constituency home, from which his family may now have to move for safety reasons.

I can hear the Labour apologists winding themselves up for response already: “Was his family in residence when the shit was pushed through the letter box? Have you got a crime number for that? It’s terrible, but you know he betrayed the people who trusted in him. Moving out of the home is just theatrical.” The president of the National Union of Students, Aaron Porter, Labour party member, decries the “betrayal”, the breaking of a pledge. Anyone like odds on how likely it was that he voted for the Liberal Democrats? Let’s face it: he didn’t, he didn’t vote for the party that he’s excoriating for not implementing the policy he didn’t vote for, the only party to oppose tuition fees. All those Labour folk, talking of the “betrayal”, they didn’t vote against tuition fees either. “Satirical” they say of David Mitchell advocating pissing through Nick Clegg’s letterbox , it isn’t satirical if someone’s actually done it.

As the riots progress an army of armchair revolutionaries bemoan the violence of the police, as buildings are smashed up. “The police should simply keep the protesters moving on, so they don’t cause any trouble”. “The police are stupid”, they say, “I could manage a large crowd of protesters, some intent on violence, much better than them. That’s why I’m sitting here tweeting about it.” “The police van was bait, because every right-thinking person when they see an unattended police van thinks: “Fuck me, I better smash the crap out of that”.”

I used to think it was the Tories who felt power was their divine right but now I know it’s Labour. Len McCluskey, leader of Unite, a Labour affiliated union calls for demos to topple the government, speaking approvingly of the poll tax riots. John McDonnell, Labour MP, says:

I know the Daily Mail will report me again as inciting riots yet again. Well, maybe that is what we are doing.

Beaten in an election, they use weasel words to get people out on the street smashing stuff up. “These cuts aren’t what people voted for, they voted, but they didn’t vote for this. They really meant to vote for Labour, the party who repeatedly reneged on promises to introduce fairer voting. The party who said they were going to reduce the deficit by making cuts, but now only have a blank piece of paper; who can magically make the deficit painlessly go away.”

For the first time in 60 years Liberal Democrats are in government, they are in government at a time when the country faces the largest budget deficit it has had in many decades, it is a crap time to be in government. They are taking hard decisions that Labour would not have the guts to take. For some this is a “betrayal”, they’ll happily contribute to an atmosphere that means a family gets shit pushed through the letterbox of their home, and a columnist in a respected paper can applaud it.

But more than ever before I am proud to say “I agree with Nick”.