Archive for June, 2012

30
Jun
12

Book Review- things can only get better. By John o’farrell

Partly due to a recent lull in blogging and partly due to it being independent bookshop week (go buy a book!), I’m going to attempt to review a very fittingly political book.

Things can only get better (30 years in the life of a labour supporter) by John O’Farrell is a beautifully funny and surprisingly informative book charting O’Farrell’s support of Labour through its darkest times.

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The book is Incredibly illuminating for all those with any interest in the labour movement or politics in general. O’Farrell gives a fantastically one sided view of life under Thatchers soulless government, giving us ample parallels that can be drawn with today.

Despite the depressing electoral time frame for this book, humour is a constant and this humour is applied to situations leading the reader to see the true nature of being an socialist in the hostile world that is Thatcher’s Britain.

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One of the ways in which this book interests as well as entertains is in the way in which it draws questions about whether it is really worth all this effort, how many individuals’ lives do labour activists really help compared to say, amnesty international?

O’Farrell’s answer to this question seems clear, eventually turning (mostly) away from activism. However, somehow in the face of his own gradual slide away from doorstepping and canvassing, his book is a source of inspiration which in times of opposition, which we all need from time to time.

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29
Jun
12

Not popular, but important

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Last month I attended the 2012 young Labour conference. I spoke at the podium once, in favour of only one motion. This was the only motion (to my knowledge) which was voted down. But it was close…

69 members voted for the motion that “prisoners should have the right to vote”, with 71 voting against.This overly-simplistic motion is full of holes, I know. It’s also not massively important how a young labour conference votes (however much we kid ourselves), I know. It is the principle that needs to be carefully considered and we must realise that, however unpopular this may, as a matter of human rights, some prisoners should be given voting rights, for a number of reasons.

I don’t see this as merely a detached argument about rights that may or my not be fundamental in the case of prisoners who have been convicted of less serious crimes, but as a practical one regarding the rehabilitation of prisoners towards being citizens within a positive society.
If you are seeking to aid someone on the path to rehabilitation through education, training and substance cessation, there is a definite aim for this process. The aim is that a prisoner should enter the world at the end of their sentence and from that time on function as positive members of the societies they re-enter. I am not a vindictive, swivelled-eyed right winger who believes in punishment purely for the sake of it. Punishment should have a clear purpose and stopping prisoners re-offending should be one the main ones.

Another (and less popular) argument is that we should take the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights. If I get comments on this post that the ECHR is a “foreign court” and should be ignored I will have to have a very very long lie down in a dark room. Britain and its European compatriots set up this court and the European Convention on Human Rights in order to further and protect Human Rights in the whole of wider Europe. After using the court as powerful tool in bringing other countries up to better standards, why should we be immune from its rulings when we are found to be wanting?

If I were to commit a crime and go into prison just as an election is called, why should I not be allowed to vote against a government who would plunge the country into a second recessional dip and cause myself and my family pain once I am figuratively purified by my rightful punishment and looking to give back to the community I have harmed.

It is clear that those who commit violent, disgusting or dishonesty crimes should be barred from voting and judges could also pay attention to this when sentencing those convicted, however we should not stop all prisoners in all circumstances from voting.

08
Jun
12

Twitter is a tool: Use it wisely. – A guest post from Becky Walker

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Having spent a sizeable chunk of the last two years researching the relationships between social media and political organisations, activists and representatives, I am well trained in objective introductions. However, given a public forum, the temptation to evangelise is high, so I will keep it short. The internet is not going to go away, and neither is social media. There will be gaffes, there always are, but that is certainly not new, and it is not a reason to shy away. Twitter, Facebook, Youtube; these all allow for the maximum control over your own content, and it takes seconds to proof-read your output. Used well, social media is not only an image management tool, but has the ability to revitalise debate and build awareness, be it of a specific campaign or of the workings of our political system.

There are no rules, as such, but I thought I would share some of the guidelines and tips I’ve collected for activists, representatives and campaign groups on Twitter.

The closest to a golden rule for representatives, that I have heard, came from Adam Sharp, Twitter’s government liaison in the U.S. and leader of their government, news and social innovation team, at a teach-in event for parliamentarians in Westminster, “be yourself; Twitter users see through anything else.”

Secondly, interaction is key. Twitter is designed for communication and engagement, but if users see no likelihood of receiving a response from an account, they are less likely to engage with it. There is no harm in using Twitter in part as an events feed to keep people up to date, but only some of this will be of interest to followers and it can be very dry. In the Labour movement in particular, a lot of credit is given to the most personal campaign techniques. There is no substitute for conversing with people, and although it is difficult to achieve the same response as on the doorstep, online contact has the potential to be very effective.

On the other hand, don’t feed the trolls. One of the benefits of social media is that you can pick your battles and step out of a debate if it becomes clear you’re talking to someone who is just out for a fight. No one ever comes out of these arguments well, so let it go. If you are in a constructive debate, but are running up against the 140 character limit, services like TwitLonger and TMIme will let you make more lengthy and detailed comments and can be integrated into most Twitter apps.

Add pictures, links, video or audio to add interest to tweets, particularly relating to events.

Do not repeat yourself ad nauseam. If people didn’t pay attention to a tweet the first time, posting it again and again will not achieve anything. If the original was posted late at night, or in the middle of the working day, reposting when more are browsing is generally not frowned upon, but otherwise it gets tedious fast. The same goes for organisations seeking RTs from, usually, high profile users. Many have a general policy not to RT requests as it deters their own users, so constant hassle is unproductive and will leave your appearing feed repetitive, desperate and boring.

If you are an organisation or an activist, don’t be afraid to search for those talking about your area of interest and engage with them. If you are a representative, a search is only dangerous if you’re thin skinned, but engaging with those who have usually chosen not to @mention you tends to require a certain amount of gravitas and cool.

Use hashtags to help people find you., and saved searches for relevant issues are useful for you to find people, as are localised searches under the advanced search operators if you’re only interested in a particular area (eg; “Labour Party” near:Manchester within:20mi).

Lists can help to make your feed more usable. If you are a representative with time, patience or a willing volunteer, creating a list of constituents is a more precise equivalent of the localised search, and can allow you to keep your main feed tidy while not ignoring constituent followers. The same could be done for any number of groups, from journalists, to activists, to friends.

I could go on, but this is the most important advice I tend to dish out. Most of it will seem fairly obvious to regular users, and there is in no substitute for becoming an active user, learning through trial and error, but as with any new medium the fear of error often outweighs the willingness to try, and so hopefully this will help to redress the balance for the apprehensive and increase effectiveness for the struggling. All social media is made up of human interactions, so listen to your audience, don’t ignore them.

Becky is a soon-to-be Hull Politics graduate specialising in the Labour Party’s ideological history and the use of the internet in British politics, an Ex Parliamentary intern for a Labour MP and a Queer Labour member in West Lancashire.

05
Jun
12

End the Vagina Lottery and Ditch the Cousin-F***ers!

Thankfully, you’ll be reading my piece as the Diamond Jubilee’s celebrations halt to an end… Can you feel my rampant republicanism yet?

Seriously though, it grates just to type the above capitalised two words: but at least this blog might do its own little bit in attempting to finally ensure a grown-up discussion about republicanism in Britain at last. Frankly – its time we did away with this current motley bunch of cousin-f***ers and end the ‘vagina lottery’!

Alright, forgive the controversial title and stated aims – but I wanted to grab your attention. I’m sure I’ve done that. But the labels themselves are beyond dispute. There has been a concrete history of inbreeding within the royal family: and the entire decision-making process behind who becomes Monarch is the vagina lottery.

Namely, which vagina you come out of, (and in what order), automatically ensures your position – constitutionally heralded as the greatest individual that the entire Commonwealth can produce. No wonder the Tartan Tories want independence…

The Queen even existing, irrespective of her ‘constitutionality’ per se – is an absolute, unabridged scandal that does not befit any nation that even desires, let alone prides itself on, being civilised. The very fact that the unemployed were bused in from as far away as Plymouth, and forced to sleep under a bridge in order to ‘help with the efforts’ – and preventing paid work from occurring, (to maximise the sub-contractors profits), is indicative of the absolute disgrace.

When we total up the bill from this organised public arse-kissing – merely because the luckiest woman in Britain won’t snuff it already; it is a vomit-inducing scandal that is symbolic of our mis-spent priorities and the class divides. They’re responsible for fueling inequality, one that we in Britain will never surpass without a determined, socialist, Labour government.

We all live in hope eh?

There are many arguments put forward to defend the Windsors, (changed their name from Saxe-Coburg during WWI), but I find them all unconvincing to say the very least…

It’s true that no sitting monarch has exercised their inherent right to withdraw Royal Assent since Queen Anne and the 1707 Scottish Militia Act – but the very fact it even exists is the root of the problem. With America electing a mixed-race Barack Obama as their head of state: I find it heartbreaking that we in Britain are as yet not able to tell our sons and daughter, that they can rise to the highest position in the land, irrespective of gender, race, creed or beliefs.

The celebrations themselves this weekend have been worthy of Pyongyang – but arguably even finer in terms of minimising and criticising dissent from the proletariat. We are not subjects, but citizens! And it is about time that we reflected this across our society.

It is just a shame that the media weren’t able to show the greatest Republican protest since the Peasants Revolt – after all: whatever happened to balance? I’m sure I can hear Al-Jazeera laughing in a not-too distant corner. We ought to expect more from our public service broadcasters.

Shamefully – it was left of the saintly, (and hilarious), Jon Stewart of Daily Show fame to wade-in head first in to the monarchy. http://liberalconspiracy.org/2012/06/05/watch-jon-stewart-rips-queens-jubilee-coverage/ He deserves a knighthood for it, and it’s well worth a watch… Yes – I see the irony of the former!

No amount of 4-day weekends can ever mollify the anger this weekend has stirred up in me – as a proud member of Republic. Sod the 4-day weekend love, I’d rather have democracy!

Weak defenders of the status quo, (inherently conservative), point out flaws as they perceive in other systems: but others’ supposed weaknesses do not forgive our own glaring ones. Aim for the stars for goodness sake!

There is an understandable aversion to extra politicians infiltrating the corrupt constitutional establishment, (and copying the likes of the French or Russian system), which is a reaction to the current crop of insipid useless sods we have at the minute unfortunately. But even this is no reason not to go after a system like the German or American model.

Heaven forbid, we might even be able to create our own with a bit of oomph!

Dispensing with a Head of State, and beefing up the powers of the Lords and select committees would ensure a much more balanced and democratic outlook across the Prime Minister’s bows. Whilst we even have an elected dictatorship – with a monarch: you still manage to get the latter without the former!

Or have a complete ambassadorial role, elected by the public. Think of truly wonderful experts who would be symbolic of all the talents that Britain has to offer the world. Think Stephen Fry, Brain Cox, David Attenborough, Stephen Hawkins, William Shakespeare, Charles Darwin, Richard Dawkins or any number of the brains we export to the world.

This would be a unique and wonderful opportunity for Britain, once more, to lead the world. We’d counter the brain drain with a swift, symbolic gesture. Indeed – we’d be transforming the process from The Vagina Lottery, to the Brain Game! Even better than the current question as to which of the slimiest politicos can squeeze their nose in the doors of Number 10.

Christ, the whiff of inbreeding would even disappear to! Better than the current mess where some ginger-haid Nazi admiring lunatic, who can’t 3 half-decent A-Level grades at Eton of all places: is 3rd in line to the bloody throne!

Any system, with democratic selection at its heart – would be better than this current (inter)national disgrace.

The tourism argument is naive to boot. Britain has plenty to offer the wide world, and is a big target for all sort of jet-setters, rowers and plain lunatics’ tourism cash. Yes – even in a rain-soaked June! The idea we need an octogenarian ruling foul-mouthed, snobby Queen in charge in order to attract Japanese & American tourists is ridiculous. We could do that with a pair of shiny keys!

We already have some of the most wonderful heritage across the world, and have plenty to be proud for. No matter what Piers Morgan and the Twitter inspired “#ProudToBeBritish” love-in might suggest, the idea that we need a jubilee, with unemployed sleeping under a bridge – to be proud of being British, or some of our achievements, is utterly sickening.

A friend of mine timely pointed out that anything couldn’t be British without a touch of slavery. He was spot on.

We have plenty to be proud of in Britain, when it comes to some of our achievements – but the idea that there’s not plenty to shiver our heads at in disgust – is equally daft. Just think of the Mau-Mau rebellion, the colonisation of much of the world for financial motives, Dresden and the appalling manner in which we still: treat so many of our vulnerable.

Conversely – there’s the NHS’ creation, the Peasants’ Revolt, the Poll Tax Marches (both!), the Minimum Wage, SureStart, previously nationalised industries, the end of the Slave Trade, the 1832 Great Reform Act, legalisation of homosexuality and abortion, the repeal of Section 28, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the acquittal of Clive Ponting, Magna Carta, the Suffragettes…

They might not be taught in our schools, and they might not be plastered all over the BBC in a fawning ploy to quell dissent: but they’re what I’m proud of when it comes to Britain.

The monarchy system is exactly the opposite.

Sod your 4-day weekend love.

Viva la revolucion!