April 18, 2005
FactCheck - Keeping politicians honest
I just love this site. I was an occasional reader of FactCheck.org during the US Presidential Election last year, but now I have the UK version from Channel 4 in my RSS feedreader I have become addicted.
For clear and effective analysis it strikes me as the kind of thing the Economist could have done. Congratulations Channel 4.
March 11, 2005
Infrastructure of Democracy - please pass it on
David Weinberger has posted a manifesto, The Infrastructure of Democracy - Strengthening the Internet for a Safer World.
An important contribution, particularly today, 11 March as people remember the Madrid bombings. Acutely relevant in the UK too as our House of Lords defends some basic and vital civil liberties against well meaning but frighteningly flawed arguments for their dismantlement.
Please post a link to this today and ask others to do so too if you agree with it:
I also commend to you Meet on March 11
February 17, 2005
Whatever became of the Schleswig-Holstein problem?
The 'Schleswig-Holstein Problem' was famously one of the intractable diplomatic concerns of the nineteenth century, a phrase redolent of Crimea, Bismarck, the Khyber Pass, the 'Great Game' and other concerns of the Victorian diplomat.
British Prime Minister Viscount Palmerston famously claimed that only three people understood it: Prince Albert (who was dead), a German professor (who had gone mad) and Palmerston himself (and he'd forgotten it).
Now, it seems that Schleswig-Holstein is back on the political agenda. Link: Guardian Unlimited | Guardian daily comment | Simon Tisdall: Danes look to master Schleswig again.
January 08, 2005
Labour vote trading
John Harris looks at the alternatives for dissafected Labour voters in today's Guardian. Harris is pretty dismissive of all them but grudgingly suggests that tactical voting is possible. However, he seems to think it pretty unsophisticated.
What he doesn't discuss (and may not be aware of) is vote trading. As I have previously noted in the US, Ralph Nader voters would promise to vote Kerry (and before him Gore) in swing states to prevent giving votes to Bush. In return, a Dem would vote Nader in a safe Democrat or Republican state. Effectively, therefore, it is allowing preferential voting.
With a likely General Election in the UK in May, does anyone know of plans to set up a 'LabourTrader' site? This is where disaffected Labour voters in tight Labour/Conservative constituencies who don't wish to see a Tory win but wish to register a protest at New Labour could vote Labour in the expectation that their 'pair' in a non-Labour seat votes for the Lib Dems where the vote will stand a better chance of helping beat a Tory than a Labour vote would. Both people in the pair should 'win'.
It's not a perfect idea - trust is crucial, but it does go someway to coordinating more tactical voting. Of course, in the US there have been accusations that such schemes are illegal - they may be here in the UK too.
However, there is time to set up something along these lines (assuming Mr B doesn't announce a snap election tomorrow in the Mail on Sunday) and it might, just might assauge some troubled consciouses and maintain a progressive political agenda at the same time.
November 13, 2004
He's got capital and he's not afraid to use it
Robert Putnam, that is, Harvard's social capital guru. Will Davies was in Boston for the great party/wake that was November 2nd and met Putnam the following day. His interview is in the New Statesman. Two points struck me most. The first is about the much discussed role of religion in the US
But, and here's the rub for the Democrats, he says "voluntary activity, philanthropy, membership of organisations - half of these activities occur in a religious context". And that "is something that Europeans often fail to understand".
And then on the way New Labour works:
"New Labour," says Putnam, "has adopted a very attractive basis for government, which is to be bold in trying policy experiments and then equally rigorous in evaluating those experiments." He compares new Labour to a venture capitalist who is prepared for several projects to fail in order to identify the one that succeeds. "I admire a government that takes that stance."
This point is not a million miles from one made by Demos' Paul Skidmore who defends the Tories' approach to policy making on tax (viz outlining a range of possible directions), one that has been criticised as vague and uncommitted:
Leaving the policy aside, the approach they took - identifying the problem, making clear their overall direction of travel, outlining a range of possible routes and hinting at the trade-offs attached to each, but leaving the final decision open to debate and discussion - seems like quite a sensible way to make policy.
October 27, 2004
Decline and Fall
The meteoric political career of Robert Kilroy-Silk seems to be coming unstuck. Today he has resigned the Ukip (UK Independence Party) whip in the EU Parliament.
A Ukip spokesman has (rather delightfully) said of the tanned crusader:
Last week Mr Kilroy-Silk realised there was less support for him as leader than he thought. This week he realised there was less support for him as him than he thought.
More here:Kilroy resigns Ukip whip
October 26, 2004
Bit of catharsis
Reassuring remark in a comment on Washington Monthly on the increasingly vitriolic partisanship seen in the US:
Don't worry: All of this rabid partisanship will calm down once we experience the unifying catharsis of a major Civil War.
So that's the answer.
The Return of Vote-Pairing
In 2000 the most innovative use of the net was probably the appearance of NaderTrader - one of a number of websites designed to encourage voters for Ralph Nader in swing states to back Gore in return for a Democrat voter in a 'safe' state (e.g. a California where Dems win hands down or Texas where there isn't a cat in hell's chance of a Dem win) voting Nader.
Surprisingly, this year has seen little chatter about this but according to law professor Jamin Raskin, a reprise (backed by some heavyweight legal pro bono support) could get Kerry the crucial votes he needs: The Return of Vote-Pairing
What's more, Nader seems to be backing the scheme:
On Oct. 9, he appeared on C-Span and listened to a question from a caller who told him that she loved him but worried that voting for him "could allow George Bush to get into office." At that point, Nader directed progressives worried about a Bush victory to go to VotePair.Org, whose URL was put on the screen by C-Span.
October 13, 2004
Was Bush wired?
Salon is alleging George W Bush was wired during the first presidential debate. By his own admission he spent much of his early years 'wired', so where's the change?
September 21, 2004
Our Garcia, our Langer
One of the finest outcomes of this week's glorious European triumph in Detroit against the USA in the Ryder Cup has been a subtle – if very temporary shift – in the British attitude to Europeans.
Fine performances from a Spaniard, Irishmen, a Frenchman and a German have been taken to the British sporting heart: Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington, Thomas Levet and Bernhard Langer have each become 'one of us' or to put it another way – we have become patriotic Europeans. There is, after all, nothing like a common enemy (i.e. the US) to bring Europeans together and for once the UK can join the party.
It does make me wonder whether we couldn't engineer some more European teams so that us British could get used to this kind of thing. Of course it is merely an extension of that curiously English tendency to bemoan Scottish golfer Colin Montgomery and celebrate his British counterpart – you are only one of us so long as you're winning. A bit childish, but true, nevertheless.
Perhaps a more significant lesson for Europe, politically, is in the nature of the two teams playing in Detroit. The US team was no more than a collection of individuals with poor leadership - not unlike the countries of the EU. Individually they may seem like leaders in their fields, but collectively they punch beneath their weight (to borrow a boxing expression). The European team meanwhile were less lauded, almost certainly less individually talented, yet well led and able to work as a team, punching above their weight. By comparison with European states, the United (yet still individual) States of America are the embodiment of this.
So then, perhaps Europe's politicians could learn from their golfers. Bernhard Langer for president of the EU anyone?
Update: I have noticed, since posting this, David Aaronovich making a similar point: Suddenly, we like being European