Thursday, 29 July 2010
Wednesday, 28 July 2010
Will Straw has written a piece for Left Foot Forward today entitled "Electoral reformers should oppose the coalition’s gerrymandering" where he highlights four reasons why electoral reformers should oppose the proposed government bill to change the boundaries and put the AV to a referendum.
1) The Bill prevents equal representationWhile everyone accepts the principled case for equal-sized seats, time must be taken to ensure that the equalisation is of those entitled to vote rather than those already registered to vote.
2) The Bill gives the Liberal Democrats a partisan advantageTwo parliamentary seats – the Western Isles (SNP) and Orkney and Shetland Islands (Lib Dem) – have been exempted from the need to meet new quotas because of their low population density.
3) The Bill does not correct distortions in the electoral system
4) A smaller House of Commons will be be less representativeAs Sunder Katwala has outlined on Next Left, “a smaller Commons will almost certainly delay and slow down progress towards gender equality in the House of Commons.”
“...from Labour’s point of view, that element [cut in number of constituencies] of the legislative package will, in all likelihood pass whatever I’m afraid. It is AV that is up for grabs. Labour has the opportunity to show that it can embrace reform and pluralistic politics. It can show that it is not stuck in the past; a defensive party unable to confront the future. And it is the right thing to do from the perspective of democratic accountability.”
I read this post yesterday on the You've Been Cromwelled site in which the author recounts how they were pursued and questioned by a couple of Rail Enforcement Officers (who are charged with looking after people on the railways and checking their tickets) for taking photographs. They do not have any police-like powers, they are just civilians.
Tuesday, 27 July 2010
Something has been preying on my mind in the the last few weeks/months and I thought it was about time I shared it.
Just a few months ago, no Lib Dem MPs had any real political power outside of the party. Despite this they did manage sometimes to make a difference (notably for example with the Gurkhas) but largely they would discuss the party policies, attempt to influence a domestic audience and that was that.
Please note, in a change from previous years, the Leader's Speech will now take place on the afternoon of Monday 20 September. Nick Clegg, as Deputy Prime Minister, will be representing the country at a session of the United Nations in New York discussing the Millennium Development Goals on the Wednesday 22 September.
Things have changed very, very quickly and I suspect the dynamics at play at conference will be quite different from anything any of us there will have seen before.
Monday, 26 July 2010
A chap named Jason got in touch with me recently to draw my attention to an article that he had written where he explains how he has suffered for the majority of his life from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) and that how the only drug he has found that allows him to live a relatively normal life without dreadful side-effects is cannabis.
Of course cannabis is a controlled substance under the law and there is no legal way to get hold of it so therefore he has had to regularly break the law in order to get the only medicine that he feels is of any real use for his condition.
It is well worth reading Jason's article in full to get an idea of just how pernicious our drugs laws are that somebody who has suffered with an awful condition for most of his life is forced to break the law to treat it and the intermittency of supply is such that he cannot always get access to it.
Amidst all the headlines of the "War on Drugs" and politicians trying to sound tough we need to remember that there are people like Jason caught in the crossfire. He is just trying to live his life the best way he can. The law is an ass when it comes to cases like his and the government has no business preventing him from getting the treatment he needs for his condition.
There have been all sorts of rumours flying around in the last few days that Ed Balls was about to pull out of the Labour leadership contest and throw his weight behind one of the two front runners (one of the Miliband brothers). He has denied this and insisted that he is fighting on.
Sunday, 25 July 2010
I recently read Shane Greer's book "So you want to be a politician" (published by Biteback). It claims to be a must-read for any first time political candidate and attempts to cover everything that somebody in that position would need to know. From personal presentation and speech writing through to fundraising, online campaigning and handling the media. It has contributions from various people involved with politics
The first thing I would say is that I found it very useful. The advice generally seems to be of a good quality and the contributors (people such as Shane himself, Sarah MacKinlay, Tom Harris, Jessica Asato, Mark Pack, Stephen Twigg and Hopi Sen to name but a few) are of a high calibre.
As somebody who has already run for a council seat once (and intends to keep trying), I noticed that in the subject areas where I already have some knowledge I could see that the contributions often chimed with my own experiences which gives me confidence that the book overall is likely to be useful in the areas where I need the most help!
The style of the chapters are fairly different from each other. I guess that is to be expected with a book that has so many different contributors but it has the effect of making it more suited to dipping in and out of rather than reading from cover to cover. There is some duplication of advice but more frustratingly there are also areas where I spotted some of the advice from different people contradicting each other which was a bit unhelpful. The most jarring example of this is that the book claims in one chapter that you should always assume that everything you say to a journalist is on-the-record and in a different one advises that it is wise to make the distinction with journalists between on and off-the-record.
The chapters that stuck with me most were Politics 2.0 by Mark Pack, Online fundraising by Jag Singh and Surviving in the Studio by Shane Greer. That last one was a mildly surreal experience as I have come up against Shane in various radio studios over the last few months on probably approaching a dozen occasions so to see him laying bare the tactics I have seen him deploy first hand was particularly interesting for me. Although he did not mention one of the most irritating skills he has (for an opponent) which is to structure his sentences in such a way as to make it almost impossible to interject without talking over him! I expect he wants to keep that one to himself or maybe he isn't even aware he does it so I thought I'd just pop that one on the record too!
I was also intrigued by the chapter Direct mail fundraising. I knew virtually nothing about this area and it certainly gives a comprehensive strategy for approaching it. So detailed in fact that it even describes the different fonts you should use for targeting different demographics! I'll leave you to read the book in order to find out which ones are recommended for whom.
I won't give the book a score as I think that is a bit invidious but I do think it fulfills its aim. Perhaps if there is a second edition it could be tightened up a bit further to eliminate the few areas of duplication and contradiction.
I think the acid test for this book is whether I put its suggestions into practise. I already have in a couple of areas and I fully expect as I progress down my own political path that I will be dipping in and out of this as a handy reference.
Here we go again.
I just received an email from Tangent PLC’s executive director threatening potential legal action for my Tweet earlier suggesting that Gordon’s Brown website wasn’t very well designed:I respectfully suggest you delete that tweet, issue no more similar ones and generally try to sell your products in a more professional way. I really don’t like the prospect of either a public slanting match or legal action, but if I need to protect my company’s business and reputation, I will.
My blog received over 5,000 unique visitors today. Completely mesmerised.
Saturday, 24 July 2010
Back in the early 1990s I used to regularly watch a discussion show on late night ITV called "Whale On" hosted by James Whale. A regular guest was a Tory MP Jerry Hayes. That is the first time I came across him and he regularly commentated about issues on the programme from a political perspective.
Following on from the news this week that the CPS will not be pursuing any charges against the police with respect to the death of Ian Tomlinson who died after being struck by a policeman during the G20 protests, his family has launched a campaign and are raising funds to help support their fight for justice. I blogged about this utter travesty here.
The blogpost from the Tomlinson family site is here.
Many have asked if there is anything more they can do and today, we are launching a Campaign Fighting Fund. There is still long road ahead in the fight for justice and the Fund will help the Tomlinson family to make decisions about the direction of the campaign without always having to worry about the financial costs, especially when the emotional ones are tough enough already.Donations by PayPal won't be up and running until next week, so check back then. But if you personally or your organisation (union branch, community or campaign group, for instance) can help by making a donation, please make cheques payable to 'Ian Tomlinson Family Campaign' and send to:Ian Tomlinson Family Campaignc/o Newham Monitoring Project170 Harold RdLondon E13 0SE
I hope the family can raise enough money to help them get justice. I will certainly be donating something myself.
Friday, 23 July 2010
So the figures are now out for growth in Q2 2010 and it is looking like it is almost double what was predicted by economists. They thought it would be 0.6% and it is actually 1.1%
I would suggest that the growth figures in the next few quarters will be more instructive as to whether we are on the right track now rather than what we have seen today.
I noticed on a couple of blogposts yesterday (Lib Con and Hadleigh Roberts) that they were drawing attention to the fact that when Nick Clegg made his now infamous statement about how Jack Straw had supported "the illegal invasion of Iraq", George Osborne appeared to know what he was saying before he said it as he was lip-syncing along with him.
This actually makes more sense than Clegg and Osborne having colluded on this. Osborne voted for the Iraq war and also does not consider it illegal. Why would he want Clegg to say that? It just puts him and his colleagues in an embarrassing position. And if there was collusion you would expect Osborne to do everything in his power to suppress any urge to mouth the words as Clegg said them. As for the pointing at Straw and laughing as soon as Clegg sat down, well that's what happens at PMQs. I do not think we need read anything much into it.
So in this case I think that all Osborne's lips betrayed were intense concentration and a slight nervous tic rather than some conspiracy.
Thursday, 22 July 2010
It's #bbcqt day again and the Live Chat starts on this blog from 10:30pm as normal. Matt Raven will be in the hosting chair although I will hopefully be around for most of it too (I am on taxi duty so may have to duck out).
Join us below from 10:30pm:
The CPS have announced today that there will be no prosecution of the police officer caught on film striking Ian Tomlinson in connection with his death during the G20 protests last April. Mr Tomlinson was walking away from the police with his hands in his pockets when the assault took place. I blogged about this incident at the time.
We cannot go on like this. The public have to have faith in the police and faith that if those wearing the uniforms transgress, that they will face the same consequences as everybody else would.
If you think that I am being unfair, ask yourself this. If this had been the other way round and on that day Mr Tomlinson had assaulted a police officer from behind who had died a few minutes later, do you honestly think that 15 months later he would have discovered there would be no charges at all against him?
No, neither do I.
So in the latest Sun/YouGov poll the Lib Dems are down to 13% (not far off half of what they got in the general election just two and a half months ago) with the Tories on 44% and Labour on 35%. On a uniform national swing this would see the Conservatives with a majority of 36 and, demonstrating yet again the iniquity of the electoral system - the Lib Dems almost wiped out on 15 seats (down 42 on the GE).
Wednesday, 21 July 2010
- Jonathan Kay writing for The National Post thinks that conservatives global-warming sceptics are a liability to their cause.
- Eaten by Missionaries asks if Labour is having a reverse Clause 4 moment. Is that in the Karma-Sutra?
- Tom Harris reckons that David Miliband poses the biggest threat to the coalition. I'd say he poses a bigger threat to Labour.
- On an historic day blog guru Mark Pack ((c) Channel 4) gives us the history of PMQs.
- Caron Lindsay on two tales of law enforcement activity.
I am seeing reports on Twitter (e.g. here) that a Number 10 spokesperson has claimed that Nick Clegg was speaking "in a personal capacity" during PMQs today, I think regarding the legality of the Iraq war.
The Deputy Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman may bellow as much as he likes. I am happy to account for everything that we are doing in this coalition Government—a coalition Government who have brought together two parties, working in the national interest, to sort out the mess that he left behind. We may have to wait for his memoirs, but perhaps one day he will account for his role in the most disastrous decision of all: the illegal invasion of Iraq.
Some people on the Live Chat I was running at the time commented that it was amusing to see Hague and Osborne sitting alongside Clegg as he said those words knowing that they had both voted for the invasion.
Is it feasible though to have a government minister standing at the dispatch box, answering questions on behalf of the Prime Minister/government and then a few hours later have those words "clarified" as a personal statement?
Perhaps we are coming up against a problem of having a coalition government formed of two parties which in some areas have very different views about issues, Iraq being one of them. Clegg's parliamentary colleagues of the party he leads would overwhelmingly have supported this statement but of course the massed Tory ranks behind him will not have done. In fact I think it is more accurate to say that Clegg was speaking in a "Lib Dem capacity".
Perhaps it is OK for ministers to say things that are not directly aligned with government policy. Maybe that is something that will have to be accommodated as part of the "new politics". It would certainly be a novel approach but would appear to sit uncomfortably with our existing procedures and structures. However, as I have argued before collective responsibility can be ridiculously constraining sometimes even when the government is formed of only one party.
Of course this is now being interpreted as a "gaffe" and Labour activists are having a field day with it. I do think the government needs to be clearer about what it is doing with respect to this.
It has unfortunately overshadowed what was otherwise a very good performance by Nick Clegg.
If you are a political blogger and would like to participate in the future, please drop me an e-mail here.
To mark Nick Clegg's first PMQs I thought I would host a Live Chat on here whilst it is in progress.
The results of a nationwide survey were reported yesterday on Politics Home. The main headlines were that Nick Clegg is apparently more popular than David Cameron and that Vince Cable topped the chart.
Tuesday, 20 July 2010
If Nick Clegg is a bit nervous tonight he can be forgiven. Tomorrow he will stand in for David Cameron for Prime Minister's Questions for the first time.
If someone had suggested 4 months ago that by July Nick Clegg would be taking PMQs you would probably have thought they had gone a bit peculiar, but here we are. One of the duties of the Deputy Prime Minister is to answer the questions when the PM is away as he currently is in the USA.
What I am particularly interested in is how he handles the inevitable mischievous questions. You know, the ones that will deliberately pick a part of the government's programme that the Lib Dems are known to be uncomfortable with and effectively try and embarrass the DPM by showing up "splits". I hope he deals with them in a mature fashion explaining that that is how coalitions work. He should not feel compelled to pretend that he and the Lib Dems agree with every dotted i and crossed t of the government's programme.
I also hope that he does his best to answer the questions fully. David Cameron impressed me on this in his first week but seems to have slipped a bit recently. Clegg would do well to demonstrate that he can properly answer questions and not try to use every question as an opportunity to score points off his political opponents. The more statesmanlike he can appear, the better the prospects in the longer terms for the Lib Dems. Our party has often been accused of not being serious about power. What could be more serious than our leader being held to account in the House of Commons by fellow parliamentarians on the key political issues of the day?
Nick Clegg widely impressed in the first leaders debate during the election campaign. The public knows him a little better now but tomorrow is still a great opportunity to further cement his reputation as a substantial political figure.
I fully expect him to rise to the challenge.
Before you read on, I should warn you that this blogpost is about ways of measuring computer storage and it gets a bit mathematical.
I got a new hard drive for my computer today. It is advertised as 2TB (or terabytes) of storage space. However when I installed it and had a look in Windows Explorer to check the capacity it is reading as 1.81TB. This is before I have copied anything to it.
I expect many other people have had similar experiences like this. There is an explanation for it. the storage space has not gone anywhere. It is because there are two ways of measuring what a terabyte is.
Back in the day when I first started using computers in the early 1980s the units for measuring computer storage space were usually bytes, kilobytes or at a push megabytes. A byte is a unit of storage that contains 8 bits (a bit is either a 1 or a 0, the lowest level of storage in the computer). So a byte can hold a value anywhere from 0 to 255. This is the building block upon which the much larger storage amounts are built upon.
Because of the way computers work using binary or base 2, it is convenient for them to have things expressed in powers of 2. In the example above regarding the number of bits in a byte, the number of different configurations that a byte can hold is 256 or 2 to the power 8 (2^8). When I first started using them, a kilobyte was 1024 bytes. Again, this is a power of 2, 2^10 bytes. A megabyte was 1024 kilobytes. As computers started to need more and more space the larger units we regularly see today such as gigabyte and terabyte started to be used. A gigabyte was 1024 megabytes and a terabyte was 1024 gigabytes.
The problem is that using 1024 as a multiplier is not a very accessible way for humans to think about these levels of data storage. It's much easier for us with our ten fingers and thumbs to think about things in base 10 or decimal as we usually refer to it. So people started rounding them down. Instead of a kilobyte being 1024 bytes it became acceptable for it to denote 1000 bytes. The same went for all the other units of computer measurement so a megabyte became 1000 kilobytes (or 1,000,000 bytes) etc.
In the year 2000 it became clear that there was too much confusion so a new system was brought in whereby what used to be referred to as a kilobyte was renamed a kibibyte. So officially 1000 bytes became a kilobyte and 1024 bytes are a kibibyte. 1024 kibibytes are a mebibyte. 1024 mebibytes are a gibibyte etc. etc. This enabled people to refer to the standard units using their more easily accessible multiples of 1000.
So why is Windows reporting my storage space on my hard drive incorrectly?
Because for various reasons computers are still using the kibibyte, mebibyte etc. way of denoting storage space. So when a hard drive turns up that has what the manufacturers and the marketeers all claim is 2TB, the computer takes one look at it and says, OK, so there are 2,000,000,000,000 bytes here. It then divides this amount by 1024 4 times to work out the number of tebibytes which in this case is approximately 1.81.
This might seem like a very arcane discussion but I see this as a big problem. Most people do not understand what I have just outlined above. Therefore they buy a drive that says 2TB on the box but when they install it it says 1.81TB in Windows and there is no explanation as to why this should be.
The difference between a kilobyte and a kibibyte is about 2.35%. It's not very much. The difference between a megabyte and a mebibyte is still less than 5%. But by the time we get up to the difference between a terabyte and a tebibyte the difference is nearly 10%. And as storage space increases in the coming years this difference is only going to get worse as we scale up and all those 1024s get mulitplied together. the next two levels up, petabytes and exabytes lead to a disparity of over 11% and 13% respectively. And if you think storage will never reach those sorts of levels in domestic devices, gigabytes and terabytes seemed impossibly large to us twenty or so years ago.
I am very happy with my new drive and I knew I was only going to get about 1.8 tebibytes out of it. There will be others however who will feel ripped off by this disparity. At the very least, computer manufacturers should be a bit clearer what they actually mean and perhaps the software and operating systems should also do a better job of defining exactly what they mean by MB, GB and TB.
That way, by the time we get to PB and EB the disparity will be understood and accepted rather than being the bane of technical support lines as customers try to work out where their "missing" storage space has gone.
You can read more about this subject here if you are interested.
I have recently been made aware that there is a potential problem with the way the Lib Dems organise their Federal Policy Committee. Apparently the meetings of this group are largely held in London.
Monday, 19 July 2010
Recently I have been trying to find a good general news app for my shiny new iPad. There are a few out there but what I really wanted was something that provides content of the quality of the BBC News website in an iPad friendly form. Unfortunately I could not find a BBC News iPad app when I looked.
I had a bet with someone yesterday about how long the coalition government will last. They were convinced that it would not go beyond the end of May 2011. I on the other hand expect it to go the full distance and to end on 7th May 2015 as the government has indicated.
Sunday, 18 July 2010
Saturday, 17 July 2010
The blogs and Twitter were ablaze last night with talk of Zac Goldsmith's interview with Jon Snow on Channel 4 News last night.
Friday, 16 July 2010
Here are the five most popular posts on this blog from the last week in case you missed them:
Ed Balls was the Labour leadership contender guest last night on BBC's This Week programme (viewable here for the next week or so - see 24:45 onwards for 5 minutes).
No wonder so many of Labour's opponents want Balls to win the contest to succeed Brown.
Thursday, 15 July 2010
Join us below from 10:30pm:
If you are a political blogger and would like to participate in the future, please drop me an e-mail here.
There has been some speculation that given recent polls, David Cameron might consider ditching the coalition and going to the country again to try and get a mandate of his own. The Sun triggered more of this yesterday by explicitly asking in a tweet whether the highest poll ratings all year for the Tories (43%) with the Lib Dems languishing on 15% could persuade them to call a snap election to ditch the yellows.
Wednesday, 14 July 2010
I got my shiny new iPad a few weeks ago and one of the applications on it that I thought I would try and use properly in the next few weeks is iBooks. It allows you to purchase copies of books that you can then read in a fairly stylish interface in either portrait or landscape mode. It certainly seemed like something that could be very useful when I go away on holiday. After all I will be taking the iPad anyway so if I could take my holiday reading away with me in digital form then it would take up no space.
Tuesday, 13 July 2010
Last year I read a book called "Outliers" by the sociological writer Malcolm Gladwell. The book examines the factors that contribute to extraordinary levels of success. It is a fascinating read (as other Gladwell books generally are too) and one of the factors that he keeps returning to is what he calls the "10,000 hour rule". This says that in order to truly master a particular field you need to have 10,000 hours of experience in it.