Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Bowing Out

I have come to a decision that due to other commitments I am going to stop blogging.

This will be my last blogpost and I will be closing the comment facility at the end of this Thursday on this entry and all old posts. I know that if I leave it open beyond that I will only end up getting sucked into further debates!

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who have visited and those who have commented on my posts over the last two or so years. It has been great fun but I now need to focus my energies in other areas for the foreseeable future.


Mark (Reckons) Thompson.

Monday 9 August 2010

The opportunity cost of drug law enforcement

One of the things that sometimes gets lost in all the talk about drug laws, harm reduction, classification etc. is the sheer amount of time that the police spend on activity relating to the existing drug laws.

They spend millions of man hours every year, a good chunk of it on arresting and processing people for possession of drugs that were only going to be used by that person. In other words they were not going to harm anyone else. It also includes time spent chasing small time dealers who are supplying drugs like cannabis and ecstasy (the ones that Professor David Nutt says are less harmful than alcohol) to friends and acquaintances.

If drugs were legalised none of this time would need to be spent. That would mean that those millions of hours would be freed up for police to investigate other crimes like burglary, muggings, assaults etc. The sort of crimes that the vast majority want to remain crimes. Unlike for example cannabis possession which 70% of people in a recent survey said they wanted to see legalised in some form.

We have to recognise that if we have these laws, then the police will spend time enforcing them. As any economics student would tell you there is therefore an opportunity cost whereby they cannot spend that time investigating other crimes.

I strongly suspect that if drugs were legalised in this country then crimes such as burglary and mugging would drop dramatically anyway as there would be much less need for problem drug users to fund their habit in this way. However it would likely be a win-win because of the remaining burglary and mugging (and all other crime) the police would have more time and resource to devote to investigating and solving them.

And if 70% of people think that cannabis should be legalised then in what way is the police spending the public's money arresting cannabis users serving all of our interests?

I for one would much rather they spent their time investigating crimes that affect other people such as burglary and muggings and that pretty much 100% of people think should remain illegal.

Sunday 8 August 2010

Police officers who do things like this need to be sacked

I cannot believe what I have just witnessed in a video taken by police during a pursuit of a disabled pensioner motorist who they suspected of not wearing a seatbelt last September in South Wales. You can watch it below:

Here are some of the details from the Telegraph article in which I read the story:

Footage captured on a police dashboard camera shows one officer striking the driver’s seat window with a baton up to 15 times and another officer jumping on the bonnet of the car and kicking the windscreen in an apparent attempt to crack it.

Police pulled over Robert Whatley, 70, for not wearing a seat belt as he drove through country lanes in South Wales. The 8-mile chase started after officers tried to give Mr Whatley a fixed penalty notice but he drove off.

The retired businessman, who is recovering from a stroke, was covered in glass when officers from Gwent police surrounded his Range Rover on a country lane following a 17-minute chase.

Mr Whatley, who was expecting officers to gently knock on the window of his £60,000 car, said: “I couldn’t believe what was happening. The police went completely over the top – you would have thought I had robbed a bank.

“I was terrified when they started smashing in the window and trying to kick in the windscreen. I tried to shield myself but I was showered with glass which could easily have gone into my eyes. “It’s something you might expect in America but not in the quiet of the British countryside.”

I wouldn't even expect it in America. I would not expect it from law officers in any civilised country.

Mr Whatley, who never broke the speed limit during the chase, said he had become confused during the pursuit.

He said he thought that the blue lights and siren of the pursuing car meant the officer was giving him a police escort home.

But he finally pulled over when he was confronted by a police “stinger” device on the road into Usk.

Mr Whatley, who has a heart condition, was later charged with several motoring offences.

The Police officers involved have been suspended pending an investigation but frankly I am not sure what needs investigating. They terrified a confused pensioner with as far as I can tell no justification, acting like utter thugs. The man has a heart condition. We could easily have been looking at something much more serious here. Next time maybe we will. That's why we need to try and make sure there is not a next time.

The officers involved should not just get a dressing down or get moved to office duties. They should be sacked.

That way their colleagues will appreciate what is and is not acceptable behaviour during the execution of their duties.

Should the government be selling its Lloyds TSB shares now?

Lloyds TSB announced an unexpected profit of £1.6 billion for the first half of 2010 this week.

Given that the government owns a substantial chunk of the bank this is very good news for taxpayers. In fact the current stock price is over 73p per share which is way above the 63p per share break even price for the government. If they were to sell their stake now they would make a handsome profit.

Although this should be caveated by the fact that if they were to try and unload all their shares right now that could have a distorting effect on the market and they may not do as well. I expect when they do eventually unload them they will do it in phases.

The question is, when should they do so? After all it is not their money but the taxpayers. It is an important question to ask now that selling the shares would net a profit. The reason they were purchased in the first place was to prevent the bank from collapsing. It is now pretty clear that that is not going to happen. Things have stabilised.

So why are we still holding onto the shares? I imagine it is tempting for the government to wait and hopefully get an even greater profit. We have a huge deficit and a few more billion would be welcome. But of course share prices can go down as well as up. Although for example Robert Peston's analysis this week would suggest that further profit is quite likely it is no guarantee.

I am interested as to exactly what criteria the government will use to decide how and when to sell. Of course the problem is that if they were to announce this strategy then that in itself could affect the share price. However I very much hope there is a plan to sell and quite soon, now Lloyds TSB is profitable and the government would also make a profit.

After all, we do not elect governments to speculate with our money in the banking market.

Saturday 7 August 2010

Google AdWords free trial - not so free

In my copy of PC Pro this month a leaflet dropped out offering a free £50 trial of Google AdWords. Although I had never really considered advertising for this blog before I thought if it's free I could give it a go, mainly as a test to see how effective £50 worth of advertising this way could be. I am a bit sceptical as to its value for something like this and certainly would not pay anything without evidence that it was worth it.

In the small print at the bottom of the flyer it states:

A £5 account activation fee or equivalent credit deduction required, depending on your preferred billing options.

Fair enough I thought. Seeing as I do not intend to actually spend any money and just want to do the "FREE" trial (you know, the one that is mentioned four times in capital letters on the leaflet) then I will just choose the billing method that avoids the £5 charge.

Oh, no apparently.

All four of the billing options (postpay direct debit, postpay credit/debit card, prepay direct debit, prepay credit/debit card) that I went through had this little snippet at the bottom:

Your account will be charged a non-refundable GBP £5.00 activation fee upon continuing.

along with this description:

Google charges a one-time activation fee to ensure that our advertisers are committed to creating well-targeted advertisements. The fee also helps cover the costs associated with creating, maintaining, and, if applicable, cancelling an account. The activation fee is non-refundable, even if an account is open only for a short time.

So it isn't really a FREE trial. It's a trial that costs you £5 no matter which payment method you use. And the small print in the leaflet is totally misleading in this respect. They should be clear about this in their advertising.

When companies try to sucker me in by pretending things are free when they are not then they really annoy me and make me unlikely on a point of principle ever to use the service.

I think that rule will apply here.

William Hague will not address #ldconf - but maybe he should

The Daily Mail today has a story that William Hague is to address the Lib Dem conference next month:

The Foreign Secretary, widely seen as one of the best orators in the Commons, is expected to lead a Conservative charm offensive at the gathering in Liverpool in the hope of winning over disaffected LibDem activists.

Tory sources suggest Mr Hague will give a 'witty' address, rather than focusing heavily on policy.

However according to a Cowley Street source that has got in touch it aint true:

William Hague is not part of the conference agenda and I can confirm that he has not been asked to speak at the Liberal Democrat conference. No Conservative ministers have ever been approached to speak at our conference.
Fringe events are still being finalised, and it is of course possible that an independent group may have invited Mr Hague to speak at their Fringe event. But this is no different to any other year and it is common for MPs of all parties to attend these events.

But maybe Hague should be invited to address the main conference. It would not be as high profile as getting David Cameron to address it which may be a good thing and if anyone can leaven the situation with genuine humour (rather than what often passes for politician's humour) whilst still making a good speech it would be Hague. He is by common consensus one of the best communicators of his political generation.

I guess after the rebuttal it is unlikely that any Conservative will address the main conference and that any blue presence will be confined to the fringes.

Friday 6 August 2010

You have been reading...

These are the 5 most read posts on this blog from the last 7 days:

Have a good weekend...

Jeff Randall and meaningless percentages

Jeff Randall has a piece in the Telegraph today entitled "Hypocrites, lightweights and clones – can't Labour do better?" where he rips into the Labour leadership contenders. I am not going to comment on the entire piece and indeed he does make some interesting points. However the details in the fifth paragraph are not among them:

At the last election, David Miliband's share of his constituency vote fell by 8.8 per cent, Andy Burnham's was down by 6.5 per cent, and Ed Miliband's by 3.8 per cent. Even in seats where Labour could put up mannequins with red rosettes and still win, these would-be champions managed to go backwards. Ed Balls, whose constituency had its boundaries redrawn, suffered a fall of 8.4 per cent and just scraped in. Only Diane Abbott, defending Hackney North, was able to increase her share of the vote (by 6 per cent).

So the strong implication being that those contenders whose percentage share of the vote dropped in their own seats are not worthy of the leadership of their party.

Perhaps Jeff should have checked his historical facts though. In 1970 when the Conservatives won the general election, in the Finchley constituency Margaret Thatcher managed to get 53.8% of the vote. But by the first election in 1974 when the Conservatives lost power, her share of the vote had dropped to 43.7%. So by Randall's own yardstick, the most electorally successful Conservative Prime Minister of the 20th century lost over 10% of the vote in her seat just a year before she became leader (in the election where her party lost power) and then went on to win the general election in 1979. That's a bigger drop than any of the current Labour leadership contenders.

In other words, use of these percentages is utterly meaningless as a predictor of how successful a putative leader will be.

PS: Thanks to Greg Stone and David Boothroyd for helping me find the Finchley data.

David Cameron needs a break

David Cameron made a mistake yesterday when he claimed that Iran has a nuclear weapon. This comes after a period in which he has done other things that some think are questionable, notably some remarks he made about Pakistan "exporting terror to India" whilst in Pakistan. Indeed he is holding talks with Pakistan's President Zadari today to try and patch up relations with him later today.

I think Cameron is just exhausted. If he was not, I expect he would not have "misspoken" as he did yesterday and that he would have found a more diplomatic way to make his Pakistan point. He has been on the go for many months without a break. There was the intense build up to the election directly after the New Year followed by the actual election campaign (where he deliberately had no sleep in the 48 hours before polls opened), then the 5 days of negotiation regarding the coalition and since then he has been Prime Minister without, as far as I can tell, a day off.

It's August. It's the silly season. Now is the time to take a proper break. He is likely to go on paternity leave in September too but that won't be a holiday!

Gordon Brown famously worked stupidly long hours and was very reluctant to take holidays. I hope that David Cameron learns from his mistakes. The last thing we need is another PM who refuses to get the rest that any human being needs.

He should take the rest of the month off and come back fully refreshed in September.

Thursday 5 August 2010

Other Reckonings - 5th August 2010

  • Millennium tears Wedgie a new one.
  • Anthony Barnett on the difference between "Fair votes" and "Fairer votes".
  • Luke Akehurst cautions Labour that the pendulum will not swing back towards them on its own.
  • Nick Lane writing on Lib Dem Voice suggests a cheeky idea for how Labour could cause real problems for the coalition on the electoral reform referendum.
  • Emma Burnell writes an open letter to the Labour leadership candidates.

"Banning" things often does not have the desired effect

Ambush Predator drew my attention today to a story in a local paper about a dog having bitten a child in a play area:

Steven Evans is calling for action after his 13-year-old son, Dean, was attacked by a Staff at Holy Cross Recreation Ground, in Church Road.


Mr Evans believes dogs should be banned from anywhere children play.

He added: “I have dogs myself, and I always muzzle them when I take them out.

I am sorry for the injuries and distress caused to Mr Evans and his son but I just wonder what he thinks the result of such a ban would be. He already makes it clear that he has dogs and he muzzles them. I expect most law abiding and responsible dog owners already do this anyway.

So what we would be left with are the people who do not give a flying toss about the law or responsibility still letting their dogs off in the play areas. In my experience* these people will just ignore any rules so the result is likely to be that the responsible dog owners find one more place they cannot take their dogs. I also wonder how you would define "where children play".

"Banning" things does not stop them from happening. It does however mean more money being spent on trying to enforce the rules and various other side effects. People should think more carefully before calling for bans.

* I remember a few years ago someone I know tackled a woman who had allowed her dog to defecate in the middle of a park and then started walking off. The woman physically threatened the person, threatened to set her dog on them and then started screaming at them how their mother was a "whore" until they beat a hasty retreat. You cannot tell me that someone like this is interested in any rules that might be imposed for situations like that described above.

Reviewing council tenancies - why not?

David Cameron set the cat amongst the pigeons yesterday by seemingly off-the-cuff suggesting that the current situation where people can stay in council houses effectively for life may be reviewed during a Q&A session.

He particularly focused on the sort of situation where a family living in for example a four bedroomed house where the children have left home but the parents are then allowed to remain in the house could be questioned.

I have to say I agree. If people's circumstances change, then surely it is right for the housing situation to also be reviewed? This is not least because for every empty room in a council house there will be someone on a waiting list who needs a home of their own. A system that allows a more fair and equitable (and efficient) division of the available housing resource is surely something that is desirable?

Of course we do not want to end up in a situation where people are being kicked out of their homes with nowhere else to go. Apparently Labour looked at something like this before the election but backed off "when they saw the pitfalls". I have no doubt there are some. There always are when reforming a complex system. I cannot imagine it is beyond the wit of man to reasonably work around them though.

With private renting or home owning people move all the time as their circumstances change. I always rented privately until I purchased my own home in 2004 and I lived in 11 different houses/flats between 1992 and then. That was almost one move per year. In two cases it was forced upon me by fickle landlords who decided they wanted to do something different with the house/flat (nothing to do with my behaviour I should be clear). In the other cases it was that my circumstances had changed either in terms of my job or in terms of geographical considerations. Towards the end I would have loved security of tenure in my privately rented accommodation but that is not how it works. I blogged about it at length last year here.

One other point on this. On Iain Dale's show last night, Denis MacShane suggested that it was not a good idea for this reform to be led by an "Eton Toff". This sort of rhetoric is extremely unhelpful. If MacShane does not like the proposal then he should argue against it (although he actually seemed to think it had some merit) rather than go in for ad hominen attacks based on class. We all saw how they backfired in the Crewe by-election in 2008.

So in summary, the idea that council tenants could need to be a bit more flexible given their circumstances seems like a good principle to me. Simon Hughes has already protested that this was not in the coalition agreement. Fair point, so it will require some internal debate within the coalition to make sure concerns of both parties are taken into account. That should not stop something though if it can be shown to be a good reform.

Wednesday 4 August 2010

Aspiring politicians and controversial views

Towards the end of the House of Comments podcast that we recorded yesterday, we discussed aspiring politicians who have controversial views on issues and the potential consequences of them being completely open about this.

We all agreed it is true that some people who aspire to political office, whether it is local or national play their cards close to their chest on controversial issues. After all, it is easy for political opponents to put screaming headlines on a leaflet such as "SOFT ON DRUGS" or similar and this can cause real damage.

I must admit that towards the end of the discussion I did get a bit passionate on this subject. I did run for council office earlier this year and intend to again. I also at some point in the future may run for higher political office. My views on drugs policy (that I think they should all be legalised and that I have consistently backed up with what I feel is compelling evidence) are well recorded on this blog and elsewhere. So if/when those days come any opponents of mine will have access to my thoughts on this subject and may decide to try and use them against me.

One of the reasons I got involved with politics a few years back is because I want to make a difference and drugs policy is an area in which I am particularly passionate. I very much feel that we are going down the wrong road and that the evidence shows in order to reduce harm, crime and all sorts of other pernicious effects that we need to have a complete rethink. I could have taken a decision early on to not talk about this subject for fear of it damaging my future prospects but I chose to do so instead. My view is that the only way we are ever going to see change is if enough people step forward and air their views until eventually it becomes clear that far from being an extreme, minority view it is instead a widely held opinion. It will also help all the issues around the subject be aired.

Am I being naive in thinking that I can be as outspoken as I have been and still have a potential political career? Maybe. I guess I will find out. But from my perspective there is no point in embarking upon one if I cannot be honest about my views on something that is of critical importance to this country. I have been advised on occasion that it is a "fight that I cannot win" and I would better off focusing my energies on other issues. I completely disagree. People are dying every day as a direct result of current policies. There is untold illness and misery that could be eased and harm reduced if we took a different approach. I fervently believe that in 50 years time we will look back on our current "war on drugs" approach as pretty barbaric or at the very least totally ineffective. It will be viewed as the 1920s prohibition era in the USA is viewed now.

But to get there people have to step forward. If that means I damage my own political aspirations then so be it. But hopefully there will eventually be so many of us (and I know people from all parties who agree with me) that we will no longer be able to be dismissed as extreme.

Only time will tell.

Liam Rhodes and Duncan Stott on House of Comments - Episode 36

The latest "House of Comments" podcast with myself and Stuart Sharpe of the Sharpe's Opinion blog is now live. The 36th episode which we recorded on Tuesday 3rd August is now available to download, raw mp3 file here or you can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes here. Failing that you can listen to it right now below:

The format is to invite political bloggers on each week to discuss a few of the stories that are making waves in the blogosphere.

This week we were joined by Liam Rhodes of the One Nation Tory blog and Lib Dem blogger Duncan Stott of Split Horizons.

We discussed the BBC "5 Days that Changed Britain" programme last week about the formation of the coalition, drugs policy following a Channel 4 programme on the subject on Monday and whether aspiring politicians can always honest about their views on controversial issues.

Until the end of August we will be doing these fortnightly instead of the usual weekly recordings so the next 2 episodes will be recorded around August 17th and August 31st (and in each case released shortly afterwards).

If you are a political blogger and would like to participate in the future, please drop me an e-mail here.

Tuesday 3 August 2010

What media panics can lead to

Do you remember a few months ago, the dreadful case of the two babies who were mauled by the urban fox in London?

Do you also remember that despite the fact that these cases are extremely rare, the press went into panic mode about urban foxes with TV specials about them and far more press coverage than this "problem" actually warranted, making it seem like a huge and widespread issue.

Well, there is another horrible story today in the Evening Standard. Apparently a bunch of men have taken it upon themselves to lure an urban fox into a trap using drugged bait and then beaten it to death. They have filmed themselves doing this and posted it on Facebook. They claim they are doing this to rid their neighbourhood of this "pest".

I suspect there is a link between the actions of these thugs and the disproportionate media coverage that the original case garnered. OK, people like this are probably just looking for an excuse and they may have found another pretext for this sort of behaviour but I still think the media need to be more responsible and not blow situations like the fox attack out of all proportion.

It's a nasty example of what whipped up hysteria can contribute to.

H/T to James Graham on Twitter for alerting me to the story.

UPDATE 07/08/2010: It turns out that the story was an elaborate hoax by professional film-makers.

Why the war on drugs can never be won

There was a great programme on Channel 4 last night "Our Drugs War", the first of a three part series by Angus Macqueen on why the war on drugs can never be won. Angus used to think that banning drugs was the best way but after having looked at the evidence he now says he was completely wrong.

In the first episode "Everyone's at it", he spoke to people in Edinburgh, cited recently by the UN as the drugs capital of the world and to other people including dealers, drug users and those involved in law enforcement. An astonishing statistic that was discussed is that only 1% of all the heroin that enters Scotland is seized by the authorities. The UN estimates that if the supply-side approach to tackling drugs is ever to work then that figure needs to be between 60% and 70%. A senior police officer interviewed baldly stated that they will never get anywhere near this figure. Angus pointed out that we would not accept this level of failure in any other part of law enforcement so why is it acceptable when it comes to drugs? It is surely the clearest indication that this "war" can never be won?

The programme also showed how the scale of the billions of pounds involved in the drugs trade allows corruption to take place within the drugs enforcement regime itself.

It was also heartening to see relatives of people who have died from drug related problems who fully understand that "banning" the substances does not make things better and indeed can actually make them worse. Some of these people who have had terrible tragedy afflict their lives and those of their loved ones are actively campaigning for the legalisation of drugs. It was very telling when the mother of a man who had died as a result of abuse of GBL/GHB said that when she wrote an article for a newspaper she had to fight very hard to prevent them from headlining the piece "Mother of drugs victim calls for ban" which was not what she was saying at all. But of course the media has pigeon-holes in which they like to put people and the mother of a drug addict who has died would be expected by them to instinctively be in favour of a ban. It is to her credit that she has not gone down this route but instead analysed the situation and come to a different decision that accords with the wider evidence. And it was great to see this being aired on a TV programme in prime time.

I am looking forward to the next two instalments next Monday 9th at 8pm and then on Monday 16th on Channel 4. You can watch yesterday's episode for now via 4od here.

You can also read an article in this week's Observer that Angus Macqueen wrote entitled "Why do we so wilfully cover up the failure of the war on drugs?".

Tom Harris hearts AV (but only for the political classes)

That's right. Tom Harris, that stalwart of First Past the Post has a blogpost this morning which makes the case for the Alternative Vote. You should read the whole post as I have only included snippets below. He specifies the circumstances in which he thinks it can work well:

AV is a good system for filling a single position. If Britain had an elected president, for example, he or she would probably be elected by AV, or at least in a run-off ballot. That would make sense.

Similarly, if a local party is choosing a parliamentary candidate, AV is the best system to secure the maximum amount of support for the victorious candidate from party members. And, yes, when electing the leader of a party, AV’s the system to use.

That's quite a few situations where he thinks it is a good thing. Of course there's a but coming:

But when you’re electing 650 people from across the country, you’re not just electing 650 individual MPs – you’re electing a government.


And that’s why FPTP remains the best system for the Commons and AV is the better system for electing party leaders. Horses for courses, see?

I'm afraid I don't see. Surely a general election consists of 650 individual races where the voters are choosing their individual MP. If AV is good enough for all the other situations that Tom lists then why is it not good for people in a constituency choosing who represents them? Proponents of FPTP often talk about how that system maintains a "strong" link between the MP and the constituency. The arguments mainly revolve around this link and how bad it would be to lose or "weaken" this through a more proportional system (of which just to be clear AV is not one). There is a case to make that AV actually increases the strength of the link between the MP and their constituents, after all it means that they have to get over a certain threshold within the seat (50%) rather than as at the moment some MPs getting elected with a lot less than that often through the votes of their opponents splitting the opposition to them. There are some pretty unpopular MPs out there even in their own constituencies.

Ironically, for someone who is so opposed to proportional systems, Tom actually ends up making quite a strong case for using something more like STV with multi-member constituencies for the Commons. If what we are really doing is voting for a party nationally in a general election (which is essentially Tom's argument) then what justification is there for parties that get 24% of the vote to get less than 10% of the seats? Or parties that get 35% of the vote getting 55% of the seats? He can't have it both ways. In mustering arguments against using AV for the Commons he ends up arguing against FPTP as well.

I think the sort of arguments we see above could become a real problem during the campaign. there are lots of situations where the political classes already use AV for themselves as Tom describes. Trying to then simultaneously argue that voters in constituencies should not have that same system whilst avoiding the trap of inadvertently exposing the big problems with FPTP is quite a tall order. I don't think Tom has managed it here.

For such an advocate of the existing system to be finding these sort of problems gives me confidence that those of us who want to see change can win this argument.

Monday 2 August 2010

Another photographer has their rights abused by police

I am getting tired of having to highlight these cases but they keep on happening, despite the statements from senior police and politicians. This one happened at the weekend and is reported in full on the NUJ website:

Carmen Valino had images deleted from her camera by police and was threatened with arrest whilst photographing the scene of a shooting in Hackney, East London.

The incident happened on Saturday 31 July as Valino photographed a crime scene from outside the police cordon whilst on assignment from the Hackney Gazette.

She had identified herself as a journalist and showed her UK Press Card to the police.

A police Sergeant approached Valino telling her that she was disrupting a police investigation and to hand over her camera. After protesting to the Sergeant that she was in a public place, outside the cordon he had no right to take her camera, he grabbed her wrist and pulled out his handcuffs. Before he could put the cuffs on she handed him her camera. He then left for five minutes before coming back, bringing Valino inside the cordon and asking her to show him the images and deleting them. Valino was told that she could come back in a few hours to photograph the scene.

This incident highlights how police are not following the law or the agreed ACPO Media Guidelines which state:

Members of the media have a duty to take photographs and film incidents and we have no legal power or moral responsibility to prevent or restrict what they record. It is a matter for their editors to control what is published or broadcast, not the police. Once images are recorded, we have no power to delete or confiscate them without a court order, even if we think they contain damaging or useful evidence.

How many more times? This has to stop. See here for some previous examples I have covered recently.

I am starting to think that the only way this will ever stop is if members of the public to whom this happens launch private prosecutions against the police officers involved, perhaps with the support of an organisation like Liberty. The officers who do these things are clearly breaking the law by acting in this way and I suspect they would not have a leg to stand on.

It is clear that all the edicts from on high are having little effect on the actions of officers on the ground.

Could Labour's new leader credibly oppose AV?

Following on from my post yesterday where I suggested that the Lib Dems should separate out the AV part of the constitutional reform bill in order to help Labour support a "yes" vote in the ensuing referendum I would like to expand a little on one of the points I made.

I highlighted how whoever wins the Labour leadership election will just have been elected using AV. This is not a trivial point. It actually goes to the heart of the mandate that they will have.

It would be incredible if, having just been elected using that method they then went on to oppose exactly that reform for the election of MPs. I expect the public would find it very hard to understand how it can be good enough for the election of political elites but not good enough for the rest of us. This is a particularly acute issue at the moment in the wake of the expenses scandal when one of the things that infuriated people was how there was one rule for MPs and another for everyone else.

So, frankly I cannot see how the new Labour leader would want to put themselves in that position. They would have enough of a job explaining why they were campaigning for a "no" vote in a referendum that was in their own manifesto, let alone the absolute hypocrisy of the election of their own position would expose.

And so if the new leader is not going to credibly be able to oppose the referendum, it would be far better for them to throw their full weight behind a "yes" vote rather than do it in a half-hearted way (which might be tempting). Otherwise, if the vote fails then it would reflect badly on them too.

After all, this will be the first big test of national opinion on an issue since the general election. Won't the new leader want to be on the winning side and to be seen to have visibly contributed towards this positive vote?

50 reasons to legalise cannabis/keep it illegal

The Radiology Degree blog today has a list of 25 reasons to legalise cannabis and 25 reasons to keep it illegal.

Whilst I would argue quite strongly against many of the reasons given in the latter half of the list to keep it illegal, e.g. "Smoking pot doesn't cure brain cancer" (by that logic we would ban every substance on earth!) it is an interesting read which also includes links for every single point made to the source information.

Sunday 1 August 2010

To win the AV referendum we may need to accommodate Labour concerns

I am just back from a long weekend away and one of the things that I have been mulling over is how we can win the AV referendum next May. I expect my thoughts on this might prove a bit controversial but hey ho.

Although initial polls suggested that there was a majority in favour of changing the electoral system, in recent weeks these numbers have slipped to the point where the "yes" and "no" support seems to be roughly equal. Polling wisdom suggests that unless a referendum starts with the camp that is looking for change with a decent lead then they are fighting an uphill struggle. It is always difficult to defeat the status quo. Pollsters at the moment are muttering that as things stand the referendum will not be won.

At the same time, Labour have kicked up a huge fuss about some of the measures attached to the bill that includes the AV referendum. Their concerns are largely related to voter registration in individual constituencies when the number of MPs are reduced as well as some other things.

I already blogged last week about how I feel that some of the concerns being expressed in this area appear to be opposition for opposition's sake. I have found myself increasingly frustrated with the attitude of some in Labour's ranks.

However, in politics you have to be a hard-headed realist if you want to get things done. So let me go through a quick run-down of where we are, where we want to get to and how we might get there:

1) We want to win the referendum on AV. I know it is not the STV that we really wanted but it is a step in the right direction. It will reduce negative campaigning and ensure voters can vote for smaller parties without their vote being wasted. Also, if we do not win the referendum then it will be a significant blow to the Lib Dems and could cause problems for the government.

2) The indications are at the moment that winning the referendum will be an uphill struggle and even with an almighty effort on the part of the Lib Dems, if the rest of the political establishment largely falls behind the "no" camp we may simply have no chance. I don't mean to sound defeatist here and whatever other parties do I will fight tooth and nail to win but as I said I am trying to be realistic and pragmatic here.

3) As the bill currently stands, Labour will likely vote against it. This will then ensure that the "no on AV" camp within Labour will be in the ascendency, after all they will have just voted against the bill that contains the referendum. Even though it will be largely because of the non-AV stuff within it there will still be momentum.

4) This could then lead to Labour being split on this, or even largely against a "yes" vote in the referendum campaign.

In order to avoid this sort of scenario, we could box clever. The bill could be split as Labour have suggested into the AV referendum bill on the one hand and the constituency resizing and other measures that they have problems with in another bill on the other. That would then back Labour into a corner. A referendum on AV was in their manifesto. They have said time and again that they are not against it in principle, it is the detail of the resizing etc. that they are against.

This solution would mean that they would have little justification in opposing the AV referendum bill. It is possible they might still kick up a fuss about the date but if the government had magnanimously acquiesced to their demands for splitting the bill then further quibbling like this would likely go down pretty badly and I would expect they would back it. It would leave them free to argue against the measures they have the real problems with. The AV "yes" Labour element would be back in the ascendancy again with momentum on their side internally. It would give the newly elected Labour leader something to throw their weight behind with legitimacy from their own ranks. And let's not forget that the new leader will have just been elected using AV! It will be easier for them to argue for a "yes" vote than a "no" vote under those circumstances.

One final point I would like to make here is one that Peter Mandelson made very eloquently in the TV programme that was broadcast on the BBC on Friday about the formation of the coalition. Amongst a number of very impressive contributions, he said towards the end that the future of politics may now be pluralistic and based around coalitions. He advised that his party should bear this in mind if it ever wanted to get back into power. I believe that he is onto something with this and that it is ultimately in Labour's own interests to back a "yes" vote. What better way is there for them to signal that they would be willing to compromise with the Lib Dems in the future than for them to help them win the referendum?

But in order for them to help us, we need to help them first.