Tuesday, 12 December 2017

What do you do when people ignore the facts?

I was having a conversation the other day about Brexit.  Who doesn’t?  My friend is an economist with exemplary credentials.  The subject was not “in or out” but why do people hold the views that they do, often in the face of evidence to the contrary.  For the purpose of this blog  my position on the EU is irrelevant, even if it becomes clear as we proceed.  

My friend started by mentioning that he had met David Davis MP, Brexit Minister, recently and concluded that he was genuinely stupid.  He contrasted Mr Davis with Boris Johnson and Michael Gove who are not stupid, far from it, but they were calculating egotists solely interested in their own success.  I am inclined to agree with him on Johnson and Gove, both politicians who will walk over anyone to get what they want, but in Davis’ case the evidence is from his own mouth; when he said “I don't have to be very clever.  I don't need to know that much”.  Well he demonstrated that when he undid what Theresa May had achieved over the Irish Border with one careless, throwaway remark.  He should have added “but I do need to know when to keep my mouth shut”.

Then I thought that surely not everyone who does not see or accept a logical position is either an idiot or an egotistic chancer.  Most of us, however normally logical, inevitably fill some of the gaps in our factual,knowledge with assumptions or beliefs.  Some of us look for facts to fill the gaps and vary our views as the facts or better arguments become apparent, some are more resistant.   Racists, xenophobes, religious fanatics (anyone religious?), Brexiteers, Remainers (some anyway), socialists, libertarians, most politicians of all persuasions fall in this category.  Some people hold their views so strongly that they are a threat to society, at least to socially liberal democratic societies like ours.

The question is how to bring people around who don't necessarily base their views on facts?  I don't believe this can be done overnight; it requires concerted efforts over a long period of time. Such people need to make up their own minds.  If you hold a different opinion, don't give up; just keep arguing, provide the evidence and, occasionally, show that what is in their best interest.  

Of course for the complete idiot, there might be no solution.  But Theresa May could fire him.


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

How can the Bible or Koran be the basis of a peaceful and humane religoin?


How can anyone point to the Koran or the Bible and say these documents are the bedrock of a peaceful and humane religion?  (This may apply equally to other holy scriptures but I am less familiar with them, so let's stick to these two).  They are full of blood-curdling violence and attitudes that would be completely unacceptable if they were espoused today.   But their violence and anachronistic attitudes are not at all surprising; they were written by people who were ignorant about the world around them, when science as we know it today did not exist, when human life was cheap and hung by a thread, threatened by hunger, natural disaster and disease, where people attacked and murdered each other over food and water as well as the gods they worshipped.



So when St Paul espouses slavery, or The Prophet wields a bloody sword, or women are treated as chattels, we should not get too hung up about it.  That was then, and this is now.  What the authors of these sacred texts thought 1300 or 2000 years ago is irrelevant to our lives today.  Sure, they have contributed to the intellectual development of the human race, and are interesting from an historical perspective, but as a species we moved on.  We learned to order our lives better and to control our environment so that life became safer and in doing so we had time and space to become more tolerant of each other, to show empathy for other human beings, and we replaced ignorance and superstition with science.



The Bible and the Koran are interesting historical tracts, but to rely on these documents to inform your behaviour is to say that you believe the world in which they were created is a better place than the one you live in today.   Some people may think so; the real fundamentalists, though I don't see them rushing to live without clean running water, modern medicine, almost universal literacy, modern communications (including you tube and Facebook!) and with fear that their lives might be extinguished tomorrow by a wild animal, a microbe or the tribe down the valley.  



Let me say, however, that I don't think it is necessary to live without belief completely.  You can believe in the inherent good nature of (most) human beings; that most of us know what ethical behaviour is and display it without recourse to "the good book".  We can believe that an enquiring mind is always better than a closed one. There will always be dangerous thoughts out there , but approach other ideas with an enquiring and scientific mind and the ascent of mankind will continue unabated, albeit with some hiccups on the way, even further from the distant and irrelevant world which spawned the holy-to-some Bible and Koran.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Surely not difficult to disrupt VAT fraudsters using Amazon's facilities

Amazon are accused of conniving in VAT fraud by foreign sellers who distribute their products from Amazon warehouses in the UK.  Surely if the vendors fail to pay VAT, i.e. are acting illegally, then HMRC have a simple solution; impound the goods, or better still get a court order preventing thhem from being shipped from Amazon's warehouse until back-date VAT bills are settled.  This will make the process unprofitable for their foreign owners and disrupt Amazon business as well as deny them the related commission, so a double whammy, at least for Amazon.a

 I have had enough of photos of smirking dot-com bosses in the financial pages of the press.  Jeff Bezos in the Sunday Times today (17th September) looks like the cat who has got the cream.  It is time that governments acted to spoil his not-so-little game, and that of the other VAT/Corporation Tax avoidance mega-corporations that increasingly dominate our lives.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Open letter to the Southern Poverty Law Center

Whether or not Maajid Nawaz's personal story is exactly as he says, and in retelling any history numerous times omissions and elaborations are the inevitable result of incomplete recollection and confirmation bias, it is one that is familiar to us in the UK.  Your bracketing Nawaz with American hate-mangers and alt-right apologists is unfair and damaging to the process of reforming Islam in the U.K., let alone around the world.  His name should not be on your list of Anti-muslim extremists, and if you have any integrity you should remove it and make an apology.

You say that Nawaz is anti-Muslim because he advocates active monitoring of extremism.  Your simplistic and misleading analysis fails to provide any details, suggesting his position amounts to wholesale monitoring of Muslim citizens.  This however is not what he has said and you should check your facts.  

Widespread monitoring is an attack on the freedoms of citizens in a democratic society, which liberals should rightly jealously guard.  Ironically of course it is also opposed by the very extremist groups who seek to undermine democracy and its freedoms because they know it is there to seek them out and prevent them from doing harm.   So there is a balance to be had between state oversight and monitoring and freedom.  Different nations have different solutions; the USA values individual privacy above collective security, at least in public, more than perhaps we do in the U.K. (gun laws are probably the most extreme example of that). In any event there is a political debate to be had, in the open, about this.  Advocating more or less monitoring is not a hate crime, it is freedom of expression.  In Maajid Nawaz's case you are welcome to call him on his radio show and debate the point.  You will be sure to get a fairer hearing that most people who call in to American radio "shock-jocks". 

The USA is not alone in suffering Islamic fundamentalist terrorism; we have had a number of incidents in recent years (and there have been many more throughout Europe).  We know that there is a group of hard-line islamists in the U.K. who are plotting further incidents, of whom the security forces admit to be monitoring around 3000 (as many as their resources will allow).  This is further evidenced by their success in preventing at least 15 attacks we know of.  Surely you are not advocating that surveillance of these people, many of whom have returned from being actively involved in violent  jihadism in Asia or the Middle East.  That would be negligent and an abrogation of state responsibility for maintaining the peace.  

There are also the ideologues who are actively promoting jihad (in this context I am sticking with the Islamic model, but this applies to any form of extremism).  If they are explicit enough they can be prosecuted for incitement, but many are just on the right side of the law in public.  These people invariably endorse an alternative political narrative that entertains overthrow of our democracy and its values, even though ironically they only survive because of it.  Generally they are anti-democratic, theocratic and usually endorse cultural practices that are inconsistent with western liberal ideas of individual freedoms.  That is their right in a liberal democracy, but the corollary is that the ideas are in the open, subject to challenge and debate.  Too often however these regressive ideologies are shared only in private, in restricted groups or in languages that most of the population do not understand.  Where veiled by religious dogma and the vague and ambiguous wording of scriptures it is all-too easy to make a defence that they are not threatening, when they are.  I suggest that the State would also be failing in its responsibilities if it did not try to monitor what they are saying.

For every committed violent jihadist there will be 10(s?) of people who share the extreme ideas even if they have not yet, or do not, endorse the violent means.  These people provide hiding ground for violent extremists, even (unknowingly) material support to their projects.   And for every person who endorses extreme ends, there will be another tranche who are ambivalent or neutral but who share cultural norms that are supported by the extreme Islamic vision. A Gallup World poll in 2005-2006 (see "Who speaks for Islam? What a billion Muslims really think" Esposito and Mogahed, 2007) showed conflicting support for sharia (but not for religious leaders in charge of legislation) and cultural conservatism on the one hand, and for democracy and greater freedom for women on the other.  Western advocacy of "women's issues" for example was eyed with suspicion by women as well as men. It is easy for extremists to hide themselves in this population while seeking to persuade the vulnerable, disaffected, or even "idealistic" to join their cause.

In the U.K. The British government has implemented the "Prevent" strategy,  intended to identify people who are at risk of becoming radicalised and to provide them with support.  This depends inevitably on people, teachers, other professionals, friends, neighbours and even family, "informing" on the persons concerned.  This has been criticised as intrusive by segments of the Muslim community in the U.K. and, inevitably, as racist, if only because the vast majority of Muslims are not white.  The most vocal critics are inevitably the more radical.  

The authorities recognise that "Prevent" is not perfect.  But if you think it is an unwarranted intrusion on the liberty of British Muslims, then what alternatives do you offer?  Extremism will not magically disappear if only racism and discrimination stopped, because it is ideological.  And as to Maajid Nawaz's position, if you think he should be on your blacklist, then you had better put the British government there as well.  

Today in the U.K. Most mosques are led by Immams who were flown in from the Middle East or South Asia.  They are not the product of our society, they know little of our ethical and moral framework or of our culture.  Applying the culture and ethics of Peshawar in Britain today makes no sense, any more than inviting a pastor from a Ugandan charismatic church to lead an American Anglican Church.  Maajid Nawaz and Quillam make the case for a moderate, modern, liberal form of Islam, arguing against an Islam based on medieval ethics that is the foundation of extreme fundamentalist and occasionally violent Islam and jihad.  They do so in an open way that is consistent with our liberal democratic ideals.  You are free to disagree but attempting to suppress their views is anti-democratic and will damage the slow process of developing an alternative narrative to that which underpins Islamic extremism today.  To say that they are anti-Islamic is to imply that there is only one form of Islam (the position of course adopted by all the ideologues who think they are right and everyone else is wrong) which suggests you know very little about the religion.  


During the reformation the Catholic Church denounced all protestants as heretics, and they burned a good many of them at the stake.  There is a reformation needed in Islam today and you are not helping by metaphorically burning the reformers at the stake.  I urge you to withdraw your "fatwa" against Nawaz and to use your not inconsiderable resources to help and not silence the opposition to extremism.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

140 questions I would like answered about The Grenfell Tower disaster. And that's for a start


So many people are asking so many questions about Grenfell Tower disaster but to date few have been answered, and those largely by the media doing its research.  As the days go by more evidence is appearing of bureaucratic delays and prevarication, of inappropriate policy decisions and of money either causing problems directly or in an indirect way underlining the causes of the disaster and public sector responses.  To the outside observer the authorities, those ostensibly in control of the situation, seem to be frozen, like rabbits in the headlights.  In reality, they may be working away hard but this is not enough if they fail to communicate effectively with all involved, the victims, their neighbours, the general public, the media. 

I have watched the news unfold, to the extent that I no longer want to turn on the radio or television because I know what I will see and hear.  It did not seem appropriate to go to West Kensington to help on the ground, from the TV it was apparent there were plenty doing that, probably too many, so I did the easiest, and laziest, thing; I sent money, which is probably what people need most at the moment anyway.  Lets hope the millions that have been donated reach the right people at the right time to be of help.

I woke up this morning with so many questions in my own head.  The biggest question of course is why the Grenfell Tower disaster happened in the first place, and what should have been done differently to have prevented it (and who was responsible because holding people to account, and making it clear they will be in future, is part of the response).  The other big question is about how well, or otherwise, the authorities responded to the disaster.  There is a systematic way to address an emergency like Grenfell Tower and if Kensington and Chelsea Borough and the British government were prepared they should be following such a process.  So were they prepared? 

But here are the 140 questions, that I have thought of so far, that I would like the answers to.  You will no doubt be able to add many more.

Building Regulation, refurbishment and maintenance

Have Kensington and Chelsea (LA) carried out a risk assessment on this building?
What did it say about the adequacy of fire protection and responses?
 
Did the LA undertake a fire risk assessment when planning the refurbishment both of the refurbishment project, and of the proposed changes to the building? What does it say? 
Who undertook the risk assessment?
Were the refurbishment plans approved by the Council?
 
What were the building specifications, including for the cladding, in the refurbishment contract? What was the process for selecting contractors?
Was the work carried out in accordance with the original contract, if not what changes were made and how were they approved?
How did the LA oversee the contract to ensure that it was carried out in accordance with the contract?

Why was the contract awarded to one company but then terminated and replaced with a contract to another?
What arrangements were in place to manage sub-contracts?
What does the refurbishment contract (and sub-contracts) say about responsibility, indemnity, warranties, liability etc?
The press have indicated that the refurbishment company was in fact a pre-pack purchase of the business following administration of an earlier entity owned and managed by the same person.
  Did the LA evaluate the company to determine if it was financially and technically qualified to carry out the work?
Following on from the previous question, is it right that a person should be able to put his or her business into administration, avoid its debts and continue to trade under a different name?
  Why are directors of insolvent companies not treated like Bankrupt persons, particularly if they own and manage the businesses themselves?

How did the LA consult with the residents regarding the refurbishment? 
What was the communication process between refurbishment contractors and residents? 
How do residents feel about how this was done?

Who is responsible for routine maintenance of the building? 
How often were inspections carried out and how often?
Who decides what work is carried out and when (contractor or LA)?
 
How is maintenance work financed? 
What problems did the residents know about? 
What was the process for reporting faults and defects? 
What problems did the resident report?
How were residents’ reports of defects managed and how quickly were issues dealt with?
How were decisions communicated to the residents?
 
Is there a residents’ association, if is its role and relationship with the Council such that its concerns are taken seriously ad acted upon?
Did Councillors or LA officers meet with residents and if so, how often and what was the result?
Are residents satisfied with the way their concerns are dealt with?
 
What is the escalation process if they are not satisfied and were issues escalated?

Lots of tower blocks have been refurbished in the last 10 – 20 years. 
What is being done to assess the risks in these buildings by the responsible parties (LAs)?
When will the results be known?
What communication is taking place with residents and local communities?
 
What action will be taken if any in response to these investigations and over what time period? 
If work is required how will it be financed? 
What is the government’s position and what instructions has it issued to LAs to undertake this work and report back (if any)? 
What undertakings have been given (public and private, formal and informal) regarding follow through? 

What are the responsibilities of contractors and suppliers with respect to materials used? 
In the Chemicals industry a “responsible care” framework means suppliers are responsible for ensuring that products are only supplied for purposes that are legal and safe, and that dangerous products are transported, stored and managed safely.  Why are vendors of building materials and contractors working with them not responsible for ensuring that they are only used legally and safely?

Regulatory framework

What are the national guidelines and legally binding regulations regarding health and safety and building regulations in residential buildings, both in the private and public sector? 
Who is responsible for establishing these?
How have these guidelines been reviewed and amended over the last 20 years?
 
Who reviews them how often and on what basis? 
What decisions have been made regarding fire safety in this time (including decisions not to implement recommendations)?
If there are no national guidelines, then who is responsible?
 
When accidents do happen is there an investigatory process to learn lessons and adapt? 
How are learnings addressed, both in the short term and in the long term?  (compare with aircraft safety procedures, where the aim is to learn and implement lessons so that issues do not recur).

What are the UK regulations regarding fire safety in residential buildings, especially tower blocks?   
Do they differ throughout the UK and why?
How do they apply retrospectively (ie: to older buildings)?
 
Why are they not applied equally to old as well as new buildings?  If it is not practicable to apply them to older buildings, then who makes this decision and on what basis?
How do regulations for public buildings, offices, commercial premises differ from those for residential buildings, and why?
 
What standards are applied in other countries, how do ours compare, and why?
What rules are there about installation of sprinkler systems, fire detection systems and fire extinguishers?

What advice has the government been given over the last 20 years on improvement of fire risk management, particularly in residential buildings?
What have fire authorities and Parliamentary All-Party committees said on this topic?
How did government respond to this advice and to learnings from previous tower blazes, both in the UK and overseas?
 
If non-UK fires and other governments’ responses were / are not taken into account why?  
What positions have various governments taken on the use of flammable cladding material?
Why have flammable cladding materials not been banned in this country, where they are banned in other countries?

Does the government think that current arrangements for overseeing building standards and fire risk management are fit for purpose? 
If not, what needs to change? 
Similarly, what does the LA think?  (since responses are likely to be party political, better ask opposition parties as well)

Risk Management and Emergency Response

Processes and controls should be in place to manage risks on a day-to day basis so that they are avoided, eliminated or sufficiently mitigated (normally part of operational activities).  In the case of Grenfell Tower, this will include the processes mentioned above relating to routine maintenance and periodic building refurbishment.  But when an emergency arises it will normally go through several phases and responses should be appropriate.  A lot of questions being asked right now suggest that this was, and is, not the case in Kensington and Chelsea. 

While terminology may differ in different organisations, effective frameworks are remarkably similar.  They should involve
Resilience – being ready to respond to issues as and when they arise in an appropriate way
Crisis Management
  - a process for managing specific incidents, including initial emergency response, public relations and communications
Continuity Management – how to maintain ongoing activities in a crisis, or to reinstate them as soon as is practicable.
Questions relate both to the existence and effectiveness of these processes generally, and also to what is happening specifically now in Kensington and Chelsea.

Does the LA undertake effective risk reviews?
Who is responsible for them?
 
Are they discussed and approved by Councillors?
When was the last review undertaken?

Does the LA have crisis management process?  
Does the LA have an appropriate emergency response plan?
Has it ever considered how it will respond to a major incident such as the Grenfell Tower fire?
 
Do plans include appropriate communication plans for people directly affected, and for their relatives (eg: relatives emergency telephone lines), emergency services, the public and the media?
How are such plans communicated to the people affected? Have plans for this kind of incident been tested and if so, when?
 
What were the results? 
How were lessons learned addressed?

Does the Government have similar plans and if so how so they consider that something like Grenfell Tower? 
Do they consider this a major incident that requires HMG attention, and if so what do the plans say they should deal with it? 
The same questions apply to the Department of Environment, which has oversight of LAs.

Grenfell Tower

What guidance was given to residents on how to respond to fire both in their own flats, in others or in public spaces? 
How and when did people evacuate the building?  
What advice were people given on how to deal with heat and smoke? 
Are smoke hoods provided to people living in high rise buildings?
If not, should they be?
 
What were evacuation instructions?
Does the LA have policies on fire drills and training?
 
Has there ever been a fire drill in Grenfell House? 
Was there an assembly area (appropriate for families in the middle of the night)? 
Were there any nominated fire wardens and what were their duties?  

Why were main gas pipes fitted in the stairs and corridors?  Not only are they unsightly but dangerous in the event of an emergency. 
Why were the pipes not boxed in during the original installation, with fireproof material?
Should gas pipes be installed in in the only escape route?
    

When did the fire start? 
When was the fire reported to emergency services and by whom? 
Were fire alarms activated in the building and by whom?
If not, why not?
Were fire alarms broken or could residents not hear them?

Emergency Response

Who advised the LA that there was an emergency? 
What did the LA do when it received notification? 
Was an emergency response coordination team set up, when and where? 
If not, why not?
What arrangements were put in place immediately to receive people evacuated from the building and provide assistance in the aftermath of the fire?
 
What process was put in place to deal with enquiries from relatives or friends?
Who was coordinating responses between LA, charities, NGOs, emergency services?
 
Who was in overall charge of the emergency response?
What plans were put in place to communicate with neighbours and local residents, other LAs?
 
Were all these matters part of the emergency response plan? If not, why not? 
Or were they only determined in response to the incident itself? (NB: From the lack of communication from Kensington & Chelsea Borough Council and officers, it appears that a process to deal with such major incidents had not been planned in advance, and a coordination team was only, finally, put in place until Saturday, 3 days after the incident).

When did the Fire Brigade arrive at Grenfell Tower? 
Did they have access problems (residents have said that they had earlier expressed concern about this)? 
What did they find once they arrived, when they initially entered the building and subsequently when they searched the building? 
What is the fire service’s view about the building and about LAs position on fire risk issues? 
Had the fire service carried out any reviews on this building, or other council owned properties in Kensington & Chelsea, in the last 3 years, and what did they conclude? 
Have any of these buildings been found to be unsafe or require urgent and important rectification?
If so, what recommendations were made and what did the Council do about them?
 
Had their views been expressed publicly or, if no appropriate response received, escalated?

Who was coordinating emergency response on the ground?
What communications process was put in place to advise the public and media of what was happening on a routine and regular basis as the emergency response took place?
 
Were residents represented in the emergency response team or otherwise were their views taken into account?

Immediate Response

What is being done about housing people displaced from Grenfell Tower both in the short term (day 1), medium term (first 3-4 weeks) and thereafter? 
If no empty Council properties are available what privately owned property can be requisitioned/rented to assist (including student hostels, which may be empty at this time)? 
Who is going to pay for this?
Are there emergency funds available to underwrite this kind of response in the future?
 
If so, who holds the funds and how are they accessed? 

What arrangements are in place to ensure that residents have access to cash (directly or via their banks), can communicate with concerned relatives and friends, have sufficient clothes, food and shelter, etc…if they don’t have access to their own property (including wallets, phones)?
Who is coordinating this effort (largely charitable I guess) with the emergency response team in the LA?
 
How are the Red Cross and other charitable organisations being involved efficiently?

When and how will the search of the building be complete?
Why did this not happen straight away?
 
If there are good reasons (eg: building safety), why were these not adequately explained to the general public?
When do the fire brigade anticipate being able to report on the cause of the fire, how it spread, what they found during their inspection?
 

Is the position regarding survivors, deaths and injuries being communicated to all stakeholders on a frequent basis, and if not why not?
Is there a central enquiry line for relatives to call?
 

Longer Term response

How will the LA provide appropriate accommodation for the former residents of the block, where and when? 
Will the authorities re-imburse people for loss of property urgently (so they can buy what they need for their new homes)?  (Many people are unlikely to have sufficient insurance to cover the loss of property but even if they do the insurance companies will be looking to recover from liable parties, that may well include the LA.  The residents of Grenfell House should not be asked to wait while this wrangle goes on).

What is going to be done about similarly-clad blocks that are now clearly a fire risk and worrying for the residents, both in Kensington and Chelsea and in other LAs?
Will replacement of any non-fire-retardant materials be made the number 1 priority?
   
Will people be re-housed while further refurbishment takes place?
Will the government, which holds the purse strings, pay for this enormous cost?
  If not, why not?

What will be done by LAs to implement known weaknesses in fire protection in similar properties and in response to recommendations made by previous investigations? 
Will the Department of Environment take responsibility for ensuring that building control standards are mandatory and updated to reflect current knowledge? 
If not, what is their excuse this time?

What will the government do to ensure that in future it is prepared to respond to emergencies such as this in a coordinated way on day 1, not after a delay of 3 days? (imagine if the oil companies delayed 3 days before responding to Piper Alpha). 

What will the LA and government do to ensure that its response is not only technocratically correct but also show humanity and empathy for those involved? (this has been a major public relations disaster for Theresa May, which could have been avoided, just like the fire itself).

Will we receive answers to these and other questions as soon as possible?
When will we receive answers?
 
Will answers be public and if not, why not? (there is no good reason).

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

More lions please, and fewer weasels.

What is leadership?  Doing what is populist or setting out what you believe in and working to persuade your electorate to your point of view?  Weasels do the first, Lions do the second.

Donald Trump is definitely a weasel, despite his claim to have a big swinging dick (or perhaps, to use his own words, bigly swinging). I conclude this because he comes across as someone either with no convictions, other than that he is great, or alternatively as someone so incoherent that he cannot adequately explain what they are.  No wonder he says he loves stupid people (what an accolade for the people who voted for him).

Turning to British politics, leaders of both Conservative and Labour parties are in the weasel camp as they seem unable to articulate a position of their own but are running after whatever they think will attract the popular vote.  I admire the SNP, or at least Nicola Sturgeon, for her relative honesty in maintaining her position on independence although built on a post-North Sea oil chimera.  As for UKIP their premise would appear to be populist.

Of course if your position does not accord with the electorate, then the strong ask why and deal with it.  This may mean revising your position but can equally mean standing by your principles and seeking to persuade, through facts and argument and not with scares and half-truths that seem to be meat and grist to many politicians. The weak change direction and run with the pack, the strong stand their ground and fight their corner.   Of the major parties, only the Liberal Democrats are showing true grit and leadership by sticking to their strongly europhile position despite everything, although  those moderate labour politicians who have chosen to fight the tide of populism in the Labour Party deserve credit too.

For our democracy to survive, people of principle need to be heard.  It doesn't not matter if  we agree or disagree, providing the debate moves from sound-bites and scaremongering to  rational debate. It is unfortunate that voices of principle or rationality are usually drowned out in the clamour of populism, amplified by sensation-seeking media.  In the process, people are being divided into self-sustaining camps of ignorance and bigotry.  In this war we need not only politicians but also journalists and commentators to provide leadership; to be lions and not weasels.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

MPs aren't perfect, but try being them before you criticise

I was prompted to write by one of those annoying Facebook postings with a graphic inviting you to agree with a superficially appealing political or philosophical point that fails to provide any constructive solutions.  In this case

"Our parliament, once the envy of the world, now filled with the vile stench of corporate corruption and greed.  I that what you voted for?"

Now I am as cynical as the next modestly cynical person and I know that the motives of our parliamentarians vary considerably.  Some are undoubtedly attracted by status and power but the vast majority are there because they want to make a difference and do good.  What is most incredible to me is that they put up with so much to succeed; years of long, tedious and sometimes unpleasant meetings in cold church halls, interminable debates with party die-hard constituency members who have not changed their narrow-minded ideas in decades, drinking cheap wine and dining out on another plate of curling cheese sandwiches and Iceland budget party sausage rolls.   And this is just to get elected.  Then they do the same thing over and over again to keep their seats, spending the rest of their lives in draughty committee rooms, cramped shared offices or fighting for a seat in the chamber to ask a question in the debate on obscure legislation that you or I would not understand even if we could be bothered to read it, though will complain bitterly about when it impacts on our lives.  Oh, and I forgot to mention the surgeries where they meet and help some people in genuine need, but also put up with abuse from the disgruntled, and canvassing door-to-door on a cold rainy evening only to be insulted by unwashed and foul-mouthed constituents (I am not saying all the electorate is like this but the few there are, like scum on the broth, tend to rise to the surface).  Occasionally they go home to their families, if they are still there.

Yes, some MPs have shown themselves bribable, some seek highly remunerated positions trading on their status and supposed influence, some get caught with their trousers down (usually trousers, though there have been cases of female infidelity, so that should be skirts or trouser).  But is Parliament really filled with any more corruption and greed a) than it ever was before, b) than any other part of our society where people hold power, c) than politics anywhere else in the world?  If it is, provide the evidence before pouring scorn on our elected representatives.  Otherwise  perhaps better not to point the finger.

Or do we just shine a light on it more, with the help of a venal press who are no less corrupt and primarily interested in selling newspapers and, in many cases, spewing out bile and salacious news to pander to their readers' existing prejudices rather than to inform and supply a public service?

Get real.  If you don't like our politicians, try doing the job yourself and see that the electorate has its own shortcomings; they are no more paragons of virtue than MPs.  The difference is that we seem to  take every opportunity to reflect our own shortcomings on those who do step forward to do this difficult job and criticise them for it.  If you have a biblical turn of mind, let he who is without sin cast the first stone.  Let him, or her, be the first to click "like" on the Facebook page anyway.