Sunday, 9 June 2013

Spying, the privatised state and the abdication of government

Politicians in headlong retreat are unappealing.  Little William Hague has been leading the chorus of unconvincing denial that GCHQ has been involved in the unravelling American-led snooping, which should reassure anyone whose gullibility threshold has been set somewhere in the stratosphere.  The Guardian should be commended for running with the Prism story, whereby Internet giants and others are being trawled for intelligence without either accountability or clarity as to what is being achieved.

Panic makes bad legislators.  Obama has clearly surrendered to the spook-industrial complex in his defence of the actions of his agencies.  The rule of law and the right to privacy are fundamental human rights - as indeed is the right to go about one's business unmolested and unthreatened by others, providing of course that one returns the favour.

Yet the privatisation of what should be the public domain makes personal data and information into nothing more than a tradable commodity.  Google, host of this blog, Facebook, Apple and others all rely on the level of information their clients are prepared to trade both to earn revenue and to increase their grip on the market place.  When consumers and citizens are able to make informed choices, this should not be a problem.

Where the assault on the liberty of the citizen occurs is where the blurring of boundaries between civic participation and economic agent becomes so impossible to discern that there is no real difference between information available to the state and that which can be traded for marketing purposes.  Even having to exclude one's information, as an active choice, from being the target of marketing through the electoral register, is a prime example of this arrogation of corporate and state power into the trading of individual identities.

Yet those who excoriate the state with the most hypocritical gusto, right-wing hysterics who pretend to be libertarian, are quite happy for blatant infringements of individual liberty in the name of national security, and to shut up those whose dissent or non-conformity is perceived to cause a threat.  This means that they are compromised where it comes to intelligence agencies using corporate data without the safeguards that would exist through disclosure and freedom of information laws.

The state's boundaries are opaque and being made less clear - outsourcing of core services and functions is designed, inter alia, to reduce accountability of both politicians and service providers - making it easy to shift the blame.  From service provision to civil liberties is a very small step, but we need politicians prepared to spell this out.  If Clegg wants further clear water between him and the imploding Tories, he should be challenging Miliband and other opposition politicians to come to a consensus on liberty and the right of the citizen to a life where his or her data is accessible, open to challenge and is not infringed by the state or corporations for the easy narrative that we are currently being peddled.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Bashing the Bishops

Our Lords Spiritual, Temporal and Venal have not overturned the Commons vote in favour of allowing gay couples to marry.  However, what they have done is demonstrate both the anachronism of an unelected second chamber and the damage that the Church of England can do.  There are pressing arguments to do something about both areas of a major democratic deficit.

One of the key arguments that the status quo commands is that the British state has an officially-sanctioned religion of which the Head of State is the nominal head.  The Church of England is embedded in most aspects of ceremonial life, and therefore unpicking this will have unintended consequences beyond merely separating out government of all citizens from the spiritual adherence of what appears to be a generally-declining section of Christianity.

Unfortunately, there have been very few Bishops in the Lords of any moral or intellectual stature in recent years.  The moral compass that they exhibit is not exclusive, neither is their radar particularly well-tuned.  Apart from the former Archbishop of Canterbury, whose gentle authority and humanity tended to unite even non-adherents with a degree of respect, both the current and retired episcopate appears to be mediocre at best, and more generally ludicrous in its interventions in the polity.

To hear Lord Carey suggesting that gay marriage leads almost inevitably to bestiality, and then to have the current occupant of Canterbury prattling on implying it is the end of civilisation as we know it demonstrates both the scale of the problem and the ease of its solution.  Rather than leading by example they appeal to the same group of knee-jerk reactionaries who have given Farage the poll and ego boosts  of the last few months, without even preaching any tolerance, understanding or compassion.  Political, Tory appointments both.

While the Lords remains intact, there is no real reason to expel the Bishops from an automatic legislative role, as they are an obvious symbol of blight.  However, as the cupidity and greed of the Lords-for-hire scandal extends further, any reform will surely sweep an anachronism aside.  Whether or not the remainder of the unpicking of the Crown and its privileges are achieved, this seems almost inevitable.  And the Bishops have been the architects of their own undoing.  Perhaps they will mediate on Samson and his fate.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Renaming the Tube - GLA Tory attention-seeking or symbolic stupidity

The unmemorable bunch of Tories who act as cheer-leaders for the Bouffant Adulterer on the Greater London Assembly have produced a truly wonderful document.  In a piece of immense sophistry, self-publicising political onanism they have concluded that by calling in favours from crony capitalists, and renaming London Underground lines and stations they might be able to restrain one year's worth of fare increases on the Tube.

This is one of the most cretinous emissions that the Tories have yet been guilty of.  Let's start from the position that they are genuinely concerned about the level of public transport fares, and are looking at means to generate income.  Anyone with basic economic theory will understand that the value of branding is where it is unique and where advertising and promotional expenditure produces an uplift in income for the funding company.  The more companies involved, the less the impact on consumer consciousness.  So this is a stupid kite flown even at the start - the assumption on income levels depends upon the uniqueness of the marketing opportunity.

There are already two emblems of such privatisation of the public realm already - the Cable Car across the Thames, which is a novelty tourist attraction outside the main transport system, made even more ludicrous by not being part of the general ticketing arrangements - a white elephant in most aspects - and the hire bikes; this are mostly ridden by bankers (I think that was the word I heard from a pedestrian nearly decapitated when a smug rider disregarded the Highway Code).   Yet both Emirates and Barclays must consider their name stands out amongst others for being associated with the transport system, and being unique there.

Renaming Tube stations and lines, or attaching sponsorship to them, is the response of neo-con intellectual toddlers.  The Underground forms the backbone of most non-Londoners' experience of the capital because it is perceived as simple and unchanging - reinforced by the stylised diagrammatic maps descended from Frank Pick - and because it provides constant points of reference.  Changing names, branding and the perception of reliability will not just confuse people it will also damage the branding of London as a global business centre and tourist destination.  All for a few headlines in the disgusting propaganda rag that is the Evening Standard...

The GLA Tories, despite being deprived of their former colleague, the convicted criminal from Barnet and Camden, are clearly of very little brain and what there is is stuck up their fundaments at an angle from which very little can be seen.

What would be more useful for them is to study Paris.  The Metro is even less branded than the Tube, nevertheless stations do get renamed, quite often in commemoration of individuals or events which to some eyes may seem odd.  There is still Stalingrad, to counter-act Bir-Hakeim.  Meanwhile Resistance figures such as Jacques Bonsergent are honoured - but all of these impact upon the consciousness of a nation less afraid of history and change.  There is no feeling that this is a corporate playground, merely a means of transport for the citizens - not the plebs and drones unable to afford a GLA taxi account.  Even the bikes are the city's, not a bankers' promotional tool.

The idea that public transport and public spaces are a realm which is owned by the people is so alien to the current crop of right-wing, thick self-seeking egotists who make up the bulk of public representatives that such an argument would not even impact upon their little bubble.  As a citizen, I expect to be able to orientate around landmarks, not marketing tropes.

One alternative might be to have popularly-nominated renamings: we could have a Tory scandal line crowned by the Mayor in all his hypocritical glory - running through Hamilton, Aitken, Mercer, Yeo, Profumo, Major, Currie - if there was a Milligan station then the line colour would have to be orange.  The potential for subversion is enormous, but even more great would be righteous vandalism, to reclaim the identity of London for its citizens and visitors rather than the LSD-fuelled inanities of a bunch of backbench has-beens and never-weres.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Small crumbs from Patrick Mercer's downfall

The venality, cupidity and stupidity of Tory backbenchers is a given.   Patrick Mercer, ex-Tory MP and continuing idiot, has suffered the consequences of arrogance and a failure to recognise that the consequences of the expenses scandal are such that the kind of scams perpetrated by our self-selected masters are now subject to scrutiny.

When the expenses scandal broke, it affected politicians of all parties.  However, only the Tories seem to think that a combination of denial and finger-pointing at the previous administration is a sufficient response.  With any luck, there will be at least some reflection as to how the swivel-eyed are continuing to take the proverbial from the system - and other parties should be keen to point out the cant and hypocrisy of the continued abuse of public office emerging from a party that is keen to demonise anyone working in the public sector or in receipt of social security payments.

Mercer himself deserves very little consideration.  Sacked from the Tory front bench for an utterance that could realistically be perceived as casual racism, he appears to be both vain and credulous if he falls for a journalistic sting - especially since opinion has swung against backbench greed and the scrutiny of such lapses is now tighter.

In the best duck-house tradition he is snivelling about being entrapped, and engaging in casuistry that any payment was for consultancy work which just happened to result in him asking Parliamentary questions.  Doubtless, despite being caught in the act of what might be considered corruption, he will try to draw parallels with the sting on Vince Cable, which got within a whisker of giving Murdoch everything that he wanted.

The Tories have persistently opposed any statutory register of members' interests - and have undermined the efforts of other parties to secure this.  There remains a huge gap between public and politicians, which surely provides an opportunity for coalescence between reformers to demonstrate to the electorate that the patrician grafters are on the way out.  A small step may be feasible both in terms of demonstrating that the Coalition exists for its programme alone, and, for the greater good, in showing that there is still appetite for reform.