miss_s_b: Animated Viking shouts lots of words that originated in Viking language (Fangirling: Horrible Histories)
Am composing this on my phone on the bus so it may be typo-ridden, but...

There's been a lot of outrage on Twitter today about some people who pinched food from the bins at the back of a supermarket being prosecuted. In my view this outrage is fair, but it does worry me that people are reacting as if this is a new thing. When I worked at a supermarket (and I did in fits and starts from being 16) the store always prosecuted people they caught nicking from the bins. This is not a new thing.

I thought it was a bit heartless, to say the least, so I asked management why. Apparently the rationale was that if someone got ill from eating something they had pinched from the bins they, or their family, might sue. Preventing this terrible eventuality was much more important than letting hungry people eat stuff that was getting thrown away anyway.

So, you know, by all means be cross about it. I certainly am. But don't pretend is a new thing, or the fault of the ebul ConDem gubmint and a terrible indictment of Cameron Britain; it's not. It's standard supermarket practise.
miss_s_b: Vince Cable's happy face (Politics: Vince - happy face)
Yesterday on Twitter (today, if you don't do twitter but do read my linkspams) I linked to a post called Why Marketers Fear the Female Geek. If you read my blog for libdemmery or Doctor Who you might not have bothered clicking the link, but I urge you to do so. It's the clearest explanation of how marketing works I have ever read. Go ahead, do it now, I'll wait.

The more astute among you will have already realised how this applies to British politics. Especially if you were listening to the news this morning. Both Labour and Tories have announced things today which are desperately chasing a small and shrinking proportion of the population, actively at the expense of everyone else (in Labour's case it's racists, in the Tories' case it's pensioners). Why are they doing this? Well, because they are marketing men. David Cameron worked in PR, for pity's sake. They've identified a demographic they can appeal to and they are appealing for all they are worth, trying to squeeze every last vote out.

The problem is, the longer this goes on, the more people are left out in the cold. Politicians whine all the time about decreased turnout at elections, but then they only ever try to appeal to a subset of those who already vote, which leaves everybody else angry and feeling disenfranchised.

Politics desperately needs a Disruptive Innovator. And it really, REALLY should be the Lib Dems. We made a half-arsed attempt at it in 2010 with the Tuition Fees + No More Broken Promises schtick, and we ALL know how that went; if anything that has made things worse because we didn't follow through on our marketing. But we can, and should, do better. We have LOTS of disruptive and innovative policies, we just need to get them taken seriously by the electorate. Well, I say, just... After last time there is going to be a once bitten, twice shy effect.

I think we're doing better with the Euro campaign for this year. We're the only party not doing the racist dog whistle race to the bottom of saying IMMIGRUNTS BAD all the time. We're pointing out actual facts and things about how being in Europe and free movement of peoples across Europe actually makes us richer, both economically and socially. In a country that's reading a lot of Daily Mail, that's bold, radical, disruptive innovation right there.

We need to be thinking about how we're going to do this for the general. And we need to be thinking about it now, if not sooner.

ETA: it has been pointed out to me that perhaps I could have worded one of the sentences in this better. Pensioners are, as a group, growing as a proportion of the population. But if you are appealing to voters you are appealing to individuals within a group, not the whole group, and individual pensioners get old and die. If you craft a message that appeals to post-war generation pensioners but ignores the baby boomers (like my parents) who have VERY different views, the group you are appealing to is shrinking and you are putting off their replacements.
miss_s_b: (Default)
It's August, the Westminster Bubble is mostly free of Actual News, so the commentariat turns to navel-gazing. Why, they opine, WHY is poitical party membership falling off a cliff? It's particularly plaintive this year as the Tory party is rumoured to have dropped below 100,000 members - as recently as 1990 they were over a million, down from a peak of nearly 3 million. There are a lot of comment pieces about this in the mainstream media, and most of them seem to me to miss the salient point.

When one joins a poltical party, what does one get for one's money? It seems to me, not very much.

Chance to become elected

You are much more likely to become elected if you are a member of a party than if you are an independent. And yet, the number of us living in safe seats, and the number of seats available in the first place, means that most mmbers of political parties won't get the chance to become elected, and that's even if they wanted to. Lots of people would rather not be. And those who do become eleced still need the supprt structures provided by a party, so there need to be lots of members who are not (and don't want to be) elected to office.

Chance to influence party policy, and thereby the law of the land

This depends on the party. In the Lib Dems, the Greens, and the Pirates there are strong demoratic structures, and party policy is determined by members. I have been very proud to see policies that I have been involved in the formulation of become actual laws (shared parental leave, for example). In Labour and the Conservatives it sees to me that internal party democracy is weaker, although I am sure people will correct me on this if I am wrong. UKIP I have no idea.

The problem is though, that if your party DOES get into government, there's always the chance that the leadership will ignore party policy in favour of whatever the Daily Mail says. I strongly suspect this, or at least the perception of this, to be behind huge amounts of the falloff in Lib Dem membership the last couple of years.

The bottom line is that if you want to influence party policy, and thereby the government, you're much better off if you can afford to spend money directly influencing public opinion in a swing seat, because then all the parties will rush to pander to you. Beating your head against the brick wall of party machinery can sometimes achieve cracks in the wall, but mostly it achieves a sore head.

You can get information from the party about what's going on

This can be quite useful. Although the information is quite partisan, it's still going to give you more than you get from the mainstream press. The thing is you have to sign up for a lot of this even as a member of the party. I get to see this every day at work. My work colleagues are signed up to different email lists to me. We all sometimes get stuff that the others don't. People unaware of how these things work are going to miss out on a lot.

You can help select candidates for office

Well, you CAN, if you're someone who is good at getting in with the local party heirarchies. Most people who join a political party never go to a local party meetng.

You can get to meet famous politicians

See above.

It's a badge of honour

Uh, no. Normal people percieve EVERYONE who joins a political party, of whatever stripe, as weird. This is because, with less than half a milion people (I'm not counting Union affiliate members of the Labour party here, partly because many of them aren't Labour supporters, and partly because union membership is in steep decline too) being card-carrying members of any political party, we ARE weird.

It's a social club, and you can use it for networking

Again, this only really applies to people who go to the local party meetings. It's not a social club for the armchair member. For me, embedded as I am in the party, the Lib Dems are my family. But having kept in touch with various people who have left for various reasons, it's clear that those friendships, once forged, don't die just because someone is not a member of the club any more.

It's a public statement of what you believe in

So is a t-shirt, and a t-shirt is cheaper.

The list above just came from the top of my head, but it's obvious from it that although there are benefits for people who want to be activists, for the armchair member there is very little. And even for those who want to be activists, all too often you pay your subs, turn up to a local meeting, and discover that you have to spend ten years delivering leaflets "voluntarily", all the while paying your subs like a good little soldier, before anyone will listen to a word you have to say. Even those of us who have reached the rarefied position of having something of a voice regularly get told to shut up and deliver leaflets by those higher up the chain.

To me the reason membership of political parties is dwindling is blindingly obvious. For the vast majorty of members, you pay your money and you get nothing at all. The next biggest group are the group who pay their money and get roundly abused and expected to work very hard for the privelege of having paid. For a vanishingly small number, the benefits listed above become worth the money. But for most people? Why in the hell would you hand over hard-earned cash, particularly in today's economic climate, for a big pile of bugger all? You might as well go down the pub (while there's still some pubs left) and spend your money there.

If political parties want to stop the decline in membership they need to offer something that people think is worth spending money on. I don't see it happening any time soon...
miss_s_b: (Politics: Democracy)
And thus I am taking some time away from the internet - twitter, blogs, the lot - until it calms down. I have no wish to get in between people gleefully installing Thatcher Memorial Dancefloors and people pompously taking the moral high ground and sneering. I'll wait till the next big news story is announced and the mayfly attention of the internet moves to that before I come back, just for my own sanity.

I suspect I'll be doing the same again as and when her funeral is announced, too.

miss_s_b: (Default)
I'm filling in a meme on a DW community, and it's asking me what other fandoms I'm involved with aside from the one the comm is based around. And it got me thinking (possibly because I have been reading The Wee Yin's tumblr too much, and she definitely treats politics as a fandom) - does politics count as a fandom?

Poll #12355 Politics as a fandom?
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: Just the Poll Creator, participants: 22

Does politics count as a fandom?

Hell yes
14 (63.6%)

Ew no
4 (18.2%)

What the hell are you talking about?
0 (0.0%)

4 (18.2%)

miss_s_b: Vince Cable's happy face (Politics: Vince - happy face)
We had a discussion in the office Saturday morning. It was a wide-ranging and occasionally sweary discussion. It touched on Leveson, CCDP, access to justice, housing and many other areas. And at the end of it, we reached a conclusion. The conclusion was this:

The problem with Lib Dems in government* is that they don't listen to or trust the people who know what they are talking about.

For example, I am not a big economics geek, but I know enough about it to know it's important and to know who IS a big geek and which of them to trust ([personal profile] matgb is one, Richard Flowers another. Another example, on IT systems, I know a bit, but not as much as someone like Zoe O'Connell. On science, there's the magnificent Huppmeister. On digital rights, there's Dave Page. I could go on, but you get the idea.

When one is in power, the trick is NOT to try to become and expert on everything, because that isn't humanly possible. The trick is to surround yourself with people you can trust who are experts in the various fields you need to make decisions on.

Now theoretically, this should be easy in the Lib Dems. We have lots of experts, and lots of internal party committees that they can join or be elected to which would theoretically smooth their communication with the party leadership and the parliamentarians. Even better, our leader recognised before we went into coalition that going native when surrounded by civil servants might be an issue, and warned us to keep an eye on him (and the other parliamentarians) for it. And we have lots of councillors and council leaders who have experience of officers trying to control them and methods of avoiding it.

So if we have the people who can solve the problem, and a leadership which is alive to the problem, why is the problem still happening?

I think it boils down to trust. Somehow the leadership and MPs have lost trust in the people who know what they are doing within the party and started to listen to the siren call of those who have been embedded in the Westminster Bubble for decades. This is something that members of our party who are/have been in local government leadership positions predicted; those Westminster Bubble types have years of experience of persuading MPs that they need to listen to them and nobody else.

Communication between the leadership and the experts within the party has got more distant and one way, despite the best efforts of the experts, because the parliamentarians have started to believe that the civil service knows better. Emails from the leadership have become steadily more patronising and mansplainy as we get further from 2010. And this isn't going to change because I (or anyone else) has a moan about it.

To be honest, although I can see the problem, I don't have the first clue what to do about it. Any of yoou lot have any bright ideas?

* not all of them, and not all of the time, but enough of them enough of the time to make it systemic
miss_s_b: (Politics: Democracy)
I've seen a huge number of theories on this, but given some politicians' disdain for actually doing research and finding things out, I suspect we'll never have a definitive answer. After all, it's much easier to pontificate from assumptions than do research... With that caveat in mind, I'd like to take a look at some of the theories.

1, Nobody votes in winter elections

Turnout in winter elections does tend to be depressed by 5 or 6 percent. This may be a factor, but it's clearly not the full explanation when in some places turnout didn't even hit 10 percent.

2, There was a lack of information about the elections

There was no freepost mailshot. The London-based national media were totally apathetic about reporting that the elections were happening (unlike the bloody London mayor, which the rest of us had to suffer ad nauseam). The government didn't push the elections either. The Choose My PCC website was abysmal, and the helpline was worse than useless. This all gave the electorate the impression that nobody could be bothered. Again, I think this was a factor, but not the full explanation.

3, There was a lack of meaningful choice

Even if you get over the hurdles of lack of information, you discover that most of the candidates were standing on identical platforms. More bobbies on the beat, less anti-social behaviour, etc. Unless you have strong ideological political convictions (which is not very many people these days) from which you could extrapolate the values of the candidate (because very few made overtly political statements) how the hell were you meant to choose between them? And if there's no meaningful choice, people won't bother to vote - I personally think this is a large part of the decline in turnouts in other elections too.

4, People object to the idea of a politician running the police

This may be true, although it shows ill-informedness about how the police were run before. Again, I think the media must take some share of the blame for this. Pretty much all of the reports I have seen have described the PCCs as replacing the Police Authority - which is something of a misconception - and have not described how the existing police authorities were comprised of local councillors anyway so were already politicised. The only thing that has really changed here is the name of the police authority - they are now police and crime panels - and the fact that the chair of the authority has been renamed commissioner and is now directly elected rather than indirectly.

5, People who object to the idea of elected police commissioners had no way to register their disdain other than to stay away

Although there have been a larger number of spoilt ballots this time, people are still unaware of the power of a spoilt ballot, and so tried to send a message by not voting. Unfortunately, we all know that politicians and the media will paint this as "voter apathy" and people "not bothering". This will increase feelings of disenfranchisement and frustration among the electorate. At some point this is going to boil over, but clearly this election wasn't it.

If you DO object to the very idea of elected police and crime commissioners, by the way, I recommend either signing Unlock Democracy's open letter to Theresa May or signing the epetition here, or both.

6, People are just generally pissed off with politicians, political media, and elections

I, personally, think this is the nub of it. And because people are just generally pissed off with politicians, political media, and elections this feeds into the perception that there is a lack of meaningful choice - if all politicians are the same and they are all venal scumsucking money-grubbing bastards, why bother to try to choose between them? It won't make any difference.

The causes of this are many and complex, but a large part of it is the electoral system which forces there two be two big broad church parties of disparate people BEFORE an election rather than coalitions forming after; a large part of it is the media who love to take politicians down and misrepresent them for sensationalist reasons; some of it is a lack of education on politics and its processes; and some of it is the dishonesty of politicians in not admitting that actually, there is very little difference between any of the main parties precisely due to the above effects.

There needs to be a sea change in politics in this country. People like Loz Kaye and even the idiot Farage are doing their best to bring that about peacefully, but powerful forces are ranged against them. The Labour and Conservative parties really don't want to see it happen because it will mean the end of their century-old strangehold on power, which is why all of the opprobrium for unpopular government decisions has been aimed by them at the Lib Dems. The dead tree media don't want to see it happen because pluralist politics is far harder to report than red/blue blue/red spats, which is why all of the opprobrium for unpopular government decisions has been aimed by THEM at the Lib Dems.

But I think it's going to happen. Whether or not it happens peacefully depends on exactly how hard the establishment resists, but we've already seen riots, record low turnout in elections, and we're seeing the demonisation and othering of everyone from the disabled to those who dare to voice dissent on twitter. It takes a lot to make British people rouse from their "mustn't grumble" natural state and revolt, but we're seeing signs of it happening. Our political class (myself included) needs to pay attention to this and do something about it, before the entire edifice gets burned.
miss_s_b: (Fanigrling: Rumpole)
There appears to be something of a backlash against this concept going on at the moment, and everyone I see lashing back against it seems to be lashing at so many straw men they're in a blizzard of dried grasses.

Evidence-based policy does not mean you can't do ANYTHING without randomised control trials on every single facet of every policy. It DOES mean that we should pay attention to what we are doing currently and note what it's effects are and see if those effects push towards or move away from our aims. I don't see what the problem is with paying attention to whether what you are doing or proposing achieves it's aims?

The word "evidence" does not preclude consideration of anything other than randomised control trials. Empirical evidence from one person is still evidence. Hearsay evidence is still evidence, albeit not very persuasive. A randomised control trial might be more persuasive, but if you haven't got one of those there are still other forms of evidence you can consider. Evidence is not an on/off switch, but a complex sliding scale of persuasiveness.

The rejection of evidence-based policy strikes me, with my legal training, as completely wrong-headed. Because if you reject evidence-based policy, what you are doing is asking for policy that has no evidence for it. Policy that has no evidence for it at best is policy that nobody knows whether it will work, and far more likely is policy that there is evidence that it doesn't work, simply on the basis that most policies have been tried by now, so we have some evidence on whether or not they work.

Why in the name of Paddy's pants would anyone find that preferable to policy which we have some evidence that it works?
miss_s_b: (feminist heroes: river song)
In discussion on twitter today, someone Not Like Me* praised me for trying to understand their position. I am having a rather mixed set of reactions to it. Obviously gratitude (it's nice to be praised) and faint smugness (yes, I AM awesome) but also a large dollop of confusedness (it was described as a rare thing to do) and quite a lot of sadness (why is it rare? Surely everyone reasonable tries to understand other people?).

I suspect this plugs into my fondness for debate, and my dad having drummed scientific method into me. How can you debate something with someone if you don't understand their position? How can you test someone's reasoning if you don't know how that reasoning has been reached? So I try very hard to understand the positions of people Not Like Me because I don't know without trying to understand them whether or not they might have a point in whatever they are arguing for/against.

What I don't get is why this isn't second nature to everyone else?

I mean, sure you might be totally convinced of your rightness in a particular argument (I often am ;)), but if that's the case, surely you'd be better forensically dismantling your opponent than just dismissing them? And to do that you need to at least try and understand where they're coming from. You can pick holes in a cloth if you don't know where it is, after all.

Or you might want to totally support the position of the people unlike you. But without trying to understand them you might unwittingly undermine them or cause them pain (and this is something I suspect I am rather prone to, which is a big part of my wish to understand).

Now I'm not saying that this is easy. It often isn't, particularly because I do occasionally get things wrong and have to publicly apologise/backtrack. But surely it's easier than being dogmatic and unmovable and ignorant? Surely it's easier than pissing people off, either purposefully or inadvertently?

I guess this is just another thing I don't understand that I would like to. Like a circle in a circle...

* for the purposes of this blog post it doesn't really matter in what way I differ from the person I was talking to, so I am keeping it deliberately vague. A person being Not Like Me is in no way meant as a perjorative - in fact, in many cases it's a positive advantage - but just as a description.
miss_s_b: DCI Gill Murray looking disapprovingly at her phone (feminist heroes: DCI Gill Murray)
Yes, the coalition parties got a drubbing. Yes, Labour won back lots of seats. But that's not the big story, and Labour would do well to resist the urge to rub Lib Dem faces in it (not that they are resisting, of course...). The big story of what happened yesterday was turnout. In most places it was less than 30%. LESS THAN 30%!

This is not a ringing endorsement of the Labour party, this is a big two fingers up to ALL politicians. It explains the Green wipeout in Cambridge when they had net gains overall, and came close to taking (for example) Birkenhead with over 40% of those who turned out voting for them. It explains the gains for Respect in Bradford - and we're already seeing hopes for all sorts, including saving the Odeon, attached to Respect, which I shall be very sad but very unsurprised to see dashed.

Triumphalist Labourites tweeting that (for example) in one ward in Hull they got 80-odd percent of the vote and intentionally not mentioning the turnout (18.7%) are 1, missing the point and 2, setting themselves up for a big fall. When you factor in turnout, that Hull ward was won by 15.7% of the vote. That's not something to crow about, not for politicians of ANY stripe.

The public hates us ALL. Yes, at the moment they detest the coalition parties more than Labour, but that won't last if Labour get in. Politicians of all parties need to be very worried indeed about the message that extremely low turnouts are sending us, because at some point there's going to be a really big upset if we don't. Possibly even if we do.
miss_s_b: (Politics: FU)
There's a letter in there from one "Concerned Voter" complaining that candidates spend more time writing to the local paper than they do knocking on doors talking to actual voters. I haven't actually written to the Echo since I stopped being press and communications officer for the local party, although obviously I read it, so I just emailed to say the following:
I write in response to "concerned voter" of Rastrick. Obviously, I can't speak for other candidates, but the reason I no longer do door-to-door canvassing is that the last time I did it, someone set their dog on me. My garden gate vaulting skills are pretty good so I was uninjured (just); although I am happy to engage in the cut and thrust of debate, I draw the line at risking my personal safety.

Concerned Voter will be glad to know that I have, however, been spending between twenty and thirty hours a week in telephone canvassing on behalf of my party in the run-up to the local elections, and although I may not get around to her (or him) I am doing my best. Meanwhile, if any Brighouse resident wishes to share their concerns with me (whether or not I am elected to serve them on Thursday) I am quite happy to be contacted, and easy to find on the internet or behind the bar at the Old Ship Inn - although when I am at work the concerns of Brighouse residents must necessarily take second place behind the serving of beer.
...And now it's back to work work work, I'm afraid.
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So YouGov did a survey on which party people think various fictional characters would vote for. From the little I know, I would suspect most of them are correct, but I want to talk about the one I know is definitely false, and the one I think is probably wrong.

Firstly, Victor Meldrew is definitely a Labour voter. This is canonical, he talks about it in the show, he reads the Daily Mirror onscreen on a regular basis, and in one episode is shown roundly abusing a Tory canvassar, and in another episode castigating a Tory politician in a hospital. So why do the majority of people think of him as a Tory?

There's a definite stereotype effect going on; most of the Tories are characters people don't like, or love to hate, and most of the Labour characters are seen as good fun but a bit thick. The one Lib Dem is the Vicar of Dibley - worthy, does good works and makes people happier, but is ultimately pretty powerless and someone to feel sorry for. So I think people put Victor Meldrew as a Tory because he's so bloody grumpy, and people see him as selfishly grumpy - but he's totally not. He's a tireless crusader against injustice, not just for himself, but for others (see the episode set in the Old People's home), and he has the Labourite's unshakeable conviction that the government ought to sort things out.

The other one that I think is a bit off is the Doctor. The biggest result for him is "wouldn't vote", which is probably correct, because I think the timelord maxim of non interference still has SOME traction on him... But then the next biggest is Green LOL! The Doctor is a scientist. The Greens, despite their hearts being in the right place, are totally wedded to woo. Add to that their occasional authoritarian tendencies and... no, the Doctor is a Lib Dem. I shall stubbornly cling to that belief.
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About This Blog

picture of Jennie Rigg

Hello! I'm Jennie (known to many as SB, due to my handle, or The Yorksher Gob because of my old blog's name). This blog is my public face; click here for a list of all the other places you can find me on t'interwebs.

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