Demo2010: policing and the philosophy of protest - last Thursday on Police State UK
- in which I talk about the tendency of the press to report the methods rather than the message of a protest; attempt to summarise the context of Demo 2010, and offer a comparison of the Millbank occupation and the G20 protest last year.
"Warning: may contain humour" - last Friday on Police State UK
- a round-up of the online response to the Twitter Joke Trial verdict, a brief discussion of bad taste and free speech, and a couple of awkward qustions.
Remember the Suffragettes: a Black Friday vigil in honour of direct action - yesterday on Open Democracy: Our Kingdom
- publicising the Black Friday vigil I'm going to tonight, and explaining why I think it's important to honour the methods, as well as the cause and sacrifice, of the suffragettes. This was a wee post thrown together after a chat with Anthony Barnett before the Open Democracy drugs policy talk on Tuesday ("can you quickly write what you just told me for Our Kingdom when you got home? Doesn't have to be long") and then it was on the front page of Open Democracy, and the most read post on the site for a brief while this morning.
Too much politics this week, not enough paying work. Which makes a difference from the previous five months' schedule of too much pub, not enough paying work. Will get there eventually!
Demo2010: policing and the philosophy of protest - last Thursday on Police State UK
I've just sent the following email to all my candidates except Labour, Tory and UKIP (because I am not considering voting for them) through this handy website.
( This got long. )
Feel free to nick any/all of the above questions - the observant among you will have noticed that I've cobbled together most of them from the Liberty Central list, the Power 2010 leaderboard, and the Pirate Party UK manifesto.
I'll be surprised if any of them answer all of the questions, but Denny tells me he'd be delighted to receive an email like that, so here's hoping.
I'd previously thought that Neville Watson, as a high-profile Independent and POC, stood the best chance of ousting Lammy in Tottenham, but as time passes I'm less convinced. I got a leaflet from TUSC (the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition) through the door which was surprisingly credible, so I'm considering going along to their election rally next Tuesday to see what they have to say. Their candidate Jenny Sutton is on twitter (the only one I've found so far apart from Lammy) and seems very sound. I've heard absolutely nothing from the Green or Lib Dem candidates so far - in fact I'm wondering if there are any Lib Dems in Tottenham - so the answers I get really will be a significant factor in who I decide to vote for.
Last week PSUK were invited to the Westminster Legal Policy Forum Keynote Seminar on the future of policing - accountability, cost and effectiveness. Which was kind of cool, and kind of scary. I went on my own as they could only afford to fund one delegate (and we couldn't afford the £90 concession ticket or whatever it was) and Denny had been to one on his own last month on DNA databases. It was very interesting, and I've written a couple of articles in response to the discussion:
( The future of policing: trust and accountability )
( The future of policing: collaboration and social media )
Now that Denny's running for Parliament, he's taking a back seat in the maintenance of Police State UK until after the election. Given I'm already running three other businesses in addition to my political volunteer work, and that I'm also helping him with his campaign to some extent, I really don't have time to step up my involvement in PSUK; I've been spending more time on it over the last two weeks, but that really isn't sustainable. This means we are looking for contributions even more than normal. If you care about politics and civil liberties in the UK, please consider writing something for us - it doesn't have to be complex. I've written some guidelines for articles to help people get started. If you're interested but there's some barrier preventing you from contributing, let me know and I'll do what I can to help.
This is a bit thirteenth hour, but it's important, so.
Dear David Lammy
I'm writing to you because I'm very worried that the Government, driven by Lord Mandelson, intends to rush the Digital Economy Bill into law without full Parliamentary debate.
This bill is highly controversial and contains many measures that are potentially damaging. Enough people are unhappy about the bill in its current form that the Liberal Democrats were forced to officially reconsider their position at their spring conference. Many of the Lords recognise the dangerous potential of this bill, but it will not get proper scrutiny unless MPs stand up and insist on a full debate.
Clauses in this bill will damage schools and small businesses (including my own small web business) as well as innocent people who rely on the Internet. It will allow the Government to disconnect people it suspects of copyright infringement, which is worrying not only because proper investigations may not occur before disconnection, resulting in effective punishment without trial, but because the Internet is one of the most exciting tools our society has for inclusivity and social mobility. Disconnection - which would apply to all members of an affected household, including children - will impact on individuals' ability to inform and educate themselves, engage with society, interact and converse with other people nationally and internationally and involve themselves with important issues they care about. This bill will make public wifi punitively difficult to maintain, which will effectively disconnect a lot of poorer people from the Internet, who cannot afford their own connection at home. Its greatest impact will be on those who are most vulnerable.
Disconnection is a draconian measure which has no place in a free society which is trying to improve public resources and services. The Internet is the biggest, best free public resource we have. Access to it should be a fundamental civil right.
Industry experts, Internet service providers (like Talk Talk and BT), music industry professionals such as Billy Bragg, activists such as Mark Thomas and huge web companies like Google and Yahoo all strongly oppose this bill. It is worded without proper consultation to the realities of the industry, by people who do not seem to know the difference between a web host and an ISP. This issue is complex and deserves full scrutiny before punitive legislation is passed.
I am writing to you today as your constituent and a struggling small business owner to ask you to do all you can to ensure the Government doesn't just rush this bill through. This bill will have far-reaching consequences and it desperately needs proper scrutiny before it is passed. Please do not deny us our democratic right to full and rigorous debate.
The Open Rights Group have teamed up with 38 Degrees to create an easy web form if you want to write to your MP about this. Literally the only chance we have to stop this bill being rushed through before the election is if MPs, especially front-benchers, speak out to insist on full and proper debate. Thousands of people have already written to their MPs in the last couple of days; if enough people do, there's a chance we can still stop Labour from passing yet another piece of repressive and badly-worded legislation before the election.
I've just signed the Power 2010 pledge (you should too). I've been following the campaign with interest from the start, and voted on 20 or so reform ideas, three of which made it into the top five. Here's the message I sent accompanying my signature:
I support the Pledge because I think it's an awe-inspiring demonstration of grassroots activism, and sets an interesting precedent for the value of the web in democratic reform. The internet has radically altered the way we engage politically, and the future of our democracy needs to take that into account.
I voted for the following reforms:
- Introduce a proportional voting system
The two main parties, both unpopular with so many people in this country, have dominated Parliament for too long. First Past the Post in its current form is unrepresentative and undemocratic. The Government is too easily able to manipulate the system to increase their own power, as Labour did by re-writing the constituency boundaries in their favour before the last election, and as the Tories did by destroying the trade unions before that. Power should be devolved to allow small parties and independents more chance to have an impact on policy.
- Scrap ID cards and roll back the database state
I believe compulsory ID cards attached to a national database, the DNA database and several other national databases constitute an infringement of personal privacy and civil liberties. I do not think the cost in money, time and effort is worth the benefit to society, and I do not trust either of the two biggest parties to use databases ethically, responsibly and securely. While databases are sometimes essential for the provision of public services, separation between departments should be maintained, and I don't think the Government should generally have access to that data except in exceptional circumstances. We have seen enough evidence of data breaches and database-related abuses of power to know that the current Government cannot be trusted, and without a radical reform of our democratic system I do not believe future Governments will be any more trustworthy.
- Draw up a written constitution
England's government has historically operated based on tradition and precedent. Our society has seen radical changes in the last century, with the rise of social equality and the information revolution, and the onset of climate change. How things were done in the past is not always the best way to proceed. We should draw up a new constitution that reflects modern values going into the 21st Century, which should enshrine and protect such things as equality for all and the rights and liberties of the citizen, and prevent future Governments from undermining these basic principles. A written constitution is particularly important in a system with proportional representation, which lacks the conservative safeguards of FPTP.
I did not vote for English Votes for English Laws, as I think the United Kingdom is strengthened by being as united as possible.
I also did not vote for an elected second chamber, as I feel the value of the Lords is in their ability to engage in long-term thinking without having to play popularity games. I think the hereditary and class-based aspects of the House of Lords are deeply flawed, and would like to see a second house with a more diverse membership and equal representation from different sectors of society. However, any second house should be set up so that it can continue to offer checks and balances to the Commons - the two houses should not be identical. I might be in favour of an elected second house with a substantially longer term, but I think there are other options. Still, I would like to see reform of the Houses and would be happy to see the question put to a referendum.
I'm still thinking a lot of this stuff through; it's incredibly thorny and complicated and I don't pretend to have all the answers. I think that reflects more or less my current state of thinking on these specific issues, though.
This article was published today about Boris reducing bus crime in London:
Bus-related crime across the capital fell by 18 per cent in the first year of Boris Johnson’s administration, and has fallen by a further 10.5 per cent in a ten month period taking the figures to a six year low.
Dedicated to patrolling transport hubs in specified areas, the Mayor introduced 32 transport Hub Teams last year, including a team serving Harrow Bus Station and Harrow-on-the-Hill tube station, to increase visibility of policing on the transport network.
Which is interesting, because a couple of weeks ago when I was cycling to Turnpike Lane, I saw this:
That's a 29 bus with upwards of thirty police officers in and around it. You can't see it clearly in the photo, though, so I got a bit closer.
"Excuse me! What are you taking a photo of?" yells the cop striding towards me.
I blink. "The bus," I reply glibly. I'm thinking, if she starts to tell me I can't take photos of police officers this is going to be hilarious, but as it happens I'm late to meet someone and would rather not get into an extended debate about Section 44 abuses.
"For my blog."
She doesn't seem to know what to make of this, so to my relief she decides to drop it, although not without taking the opportunity to tell me off for riding a bike on a public path.
There were several people getting nicked, in little clumps of officers. I considered stopping to observe, but figured that this might not be the wisest course of action after antagonising one of them already. The whole thing seemed bizarrely over-the-top. I mean, I assume it's a fares raid, as they'd be unlikely to bag several violent criminals or vandals in one go. So why the show of force? Most of the people I saw were teenagers, old people. Are 40 police officers descending en masse really necessary? It's the 29, which tends to be used by a lot of people of colour because of the neighbourhoods it goes through, and it's probably spurious but I found it really hard not to see the numbers overkill in a social context. Are the scare tactics really necessary? Is there any purpose to the hordes of yellow jackets other than to scare people?
The bus crimes that worry me are violent assault, sexual assault and sexual harassment. Let's be honest, the chances of those forty coppers jumping the bus at exactly the moment that you're being threatened by someone are slim. It can't be about that. I can also see the need to police fares and vandalism; CCTV pretty much deals with the latter, and fares are usually dealt with by conductors. I understand that the bendy buses have made it easier for people to get off through one door while a conductor or copper enters through another. So having a cop or two at each door is a plausible solution to that. But ten at each door? Really? Is that necessary? Is this about reducing crime, or is it about intimidating people, being seen to reduce crime, and getting some drugs busts in there while you're at it?
Mind you, I probably just find it hard to take any policing strategy that prioritises catching fare-dodgers from the poorest areas of the city over bringing people like, say, Lord Ashcroft to justice. I am sure that London is being defrauded in more significant ways than by the passengers on the 29 bus. But passengers on buses are easier to intimidate. Especially if there are forty of you.
Many of my friends have had good things to say about the new electric cigarette things, smokers and non-smokers alike. I'm not a smoker (well, not of cigarettes) but I'm a fan: they're shiny, they light up blue when you draw on them, and they don't contain tobacco, which means no nasty-smelling smoke, no tar, no carcinogens. In case anyone's not heard of them, they're dinky cigarette-shaped nicotine vaporisers, and I've seen them come in amazingly cute little shiny metal packs where the "cigarette pack" is the charger. As far as I'm concerned it's an example of How Tech Should Be Used.
The Government is apparently less convinced. They have just released a public consultation to determine whether to bring all nicotine containing products – with the exception of tobacco and tobacco products - within the medicines licensing regime. This would require all currently unlicensed nicotine containing products on the market, such as electronic cigarettes, to apply to the MHRA for a medicines Marketing Authorisation.
In case it's not clear why this would be stupid, it would clamp down on electric cigarettes and nicotine patches/gels - the sociable, healthy ways to feed your nicotine addiction - without the restriction applying to tobacco products, being the antisocial, unhealthy ways. It's not clear what the consequences of the medicine license would be - perhaps they'd be prescription only, they'd probably be more expensive - but it would almost certainly discourage their use. The hypocrisy involved in putting these constraints on non-tobacco products and not on tobacco products is really quite astounding. The cynical might suggest that although electric cigarettes are more healthy, the fact that the generate less revenue for the Treasury in the form of tobacco tax might be a reason for the Government to want to place stricter controls on them (i.e. licensing fees).
It's a public consultation, which means they're seeking responses. My understanding is that the Government usually gets far fewer responses to these things than one might expect, meaning that anyone who bothers to respond is likely to have their response at least read (although of course that's no guarantee it'll be taken into account). The consultations are downloadable here, and the response form is here. If you're a user or supporter of electric cigarettes, I'd encourage you to respond.