Archive for the ‘Politics’ category

Let the People Decide

May 16, 2007


 I’ve been thinking about the electoral process recently. This post comes a little belatedly, but might give me something to refer back to if there’s ever another election. Which, I’m assured, there will be one day.

By now, you’ll know all about the proportion of spoiled ballot papers. 7% of would-be voters couldn’t quite organise two perpendicular, intersected lines within an appropriate square space on a sheet of paper. My curiosity is piqued: is it that they don’t understand the requirements of the voting process? Or have they deliberately spoiled their ballot papers? It seems a silly thing to do, given that one has made the trip to the polling station. Perhaps they think their democratic voice would be put to better use by scrawling some message on their form. That’s a possibility: the smallest of spanners thrown into the political works, so small in fact that it makes no difference whatsoever. It’s certainly more restrained than going to a polling station and smashing up the place, as one chap did.

Both courses of action (the anarchic scrawl and the smashing up) occurred to me as I stood in the hastily erected confines of my polling booth. But Mrs H was in the next booth, and kept rubbernecking into mine to see how I was getting on, so I thought I’d play it safe.

Anyway, back to the 7%. How good a government are we likely to get if 7% of those deciding it cannot be trusted to fill in a voting form properly? Surely it’s only pure luck that these people, by their own ineptitude, removed themselves from the voter pool?

I had tremendous difficulty in choosing who to vote for. A lot of the parties are keen on the same things. Very few, for example, want a rubbish NHS or education system. A lot of them make the same promises as each other. Who’s to say which ones will be kept and which ones will be forgotten? Of course, there’s the odd flagship issue that distinguishes parties; what to do about Iraq, for instance, or whether Scotland should be its own country or not. My problem, though, is that I don’t know enough about any of these things to know what’s best. Would independence be better or worse for Scotland in the long run? Some say yes, some say no. And if people who are supposed to know about these things can’t agree, how am I supposed to make up my mind?

In practice, I suspect people often vote for a party or candidate on the basis of snazzy leaflets, an appealing face, or because their favourite colour is red (for labour voters) or blue (for Tory voters). Not only is the process reduced to a popularity contest, but we’re also giving the nod of approval to the most extravagant expenditure for publicity. It all ends up in the recycling when it’s all over, except the Green Party leaflet, which I just threw into someone’s garden.

Given that there are probably quite a few among the electorate who know at least as little as me about these affairs, perhaps would-be voters should have to prove that they’ve been keeping abreast of current political affairs before they’re allowed to vote. A few multiple choice questions as they hand over their polling card should suffice. Uninformed opinions (like mine) are really no use to anyone.

So, who to vote for? Let’s think about what I want from my government. I certainly want public services to be improved, so I guess I’m all for increased public spending. But I don’t want to pay any more tax. I’m quite happy for others to pay more tax if necessary. That just about covers it, I think.

Is the idea to vote for what would benefits you most personally? That seems OK, since we might assume that others are doing the same, and thus that everyone’s interests are equally represented. Or should everyone be voting for what they think will be of most benefit to everyone? John Rawls talks about the ‘veil of ignorance’: when we’re trying to decide on which system of authority to have in place, the fairest thing might be to pretend that we have no idea how well off we are (financially, occupationally, intellectually) compared with others. If you’re top dog, it’s still a good idea to have a system that will accommodate you should you hit rock bottom. Life is a great wheel, and all that.

It’s all very confusing, and probably makes for quite a boring blog post, in retrospect. I suspect I will continue to use my vote as best I can. There was a time when I’d think someone was ignorant for not voting. But maybe they don’t vote because they know they’re ignorant, and don’t want to sully the voting process with their lack of substantive political knowledge. In which case, perhaps they’re onto something.

Smack My Kids Up

April 10, 2007


I was most tickled by one particular item on today’s news. It appears that the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children are in talks with retail-sector bigwigs in a drive to prevent smacking in shops.

If you’re lucky enough to live in Scotland, this is all a bit of a moot point. In England, it appears that smacking your progeny in public is liable to draw the odd raised eyebrow (more of this in a minute). Do it in Scotland, and you’re liable to end up in the clink. At least, this is how I understand it. I’ve not had the opportunity (well, the desire) to review the relevant legislation.

Another preface, I think: I’m not sure what I make about smacking children. On the one hand, there’s the ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ mentality. On the other is the idea that children respond better to positive reinforcement, and that exerting violence on them is sending all the wrong messages about how we should solve interpersonal problems. I think I lean slightly toward the latter view. This is fortuitous, since it seems to be the only tolerable angle to take when you’re north of the border.

Back to England, where the smacking continues unabated. The NSPCC have commissioned a survey into public attitudes towards smacking, and have revealed that 86% of people would be happy to shop in ‘smack-free’ premises. 40% of respondents indicated that they would actively choose ‘smack-free’ shops over their ‘smack-friendly’ competitors.

Another variable to throw into the insatiable engine of consumer choice. I wonder whether this mysterious 40% would actually boycott ‘smack-friendly’ premises in any active way? ‘Excuse me, but before I make this purchase, I was wondering about your corporate position on smacking’.

And it isn’t just the ‘smack-free’ shop idea that seems to be catching on. The NSPCC survey reveals other ways in which shops might help beleagured parents. Apparently, when it all kicks off, shops can ‘display leaflets on how to deal with tantrums and difficult behaviour’. That should help.

Incidently, let’s not forget the 14% who (presumably) would be unhappy to shop in a ‘smack-free’ outlet. Perhaps they fear that children will wise up to the ‘smack-free’ idea. They will wait until they are taken into a ‘smack-free’ shop, upon which they will give full expression to their deviant ways, safe in the knowledge that the final weapon in the parental arsenal has been temporarily disarmed. Genius.

The item on today’s news introduced the possibility of ‘smacking’ and ‘non-smacking’ zones in shops. An excellent middle ground, that. Shoppers would know where they could roam without fear of being confronted with unsavoury scenes of corporal discipline, and it would mean that parents would know where to go when a swift backhand was deemed necessary.

Or perhaps the smackers, like the smokers, should be made to stand outside in the rain.

Everyone’s Doing It

February 22, 2007

Blog-fever grips the world. Or so it seems. A couple of nascent blogs have recently come to my attention here and here. Visit these blogs, peppering them with kind and humorous comments.

Everyone’s got a blog these days. How do I know this? I’ve been having a little scout around.

My scouting has taken me to Posh Spice’s blog, which is fairly insubstantial but proves once and for all that you don’t need to have read a book to keep a blog. I was reading the other day that Posh has been blamed for ‘ruining English football’, an amazing (if rather unecessary) feat.

A couple of Sundays ago, Andrew Marr was interviewing a chap called Iain Dale, a political pundit who was espousing the virtues of blogging as a means of propogating political opinion. It seems that communication is changing, and soon everyone will have their own digital soapbox.

Of course, the second person being interviewed (can’t recall the name) said that the blog phenomenon will soon burn itself out, since there will be too much ‘verbal vomit’ for anyone to actually read. Probably true. WordPress has just hosted its 700,000th blog. Crazy.

If you look at the ‘hot blogs’ on the WordPress front page, you will find that thousands and thousands of avid punters are reading them every day. One guy, Scobleizer, has posted a screen grab of his stats page, which indicates over 40,000 hits in one day. Who are these people?

Iain Dale said that if a blog only gets 50 hits a day (like, say, THM) it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad blog. Of course, it might well be just that, but perhaps I’ll persist for the sake of the faithful few. And for the person who stopped by after searching for ‘Latex’ and ‘Photos’ on Google.

A Last and Final Example

February 16, 2007

At the risk of doing this one to death, I simply couldn’t resist telling you about a little snippet from today’s Metro. You might like to consider this a little companion post to my recent thoughts about surplus verbiage.

Take a look at this written statement from the Scottish Executive:

We are also developing a more robust dialogue with key partners around the health of system and the impact of policy and refocusing the approach used to measure improvement locally and related support for benchmarking.

Gobbledegook? Yes. A textbook example. My heart quivers to imagine the man (and woman) hours that went into its production. Goodness knows what it actually means, or what significance it might have to the Scottish Executive ‘commitment to education’.

Take action. Stamp it out. I don’t want to have to keep talking about stuff like this.