Thursday, 16 June 2011

Thank You Lib Dems In Government

Given all the moaning I do here on this blog, I thought it was time to say something positive. And on this particular subject I can offer nothing but praise; the lowering of income tax. Since the change came about in April my pay packet is healthy enough for me to be able to buy an extra 5 days off of work a year, and still have a few extra pounds left over each month on top of what I was earning in the last tax year!

The extra time off allows me to enjoy life a little more, and doesn't affect my budget. For this I shall be eternally grateful. Given the range of good Lib Dem policies implemented by the Government so far, it's hard to choose a favourite but this one has got to be up there... Thank you!

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Labour Has A Solution For Folkestone's Economic Woes: Make Charities Pay!

The Folkestone Labour party asks "Do charities cause poverty and unemployment?".

Before we jerk those knees (but do keep them on standby) there is a real issue at the centre of the argument: Folkestone's empty shops and the competition our large number of charity shops present to local businesses. Both are serious matters of concern to every resident.

The problem: the charity shops don't need to pay, and I quote, "Taxes, Insurance, Wage Costs, interest rates and Payroll Tax." which (as well as not necessarily needing to pay even for the goods they sell) makes them formidable competition to small businesses such as second-hand bookshops.

Of course there are ways to help the businesses that exist already and to encourage new ones to take over the empty shops and office spaces in our town centre. Lower the taxes and reduce the business rates. If the business rates are lowered just in our area, isn't that likely to encourage local business creation and movement of small businesses from other parts of Kent to Shepway? That way no one is being forced to do something by the local/national Government, but they are getting an incentive to do business here. Of course it'd involve some budgetary changes in the council but then again the gains might be worth it.

But that's not Labour's approach. Instead they would force, in Folkestone or throughout Shepway, all these charity shops to take on at least two employees. So instead of the willing volunteers (who have given up their time through a passion for fund-raising and helping the community) they currently get helping them, they'd need to give themselves the same shackles as currently faced by the small-businesses Labour claim to want to protect (i.e. wage costs, payroll taxes etc.). That's like seeing one child with a sweet and one without and confiscating the sweet as the one without felt sad! It's petty and authoritarian and it's a plan designed to punish the goodness in people.

And the idea that, aside from the central issue of the new Oxfam bookshop, most of the charities earnings go to fund head offices, overseas work and staff costs is a little heartless. Oh there is some truth there, sadly charities have become more and more like businesses (so how treating them LIKE businesses helps I don't know). But to say charity shops like the one in my street (the Rhodes Minnis Cat Sanctuary shop, who Labour probably thinks puts the cat in "fat cat")  or the British Heart Foundation shop, or the Cancer Research Store don't benefit local people and simply create poverty is to cast them in an unfair light. To say  no one in Folkestone benefits from the work of the YMCA, British Heart Foundation, or Cancer Research is a cruel lie.

Let's help businesses in ways they'll find useful, not punish charities just to create some sort of fake "level playing field". Next we'll need to ban local eBayers or boot fairs for undercutting the second-hand book and furniture shops! That way madness lies.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Bin Collections and Central Government Over Reach

Thankfully the Government has today been forced into (yet another) climb down on a poorly thought out policy: forcing local governments to collect bins weekly.

The government has admitted it cannot force councils in England to provide weekly bin collections.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles had hoped to include the measure in a new waste strategy but it was watered down following a row with officials at Defra, the BBC understands.

The strategy says collections should happen "more frequently" but it is up to councils to offer "local solutions".

Labour branded the move a "personal humiliation" for Mr Pickles.

But Mr Pickles insisted the strategy would provide better value for money for householders.

He said: "Families pay £120 a month in council tax. Both Whitehall and the town hall need to raise their game to deliver more frequent and better rubbish and recycling collections in return."

Downing Street said the government understood that "people have a reasonable expectation that their bins are collected on a weekly basis" but although ministers "had a view" about the frequency of collections "ultimately councils are accountable to their local electorate".
This mundane topic (if one that touches lives pretty closely and thus can get quite emotive) shows up several worrying issues.

1) The Centralisation Of Power

The arrogance of the Coalition Government in believing that it could mandate across the whole country how local authorities deal with an issue that is their responsibility shows just how tenuous local government powers are and how our hodge-podge unwritten constitution allows governments to take advantage of their powers over other authories.

Solution: we need to strengthen the push for localism. But even more important than that, we need to bring in constitutional changes (even, dare I say it, a written constitution) to clearly delineate powers.

2) The Disconnect Between The Tory National And Local Parties. 

I've been hearing rumours of Tory local organisations struggling recently, so perhaps this is a symptom of that, but the Tories ran in 2010 with the policy of bringing in weekly bin collections. Yet no one locally seems to have gotten the message. Our local, Tory-run authority here in  Shepway has just stopped weekly recycling collections, general rubbish collections were already fortnightly. They can't have got the memo.

Solution: I'm not a Tory so don't really care. But in a top-down party like the Tories it just seems strange.

3) The Disconnect Between Local Voters And Local Authorities

I think if you ask the man on the street, weekly bin collections will be a broadly popular policy.  But the weakness of local government means few vote on local issues when electing their councillors. This means that though people will grumble about the issue, few will do anything useful (like elect someone other than the party they support nationally at that moment in time) about it. There will be no discussion of how it could be funded nor discussion of how it could be implemented. Few councils will do anything more than a puff piece in their propaganda newspaper or leaflet about how effective their fortnightly collections are.

Solution: Clearly delineate powers to local authority (such as through a written constitution in a federal UK). By doing this and making local authorities more powerful we might instigate interest and oversight from the local electorate with regards to their local council's decisions. It'd be better than getting stuck in a country where local councils can get away with  things like this.

I've got no particularly axe to grind on this issue, I'm not much moved by arguments for or against weekly collections. I'm happy as long as the service is delivered efficiently. But I have growing concerns over the weakness of our local governments and on the lack of democracy and oversight on a local level.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Monday, 13 June 2011

My Feelings On Anti-Discrimination Laws: I Was Wrong

I'm embarked on a project of reflection on my specific political and moral beliefs and how they fit with  my liberal and libertarian beliefs in general

Going to be unpopular this one.

My position on anti-discrimination laws has been inconsistent over the last few years. In 2007 I was against them in principle, although looked forward with glee to the unhappiness they'd cause religious fundamentalists, whereas in 2010 I was of the opinion that one person's rights did trump another's in the Chris Grayling Bed and Breakfast controversy.

Well I'll put my hands up and apologise to all who debated with me over the Chris Grayling issue. I was wrong. I admit that I felt uncomfortable with my decision but I let my heart rule over my head. The Government should not be involved in dictating who stays in a guesthouse. That choice remains with the owners themselves.

It's not a position that sits well with me. Someone who bans someone else from their home, business or group based simply on who they are, rather than their character, is not someone I have much time for. They are, at the very least, impolite and poorly mannered. But the Government should not be in the business of punishing people for being nasty, unwelcoming people. Allowing our Government this power concedes that they are able to interfere in the private lives and business of British citizens. That is a dangerous precedent.

It's stories like this which really trouble me. It is simply unacceptable that people should be abused in public like this but if he wasn't inciting violence how can one have this busker arrested simply for being a knob? I do not mean to downplay the awful hurt that can be caused by words. Even the occasional whispered comment or snigger behind your back can leave me upset. Are we to have every idiot locked up? You know what I think would've been a more effective reaction? The same one as happened with the John Snow pub; group action. The busker is licensed to be in Trafalgar Square so must be there fairly regularly. A little news story here and there and viola he's surrounded by people on their own PA systems calling him out for his idiocy. He'd soon learn his lesson and the value of free speech is upheld. Calling in the authority of the state to punish this nutter is yet another dangerous precedent.

What about at work? Well if you don't work for a company who issue you with a contract stating they will protect you from harassment or want to work for a company who wouldn't want to hire you because of who you are then really I have to wonder about your choices. As I've said before; we all need to stop hiding (and allowing prejudiced idiots to hide) behind stupid laws that dictate how private agreements can and should be made. We need to stand together, win hearts and minds and call out those who discriminate and make sure their customers know how flipping nasty they are.

Again none of this sits well with me. I want to protect the vulnerable and to frustrate the efforts of anyone who is prejudiced. But if I am to be consistent with my belief in freedom from Government control (which has hurt so many in centuries past) then I cannot support anti-discrimination laws which are, in effect, allowing Government to police people's morality. If I don't want the Government policing my morality, I must stand up and stop them policing others.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Marriage Equality: I'm Moving On

I'm embarked on a project of reflection on my specific political and moral beliefs and how they fit with my liberal and libertarian beliefs in general

No. Jae "Marriage Equality" Kay is not saying he's changed his mind on the whole marriage equality thing. But things have changed, so have I, and I'm looking towards the next objective.

At the beginning of last year I still felt like a very lonely voice screaming in the dark for marriage equality. But now far more influential and inspirational folks have taken up the battle. LGBT people, the Government and the general population have all shifted definitively towards the position that marriage equality is the way forward. I think the campaign is now in safe hands and I can begin fighting for what I really believe in rather than this painfully unnecessary sideshow caused by Labour's "civil partnership" legislation.

I know, you may not believe me, but I didn't use to be a big fan of marriage, however, the unfairness of civil partnerships spurred me to anger and each person who told me to shut up about marriage and embrace civil partnerships (all gay men by the way) only made me more determined to get what I felt was right. Of such petty asides, a one-man campaign was born. But I believe in a higher goal and that is marriage reform.

I've written about this before, and with my current return to libertarian politics feel now is the time to begin the fight (in a more general fight against Government interference) to get Government out of the marriage business. I have no doubts it'll be another lonely fight, but with marriage equality nearly in place, I hope it'll be less divisive.

When Government stops defining what marriage is, parties can start to form more individual and relevant partnership contracts which reflect their own lives and decisions. That's my new goal.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Sunday, 12 June 2011

My Feelings On.... Abortion

I'm embarked on a project of reflection on my political and moral beliefs and how they fit into my liberal and libertarian beliefs

Abortion is one of those subjects I always try to avoid in just about any situation. The one time I attempted to articulate my feelings in a blog (a post I've yet to unearth I'm afraid, it's not listed by Google anyway) I alienated and upset several online friends, which was never my intention. And so since then I've kept my head below the parapet. But if I am to be honest with myself and open with others on my beliefs, I think it's time to really put down in words where I stand.

I can see where both the pro-lifers and the pro-choice folks come from. The commonly stated views that the pro-lifers are just set on having control over women and pro-choice supporters are supporters of murder are simplistic and unfair. There are good people, with good intentions, on both sides.

Personally, and I truly hope you understand the difference between personal opinion and my feelings on other's freedom, I find the concept of abortion abhorrent. I feel this way for two, very different, reasons

1) Because I have an irrational sensitivity when it comes to life. I come from the perspective of being an atheist who believes there are no second chances. Any destruction of life is final. Just because I also believe life to be utterly pointless does not mean I don't hold an irrational love of it. When a foetus is aborted, who may have been born successfully and lived a full life (or may not, I accept) then it is being denied it's very existence; it's only reason for being. This I cannot accept.

2) More rationally, I believe in individual liberty. Now one can certainly argue that a foetus is not an individual. But I believe, certainly in the later stages of development, it is. And aborting it destroys it's "potential" liberty.

Now both of those points are based on nothing more concrete than "personal belief", which is not a good basis for a political belief. And there other considerations. Thankfully, in the personal realm, I am gay and I am a man. Abortion is an issue that is extremely unlikely to ever require me to make a decision on a personal basis. I'm not the one who has to make the tough choices and I appreciate that does have a bearing on my position.

And what of the personal liberty of the mother? It's all very well having high-minded political beliefs, but our very biological nature makes it difficult for a "one size fits all" political belief, such as individual liberty, to be applied uniformly. Should a woman be forced to accept a future laid out for her by events or should she be empowered to control her own destiny? There's no easy answer to that but I cannot be so heartless as to believe it would be right to use Governmental force to stop a woman having an abortion if that is what she believed was right for her.

And there is the crux of the matter. A woman's body is her own to do with as she pleases. It is not the realm of Government to enforce others morality on to women. I must be pro-choice for otherwise I am nothing but an authoritarian.

So I find myself being a supporter of the right to an abortion.

I still struggle with this position. I feel strongly that there should be limits on when, in terms of development of the foetus, an abortion can be done. If a foetus is, according the opinion of attending physicians, "viable" (a minefield of it's own) then I do not believe an abortion would be justified (except in the usual extreme circumstances). But that leaves us all open to a dangerous situation (and one many less reluctant pro-choice supporters who also believe in this seem not to deal with)  whereby with continued scientific progress this "viability" becomes possible ever earlier in a pregnancy. What then? I really don't know.

It's a moral, legal and emotional maze. There is no easy answer and, realistically, I don't think there is a satisfactory answer for everyone. I am at once pro-life and pro-choice and have so many conflicting caveats in my logic and illogic that I think I could be easily flipped to one side or the other without much effort (and then back again).

Fundamentally, we should keep our noses out of other people's, rather sad, personal business and let those who want to have an abortion have one and those who don't well, not.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Another Right Turn On My Political Journey

I've gone through quite a political journey so far in my life...

It all started in 1997. I had one clear political belief; nationalism is wrong. This lead me to supporting, in so far as a naive 13 year old such as myself could "support", the Tories in that years election (with their unionist ideology of "nationhood" for the UK). After the election I discovered that the Tories were in fact small minded, control freak bigots. I warmed to the New Labour government until September 11th. The reaction (of treating the event as the start of a "war" rather than a criminal investigation and removing our basic civil liberties) along with the Iraq War and the fudge over civil partnerships had me re-evaluate my political positions. In 2004's European election I voted Green, the first election in which I had a chance to vote, mainly out of a personal respect for Dr. Lucas who I had first seen giving a speech in 1999. I found myself drawn locally to the Liberal Democrats from then on and found my political beliefs falling well within the "Social Liberal" bracket.

But recently, ever since just before the 2010 election, I've found my opinions evolving once more. I'd still call myself a liberal but more in the classical liberal sense than in the Social Liberal one. I found the bail-out of the banks distasteful, the election expenses scandal upsetting and the failure of the New Labour project a sure sign that my negative gut instincts on mixing free enterprise and social democrat values (in Third Way public private partnerships for instance) were right. I've become more convinced than ever that Government is usually more often the cause of problems than the solution. And my underlying belief, brought through from a sympathy with the left's aims if not their means, in co-operatives and mutuals has become ever stronger.

And so it's time to do a "beliefs audit". My Philosophy classes taught me that it's unhealthy to have beliefs that are in tension with each other. Which means over the next few posts I'll be taking a look at different subjects and trying to analyse why I stand where I do on the matter and whether that is consistent with my underlying political beliefs. First up is a subject that is, understandably, controversial; abortion. I might as well start with the topic most likely to upset everybody on both sides of the argument...

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Liberal Case For A Ron Paul Presidency

I've never been a big Obama supporter; I preferred Hilary Clinton in 2008. However, after George W. Bush, and considering the uselessness of the McCain/Palin ticket, I was more than happy to see him elected. A breath of fresh air, I thought. But how disappointing he has been.

I think the Liberal Democrats in Coalition in this country have managed to do more useful things in the last year than the Obama administration has managed since he was elected. Health care reform was a useless fudge, he has failed to close Guantanamo Bay or begin to roll back the worst excesses of the terror laws introduced by Dubya Bush, his attitude to LGBT rights leaves a great deal to be desired (he is against marriage equality for example even though he used to be in favour!) and he has appeared ineffective throughout his Presidency (except when it comes to breaching other country's sovereignty to murder criminal suspects). This is just a continuation of the Bush years under new management. I have no particular urge to see his administration rewarded with a second term and as he is the really the only possible candidate for the Democrats, my hopes for a "liberal" replacement must lie elsewhere.

The Republicans have come a long way since the days of Lincoln and even Eisenhower. A long way, in the wrong direction... many of it's elected representatives lack the intellect or independence to make any headway in improving the United States and seem too busy with their own pet projects; i.e. dodgy dealings with corporations (a lot like the Democrats). It's a tough job seeing any goodness in the current field of Presidential hopefuls (though it is early on). However Ron Paul, who is becoming a perennial Presidential candidate, is a REAL breath of fresh air.

In 2008, I will admit, I was quite taken with the Reloveution and kept an eye on the attempts by Ron Paul fans to publicise his campaign throughout social media (especially on Digg). But I hadn't really realised just how staid the two party system of the United States had become and instead placed my hope in the Democrats in offering a new start. Now, as the 2012 Presidential race starts to rev up, I am cynical enough to see that nothing is ever really going to change unless something radical happens. And Ron Paul is nothing if not radical.

Why should classical liberals support Ron Paul for President of the United States?

1) He's non-interventionist. Intervention in other country's affairs is all very well when you have a Rwanda or a Holocaust on hand. But banning trade with Cuba, repeatedly entering Pakistan's territory and killing people there, financing Israel's ongoing battles and almost every other intervention by the United States in the last few decades has been completely without legal, and almost without any moral, justification. Ron Paul supports cutting back on the USA's vast overseas involvement.

2) He's against the terror laws that have been piling up since 2001. He opposes over-the-top airport security, the Patriot act, ID cards, and other civil liberty issues such as eminent domain, conscription and domestic surveillance.

3) His stance on LGBT rights is... difficult for a liberal to digest but you need to see he comes at it from a different angle. He does arrive, almost, at the same point as us though. His views are based around "states' rights" whilst liberals are more about "individual rights". For me his views shown here differ only slightly from my own views on marriage equality shown here.

4) He supports liberalising laws on gambling, prostitution and drugs.

5) He has some unique views on environmentalism. Whilst I don't think it's quite the way to go, his ideas on tort law being used to stop companies and industries polluting local environments are interesting.

Sure this is not a man who is perfect. His views on a great many issues are off the wall and very conservative. But most are consistent with his libertarian beliefs and whilst they might be hard to stomach at least make sense intellectually. His stance on liberty is difficult to argue against, something few other Republicans can say.

The United States needs a shake up. This once great country appears to be stumbling under the weight of it's responsibilities and becoming ever more bitterly divided by the "culture wars". The elected representatives of it's people are beholden to vested interests and corporate donors. Something has got to give. I believe Ron Paul, for all his faults, is the man who can do that and fix the problems that have plagued America during it's "Imperial century". I truly hope that Americans will seize this chance for real change...

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist