OccupyLondon poster made me less supportive of the tube strike

TubeIt’s one thing for the RMT union to ask people to be reasonable and try to understand why they need to strike, in which case they should really be cogently outlining their demands and explaining why they have had to resort to strike action.

I agree with the theoretical principle of striking – it’s a necessary evil to prevent Government from steamrolling over the rights of the workers. But striking is supposed to be the nuclear arsenal of the moral high-ground, not touted about at first opportunity like a … well, a Cold War nuclear arsenal.

This sign, however, is the worst kind of counterproductively vapid, populist politicking imaginable and RMT should be ashamed of stooping so low.

Let’s deal with the “claims” of this poster sequentially, shall we?

  1. Ticket machines take cash. There’s little difference, then, between manned service booths and ticket machines, except that one has higher running costs (whilst admittedly providing a job) and the other is faster, more convenient and doesn’t inflict its bad mood and haughty rudeness at you when you’re already late, stressed and feeling shitty.*
  2. Yes, the machines sometimes go out of service. In all the circumstances I’ve experienced this, no member of the underground team has been on-hand to fix them or man the ticket booth. Furthermore, doing away with ticket booths won’t do away with maintenance engineers.
  3. There are already many rail stations on the Oyster network which have ticket machines that can top up your card, but where staff members can’t update your Oyster card. When the machine breaks, they shrug. So no change there, either.
  4. TFL have regularly deducted too much money from my bank card, and I have yet to see any refund or genuine attempt to rectify this mistake from TFL staff. The existence of on-hand staff had no effect whatsoever, save to piss me off – because when I informed them about it they told me to phone the hotline. The hotline told me to email. The email response sent me an itemised list of my Oyster usage, with overcharging clear as day (totalling £26 in one month), but conveniently had no record of this when I emailed them back the same PDF a day later and asked for a refund. I fail to see in what way ticket booth operators have any influence over the Oyster network’s failings and abysmal customer service.
  5. Paragraph two is a farce. There are already countless delays to the tube service. Neither drivers nor in-station staff have anything to do with resolving this. At most, a driver will apologise for the delay when you’re stuck inside a tunnel. I’m fairly sure a pre-recorded voice could do that.
  6. Equally, staff cannot and do not prevent the “accidents, emergencies [and] incidents” that they so glibly ask future users to avoid. Regarding evacuations: this is why we have public address systems, evacuation notices and other signs – and emergency services, which will still be on standby in the event of some non-specific cataclysm; that’s what they’re there for. If the absence of TFL staff would mean fewer safety measures than anywhere else, the Health & Safety Executive would have a field day. This is scaremongering pure and simple.
  7. Trains drive themselves just fine on the DLR. Google can make cars navigate 435,000 miles of two-dimensional obstacles without incident; I’m fairly sure the technology exists to allow a train to move on a one-dimensional track and make fewer mistakes than a human.
  8. Disabled? I have yet to see an RMT member cure the sick and lame.
  9. Poor? I have definitely yet to see an RMT member alleviating someone of their poverty. First, at a basic £44,000 salary (plus perks), tube drivers earn a two-thirds greater salary than the average Londoner. Furthermore, I see a fundamental contradiction between using the stress of the job and the unsociable hours as a reason to justify the high salary, whilst simultaneously defending such jobs as absolutely necessary, in the face of overwhelming technological evidence to the contrary. After all, a tube driver’s basic is twice that of a newly-qualified airline pilot, which has much higher training costs and similar work stresses, and the only working driverless plane ever seen was in the spoof film Airplane!.
  10. New to London? Bless. Join the throngs of Londoners and others travelling to other metropolises and having to discern foreign transportation systems on their own. But seriously, buy a map. Or download a FREE app to your phone. Or look at one of the many maps on all tube stations. Or ask ANYONE.
  11. Young or old? I have yet to see an RMT member accelerate someone’s growth, or provide an elixir of youth.
  12. Harassed? Naturally, the only people in London who would step in to help someone being assaulted or harassed are members of the Underground Team, single-handedly defending London’s streets from incivility. Please.
  13. Lucky number 13, this is the only one I may be willing to concede would be possibly made worse by not having so many staff on hand. But it’s sad to say, property and children get lost and/or taken in London all the time.
  14. Please provide assistance.*
  15. This poster contains no advice. This is (in this penultimate paragraph, sequentially) glib and sarcastic commentary, a statement of impotence, and a callous disregard for others’ feelings. So no change there, then.*

I say again – I’m not against striking in general. Teachers’ unions? Yes. Firefighters? Probably. But the RMT? Instead of this populist diatribe, OccupyLondon and RMT should be publicising their history of negotiations with Boris if they want to garner public support. Then we’ll see who’s being unreasonable. But, admittedly, even before this poster they had a long road ahead before they’d convince me of their need to exist.

Yes, these changes will come at a loss of thousands of jobs. Yes, that’s unfortunate. But that in itself is not (or should not be) enough of a reason to strike on this side of the Channel. The money saved will go onto urgent modernisation of the tube system (parts of which are a century old) and, in the long run, free up capital for jobs elsewhere – with a faster way of reaching them.

* I will make one small edit: there was once a very nice person who works for TFL and who helped me once at Farringdon station. He stood at the intersection between underground and rail entrances, knew every connection from that station imaginable. Good for him.

Really, Nadine?

So Nadine Dorries has yet again reached new heights of hypocrisy.

The Conservative – I’m sorry, independent – MP for Mid Bedfordshire, who was suspended from the Conservative Party on November 6th as a result of her decision to take part in the reality TV show I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! (lasting a week and making her entire joyride away from Parliament a brazen insult to everyone everywhere who would give anything to take an extended holiday for no reason without getting fired), has accused fellow Conservative – ha, there I go again…silly me – Louise Mensch “trying to diminish her role as an MP”! Ha!

Wait, wait – it gets better!

Ms Dorries, who has been suspended from the Tory party for going on I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! without telling the chief whip in November, told Metro quitting politics to follow fashion sets a bad example to young people.
‘You sign up for five years as an MP. It is unheard of for someone to walk away from their post halfway through to do something as trivial as this,’ she said.

*snorts derisively*

It’s fairly clear that there may have been bad blood between them before. Despite affirming that she wasn’t “singing [Dorries] out”, Mensch accused otherwise nameless would-be supporters of an amendment – tabled by our jungle-roving hypocrite herself – to the Health and Social Care Bill in 2011 of tending to “demonise” the women considering abortion whom it would have required to receive independent counselling. A post-Parliamentarian Mensch was also one of the more vocal critics of Dorries’ foray into the forests, saying:

Nothing sadder than a politician, or ex-politician, on any of those shows […] Just imagining the scene in the whips’ office if I said I wanted to skip parliament for weeks to go on a celebrity TV show.

I sense this only getting uglier.

Even though Mensch’s departure from her Corby constituency seat in 2012 did herald a crushing win for Labour, the contrast between Nadine Dorries’ relationship with the Conservative Party given behaviour over the past few months and those of Louise Mensch is palpable. Dorries, no stranger to the ugly spotlight of an expenses inquisition on more than one occasion (for travel expenses in 2011 and 2012, no less), has squawked derision at Mensch for quitting her post back in August. The brazenness of this wild, gasping thrash for credibility astounds and slightly horrifies me, when exactly two months later – and mere days after the Corby by-election – she herself jetted off to the Australian bush to eat goat testicles and fantasise that people would find her interesting.

Because she’s not well liked in her own party, either. Dorries has always seemed the whiny rebel that no one seems to like or take seriously, in fact actively going out of her way to made her own party hierarchy dislike her and making the most asinine comments and decisions at every turn. Mensch, by comparison, was lauded as a rising star in the Cameronite ranks who (despite her ‘defection’ in the Blair honeymoon following a Thatcher funereal procession) retained a fierce grip on the party whip.

She showed shrewdness early on in her political era by expressing the freedom to change political parties when she no longer agreed with their politics. If Wikipedia can be trusted, a growing disaffection with the Church of England was a contributing factor in her decision to join the Labour Party, but in any case it was a disaffection with an out-of-touch Conservative party as well as her take on Blair as “a social liberal and an economic conservative” that convinced her to join. It may have only lasted a year, but in doing so Mensch proved that she wasn’t afraid to adapt to changing circumstance.

She criticised a pointless and expensive waste of Parliamentary time and mandate – the ban on fox hunting – for what it was, citing an irrefutable argument for civil liberties as opposed to the usual useless traditionalism diatribe of the 1922 Committee.

Finally, Mensch had the decency to resign when no longer able to function effectively in her capacity as MP. Not that she ever gave any indication that she’d become a veteran MP, still wandering the halls of Westminster well into her seventies, dispensing advice to young whippersnappers who never even knew Thatcher. A year into her job she already identified problems fighting to keep her seat even once, come 2015:

I haven’t made up my mind […] If I were a single woman with no attachments, I would be fully committed, but I’m not.

D’you know what, Louise? Maybe it’s not for everyone, but I could’ve taken it off your hands; no problem. I lived in Oundle for the full five years once, and I rather liked it there.

OSCP1

What’s the worst that could happen?

So, Dave decided to take the leap.

He’s not getting remarried or anything, although he certainly seems to have divorced himself from his stance from late last year, that giving the British public an in/out vote on Europe was a “false choice”…whatever that is supposed to mean.

After all that, the gauntlet has been thrown. Seemingly emboldened by Holyrood’s acceptance of terms for the Scottish independence referendum set for 2014 (either that, or he is simply taking the only – albeit short-term – face-saving measure left to him by an increasingly belligerent UKIP and ever-audacious backbench Arch-Tories and assorted Eurosceptics) Cameron has decided that now is the time to declare the referendum. Oh wait, no … that’s 2017. IF re-elected. IF he remains Prime Minister. IF otherwise unforeseeable events don’t cause him to Clegg it and issue a retraction with a brief apology over untenable promises…again.

But surely a final referendum is a good thing? Yes…in theory. I’m not saying I think an EU referendum would see as poor a turnout as for A/V (although with voter apathy in the UK still leading the flock of the European disaffected [statistic], who knows). It is, however, in plebiscites such as this that the fringes mobilise. UKIP, a single-interest-group-cum-political-party, was founded with the sole purpose of seeing the UK government put such a referendum to the British people (and it ending in their favour, I am assuming).

Naturally, therefore, UKIP can already chalk this up as an initial win. Eurosceptic-in-Chief Nigel Farage said of Cameron’s decision: “The very fact that we are talking about the possibility of Britain leaving the European Union is Ukip’s biggest victory to date. Even five years ago the thought of this issue being even discussed was an anathema”.

“But what is the worst that could happen?” I was asked the other day. Well, what happens if Scotland opts for independence? The squabbling that would inevitably ensue over who gets what (oil, debt, assets, the family pet, etc.) would last well into 2015 and surely affect the outcome of a general election. Given that all three major parties (I’m giving the Lib Dems the benefit of the doubt here, even if their approval rating places them on a par with UKIP) in Westminster are supporting union, I would find it very hard to believe any of them scoring political points from Scottish secession.

Who would? Reactionary, nationalist, protectionist, conveniently I-told-you-so UKIP. (Or would that be EWIP by that point?) Then what will Dave do?

  1. Chicken out on his pledge for a second referendum? Half of the Conservative grass roots vote UKIP.
  2. Insist on the referendum and bring the issue front and centre? Conservatives look weak next to UKIP, who will still benefit.
  3. Conveniently let the issue fall by the wayside and not bring it up? Every other party will, especially UKIP.

So, however Cam spins it, a lost Scottish vote will cripple him and his party right before the election, and the only benefactors (south of the Wall, at least) will be the far right.

I’ve just got to get this one off my chest

One of the main reasons for starting this blog was my fury at the way in which the Yes To Fairer Votes campaign threw away the most (and possibly only) promising opportunity to effect meaningful political change in the UK. Their failure at the AV Referendum in 2011 pretty much sealed my disaffection with party politics, and here I explain what could have happened.

Armando Ianucci, the heroic genius mind behind The Thick Of It and In The Loop, wrote a marvellously impassioned treatise in the Independent’s election issue. Katie Ghose could have used it in her campaign months earlier instead of going negative (turning the entire referendum into a political mud-slinging match). Unfortunately for sane liberals everywhere, it was published in a newspaper whose readership was – in all likelihood – going to vote yea anyway.

During the 2010 general election, there was really only one question to be answered: ‘which party/leader is most capable of dealing with the economy?’ That was it. The economy. It was undoubtedly important – and the various parties did indeed have differing views as to how to solve it – but nowhere in the leaders’ debates was anything else mentioned unless it was ancillary to reducing the national debt. Healthcare, currying foreign investment, transportation and Trident were all discussed, but only through the lens of how much they would cost. I don’t remember the foreign ministers having a debate – anybody catch it? Aspiring home secretaries didn’t duel it out on TV over prisons and sentencing policy, nor can I recall seeing prospective environment ministers holding forth about our ratio of renewable energy. Now we have a coalition government for which no one directly voted (one vote each, chaps and chapesses) claiming a wide mandate pieced together from their respective manifestos, when all The People actually did was answer, “whose numbers seem to add up the best?”

I am sick and tired of being offered the choice between a meagre handful of parties on just one particular issue: that which has been deemed the most salient topic of the day come a general election. Subjects declared to be of lesser significance are merely side effects of choosing between representatives based on the single major issue. In 2005 it was the war in Iraq. Back in 1992, the electorate went to the polls to say whether or not it approved of John Major’s leadership. Elections throughout the 1970s were dominated by miners’ concerns and discussions of the relative bargaining rights of trades unions.

The two or three major parties are typically either united on a given issue, giving no freedom to disagree and still make one’s voice heard, or so wildly divergent on entire groups of issues that voters must choose the least unattractive package deal. I am passionately in favour of a more proportionally representative electoral system, as it would allow so-called ‘factions’ of the three major parties – who agree on most issues (those governing their party allegiances) but who ‘rebel’ as their Whips order them to vote against their personal principles – to decentralise into separate parties.

Just as the world is made up of more than three colours, so should be politics. The dividing lines that so often cause tensions, rebellions, resignations, expulsions or even defections within a party would instead become the decisive factors upon which the electorate should be allowed to make an informed choice. Who can honestly say that they have always agreed with every single policy of a given party throughout their voting lifetime? Elections would be very different and drastically duller affairs if that were the case.

How many people feel trapped between two or more parties, agreeing with the economic policies of one party with the social policies of another? How many people wished they could vote for a party if it weren’t for the personal philosophies of that particular candidate?

Imagine what it would be like with more than one party on the left, middle and right. Imagine having the choice between, say, five parties you could generally support but who differ on the very so-called ‘minor’ issues you feel strongly about, that are never discussed under FPTP? You could vote for all five, and rank them in order! Wow, no more tactical voting! It wouldn’t matter that one party never reaches an absolute majority – in fact it would be marvellous. Governments would have to justify their policies to secure the votes of their allies, rather than relying on their Whips to call their backbenchers to heel. Bloc majorities would exist for certain ‘important’ issues, but would not guarantee any dominion over ancillary debates.

Europhile Conservatives would bloc vote with other Tories on issues of justice or education, but would be heard in chorus with liberals on issues of EU integration. As such, liberally minded, fiscally conservative voters would no longer have to decide between economics and foreign policy.

Equally, gone would be the days of Old Labour disenfranchisement with the post-1994 face of the political left: socialists would be free to advertise themselves as such, Marxists could come from the woodwork and expound the theories they really believe, the centre left would not feel constrained by trades unions dictating policy where they would rather listen to the voters, and the rife Brownite/Blairite factionalism that continues to besmirch the party image would be an irrelevance; a dispute deferred to the electorate.

Liberals, for their part, would no longer feel the need to align themselves on the left/right spectrum – instead, those for whom liberalism represents a social philosophy that transcends other political considerations could freely associate with members of the left or the right, without being defined by them: no more permanent slant from Social Democrats or role of political flak jacket for a Conservative-led ‘coalition’.

And finally, the voter would have more of a choice than the least of three evils on a single, pre-determined issue.

Introduction

Disclaimer: This blog is for the disaffected liberal.

To put the following posts into a comprehensible context: I am a twenty-five-year-old liberal Humanist with an MSc in international politics, who has long felt ostracised by the petty rivalries and lack of choice in the 2¼-party system that we have in the UK. Educated in an environment largely saturated with theocentric Tory ideals, I quickly realised that its value system was in no way my own and have progressively shifted leftwards. I have been trying for more than a year to find gainful employment in Westminster Village and have decided to publish my various frustrations with occurring events for all to see.

Right from the outset, I will make no apology for my political views. I feel (as most typically do of their own) that they are valid, and that our system has serious, inherent, chronic flaws if someone as moderate (albeit vocal) as I feels unrepresented. After all: what is the political Holy Grail, if not securing consensus in the centre ground through informed debate?

Those on the fringes (those with views too left- or right-wing for any self-respecting representative with viable career aspirations to get near) will have to look elsewhere. Because this is a blog for the disaffected, but not the extreme. This is a blog to see if there are any others out there who feel like they fall through the ideological cracks over which our system blithely paves, whose views are not effectively represented by any political party, and who face the choice between ‘supporting’ a party whose actions become difficult to justify or disenfranchisement, apathy, and a lonely, empty ballot paper.

To me, Liberalism means abandoning preconceived judgements of others (especially those mandated by self-aggrandising, external moral authorities); reacting to linguistic and cultural distinctiveness, not with fear, but profound interest and a willingness to learn; and taking pride in holding lofty aspirations for change. New discoveries in technology and methods of communication are opening up vast swathes of new possibilities for development in an inordinate range of areas: from political participation to healthcare, civil rights to educational practices, environmental protection to infrastructure, the potential for bettering ourselves and the world in which we live is growing at an exponential rate.

The past few years have seen some wonderfully progressive steps undertaken by various governments, as well as some woefully anachronistic reactionary politics, dredged from the barrel-bottom of respective conservative arsenals in times of crisis. Because the world can be a scary place, true. But by the same token, that which is alien is not always fear inducing; differences (in language, culture, politics, values, traditions) can also be awe-inspiringly fascinating.

My aim in this blog is to share my thoughts on political issues as they arise, predominantly in the UK, and promote a firebrand liberal vision of the way in which the country should be going. Agree with an article? Disagree? Feel like a disaffected liberal yourself? Comment.

Enjoy.