Random Thoughts for 30th June

This is the latest in my series of Random Thoughts posts with links, things found on the web and other stuf that has occured to me between 25th June and 30th June:

Bill Rammell has a new job at university – no politics involved

An interview with the new Vice Chancellor at the University of Bedfordshire.

David Boyle to head Cabinet Office review of choice in public services

This is some of the best news (re the Lib Dems in government) that I have heard for ages. There is a lot of talk about the need for reform of public services; David Boyle is one of the few people who have an inkling of how to actually do it. This appointment gives me some hope that we might get some progress towards a truly radical and liberal approach to public service reform, instead of our habit of just saying “no” all the time. Expect to hear much about co-production.

The Space

This is an interesting experiment. Working with the BBC and Arts Council England, ‘The Space’ is an online service that provides for free access to all sorts of arts; performance, exhibitions and archives etc. Running until October, essentially it is an attempt to use digital to extend the reach of work created by subsidised arts organisations.

Is your font racist? Or is it shagging a dog?

Alex points to some challenging articles about the use of typography, including a fact about the creator of Gill Sans that I didn’t really want to know.

Unlock Democracy Elections 2012-2014: the results

After having, rather grumpily, blogged about the internal elections for Unlock Democracy it is only fair that I highlight the results.

My report on the June meeting of the English Council

My latest post on the Liberal Democrats English Council is now live on Liberal Democrat Voice; “Report on the June 2012 meeting of the English Council”.

To supplement that here are a few, more personal, observations:

This was a much better and less grumpy meeting than the first one I attended at the beginning of last year. It gave me more hope that the English party structures are being operated effectively.

I was glad that the constitutional amendment allowing greater freedom in drawing up the boundaries of local parties was passed. If the implementation is done right, which isn’t an easy task, then the opportunity exists for the party structure on the ground to work more efficiently and to fit better with our campaigning objectives in different areas of the country. If we end up with a patchwork, with areas of lower membership and activity being combined into more workable local parties based on local government boundaries and seats with a realistic chance of getting an MP elected having local parties organised around that parliamentary constituency, then I think it will be better than what we have now. This change should go ahead irrespective of whether the proposed changes to parliamentary constituency boundaries takes place. This will of course require regional parties to provide a fairly strong steer about what they want in their areas.

Finally, I thought I’d mention a little item that will be of interest to those concerned about the accreditation of conference attendees. At the end of the day there was an interesting exchange between Geoff Payne, the English Council’s representative on the Federal Conference Committee, and David Grace who had asked a question on his report. This brought some welcome clarification about just how the recent decision-making (or internal dispute) on this issue had been resolved. It is clear that as far as the Federal Party is concerned the body within the Party that will make decisions about accreditation, now and in the future, will be the Federal Finance and Administration Committee.

Random Thoughts for 22nd June

This is the latest in my series of Random Thoughts posts with links, things found on the web and other stuf that has occured to me between 17th June and 22nd June:

Danny Alexander’s speech to the GMB

I was hugely impressed by Danny Alexander’s speech to the conference of the GMB union. A well constructed mix of support and challenge that struck exactly the right tone.

“although these are incredibly difficult and testing times, there are quite a number of issues and ideas on which Trades Union and Liberal Democrat instincts are closely aligned.

Historically, though, Trades Unions have focused their efforts and engagement on one political party.

And indeed the huge amount of your resources spent on campaigning for that party – and against all others, is a hurdle in the way of improved relationships.

But equally I have seen…many Unions…seek to represent their members’ interests responsibly and constructively to the Government of the day, whichever parties are in office.

So, building on that experience, I think there is an opportunity to see closer dialogue…an opportunity for both Trades Unions and Liberal Democrats to understand and influence each other.”

The 5 myths about the UK economy which it suits everyone to perpetuate

A superb post (with diagrams) from Stephen Tall about the reality of where the UK economy, and the Government’s response to it, is at the moment. He provides some solid evidence that has confirmed and reinforced my, rather more instinctive, thoughts about how the political debate about the economy on all sides has become detached from what is actually happening.

Style guides

Alex Foster on consulting the Guardian Style Guide.

Education: When did Kenneth Baker become a Liberal hero?

I am not as unperturbed as Jonathan is about Gove’s plans, but this point is telling; “we Liberal Democrats give the impression that we have arrived in power after 90 years in the wilderness with no higher ambition that maintaining the status quo. We need to do better than that.” So we don’t like Gove’s ‘back to the 50′s’ approach – but what exam system do the Liberal Democrats want?

Moose twins are born at Whipsnade Zoo

Some cute baby animals.

Open letter to Nick Clegg MP, Danny Alexander MP and Vince Cable on economic policy

I find myself in full agreement with the Social Liberal Forum on this.

The Great British Story: A People’s History

I’ve really been enjoying this the latest series from my favourite TV historian Michael Wood. It is a passionate, at times romantic, telling of a properly popular history of Britain. The website also includes some quality resources, including this introduction asking ‘What is history?’:

The state of Andy for June 2012

Please do excuse this slightly self-indulgent progress update but we are now roughly halfway through the year, and I had a birthday this week, so I thought it would be useful for me to think through how I’m getting on.

Back when I said good riddance to 2011 I also said that I was looking forward to 2012 with the expectation that it will be a far more positive year. I’m glad to say in general this has been true.

For most of the first four months of 2012 I was lucky to have a period of solid contract work, and it was interesting work too. As a result, although they are far from being healthy, my finances are in a better state. I have managed to clear some outstanding debts.

Work has been a little slower for May and June but that has meant that I’ve been able to catch up with a number of tasks for outstanding projects. Now, ideally, I’d like to find some more people willing to pay me money to build websites with WordPress. I’m working on ways to promote myself with this in mind, but failing that I’ll need to find the next tranche of contract work. So while a long way from being comfortable, I feel that good progress has been made.

Outside of that I have been able to be a bit more sociable. I’ve had some pleasurable day trips and evenings out with friends – although I’ve hardly been living a hedonistic lifestyle.

Political activity has been mostly non-existent. I’ve not been writing as much as I had intended – witness the extended blogging gap here. But I do find myself more in the mood for political stuff now, particularly compared with my severe disenchantment at the end of last year. Although, if I do start doing more now, I’m determined to be very selective about what I choose to do and only do those things that I find enjoyable.

One thing to note though is that I think my year of being “a poster boy for LibDem misery” has probably come to an end. While that stock footage of me looking at my phone was, I think, used on election night this May I’ve not heard anything of it being used since. With luck it has been replaced for the next electoral period by some stock footage of some Tories looking miserable!

So to sum up where I think I feel I am now, in the language of a school report; Andy has made some solid progress this term but needs to continue to work hard and focus on his priorities in order to properly fulfil his potential.


Voting in the Unlock Democracy Council elections

One of my tasks this morning has been filling out my ballot paper for the elections to the governing council of Unlock Democracy. This is not as easy an experience as it should be.

Some months ago I received an offer to join Unlock Democracy free for a year. I have a keen interest in issues of constitutional reform and have been impressed by some of the campaigning work the organisation has done, for example on Lords reform, so I thought I would take up the offer and see if I could be persuaded to become more actively involved.

Since signing up I’ve received a number of pieces of communication from the organisation – but the ones that stick in my mind have been those about participating in the organisation’s internal elections. While it’s great that I’ve immediately been given the chance to have a say in how the organisation is run – sadly I’ve not been all that impressed.

The rules by which the elections are conducted are extraordinarily restrictive. Not only do they prevent candidates from carrying out any form of traditional campaigning they make even the simplest use of online media impossible. They even warn you to be carfeful about how you tell your friends that you are standing! Here’s a quote from the election rules:

“No candidates may proactively campaign for election online, or allow anyone else to campaign on their behalf. This includes….pro-actively “tagging” friends with status updates about their candidacy….Candidates may inform their existing friends and social contacts that they are standing and may answer direct questions about their candidacy, if asked. This rule applies to the informal use of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) However, there is inevitably a thin line between informing and campaigning via social media and there are circumstances in which a candidate may not be able to control how their communications on social media are subsequently related by others….. For these reasons, the returning officer advises candidates to take great care in communicating via social media their decision to stand.”

These rules seem to be even sillier than the very silly rules that until recently the Liberal Democrats had for their internal elections. The prevention of any form of campaigning makes it very difficult to decide who to vote for. Something not helped by the quality of the candidates statements received with my ballot paper.

This is a bit of a “me too” post.

Some other bloggers (both named Mark and one with far more right to complain about these things than I have) have been making similar points. Mark Pack has written that “the elections are worse than I feared” and Mark Valladares, an out going member of the current Unlock Democracy Council, is equally frustrated. I don’t want to echo too much what they have said – but I did think it was worthwhile to make a contrast with the recent internal elections for the Electoral Reform Society.

Last year when the ERS was going through a similar process under much freer rules there was a degree of public discussion about individual candidates merits and more importantly the future direction of that organisation. With a background of the failure of the AV referendum, a genuine debate took place, mainly via blogs and other online media, between those who wanted to challenge what they saw as failures in strategy and organisation and an “old guard” who wanted to defend their record. I may simplify that a little, but nevertheless there was a pretty vigourous election campaign with a number of candidates setting out clear positions and attempting to raise their profile.

This gave those paying attention the ability to have a clear choice about who to vote for – but I think more importantly it was a somewhat cathartic process for ERS itself. Irrespective of who got elected, that process of debate has strengthened the organisation by airing and resolving important issues and helping to inform the choices that the ERS needs to make about its future direction.

I wrote about that debate in this post; “Voting in the Election of the Electoral Reform Society Council” – an article a number of people have told me they found helpful in deciding who to vote for. All this is denied to those participating in the Unlock Democracy election.

My main point in this post is to emphasise something that I think is extremely important but so often gets forgotten; democracy is about debate as much as it is about voting.

A truly democratic process requires not just a choice of candidates – but an informed choice. Facilitating meaningful debate and argument is as important a part of unlocking our democracy as reforming our institutions to make them more representative or changing our democratic processes to make them fairer.

I want to continue to support Unlock Democracy. I am likely to pay a subscription and renew my membership when the time comes. But the impression I’ve gained of its approach to internal organisation sadly has not inspired to want to get more actively involved.


Random Thoughts 14: the first half of 2012

This is a first half of the year catch up post for my series of Random Thoughts posts. This is a collection of  links, things found on the web and other stuf that has occured to me – but, along with my fall off in blogging activity generally, the collection of links for these posts also slowed down. But there are still a few that I think are worth sharing.

Michael Kiwanuka – Tell Me A Tale

This was one of my favourite songs from 2011. This version is from Later with Jools Holland last November.

Bedfordshire announces new Vice Chancellor

I’ve written a fair bit about where Les Ebdon is going when he steps down as Vice Chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, so I ought to mention that we learnt in April who his replacement will be. It is former Labour MP and government minister Bill Rammell.

William Hague’s green economy letter to David Cameron

I struggled to find anything to disagree with in this leaked letter from Foriegn Secretary William Hague. We need a government that is loudly and clearly committed to green growth, but Osborne is a barrier, Cameron has gone silent compared to his hug a huskie days, and the Liberal Democrats generally speaking are not being nearly as vocal enough. So more power to Hague’s elbow.

New Statesman – Better porn with de Botton

Philosopher Alain de Botton wants to promote better ethical porn. A form of “pornography in which sexual desire would be invited to support, rather than permitted to undermine, our higher values.”

Is it WordPress?

A cool little tool that checks to see if a website is running WordPress.

New history section on the Number 10 website

In what I think is a good initiative the Number 10 website is having the history section on its website revamped. This includes a really good short history of the building itself, a virtual tour of some of the rooms, profiles of all the Prime Ministers, and articles from historians. The last of these will be added to over the year so it could end up as a really good resource.

Paul Mason On “Davy Jones, Signifier Of Modernity”

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for The Monkees. “Day Dream Believer” would probably be one of my Desert Island Discs. So I was sad to hear of the death of Davy Jones; “the english one” in the original manufactured boy band. I thought Paul Mason’s piece here is a good attempt at placing The Monkees in to the right place in our cultural history.

Little Boots – Every Night I Say A Prayer

My musical following of electro pop diva Little Boots seems to be becoming a permanent feature, but this is a much better version of ‘Every Night I Say A Prayer’ than the far too camp official video.

Boris Johnson: his job creation pledge is meaningless

I was pleased to see newly elected Liberal Democrat London Assembly member Stephen Knight scoring an early win against the Tory Mayor.

Network Rail – Virtual Archive

This is cool. In a new project Network Rail have started putting documents from their historical archive online. If you are the sort of person who enjoys looking at architects plans for railway stations from several hundered years ago, and let’s face it who doesn’t, then this is for you. There is only a limited number of documents at the moment – but as it expands it should become a fascinating resource.

Tim Bentinck’s Website

Hat tip to my friend Laura for pointing me at the website of actor and Renaissance man (or possibly Renaissance geek) Tim Bentinck. Mr Bentinck will be familiar to most for playing David Archer in Britain’s longest running radio soap opera, and to some for his role in ‘The Thick of It’. Gamers will have come across his work without knowing it as he has voiced characters in countless computer games. But impressively there is much more to him than actor and voice over artist. His website sparked two moments of nostalgia for me; my own memories of the Deer Leap swimming pool and my love for my Psion Series 5, the best gadget I ever owned, iPhone/iPad included.

My second post about the English Council for Liberal Democrat Voice

As mentioned in a previous post I have started writing about the Liberal Democrats’ English Council for Liberal Democrat Voice.

Last Sunday (I am getting behind) saw my second post on that subject. This one was looking at the main item of business at this month’s meeting of the English Council which is a change to the rules of how local parties are organised. You can read it here: “Changes to your local party boundaries are coming”.


The Diamond Jubilee Thames Pageant

Today I have been sorting out the photos and video I took last Sunday of the Diamond Jubilee Thames Pageant.

Despite the wet weather and some theoretical republican sympathies I had a really enjoyable day. I was impressed by the organisation and the scale of the event. I was even more impressed by those in the oar powered section of the pageant who had to row for several miles in what weren’t the best conditions. I got to see a fantastic range of different boats, some of which were very elegant craft, I particularly liked the narrowboats, and the atmosphere amongst the crowd was great.

I travelled down to London on the train with my parents and we decided that, to avoid the worst of the crowds, we would head to the western section of the pageant route to where the boats were to ‘muster’. We started at Hammersmith Bridge, getting there in time to see many of the boats in man-powered section of the pageant pass under on their way to their assembly point.

We then walked along the riverbank down river getting great views of the boats waiting to join the pageant outside the Harrods Furniture Depository. We then walked around Craven Cottage football ground, through Fulham Palace Gardens, reaching Putney Bridge. From there we decided to cut across the bend in the river and headed through the streets emerging again by the river near a relatively new looking development just south of Chelsea Harbour.

Although we didn’t realise it at the time we were just down from Chelsea Harbour Pier, on the south side of Battersea Railway Bridge, where HM the Queen boarded the Britannia Launch to be taken to The Spirit of Chartwell, the royal barge. So we narrowly missed seeing the Queen but we were able to see the beautiful Royal Rowbarge Gloriana
set off to lead the parade.

I did manage to take some good photos, although I gave up when the weather worsened.

The video is less good quality but I think it gives a sense of the flavour of the event.