Space: 1999 and The Rules of Luton

Here’s a little home town related science fiction oddity.

Like many I have fond memories of scifi TV from my childhood. Those series from the 70’s and 80’s that I grew up watching have helped form a cultural backdrop and set of reference points that I have carried with me into adult life. Not least because so many of my friends are involved in Who or other fandom at one level or another.

I loved Doctor Who, Hitchhiker’s Guide, Blake’s 7 and of course Star Trek. But one series I couldn’t get into was Space: 1999.

It might have been the Kubrick influenced visuals or the sternness of the lead characters but I remember as a kid feeling that the series was cold and more than a little sinister. Also I didn’t really buy into the whole “moon knocked out of orbit” thing. This impression has put me off revisiting it as an adult. Although I have been told I am not missing much.

Yet this has also meant that until recently I was unaware of the curious Luton related fact that the town appears in one of the episodes. Well strictly speaking the name “Luton” features.

In an episode called “The Rules of Luton” broadcast in October 1976 the travellers from Moon Base Alpha come across a planet called Luton and fall foul of the laws of its inhabitants.

I am not sure whether any inference should be drawn from the fact that the inhabitants of “Luton” are intelligent plant based life forms!

Apparently the American writer of the episode saw the name on a road sign and liked the look of it.


The social media Olympics

I am getting very excited today watching the build up to the opening ceremony of the London Olympics. I am really looking forward to the next few weeks — not only for the sport — but also for the experience of such a huge global event happening so nearby.

That event is going to have some unique aspects. Some of which will be worth studying closely and learning from. One of these is the strong likelihood that these will be the first “social media Olympics”.

At the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Facebook was just over four years old and Twitter was a mere two. Now, four years later, these London games will take place against a back drop of greater maturity for these technologies. Organisations are having to adapt to the demands of social media, a Twitter account is an essential PR tool for any significant public figure — athletes included, and most large events can be shaped and interpreted through the parallel virtual event that is created by the social media interactions of participants and spectators.

How much will this be true for an event as big as the Olympics? I am expecting social media to play a major part in how the world experiences the Games over the next few weeks.

The reason for mentioning all this is to point you to a video that some colleagues of mine — I’ve worked with them via Banerji Associates — have put together looking at precisely this issue. It is rather good. It includes interviews with members of Team GB and Jeremy Hunt MP, and I think people will find it interesting.

The Social Liberal Forum conference 2012

I've not had a chance to write up my experience of the Social Liberal Forum conference from a week and a half ago (Saturday 14 July) until now. But I think it is still worth doing – if only to say how much I enjoyed going.

The event was very well run, provided lots of intellectual stimulation, had some very good speakers and interesting ideas, and it was nice to meet new people and catch up with some people I hadn’t seen for a while. So I’d like to record my thanks to the organisers.

I am not sure how well the theme of “social justice across generations” worked. I didn’t feel that the conference addressed the issue of intergenerational justice in any particularly meaningful way or enabled me to reach any specific conclusions on the topic. That impression may in part be due to my choice of break out sessions. But I think there is a problem with ‘political’ conferences, as opposed to academic or other types, in that there is a pressure on the participants to deal with the issues of the day and address the developing political context – which means that they aren’t very good at ‘problem solving’ on a specific topic.

Also, I am not sure the event will be as memorable as the first SLF conference, which I wrote about here, mostly because it had much less of a fraught atmosphere than that one had. Unlike last time the party was not in the middle of a huge row about the NHS.

However, I don’t want to sound too negative. Holding this type of event is extremely worthwhile and I believe they are valued a great deal by those who participate.

What did I get out of it? Having largely been on sabbatical from political activity for the last year, the main thing I benefited from was an opportunity to gauge the mood of the Party (or at least that part of it that attends these things). It also helped confirm and sharpen some aspects of my thinking about politics that I have been developing over the last few months. All of which, time depending, I intend to write more about. These are:

  • Following his speech to the conference, a confirmation of my view of the nature of Nick Clegg’s leadership (both good and bad) and what it means for the Liberal Democrats.

  • Related to the above, and sparked by some discussion of the government’s health policy, some thoughts about where the party is going wrong in its political communication.

  • A growing greater sympathy for the Social Liberal Forum and its aims and objectives, including being generally impressed by the direction it is heading in.

  • But, despite the above and some significant exceptions, a continuing frustration with the general narrowness and negativity of the policy agenda pursued by the “social liberal” wing of the Party.

More about the Social Liberal Forum conference can be found here:


Top of the Blogs squared

I’ve been busy with work over the last few days and have not been paying much attention to this blog — but I’ve just noticed that this post has appeared in Liberal Democrat Voice’s Top of the Blogs feature two weeks running – here and here.

I’m sure it was an oversight rather than a judgement that my insights deserved double exposure — but I’m not complaining! Thanks Helen ;-)

Random Thoughts for 23 July 2012

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  16th July 2012 and 23rd July 2012:

Access to Elected Office Fund

“The Access to Elected Office Fund offers individual grants of between £250 and £10,000 to disabled people who want to be selected as candidates for an election, or who are standing for election.”

Saki monkeys welcome baby to their brood

Another baby animal at Whipsnade Zoo.

The real origins of Bush House

Do read David Boyle’s evocative piece on the origins of the, now former, home of the BBC World Service.

Cameron would choose ‘Jerusalem’ as national anthem for England’s sports teams – UK Politics – UK – The Independent

Something on which I agree with the Prime Minister.

Wardown Park trees worth over £2 million

A welcome study looking at the value of our trees.

Indexed (the blog of Jessica Hagy)

Why haven’t I discovered this before? Love a witty diagram.

Attending the Social Liberal Forum conference

I am spending today at the annual conference of the Social Liberal Forum which is being held on the campus of King’s College London near Waterloo. There is a rather packed agenda with the focus being on “social justice across generations”. I’ve just listened to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg give the ‘William Beveridge Memorial Lecture’. As I write this I am listening to Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Davey MP talking about the intersection between the environment and economics.

You should be able to see a live stream of the conference from the SLF website.

I hope to do a full write up of the conference later. The conference has already sparked a few ideas. However, in preparation here is my write from last year’s conference for comparison: ‘An overly considered review of the Social Liberal Forum conference’.


The Olympic Torch in Luton

Early on Monday morning (9 July 2012) I went to watch the Olympic Torch be carried along Dunstable Road in Luton, not far from my house. The photos I took are below:

More on the Olympic Torch in Luton can be found here:

10 principles for the management of internal elections in membership organisations

In this post I am proposing some principles on which I believe the rules for internal elections in membership organisations should be based. For the background to this post see here.

  1. Campaigning is good: Campaigning for votes in internal elections is necessary, healthy, and should be encouraged. Democracy is about more than just voting. Elections should do more than decide who should fill posts or sit on a committee. Ideally they should also be about testing and challenging the candidates, debating issues, resolving disputes, answering questions of policy and strategy, and providing a steer for the future of the organisation. These things can be achieved as the result of a healthy and well organised election campaign. So any election rules should facilitate such campaigning and not prevent it.
  2. Be permissive: The rules you do have should start from the premise that everything is allowed – except those things that you decide should be specifically ruled out.
  3. Expect good behaviour: I’m not arguing for a free for all however. Campaigning should take place within certain bounds of appropriateness and decency. A lot of this is common sense or is covered by the law, such as the law of libel, anyway. However, you do need to have a rule that clearly states that certain standards of personal conduct are expected of candidates.
  4. Prevent personal criticism: The criticism of others – the questioning of decisions, judgment and competence – can often be justified as part of the debate surrounding an election. It is difficult to argue for a change in the direction of an organisation without some kind of critique of the direction that its current leadership is taking it in. However, you can get into dangerous waters if that criticism is directed at individuals. So I believe that the rules should prevent direct personal criticism of named individuals. So to say “the current leadership are taking us in the wrong direction” is fair comment – to say “Jane Bloggs is an incompetent fool” is not.
  5. Provide a good platform: If you are encouraging campaigning and seeking to get the best out of it then it helps if you provide a number of good quality mechanisms that create a forum in which that campaigning can take place. By this I mean the production of members mailings, arranging husting meetings, creating special sections on your website and so on. The platforms you choose to provide will obviously depend on the size, culture and finances of your organisation.While candidates should not be restricted from going outside the officially sanctioned channels, if those channels are of good enough quality, in reality most people will stick with them. Usually they will be the easiest and most effective methods of campaigning available. Shaping the debate in a positive direction is much more likely to be achieved by encouraging it to take place through well designed communication channels than by imposing restrictions that candidates will seek to work around.
  6. Control access to membership lists: A critical tool for any candidate participating in an internal election will be having access to a list of contact details of members who have a vote. Organisations will need to think about how they want to handle this. This can range from giving candidates a full list and freedom to use it how they wish, through providing limited access for specific purposes, to providing no access at all and leaving candidates to create their own contact lists. The choice of approach will depend on the nature and culture of the organisation. But the key advice I would give is that the approach should be a clear and consistent one for all candidates. Rules should ensure a level playing field with no candidates having privileged access to this resource.
  7. Embrace online: The internet and social media have had far reaching consequences for how campaigning can take place. This should be seen as a welcome opportunity for increased engagement and participation – not as something to be feared. It is important to understand that online media has mostly had a leveling down effect. Tools like the web, Facebook and Twitter are available for use by candidates who may lack access to other more traditional resources. These tools are also changing and evolving all the time. It is foolish to create rules that place restrictions on particular communication technologies – as these will soon become out of date.
  8. Restrict money – not speech: Restrictions on what candidates can do to communicate with voting members are usually counterproductive and often ineffective. Where you should concentrate in order to ensure fairness in an election is on how much a candidate can spend. Spending limits should be set (and these can be set at zero if necessary) and expenses declared. The best way to ensure a level playing field between candidates is to have measures to prevent the wealthy from ‘buying’ the election.
  9. Have few rules – but enforce the ones you do have: I am arguing for a permissive environment in which election campaigns should take place – but not a lawless one. The rules you do have should be clearly understood by those involved and the consequences for breaking them should be real. If someone breaks the rules they should be disqualified, otherwise there is no point in having them in the first place. So it is important that the process for enforcing the rules is established and is workable. Critical to this is having a competent and independent returning officer with clearly established powers and an appropriate appeals process to handle disputes.
  10. Fair votes: Finally, though it shouldn’t really be needed to be said, always use the single transferable vote system. Also, if you can, employ Electoral Reform Services to count the votes.

I hope that is food for thought. Please feel free to add suggestions for other principles in the comments below.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

The Unlock Democracy council elections: an apology and a proposal

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a somewhat critical post here about my experience of the recent Unlock Democracy council elections.

The Director of that organisation, Peter Facey, wrote a comment in response to that post. Unfortunately, for some reason, that comment got caught in the blog’s spam trap and I only noticed it was there at the end of last week.

So I would like to apologise to Peter for missing his response.

In it he says;

“Now that the ballot is closed it would be good to have a debate about how and if people would like to change our rules so that they can be debated at our AGM in November.”

Given that my previous post on this subject was a bit of a whinge – my main motivation was I think to highlight the negative impact that the election process had had on my impression of the organisation – I thought I ought to try and make a more positive contribution to that debate.

I am not sure that I am the right person to start drafting constitutional amendments for an organisation I am only marginally involved with, but it did make me think about the shape that the arrangements for internal elections should take in membership organisations more generally. I’ve written up the product of that thinking in the following post on this blog;

10 principles for the management of internal elections in membership organisations’.

I hope it is of some use in shaping the thinking of Unlock Democracy and others.

Random Thoughts for 8th July 2012

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 4th July and 8th July (published a little late):

What to make of the new Electoral Reform Society rules?

Mark Pack says what I would have said about the changes to the rules that the Electoral Reform Society is run by, if I had bothered to go into the details and then chosen to blog about it. However, I am pleased that one of the things that the new broom in the ERS are doing is reviewing such governance issues. It will stand them in good stead.

Serendipity Lives Here

I really like the concept of a ‘serendipity’ button.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show LIVE!

My other recent theatrical outing was this. Slightly unbalanced in that it dealt with events of the first original radio show in the first half, leaving all the other shows to fit into the second. Which meant that half felt But given that it was more celebration than performance it didn’t matter. Great fun. You have to like a show in which the sound effect guys are as much a part of the performance as the actors.

How not to report opinion polls

Anthony Wells on the way most media get it wrong. Simply put, individual polls are pretty useless, it is the trends that matter.

Henry V

Last Friday I went to see Henry V at Shakespeare’s Globe on the South bank. It was a bit of a late birthday treat and I had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon watching the play in that wonderfully recreated “wooden O”. Perhaps my only niggles would be the extraordinarily irritating laugh of a woman sitting next to us and the decision of what appeared to be every helicopter in London to fly over the airspace above the theatre! But the performance itself was first class.

I knew Henry V as one of Shakespeare’s great studies in leadership, or more accurately kingship, but I hadn’t so much appreciated just how much it is also a study of Englishness. The character of Henry himself being something of an idealised Englishman.

I thought Jamie Parker was excellent as Henry. He was less strong in the characters’ more introspective moments, but in the battle scenes he was totally believable. You could really buy in to the idea that this guy was a military commander. Indeed, I felt there was more than a little touch of Sandhurst about Henry as he made decisions and gave commands.

He was also believable, and very likeable, in the scene where the king woos Princess Katherine of France. Shakespeare gives us, indeed helped originate, that great stereotype of the posh Englishman who is totally at home on the battlefield, or the sports field, but comes undone when he has to talk to a woman he is attracted to. Think Hugh Grant in four weddings and a funeral and a host of other romantic comedies. Parker did this excellently.

It struck me that Shakespeare makes you admire the King for his ability to command, like him for his common touch, and want to follow him after those famous rousing patriotic speeches. But that you only really fall in love with Henry after the wooing of Katherine.

Other performances I would highlight would be Sam Cox as a nicely disreputable pistol, and Olivia Ross who was very funny as Princess Katherine. I have to say I took some pleasure in watching the reactions of a party of schoolchildren during the especially rude bits of the scene where she makes a comical attempt to learn English. I also thought she was very good as the “boy”, a performance which helped make his murder one of the more powerful moments of the play – getting gasps from the audience.

However, I thought the standout was Brendan O’Hea as the stereotypical garrulous comic Welshman Captain Fluellen. He made you laugh at his pomposity and self conceit but also retain a genuine sympathy for the character for his loyalty and decency. It was a very fine performance, “look you”.

A big weekend for Luton: Love Luton Festival, Carnival and Olympic torch

I’ve been getting quite a few visitors here looking either for information about the procession of the Olympic torch through Luton or the date of this year’s Luton Carnival. In an attempt to be helpful here is some basic information about the events of this coming weekend and links to other sources of information.

Friday 6th – In the evening there will be day one of the Love Luton Festival in Popes Meadow headlined by The Wanted.

Saturday 7th – The Luton Mela will take place in Wardown Park and day two of the Love Luton Festival in Popes Meadow headlined by Olly Murs.

Sunday 8th – We will have this year’s Luton Carnival followed by the arrival of the Olympic Torch. Then there will be an Olympic celebration event in the evening.

Monday 9th – Finally the Olympic Torch procession will head off from Luton in the early morning.

Olympic Torch route

Route details taken from the LBC website:

“On Sunday 8 July the relay in Luton starts in London Road at 6.12pm and progresses via Castle Street, George Street, Manchester Street, New Bedford Road and the Wardown Park pathway to Old Bedford Road and an evening celebration event at Popes Meadow.

On Monday 9 July the Torch sets out from St George’s Square at 6.39am and progresses via Manchester Street, George Street, Park Street, Castle Street and the A505 Chapel Viaduct to Dunstable Road”

The Torch then continues into Dunstable.

More information