Friday, November 30, 2007
Earlier in November reminders went out from our diverse regions to local Party treasurers on the need to take great care in end-of year returns on donations. Irritated comments (permutating the words ‘eggs’ ‘suck’ and ‘grandmothers’) resulted in some cases. Well I hope the moaners reflect again – better a twice-careful reminder e-mail than a visit from m’learned friends.
Example of what has to be done. Personal donors have to be linked to an entry in the electoral register, giving the electoral registration number for that donor. If a donor gives a long-period donation (by standing order for example) then at the beginning of each year, when the new electoral register is introduced, the new electoral registration number for that donor has to be filed against the ongoing donation. Failing this the donation has to be refused for the year on pain of a fine from the Electoral Commission. And yes every year this party looses some thousands of pounds of perfectly legitimate money through messing up this tedious bit of December book-keeping.
OK it is sucking eggs, but lets just get sucking.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
This is a famous statue by the Haida artist Bill Reid. It shows a canoe filled with the traditional characters of Haida mythology, crammed together uneasily in the same boat; cantankerous, argumentative, lively, sometimes uneasy at the company they keep, but in the same boat paddling more or less together. Is the canoe just marking time or is it going forwards into an adventurous future?
The words ‘Haida Gwaii’ mean ‘Islands of the People’ in the language of the Haida First Nation of what is 'now' Queen Charlotte's Island, BC, Canada.
Not a bad visualisation of a party such as ours perhaps? On the diversity, on the hard work, and on the need to move on…
The bronze statue is outside the Canadian Embassy in Washington DC and is featured on the Canadian $20 note.
A walkround of the version in the Ottawa Museum of Civilisation is here.
Won’t speculate on which characters map onto which prominent LibDems… (though there is one familair looking face) but we do need them all in all their richness.
The imagery came to mind as I first heard of the Haida stories at a Quaker Meeting in Friends House many years ago.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
President Robert Mugabe's motorcade - notorious for its strict security procedures and high-speed travel - came to a sudden halt in Harare today when a mystery vehicle evaded outriders and guards before smashing into a security vehicle. Both drivers died at the scene.... many Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) operatives are convinced that this was a deliberate attempt to kill Mugabe by crashing his vehicle - a method of assassination not unknown in Southern Africa.
Further browsing that site leads to an election story with a possible campaign tactic not yet embraced by our own leadersip hopefulls...
Anyone in Zanu-PF - or anyone else for that matter - who is planning to oust President Robert Mugabe had better think again. Because Madam Oppah Muchinguri (right), our country's formidable Minister for Women, is planning a demonstration that will bring the country to a halt, quite possible to its knees, and even leave it flat on its face, having passed out cold.
This is what she promised, when speaking to a meeting of female party activitists this week:
"Let me assure you ladies, if anyone in Zanu-PF or elsewhere tries to remove Mugabe from power I and the Women's League will march in the streets of Harare naked."
'Moses Moyo' (the pseudonym for the blogger) sounds one cool commentator.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Everyone interested in these issues should (I suggest) look at the work of the Oxford Research Group, an independent think-tank that has for decades studied how nuclear weapons decisions are actually made, who makes them and how we need to start debates where people actually are not where we want them to be.
The challenge is to get through to the people in the actual decision making loops, many of whom have very serious doubts – practical, economic and yes MORAL, about what is happening. To liberate those people to make a contribution to the debates so we can all make more informed decisions.
Chris Huhne I think has taken up this challenge and he is magnificently right in his approach.
There are two ways to make sure we who oppose nuclear weaponry can ensure we continue to lose the argument. The first is to insist on a pure unilateralist rhetoric – and this has been efficiently neutralised well in advance so the decision making processes can ignore them The second is to talk glibly about ‘putting our systems on the table’ in any future multilateral negotiations, which has no credibility with other parties to negotiations precisely because the complex of ‘decision making systems’ are left untouched to justify further developments regardless.
We need a new approach to open up a wider and more relevant debate, to empower our negotiators so we can seize any real chances for disarmament.
Chris Huhne has taken up the challenge to produce a real and effective policy for shaking up this complex of decision systems and really debating ‘nuclear weapons policy’. If we follow his lead on this, Britain could be at the forefront of a genuine disarmament drive. Win or lose in this leadership contest I hope he continues to work on this approach and that the party takes his thinking on board.
A summary of the ORG analysis of the recent ‘Trident’ renewal situation is here, and a detailed paper (note in .pdf) on the process is here.
Example of one of the things such a debate will make clear: the Armed Forces insist that great chunks of the cost of nuclear weaponry is not part of the Defence Budget but are counted in elsewhere as ‘political assets’ for the UK. We must insist that all nuclear weapons costs are clearly added to the defence pot and ask the services chiefs – ‘what priority do you put on this in defence terms? What are you prepared to cut if necessary to maintain the current or any nuclear weaponry development and deployment’.
So tell me about the realism and effectiveness of developing a new nuclear weapons system. Perhaps one with only a first strike capability, and no deterrent value?
Chris shows he understands what we need to do to bring that proper debate into the mainstream so it isn't sandbagged by immediate comments such as, well...
If we dont have a debate in this form we will simply have a shouting match and business as usual when the 2010 treaty negotiations take place.
One example: The USA may well abandon Trident missiles in favour of a new generation of sea-launched cruise type ordnances. that would leave the UK high and dry if it felt it needed nukes.
involve the Trident missile it would have to pay for new support facilities, extensive testing programmes
to ensure the safety and reliability of any new system, and all the inherent financial, technological and
political risks associated with building a sophisticated weapon system that the US shouldered for the Trident programme."
Yep, the paper agrees with me.
To be honest, I am not worried about a scenario where the US (and France for that matter) were no longer willing to sell us nukes. Yes, maybe one day we will have to disarm or roll our own. But why go to the extra expense and risk of doing it today?
The paper makes some good points against ordering a new fleet of Vanguard replacements now. In this it agrees with party policy and the views of both candidates.
What else is there?
Sunday, November 25, 2007
(Couldn’t resist the chance to link to the headline ‘England flops shafted by enormous todger’)
Lijepa nasa domovino,
Oj junacka zemljo mila,
Stare slave djedovino,
Da bi vazda sretna bila!
Mila, kano si nam slavna,
Mila si nam ti jedina.
Mila, kuda si nam ravna,
Mila, kuda si planina!
Our beautiful homeland, Oh dear, heroic land, Fatherland of ancient glory, May you always be happy! Dear, as much as you are glorious, Only you are dear to us. Dear, where your land is flat,
Dear, where it is mountainous.
And the potential leaderships are discovering that party supporters will back Liberal positions.
Maybe this means the end of clenched buttocks on green benches as Parliamentarians tiptoe around issues of freedom. No more constipation as shown by our home office team in the last General Election period. (Ah if only Simon Hughes had still been our shadow home secretary then…)
I look back at the high spot for me in the 2005 campaign, our adoption meeting in Milton Keynes where Lord Dholakia raised the roof with an impassioned statement on protecting our freedoms. I know we recruited and mobilised key new activists (including potential councillors) just on the basis of the power of that speech.This link shows what I said then, and you can see my hopes.But despite the superb manifesto commitment (page 8 if you still have it to hand) nothing else in the campaign, not in our national literature actually going through doors, not in the Leadership statements from any source, approached the power and clarity of that moment with Navnit .I am not saying it would (necessarily) have swung us masses of seats, but if we had put out a national message of that power nobody could ever again ask what the Liberal Democrats are ‘for’. A key part of the answer would be clear and spoken heart to heart. Protecting our Freedoms from whatever threat emerges, foreign and domestic. If not us, who else?
Whoever wins this leadership play-off I think we will go into the next election with a fiery statement on values and freedom (and not a complex examination of a tax package … oh lord our 2005 campaign priorities…)
Friday, November 16, 2007
The Blue Dot speech by Carl Sagan is worth linking to in full … originally a commencement address for graduating students..
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how
frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Regardless of our current differences in our own little dot on the dot, we are all on the same Liberal Adventure to chose life more abundantly.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
"We endorse setting the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and working energetically on the actions required to achieve that goal"
"We" in this case are noted peacenicks and defence patsies:
- Henry Kissinger (FormerUS Secretary of State)
- Gerge Shultz (Former US Secretary of State)
- William Perry (Former US secretary of Defence)
- Sam Numm (Former US Senator for Georgia, former chair of Senate Committee on Armed Services)
This is in the context of a massive US programme to replace ageing existing nuclear warheads with a 'Reliable Replacement Warhead' that does not need testing. Excellent discussion of the science behind all this and some of the ethical issues in the November 2007 issue of Scientific American (alas neither the WSJ nor SciAm allow linking to articles).
Britain of course is snagged into all sorts of byways of this argument.
It is an amazing piece, and creates real opportunities to work on the goals they set out. And they are not done - a follow-up conference on the topic happened in October, with more to come.
There are various skills needed to bring this about, and the people we are trying to persuade react in different ways.
Studies of how ideas, (or new technologies) become accepted in society suggest that there are different tribes out there. Two of these are innovators and early adaptors. Innovators get the new stuff into existence, Early Adaptors snap it up as soon as they can get their hands on it. But neither group is big enough to dominate a society. What you have to do to get an idea (or product) to dominate is to persuade the ‘early majority’ people. These people worry about how novelties fit into their existing complex lives.
It is a big jump from the early adaptors to the early majority. The current iPhone launch offers good examples of this process.
In politics the exciting new ideas enthuse the early adaptors. The big skill is how to transfer this onwards. The arguments that persuade the pioneers often will not work for the majority of people. You need people with particular skills to move ideas on, and it is perhaps rare for one person to have them all.
One classification of these skills is threefold: into connectors, the mavens and the persuaders.
Connectors know who to talk to and can introduce other people to people they need to know. They help establish other people networks which they can utilise in turn if needed. The networked communication makes the new idea familair and safer.
Mavens are people who accumulate knowledge. They are the vigilantes in society who stop power groups exploiting people because they are immersed in details of their area of expertise. They make it easier for accurate information to become available, and build up trust.
And Persuaders can do their task all sorts of ways, sometimes by body language alone – they just give a positive impression. Feeling good about an idea makes it easier to accept.
Now to our present leadership choice. Really we want someone with all three skills equally. This is unlikely, so what balance do we see in our candidates and which of these balances best suites our needs?
We need all three in our overall leadership mix, that is for sure.
If you want to tear these ideas apart have a look at Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘The Tipping Point’ for more material.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Nobody gave my dad counselling for his experiences, such as having to walk forwards over burnt human bodies after the closing of the Falais Gap in August 1944, or later having to count and bury the dead at Belsen. Watching and listening to the participants last night I glimpsed just a little of the nightmares my dad still had at the end of his life, and why when he finally died I had a small stab of relief in the sorrow – at least he could not dream again.
On equipment failures in WW2 my dad told me about the explosive Sherman Tank which was designed with a petrol rather than a diesel engine so it would go faster. Result – if an enemy bullet (not even an antitank round) hit the fuel container exactly the tank would flame up, this interesting result not being hindered by the fact that the big identifying white stars on the sides were painted over the fuel inlet cap. Several times in street fighting my dad had to go first in his jeep before the tanks could follow – he was faster than them.
Dad died just before the Iraq invasion, contemptuous of the feeble arguments for war and angry that another generation was to be broken and let down.
So I am all for the Covenant Commission suggested by Nick Clegg, and I hope we carry this forwards whoever wins our parochial contest.
Friday, November 09, 2007
It would be good to get a feel of how our 'migrants policy' (as of last Conference, thanks to the excellent work of Nick Clegg developing his current brief) is faring in the rough real world.
The other two members of the panel of seemed to have it in for Nick as far as I could glimpse. So some reviews of how Nick fared under concentrated fire might be helpful also.
Now one thought on getting messages across (and full disclosure, do note my bias in the current leadership poll) ...
I clicked on this in the middle of the show and came in at a point when Nick was speaking. And another panelist was speaking at the same time. No idea who was trying to shout down or interrupt who though I suspect froma few clues the woman panellist was disrupting Nicks answer to a question. But it didnt look very good from my temporary accidential perspective as a channel hopping viewer making a 5-second judgement. Basically (aspirant) major party leaders dont want to look as if they are just closing their eyes and ploughing on in an argument, they need to look much more in control. I hope the rest of the event was a lot better - up to Nick's usual standard in fact.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Piper Alpha was a North Sea oil rig that exploded in 1988 killing 167 people. After cleanup and compensation for victims the owners put in an insurance claim for £1 billion (one thousand million pounds). Because of re-insurance deals the result was a tide of claims across the insurance industry that finally totalled £16 billion. This wrecked Lloyds of London and caused the complete reorganisation of insurance in the City of London.
Why is this relevant to today’s credit problems? Well the primary insurers in 1988 sold on part of the risks to other insurers in various financial packages, and they in turn repackaged part of their risks in other financial instruments and sold them on. Sometimes the primary insurers purchased these repackaged instruments without realising they were actually taking on again part of the risks they had sold on. Come the day of reckoning and the claims went round and round and round…some people having to pay several times.
The sub-prime mortgages (sold to people who are bad financial risks) at the heart of today’s problems presented a risk for the original lenders. They repackaged some of this risk in further financial instruments and sold them on to other people, many of whom repackaged several of those packages and sold them on again – and so on and so on. Bottom line, nobody actually knows how many rounds of this pass the parcel act went on, nor what the actual level of dud values is incorporated in financial securities underpinning otherwise quite respectable holdings. Nobody knows what will happen in a Piper Alpha like unravelling goes the rounds.
The uproar in the Financial Markets is chronicled for example in the Financial Times, Daily Telegraph, Guardian and Independent.
I rather suspect that the concept of ‘a market’ is about to get one of its periodic mass bad press episodes, of the kind wearily summed up by ‘John Kenneth Galbraith’ in the phrase 'Financial Genius Comes before the Fall'. Of course the financial markets are not ‘The Markets’ that give choice in a free economy – but since defenders of ‘market systems’ have been shy of emphasising this elementary fact we cannot complain if the general public conclude for the next few years that markets in general are evil and political poison. The political and economic results could be grim, as Cicero notes…
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
What Liberal Democrat controlled MK has done since 2005 is to require that all new developments in the New City meet carbon-neutral standards. The MK policy covers all sizes of developments both commercial and housing, and covers energy efficiency and renewable energy supply. Because MK is growing so rapidly this policy is projected to save at least 12,000 tonnes of CO2 emission per year over what it would otherwise be. Larger new developments must pay into a fund aimed at offsetting CO2 emissions from older buildings in the New City.
However there has been a big lobbying effort by developers who don’t like having to meet more stringent local standards –and Whitehall leaks showed that the Government is considering regulation banning MK and other local authorities from carrying through such local initiatives. The aim of any such regulation would be to require local planning authorities accept common bog-standard buildings in any part of the UK.
The latest situation (prior to the Queens speech) is summarised by LD group leader Isobel McCall after receiving a reply to her letter to the Minister asking for clarification (reply received at the end of October, months after her early September letter ):
Unfortunately the letter is very confusing and the Minister neither confirms nor denies that we will be able to keep our existing planning rules. It looks as if the massive pressure from Milton Keynes and other areas has delivered at least a partial U-turn, but the devil will be in the detail when the Government's planning policy on climate change is published….. In Milton Keynes we have made a conscious decision to reduce carbon emissions from buildings and we want our
homes to be of the highest environmental standards. Developers locally are working within our tough policies so we are making this work on the ground. We don't want it watered down.
It is rather ironic that it has recently been announced that we have reached the finals of the Green Apple environmental awards for introducing this innovative policy. It was just after that we heard that the policy was under threat from the Government!
Now it is possible that the brown Government will make MK standards applicable as a minimum across the UK as part of a national initiative. That would be great. But even if this is so it would be wholly wrong to prevent any particular authority from carrying through an even more stringent policy if the council feels this is right for its own area.