Contempt of democracy


My MP. Mims Davies, recently emailed her latest Brexit update to Eastleigh constituents but if, like me, she didn’t send it to you, don’t worry; it didn’t say anything new. In fact, despite my response to her last update, it contains the same specious claims as before: control, borders, money, citizen rights, jobs, etc. I guess she didn’t read my letter.

It would be a joke if it wasn’t so serious, unfortunately it looks like Mims is going to carry on spreading the same misleading alternative facts as the prime minister until the bitter end. It’s this complete contempt for democracy that has got us in to the current mess and, whatever happens on the 29th March, it’s not going to end well.

Both leave voters and remain voters have legitimate concerns about democracy and respecting the referendum, and both are right to feel aggrieved because we have all been treated with utter contempt from the very beginning. Starting with David Cameron’s reasons for giving us a referendum.

If you think the EU referendum had anything to do with a genuine concern for what the country wanted, ask yourself why there wasn’t a referendum on something the country actually cared about before 2016. For example, austerity, or the NHS.

No, David just wanted to solve a problem he had with the Conservative party, and protecting the conservative party has featured just as strongly in the self inflicted crisis ever since then.

Having called for a show referendum it would have been nice if MPs had taken it seriously but unfortunately they proceeded to treat the whole thing with just as much contempt as the prime minister had. No need for a threshold on such a constitutionally significant question because it’s just advisory. That turned out well didn’t it.

Happily we don’t need to say too much about the actual referendum campaign, suffice to say it was universally awful.

And the result of trying to unite the Conservative party was a toxic narrow victory for leaving the EU, which looks like it has successful divided the country for a generation. It’s also worth noting the result is unsafe but since it was advisory, who cares?

Things looked bad, but even at this stage David could have built a sensible consensus on the way forward that truly respected the narrow win for leaving the EU. Dave? Dave?

Oh.

David Cameron outside number 10

Photo: Open Government Licence v3.0

Things really took a turn for the worse when Theresa-totalitarian tendencies-May moved in. Respect for democracy? Don’t make me laugh! From the outset, this was her chance to get rid of all those pesky foreigners that she’d been failing to keep out for her entire career.

Obviously triggering article 50 without a plan and calling a snap election makes perfect sense. Who wouldn’t give up their best (only?) leverage and waste a good chunk of the subsequent two year deadline just to lose your majority?

Having made these unforced errors, the contempt for democracy shifts up a gear. She hasn’t once behaved as if she lost her majority. In attempting to ram her own personal Brexit through, she has trampled over parliament at every opportunity. Mostly successfully to MP’s great shame.

Talking of shameful MPs, my MP is now essentially voting to leave the EU on 29th March with no deal. I would really love to know how she thinks this is in anyway a good thing for the UK or her Eastleigh constituency.

She still talks of 17.4 million people as if that number still exists, rather than being a fleeting coalition of people projecting their own vision of leaving onto the blank canvas of the leave campaign. What she’s actually doing is fuelling that belief that democracy is frozen in time in 2016 and must be respected at all costs, rather than being an ongoing process. It’s a dangerous illusion that will surely fail when people realise that none of the promises made in 2016 have been respected.

No one voted for the kind of Brexit that we’ll get if we leave the EU on the 29th March without honouring our international obligations.

Since MPs have so spectacularly failed to do their jobs over the last two years (obviously with some notable exceptions) it doesn’t seem unreasonable to go back to people with the options that are actually available.

Sadly Mims is not the only one to characterise a referendum on Theresa May’s own personal Brexit deal as a Second Referendum. Perhaps she’s confused because MPs have already had two chances to vote on the deal, but the rest of us haven’t even been given our first opportunity to provide our informed consent. In the unlikely event that the people voted to remain in the EU at this stage, how is that in any way disrespectful of the people in 2016? Or was the snap election disrespectful? It’s hard to keep up on what is democratic and what isn’t.

None of this is going end well, whether we eventually leave the EU or not. Thanks to a persistent pattern of contempt for democracy by a large number of people in the UK, including my MP, the mother of parliaments is not looking well. I fear that it’s almost too late to save her.

Advertisements

Open Data Camp Day 1


If I don’t post a few notes from today’s Open Data Camp now, I never will, so here are a few things I scribbled down- it could be worse, I could have posted a PDF containing photos of the the actual scribbles!

So out of this choice

odcamp-sessions

…I picked, Open Data for Elections, Open Addresses, Data Literacy, Designing Laws using Open Data, and Augmented Reality for Walkers.

Open Data for Elections

I’ve been following @floppy‘s crazy plan to get elected for a while, so this was the easiest decision of the day: what drives someone to embrace the gory inner workings of democracy like this?

Falling turnout it would seem, and concern for a functioning democracy.

The first step of his journey was the Open Politics Manifesto, which I’ve so far failed to edit- must try harder.

Perhaps more interesting was how this, and use of open data, fits into a political platform as a service. It would be nice to have the opportunity to see a few additions to the usual suspects at the ballot box, and Eastleigh got a rare chance to see what that could be like with a by election. Perhaps open data services for candidates could tip he balance enough to encourage more people to stand.

Things that sounded interesting:

  • Democracy Club
  • OpenCorporates
  • Data Packages
  • Open data certificates (food hygiene certificates for data?)
  • Candidates get one free leaflet delivery by Royal Mail- I wonder how big they expect those leaflets to be!

Open Addresses

@floppy and @giacecco introduced the (huge) problems they need to overcome to rebuild a large data set without polluting that data with any sources with intellectual property restrictions. Open Addresses still have a long way to go and there were comments about how long Open Street Map has been around, and it still has gaps.

They have some fun ideas about crowd sourcing address data (high vis jacket required) and there are some interesting philosophical questions around consent for addresses to be added.

It will be interesting to see whether Open Addresses can get enough data to provide real value, and what services they build.

Data Literacy

Mark and Laura led a discussion around data literacy founded in the observation that competent people, with all the skills you could reasonably expect them to have, still struggle with handling data sets.

Who needs to be data literate? Data scientists? Data professionals? Everyone?

Data plumbers? There were some analogies with actual plumbers! You might not be a plumber but it’s useful to know something about it.

If we live in a data driven society, we should know how to ask the right questions. Need domain expertise and technical expertise.

Things that sounded interesting:

Designing Laws using Open Data

@johnlsheridan pointed out that the least interesting thing to do with legislation is to publish it and went on to share some fascinating insights into the building blocks of statute law. It sounds like the slippery language used in legislation boils down to a small number of design patterns built with simple building blocks, such as a duty along with a claim right, and so on.

Knowing these building blocks makes it easier to get the gist of what laws are trying to achieve, helps navigate statutes, and could give policy makers a more reliable way to effect a goal.

For example, it’s easier to make sense of the legislation covering supply of gas, and it’s possible to identify where there may be problems. The gas regulator has a duty to protect the interests of consumers by promoting competition, but that’s a weak duty without a clear claim right to enforce it.

John also demonstrated a tool – http://ngrams.elasticbeanstalk.com – exploring how the language used in legislation has changed over time, for example how the use of “shall” has declined and been replaced by “is to be”.

Augmented Reality for Walkers

My choice of Android tablet was largely based on what might work reasonably well for maps and augmented reality, so I seized this opportunity!

Nick Whitelegg described the Hikar Android app he’s been working on, which is intended to help hikers follow paths by overlaying map data on a live camera feed.

The data is a combination of Open Street Map mapping data, with Ordnance Survey height data, which is downloaded and cached as tiles around your current location. Open GL is used to overlay a 3D view of the map data on the live camera feed, using the Android sensor APIs to detect the device’s rotation.

I’ve just downloaded and installed Hikar and, while my tablet is a tad slow, it works really well. I live somewhere flat and boring but the height data made a noticeable difference when Nick demonstrated the app in hilly Winchester.

Still to come: Day 2!

Unfiltered


According to BT its parental controls are ‘completely customisable’ and apparently it is possible to add specific sites to allow or block which, unless you’re Claire Perry, is obviously essential. Even so I’ve experienced just how pointless internet filters are before, so I’m keen to avoid ‘porn’ filters on my home broadband connection for as long as possible.

CoffeeGeek-filter

I don’t know how filtering works on other ISPs but these are just a few of the problems with BT’s implementation which contributed to an upcoming switch to a completely unfiltered broadband provider:

  • Applies same filtering to every device… hopefully there aren’t actually any homes without adults around. Apparently they do allow you to schedule when the filter is active but that seems like a solution from the last century.
  • There’s no way for me to find out if a site would be blocked by the filter. There are sites I might want to make certain are blocked but I obviously wouldn’t want to have to visit them to find out!
  • There’s no way for site owners to find out if their own site would be blocked by the filter.
  • The standard filtering has a couple of glaring omissions which I would be interested in: I want to block adverts targeted at children, and I want to block any form of tracking.

There are more details of BT’s filtering in the Open Rights Group blog post, BT answers our questions about parental controls.

Photo © Mark (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Digital Curtain


The internet was a bit dingy yesterday as part of a worldwide protest against some proposed US legislation. There is already plenty of information and commentary about the latest attempts to tackle issues of ‘piracy’ at the expense of a free and open internet so I won’t try and repeat it all here. I did want to say something though since, basically, I don’t actually get a say. While the Digital Economy Act here in the UK was hardly a shinning example of democracy in action, its impact was at least limited to people within the UK who could in theory influence the final outcome at an election.

The thing that seriously concerns me about the US proposals are the extraterritorial implications. Perhaps I’ll be getting a postal vote in the next US elections, along with everyone else using the internet. I hope they send it to my new address.

Every cloud has a silver lining though, and I hope attempts to tamper with the workings of the internet only make it better. I’ve long thought that DNS is basically flawed, so perhaps this is an ideal opportunity to work on improvements like IDONS (Internet Distributed Open Name System). And the sooner the internet routes around the UK and US, the better!

Photo © Federico Negro (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Nothing better to do?


MPs must have finished debating all the important issues recently because now they’re getting all flustered by a European Court of Human Rights ruling that a blanket ban on prisoners voting is unlawful. If the primary purpose of prison is punishment, then I would have thought it would be better to keep inmates slopping out rather than taking their vote away.

The suggestion that keeping the ban on voting for some prisoners while allow others to vote also seems fairly pointless. Why even worry about where to draw the line? If my calculations are right, the entire prison population is less than a single constituency like the Isle of Wight. Even then, it seems optimistic to think that voter turnout in prisons would reach the heady heights of around 65% outside prisons. It looks like only 4% of prisoners even registered to vote in the Republic of Ireland.

Giving prisoners the right to vote is hardy going make any difference to re-offending rates is it? So just give them all a vote and stop whining. I do understand why a lot of people don’t like the idea of prisoners getting votes, but who likes the idea of bankers getting bonuses? And how’s that working out?!

Photo © Andrew Bardwell cc by-sa 2.0

Crushing phones


There seem to be more people doing this kind of thing around recently…

© José Luís Agapito. Some rights reserved.

I guess the current deterrent doesn’t worry some people. My mum had an interesting idea though: what if your mobile phone was confiscated and crushed if you are caught using it while driving? That might be a real deterrent. Not just because of the cash value of some modern phones, but because people are so attached to their phones. Could it work? Cars already get crushed for not having road tax in the UK, so it doesn’t seem too much of a leap.

Blustering Politicians


Earlier this week I spotted an article about a very entertaining protest against the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The basic idea is to bring a little of the world cup atmosphere to BP to remind them about what’s happening in the Gulf of Mexico. Or to put it another way, use the formidable power of the Vuvuzela to annoy BP into submission. I think it’s a brilliant idea, but I do wonder what it’s intended to achieve.

I agree with Nigel – there’s a lot of less than constructive criticism. It’s hard to be sure given the amount of political and media spin, but it does seem that BP are well aware of the pain they are causing, and they do seem to be taking reasonable steps to do something about it. How can you complain about BP spending money to put it’s side of the story forward when it’s facing an onslaught of negative publicity? One thing that appears to have been somewhat overlooked in the clamour of blame-storming is that people have tragically died as a result of this accident. They barely seem to get a mention.

As for the environmental impact of the accident, I would be interested to find out how it compares to the damage done across America, and around the world, every single day. Of course, it is hard to ignore something so large and unpleasant right on your doorstep. No wonder Barack is so upset, except that it’s a little late now. I have no idea how strict the regulation and monitoring of the oil industry is in the US, but I have to admit I’ve been speculating about how it compares to the building control inspection process in the UK. A friend of mine is building a small extension on his house, and it seems like the inspector is there more often than the builders! Surely it would make sense for inspectors to have the power to stop drilling when issues are found, before they turn into problems, rather than drag someone in for a telling off when it’s too late. (The clips of Tony Hayward’s questioning I saw just annoyed me as well. What exactly did it achieve? I’m also not surprised by the accusations of double standards.)

Essentially it seems to me that it’s very easy to blame BP for something which we should all be taking responsibility for. There will always be accidents, but the likelihood and impact of those accidents must surely increase when our demand for oil means it’s even viable to extract it from oil sands. Carbon footprints might be all the rage, but what about our oily hands? Just think about how much oil we all use in our daily lives. How big will the oil handprint be for the Vuvuzela protest? Aren’t Vuvuzelas made from oil in the first place?!

Yes, it’s a terrible accident. Yes, BP should do everything they can to put it right. And yes, the Vuvuzela protest is pure genius, but they should be blowing those Vuvuzelas at all of us.

(Thanks to Marie M for making the handprints available under a creative commons license.)

Updated: added link to BP oil spill disaster: Clean-up efforts in the Gulf of Mexico IET article. (5 July 2010)

Updated: added link to The 10 worst forms of pollution. (8 July 2010)