What Political Campaigners Can Learn From The Sad & Rabid Puppies

…apart, of course, from “don’t be like them”…
For those who haven’t been following this on my blog, there are

two extreme right-wing to neo-nazi groups, called the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies respectively, that are calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy. They are unrepentantly racist, sexist and homophobic. A noisy few but they’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.

I think the massive, massive unpopularity of these people may have something to teach us about political campaigning. Obviously this unpopularity is, in part, because they’re truly horrible people who do things like call for the murder of one of my friends because he has a different understanding of the word “mysticism” — the correct response to Phil Sandifer saying something you disagree with (which happens in my experience about once every three blog posts or so, as he’s no stranger to controversial statements) is to tut, maybe roll your eyes, and move on, not to say that it would be right and proper to murder him.

But even aside from them being horrible people, I think their strategy was doomed to unpopularity. The basic argument of the two Puppy slates is (paraphrased but, I think, keeping the sense — I’m trying to steelman them here, presenting the best possible version of their argument):

The Hugo awards are no longer fit for purpose. Too much of the material that gets nominated or wins is material that ignores the traditional strengths of SF in favour of bad attempts at lit-fic. This material is *so* bad that there must be reasons other than its popularity for it to be successful. Therefore, it is the fault of “social justice warriors” (defined here as anyone to the left of, say, Dick Cheney) who, as we all know, are evil. They must be voting for those writers because they’re black or female or gay or otherwise “SJW”. The system is too broken to fight fairly, so to save the Hugos we must have a slate, and all vote the same way. Here are the best examples of the work we should be voting for — go forth and vote for them.

Now, this is in many ways the kind of narrative that has huge success in motivating people — hence the strong motivation of the two hundred or so people in the Puppy camp. It has a golden age in the past in which “people like us” were in charge and everything was good, but then the bad people did a bad thing, because they’re bad, and now everything is *their fault*, but the good people can fix everything. This is a traditional fascist narrative, but you can very easily change it to work for, say, Liberalism (if only that dastardly Labour party hadn’t usurped the true progressive voice…) or the Labour party (if only Thatcher hadn’t bribed those selfish bastards into voting for her…) or really insert your political organisation here.

But the problem is, this is a complex narrative (a rarity for the Puppies… thank you, I’ll be here all week, tip your waitress) made up of several separate controversial links, and unless you buy into *every one* of those links, the Puppy story fails and you’re no longer a Puppy.

Take me, for example. I could easily agree with the statement “Too much of the material that gets nominated or wins is material that ignores the traditional strengths of SF in favour of bad attempts at lit-fic” — I’ve made many similar statements myself over the years (check my previous years’ Hugo posts if you don’t believe me), though I would disagree with the Puppies about what those traditional strengths are. A campaign that was *purely* about promoting “traditional SF” and raising awareness of it to get it onto ballots would be something I would at least look at sympathetically. I’d end up saying “No, not for me, thanks”, because what I want out of SF is closer to Greg Egan than Doc Smith, but I’d have gone away thinking “I hope those nice people do well with their campaign, at least it’d mean something different would be on the ballot.”

But at the point where you try to drag in the US-centric “culture war”, and argue for the right-wing side of it, you lose not only the “SJWs”, but basically anyone in the Western world outside the USA, because even the most barking right-winger in the UK would be considered a leftist by US culture war standards, and the UK is right-wing compared to most of the rest of the West.

Then there’s the claim that the Puppies’ work is the best of what’s out there — on a purely aesthetic ground, that claim is a nonsense, and I get very annoyed at people pushing clearly sub-par work.

So even if the Puppies hadn’t made an actual enemy of me by including among their membership white supremacist homophobes who advocate rape and murder, I would wish them to fail purely because of their promotion of poor work and their culture war agenda.

But then there are other people — right-wing Republicans who like the stories — who are also voting “No Award” above the Puppies because they’re angry that those works got on the ballot thanks to voting slates, which are against the spirit of the awards and break the unspoken agreement among fandom not to do that kind of thing.

I have to say that personally, that bit doesn’t annoy me too much. I mean, it annoys me a bit, because it’s cheating, but if they’d cheated and got a *really great* bunch of stories on there, I’d have had a sneaking admiration for it. I’d not have approved, mind, but I’d not have been that angry.

And this is the point I want to make — the Puppy position, as I summarised it above, has seven different controversial assumptions by my count, all of them taken as obvious statements of faith rather than actually substantiated. *Each of those assumptions is a reason for people to disagree* — and even if 80% of people agree with any one of the assumptions, that would make only 20% of people actually agree with *all* of them. And if you don’t agree with all of them, then the Puppy campaign falls apart (unless of course you don’t care about anything other than “sticking it to the SJWs”).

There’s an important lesson here. The Puppies are targeting the small number of people in the *intersection* of all their beliefs — ideological purists who don’t question any of their assumptions. The anti-Puppy “faction” is simply the union of all people who disagree with even one of their assumptions. And this might point a way forward for campaigning — rather than saying “these are our policy positions, if you agree with them, campaign for them”, allow a much greater disunity of messaging and of campaigning. Give seven *separate and independent* reasons for voting reform, for example, rather than a long chain of steps like “MPs don’t work hard enough, and AV would make MPs work harder, and MPs working harder would be a good thing” like the Yes campaign in 2011 or “Labour are too left wing. The Tories are too right-wing. Moderation is better” like the Lib Dem campaign this year…

Ten Things I Won’t Miss After The Election

1) People assuming that the Lib Dems are now a distaff branch of the Conservative party, rather than a separate party, in exactly the same way they assumed five years ago we were Labour’s reserve squad.

2) Nigel Farage

3) Being personally blamed for policies which I oppose, which my party opposes as a party, which the MP I campaigned for last time voted against, but which were agreed by an executive that includes some members of my party. And having that blame coming from people who support a party which actually supports those policies and wants to make them worse.

4) Thunderclaps on Twitter

5) The horrible uncertainty about which form of horrible government we’ll have next week.

6) Having to contact voters. I’m not good at dealing with other people.

7) Anti-Scottish bigotry in the newspapers (NB I don’t mean here anti-SNP stuff, because I don’t support them either, but anti-Scottish-person)

8) Hearing constantly about how we never talk about immigration while every single UK-wide political party I know of supports further controls on it and the Labour party have erected a gigantic eight-food stone momument with “controls on immigration” carved into it. NB this may, sadly, not end with the election.

9) Constant discussion of who will and won’t do a deal with whom, along with fake outrage from Labour twitterers every time any party says it might have any conditions at all for supporting a Labour government. Let’s at least leave it until there have been some votes, eh?

10) Biting my tongue about things I disagree with on my own side. I’m normally pretty outspoken, but I’ve tried recently to keep my criticisms of the Lib Dems to my private Twitter, because since anyone who wants to can find attacks on the party in every single national newspaper, every comedy show on TV or radio, and all over their Twitter or Facebook, I figure that the party has enough enemies pointing out its problems without the membership giving those enemies ammunition.

But a few things I *would* miss after the election: Tessa Munt, Stephen Gilbert, Andrew George, John Leech… those are a few of the Lib Dem candidates in ultra-marginal seats who’ve done good work, and for the most part done it from the back benches. There are a lot more like them (those are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head where every vote will count). Whatever you think of the coalition government’s record, check what parts of it your local Lib Dem candidate actually voted for, and what other things they voted for — you may be surprised.

(Non-politics post tonight, and at least one non-politics post every day this week)

Political Journalists Really Don’t Know What They’re Talking About

When it comes to the Lib Dems, political journalists are utterly clueless, and this means that a lot of people have severe misunderstandings about the likely result of the election if there’s a hung parliament.

I *keep* seeing two subjects coming up, over and again, in these discussions. These are “a Tory/Lib Dem/UKIP/DUP block” and “Nick Clegg would prefer a deal with the Tories than with Labour”.

The first is impossible. The second doesn’t matter. And both for the same reason.

What political journalists on all sides simply don’t get about the Lib Dems is that no matter how much the leadership push the “centrism” message, the party is fundamentally different from Labour, UKIP, or the Tories, the right-authoritarian parties journalists are used to talking about. In those parties, the leader makes the decisions and that’s the end of the matter. The leader can be deposed, but otherwise what he says goes.

In this respect, the Lib Dems are hugely different. Party policy is decided by the party, democratically, and if there’s a deal with another party *that* has to be decided democratically, too.

If there’s a situation after the election where the Lib Dems may be able to make a deal with one or more other parties, there’s a process in place, it’s not just the leader’s whim. That process is as follows:

The party will talk with the largest other party first, but *will* talk with any other party that can reasonably make an offer.
There is a five-person negotiating team who will go into any discussions and try to hammer out an agreement.
That agreement will be put to the party’s MPs, who would have to agree with it.
It will then be put to the Federal Executive, the party’s elected ruling body, who would also have to agree with it.
And then it will be put to a special party conference, who would have to support it by a two-thirds majority. (And it was said at Spring Conference this year that this would apply even to a supply and confidence agreement, not just to coalitions).

Yes, Nick Clegg’s view (if he’s still the leader, which would depend on him being re-elected in Sheffield Hallam, the election going well enough that he doesn’t feel obliged to stand down, and other such matters that are for the electorate to decide) will certainly be listened to by the party — but so would the views of, for example, Andrew George, the long-time MP for St Ives, who’s ruled out a coalition with the Tories. So would the views of Tim Farron, the party’s former president who’s widely tipped as the next leader, who says he’d prefer supply and confidence to a coalition. And so would the views of party members throughout the country.

It may well be the case that Nick Clegg might have a preference for working with the Tories over working with Labour. It may also be that he’d actually prefer to work with Labour — he’s not said one way or the other. That preference, whether it exists or not, doesn’t really matter. What matters is what the other parties offer, and how much the Lib Dem party members trust them to deliver it. Last time, the coalition agreement contained a large number of things that were very important to Lib Dem members, but which the Tories later reneged on.

My feeling of the mood of the party, which may well be wrong, is that the membership as a whole don’t want another coalition — with either party — unless there’s an absolutely *spectacular* offer, and that between the Tories’ current position and their behaviour this Parliament, it’s very unlikely they’ll make one, or that we’d believe them if they did.

I think the party as a whole are most likely to go for supply and confidence rather than a coalition, and more likely to support a Labour minority government than a Conservative one, all else being equal.

One thing that will *never* happen, though, is an agreement involving the DUP or UKIP. The Lib Dems are a broad church, but what unites the entire party is liberalism on social issues — the rule of law, free movement, internationalism, human rights. These are anathema to extreme authoritarian parties like UKIP or the DUP, in a way they aren’t to at least the moderate end of the Tories or Labour, and there is simply no point at which those parties and the Lib Dems overlap in views (that’s even ignoring the fact that neither of those parties will get enough members to make a difference in forming a stable coalition).

An agreement involving the SNP is more likely, though still difficult. The SNP are nationalists, which causes natural suspicion in the Lib Dems, and there’s a lot of bad feeling between the two parties in Scotland in the wake of the referendum which might make a deal impossible on a pure personality level on both sides. Unlike UKIP or the DUP, though, there is a reasonable amount of policy overlap, including on several Lib Dem priorities, so it’s not completely impossible. I’d put the chances fairly low, though.

So if you read anything talking about a deal with UKIP or the DUP, you know the journalist is either clueless (and therefore not to be trusted on anything else in the article either…) or deliberately misrepresenting the facts. And if you read anything about Nick Clegg’s opinions, just think “that’s interesting. I wonder what the opinions of the other 45,454 Lib Dem members are?”

Why Vote: It Encourages Them

I’m seeing a lot of people at the moment saying that they’re not planning on voting this year, because their vote will make little difference. And I can certainly see the point they’re making.

We have a crappy electoral system, one which leads inevitably to governments either solely formed by, or completely dominated by, two huge parties whose views are almost identical to each other and who are pursuing an agenda that is frankly vile.

In those circumstances, it’s easier to not bother to vote, and to channel one’s political energies into non-Parliamentary campaigning.

And, indeed, non-Parliamentary campaigning is vital, and *is* probably more important than the electoral system in actually getting things changed, given the current sorry state of Parliamentary politics. And this is why I give time or money to Amnesty, the Open Rights Group, the Howard League for Penal Reform, and other such campaigning organisations. Those groups are all pushing at the Overton Window, and that can only be a good thing.

But at the same time, if you want to change something about the way the world works, yes, you should push the Overton window in your direction as much as possible, but at the same time, once your issue becomes within the realms of political possibility, there will be a party standing in your area who will find it easier to modify their positions towards the ones you want. If your big issue is, for example, lowering the tax rate on rich people to 20%, the Tories would be more likely to go for that than the other parties. If you want to ban cars because they’re too polluting, the Greens will be most likely to go for it. Re-nationalise the energy providers? Labour. Land Value Tax? Lib Dems. Deport all immigrants? UKIP. And so on.

So in your constituency, there is undoubtedly a party standing which, while you don’t agree with them, will be more likely to take on the positions you want as soon as it becomes political expedient than any of the other parties will. So while voting will not make much of a difference, *as part of a broader range of activities* ranging from signing petitions to giving money to campaigning groups to joining parties and influencing them from the inside it may make a difference.

Now, I’m very fortunate in that where I live I don’t have to compromise my vote. Our local Lib Dem parliamentary candidate, Dave Page, is someone with whom I agree on about 90% of the issues we’ve discussed, who’s as active and effective a campaigner as you can imagine, and who I trust enough that he has a spare key to my house. I’m not quite as sure about this Andrew Hickey bloke the Lib Dems are standing for council in my ward, mind, but even if he’s useless he can’t actually be *worse* than the current lot…

So I don’t have to compromise at all — I can go into the polling station and know that I’ll be voting for people who will do the right thing as I see it — and so it’s easy for me to go on about how everyone should vote. I won’t be standing in judgment over anyone who doesn’t — as I’ve said above, I can understand people’s reasons. But I do think that given the opportunity to give politics a tiny nudge in the right direction, whichever direction you think that is (and I hope it’s a liberal and democratic one), you might as well take it.

Highlights of the Lib Dem Manifesto

I’ve had a look through the Lib Dem manifesto today, because of course I have. It’s long — something like three times as long as the larger parties’ — and full of detail (as someone — I’m afraid I can’t remember who — pointed out on Twitter, only the Lib Dems and the Greens have much in the way of detail in their manifestos, and this may be to do with the fact that they’re the only large parties whose policies are developed by the membership, so they *have* a lot of policy).

Most of the manifesto is, frankly, dull as ditchwater. A lot of it’s the same managerialist platitudes you’ll get in any manifesto, just with additional costings. EVERY party says they’ll protect the environment, cut crime, protect the NHS, and stroke puppies. So I’ve gone through and found the stuff that seems like it’s worth commenting on — mostly positively, but occasionally negatively. The stuff that seems distinctively liberal, or disappointingly not, not the rest. I’m also only looking here at stuff I have a clue about.

Liberal Democrats remain committed to introducing
Land Value Tax (LVT), which would replace Business Rates in
the longer term and could enable the reduction or abolition of
other taxes.

LVT is one of those ideas that Lib Dems seem to love, and that no-one else ever talks about. When I first heard about it, I thought “that makes so much sense, there *must* be a catch!”, but no-one’s ever pointed one out to me (which is not to say there isn’t one).

a new legally binding target to bring net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050

Possibly too little too late, but *something* like this needs to be done…

As a major global economy, we must promote open markets and
free trade, both within the European Union and beyond. Only as
a full member of a reformed European Union can we be certain
Britain’s businesses will have access to markets in Europe and
beyond.
Liberal Democrats believe we should welcome talented people
from abroad, encourage visitors and tourists who contribute
enormously to our economic growth, and give sanctuary to refugees
fleeing persecution. Immigration procedures must be robust and fair,
and the UK must remain open to visitors who boost our economy,
and migrant workers who play a vital role in business and public
services.

A bit of a difference from mugs saying “controls on immigration”…

Protect the independence of the BBC while ensuring the Licence Fee does not rise faster than inflation, maintain Channel
4 in public ownership and protect the funding and editorial independence of Welsh language broadcasters

Sounds good, although it’s basically “we’ll leave this alone”.

Raise the Personal Allowance to at least £12,500, cutting your taxes by around £400 more

Nice idea in theory, not a priority I’m particularly keen on in the current economic climate.

Legislate to make the ‘triple lock’ permanent, guaranteeing decent pensions rises each year

Not keen on this either — the triple lock as a temporary measure is, and has been, a good thing. But making it permanent is to guarantee that an ever-increasing proportion of spending will go to pensions, regardless of need. I accept that I’m in a minority on this one though.

Extend free childcare to all two-year olds, and to the children of working families from the end of paid parental leave.

Expand Shared Parental Leave with a ‘use it or lose it’ month for fathers, and introduce a right to paid leave for carers

Both entirely good ideas.

Complete the introduction of Universal Credit (UC), so people are always better off in work.

In principle, UC is a very good idea. In practice, the implementation has been a complete balls-up so far. If the reforms that are talked about make it work better, then it might be a good thing. We’ll see.

Reductions in benefits may not always be the best
way to improve claimants’ compliance: those with chaotic lives
might be more successful in finding a job if they were directed to
targeted support with their problems. We will ensure there are no
league tables or targets for sanctions issued by Jobcentres and
introduce a ‘yellow card’ warning so people are only sanctioned if
they deliberately and repeatedly break the rules.

Nowhere near what I’d like, but a definite massive improvement on the current system.

Liberal Democrats will protect young people’s entitlements to the welfare safety net, while getting them the help they need to get their first job.

In other words, “bollocks to this idea of stopping benefits for under-25s that both Labour and the Tories have”

Introduce a 1% cap on the uprating of working-age benefits until the budget is balanced in 2017/18, after which they will rise with
inflation once again. Disability and parental leave benefits will be
exempt from this temporary cap.

I really, *really* don’t like the below-inflation benefits rise thing, when we’re promising to increase pensions at above inflation. On the other hand, there’s a definite term limit on this. Not something I support, but could be worse.

Withdraw eligibility for the Winter Fuel Payment and free
TV Licence from pensioners who pay tax at the higher rate
(40%). We will retain the free bus pass for all pensioners.

Sounds good to me. I’m right on the 40% tax rate border, and I manage to support two people, pay a mortgage, spend quite a lot of money on leisure pursuits, and put a reasonable amount away in savings every month. Anyone with more income than me (and who will be unlikely to still be making mortgage payments) doesn’t need free stuff paid for by people who are on average worse-off than them. (The bus pass is worth keeping because it encourages public transport use, which is a good thing in itself).

Ensure swift implementation of the new rules requiring companies with more than 250 employees to publish details of the different pay levels of men and women in their organisation. We will build on this platform and, by 2020, extend transparency requirements to include publishing the number of people paid less than the Living Wage and the ratio between top and median pay. We will also consult on
requirements for companies to conduct and publish a full equality pay review, and to consult staff on executive pay.

Ask the Low Pay Commission to look at ways of raising the National Minimum Wage, without damaging employment opportunities. We will improve enforcement action and clamp down on abuses by employers seeking to avoid paying the minimum wage by reviewing practices such as unpaid internships.

Establish an independent review to consult on how to set a fair Living Wage across all sectors. We will pay this Living Wage in all central government departments and their agencies from April 2016, and encourage other public sector employers to do likewise.

Improve the enforcement of employment rights, reviewing Employment Tribunal fees to ensure they are not a barrier. We will ensure employers cannot avoid giving their staff rights or paying the minimum wage by wrongly classifying them as workers or self-employed.

All very good stuff.

Conduct a review of the Work Capability Assessment and
Personal Independence Payment assessments to ensure they are fair, accurate and timely and evaluate the merits of a public sector provider.

Simplify and streamline back-to-work support for people with
disabilities, mental or physical health problems. We will aim for
the goal of one assessment and one budget for disabled and sick
people to give them more choice and control.

This is stuff that desperately needs doing.

Reform the policy to remove the spare room subsidy. Existing
social tenants will not be subject to any housing benefit
reduction until they have been offered reasonable alternative
accommodation. We will ensure tenants who need an extra bedroom for genuine medical reasons are entitled to one in any assessment of their Housing Benefit needs, and those whose homes are substantially adapted do not have their Housing Benefit reduced.

In other words, “we’re not going to *say* we’re scrapping the ‘Bedroom Tax’, we’re just going to make sure it doesn’t actually apply to anyone”.

To ensure all children learn about a wide range of religious and nonreligious world views, religious education will be included in the core curriculum; however we will give schools the freedom to set policy on whether to hold acts of collective worship, while ensuring any such acts are strictly optional.

Getting rid of the statutory requirement for worship in schools is a *big* deal, and a great thing.

We are the only party with a credible plan to deliver the extra £8 billion NHS leaders know our health service in England needs by 2020, with the appropriate boost to funding for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland too

Labour will only promise about a third of this. The Tories until last week were the same, and then suddenly said they’d put in the extra eight billion too, but without saying where they’d get it from.

That is why we will increase mental health spending in England’s NHS by £500m a year by 2016/17 – half of which we delivered in this year’s Budget – and provide the cash for similar investments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Desperately needed. There’s a lot of good wonkish mental health stuff in there.

Liberal Democrats are committed to repealing any parts of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 which make NHS services vulnerable to forced privatisation through international agreements on free markets in goods and services. We will end the role of the Competition and Markets Authority in health, making it clear that the needs of patients, fairness and access always come ahead of competition, and that good local NHS services do not have to be put out to tender. After determined negotiations, we now have a clear guarantee from the EU that member states’ rights to provide public services directly and not open them up to competition are explicitly enshrined in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and we will ensure this remains the case for TTIP and any future trade agreements.

Clearly good.

Restrict the marketing of junk food to children, including restricting TV advertising before the 9pm watershed

Harumph.

Lots of environment stuff which sounds very nice but which I have no basis to evaluate the effectiveness of

Yay the environment. I sound dismissive, but this is actually probably the most important stuff in the manifesto in the very long term. I just have no reasonable way to evaluate any of it, other than “that sounds good”.

we have set an ambitious target of increasing the rate of house building to 300,000 a year.

DESPERATELY needed.

Enable Local Authorities to…levy up to 200% Council Tax on second homes where they judge this to be appropriate.

Sounds fair to me.

Challenge gender stereotyping and early sexualisation, working with schools to promote positive body image and widespread understanding of sexual consent law, and break down outdated perceptions of gender appropriateness of particular academic subjects

Nice.

Give legal rights and obligations to cohabiting couples in the event of relationship breakdown or one partner dying without a will.

Permit humanist weddings and opposite sex civil partnerships, and liberalise the rules about the location, timing and content of wedding ceremonies.

Support schools to tackle homophobic and transphobic bullying and discrimination, and to establish a tolerant and inclusive environment for all their pupils. We will remove schools’ exemption from the bar on harassment in these areas while protecting the right to teach about religious doctrine.

Promote international recognition of same sex marriages and civil partnerships as part of a comprehensive International LGBT Rights Strategy that supports the cause of decriminalising homosexuality in other countries.

Seek to pardon all those with historic convictions for consensual homosexual activity between adults.

Enhance the experience of all football fans by making homophobic chanting a criminal offence, like racist chanting.

Ask the Advisory Committee on Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs periodically to review rules around men who have sex with men donating blood to consider what restrictions remain necessary

All good stuff, apart from the football chant one, which I’m in two minds about, because I don’t like laws against speech but I also don’t like tens of thousands of people chanting homophobic hate speech. The rest is all great, thanks to the good work of LGBT+ Lib Dems.

(There’s a lot of stuff about racial and religious discrimination, but I’m not qualified to see if those policies are as good, as it’s not an area I know much about.)

Formally recognise British Sign Language as an official language of the United Kingdom.

About time.

Prohibit discrimination on the grounds of religion in the provision of public services.

Move to ‘name blank’ recruitment wherever possible in the public sector.

Introduce statutory public interest defences for exceptional cases where journalists may need to break the law (such as RIPA, the 2010 Bribery Act, and the 1998 Computer Misuse Act) to expose
corruption or other criminal acts.

Ensure judicial authorisation is required for the acquisition of communications data which might reveal journalists’ sources or other privileged communications, for any of the purposes allowed under RIPA; and allow journalists the opportunity to address the court before authorisation is granted, where this would not jeopardise the investigation.

Some much needed protection for journalists here.

To promote the independence of the media from political influence we will remove Ministers from any role in appointments to the BBC Trust or the Board of Ofcom.
To guarantee press freedom, we will pass a British ‘First Amendment’ law, to require the authorities and the courts to have regard to the importance of a free media in a democratic society.

Both obvious Good Things.

And a list of things from the freedoms and digital rights sections, without my comment because they’re obviously good (though they don’t go as far as I would — but then pretty much *no-one* would go as far as me):

Establish in legislation that the police and intelligence agencies should not obtain data on UK residents from foreign governments that it would not be legal to obtain in the UK under UK law.

Back a full judicial enquiry into complicity in torture if the current investigation by the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee investigation fails to get to truth.

End indefinite detention for immigration purposes.

Introduce restrictions on the indefinite use of police bail.

Require judicial authorisation for the use of undercover police officers to infiltrate alleged criminal groups.

Identify practical alternatives to the use of closed material procedures within the justice system, including the provisions of the 2013 Justice and Security Act, with the aim of restoring the principle of open justice.

Tighten the regulation of CCTV, with more powers for the Surveillance Camera Commissioner.

Extend the rules governing storage of DNA and fingerprints by public authorities to include all biometric data – like facial images.

Protect free speech by ensuring insulting words, jokes, and non-intentional acts, are not treated as criminal, and that social media communications are not treated more harshly than other media.

Prevent heavy-handed policing of demonstrations by tightly regulating the use of ‘kettling’.

Ban high-frequency Mosquito devices which discriminate against young people.

Strengthen safeguards to prevent pre-emptive arrests and misuse of pre-charge bail conditions to restrict civil liberties and stifle peaceful protest.

End the Ministerial veto on release of information under the Freedom of Information Act

Enshrine the principle that everyone has the right to control their own personal data, and that everyone should be able to view, correct, and (where appropriate and proportionate) delete their personal data, wherever it is held.

Forbid any public body from collecting, storing or processing personal data without statutory authority, and require any such legislation to be regularly reviewed.

Give increased powers and resources for the Information Commissioner and introduce custodial sentences for egregious breaches of the Data Protection Act.

Ensure privacy is protected to the same extent in telecoms and online as in the offline world. Public authorities should only invade an individual’s privacy where there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or where it is otherwise necessary and proportionate to do so in the public interest, and with appropriate oversight by the courts.

Uphold the right of individuals, businesses and public bodies to use strong encryption to protect their privacy and security online

The stuff on violence against women and sexual violence looks very good, especially:

Ensure teachers, social workers, police officers and health workers in areas where there is high prevalence of female genital mutilation or forced marriage are trained to help those at risk.

Require the teaching of sexual consent in schools as part of age-appropriate sex and relationships education.

These are hugely important areas, and currently not dealt with at all well.

We believe that a large prison population is a sign of failure to rehabilitate, not a sign of success. So our aim is to significantly reduce the prison population by using more effective alternative punishments and correcting offending behaviour.

It’s that our manifesto has sensible things like this — things that anyone who thinks for half a second would say are reasonable, but that go against the knee-jerk authoritarianism that’s been the norm in politics for as long as I’ve been paying attention to it — that convince me I’m in the right party.

Reform prisons so they become places of work, rehabilitation and learning, with offenders receiving an education and skills assessment within one week, starting a relevant course and programme of support within one month and able to complete courses on release

Yeah. Sensible, non-knee-jerk, policy.

Carry out an immediate review of civil Legal Aid, judicial review and court fees, in consultation with the judiciary, to ensure Legal Aid is available to all those who need it, that those of modest means can bring applications for judicial review of allegedly unlawful government action and that court and tribunal fees will not put justice beyond the reach of those who seek it. This will mean reversing any recent rises in up-front court fees that make justice unaffordable for many, and instead spreading the fee burden more fairly.

Translated “I can’t believe we let that idiot Grayling into Justice. We’d better undo the damage as quickly as possible”

Adopt the approach used in Portugal where those arrested for possession of drugs for personal use are diverted into treatment, education or civil penalties that do not attract a criminal record.

As a first step towards reforming the system, legislate to end the use of imprisonment for possession of drugs for personal use, diverting resources towards tackling organised drug crime instead.

Enable doctors to prescribe cannabis for medicinal use.

Put the Department of Health rather than the Home Office in charge of drug policy

The drugs policy doesn’t go nearly as far as I’d like, but again it’s such a relief to see it being talked about in ways that have anything at all to do with reality…

Introduce votes at age 16 for elections and referendums across the UK, and make it easier to register to vote in schools and
colleges.

Reform the House of Lords with a proper democratic mandate, starting from the proposals in the 2012 Bill.

Reform our voting systems for elections to local government and Westminster to ensure more proportional representation. We will introduce the Single Transferable Vote for local government elections in England and for electing MPs across the UK. We will reduce the number of MPs but only as part of the introduction of a reformed, fair, voting system

And this is the single biggest reason why I’m a Lib Dem. We NEED proper electoral reform. I was worried that while this remained policy, it would quietly be dropped from the manifesto, but it’s still there. Councils are mentioned before Parliament, presumably because they’ll be more likely to be delivered in a coalition, but we’re trying for both.

Building on the Wright Committee recommendations of 2009, and experiences of Coalition, we will conduct a full review of Parliamentary procedures, which should formally recognise individual political parties not just Government and Opposition

This is something that is VERY necessary if multi-party governments are to become the norm.

We will deliver Home Rule for Scotland by implementing the
Smith Commission proposals in full in the first session of the next
Parliament. We will continue to make the case for powers currently
held at Westminster and Holyrood to be transferred directly to local
government where appropriate.

Proper devolution and Home Rule good. There’s lots of specifics about Welsh Home Rule as well, with a lot more powers granted to the Welsh Assembly, but I don’t know what most of them are. Same for Northern Ireland.

In some areas of England there is an even greater appetite for powers, but not every part of the country wants to move at the same speed and there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. We will therefore introduce Devolution on Demand, enabling even greater devolution of powers from Westminster to Councils or groups of Councils working together – for example to a Cornish Assembly

Proper devolution and Home Rule good.

Some of the wording under “Working for Peace and Security” appears to take a Blairite “liberal interventionist” stance, as many Labour supporters have spent much of the day saying on Twitter. I’m not especially happy with that, but I still think that overall the policies in that section (things like reducing the number of nuclear weapons) are more good than bad.

On TTIP:

We will only support an agreement that upholds EU standards of consumer, employee and environmental protection, and allows us to determine how NHS services are provided.

I should certainly hope so!

(Most of the foreign policy stuff I’m not competent to comment on, like the environmental stuff; and like that, it’s probably more important than much of the rest).

Overall, much of the manifesto is sensible managerialism with which few people could disagree. There are also a couple of bits — but only a couple of bits — with which I very strongly disagree. But even though this is a manifesto designed to appeal to moderates who prize competence, rather than to radicals like myself, there’s plenty of good, strong, Liberalism in there.

Now we just have to get some good, strong, Liberal MPs elected to put as much of it as possible into practice.

Anti-Fascist Podcasting

I was invited on a podcast last night by Jack Graham, the blogger who does Shabogan Graffiti, the Marxist Doctor Who blog.

The subject was the Sad and Rabid Puppy slates, the neofascist scum who’ve taken over the Hugos, and whose droppings I keep having to clean up from my comments section (as they can’t read, none of them have noticed the post saying that their comments won’t be approved, and given the way they write, I don’t even have to read more than the first sentence or two, or sometimes just their name, before deleting the rest unread, but there are a LOT of them at the moment).

Here’s the podcast (description Jack’s). It was recorded between midnight and 2AM last night, after a long and stressful day, and I’ve not listened to it since and don’t remember much of what I said, so please don’t take anything I say as being the final word on anything. I undoubtedly made mistakes both factual and logical, and unlike with a blog post there’s no way to rewrite it if I did. Just think of it as a chat between friends in a bar, rather than an attempt at something definitive.

(Also, it being me, Jack, and Phil talking, there are rather long sections on the analogy between postmodernism and poststructuralism and how it relates to modernism and structuralism, I remember that, and Holly says I woke her up shouting “the Futurians were Trotskyists!” so there’s something about that, too. It’s a wide-ranging discussion).

All of which said, there’s one thing I remember for certain, which is that the conclusion from all three of us was “fuck Fascism”. As the first and last word on the subject, that’s pretty reasonable.

A Marxist, a postmodernist and liberal walk into a bar… and form a united front. Join Jack Graham, Phil Sandifer and the superb Andrew Hickey for an unexpected emergency Shabcast on the subject of the recent fascist incursion on the Hugo Awards nominations.

Debate Predictions

Everyone will talk about how Cameron/Miliband just edged it.
Two days later, Miliband/Cameron’s party will be up by less than the margin of error, and this will be called a “debate bounce”
Every single party will come up with a “viral” hashtag that’s based on something their leader said, like #hellyeahiwantastrongereconomynigel. No-one who isn’t a paid activist will use it.
The average person will come away with a slightly less negative view of the politician they had the most negative view of, because “he seems quite nice really”.
The average party member will come away with their view of the politician they had the most negative view of reinforced.
75% of the audience will wonder who Plaid Cymru are and if they’re there by mistake.
No-one will learn anything.
No difference will be made to the election result.
I won’t watch.