rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)
The Democratic Dashboard gives information about your local constituency, including previous general, regional and local election results and the results of local polling (if available, presumably). It's a project based at the LSE, though not necessarily an LSE project!

In 2010, where I live was a two way marginal, between LibDems (34%) and Labour (38%), with SNP and Conservatives on 10% and 15% respectively. It has been a Labour seat since at least 1992.

The latest poll shows Labour on 30%, which has been pretty constant since January (32%). The SNP have pulled ahead, from 23% in January to either 39% or 43% now, depending on which chart you believe. This gain seems to be largely at the expense of the LibDems, who have gone from 16% to 6% in that time.

The discrepancy between the charts make me wonder whether one is showing polling for Scotland rather than my seat.

Either way, to beat the SNP, all LibDem and Tory voters would need to vote Labour. Interestingly, the Greens, who I think have a strong candidate, are polling only 6%, down from 8%.
rhythmaning: (whisky)
Last weekend, I went on another anti-SDL (aka EDL) march. Edinburgh Council decided that it was fine to let the EDL march through the city in the middle of the biggest cultural event in Europe - the Fringe as well as the Edinburgh International Festival - which host performers and visitors from all over the world. In case you are not aware, the EDL have a strong anti-immigrant and more specifically anti-Muslim stance.


I wasn't quite as angry as I was last time, and more with the local council than the moronic EDL, but I was sufficiently angry to get me to spend several hours in the company of a rather wonderful but distinctly motley crew of people who similarly object to racists marching through our city.

We marched from Chambers Street down to Holyrood, by a route that seemed designed to cause as much traffic disruption as possible. I don't know how marching routes are planned, but I imagine the march organisers - who want as much disruption as possible - and the council and the police - who don't (I presume) get together, batter it out and come up with a compromise route that reduces traffic disruption but gets the march noticed.

If I were the police, I would take a march from Chambers Street to Holyrood down Guthrie Street, onto Cowgate, and down to Holyrood. Simple, direct, easy to police. And only blocking one major thoroughfare.

Whereas we marched down Chambers Street, onto South Bridge (blocking South Clerk St, one the main roads into the city), down the Mile, along St Mary St (blocking any traffic trying to avoid South Bridge, as well as anything going down the Pleasance. But who would want to go down the Pleasance during the Festival?!) and then along Holyrood Road, into the park, and round the back of the Parliament. I guess those wanting to cause maximum disruption won the argument.


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There were about eight hundred anti-racist marchers. (The police said 350, way too low, and 150 for SDL - way too high.) We lined up behind barriers and a police cordon. There were a lot of police. An awful lot. We chanted, some people sang. There was a rather festive feel.

This changed when the BNP EDL SDL arrived. They had matched from Waverley, apparently, down the Mile. There were only about fifty of them, though I couldn't actually see any of them: they were also behind a police cordon, and barriers, and only those right at the front could see them.

There were lots of anti-racist chants. "No more violence, no more hate" was kind of undone by people shouting "you'd be running if it wasn't for the police". It was also quite lighthearted too; some people dressed as nuns blew large soap bubbles; some acts from the Fringe (I think) sang songs.



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It was a bit strange not being able to see the SDL, though probably a good thing: they were seemingly quite violent, with four arrested.

I didn't stay to the end. I had a show to get to...

And I'm still annoyed at a bunch of fascists taking over the streets of my city.
rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)
It has been a week for a 1970s revival. On Wednesday, I went to a performance of Tubular Bells; in Friday, I saw the "Space Ritual" played to celebrate its fortieth anniversary; and yesterday I went on an anti-racism demo outside the Scottish Parliament, protesting at the presence of a "Scottish Defence League" rally attacking Muslims following the ghastly murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich ten days ago.

It wasn't a huge demo, though the anti-racists - Unite Against Fascism (that's us) - outnumbered the racist SDL (them) by two or three to one. There were about three hindered of us, and it was a suitably mixed crowd: despite police requests that they stay away, there were many Muslim women present (judging their head gear), lots of south Asian-origin men and women, a large group of very vocal Jews (wearing yarmulkes, it being Sabbath), lots of African-origin people too; and people representing various minority groups - particularly the gay, lesbian and transgender lobby.

When I got there just after 1 pm, there was a growing crowd of us, and not a sign of them. It turned out that despite indications by the police, the SDL had been allowed to match through the city, unmolested by our attention. So we waited for them. It was all pretty lighthearted, with the usual suspects - "Socialist Worker"-sellers, many union members holding banners, lots of leafleters and petition-signers.

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I don't know where there'd marched from, but after forty minutes or so about one hundred SDL protesters appeared behind the police barricade - the police were determined to keep us apart. (I'll admit I was completely happy about that.) It came as no surprise but was still shocking that they were very aggressive. They mimed firing guns at us. They held their arms aloft - there was much of the football crowd about them. They held banners linking immigration and terrorism and chanted anti-Muslim football songs. Their chants sounded English rather than Scottish; the rumour was that many of the SDL had been bussed in from England.




Our chants were much more humorous - though some were also angry and nasty: despite a banner stating "Don't Dehumanise Your Enemies", there was a frequent chant of "Nazi Scum!". But there were also chants of "put a stop to racist fighting/put on music and strobe lighting!" And there was (I presume) a Muslim woman who had a long, hilarious rhyming rant to the tune of Queen's "We Will Rock You". (Freddie Mercury was of course the sin of immigrants - as well as being gay.)


Our side held a minute's silence for the victims of hate crimes, specifically but not exclusively for Lee Rigby; their side made some speeches. We booed, they jeered. Then they dispersed (I think to coaches parked at the foot of Arthur's Seat), and the police asked us to go in a different direction, up the Royal Mile.

It was a sociable way to spend a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon - but I was angry at the need to protest. I went on several anti-racist demos in the late 1970s and early 80s organised by Rock Against Racism and the Anti Nazi League. Most notably I went on the march and rally at Victoria Park in 1978, like most people probably attracted as much by the band's playing at the rally as the cause, though I went on others too and had long supported the anti racist cause. And frankly it is unbelievable - sorry, fucking unbelievable that, forty years on, we are having the same arguments, the same shouting matches, the same air of violence: that society hasn't moved on in all that time, that the vulnerable are still threatened.

A young guy yesterday asked me why I was there. It seemed an odd question, because frankly it just felt like the place to be - where else would I be, and if I couldn't be bothered, why should I be surprised if no one else could be either.

But it was a good question. I went because I believe strongly that attacking the weakest in society is wrong. Blaming immigrants for society's ills is just bullying. I went because - like most of the people in Britain, I'd guess - I am descended from immigrants. I went because I believe society benefits from immigrants, economically and socially, and particularly culturally. I went because much that I hold dear stems from foreign, particularly black, culture; because I believe jazz depends on freedom to think; because blues and politics are intimately related.

And I'm still angry that now, in 2013, it is necessary to defend our streets from racists.
rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)

Steve Bell cartoon from the Guardian
Cartoon: Steve Bell - the Guardian

I had resolved to do something positive during the funeral today of Margaret Thatcher - something creative. This was prompted by Lloyd, who wrote
I think we need to focus rather on the release of resentment and ways to find reconciliation...

And I agree.

But it is awfully, awfully difficult not to pick at old wounds; and whilst I find it very hard to think of possible positive outcomes from Margaret Thatcher's legacy. In part, I think this is because she did such a good job at polarising British politics - the divisions she created within society ran deep, and are deepening.

I think my politics have been moulded by the rise of Thatcherism, and in rational opposition to it. (That is, I am centre-, not far-, left!) I first voted in the 1979 general election - the election that took Thatcher to Downing Street. I can't remember if I voted Liberal or Labour - if the latter, I think it was the only time I have voted Labour.

I was a student for the next seven years, four years of which were in Scotland. There I marched in sympathy with the miners in 1984; I became aware that, frankly, every decision one makes has a political dimension (it was choosing fruit in a supermarket that taught me that: Chilean, South African or Israeli?); I took part in student boycotts of Barclays Bank (easy, since there was only one branch in Edinburgh!); I objected when the government "sold off the family silver" - something that I had a stake was being sold off, and I wasn't getting anything for it (except, perhaps, higher bills - and, Thatcher might have argued, a better service!). I objected at a much more personal level that funding to universities was cut and cut and cut till jobs in my field were near impossible to come by, and I left academia. (There were many other reasons, too, and I have no regrets about that career choice - except that I did exactly what Thatcher would have wanted me to do!)

In other respects, though, I benefited a lot from the Thatcherite revolution. I took a summer job after my PhD working for a merchant bank, merging the filing systems of three companies that were merged - or taken over - in preparation for deregulation and "the Big Bang" - which, with hindsight, I hold responsible for the mess our economic system has got itself into. I did very well out of the Big Bang, making what was for me (a recently graduated student) a lot of money for several months, when I needed it. Then, after a year in academia, I became an accountant, and swallowed the idea of market supremacy (which I still largely adhere to - though even I have to admit that there are many things the market can't do, and it is government's job to regulate and manage the market, to prevent excesses we are all so aware of). I do not believe there are better alternative to the market - yet. But I do think we need some viable alternatives.

I became part of the share-owning, private-pension-plan classes, worked for some big firms and more or less prospered. But I saw that many didn't. The divisions in society deepened, and widened. Industrial policy - closing large industries like steel-making, shipbuilding and coal-mining - wreaked havoc in many parts of north Britain, whilst the south - where the services industries, particularly finance, were based, prospered. I have been told by an accountant who worked for the coal board in the 1980s that the economic basis - the very reasoning - for the closure of the pits was flawed (the government included the sunk costs - money that had already been spent, and hence was irrecoverable, in their analysis, which thus came out in favour of closure).

Maybe the economics was in favour of closing all those big industries - but the expectation that the private sector would step in and find jobs all those unemployed seemed unlikely. At the very least, the change was unmanaged - it was rapid and hardly gave those subject to it a chance. There are towns and villages that still suffer because the mines and steelworks closed thirty years ago; generations have grown up with limited hope, because of the Thatcherite policies of the 1980s.

So I celebrated when Margaret Thatcher resigned in 1990: it is one of those landmark moments which people of a certain age remember - we know where we were when we heard. And a very great many celebrated. And I celebrated when Labour took over in 1997, though I thought John Major had the potential to be a better prime minister than his warring party allowed him to be. With hindsight, Labour had bought into the Thatcherite ideals, and maintained many of the Tory policies; they too accepted the new orthodoxy.

Thatcher's legacy has prevented a Tory victory for twenty three years, and the damage she caused individuals - who she believed in, it was all about individuals - and society (which, perhaps, she didn't) remains, and may well prevent a future Tory majority. (The Conservative once again seems riven with factions keen to prevent their government governing - doing the opposition's job for them!) The strength of feeling against the Conservatives in Scotland, and, I assume, in much of northern England too, have lead to a divided country. Thatcherism was a real boost to the SNP, and took us to the road to the referendum. I can't see a Tory government uniting north and south (though Tony Blair did - first in three elections, and then against Gordon Brown...) - whatever the outcome of the next election, I doubt a Conservative government would be taken to be representative of the whole country.

That is what I think of Margaret Thatcher, and her legacy. She divided the country thirty years ago, and she still does. And I can't think of much that could heal it. (So I guess I failed in my attempt to be positive...)

rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)
I went on a march today protesting at the "bedroom tax". I nearly didn't go, feeling that little good will come of the protest and feeling somewhat ignorant of the "bedroom tax" itself. (That's my fault; a lot has been written about it; but it does make for somewhat boring reading...)

The main reason I went on the march was because it strikes me as very wrong to demonise the poorest in society. The welfare budget accounts for a relatively small part of government spending (if you exclude pensions, which are more or less fixed), but recipients of benefits - by no means the "out of work scroungers" much of the media paints them - depend on it.

Society should be protecting those at the bottom of the pile, not making life harder for them by cutting what help they get.

So I went on the short march through Edinburgh, from St Andrew's Square down to the Scottish Parliament in the shadow of Arthur's Seat.

It was a very good natured march; even the police seemed surprisingly friendly. (Perhaps they were on overtime...!) There was a rather good choir who sang protest songs much of the way, making a welcome change from the usual call-and-response demo chanting (though there was that too; particularly inane).

I was struck by two, somewhat contradictory, thoughts.

Firstly, a lot - an awful lot - of people on the march seemed to have concatenated welfare cuts in general and the "bedroom tax" specifically with the forthcoming referendum on independence. There were a great many banners supporting independence. It felt like the "Yes" campaign had hijacked the march for its own purposes. This didn't feel right. Independence is no guarantee of social justice; indeed, an independent Scotland might have to make greater cuts than are already being planned.

The second thought was - where the hell were the Labour party? I am not a Labour supporter, but if they are meant to represent the opposition within the British parliament (as well as Holyrood), shouldn't they have been adding their voice to those of the very many "ordinary" people who turned out, as well the many unions that seemed to be represented and the many parties of the left - there were banners from the Socialist Workers Party, the Scottish Socialist Party - and the Communist Party! Even "Anonymous" were out. (Allegedly.)

Nothing from Labour at all.

Anyhow, I took some photos...


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rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)
I did lots of different things during the Edinburgh International Festival - I experienced new music, radical theatre, new artists. Much of it was excellent, a little was dreadful.

But it was also the first time I was searched as I went into a ballet performance, and was questioned where and when I bought my ticket; where I had my bottle of water confiscated; and saw a punch up - well, nearly - between members of the audience.

This was because - purely by chance - I had decided way back in July to see Batsheva Dance Company: when I was selecting what I wanted to see, I had nothing going on in the last weekend, more or less, and thought Batsheva sounded interesting.

Much more than I had expected.

Batsheva are an Israeli dance company, and on the back of a comment by the the Israeli foreign ministry that they were "good representatives for the state of Israel" (or something), they attracted the attention of pro-Palestinian demonstrators, who claimed that Batsheva's appearance at the festival was sponsored by the Israeli government. (This was denied by the EIF, though I can't find a link to it!) They are apparently part funded by the Israeli government, though.

By the time I went to the theatre, I was aware of this - I'd seen this piece about an earlier performance on the BBC's website. I even thought the performance might have been cancelled. Since it wasn't, I thought I'd head out there.

I did think about staging my own personal boycott; but having bought a ticket, I'd rather not waste my money. And I was of course curious. But I also believe strongly in freedom of expression, and I wanted to judge Batsheva on their artistic merits.

Some hope.

There was a large picket outside - perhaps one hundred protesters or so, held back by the police. I took a leaflet handed to me - I am largely sympathetic to the Palestinian cause (and have been for over thirty years, since I visited Israel in 1979 and was shocked by the Israeli treatment of Palestinians). On the way into the Playhouse, I was asked where and why I bought my ticket, and I was searched.

There was only a small audience inside: the theatre was perhaps a third full, and I thought about moving to a more expensive seat closer to the stage - it was only the idea that my action might be miscontrued by the many security guards stationed around the auditorium that stopped me.

The dance itself was interesting but frankly beside the point. Every five minutes or so, a member of the audience stood up and shouted slogans such as "Free Palestine!", "Palestinian blood in on your hands!" (I wasn't sure if that was aimed at the audience or the dancers), and "Boycott Israel!"

Each time they did, the music stopped, the dancers stopped, the lights would come up and security guards would move to the still-shouting demonstrator and bundle them out of the nearest exit.

Then the lights would go down, the music start where it had left off, and the dance recommence.

The demonstrators were scattered throughout the auditorium, which meant that I spent much of the time wondering where the next disturbance would come from. Other members of the audience were more active, remonstrating with the demonstrators. One non-demonstrating sympathiser got up and remonstrated with a foolish and ignorant remonstrator who had said loudly "What a fuss for a handful of Palestinians"; they faced off to each other, nose-to-nose, hurling insults and punches. I had never seen a punch up at the ballet before.

As each demonstrator was forcibly removed, many in the audience applauded, though I wasn't sure if they were applauding the demonstrator or the security guards. I tried to keep my opinions open. I felt most immediate sympathy for the dancers - the stop-start deanimation must have been hard, especially cooling down for a few minutes before the lights fell and the music started again. They deserved the applause.

At the end of the performance - which even with six or seven disturbances came in at less than an hour (it may of course have been cut short) - we were directed to leave by a specific exit to avoid the protest outside; there were a lot of police about.

I will admit to having mixed feelings about the whole thing. The demonstrators had to buy tickets to get into the theatre to demonstrate, so they were actively supporting the company they were protesting about. It was unclear who they were directing their attack at - the company or the audience. Had they wanted to stop the performance, they could easily have done so (if you want to empty a theatre quickly, just hit the fire alarm - the performance will stop, and won't start again). All they succeeded in doing was pissing off potential supporters - most of the audience turned against the pro-Palestinians. If they simply wanted publicity, they got that by protesting outside - the BBC picked up on that after the first night.

The protest inside the theatre seemed to achieve nothing.

It was all quite bizarre, and I'm pretty sure a wasted opportunity.

Still, I won't bother going along to Batsheva when they perform at the Festival Theatre in a couple of weeks.
rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)
I went to listen to Nick Clegg yesterday. He was answering questions from London members of the Liberal Democrats and, having opportunity to hear the deputy Prime Minister speak, I wanted to hear what he had to say.

I thought the discussion might have been dominated by questions of the recent disturbances in England and Wales, but it wasn’t – there were a couple of questions, but most questions covered other topics. He was late because he’d been in private meetings in Bermondsey (Simon Hughes’ constituency) about the riots – I had expected the meeting to have been cancelled since he must have been pretty busy.

There wasn’t really any debate: people asked Clegg a question, he answered it and moved on; so there wasn’t really any opportunity to challenge what he said. He knew many in the audience – longstanding, hardcore members (rather than fly-by-nights like me…); indeed, I sat in close proximity to Lembit Opik.

Clegg started off by talking briefly about his first year in office – “not wholly comfortable” – and emphasising aspects of the LibDem manifesto that the party has been able to enact as a result of being the junior member of the coalition – he mentioned increasing tax allowances to remove the low paid from taxation, reinstating the link between the state pension and earning, and protecting childcare for disadvantaged families. (It is surprisingly hard to find a list of the LibDems’ accomplishments on their website – I tried! – but this website covers most bases.)

He raised the issue of the economy; he blamed our current predicament not just on the previous Labour administration, but nearly thirty years of unsustainable development since the Big Bang, with “the illusion of prosperity… growth… [and] wealth” arising from “debt and mortgages… unsustainable property prices… [particularly in London] … borrowing and spending we couldn’t afford”. The necessary reforms to the economy – the pain we are suffering at the moment – are for the long term benefit (but, as Clegg noted, elections are a short term phenomenon).

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Most of the questions focussed on the nature of the coalition; the relationship with the media; spending cuts; and the economy. Clegg was unable to answer or took offline specific questions on alcoholism (following a BBC investigation), the impact of the cuts on the disabled, specific actions needed in Tottenham and so on.

On the coalition, Clegg was at pains to emphasise that the LibDems were very different from the Conservative party – by its nature conservative, whilst LibDems wanted change. He said that the party hadn’t entered coalition lightly – but that decisions had been needed quickly after the last general election to defend the UK’s standing with the financial markets. Clegg said he believed that the LibDems had made mistakes in the first year politically; but he also said that the LibDems had to show that they could govern: at the last general election, many voters had supported the LibDems but felt they had lacked credibility.

He believed the LibDems were fighting on several fronts: the media tried to ignore the party, being happier with left-right arguments which Labour and the Tories fall into. He saw the LibDems as working on a different axis – neither left nor right: the top down patronage of Labour that leads to centralisation and state control, and the natural pessimism and resistance to change of the Conservatives. It was down to local campaigners to get out there to tell voters of LibDem achievements, since the media wouldn’t.

Afterwards, I realised he had said nothing about civil liberties – which seem to be increasingly under threat, particularly with knee-jerk reactions to the riots - and nothing about next year’s election for Mayor of London – probably just as well, since the LibDems will be voting for their candidate at the end of August - and one of those standing is Lembit Opik.
rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)
You may have noticed that last week there was an election throughout the UK. I have been politically interested for the last thirty five years or so, but this election saw me become politically active, as well.

I joined the LibDems about six weeks ago; frankly, I should have joined earlier – I made the decision to join over a year ago (at least in part down to online discussions with Jennie and Mat), but since I didn’t have a permanent address when I first moved back to London, I wanted to wait until I did so I could play an active role in a local party as well.

I originally intended my active role in this election to be rather passive: I agreed to put a poster in my window. I thought that would be sufficient – I could handle that…

But then last week, after Francesca described her experience delivering leaflets and realising that I was going to be free on Thursday, I volunteered to help out on election day in any way I could.

I found it a very interesting, positive experience (though it is now becoming difficult to distinguish the feeling of working on Thursday from the confusion and disappointment awaiting me on Friday morning…); but it also surprised me in lots of ways.

I made my way to the “committee office” for mid-morning. I was surprised by the youth and commitment of most of the people volunteering.

I started off by “knocking up”: walking a set route banging on doors in an effort to get the vote out. This wasn’t what I had expected, but frankly if you are going to volunteer, you take what is given: I certainly wasn’t going to get fussy on my first outing. It turned out that my stint of “knocking up” lasted about five hours and took me along six miles of my neighbourhood streets on five different walks – it was a good way to explore the locality.

I started at 11ish and went through to five thirty; so most people were out. Of the people who were in, most said they had already voted, some said they would vote later and a few said they wouldn’t ever vote. There was no convincing them.

The idea wasn’t to try to get people to vote LibDem, that hopefully having been done by the canvassers and leaflets over the previous weeks; the aim was simply to get people who were reckoned to support the LibDems or be possible LibDem voters to get out to vote. Personally, I thought that getting people to vote at all would be a result – I urged people to vote whatever party they said they would support. Most people wouldn’t tell me which way they were going to or had voted. I was surprised by the number of people who said they hadn’t made their mind up – not a large number in absolute terms, but it felt significant; I would have thought that after six weeks of urgent campaigning, and all the publicity of the three party leaders’ debates, that people would know what they were going to do. Apparently not.

As we were knocking on doors, we saw Labour supporters doing the same thing. There was a certain friendly rivalry – there were stories of underhand tactics (opposing parties tearing down each other’s placards; campaigning outside polling stations – apparently a no-no) as well as more acceptable (and frankly sensible and obvious) tactics like getting people from ethnic minorities to campaign amongst their countrymen.

The area is very ethnically diverse, and that led to some of the more curious exchanges. A woman who I took to be a Muslim (she was wearing a head-scarf) told me that she didn’t know about voting – that was something she left to her husband to decide. I was dumbstruck. Several people I tried to engage with didn’t speak English (“No speak”, said one woman), and I had a few conversations through letterboxes; one of these, a middle aged black woman, opened the door when I said I was calling on behalf of the LibDems and proudly told me she had voted LibDem earlier that day.

I had one door slammed in my face. At another house, there was no reply to my knocking but I could hear a dog growling behind the door; as I slipped a leaflet through the letterbox, the dog grabbed it and I could hear it chewing it up as I retreated down the path.

The strangest exchange was with a blind man, who spent several minutes talking to me. He started off by swearing at me behind the closed door, and then he opened the door to apologise. He steadfastly refused to vote, but if he had, he said, he would have voted LibDem. He then told me how he wanted the UK to leave Europe and how he supported the BNP (who weren’t standing in the constituency). He said how politicians had made promises to him before, and never carried through on them. And then he said that he “wasn’t allowed to vote because he was blind”: at an election some years previously, he had gone to vote but the staff at the polling station refused, he said, to let his son help him vote, demanding that one of them help him. He refused and got into a scuffle with the official. He hadn’t voted, or tried to vote, since. It was a very strange story, punctuated by swearing (which didn’t bother me in the slightest). I’m not sure what he was doing on a list of possible LibDem voters – despite what he said, I doubt he’d have voted LibDem.

One thing I did learn was a huge respect for postmen. Walking down a path, knocking on doors and sticking leaflets through letterboxes was surprisingly hard work. Letterboxes seemed to be designed to stop one sticking leaflets through them, and that is without paper-chewing dogs on the other side.

I was surprised by the paucity of the data: like the blind man and others who clearly weren’t going to vote LibDem; others who didn’t match the target on my list. The list was meant to have been updated with the names of people who had already voted so that we wouldn’t disturb them (and waste our time), but since we didn’t have real-time data, it was bound to be out of date.

All in all, interesting, and possibly necessary; but also rather disheartening. I am not sure what I achieved, other than giving voice to an angry, disenfranchised blind man.

* * *

After my last round of “knocking up”, they asked if I wanted to do another, but I felt I had banged on enough doors and walked enough streets; so I was asked to go and be a teller at a polling station, instead.

I had no idea what this entailed, but I was told the guy I was relieving would explain it to me – which he did. Tellers are the guys – one from each party – that you see in huddles outside polling stations. I had to stand outside the polling station and ask voters as they went in what the number on their polling card was, and then write it down: this could then be input so that we’d know they had voted, and hence not be disturbed by someone else “knocking up”. I was told explicitly not to campaign (just as well, as I wouldn’t have had much of a clue what to say!). No one had to tell us their number; we could only politely ask.

When I got there, there were three tellers – one LibDem, one Labour and one Green. The Green Party teller wasn’t recording any numbers – I suppose he was simply being a presence which might prompt voters to go Green (very few did). The guy from the Labour Party was more engaged – we worked as a team, sharing polling card numbers. We chatted as we did this – competitive bonhomie - it was intrinsically boring work, enlivened by conversations and the enthusiasm of those coming to vote.

The diversity of the area shone through: there were Greeks (the polling station was in a Greek social club) and Turks; many, many shades of brown; and I noticed many Slavic names. Everyone seemed pleased to be there, aside from one woman who harangued us for standing outside the polling station. “You want to see me now,” she said when we asked if she would tell us her polling card number, “but no one’s been to see me during the campaign at all!” This rather non-plussed us: someone complaining that they hadn’t been disturbed by canvassers. I politely explained that actually I had been knocking on doors for five hours that day, but she huffed and stomped into polling station. The man with her shrugged his shoulders, smiled, and followed her in.

The suave Labour teller was meant to be relieved at 7pm, but his relief didn’t come; he left at 7.30pm (when I was meant to be relieved myself – pretty much a full day’s work!), and I stood alone for fifteen minutes. Then another Labour supporter, a very jovial trade unionist, arrived. She called the voters “love” and chatted to them all.

There was a steady stream of voters; in the two and a half hours I stood there in the cooling evening, about 250 people went in to vote, more coming after 6pm as they returned home from work. I have no idea if that is a lot or a few. There hadn’t been any queues by the time I finally left at 8pm. The highest polling card number I recorded was about 2,900, so 100 people an hour doesn’t sound a lot. The constituency turn out was 67%, the council ward turnout was 56%.

At 8pm I went back to the committee office to drop off the polling card numbers I had recorded. It was too late for them to do anything with them; the main point had simply been to be there, to be seen to be there, rather than actually record any data. It did enable us to engage voters as they went in, to show them we were there, remind them of the parties they could vote for.

* * *

I will do the same again, I think – though maybe I shall get involved earlier and help canvas and leaflet in the run up to the election (which might be sooner than expected).

I am not sure what I achieved during the day other than support the candidates and the party. For once, for the first time, I voted for the winning MP; but the council candidates I had been “knocking up” with failed to get elected.

The whole process felt archaic: in the digital age, we still vote by putting a cross on a slip of paper so someone can count it. The electoral system feels archaic, too: feudal and unfair.

They are still discussing how to resolve the hung Parliament, but I hope that some effective electoral reform comes out of it.

I won’t hold my breath, though.
rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)
This week - maybe last week, now - is or was international blog about racism week. I was thinking what I could write, but nothing came to life.

Then in yesterday's Independent, I read this article about the black boxer and the first black heavy-weight wordl champion, Jack Johnson.

It is a chilling story of racism in the first half of the last century. It is heartwarming that there is a move to grant him a pardon. The idea that the law should try to determine who should sleep with whom is abhorrent. (Although clearly not unique.)

Miles Davis wrote the soundtrack to a movie about Johnson's life, released as A Tribute to Jack Johnson, which includes a sample of an actor speaking Johnson's words, from which the quotation used as the title of this post comes.

A champion indeed.

The same edition of the Independent has an article by Johann Hari about Andrew Roberts. I have not neither read nor met Roberts, so I don't know if the article is a fair reflection of his views; but it does paint a disturbing picture - as if some parts of Britain have learned nothing in the last hundred years.
rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)
I went to vote this afternoon. I always find this quite a weird experience. Last time I voted, I managed to mess up the voting paper, twice - but that was in a different country.

This time, despite me giving them my polling card, they couldn't find me on the register. I could, and I had to point out my name on their list. The tone of voice of the invigilator seemed to blame me for his incompetence.

On the way in, there were two people keeping track of voters - from the colours they were wearing, one Conservative and one Labour supporter. The woman from Labour asked for my voters number, and (being me and generally ornery) I asked why. "So we don't phone you up," she said. You can't, I replied, I don't have a landline. "Well," she said, "so we don't come and knock on your door."

At which point I walked away, because the idea of either Labour or Conservative supporters bothering to personally knock on my door struck me as rather ridiculous. I can't remember leaflets from either of them. I have had three from the LibDems (albeit not necessarily about the European elections!), and one each from several minor parties (including the BNP...). One of the LibDem leaflets - in a handwritten envelope - was delivered by hand last night. (The others came via the postman.)

I must admit I was impressed that the LibDems could mobilise their people to do that - it almost cancelled out their visual subterfuge.
rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)
I get annoyed at people who either deliberately or through a lack of understanding misquote or otherwise abuse numbers or statistics. I have been known to shout at the radio when either journalists or politicians misstate or obfuscate, using numbers in an attempt to prove their argument.

[livejournal.com profile] frankie_ecap looked at the leaflet that popped through my door courtesy of the LibDems, and pointed to this graphic:


In case it isn't clear, it compares the number of votes of the three main parties in the last general election - Labour (15,138), LibDems (14,664), Conservative (9,559), with 2,314 other votes.

It is trying to re-inforce the view that the LibDems are only 474 votes behind Labour, and a vote for the Tories is wasted.

The numbers are right, but the graphic distorts the picture dramatically. It shows the Tory votes to be somewhat less than half of the LibDems, and barely ahead of other votes. In fact, the Tory vote was 65% of the LibDems, and over four times the size of the votes for others.

I put the numbers into Excel. Here's what the chart should actually look like:


A rather different picture. The the website of my local LibDem candidate shows a more accurate picture to the one on the leaflet, too:

You probably know by now that I am a LibDem voter. I have been assured that the candidate is a top bloke. But this misrepresentation of the numbers - a blatant distortion - may well have lost him my support.
rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)
This week sees the elections for the European Parliament. The Economist has an article on how the one topic not being discussed by politicians in the run up to Thursday's election is Europe.

So I shouldn't have been surprised that the flyer stuck through my door yesterday by the LibDems not only doesn't mention Europe, it doesn't mention the European Parliament or Thursday's election at all. It talks about Ed Fordham, the LibDems' candidate for the UK parliament.

I actually had to dig out my polling card to make sure that there wasn't a by-election going on, too. (There isn't: the European Parliamentary election is the only one there is - London isn't having local council elections as some parts of the UK are.)

I can only think that the LibDems have run out of the real leaflets for the European elections; or maybe they are really not bothered. Still, they've got me confused - if they don't care about their candidate for Europe, why should I?
rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)

Photo under CreativeCommons licence by UnusualImage on Flickr

I recently went to a talk by Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross on “Resisting the All Seeing Eye”. Surprisingly, since I was there with [livejournal.com profile] hano, [livejournal.com profile] coughingbear and [livejournal.com profile] sierra_le_oli and a horde of other web-savvy folk, I haven’t read anything about it on the internet, so I thought I’d post my thoughts.

The event was organised by and in support of the Open Rights Group, who were also very active at the Conference on Modern Liberty.

That title - the all seeing eye - was deliberately controversial; for me, it raised an image of Bentham’s panopticon: all of us under surveillance all the time. Modern technology makes it possible, and I believe we all need to be aware of this, rather than blindly stumbling into a future in which everyone is a suspect all the time.

Both Doctorow and Stross agree with me. And more or less everyone else in the audience. They were really preaching to the converted. And yet the evening was set up as a debate, with the speakers taking turns – as if they were rebutting each other’s comments. Instead, it felt like they were trying to outdo each other in painting dark pictures of a dystopian future – and a pretty bleak present, too.

I preferred Doctorow’s style to Stross’ – it seemed much more discursive and exploratory where Stross came across as a bit of a know-it-all (sorry!).

But – and a big but – I don’t actually know what the purpose was. It certainly served to scare me, but hey, most people there were scared enough to be there. There were a few very practical technological things we can do to avoid online surveillance - switch off Javascript, control the action of cookies, block Flash, opt out of Phorm (although ORG has said this isn’t sufficient), use ad blockers and so on. But that was about it: I wanted some real actions that we could take to oppose the onward march of overt and covert surveillance, and I didn’t get it.

This surprised me: here were a couple of hundred people sufficiently concerned to spend a Friday night listening to two well-respected technologically minded commentators, and we were sent away depressed and unenergised.

This should have been a rallying call! Get out there and do something! Make this a political issue – complain to your MP, shout about this from the rooftops – hell, even storm the cameras!

But no. The scary future seemed just too scary to do much about.

So I am doing what I can. I am talking about the issue, and writing about it here. I may start a phone campaign – I have just noticed that many CCTV cameras have a phone number on them; I think I shall start phoning the number, just for the hell of it. Maybe I’ll start photographing CCTV cameras, too – why not?

Because I really think we should be doing something.

Photo under CreativeCommons licence by NoLifeBeforeCoffee on Flickr

rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)
[livejournal.com profile] innerbrat has been writing about a US soldier who was fired for coming out. Her latest post has a link to a copy of a handwritten note from Barack Obama to another gay soldier.

It is several weeks since the very mention of Obama made me smile - but it's happening all over again. I love the guy.
rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)
I read this interesting post on the demonstration I observed yesterday in memory of Ian Tomlinson.

When I was there - and I was there completely by accident - it was very quiet and subdued. I am glad I left before the quiet was broken, although I feel bad that I didn't stay for longer.
rhythmaning: (violin)
  1. I am on a bus through a quiet, deserted City – empty on a dreich Saturday lunchtime. The bus comes to a halt in Cornhill [edit: not Cornmarket as I originally said, which is in Oxford...], and doesn’t move for a while. A crowd appears on the opposite pavement – a huge gaggle of press photographers, surrounded by police, struggling, pushing and shoving, to get a picture. They seem to be pointing their cameras at the pavement, stretching their hands high above their heads as they hold their cameras. The people on the bus move to the window, trying to work out what is going on. They photographers move down a few yards, and the ruck starts again. A woman moves forward from the crowd around the photographers and pushes through; she lays the bunch of white tulips she is carrying on the ground, seeming to disappear below the mass of cameramen.

    As the photographers move, it becomes clear they are – unwittingly – at the head of a march. The crowd has people carrying placards: “Remember Ian Tomlinson” – the newspaper vendor who died of a heart attack during the G20 demonstrations, allegedly after he was beaten by police officers.

    I ring the bell and get off the bus, walk across the street and join the crowd. There are many, many policemen – probably as many police on the street and in the many vans as there are protesters, although there seem to be more photographers than either. I can’t help but wonder about the new law making it illegal to take photographs of policemen: it is impossible to photograph the crowd without including the police in it. Do the press have a dispensation? The crowd seems a strange mix: there is a large banner proclaiming “Anti War Coalition”. There is no chanting – it is strangely quiet, and very dignified.

    After a while I walk on, enjoying the empty streets – the police are holding all the traffic. A security guard and another worker are discussing the price of their building, just sold for £140 million; I wonder if that is a lot or a little.

  2. Two young girls – teenagers – come up to me near St Paul’s and ask the way to Barking. One of them has smeared mascara and tear-damp eyes, the other heavy mascara I think, and remember that the tube is messed up with engineering work (Transport for London being an oxymoron, it seems) – the District line is out. I direct them to Liverpool Street and tell them to pick up a Hammersmith and City line train. They look at me sceptically, so I explain I don’t know about buses.

    “No”, the cried-out girl says, “we’re walking.” I point east, and suggest they ask one of the many policemen watching the photographers watching the pavement.

    It is a long walk to Barking.

  3. Later as I am walking to Waterloo, a young lad wearing a hoodie, thick stubble and a broad Irish accent heading in the other direction asks me the way to Westminster tube station. He is going the wrong way – completely the wrong way. I tell him to head north and then walk beside the river until he gets to Westminster Bridge.

    He goes off in the right direction, but I doubt whether he will make it.

Earth Hour

Mar. 28th, 2009 10:55 pm
rhythmaning: (sunset)
So I took part in Earth Hour this evening. I switched off my electric lights at 8.30pm; I feel I cheated a little – I lit a couple of candles and I had my hifi on. And I sat and listened to music – for the first half hour I listened to the radio – the second half of Jazz Record Requests (which featured a really beautiful version of Jerome Kern’s “All The Things You Are”, by Lee Konitz and Gerry Mulligan) – and then I listened to Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny’s record, Beyond The Missouri Sky.

It was lovely listening to this record by candlelight: it is gentle, contemplative music.

It was fascinating, because listen to the music is all I could do. Normally, I would do something else whilst listening to music – read a book, play on the internet, whatever. Using the computer or watching tv felt it would be cheating more than lighting candles; and I couldn’t read in the half-light.

So I sat, and listened to the music. I was very aware of the shadows as the candle-flame moved. I tried meditating, though that is something I have done little of, and thinking of nothing doesn’t come naturally. So I sat and listened and watched the shadows.

It did make me think how much we rely on energy: I was reminded of the few times I have been places without power, and of the power-strikes in 1970s Britain. I have been in places without energy a few times in my life – the Sinai coast; the Borneo forest (a couple of times); in India; camping in Scotland. It is the sky I remember – although tonight the Edinburgh streetlights remained on, and although I saw a sliver of a crescent moon, the sky was mostly clouded and no more visible than usual for Edinburgh.

It was interesting; something I might try more often: think of the world in a different way.

Earth Hour

Mar. 28th, 2009 03:09 pm
rhythmaning: (sunset)
I am taking part in Earth Hour tonight - switching the lights off for an hour from 8.30pm local time, wherever you are in the world.

I don't normally do things like this - I like to make conscious considered decisions, and this means that I often object to the herd-like behaviour the internet, and social media in particular, sometimes lead to. It is too easy to join a group, sign a petition, stick an image on your blog and think that that is enough. (Sometimes, of course, it is all you can do.)

But I think climate change is really important; I think it is more important than the economy, more important than conflicts around the world (and I think those are pretty bloody important, too!).

So I shall be switching off my lights at 8.30pm tonight.

I'm not sure, though, what else I shall do - specifically, in that hour. The campaign is just about lights, not about electricity, but frankly the idea of, say, watching tv seems plain wrong. But I can't imagine that I shall switch off all my electric items: I will probably be listening to music, or maybe using the internet (the Earth Hour website suggests live blogging the hour, though I'm not sure I get that...), all of which uses electricity.

(It has been suggested that I meditate or masturbate for an hour; but I'm not sure I could do either of those activities for an hour. Maybe a little of both...)


rhythmaning: (Default)

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