A Parrot With Tourette’s

Tuesday 6th May 2008

So, elections last week. Stuff happened, Labour lost out massively, and the Tories did well. Blah blah blah.

These were the first elections that I’ve not voted in (that I’ve had the chance to vote in). Reasons are basically that I couldn’t be bothered to sort out postal votes and all that jazz, or to re-register in Cardiff. Reasons for why I couldn’t be bothered follow shortly.

Anyone with whom I have talked about politics will say that I’m generally right-wing Tory scum. That’s true insofar as I’ve historically voted for the Conservatives. But that probably says more about the other parties than it does the Tories.

My beliefs are a mix of left and right, I suppose, and come to think of it I guess most people could say that. I think government should be small, but at the same time I’m fairly convinced that privatisation isn’t always a good idea. In theory, privatisation should result in lots of companies competing to provide the best service at the lowest price. In reality, there seems to be an ethos of saving money by not investing, and not transferring the saving to the customer. Looking at the rail and telecoms systems (for instance), I think they’d be in a much better state if they were still nationalised (to be fair, I think historically they’ve been fairly mismanaged, so they weren’t in the best state when they were privatised. But if that’s the case, they shouldn’t have been privatised). Similarly speaking, the BBC is a shining example of what you get when you have a large organisation that is devoted to providing a service. Because it doesnt have to return a profit, it can afford to invest in new technologies, even if they might not work. I read a thing a while back about the evolution of the BBC web services since the web was in its infancy, and it’s really staggering.

Broadly speaking, I think that anything which provides an important service to the nation (so transport, health, education, telecoms, gas, water, electricity, etc) should be run by the government.

I also think economic intervention is usually pretty damn stupid. The congestion charge in London is a fantastic example. Yes, it reduced traffic for a while, but it’s now above the level that it was when the charge was introduced. Yes, it’s less than it would be if it wasn’t introduced, but the fact that road usage in London is still increasing is a sign that it’s a poor solution. All the charge does is push poorer people off the road – people who can afford the charge still pay it. I love the irony, that such a left-wing policy is so inherently unfair.

What I’m trying to say is that economically, I’m right wing. Socially, I’m fairly liberal. I don’t really know what you’d classify me (what is it with our endless need to classify? Why can’t people just be?), probably Libertarian.

Anyway, after the waffling preamble we start to approach the nub of this post. If you wish to comment on anything, comment on what follows. I don’t want an argument on political beliefs, because theres no point and because I’ve only briefly put forward a subset of mine. I think what I think, and you think what you think. In my experience theres little chance either of us are going to change our minds, so lets not try. (That, and I’m right :-p)

The reason I couldn’t be bothered to vote this time around is that I’m fairly disgruntled with the whole political system at the moment. It seems to me that the people most likely to win an election (or put themselves forward in the first place) are not the people most suited to governance. Politics is about image above all, and frankly it’s ridiculous.

Example. When someone makes a mistake, everyone immediately calls for his or her resignation. Surely this is wrong? If you’ve made a mistake, you learn from that mistake and are better suited to do the job. Ok if it’s an absolutely massive mistake, fair enough. But for most things, just let them stay.

Ooh, another example! From motorsport, but it works nonetheless. Max Mosley is the president of the FIA, which is the body which governs a lot of motorsport internationally as well as being responsible for lots of road car stuff. I think the Euro NCAP tests is an FIA thing, for instance. Anyway, a while back the News of the World published a video of him having an orgy with 5 hookers, which had some pretty extreme elements (BDSM, to be precise). They claim that it was a Nazi orgy, because he spoke some German (he says one of the hookers was German), and.. well the family name is hardly untarnished…

The Nazi bit is probably not true (and I continue under the assumption that this is proved. If it is true, you can appreciate how the situation will change), but nevertheless he may end up losing his job over it. These sorts of activities are pretty untenable in certain countries, and so Mosley would be unable to work in those places, making his position fairly untenable. Is it right for someone to lose their job over something completely unrelated to it? Of course not, but so important is a good image that as soon as it is tarnished, it’s impossible to continue doing the job (that said, this is something Mosley seems to dispute…).

Nah, Mosley should go because he’s plain bad at his job, not because he likes to spend the odd afternoon being whipped by 5 prozzies. By the way, the man is 68, so he clearly has stamina for his age…

Other things… The cabinet confuses me. Surely the people in charge of the NHS, or education, or whatver, should be experts in those particular fields, not politicians whose first objective is the furthering of their own career. I know they’re advised by experts, but even so…

The system is generally good, I think. The idea of an elected House of Commons being overlooked by a House of Lords is just genius, and it’s probably the best system we could hope for. The problem at the moment is that the wrong people are running the system.

I was going to finish this by saying it needs changing, but having thought about it more, it doesnt. So I finish with a question: does government shape society, or is government shaped by society? Is our vain, vacuous, hopeless government simply a reflection of the people it governs?

My answer: Big Brother. Sigh.

Posted at 8:31 pm | Posted In: Rant



Tuesday 6th May 2008, 9:10 pm

Hmmm. Politics is ridiculous at the minute. But in my opinion we should have a system like in Australia, where you have to vote by law. The difference is that there’s always a ‘none of the above’ option on the papers – so you can still express disgust at the candidates standing or a lack of knowledge, but you are forced to make that statement. I would have thought that voting for ‘none’, or in this country spoiling a ballot paper, spoke out more than just not voting at all.

I voted in both Birmingham and Durham in this election. In both cases my preferred candidate(s) lost, in Birmingham especially perhaps inevitably so, but I still don’t consider it a wasted endeavor because I had input into the final count and but for a slightly different electorate, my vote could have changed something. (Unlike, on that note, the vote in Durham a year ago on whether or not the council should become unitary. 76% of us voted against but they have proceeded regardless. There’s democracy for y’.)

As for your final question, I’d go with the latter. Government ministers have to come from somewhere, after all.


Tuesday 6th May 2008, 10:01 pm

The thing about the congestion charge, is that an economic disincentive is pretty much the only way to change people’s behaviour.

The only (sane) alternative I can think of is some sort of rationing system, where each car is only allowed into the centre of London a set number of times a week. The flaws in that system are pretty obvious.

The problem of getting good governance is just plain hard. It’s a tough problem, and it’s made worse by the fact that there’s no proper theory of society, so there’s no way to try out governance models in the lab before unleashing them on a population, not to mention problems of sheer inertia.

I’d recommend reading Heinlein’s Starship Troopers if you get the chance. It proposes an interesting solution to the problem, in which you can only vote if you voluntarily sign up for, and complete, at least two years of “Federal service” which generally is the armed forces in some capacity, be it front-line fighting or logistical support.


Tuesday 6th May 2008, 10:54 pm

CC isn’t changing peoples behaviour though, and if it is it’s not doing it enough. Cheapening public transport (and more investment, make it better at rush hour. I appreciate that this and lower fares is pretty impractical though) would make public transport demonstrably better than cars.

I have to say, I don’t get why anyone would drive at rush hour in London (unless they really had to). If I lived in London and had to get to work every day, even without CC I think I’d still get the tube or whatever. It’s just easier.

Or, of course, whoever it is that designs the roads could design them to reduce the likelihood of congestion. Like get rid of traffic calming, set traffic lights on sensible routines*, or put more roundabouts in.

Or remove the need for people to come into London anyway. If companies let people either work at home, or work flexible hours, you either remove the traffic load or shift it to another – less busy – time of day.

There *are* sane solutions to congestion, but no-one wants to implement them.

* anecdote time! I remember this time a couple of years ago, I was working in Dudley. On the route, there was a fairly big junction controlled by traffic lights, and at rush hour it was ALWAYS busy, and you’d always have to queue.

This one day, the lights were down. Chaos, you’d expect? Nope. Same amount of traffic, no queue. Funny, innit?

/tangent :-p


Tuesday 6th May 2008, 11:02 pm

And a ‘sane solution’ involves putting Boris Johnson in charge of the tube?

/instinctive retort


Tuesday 6th May 2008, 11:06 pm

“I don’t want an argument on political beliefs”

Bad Lucy! :-p


Wednesday 7th May 2008, 5:02 pm

I’m sorry! Like I said, /instinctive retort!


Thursday 8th May 2008, 4:33 pm

I agree with your point about cabinet ministers being experts in their field. They should be experts in terms of EXPERIENCING first-hand the way the NHS actually works on a ground level, or the education system, or the transport system, whatever it is. It really irritates me when the schemes they put forward for improving our national services are clearly done with very little real idea of what is appropriate. I say this, and I *know* the committees who make these decisions have advice from all sorts of people — but it just isn’t enough to work it that way.

Meanwhile, I’m so disenchanted with the current political parties on offer, all of them, that I don’t know what I’ll do in the next election. Spoil my ballot card, probably.

I think the idea of national service is a good one. In Germany they have this still, I believe, and you either do Militardienst (military service) or Zivildienst (serving the community by working e.g. as an HCA in a hospital or nursing home, or volunteering in a school or a hospice, and more, you get the picture), for a year upon leaving school and before university. I think this is a genius idea.

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