Saturday, 26 March 2011

The Ideal Constitution

My ideal constitution would have two elected chambers. I think they should be elected using different systems. If there is a proportionally elected Lords, I see no reason why the Commons should also be proportional. We can keep the valuable constituency link in the Commons and have accurate representation of the peoples' views in the Lords. Therefore AV would not be, as many think, a stepping stone, but an and in itself as if we had a proportional Lords, no further Commons reform will be necessary.

I have long argued for this form of constitution, but didn't believe it would ever come about. However, in a couple of years we are almost certain to have it. Whether or not the AV referendum is won, it is in the coalition agreement that there will be a proportionally elected Lords by the end of this Parliament. So in a weird way, my ideal constitution that I never thought would happen is almost certain to come about very soon, which makes me  happy.

Yes, I know.

I'm a loser.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Putting the 'Lib' into 'Libya'-and exit strategy?

Aaaaaaaarghgghhhhhghhghghhhhhh is pretty much the noise I'm making trying to ponder this one out. Deciding what the Lib Dems would have to do to piss me off enough to leave blah blah blah has given me a lot of thought, and as mentioned in a previous post, a war was the one thing I generally stuck to. And also from previous posts you will know of my anti-interventionist foreign policy view for reasons I won't repeat. After a few days of pondering I have basically decided I disagree with military intervention in Libya. So the question is, do I leave the party?

  • This is an armed conflict that I disagree with. That is very serious.
  • The moral high ground over Labour has now been somewhat lost. No matter what happened until now, we had the 'at least we didn't kill loads of people' argument. And to be honest, 'not as bad as Labour' is not a very high standard to set for your party anyway, so if they slump to near that standard, there is clearly a serious problem.
  • If not now, then when? The party has done many things I don't fully support, although I agree with coalitions in general, this coalition, and accept that many things have been done in compromise. But if something happens which I had previously decided would definitely be a last straw, and I still remain in the party I have to ask myself if there's anything they can do that would make me leave. Have I become one of these tribal political slaves who belongs to a party for no reason beyond 'because they do'?
  • It would be a relief not to have to defend a lot of bad coalition policies any more.
  • I still generally agree with the party's role in coalition. Is it silly to leave over an issue like this?
  • The situation is completely different from Iraq. International agreement has been reached, and military intervention is being done very cautiously which is a good thing, plus there is already a conflict so the UN can't be accused of warmongering.
  • There is broad consensus that military action is the right thing to do, demonstrated by today's vote in parliament. Even the Green Party has supported a no fly zone, and there is no obvious anti-war movement.
  • I have quite a strong anti-war stance that no party really conforms to. Can I condemn the party for agreeing to a war which has some strong arguments for it and is not clearly wrong the way Iraq was?
  • Personal reasons. I like being in a party, and I like getting into party-related arguments. Being in a party is a gateway to all sorts of political activity and experience, particularly in a university. The Liberal Democrats are my social life. I love spending time with them and had a great time at party conference. I have also made several friends who I would no longer see or would be alienated from if I left. Working for a party is also a great way to get work experience. I have a lot to lose by leaving.
  • The Lib Dems would have supported this military involvement in opposition too, and I probably would not have been put off them for it. When I set the benchmark was it not for supporting a war that was clearly wrong in the name of compromise or holding the coalition together? The purpose of setting a benchmark was how far a compromise I am not prepared to accept. This policy is not a compromise.
  • There is no other party I would rather be a member of, and I will probably vote Lib Dem at the next election regardless.
Any comments would be greatly appreciated.

Friday, 18 March 2011

How long until they auto-tune a foetus?

Who is Rebecca Black? Her name has been popping up like a whack-a-mole these last few days so I investigated. I was unsurprised to discover that, like every new name that appears these days, she is 'the new teen pop sensation'. Popstars, like Sharon Osbourne, seem to be getting younger all the time. Jedward came along a couple of years ago, and have some how managed to extrapolate their unjustly-assigned 15 minutes of fame to stretch longer than their lack of talent had the novelty value to stretch. They were like a 'new' Cheeky Girls. Younger, more identical and worse singers. But next to the influx of new child stars, swarming into the charts like a tsunami of pre-pubescent trash, Jedward look like ageing pop veterans, like the exhumed corpses of the Rolling Stones which gyrate around the stage, crumbling skeletons with too much skin hanging off them.
It began with Bieber. The YouTube star shot to fame at about fifteen, and although he's now seventeen, he still looks about five years younger and sums up the cynical marketing of the music industry aimed squarely at the pockets of gullible teenage girls and their long-suffering but problem-fuelling parents. (See 'Pop Song' by Jon Lajoie)

Then came the Smith children. They have been around for a while, granted, but generally just in an acting capacity. The only problem I have with child actors is they tend to be awful (see Jake Lloyd from Phantom Menace), but I accept the need for children to act in things, unless they want to start using dwarfs instead, or reverse-ageing Brad Pitt like they did in Benjamin Button. But now the Smiths are doing music too. 12 year old Jaden is in a Bieber track at the moment, presumably to make Bieber look older. If fact, Bieber is now bordering on the above-mentioned Rolling Stones analogy. And his 10 year old sister has just released her second single, the video for which includes a toddler, the only way they could possibly make her look older without putting her next an embryo.
Willow Smith poses a challenge for music executives. There are few, if not no, young women in the charts who are not heavily sexualised in their lyrics and branding. The willingness to avoid this is probably why Willow ended up with the bizarre 'Whip My Hair' song.
Another up-and-coming 'sensation' is Grayson Chance, the 11 year old who did a (rather good) live rendition of Lady Gaga's Paparazzi at a school talent show and is now rather famous for it.
Where will it end? The 'internet sensation' of that 'Charlie bit me' kid getting autotuned in a pop song? Will they keep getting younger? Will parents get a pre-emptive record deal before trying for kids? Is anyone else struggling to remember a time when kids were pleased to get their 25m swimming certificate or do well in a spelling test, without needing to have had a top ten hit by the time they start high school? Well, I'll tell you where it will end: Rebecca Black.
Rebecca Black, remember that name.. 15 000 000 hits on YouTube since her video was uploaded last month.

In many ways this is the end result of the teen-pop trend. Is it a parody? Is it real? Does it really matter? If it's real then God help us all. My first impression was that it's not real. The video is insanely cheap and tacky and the lyrics are so awful they can surely only be parody? The miming is awful and the vocals like the Crazy Frog mixed with tinnitus. Also, she looks a bit older than 13. In fact, I thought it was so clearly a parody I felt slightly embarrassed for all the people seriously dubbing it the 'worst pop song ever'. Either way it is the end result of the pop industry going crazy and either producing this, or driving someone else to.
It turns out the truth may be somewhere between the two. According to the Independent (yes, I couldn't believe they were covering this either, with all the uprisings, cuts and natural disasters going on) the song comes from a 'music factory' where rich parents (of presumably 'Super Sweet 16' level spoil brats) pay to have their spawn record a song and star in a music video, possibly in the hope of getting noticed. This has certainly worked for wee Becky, although for all the wrong reasons. Having said that, she'll probably still get a record deal and make millions, thus the hideous cycle continues.

Thursday, 17 March 2011


My first thought, upon reading that British forces could be in action in Libya as early as Friday ( was 'if that happens I will have to leave the Lib Dems'. Regular readers (all three of you) will know about my strong anti-intervention stance.
Also, I have often considered what the Lib Dems could do that would make me leave the party, and although I haven't decided on a definite tipping point, I always decided that if the UK went to war without very good reason while Lib Dems are in government I would leave. No matter what compromises the party has made, they always have, over Labour, the fact that they were the sole opposition to a long, disastrous, bloody and expensive conflict resulting in up to a million deaths. I can't keep arguing this if the Lib Dems have been involved in an invasion too.
Generally I believe that foreign intervention is not the business of countries like ours, particularly with our disastrous track record in Africa and the Middle East. I think even with good intentions and in the absence of ulterior motives, the outcome is almost never good for the victim country.
However, there are some differences between this conflict and Iraq, for example. Firstly, it appears that if action is taken it will be internationally agreed upon with UN resolutions. Secondly, a no fly zone places a clear demand on Gaddafi, the like of which was never placed on Hussein. And thirdly, it is a country already engaged in a bloody conflict. Iraq was a stable nation with working infrastructure that was destroyed by invasion. Libya is already in civil war, so the purpose of invading for regime change is not as clear-cut. There is an existing conflict we would simply be taking sides in, rather than creating a new conflict.
Ultimately, UN sanctioned military action is much more acceptable than random invasion, and the fact that there is already a conflict clearly come into it.
I suppose my decision of whether or not to remain in the party will come not through whether or not British troops go into action, but whether or not they do so legally, and if the conflict is resolved quickly and efficiently with maximum autonomy for the Libyans, a proper leaving strategy is decided and a stable democracy is left, not a corrupt puppet regime.
I will probably not immediately leave when invasion is announced, but I will seriously consider my position depending on the manner in which the invasion is conducted as well as its duration etc.

Since writing, the UN has passed a resolution calling for intervention but not invasion ( So far this appears to have been well-handled. The prospect of Libya returning to Gaddafi's control is very real and extremely undesirable, so if UN powers can aid the rebels without invading this does not seem too objectionable.
What is interesting about the story is that Russia and China abstained on the vote because they believe military intervention sets a dangerous precedent. Firstly it seems worrying that the West, which usually tries to claim the moral high ground, is always so much more keen to enter into armed conflict. Secondly we are very lucky as a planet that China and Russia take such a responsible attitude to foreign intervention (although I question Russia's commitment to this due to their frequent conflicts with their neighbours), because if they had the same arrogance in their political systems that the liberal democracies do, they would surely be seeking to impose communism or whatever warped quasi-democracy Russia has on the rest of the world.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Putting the 'party' into 'Party Conference'

Liberal Democrat Party Conference was this weekend, and yours truly was there. Here's my report of events.

Although I am reluctant to give some of these people the oxygen of publicity (not that you can get much oxygen from my 3 readers), they were the first thing I encountered at conference. We entered behind a line of police officers with some extremely angry looking people on the other side. Now I am not a supporter of all the actions of the government, of course I'm not, and there a plenty of good reasons to be angry. I also think that protest is generally a good thing and a positive display of a liberal society. However, I like protesters to make a point. Simply standing there and calling Liberal Democrats Nazis makes it appear, rightly so or not, that the demonstrators are ignorant, lacking in decent arguments and jumping on a bandwagon of scapegoating. The fact if the matter is that this government is pretty much as far from the Nazis as we have ever been in the UK. Nazis made the greatest oppressions of and invasions into peoples' civil liberties in history of their country. This government has undone the greatest erosions of civil liberties in our country. Economically, this government is also extremely far from the Nazis. Cutting public spending is a far cry from the surge of state spending that happened under the Nazis on things like infrastructure and military. The comparison is ridiculous in every sense.

The protestors at the beginning of Day 2 (at about 10 in the morning) were much more reasonable. Some elderly gentlemen giving out leaflets warning against the NHS shake-up got their point across much more effectively and managed to hold on to their dignity. Later in the day the expected 10 000 failed to materialise. I estimate that at any one time there was less than a tenth of that number, and scarcely more demonstrators than police. Also, rather amusingly, following a slight drizzle, the entire crowd left in a very short space of time. They clearly like cuts more than water.

Some of the slogans of this bunch were also rather strange, although after being called a Nazi I had respect for any chant that achieved a comprehensible level of political comment. A popular one was 'there'll be none of you in Parliament next year'. I don't know the chances of a general election next year, but even if one is called, it seems unlikely the Lib Dems will end up with fewer seats than the Socialist Worker Party, who form a good chunk of the demonstrators. The number of USSR flags I could see also made the Nazi taunts seem ironic. There was another chant that mustered the audacity to brand the Liberal Democrats undemocratic. I'm hoping no revolutionary socialists were involved. This is a party with 'Democrat' in its name, that has fought for decades for a fairer voting system, has given the British public a chance to have a democratic say on this electoral system, and is about to create an elected second chamber for the first time in this country's history. Unfortunately they also stooped to the depths of shouting at an elderly lady who happened to be attending conference, calling her a liar. I don't know how they knew this. If I were a moderate protester there to make a valid point I would be infuriated by such idiocy, tarring me with the same brush of lowest-common-denominator faux-outrage.

The protests were well-summed up by the chair of the Social Liberal Forum, who commented that on the way in he had been called middle class by a middle class person with long hair.

However good Legolas is, he will never be more popular than Aragorn. The same was true for Cleggolas at the conference too, but I'll talk more about Farrongorn later. Clegg gave a good opening speech, and did his best to reassure members. Saturday he did a q+a. Generally these two things provided nothing new. We were re-told the list of Lib Dem achievements in government and were shown an uplifting video of Nick Clegg doing important things.

Nick's final speech was my favourite. He said quite a few genuinely positive and interesting things and left the conference on a very high note. This final speech was also more notable for being marginally less scathing in its criticism of Labour, admitting that a Yes to AV coalition of Lib Dems, Greens, Labour, UKIP and a handful of celebrities sounds more appealing than the Tories, the BNP, John Prescott and the Communists in the No camp. Although he did mention 'Alarm Clock Britain', a phrase which stinks of old politics. A ludicrous sound-bite designed to appeal to everyone, while making them feel like they're being appealed to specifically. He explained what it was. I can't remember the exact words, but essentially it is people who want to work and have to pay tax, and have to get up every morning to do so. much everyone.

But generally Clegg had a successful conference. There is certainly no appetite for rebellion within the party, as I'm sure there would be in the Labour Party, and probably the Tories, in a similar situation. Collectively we understand that we are stronger united.

The conference was much more notable for the rise of Tim Farron. This was my first conference and I had not been particularly aware of Tim Farron before, although I did vote for him for President. He burst into a central role in proceedings with an effortlessly witty first speech. He is also well on the left of the party, and can get away with criticisms of the government his colleagues in cabinet cannot, which instantly endeared him to the membership.

But there's a lot more to Tim Farron than making a witty speech and appealing to the left-leaning members. He is a committed grass roots campaigned and has his feet firmly on the ground. Even during the conference period he managed to go canvassing and on the Yes to AV street stall, and he is a valuable asset to any campaign. He also spent a lot of time talking to members and hearing their views.

Chris Huhne: I saw Huhne a few times., didn't speak to him though. I heard he's a bit dismissive of normal people.

Danny Alexander: To his credit, Alexander gave myself and my liberal youth colleagues a lot of his time, and is a much more friendly and approachable man than he gets credit for. He spent time listening to our opinions and discussing economics and the referendum.

Lembit Öpik: Of course Lembit was the last person to register for conference. The hapless former MP rushed in at the last minute. His presence at conference was very visible as he spent a lot of time at the bar. I don't mean this in a sarcastic way. He is a genuinely friendly man, especially now he has no professional interest in being popular.

Vince Cable: I saw Vince, but missed the chance to see him speak. He appeared to keep a relatively low profile.

Shirley Williams: Shirley proved herself yet again with a passionate speech in the healthcare debate. She is held in almost unattainably high esteem in the party, and was even quoted by Nick in his closing speech.

Absentees (to my knowledge)
Charles Kennedy
Ming Campbell
David Laws
Paddy Ashdown

A very important debate was had on diversity in the party. I have no statistics, but there appeared to be roughly equal numbers of men and women, and significant numbers of disabled and ethnic minority members at conference, as well as a disproportionately high number of gay people. However this is not reflected in the parliamentary party where we have only 7 women and no disabled or ethnic minority MPs. Clearly this is a problem, but is also cause of a liberal dilemma. On the one hand we believe in equality and representation for all, but on the other hand we want minimal intervention, and so-called 'positive discrimination' seems to go against both of these. I generally oppose 'positive discrimination' in society, because it is still discrimination. I think the focus should be on looking at why some groups are underepresented in certain jobs. However, part of the cause may be aspiration and role models. If people don't see people like themselves in important jobs, it may seem unattainable and threatening. In Parliament, the benefits of creating role models and an example for the rest of society to lead outweighs in my opinion the case against positive discrimination, and I'm glad conference voted for measures to try and give greater representation to minorities.

I didn't know much about the healthcare bill beforehand, but the proposed amendments seemed to remedy some of the more contentious and less palatable aspects of it, and were voted for almost unanimously. Conference sent the leadership a clear message on health reform which I hope they will listen to.

Remaining Lib Dems
Clearly coalition threatens identity crisis for the smaller party, and this was agreed upon by all participants in the debate with the Social Liberal Forum. However, no clear solution was found. Tim Farron seemed to contradict himself, by saying on the one had that we needed to be less tribal but also that we should be more tribal in trying to appear distinctive. Obviously ministers can't speak out against government policy, which as they are our figureheads creates a problem.
A point which was raised that I had not previously considered was the polarisation that would be caused by a stronger, more vocal Liberal Democrat party. This would lead to hard core Tories wanting more and could reflect badly on Lib Dems forced to vote for Conservative policies, and ultimately damage the coalition. Although many Lib Dems might not see this as a bad thing.

Labour Bashing
Ridiculing the other parties is a big part of any party gathering, but for the Lib Dems at this moment in time, ridiculing the Tories is difficult if not impossible, so sometimes it feels like all our negative energy goes into Labour.
I'm all for attacking the previous government's record, but sometimes it borders on tribalism for its own sake, which I hate, and the repeated attacks on Labour, however true they may be, get tiresome to listen to.
Furthermore, good relations with Labour may not be a bad thing. The main reason (aside from the Parliamentary arithmetic) for not wanting to join forces with Labour was the idea of being tied to a dying corpse, but now they have a new leader and are ahead in the polls that is not so true. Also, thanks to electoral trends, hung parliaments remain a significant possibility in which case a future coalition with labour may be on the cards.
In fairness, it should be noted that Ed Milliband has been quite petty and tribal in the last couple of weeks, refusing to share a platform with Nick Clegg on AV.

Conference Bar
Learnt how to mingle and talked to lots of interesting people. £4.80 on a Vodka and Coke is pricy though.

I'm not really writing anything any more, I'm just assuming no-one will read this far.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Vegan Week

2.14- Vegan Week going very well so far. I have not had to change my diet at all. Being a vegan is easy.

9.32- I am very hungry but can't have toast or cereal because no butter or milk.

11.00- Just got back from Tesco. I bought oat milk and rice milk in the hope that one of them is nicer than soya milk, tofu, falafels, olive-oil based spread, peanuts, pringels (didn't appear to have any animal products in the ingredients), bread, tea bags, oven chips, cream crackers (which apparently contain no cream) and some Frusli cereal bars. On a Monday I'm out from 12.00 to about 21.00ish and usually I get snacks at the union shop, but today it's going to have to be a packed lunch.

22.33- Just got in. Today I have eaten mostly pringels. I also discovered that I cannot eat my Frusli bars because they contain honey. Less than 0.5%, but it's still honey. A jar of chocolate spread on my desk is looking at me. Lucky I'm not subject to feeble human desires. I had jam on toast in stead, although my flatmate, Joe, did suggest that a bee may have shat on one of the berries. I guess it's never possible to eliminate ALL animal produce from your diet.
I also just tested rice and oat milk. Both taste of pretty much nothing, kind of like milk, and are nicer than soya milk which is now reserved for tea. The oat milk has a rather unpleasant yellow tinge to it but tastes like watered down milk so is ok. The rice milk looks like skimmed milk and tastes good. In fact, if I didn't know I might think it was real milk.

1.58-So far today I have eaten just peanuts.

11.22- It has come to my attention that the olive spread I was eating contains milk, so I will no longer be eating it.

16.11- I am extremely weak. I discovered half way through my second tube of pringles a 'tick' thing on the side next to 'vegetarian' but not one next to 'vegan'. A closer look at the ingredients revealed 'lactose from milk' in the sub-ingredients of 'salt and vinegar flavour'. In stead of immediately ceasing to eat them I gorged the whole tube, due to being extremely hungry and at a loss as to what to eat. I will be eating no more pringles this week. The list of foods I can eat grows shorter.

16.19- Pancake Day. Not a great day to be a vegan. Ironically I am behaving more in the spirit of the Christian tradition by giving something up than the millions of Christians who will eat pancakes until they feel sick and give nothing up.

Why be Vegan?
Strangely enough, I have come this far without really asking this question. The challenge was enough reason for me.

The Vegan society ( says it's better for you, listing a whole load of nasty stuff you get less of in a vegan diet, although I can't help but think that this is just from eating less food, and to be honest, the health benefits would have to be massive compared to vegetarianism to make me consider a vegan diet full-time. I think a lot of the unpleasant diseases they list as being less likely are also less likely if you're a vegetarian, such as various digestive cancers.

The animal welfare arguments are a lot stronger. It is true that we don't need to consume animals at all to survive. And the conditions and treatment of animals in egg and milk production is arguably just as bad as animals killed for their meat.

The environmental arguments are also good ones. The greenhouse gas emissions from meat and animal product production are significant, and cutting animal products out reduces your carbon footprint significantly.

The final point, that it's 'delicious' seems a bad one, although is perhaps there to persuade people concerned abut the sacrifice they would have to make based on the previous arguments. The problem is, a lot of meat eaters say this about their diet and vegetarians and vegans have to argue that this should not be the main consideration when choosing a diet, so using the argument the other way appears hypocritical.

17.25-Just had falafels. Was going to have ketchup, but guess what? It has lactose in it. It is getting very tempting to not look at ingredients and assume they're vegan.

Why being vegan is harder than being vegetarian
Obvious. Yes. There are fewer things you can eat. But I think veganism is disproportionately difficult. Setting aside desiring to eat certain foods, for vegetarians it is quite clear what you can't eat. There's the occasional tricky one like Haribo, but generally it's clear what constitutes meat. However, for vegas, animal products are in so many things you wouldn't expect, like ketchup. Animal products like eggs and milk are often not foods in themselves the way meat is, they are often used as ingredients in the most unlikely places. This means that the vegan has to be extremely vigilant in checking ingredients.
Secondly, a hell of a lot of sweet things, like chocolate and desserts, involve animal products, and these things are often the most pleasurable to eat. I don't think I eat much chocolate, but weirdly I'm craving it after two days.
A vegan diet has to impact your every food choice. If it was simply not eating an area of food, like bread, it would be easier. As much as bread is a staple food, it is not often a sneaky ingredient in things so is easier to avoid.

20.09-Had chips and peas. Tried making vegan ketchup based on the ingredients on the bottle. It didn't taste very nice.

14.56-Just had my first food of the day. Marmite on toast. I discovered some vegan margarine so I used that. Going to make curry later. It will be my first proper meal of the week, more because of business than anything else.

18.16-This is the first time this week I have been really really full up. Just had a massive vegan curry, pretty much identical to my usual vegetarian curry.

13.34-Quite an uneventful day so far from a vegan perspective. Had falafel, peas, beans and chips (minus ketchup) for lunch so hopefully won't be hungry again for another few hours.

2.56-Thursday evening I had beans on toast then chips later, then some milkless rice crispies (just cos I like the like that) and then some toast. I should add this was over about a nine hour period.

2.09-[writing about Friday] It was very easy being vegan today because I hardly ate anything. 2 bowls of cereal, 2 sandwiches, some nibbles and chips.

16.11-The last two days have been a bit of a fail because I haven't really eaten anything. Yesterday I had Kettle Chips and Bourbons, today I've had a bean wrap. Going to have the rest of the other day's curry later.

What have I learnt?
A week is probably much to short-a time to properly experience the vegan diet. It is often easier to not eat than put all the extra effort into finding something you can eat, and I think I would have to do it for a least a month before I got hungry enough to put adequate thought into my meals and snacks. However, it was long enough to realise that being a vegan is bloody difficult and I have every respect for people who have such a high level of moral commitment as to sacrifice so much. Veganism is much harder than vegetarianism for the reasons explained above, although perhaps over time it's possible to get used to.

I was surprised how much I wanted chocolate. I don't think I eat much chocolate but after about two days I was craving it.

Will I continue with it? No. It is too difficult and the moral arguments, while significant and valid, are not strong enough to demand such a change. As long as we consume animal products reasonably, by buying free-range eggs for example, I can't see the problem. Having said that, I have developed a taste for rice milk, and while I will continue consuming cows' milk, I will try and take vegan options where possible and cut down my consumption of animal products. Aside from veganism, I also have a lot of ground to make up in terms of ethical consumption, such as buying things with less packaging, although I already buy fair trade where possible and don't waste any food. To focus solely on animals is, I think, to miss the point.

Would I recommend it? Yes. Even if I didn't particularly enjoy being vegan, I think it's definitely worth trying. You may be a more creative cook than me or find it easier to adapt to the diet. In fact, I intend to try it again too, on a week when I'm not out all the time and can put effort into making good, vegan food.