6 days to stop MPs concealing their expenses

A quick repost of an important message on the MySociety blog:

Uh oh.  Ministers are about to conceal MPs’ expenses, even though the public hasjust paid £1m to get them all ready for publication, and even though the tax man expects citizens to do what MPs don’t have to. They buried the news on the day of the Heathrow runway announcement. This is heading in the diametric wrong direction from government openness.

You can help in the following three ways:

1. Please write to your MP about this www.WriteToThem.com – ask them to lobby against this concealment, and tell them that TheyWorkForYou will be permanently and prominently noting those MPs who took the opportunity to fight against this regressive move. The millions of constituents who will check this site before the next election will doutbtless be interested.

2. Join this facebook group and invite all your least political friends (plus your most political too). Send them personal mails, phone or text them. Encourage them to write to their politicians too.

3. Write to your local paper to tell them you’re angry, and ask them to ask their readers to do the above. mySociety’s never-finished site http://news.mysociety.orgmight be able to help you here.

NB. mySociety is strictly non-partisan, by mission and by ethics. However, when it looks like Parliament is about to take a huge step in the wrong direction on transparency, we’ve no problem at all with stepping up when changes happen that threaten both the public interest and the ongoing value of sites like TheyWorkForYou and WhatDoTheyKnow.

I’ve sent an email via WriteToThem to my local MP, James Plaice. Here’s the text I sent (mainly copied and pasted from other sources) – feel free to re-use it for your efforts:

I am writing to express my concern at the recent decision to conceal the details of MPs’ expenses. I do not understand why it is necessary for MP’s to be the only paid public officials who will not have to disclose the full details of their expenses and allowances.

After all, members of the Scottish Parliament have to declare all oftheir expenses – why does the British Parliament need to be different?

As my local MP, I hope you will be lobbying against this concealment and that you will also be of those enlightened MPs who, knowing that they have nothing to hide, are willing to publish the full details of their expenses anyway.


Oliver Kamm in The Guardian:

In its paucity of coverage and predictability of conclusions, the blogosphere provides a parody of democratic deliberation. But it gets worse. Politics, wrote the philosopher Michael Oakeshott, is a conversation, not an argument. The conversation bloggers have with their readers is more like an echo chamber, in which conclusions are pre-specified and targets selected. The outcome is horrifying. The intention of drawing readers into the conversation by means of a facility for adding comments results in an immense volume of abusive material directed – and recorded for posterity – at public figures.

The blogosphere, in short, is a reliable vehicle for the coagulation of opinion and the poisoning of debate. It is a fact of civic life that is changing how politics is conducted – overwhelmingly for the worse, and with no one accountable for the decline.

A remarkable view for a political blogger to hold, unless Mr Kamm considers himself a Proper Journalist these days.

It’s early days yet. Political blogging has only really taken off in the last couple of years in the UK. Sure, much of it is unbearably negative and full of inaccuracies, but the same could be said of pamphleteering.

Just because some political blogs aren’t particularly edifying, it doesn’t make the blog format a Bad Thing. In time, some balance will be restored, and as always, the quality will float to the top.

In the meantime, we will just have to trust ourselves to be able to distinguish between fact and fiction.

Open Source Politics

Great article from David Wilcox:

Does it matter whether politicians who talk up the Internet’s potential for re-inventing politics, education, employment actually use it hands-on for the purposes they present, and join in? Or should we just be grateful if they have a good script from their researchers, have met the right people, and can engage in sensible conversation about social networking? What coverage do they get with that good script, but no online presence?

LibDems launch Manifesto Conversation

The BBC points out a new site the Liberal Democrats have set up to discuss their manifesto for the next election.

MP Steve Webb, running the web-based project, said it would help frame “detailed policy”, but that the party would retain its core principles.

Subjects discussed so far include whether to scrap short prison sentences and how to reform inheritance tax.

Members of all parties were “fed up with being taken for granted”, said Mr Webb, who is writing the manifesto.

The Liberal Democrat Manifesto Consultation site is open to the 67,000 party members, with 20,000 being emailed this week.

The aim is to produce an online manifesto at least several months before the next general election, which has to take place by 2010.

Even better – the site is running WordPress!

[tags]liberal democrats, manifesto, steve webb, wordpress[/tags]

If British politics is bad…

…then imagine how bad things are in the states. From The Guardian:

The Democratic senator, Barack Obama, has launched an aggressive
counter-attack against rumours that he is a Muslim and was educated at
a madrasa in Indonesia…Mr Obama’s spokesman said the senator had never been a Muslim and was a
church-going Christian. “We won’t take allegations that are patently
untrue lying down,” Robert Gibbs said in a statement…

But rumours that would ordinarily have remained in the blogosphere
gained some credibility this month when an online magazine said Hillary
Clinton’s campaign was investigating Mr Obama’s Muslim heritage. Ms
Clinton’s campaign has condemned the story as an attack on both
Democratic leaders.

How thoroughly depressing.

Digital Dialogues

Simon Dickson reports on Digital Dialogues, of which the DD website explains:

The purpose of Digital Dialogues is to assess the capacity of ICT to support central government’s communication and consultation activity (principally with the public but also with internal stakeholders).

Digital Dialogues takes technology as its focus and seeks to build the capacity within central government for setting up, managing and evaluating digital technology’s contribution to promoting public participation in the policy process. Digital Dialogues has the additional objective of promoting collaboration and exchange between departments.

Just before Christmas, the Hansard Society released a report, which you can read here.

Dickson notes that:

The good news is that, perhaps predictably, the online world comes out of it pretty well. Public engagement is a good thing, and the majority of those drawn to online channels were not previously ‘engaged’; but it should be seen as a complement rather than a replacement for conventional offline methods. There’s also a fair bit on the importance of appropriate planning and ongoing management / moderation.

It all makes interesting reading.

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Blair’s capitulation

Oliver Kamm on the government’s craven actions over the BAE fraud enquiry:

Our overriding foreign policy goal is the defeat of aggressive terrorism. So pursuing an inquiry into corruption in an arms deal worth billions of pounds would risk disrupting a relationship with Saudi Arabia crucial to achieving those goals. Mr Blair placed emphasis on the national interest in vague terms so we have no idea what the interests are, because he did not say. The tacit assumption must be that the Saudis might withhold intelligence co-operation, and withdraw from the arms deal. Our security interests would suffer; so would British commercial interests.

This is not only the best defence but also the only conceivable one for a decision taken directly by the Prime Minister. Unfortunately, it is pitiful. The lamentable closure of the SFO inquiry encapsulates the method and reasoning of the banana republic. It jettisons the central principle of democratic government. The SFO said this week that: “It has been necessary to balance the need to maintain the rule of law against the wider public interest.” To say that this is illiberal scarcely covers it. It is the lowest point in Mr Blair’s Government, and will be a defining one. It gives cynicism a bad name.

John Naughton and Simon Dickson also comment on the story

News Round Up

Plenty going on this morning – Today kept my attention for the whole 2 hour journey…

Blair apology to Soham parents

Metropolitan Police chief Sir Ian Blair has apologised to the parents of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman for comments he made about the Soham murders.

Sir Ian Blair told the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) on Thursday that “almost nobody” could understand why it had become such a big story.

He called the media institutionally racist in its coverage of murders.

If Ian Blair hadn’t already convinced us all that he was a complete nitwit with his sophistry immediately after the Jean Charles de Menezes shooting, he certainly has now. To infer that race plays any part in the hysterical media coverage over the Soham murders is absurd: Blair admitted himself that the coverage of the Damilola Taylor murder was an exception to his theory. He asked why the “murders of white lawyer Tom ap Rhys Pryce and Asian builders’ merchant Balbir Matharu” didn’t received a similar level of publicity that the Soham ones did. The answer to this is so obvious I can’t be bothered to type this.

The shame is that Blair has a point, only he is too dim-witted to make it properly. The hysteria that engulfs the media after a tragedy like that which took place in Soham should be moderated in some way, but only because it is distastful, irrelevant and unhelpful. Not because it is in some way racially motivated, which it clearly isn’t.

Hughes to launch leadership bid

Simon Hughes is to formally launch his campaign for the Liberal Democrat leadership, a day after admitting he was “misleading” about his sexuality.

Good. To be honest, I don’t think he can, or should, be criticised for being ‘misleading’. I think many commentators have been too harsh on him, and treating the issue far too frivolously. I would imagine that coming out is not an easy thing to do, no matter what one’s personal beliefs on the matter, and, given that Hughes has had heterosexual relationships as well, there is clear evidence he had some sort of inner turmoil on the issue. That he feels the need to make statements about issues such as this shows that the sad state of affairs the media is still in in this country. Who cares, really?

The only way this could be of any significance would be if it somehow emerged that Hughes played a more active role in the shameful campaign for his election in the infamous Bermondsey by-election, the conduct of which he has apologised for.

Israel rules out talks with Hamas

Israeli interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ruled out any talks with “an armed terror organisation that calls for Israel’s destruction”.

International mediators have urged Hamas to renounce violence, as efforts begin to form a new government.

Near-complete results gave Hamas 76 of the 132 seats in parliament.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas – who also heads the ruling Fatah party – has said he remains committed to a peaceful settlement.

This seems a fairly reasonable line for Israel to take, all things considered. Hamas’ election raises so many interesting issues: the rise of Islamists and their popularity with the Middle Eastern public; the fact that they are the first terrorist organisation to jump straight into power by passing most of the democratic ‘pyramid’ (to use a kind of footballing analogy); their commitment to a referendum to introduce sharia law.

It’s pretty frightening though too. Let’s hope that Hamas can be pulled towards the centre ground as Ariel Sharon found himself.

Links 26/1/06