On this clear, sunny Friday, the weather belies the fact that the UK has undertaken an unprecedented and improbable act of self-harm.
Tomorrow is the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. I’ve wanted to write about this for some time, but I’ve delayed and delayed in the hope I could offer a tidy summary and clear reasoning behind my decision to remain. The question on the ballot paper demands a simple black or white answer, yet a study of the issues only offers shades of grey.
If the Conservative Party wasn’t already rigging the system in its favour, be that by redrawing consistency boundaries (gerrymandering by any other name) or reforming party funding, it turns out they may have broken campaign spending rules as well.
A Channel 4 News investigation has uncovered evidence suggesting large-scale and systematic abuse of spending limits, both at last year’s general election, and during three key by-elections in 2014:
Our investigation has uncovered hundreds of pages of receipts for more than 2,000 nights of hotel stays. In each of three by-election campaigns, we found a pattern – luxury hotels for senior staff, while junior campaigners were put up cheaper rooms – usually the local Premier Inn.
The campaign spending was similar in other ways: 770 rooms were booked in the name or home address of one Conservative staffer - Marion Little - while others appeared under the name “Mr Conservatives”.
None of these hotel receipts seem to have been declared by the party.
This is nothing short of a scandal, yet one helpfully suppressed by the current EU Referendum campaign. All this, revealed on the same week David Cameron hosted the international Anti-Corruption Summit; maybe we need to focus on the corruption taking place a little closer to home, first.
Beyond the depressing particulars of this story, as someone who worked on an earlier design of the Channel 4 News website, I found the presentation of this story to be encouraging, not least because of its uncluttered layout, digestible content and accessible data visualisations. As a news team renowned for its in-depth reporting and investigations, I hope this article is a sign that we can expect more of its online coverage to meet those same high standards.
The feedback loops and network effects permitted by the internet have allowed companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon to become near-monopolies within their chosen fields.
More on Bitcoin from Charlie Stross:
BitCoin looks like it was designed as a weapon intended to damage central banking and money issuing banks, with a Libertarian political agenda in mind – to damage states ability to collect tax and monitor their citizens financial transactions.
Roger Ebert on the recent shootings in Aurora, Colorado:
This would be an excellent time for our political parties to join together in calling for restrictions on the sale and possession of deadly weapons. That is unlikely, because the issue has become so closely linked to paranoid fantasies about a federal takeover of personal liberties that many politicians feel they cannot afford to advocate gun control.
We seem to be turning into a country where crony capitalism doesn’t just waste taxpayer money but warps criminal justice, in which growing incarceration reflects not the need to protect law-abiding citizens but the profits corporations can reap from a larger prison population.
Scary yet unsurprising story about how organisations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are not only supporting, but writing wholesale legislation to benefit their corporate benefactors.
Of course, if it’s happening in the US, it’s happening here in Britain too. Indeed, I was reminded of this fascinating article by Adam Curtis, which charts the rise of the political ‘think tank’:
If you go back and look at how they rose up – at who invented them and why – you discover they are not quite what they seem. That in reality they may have nothing to do with genuinely developing new ideas, but have become a branch of the PR industry whose aim is to do the very opposite – to endlessly prop up and reinforce today’s accepted political wisdom.
Our political leaders are no longer interested in the concerns of the electorate and increasingly led by lobbyists – regardless of what destruction (societal, economic, environmental…) may result from their policy suggestions.
It surely can’t carry on like this, can it?
George Monbiot writes about another boneheaded reform from a Conservative-led government nobody voted for. He concludes:
Plutocracy passes through a perpetual cycle. It lobbies against the restraints that curb its destructive greed. It succeeds. As a result it collapses. It gets rescued, at enormous cost, by the forces it fought: regulators, planners, tax collectors, an interventionist state. It recovers, dusts itself down, then resumes its attack on the people who rescued it. This assault on planning belongs to the cycle. But the damage the plutocrats mean to inflict will not be reversible.
These are the times in which we now live.
Whilst I no longer want to ‘tactically vote’ or have my MP hold on to a ‘safe seat’, I’d much rather see continued reform towards fairer representation across all parts of government.
As an era of Labour government led by Gordon Brown surely comes to an end, I reflect on my changing political attitudes and the decision I’ll be making at the ballot box this coming Thursday.
I’ve been living in Littlehampton for almost a year now, yet working 25 miles away from Brighton has meant enduring the somewhat tedious chore that is commuting. This is often a more eventful affair when the journey is taken later in the evening, and tonight was no different.
Growing up, my brother was always the one in our family more interested in American culture. Whilst he followed the NBA and listened to Public Enemy, Wu-Tang Clan and Eminem, I stood to the National Anthem and worried about Britain’s growing closeness to Europe. America was of little importance to me.