Tom Griffin (London, OK): No one has kept a closer eye on the rise of the database state than Henry Porter. On his Guardian blog today he sees signs in stories from Westminster, Scotland, Northern Ireland and France that suggest the tide may just be turning.
In the United Kingdom the primary struggle against government intrusion centres on the ID card and the plans for a huge government silo to store information on every phone call, email and internet connection. There is good news on both these but the campaign against the theft of our democratic rights will not be won unless public opinion builds against these two schemes.
It is in our hands.
Stuart Weir (Cambridge, Democratic Audit): Two years ago Democratic Audit and two of our partners, Helen Margetts and Peter John, provoked a storm when we suggested that the British National Party had a far larger potential electoral support than specialist political scientists believed. The conventional view was that far-right parties in the UK were an insignificant political force. We compounded their ire by getting a front-page article in the New Statesman and a great deal of media coverage (but see our report, The BNP- The Roots of its Appeal, for the full story up to then).
Now Stuart Wilks-Heeg, joint author of Whose Town is it Anyway?, has published a cogent article in Parliamentary Affairs, that builds on our analysis and takes the story up to the 2007 local elections where the BNP secured 300,000 votes for 754 candidates. There are currently 55 BNP councillors, spread across 22 local councils. While the BNP’s overall share of the vote was small, at around 1 to 2 per cent, geographical concentrations of their vote have enabled the far right to establish unprecedented levels of representation in local government.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): John Osmond brings us news of the debate in the Senedd that launched the Institute of Welsh Affairs' new book, Politics in 21st Century Wales. He suggests that, given some of the players involved, the event may turn out to be a preview of the coalition negotiations that follow the next Assembly election:
Of course, First Minister Rhodri Morgan won’t be among them after 2011, since he has announced his impending retirement from politics – “he has indicated a wish to stand down as First Minister well before the elections” (according to his biographical note in Politics in 21st Century Wales). However, he prompted the speculation by suggesting in his contribution to the book that Labour should countenance proportional representation in local elections in order to allow a coalition deal to be negotiated with the Liberal Democrats.
It was Plaid Cymru’s Adam Price who suggested somewhat mischievously that this was tantamount to Rhodri revealing ‘a bit of ankle’ to the Lib Dems.
Catherine Stephens (International Union of Sex Workers): Yesterday the Home Office announced new proposals intended to “protect the thousands of vulnerable women coerced, exploited or trafficked into prostitution in our country, and to bring those who take advantage of them to justice”. It’s a great story, with drama, heroism, anguish and a big white horse for Jacqui Smith to ride as she swoops in to rescue tearful hookers from foreign countries.
Unfortunately, it’s pretty much fact-free and bears no relationship to the reality of the sex industry: it will in actuality increase the vulnerability of all women who sell sex, even privileged, educated, white, British passport holding women like me. How come?
Tom Griffin (London, OK): As the Guardian 's Michael White notes, the leak of the BNP's membership database raises many of the same issues as recent losses of personal data by the Government. If anything, it has provided a much more dramatic illustration of the potential impact on individuals.
The episode has also proven to be a true 'wikileak', in the sense that it has highlighted the power of Web 2.0, with a Google Map of the data briefly appearing before its creator decided to take it down in favour of a somewhat less informative heatmap.
openDemocracy's own Tony Curzon-Price has produced an analysis of the titles of individual BNP members which provides an interesting social snapshot of the party:
Number of BNP members by Title
Geoffrey Bindman (London, BIHR): My old school in Newcastle, founded in 1545, was proud of famous former pupils. Several of them were mentioned in the school song. Eldon was the procrastinating judge caricatured by Dickens in Bleak House, Armstrong an armament manufacturer, Collingwood was Nelson’s second-in–command at Trafalgar. Absent was John Lilburne, leader of the Levellers at the time of the English Civil War, who I discovered years later had been at the school in the early 17th century.
Lilburne is only now coming to be recognised as a fundamentally important figure in our political and constitutional history. He was also a man of extraordinary personal courage and determination. Cromwell thought highly of him and made him a colonel in his army but he became disillusioned with Cromwell when he abandoned the democratic programme which Lilburne passionately advocated.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): The Northen Ireland Executive is set to meet for the first time in months on Thursday after the DUP and Sinn Féin agreed a way forward on the disputed issue of policing and justice today.
Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have written to the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive Review Committee, stating that a Justice Minister will be appointed under interim arrangements that will last until 2012.
Damian O'Loan (Paris): It is not only in the UK that the introduction of Taser electronic pistols has ignited controversy. As Amnesty’s Patrick Corrigan has highlighted here, the weapons’ implications for the Right to Life have been called into question by a judicial review to be decided in Belfast in January. Directly comparable issues are also coming before the courts in France.
Over here, however, it is the distributors of the weapons, SMP technologies, who have been initiating the actions. The French company has launched defamation and slander lawsuits following citations of Amnesty International figures citing up to 290 fatalities following exposure to the weapons’ 50,000-volt force.
The report's contents have been heavily spun over the past couple of days. Several members of the expert group told Scotland on Sunday that it would favour greater powers for Holyrood.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): Under Siege: Islam and the Media was the theme on Saturday for a half-day conference at the LSE organised by Media Workers Against the War. Among the speakers was Daily Mail columnist Peter Oborne who talked about his own experience of disillusionment.
I found it very profoundly shocking in the lead-up to the Iraq War, to be lied to systemically by the British state. I thought it was something which was foreign to our traditions and our experience. Oddly enough, it radicalised me. I went through the opposite journey to what Nick Cohen went through.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): Labour must renew itself in West Wales, if it is to regain a dominant position in the Cardiff Bay Assembly. That's the message from First Minister Rhodri Morgan in his contribution to a new book from the Institute for Welsh Affairs:
"The reason why I think it absolutely essential that we turn our minds again, as a party, to winning in the west is the simple recognition that, as far as the Assembly is concerned at least, without winning in the west, Labour cannot win Wales.”
The First Minister argues that the impression Labour has sometimes given as being reluctant advocates for the Welsh language, reluctant on more powers for the Assembly, and reluctant exponents of Welsh identity have allowed party to be portrayed as ‘London-dominated’, with the Conservatives, in particular, repositioning themselves as more pro-Welsh than Labour. To rebuild he says Labour should start with creating a platform in local government in west Wales.
Politics in 21st Century Wales also includes contributions from Welsh Conservative leader Nick Bourne, Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Kirsty Williams and Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): The debate about Cornwall's constitutional status seems to have taken off over at Comment if Free, where Truro and St Austell MP Matthew Taylor responds to Peter Tatchell's call for self-rule:
Mebyon Kernow support in Cornwall isn't low because we have an unfair electoral system. The simple truth is that Cornwall is not full of people who want a separate parliament – nor, incidentally, did they want one in 1497. In both cases what is wanted is a genuine recognition that poor rural communities such as ours have not had their problems taken seriously, let alone addressed, in decades. We don't need a separate parliament, we simply need genuine local autonomy over the things that matter locally rather than nationally, and fair funding to go with it.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): In today's Guardian, Ronan Bennett looks forward to The Devil's Whore, Channel 4's forthcoming drama by Our Friends in the North creator Peter Flannery. The series promises a new portrayal of the upheavals of the English Civil War, with characters including the Leveller leaders, Thomas Rainsborough, John Lilburne and Edward Sexby.
As Bennett notes, the radical narrative which sees the Levellers as key figures in an English revolution has become unfashionable among professional historians in recent years.
so-called "revisionist" historians have argued that the civil wars were "an accident", a temporary falling-out among the country's natural rulers. They say a misleading emphasis has been placed on the kind of ideological conflict represented in The Devil's Whore, and they will likely find in Flannery's preoccupations too many echoes of the late historians Christopher Hill and Brian Manning, whom they have criticised for a skewed reading of the period.
Of course, it is more comforting for political centrists to interpret the tumults of the period as an aberration. That way, England's "genius for compromise" is given the authoritative endorsement of tradition, and the role of organised and militant radicalism - from the Levellers to the suffragettes and early trade unionists - can be quietly put to one side.
Gareth Young (Lewes, CEP): It’s taken seven months from petition end but finally the Prime Minister has gotten around to replying to my ‘Say England’ petition. Since it’s been a while I will remind you of the details of the petition:
“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to stop saying ‘Our country’ or ‘This country’ when he is talking in relation to devolved issues such as health, education and housing. If Mr Brown is talking about English matters then he should say ‘England’, even if it is politically inconvenient for him to do so.”
The order has become a touchstone issue in the increasing tension between Cardiff and Westminster - the presiding officer of the assembly Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas, has accused the MPs on the committee of "anti devolutionist tendencies" over their demand for the order to be redrafted.
While they don't have the power to redraft the legislation, the Welsh secretary Paul Murphy has the power of veto - unless he approves it, it cannot go forward into parliament, become law, and see the powers in this area devolved to the assembly.
The Western Mail reports the suspicions of some in Plaid Cymru about the crisis:
“It is looking increasingly as if those Welsh Labour MPs who always opposed the coalition with Plaid are trying to manufacture an artificial crisis that will result in the One Wales deal falling apart.
“This isn’t the first time they have tried this, but on previous occasions Rhodri Morgan has been prepared to stand up against them behind the scenes.