Anthony Barnett (London, OK): For the first time since the First World War the Liberals are defining popular feeling thanks to Vince Cable. They have been hegemonic before (meaning dominating and setting the framework of thought rather than directing it) when two liberals, Keynes and Beveridge, set the terms though not the politics of the welfare state for post-war Britain. Since then they have striven to be popular and influential, usually by being earnest and worthy (and sometimes by being cheap, cheerful and inebriated). But even when Paddy Ashdown was clearly the best man in the Commons for the top job there was something needy, marginal and outmaneuvered about being a Liberal Democrat. This sensation of good but doomed was never greater than with Ming Campbell. Now Vince Cable has achieved the most surprising breakthrough of all in a period of astounding reversals.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Just in time for the collapse of New Labour in a cloud of double-dealing, the escutcheon of Charter 88 has been hammered to the wall of a new campaign for democratic reform, Unlock Democracy, as Peter Facey reports. By coincidence Robin Wilson who was a mover and shaker of Northern Ireland's Democratic Dialogue, in a very nice tribute to Stuart Weir and me, looks back across almost two decades ago to the establishment of Charter 88. He lists more achievements than I might claim,
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): There are some most embarrassing appreciations of me over on the OurKingdom's mothership. At the recent Goldsmiths conference on the future of the news, Guido Fawks commented to a questioner that political blog readers "are old", their average age being 44. I thought to myself "I think that is young". It wasn't the only thing I didn't agree with him about... The rest is for another time. Thanks everyone!
John Jackson (London, Mishcon de Reya & Unlock Democracy): The Hunting Act, a controversial statute dealing with a controversial topic and imposed by the House of Commons in a controversial way, continues to generate important constitutional questions as it is challenged in the courts. These now include the role of judges, the legality of parliamentary sovereignty as it currently exists and the future of our constitution itself.
Moderator: Originally posted on Bethan's blog on Wednesday.
Bethan Jenkins (Neath, Plaid AM): Peter Hain has just addressed the Assembly, but fear not, I am not live blogging. It was far too lively a debate to miss out on! I wanted to intervene to voice my concerns on the sale of student loans bill, and the problems that may arise if a private company chooses to change the rules and regulations with regards the loans system in the future. Nevertheless, I did not get the chance amongst all the ya boo politics, which I'm sure was a sign of comfort to Hain as that is what he is used to at Westminster!
Jon Bright (London, OK): There are two ways of approaching the problem of gun control. One is to argue that responsible adults can be mature enough to look after a gun, know what its proper place is, and can understand just how dangerous and powerful a tool a gun is. The other is to argue that guns are simply too dangerous, that the public can never be trusted to responsible with them, and they will either cause harm accidentally, or will be wilfully misused for criminal purposes, and therefore people cannot be allowed to possess them. The first puts faith in the capacity of humans to regulate themselves and take responsibility for their actions. The second puts faith in the state to regulate our environment and look after our well being. I'm glad, on the issue of gun control at least, in the UK we have the latter, with all but a few small exceptions.
Peter Facey (London, Unlock Democracy): At a joint general meeting last Saturday, the final stages of the merger between Charter 88 and the New Politics Network saw the formal birth of Unlock Democracy as an organisation in its own right. The name Unlock Democracy was chosen by our members and supporters in a two-stage ballot where it was the most popular result at both the consultative stage (26%) and the final ballot stage (81%).
Andrew Blick (London, Democratic Audit): The House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee has issued a further report (opens pdf) on the EU Reform Treaty. The committee has become increasingly critical of the government over this issue of late. There has been a breakdown in relations between the two, partly because Margaret Beckett, when Foreign Secretary, refused to hold a meaningful discussion with it over the planned UK barganing position in negotiations leading to the treaty, nor would she provide it with relevant information. The Committee is calling, not unreasonably, for a debate on the floor of the House about jurisdiction in justice and home affairs before the treaty is signed. No doubt the content of the committee's report will be seized on by those seeking to rubbish the integration project as a whole. Perhaps the lesson for the government here is that it is better to involve Parliament properly and early in major issues of diplomacy, in order to avoid disputes further down the line. When framing its proposals for involving the legislature in treaty ratification, it should take this requirement into account.
Moderator: This post is partly a response to this earlier contribution by Jason Kitcat.
Daniel Gray (Bournemouth, Senior Software Consultant): E-Voting systems are, by their very nature, complex systems that involve segregation of processes, advanced cryptography and rigorous development methods, and Jason is correct to point out that administration of such complex systems is a difficult area to address. It is therefore unsurprising that many of the current implementations of e-Voting systems have been, shall we say, lacking in a number of key areas. Academics tend to concentrate on the development of a new idea (for example a cryptographic protocol) rather than attempting to build a complete functional system that can be used correctly by stakeholders ranging from electoral administrators and council workers to the general public.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): No, not Hilary, but her husband whose first name escapes me at the moment. I was never very taken with him, positively or negatively. Way back in 92 when I was in the States I watched him debating for the White House with George Bush Senior and Ross Perot in a TV designed 'town hall' meeting. He struck me as fluent, with the popular touch and as, well, an American politician after office. He got it too, because Perot split the right. Better a Democrat than a Republican, but I neither found him hateful, as did fellow Brits on the left like Hitchens or Cockburn, or wonderful - many pinged to his charisma but it bounced off me with indifference and thus it remained. So I was surprised, yesterday, leaving through a 40th anniversary edition of Rolling Stone full of unexceptional interviews, to find one with Clinton where he made me think. He says that the three great issues of our time are "inequality, sustainability and identity". None of the Blairite cliches about terrorism that I'd have expected. Instead, the issue of extremism is neatly tied up in his last 'ity' but also connected to the many national and religious movements that are on the move and of which terrorism is indeed an expression. Naturally, I don't go for identity politics. As the late, great and much missed Mai Ghoussoub wrote, what matters is background. But for a three word overview of what matters now, it was neat. Can anyone better them?
Jon Bright (London, OK): openDemocracy has recently launched blog coverage of the annual "16 Days against Gender Violence" movement, which marks a period of activism between the tongue-twisting International Day Against Violence Against Women on the 25th of November, and International Human Rights Day. There's a particularly interesting article by Rahila Gupta, who argues that, on the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain, the number of people forced into work in this country is higher than ever.
Jon Bright (London, OK): Brown's slow train-wreck of a government is now piling on the negative headlines at such a rate that it is easy to lose count of some of them (I think Jacqui Smith in particular must be feeling a whole lot more secure about now). The Watt/Abrahams affair is a disaster that has been covered so well by other blogs (particularly Guido) that there seems little point me trying to add anything. So instead I'll try and give a little publicity space to another, rumbling problem, which will probably not be as politically damaging for Brown's government but certainly has a far greater potential to impact on our lives.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): According to this report in the American Prospect, Barak Obama has come out for openness, assisted by Lawrence Lessig of Creative Commons and a large team of web wise men and women.
"I will take a backseat to no one in my commitment to network neutrality," Obama told the Google staffers. "The Internet is perhaps the most open network in history. We have to keep it that way."
Sue Stirling (Newcastle, ippr north): Politically, the extent to which England truly has distinct regions is a sensitive and debatable issue. Many claim the current division of the country into nine regions is an artificial construct that has little in common with history or identity. From an economic viewpoint, however, regions are important, regardless of how you divide them up. The realities of the modern global economy mean that regions face an international battle to attract capital and human resources and that they have to compete just as hard as nation states.
Jon Bright (London, OK): Anthony's post below captures, I think, a still vague but building current mood on civil liberties. Henry Porter has been saying it for ages, but everyone else is now starting to catch on - something is under attack here, and something needs to be done to resist. Amnesty International have stuck their not inconsiderable oar in today with the release of "Ten good reasons why extending pre-charge detention is a bad idea". They have a rather Ronseal approach to titles, and I can think of a few good reasons why we shouldn't be using "pre-charge" to describe this type of detention (I'd prefer the more innocence presuming "without charge") but in general they are spot on. Two of the ones that made me think are:
Alice Casey & Laurie Waller (London, involve): Parliament: a place where tribal division, tradition and white men have created and established our entrenched political culture. A place which has decisively shaped the public's idea of what ‘politics' is. A place from which there is now an emerging awareness that such a form of rule, rooted in staid tradition and models of power, no longer effectively serves the public on which its legitimacy rests.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Part II of the David Aaronovitch BBC whitewash on the Blair Years was on the war leader. At least it included Joska Fischer saying that Iraq was a huge strategic mistake for which we will all pay including those who had the wisdom to oppose it.
And once again however unpleasant its stench, the glare of the whitewash was so great it became revealing. But before biting back, because it is important not to let them re-write historfy in this way without protest, it seems to me that Iraq is not going to go away from British politics, even as the UK’s troops are pulled out completely.
In a great column Henry Porter has used today's Observer to issue a call to arms:
Each of us should understand that personal information is exactly that - personal - and that the government has only limited rights to demand and retain it. The scale of its operations and the innate weakness of the systems is a very grave concern to us all.