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.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Why can't terrorist suspects be charged rather than held - or interned - without trial? This was a question I put here and here in arguing against any further extension of 28 days, taking on the case made by Matt d'Ancona. On Wednesday both Lord Goldsmith, who was Labour's Attorney General and Ken Macdonald who worked under him and remains the director of public prosecutions gave evidence to the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, chaired by Keith Vaz MP. Here are some of the answers they gave from the uncorrected transcript. They seem to me to be definitive. They are long and careful as they should be. First, Lord Goldsmith
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Gordon Brown's government of Britishness is saying goodbye to Northern Ireland. It seems that the new 'e-border' for this country, currently known officially as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, will lop off Northern Ireland. Here is a picture of what it will look like when you go from, say, Belfast to Manchester or Edinburgh, note the iris scan announcement:
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): I'm attending a crowded symposium at Goldsmiths on the future of the news including blogs. The first public event of a five year new media research project, I'm on its advisory board. There was a dramatic opening presentation from James Curran who documented how for over 25 years now everyone's predictions had been proved wrong. So far all the speakers are saying that everything is changing very fast, yet is still strangely the same, and no one is sure how it will end it up. "They are arguing for a change in the mind-set but do not know what it should be", Tamara Witschge has just told us. Peter Lee-Wright asked if the large numbers of readers/visitors claimed by the newspaper sites and the BBC are really theirs, especially if they come via search engines and other sources. Earlier in the day Anne Spackman who moved from being Managing Editor of the Times to become Editor-in-Chief of Times Online observed that everyone seems to think this is a demotion - a fact she felt shows how it is the old media that still holds the brand value. She also added that for the first time in her life, she wants to know what the latest academic research is discovering.
Peter Emerson (Belfast, de Borda Institute): Most problems in life are multi-optional...if, that is, the question is asked correctly. Unfortunately, many politicians ask only closed, yes-or-no questions. Take, for example, the debate on Iraq in 2002. There were many possibilities: war, sanctions, inspections, and so on. On the table, however, there was only a single resolution, number 1441. This led to the crazy situation whereby France, for one, voted in favour of something it did not actually like. The outcome of that vote was therefore almost meaningless: because the question was phrased as a closed one.
Anthony Barnet (London, OK): Following on Jon's post about Catch 21 launching OK TV, I thought I'd put up this video from the US primaries. The gap between politics and entertainment closes! Once earnest researchers tried to expose and demystify the development of public life with warnings about the politico-entertainment context. Now one of the Giuliani's agents seems to have said, so that's what we are supposed to be doing! Here it is, politics as a pop song. Gordon next? [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRODJcPq_Js]