Talking Politics
  • By Carl Miller

    Today, 500 writers have added their name to an open letter to the United Nations. In it, some of the most influential authors in the world demand an end to the 'mass surveillance' exposed by the revelations made by Edward Snowden. The letter calls on the UN to create an international bill of digital rights, and for states and corporations to sign and respect this convention.

    So what's the matter with digital rights? The letter does something very dangerous: when it states things like "all humans have the right to remain unobserved and unmolested", and demands the right for people to determine "what extent their personal data may be legally collected, stored and processed", it confuses and elides mass surveillance (indiscriminate, disproportionate, bad) with just surveillance overall.

    I'm not a fan of the current surveillance system we have in place. Long before the Snowden revelations I argued (alongside, incidentally, a former director of GCHQ) that the system of laws

    Read More »from Let’s have a reality check: The government needs to spy on people’s emails
  • By Tim Farron

    For almost six months The Guardian and other media outlets have been steadily working to inform us of the scale and reach of the digital surveillance programs operated by the 'FiveEyes' intelligence community (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK, USA).

    Every email, every tweet, every photo. Your entire digital footprint. All instantly accessible at the click of a button, without recourse to a higher authority. This pervasive surveillance of our entire digital lives has been allowed to take place without prior knowledge, debate or consent.

    The power of these tools cannot help but aid those who work to protect our country. The intelligence community argues that these extensive powers are required to keep us safe, that they are only used to prevent terrorist atrocities. I find it difficult to be re-assured by their statements.

    Karl Popper wrote that "only freedom can make security more secure". I want the security services to be able to read the emails of suspect terrorists

    Read More »from Only a fool could trust in the ‘oversight’ provided by the intelligence committee
  • By Robert Blecker

    'Let the punishment fit the crime.'

    We have declared this for centuries as our essential credo, the very essence of justice, even as our criminal justice system today mocks that aspiration.

    Thousands of hours inside prisons and on death rows in several states of the US these past twenty five years only confirms it for me:  We have largely abandoned justice by largely abandoning punishment itself.  We retributivists who call for the death penalty, but only for the worst of the worst, defend a punishment of death as consistent with – nay sometimes necessary for- human dignity.

    We also insist on a sentence of life without parole to supplement or supplant death as punishment that truly punishes.  Opponents dismiss us as bloodthirsty and inhumane, but let's see what a commitment to human dignity and justice really entails.

    Consider the victims of a particularly brutal murder – like the one in Connecticut where two men broke into a family home in the middle of the night, raped

    Read More »from If you’re really compassionate, you’d support the death penalty
  • Inconvenient figures have been whitewashed from the coverage of Nelson Mandela's death.

    The photo pull-out sections show the South African leader with Bill Clinton, with Princess Diana and Naomi Campbell and the Spice Girls. But his close friendship with Fidel Castro and the two men's habit of calling each other 'brother' is written out of history.

    At his memorial service today, the presence of figures like Cuban leader (and Fidel's brother) Raul Castro is treated as an example of Mandela's ability to straddle political and ideological divides. After all, something has to explain the presence of these evil figures at a service for a saint.

    But Castro is not being given pride of place as a sign of Mandela's ability to straddle divides. He is given pride of place because black South Africans, unlike Brits or Americans, recognise Cuba's proud role in the end of apartheid.

    While Britain was supplying arms and military equipment to the apartheid regime, Cuba was sending its men to fight it,

    Read More »from Censored: Why the media hides Cuba’s role in the end of apartheid
  • The proposal for giving MPs a pay rise has been loudly denounced in public, but behind the scenes the chatter is of another nature entirely.

    The difficult truth of politicians pay is one of the great unsayables: a reality to be whispered conspiratorially in charmed circles. Since the expenses scandal, wise old men have acknowledged that the only sure-fire way to clean up the system is for MPs' salaries to rise.

    Of course, it is hogwash.

    If anything, MPs' pay needs to fall significantly. It should be pegged to the average wage, with London weighting, to give members of parliament an incentive to improve the lives of ordinary workers.

    Instead, most political observers want MPs included in the small bubble of fortunate professionals whose salaries rise every higher while most workers in Britain face stagnant wages and rising prices.

    The Ipsa-proposed 11% pay rise would raise their current £66,396 salary by £7,600 to £74,000 - putting it at over three times average wages.

    This is not

    Read More »from MPs deserve a pay cut, not a pay rise
  • Nelson Mandela: Political tributes

    Prime minister David Cameron:

    "A great light has gone out in the world. Nelson Mandela was a towering figure in our time; a legend in life and now in death - a true global hero. Across the country he loved they will be mourning a man who was the embodiment of grace. Meeting him was one of the great honours of my life. My heart goes out to his family - and to all in South Africa and around the world whose lives were changed through his courage."

    Leader of the opposition Ed Miliband:

    "The world has lost the inspirational figure of our age. Nelson Mandela taught people across the globe the true meaning of courage, strength, hope and reconciliation. From campaigner to prisoner to President to global hero, Nelson Mandela will always be remembered for his dignity, integrity and his values of equality and justice. He was an activist who became President and a President who always remained an activist. Right to the end of his life he reminded the richest nations of the world of their

    Read More »from Nelson Mandela: Political tributes
  • Even when presented with the opportunity to tailor his own news agenda, George Osborne fails to reach very far beyond the core Tory vote.

    The chancellor's fourth autumn statement was a predictable, focused affair which - as expected - made as much political capital as possible from the improved economic situation.

    Osborne's tone for much of his 45-minute speech to cheerful Conservatives and grumpy Labour backbenchers was one of restraint. He did more to contain his natural inclinations towards smugness than had been the case in his previous big-ticket pronouncements since the summer.

    Instead the focus became about Osborne's choice of emphasis. And what sticks in the mind most about his delivery was the unusual weight he placed on helping out small businesses.

    This chancellor wants to be their saviour, but with Noel Gallagher hair. "We’re backing Britain’s businesses all the way!" he yelped at the climax. He just loves business. Boy oh boy. Did I mention Osborne likes business?

    You get

    Read More »from Autumn statement: True-blue Osborne dedicates this one to the fans
  • By Andrew Copson

    "My son who is now five has missed out on a placement at all the schools in our catchment area. I am a single working mum and am struggling to cope getting him to a school miles away. It is affecting my job as we need to use public transport and three bus journeys to get him to school which means I am often late for work. The journey is repeated again in the evening when he is exhausted. He attends after school club at least four to five days a week and then to be put in a school so far from home is just too much to cope with at his age. Over the last year he has slipped further and further down the waiting list for other schools and I am now very desperate for help."

    This is an email received recently by the Fair Admissions Campaign and shows the devastating impact that faith-based admissions to state funded schools can have on people's lives. And it's a situation faced by individuals up and down the country, as revealed by a map that has just been published by the

    Read More »from Faith schools are enforcing segregation right under our noses
  • Dennis McShane stood down as an MP for claiming £12,900 in falsified receipts. David Laws resigned from the Cabinet after wrongly claiming £40,000 in rent. Speaker Michael Martin stepped down over his failure to get a grip on the situation.

    Such modest amounts of money. Such a definitive end to a political career.

    It is a shame we are not always so worked up about public money.

    On Friday, Theresa May spent somewhere between £95,000 and £180,000 on a chartered flight to deport Isa Muazu.

    He had originally been meant to be deported on a Virgin Atlantic flight the previous Wednesday, but the removal was mysteriously cancelled following a public campaign aimed at the company.

    May's alternative was expensive and, as it turned out, completely useless. The plane never made it to Nigeria. Despite assurances that she had informed Nigerian officials of the flight, May had not secured landing authorisations.

    So, after 20 hours of flying and an protracted pit stop in Malta, Muazu was returned to

    Read More »from Theresa May can’t even get moral failure right
  • Tom Daley just did more for gay culture by lying back on a couch than a thousands of hours of diligent campaign work could ever hope to achieve.

    The Olympic diver's statement, delivered through YouTube, that he was dating a guy will have probably surprised few people.

    What was truly special about the announcement was the way in which it was made. There was no sombre, set-piece, media-event TV interview. There was none of the fevered, front page hysteria which would have greeted a newspaper exclusive.

    Instead, Daley appeared relaxed, confident and, most importantly, informal. By lying back as he delivered the statement, in what appeared to be a room with just him and his camera phone, he undercut the almost-religious importance the media and political class give to this topic.

    Instead, he was just a guy, chatting about his sexuality openly and optimistically.

    "I still fancy girls, of course," he said, without any hint of cheekiness or machismo.

    This is the language of shrugging your

    Read More »from Tom Daley showed what sexuality is for young people

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