Jun 052013

I received an email a couple of days ago from Labour in relation to the European candidates selection process.  Part of it said as follows:

Arlene McCarthy, who was re-selected following a trigger ballot, will appear at the top of the list as the only sitting MEP in the region.

Beneath her, there are eight candidates – four men and four women – who need to be ranked in order of preference. The candidate who secures the most preferences will be placed second on the regional party list.

If a male candidate secures the most preferences, then the highest-placed female candidate will come next on the list, followed by the next male candidate and then by the female. If a female candidate secures the most preferences, then the highest placed male will come next on the list, followed by the next female candidate and then by the male.

This process is known as zipping and is used by the Labour Party in European candidate selections to help to balance male and female candidates.

You should vote by ranking the candidates in order of preference by placing a 1 against your first preference, 2 against your second preference and so on. You do not have to use all your preferences, although it cannot harm the chance of your first choice candidate if you do.

As Labour Uncut concluded recently:

At a time when there is widespread mistrust in politicians and disengagement in politics, does this really represent the most transparent way of selecting candidates?

Is “zipping” what the new politics is all about?

Meanwhile, I read yesterday (in Spanish) (robot English here) that in Spain the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) is looking to get enshrined in electoral law there the aforementioned procedure of zipping (the Spanish call it “listas cremallera” – “zip lists”).

Whilst the procedure hasn’t been explained as clearly as it could have been, and Labour Uncut is right to bring our attention to this, it is obviously looking to right a severe wrong which the privileged few who control politics continue to exert even in the presence of 50 percent quotas.  It serves no useful purpose whatsoever for men and women to make up an electoral list, if the majority of the electable seats end up in hands of men.

That it is time a representative democracy represents its people properly and transparently is no more self-evidently true than today, where a Cabinet of millionaires holds sway disastrously over our politics.

Zipping is a great idea whose time should have come long ago.  Although it smacks through the word used, even when better explained, emotionally of tying up freedoms, we shouldn’t allow those who maintain existing profiles of privilege to kick the procedure into touch.

We need a fairer and more truly representative democracy.  Properly implemented, a 50 percent quota with equal opportunities of winning for men and women will surely get us there eventually.

A case of a policy which might remove a raft of career choices for men like myself, but would – long-term – benefit us all socially a thousandfold over.  After all, what’s the point of winning if it involves oppression?  That’s not winning at all; that’s essentially the hierarchies of serfdom.

That’s a meritocracy built on catacombs of lies.

Let’s follow the PSOE’s example, and propose giving it legal backing.  Time – long overdue, in fact – to make zipping the law for all political parties.

Feb 252013

I received an email this afternoon on a new report by the Fabians.  I am a member of this grouping, though a rather passive one.  I suppose it would be fair to throw the accusation of armchair socialist at me.  I like my armchair, it is true.  But what I really like is words.  Their order, their relationship with other words, their choice and their juxtaposition.

All of that stuff, for someone who writes a lot, is significant and key – even when it might not necessarily be for you.

Not that I’m suggesting it should be.  We all have our different ways of looking at the world.

Anyhow, the email I mention leads me to this web page – and then onto the report itself, where we start out with these words:

Labour needs to answer five questions about the future of the state, so that it comes to power with a radical programme of government, but one that survives contact with the reality of office. […]

The five questions line up as follows – in order to make the exercise I’m about to carry out work better, I’ll put them in an ordered list for you:

  1. Is there a middle way on fiscal policy?
  2. What are the next ‘pledge card’ policies?
  3. What does Labour do with the legacy it inherits?
  4. How does government change the economy and society?
  5. And how does Labour create a better state?

This was then sent my way in a slightly different and more concentrated form on Twitter (sometimes Twitter serves quite usefully to reveal what a greater space and time often obscure):

5 tests for the next Lab gov: fiscal trust, pledge-card ideas, coalition legacy, culture and markets, a better state […]

 So let’s rewrite the above list with the language as per the tweet:
  1. Fiscal trust
  2. Pledge-card ideas
  3. Coalition legacy
  4. Culture and markets
  5. A better state

I responded to this tweet in the following way:

@andrew_harrop Good ideas – bit surprised by order. IMHO shd be: coalition legacy; culture & mrkts; fiscal trst; better state; pledge card.

Which is to say:

  1. Coalition legacy
  2. Culture and markets
  3. Fiscal trust
  4. A better state
  5. Pledge-card ideas

What really am I up to here then?  Well.  As horsemeat’s all the rage, it did seem to me that a few “cart before the horse” games were being played in what at first glance might appear to be a casually ordered list.  The question I ask of myself – and, through this post, of you – is whether the order the list was served up in was quite as casual as it first appeared.  In particular what stuck out as that proverbial sore thumb was “pledge-card ideas” at position number 2.

How so?  Using a pledge-card strategy as your second big idea or test for adequacy in government two years down the line is hardly the most convincing, nor politically solvent, move to make, now is it?

So what about the list I went and suggested?  By 2015, when the next general election hits us, for sure it’s going to be hitting us hard.  The coalition legacy will be clear for all to see; uppermost in people’s minds; a massive constraint on what Labour’ll be able to promise and deliver; and, more importantly, a starting-point for everything.  On the back of that legacy, we have a far older one – political and fiscal culture and markets.  One which this government will have done absolutely nothing to convert.  One which will be living on its highs of inviolable dominance.  And only if Labour knows how to deal with these two items first will the third on my list become at all possible to engineer and acquire.

A better state is my fourth, of course – something I think all of us on the left are aiming to create.  But it comes as a result of dealing with the first three – the first three being either the obstacles or opportunities to bring back some sense and sensibility to a “one nation” perception of the British body politic.

Whatever “one nation” might eventually mean for a group of islands where so many peoples live.

The pledge-card idea surely has to come last of all, mind.  You can’t know what you’re going to be able to deliver until you’ve been through the difficult process of deciding what’s available.  You can’t argue: “Shopping-list first!” – and then scrabble around for the pennies when you get to the checkout.  That this seems so self-evident to me and not to whoever drew up the intro makes me wonder if there isn’t some hidden agenda in all of this.  A bit too much input from marketing perhaps – and not quite enough from sensible political and financial observers?

In truth, of course, they’re just words – and words are only this important to silly wordsmiths like myself.  I may indeed be making a massive mountain out of stupidly trivial molehill.  But if that’s the case, do let me know.

It doesn’t harm to inform.

I don’t bite.

Apr 132011

A good friend of mine sent me a link to a YouTube video yesterday.  It reminded me of John Berger’s lovely little book “Ways of Seeing”.  There is on one page, right at the bottom, a picture of a painting by Van Gogh.  You look at it and you say to yourself: “Yes, that’s nice.  That’s Van Gogh.”  You then turn over the page and there is a revelation which turns your mental landscape upside down.  It goes along the lines of: “This was the last painting Van Gogh painted before he killed himself.”

The video I refer to above has the same impact.  Watch it and wonder.  It’s well worth your time.

Nov 242010

The Twitter Joke Trial indicates how powerful words still are in a society long – and heavily – influenced by the image.  Another story this morning confirms much the same:

A British member of the European parliament was thrown out of a debate on Wednesday, after quoting Nazi slogans in German in the chamber.

‘Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuehrer (One People, One Kingdom, One Fuehrer),’ said Godfrey Bloom from the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which wants Britain’s exit from the EU.

To be honest, I think the phrase in question can also be translated as “One people, one nation, one leader” – which, for the emotionless Anglo-Saxons amongst us, may hardly seem – at that dispassionately neutral and entirely semantic level we may choose to inhabit – to make it worthy of any considerable discussion.  What’s more, those of us who find ourselves here in Britain choosing to be utterly unaware of historical precedent, suffering as we currently are at the hands of an awful two-headed Coalition government, might respond by saying: “Yes please, a bit of that would come in very handy right now!”  If only we could build the foundations of a cohesive society with a clear-sighted government that cared to understand the importance of truly being in this all together …

Intentionality cannot be excised, however, from the plain and simple meaning that words enshrine.  And the MEP in question clearly intended to reference the supporters of Nazi Germany and, by implication, their dreadful legacy.

Not good stuff to be happening at the heart of European integration.

But then words are like that: the baggage they contain is both highly personal and inexactly shared.  Which is what makes writing such a beautifully hit-and-miss affair.  And what makes politics such a dangerous and demagogic matter.