RIP: Tony Benn

Tony Benn, one of the great figures of the British left-wing has died at home aged 88.

He recorded the following message for Channel 4 to broadcast upon news of his death.

One of the best quotes is his advice on when one meets a powerful person, ask them five questions.

What power have you got?
Where did you get it from?
In whose interests do you exercise it?
To whom are you accountable?
And how can we get rid of you?

If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.

Election day 2010

Well I’ve gone and cast my vote in the local community centre and was stuck behind a woman who was not allowed to vote because she was a foreign national I think and a little old lady who was casting a proxy vote for a friend and was a bit confused about how to go about it.

For the first time in along time I don’t feel like I’m wasting my vote as I’ve moved from a safe Tory constituency to Bath which is a relatively safe Liberal Democrat seat. There was some worry that the bloke that David Cameron parachuted in might sway some of the electorate but Don Foster has campaigned well and has attracted a lot of the young voters. There has apparently been record numbers of students registering to vote here.

On a national scale though I’m a little depressed as it seems that the Tories might get a majority or near as damn it that they can do a deal with Ulster Unionist party.

Kentucky election fraudsters found guilty

What might be just another run of the mill vote-buying scandal is made all the more interesting by the fact that some of the corrupting of the electoral process was down to exploiting a flaw in electronic voting machines.

The exploit was far more low-tech than those uncovered by the likes of Ed Felten as it exploited the poorly designed user interface which required voters to confirm their vote after they had pressed the button to make their voting selection. [via]

Edit: Bruce Schneier has of course covered the same story and has links to much deeper analyses of the situation.

James Dyson’s report Ingenious Britain

BBC News: Conservative-endorsed report calls for science boost

Entrepreneur Sir James Dyson has produced a report titled Ingenious Britain for the Conservative Party urging a raising of the profile of science in the UK to help diversify the economy and boost growth. The pdf of Ingenious Britain can be downloaded here.

James Dyson makes the same argument that he made in 2004 when he gave the Richard Dimbleby Lecture, that the British economy cannot be sustained as merely a service economy. Manufacturing is the key to future success and it should lie in high tech goods where we have a competitive advantage. In fact things are now worse since his 2004 lecture as Design and Technology has been phased out of the curriculum at many schools since it was made non-statutory.

The part of Dyson’s report title Education: Getting young people excited about science and engineering made me think about James May’s Toy Stories which showed that although children initially thought stuff like Airfix and Meccano was boring that given the chance to play with it they really changed their minds. I think that if each class of maybe Year Six in schools were given a Meccano set then we’d end up with a lot more people going into engineering. Ironically Meccano is a British engineering success story that due to lessening interest in engineering in this country ended up becoming a foreign success story. Meccano is the only French manufacturer of toys that are internationally recognized, manufacturing part of its line in France.

Dyson believes that his company represents a good model for future British economic growth whereby the assembly of the products is done overseas but all the important engineering research and design is done in the UK. If this is to be the case for future success for British companies then we need to produce more engineers in our universities. In fact our universities are producing many excellent engineers unfortunately rather than being homegrown a large proportion of these are from overseas and many then return home to work.

Analysts of the current British economic crisis argue that the pound needs to remain low in order to boost are exports. But I believe that this does not need to be the case if the products we are exporting are competitive in ways more than just price. The Dyson vacuum cleaner is an excellent example, it is more expensive than rival vacuums but the benefits are worth the premium and it sells extremely well overseas even when the strong pound created an even greater premium in price than seen in the UK. Truly innovative products which are protected by patents can sell well and command a premium overseas.

Much of the British economic growth of the last few decades has been due to greater consumerism but the recession has brought that to a head and we are unlikely to see growth in the same way. We need to be more than just a nation of shopkeepers and because engineers are generally paid better than people in the service sector then a move to a greater proportion of the workforce being comprised of engineers is a good thing in many ways.

As well as the encouragement of engineering as a career choice Dyson recommends that tax breaks should be given in order to encourage investment into the development of innovations which do not necessarily produce a quick return on investment but do represent good long term growth.

Power 2010′s Power Pledge

Power 2010 have decided on the five key issues for their Power Pledge.

- Introduce a proportional voting system.
- Scrap ID cards and roll back the database state.
- Replace the house of Lords with an elected chamber.
- Allow only English MPs to vote on English laws.
- Draw up a written constitution.

I am a strong supporter of the reforms to introduce proportional representation and to scrap ID cards and roll back the database state.

I believe that the current first past the post system causes many people to feel disenfranchised because they live in a constituency which has strong leanings one way or another and their vote has no effect. This system all leads to negative voting where people vote for candidates for parties they don’t particularly support but which represents the best hope of defeating the party they’d least like to win.

The ID card and National Identity Register should be opposed because of the principle that citizens in a free democracy should be allowed to go about their lives without government intrusion. The project is also so technically flawed that it will inevitably either have to be scrapped because it is unworkable in practice or because it causes one of the very problems than it is designed to combat namely an increase in identity theft.

The House of Lords should be replaced with an elected second chamber but the form of the second chamber needs to debated intelligently before it is implemented. Replacing the Lords is a major undertaking and there will not be an easy transition from the present house to a new wholly elected chamber.

Labour Party coup or clever ploy on Brown’s behalf

I’m perhaps far too cynical but the apparent coup by Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt appears to me to be nothing of the sort but instead is a ploy to drum up support for the leadership of the beleaguered Prime minister.

It is merely a play being put on for the benefit of the country to show that the parliamentary Labour Party are behind their leader. I believe that neither Hoon nor Hewitt wish to see Brown ousted from office and have done this to force the backbenchers and ministers who have been sniping in private to put up or shut up.

So far it seems to be a gamble that has paid off as no one has come out in support and the media are reporting on this as a failure.

HMRC could use Identity Register to enforce tax

Henry Porter of the Guardian writes that ID cards could grant the taxman access to your bank records

Secondary legislation laid before parliament last week reveals that the taxman will have access to the log of a person’s major transactions, hotel bookings, airline tickets, holidays, car payment plans etc. Naturally the subject of this inspection will have no idea that HM Revenue and Customs is examining their spending log or what deductions, false or otherwise, will be made.

It seems that the fears of opponents to the ID card system were in fact well-founded. The system isn’t even in place yet and there is already function creep.