The Free Press

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The events of the last week, and the intervention of number 10 and the Metropolitan Police in the last couple of days, surrounding the Sir Kim Darroch leak affair, has got my libertarian hackles up no end.

For Neil Basu to wade in and effectively threaten freedom of press, allegedly at the behest of the government, is very worrying. I would hope that enough heavyweights (including both prospective PMs) weighing in on the matter in support of the press should mean that the issue will die down quickly.

The press should always be free to print what they want. We don’t always have to agree with what they write, and they should always aim to be responsible in their activities, but reporters should be able to take the facts as they see them (accepting that they will never be complete) and draw their own conclusions from them. Combine that with editorial choice, business models, cognitive biases and marketing targets, within the context of a free market, and you should end up with something for everyone. This is as it should be.

The moment the government get involved and try to either suppress reporting to control its output, we’re all in trouble. Filtering events, true or otherwise, and promoting specific narratives, not only shows an arrogance on the part of those trying to control things, but is also an insult to the people they are trying to convince. You might get away with it in totalitarian situation, but it’s much harder and you’re going to look fairly daft in a democracy like ours.

The press should be able to report what they like, when they like. If they get it wrong, and they often do, they usually self-correct as more information comes to light. We all know that any paper should be taken with a pinch of salt. I like to read both the Telegraph and the Guardian most days as I think that somewhere between them, once you filter the biases, you get more to the core of the bigger matters.

What’s next?

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Nigel Farage writes in the Telegraph today that he believes people no longer identify as left-wing or right-wing, but rather as Remainers or Leavers.

It’s an interesting stance to take, but I’m not convinced it holds much water. In the short term it does; all the time there is the chance Brexit could be stopped, conservatives (small c) that wish to keep things just as they are, will do all they can to preserve the status quo.

Mr Farage identifies these people as un-democratic, and focuses his party on ‘restoring democracy’. Obviously, this is a populist stance. It’s easy to paint the government as patently anti-Brexit, particularly with its pervading liberal authoritarian viewpoint. But Brexit is convoluted and complex. Most of the current MPs voted for Article 50; they all agreed we should leave. Since then though, they’ve become hopelessly divided over exactly how to leave. Simply reducing it down to ‘we haven’t left yet, democracy is broken’ might be a little bit disingenuous. Yes, the likes of Letwin, Cooper, etc. have tried to take control of the situation to ‘stop the process’, but they could only do that because of the division about the way forward and lack of leadership from number 10, not necessarily because the system was broken. Indeed some people went along with them as they saw it as a way to break the deadlock, particularly with the indicative votes.

This disparity of consensus is also showing up in the leadership race. Each of the 5 million candidates has a slightly different take on how to do the Brexit thing, from Hard-No-Deal Raab through to Second-Referendum Gyimah.

The thing is, ‘we haven’t left yet, democracy is broken,’ is a nice simple concept for people to wrap their heads around. It’s also emotive. It ticks all the right boxes to get the old brain chemicals firing and stir up a bit of conflict in the old grey matter.

But what happens once Brexit actually happens (and it should do, most MPs agree with that)? We’ll move on, some people will be disgruntled, others vaguely happy something got done, but maybe not so happy with the eventual compromises I think we’ll have to make (even No Deal is a sort of compromise). What does a Leaver or a Brexiteer stand for once we’ve left? These are the messages that the Brexit Party need to focus on, I think. Some of the conservative leadership candidates have cottoned on to this, like Boris with his UBI-lite school funding.

It’s about time the Brexit Party started defining more of what they would stand for post-Brexit, and show how they will unite the likes of Fox and the Widdecombe. There is plenty to talk about, I’d just like to hear it.

The Future

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Continuing on from yesterday, I mentioned that, for the most part, we aren’t aware of how our instincts shape our conscious thoughts and actions, and how they drive our decision making. For example, if it is the case the the Conservatives are driven by an instinct to preserve things as they are, which includes theoretically preserving the status of the elites over the rest of society, it’s not necessarily true to argue that results (good or bad) of such activity are through ‘deliberate attempts’ to achieve them.

The difference between right and left-wing thinkers is down to rationalism. The left-wingers’ ‘fatal conceit’, as Hayek calls it, is that they will instinctively rationalise. It’s something we all do to a degree. The difference is at what point you stop. Those of a more ‘right wing’ disposition (but not necessarily all right wingers) are happy to leave things unresolved, content not to know all the answers; accept that they cannot know everything.

In the real world, outside of politics, lefties and righties mingle, all bringing useful viewpoints, attitudes and ideas to the table. Certainly, I work closely with people who see the world very differently to me, and I’m always learning from them and appreciative of their different viewpoints.

I wonder if the future of politics doesn’t lie down this more less combative, more collaborative route? I guess a lot in politics would have to change, but it’s interesting that the Brexit Party, united by the narrow focus of the potential derailment of democracy by the current Parliament over Brexit, have left wingers such as Claire Fox working with ex-Tories like Anne Widdecombe.

Could we, in the future, be governed less by those focussed on left vs. right and more by those united by greater ideals, taking the the best of left and right, libertarian and authoritarian?

Cuts both ways?

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One of the enduring cries from those who voted for Remain in the Brexit vote (and one the government seems to have taken the line of itself, being on the whole, pro-remain – the ‘rational’ position), is that as the vote was ‘so close’, we should respect the views of the losers too, to try to find a balance between the two viewpoints. William Hague argues just such a thing in the Telegraph this morning.

I guess the whole dogmatic democracy vs. liberal democracy debate will bubble along under any democratic system, and I would hate to paint myself as a dogmatic type, but sometimes, context matters, and it does here.

If the vote in 2016 had gone as expected and remain won, what would the remainers have done in respecting the opinion of those who lost? There’s nothing they could have done, as nothing would have changed. They would have ignored calls to reform Europe, particularly after David Cameron’s failed attempts to change things.

Leavers would have continued to voice their protest – ‘It was so close, let’s have another referendum!’ These cries would certainly have fallen on deaf ears. Dogmatic democracy would have prevailed and it would have been considered reasonable.

Yet, Leave won, and because the majority of Leave voices promptly went silent after their unexpected success, liberal democracy suddenly seemed perfectly acceptable, giving rise to the ludicrous populist situation we find ourselves in now, with those ‘out in the sticks’ beyond London feeling betrayed by their ‘elite’ masters in their crumbling edifice.

Which is a shame, because Brexit was never a populist thing (more on that tomorrow), but now we find ourselves in a bit of a pickle. The Conservatives, in taking the liberal democracy approach have fluffed it up, and are now staring down the barrel of a gun they handed to the Brexit Party, which will divide their own vote and more than likely allow Labour to waltz into Downing Street.

Just goes to show, it’s not only the socialists that get hung up on rationalism to their cost.

Oh, and while I think about it, if we’d had Dominic Raab’s proposed 15% tax for the £11.5K – £45k bracket in 2017/8, it would have reduced the amount of tax by around £16 billion (down to £100.8 billion-ish from £116.8 billion-ish). Make of that what you will, but I suspect merging a few government departments wouldn’t cover it too well, although I applaud the idea of reducing tax for the lower earners.

Working 9 to 5-ish

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Momentum, it seems, are trying to get Labour to adopt the four day working week into their manifesto (as presented by the Green Party at the last election, as I recall).

This seems like little more than their usual tactic of coming up with some appetising promises that just won’t work in the real world.

Where I work, we’ve been experimenting with various options for ‘agile’ working over the past few months, including 9 day fortnights, stacking up hours earlier in the week to finish early on a Friday, and regular work from home days, among others. What’s become clear to me, even before the trial has ended is that there is no one format the works for everyone. I’m happy with the current arrangements I have with my boss, others have found what works best for them.

What is not on offer is a four day week, or, indeed, any reduction in the number of hours worked. Various studies have proposed that the four day week has health and productivity benefits, but common sense tells me that cutting out an entire day’s productivity would lead to either a huge slowdown in production (or more costs to employ more people to take up the slack) or more stress as people try to get things done in less time (or both), which a three day weekend would not really remedy.

And if you one of those that suffer from Sunday evening feeling, and poor sleep before going back to work, imagine how much worse that will be after an extra day of rest?

Momentum’s spokesperson called for the collective wisdom of the Labour membership to prevail in the democratic decision making process. I wonder how many of them will rue the choice, should it be made, when options that would have worked better for them are taken away?

Digital democracy

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I see the Brexit Party are proposing using an app to help people either vote, or express opinions matters to share with their MP. This is something that I’ve long thought would be a good idea.

I guess it wouldn’t be much use if you were ‘on the payroll’ in government, as it were, but as a backbench MP, it could be a great way of ensuring that you are in tune with your constituency, which, in this day and age of liberal authoritarianism, seems to be notional at best.

There would be issues around security, but nothing that couldn’t be overcome with some decent web protocols, programming and a bit of thought.

I keep coming back to the idea of social currency that Corey Doctorow outlined in his book Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. I did come up with a web idea a couple of years ago (and have since discovered it was based on sound actuarial principles), but most people looked blankly at me when I tried to explain it to them.

It worked on the idea that everyone has a limited amount of Whuffies, social currency that they could assign to people they thought were worthy. Depending on various factors, like length of time assigned to a person etc. the Whuffies could increase in value, much as money accumulated interest, and hence your social worth increased or decreased. And in the best tradition of feedback loops and evolution, the system could morph and grow with reciprocal assignations and ways to increase your stock of Whuffies. I think I even worked a little bit of blockchain theory in there to keep it all secure.

I dare say the economists out there would laugh at the idea, and I’m not entirely sold on it myself, but it was a fun little project. I wonder if, in the future, technology will make us more democratic, or will we head down a more socialist route? As with anything useful, technology can be used for good or ill, but in the same way we have an extended order that generally keeps us order us on the straight and narrow in the real world, it will grow to encapsulate the digital world as well.