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Tuesday 25 October 2011

PM shoots himself in the foot... others follow

I tweeted yesterday (#munificus) that UK Prime Minister David Cameron was naïve in his handling of the debate on a potential referendum on UK membership of the European Union. Last night's performance in the House of Commons will probably be seen as a pivotal moment in his career.

It really was a case of shooting himself in the foot, an injury which is rarely fatal... but the political consequences could be.

Shot one:
By resorting to a three-line whip for the vote, Mr Cameron alienated a large part of his party. He seems to have forgotten that nearly ten percent of MPs will lose their job at the next election. This is simply a result of reducing the number of members of parliament from 650 to 600 at the next election. These people will have to be selected as candidates by their local party. Showing that they actually listen to the will of the electorate (remember that over 100,000 people wanted the issue of a referendum on membership of the European Union debated) can only enhance their chances of selection. So the most likely candidates for selection will be the 81 members who defied their 'leadership' (is the first lemming to jump over the cliff a leader?). These selfsame 81 must now be disciplined for having defied the three-line whip; failure to do so will undermine any semblance of authority. The only good news in this for Mr Cameron is that Messrs Clegg and Milliband also called a three-line whip so they have 1 and 19 recalcitrants respectively to 'punish'.

If politicians have any intent of representing their constituents then, there must be a large proportion of the members of parliament, who having voted against a referendum (483 from all parties) must now be wondering about how good a memory their selection committees will have when the time comes. Who would wish to put forward a candidate who has already shown that he will ignore the will of the people.

Mr Cameron wakes up today as a weakened leader of his party.

Shot two:
The rationale put forward for insisting that the proposal to offer the people a referendum on membership of the European Union be defeated was "now's not the time". The somewhat facile solution was to arrange for the debate to take place at a more propitious moment. The alternative was to allow a free vote. The outcome of the vote was of no great political consequence in itself as it was not a government motion. A vote to hold a referendum would have actually reinforced Mr Cameron's negotiating position vis à vis his European partners. He would have been in a position to negotiate from strength by telling his European colleagues that the British electorate need 'concessions' before the vote on membership.

Instead of this he has tied his own hands. Other European countries know that there will be no referendum and that the government is prepared to risk everything to remain in the club.

Shot three:
It is reported that, at a meeting on Sunday, French President, Nicolas Sarkozy told David Cameron "You have lost a good opportunity to shut up. We're sick of you criticising, us and telling us what to do. You say you hate the euro. You didn't want to join and now you want to interfere in our meetings". All this could well have been provoked by an impression that Mr Cameron is confusing the 27 member club (European Union) with the 17 member club (Euro). The United Kingdom is a member, even if a reticent one, of the former, the UK has not even applied for membership of the latter. Mr Sarkozy's outburst would therefore seem quite justified. Mr Sarkozy is also due to seek reelection as early as next year. Scoring points on the international stage can only be good for his chances.

Groucho Marx probably had the right idea about clubs. He said "I don't want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member".

Shot four:
It is being reported that Mr Cameron's advisors were saying, after the vote last night that "the Prime Minister is standing firm on his policy. He doesn't have any regrets". This really is a case of the emperor's new clothes. When your advisors try and convince you that a mistake made is an illusion... beware. Apparently nobody challenged the spokesman to define the 'policy' to which he was alluding... ignoring the wishes of voters?

In conclusion, it looks like the first shot was an accidentally self-inflicted flesh wound to the right foot, probably caused by lack of training. The cause of the second shot is identical but to the other foot. The third shot was fired by an enemy; the exact damage is not known. As far as the existence of an enemy is concerned, one hopes that forewarned will be forearmed. The fourth shot should give the most concern; this type of fire tends to be in the back. Massage of the ego will not prove to be an adequate cure.

Sunday 23 October 2011

Democracy - British-style

Tomorrow, Monday 24th October, the British parliament will debate whether the country should remain in the European Union (EU). This debate has been prompted by an e-petition receiving the required 100,000 electronic signatures. So far, this would appear a reasonable example of power being given back to the people, albeit in a very modest way. Unfortunately, this is a mere illusion.

It appears that the major parties are all enforcing a three-line whip on their members. A three-line whip is a strict instruction to the parliamentary members of a party to not only attend but more importantly vote on a debate; it is the most draconian instruction available. Again, this would seem to be a good thing for democracy... the people want you to debate the issue, therefore you must attend. Unfortunately, again, this is more as sleight of procedure, as the three-line whip also includes the instruction of how to vote. Failure by an MP to comply with a three-line whip can lead to exclusion from the parliamentary political group, and even from the party (that's as in political party, not a knees up).

An explanation for this dictatorial behaviour is that "now's not the right time". If this were true, anyone with an ounce of common-sense would therefore suggest having a debate in the (not too distant) future, when the time is more propitious. One can only assume that the preconception of the result will be blamed on the timing, and that then the debate will not take place again in the future because renegotiation (or exiting) EU membership has already been discussed. It is also reminiscent of the parent telling the child that "now is not the right time" to be asking for whatever it might be. "Ask me later", hoping that the youngster will have forgotten. It must be wonderful to understand that you have to be an adult to be entitled to vote, and that the people you elect will then treat you as a child.

So parliament will follow the will of the people in debating an issue but has already decided on the outcome. Still, one should hardly be surprised as it comes from the same people who agreed to a referendum, on whether or not to adopt a system of alternative voting, (see yesterday's article on Swiss democracy)... and did their best to convince the voters that it was far too complicated for their simple minds, so they should vote against.

Three-line whips are normally reserved for use in critical situations, such as a vote of confidence. Perhaps they are right after all, this will have been a vote of confidence, and the government and opposition will have lost it overwhelmingly. The electorate already sees MPs as greedy opportunists, adding dictatorial should seal their fate; vote of confidence lost.

All this from a country which claims to be a democracy. A democracy which, in common with most, boasts two houses of parliament. One is elected by the people (but then takes scant notice of them until election time comes around) and the other is constituted of a mixture of people who are there as a result of male-preferred primogeniture, the rest have been appointed as a result of donations to political parties, in one form or another... which seems the same as buying the seat.

Libya, having got rid of its dictator will hopefully not be influenced by Britain in how to establish a democracy. In a democracy it is the dog that wags its tail and not vice versa.

Saturday 22 October 2011

Democracy - Swiss-style

Tomorrow, Sunday 23rd October, Switzerland votes to elect its members of parliament, to the two houses, the National Council (lower house) and the States Council (upper house). In practice, the vast majority of electors will have voted beforehand by use of the postal voting system (the weather is therefore not an excuse for absenteeism). So far, I’m sure that everyone follows this simple example of democracy... and now is where it might tax your intellect a bit more.

Each State has two elected States councillors. Every voter therefore has two votes which may be cast for any of a multitude of candidates. Any candidate receiving over 50% of the votes is elected in the first round. As the requisite vote is over 50% of the vote, it is impossible to elect the requisite two States Councillors in the first round (and frequently no individual receives over 50% of the vote in the first round). There is therefore a second round of voting which takes place subsequently. In this second round the two candidates with the most votes are elected, unless a candidate was elected in the first round, in which case it is the winning candidate from the first round and the winner from the second round.

The number of National Councillors to be elected varies by state, as the number is proportional to the population of the state itself. Taking as an example the state of Vaud, there are 18 National Councillors who will be elected on Sunday. This means that every voter has eighteen votes. The voter uses as many of these votes as he pleases, voting for individual candidates, even with the possibility of voting for any given candidate twice. The method of apportioning votes at the ballot is then made through a proportional voting system. The votes for each candidate are totalled (nothing very special there) and then the votes for each party are aggregated. The number of seats (in this case 18) is then shared proportionally to the party vote. It is only after this that the successful candidates are known. For example, a party obtaining 50% of the vote would receive 9 seats and these would be attributed to the 9 candidates from that party having obtained the highest number of votes.

So this is the democratic system used to elect members of parliament but, the real power in Switzerland remains with the electorate. For Federal (country-wide) matters, obtaining 100,000 signatures will trigger a referendum on the subject. This is a common occurrence, there being one date per quarter attributed to such votes. The dates are fixed for the next twenty years.

These referenda (such a better word than referendums) can be on any subject. Examples of two recent fairly recent ones are increasing VAT and the building of minarets. The former was a vote to increase VAT by over 5% (from 7.6% to 8%) for a fixed period of 7 years (from 1st January 2011 to 31st December, 2017). The proceeds are to be used to provide additional funding for the incapacity benefit fund. The Swiss voted for this proposition, thereby increasing their own taxes. The latter vote was on the forbidding of the building of minarets; the people voted to refuse the building of any new minaret. These decisions are final and binding on parliament. The people have spoken... or at least put a cross in a box, there is no appeal.

This system of representation and decision taking may be thought to be onerous and costly but, it has proven to lead to two ends that seem to elude most countries: stability and consensus.

Sunday 16 October 2011


David Cameron, apparently with the blessing (or, according to some sources,
even encouragement) of his monarch is intent on abolishing primogeniture
(sic). This may have something to do with his newly discovered notion that
half the electorate are female.

For those of you not familiar with this concept (and who were not force fed
Shakespeare's Henry V), it is an adaptation of Salique (or Salic) law as
used in Gaul (France), part of which enshrined succession laws. The main
tenet was that land property could only be passed to male successors

The British monarchy, as regards title succession, works under the principle
of male-preferred primogeniture. This means that the title of monarch passes
to the first born son of the monarch (primogeniture on its own merely
implies the first born), and then through that lineage.

The suggestion is that the rule be changed so that primogeniture is
maintained (notice that this is exactly the opposite of what is being
advocated!). This would mean that the first in line would remain Prince
Charles (being the eldest, and coincidentally a son), followed by Prince
William (again the first born and again, coincidentally a son). The change
would take place when Price William fathers a child; that first born would
be next in line to the throne, regardless of sex.

Is this of any importance? It probably depends on your choice of tradition
over fairness. Nowadays, The monarchy only exists through tradition (it's
difficult to imagine the queen having recalcitrant subjects beheaded on a
whim), so equality (of the sexes) seems to be more important.

Equality is, of course, quite another matter. The monarch can be of either
sex and of any religion except if he or she is, becomes, or even marries a
Catholic then he (or she) is debarred from succession; so much for equality.

I suspect that this is really just an act of political expediency,
instigated by what was seen as a sexist gaffe in the House of Commons. Mr
Cameron was labelled a chauvinist after telling Angela Eagle, in a
'winneresque' outburst, to "calm down, dear, calm down". Had this been
directed at a male member of parliament it would have been laughed off.

My advice: don't get your undergarments (this sex equality thing seems to be
catching) in a twist and don't change tradition, there's not much of it
left, or to paraphrase, heritage ain't what it used to be.

Thursday 13 October 2011

Head in the iCloud ?

The iOS 5 update and access to iCloud could be leading us in a dangerous direction.
Apple's new iOS 5 seems to be living up to expectations but, is it a step in the right direction?
In the good old days (alright, maybe not good but, in the past, anyway), information was stored on large mainframe computers and people had access to that part of the information to which they were entitled via 'dumb' terminals. Then came the PC (Personal Computer) which put processing power in the hands of the individual, and since then there has been an inexorable diminution in size, increase in power and especially enhancement of versatility (as in iPhone, for example); we haven't looked back... or at least not until now.
The ability to write a note on your iPhone and have that same note immediately available on your iPad (or any other device connected to your iCloud) is great. It saves having to email yourself the note to later collect and copy and paste onto the other piece of kit. There is however also a small security risk as, unless you have immediate password protection, it also implies that the iPad on your desk will give access to the latest brilliant idea you had on the train (or wherever) and your idea is no longer just yours (as an example). Even more worrying is that if the note is deleted on one device then it is gone, as the note is deleted from your iCloud as well and when the other device(s) is updated to the iCloud the copies are also deleted.
The Apple community has been quietly sniggering at that other fruity piece of hardware, the BlackBerry. As you will no doubt be aware, Research In Motion (RIM) ‘the company behind the BlackBerry product line’ has been having problems with ‘massive service outages’ which has resulted in their customers having no access to their messages. The RIM messaging system is hosted and managed by them, rather than the distributed system employed by all other manufacturers. Or to put it another way, if their system is down, you don’t need to worry about the colour of your paddle; the wet feeling you’re experiencing is being caused by the lack of a canoe.
The point of this is that the Apple iCloud is blowing in the same direction. Although at the moment the data stored ‘centrally’ is limited both in content and size (5GB Free and up to a further 50GB for an annual fee), the model is moving, slowly but surely, towards central storage.
So we have almost come full circle, except that the world has changed a lot since the behemoth mainframe was king. Terrorist cyber attacks are not science fiction any more and we are putting ourselves at inordinate risk by going back to a system of central storage where one well targeted attack will bring down the data systems of millions of individuals.
I suspect that the agenda is far more loaded than it appears as the middle man in the ‘i’everything universe is the humble PC, and he seems to be being gently edged out of the equation.
Amazing, but true, having written this article, you will not be surprised to learn that the iCloud synchronisation of notes between two of my devices is not working at the moment. Blasted clouds, it never rains, it pours.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

iOS 5

Just to let you know that iTunes version 10.5 is NOW available for download.
You will need it before being able to upgrade to iOS 5 (which should be available later today).

Monday 10 October 2011

Branson on Jobs

The sad loss of Steve Jobs last week has been commented on in many places and will no doubt continue to occupy many column inches. Steve loss was an exceptional person; the world is a poorer place without him.


The Daily Telegraph contained an ‘obituary’ on the great man by none other than Sir Richard Branson. The content was absolutely stunning… because it mentioned ‘I’ no less than eleven times! This must be an all-time record for a tribute. And just to reinforce the point, the article manages to mention Apple 3 times but Virgin gets 4 mentions.


Presumably the Daily Telegraph can save on fees by republishing the same article as an obituary for the writer, when the time comes.


The full article, in it's full self-publicising grandeur can be seen here here.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

What do to with a footballer who won't play

Although Carlos Tevez must be given the presumption of innocence (not in the sense attributed to a child, of course, but as the opposite to guilty), the apparent refusal to remove a tracksuit and play football for his team would appear to be a severe breach of contract.
The sports world seems abuzz with how difficult it will be for a team (in this case Manchester City) to castigate their player/employee.
Anybody having taken the subject of law will remember their first case history… which may well have been Warner Bros v Nelson (also known as the Bette Davis case)*.  This was in the days when judges used a large amount of commonsense when the law was either unclear or not sensible.
Following this case law, the football club could dismiss the player and stop him playing football for any other club for the duration of the contract which they have together. This is on the basis that the player could earn a living doing something else instead.
Unfortunately, in 2011, that would be far too simple.
*If you want details of the case, lookup “Warner Bros v Nelson [1937] 1 KB 209”

Tuesday 4 October 2011

The Good the Bad the EU and News International

Probably the only benefit of EU membership is having access to the vast European trade market, with free movement of trade for goods and services, as if it were only one country. That at least is the theory.
Karen Murphy, landlady of the Red, White and Blue (very appropriate) pub in Portsmouth had found out otherwise... the English Premier League took exception to her showing live football matches in her pub using a Greek decoder, rather than one supplied by Sky (largest shareholding is the 39.1% owned by those nice people at News Corporation).
On the face of it the Premier League should not really be too worried about a football match being shown and, from a strictly financial point of view, they are being paid by Sky for the rights to broadcast matches, regardless of whether or not anybody watches the football. There is possibly an argument that advertisements being shown during the broadcast should be restricted to the geographical area the advertiser has requested, and indeed paid for. Again, there doesn't really seem to be much of a case to answer here as a Greek advertiser is hardly likely to complain about his product being exposed in Portsmouth... and, let's get real that the advertisements coincide with a rush to the bar to get more drinks. What is the last advertisement you saw while watching a football match? I can't remember either.
The real issue is that Sky are attempting to control the Premier League by using that well-known and highly effective weapon, money. The astronomical amounts paid for broadcasting rights to the Premier League in the UK serves as additional fuel to the treadmill of inflated salaries and costs now commonplace in football. This is the same 'sport' where someone reputedly 'earning' (now there's a word in need of redefining) £250,000 per week (that was the figure quoted by the News of the World... remember them) can refuse to take off his track suit to go and play football. The result of that action is that his employers are all in a quandary as to what to do next (the simple solution to that will be 'revealed' tomorrow).
Now the ECJ (European Court of Justice) has ruled that the landlady (and by inference everyone else) cannot be stopped from choosing who, within the EU, supplies her broadcasting access. This is a victory for commonsense and the European ethos. It might however not be without its pitfalls (although this is a pit I very much look forward to falling into).
When it comes to contract renewal, the incumbent UK broadcasting right holder (Sky) will no doubt argue that the rights are worth less and that no other broadcaster can 'afford' the exorbitant broadcasting rights. Cue a lower offer, and one that will not be refused. The immediate effect will be a reduction in the income of the league clubs themselves (as the television rights are 'shared' with them) and the impossibility of raising admission prices to the grounds (whether you think we are in a recession or not, price increases will be resisted). That in turn will mean losses for the clubs, which in 'normal' times they might be able to cover (especially those backed by owners with bottomless wallets). But, the new 'fair play' rules being brought into effect by UEFA will mean that those clubs will not be able to compete in Europe as a club needs to be profitable from its sporting revenue. This will then logically lead to clubs having to reduce their expenses, starting with their wage bill and transfer fees.
All in all, the ECJ decision plays into the hands of News Corporation and not the contrary, as be at first perceived.
Machiavellian, maybe, but where News International is concerned, expect the unexpected.