Fringe party crashes election debate in Hornsey

I can safely say I just got home from one of the most bizarre electoral hustings I’ve ever been to.

Tonight’s debate, hosted by Horsney Parish Church and moderated by Father Bruce Batstone, invited candidates from the five largest parties running in my constituency, Hornsey and Wood Green:

  • Suhail Rahuja from the Conservative Party
  • Gordon Peters from the Green Party
  • Catherine West from the Labour Party
  • Lynne Featherstone from the Liberal Democrats (incumbent)
  • Clive Morrison from UK Independence Party

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The other three candidates were invited to submit questions for the debate.

That’s not what happened though.

Continue reading Fringe party crashes election debate in Hornsey

How to lose an election

Alberta’s election continues to be far more entertaining than the one here in the UK.

Amid his party’s plummeting polling numbers, Progressive Conservative Premier Jim Prentice needed to re-connect with voters and rebuild trust for his party during the leaders debate last night.

Instead, he told the only woman on stage that “I know the math is difficult…” in a discussion around tax increases. Very soon after #MathIsHard started trending in the province and NDP leader Rachel Notley was able to remind viewers that this is the leader who doesn’t want Albertans to “worry their pretty little heads.”

There’s an adage that governments typically lose elections, rather than opposition parties win them. In this case, I think Prenctice just lost it and Notley has a truly unexpected chance to win it.

For more on the debate, read Don Braid’s analysis in the Calgary Herald.

Lunney unleashed

Citing media “intolerance and bigotry”, anti-science Canadian MP James Lunney has quit the government caucus to sit as an independent. Among Lunney’s claim to the crown as Canada’s least scientifically literate MP are:

  • He doesn’t believe in evolution
  • He’s a chiropractor
  • He’s claimed there’s a link between vaccines and autism
  • He doesn’t believe the climate is changing

In his surreal press release (dated March 31, not April 1), he states that he will address his religious beliefs in Parliament at his next opportunity, which sounds like it will be a hoot. Lunney claims that Christians are being persecuted in Canada, a claim that is thoroughly debunked by the excellent Ottawa Citizen editorial:

Add MP James Lunney to the list of people who somehow have come to believe they’re being persecuted — that indeed, their fundamental human rights are under threat — when people disagree with them on Twitter.

Lunney is standing down before the election in October so we’ll only have a few more of his public gems of wisdom.

Good riddance.

E-petitions come to Canada

Congrats to Burnaby MP Kennedy Stewart on getting enough support to make his dream of e-peitions in Parliament a reality. After the next election, Canadians will be able to submit petitions online, forcing a response to every petition over 500 signatures.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s probably a small change, but it’s one that makes democracy easier, not harder. In an age of restrictive voting ID laws and robocall fraud, it’s good to see a positive tool for democratic engagement win support.

Currently, petitions in Canada have to be signed on paper and the originals sent to an MP to sponsor it.

Republished: Let’s bring reason back to politics

As part of my attempt to get back into writing this blog, I’ve been going back through my list of published articles and making sure they’re all still live. Many of the links have changed in the years since I wrote many of those articles, but luckily I copied most to this blog. A few were missed, so here is one of the first republished articles.

Continue reading Republished: Let’s bring reason back to politics

Humanists discuss political engagement

Last night, I attended a discussion hosted by the pan London Humanist group on what new opportunities there are for greater democratic engagement following the Scottish referendum on independence. It featured Ian Scott and Gary McLelland from the Humanist Society of Scotland (Ian is Acting Chief Executive and voted yes in the referendum, Gary is the Policy & Public Affairs Officer and campaigned for no), Andrew Copson (Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association), Will Brett (Head of Campaiggns at the Electoral Reform Society) and Alex Runswick (Chief Executive of Unloock Democracy). Anoosh Chakelin (Deputy Editor of New Statesman) stepped in as the chair for the evening.

It was an interesting discussion despite being, as Alex said, “in danger of everyone agreeing with one another.” That agreement included:

  1. Electoral reform
  2. Lowering the voting age to 16
  3. A citizen-led constitutional convention for the UK

While some non-humanists see tradition as a way to keep society structured, the humanists on the panel agreed that we should critically evaluate our political structures and apply a more rational design, based on evidence and tested against other countries. Humanism is about rejecting dogmas and putting the state in service of the individual. We should ask what we can do to enhance one another’s lives.

They also worried about some of the bitter nationalism seen during the referendum debate. Andrew Copson reminding us that Bertrand Russell frequently spoke out against nationalism, saying that it offered simple silver bullet solutions to all of life’s problems (like Scottish Independence or leaving the EU). Nevertheless, the speakers were optimistic about the engagement generated by the referendum.

The most disagreement in the night came from the questions posed by some members of the audience. One worried that we are just “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” by not dealing with the problem of big business’ influence on politics. Another said we should have compulsory voting – to which Gary said he was against anything compulsory as a humanist and Alex pointed out that compulsory voting in Australia had failed to drive up turnout rates at the local level (where it isn’t compulsory). Another questioner asked how you keep small parties out of government in in proportional representation, and he pointed to Israel where (in his words) the Jewish far right has wielded so much influence their airlines can’t even fly 7 days a week – the answer is given by countries across Europe which have threshold levels before a party gains any seats.

The bet comment of the evening though has to go to Andrew Copson, who said the venue, the Palace of Westminster, “was the least democratic building in the Western world, architecturally.” A point I tried to illustrate recently.

#NoMoreGames… but what instead?

I passed a billboard today advertising the British Medical Association (BMA)’s new media campaign. It calls for all political parties to stop playing games with the NHS.

I’ll give them credit – it’s catchy and many people (myself included at times) think politicians too often use promises of reform to the healthcare system as a way to score cheap points. But what does #NoMoreGames actually mean?

We should want, and expect, politicians to lay out their plans for what they’d do differently if elected. It’d be one thing if the BMA were campaigning for specific pledges but instead they’re headline is a shallow complaint that politicians are campaigning too much.

Granted, the BMA expands a bit on their website about what they’d want to see, but overall the message is as shallow as they’re blaming politicians for.

I really don’t see what they’re hoping to accomplish.

But at least there’s already a good theme song for their campaign.

Lib Dems call on PM to allow humanist marriages in the UK

Late in 2014, I wrote to my MP, Lynne Featherstone, following a call to action by the British Humanist Association. I’ve just received a response from my MP expressing her support for humanist marriages and a copy of a letter she wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron on our behalf.

Continue reading Lib Dems call on PM to allow humanist marriages in the UK