RogerBW's Blog

The RogerBW Manifesto (2015 edition) 20 January 2015

It's election season here in the UK – for the first time, since we've moved to fixed-term Parliaments, a protracted American-style election season rather than a few short weeks. These are the things I'd try to do if anyone were daft enough to put me in charge; they're also promises that would encourage me to vote for people who made them.

I'm putting up this post today because the BBC has declared it "Democracy Day", based on the 750th anniversary of the opening of de Montfort's parliament of 1265 ("England for the Welsh!"). (And let us not forget what happened to him.) Every other day, of course, is not democracy day.

The specificity of these proposals varies wildly. Some of them are probably not the proper job of central government at all.

  • Stop pandering to racists. Foreigners are not taking over the country; the more you try to keep them out, the more they'll get themselves smuggled in, take illegal work and not contribute to the tax base.

  • Electoral reform. The constituency in which I live has always returned a Conservative member; the one in which I lived before that had always returned a Labour member (since Keir Hardie). This is not good for anyone except the relevant parties.

  • No electronic voting. It's not reliable, auditable, or even faintly secure. (Including voting remotely by SMS, internet, etc.; none of those approaches can do anything about coercion.) No postal voting except in cases of demonstrated need; allowing free postal votes has hugely increased voting fraud and done very little to increase valid turnout.

  • When a bank folds, bail out the depositors, not the bank.

  • No more PFI. Ever. It was only ever an accounting trick anyway.

  • An all-out nuclear power station construction programme. I like having electricity on demand. I'd like still to have it in twenty years' time, please.

  • Utilities (water, electricity, gas, rubbish collection, internet access), insofar as they are not government functions, should be owned by people resident in the UK – quite literally, so that they have to live with the results of their decisions.

  • Get marriage reform right. The state thing that has an effect for tax and other purposes should be completely separated from the optional religious thing that has no legal effect at all. Remove any distinction between civil partnership and marriage; for preference, call them all the same thing, which might be "civil partnership" or "marriage" or something else entirely, I don't care. Allow the Church of England to marry same-sex couples if it ever decides it wants to, on the same basis that every other religious organisation in the country may so decide. (Trust me, there are lots of members of the Church of England, many of them ordained, who would like to take advantage of this.)

  • Try to end the predominance of the "political class", people whose entire lives and careers have been focussed on getting political jobs. The vast majority of politicians who've held non-political jobs at all have only worked in fields like PR, law, advertising, etc., all fields in which pretty much anything can be malleable if you're persuasive enough. While I'm certainly not in favour of a Gernsbackian dictatorship of scientists, or a Marxist dictatorship of the proletariat, I do think that having more of a mix of people, and more people who have come up against real-world problems that won't go away just by being talked at or paid enough, would be a good thing.

  • Since the 1970s we have been pretending that there are enough jobs for everyone, if only they weren't so lazy. This is not true, and it will probably never be true again: productivity per worker has gone up by rather more than an order of magnitude since then, and the size of the economy hasn't. The "fix" that's been applied to far is to smear out the lessening available work across the same number of jobs, and to add makework to camouflage how little those jobs actually matter, because people who are afraid of losing what jobs they have are willing to work for less. Time to end this lie, admit that there isn't ever going to be enough work for all the people, and adopt a basic income scheme instead.

  • The Internet is a communications medium. It is no more appropriate to perform mass surveillance on it than to open every letter or tap every telephone call. None of these things is acceptable behaviour. If the police want to apply for a warrant to tap an individual's communications, fair enough.

  • Any research that gets any government funding must be published in full, free of charge, under a free-reuse licence, whatever the results. Any other government publications should be similarly free for reuse. You want people to read them; let them be freely distributed.

  • Copyright reform. The current system enriches middlemen, who then give lots of money to a few big-name creators and trumpet them as proof that the system works. I don't claim to have all the answers, but I'd be inclined to start with non-transferable copyrights (i.e. you can licence your work to be published by someone else for a fixed period, but you can't sell it outright); a fixed copyright term from creation date, perhaps ten years; and a good-faith assumption for orphan works (i.e. if you can't track down the copyright owner with only very mild effort, perhaps via some central registry, you can use the thing freely).

  • End the politics of fear. Yes, we have lots of challenges. Let's face them with open eyes rather than by cowering under the bed and calling for strong men to protect us. Strong men do not have our best interests at heart.

  1. Posted by Michael Cule at 11:37am on 20 January 2015

    Well, most of these come under 'good idea but you have not a snowball's chance of seeing it happen'. But you knew that.

    I believe that the distinction between civil partnership and marriage has by now been completely removed. The bit about the CoE not be allowed to carry out same sex marriage was put in to stop conservatives within the Church saying that they were going to be FORCED! to do things they thought sinful. It will probably be there for at least a generation.

    While I do not like the dominance of the professional politician, I can't think of any way of writing a law that prevents such a class emerging. Unless it be that only persons who have lived to the age of oh... let us say as a random example 60 be allowed to stand for Parliament.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 11:50am on 20 January 2015

    Not only do I not think these will happen, I don't think any politician will even promise they will happen.

    Civil partnership is still not available to heterosexual couples, and there are various rules on pensions that allow companies to pay less to a surviving homosexual partner (whether married or civil-partnered).

    All the other religious nutters whined about being forced to marry people they didn't like too. Only the CofE was specifically prohibited from doing so.

  3. Posted by Owen Smith at 02:28pm on 20 January 2015

    I said a fixed term parliament was a bad idea the moment it was introduced. If we keep them, how many elections before we're up to six months of campaigning, then a year, then two years?

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 02:30pm on 20 January 2015

    Quite so. I think that sort of thing is a natural result of a political class with more in common across parties (the interests of politicians who will be in next time if they aren't in now) than with their constituents.

  5. Posted by Michael Cule at 03:37pm on 20 January 2015

    Your Good Lady pointed out to me that the CoE has a legally enforced obligation to marry people in their parishes... So let's make that TWO generations before that law changes.

    Is the name 'marriage' a thing some people dislike for itself? I don't think it has any necessary religious connotation. But then I know a bit about the history of the institution...

  6. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 03:45pm on 20 January 2015

    Sieg Zeon..

    Sorry, to be serious. I'd go with Heinlein on politicians, those who want to shouldn't be allowed. Random lottery to pick people was another one of his ideas. Given the nature of modern society who can know everything? Perhaps making a chore is the only way to see less harm done by people who cannot possibly comprehend the consequences of their actions?

    Who knows, not me.

  7. Posted by RogerBW at 03:47pm on 20 January 2015

    The simple answer to that, it seems to me, is to remove that obligation. (I see no reason why the church across the valley should be forced to be involved in my wedding just on my say-so, since I have been to one carol service there and certainly don't count myself as part of its congregation.) The register office can keep the obligation, as it has now.

    I think lots of people like the idea that "marriage" is what they grew up with, and feel that the word shouldn't be changed to mean other things. And I do have some sympathy with that. On the other hand I'm not a religious person and I'd rather have a wife than a civil partner; it's simply easier to explain.

  8. Posted by RogerBW at 03:49pm on 20 January 2015

    (#7 was in answer to Michael's #5. This is to Ashley's #6. I can't be bothered to write proper threading.)

    I have some sympathy with the idea of randomly selected leaders; if like me you are terrified of the sort of leadership you'd get from the blokes down the pub, there's an incentive to educate them to think more like you.

  9. Posted by Michael Cule at 05:50pm on 20 January 2015

    To remove the CoE legal obligation to marry would probably only get done in the event of Disestablishment. Which is another good idea that won't get on anyone's agenda soon.

    And I am totally against the idea of random ijiits getting to legislate. I am myself so corrupt that if selected I'd probably advertise the price of my vote openly.

    And if we ever manage to so raise the enlightenment level of the general populace to make it safe we will not need government anymore and can sit under our own fig trees and be not afraid.

  10. Posted by Dr Bob at 08:22pm on 21 January 2015

    You still have to have Work For Hire in copyright law (I hire you to create something, and its copyright belongs to me), otherwise no-one can make telly, and I'd be out of a job! :-)

    I have more frivolous laws which I would enact:

    1) Every television broadcaster has to have a dedicated sports channel. Once each one does, they are forbidden to transmit sport on anything other than the dedicated sports channel or a 5 minute slot during the news.

    2) Quiz shows and 'voting off' entertainment formats shall be fined on the following scale: a) £1000 for every time there is a 'dramatic pause' during which a viewer can chant "Get ON with it!"; b) £2000 for every time there is a 'dramatic pause' during which a viewer can chant "Oh for frak sake, get ON with it!" c) £4000 for every time there is a 'dramatic pause' during which a viewer can chant "Oh for frak sake, get ON with it, you time-wasting bastards!"

  11. Posted by RogerBW at 10:23am on 22 January 2015

    If there's a ten-year copyright limitation, I don't mind the creator of record being a corporation or other non-human entity.

    Personally I tend to think television has been done and need not happen any more, but I am biased and anyway I don't want to throw you out of work. :-)

  12. Posted by Dr Bob at 11:09am on 25 January 2015

    I'm glad you don't want to throw me out of work! :-)

    How do authors earn money from their back catalogue if copyright is only 10 years? I object to the elderly pop stars who have successfully lobbied for sound recordings to go from a 50 to a 70 year copyright, but I'd still like my favourite authors to be earning the odd penny from books they wrote several decades ago.

    BTW according to a BBC Worldwide marketing team, they can take up to 12 years to make their money back on the telly series they invest in. Though sometimes they make it back in 5 years.

  13. Posted by RogerBW at 11:55am on 25 January 2015

    As far as I can see, most books aren't even available to buy new after a year or two; it's very rare that something's still available after the initial sales rush, at least in a form that'll get any money to the author.

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