porn anyone can edit

With social media merrily building extensions and BBQ pits to its walled gardens, other sites of this world web of ours appear to be struggling to attract enough people to pick their own fruit. Remember Wikipedia? Encyclopaedia anyone can edit, and formerly one of the great phenomenons of the Internet, now sadly diminished.

Amongst the noise generated by Facebook and Google+ (and if you think the Facebook fandago has died down, wait until the Timeline format is launched), a loud and occasionally chaotic controversy has played out, developed and died on the great Wiki policy pages. If the media decide to take a look, it could  blow open another hole in the debate about internet freedom and censorship.

Behind all the Wiki articles on sporting events, capital cities and electoral statistics, an army of editors and administrators busy themselves on the site’s version of message boards. Here the various, numerous, often contradictory and highly muddled ”rules” are bashed out using the infamous “consensus model”, which usually means nobody agreeing on anything and the editing policy carrying on regardless for another six months. Diplomatic discussions around the tables of middle-sized companies have nothing on the Wiki model, especially now so few editors are taking on the roles of admins leaving a small set of middle management (the so-called “marzipan layer”) to fix the rules of their own ends.

Out of nowhere, 13 year old editor admitted he had joined the Wikipedia project on Pornography, a group which exists to co-ordinate the editing of articles related to pornographic material. An editor created a policy discussion asking if, under Florida law where the Wikipedia servers are based, this was something to legislate against. The debate flourished into a bewildering half-page analysis of policy, philosophy and social norms across both sides of the Atlantic.

Much of the votes opposing a ban on underage editors contributing to the Porn project used recognisably libertarian opinions; Wikipedia is not censored, nor should it act in loco parentis. We tend to see the Internet generally, and sites such as Facebook and Wikipedia specifically, as places where inappropriate material  might just be round the corner. If the editor really is 13, and genuinely wants to assist in editing articles related to Pornography, what stops could be installed which would not encourage other site owners to close down undesirable quarters ‘for the sake of the children’ ?

There is the issue of responsibility running through this which comes from stepping back from auto-response reactions relating to allowing users of the ‘net to run free like the 60s really had changed the world. Porn (the imagery) and porn (the concept) are separate issues; discuss the latter with your children and make sure they don’t search Internet History without someone over their shoulder. It would be a PR disaster for Wiki to be associated with adult material, even if the project itself is designed to educate and inform people about everything from the Vietnam War to the vulva (needless to say, perhaps, but one of those links is NWS).

Wiki does not have the mindset, amongst its users, to block material or build high walls around contentious subjects. On the whole Wiki is a centre-left/liberal organisation, and one which considers it a virtue if mature editors wish to contribute to difficult, minority interest content. The policy debate this single 13-year old started chipped at the core of the Wiki body. It’s not as though the project contains sexually arousing content, as such, with articles on anti-pornography movements and sexual objectifications under the umbrella terms of the project. The articles relating to lesbianism lacks any moving images on girl-on-girl action, and if you clicked on auto-fellatio expecting a treat you’ll leave disappointed.

Wiki retains the potential it always had as an ambitious, well-meaning project, even though the fleeting regular editors and increased administrative regime has left it looking exhausted and out-dated. The lack of a social-media companion tool alongside Wiki leaves the site appearing cold and unappealing. Debates on how to exclude and block editors, however responsible the wider debate may be, can do only more damage. Ultimately we are dealing here with something keyboard diplomats cannot legislate for – parental responsibility. Wikipedia could attract trouble it did not expect if an issue like this is mishandled.

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Boundary Commission Public Hearings

Boundary Commission Public Hearings:

11 and 12 October
Britannia Hotel, Portland Street, Manchester, M1 3LA

13 and 14 October
Ramada Leeds North, Millgreen View, Ring Road, Leeds, LS14 5QF
Brook Mollington Babastre Hotel, Parkgate Road, Mollington, Cheshire, CH1 6NN

17 and 18 October
Town Hall, Pinstone Street, Sheffield, S1 2HH
Holiday Inn, 97 Cromwell Road, London, SW7 4DN
Civic Centre, Rickergate, Carlisle, Cumbria, CA3 8QC

20 and 21 October
Royal Berkshire Conference Centre, Madejski Stadium, Reading, Berkshire, RG2 0FK
The Golden Lion Hotel, 114 High Street, Northallerton, North Yorkshire, DL7 8PP
Brent Town Hall, Forty Lane, Wembley, Middlesex, HA9 9HD
Radisson Blu Hotel Liverpool, 107 Old Hall Street, Liverpool, L3 9BD

24 and 25 October
Macdonald Tickled Trout Hotel, Preston New Road, Samlesbury, Preston, Lancashire, PR5 0UJ
Milton Keynes Council, Civic Offices, 1 Saxon Gate East, Central Milton Keynes, MK9 3EJ
Lewisham Town Hall, Catford Road, Catford, London, SE6 4RU
Hull City Hall, Queen Victoria Square, Hull, HU1 3RQ

27 and 28 October
Guildhall, Guildhall Square, Portsmouth, PO1 2AB
East Ham Town hall, Barking Road, London, E6 2RP
The Derby Conference Centre, London Road, Derby, DE24 8UX

31 October and 1 November
Northampton Guildhall, St Giles Square, Northampton, NN1 1DE
Town Hall, Wandsworth High Street, London, SW18 2PU
Town Hall, High Street, Colchester, CO1 1PJ
Crowne Plaza, London Gatwick Airport, Langley Drive, Crawley, West Sussex, RH11 7SX

3 and 4 November
City Hall, St Peters Street, Norwich, NR2 1NH
Ramada Maidstone, Ashford Road, Hollingbourne, Near Maidstone, Kent, ME17 1RE
Lincoln Hotel, Eastgate, Lincoln, LN2 1PN
Copthorne Hotel, Paradise Circus, Birmingham, B3 3HJ

7 and 8 November
Town Hall, George Street, Luton, LU1 2BQ
Ludlow Conference Centre, Lower Galdeford, Ludlow, Shropshire, SY8 1RZ
Holiday Inn Bristol City Centre, Bond Street, Bristol, BS1 3LE

10 and 11 November
Shire Hall, Warwick, CV34 4SA
Alverton Manor Hotel, Tregolls Road, Truro, Cornwall, TR1 1ZQ
BW Gonville Hotel, Gonville Place, Cambridge, CB1 1LY

14 and 15 November
County Buildings, Martin Street, Stafford, ST16 2LH
The Civic Centre, Barras Bridge, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8QH
De Vere Royal Bath, Bath Road, Bournemouth, Dorset, BH1 2EW
Edinburgh City Chambers, High Street, EH1 1YJ

16 November
New Lanark World Heritage Site, ML11 9DB

17 and 18 November
The Guildhall, High Street, Exeter, EX4 3EB
St George Hotel, Durham Tess {sic} Valley Airport, Darlington, Co Durham, DL2 1RH

22 November
Teacher Building, St Enoch Square, Glasgow, G1 4DB

24 November
Town House, High Street, Inverness, IV1 1JJ

29 November
City Chambers, 14 City Square, Dundee, DD1 3BY


‘via Blog this’

taking the register

Justice Minister Michael Willis has hailed the switch to individual registration as “radical” and “an unprecedented move”.  To tackle electoral registration fraud, including at the initial stage and on polling day, the step-change away from blanket forms for one house is a welcome development in attitudes by central Government.

Mr Michael Willis is now…….Lord Willis, and his place in the Justice Ministry is no longer occupied by a person from his Labour Party. The profound shift in electoral registration came before the most recent general election and was a direct consequence of decreasing confidence in Britain’s credibility as a place for free and fair elections. Labour had been stung by an electoral judge condemning the ease with which fraud could be conducted as something which would “shame a banana republic”

Back in 2009, when Mr Willis was flying the flag for this policy as a Minister in a Labour government, the rash of condemnation appears to have been muted. Not so now, as the Coalition’s desired move towards the same policy has whipped up the kind of furious anger reserved for filling in comments sections at the bottom of newspaper on-line content. At the core of the opposition argument is a flawed premise – “Ah, it will deny the poor a vote!” – and a disingenuous one at that.  “Elections should be based on population not electorate” is another auto-response, an attempt to suggest that all future elections should involve people who are not eligible to vote. Population figures were not used for the boundary review instigated under Labour, and nobody with much of a mind about them is suggesting that should happen again.

Labour helped bring individual registration to the United Kingdom during their time in power by way of Northern Ireland. Known for having…colourful and not always, shall we say, expected attitudes towards putting names on the electoral register, the Norn Iron experience has seen a fall in numbers. How many people were real in the first place is open to argument, and it’s that argument which now needs to be tackled here. As the Birmingham case has shown (and not exclusively), we cannot be confident that the rigorous checks we expect on validity are being made. We certainly cannot be confident that the names on an electoral register are always real.

On the politics forum I visit – Vote-UK – this issue has been roundly discussed. As an adjunct to the main debate, one poster said;

 At the 2010 election I witnessed some quite disgraceful behaviour at several polling stations in inner city Birmingham. There was clear intimidation and bribery of electors and in several cases the police stood by and watched. If they were willing to turn a blind eye to what I witnessed I have no difficulty believing that they would ignore other cases of electoral fraud.

Another poster added:

Individual registration is obviously superior and it will also hopefully help to keep people on the register who move from place to place regularly. My only concern is that complaints about it removing people from the register are being viewed solely through a partisan prism. I think we should all be able to accept that those legitimate voters leaving the register are more likely to be Labour supporters, but still agree that we ought to be making an especial effort to try to keep the register as full as possible.

Whilst a much less enthusiastic tone was set by the member who wrote:

The real issue here – which I’m surprised hasn’t been mentioned in this thread – is not (thread title notwithstanding) moving to individual registration (for which there may be some good arguments, as already mentioned) but effectively making registration voluntary……

As the story says, this is a deliberate calculated decision to lessen involvement in the democratic process – something which I regard as fundamentally immoral 

 

This last post has been the prevailing tone of the opposition. It is not one I agree with – and deep down, I suspect many opponents realise that too. From my own experience in Preston, there is a clear case of “head of the household” registration in some communities, something which cannot be tackled if election officers lack the safety net which individual registration provides. Broader arguments against the change talk about working class, or black and ethnic minority or non-English speaking people having the ladder of democracy somehow whipped away from them. This is far removed from either reality or intention; it is the responsibility of everyone involved in “politics” generally, be it national or hyper-local, to ensure the people we want to represent have the ability and opportunity to case a vote. “This is excluding the poorest in society” is not a valid claim if either you do nothing to ensure that the people who worry about have registered.

Another thread in the argument involves the moves to make parliamentary boundaries fairer, and reviews of constituencies more frequent. From around 15-year cycles to 5, the first of which is now underway. “This is just gerrymandering!” cry opponents, showing another blatant misunderstanding which borders on the medically unstable. Elections have always asked those who are able to vote to do so – it makes no sense to set up straw man arguments about immigrants or under-18s.  If opponents wish to encourage individuals to register for elections who are, for example, about to turn 16 and for whom “voting” and “politics” seem like bizarre sexual fetishes, they could do well to help the Youth Citizenship Commission in their aim to roll out registration in schools and colleges.

If we are to have an electoral system people can believe in, then those seats we create for elections must be robust reflections of the voters within the boundaries who are able to vote; everyone who has the right to vote, with the ability to do so, on a register we can trust. There is too much doubt on the issue today, and partisan bleating about “fixing the system” pithily denies an awkward truth about the system as it currently stands today.

It is not evil for any Government to consider it vital that those who are willing to participate in elections should be encouraged to do so themselves. Labour recognised this in 2009, and the Coalition are now seeing it through.

Labour keeps its grip on the NW

When the Boundary Commission for England released its initial proposals to reduce the number of constituencies across the country, you couldn’t hear yourself think over the shouts from the Labour Party of “fix”, “fudge”, and “gerrymander”.  Got a Bingo Card? Full house before noon. “It’s a Tory stitch-up,” came the cries, and at the first glance it was almost enough to believe the hype.

Now the instant reaction buzz has died down, number crunchers have taken their time over the spreadsheets and maps, and found some rather interesting details which Labour’s critics may find interesting.

If we focus on the North West of England, the conclusion is very clear; Labour do very well out of the proposed changes, even if those include such insane creations as “Mersey Banks” (two sides of the River Mersey connected by the M65 and a couple of dual carriageways) and a “Leigh” seat which excludes Leigh town centre whilst requiring prospective parliamentarians to navigate Chat Moss.

From the website Electoral Calculus comes news about Greater Manchester. Rather than demolish the strongholds and citadels of Manchester, notoriously undersized Labour bankers as they were, the BCE proposes to strengthen Labour’s in built majority. Current LibDem seat Manchester Withington is calculated as a Labour hold; the same conclusion is made by UKPolling, who decides current MP John Leech would fall by just short of 2,000 votes.

The proposed Manchester Central (which also incorporates Salford city centre and Salford Quays) would fall from an 11,000 to 8,000 seat majority for Labour, not exactly a collapse. Indeed, factoring in the Hazel Blears factor (her cheque-waving fixed-grin arrogance cost thousands of votes last year), the seat could have an automatic majority beyond the existing figure.

There are notional gains for Labour too – the newly divided Burnley would present them with two notionally held seats. “Rochdale North and Rawtenstall”, a creation destined to force BBC news presenters to sound like Jane Horrocks, and “Rochdale South” would move further away from the grasp of the Liberal Democrats who regard the town as their northern spiritual home.

Under the new proposals, Warrington, Chester, and Bolton shift away from marginal status, which for Bolton at least should never have been allowed to happen in the first place. The proposed “Westhoughton” (which should be called “Westhoughton, Horwich South, Hindley and Leigh. And also Atherton”) creates a cushioned safe-hole of nearly 10,000 votes (around 7,000 using Electoral Calculus).

What this means in the wider picture brings two conclusions; that the in-built natural Labour bias has not been fully eradicated. Neither the BCE nor Democratic Audit found a way to jigsaw Manchester or Liverpool in such a way to make them any less safe for Labour. The second conclusion underlines the extent to which Labour misunderstands the concept of ‘gerrymandering’, almost certainly wilfully. The new rules presented the BCE with a challenging remit, something which occasionally produced unfortunate accidental brain-farts one assumes can be redressed (taking Fishwick out of Preston, for example, something which hasn’t been the case in any context since the mid 1830s). What has happened in the NW is an interesting result of taking boundaries further out into towns which have been consistently undersized before – in quite a lot of cases, it is the Labour Party which benefits the most.

Of course, there is quite a lot of tea-leaf stirring here. These predictions are drawn from past local electoral results and stats, and in politics as in business, past performance is no indicator of future behaviour. It’s notable that the loudest critics of the scheme to reduce the size and cost of Westminster have missed out the specific consequences in those parts of the country where first glances would have given the impression of impending disaster.

The whole episode makes things very tough for the Liberal Democrats, who I have supported for over 10 years now. We lose, notionally, two seats, and that is a significant number in a region where vote share and constituency numbers have never correlated particularly impressively. If anything, the results show just how much greatly strengthened should be our resolve against the Labour Party, in parts of the country where we have consistently out performed them.

If Labour go into the 2015 election thinking, genuinely or not, that the boundaries have been stacked against them, they may discover the flip side of getting what you wished for.

Timothy Alexander "16/12/27"

Timothy Alexander and Diacope Records are swiftly becoming the watch words in exciting and inventive  House and Techno. The new release “16/12/27”, available to buy from Monday, encapsulates the  risks and revolutions taken, enveloped with a distinctly minimalist flavour.

16/12/27 by Timothy Alexander (www.facebook.com/timothyalexandermusic)
The three sides of the techno triptych relate to each other as so many distant relatives in a family gathering – distinctly different with shared traits, a form of storytelling through solely electronic means. “16” is enclosed, attracting the visceral unease towards dark shadows and the noise you hear from the bedroom when you know there’s nobody around. “12” is an unsettled wind looking for a current to reverse, breaking out into a vaguely tribal motif. The lighter “27” channels multiple layers of sounds and beats through increasingly tighter curves,  not so much blending into each other as assimilating.

Each track is so twisted they might as well be cousins, and married, and really into chains.

You can find out more about Diacope through their Twitter  and Timothy Alexander can be sought after at Soundclound

Boundary proposals – North West England

I have agreed to help the North West Region LibDems with their submission for this year’s great Parliamentary Boundary jamboree, so this post should be treated more a précis than any suggestion of what the Region is suggesting instead.

In very brief terms, what the Boundary Commission for England has performed is a highly impressive, highly skilled, and ultimately very controversial. In some cases, the proposals are simply not workable. They should be cohesive, coherent, and democratically valid.

However, commenting much on these proposals in this medium won’t get me very far with the bods in Region, so I present instead a quick overview of what is being proposed.

If you want to react to these changes, either do so in this blog (for I’m always up for seeing what other people suggest), or go to the Boundary Commission’s website.

City of Manchester

1) Blackley and Broughton.  Includes the Broughton and Kersal wards of Salford Council, and brings in Cheetham, Moston, Newton Heath, Crumpsall and surrounding areas.  The Charlestown ward is moved into a proposed cross-border seat called Middleton


2) Manchester Central.  Two city centres in this proposal – Manchester and Salford, four wards from each coming together into one constituency.

3)Manchester Gorton, Takes Ardwick, Gorton, Levenhsulme, Longsight, Moss Side and Rusholme

4) Manchester Withington. Loses Didsbury from the existing seat.  Includes such areas as Chorlton and Chorlton Park, Old Moat, Whalley Range and Fallowfield.

5) Middleton. Very close to an idea I had for a “Middleton, Moston and Failsworth” seat way back when, this new cross-border creation brings together communities whose common theme is close proximity to the point at which three local councils meet. Includes Chadderton, Heywood and Middleton

6) Wythenshawe. The southern quarter of Manchester, with Sale Moor ward from Trafford, also incorporates Didsbury.

City of Liverpool

1) Bootle.  Due to the size and shape of Sefton’s wards, it’s no wonder things are a bit messy round there. One Liverpool ward is attached (they call it an “orphan” in the business) to this slight return to a previous constituency.  Kirkdale joins the southern swathes of Sefton.

2) Huyton and Halewood. This is the natural successor to existing Garston and Halewood, and incorporates only two Liverpool wards.  Why it drops “Garston” is a mystery.

3) Liverpool North A boring name for a pick-n-mix seat including, amongst other bits, Kirkby Central, Croxteth, Warbrek, and the Netherton/Orrell ward from Sefton.

4) Liverpool Riverside An expanded version of the existing seat –  includes the city centre, Everton, Picton and St Michael’s

5) Liverpool Wavertree  I think this is unchanged – includes Allerton, Hunts Cross,  Cressington, Woolton and Wavertree itself.

6) Liverpool West Derby Has been expanded and includes, amongst others,  Anfield, Knotty Ash, Tuebrook/Stoneycroft, Yew tree and Stockbridge from Knowsley.

City of Salford

1) Blackley and Broughton. As above

2) Leigh. In what is a badly drawn and incorrectly named seat (this is me trying not to judge or suggest alternatives), the outskirts of Leigh are attached to Irlam, Walkden and Little Hulton.  So not quite “Leigh” really, more “Salford East and Tyldesley”.

3) Manchester Central. As above

4) Swinton Or perhaps “Eccles and something, something”.  This is the left-over bits of Salford – Barton, Eccles, Pendlebury, Winton, Swinton, and Worsley.

Borough of Wigan

1) Leigh. As above

2) Makerfield Altered a bit – includes Ashton, Bryn, Lowton (both East and West), Winstanley and perennially mispronounced pub-quiz favourite Worsley Mesnes. Clue – it’s not “mes-nes”

3) Westhoughton The border-line fringes of both Wigan and Bolton combine in this one – includes Hindley and Leigh West, the latter being, pretty much, the town of Leigh.

4) Wigan. No change – the town itself plus Standish, Pemberton, Ince, Shevington and the ward name which looks like a mis-print “Aspull New Springs Whelley”.  No commas.

Borough of Bolton

1) Bolton North. Incorporates Astley Bridge, Heaton, one half of Horwich, Tonge with the Haulgh, and Crompton.

2) Bolton South which brings together Kearsley, Farnworth, a trio of Levers and Harper Green.

3) Bury North is over 90% Bury, and brings in Bradshaw ward from Bolton

4) Weshoughton as above

Borough of St Helens

1)  St Helens North 
2) St Helens South and Whiston   Neither of which change at all

Borough of Trafford

1) Altrincham and Sale.  The existing seat extended a bit further.

2) Stretford and Urmston.  Not much change here either –  Davyhulme, Stretford, Urmston, Clifford and Ashton-upon-Mersey all incorporated.

3) Wythenshawe  As above.

Borough of Oldham

1) Ashton-under-Lyne Takes the three Ashton wards and combines with Failsworth, Hollinwood and one half of Chadderton.  Name change needed perhaps?

2) Middleton. As above

3) Oldham and Saddleworth An expanded version of the existing Oldham East

4) Rochdale South No, it doesn’t make sense, but it’s Crompton, Royton’s northern ward and Shaw attached to Castleton, Kingsway and Deeplish amongst others.

Borough of Rochdale

1) Middleton As above

2) Rochdale North and Rawtenstall  A very ye-olde Lancashire seat this one, taking the town centre of Rochdale and all parts around and attaching it to the southern cotton and factory villages of Rossendale.

3) Rochdale South As above

Borough of Stockport

1) Cheadle  Combines, amongst others, Bramhall, Cheadle, Davenport and Heald Green

2) Denton Gives one ward – Bredbury and Woodley – to a cross-border seat with the Denton and Droylsden parts of Tameside

3) Hazel Grove and Poynton. Attaches Hazel Grove and Marple with Poynton from over the border in Cheshire

4) Stockport  The town itself, also including both Heatons and Reddish. I don’t mind saying at this point that I had proposed “Didsbury and The Heatons” but this was swiftly never spoken of again

Borough of Bury

1) Bury North takes Bradshaw from Bolton
2) Bury South doesn’t appear changed at all

Borough of Tameside

1) Ashton-under-Lyne As above

2) Denton As above

3) Stalybridge and Hyde. The existing seat, plus Dukinfield

Borough of Knowsley

1) Huyton and Halewood,. As above.

2) Liverpool North.  As above.

3) Liverpool West Derby. As above.

4) Maghull. One of the posher bits of Sefton (the other being Southport) attached to left over bits of Knowsley. The ward names are fairly anonymous – Park, Northwood, Whitefield – though these cover the northwest fringes of Kirkby.

5) St Helens South and Whiston.  As above.

Borough of Sefton

1) Bootle. As above

2) Liverpool North. As above.

3) Maghull. As above

4) Southport.  The existing town of Southport with approximately 2/3rd  Formby.

Lancashire –  Boroughs of Chorley, West Lancashire, and South Ribble

1) Chorley is drawn to be completely coterminous with the Borough

2) South Ribble is barely changed at all, adding Farington and Lostock Hall back into a seat they should not have been taken away from in the first place.  Also includes Tarleton, North Meols, Hesketh Bank, and Rufford from West Lancashire.

3) West Lancashire is unchanged – Ormskirk, Skelmersdale, Burscough and surrounding fields of what appears from the train to be two-thirds of the county’s entire vegetable import for the year

Lancashire – City of Preston, Boroughs of Fylde, Wyre,  Blackpool and Ribble Valley

1) Preston expands to take almost all the city wards – oddly, and somewhat free of all logic and reason, this means Lea, Cottam and Fishwick are all excluded. Would be the first time since, I think, before the Second World War that so much of the borough was included in the same constituency – only the rural parishes and Lea and Fishwick are elsewhere.

2) Fylde continues to incorporate the parish of Lea and Cottam. Otherwise the other major addition is Poulton-le-Fylde from Wyre.

3) Lancaster is very oddly named – the boundaries are essentially the same as “Lancaster and Wyre” which existed between 1997 and 2010.  Anyway, this is “Lancaster, the M6 Corridor and bits of rural Preston”, including Grimsargh, Goosnargh and Woodplumpton. I’m not making up any of those place-names.

4) Blackpool North and Fleetwood is essentially status quo ante

5) Blackpool South avoids the temptation to cross into Lytham St Annes and cause a riot, by  moving ever more suburban. Includes Squire’s Gate, Layton, Stanley, Waterloo, Bloomfield and Claremont.  I think the Tower is in this seat.

6) Ribble Valley continues to be a right old funny one – not only continuing to include Bamber Bridge, but now Fishwick, which would mean one of Preston’s main thoroughfares (not to mention some of the most socially and economically troubled parts of England) are hobbled onto one of the most expansive and rural.

Lancashire – City of Lancaster

1) Lancaster. As above

2) Morecambe and Lunesdale  A slightly bigger version of the current seat

Lancashire – Boroughs of Blackburn and Darwen, Hyndburn, and Rossendale

1) Blackburn is virtually unchanged. Includes only seats within and surrounding the town itself – amongst their number, Audley, Ewood, Livesey with Pleasington, Wensley Fold, Little Harwood and Roe Lee.

2) Darwen and Haslingden takes areas from three boroughs, including Oswaldtwistle and Haslingden, expanding the current Rossendale and Darwen seat into new directions,

3) Burnley South and Accrington joins together the industrial bits from both these stoic northern towns, including Cliviger, Huncoat, Hapton, Rosehill, Clayton-le-Moors, Overton and Gawthorpe.

4)Rochale North and Rawtenstall As above.

Lancashire – Boroughs of Burnley and Pendle

1) Burnley North and Nelson. Takes the borough of Pendle and slots the most immediate neighbours at the bottom. Nostalgics amongst you might think it’s a reinvention of an old seat, but it is pretty much untested territory.

2) Burnley South and Accrington. As above.

parallel lines

For a small island with enough room (just) to move about in, we sure do like having our towns, cities and counties carved up by administrators waving their sharpened HBs on a lazy Tuesday.  Through centuries of governmental landgrabs and civil servant line wobbling, there is barely half-a-year free of local administrative boundaries, or parliamentary boundaries, having changed for the benefit of democratic cohesion and representative validity.

Common changes which carry on without much comment outside the local press, if at all, are the product of the Local Government Commissions, hardy souls whose responsibility starts and ends with the Town Halls and Civil Centres of Great Britain. Right now, if you’re that way out of an evening, you can comment on the proposed council ward shake-up of Purbeck council. THRILLING, I am sure you agree. Some of you may even learn where Purbeck is, for I’m sure it came as news to me.

Next week sees the bigger brothers of the local boundary shakers take to the centre stage of political discussion, and boy, will it be bigger. You may have heard the cries of “Gerrymandering!” from the summer of last year, from ill-informed bitter opponents of the somewhat overdue plans to cut the number of MPs and do something about the huge difference in Westminster constituency sizes.  When the Boundary Commission for England publishes its proposals for the 500 English seats in a weeks time, followed by Northern Ireland and Scotland before November, and Wales in the new year, it will be part of the greatest constitutional shake-up since devolution.  Not since 1945 have Westminster constituencies been subject to such radical reforms.

First off – the reasons why it’s obviously a good idea to take an axe to 50 Members of Parliament and a stretching device to those seats which border soon-to-be-abolished constituency units.  Quite obviously, all boundaries are fake. All of them, completely invented. From the decision to draw country lines round mountains and through lakes by means of happenstance and expediency, through to contemporary council ward shapes, every attempt by some form of establishment or other to carve up nation states begins with circumstances nobody wants. It’s a measure of man how we agree to the invisible lines which bind us into boxes and files and codes: most significance is only drawn in this country through somewhat petty partisanship.  I often wonder what opponents of the forthcoming parliamentary boundary review would do in Israel or Somalia or Western Sahara.

We need smaller, more relevant democracy in this country, one in which the machinery of party politics is left to tick and tock far away from the streets and playing fields of peoples every day lives. To lost 50 MPs in one go is but a small step – it is necessary to take the axe to the ‘payroll vote’, reduce the size of most Town Halls and create more local, responsive parish/neighbourhood councils. Reducing the number of MPs by just 50 to 600 is a small, vital, and progressive step in the right direction. Having done nothing to reform the parliamentary establishment, it’s very rich of the Labour Party to sound off about ‘representing the people’.  Losing 50 MPs saves money in the long term, and opens up the possibility of greater,  more significant reforms in the long term.  Proportional representation, above all, an elected Senate, an axing of two-tier local government….Can you hear the creaking in the old guard’s strides?

What begins next week is not gerrymandering. The Labour Party can cry all it wants (not least because they did so well in persuading the Boundary Commission under their regime to divide Derbyshire, East London and a fair amount of Wales in their favour).  By making the new parliamentary seat rules so tight, so rigid, so difficult to twitch, alter, manoeuvre, the Coalition has created a refreshing alternative to the old school horse trading of years gone by. Having followed the most recent review, which ran up to the 2010 election having started over 10 years previously, I know only too well how ‘stitched up’ everything felt.

There is nothing in the Great British Rule Book which dictates “An MP must not represent both rural and urban communities”. We are a small island, where urban sprawl exists almost everywhere, and the outdated ideas of ‘rural isolation’ and ‘high street magnetising suburbs to its core’ all reek of ancient arguments dusted off by those most likely to do well from favourably drawn lines. It is not beyond the means of any conscientious MP to represent town, city and farmland in one go.

Cheaper democracy, and more vibrant too, as candidates fight over unfamiliar territory at the next election. Yes, the resulting constituencies in some parts of the country may have some contrived elements – watch out Leeds, things aren’t going to be pretty – though when did it become necessary for the United Kingdom to be marked up in straight boxes? This is not the United States, we do not need compact squares and rectangles to make it easier to colour in the lines.

Cheaper, vibrant, more reflective of the ‘commute to work’ culture, and more relevant to the population shifts in northern cities and the affluent south. The recent previous reviews finalised their ideas ready for 1983, 1997 and 2010;  from this year onwards, the reviews must take a maximum of 5 years. The most recent English review saw parts of the country experience two general elections and a change in Prime Minister before they finally got the chance to vote in the seat designed for them half-a-generation gone. It’s not very modern of our democracy to take outdated population figures and expect representative seats to be drawn from them.

Cheaper, vibrant, up to date, relevant, reflective – and independent. We are not the US – appropriation  is carried out by pen pushers and map mechanics, not political appointees and the interested parties. Our parliamentary representation is the more precious and important because of the way in which we draw our lines; it is vital we retain that independence, something opponents of the new regime seem to take for granted.

Is it a Tory gerrymander? No, and it is not because Labour supporters have proven it. The left-leaning Democratic Audit published its report and found rock solid Labour seats in Manchester, Liverpool, east London and Scotland remained even with the tougher, tighter electorate rules. As I discovered when thinking about submitting my own proposals to the Commission, the domino effect caused by the new regulations make the creation of isolated blobs of party support very hard indeed.

Labour’s opposition seems to be tainted by two flavours – bitterness that they didn’t get here first when they had the chance, and uncertainty over the safety of their smaller, compact inner city seats. It should do our parliamentary system some good if Labour, and all other parties, have to fight that little bit harder in newer, more unusual seats. Why the Labour Party is so obsessive in their opposition is beyond me; are they so cynical? Or bored, and in need of anything to shout down if it’s seen as easy enough to do?

Our attitude towards the ever changing, always shifting representative means seems mostly shrug-shoulders and rooted in the past. We cling to “Greater Manchester” and “Merseyside”, both of which no longer exist. We occasionally scratch our heads at “Middlesex”, and look in vain for “Clwyd”.  Our incessant bored fiddling with figures and numbers have awarded Southport with a PR postcode and L-accented Post Offices.  Next week sees one opportunity to take seriously the new chapter in representation which will revitalise our relationship with candidates, parliamentarians and politics. It’s lazy and churlish to whinge about the radical nature of the review process; remember, only 50 MPs are going. I would prefer far less with a proportional voting system; maybe you want even fewer than 500 by 2020.

If you want more information about the great boundary re-jig, then Wikipedia is your friend. Whatever happens when the Boundary Commission for England declares its provisional plans next week, let’s try and get through it without too much bruising.

I have been asked to advise the North West Region Liberal Democrats on some specific constituencies for the North West of England, and will be present at a number of North West public consultation meetings on behalf of them.. The proposals I linked to in this post are my own ideas, almost all of which are absent from those which are being considered by the NW Region. 

EDL – home grown terrorists

Despite and in the face of the ban on marches, the English Defence League took its circus tour of provincial high streets to the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Symbolism abounded – the East End has dealt with this sort of thing before.

The EDL have always had a lot of explaining to do – what they believe, and why, and how they would progress from slogans to action. Their ‘manifesto’, such as they have one, drips with hatred, fear, prejudice and ignorance, handicapped by paranoia. At the start of this year, the group was viewed as the knuckle-dragging wing of the British National Party, to be viewed with distrust and disquiet, protested against, though not given much more attention. National Front, British National Party, English Defence League – eventually, history tells us, all the far-right groups fail. The explanations which are presented crack and fissure under the weight of mis-explanations, omitted details and spin.

And then July 2011 happened.

Anders Behring Breivik, an extremist Christian who had deep-seated distrust against Muslims specifically, immigration policy generally, left-wing policies in the round, massacred members of the political party he blamed for changing his country in ways he would not accept. His name is etched into history – the three words “Anders Behring Breivik” as a symbol of Norway’s darkest days in modern times.

We know the Breivik admired and supported far-right and racist groups across Europe and possibly further overseas. Links between Breivik and our own EDL are sketchy though those which exist utterly condemn the group and destroy their arguments about being “peaceful”. Breivik himself wrote about meeting EDL members; he spoke on their messageboards, he met members in person. His much quoted statement, taken from his manifesto reads:

“I used to have more than 600 EDL members as Facebook friends and have spoken with tens of EDL members and leaders. In fact; I was one of the individuals who supplied them with processed ideological material (including rhetorical strategies) in the very beginning.”

One infamous photograph of Breivik, amongst the thoroughly unsettling profile images that resemble perverse spoofs of L’Oreal adverts, shows him posing with a weapon ready for action. “This is how I will be remembered,” the photograph says. “This is my legacy.”

Such photographs are not exactly uncommon on-line. There are probably hundreds of thousands of images showing teenagers flexing their muscles in front of bathroom mirrors, women pouting in nightclubs, and housewives throttling their kittens.

The “posing with guns” imagery is common too, and can be traced to plenty of ”wannabe” headline providers from across the social and geographical classes. In the UK, the imagery always appears tinged with parody, mockery, as the consequence of our national attitude towards carrying guns makes showing off with them appear ludicrous, unreal. Running counter to this is the imagery from Northern Ireland, where for generations the violence and counter-violence developed into a cottage industry for photographers. Imagery from The Troubles appeared on television and newspapers with all the expected elements – balaclavas, pistols, flags, shotguns, military uniforms, portraits of the fallen and avenged. Attached together, these images and photographs developed into a lurid backdrop for the history of Britain – the running commentary by the armies formed by consequence and necessity.

Whatever your opinion on the specifics of Northern Ireland and its history, the images that conflict produced has provided blueprints for future generations who have the misguided assumption that they, too, can nominate themselves as guardians of their own self-confirmed truth. The EDL and its offshoots are misinformed if they believe they can form their own ‘army’, their own twisted form of ‘loyalism’ to a cause they were not invited to join. The images I remember from my youth, channel flicking through the news headlines, hearing my Dad complain about the “never ending” “problems” in Ireland (as he politely put it), these are the images which have convinced the far-right of 2011 that they represent a long-held British tradition of armed resistance and responsible vigilantism.

Simply put, supporters of the EDL are potential terrorist threats. Like Breivik, they believe only in armed resistance against an enemy – a target they have incorrectly identified and wrongly convicted, but an enemy to them all the same. Their nationalism is as extreme as that of Breivik – the use of Nordic and Gothic typography, their obsession with nationalist images, their subservience to a flag. And their hatred of political parties which they blame for the situation which exists only in their mind – “force feeding Halal meat”, as one EDL member told me in a messageboard; “forcing Islamic laws in Parliament” as another assured me was happening on the comments section to a newsstory. Obsessed, violent, angry, isolated, paranoid – the characteristics we are told must be looked out for, the “if you see anything suspicious” warnings on railway stations.

If we are to accept freedom of expression, as any democracy must, then we must remember that the rule of law exists to keep that freedom sacred and valued. We are told by the mainstream media, with suspicion and cynicism, that we must be aware of the ‘danger’ in immigration, the Muslim family down the road, the Mosque planning application, the use of Urdu in schools.

We should remember not to be ‘race blind’ to the terrorist characteristics of the self-appointed army of tracksuited, shaven haired nationalists, whose iconography, language and behaviour would ordinarily instigate tabloid campaigns and government action. The distinction with the BNP (which should not be banned, not least because they appear to be falling apart all by themselves) should be obvious.

We were told to be vigilant against possible acts of terror on British soil by Irish dissidents for generations. Our media asks us to treat Muslims as outsiders who could be priming bombs and suicide vests as we speak. But what of the EDL? Yes, they’re idiots and football hooligans and bored married men wanting to revisit their former youthful glories – but look at the images below, taken from Hope Not Hate’s collection, and wonder if the link between Anders Behring Breivik could turn into something more serious, more horrific.

If the threat exists whereby members of the EDL or their offshoots go from photographs to shooting spree, what steps do we take now? Against all terrorist threats on this island of ours, we have to be prepared.