A non-binding contract?

Last year, Tim Berners-Lee launched his Contract for the Web, setting out what he hopes will be our rights and freedoms on the internet. It wasn’t received entirely positively at the time, but Tim’s persisting.

Contract for the Web
Everyone has a role to play in safeguarding the future of the Web. The Contract for the Web was created by representatives from over 80 organizations, representing governments, companies and civil society, and sets out commitments to guide digital policy agendas. To achieve the Contract’s goals, governments, companies, civil society and individuals must commit to sustained policy development, advocacy, and implementation of the Contract text.

We can all get involved — governments, corporations, individuals.

Contract for the Web: Tim Berners-Lee calls on world governments (and us all) to make the web a force for goodBoingBoing
Governments that sign on are asked to promise to “ensure everyone can connect to the internet,” to “keep all the internet available all the time,” and to “respect and protect people’s fundamental online privacy and data rights.”

Corporate signatories promise that they will “make the internet affordable and accessible to everyone,” “respect and protect people’s privacy and personal data to build online trust,” and “develop technologies that support the best in humanity and challenge the worst.”

Individuals are asked to “be creators and collaborators on the Web,” “build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity,” and “fight for the Web.”

It’s the digital equivalent of the climate crisis.

Tim Berners-Lee unveils global plan to save the webThe Guardian
“I think people’s fear of bad things happening on the internet is becoming, justifiably, greater and greater,” Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, told the Guardian. “If we leave the web as it is, there’s a very large number of things that will go wrong. We could end up with a digital dystopia if we don’t turn things around. It’s not that we need a 10-year plan for the web, we need to turn the web around now.”

But, as before, doubts remain.

Tim Berners-Lee: web inventor’s plan to save the internet is admirable, but doomed to failThe Conversation
But the fact that Google and Facebook back the contract raises some questions. Do they really want to help reform the web to curb their worst behaviour or will manipulation continue to be the cost of access?

The algorithms of Google, Facebook and Twitter determine what people see online, whether that is adverts or political content. The contract does nothing to resolve this huge imbalance in influence and power. Many of us feel like we have no choice but to use their services, and they often use openness – such as free email and free apps like Google Maps – as a way of furthering their control over everything people do online.

Google makes money from people using free services, mostly by hoovering up our data to fuel targeted ads, and its business model isn’t likely to change overnight. For internet reform to succeed, it would need international collaboration between governments for effective regulation, along with pressure from users.

Sounds unlikely, to be honest. Unfortunately.

Update 05/12/2019

I’ve just come across this article that I thought fits well here, trying to imagine an internet that serves the public interest. It seems such a quaint idea, but one with a solid history behind, thanks in part to radio and the BBC.

Building a more honest internetColumbia Journalism Review
Of the world’s top hundred websites, Wikipedia is the sole noncommercial site. If the contemporary internet is a city, Wikipedia is the lone public park; all the rest of our public spaces are shopping malls—open to the general public, but subject to the rules and logic of commerce.

Resisting political negativity

It’s hard to stay positive about politics these days.

Chief Rabbi launches unprecedented attack on ‘mendacious’ Jeremy Corbyn over Jew hateThe Jewish Chronicle
Also highlighting shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s claim that the party is now “doing everything” to tackle the crisis, the Chief Rabbi says: “The claims by leadership figures in the Labour Party that it is ‘doing everything’ it reasonably can to tackle the scourge of anti-Jewish racism and that it has ‘investigated every single case’ are a mendacious fiction.” …

In a clear reference to Jewish MPs such as Dame Louise Ellman, Luciana Berger and also to the whistleblowers who spoke out about Labour’s failure to tackle the problem in a BBC Panorama documentary, he writes: “We sit powerless, watching with incredulity as supporters of the Labour leadership have hounded parliamentarians, party members and even staff out of the party for facing down anti-Jewish racism.”

Harry Dunn’s family urge voters to unseat Dominic RaabThe Guardian
They said: “We are not political people. Whatever political thoughts we hold we generally keep to ourselves. But the enormity and shocking nature of what has happened to us have left us feeling compelled to come to Esher and Walton this evening in the midst of the current election campaign. We feel that his handling of our situation has been so outrageously dishonourable and disrespectful that we have a duty to respectfully bring these matters to the direct attention of that local community that have until now voted him into this position.”

Tony Blair says Tories and Labour engaged in ‘populism running riot’The Guardian
“We’re a mess,” Blair said. “The buoyancy of the world economy has kept us going up to now, but should that falter, we will be in deep trouble. Investment is down; jobs in certain sectors are already moving; our currency stays devalued sharply; and market sentiment swings between anxiety and alarm.

“And across a range of international issues which matter to us, we’re irrelevant – too preoccupied to spare overstretched bandwidth of attention. Our politics is utterly dysfunctional.”

Nine key facts about the election everyone keeps getting wrongWired UK
The 2019 general election is proving to be one of the most complicated to discern, as candidates and political parties move away from traditional truth-stretching and fact-massaging to more malicious potential falsehoods.

The public have also picked up on it, too, becoming more tribal, overlooking obvious facts when they do not chime with their viewpoint. It’s also an immensely important election, so we’ve taken the time to look at several key areas and bust some “facts” you may hear from the mouths of politicians, pundits and the general public that prove to be… less than factual.

I need to revisit my earlier post, I think, It’s not all bad news, and its links to Hans Rosling’s work. I’m currently reading and thoroughly enjoying his “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think”, a book needed now more than ever.

FactfulnessGapminder
Factfulness is a relaxing habit for critical thinking. It helps you maintain a fact-based worldview. It teaches you how to recognise and avoid the most common ways information gets misinterpreted.

attention-filter-01

Democracy damaged

It seems the Conservatives have shown themselves to be factually untrustworthy. I can’t imagine they thought they’d get away with this. I guess they mustn’t care.

Or perhaps it’s just a classic Trumpian move: the more we’re talking about this concocted social media controversy, the less we’re talking about the real issues at stake. Either way, (more) trust is lost.

Tories under fire for ‘fake’ fact-checking Twitter accountThe Telegraph

Tories pretend to be factchecking service during leaders’ debateThe Guardian

Fact Check HQ: Tories condemned over fake Twitter accountThe Herald

Tory HQ slammed for ‘dystopian’ rebranding of Twitter account during leaders’ debateHuffpost

Election debate: Conservatives criticised for renaming Twitter profile ‘factcheckUK’BBC News

Britain’s ruling political party masqueraded as a fact-checker on Twitter during a TV debateCNBC

The Tories just used a disinformation trick that deserves to get them banned from TwitterNew Statesman

Twitter says PM Johnson’s party misled public with ‘factcheck’ accountReuters

The debate itself left no clear winner. Perhaps, as suggested in the latest B3TA newsletter, the format should be dropped entirely and substituted for something more testing.

Forget leaders debates, prospective Prime Ministers should do a series of tasks without losing cool: switch phone to a different tariff; retrieve ball from grumpy neighbour; submit tax return to HMRC website; take a driving test etc.

In an earlier newsletter they had some pointers on how to improve voting, which, joking aside, might really be worth considering.

16 year olds should get TWO votes as they’ve got to live with the consequences longer.

Blank ballot papers so votes only count if you can remember the name of the candidate.

One person, one vote and that person is Sir David Attenborough.

 

We have rights, but who pays?

Two more think pieces on Labour’s plans to provide free broadband to everyone in the UK, if elected.

Free broadband: internet access is now a human right, no matter who pays the billsThe Conversation
Before the internet, most people in democracies had roughly equal opportunities to exercise their political rights. They could vote, write to newspapers or their political representative, attend public meetings and join organisations.

But when some people gained internet access, their opportunities to exercise political rights became much greater compared to those without the internet. They could publish their views online for potentially millions of people to see, join forces with other people without having to physically attend regular meetings, and obtain a wealth of previously inaccessible political information.

Today, a large proportion of our political debates take place online, so in some ways our political rights can only be exercised via the internet. This means internet access is required for people to have roughly equal opportunities to make use of their political freedoms, and why we should recognise internet access as a human right.

Economics of Labour’s plan to nationalise broadband – £20 billion cost is unrealisticThe Conversation
While there is no nationalised and free full-fibre scheme to compare Labour’s proposal to, Australia carried out a government-funded broadband rollout scheme that is widely viewed as a relative failure. This policy was not identical – it was not for full-fibre connections – but costs of the programme spiralled and it became a political football.

Expanding access to super-fast broadband is clearly an important policy goal and rural communities would likely be the biggest beneficiaries, as market forces are unlikely to provide this in the short or medium term. But Labour appears to significantly underestimate the costs, while possibly overestimating the savings.

Ultimately, the question to ask is whether guaranteed full-fibre connections in every home is justifiable if the programme started to run several times over budget, as seems likely. There would be a very real risk of non-delivery if the project keeps going over budget. Then, a lack of private sector provision would leave little alternative for consumers to turn to.

Mixing yesterday’s politics with tomorrow’s technology

I must admit I was as incredulous as everybody else when this was announced. Any talk of nationalisation makes me cringe.

Full text of Jeremy Corbyn’s speech on Labour’s British Broadband announcementThe Labour Party
A Labour government will make broadband free for everybody. And not just any broadband, but the very fastest. Full-fibre broadband to every home, in every part of our country, for free – as a universal public service.

And once it’s up and running, instead of you forking out for your monthly bill, we’ll tax the giant corporations fairly – the Facebooks and the Googles – to cover the running costs.

But perhaps I’m being too hasty to dismiss this?

The Conservative’s own research shows why Labour’s broadband plan makes perfect senseWired UK
Research commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) last year argued that current major providers are competing for a slice of just 75 per cent of the UK broadband market – and largely ignoring rural areas that they consider unprofitable. …

Openreach was even identified as the best (and only) contender for the job, and advised against “competitive tendering”. In a similar way to Australia and Singapore, this model could deliver coverage at a lower cost than a model that relies more heavily on the private sector, analysts argued.

We’ll have to wait and see. It could all be academic anyway, come 12 December.

Who to vote for? Who to trust?

This election’s quickly getting complicated. Let’s start at the beginning.

General election 2019: A really simple guideBBC
The UK’s main parties are gearing up for a general election on 12 December. These national votes, to choose a government to run the country, are supposed to be held every five years. But this would be the third since 2015. …

The issues UK voters care most about have changed a lot, according to the polls. The National Health Service (NHS) and immigration were the things that most concerned voters in 2015. The European Union (EU) was of far less interest. Now, however, Brexit – the UK’s departure from the EU – is by far the biggest issue.

who-to-trust

As this explainer from the BBC shows, there are marginal seats, with a majority of less than 10%, and now there are ultra-marginals, those with a majority of less than 2%.

Election 2019 in maps: Where are the seats that could turn the election?BBC
In 2017 there were 51 of these ultra-marginals – considerably more than in previous elections. In fact there were eight seats with a majority under 50.

All those will be hotly contested. The Conservatives will be hoping to win back some of the seats they lost last time – like Canterbury, Keighley and Kensington – while Labour will try to take seats where it got within a whisker – such as Arfon, Pudsey and Southampton Itchen.

Lots of talk about pacts and alliances between parties, though that’s far from straightforward.

The Lib Dem-Green-Plaid pact isn’t really a remain allianceIndependent
It’s perfectly legitimate for parties to tactically stand down against each other to increase their chances of winning. To describe this particular arrangement as being in aid of Remain however seems like a stretch given some of the seats involved. The selection seems more driven by which seats the parties want to win, rather than an assessment of whether the sitting MP supports a Final Say or not.

Remain alliance hit by candidates backlash over centrally-imposed pactTelegraph
The Green candidate in former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith’s Chingford seat is now backing Labour even though the pact between LibDems, Greens and Plaid Cymru explicitly ruled out any deals with Labour because of Jeremy Corbyn’s backing for a Brexit deal. John Tyne, a Green activist, said he was “tactically withdrawing” from the contest and would instead work with Labour to overturn Mr Duncan Smith’s 2,400 majority.

UK election 2019: everything you need to know about Brexit Party’s Leave ‘pact’The Conversation
Electoral deals, unilateral standing aside and tactical voting seem to have become the hallmark of this election campaign so far. And, if the assumption that in the absence of a Brexit party, or of UKIP, supporters will tend to vote Conservative holds, then this is both good and bad news for the Tories. Because although it may help some defences, it undermines Johnson’s team in their attack seats. And it may not do wonders for its brand in other areas.

And no shortage of people telling us who to vote for, however surprisingly.

Second ex-Labour MP urges people to vote for Boris Johnson to stop Jeremy CorbynIndependent
Mr Woodcock, who held Barrow and Furness for Labour for eight years before resigning the party to go independent in 2018, said he would be voting Conservative in order to prevent Mr Corbyn taking control of the UK’s defence and security.

Vote Lib Dem, urges former Conservative minister David GaukeThe Guardian
The former chief secretary to the Treasury said getting enough Liberal Democrats and independents returned to parliament would create a parliament opposed to no deal and that would also block the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, from becoming prime minister.

At least we’re clear who the leaders say we should vote for, right?

The fake video where Johnson and Corbyn endorse each other BBC
A fake social media video where Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn endorse each other for prime minister has been posted online in an attempt to show the potential of so-called ‘deepfake’ videos to undermine democracy.

Rather than voting for the party you want, perhaps we should vote tactically, against the party we don’t. But how?

And then there were three: Remain tactical voting sites fail to agreeThe Guardian
While tactical voting could play a key role in shaping the result of a volatile election, there are already concerns that the three sites disagree on which party voters should back in dozens of seats around the country.

Under current plans, Miller’s site will back about 50 Liberal Democrat candidates. Another major site already up and running, run by the Best for Britain campaign, recommends about 180 Lib Dems. Remain United’s model suggests that the Lib Dems are likely to win only 33 seats if there is a significant tactical voting drive. A third site, run by the People’s Vote campaign, also launched this weekend with its own set of recommendations.

I live in one of those ultra-marginals mentioned earlier, a constituency on the People’s Vote top 100 key target list, and all three sites suggest the same for me. This is how Best for Britain sees the result going. We’ll see.

who-to-trust-2

How much faith should we have in these sites and their differing methodologies? And what on earth is multilevel regression and poststratification?

Can you actually trust tactical voting websites?Wired UK
Because there are very few rules ensuring transparency in MRP modelling, it’s almost impossible to know where this variance comes from. People are being advised to vote for a political party without knowing that advice’s true impact. While Remain United has posted its results and general methodology online, Best for Britain has been less open. … John Curtice, who is also the President of the British Polling Council, told me that the regulatory organisation is “in the process of developing” transparency rules for publishing data from MRP modelling.

But perhaps we’re seeing this whole election from the wrong angle. Perhaps we’re overestimating the significance of the pacts and alliances, of the tactical voting models and strategies — of Brexit, itself.

Tactical pacts won’t turn this into a Brexit electionThe Guardian
Most people are not party members. Only the eccentric few follow every twist of the debate. The nerds who monitor cabinet reshuffles as if they were football transfer windows relish an election. It is our world cup. But the rest see it more like a trip to the dentist, necessary but unwelcome. It is something that should happen regularly but not often; definitely not recreational. Those are the people who decide the result and, hard though it may be for the obsessives like me to accept, their perspective is often better than ours. …

The ambition for pacts comes from the belief that this election is a referendum in disguise, and that voters must be channelled into leave and remain streams before they can be let loose in a polling booth. That isn’t how most people will see things, because it isn’t how general elections work. They are a tangle of old habits and first-time departures, local cultures and personal priorities, of which Brexit is only one. For some it is the NHS, or crime, or just a nasty taste in the mouth when Johnson or Corbyn appear on television – which is as valid a test as any, frustrating though it can be for people who wish the electorate could be organised into tidy ideological compartments.

Be happy!

This study into happiness came out last month, but it’s interesting to read through this in light of the general election we’re currently in the middle of.

Why the UK was at its cheeriest in the 1920s
Says who? A study. By psychology researchers at the University of Warwick. They analysed millions of books and newspapers going back to 1825, counting key words that signify happiness and sadness.

And they found? That in the UK, we were happiest in the 1920s and after the end of the second world war. And least happy in 1978 during the winter of discontent.

Can money buy happiness? Two centuries’ worth of books suggest it can
By examining millions of books and newspaper articles published since 1820 in four countries (America, Britain, Germany and Italy), they have developed what they hope is an objective measure of each place’s historical happiness. And their answer is that wealth does bring happiness, but some other things bring more of it.

be-happy-1

Let’s hear from the researchers directly. It’s not all about the money.

What makes us happy? We analysed 200 years of written text to find the answer
What we found was remarkable. While gross domestic product (GDP) is often assumed to be associated with a rise in well-being, we found that its effect on well-being throughout history is marginal at best. GDP has increased fairly consistently over the last 200 years in the four countries that we looked at, but well-being has moved up and down dramatically over that time.

What is perhaps most remarkable is that well-being appears to be incredibly resilient to short-term negative events. Wars create dramatic valleys in well-being, but soon after the war well-being frequently recovers to its pre-war levels. Lasting changes to our measure of happiness occur slowly, over generations. …

Across countries, an extra year of life (in terms of longevity) is equivalent to a 4.3% rise in GDP. A year of internal conflict is equivalent to a 30% drop in GDP. Policies that seek to enhance longevity, for example through providing better access to healthcare throughout life, may therefore be better than policies that only attempt to increase GDP, which is increasingly being challenged as a measure of progress.

A new political matrix?

Everyone’s election campaigns are underway now, with the various parties keen to target those voters they think best placed to swing it in their favour. But who are these people these days?

The centre folds – What happened to Britain’s median voter?
Since Brexit sliced through traditional political alliances, politics has become less of a simple matter of left versus right. Parties hammering out manifestos and preparing leaflets for swing seats are thus grappling with “Schrödinger’s median voter”, argues Marcus Roberts, a pollster at YouGov: they are unsure whether this mythical figure is alive or dead.

a-new-political-matrix-1

If Brexit dominates the coming election, the median voter will be no more. When it comes to leaving the European Union, voters have polarised. There is little sign of compromise between the Remain and Leave camps. Fishing in the gap between these two pools of votes will land few votes, points out Chris Prosser of the University of Manchester. When elections are fought on economic issues, between left and right, political parties can pick a point in the middle and not go far wrong. By contrast, “identity politics do not have give and take,” says Geoffrey Evans of Oxford University. It is relatively easy to compromise on, say, the level of tax. It is harder to do so on notions such as sovereignty.

Here’s my simplistic take on this: we need the parties to pick a quadrant.

This is how it used to be; the left, the right, the centre.

a-new-political-matrix-2

Brexit isn’t a left or right thing, it’s in or out.

a-new-political-matrix-3

But because we have another general election, rather than another referendum, we have to think of the latter in terms of the former.

a-new-political-matrix-4

So where does that leave those of us who sit in the bottom-left quadrant?

Meanwhile.

Tom Watson quits as Labour deputy leader and stands down as MP to ‘start a different kind of life’
The two men clashed repeatedly at the top of the party, with Mr Watson becoming a focus for the ‘moderate’ opposite in the party to Mr Corbyn. He criticised the leadership’s attempts to tackle anti-Semitism in the party and led moves to push it into supporting a second referendum on the EU, despite the entrenched resistance of the leader. Most recently, he defied Mr Corbyn by calling for the party to back a new public vote before the country went to the polls in a general election.

The Twitter Presidency

Some people think Twitter’s latest announcement about banning political ads is one others should copy.

The Irish Times view on Twitter’s ad ban: over to you, Facebook
In an important announcement on Wednesday, Twitter chief executive and co-founder Jack Dorsey promised the platform would ban all political advertisements – including ads about political issues – by late November. “We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought,” he said. …

On Wednesday, Dorsey pointedly tweeted: “This isn’t about free expression. This is about paying for reach. And paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle.” He’s right. Facebook and others should follow Twitter’s example.

Here’s a different take on that, though.

Twitter’s political ad ban is disingenuous: The platform will continue spreading false political statements free of charge — and benefiting from it
In fact, I’d rather see a misleading statement by a politician clearly marked as an ad than endlessly replicated on my Twitter feed as organic content. It’s hard to disagree with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s contention that it makes more sense to increase political advertising transparency than to impose a complete ban on such paid content.

Of course, some “politicians” are getting their message out for free. Here’s a visually striking, in-depth article from The New York Times on how crazy Trump’s Twitter tantrums and tactics have become.

How Trump reshaped the Presidency in over 11,000 tweets
When Mr. Trump entered office, Twitter was a political tool that had helped get him elected and a digital howitzer that he relished firing. In the years since, he has fully integrated Twitter into the very fabric of his administration, reshaping the nature of the presidency and presidential power. …

“Boom. I press it,” Mr. Trump recalled months later at a White House conference attended by conservative social media personalities, “and, within two seconds, ‘We have breaking news.’”

twitter-presidency-1

twitter-presidency-2

Less elder-statesman, more oversugared-bullying-kid-in-sweet-shop. We’ll need to amend the dictionary definition of presidential, when all this is over.

There are other articles in this series, but I’m reluctant to subject myself to more of this craziness.

Here we go again

Another year, another vote, but it’s the wrong question. John Crace and Jess Phillips nail it again.

Brexit reduced to a petty squabble. Classic Dom
The one standout moment was a passionate defence of futility from Labour’s Jess Phillips. The coming election would not answer any of the questions that had precipitated it. People would interpret the results to suit their own ends, she argued, and Brexit wouldn’t be resolved for years.

All that was happening was that MPs had run out of ideas. An election was an admission of collective failure. Unable to resolve their differences, MPs had turned their sights on each other. A collective act of self-harm. We were heading for the Gunfight at the OK Corral. There would be blood. Many MPs wouldn’t be back in December. But everyone was banking on the fact it wouldn’t be them.

Nothing to worry about, right?

British polling – Who is winning the race for No 10 Downing Street?
Our poll tracker, which averages the findings of more than a dozen pollsters, shows how the parties are faring. It will be kept updated throughout the campaign. However, it should be read with caution. It gives an indication of public sentiment, but does not forecast the distribution of seats.

here-we-go-again-1

The Guardian ignores that last line about the polls not forecasting distributions of seats with this headline. It makes a good point about Labour’s fence-squatting habit, though.

Can Labour eat into projected 58-seat Tory majority?
Certainly, the Conservative strategy for an election campaign looks simple enough – “let’s get Brexit done” – an appeal that plays to the idea that the nation is worn out by Westminster’s endless battles.

That contrasts with the opposition’s argument, easy to portray as overly complex: vote Labour, negotiate a new deal and have referendum on the deal the party just negotiated. It is a promise of more Brexit debate and no certain final outcome.

And the first general election in December since the 1920s. Relevant? Nah.

Does holding a general election in December affect voter turnout? Science has the answer
“Such evidence as we have – which is limited – does not provide any support for the proposition that you can’t hold an election in the winter,” says John Curtice, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde …

Research from 2007 published in the University of Chicago Press found that every incremental inch of rain decreased voter turnout by one percentage point. However, a 2013 study from researchers at Gothenburg University in Sweden didn’t find any effect of rain on turnout. Research from Oxford University also disputed any connection between weather and voter turnout, finding turnout was far more motivated by the election race being close or not and the policy differences between the leading parties.

Here’s another great piece from Chris Dillow, on a possible way forward through all this mess.

Detoxifying Brexit
The Leaver-Remain divide is so bitter because it’s become not about our relations with Europe but a battle of identities, with the two sides now being proxies for other things. Remainers see Leavers as social conservatives; Leavers see Remainers as elitists.

There are so many valid, sensible, rational and calming points here, from the benefits of constructing a counter-argument for yourself, to avoiding cognitive biases and dialling down fanaticism, but, as he acknowledges, there’s a problem:

The people who most need to know all of the above are those who are least likely to read it. The mainstream media seem keener to inflame passions than to dampen them.

A bit of me thinks the reason for this isn’t just to do with winning clickbait – something which the BBC, unforgiveably, seems as concerned about as the commercial media. Whilst we are divided about Brexit, we are not divided about something else – class. In this sense, Brexit hysteria suits our rulers just fine.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic:

Mash-up: Trump’s al-Baghdadi speech & Obama’s Bin Laden speech

It’s not all bad news

I think I might not bother keeping up with current affairs for a while, it’s all too ridiculous. Basically, another prime minister, another deal, another vote.

How much of Johnson’s ‘great new deal’ is actually new?
As MPs prepare to vote on Boris Johnson’s EU withdrawal agreement, Guardian analysis shows that less than 5% of the original deal has been renegotiated, despite it being rejected by parliament three times.

not-all-bad-news

Another lost vote.

‘House of fools’: how the papers covered Johnson’s latest Brexit defeat
Newspapers cast prime minister as either a fighter or a loser, with plenty of anger directed at Parliament, too.

not-all-bad-news-1

This current prime minister seems as prime ministerial as that president is presidential, i.e. not much.

Boris Johnson’s three letters to Brussels: what do they mean for Brexit?
Rather than writing one letter to the European Union, Johnson has sent three – almost. The first is less of a letter: rather an unsigned photocopy of a portion of of the Benn Act. Rather than asking for an extension on behalf of Johnson, the text merely points out that the Benn Act requires the government to seek an extension. After this, it adds that “if the parties are able to ratify before this date, the government proposes that the period should be terminated early”. In what seems a fit of pique, and reinforcing his determination simultaneously to write and refuse to write to Brussels, the prime minister declined to actually sign the missive.

Remember all those flow charts trying to explain how we might leave, back in March and April? Back to the drawing board with all those.

Brexit: What happens now?
It’s not clear that the whole process will be completed by 31 October. The government will seek to pass a “programme motion” to limit the length of debates in the House of Commons. MPs could reject that, though, and the bill must also pass through the House of Lords.

not-all-bad-news-2

And it’s not just the British press that’s struggling with politics.

Why Australia’s media front pages were blacked out today
Australia’s major media organisations blacked out their newspaper front pages and websites on Monday in a coordinated push for legislative change to protect press freedom and force the government to increase transparency.

According to the organisations – which include SBS, the ABC, Nine, News Corp Australia and The Guardian – a slew of laws introduced over the past 20 years have hindered the media’s capacity to act as the fourth estate and hold the government and other powerful figures to account.

not-all-bad-news-3

But what we need to remember is, if we step back from all this, it’s not all bad news. We just need to look in the right places.

Beautiful News
A collection of good news, positive trends, uplifting statistics and facts — all beautifully visualized by Information is Beautiful.

We’ll be releasing a chart every day for a year to move our attention beyond dramatic news headlines to the slow developments and quiet trends that go unseen, uncelebrated.

Amazing things are happening in the world, thanks to human ingenuity, endeavour and collaboration.

It’s the new initiative from David McCandless and his Information is Beautiful team. Here’s an example.

Everyone, everywhere is living longer
One of the greatest achievements of humanity is the increase in life expectancy. In 1960, the average life span was 52.6 years. Today it’s an impressive 72 years. The reasons are simple: improvements in child survival, expanded access to healthcare (including widespread vaccination), and people being lifted out of extreme, grinding poverty.

not-all-bad-news-4

And another.

More Afghan girls are being educated
Educating girls is probably the single most impactful thing we can do to make the world a better place. Women who spend longer in school have fewer, healthier and better-fed children, are less likely to die in childbirth, contribute more towards a country’s economy, participate more in politics, and are less likely to marry young or against their will.

not-all-bad-news-5

Just two of dozens of uplifting stories. I know which news website I’d rather read.

Update 22/10/2019

I should, of course, have added some links to Hans Rosling’s work after that.

Bill Gates on Factfulness
Bill Gates recently read Hans Rosling’s new book “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.” In it, Hans offers a new framework for how to think about the world.

And here’s Hans in his own words about the need for fact-based optimism.

Good news at last: the world isn’t as horrific as you think
Things are bad, and it feels like they are getting worse, right? War, violence, natural disasters, corruption. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer; and we will soon run out of resources unless something drastic is done. That’s the picture most people in the west see in the media and carry around in their heads.

I call it the overdramatic worldview. It’s stressful and misleading. In fact, the vast majority of the world’s population live somewhere in the middle of the income scale. Perhaps they are not what we think of as middle class, but they are not living in extreme poverty. Their girls go to school, their children get vaccinated. Perhaps not on every single measure, or every single year, but step by step, year by year, the world is improving. In the past two centuries, life expectancy has more than doubled. Although the world faces huge challenges, we have made tremendous progress.

It’s rarely black and white

Taking statistics out of context to push a particular agenda is nothing new. But it’s nice to see a pushback.

Fixing the ‘impeach this’ map with a transition to a cartogram
As discussed previously, the “impeach this” map has some issues. Mainly, it equates land area to votes, which makes for a lot of visual attention to counties that are big even though not many people live in them. So, Karim Douïeb used a clever transition to change the bivariate map to a cartogram. Now you can have a dual view.

its-rarely-black-and-white-1

We just need more of this kind of thing over here. For instance:

Show this chart to anyone who says Brexit is the ‘will of the British people’
This chart is not an entirely convincing argument against Leave or Remain, but it does illustrate that ‘the 52 per cent’ and ‘the 48 per cent’ actually constitute much smaller proportions of the UK population than the figure might imply.

its-rarely-black-and-white-2

Devolving politicians

Banksy painting of chimps as MPs sells for record £9.9m at Sotheby’s
The timing of the sale was impeccable, coming exactly four weeks before the revised Brexit deadline and a year after Banksy’s Girl with Balloon (2002) was shredded via remote control in the same saleroom. That work sold for £1.04m with fees after it was legally designated a new work by Banksy’s handling service Pest Control and renamed Love is in the Bin a week after the auction in October 2019.

Banksy painting of MPs as chimpanzees sells for record £9.9m
Chimpanzees first appeared in his work in 2002, with his piece Laugh Now. The painting shows a row of apes wearing aprons carrying the inscription “Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge”. In 2009, Banksy said of Devolved Parliament: “You paint 100 chimpanzees and they still call you a guerrilla artist.”

The Cockroach by Ian McEwan review – a Brexit farce with legs
But in truth the parallel is misleading. It is not just that in McEwan’s case the metamorphosis is reversed: Sams is not a human transmuted into an insect but a cockroach who has taken over the body of the prime minister of the UK. (The room in which he awakes is in 10 Downing Street.) It is also that this fable is much more Swiftian than Kafkaesque. In The Metamorphosis, the story is really about the strangeness of everyday life and the human capacity to deny it. The world of The Cockroach is more like one of Swift’s parallel universes where political and intellectual idiocies are not so much reduced to absurdity as magnified into towering follies.

devolving-politicians-2

Law disordered?

I loved the cropping of the photo The Guardian used for John Crace‘s write-up of the home secretary’s speech at the Conservative party conference yesterday.

Tories reveal themselves as party of lawlessness and disorder
“Today, here in Manchester, the Conservative party takes its rightful place as the Party of Law and Order in Britain once again,” she began. Er … run that past us again, Priti. Psycho Geoff on his way home to the Cotswolds in the back of a police car under armed guard. The prime minister has been accused of groping two women at the same time and channelling public funds to a woman with whom he had an affair. The government judged by the supreme court to have acted unlawfully over prorogation. The full-on search to find a way of getting round the Benn Act. Mark Francois committing crimes against his own sanity. Right now, it was harder to find someone in the Tory party without serious form.

These clowns are a joke.

A brief moment of clarity

In all the muddle and obfuscation swirling around the Brexit miasma, the judgment of the supreme court on the legality of Boris Johnson’s prorogation provided welcome evidence of intelligence and crystal-clear language.

From the full judgment:

JUDGMENT R (on the application of Miller) (Appellant) v The Prime Minister  Respondent) Cherry and others (Respondents) v Advocate General for Scotland (Appellant) (Scotland)
55. Let us remind ourselves of the foundations of our constitution. We live in a representative democracy. The House of Commons exists because the people have elected its members. The Government is not directly elected by the people (unlike the position in some other democracies). The Government exists because it has the confidence of the House of Commons. It has no democratic legitimacy other than that. This means that it is accountable to the House of Commons – and indeed to the House of Lords – for its actions, remembering always that the actual task of governing is for the executive and not for Parliament or the courts. The first question, therefore, is whether the Prime Minister’s action had the effect of frustrating or preventing the constitutional role of Parliament in holding the Government to account.

56. The answer is that of course it did.

Loving that ‘of course’.

61. It is impossible for us to conclude, on the evidence which has been put before us, that there was any reason – let alone a good reason – to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament for five weeks, from 9th or 12th September until 14th October. We cannot speculate, in the absence of further evidence, upon what such reasons might have been. It follows that the decision was unlawful.

And from the summary:

R (on the application of Miller) (Appellant) v The Prime Minister (Respondent) Cherry and others (Respondents) v Advocate General for Scotland (Appellant) (Scotland)
This Court has already concluded that the Prime Minister’s advice to Her Majesty was unlawful, void and of no effect. … The prorogation was also void and of no effect. Parliament has not been prorogued. This is the unanimous judgment of all 11 Justices.

A day without Brexit news? Nope.

I thought I had found some interesting news about the government today.

No 10 request for user data from government website sparks alarm
While officials insist the move to share user data from the Gov.uk website is simply intended to improve the service and that no personal details are collected, campaigners raised concern about the urgency of the task, and the personal involvement of Boris Johnson and his chief adviser, Dominic Cummings.

But then something else caught my eye.

Brexit: Scottish judges rule Parliament suspension is unlawful
[T]he Court of Session judges were unanimous in finding that Mr Johnson was motivated by the “improper purpose of stymieing Parliament”, and he had effectively misled the Queen in advising her to suspend Parliament.

Scottish judges decide Boris Johnson misled the Queen
In effect, though not in express terms, the Scottish court has held that Mr Johnson lied to the Queen. Not only was the advice false, but it was known by the prime minister to be false. Mr Johnson acted in bad faith.

‘This is a huge thing’: Labour Brexit chief Keir Starmer reacts to parliament suspension being ruled unlawful after being told of news while live on stage
He told delegates: “It was obvious to everybody that not only was shutting down parliament at this crucial time obviously, the wrong thing to do, we should be sitting each and every day to resolve this crisis.

Brexit latest news: Downing Street criticised for calling into question impartiality of Scottish judges

I wonder if this turn of events has been considered in these already mind-boggling charts.

These Brexit flowcharts show just how messy UK politics is
Overall, these Brexit charts range from professional-looking diagrams by media outlets and commentators, to, in some cases, non-linear cosmoses that move in a mystifying range of directions.

But for most of us, I think, this is all starting to get a little tedious.

Brexit: how the people are using ‘news avoidance’ to escape the post-truth world of politics
The term “news avoidance” suggests that these people are avoiding reality. The underlying principle of public journalism is that readers are also citizens whose actions in the real world are based on the reality they have come to know from the news. While acknowledging that this “reality” is put together by journalists, in line with the Frankfurt School’s concept of the “culture industry”, many academics accept that “not to know” is to retire from reality.

Yet this way of thinking about journalism and its role in society fails to address the recent experience of Harris’ interviewees and millions more. For them, journos and politicos have combined to produce the “unreal”, distant world of the “Westminster Village”, a world that many ordinary people feel disconnected from, the “post-truth” world. Seen from this perspective, avoiding the news may be an attempt to escape the unreality concocted exclusively by residents of that gated community.

Please leave. All of you.

The weather’s decidedly autumnal, but the political atmosphere got a little hotter up here yesterday.

Boris Johnson politely told by man to ‘please leave my town’ in viral exchange during PM’s Yorkshire visit
The Prime Minister was setting the scene for a “people versus Parliament” election strategy during a visit to Leeds, where he was confronted on Thursday. In footage captured by the BBC, Mr Johnson was seen shaking hands with the member of the public before the PM was simply told: “please leave my town”. Mr Johnson promptly replied: “I will very soon”.

#PleaseLeaveMyTown: Johnson’s Yorkshire walkabout goes awry
On the same day, he was castigated by another member of the public, who was not appeased by the PM’s assurances that his government is seeking a deal. “You should be in Brussels, negotiating,” the man told him. Johnson replied that the government has “been negotiating” but the man, undeterred, shot back: “You are not. You are in Morley, in Leeds.”

This headline from RT feels made up, but no, he actually said that.

Johnson says he’d rather be ‘dead in a ditch’ than ask EU for Brexit delay
It was not immediately clear how Johnson plans to deliver on his bold promise, given the string of defeats he has suffered, which resulted in the loss of the parliament majority and the adoption of a bill that actually obliges him to go and seek a new three-month extension to prolong the Brexit process.

At least there’s something good on the telly these days.

BBC Parliament: the ratings hit that’s Big Brother meets 24 – with added Bercow
True, there’s more than a whiff of disaster capitalism about BBC Parliament’s success – you can bet your bottom dollar that the figures would be much lower if the country hadn’t become a perpetual bin fire – but that isn’t to say that it isn’t extraordinarily entertaining.

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s slouch: how it compares to art’s great recliners
From Modigliani’s voluptuous nudes to Henry Moore’s laidback bronzes, Jacob Rees-Mogg’s now notorious slouch joins a long tradition of horizontal posing.

Curating at the cliff edge

It could be said that, in taking this project on, Caroline Lucas is taking a break from politics at exactly the wrong moment. But I think this refocussing of priorities, reminding us of what’s at stake, is vital right now.

Too much politics? UK Green party MP and anti-Brexit campaigner Caroline Lucas turns curator
Other paintings selected, by artists such as Victor Pasmore, point to the changes in landscape over the past century. “How can we take all of this for granted?” Lucas says. “What are these familiar scenes going to look like over the next 50 years, a period that will be critical at a time of accelerating climate emergency?”

She also hopes to include an image of Beachy Head chalk headlands in East Sussex by the Turner prizewinning photographer Wolfgang Tillmans. “At this critical moment, being on the edge sums it up. We are at the cliff edge metaphorically, from an environmental point of view and in terms of political change,” Lucas says. A number of contemporary posters from local environmental campaigns reflecting public concern, highlighting the need for action, may also be included.