I was awake soon after 5:30 yesterday morning. As I got to my computer, the EU referendum results weren’t confirmed, but it was looking certain that the country had voted (narrowly, but decisively) to leave the European Union. My thoughts during the day are nicely summed up by my tweets and retweets.

My initial reaction was anger.

(Hmm… the downside of rolling news coverage – that story has changed dramatically since I first linked to it.)

A few minutes later I was slightly more coherent (and almost philosophical)

Then the reality of the situation started to sink in

I tried to be positive

I was being sarcastic, of course. We’ll return to this subject later on.

I started to see life imitating art in a quite frightening way.

(And, yes, I know I should replace that picture with one of Boris Johnson)

Nigel Farage is (and, apparently, always has been) a despicable man. So it should have come as no surprise that his victory speech was insulting and divisive.

I don’t mind not being considered ordinary, but I’m certain I’m real and I like to think I’m decent. Tom Coates inverted Farage’s phrase nicely.

When Cameron resigned, I immediately became worried about the fall-out.

Really, if your best option is a man who stuck his penis into a pig’s mouth, then it must be clear that you’re in trouble.

Then I checked the stock market and realised that many of the Brexit supporters may have shot themselves in the foot.

A story in the FT illustrated the fall nicely (“nicely” isn’t really the right word!)

The markets bounced back a bit later in the day – but it was one of the most volatile days of trading in history.

Fox News can, of course, always be relied on to get important facts wrong.

Then I started to see data on the demographics of the voting – where it became obvious that it was mainly the older generations who were voting against the EU

Can I just point out that it’s #NotAllBabyBoomers :-/

Remember the £350m a week that was going to be diverted to the NHS. Turns out that was a lie.

It was a lie on many fronts.

  • It was a lie because the UK doesn’t send £350m a week to the EU
  • It was a lie because it ignored the money that we get back from the EU
  • It was a lie because any money saved was never going to be spent on the NHS

It was a lie that the Leave campaign were called out on many times, but they refused to retract it.

To be fair to Farage (and that’s not a phrase I ever expected to write) he wasn’t part of the official Leave campaign, so he wasn’t the right person to ask about this. But someone should certainly take Johnson or Gove to task over it.

Going back to the baby-boomers, I retweeted a friend’s innocent question

Then it started to look like Cameron might not be the only party leader to go in the fallout from the referendum

Incidentally, has anyone seen any evidence of the Lib Dems in this campaign? A couple of days ago I saw footage of Tim Farron in a crowd somewhere. Took me a few seconds to remember who he was; and then another minute or so to remember that he was the leader of the Lib Dems.

Euro-myths have always really annoyed me

More bad news from the City

I should point out that Morgan Stanley have denied the story. I guess time will tell who is telling the truth here.

By mid-afternoon, I was working on alternative plans

A final thought struck me

I mean, they were a single-issue party. And they’ve won that battle. Surely, there’s no need for the party to exist any longer. They can’t surely expect people to vote for them now (although, UK voters are a very strange bunch). If they closed down, they could all go back to the Tories and Farage and Carswell could get places in the new Johnson/Gove cabinet.

Oh, now I’m really depressed.


Ten Years?

It’s been some considerable time since I wrote anything about Nadine Dorries. I still keep an eye on what she’s up to, but most of the time it’s just the same old nonsense and it’s not worth writing about.

But I was interested to read her recent blog post explaining why she had given up Twitter (again). Of course, she uses it to rehash many of her old claims of stalking and the like, but what I found really interesting was when she said:

After almost ten years on Twitter (so long I can’t remember) and with 28,000 followers, I have made my own modest exit.

Because that “almost ten years” didn’t fit my recollections. Twitter has just had its tenth anniversary. As I wrote recently, almost no-one has been on Twitter for ten years – certainly not any British MPs.

It’s simple enough to use one of the many “how long have I been on Twitter?” sites to work out when her current @NadineDorriesMP account joined Twitter. It seems to be January 2012.

But that’s not the full story. She has joined and left Twitter a few times. Let’s see what we can find out.

Firstly, here’s a blog post from May 2009 where she doesn’t seem to be planning to join Twitter any time soon.

Anyway, safe to say, I shan’t be joining the legions of twitters any day soon.

It’s several months later, in September 2009, when she announces that she has joined Twitter. So that “ten years” is more like six and a half.

I’m pretty sure that first account was also called @NadineDorriesMP. At some point over the next couple of years, she closed that account (I’ll dig through her blog later to see if I can find any evidence to date that) and some time later she returned with a new account called @Nadine_MP. I know that because in May 2011 she gave up that second account and forgot to remove the Twitter widget from her web site. Then someone else took over the now-abandoned username and used it to deface her site. And then, as we saw above, she rejoined in January 2012.

So I think the list of Nadine’s Twitter accounts goes like this:

  • NadineDorriesMP (Sept 2009 – Unknown)
  • Nadine_MP (Unknown – May 2011)
  • NadineDorriesMP (Jan 2012 – Mar 2016)

That last account is still registered. She just chooses not to use it any more. If past behaviour is anything to go by, she’ll be back at some point.

Anyway, here’s another good example of why you can’t trust anything that Dorries says. Even on a simple fact like how long she has been using Twitter, she just pulls numbers out of the air. She makes stuff up to suit her and she’s been doing it for years.



I was convinced that the general election in 2010 was going to be the “Twitter election”. I built a web site (now sadly lost somewhere in cyberspace) that monitored what PPCs were saying on Twitter in my local constituency. But, all in all, it wasn’t very impressive. I gave a talk about how disappointing it had all been but then I forgot about it all.

But there’s another general election coming. And, surely, this one must be the Twitter election? A lot has changed in the last five years. Everyone is using Twitter. Surely this time some useful and interesting political discussion will take place on Twitter.

I set the bar a lot higher this time. Instead of just monitoring my local constituency, I’ve created a site that monitors all 650 constituencies in the country. Each constituency has a page, and on that page you’ll find a Twitter widget which displays a list I’m curating which contains all of the PPCs I can find for that constituency.

Well, when I say “I can find”, that’s a bit of a simplification. Obviously, finding details of all of the PPCs for 650 constituencies would be a bit of a mammoth task. But I’ve had help. There is a wonderful site called YourNextMP which is crowdsourcing details of all of the PPCs. And they have an API which allows me to grab their data periodically and update my information. If you have any information about PPCs in a constituency that they don’t already have, please consider adding it to their database.

After I found YourNextMP, it was just a simple matter of programming. I made heavy use of the Twitter API (via the Net::Twitter Perl module) and I’ve hosted the site on Github Pages (so I don’t need to worry if it suddenly gets massively popular). All of my code is available on Github – so feel free to send pull requests if there are features you’d like to add.

Oh, and obviously there’s a Twitter account – @TwittElection. Follow that if you want updates about the site or general chatter about the election campaign.

Today marks 100 days until the general election. I thought that was an appropriate day on which to officially launch the site.

Please let me know if you find the site useful.


Jungle Money

There’s been a lot of talk recently about what Nadine Dorries was paid for her appearances on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here and why she hasn’t declared that fee yet.

By following the trail laid down by Unity in this excellent blog post and listening carefully to what Dorries says in this interview with Andrew Neil (I expect that’ll be there for another week or so) it becomes pretty obvious what has happened.

She hasn’t received the money yet.

Of course, you wouldn’t usually expect to wait six months for payment for a media appearance, so what has happened?

Dorries has a service company called Averbrook and all of her media work is now undertaken by this company. Then Averbrook invoices media organisations for the work that Dorries does and the media companies pay the fees to Averbrook. The fees then sit in Averbrook’s bank account until needed.

At this point Dorries has received no money and therefore has no requirement to declare any income. In the Andrew Neil interview, she says “I have not personally benefited from going into the jungle”. She then explains that she has a company for her media work and although it isn’t made clear, it’s obvious that this company receives the money from this work.

Dorries goes on to say that when she benefits from that work, she will have to register the income. At some point in the future she will need to use this money and Averbrook will pay it to her. There are various ways for a director to take money out of a company. You might pay it as salary, you might pay it as dividends (if the director owns shares in the company) or, in extreme circumstances, you can close the company down and redistribute its assets. All of these will have varying tax implications and all of them will require Dorries to declare the income to parliament.

But here’s the interesting thing. The income that Dorries will receive from Averbrook will have no link back to its original source. The declaration will simply need to say “£X,000 dividend from Averbrook” or whatever is appropriate. There will be no way to say how much of the money comes from each individual source.

It’s a bit like money laundering. But, of course, this is all completely legal. Working through a service company is a really common way to manage tax affairs. It has tax benefits and (as we can see here) it has privacy benefits.

Of course, there’s a good argument that using a company like this goes against the spirit of the requirement for MPs to declare income. It would be hard to argue against that. But until the law is changed, you are very unlikely to see any MP stop using the system.

So what are the chances of the system changing? Rather slim I’d say. Why? Well because the people who would need to make the change are many of the people who are benefiting from this system.

But on this occasion, I’d have to say that Dorries isn’t the problem. She’s just taking advantage of a well-known system. And people aren’t asking her the right questions about it.


The Political Web

I made a thing.

On Sunday I mentioned how OpenTech always makes me feel a bit embarrassed that I’m not doing more useful stuff – particularly in the kinds of areas that OpenTech speakers care about.

Usually, real life takes over before I get a chance to do anything about it and I forget about my embarrassment until the next OpenTech. This year, I managed to harness my embarrassment and actually do something productive.

It’s not like I built anything from scratch. This is is really just me finally shipping something that I’ve been working on (off and on – more off than on) for almost five years. I built the first prototype at a hack day in 2008. I even wrote about it at the time.

The Political Web is a site that is intended to be a one-stop-shop for finding out information about British MPs. Currently each MP has a page which lists a number of standard web pages that contain information about the MP (Wikipedia, The Guardian, TheyWorkForYou – things like that). Of course each MP also has a number of non-standard pages on the internet (an official web site, a blog, perhaps a Twitter account) and adding those is going to be a harder job.

Previously two things have stopped me launching this. One was the fact that I wanted to support those all of those other sources of information. But I’ve decided to go for a “minimum viable product” approach and show you what I’ve already got. The other thing that prevented me talking about it much was that I thought I’d need someone to make it look nice (my web design skills are horrible). But the arrival of Bootstrap means that even a design ignoramus like me can build a site that looks more than half-decent.

So there you go. It’s there for you to play with. And there will (hopefully) be more coming soon. Please let me know if you find it useful.

And thanks to all the giants whose shoulders I’m standing on. The site wouldn’t exist without the TheyWorkForYou API, the Perl Dancer framework and Twitter Bootstrap.


Liverpudlian MPs

Back in the day, when I grew up on my Liverpool council estate every member of Liverpool City council was Conservative. The city had eight Conservative MPs.

This is Nadine Dorries writing on Conservative Home a couple of days ago. She should really learn that if she doesn’t check her facts, then someone else will. You’ll be shocked, I suspect, to hear that this information is less than completely true. To me, it looks like Liverpool never had more than six Tory MPs while Dorries was growing up there.

Dorries was born in 1957. So let’s look at the 1955 general election and see which MPs were elected in Liverpool then. Liverpool has nine MPs, six of which are Tory. None of the seats changed hands in 1959. In 1964, however, the Tories lost four seats, taking their total down to two. This number remained constant in 1966 and 1970. The Tories lost another seat in February 1974 and remained steady on only one seat in October. Finally, in 1979 (when Dorries is 22 – so I’m not sure it still counts as while she was growing up) the Tories doubled their number of seats to a rather unimpressive two.

So Liverpool never had more than six Tory MPs – al least not while Dorries was growing up there. But she thinks that she can just throw a fact into an article like that and people will just accept it’s true.

You should never trust a word that Dorries writes. She has frequently been proven wrong on details like this.

p.s. Tim Fenton has run this analysis too and has reached similar conclusions. And, surprise surprise, he finds that her claims about the council are nonsense too.


Equal Marriage

Over the last few days there has been a fair amount of heat and light coming out of the Tory party, generated by the discussion about equal marriage (or, as the tabloids like to describe it, “gay marriage”).

We’ve know for ages that David Cameron is in favour of it and that a lot of the Tory heartland isn’t. But at the end of last week Cameron said that he supported same-sex wedding ceremonies taking place in churches if (and that “if” is important here) the church is happy for them to take place. This hasn’t played well in the shires and various Tories have said a number of increasingly stupid things about it (for a particularly ridiculous example see Tim Fenton’s excellent piece on Nadine Dorries’ confusion over religious freedom and the ECHR).

The problem seems to be that all of the naysayers are illiterate. I said that the word “if” was important in what Cameron was proposes. To many of his critics it seems to be invisible. Where you and I are reading “churches may decide to hold same-sex wedding ceremonies if they want to”, Cameron’s critics are reading “churches will be forced against their will to hold same-sex wedding ceremonies”. They seem to be reading the story through some kind of middle-England auto-bigotry filter.

Some people on my side of the debate (in case that’s not clear, it’s the pro-equal-marriage side) have gone the other way – saying that churches should be forced to hold these ceremonies. I don’t want that at all. Here’s what I want.

I want churches to be stopped from marrying people.

Ok, that’s a deliberately attention-grabbing way of putting it. I should explain in more detail.

As I see it, there are two parts of a marriage. There’s the legal joining together of two people. And then, for some people, there’s a religious ceremony. What if those two parts were completely separated? What if churches lost the right to perform the legal part of the marriage ceremony?

This isn’t so strange. People do it all the time. If non-Christians want to get married, they have to do it in two stages. They go to the registry office to do the legal stuff and then they go to a mosque, temple or whatever to have a ceremony. What if all weddings worked like that?

So here’s what I propose:

  • In order to be legally married, you need to go through some process at a local registry office. This would be a purely legal thing. Bride and groom (or whichever permutation is appropriate) and a couple of witnesses. After this you would be legally married.
  • You then have the option to have some other kind of ceremony of any type you want. Many people would choose a church. Others would go to a mosque or a temple or whatever. You’d also have the option to do nothing else.

The advantage, as far as I see it, is that as the second part (the religious ceremony) now has no legal standing whatsoever, then the government would have no say at all about how it is run and whether or not churches or mosques or temples can run same-sex ceremonies. That decision would be unambiguously in the hands of the people running the organisation in question (but good luck getting a mosque to run a same-sex wedding!)

Of course, this is one of the areas where the religious playing field is uneven. Non-Christians are used to the set-up I describe above. The only reason that Christian churches get a special dispensation to carry out the legal part of a wedding is because they are the established church and therefore sometimes get to dabble in things that should completely off-limits to them.

All of which means that implementing my suggestion would be another step on the way to (or, at least, another very good argument for) disestablishment of the Church.

All in all, I can’t see the flaw in my suggestion. Can you?


Talking About Drugs

There are many things that make me angry in British politics, but I don’t think any of them make me angrier than the way that most British politicians refuse to have an intelligent conversation about drugs.

Here’s a case in point.

The Commons home affairs select committee are holding an inquiry into drugs policy. Yesterday, Professor David Nutt spoke to them. You might remember Professor Nutt. Under the last government he chaired the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs. That was until late 2009 when he wrote an article in the Guardian saying that there was no scientific evidence supporting plans to reclassify cannabis as a class B drug. The then Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, objected to a government scientific advisor producing scientific evidence which was at odds with government policy and sacked Professor Nutt from his post. This was followed by the resignations of many other members of the committee in protest.

Given all of that it was good to see that the current government were, at least, asking Professor Nutt for his opinions. In yesterday’s meeting Nutt stood his claim from 2009 that horse-riding is statistically more dangerous than taking ecstasy and also presented evidence that the introduction of Dutch-style coffee shops where cannabis can be bought and consume could well lead to a fall of 25% in alcohol consumption in the UK.

Once again Professor Nutt backed his theories with hard scientific evidence and once again his theories make the government very uncomfortable. The Guardian says:

Nutt’s remarks were immediately criticised by Tory MPs on the committee who said the idea that horse-riding and taking ecstasy were “morally equivalent” was irresponsible. Mario Dunn, Alan Johnson’s special adviser who was involved in the decision to sack Nutt, also observed that his remarks proved that “no responsible government would have David Nutt as a drugs adviser”.

Of course, this is completely misquoting Professor Nutt. He has never made the claim that horse-hiding and taking ecstasy are “morally equivalent” (whatever that means). He was comparing their relative levels of harm (both to the individual and to society in general) and reaching conclusions that the government didn’t want to hear.

And that’s the problem. The government – any government – likes hard scientific evidence when it backs up their policies. They are far less keen on it when it doesn’t back up their policies. In those cases governments either ignore the evidence or try to undermine it in some way. As Alan Johnson said in 2009, no government wants a scientific advisor publishing evidence that goes against government policy.

But that’s not how science works. Science is science. Scientific evidence can’t be changed to suit the whim of the current government (oh, alright, of course it can – but it shouldn’t be).

And I’m not saying for a minute that government policy has to be driven by scientific policy. I’m saying that it has to be informed by scientific policy. I’m saying that if a government doesn’t like the scientific evidence then it should have the courage to admit that rather than attacking or ignoring it.

In this current case, an honest government would say “Yes, the scientific evidence clearly says that cannabis is no more harmful (and almost certainly less harmful) than alcohol. But we don’t think that society (by which we mean the voters) would like it if we legalised cannabis or banned alcohol so we’re not going to do that”. But instead we have politicians who say “you can’t possibly say that” or “la-la-la, I can’t hear you”. And that’s a real shame. Until politicians can admit that the scientific evidence on drugs exists and is trustworthy, we can’t have a reasonable conversation on drugs policy.

Mark Henderson’s book The Geek Manifesto covers this (amongst many other things) in some detail. I highly recommend it.

Update: Oh look. A later story in the Guardian has the current Home Secretary strongly disagreeing with the current chair of the ACMD.


We Cannot Afford To Indulge This Madness

By “this madness”, of course, I mean religious leaders talking about what society wants without bothering to ask them. The latest example is this piece in the Telegraph by Cardinal Keith O’Brien. Let’s take a close look at what he says.

The Government is this month launching a consultation on same-sex marriage, asking the public whether it should be introduced in England and Wales.

That’s a good thing, surely? I mean going out and asking people what they think. Rather than just assuming that you know best.

I hope many respond and consider signing the petition in support of traditional marriage organised by a new organisation, the Coalition for Marriage.

And I hope that many more sign the petition from the Coalition for Equal Marriage.

On the surface, the question of same-sex marriage may seem to be an innocuous one.

That’ll be because it’s an innocuous question.

Civil partnerships have been in place for several years now, allowing same-sex couples to register their relationship and enjoy a variety of legal protections.

That’s not marriage though, is it? And, bizarrely, heterosexual couples can’t opt for a civil partnership.

When these arrangements were introduced, supporters were at pains to point out that they didn’t want marriage, accepting that marriage had only ever meant the legal union of a man and a woman.

Those of us who were not in favour of civil partnership, believing that such relationships are harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of those involved, warned that in time marriage would be demanded too. We were accused of scaremongering then, yet exactly such demands are upon us now.

That’s not how I remember it at all. It was clear to me that civil partnerships were a stepping stone on the way to full equal marriage. If that’s not what you heard, then perhaps people were being politically astute and trying not to scare you too much.

Since all the legal rights of marriage are already available to homosexual couples, it is clear that this proposal is not about rights, but rather is an attempt to redefine marriage for the whole of society at the behest of a small minority of activists.

Well, yes, clearly it’s an attempt to redefine marriage. But a “small minority of activists”? That doesn’t seem accurate to me. I see a huge wave of people in favour of equal marriage rights. Perhaps we’re both just talking to people like ourselves.

Redefining marriage will have huge implications for what is taught in our schools, and for wider society. It will redefine society since the institution of marriage is one of the fundamental building blocks of society. The repercussions of enacting same-sex marriage into law will be immense.

Maybe. We’ll see. But change isn’t always bad. Perhaps the repercussions won’t be as large as, say, the abolition of slavery. Society seems to have dealt with that change.

But can we simply redefine terms at a whim? Can a word whose meaning has been clearly understood in every society throughout history suddenly be changed to mean something else?

Yes. Next question.

If same-sex marriage is enacted into law what will happen to the teacher who wants to tell pupils that marriage can only mean – and has only ever meant – the union of a man and a woman?

The teacher who wants to tell pupils that will clearly be wrong, as the definition of marriage will have changed. So that teacher should be dealt with in the same way as any teacher who tells lies to pupils.

Will that teacher’s right to hold and teach this view be respected or will it be removed? Will both teacher and pupils simply become the next victims of the tyranny of tolerance, heretics, whose dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy must be crushed at all costs?

The teacher will be able to hold that view, of course. But that view will be wrong and therefore shouldn’t be taught to children (other than when setting historical context). Not seeing how the children are victims here. They should be being taught the truth – as defined by the law.

In Article 16 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, marriage is defined as a relationship between men and women. But when our politicians suggest jettisoning the established understanding of marriage and subverting its meaning they aren’t derided.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights should not be written in stone. If society changes and disagrees with its definitions then those definitions can (and should) be changed. People suggesting that aren’t derided because in the real world their suggestions make total sense.

[Update: It turns out that if you actually read the UDHR then you’ll see that it doesn’t say what the Cardinal claims it says at all]

Instead, their attempt to redefine reality is given a polite hearing, their madness is indulged. Their proposal represents a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right.

Reality has been redefined by society. Acknowledging this is not madness. We are not subverting a human right but, rather, extending it.

As an institution, marriage long predates the existence of any state or government. It was not created by governments and should not be changed by them. Instead, recognising the innumerable benefits which marriage brings to society, they should act to protect and uphold marriage, not attack or dismantle it.

No, marriage was not created by governments. It was created by society. And society, therefore, has the power to change the definition. Of course governments recognise the benefits of marriage. They are not attacking or dismantling it – they are expanding and enhancing it.

This is a point of view that would have been endorsed and accepted only a few years ago, yet today advancing a traditional understanding of marriage risks one being labelled an intolerant bigot.

Well I wouldn’t use the word “bigot”. But I’d certainly suggest that anyone putting forward your arguments was out of touch with modern society.

There is no doubt that, as a society, we have become blasé about the importance of marriage as a stabilising influence and less inclined to prize it as a worthwhile institution.

This may be true. But it’s not gay marriage that has undermined it. You only have to read the celebrity pages of any newspaper to see how many heterosexual couples are doing all they can to undermine marriage. This cannot be laid at the feet of the campaigners for equal marriage rights.

It has been damaged and undermined over the course of a generation, yet marriage has always existed in order to bring men and women together so that the children born of those unions will have a mother and a father.

Actually, I think the damage goes back more than a generation. Yes, marriage has existed for as long as society. No-one is suggesting that it should be removed.

This brings us to the one perspective which seems to be completely lost or ignored: the point of view of the child. All children deserve to begin life with a mother and father; the evidence in favour of the stability and well-being which this provides is overwhelming and unequivocal. It cannot be provided by a same-sex couple, however well-intentioned they may be.

See, I think you’re just making things up now. I don’t believe that there’s any evidence that backs this up at all.

Same-sex marriage would eliminate entirely in law the basic idea of a mother and a father for every child. It would create a society which deliberately chooses to deprive a child of either a mother or a father.

We already live in a society where a large number of children are brought up by a single parent. Surely two parents (of any sex) has to be better than one?

Other dangers exist. If marriage can be redefined so that it no longer means a man and a woman but two men or two women, why stop there? Why not allow three men or a woman and two men to constitute a marriage, if they pledge their fidelity to one another? If marriage is simply about adults who love each other, on what basis can three adults who love each other be prevented from marrying?

Why not indeed? I don’t really see this as a danger. If you seen two parents of different sexes as a good thing, why wouldn’t multiple parents of mixed sexes be even better? Mind you, I don’t see anyone seriously campaigning for this.

In November 2003, after a court decision in Massachusetts to legalise gay marriage, school libraries were required to stock same-sex literature; primary schoolchildren were given homosexual fairy stories such as King & King. Some high school students were even given an explicit manual of homosexual advocacy entitled The Little Black Book: Queer in the 21st Century. Education suddenly had to comply with what was now deemed “normal”.

I’m not sure what policies in Massachusetts have to do with the discussion in hand. What is appropriate in British schools will be decided by the British parliament and British courts.

And your use of scare-quotes around the word “normal” rather gives away your whole view on this matter. Homosexuality is normal. Deal with it.

Disingenuously, the Government has suggested that same-sex marriage wouldn’t be compulsory and churches could choose to opt out. This is staggeringly arrogant.

No, that’s not arrogance. It’s government trying to accommodate the outdated views of people like you.

No Government has the moral authority to dismantle the universally understood meaning of marriage.

Maybe not. But society does. And government is acting as the representative of society here.

Imagine for a moment that the Government had decided to legalise slavery but assured us that “no one will be forced to keep a slave”.

Would such worthless assurances calm our fury? Would they justify dismantling a fundamental human right? Or would they simply amount to weasel words masking a great wrong?

Oh, you’re on very shaky ground here. Remember that the Christian church endorsed slavery for as long as it could get away with it. And besides, slavery clearly reduces human rights, equal marriage increases them.

The Universal Declaration on Human Rights is crystal clear: marriage is a right which applies to men and women, “the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State”.

This universal truth is so self-evident that it shouldn’t need to be repeated. If the Government attempts to demolish a universally recognised human right, they will have forfeited the trust which society has placed in them and their intolerance will shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world.

Didn’t we cover this a few paragraphs back? The Universal Declaration can and should be changed if it no longer reflects modern society.

The Cardinal has no reasonable argument here. He is simply saying that something shouldn’t change because it hasn’t changed before.

As he says in his opening paragraph, the government is opening a public consultation. If society believes what I think it believes then the final report will recommend that the definition of marriage should be changed. If society is still as blinkered as the Cardinal hopes then the report will recommend that things remain as they are.

That is surely the best approach to take. To ask people what they want. But scare-mongering and hand-waving of the kind in the Cardinal’s article has no place in the discussion. If he has facts and evidence to back up his claims, then let’s see them. But I don’t think he has.


Nadine Dorries: Just Say No

Today was the day that parliament had a rather long list of private members bills to debate. Originally there were sixty-four on the list. As this informative post from Kerry McCarthy tells us, they’d normally expect to get through about three of them. The MPs sponsoring the rest of the bills were pretty much wasting their time.

Number eight on the original list was Nadine Dorries bill to teach girls between 13 and 16 how to say no to sex. The Guardian’s headline was MPs to debate sexual abstinence lessons bill, which was slightly disingenuous as the chance of the debate reaching that far down the list was tiny.

But this morning, when the order of business for today in parliament was published Dorries bill was missing from the list. Everyone assumed that Dorries was responsible for this removal. As a spokeswoman for the Commons information office told the Guardian “No one would be able to remove a private members’ bill without the permission of a member”. The assumption seemed to be that Dorries had realised the futility of being so far down the list and had removed the bill. She wouldn’t have been the only one – the published list only contains forty-nine of the expected sixty-four bills.

At lunchtime, things got even more interesting. A new Twitter account called @NadineDorriesMP appeared with this tweet (in reply to a joke by John Prescott):

@johnprescott My bill has not ‘jumped off at Edge Hill’ if you care to read the order paper, it’s number eight on the list!!

Something about this timeline didn’t seem right to me. That tweet was posted at 12:47, which is almost two hours since I first saw the order of business without her bill. I assume the order of business was published some time earlier. The first hint I had that the bill had been withdrawn was this blog post by Kerry McCarthy which was published just after 10am.

On the basis that the real Nadine Dorries would have known by 12:47 that her bill was not on the order paper, I called the new Twitter account as a fake. But it seems I was wrong. People like Iain Dale confirmed that it really was her (and, yes, this is one of the few things I’d trust Iain Dale on).

All of which leaves us with a bit of a mystery. Either Dorries withdrew her bill or she didn’t. If she did then the first tweet on her new Twitter account is a complete lie. If she didn’t then we need to ask who did withdraw her bill – given that it’s only her who is supposed to be able to do that.

And even if someone else managed to withdraw her bill without her knowledge, something still doesn’t ring true. If she was expecting to debate her bill (no matter how tiny the chance) then surely she would have been hanging around in parliament all morning and I can’t believe that she didn’t see the order paper and notice her bill was missing. Or that one of her friends saw that it was missing and asked her what happened.

All in all I find it incredible that she could have got to 12:47 without knowing that her bill was not on the list. So how do you explain that tweet?

This is, I think, the third time that Dorries has joined Twitter. And with her first tweet she has already started people thinking that this time is going to be no different to the previous occasions. She will be ineptly trying to use it to promote her strange view of the world. And she will quickly make herself a laughing stock once more.

Update: At 16:37 this afternoon, @NadineDorriesMP tweeted the following:

Just to make it absolutely clear and leave no doubt whatsoever, my Bill was NOT withdrawn

Curiouser and curiouser. So, now we are left with two questions. 1/ Why wasn’t Dorries’ bill on the order paper? And 2/ At what point did she realise it wasn’t on the order paper?

Update 2: Welshracer may have got to the heart of the matter here. He points out what it says on the official parliamentary web page for Dorries’ bill.

The Bill was not printed and so was not moved for debate on 20 January 2012.

What do we make of this? One interpretation would be that Dorries didn’t withdraw the bill for debate, but that someone in her office forgot to get the bill printed so that it could be included in the debate.

But even in those circumstances you’d think that she’d get a phone call from the people who were planning the day’s business telling her what had (or hadn’t) happened. I still can’t believe that she didn’t know the bill wasn’t on the order paper when she sent her first tweet at quarter to one.

Update 3: Couple more pieces of information came in overnight.

Firstly, it seems that the new @NadineDorriesMP Twitter account was set up two weeks ago. It seems she resisted using it until goaded into it by John Prescott yesterday.

Secondly, the Independent managed to speak to Dorries about this confusion. She says:

The Bill is still live, but there was more chance of being struck by a meteor than getting it debated, so we told the Commons office not to bother printing a hard copy. What I didn’t realise was that if you don’t order it to be printed, it automatically comes off the agenda.

Of course I wouldn’t withdraw it … a lot of people had paid train fares to come and protest. It would have been churlish.

So we finally have the truth (or, at least, Dorries’ version of it). She knew it wouldn’t be debated so she decided not to have the bill printed. She didn’t know that would automatically remove it from the order paper. She didn’t withdraw the bill out of respect for the people who were coming to protest against it.

It’s also not clear to me in what sense the bill is still live. This was the final opportunity to debate private members bills before the end of this parliamentary session. Any unfinished business from this parliamentary session doesn’t get passed on to the next one, so anything that wasn’t approved is, as far as I can see, effectively dead.

You couldn’t make this up!