Pod Delusion Plug

It’s Friday, which means there’s a new episode of the Pod Delusion out. I’m plugging it because I’m in it. The first report is me talking about Nadine Dorries and her bizarre opinions of humanism. There’s another story about her too as the Pod Delustion’s editor, James O’Malley interviews New Humanist’s Paul Sims about her reaction to their Bad Faith Poll.

If I’ve done this right, then you’ll be able to listen to the show using the embedded doohickey below, but it’s on their web site too. I’m at 1:42 and Paul Sims is at 7:12 – but listen to the whole thing.


Dorries on Humanism

Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature, and is contrasted with anti-humanism.

That’s how Wikipedia starts its article on Humanism. Humanists (and I count myself as one) believe that it is possible to ethical and fulfilling lives without the need to rely on supernatural explanations. As the British Humanist Association says:

We take responsibility for our actions and base our ethics on the goals of human welfare, happiness and fulfilment. We seek to make the best of the one life we have by creating meaning and purpose for ourselves, individually and together.

Surely it’s hard to take offence at these beliefs?

Step forward Nadine Dorries. In a blog post late on Friday night she took an altogether different view of Humanism, saying “I am not sure why anyone would admit to being a humanist and part of an organisation which has such extreme views.”

And what are these “extreme views” that some humanist organisation holds? She explains:

A humanist recently commented that, not only did he believe that abortion was acceptable right up to the moment of birth, but that termination of a child’s life was acceptable up until the point where the child had the ability to reason, understand and justify life.

Now, I don’t know if a humanist recently said that or not. Dorries doesn’t deem it important to give us a reference so that we can confirm her claim. So, of course, the claim should be seen on the same level as something that some bloke down the pub said he’d read on the internet once. In fact her blog post is likely to become the source that is used to justify conversations like that. Spreading unsubstantiated rumours like this is never helpful. But it’s a tactic that Dorries specialises in.

And, of course, even if someone say what Dorries claims, extrapolating the beliefs of a whole group of people from one extremist is ridiculous. To illustrate that, here are a few other “facts”. Just to redress the balance.

  • A Christian once commented that all homosexuals should be chemically castrated. I’m not sure why anyone would admit to being part of an organisation which holds such extreme views.
  • A Tory once told commented that he wanted to make the NHS into a marketplace. I’m not sure why anyone would admit to being part of an organisation which holds such extreme views.
  • An MP once commented that she thought it was acceptable for a politician’s blog to be 70% fiction. I’m not sure why anyone would admit to being part of an organisation which holds such extreme views.

You might be wondering what humanists have done to invoke Dorries’ anger. The New Humanist magazine holds an annual “Bad Faith” poll to dishonour “the year’s most outspoken enemy of reason”. This year’s poll opened last week and Dorries is one of the nominations. Even before her bizarre outburst, she was in the lead. Now she has over twice the number of votes of her nearest competitor. I never thought I’d write this, but please… Vote For Dorries.

Update: In a blog post yesterday, Dorries published the “proof” of her claims. It turns out that the “recent” comment by a humanist is an out-of-context quote from a book that Peter Singer wrote in 1979. It’s clear that Dorries has a vastly different understanding of  the meaning of the words “proof” and “recent” to the rest us.

The Ministry of Truth does a fine job of deconstructing Dorries’ claims.


MPs on Twitter

Did you ever make a chance remark that plants a seed of an idea which then grabs hold of you and refuses to let you go until you’ve done something about it?

That happened to me on Sunday. I was cleaning up some broken feeds on Planet Westminster when I tweeted:

Cleaning up some broken feeds on Planet Westminster ( Interesting how many MPs’ blogs have vanished since the election.

And a couple of minutes later I added:

Someone should monitor the numbers of MPs actively blogging and tweeting over time. Maybe that should be me.

And that was it. I realised that I’d get no rest until I’d started work on the project.

Yesterday I published a graph of the number of MPs on Twitter over time. It’s only the first step. I want to start tracking how active they are and how well they interact with other Twitter users. Expect more graphs to appear on that page over the coming weeks.

I have to thank the nice people over at TweetMinster. They are doing all the hard work of actually tracking the MPs on Twitter. All I’m doing is processing their list.

A few caveats. Currently the graph is generated manually, so it won’t be kept up to date automatically. Also it just works from the date that people on the list joined Twitter. It doesn’t handle people leaving Twitter – they’ll just come off the list and all of their data will vanish from the graph. So it doesn’t track, things like Nadine Dorries’ two (or is it three) flirtations with Twitter.

You should also note that I also don’t handle people joining Twitter before they become an MP. For example, the first MP to join Twitter was Julian Huppert on 2nd May 2007. But he didn’t become an MP until three years later.

So take it all with a pince of salt, But I think it’s an interesting start. Let me know what you think. And feel free to suggest other useful graphs that I could create.

And, yes, I’ll get round to doing blogs too at some point.


MPs and Facts

When an MP is in a discussion and mentions a fact to back up their argument, it would be nice if you knew that you could trust that fact. Unfortunately that’s often not the case. To pick an example at random, here’s Nadine Dorries from last week’s Any Questions (the link will work for a few more days and Dorries starts this speech at about 41 mins):

The National Drugs Prevention Alliance once startled me when they told me that the cut of cannabis which teenagers are smoking now and using across the UK is actually fifty times more potent than it was even a year ago.

That sounded astonishing to me. In fact, it sounded extremely unlikely. So I decided to investigate a little further.

I found the NDPA’s web site and emailed them to ask for references to back up this claim. Very quickly, I got a reply from their Political Affairs Director, David Raynes. He advised me to listen to the edition of Any Answers which discussed the issues from that edition of Any Questions (again the link will only work for a few more days). At about 27 minutes in, David Raynes phones in to say this:

I asked to come on the programme, basically, to correct the figures that came from Nadine Dorries about cannabis. She was absolutely correct that it’s stronger than years ago, but we don’t agree exactly with her figures and it’s a long time since we gave her a briefing. Typically, modern cannabis is about three to four times stronger than the strongest cannabis of the sixties.

The NDPA is an organisation who campaign strongly for the continued criminalisation of drugs. They are a group who totally support Dorries’ stance on drugs. But even they couldn’t stomach the distortion of their message which she put forward and felt they had to speak up and distance themselves from her.

Of course people make mistakes in the heat of a discussion – and that becomes more likely if the discussion is live in a radio studio. But any reasonable person who realises that they have made a mistake like that would surely post a clarification and an apology on their blog. In Dorries’ case, I very much doubt that will happen.

Don’t you wish you could trust MPs?


Alternative Vote

Tomorrow the UK will go to the polls to decide whether we want to replace our current “First Past The Post” voting system with the Alternative Vote. Before you go to the polling station, I’d like to take some time to correct some misinformation that seems to have inadvertently been spread by various members of the No campaign.

Switching to AV will cost £250m

There’s a No campaign leaflet which breaks down this figure. Which is handy for our purposes.

£91m for the referendum. Well that’s already taking place, so we’re not getting that back. If the No campaign win, we won’t get that money back.

£130m for electronic voting machines. That’s electronic voting machines that no-one outside the No campaign has suggested that we would need.

£26m on voter education. Well, maybe. That’s about 50p per voter.

And there’s £3m which they haven’t bothered to explain.

So the true cost is likely to be about a tenth of what the No campaign claim.

Some people’s votes will be counted multiple times

This seems to be the one that really scares people. And if it was true, it would be a serious problem with the AV system.

It’s not true, of course. People’s votes aren’t counted multiple times, they are reallocated.

It might help to think of it as a series of votes rather than one vote. In round one, people’s first preference votes are counted. If no candidate reaches 50% of the vote we have another round of voting. Everyone votes for the same person as they voted for in the first round – except for the people who voted for the candidate who came last. Their votes are reallocated to their second preference candidate.

So in each round, every person gets a vote. Every person’s vote gets counted exactly the same number of times. It’s one person one vote per round.

AV Leads to more coalitions

We are definitely heading towards more coalitions. But that has little to do with our voting system and a lot to do with the way that the political landscape has changed in the UK.

In a two-party system it’s easy to get a definitive win in a general election. But we no longer have a two-party system in the UK. No matter what the Conservative and Labour parties want you to believe, we now have three major parties and many other parties who people want to vote for.

This is what will lead to more coalitions. The fragmentation of the electorate, not the voting system. Do people really need reminding that we currently have our first coalition government for decades and that was elected under the FPTP system.

This is actually the best argument in favour of AV. We’ve effectively had a two-party system for two hundred years.But that is changing. People want more choice. And we need a voting system that reflects that.

No-one really wants AV

Actually, it’s hard to argue with that. The vast majority of people who are campaigning for the Yes campaign would far rather have some other, more proportional, system. But the No campaign take that fact and suggest that we shouldn’t support a system that we don’t want. That we should hold out for a change to a system that we really want.

That’s nonsense though. This is the first chance we’ve had to reform our electoral system in living memory. A No vote won’t be interpreted as a vote for a truly proportional system over AV. No, it will be interpreted as support for the status quo. A No vote will effectively take electoral reform off the government’s agenda for a generation.

AV might not be what we really want, but it’s a step, however small, in the right direction. It shows an appetite for reform. It shows that we aren’t happy with the current system.

Of course, there are some people who are perfectly happy with the current system. These are the people who do well out of it. The two main parties who get exaggerated majorities out of it. The only reasonable argument I’ve heard for keeping FPTP is those parties admitting that they don’t want to give up the advantage that it gives them.

Don’t let them get away with that. Please show them that you care about politics in this country. Show them that you support change.

Please vote Yes to AV on Thursday.


The War You Don’t See

If people really knew the truth the war would be stopped tomorrow.

This quotation from David Lloyd George, talking about the First World War, opens John Pilger‘s new documentary, “The War You Don’t See”, and it immediately sets the historical context for Pilger’s main argument. War has, of course, always been terrible and governments have always sought to conceal the truth of that from the general population. But it’s only really with recent invention of the embedded journalist that the media has become a knowing partner in this deception.

Pilger has plenty of evidence to back up his claim. At one end of the spectrum he questions important people from the BBC and ITV news teams about their coverage of the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the reporting of this year’s attack on the Gaza Flotilla by the Israelis. In both cases he rather runs up against a brick wall as the news organisations claim that they couldn’t have known that Iraq had no WMDs or that it was impossible to find a decent Palestinian spokesperson to put their side of the story on the main bulletins. At the other end of the scale he has Rageh Omaar and David Rose (formerly of the Observer) apologising for their part in perpetuating the myth of the practically bloodless liberation of Iraq.

Then there are the statistics. In the First World War, 10% of the casualties were civilians. Through all subsequent wars, that number increased until in the Invasion of Iraq it reached 90%. These are terrifying numbers and numbers that our governments would rather not have us dwelling on.

Pilger has plenty of explanations for this collapse of journalistic standards. Firstly there is the threat to the embedded journalist that anyone going off-message will suddenly lose all access to the people in power. Secondly, there is the constant need to fill 24-hour rolling news schedules. And then there are all the reasons covered in depth by Nick Davies in “Flat Earth News” – cutbacks in budgets, pressure to be first with a story (no matter how under-researched) and the rise of churnalism.

Towards the end of the documentary, Pilger looks at what might take the place of journalists if they can no longer do their job and interviews Julian Assange. This shows how recently the film was completed as it mentions the Wikileaks cables and the attacks on Assange.

The documentary gets its TV première on IYV1 at 10:35 tomorrow night, but tonight it was shown at a number of cinemas around the country and was followed by a Q&A with Pilger who was at the Curzon Cinema in central London. The questions covered much of the same ground as the film and Pilger was happy to go into more detail about his motivations for making the documentary – apparently it wasn’t his idea, the original idea came from within ITV. Someone asked what we can do to help Julian Assange and Pilger suggested joining the protest outside Westminster Magistrates Court when Assange appears there again tomorrow. The protest starts at 1pm.

It’s been a while since John Pilger made a documentary, but it has been worth the wait. This film is as good as anything he has made.


Bread and Circuses

The country is broke, students are rioting and it’s about to start snowing.

But that’s OK as a scion of our great and glorious ruling family has announced that he is getting married next year. And, to demonstrate their benevolence, our rulers have granted the lower orders an extra day off from our toil so that we can also celebrate the occasion. In fact we’ll have two four-day weekends separated by a three-day working week. Truly the generosity of our betters knows no bounds. Long may they rule over us.

Bread and circuses, my friends. It’s all just bread and circuses.


Conversations with CateyMaxx

Summarising @Nadine_MP‘s “informed consent” ideas: A woman can’t have an abortion until a christian nutter has tried to scare her out of it?

That’s the content of a tweet that I sent just before 6pm last night. I thought it nicely summed up the reasons behind Nadine Dorries’ recent speech in Parliament. I didn’t, of course, expect everyone to agree. I wasn’t prepared for the response I got from one corner of the internet.

Having sent the tweet, I went out for the night. Had it not been the era of the smartphone, I would have been completely cut off from the internet for the next few hours. But as I arrived at the venue I checked Twitter to find three tweets from CateyMaxx. For those of you who don’t know, CateyMaxx has been one of a small number of people who have been supporting Nadine Dorries over recent weeks. She said:

CateyMaxx: @davorg lol evening Dave – your usual Stirring self I see! You don’t believe that crap so why on EARTH do you say it? [6:28]

CateyMaxx: @davorg & also – what’s with the ‘Christian nutter’ jibe? @Nadine_MP is advocating informed choice – where do her religious beliefs come in? [6:30]

CateyMaxx: @davorg always presuming, of course, u know & understand her religious beliefs b’cos I certainly don’t! Maybe u’ve had a convo with her? [6:31]

Over the next ten minutes I sent her some replies – which she, in turn, replied to. I think I’ve reconstructed the order correctly here, but we’re often typing across each other.

davorg: @CateyMaxx We already have informed choice [Yes – I meant “consent”, not “choice”] – just not of the kind Nadine wants to see. [7:20]

CateyMaxx: @davorg I’m sure you know all about the choice that’s available to pregnant women? You’re so unnecessarily pedantic. [7:21]

davorg: @CateyMaxx She’s definitely a christian – she has said as much. And she hangs around with mutters [Typo: that should be “nutters” – I hope that’s obvious] like Christian Concern For Our Nation. [7:23]

davorg: @CateyMaxx Informed concent is already a legal requirement before any major medical procedure. [7:27]

CateyMaxx: @davorg ok, so let’s be clear – you say ‘Christian Concern’ (who @Nadine_MP as u put it ‘hangs around with’ are nutters? Can you elucidate? [7:27]

CateyMaxx: @davorg but it’s the TYPE of information which is accessible to ppl that matters . .surely. All @Nadine_MP is trying to do is make more [7:28]

davorg: @CateyMaxx Anyway, I’d love to chat more but I’m at a gig and the first band is about to come on. Have a nice evening. [7:28]

CateyMaxx: @davorg info to a wider no. of ppl – so they no the mental, emotional aswell as physical implications of abortion. What is wrong with that? [7:29]

CateyMaxx: @davorg lol . .you too! [7:29]

And that’s where we left it. Or, at least, that’s what I though. I dipped back into Twitter a couple of hours later whilst waiting for the headliners to come on, only to see this:

CayeyMaxx: New Blog Post: Tory Totty Online: Is OCD Sweeping the Blogosphere? [9:17]

I replied as soon as I saw it and we got into another conversation.

davorg: @CateyMaxx Nicely done. Writing an attack on me like that when you know I’m busy and won’t be able to respond for 12 hours. [9:39]

CateyMaxx: @davorg Havent written an ‘attack’ on you – merely reported what’ on your blog. Why? What’s up? [9:40]

davorg: @CateyMaxx And missing out my side of tonight’s conversation was a nice touch. You’ve been learning from the masters :-) [9:42]

CateyMaxx: @davorg thats because you LEFT the conversation and didn’t answer me lol Its all there in b&w. No-ones attacking u – dont be so sensitive [9:43]

davorg: @CateyMaxx I wrote 4 or 5 replies to you which are missing from your blog post. That’s hardly balanced reporting. [9:47]

davorg: @CateyMaxx Hope your blog comments are working early tomorrow morning :-) [9:48]

CateyMaxx: @davorg in that case . . .I will go back and have a look and then put them in the post . . . . the comments are working fine. Feel free. [9:53]

CateyMaxx: @davorg Oh yes – I’ve found them. Will add them to the post now ok? :-) [9:54]

davorg: @CateyMaxx Thank you. I’ll a comment tomorrow. Must go again. Tunng are about to come on. [9:57]

And at that point, I settled in to enjoy Tunng and CateyMaxx wandered off to do whatever she does at that time on a Saturday night (I think it might involve watching the X Factor results programme).

Obviously I’ll come back to this later today and respond to the points that she made, but I just wanted to start by setting the scene and getting the full conversation written out in the order that it happened.


Dorries Round-Up

Update (28th October): I’ve just been shown The Nardinia Chronicles, a new blog with a lot of detail about Dorries’ idiocy.

A round-up of all of the blog posts that have been made about Nadine Dorries since she was cleared by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards last Thursday. If anything is missing then please let me know.

And for more historical context on this, here’s humphreycushion‘s similar list of blog posts that followed Dorries’ recent disablist comments.


She Writes Fiction

Given what we now know about the content of Nadine Dorries’ blog, the title of this post (which I’ve reused here) seems somewhat appropriate. Dorries must have known that John Lyon’s report on her was about to be published so it might be seen as slightly disingenuous to write about other people publishing fiction as fact given the revelations that were just around the corner.

It’s also interesting to revisit some of her old blog posts and play “spot the 30% that is true”. We could start with the “She Writes Fiction” post, but it’s hard to get anywhere near a 30% figure for facts in that piece.

Or there’s the “Hand of Hope” post (and its sequel, “Hand of Truth“) where Dorries delights in overturning pretty much all scientific evidence on pre-natal surgery. Far less than 30% facts there too.

Perhaps we should look at her posts about the expenses investigations last year. Here’s the post that contains her response to the Telegraph and the one where she expands on the previous one. But no, those are both clearly complete nonsense as the Lyon report demonstrates. Or maybe the one where she claims that everyone in Westminster “fears a suicide“. Is that only 70% true? Perhaps everyone in Westminster really feared a paper cut.

Or how about the one where she fearlessly refused to kowtow to the speaker. Is only 30% of that true? Perhaps she just thought about doing it.

Last night, in an interview, Dorries claimed that she may have got the 70/30 figures the wrong way round. But does that really make a difference? Is a MP who tells lies on her blog 30% of the time rally much better than one who does it 70% of the time? Is that what the voters of Mid Beds really want from their MP?

She’s clearly gone too far this time. A lot of this morning’s press is covering this story. It’s even in the Daily Mail. Her constituents will know about this. What will their reaction be? I know that Mid Beds is one of those constituencies where the Tories can never lose. But surely the constituents deserve a better quality of MP than this? Surely the local Conservative Association can’t ignore this. Someone must be having a quiet word with Dorries about now. And if the local party won’t ask her to stand down immediately or deselect her before the next election, then there’s clearly only one option open to us.

Where’s Martin Bell? It’s time for another Tatton moment.