Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Morals of a Politician

One of the reasons why I adopted the nom-de-blog "Cicero" was because I saw- indeed still see- parallels between the fall of the Roman Republic and our own times. Although, after the accession of Octavian, Rome remained nominally a Republic with the Emperor initially simply "first citizen", in reality the political system based on Roman Liberty was overthrown. I strongly fear that although the nominal forms of Parliamentary Democracy may survive, the principles, indeed the guiding spirit, of Liberal Democracy are being eroded to the point where our freedoms are being taken away.

I see the challenges not being so much the direct threat of dictatorship, although in truth the nascent Russian democracy has indeed been overthrown by a dictator, but from a more corrosive and collective mixture of ignorance, hypocrisy and greed.

The fundamental problem is that many political platforms are not created based on evidence, but on prejudice. 

A good example has been the policies that have been adopted by successive governments towards the use of social drugs. Since the end of the "permissive" 1960s, it has been the collective wisdom that their are great social ills that result from the use of psychoactive drugs. Certainly many of these drugs are both highly addictive and can be often fatal, either through overdose or the physiological damage that long term repeated use may cause. The problem is that the policy that has been prescribed- prohibition- has not merely failed, it has arguably created more pernicious social ills- through placing the trade in the hands of criminal gangs and undermining the politics of smaller countries, from Afghanistan to Peru. The cure seems worse than the disease. Sure enough the political weather is being made by vested interests and not by, for example, healthcare professionals. The Liberal Democrats have championed evidence based drugs policy- and been abused by the twisted journalism of both left and right for being "soft on drugs". The drugs crisis is not made one ounce easier by the failed policy of prohibition, but it does appeal to the prejudices of the ignorant.

Politicians, by definition, are not experts- they are lay supervisors- yet in order to understand the pros and cons in modern policy, our political leaders need to have a skill set of knowledge that few actually possess. This has led many to conclude that society has become too complicated for democratic government to offer effective leadership. The example of China or Singapore is offered- technocratic elites who can take decisions based on detailed or arcane knowledge. This, for me, is a temptation that must be resisted at all costs not least because it is the end of democratic government as we have known it, but it also removes leaders from having to account for their decisions, because by definition they have arcane knowledge- and the result would be corruption and waste- as it already is even in the only three decades since the emergence of a more open China since 1975.

For the fact is that political leaders in a democratic state depend on the knowledge of their electorate. An ignorant electorate creates ignorant politics. An electorate that is not prepared to hold their leaders to high standards also creates a compromised political system. The current fashion to hold all politicians in contempt is equally dangerous, for few will want to serve if their every move is regarded with suspicion. The fact is that our political system requires accountability, but it also requires an element of trust- if the trust fails, the system falls. Yet that trust must rest on the electorate themselves understanding, openly or at least tacitly, the compromises that are required in order to take policy decisions. On the one hand the system should respond to political will, on the other hand the political will needs to be based upon more than mere populism- it must rest on serious and informed debate.

This is where I am so concerned. I have heard supposedly educated and informed voters express deeply ignorant and indeed wholly mistaken opinions and yet express them as unvarnished truth. They may be encouraged in this by a bigoted and prejudiced press, but in the age of the Internet, there is little excuse to be as ignorant as so many people can be.

In the end the morality of the politicians is our own morality, and their collective wisdom is our own wisdom. Unless the voters themselves take responsibility, then they will have their rights eroded by propaganda and vested interests.

That is exactly what I see happening now. The fault lies in ourselves.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Watching the Cyber war in real time

There are several ways you can take a front row view of the daily battles in Cyber space.

The Norse Platform displays about 1% of the attacks that go on across the Internet every day.

It should be a firm resolve of all Internet users to disinfect their system as often as practical. It also speaks volumes about the current state of global politics.

Mind you watching the attacks- mostly from China against the USA- is strangely compelling, as you can see here.   

Those are real attacks and real damage is cause each time.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

In praise of Ed Davey

The political world rarely rewards actual achievement. Instead it tends to reward those who claim achievement, whether or not they have a right to that claim or not. Hard graft often seems to count for less than effective spin. 

However it is worth noting that the Liberal Democrats in government have a very real heavy weight. A Cabinet Minister who has pushed through a radical agenda, despite major opposition from the Conservatives- especially the now former Cabinet Minister, Owen Patterson. A Cabinet Minister who has the respect of his international peers, and who has rightly persuaded some of our partners, such as Poland, to put the long term interests of the planet ahead of short run economic concerns. In the face of opposition that sometimes verges on the hysterical, Ed Davey has crafted a coherent, competent energy strategy and a credible and effective green strategy.

He has not been afraid to make some enemies on the way, but at every point he has been the rational, intelligent voice for the Lib Dem's green agenda. He also identified the "Putin problem" well ahead of his ministerial peers- and his decision to examine in detail the Alfa bank bid for the RWE North Sea gas assets is the first practical show that the British government really "gets it" about what the tyrannical Mr. Putin is trying to do. 

All of this comes from a man who has not had it easy. He lost his parents while still a child, but went on to be the scholarship kid, who then got an Oxford First. His son, John copes with severe disability and he and his wife Emily have always tried to put John's needs first- not easy when you have a job with the demands that his does. They have now added to their family, with the birth this year of daughter, Ellie, but Ed has always been clear that he has a hinterland well beyond politics.

Indeed he is actually a genuine hero- he once rescued a woman from an oncoming train at Clapham junction station- and was given a bravery award from the Royal Humane Society, not that he particularly talks about it.

This secretary of state is a grafter, but a grafter with a particular intelligence and vision. He represents the best of our party, and indeed our political leaders. As he achieves another success in his battle against climate change, I hope that our party can shout more loudly about one of its strongest assets, and one of its most effective leaders: Ed Davey.  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"Open war is upon you, whether you will have it or not"

Europe is on the eve of war.

Since Vladimir Putin came to power Russia has fallen sixty one places in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. It is currently 127 on the list, more corrupt than Gabon, Pakistan or Mali. The contempt for the rule of law extends across all aspects of Russian society. Property is routinely stolen, human rights are routinely abused

Russia is the most unequal society in the world and there is no justice in one of the least free countries on the planet

This lamentable record has been accompanied by the rise of one of the most outrageous propaganda machines ever seen in world history. Even the Soviet Union at its worst did not resort to outright lies. Now, Russia expects to be believed, even when all evidence proves that its leaders are speaking the direct opposite of the truth. Those journalists inside Russia who have had the courage to speak the truth have been silenced, often by murder.

Russia has for some time sponsored murder as an instrument of state policy outside its borders, as well as inside. 

In short the Putin regime is a criminal state: it is thieving, brutal and murderous.

In international affairs bloodcurdling threats have been followed up by action. Russia has launched Illegal military incursions into Moldova, Georgia and now Ukraine.

In the past three months Russia has made military incursions across NATO airspace and seaspace, and now look set to put pressure even on Australia.

Direct threats have been made to the very existence of NATO states. Repeated Russian exercises have included the use of battlefield and even strategic nuclear weapons. In such drills, Russia has practiced the destruction of Stockholm, Warsaw and several other European capitals.

In short the Russian military is already on a war footing.

The contempt for any kind of justice has been seen in every aspect of the conduct of the Putin government: The rape of Ukraine, the crushing of all freedom inside Russia, the thuggish threats to world peace.

It is time to accept that Russia is and intends to be a hostile power and to seek the downfall of the democratic world by all means necessary. In cyberspace, the war is already raging- it is Russia that is attacking the global financial system. 

The West must understand that Putin is not a man we can do business with- he is a threat that must be answered with determination, and by military means if necessary. We should be giving hard military assistance to Ukraine now and reinforcing NATO borders in the expectation of a Russian military assault, by unconventional or indeed conventional means if necessary.

Western leaders keep saying that they do not wish to fight a second cold war. Unfortunately that is not their choice.

The fact is that unless we seal our perimeter and defend ourselves aggressively now, we could be looking not at a Second Cold War, but a Third World War.

Criminals control the Kremlin. The West is already under attack. If we too are not to be subverted by the evil in Moscow we must be clear eyed, realistic and determined.

This conflict is not our choice nor, despite Russian propaganda, is the West responsible for the moral disaster of Putinism.

Open War is upon us. We must not appease the criminal thugs already feasting on the dead of Ukraine. We must fight them and we must defeat them -by all means necessary.