Monday, 30 November 2009

Tory Bloggers

An illuminating discussion with the Mirror’s Kevin Maguire last week, during which he referred to how the blogging world has become dominated by right-wingers. He attributed this to the fact that the internet in general, and the act of blogging in particular, has grown-up at a time when a supposedly left-wing Labour government is in power. Hence the opportunity offered by the internet as a means of expressing opposition has been used mainly by the Conservatives and other right-wing parties. The likes of Iain Dale and Paul Staines (ak.a. Guido Fawkes) have used the internet to great effect, and left-wing bloggers have remained incapable of catching up.

Fair enough, perhaps Labour activists have before now not deemed the avenues of the new media important to them, given that they have been in power for 12 years. Now, with the party in disarray and a Conservative government seemingly inevitable, a demoralised left-wing doesn’t seem to have the energy to establish a powerful online presence of its own. Labour List was controversial from the off, due to the Damian McBride scandal, and is fairly poor anyway. Liberal Conspiracy has its plus points, but any real influence has eluded it so far. The right-wing continues to dominate the online debate, both in terms of the size of its online presence and the quality of its platforms.

Twitter is one site that appears to have retained a liberal nature. Yet it remains weak in terms of influence. Much has been made of Labour’s Twitter tsar Kerry McCarthy, but how great can her influence be when she only has 3,570 followers? It seems the left has really missed the boat on this one. For what use is a progressive, modern tool like the internet when it is only utilised to its full effect by parties who have historically been opposed to such progress?

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Obama, China and the Internet

It will be a long time before the people of China have democracy, but how long will it be before they can gain uncensored access to at least a small bit of it, the internet. Some form of dissent on the internet does take place, but nowhere near enough. And it is good news to see that Barack Obama has called on the Chinese government to put this right.

Obama hasn't been the amazing success most progressives wanted and expected him to be, and this could possibly be another example of talk rather than action from a president who still has much to prove. But these words at least chime with Obama's own actions at home, where he has used the internet to go straight to the voters. He has been able, in this way, to set a context and frame an argument without having to go through journalists. By talking straight to the people, Obama has been able to ditch the soundbites that characterised the New Labour spin operation and swing public opinion before he goes to Congress.

The other great strength of the internet is that it allows people to hear primary sources for themselves, meaning it is harder for politicians or even the media to distort the facts. I just hope that one day the people of China will be able to experience the full benefit of this.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Trial by Fury?

Yet another esteemed commentator has jumped on the bandwagon of condemning the ability of the internet to whip up feelings amongst the general public about one topic or another. Dominic Sandbrook, an historian who I greatly admire, has used his column in the New Statesman to speak out against the opportunities offered by the internet for ‘trial by fury’.

He suggests that blogs and Twitter are the new purveyors of ‘mob violence’, and complains of the difficulties in distinguishing between spontaneity and co-ordination through this medium. Admitting that many people would have been offended by Jan Moir and her thoughts on the death of Stephen Gately- the stock example for many at the moment, it seems- he asks the question: “But how many read her column only after they had heard about it on Twitter, and how many complained only after they had read the Guardian’s Charlie Brooker?”

So what? If the internet allows social networking sites and commentators to highlight ignorance and prejudice and quash it, then I for one am pleased. I have gone into this before, and do not intend to again. Sandbrook, Cohen et al should give the public some credit, and allow them to make up their own minds, rather than demonise the circulation of news and opinions on the internet as a chance for troublemakers to whip up a stir about irrelevant things. In aiding the spread of information and opinions, and offering people the chance to make up their own mind, the internet is a valuable democratic asset. It is tenuous at best to compare it to the ‘blood-hungry mob of ancient Rome’. Calm down, man.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

The case for 100% Inheritance Tax

Taxation has been, and will continue to be, a major topic of discussion for politicians and commentators in the wake of the worst financial crisis since the Wall Street Crash of 1929. With a huge budget deficit and a general election looming, the case for increased taxation will be debated by the two major parties until all of us listening shrivel and die of boredom. Yet, in spite of this, one of the most serious issues that faces this country, inequality, and the one method of taxation that could make a real dent in the deficit while causing no harm whatsoever to the person that earned the money, the inheritance tax, remain inexplicably neglected.
Well, not so inexplicably, as it happens. Inheritance tax is not a vote winner, and the self-serving politicians of today, just like the self-serving politicians of yesterday, are far more concerned with prolonging their own political careers than tackling in earnest the problems facing this country. This applies to this Labour government in particular, under whose watch the inequality gap has widened further than even Margaret Thatcher could have imagined and the taxing of estates has declined. In 1997, when Tony Blair’s brave new era began, the inheritance tax threshold was £215,000. It is now £325,000. The inheriting of money, however much or little, has become one of the major causes of economic and social inequality in this country.
This idea is undoubtedly radical. It would also undoubtedly be seen as an assault on the rich. This is why my proposal is that this tax would apply to all, regardless of the size of their estate. The idea that a person’s incentive to work would be diminished by the fact that they would not be able to pass their accumulated wealth on to their children is, in my view, untrue. The incentive would still be there- to do the best you can for yourself and your family while you are still alive. The 100% tax rate on the estates of deceased citizens would merely be a method of levelling the playing field. No more would unskilled or lazy people be able to stay ahead of the more deserving and capable simply as a result of their inherited wealth and status. A person’s incentive to work would be increased: with the ability to fall back on inheritance removed, one would have to work harder to succeed. Government’s role, in my eyes, is much like that of a ruling body for sporting competition: to set the rules of the game and make sure that nobody manages a head start due to artificial means. A 100% tax on inheritance would go a long way in denying anybody an unfair advantage, resulting in a fairer, more equal and meritocratic society.
The benefits to the Government would be immense. With less incentive to save, people would spend more, thus reigniting a stagnated economy. Revenues would be significant, and allow for large scale investment in public services as well as, yes, cutting the budget. Clearly safeguards would have to be put in place to ensure that this money was used for such positive ends, rather than unwinnable wars and lining the pockets of our elected representatives. The public would not stand for anything else. The move is unlikely to be popular- nothing regarding increased taxation ever is- but it would be easier to implement and provide more of an incentive to work than increasing income tax would. To put it crudely, it is an awful lot easier to prise tax dues from the fingers of the dead. It is also easier to enforce, with rigid rules regarding the ‘unloading’ of wealth as a person’s death appears imminent.
This appeal will almost certainly fall on deaf ears. But current taxation methods are not satisfactory. The 40% rate of taxation of estates worth £325,000 and over is not enough. A brave move on inheritance tax goes some way to realigning our divided society while providing much-needed revenue to a Government brought to its knees by economic mismanagement. It’s a pity none of our political leaders, primarily drawn from the middle and upper classes, have the gumption to do it.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

I Don't Like Nick Cohen

I stumbled across Nick Cohen well before I even started to pretend being interested in columnists and the like, after i reading his cynical and miserable view of the state of left-wing politics. I thoroughly recommend for you not to buy it here, though I note that it is available at the slightly more realistic price of 35p. Having managed to avoid any kind of comment of his for a couple of years, I was unfortunate enough to stumble across one of his latest offerings the other day.

Cohen has managed to come to the conclusion that the opportunity offered by the internet to protest and express dissatisfaction is, somehow, bad. I agree with his initial thoughts on the taking of offence. I remember once hearing an obscure comedian remark (his name escapes me): "So what if you're offended? Nothing happens". People that actively choose to take offence are, again I agree, infuriating and wholly pointless. But if Cohen genuinely cannot see why people might be offended by Andrew Neil's reference to Diane Abbot as a chocolate HobNob or Jan Moir's hateful comments regarding Stephen Gately, then he is clearly missing the point. Cohen may not be black or homosexual, in fact I'm pretty sure he's neither, but plenty of people are, and may well have, believe it or not, taken offence at remarks such as those from Neil or Moir.

Cohen recognises some of the positive aspects of the internet, but the suggestion that protesting through the internet could impede free speech is erroneous. Neil and Moir, along with countless others, had their right to speak, and then the rest of us had our chance to respond. That opportunity was provided by the internet. Cohen claims that "a mob fighting a good cause is still a mob". Fair enough, but so what? So what if the internet has made it easier to protest and raise complaints? People with lives to be getting on with, by which I mean those who have jobs other than sitting at a computer and blogging about whatever takes their fancy, have too much time on their hands to express their views about something that they are offended by (Apologies, the heinous phrase again!). If the internet lets these people express their views- and remember, those views can be positive as well as negative- then it gets my vote every day.

Now, I'm off to resume my retirement from anything written, uttered or farted by Nick Cohen.