Archive for the ‘democracy’ Tag

Polling Day (Stand up and be counted)

Tank Man

China evidently blocked access to Twitter two days ago, two days before the sensitive 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Other Internet services that seem to have become inaccessible include Hotmail, Flickr and search engine Bing.

In recent years, access to YouTube, Western media outlets and many other websites has also been blocked, often before or after ‘sensitive’ events. And now’s a good moment to remember those who blocked themselves.

A few days after the blog of artist and government critic Ai Weiwei was shut down, he simply opened a new one (which you can see here, in Chinese). Ai also uses Twitter.

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Only 22% of eligible British voters have declared their intention to vote in the European and county council elections today. In 2004 the turnout in Britain for the European parliamentary elections was 38.9%.

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Be irrepressible

Chat rooms monitored. Blogs deleted. Websites blocked. Search engines restricted. People imprisoned for simply posting and sharing information.

The Internet is a new frontier in the struggle for human rights. Governments – with the help of some of the biggest IT companies in the world – are cracking down on freedom of expression … learn more

Peer to Peer Networks: Remembering a whole 3 months back

Dirty conscience

Dirty consciences

Dirty conscience?

Dirty conscience?

In the wake of the justified disappointments and embarrassments about our democratic system this week, I switch subjects from my recent favourite of Embarrassing Bodies in the health arena to embarrassing bodies in the political sphere: namely, adding to the Telegraph’s sterling efforts this week with the House of Commons, the House of Lords, two national bodies that are neither right nor honourable as they stand. Memory being what it is – while everyday folk are getting increasingly angry at fat cats, dirty dogs and trough-snouting pigs across our society – it seems the right time to remind ourselves of an interface of Parliament and business/finance from January this year…

What Lord Taylor allegedly said

This is an edited transcript of the conversation alleged to have taken place between an undercover Sunday Times reporter and one of the Labour peers accused of offering to use his influence to deliver an amendment to legislation:

Lord Taylor: If I want to get a point over to a minister or a civil servant or someone like this, this is the place where I would do it: over this table. I can speak better and they can speak more freely over a cup of coffee or a pint, as I say, rather than over a boardroom table or a ministerial desk where everything is written down and so on … I don’t know if you know a company called Experian in this country?

Sunday Times: No.

Taylor: Experian are the company. They have got a terrific amount of intelligence and information. They are the people who advise banks on your credit worthiness and so on. You know, they will blacklist you or they will tell you how good you are. Also, they do a lot with government on ID cards and things like that, that are coming in. They have got all sorts of information. For example, I’ve been working with them on amending a statute that’s coming out, or was coming out, because I’ve got it delayed now, whereby it was going to be difficult for them to get certain information and so on. So I’ve got that amended and you do it quietly behind the scenes, you see.

Sunday Times: How did you manage to do that? Do you actually put in an amendment yourself?

Taylor: No, no, no, no, no. You don’t do things like that. That’s stupid. What you do is you talk to the parliamentary team who drafts the statute as it goes through and you point out to them the difficulty the retailer would be having on this, and how things are working and so on. And you get them to amend it that way. You’re too late when [inaudible] …

But if you can get it done when it’s in the draft form it’s far better because if you know what the principles are and if you know what the principles are of the bill and [inaudible] what you do is you meet the minister. You meet the various people, and it’s not always ministers or secretary of state or even permanent secretaries that do this, it’s some little chappie half way down the grade who does this drafting. It’s about identifying the decision-makers. It’s about identifying the people that make the recommendations.

Sunday Times: Obviously, from our point of view, this would be something we would remunerate you for. And I don’t think money is an object. But [what] I would ask you to do, I think, is to give us some idea of what a fee structure would be.

Taylor: This is absolutely difficult, this is very difficult for me because some companies that I work with will pay me £100,000 a year.

Sunday Times: £100,000?

Taylor: Oh yes. That’s cheap for what I do for them. And other companies will pay me £25,000. It all depends on what you are trying to do and how much time I think I am going to spend on it.

Sunday Times: Those fees are not impossible. They are all fine.

Taylor: Yes, but these are the sort of fees I get. I am being absolutely honest with you. I am not exaggerating. It’s whether I want to do it or not. You’ve got to whet my appetite, to get me to come on board.

Edited transcript of a second meeting some weeks later:

Taylor: I am very aware of the credibility I have achieved over 50 years of working here with government and departments. I am not going to put myself in an embarrassing situation or do anything that I think is illegal or using my position. I will work within the rules, but also rules are meant to be bent sometimes.

Published Tuesday 27 January 2009 – courtesy of The Guardian

Newspaper Report three days later:

Lord Taylor of Blackburn, one of the peers at the centre of claims about “cash for amendments”, has lost his consultancy with the credit check company for which he allegedly boasted he had altered legislation.

Experian said it was “surprised” by the Labour peer’s descriptions to undercover reporters of his role for the firm. “We have agreed that Lord Taylor will retire with immediate effect,” a spokesman said.

Taylor is the second peer to lose a consultancy in the row over possible abuses of rules which allow members of the House of Lords to earn money outside their parliamentary work. Lord Truscott resigned from Landis+Gyr on Wednesday night.

Taylor’s parting of company with Experian came as peers made a flurry of changes to the official register of Lords’ interests, which lists paid and unpaid work and appointments that could be thought to affect their parliamentary work.

On Tuesday and Wednesday they made a total of 37 amendments to the register, more than twice the normal rate, with several declaring paid directorships, regular jobs and sponsored overseas visits months later than they should have done according to their own code. Normally only 20 to 40 changes are made in a whole week.

A fresh version of the list, which is usually updated online every seven days, was last night posted on the House of Lords website for the second time this week as officials strived to appear as transparent as possible.

The apparent rush to ensure all interests are correctly registered comes after peers were thrown under the spotlight by allegations in the Sunday Times that four peers told undercover reporters they were willing to use their influence to help to amend legislation, for money.

Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said: “It’s an indication that self-regulation has been failing until now. It’s only the threat of exposure and the allegations that have come out in the last week that has pushed peers into taking the register seriously.”

Taylor, a peer since 1978, and Truscott, a former energy minister, allegedly said they had used their influence to alter legislation indirectly on behalf of clients.

A further two Labour peers, Lords Snape and Moonie, allegedly indicated that they were prepared to use their influence to help clients. All four deny wrongdoing.

Taylor was reported to have told them he had helped amend draft legislation “quietly behind the scenes”. He allegedly said of Experian: “I’ve been working with them on amending a statute that’s coming out, or was coming out, because I’ve got it delayed now, whereby it was going to be difficult for them to get certain information and so on.”

Experian said last night that Taylor had overstated his role. “The full extent of Lord Taylor’s role as consultant was limited to providing us with general advisory and introductory activities, which he declared as an interest,” the spokesman said. “His role was to keep us apprised on developments which may be of interest to our industry, and provide basic advice on the appropriate people our team ought to speak to.”

The peer was one of 18 who made changes to the register of interests on Tuesday and Wednesday. The 30 additions to the register of interests far outweighed the five removals and two alterations.

Lady Verma, opposition whip and Conservative spokeswoman on education, skills and health, made 11 additions to the register, the most of any peer. She declared for the first time her paid directorship of DCS Foods, seven months after she should have done so according to the peers’ code of conduct. She also registered foreign trips to Kenya, Switzerland, Norway, Bangladesh and New York, as well as a 50% stake in Domiciliary Care Services.

A month late, Lord Adebowale, appointed as a “people’s peer” in 2001, registered his appointment as a paid non-executive director of St Vincent Healthcare, a company which is advising on the NHS national cancer information management system, in which he holds shares.

Lady Amos, former leader of the House of Lords, registered a paid directorship on the board of England’s bid for the 2018 football World Cup more than two months late. Her declaration of a position on the global advisory board of a University of California “action tank”, Global Health Group, came a month late.

The leader of Essex county council, Lord Hanningfield, revealed his role as patron of the Academies Enterprise Trust, the organisation behind five secondary schools in Essex, two months late.

Published Friday 30 January 2009 – courtesy of The Guardian

Given my job and the organisation I work within, I spend a lot of time reflecting on Public Service. If nothing else, reminding ourselves of January’s shenanigans and absorbing last week’s revelations and reactions, one can only conclude that this country’s notion of Public Service needs a serious shake-up for our times.

Clean conscience?

Clean conscience? (asks the poster behind)

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