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    Online stuff, Theory

    Congratulations on the smug political status update

    I’ve wanted to write this for days, but it felt a little improper to do so before polling stations closed and results were read out.

    Pre-election and even on the day, my social media feeds have been full of mockery of political parties, jokes about delayed election days for certain voters and a number of other equally silly things.  I’m sorry, call me a killjoy but I don’t get the joke.

    I like democracy; sure, I think my opinion makes the most sense (otherwise why would I hold it) but I like that democracy is ultimately about the masses deciding.  The right of a political party to exist, no matter how much I agree or disagree with their policies, is part of what makes this a great system.  But a philosopher once told me that you argue against something’s strongest points not its weakest.  It’s why I’ve always been against no platform policies and more recently why I’ve been annoyed at these Facebook statuses and tweets – and I love sarcasm.  Sure, mocking something is kind of arguing against it; but is it really an effective way to changing people’s minds – are you even reaching those people who are genuinely planning on voting for those parties you vehemently dislike so much?  Maybe the question should really be were you even trying to reach them via social media?  Because to me, at least, it just looked like a group of smug self-congratulating updates which spectacularly failed to do anything useful – and the results seem to agree with me.

    So here’s my plea – and you may call me idealistic for it.  Next year it’s a general election and if you care so much about whom people vote for, get off your bums and do something useful.  If you’re passionate about a political party then join them and hand out flyers and speak to people to convince them to your party is best.  If you’re passionate about not voting for a certain political party then effectively debate with people who might be tempted to vote that way about why that party’s policies are incorrect and what the alternatives are.  Point out flaws in an argument in a way that will actually engage with people.  Talk to people who feel disengaged, tell them to register their dislike of all the parties by spoiling their ballot so their voice is counted.  Stand for election.  Hell, start your own party if you like.

    But above all, do something that might actually count.

    Birmingham, Theory

    Birmingham Salon: Pursuit of modernity in China

    Thursday’s Birmingham Salon was a bit like going back to university, having forgotten to do the assigned reading. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fascinating talk from Alan Hudson, Director of Oxford University’s Leadership Programmes for China, but it more importantly, it highlighted how little we know about China’s rise to economic stardom.

    Admittedly, this possibly not a subject ever featured on Mastermind and unlikely to be featured in a pub quiz, but Alan Hudson’s speech was thought provoking never the less. He spoke on the issues facing the cities of China; mass urbanization as over 300 million Chinese moved from the rural areas into cities, how Chinese officials intended to shape every aspect of city life from planned to lived spaces (i.e. the need for street vendors, but them making things cluttered) and how Chinese society suffered from a kind of managerialism which is becoming more evident in British society.

    Sadly, due to unforeseen circumstances, there was no other side to form the debate, but it almost felt like it would’ve been redundant as Hudson’s talk seemed more observational and theoretical than debatable. Yet, the audience did an excellent job of challenging his points, pointing out logical flaws and challenging Hudson’s criticisms of the views from William Hutton on liberal culture and liberal economies. All in all a fascinating discussion on a lesser known topic, with a lot learned by all.

    The next Birmingham Salon will take place on Tuesday 8 June. Check the website for more information.

    *This was originally posted on my old blog BeanHeartBatman*

    Birmingham, Theory

    What happens if a successful candidate in local elections resigns?

    A candidate in the constituency I live is running both for MP of the constituency as well as local councillor in a ward nearby.  Whilst I know this is possible, although I question how one person can do both effectively, I was more shocked to hear one of the candidate’s supporters suggest (how true this is I don’t know) in the event the candidate won both elections they would resign the councillor position.  This sounded like a great waste to me and I needed to understand the implications – could this waste taxpayers money in the event of a by-election or votes if the candidate with the second highest votes was subsequently elected?

    My first stop was Twitter, that being said it wasn’t greatly helpful.  So I called Birmingham City Council’s election line.  The person on the phone asked me who I was and I couldn’t help but answer “a concerned resident of Birmingham” – it had to be done.  According to him at least, I couldn’t be given the information unless I was a candidate.  So I emailed.  A day and a half later I had no response, so I called again.  I was once again told this wasn’t the sort of thing they dealt with as they weren’t in the Back Office (?! I’ve no idea what that means).  I kicked up a bit of a fuss and got put through to the mysterious Back Office where a nice person consulted a colleague and said they thought it would result in a by-election, but to call the Electoral Commission.

    So I did.

    And spoke to a lovely person who was the most helpful person I spoke to during all this.  They mentioned a few things and then said they’d look into it and email me back. Sadly I have a difficult email address so I didn’t get it until I emailed in and checked the spelling of my Irish-variant surname.  At the same time I got a response from Birmingham City Council.

    The email from Birmingham City Council confirmed that if a successful candidate resigned “This would therefore trigger a by election [sic]. There is no provision for the candidate with the second highest number of votes to be elected.”

    This was backed up by the email from the person at the Electoral Commission who said the failure to sign the declaration of acceptance would, according to the Local Government Act 1972, be dealt with in the usual way according to rule 89.  This, after reading it, backs up the comment from Birmingham City Council, thankfully.  You can read it here, if you’d like.

    Oh and the cost of a by-election.  According to the person at Birmingham City Council; “As for the cost of a by election this would be approximately £20,000.”

    NB: I’ve contact the candidate in question a couple of times to check whether they are intending to resign from the councillor position if elected to both, but as of yet I have had no response.

    *This was originally posted on my old blog BeanHeartBatman*

    Birmingham, Theory

    Things to do in Birmingham: Debate at the Birmingham Salon

    *This was originally posted on my old blog BeanHeartBatman*

    Where: The Studio, Cannon St, Birmingham
    When: monthly (I visited Tuesday 9 March)
    Cost: £5

    What: A group of people felt Birmingham suffered from a lack of debate and so the Birmingham Salon was set up to allow people to watch a debate and follow it up with discussion.

    February’s topic was appropriately titled ‘Whose election is it anyway?’ with guest speakers Dolan Cummings from the Institute of Ideas and Peter Kerr, senior lecture in politics at the University of Birmingham.  Both speakers talked about a broken political system.

    Dolan Cummings discussed the general malaise of the general public, who felt divorced from the political system and the conflict over whether MPs should be viewed as “one of us” or whether this downgraded them and they should be viewed as leaders.  His solution was to reignite politics in a way that inspires the public and becomes what they want.  He suggested a 21 topics which needed discussing, but were currently being ignored.

    Peter Kerr believed that to most people there was no difference between the political parties, with the major parties more interested in the cult of celebrity and battling over who could do less and shirk responsibility.  He pointed to membership numbers of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds having more members than the Conservative party.

    The audience, it seemed, myself included, believed that the general public were still involved in politics, but couldn’t find a place in the current system.  People spoke about the wider world, with reference to the recent Iraqi elections and the popularity of pressure groups on social networking sites and community groups.

    Go back? Absolutely.  It was nice to finally see a place that allowed for people to discuss current affairs and challenge the ideas of themselves and others.  The organisers were friendly and accommodating of new people.

    The next discussion is ‘Mr Science and Mr Democracy:
the pursuit of modernity in China’ on Wednesday 21 April at The Studio.  For more information, visit theBirmingham Salon website.


    Online stuff, Theory

    #welovetheNHS – America, the NHS and social media

    In the last two days something special happened on Twitter. Again. Twitter users in their thousands have this time rushed to defend the NHS against American critics of Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms. The Guardian reported that ‘US critics have accused the service of putting an “Orwellian” financial cap on the value on human life, of allowing elderly people to die untreated and, in one case, for driving a despairing dental patient to mend his teeth with superglue’.

    But literally thousands of people on the social networking site, Twitter, have come to the NHS’s defence. Using the hashtag #welovethenhs, which allows messages on a similar topic to be linked, people have been posting their experiences and amazing messages of support.

    What the Hashtag, a site which tracks trends, counted 20,575 tweets (messages) using the #welovethenhs tag, with 10,909 contributors. And that’s just as of 9:30 today – the numbers are going up. I’ve posted five so you can get an idea, but if you get the chance or need some cheering up, take a look at the rest.

    karmadillo I love the NHS because baby Enso (& possibly me) would not have survived labour without them #welovethenhs
    _garys #welovethenhs When my dad’s heart began to fail we were told he wouldn’t last a week. The NHS gave him an urgent bypass and saved his life.
    benjamincohen: I have to use the NHS every week because of having Multiple Sclerosis. It has its faults but it’s still great #welovethenhs
    deanzielinski: #welovethenhs Without the NHS my uncle would have paralysis to his right leg and be in a wheelchair. He now stands and is a paramedic.
    deanzielinski: #welovethenhs -may not be perfect, but you can rely on it when you are in need, no matter what your financial status is. We are spoiled!

    Social networking sites, like Twitter, get accused of being a pointless waste of time. But to me this highlights one of the great ways they can be used; they hold people to account, they allow ordinary people to speak their mind and counter lies. The stories people have told in 140 characters about the NHS have been genuine messages of support from regular people. It’s been amazing.

    And yes, I work for the NHS, so I may be biased towards thinking it’s something that should be applauded. But it’s nice to see it regardless!

    *This was originally posted on my old blog BeanHeartBatman*


    Swine flu and Question Time

    Two weeks ago Question Time, the BBC2 political debate show, came to Birmingham. I was in the audience (bright pink top, you can’t miss me) and was chosen to ask a question. Sadly it didn’t get asked, but I’ve posted a picture of it and wanted to explain why i felt it needed discussing. My question was ‘given the WHO have upped the swine flu level to pandemic, do the panel feel the general public have been properly prepared?’

    I was disappointed my question didn’t get asked, especially as it was the lead story on the BBC news at 10pm – Question Time is filmed around 8pm and shown after the News. But also because the huge rise in swine flu cases means the public is worried but don’t seem to know what they should do if they think they’ve caught it.

    The hospital I work at had a 25% increase in visitors to A+E with flu-like symptoms last week. And I spent the best part of the week uploading files, action cards and FAQs to an intranet site and used the word algorithm more times than an episode of Numbers. Safe to say the general public, or perhaps just those of Birmingham, did not get the message as to what to do if you think you have swine flu.

    So here’s what to do if you develop flu-like symptoms; DO NOT GO TO A+E. You potentially have a contageous disease – stay at home and try not to infect anyone else. This also means you should avoid GP surgeries or anywhere there are large numbers of people. Do what you’d normally do with flu – stay home, rest, keep well hydrated. Call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47 or check the NHS website Phone your GP if it puts your mind at ease. Listen to them. They have the most up to date news.

    Do not do what one woman I overheard doing and go into a crowded area and whinge that a doctor won’t see your ill child because he has flu-like symptoms.