Category Archives: Uncategorized

On Slab

Disclaimers: I didn’t sit in court,   I didn’t follow the case that closely and I’ve no more knowledge of the life and times of Slab Murphy than anyone else who hasn’t met him. More than that, I was surprised at the timing of the sentencing, and figure it shouldn’t have taken place when it did.
So all that said, where do I stand?
I understand that the senior echelons of Sinn Fein,  for reasons both personal,  and of realpolitik in South Armagh,  can’t condone a friend. That’s understandable. My problem is this, the conviction appears to be sound (Special Criminal Court perhaps notwithstanding),  so why the grandstanding of ordinary Twitter  republicans? The man has been found guilty of defrauding the state over a prolonged period, when the State has been at its most economically frail. When that fragility has contributed to emigration,  homelessness, high direct and indirect taxes that weighed down heavily on the poor, and a creaking health system to name a few issues.
Why, in these circumstances, is the cry “but what about the bankers? “?
The fact that certain people may not have been charged as the public might like should never distract us from justice being served where it ought to be. It’s not a place for whataboutery.
If there are bankers, or politicians,  or media magnates guilty of something, let’s haul them through the courts too. That doesn’t preclude us from punishing others. If it did, then the logical step is to argue that until the bankers are punished, nobody should be punished.

On accuracy in the media in the internet age

Hi, it’s been quite a while. Anyway…

I got rather riled up Monday night, and a fair bit of yesterday through my Twitter account, doing myself very few favours. What was the world changing cause of my efforts? Trying to correct every mention on Twitter that razors are zero rated for tax.

I guess I should take a step back. I’m not an accountant, I know little about tax. I’m also a man, and the reason anyone was mentioning tax rates yesterday on Twitter, was the #tampontax.

My thoughts on that matter, such as they are, is that people should have this stuff freely available if they’re poor, but otherwise it’s a fairly insignificant tax financially – it costs people basically nothing, it raises basically nothing for the state. This is largely inconsequential – I’m not an activist, not a woman and not an accountant, I don’t have much skin in the game.

I am though  a confirmed Guardian reader. Or I was a ” Guardian reader”, I’m not clear I’m still in lockstep with them. I do still read the Guardian though, online and through the app. As such I probably read many articles I wouldn’t in the print edition, and many of these which end up on the front page are women’s and/or feminist issues. Why are they on the front page? Clicks and comments. They get millions.

Like a moth to the flame I’m amongst those millions, drawn to the flame of the comments sections. Invariably these comments don;t engage with the argument in general, but the statistics.

The statistics, in the backlinks. The backlinks, referencing a Guardian article. A Guardian article, by the same author. The same author who will back reference themselves, until eventually we arrive at a dubious source. The source is (if I can remember history class reasonably well) secondary, always secondary. Not the study, but a report on the study on a friendly website. Not the BBC, or the paper of record. Sometimes a blog.

Was it always thus? Did I read papers for years lapping it up and accepting? Have backlinks informed me of facts, or made me doubt?

Well in the case of #tampontax, the first time I ever recall reading or hearing about it was some article about the petition that inspired the recent debate. That petition baldly asserted that “men’s razors” were not subject to tax. Google it, and it’s pretty obvious a lot of people think this statement is true.

I read an article in the Independent on Monday, which corrected itself for repeating this falsehood. I was pretty surprised actually. It was at that point that I put “men’s razors” into the search on Twitter. A huge percentage of people commenting on #tampontax were furious that whilst “tampons were a luxury, men’s razors were a necessity”. As we know, not true.

I set about correcting them. This was of course a dreadful idea. I explained this was commonly asserted in the Guardian, but not true. However, many were quoting not just The Guardian, but the BBC (the BBC has since corrected). MP Stella Creasy mentioned it in her speech, though “razors” not “men’s razors”, though she did refer to the men opposite her. I spoke to three branches of the Women’s Equality Party, to SNP candidates. It was everywhere.

How does a tiny lie become so widespread. Why does The Guardian not correct a mistake it publishes in every article on the subject, when the mistake is consistently flagged in the comments. How does the Independent remove it on a Monday to republish on a Tuesday?

I resolved not to look, to restrict my Twitter to people who may be interested, on subjects I actually cared about. All good. Until lunchtime. Then I did it again. Twitter search “men’s razors”. The website Dazed, formerly Dazed and Confused magazine had tweeted to 950,000 people “Men’s razors are not taxed. YES REALLY. Tampon tax is a joke” for an article outlining the ten reasons the tax is a joke. I contacted the author via private message, she thanked me, asked for the evidence, and did nothing. No update, no correction. They retweeted the message half an hour ago

The lie, a much better story than the truth.

I’ll finish with this. A general reaction to me messaging people was that it didn’t matter anyway, that if men’s razors are taxed, the tampon tax was still wrong. I agree, there isn’t anything to link them, the rate of tax on one has no bearing on the other. I think though that misses the point. The articles in question nearly always said “Men’s razors”, not “razors”. This wasn’t picking something ridiculous attracting zero rate VAT like Jaffa Cakes, it’s a deliberate attempt at divisiveness “why are women being taxed when men shave for free”.

All the sites who aren’t correcting it haven’t made a simple tax mistake, they taken a mistake because it fits the narrative, and they aren’t correcting it because controversy brings clicks.

Lastly – apologies to anyone I inadvertently, or advertently, wound up yesterday

On Fermanagh courts

I tweeted flippantly earlier, in response to the article here from Fermanagh Sinn Fein (http://www.sinnfein.ie/contents/33138#.VMpY79Pvm1A.twitter), that they should refuse to recognise the removal of the court. Maybe they could stand outside, or run a People’s Court, or return to the CRJ schemes. All very flippant indeed.

I actually agree with their point – to close an entire courthouse to save £92K is basically pointless in the scheme of things, especially if the figures have been provided by the Civil Service, because the estimate will be wrong. If the employees can’t move with their role, then  that’s probably a cost too.

All that aside though I do object. I object because I dislike the idea that we are depriving a county of a courthouse, an entirely arbitrary area (and population) to define it by. I want distances, populations and comparisons. I want to be told where the nearest court service will be. More than that, I’ve argued before that SF need to be preparing the way for a United Ireland. I’ve argued that from a negative point of view – that they need to prepare the public for the fact that a duplication of services won’t be able to carry on and that it will necessitate job losses(in the north).

In this case however SF should be pointing out (if it exists) where a nearby 26 County court is. How that (or a new one) could serve the community in the event of a United Ireland. How actually those border areas would be best served in such a way. That’s what the future looks like. A real vision may be to say that that’s what the present could look like.

Lastly, SF agreed the budget. We can discuss whether it was what they wanted, but we won’t. They agreed. They can’t now complain when it impacts, they need to show some collective responsibility.

The politics of the begging bowl won’t work when the British subsidy (or if you prefer that “the solution to years of chronic underinvestment” , or the “money required to deal with legacy issues) s withdrawn. They need to outline, at every opportunity, a better way

On unemployment (and a balanced budget)

The ongoing impasse over seeking a budget at Stormont has come to an unequivocal head. For anyone who has railed that the Executive achieves nothing events today may have cast some light.
The inability to agree a budget (on shorthand to agree benefit cuts), has resulted in the Executive needing to find cost savings, as one might euphemistically put it. A contract for gulley clearing gone, job cuts in the Derry tax office and presumably a lot more to come.
All this feels very American. Shut down the federal government, resolve the issues. It isn’t though. Everyone involved knew the stakes.SF could hardly have expected the UK Treasury to back down.
There are explanations aplenty. Perhaps SF believe that the welfare cuts have an unfair, disproportionate affect on the most vulnerable. They’d be right.
Perhaps they believe that Westminster might get the blame. I’d say that argument would break down along almost the most expected lines.
I think there’s a third option. It combines the two a bit, an individual’s viewpoint might blame Westminster, or not seek to blame the disadvantaged. Either way they would not blame SF. Perfect.
What’s the advantage? If Stormont los ineffectual that works in Connolly House favour. That’s a given. But what about the massed ranks of civil servants, at least some of whom doing jobs duplicating UK work (hello DVA Coleraine) or the rest replicating the Irish Civil Service somehow? Well, if you can convince George Osborne to fire all them, you’ve just removed a fairly central argument against unification

“what about all the civil servants who’d be out of a job?” loses a lot of sting when the jobs are already gone.

I believe this is all much too fanciful, and strategic, to be taken seriously.I agree. It does however give us a glimpse into an as yet unwritten future I think.

On unemployment (and a balanced budget)

The ongoing impasse over seeking a budget at Stormont has come to an unequivocal head. For anyone who has railed that the Executive achieves nothing events today may have cast some light.
The inability to agree a budget (on shorthand to agree benefit cuts), has resulted in the Executive needing to find cost savings, as one might euphemistically put it. A contract for gulley clearing gone, job cuts in the Derry tax office and presumably a lot more to come.
All this feels very American. Shut down the federal government, resolve the issues. It isn’t though. Everyone involved knew the stakes.SF could hardly have expected the UK Treasury to back down.
There are explanations aplenty. Perhaps SF believe that the welfare cuts have an unfair, disproportionate affect on the most vulnerable. They’d be right.
Perhaps they believe that Westminster might get the blame. I’d say that argument would break down along almost the most expected lines.
I think there’s a third option. It combines the two a bit, an individual’s viewpoint might blame Westminster, or not seek to blame the disadvantaged. Either way they would not blame SF. Perfect.
What’s the advantage? If Stormont los ineffectual that works in Connolly House favour. That’s a given. But what about the massed ranks of civil servants, at least some of whom doing jobs duplicating UK work (hello DVA Coleraine) or the rest replicating the Irish Civil Service somehow? Well, if you can convince George Osborne to fire all them, you’ve just removed a fairly central argument against unification

“what about all the civil servants who’d be out of a job?” loses a lot of sting when the jobs are already gone.

I believe this is all much too fanciful, and strategic, to be taken seriously.I agree. It does however give us a glimpse into an as yet unwritten future I think.

On Economic Unionism

It’s hardly my place to criticise Justin Cartwright, he can be as economically unionist as he fancies, and I’m nothing to do with the SDLP.
A lot of the discussion has been around how Malone Road Catholics (nationalists, ahem) may also be closet Economic Unionists, what with their legal (aid funded), public sector and teaching jobs. It’s a Belfast politics given. I say we don’t know the truth of that assertion, but we can agree that a comfortable BT9 lifestyle might lend itself to not wishing to rock the boat, and that’s totally legititmate. So I’m not particularly going to criticise the economics of it, nor self interest (because who isn’t self interested?).

I can accept that the idea of the potential economy of a united Ireland will be a difficult sell, that the benefits have to be guessed, or extrapolated, and that there must be a difficult transition,and presumably many jobs lost before they are regained.

I can accept too that, for those on the left, the structure and nature of the Irish economy (developed by Lemass and arguably turbo charged by the PD influence) with privatisations, extremely low corporation tax and a large fianncial sector might be even less attractive than the UK’s London based economy. Arguing for it might just stick in the craw for a socialist, social democrat, or a modern upholder of the 1916 Proclamation.

I won’t try and criticise Cartwright for seemingly missing his party’s number one political objective either, these things happen.

None of that, not at all.
What I want to know is, if the SDLP are (at least partially) economic unionists, if we’re to Tippex out the green from their banner leaving the red, what purpose does the party serve? What differentiates it from the British Labout party. Why expend the energy preventing that body from organising in Belfast? Is it worth having a party to deliver these people a sense of importance that coems with having their own seperate party, instead of being a tiny cog in a bigger British Labour wheel? Or is it so they can not lose the whip when they vote for grammar schools and on the social issues (abortion, gay marriage)?

Because, economic unionists voting that way in Britain aren’t always called social Democrats, oh no. They’re called Tories

On #takebackthecity

I probably should start by saying I’m terribly cynical, and so by my nature I’m less than disposed to most campaigns.

I did however support, and totally agree with, last year’s #takebackthecity. It was a postive action, organised against the marshalled ranks of idiocy in loyalism, preventing the views of a minority destroying people’s enjoyment of the city at a crucial time of year, and of course having an assumed positive impact on the city centre traders (Michael Deane included).

I hated the “ten minutes of noise” , or whatever it was, and that sort of thing. I found it a protest that people wanted to be seen to support, but was basically a waste of time. As I said, I’m a terrible cynic.

Overall though, #takebackthecity was about walking past the protestors, walking to town so as not to have to rely on the temporarily stopped public transport, and it seemed quite a bit of drinking. Totally fine.

This year though, dissident republican idiocy (and that’s far from being a strong enough word) has caused the #takebackthecity to come back out. The cynic in me is raging. At my age I can barely remember mass peace rallies, though they did happen in Belfasta nd Dublin. I remember too the well emaning folk on the Peace Train. A cursory read of any “Troubles” literature will show some example of concerned (usually) mothers protesting in (usually West) Belfast about some atrocity or other. It never seemed to particularly go anywhere, and these were coordinated activites, not just a few extra people turning up in town, and obviously not idiotically tweeting.

The IRA didn’t listen much then, knowing as it did it in its wisdom it was right. I doubt very much if the dissers will listen much now. Neither holds much of a torch for vox populi.

So where does that leave #takebackthecity? In my opinion it’s encouraging complacency around personal security. It’s brave enough to encourage people to enjoy the city centre when it’s part of an organised response to a protest with violence round the edges, it’s another thing entirely to encourage people to put themselves in harm’s way of an explosion.

I’m not saying “give in”, I’ll still be going to town. I’m saying lets not be blase. A bomb in the city centre would be (is) an indiscriminate attack on innocents, but gonig to town to sepcifically show your stand against it would be foolish