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Archives for February 2011

Digital democracy and social media

Peter Henley | 14:08 UK time, Monday, 28 February 2011

Protests in Egypt c/o Getty Images

Footage of protests filmed on mobile phones has been fed back to the world by satellite TV

When they write the history of the fall of Arab rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya there will be a big chapter on the role of Facebook and Twitter.

Whether it's organising rallies, or simply raising spirits after years of suffering, the Arab youth and middle-classes have found their conversations on social media have given them the courage to overthrow their rulers.

So what is the equivalent here?

The e-petitions site on the No 10 website became a laughing stock, but attracted a great deal of traffic. There's a plan to give it teeth by forcing the House of Commons to debate anything with more than 100,000 people giving the subject support, which is still in the pipeline.

If you're interested in that stuff, have a look at this alternative. A site called Direct Democracy set up by one person, frustrated that he had no way to call politicians to account.

We in the traditional media can feel a little threatened by all this 'cutting out the middle-man'. But any journalist worth their salt has always kept their ear to the ground, aiming to be more of a conduit for opinion than handing out tablets from on high.

In which spirit I offer you some thought provoking ideas from a recent correspondent, Andy Taylor, who lives in West Sussex.

Mr Taylor is a keen viewer of programmes such as The Politics Show, Question Time etc but says: "I fortunately don't have any particular political persuasions so can view our political system in a much more rational way than most."

What do you think of his ideas, below? As usual - your own thoughts in the form of a comment left via the BBC system - will further the cause of digital democracy!

"At election time, why not allow any group, or combination of groups, present detailed manifestos covering their proposals for how they would conduct themselves if elected and give each one an equal amount of national media investigation/coverage. Notice I have said 'group' instead of 'political party'. I think the word 'politics' has become almost taboo amongst voters...

"At the election every voter in the country would get one vote and the group with the most votes 'counted nationally' would be elected. Their job is now simple, no opposition, just 'Execute their Manifesto' as presented, in detail, and previously supported by a majority vote. We now have what we voted for. A governing body all agreed on one clear plan, K.P.I's for us to monitor progress, direct accountability as there will be no excuses for not doing as promised, and most of all much greater government productivity due to less time being spent producing hot air during endless non productive debates/discussions.

"Local authorities would become non-political, have a plan to follow and be measured against it. This has got to be better for all than what we have at present and, if you think about it, could be done without risking our freedom, individuality, national identity, security, or anything else. I don't know about you but the present seems to have a smell of 'Animal Farm' about it. You know, 'we're all in it together, but some of you are more in it together than others'.

Is this a post-political age taking shape?

Portsmouth MP Mike Hancock in paedophile slur

Peter Henley | 18:38 UK time, Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Mike Hancock

The Portsmouth MP arriving at court today

When you put your head above the parapet of public life someone is bound to take a few potshots at you. But every politician knows that the sound of gunfire looks bad, and often attracts more trouble.

Portsmouth Lib Dem MP Mike Hancock has taken a few cracks lately. Labelled Red Mike in the press after his Russian assistant Katia Zatuliveter was arrested for deportation as a risk to national security.

A string of extra-marital affairs paraded through the papers. Falling out with his own party over their part in the coalition. And now possibly the most foul accusation - accused of being a paedophile in a court case.

The Judge even insisted that Mr Hancock had to attend in person to give evidence, but today he faced his critics with some bravery.

It's not him on trial - a man who's accused of running a smear campaign that amounts to a vendetta is charged with offences under the Representation of the People's Act. Les Cummins has pleaded not guilty - ensuring a three day trial where he can call witnesses to make his case.

Red Handkerchief

So Mike Hancock, with his trademark red handkerchief in top pocket and a spotted tie had to enter the witness box to endure a humiliating cross-examination.

Giving evidence Mr Hancock said it was "absolutely not" true he was a paedophile.

"I'm horrified that anyone could make it (the allegation)."

Asked by Alison Morgan, prosecuting: "How did you feel about that suggestion?", Mr Hancock replied: "sickened."

The Liberal Democrat went on to deny other allegations in the leaflet that he had an affair with a 14-year-old girl he had been seen in a casino with, or that he had been seen in bed with children while on charity work in Romania with Mencap in the 1990s.

"Impossible and untrue," He said. "That's really offensive to people I have worked with and to me."

He also denied being corrupt and associating with known criminals. "I know lots of people but I do not associate myself with known criminals. I do not ask people who come into my office if they have a criminal record,"

Mobile phone

The Portsmouth MP was given permission to check his mobile phone during his
evidence as his mother is seriously ill.

He's having a very tough time of it, but he's told me he's determined to keep fighting - that this case was his chance to bring things to a head with a man who's been relentlessly pursuing him.

Oh No! The Cerne Abbas Giant will say Yes!

Peter Henley | 16:22 UK time, Monday, 14 February 2011

Cerne Abbas Giant

Artists impression of the Giant

They wanted to launch with a bang... And you certainly get that with Dorset's Cerne Abbas Giant. This is the initial impact that the Yes! campaign is planning to get the public behind their campaign to change the voting system.

Quite how they plan to add the speech bubble isn't yet clear, but a helicopter has been chartered to give photographers and film crews the best possible view of the Giant.

I'm told that the chopper is poised for the moment that the Parliamentary Bill gets Royal Assent. Local campaigner Billy Bragg is promised for the photocall. Being Billy, he can choose where he stands for the picture.

So what can the No! campaign do to match the expected level of public arousal? It seems Esther Rantzen is a backer. What are the possibilities to promote "first-past-the-post?"

Yes, I am being provocative, but I think you will rise to the occasion. Suggestions below please.

The Vince Cable apprentice: "You're hired!"

Peter Henley | 17:58 UK time, Monday, 7 February 2011

Lord Sugar's catchphrase for the TV series The Apprentice was "You're fired!" But Vince Cable wants to stand that on its head.


EDF Apprentices Will Vickers and Jordan Crowe

The Business Secretary said he was inspired by the energy and enthusiasm of the apprentices he met in Hampshire today. They've been taken on by Network Rail and the energy company EDF, gaining two years basic engineering training at the Navy's HMS Sultan alongside work on real railways and power stations.

"As a country we're very short of engineers," he said. "Foreign investors coming to Britain often make that point. We need to do more on skilled training, but a lot of private companies will see this as being in their own interests."

With £1.4 billion of government money he says the the real life apprentice is now more likely to hear that they're "hired" - or are they?

In the South of England the demand for apprenticeships far exceeds supply. Here's the county by county table for applications and opportunities:

Apprenticeship figures

Tonight on South Today Rachel McKellar of the National Apprenticeship Service - who provided the figures - said that businesses see apprentices as a good investment: "Apprentices are more motivated, more loyal and more productive" but she agreed that for them to provide opportunities they needed to have confidence in the economy.

The Southampton MP John Denham is Vince Cable's Labour Shadow. Whilst acknowledging the continuing level of investment in apprentices, he questioned the coalition's commitment, saying, "They are ending the guaranteed apprenticeship for every 16-18 year old who wants one. Labour accepts the need to make savings in the wider adult skills budget, but taking away training from more than 500,000 people a year - as the government are doing - is an example of this Tory-led government going too far and too fast."

How to set up a Free School

Peter Henley | 20:26 UK time, Thursday, 3 February 2011

Berkshire's aptly named Eaton Family explain their plans: The Daily Politics is following their progress.

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