London riots and media ‘blackouts’

I will write a fuller blog on the London riots later, but just wanted to comment on a theme seen in some of the tweets and chatter: that the media somehow covered up the latest rioting in Enfield and other places in London.

The news is rarely instant. It often takes hours for something to be reported as “BREAKING NEWS”. That’s because newsrooms are big and have lots of things happening. It takes time to get cameras to a scene when something’s happening. Sometimes the initial reports take time to make it to a news-desk, or are contradictory by the time they get there.

Twitter means that we can (and often do) know about things before they appear on the mainstream news. As a twitter-addict and news-addict, I follow in turn many people with the same twin afflictions. I am very used to seeing a big story break on Twitter hours before it appears on the BBC. Lots of other people are less used to this, so when they saw hundreds of tweets about trouble in Enfield but no footage on the BBC, they assumed it was some kind of cover-up.

When journalists on the scene showed empty buildings rather than ongoing riots, some people assumed it was part of a conspiracy rather than because the looters were in cars, moving fast and not wanting to be on the news nicking  42-inch tellies.

When the BBC news website wasn’t updated, they assumed there was a D-notice rather than that it was a Sunday night in August so maybe the BBC website team was just a little light on the ground.

When nobody reported on the riot in Hemel Hempstead, they complained but didn’t consider the possibility that there wasn’t actually a riot in Hemel Hempstead.

Tonight proved again that Twitter is now the primary medium for news. This doesn’t mean that journalists have no role to play. I got my news tonight from the Guardian’s Paul Lewis on the scene in Enfield and Edmonton, the Telegraph’s Andrew Hough in Brixton, and Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy (who’s still out on the streets of Walthamstow trying to help). Two of those are broadsheet journalists and all were using Twitter.

In a public incident, Twitter will always beat traditional news media for speed. We’re all just going to have to get used to that rather than scrambling about for conspiracies.

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AV final thoughts and strategic voting

I’ve been in the USA since Wednesday, for work. Because my work has a political aspect, I always end up having to explain the UK’s political system to Americans. This is difficult, because the US political system was designed by lots of clever people meeting over a period of a couple of years, based on defined values and principles.

The British constitution, however, has evolved from a series of fudges, equivocations and deals. The Westminster System, replicated all over the world, is actually a spectacular piece of doublethink:

On the one hand, all power emanates from the Sovereign. Judges are appointed by the Crown and the Royal Courts are just that. The Queen appoints and dismisses Ministers, and the Cabinet is technically a subcommittee of the Privy Council. And Parliament itself is a Royal Court: the Speaker of the House of Commons must be appointed by the Queen (or the Crown in Commission) and it is the Queen-in-Parliament that legislates, not Parliament itself.

On the other hand, Parliament can impeach a monarch and change the rules of succession. A government can only govern with the confidence of Parliament. Only Parliament can levy taxes and pay them over to the government. Ministers must be Members of Parliament. (more…)

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De Do Ron Ron Ron

I wrote in my first blog on Av that I’d voted, campaigned and stood in more than a hundred individual AV elections. Those elections were for roles in Jewish youth organisations, my Student Union, the National Union of Students, trade unions and voluntary groups.

Despite the fact that these elections happened at different times in varied forums, one candidate appeared on most of the ballot papers: my old mate Ron.

RON stands for Re-Open Nominations, and runs as a candidate in many forms of AV election. RON is treated like a real-life candidate. Voters can vote for RON as their first choice or transfer to RON in later rounds as is usual for AV.

When the votes are counted, RON is also treated list a real candidate. Votes are transferred to him in the usual way as candidates are eliminated. If he’s eliminated then his votes are redistributed and he won’t receive any future transfers.

If RON wins, then the election is declared void and nominations are re-opened. In many systems, candidates who have been RONed are not eligible to stand in the re-run election. (more…)

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AV, Safe Seats, Selections and Primaries

As I said when I first blogged about AV, both sides of the campaign are using weak, wrong and misleading arguments to advance their cases. A perfect example this week was Lord Ashdown’s Sky News interview, where he manages to squeeze at least four incorrect claims about AV in a couple of sentences. He said:

“…no more safe seats, ever; politicians will now have to fight harder to get elected; every vote will count; no MP will get elected unless they get at least 50% of the support of the people in their constituency. Never again will we have more people voting against their MP than actually voted for him when he was elected”“

Today I want to look at safe seats and how to achieve Lord Ashdown’s wish for “No more safe seats, ever”. (more…)

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Creative uses of AV

Tomorrow is the first day of the National Union of Students’ annual Conference. It’s also five years since I last attended an NUS Conference myself, either as a voting delegate or as a balcony-based observer.

I went to my first NUS Conference in 2003. I was elected by the narrowest of margins in an STV election and joined eight of my fellow Bristol-university students on the trip to Blackpool.

NUS conferences are unusual because elections for NUS’s full-time officers happen at the Conference. This is an archaism; Trade Unions and Student Unions used to elect their officers in the same way, but labour laws and the Education Act 1994 respectively, meant that these Unions now have to legally hold a ballot of all members. NUS is not legally a Student Union and its members are other Unions not individuals, so didn’t have to change away from the old-fashioned system.

NUS has political groupings of varying formality, often disparagingly called ‘factions’: Labour Students is the formal student wing of the Labour party and organises openly. Various groups of ‘Independent’ students run slates of candidates, sometimes openly and sometimes less so. Groups on the Far Left are active, sometimes running joint slates as allies and sometimes opposing each other. Conservative Future sometimes organises for NUS and sometimes decides not to bother. Other groups like the Union of Jewish Students also attend the Conference but don’t usually run candidates for the full-time officer roles. (more…)

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