Friday, 16 April 2010

On not being a Terrorist

Writing this, sat in my office, I’m pretty sure that I’m not being watched by ‘them’. Yeah, I realise that Google records every search I make, that all my e-mails are scanned and stored and that my ISP logs every site I visit, but I meant actually watched, you know video and stuff.

But, if I venture out of my front door, things are very different. As many people like to say, we are the world’s most watched citizens. The level of daily surveillance in our lives would shock George Orwell and make the Stasi throw in the towel.

Which is odd, because if we want to take photos, we have to watch our step. I remember, maybe twenty years ago, taking some photos at my nephew’s under-16, Sunday morning football game. If I tried that now, I’d be chased out the park by torches and pitchforks. Last August, at Worthing’s Bird Man event, a man was arrested and subsequently charged with photographing children. Think about it... in a public place, at a public event attended by tens of thousands amongst whom, surely, were thousands of cameras and camera phones, one man was pointed out and bundled away. For what? When did taking photos of children in a public place become a crime? OK, at the trial it became clear that the nature of the pictures were sick, but not in any way obscene or illegal. So this time, the Police caught a bad guy. Who’s going to be brave enough to take a camera to this year’s event?

Ok, fair enough, photographing children is now a crime. So, sorry Grandma, no more photos of the grandchildren, because anyone who would want to photograph a child must be a pervert.

At least we can still photograph Britain’s natural beauty and cultural heritage.

Err, no... because then we’d be terrorists. There is a worrying trend for amateur and pro photographers to be confronted by police under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for taking photos in public streets and public buildings. Some have had cameras seized or have been forced to delete images, neither of which the Police are allowed to do. Photography magazines recommend photographers carry “bust cards” explaining what they should do when their collar is felt and reminding the Police that there is no law against taking photographs in public places. Yet.

What worries me is that our society is becoming suspicious. Whatever we do, we are being watched and someone, somewhere is wondering what we are up to. Your average Joe, the perfect law-abiding citizen, fears prosecution for driving slightly too fast. We fear being suspected of being terrorists, paedophiles or racists for making an inadvertent comment or gesture. Or for taking photographs.

“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering” – Yoda

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

On Democracy and the Phoney Election

And so, as of today, the nation is officially on an election footing as Brown admits the worst-kept secret ever and announces the date of the election.

Now, I have no political affiliations - I belong to no party and I would never dream of supporting or endorsing a party, so I thought it would be fun to blog day-to-day on how the local candidates are doing in my estimation. Who will I vote for, did so-and-so have a good day on the campaign trail or did he commit political suicide?

Yeah, it would be fun. But it’s not gonna happen. No point, no point at all.

You see, for election purposes, I live in West Worthing. In 2005, the Conservative chappie got 47%, ahead of the Lib-Dem chap who got 26%. The result was exactly the same in 2001, but in 1997 it was very exciting because the Lib-dem guy got 31%! The ward was created in 1997, when Worthing was split into two. Up until then, the Conservatives had won every election going back to 1945.

So, quite honestly, if my Labrador was to somehow wake up as the Conservative’s prospective parliamentary candidate, she’d win. No problem.

So where is the incentive for new voters to vote? We talk about people’s democratic right to vote, but the tragic fact is that, if you live in Worthing and many, many other similar towns, you cannot influence the outcome of the national election.

The UK is world’s largest democracy in which the political head of state, and therefore the ruling administration, is not elected to that post. He or she is chosen by a mixture of the elected Members and un-elected committees – party members and Trade Unions. Brown has been Prime Minister for three years, but we have never been given the chance to elect him.

In a Country which likes to gloat about being the father of democracy, the electoral system is rotten to the core. At the last election, Labour won 35% of the overall vote, yet were rewarded with 55% of parliamentary seats. The Conservatives won only 3% less votes, yet only got 30% of seats while the Lib-dems got 22% of the vote and 9% of seats.

So will I vote? Yes, of course. Will it make a difference locally? Probably not. Will my vote have a bearing on who governs the country?

Sadly, no.