Friday, 29 January 2010

A busy month ahead for Brighton Council's standards watchdog?

I almost feel sorry for the local Standards Committee, the body charged with making sure all Brighton and Hove councillors behave according the Code of Conduct laying down the rules for how we must behave towards each other.

A few weeks back they visited all the political groups represented on the council to plead for less frivolous complaints. Their workload, they said, was getting clogged up with councillors' complaints against each other - they were being used, as I understood their point - as a political football.

Really, they exist to weed out corruption and unlawful behaviour. If a Tory councillor, for example, made dodgy backroom deal to sell off some Council-owned land for development - or took a backhander to nod through a planning aplication - the Standards Board would want to get to the bottom of it.

But after a particularly firey Council meeting last night I imagine they'll have their work cut out dealing with all the name calling from all sides.

When the archived webcast becomes publicly available I'll post some of the highlights here - meanwhile I'll just observe that the Code of Conduct doesn't require that we are all nice to each other all the time, so when councillors call each other dogs, idiots, fascists, hate-mongers, anarchists, communists, or kleptomaniancs - all names bandied around during last night's meeting - it shouldn't really be the concern of the Standard Committee at all. We're all big enough and ugly enough to look after ourselves! Perhaps that's why the new Chief Executive - John 'Axeman' Barraddell - looked so relaxed about the whole thing.

Of course most city residents just want their council to get on with the job of running the city - so I'm delighted we were able to do a bit of that too!

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

All you need is love? More hateful nonsense from Blackberry...

 Poor old Paul McCartney. Well, not literally, of course: but he has to look himself in the eye every morning and reflect on the fact that despite everything, all the music, all the history, all the great animal rights campaigning, his songs are still being used to hawk shitty techno-devices designed to make our eveyday lives more miserable - and, ultimately, to fuel resource wars as we scrap over materials - and to clog up landfill sites around the countryside when it all, inevitably, gets chucked away.

John Lennon - by contrast - doesn't have to hear 'All You Need is Love' being used to flog Blackberry 'phones. Being dead, no-one can reasonably blame him for being just another corprate shill.

Personally, I'm with Bill Hicks on this one: once you've allowed your creations to be used to advertise products you're off the artistic rollcall for life.

Blackberry. I mean, for God's sake, is there a product more hateful out there?

They should come with a health warning really: 'Crackberry. They are addictive - and, just like too much drinking, or endless video games - letting it into your life can seriously damage your intimate social relationships.'

And remember,we already had phones before they invented the Crackberry: but this one was different - you could do work on it on your own time - let the boss into the bedroom, so to speak, in a way that just wasn't possible before.

Love, man.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Could this be the film that offends everyone?

I've always thought humour is one of the best ways of delving into the meaning of just about anything - and that one mark of a civilised, liberal, society is the degree of free speech accorded to comedians dealing with tricky subjects.

I guess I was schooled by Bill Hicks when he introduces a discussion on abortion during a stand-up comedy set after delivering the pre-amble: 'Let's talk about mass-murder of unborn children and see if we can't get a few belly laughs going...'

Anyway one of my favourite irreverent comedians is Chris Morris (he of Brass Eye and The Day Today fame). I particularly like it when he mocks the richest and most powerful - he's a particuilar fan of making MPs look as ridiculous as most of them really are.

In his latest film - 'Four Lions' - he takes a look at a bungling gang of English Jihadists. It's bound to offend almost everyone.

It opens in the US this week - and comes to these shores later this year. It looks great!

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Is is finally time for Brighton Council to abandon Microsoft? Open Source Web browser use soars as security fears escalate

On Tuesday I reported that both the German and French governments had warned citizens to stop using Microsoft's Internet Explorer after it had emerged that a bug in the program had been exploited by hackers to breach data security for some users running the browser.

It has since emerged that the security breach at the heart of the warning was the chilling attempt to gain personal details of human rights activists in China - and could therefore be responsible for the execution, torture and imprisonment of Chinese activisit.

As the implications of computer software bugs go - this is about as big and scary as it gets really.

But despite the fact that UK politicians have finally started warning of the problem and calling for users to abandon the problem program in favour of cheaper, mopre secure alternatives - Lord Voldemort Mandelson steadfastly refuses to add the British government's voice to the chorus of oofficial warnings.

Meanwhile, users are flocking to open source alternatives anyway. Latest figures show that downloads of Mozilla's Firefox browser are have massively increased in recent days.

And, while Microsoft's engineers are working overtime to solve the security problem, another, potentially far more serious problem has emerged: some users of its Windows operating system could be vulnerable to hackers taking over their entire system.

It seems, for the US giant, anyway, it never rains - but it really pours. As a new project to use only freely available software promises to slash the price of home computing for millions, it seems that, perhaps now more than ever, could be the time to break free from Microsoft and Windows once and for all.

IT managers at Brighton and Hove Council: I hope you're listening. In the face of economic hardship, and increasing concerns about privacy and security, this city can't afford either software full of holes and bugs, or the exorbitant costs of Microsoft programs, much longer.

Nothing like a disaster to bring out the worst in people...

So far it is estimated that more than 200,000 people have died in Haiti since the massive earthquake that struck the island nation - perhaps the unluckiest on the planet - last week.

I have in turns been saddened, angered, moved, and motivated, by the stories that have come trickling out of the island in recent days.

But the ones that have truly appalled me have all related to groups, gangs or states for whom the disaster isn't alll bad news, and who have seixed an opportunity to further their own ends.

I'm not talking about the desperate, the hungry and the homeless in Haiti, some of whom have reportedly resorted to violence, looting, banditry and theft: these are, in the main, survival tactics and hardly a surprising response to tragedy on a massive scale and a desparate plight.

No, I'm thinking of the child traffickers, the ultra right-wing economists at the heart of the international money machine - and even the Israeli government, never one to miss a trick when it comes to exploiting someone else's suffering for a bit of good PR.

Oh and let's not forget  the bankers, taking a cut of all donations made - and those nations refusing to cancel Haiti's foreign debt regardless of whether that means rebuilding and rehabilitation efforts will be set back or not.

As well as donations and relief efforts, the people of Haiti - and thus all of us - need several things, and we need them now - and these things will onlt happen if international support for them is driven by our Governments. That means getting MPs everywhere to support them:

  • The cancelation of all foreign debt owed by Haiti
  • A commitment by the International Monetary Fund to halt all efforts to force privatisation and pay freezes on the battered public sector in Haiti as a condition of help
  • Increased international efforts to stamp out all forms of child trafficking and slavery funded through additional commitments to help Haiti made in recent and coming days
  • More money for relief efforts - from individuals and governments: and a ban on banks and credit card companies charging fees on emergency relief donations

So come on Des Turner - please make such a statement urgently.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Pride to come of age - thanks to Brighton Council £20,000 loan

Great news - Brighton's celebration of our LGBT heritage, Pride, will take place this summer - after Brighton Council agreed to loan organisers £20,000.

The parade and festival had been thrown into doubt after it emerged that the event faced a £50,000 cash shortfall.

But today I have learned that the 18th annual Pride will go ahead this year after the council agreed to plug the funding gap with a £20,000 loan - something Green Councillors have been calling for since the financial troubles facing the event emerged last autumn.

Caroline Lucas (pictured with other local Greens during last year's parade), Green Party leader and parliamentary candidate for next-door Brighton Pavilion said: the decision made good economic sense:

“The decision to loan Pride the money makes good economic sense as well as being a win for Brighton's LGBT community. Far and away the highlight of the city’s free cultural calendar, Pride attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from the rest of the UK and around the world and puts the city on the map. Local businesses take in more trade that weekend than any other, and the business case for supporting Pride is overwhelming. Greens are delighted the event has been saved.”

Councillor Vicky Wakefield-Jarret, Green spokesperson on LGBT and Equality issues on the council, said: "It’s great news that Pride’s financial security has been secured. Pride weekend is a defining feature of Brighton & Hove – a city renowned as the gay capital of the UK. Every year, the event gives us a unique platform to shout from the rooftops about our support for the LBGT community and our belief in tolerance, fairness and equality for all."

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Brighton Council must make it easier for city residents to help each other out in the snow and ice

The two cold 'snaps' we've seen over the last month or so have brought much of the city to a standstill. The economic and social costs have been enormous - the hospital has been overwhelmed by the victims of thousands of accidents, roads have been closed, buses cancelled, schools and universities shut, rubbish collections abandoned, and so on. 

On this 'blog, and elsewhere, I have argued that the Tory-run council could have done a little more to help residents stay safe and warm - and keep public service disruption to a minimum. That all costs money, I have argued, and the council could - and should - have spent a little more on the problem.

The fact that the post-Christmas spell was handled so much better than the pre-Christmas one was to be welcomed, of course, but just proved how the council could have done better in the first place. It's not as though the weather conditions weren't widely predicted - they were!

The Greens were quick to call for a full investigation into the council's response to the cold weather - and how it could be improved next time. I'm delighted to say Labour councillors have agreed to the proposal, and so a so-called 'scrutiny panel' is likely to be set up to carry out the investigation at tyhe next meeting of the Environment and Community safety Overview and Scrutiny Committee on February 8th.

Meanwhile - it looks like it could happen all over again. More snow is forecast for the UK, though latest predictions are for us to have none here in Brighton. Of course, that could change over the coming hours.

So today the Green Party has called on the council to do more to help residents help themselves: to draw up 'community snow plans', to install more, well-stocked,  grit bins, to provide 'community spades' to householders wishing to clear the ice outside their own homes, and to maintain registers of residents who are willing to help, either by making pavements safe or by checking on elderly or vulnerable neighbours.

Many people were ready to clear pavements and help in other ways in the recent bad weather, but there was no way of coordinating their efforts. In addition, in Kemp Town and Queen's Park many local residents don’t have gardens and they will need to be supplied with spades, if they are to help.