Friday, 31 December 2010


The one important concession made to the Liberal Democrats in the coalition agreement was a referendum on voting reform in May. If it is lost then the issue will be dead for a generation. But the Coalition is itself the greatest obstacle to winning it.

A new voting system would make it virtually impossible for any party to get a mojority in Parliament. In other words it would be the beginning of an era of coalition governments, and after the current experience coalition is going to have a bad name. To make things worse, the Tories will campaign against reform, and so may many Labour supporters, leaving the unpopular Lib-Dems the main campaigners.

What we need in addition to voting reform is a system that prevents politicians from ditching their policies for the sake of seats in Cabinet. It should be possible for voters to censure their members of Parliament. For example, it might be made mandatory to hold a rerun of the election, if more than say 10 or 15% of electors in a constituency sign a request. The same system could deter members from fiddling their expenses.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010


I have just had the message: "The video you are trying to watch cannot be viewed from your current country or location". It is entitled To see if I am Smiling and it consists of an hour of interviews with six young Israeli women about their experiences as conscripted soldiers in Gaza and the West Bank. So someone has authorized censorship in Great Britain; a bit more creeping authoritarianism.

The wikileaks from U.S. diplomats show how the biased American attitude to the Middle East is maintained. The kings, emirs and presidents, who depend on America for the dollars, helicopters and cattle prods to stay in power, naturally tell their protectors what they want to hear. And so we get a litany of hostility to Iran (easy enough for Sunnis, which most of the protected leaders are). And back in Washington, these messages are believed to be expressions of 'Arab Opinion'. It is a self-perpetuating system.

Anyway, the censor has not blocked the description of the film, so here it is:-

Israel is the only country in the world where 18-year-old girls are drafted for compulsory military service. In the award-winning documentary To See If I Am Smiling, the frank testimonials of six female Israeli soldiers stationed in Gaza and the West Bank pack a powerful emotional punch. The young women revisit their tours of duty in the occupied territories with surprising honesty and strip bare stereotypes of gender differences in the military. The former soldiers share shocking moments of negligence, flippancy, immaturity and power-tripping as they describe atrocities they witnessed and participated in.

The psychological transformation that these young women underwent as a result of military service is both upsetting and riveting. The culture of war transforms people: personalities change, moral codes are subverted, values are supplanted and masks are constructed to dull the pain of what they did and didn't do in uniform.

“A brave and powerful testimony to the corrosive effect of power.” - Silver Wolf Jury, Int’l Documentary Film Festival, Amsterdam (IDFA)