Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Liveblogging Brexit #3: Federal union?

I'm not sure whether this link will work - it's intended to go to comment 300 on this story. In case it doesn't, or ceases to in future, here is the relevant comment:

The relevant part, corrected for better English, is:

"How can the Brexit referendum result be to leave, if three countries voted against leaving and only one voted to leave? It's really not democracy, if three countries are held to ransom by one."

First, this is factually inaccurate, as Leave won in Wales and England so, on a country by country basis, it's actually two apiece, not three-to-one.

Suppose, however, the facts were as 'gerry' suggested and only England had voted to leave. Would this be democratic?

The referendum was a UK-wide one. There were over 28m votes cast in England (plus Gibraltar), compared to around 5m from Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Or, in terms of potential electorates, 39m to 7.5m. Thus, a large enough majority in England would be able to outvote the other countries on a 'one person, one vote' basis. That's how most people normally understand democracy.

There are some countries where major constitutional decisions would have to be ratified by a majority of constituent federal units or similar. I'm sympathetic to the idea that a major constitutional decision should not be left to a simple majority process. However, I'm not sure whether treating the UK as a four-country federal system is the answer.

Suppose it had been specified, in advance of the referendum, that Brexit would only happen if at least two of the four countries voted to leave the EU. In that case, just 4m people (majorities in Wales, Scotland, and N.I.) would have been able to block Brexit, even if over 40m others (the whole population of England plus the minority in each of those three countries) had voted to leave. Surely, that would be undemocratic...

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Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Liveblogging Brexit #2

Update from the BBC:

Boris Johnson says Jeremy Corbyn "has become the first leader of the opposition in the democratic history of our country to refuse the invitation of an election".

My comment:

Prior to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, the PM could call an election whenever (s)he wanted, so there was no need to invite the opposition to vote for one. It's therefore not so surprising that the 'democratic history of our country' has never previously need the leader of the opposition refuse such an invitation, because I doubt there's ever really been one...

If the Fixed-term Parliaments Act continues, then such refusals may be more common than one might expect, given that the point of the Act was to prevent PMs from calling elections at opportune moments.

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Liveblogging Brexit #1

 I'm going to start a series of small blog entries that I'll call 'Liveblogging Brexit'. Obviously, I don't actually plan to live blog the whole Brexit process, but the current political crisis is throwing up many snippets that may be useful for classroom discussion, so I want to preserve some of them for posterity... Here's the first.

From the BBC:

Conservative MP Nigel Evans says, "the British people have voted to leave the European Union [in the 2016 referendum]. If this Parliament decides we are not going to leave the European Union, then the British people ought to have an opportunity to change their Parliament."

My comment:

This argument may have been all very well in late 2016 or early 2017, but the current parliament was elected more recently than the referendum - that is, voters have already had one chance to change their parliament.

If the outcome of the 2017 election seems to conflict with that of the 2016 referendum, then perhaps the more recent should take precedence. At the very least, there's as much case for re-running the 2016 referendum as there is for re-running the 2017 general election.

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Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Diet and Nutrition

There was a sad story in the news today about a teenager who went blind due to living on a diet of junkfood - chips, crisps, bread, and no fruit or vegetables.

Even the BBC article, linked to in the previous sentence, takes this opportunity to 'lecture' on how vegans can get vitamin B12, although the problem in this case was clearly nothing to do with a vegan diet (it mentions that he had occasional ham or sauage).

This piece at The Conversation goes even further, with the gratuitous statement that "Without nutrient supplements or fortified foods, strict veganism can lead to irreversible blindness." This is true, but the case supposedly under discussion shows that a non-vegan diet can also lead to irreversible blindness, if lacking essential nutrients.

The case in question involves a 'picky eater' who may even qualify as having an eating disorder, but the more important general lessons are probably those about nutritional education and the dangers of food poverty.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2019

An end to smoking?

The big news of the day was the announcement of Boris Johnson as the new Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister. In light of this, much may change regarding future priorities. However, what caught my eye was the announcement that the (current) government intends to end smoking in England by 2030.

That's a rather bold move. It's probably misleading for the BBC to describe this as a 'pledge' though, given that it's only a green paper for consultation. The end of the article says this consultation runs until 14th October, with a government response due in spring (2020). I can't help thinking they might have other priorities, perhaps even including an early election...

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Monday, July 22, 2019

Universal Credit and Prostitution

I've been reading some stuff on prostitution lately, for my Ethics of Public Policy module. Predictably, much of it focuses on whether prostitutes have any free choice over engaging in sex work or whether they are coerced, for instance by poverty and a lack of acceptable alternatives.

This piece on the BBC is therefore timely. It reports that a number of women, particularly single mothers, are forced into 'survival sex' as a result of changes to universal credit. Unfortunately the deadline for submitting evidence has now passed, but this was a concern of the DWP.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Vegan-Friendly Cities?

I've seen a couple of people sharing this ranking of vegan-friendly cities, which has also been picked up by some news sources, such as The Metro.

You wouldn't know the methodology from the news reports but, if you go to the original source, it seems to be based entirely on total population divided by the number of vegan/veggie-only restaurants. It takes no account of things like quality of restaurants or how accommodating other restaurants are for vegans (which I'd say is pretty important in branding a city 'vegan-friendly').

 Indeed, despite labelling the table 'most vegan friendly cities' it doesn't even seem to distinguish vegan from vegetarian. Theoretically, somewhere could top this list based on having a lot of vegetarian restaurants without any vegan dishes.

I'm also curious as to how this ranking would compare with one of total restaurants per person. While I'd expect some places to have a higher proportion of vegan/vegetarian restaurants than others, it seems this methodology will simply favour places with more restaurants per head (assuming some will be vegetarian/vegan).

It's a pretty meaningless ranking I'd say.

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Friday, June 07, 2019

I wonder if she smiles - the danger of gender expectations

This is a quite moving piece. I may use it when teaching about sex selection in future.

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