Category Archives: Politicians


Much of the UK media, and most of the people here to be fair, love to knock the EU. Perhaps this is sometimes justified, but many stories are exaggerated or re-spun to give it the greatest anti-EU, faceless bureaucrats* theme in order to allow us the feeling of righteous anger. Don’t ya just love it.

Recently I heard a piece on ‘Does 75 per cent of UK law come from Brussels?’ on Radio 4’s More or Less. Of course, this is very difficult if not impossible to answer reasonably. We could count the number of laws, the words used, or try to estimate each laws influence on people’s lives. As Tim Harford said, 40 laws on the regulation of car wheel sizes will be less important than a single law restricting the right to a trial by jury.

Often, though, the EU laws and regulations are misrepresented to the point of outright lie, and this is especially true where some people can make money out of the misinformation. Let’s take the humble lightbulb as an example. The news seems to be that incandescent bulbs are being banned, we’re all being forced to use the mini flourescent ones, so the EU is evil and we need to stock up now.

THE old-fashioned 100-watt incandescent lightbulb is to be phased out across the EU.

Countries will have to use energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps instead. They use up to 80 per cent less electricity than standard bulbs and could cut a home’s annual energy bill by up to £37.

Experts say they will also help reduce carbon levels, curbing climate change. But some campaigners claim energy-saving bulbs may trigger migraines and worsen skin conditions. (The Sun)

I suppose the first line is true, but given that they’ve started with 100w bulbs I find this amusing, because I don’t think they get used much anyway. Most light fittings only take bulbs up to 60w, and we’ve got two years of 60w normal bulbs anyway. So there’s no need to panic… ‘Congratulations to anyone who can find 60 or 100W bulbs to hoard’ (contributer to BBC).

However, it’s the second line that is completely untrue. Old-style incandescent (i.e. a glowing filament) are going, but newer style incandescent lamps are perfectly fine (see  the EU document). So all the complaints about not being able to use dimmer switches, slow start-up times, or having a different quality of light are from people who misunderstand the law. Greenpeace would like to see these banned too, but given that the new bulbs can have a B or C rating, that won’t happen.

So given that we’ve got a little while of old-style bulbs yet, that we aren’t being forced to use the compact flourescents, and that the EU is encouraging new-style incandescents anyway, it seems this story is mainly being written in the dark.


*Indeed, I’ve always loved the ‘faceless bureaucrat’ argument as it seems to be made by people who don’t understand how democracies work. Yes, the EU commission (bureaucrats) write the EU laws, and then the Parliament (an elected body) and the Council (the EU heads of state) have to pass them. But these laws can also be requested by the Parliament or the Council. And this is also how the UK system works… it’s the civil servants that write the laws as politicians don’t have time for the details. As far as I can tell, the usual is that a government policy commitment is given to civil servants to create green papers, white papers, and laws, and the ministers and eventually parliament sign them off (see this, or even Yes, Minister!). On occasion, for example where the police request new powers to deal with a particular problem, the initiative starts with the civil servants too. This looks much the same to me.


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One rule for us…

Once again MPs’ expenses have been deemed a disgrace, scandalous and so on. The Archbishop of Canterbury has ‘warned that a “culture of abuse” had developed in Westminster, claiming MPs only had themselves to blame’ (Guardian). Today’s Guardian also had experts deciding whether MPs’ claims were ethical, as every MP accused of having their snout in the trough has pointed out that what they have been doing is legal.

Of course, one of the main issues that arises in MPs allowances is that of the ‘second home’*. The good thing about this is that it has an exact parallel in the rules for everyone else, in the law covering council tax.

It seems that the rules for distinguishing between the main home and second home are fairly lax for MPs. In the 2006 rulebook it said:

‘The location of your main home will normally be a matter of fact. If you have more than one home, your main home will normally be the one where you spend more nights than any other. If there is any doubt about which is your main home, please consult the Department of Finance and Administration.’ (Green Book 2006)

The ‘normally’ suggests individuals can swing it the other way, if they have a convincing case. The later version is even more lax:

Main home is the term used in the Green Book for the term “only or main residence” as used in the applicable Resolutions of the House and the relevant legal provisions. It is for a Member to determine where his or her main home is based on his or her circumstances. It must be in the UK. (Green Book 2009)

A member can determine where his or her main home is!!! Now let’s look at the situation for the council tax, which almost all of us pay. For this, it’s up to the local authority to determine the ‘main home’.

We have to establish the facts as far as possible and make a decision. This may involve asking personal questions about your relationships and lifestyle and we are sorry if this offends you. Documentary evidence may also be asked for.

[Long absence for work]…the Courts have decided that in such situations the time spent away from your main residence is largely irrelevant and that your main residence is where you ‘intend to return’ & ‘where you would live if not for the demands of your work’. This is generally where your partner and children (if any) live.(Thurrock council)

This should actually be quite simple, but might need checking after the fact. If someone lives in London, continues to live in London while an MP for Stoke, and continues to live in London after being an MP, then the Stoke home is their second home. If someone lives in Leeds, becomes the MP for Leeds, and stays living in Leeds when they give up being an MP, then any London place is a second home. Of course, people might move their family in the meantime, changing the main home, and this would require documentary evidence. Perhaps this should be for the courts to decide in the event of a dispute, just as it is if people dispute their council tax. ‘This may involve asking personal questions about your relationships and lifestyle and we are sorry if this offends you.’ Surely if one makes the rules, one should abide by them.

*For now I’ll ignore the fact that MPs are claiming for food and other stuff that they’d have to buy whether or not they were working. Something that isn’t allowed in any other job.

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Charlie Brooker

Although I tend to write here about the way the media and government misuse and misunderstand social data, I like to read a good rant, and this is a very good rant:

Charlie doesn’t usually write about politicians, but Jack Straw’s article about how we aren’t sliding into a police state needed an angry response.

I’ll write something about this very soon. One thing’s for sure, the work of Detica is very interesting. I heard ex-Home Secretary David Blunkett today saying a national database of all communications traffic would be a waste of money, but watch out for the £12bn Intercept Modernisation Programme becoming reality soon.

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