Friday, November 11, 2005

"Vote Yes Twice"

My House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News, written in the expectation that the Commons would agree to 90 days' detention for questioning.

Charles Clarke's dodgy poll was all over the blogosphere earlier this week - thanks to whichever blogger it was who first put me on to it. You can read more about the wonderful Orange Alternative in an article from the Situationist magazine Here & Now.

Labour astroturfing

At Home Office questions on Monday we heard complaints that the police are hampered by red tape. Instead of catching villains they are filling in forms.

One distinguished constable found something else to keep him off the streets that evening. Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman attended a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Satirists tore their hair out. Alistair Carmichael issued a press release: "The job of the police is to enforce the laws, not to make them." And the Daily Telegraph asked: "If we are simply to contract out public policy to the boys in blue, what is the point of having elections? A polity driven wholly by what the police want is a police state - literally."

Maybe a police state is what Charles Clarke wants. He has the look of a man who spent his teenage years reading Soviet coal production figures under the blankets.

But Clarke will tell you that not only do the police support him, the public does too.

I wonder. American commentators have developed the concept of "astroturfing" - the production of an illusion of broad grass roots support by top-down actions. A good example occurs when national party workers pretend to be local residents and have letters published in local newspapers.

Go to the Labour Party's website and you find blatant astroturfing. In a poll Charles Clarke seeks your views on terrorism and the law. You are asked to answer Yes, No or Not Sure to the following questions:

  • Do you think that our laws should be updated to cope with the current security threat?
  • Do you think police should have the time and opportunity to complete their investigations into suspected terrorists?
  • Do you think the government should make sure there are new safeguards to protect innocent people?
  • Have you stopped beating... [Sorry, I can't read my notes here].

Faced with this totalitarian approach, satirists should leave their hair alone and seek inspiration from the Orange Alternative, a group that flourished in Poland under the Communists.

In November 1987 they demonstrated for Wroclaw to be the only city with a 200 per cent turnout in a rigged referendum. Their slogan was "Vote Yes Twice". We should take Charles Clarke and his phoney poll no more seriously than that.

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