Category: Liberal Democrats

Chris Huhne MP

Chris Huhne MP (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stephen Tall said it best – “Chris Huhne‘s political career is over. That’s not a sentence I expected to be typing today.”

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Hopefully, you’ll all have read my recent blog on Liquid Democracy, and how I feel it could be the future of Liberal Democrat Conferences.

Nick Barlow has linked to it on his blog and recently written a long commentary on my original post and the issue of conference generally. I heartily recommend giving it a look see.

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I recently did a post on the nature of Liberal Islam for the Liberal Youth blog, The Libertine. Unfortunately, it may prove not to come true… it looks like Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, my favourite candidate in Egypt’s Presidential elections, has not made it through to the run-off. Still, he would’ve been good… let’s wait a few years.

Here it is at the original Libertine site : Liberal Islam.

Whoever sleeps full while his neighbour is hungry is not a believer.

The Prophet Muhammed PBUH

While the Liberal Democrats in Britain, MoDem in France, and Germany’s FDP are going through tough times, another strand of liberalism may be taking centre stage in an unlikely venue…

In Egypt, a liberal Islamist candidate has taken a major step towards the head of the race to be President. Previously in second place, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former leader of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, has been endorsed by the ultraconservative, islamist, Salafi preaching group, Salafi Call, and its sister party Al Nour. Salafis are effectively a kind of Muslim Puritans, and are even more hard-line than the Muslim Brotherhood’s brand of Islamism. Al Nour won around a quarter of seats in Egypt’s Parliamentary elections; the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party won almost half. Left-liberal and nationalist liberal blocs won 8-9% of the vote each.

Wait, ultraconservatives endorsing Islamists? It doesn’t sound ‘liberal’, but Aboul Fotouh’s brand of Islam is one of the most liberal in the region, strongly believing in personal liberty. His understanding of how Islamic law addresses individual freedom and economic fairness already means many liberals in Egypt back him.

He is, in many ways, a nationalist, believing in a strong Egypt. But he’s also said that “Islam does not discriminate based on gender, religion, colour and the new constitution must not either. The appointment of people to office or other government jobs must be based on merit and capability and not gender or religion or even political inclination.”

His platform is very liberal for Egypt,

  • He will appoint a vice-president and fill 50% of all administrative posts with people under the age of 45.
  • Women and Coptic Christians should have the right to run for Parliament.
  • Health insurance is a ‘basic right’.
  • Introduce a minimum standard income.
  • Islamic restrictions on alcohol should not be imposed on non-Muslims (hoping to attract tourism back to the country).
  • Re-equip the military without depending on US funding.
  • Allow re-trials for all those arrested under the brutal SCAF military reign that has existed since ex-President Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow in the Arab Spring.

Just like Nick Clegg, he has four key goals – to promote freedom in Egypt, to promote the value of justice, to strengthen education and scientific research, and to open Egypt up to investment.

The 61-year old doctor and head of the Arab Medical Union is well respected in Egypt. He first came to prominence as a student leader in the ’70s, even debating Anwar Sadat, the President himself. His student activities make him well-known to the Salafis, and he is close to their leaders. He was later arrested by Sadat. And then by Mubarak.

He was forced to leave the Muslim Brotherhood when he declared his intention to run for the Presidency. At the time, the Muslim Brotherhood insisted they would not stand a candidate, for fear of alarming other parties who fear they would dominate the political scene. They have since changed their mind.

This is perhaps why the Salafis are coming out in favour of Aboul Fotouh. The Muslim Brotherhood is by far the largest and best organised party in Egypt. While the Salafis have a highly decentralised grass-roots network, the Muslim Brotherhood is as monolithic as our Tories. The Salafis disapprove of this internal rigidity.

Salafis are no friends of the Muslim Brotherhood. While they believe in imposing far harsher restrictions on individual liberty, they acknowledge that the country is not yet ripe. They fear that if the Muslim Brotherhood dominates the Presidency as well as Parliament, their brand of Islamism will be snuffed out. At least if Aboul Fotouh leads the Presidency, his liberalism and belief in a separation of religion and politics, will allow them the freedom to preach. We can only hope that Egyptians will embrace Aboul Fotouh’s liberal Islam, and not the hard-line Salafis.

‘Liberal Islam’ should surprise no one. It is far from a contradiction in terms as some would have you believe. Islam and liberalism can perfectly co-exist. Ataturk separated the Turk’s Islam and the secular state institutions. Then there are liberal Muslims like Javed Ahmad Ghamidi who believe that the Qur’an and Sunnah are liberal texts, if correctly interpreted, or Abd al-Raziq who believes that the Qur’an is silent on certain matters to which liberalism can be applied – for example, the Qur’an never judges the forms of government, so a democracy is perfectly Islamic. Even supposedly hardline positions, such as a total rejection of the Hadith can lead to liberalism, as it allows far greater leniency of interpretation.

Fethullah Gülen goes so far as to say that “no one should condemn another for being a member of a religion or scold him for being an atheist” and “no one should suppress the progress of women through the clothes they wear.”.

Sharia can also be interpreted liberally – while it is true that for Muslims, Sharia is the word of God, Islamic jurisprudence has always allowed for pluralism. ‘Fiqh’ means ‘understanding’ and all that what most people think of as ‘Sharia law’ is actually one school of fiqh, one particular, human, fallible, understanding of God’s divine and infallible Word. As such, there are multiple schools of fiqh, Any country with ‘Sharia’ law, supports one of these schools.

The Muslim Brotherhood itself, in order to deal with the issue of having to choose a school of fiqh to support, and thus alienate all others in the country, has chosen the middle, liberal, path – ‘to each his own’, believing that their state should not support one single fiqh, nor Islam over Christianity or Judaism. Religious pluralism could still persist in Egypt, even with the rise of Islamism. Liberal ideas are not dead.

Liberal Islam does exist and is developing in Egypt, in a form – but it is fragile, as is all liberalism. Assailed by extremist positions all around, liberalism must try and find its own place, its own message, and its own followers. Egypt’s liberals need to be supported by their brothers and sisters around the world, to show Muslim’s fearful of a secularist attack on their faith, that liberalism guarantees their right to their faith, no matter what it may be, and the Qur’an itself can be a liberal text. Aboul Fotouh is not a dead-cert for the Presidency, but his unifying brand of politics, his liberal credentials and position, make him the one we should root for.

If Liberal Islam takes hold in Egypt, this can bode well for the whole Middle East. Best of luck to  Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh.

You might also like to read my post on Why the Liberal Democrats are like the Muslim Brotherhood.

Democracy is a difficult business. Direct Democracy, the kind practiced in Athens, is fairest but needs to be done in communities small enough to fit into a single space, and with a highly engaged populace with plenty of free time. Modern forms of Representative Democracy are simpler to run, but we all know, far from perfect. You probably don’t agree with your representative on all issues, forcing compromises. You may want to withdraw support between election cycles. Wasted votes are endemic. The list goes on.

There are some who believe that democracy can be shifted online – that’s probably unfeasible at present, but there is one proposal that is worth investigating right now – it’s called Liquid Democracy.

Liquid Democracy is “direct democracy for people who know they’re not experts on a subject, but know of people that they trust who who know more about a subject than themselves“. It’s currently used by several branches of the Pirate Party, particularly in Germany. Their dedication to transparency, and nifty tech skills, have led to this form of democracy being used in order for their elected representatives to instantly get feedback on proposals from the membership.

There are two main factors which differentiate liquid democracy from representative or direct democracy.

  1. A citizen may transfer their voting power to a proxy or proxies (and this delegation can be revoked at any time)
  2. Voting occurs on issues, not just candidates for representation

Personally, I favour Liquid Democracy systems as a supplement to policy making and conferences. Hear me out.

Every Liberal Democrat member downloads a piece of software. The Pirate Party use one called Liquid Feedback. It’s rather too technical for many, including myself, and the interface isn’t exactly easy on the eyes, but the API has been released openly so new front-ends for desktop, browser or smartphone could be developed.

Any member can submit a proposal. If it receives a certain level of support (the pirates use 10%), then it becomes an official proposal. People can debate its merits, and submit counter-proposals.

Each individual has one vote on any given issue – they can choose to directly support one or other of the proposals on any given issue. Their vote counts towards the total.

But what if you don’t know enough about a given issue or policy field? Say, the Health and Social Care Bill or health policy in general. In that case, you delegate your vote to a trustee, who is effectively a proxy voter. For example, I know nothing about an upcoming debate on nuclear power, or generally about further education policy. My friend Alice studied engineering and knows a lot about nuclear power plants, and my friend Zachary is a teacher at an FE college. I trust their opinions on the issues and we’re largely in agreement. I, on the other hand, am a policy wonk for foreign relations. I can delegate

a) my vote on the single debate on nuclear power to Alice  [Issue Delegation]

b) my vote on all debates relating to further education to Zachary [Subject Area/Category Delegation]

c) If I had a period of inactivity, or simply trusted another member hugely, I could offer a Global Delegation, where they would vote on all issues on my behalf.

I would be notified automatically when they vote, and if I don’t agree, I can either talk to them and one can attempt to persuade the other, or else I can withdraw my vote (either from the issue, from the policy category, or permanently).

When a foreign policy vote comes up, five of my friends agree with and trust me enough on foreign policy to make me their trustee on this issue, and two friends agree wholeheartedly with me and I vote for them in total. When a debate starts up on Syria, I have a voting power of 8 – my two complete votes, five on this policy, and my own. Eventually, during the debate I become respected and people trust my opinion. Three others decide to give me their vote for the single issue, pushing my total up to 11.

It would work a little like in this image:-

Illustration Liquid Democracy via Wikipedia

This system is not only being used by the Pirate Party. An alternative system, Adhocracy (more user-friendly than Liquid Feedback) is being used by the German SPD and the federal Parliament is using Adhocracy for a commission on digital policy.

What do you think? I feel that this would be an excellent way to supplement Liberal Democrat policy making and conferences.

  • We could all take part, from wherever we are in the country.
  • It’s reasonably cheap to produce and maintain,
  • It’s far more responsive, providing instant feedback and response.
  • It’s open and transparent, provides records of debates etc.
  • It builds cooperation within the party.
  • It helps keep all members engaged on all issues.
  • It produces immediate accountability.
  • Decision-making will be largely well-informed, with ‘experts’ responsible for recommending votes…
  • …while still keeping to the principle of one person one vote.
  • It keeps the grassroots and the upper echelons of the party in constant touch…
  • …which helps engage with the members and keep our elected officials accountable.
Essentially, it’s like if every MP, MEP and councillor we have was like Tim Farron, constantly on twitter talking to us foot soldiers.

I’m fascinated by this topic and I’d love to get as much feedback as possible on this topic. We need to work out and develop a lot of this concept, so feel free to comment below with your views. I respond to all comments.

  • Do you know how we’d trial it?
  • Would it be anonymous?
  • How would we prevent selling votes?
  • How would we deal with corruption?
  • How would we deal with votes being coerced?
  • How would people be able to ‘meet up’ with the people who may want to give them votes?
  • How would we select proposals?
  • How would we select categories?
  • Would it be on-going, or build to an online conference of sorts?
  • Will people respond to it?
  • Would it be secure?
  • Will it help combat voter apathy?
  • Will it really keep the grassroots engaged?
  • Would voters get compensation?
  • And keep the leadership accountable?
  • Who will be allowed to vote? All members, just elected representatives, open to all supporters…?
  • How do we detect and deal with cycles? Do we need to?
  • How would we break down voting on proposals vs clauses vs amendments etc
  • Will the individuals with the most votes go mad with the power?
  • Would our ‘executive’ have the ability to over-ride Liquid Democracy voting?
  • Will Liquid Democracy someday remove the need for our Representative Democracy?
Answers in the comments!

[this is the main link that’s going around Twitter at the moment]

NEW: Does it answer these 76 reasonable questions to ask about any technology?

English: Eleanor Roosevelt and United Nations ...

English: Eleanor Roosevelt and United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Spanish text. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The European Court of Human Rights – note, nothing to do with the European Union, you’re thinking of the European Court of Justice – has ruled that Britain is breaking the law by preventing all prisoners from voting. It’s a heated issue… and I seem to disagree with everyone I talk to.

To start off with, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) isn’t forcing the government to give all prisoners the vote. The 2004 ruling against Britain, and the recent Italian case, ensures that the government does have the right to take away the power of voting from some prisoners. But a blanket ban, the kind we have in the UK, is  illegal and incompatible with human rights law. The ban is indiscriminate, and that is what the court is attempting to forbid.Now that that unpleasant thing, the truth, is out of the way, let’s look at some of the issues.

Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that…

1 . Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

2. Everyone has the right to equal access to public service in his country.

3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

This means that voting is a right held by all individuals, regardless of their actions, or any personal identification. It would, for example, be illegal to say that being Jewish disallows you from voting. It also doesn’t allow for these rights to be taken away because they’re incarcerated. It is held by ALL individuals, inalienable and intrinsic.

But, but… law-abiding citizens may feel sick because prisoners can vote and apparently David Cameron felt similarly at PMQs. Frankly, I don’t care. Some fundamentalist Christians may feel sick because gay people might actually be allowed to marry, shock horror. Just because some people may feel sick that, for example, Jews are allowed into the same schools as Christians, does that mean we shouldn’t have equality and human dignity for all?

Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Williams has said that prisoners on short services should be allowed to vote as part of their Rehabilitation – This is interesting because it opens the possibility of those prisoners who will almost certainly never be released having their vote taken away. It would also comply with the court’s judgement. However, in order to interact with prisoners politically and re-engage them in wider society, the vote isn’t strictly necessary. Education on the power of the vote matters, the actual matter of putting an X on a ballot isn’t, at this stage, all that crucial. I’d rather see education and re-engagement, instead of abandoning prisoners.

My views? I don’t see any justification for preventing prisoners from voting. They are still subjects of the British government, impacted by its decisions, and thusly have the right to participate in those decisions.We may try to dehumanise criminals, but dehumanising our fellow humans hanever ended well, and I can’t see it ending well now. Most will be released someday, and will emerge into a world they will have been prevented from playing a part in forming. They still hold basic human rights and deserve human dignity. The vast majority of us would not agree with prisons being places where all prisoners are beaten, starved and abused. Look at Abu Ghraib.We accord prisoners human dignity, and the right to vote is a large part of that.

This also calls into question the nature of prison – punishment, rehabilitation or society’s safety? Is a prisoner in prison to teach him a lesson? If so, then a) I disagree and b) losing the right to vote isn’t really part of the punishment. If its rehabilitation, as I believe it should be, then human dignity plays a crucial role in that. If its for society’s safety, are we worried they’ll elect axe-murderers who will slaughter a council ward?

The crux of the matter is that of human rights. They are inalienable and intrinsic to every human being. Saying today that murderers can’t vote, tomorrow that people with parking tickets, over the weekend taking the right away from Muslims, and then all non-Christians by next week, is an all too easy progression the second we step away from the principle that every last human holds these rights.

A blanket ban on voting is arbitrary and damaged human dignity by dehumanising a subset of society. This is always wrong. Even allowing just some prisoners to vote is not sufficient, to my mind – where is the cutoff point? They also are still impacted by state’s decisions and have a right to participate in making them.

We all have that power. Don’t let the government take that right away from some of us. After all, If you tolerate this, then your children will be next…

The future teaches you to be alone
The present to be afraid and cold
So if I can shoot rabbits
Then I can shoot fascists

Bullets for your brain today
But we’ll forget it all again
Monuments put from pen to paper
Turns me into a gutless wonder

And if you tolerate this
Then your children will be next
And if you tolerate this
Then your children will be next
Will be next
Will be next
Will be next

I understand this position is probably NOT popular. Given that, feel free to comment below!  I’d love to hear from you. Stay respectful, but I answer all comments.

In the meantime, enjoy!