Rejoining EU, what’ll it take?

Rejoining EU, what’ll it take?

I attended the EU’s citizens panel on virtual worlds over the weekend. One of the most inspirational aspects of this event was the ability to meet so many people from across the European Union. I took the opportunity, to talk to some about how they felt about British re-entry. One Dutchman felt we hadn’t suffered enough, and that we needed to wait. One German was anxious that we re-joined so as to reduce his tax burden. Another very well-informed Dutchman, said he felt that British public opinion under estimated what the EU would ask to allow us to rejoin and one Finn, said his condition on us re-joining was that we be forced to enter FIFA competitions as a single nation. I think this was a joke, but he seemed quite upset about Finland’s record against the UK nations’ football teams.

My informed Dutch correspondent started by talking about the euro. Some of what he said particularly on the Euro was a bit worrying, but it’s a price worth paying if that’s what it takes. I suggested that the Swedish precedent on the currency is important and that there may be dangers to the EU in attempting to subsume another global reserve currency too quickly. I also wonder if those nations hosting cities that have replaced London’s international financial trading capability, really want to see the London market makers able to trade in euro instruments so soon. To me more importantly on the currency and macro-economic convergence, are the limitations entrenched in the ‘stability and growth pact’. Debt levels and deficits should be the result of a democratic mandate and not embedded in an unchangeable treaty; the need to breach the stability and growth pact limits during the pandemic is a proof point to this truth. Perhaps the EU member states will take the opportunity to amend the requirement of Stability and Growth Pact. We agreed that the other opt outs are all gone; the UK will have to forgo its financial rebate, our charter of fundamental rights exemptions and comply with and join the Schengen treaty.  These terms are acceptable to me. We need to start talking about them. …

Bye Bye Raab

Bye Bye Raab

Dominic Raab has had to resign from the government, due to an investigation into allegations of bullying having found that there was sufficient evidence to justify an adverse finding. Sorry about the complexity of that sentence, but he has not been found guilty, only that he has a case to answer. There was some question as to whether the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak would fire him or not. Raab saved him the problem by resigning in an extraordinary, apology free self-justifying resignation letter.

There have been two parliamentary responses, the first is that the Liberal Democrats have rightly referred these events the parliamentary commissioner on standards, the second by some Tories that they rewrite the rules governing ministers’ behaviour towards civil servants.

This is one of the most publicly visible stories showing the endemic occurrence of bullying within the workplace and the consensus of tolerance of such behaviour. Raab’s failure to apologise is symptomatic of an attitude pervasive within British management. He thinks he did nothing wrong and there will be many managers who agree. There is no excuse, the trade union movement and the law have developed definitions of bullying.

Bullying includes: offensive, intimidating, malicious, or insulting behaviour; abuse of authority which violates the dignity of an individual or a group of people; creating a hostile environment against an individual; and the undermining, humiliation or injury of an individual.

Tribunals do not consider bullying to be a crime although I have read some lawyers material that suggests that legal remedy can be sought through the Crown Court system; neither of these offer timely relief which is why the collusion by managements in supporting senior officers against allegations of bullying is so damaging. Raab’s refusal to apologise and to blame the victims is just one expression of this widespread view that managers have to be tough. The Tories have already let Patel off on the grounds she didn’t mean it, Raab is seeking to extend arguments in defence of bullying charges to arguing that it wasn’t bullying, it was merely effective management communication. I am also curious about the argument that I was accused of six acts and only found to have misbehaved twice. i.e. only a little bullying is permitted.

It’s all too easy to forget the genuine hurt and harm that bullying can cause and we too often forget that it’s designed to be hurtful. As human beings we should have sympathy with the victims and be robust in condemning and punishing the perpetrators. Another legal route might be to sue the employer for a breach of health and safety, although again, evidence of causality is difficult to obtain. I am unclear of the legal precedents for this pursuit, but I am advised that’s at least one trade union law firm has a very low assessment of the likelihood of winning. The best defence against known bullies with management air-cover, is a strong union, with a recognition agreement that threatens industrial action.

It is not uncommon for organisations that value their brand to appoint independent lawyers to establish the facts of the case of bullying or harassment, particularly in cases where the alleged bully is a senior officer of the organisation. One of the reasons this practice is quite common, is that it is unusual for bullies to do their bullying in public, and thus evidence of the acts of bullying is often hard to find. To be honest, I am surprised that the investigating lawyer actually found there was a case to answer, in my experience, this is highly unusual.

Concerning the Lib Dems referral of these events to the parliamentary standards commissioner, this would come better from, well nearly anyone else. If the parliamentary standards commissioner and committee decide to sanction Raab, then he may have to face a petition of recall and a by-election. His seat must now be considered a marginal; he has a majority of under 2,500, I think it’s unlikely that he would be able to hold his seat, particularly given his lack of contrition and the arrogance with which he continues to defend himself not to mention his failure during the Afghanistan withdrawal and his commitment to the failed Brexit, his constituency voted to remain in 2016.  

The referral to the parliamentary standards commissioner should be supported. It is highly unusual for acts of bullying to be held to account, as a trade union rep who has on numerous occasions helped people make grievances against bullies, I can assure you my success rate in these cases is not high. British workplaces need a change in management culture and a change in the law. The Bribery Act makes it an offence for a company to fail to stop ‘improper behaviour’, perhaps we should pass such a law for bullying.

As for the Tories attempt to rewrite the ministers’ codes of behaviour, this article in the guardian also linked to above,  is very good; while not mentioning Priti Patel they do mention Jacob Rees Mogg’s bullying of staff to return to the office after the pandemic. You would have thought that the Tories would have learned that’s changing the rules after the event rarely has a successful outcome. Just look Boris Johnson and Owen Patterson. Sadly, the guardian article uses language that locates the dysfunction in the context of government. Senior civil servants are not the only victims of bullying. And while the FDA’s intervention has been important and useful. Allowing the FDA to lead on this issue makes it easy to turn this into a government versus civil service issue.  It is not, PCS needs to wake up and this is an issue for all workers.

My union, the GMB , has debated this at several Congresses over the last five years. I shall be writing to Officers asking them to support the referral to the parliamentary standards commissioner and to support a rewriting of the law so that everyone can be protected from management bullying and that managers learn that bullying has bad consequences. …

Virtual Worlds and the EU

Virtual Worlds and the EU

I am about to return to Brussels for the final session of the EU’s citizen’s assembly on virtual worlds. I decided to make a document from my notes on the EU citizens panel on Virtual Worlds. As I have said, my notes were contemporaneous and do not tell a story. This article hopefully documents the lessons I have learned and would like others to read, and of course agree. Hopefully, it’s more directed!

The biggest question I have is around the framing of the questions to be considered. The Commission seem to use the terms, virtual world and metaverse as synonyms. They tried to offer a definition virtual worlds by referring to the reality-virtuality continuum, about which I was unnecessarily rude. There is no question in my mind that attempting to frame the questions as those stemming from a virtual world rather than the future of the Internet causes problems, not the least, being just how important is the 3D representation and metaphor and the use of avatars. NB the Renault example does not seem to have personal avatars and I question the utility of 3D representation as part of their problem-solving algorithm. Wikipedia offers  a limited definition , and perhaps this McKinsey article office more. I have made a note on definitions on my wiki. I am unclear how much publicly funded research has been done.

To my mind, the quality of the experts, and their ability to engage with the citizens is highly variable, with, in my opinion, several offering little and at least one not only offering little but what was offered being wrong.

On the other hand, in my opinion, also some of the quality of the citizen contributions is poor. On the whole they seem to find it difficult to imagine a future with a pervasive metaverse and what they can conceive, they don’t seem to want. To be honest, I find it difficult, beyond games to have an idea of what the metaverse has to offer. In my notes, I mentioned this, but note I need to guard against personal arrogance. The internet’s designers need to take account of these fears although both banks and entertainment have just about, left the real world.

One of the questions or axioms stated by the workgroup I observed is that the world needs an Internet built for human need not driven my profit. This implies the need for public investment and regulation of both the platform providers and software developers/owners.

CoFoE proposed higher fines, and the right of the Commission to prohibit companies from some or all of their activities.

The more I think about it, the more I am concerned that Fake News aka lying is not taken seriously. In the Anglosphere and in Germany, much of the press is owned by billionaires whose business model involves using the political power ownership of media organisations brings. Many balance the need for a duty of truth with the rights of freedom of expression. European citizen’s need to decide where that balance point lies because the effective answer in the Anglosphere is not good enough. The citizen’s assembly is not as engaged on this issue as CoFoE was.

The other issues on which citizen’s seem less interested are press and platform monopoly regulation and on the press it’s possible that the EU could learn from the UK’s Leveson report, although the Government unsurprisingly bottled the opportunity to transfer libel court costs to newspapers unless they agreed to sign-up to an approved standards body. Most of the UK press do not and the failure to implement a press regulator even after the scandal that led to Leveson show the entrenched power of these corporations.

The EU is busy passing a series of laws to regulate the digital economy. One of the problems they seek to remedy is that of computer crime. There is rightly much concern about cyber-bullying, child protection and pornography. However, we are starting from the point where the platforms have established rights as a carrier not as a publisher. The lawmakers’ response has been to develop a statutory “notify and take down” scheme, but this is very much to the advantage of large scale intellectual property owners and the large platform providers. We need a law the suits people, not companies.

The Commission is clear that privacy is at the centre of the goals of the regulation of the new digital society. The threats to citizen privacy comes from both private sector usually foreign owned, surveillance capitalism and the intelligence services. CoFoE has suggested both that GDPR fines are increased and that social media platforms should be licenced and that the withdrawal of a licence to operate should be a sanction available to the authorities.

There is also the need to review our copyright laws. Content publication is a supply chain, and our current laws do not favour the mass of creators. The value web is not going to be born with the current laws. The world needs a law that favours creation and not rent seeking. This means rebalancing the rights to make derived works against the default position of all rights reserved. Copyright longevity needs to be reviewed too. This has not really been raised at CoFoE or the citizens’ assembly but it’s a conclusion I have drawn from looking at what is needed.


In the document version, based on the articles in this blog, I made a document of my notes from the first two sessions of the Virtual Worlds citizens’ assembly. I added some foot notes.

  1. I made some rude comments about their use of the Reality/Virtuality continuum. In retrospect, something was required; it was needed to help define the metaverse and the focus of the assembly as something other than that of the future internet.
  2. I made some approving comments about the simplicity of the Commission’s bulleted statement of digital principles. Later in the month I found the full statement of the digital principles and I need to consider what I said, which was about the superiority of the short statement. On first review, the full statement which is longer, seems comprehensive and sufficiently technology neutral to be effective and to last.
  3. On review of the full text of the statement of principles, the right to digitally die is covered.
  4. On the shocked, shocked statement, which is a reference to Casablanca, I am suggesting that the professional moderators are taking guidance from the Commission and not the citizens.

Image Credit: European Parliament CC 2010 BY-NC-ND MEPs Voting …

The need for truth

The need for truth

I got a lot of posts about Fox vs Dominion in my feeds last night; I am not sure how well this is being covered in the UK. Dominion make voting machines and are suing Fox for $1.6bn because Fox made and repeated damaging allegations about Dominion’s machines performance during the US Presidential elections. Many allege that this was a deliberate attempt to boost Trump’s line that the election had been stolen!

It is clear from leaks, that Fox knew what they were saying lacked evidence at best and that their lawyers had withheld important evidence from the court’s discovery process. The court was due to start today, but the Judge has postponed it by a day; there are rumours that Fox may be seeking a settlement.

In this article, from NPR, they have two spokespeople arguing that the 1st amendment rights of Fox should trump Dominion’s right to a reputation. Do billionaire funded press organisations have the right to lie under freedom of speech rights?

This is important in Europe and the UK too. From my experience in Tallinn, many in Eastern Europe are rightly suspicious of Government regulation of the press, but in the Anglosphere, and possibly in Germany, we have a biased, ultra-rich owned press and I note that journalists are privileged under law. In the UK, the press dominate politics, and are were complicit in the legally flawed Brexit referendum. Somewhere we need to be able to hold the press, and social media platforms accountable to a duty to tell the truth, because,

A lie ain’t a side of a story. It’s just a lie.

Terry Hanning (The Wire)

We should also note that balance can also be the enemy of truth, giving liars equal time with the truth is still publishing the lie. …

Travel to the EU

Travel to the EU

I have just seen another article, this time in the Metro issuing scare stories about entry into Europe claiming that the EU is tightening up on border controls starting this year. It is, but much of this seems to be exaggerated for Britons, or should I say British Passport holders.  

As far as I can see, this autumn/winter, British passport holders will need a biometric passport to enter the EU and the EEA except Ireland where freedom of movement is guaranteed by the Good Friday agreement.  We should note that Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania are not in Schengen but Switzerland is it seems in Schengen, because it’s part of the single market.

The UK government have been issuing biometric passports since 2010. To be honest and from my experience at Vienna airport, this first stage will be an advantage to most people.

The second stage is to tell the EU that you intend to travel, the so called ETIAS process. This seems identical to what the USA demands today and has done for over a decade. NB the US charges $21 and lasts for two years. The EU process is new, will have to be done, and paid for, but it’s not exactly onerous and unlikely to be implemented this year. Of course, if we were in the single market, this wouldn’t apply to us and I wonder if NI passports could be exempt although documenting the passport as issued for Northern Ireland would be extremely provocative to the Unionists.

Image credit: Passport Control, BRD, by Heike Baerbel from pixabay, shrunk and cropped, reused under the Pixabay Content licence. …

Crime, memes and politics

Crime, memes and politics

Over the weekend, Labour produced what it seems we must now call a meme, associating Rishi Sunak with Tory policies of being ineffective and soft on crimes against children.  This may have been in response to some disgusting things said by Braverman who wrongly sought to associate British Pakistani men with child grooming. The meme and the sub-text have repelled a number of anti-racism, pro-migrant activists and almost certainly some ethnic minority voters if you want to see more of the debate then it’s easy enough to find.

The response of Labour’s bureaucracy has been as expected particularly brutal. But then half of the ad’s goals is to troll the left in the party together with Labour’s core urban vote. It may also indicate the growing tendency of Starmer’ LOTO to deny other members of the front bench any limelight. Yvette Cooper has disassociated herself from the ad and the response has been a vicious, anonymous, whispering campaign about her suitability to remain shadow home secretary.

The bureaucracy claim they are trying to win the election, check out the Indy article linked above, and those that oppose their messages are not. This claim needs to be examined. The problem with this sort of provocative advertisement is that, the conversation becomes about the ad , not about the message. Labour’s message on this issue is particularly uninspiring but having an argument about whether they should have associated Rishi Sunak so personally with this policy failure is unwanted.

It’s not the first time Labour have made this mistake. Labour’s 92 election broadcast on the NHS, was one of the first movie style party political broadcasts. However, the Tories turned its success into an argument about its truthfulness; the baby depicted was not suffering from the ailment claimed. The arguments became one of integrity, not of health service provision. In London in 2019 European Parliament elections, London Labour produced a final GOTV leaflet with the sole picture being of Nigel Farage. Some apparatchik obviously thought this was being tough and given that Corbyn and the NEC hadn’t truly got to grips with Jeremy’s new ‘Brexit red lines’, Labour was always going to have difficulty with a line that ‘honoured the referendum’ in a strongly remain city. The leaflets were rarely used because activists didn’t want to advertise UKIP who were an opponent and there was no positive message.

So for all those realists who think this is a good idea, i suggest you look at the evidence. It seems to me all this sort of attack ad does is debase the debate, even when well done, which this isn’t.

I have two further thoughts.

Crime is a difficult issue for politicians and those seeking to prevent crime. At Labour Conference 22 I heard Steve Reed MP, now the justice shadow justice secretary speak on crime prevention. My first take was that this required a marxist’s interpretation of Blair’s “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”, i.e. the marxism allows us to see it in a historical context, “the first time as tragedy the second time as farce”. I said at the time, “they i.e. the front bench seem to be considering some form of early action to disrupt social inheritance of criminal behaviour, it all reminded me of the ‘Precrime’ unit from Minority Report, …” However, the following month, I read the Secret Barrister’s book, ‘Stories of the Law …’, and in the chapter, ‘The Big Sentencing Con’ the goals of judicial sanctions are listed and then a whole series of circumstances where these are inappropriate is catalogued, from arguing that prison is a training ground for the criminality to the fact that many criminals are mentally disturbed and/or victims of violence and crime in their youth themselves. These are circumstances where early intervention can help and when writing this, I am reminded of the work done by the Lewisham MPs and council with the public health approach, inspired by Glasgow Council’s work on youth violence.

Politicians can make things better, but the complexity of the problem needs to be understood. This is an issue where one needs a bit more understanding and bit less condemnation. Labour’s graphic does the reverse.

I originally wrote this as a campaigning critique, but suggest you look at David Osland’s article and Phil BC’s, the former identifies the threat of losing ethnic minority votes and the latter that part of Starmer’s strategy is to make his Party the enemy to make him safe for Tory votes, a mistaken replay of parts of Blair’s strategy.

Image Credit: by Jessica Flavia from Unsplash, meant to refer to Jennifer’s ear. …

Digital Transformation in Europe

Digital Transformation in Europe

I attended a conference, on the Digital Transition chapter of the CoFoE final report. This was hosted by the Estonian Human Rights centre and held in Tallinn. This article contains my notes and views of what happened. The conference invited two keynote speakers but otherwise looked at the four objectives from the COFOE final report, Chapter 6 on Digitisation, which I précised on my blog [or on Medium], in working groups.  The conference came to together in plenary to share its findings on the CoFoE proposals. My key takeaway may be that the Eastern European citizen’s legitimate fear of a censorious and surveillance state, will lead to a failure to regulate private sector players who are driven by profit, wealth and exploitation.

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