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Twitter will more than likely, probably have you arrested or lose you your job

April 16, 2012

Twitter is becoming more and more like running round Liverpool city centre in the middle of the day with a burning torch kicking people in the knackers as they pass and smashing shop windows while threatening to kidnap the Queen and make her watch all her speeches of the past 60 years one after the other on repeat – backwards. And what I mean by that, is you’re likely to get arrested or lose your job. I say this because two things have come to my attention in the last 24 hours: Grace Dent threatening to have somebody sacked (ish) after he tweeted at her calling her an “ugly abhorrent horse” (I must admit, I giggled); and the case of a bloke calling a local councillor a c*nt a while back is hurtling towards court.

I won’t bore you with the details – though they are both fascinating cases (click the links) – but this is a worrying sign for all those who quite like freedom of speech. Yes, it’s not nice to call somebody a C-word but is it really a criminal offence? And yes, you should not call a “celebrity” an “ugly, abhorrent horse” but it is quite amusing and no doubt similar to the kind of schtick you should be able to take if you are going to appear on Have I Got News For You (the show Dent was on to warrant the insult).

The whole Twitter legal minefield is still fairly new – it seems to hark back to the #TwitterJokeTrial when Paul Chambers threatened to blow up Robin Hood Airport if his flight to see his sweetheart was cancelled. The summer riots saw Twitter and Facebook come under further legal scrutiny and the latest litigious spark is various Tweeters’ racist abuse.

There is obviously a difference between calling Grace Dent a horse and some of the disgusting racism Twitter can act as a vehicle for or inciting a riot for that matter. But, as Victoria Coren wrote in a brilliant piece about Liam Stacey, the man who tweeted racial abuse about Fabrice Muamba, nobody was quite sure what Stacey said as it was not published by the media, nobody was particularly sure what offence he was being charged with, yet everybody celebrated he had been jailed. Such occasions should have Tweeters and lawyers closely examining the European Convention of Human Right’s safeguard of freedom of expression. Freedom of expression does not just protect speech with which the majority agrees with. It also protects opinion whether you agree with it or not. Dent is obviously not a horse but if she decided to sue the tweeter could defend himself against a defamation claim with an honest comment defence. Because it is his opinion, though he might find it difficult defence but that’s a longer story.

All in all, as much as I love Twitter Storms and I really do, when the law is blurred or becomes malleable because of said Storms and is swayed my public opinion this really is a concern. It will be interesting to see how the Malicious Communications Act will adapt – because it has to adapt – to the ever-growing presence of Twitter in our lives. I, for one, would be keen to see freedom of expression  protected not blocked.

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The paradox of unemployed exam success

April 13, 2012

On Wednesday morning, while in bed, with no firm plan for the day and no job to go to, I became a fully-qualified journalist. I became a senior reporter. I passed the final set of journalistic exams to bring my credentials fully up to date and now the media world is my metaphorical oyster. Only, I’m not actually a senior reporter because I’m unemployed after my newspaper, Cambridge First, shut down a fortnight ago. It’s a sad paradox. But this, or so I’ve learned, is life in the media.

I was ecstatic and mildly shocked when I passed my NCE because, frankly, the exams were difficult. The pass rate was only 45 per cent for March’s exams and on reading the examiner’s report [PDF] you understand why. All it takes is one legal blip, one missed piece of subjectively-vital information, one typo and unlike A-levels where your grade might slip from an A to a B, the way these exams are marked makes it more likely your pass will become a fail. That’s it. Over. Gone.

While passing is obviously better than failing, if you look at the job market it might seem this additional qualification makes me overqualified and potentially “too expensive” for many of the vacancies going. Off to the top of my head, I can think of two jobs I was seriously considering where my new senior reporter title makes me unsuitable. I admit I am being a wee bit selective about the jobs I am looking for at the moment, but it’s early days and I feel there are some roles I am willing to wait for before things get too desperate.

So, here I am, a senior reporter looking for a job. Let’s go on Gorkana and see what they can offer me. Oh, so Gorkana basically tells me I need to be an intern or a business journalist with plenty of experience. Well, I am neither. I represent somewhat of an enigma to potential employers because I am a senior reporter with no experience of being a senior reporter. I feel I am above going back to being an intern (though at 24 it does not seem completely unreasonable only I have all these lovely qualifications) but I obviously do not have the experience to enter into media roles above reporting. I think.

Likewise, freelancing. I believe I could write articles and features for newspapers, websites and magazines but I am young and do not have a strong enough CV as it stands to get my name about. This may well be something I will have to change myself and is something constantly at the back of my mind. I have no experience freelancing so my thoughts on it are fairly speculative: in my mind, one has 10 ideas, five of them could be worth writing, one or two get selected and it is probably not the ones the creator thought were the best. Anyone back that up?

Anyway, this blog is just an outlet for the utter mess of frustration, ambition and fear my mind is at the moment. I am most pleased I passed my seniors, but it does feel like a slightly hollow victory.

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Why party politics has no place in local elections

April 8, 2012

Just like the by-election George Galloway last week claimed was the Bradford Spring, upcoming local elections will be seen as a yard stick for support for political parties on a national level. To many of the die-hard partisans, local elections are just the lastest poll in the build-up to the next general election. This is a great shame.

I have often bemoaned the presence of party politics at a local level and these complaints are all the more relevant at election time. The Cambridge talk on Twitter over the past few days (perhaps sparked by this blog) has been about whether the candidates for the May 3 elections in the city live in the ward they are standing in (not literally). But does that really matter when the council is run more by party politics than ward politics?

Having spent far too much time in council meetings over the past 20-or-so months, I can tell you party politics is always the over-riding motivation when it comes to voting on decisions – be it budget, planning or, well, anything. Councillors may occasionally say something which differs from their party colleagues but when it comes to voting, it is broadly done en bloc according to party concensus. So, what should electors consider when voting in local elections? Are they voting for the best person to represent their ward? The best person to get things done on a micro level (broken street lamps, traffic issues etc)? Or are they voting for a local party governed by national politics?

At councils (and on Twitter) councillors argue about party political points, especially at full council. This normally includes several references to the “ConDem” coalition and the “mess Labour left us” which make me want to jam rusty spoons into my eyeballs. If everybody who voted had to sit through at least one council meeting, I imagine the number of spoilt ballot papers were increase tenfold. They can be full of despair sometimes. But it is normally national party politics which govern the way people vote. But why should it?

  • A Conservative councillor should be no better than a Green, Labour, Lib Dem, UKIP, EDL, BNP or any other party’s offering at getting traffic-calming measures put in on your street?
  • No party representative should be more able to doorknock residents and ask them what issues there are in their street?
  • No partisan councillor should be better at writing local newsletters than any other.
  • Unless of course the only councillors who could have things approved by full council are those within the leading party because party politics would other block it. In which case, everyone should vote Lib Dem.

Electors should be voting for the most proactive local representative (I would suggest these would probably be independents) but instead party politics renders local issues insignificant. Seeing as local issues are most closely debated at area committees and, in my experience, many of the smaller issues are of the “talk to me afterwards” types, party politics should have no place in electing a councillor. Unless you want your vote to be part of a broader strategy to change the party with overall power in the council, you should ignore or party-political propaganda in the run-up to May 3 because it is completely irrelevant who the best person is to represent your ward (this makes the residence of the candidate within the ward slightly more important. I think a councillor can represent an area without living there – it probably takes more work though. Cllr Dryden is best example of this as he lives outside of Cherry Hinton but I understand he does a good job representing the area’s views).

I think I had some more coherent points to make but basically party politics at a local level is destructive and renders all progressive, practical discussion pointless. Cllr John Hipkin is the only independent on the city council and his views are not governed by any party line. Subsequently, he can speak his mind and truly represent his constituents’ more-than-likely-politically-mixed views. This is what is best. I suggest for every partisan comment made by a candidate in the next few months, they are ignoring a local issue much more important.

 

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Cats, bums and parsnips. Sort of.

April 2, 2012

NB. This article was written after asking Twitter what I should write a blog about. The answer was cats, bums and parsnips. This contrived post was my attempt to shoehorn those words in. I think I missed the mark ever-so slightly. 

A comedian – I forget who – once made a joke about men who exclaim “whoopsy daisy” when some sort of mishap befalls them. It was along the lines of “Men who say whoopsy daisy or whoops-a-daisy or oopsy daisy or any variation of that apocalyptic phrase are never going to ever have sex, find any sort of emotional fulfilment and are unlikely to live past 45… and a good job it is too”. Well, as a man who says whoopsy daisy and all its variations when I experience anything from a mistyped key to some spilt milk (I also cry when the latter happens), I have to say this comedian – I forget who (it may not have even been a comedian but a work colleague, friend or the object of my desires speaking directly to me) – is wrong. Darn wrong.

We, as a race, are staring down the barrel of a big end-of-time shotgun and God/the bankers/Mitt Romney has got an itchy trigger finger. There is a riot waiting on every corner, a financial blackhole in everybody’s back pocket and the only reason the four horsemen have not already arrived is because they are currently being led through road tunnels far too narrow for their steeds by unreliable-but-ever-relied-upon Sat Navs. This is the end, guys. And if there is one thing which is going to save us it is a friendlier use of the English language. That’s right, words. Not Merkel, Obama or Dave. Not Kyoto, Versaille or Brussels. Not nothing.

Everytime I hear or say whoopsy daisy or any other twee exclamation of error or surprise the looming armageddon takes a step back and thinks “those earth people aren’t so bad, they seem quite nice and polite. I’ll leave them be”. Yes, for the purpose of this blog, the armageddon is a single being and has an admirable social conscious. If you Urban Dictionary (like Googling something but ruder and probably more amusing) most words you can bet one of the definitions will be something you say when something goes Pete Tong – you can also put a lot of money on one of the definitions being linked to sexual deviance. “Bums” = short word for bummer as in “shame” or “oh dear”. “Parsnips” = feeling a bit unsure about something (but would work just as well as “Damn” or “Drat”). The list goes on and on. Much in the same way you can use any word for being drunk (I was totally sofa’d last night) we can use any lovely non-offensive word to express our sadness or shock at something not worthy of a ****!!!! or *********!!!1!.

Look at cats. If something goes wrong for them they merely flick their tale and slant their head with a nonchalant “oopsy daisy” and go about the rest of their business. Subsequently, they are a shoe-in for surviving the apocalypse. They have got it bloody sorted. Their world in no way looks like it is about to fold in on itself like ours. In fact, whoopsy daisies and parsnips aside, if we adopt more feline ways in general we could probably extend our existence for another few years. So, here’s a tenuous call to arms and a big, casual nevermind to the comedian/lover to whom the opening comment can be attributed to: let’s all just chill out and say nice things when bad things go wrong. I just wasted a good hour or so of my life writing this. Whoopsy daisy.

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The beginning after the end

April 2, 2012

For those of you who were aware of my attempts at literary self-destruction last November when I tried to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, I’m sure you’ll be pleased to learn I am picking up the 23,000+ words I managed to scrape together and am going to try and turn them into 24,000+ or maybe even 27,000+ words. Since Cambridge First closed last Thursday I have been wondering about how I will spend my time, besides applying for jobs/thinking about applying for jobs/thinking about thinking about applying for jobs.

As I said here, I always wanted to return to We Were Made Out Of Lightning (provisional title) at some point and this seems as good a time as ever. Thinking of the novel as a whole, my vague plan would be to write it until it is finished then return and edit it all, rather than edit and revise piece by piece. The former seems the better option otherwise I can imagine getting bogged down in individual sentences or paragraphs and barely moving forward.

My state of unemployment also makes it more likely I will post more mutterings on here, though the rubbish state of my home internet and lack of desk in my room (bed writing is not productive) damage that prospect. I am also rubbish at thinking of things to blog about so if anybody wants to suggest random topics and force me to write about them, I totally will.

So, hello blog-writing, lie-ins and furthering my novel-type-thing, and farewell Cambridge First, I really did quite like you.

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In praise of protest

March 24, 2012

It’s just over a fortnight since Owen Holland was suspended for seven terms (two and a half years) by Cambridge University’s disciplinary board for interrupting David Willetts with a poem last November. In that time we have seen the obligatory protest march of about 400 students and academics, a 7,000-strong petition in support of the English PhD student, numerous column inches debating the issue and perhaps the most memorable event, the silent protest outside the installation of the university’s new chancellor, Lord Sainsbury.

I attended the ceremony after covering the protest. The two ladies behind me were talking about the protest: “Very powerful. The sentence is a bit over the top,” one said. The other agreed. This seems to be the broadly sensible response to the issue. Whatever you think about the Government’s higher education white paper, a seven-term suspension for one man among dozens for interrupting a speech is a disproportionate sentence. And a poor PR move on the part of the university. If they thought they could banish Holland for so long and keep it quiet, they were foolish.

Yes, Willetts had the right to speak. And perhaps the protest would have been better after the speech had come to an end. But, as the new chancellor said in his speech on Wednesday, the university’s job is to teach students how to think for themselves and to challenge what is put in front of them. Whether you agree with the work of Cambridge Defend Education and Holland or not, you have to respect their engagement, principles and activism. Protest is a vital part of society.

Without protest we have no mouthpiece to show discontent but a vote: to elect a Government or in the university’s case, a chancellor. While some major protests (Iraq war is a perfect example) may not have resulted in the protesters’ aim, they are an excellent way of getting your voice heard in a day and age where apathy often sounds the loudest. Protests are the best antidote to the oft-used criticism of society, a simple lack of caring.

If you read some of the student newspaper columnists (and the comments), many criticise Cambridge Defend Education for their selective protection of free speech – silencing Willetts but condeming the university. They call CDE ignorant and hypocritical. They slam champagne socialism and mock the “student protester”. But when something they care about is up against the wall, what are they going to do about it? Put up and shut up? In a statement, read out by Gerard Tully, Holland praised the “solidarity” shown by the students and academics who had supported him. And this is what the support for Holland is about, it’s about not letting an institution bully a student. Maybe the university is right to discipline him, though I believe there are better alternatives, but to try and make an example of him? They are making a martyr instead.

Holland will appeal his sentence and the if university has any sense it will repeal its decision or decrease the sentence. If this does happen nobody will be able to say it is not the right thing to do. You can bet it would not have happened had CDE not taken to the streets twice over the past fortnight. As we saw with Occupy LSX, protest aims can be blurry and lack structure, but at least they are out there, at least they care, and every now and again, they will make a difference.

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Sarah Brown on gay marriage

March 21, 2012

Tomorrow’s Cambridge First will publish a letter from Cambridge city councillor and Pink List stalwart Sarah Brown. As I’m not sure whether it will make it onto our website – our letters handling can be quite erratic – I thought I’d publish it in full here.

The paper will also have a “Have your say” page on gay marriage tomorrow as well which can be seen online here from midnight. You can read the E-edition here.

“Last week the Government launched a consultation into marriage equality in England and Wales.
Assuming legislation on equal  marriage is passed in this parliament, it will mark nearly a decade since the signing into law of two sibling pieces of legislation, the 2005 Civil Partnership Act and the lesser known 2004 Gender Recognition Act.

These two acts together changed the landscape for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the UK, but they were both half-measures. They created a situation that satisfied neither those LGBT people seeking equal treatment before the law, nor their critics who wanted to retain the status-quo.

The Gender Recognition Act allowed transgender people to gain legal  recognition of their gender. This granted them marriage and employment protection rights, which other people took for granted, but at a cost – if you were in an existing marriage or civil partnership, you had to have it annulled first, otherwise your rights were kept from you.

This was more than an inconvenience; it had profound consequences. A woman who would be seen as such were she naked in a gym changing room would be treated by the law as a man, including being locked up with male prisoners if she was to be given a custodial sentence by a court.

The Civil Partnership Act created a form of relationship which was  “separate-but-not-quite-equal” for same-sex couples wanting to recognise their commitment to each other with a marriage.

Despite civil partnerships commonly being referred to as “gay marriages” by the press and public, they do not confer the same rights as a marriage. Being regarded as next-of-kin when abroad is not assured, even in countries which have full marriage equality, for example. Couples in marriages where one partner had undergone gender transition were treated particularly unfairly by these half-finished laws. Some of the strongest marriages around were, in a cruel irony, subject to state-coerced divorce, with gender recognition being used as both the carrot and the stick for those who refused to end what had become, in effect, a same-sex marriage. Lib Dem Equalities Minister, Lynne  Featherstone, described this treatment as “cruel and unusual”.

I was one of those who suffered  confiscation of my marriage. One spring morning in 2009, my wife and I stood before a judge and had our marriage annulled. We had  convinced ourselves that this was a matter of bureaucracy, that a few days later when we underwent a civil  partnership ceremony nothing would have changed, but it wasn’t true.

We left the court in tears and holding hands. Less than two weeks later, when a registrar pronounced us “civil partners”, it felt like the final indignity. It was very clear to us that the state regarded our relationship as second-class. We still celebrate the anniversary of our marriage, the real one. This year should have been our 11th anniversary. It is to us, but to the state that’s a  fiction; our marriage never existed – it has been erased.

The plans the Government is now consulting on will end this for those who come after.

Divorce will no longer be the price for legal recognition and protection, and same sex couples will be able to be married in civil ceremonies. I am proud that Liberal Democrats in the coalition government are delivering this; we are the only one of the three main parties to have marriage equality as party policy.

I would like to see the proposals go further. While churches that don’t want to marry same-sex couples won’t have to under the proposals,  lobbying by some churches has resulted in proposals that will ban those  religions that do want to conduct same-sex marriages from doing so.

It is an affront to religious freedom that one sect presumes to speak for all in this way. While civil partnerships will remain for those same-sex couples who want them instead of a marriage, they will not be extended to opposite-sex couples who feel such a status  better reflects the nature of their relationship. Finally, those marriages which were confiscated by the state, such as mine, will not be reinstated.

I will be responding to the government’s consultation by asking them to go  further; to do the job properly this time, to not give in to the bullying of a few religious figures who presume to speak for all, and to put right the grave injustice of state-mandated divorce. I urge your readers to do the same.

Those wishing to respond to the consultation can find out more at http://www.abouttime.org.uk/