Clare Topic's blog

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Freedom of Information

One thing that has come from the current expenses scandal is that even if this information had been made public under the Freedom of Information Act, much of the detail would be hidden and the full impact would not have been felt. This means we need a fundamental change to this Act.

We need the presumption that all government information, expenses, advice, minutes of meetings etc should automatically be made available and put on line. The government should have to make a case for keeping information secret (and there are reasons for keeping information secret, such as information relating to court cases or which would impact on the privacy of citizens) but all government advice and briefing papers – which we pay for with our taxes – should be available to us, by default.

We should be able to know on what basis politicians have made decisions, what advice they have received, if the advisors had any kind of interest in the outcome and if the various different options were explored equally vigorously. No more secrecy can be tolerated. If they are doing a proper job, and have nothing to hide, then they should have nothing to fear from this.

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Fair weather citizens

I am no fan of Gordon Brown and the Labour Party or their response to the current financial crisis. In response to his 50% tax rate on earnings over £150K has produced the usual whining from the City of London, Dragons in their Dens etc. They won’t be motivated to start businesses or do the deals that make them the money. They’ll go to someplace overseas (although they never specify where they will go). They insist that they deserve to keep their money.

The current financial crisis has been brought about in no small part by these very people having free range to run riot with the financial laws. They have already made millions for themselves feeding at the trough provided for them by a government too timid to regulate them. Now that things are not so good, is it really too much to ask these super rich egos to contribute a little more to rebuild the future? Surely accepting a higher tax rate once they have earned more than enough for anyone to live comfortably in this country should be seen as an act of patriotism? As they gained more than most in the good times, they should be prepared to shoulder more of the pain in the downtimes. They demand honours such as knighthoods and medals and to be lauded as great citizens who have done so much to bring prosperity; now in the downtime, what sort of citizen sulks and threatens to leave just because they have to pay a little bit more? Perhaps, to coin a phrase, they should ask not what their country can do for them but what they can do for their country.

Tip for the day: Progress at the BBC

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Nothing to Hide?

By all reports, Jacqui Smith has been feeling pretty devastated over the last few days. All the while, she has maintained that she has done nothing wrong, except for inadvertently claiming for movies her husband watched on her expenses. This has been made particularly painful for her as it transpires that two of the movies were “adult” in nature. There is nothing illegal about this and surely if she and her husband have done nothing wrong or illegal, they have nothing to fear from disclosure.

The revelation, however, does seem to have caused her intense pain. The cause of this pain is the affront to her dignity. It is to be hoped that she reflects on the pain that this unwelcome intrusion into her personal life has caused and retreats from her position of undermining the dignity of the rest of the citizens of this country by the unwarranted intrusions she proposes to make into their lives.

The government’s stance is the constant mantra, “If you’ve done nothing wrong then you’ve nothing to fear” might not be ringing quite so true in Jacqui Smith’s household just now.

Tip for the day: Help classify 1 million galaxies in 100 hours, the challenge is on right now, over at Galaxy Zoo.

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Society is all of us

By Clare Topic

A very great man named Arthur Ashe was a very successful tennis player, mostly remembered for winning Wimbledon. Terminally ill with HIV Aids, contracted from a contaminated blood transfusion, he gave an interview to the BBC at the end of which he was asked if he cursed the fates for his illness. I cannot quote him exactly but essentially this is what he said: ”If I were to curse the fates for this illness then what right would I have to claim my achievements as my own and not handed to me from some higher power? “I thought that was an astonishing piece of wisdom and grace and that is why Arthur Ashe is on my list of greatest human beings.

I try to implement that philosophy in my own life but also I believe that society should do the same. As a society Britain likes to take great credit for their heroes, such as Oscar winning actors, olympic champions, nobel prize winners, etc. An Oscar for Kate Winslett was recently heralded as a great night for Britain. While nobody would ever claim that Kate’s success comes from anything other than her own hard work and inborn talent, Britain likes to attribute the environment and culture she grew up in as being a part of the reason for her success and believes that her success reflects well on Britain. If Britain wishes to herald their success stories as a product of British society, then they also have to take responsibility for those less successful Brits.

Just as some in Austria are questioning their society and its role in the Josef Frtizl crimes, should not Britain reflect on the violence that is also a product of their society and they should perhaps from time to time re-examine their culture and way of life to see what, if anything is lacking. It is not just the outrages committed by the likes of Harold Shipmen or Peter Suttcliffe that should make us re-examine ourselves, but every time a violent act occurs, be it a drunken brawl, domestic violence or a mugging in the street. It is all very well to call for these criminals to be put away and locked up, but we also have to examine ourselves as a society because, although everyone is responsible for their own actions and nobody else, we are all responsible for the environment which set these people on the path to violence. We have also to acknowledge that we owe these people a duty of care to attempt to rehabilitate them, even if it costs money. We cannot wash our hands of them because they are bad people. This is very difficult; it is everyone’s instinct to shy away from the violent, the unsuccessful and the antisocial. If we do not claim them as our own, however, we cannot in honesty claim the successes which we so love to celebrate. There is a word for this. It is called Citizenship.

Tip for the day: The world wide web is 20 years old this month:

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