Monday, March 24, 2008

Seven Nine Lords a-Blogging

I heard a discussion on Radio 4's The Week in Westminster this week about members of the House of Lords running a group blog. I was in Norn Iron at the time but I took a note of the the participants and looked them up when I got home. This led me to Lords of the Blog and I was quickly sucked in by some of the material I found there.

Unlike a lot of people, I have a lot of respect for the House of Lords. Not only is it a more civilised chamber than the Commons (it always amazes me that MPs whinge that they get no respect from the public after seeing how they behave in the House; they could certainly learn a lesson from the Lords) but it's vital to our democracy. Although it's not perfect, the Lords is a revising chamber and it has successfully revised and redrafted legislation over the years, improving it no end. Yes we've still got bad law, but think how much worse it would have been without the Lords (in one of the comments in that blog, Lord Norton of Louth states that the Lords makes 2000-3000 successful amendments a year to legislation).

The other vital function of the Lords, in my mind, is its expertise. While the Commons has the elected legitimacy, its members are often jacks of all trades, and masters of none (and, increasingly, not even Jacks, since they come straight into Parliament from political jobs without having any "real world" experience), while the Lords contains experts from all walks of life, from art and science to business and politics. These are exactly the kinds of people who should be in a revising chamber – experts in the fields, who will know when an idea has merit and when it is simply fanciful.

Yes, I'm painting an idealistic picture here, and no doubt the second chamber could be improved, but if we ever do move to a fully elected 'senate' for our second chamber, the term of office must be a long one – another benefit of the Lords is that they are more resistant to lobbying, since there is no electorate to have to please and no chance of being deselected if they vote against the party line.

All in all, I think our second chamber does a damn fine job, and if it's going to be changed, we really need to think very carefully about how it's done. It keeps the government in check, it's full of expertise, it's more civilised and its members are more independent than the Commons. I'll vote for that.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Demise of Paisley and Netscape

So Ian Paisley is stepping down as First Minister. I'm actually not sure what to make of this. Once I would have been cock-a-hoop about it, since I've always hated the man. But recently I've grudgingly started to if not respect him then at least appreciate the work he's done and the U-turns he's made to enter into power sharing with Sinn Fein. Whether he's done this for the good of the people of the Province, or for personal power is debatable, and maybe even irrelevant, but he and Martin McGuinness have worked hard together to make the devolved administration work. Indeed, they appear to have such a good personal relationship that they've earned the nickname of the "Chuckle Brothers". I worry about Paisley's successor now. If it's someone who's going to be very hardline, playing up to the DUP's hard core, then I think we'll be in trouble. I think we'll just have to watch this one and wait.

Another recent demise is that of the veteran web browser Netscape. I have many fond memories of Netscape, as its version 2 was my first window on the web, in the last months of my school career. I then used versions 3 and 4.x at University and stuck with it during the Dark Days when IE overtook it in terms of usability and features. Netscape 6, when it finally emerged, was a disaster. In fact, everything after Netscape was acquired by AOL was a bit of a disaster. However, the mess of NS6 did lead me to the Mozilla project, and after I got over my fear of the big banners saying that it was beta software, I downloaded Mozilla 0.7 (Netscape 6 was based on Mozilla 0.6 – that tells you how unready it was) and haven't looked back since. Although Mozilla itself has now abandoned the integrated suite that characterised Netscape 4 in favour of the standalone Firefox, the idea continues in the community maintained SeaMonkey project. So rest in peace Netscape, your legacy lives on.

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