Pepper v Hart

Posted: November 17, 2013 in Uncategorized

IT’S ONLY AS GOOD AS WHAT YOU DO WITH IT

Granularity should be determined by utility: what is it useful for?

Much is made of parliamentary data as though it were an end in itself, and there is a sense in which some documents are. Hansard is an account of what was said by those who act on our behalf in, among other things, holding the Government to account. But it also has a specific legal function. Since the landmark ruling in Pepper V Hart, 1992, clear ministerial statements made in Parliament can be used to guide interpretation of the law. In simple terms, if a law is ambiguous, the courts can look up what a Minister said about it in Hansard to decide what it means. 

The tone of much parliamentary legislative debate is set by this ruling. Many Peers, for example, table “probing amendments”, to examine the Government’s view of the effect of removing some provision or other from the Bill. Asking “What would happen if we did this instead?” lends insight into what would happen if you didn’t, because the Minister is forced to defend the Government’s proposed laws and outline exactly what they mean.

However, this legal precedent has been undermined in recent years, following an influential lecture given by Lord Steyn in 2000, in which he argued that Pepper V Hart may have been misinterpreted and didn’t, for various technical reasons, make sense either way. One repeated criticism of Pepper v Hart has been the expense involved in having barristers look up debates in Hansard. This concern was voiced in discussions on the original ruling by Lord Mackay:

“It follows that the parties’ legal advisors will require to study Hansard in practically every such case to see whether or not there is any help to be gained from it … such an approach appears to me to involve the possibility at least of an immense increase in the cost of litigation in which statutory construction is involved”.

 That is, getting barristers to look things up is expensive.

A lot has changed since 1992, and few things more than the idea of looking stuff up being a difficult, time-consuming and expensive skill. Unfortunately, Google is not a panacea. It’s not very good at cross-referencing unreferenced material. That requires the human touch – so far. This cost acts as a brake on the implementation of and access to legal redress, as well as to an oft-cited justification of access to the parliamentary record. 

 One way of addressing this would be to cross-reference all legislation – that is, Acts and statutory instruments such as orders and regulations – with the relevant debates in Hansard. Or, at the very least, to institute a parliamentary data mechanism that made it relatively simple to do so. 

 This would require a website not unlike legislation.gov.uk, with the text of legislation additionally annotated with links to dependent documents: debates on amendments to the legislation as it passed through Parliament. 

Such debates take place in various contexts:

Commons/Lords

Committee/Report/Third Reading

 And various things can happen to an amendment:

Agreed/Withdrawn/Not moved

It would be necessary to tag the relevant portion of an Act – Section, subsection, paragraph – with any amendment number that affected or clarified it when it was a Bill. The distinction between “affected” and “clarified” is important, because while not all amendments affect the text of the Bill, even if they don’t (which is most of them) the debate upon them may be useful for the purposes of Pepper V Hart.

Scraping the text of Hansard debates can generate data on which amendments were moved, debated, withdrawn, not moved, agreed or, with a Division, disagreed. Unfortunately, many amendments are debated in a “group” – the lead amendment is on the Table, and amendments dealing with similar topics are debated at the same time, often in some detail. That means that there can be substantive debate on an amendment which may or may not change the Bill but almost certainly illuminates the intention behind legislation for the purposes of Pepper V Hart, and which hardly touches the sides in terms of mark-upable procedure. Such problems can be addressed by structuring the data according to the amendment groupings lists for a given day of debate. 

 The website would present an Act’s text, with portions of the text highlighted in green, red  or purple (according to whether the text was discussed by the Commons, Lords, or both). A hover-over could quickly offer basic details, such as at what stage the text was discussed, and clicking would launch a new tab with details of the Section’s legislative history, with click-throughs to the relevant Hansard debates. 

Note that some legislation is retrospectively amended by the Schedules of other Acts – so some legislative text would link through to debates nominally on completely different Bills. 

 

Homebaked Internet

Posted: March 11, 2013 in Internet
Tags: , , , ,
That's not what an internet looks like.

This is what an internet looks like.

 

I’ve decided that I would quite like to own my stuff. I would like the things that are mine – things that I have created or acquired – to be under my control, that control being the arbiter of ownership. If I don’t control something, I don’t own it.

This is true, to an extent, of Things in what passes for real life. Many people rent their homes – it’s their home, but it’s not their house – and its been said that the sine qua non of Western capitalist society is property ownership. But even those who own their houses rarely actually do. Their mortgage provider does. They can step in at the drop of a hat and foreclose, forcing you to sell your home and realise assets to repay them.

Thatcher is supposed to have said that anyone over the age of 26 who took the bus to work could be regarded as a failure in life, implicitly setting store by car ownership. But how many people ploughing their way through rat-race-rush-hour hell on four wheels are actually sitting in a company car? Or how many are paying it off in crippling monthly instalments? They don’t own their cars. Their accomplishment is ephemeral, a product of smoke and mirrors. Like money, it is real only so long as others choose to believe so. If they take against you it can be snatched away at a moment’s notice, like a parent confiscating a toy from an uncomprehending child.

If the ownership of physical things is largely a conceit, what about the ownership of intangibles, like data? The idea that you “own” a domain name, for instance, is a misconception of the nature of ownership on the web. I own several domain names, but they all come with built-in expiry dates. So I don’t own them at all. I’ve rented them. As a friend put it to me, a domain name isn’t even owning (or failing to own, I suppose) a car – it’s renting a taxi. You register your domain name with a domain registrar, a service which acts as an agent – possibly one of many – between you and ICANN, the body with responsibility for these things. Who licences ICANN? The US Government. That’s why Rupert Murdoch couldn’t buy the internet and had to settle for Myspace; not because it’s free and open like the air and sunshine, but because the guys who do own it aren’t going to settle for any price. That’s public-sector interference in the free market for you.

Even if you don’t own a domain name, if you’re reading this chances are you have a Facebook or Twitter account, or you’ve stuck some movies on YouTube, or photos on Flickr or Picasa. Have a Google account? Google owns your life (and, for what it’s worth, mine). Using iCloud on a Mac or iOS device? UbuntuOne? You don’t have ultimate control over any of that stuff, so you can’t really be said to own it. More than that, you’ve explicitly, if unwittingly, signed away full ownership rights to much of your data by clicking ‘Agree’ to terms of service and EULAs, while a little voice in the back of you head simpered reassuringly. “It’s nothing to worry about,” it wheedled. “No one really cares about this stuff. It’s not like anyone’s going to hold you to it, or even like there’s anything in there you’d want to do anyway”. I don’t think I’ve read a single EULA in my life.

We are, in a very real sense, complicit in our own infantilisation, subject to the arbitrary whims of a patrician authority. The fact that the agents of this authority may promise to “do no evil”, or have given every impression of being unremittingly fluffy in the past, while reassuring, is irrelevant. We shouldn’t have to take their word for it.

We don’t have to take their word for it. We can circumvent the comfortingly familiar stranglehold that third parties have on our data. We can regain control over the things we create, the things we own, and make them ours again.

How? By hosting them ourselves. Let’s talk in terms of hosting your own, low-traffic personal website, although the broad thrust of these points applies equally well to the functions of sites such as Facebook and YouTube. Right now, you register your domain name with a registrar and, chances are, you either buy hosting from the same company or you redirect to webspace you’ve rented from another – such as your ISP, which might include a couple of hundred meg of webspace as part of your package. Having created your website, you’ll upload it to the webspace using an FTP client of some sort. When people visit your site, they’re actually seeing the copy of it held on your web host’s servers. The published version of your data derives from a few sectors on a hard drive in a server farm some miles from where you live – feasibly halfway around the planet, if that’s your thing.

There’s nothing wrong with this; the web is supposed to make geography irrelevant after all (although that’s crumbling as various regimes realise the power they potentially wield).

But there’s nothing necessary about it, either. Why not skip the step where you copy your site over to a web hosting service? Why not just host it yourself?

The first objection is cost. Your equipment will consume more electricity, and must always be on; although the additional expense is likely to be marginal. Secondly, there is the question of reliability. Chances are that a professional web hosting service will have a better uptime score than your own machine, even if you choose to use a dedicated server; although at least this way it’s your responsibility and if the service goes down you’re in a position to fix it. Thirdly, there’s bandwidth. Your personal pages will take longer to load, your data will take longer to access and sync; although, having said that, cable speeds at least are getting to the point where cavilling about it seems petty.

Another problem is that hosting your own interweb server is against some ISPs’ acceptable use policies. After all, they exist in an industry a large portion of which relies on people not doing exactly this. The stated reason is that a popular home website would place unreasonable demand on the network, impacting on your neighbours’ – their clients – service. While that is undeniably true, and even casual net-users’ bandwidth requirements have rocketed in the past few years thanks to iPlayer and their ilk, I’m not convinced that a low-traffic web server, providing services such as calDAV and location syncing for families and a bit of personal web hosting, are going to impact on bandwidth as much as, say, binge-viewing House of Cards on Netflix.

If, like me, you’re on cable, bandwidth consumption really ought not to be an issue. Virginmedia’s AUP doesn’t seem to explicitly forbid hosting your own services for instance. Of course, in a broader sense, independent hosting is still ultimately dependent on the infrastructure used to pipe the data into and out of your home. A small number of companies have invested considerable resources in setting that up. They own it and they’re not about to give it away, so any attempt to brew your own internet is subject to that control for the foreseeable future. That control can be influenced by consumer demand, of course, but that’s not the only factor, as Dr Peter Cochrane’s evidence to the Communications Select Committee last year demonstrated. A former CTO at BT, he wanted to provide decent broadband to his own rural village, utilising the vast array of fibre optic cable that BT laid down in the late 80s and which has remained unused ever since. It’s not BT’s business model to offer access to that dark cable, so he was forced to seek alternatives. To paraphrase Dr Cochrane: “Fibre, fibre, everywhere, but not an access point to connect”.

I’m not saying that home hosting is trivial to set up and maintain. If it’s going to work for you, you’re going to have to put in some effort. Owning a property incurs far more responsibilities than renting, but people are happy to take those responsibilities on (bitching all the while, of course) because of the perceived benefits that independence brings. Whether you’re happy to put in that effort depends on the extent to which you think you’ll benefit. Some people think these things are best left to the big boys, and that the cost to the individual of doing do is negligible. They think that not because the cost is negligible, but because it’s subtle. It’s also significant. You don’t learn that you need to grow up until you leave home.

While we await the great broadband infrastructure evolution, not holding our breath, there are plenty of ways in which we can begin to claw back ownership of the web, and choose share with others, or not, the fruits of our labours, whatever they might be. Software such as diaspora, Trovebox and – most interestingly – owncloud offers anyone with a decent uplink the opportunity to begin staking out their own corner of the internet rather than sharecropping someone else’s. These projects aren’t the end of the journey, but worthwhile first steps.

The internet is clearly going to play a huge role in our future and that of our children. Our choice is between letting it remain a series of monolithic, corporate structures or encouraging it to become a more vibrant – and, I would argue, resilient – federated community of smaller structures.

I’m in.

Burning Bright

Posted: November 1, 2011 in Video

Originally posted on the Spectator arts blog.

My recent campaign, described by the WorldWide Fund for Nature as “Nothing to do with us, please go away”, has stirred up some controversy. It’s hard to see why. Even though the range of our own British tiger, Panthera tigris boltonensiis, has contracted to a small field on the outskirts of Breightmet on the A58 between Bolton and Bury, that did not prevent my wife being savagely mauled when visiting her mother.

To prevent this kind of senseless tragedy, I propose the worldwide replacement of all tigers with stuffed toys. That should keep the tiger-huggers happy, while still giving the police an excuse to spend thousands of pounds on wild tiger chases every now and then.

I’m particularly proud of the campaign’s inclusivity. In the time it takes you to read this article, 0.06 tigers will have died. Simply by sitting there reading it, you will have played your part in supporting a campaign to keep things exactly as they are and do nothing whatsoever about anything. That’s something anyone – whatever their age, background or taste in soft furnishings – can do. Well done. Carry on. As you were.

Dear Mr Southerland,

Thank you for your interesting missive regarding the right to bear arms.

I assume you meant it to go to my near namesake, your constituent Mr Barry Woodhams, whose address is appended at the top of your email.

I, however, am Mr Ben Woodhams. I am not your constituent. I live in, and am a citizen of, the UK, where we have no right to bear arms. After a guy went into a school in Dunblane, Scotland, and murdered a class of 5 year-old children in 1996, we even decided that letting people wander around with handguns was probably a bad idea.

Of course, you may feel that a few school shootings here and there are a small price to pay for the ongoing lack of genocide and tyranny in Florida. I do hope they help in that regard, because if they don’t, well, I guess that’s just a bunch of kids dead for nothing, huh?

Regards,

B Woodhams (the other one).

Sent from my iPhone

On 31 Oct 2011, at 22:04, Representative Steve Southerland wrote:

October 31, 2011

Mr. Barry A. Woodhams
Curacao Way
Niceville, FL

Dear Barry,

Thank you for contacting our office regarding the right to bear arms, guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. I value your input on this important constitutional issue and appreciate the opportunity to respond.

Our country is blessed with freedoms unlike any other nation in the history of the world, and we must fervently defend these freedoms to ensure these liberties are protected into perpetuity. I am deeply committed to the right of America’s law-abiding citizens to own and bear arms. Our Second Amendment is a freedom I have and will continue to fight to preserve.

It is interesting to note that before most great tyrannies and genocides occurred in the world, the citizens of those lands were first disarmed. We must keep a watchful and wary eye toward anything that would take the United States down that same path. As the right to bear arms is a basic right of all American citizens, I am proud to be a cosponsor of the following legislation before U.S. House of Representatives:

o BATFE Reform and Firearms Modernization Act – H.R. 1093, introduced by Representatives Steve King (R-IA) and Jason Altmire (D-PA) would roll back unnecessary restrictions, correct errors and codify longstanding congressional policies in the firearms arena.

o National Right to Carry Reciprocity Act – H.R. 822, introduced by Representatives Cliff Stearns (R-FL) and Heath Shuler (D-NC) would allow any person with a valid concealed carry permit to carry a concealed firearm in any state that issues concealed firearm permits, or that does not prohibit the carrying of concealed firearms.

o Firearms Interstate Commerce Reform Act – H.R. 58, introduced by Representatives Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Dan Boren (D-OK) would remove several antiquated and unnecessary restrictions imposed on interstate firearms business since 1968.

o Second Amendment Enforcement Act – H.R. 645, introduced by Representatives Mike Ross (D-AR) and Jim Jordan (R-OH) would eliminate harsh gun control laws imposed by the District of Columbia after the Supreme Court’s decision in D.C. v Heller (2008).

o Veterans’ Heritage Firearms Act – H.R. 420, introduced by Representatives Dennis Rehberg (R-MT) and Leonard Boswell (D-IA) would provide a 90-day amnesty period during which veterans and their family members could register firearms acquired overseas between June 26, 1934 and October 31, 1968, without fear of prosecution.

Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me. I am humbled and honored you have afforded me the opportunity to represent you in the United States House of Representatives. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future about issues of importance to you. Feel free to visit my Congressional website at http://southerland.house.gov or contact our office with any future concerns.

Sincerely,

Steve Southerland, II
United States Representative

Posted: October 31, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Photogenealogy

Posted: June 30, 2011 in Visual

About five years ago, I set about scanning my immediate family’s entire back catalogue of photos in an attempt both to make them more widely available and to preserve them for posterity. My father had constructed elbaorate collages of various holiday snaps, which were my inspiration, but I was also offered a number of old albums and shoeboxes full of ancient, faded images by my mother.

Part of the impetus for this project was the collection of images of my great-grandparents on my mother’s side. I don’t know what quirk of fate led to their being in a shoebox hidden in a wardrobe in her house in Ealing, but it seemed unfair to me that only me and my brothers, out of who-knew-how-many great-grandchildren, should have the curious pleasure of seeing them. I’m well aware that their interest to the casual observer may be minimal, but even they may find themselves asking the same questions about these people’s lives that I do: who were they; what did they think; how did they feel? Of what, in short, were their lives made? Many of these pictures were only intended to be viewed by immediate family, I expect, and so they are casual, unposed, unstudied – which itself lends an insight that more formal photographs might lack.

Along with the more ancient family images of people I never met or only dimly recall came innumerable images of my early life – as the eldest son, my babyhood was rigourously recorded; my brothers rather lost out by comparison. And then, in fits and starts, we all grow up at an alarming pace. Even so, placing the images in chronological order is nigh impossible. My brothers and I seem to grow at varying rates, so there is no logic to be found in comparing our ages; Tom is older in one photo than other, yet I appear to be younger in the one where he is older. Nor do I always recall where they are taken, for obvious reasons.

If I have gleaned any insights into my origins from these images, they are these:

1. My mother has a lifelong tendency to place her finger on the lens when taking a photo, regardless of the camera she is using. No amount of judicious cropping on my part can entirely obscure the fact that she is the only person not in the shots with the dark blur at the corner.

2. Digital is not always better. Some 70s images in particular have a crispness and vibrancy that digital images have yet to match (even though they have been digitised). Having said that, the widespread commercial availability of cheap cameras and film in the 80s clearly parallels the advent of the shonky images with poor focus, low exposure and, in all probability, a quality control sticker jammed on the original print. I do wonder whether the problem is with the negative – many of those are still available – or cheap processing at Boots.

3. Before I was born, my parents looked like hippies.

4. Most of my memories of childhood have been profoundly influenced by various of these pictures. Thanks to my father’s collages, they have been hardwired into my brain. How weird to discover images of my life taken only seconds before or after moments I know so well. How much stranger to discover negatives of an extended family afternoon at my house when I was seven, of which I have no memory whatsoever.

5. I’m pretty sure some of those haircuts are against the Geneva convention.

6. Picures of my niece have a resonance for me that is entirely the result of having colour-corrected and cropped so many pictures of myself and my brothers as babies. It’s a bit like when I looked down at my handwriting one day, and realised that it was my father’s.

I scanned the prints – almost 1,000 of them – and meant to stick slideshows on a DVD. Instead, perhaps inevitably, I left them to gather dust on the hard drive of a computer that later died. I later salvaged them and put them on an external drive, which also died. I salvaged them again, having lost almost all the considerable work I’d done, and so did it again. Processing a grand of images isn’t so hard when you break it down into bits. It’s not even that hard with a hangover, thank God. I’m glad they’re available to everyone at last, and I hope my second cousins enjoy them.

Going Viral

Posted: June 30, 2011 in Video

Originally posted on The Spectator’s Arts blog.

My Adam Curtis parody, The Loving Trap, has variously been described as “harsh”, “gentle”, “expertly done”, “inept”, “genius” and “infantile”. I wouldn’t presume to argue with a consensus like that.

As a Guardian-reading BBC2 viewer, I’m familiar with the sensory overload that Curtis’s assaults on the nation’s synapses can induce. I’ve watched and enjoyed his work, and there’s certainly nothing else like it on television. It was only with his latest, All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, that I became suspicious. A meandering road trip around several of Curtis’s habitual preoccupations – power, technology and the ideas behind social movements and change – left me with the nagging feeling that the driver might be lost and refusing to pull over to ask for directions.

So I assembled a parody of the audiovisual smörgåsbord that serves to distract the viewer – and, apparently, Curtis – from whatever the hell it is he’s trying to say. I uploaded it to YouTube hoping that, if nothing else, my Guardian-reading, BBC2-viewing chums would laugh. Two days later, all the cool kids were talking about it. By “cool kids” I mean “Caitlin Moran”, and by “talking” I mean “retweeting”. A lot. Then it went viral, which naturally involved a certain amount of phlegm.

As very little else on mainstream TV approaches the intellectual sophistication – or affectation, if you prefer – of Curtis’s work, some people use it as a personality substitute: “I watch Adam Curtis because/therefore I am a dangerously iconoclastic intellectual with a transcendent understanding of history”. By calling Curtis’s techniques into question I was in effect calling these people stupid. The pseudointellectual’s autonomic response to this kind of threat to their self-identity is an affected stroking of the chin, wearing it down to a bloody stump: a three-minute piece of the silly was subjected to Kristevan levels of practical criticism.

On the other hand, some of those who enjoyed it had clearly been waiting for something to beat Curtis with, and I had unwittingly handed them an internet-sized stick. James Delingpole posted the film to the Daily Telegraph’s website under the headline “Why the BBC’s Adam Curtis will never make another documentary”. Like so many others on both sides of the fence, he seemed to believe that my objective was to skewer Curtis and expose his work as facile nonsense.

But this was a fantasy. In fact, my objective was simply to make people laugh using material available under Creative Archive and Creative Commons licences. There’s a wealth of archive footage kicking about online, most of it free and legal to use for non-commercial purposes. Many talented musicians offer their work for use on similar terms, such as Nick Kent – a.k.a. Xor – whose track The Sunflower Enigma gives The Loving Trap much of its distinctive and tasty Curtis flavour. Given what’s out there for the taking, and how well so much of it would lend itself to parodies of Curtis, the most remarkable thing about The Loving Trap is that no one had bothered to do it before.

Thankfully, most people seem to get it. But a noisy minority seem to believe either that I revere Adam Curtis as a challenging and innovative documentarian peeking under the skin of our culture and society, or despise him as an intellectually risible conspiracy theorist peddling pinko paranoia to credulous cretins. Apparently it has to be one or the other. Well, I’m not telling. Anyone who’s seen a Curtis film should know better than to expect simple, pat answers. Besides, in the end, I’m only being asked because I said aloud what everyone else was thinking.

My Dad died in 1990. He stumbled out of the bathroom and fell over, and that was that. It was quite prosaic and out of the blue, in as much as a third heart attack can be said to be out of the blue.

You’d think there’d be a straighforward answer to the question, “When did you last see your father?” It sounds a bit zero-sum: it either was the last time, or it wasn’t. There is no in between. But the answer, like reality, is a bit more subtle.

The first last time I saw my father: A week earlier he had asked me to strip the paint off the house sign on the front gate. I had grudingly, half-heartedly set to work with solvent and wire wool. “Leave solvent to work”, the packet said, and so I had – and had completely forgotten to come back and clean it off. So when Dad came to me and said, “That job on the house sign I asked you to do…”, I fully expected a lecture on the value of completing a task and doing it properly. Instead, he just said, “That was a good job. Well done.”

Later that night, after they’d taken his shell away in an ambulance, I ran into his workshop, fighting to hold back the tears. I saw the house sign resting on the worktop, shiny and clean. The tears came, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about anything.

The second last time I saw my father: His shell was lying on a gurney in a small anteroom in the hospital. He looked impossibly large. Heavy. I spoke to him then but, deep down, I knew he wasn’t there and I was alone. As desperately as I wanted to, I could not bring myself to kiss him. Death is contagious.

The third last time I saw my father: He has been dead for two months. We are at some kind of hotel reception in the 1970s. Dark furnishings and smoked glass partitions everywhere. Mood lighting but no windows. Waiters circulate with wine. I walk down the steps to join him, and he turns from some other guests he is entertaining to greet me. The dress code is black tie, and he looks younger and fitter than he has in years. We talk about nothings, as I marvel at the enormous buffet. He is happy, charming and relaxed. He is my Dad. And then I am awake.

If I have ever dreamed about him since, it has always been in the context of childhood, a flashback to when he was still alive. Just that once, though, I saw him again. It’s not important whether anything that had been him was ‘there’ or not. What matters is that I saw him, and it felt real to me. That’s all we can ever say about each other, every day.

Posted: February 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

Claire Khaw

Clare Khaw, fixing things

I don’t really know who Claire Khaw is, or why she feels it necessary to systematically upset so many people. As far as I can tell, she is merely a private citizen with internet access and too much time on her hands. So much time, in fact, that there is now a Facebook group entitled “Who the fuck is Claire Khaw?”.

Facebook is where I first stumbled across her fractured brand of ideological lunacy, as she ranted about immigration levels in the comments section of a Today Programme post in the run-up to the general election. Perhaps unusually for someone apparently of Chinese descent, she then claimed to be the election agent for the BNP candidate in Bethal Green and Bow. Her reponse to inquiries as to why she supported a party that would presumably want to forcibly expatriate her was,

“They’ve actually been perfectly civil to me so I can’t honestly complain… The BNP have a dislike and distrust of many perhaps most foreigners but not all. A healthy and natural attitude, I would have thought”.

She susbsequently cropped up under other Today Programme status updates, baffling other Radio 4 listeners with her apparently contradictory philosophy of “libertarian secular Koranism”: advocating the Koran as a template for a just and fair society without necessarily subscribing to a belief in a supernatural deity – apparently with a hefty dollop of Ayn Rand on top.

Clicking through to her Facebook profile revals that she has in excess of 1,100 “friends”, of whom a disproportionate amount either:

a. are politicians

[including: Zac Goldsmith (Con, Richmond Park), Sir Alan Haslehurst (Con, Saffron Walden), Angela Eagle (Lab, Wallasey), Austin Mitchell (Lab, Great Grimsby), Boris Johnson (Con, Mayor of London), Ed Vaizey (Con, Wantage), Eric Pickles (Con, Brentwood and Ongar), Jean-Marie Le Pen (France, the French), John Prescott, Ken Livingstone, Lynne Featherstone (Lib Dem, Horney and Wood Gren), Margarets Beckett and Hodge (Lab, Derby South, Barking), Michael Fabricant (Con, Lichfield), Ming Campbell (Lib Dem, North East Fife), Nigel Evans (Con, Ribble Valley), Peter Lilley (Con, Hitchen and Harpenden), Peter Mandelson, Shahid Malik, Simon Hughes (Lib Dem, Bermondsey and Old Southwark), Tony McNulty, and Adrian Edmonson (Vivian, The Young Ones)]

or

b. use the St George Flag as their profile picture.

And, of course, Andrew Neil, but that’s only to be expected.

Now, of course, being a “friend” on Facebook does not imply any kind of endorsement. Many of these people are clearly on Ms Khaw’s list so that she can keep an eye on what they’re up to; Shami Chakrabarti, for instance, cannot have much in common with Ms Khaw, personally or ideologically.

Still, it might be worth David Cameron’s shiny new intake bearing in mind that, no matter the value of Facebook as a promotional tool, it hardly looks good to to call Claire Khaw a “friend” in any context.

There’s a cross-party flavour to this ‘Khaw Committee’, and that is reflected in her belief that our country needs only one party. Luckily for us, she’s already created it at

http://www.1party4all.co.uk/

which heralds itself as “Athenian democracy in the 21st century”, so any potential 21st century Socrati out there had better watch it.

What does Khaw’s single-nation party stand for? Again, we’re fortunate that she’s come up with policies so we don’t have to go through a pesky democratic process, even an Athenian one, to find out. In addition to abolishing foreign aid, national insurance, social services, student loans (“No sports studies, sociology, academic philosophy and crap like that”), the NHS and child and disability benefits, she wants to spend the money saved on policies like:

1. Reintroduce public executions.

Wow. OK, hit ‘em with the big ones at the outset.

2. Reintroduce public floggings.

See? Already this seems positively tame.

3. Reintroduce fault in divorce.

… What?

6. Make bastardy a disgrace.

8. Establish local and national marriage bureaux to encourage marriage.

9. Establish a system of Marital Relationship Management.

Perhaps there’s something Claire feels the need to share with us.

10. Establish a single party state.

Obviously this is a piffling triviality next to, say, the serious issue of someone’s husband running off with the secretary he’s knocked up.

13. Citizens’ militias will be established so that they can be called up to keep order. If the CHAVs, NEETs, and single mum sluts, slags and slappers and their feral offspring get restive, the locals who know who they are and where they live will sort them out.

Over at http://www.democracyforum.co.uk, user Mikeuk points out that Clare is “of ethnic Chinese Malaysian origin so her political viewpoints may seem unfamiliar”. So unfamiliar to other users of the democracyforum that she’s since been banned. Just saying.

15. Reintroduce slavery

In the interests of balance, she does have some good ideas.

16. Reintroduce orphanages

17. Establish Homes for Fallen Women and their Illegitimate Children

18. Legalise brothel-keeping.

Well, that’s the world put to rights. We might as well all go home.

Indeed, so popular is she that there is another Facebook group, entitled “Claire khaw’s amazing”. Sadly, it seems to have attracted a number of malcontents who ask questions such as, “This is a spoof, right?”, but Clare doesn’t let that stop her contributing her thoughts to such discussions as “Exactly Why is Claire Amazing in your opinion?”

She also notably contributes her thoughts on the subject of disabled babies to Mumsnet’s Facebook page, pointing out that,

“parents should have the power of life and death over their children… I would not bring up a disabled child. I would tell the midwife that I wouldn’t mind if she accidentally dropped it on its head to save me from doing it myself.”

That prompted outrage, so Clare found herself backpedalling like crazy:

“All right, I shouldn’t have said I would ask the midwife to ‘accidentally on purpose drop it on its head’. That was a bit frivolous, I should have said “dispose of it on my behalf so I don’t have to do it myself.”

That’s all right, then.

Unless you’re one of the many Mumsnet members outraged not only at her comments but at the site management’s lethargy in getting them removed, that is. They’ve since disapeared, but the widespread offence they caused has left what could well prove to be a lasting impact.

Khaw has been widely decried as “vile”, and so extreme are her comments that many have been left wondering whether she is, in fact, real, or some form of elaborate internet hoax. A letter published in the Times in 2003 suggests the former, but is more wry commentary than her current outlandish ravings. Prompted by criticism of her on Mumsnet, they include:

“The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. Do we really want the world to be ruled by Mumsnet? Mumsnet perfectly demonstrates the fecklessness and vices of women and why a patriarchy would be the lesser evil.”

She’s just proposed to Sir Stuart Rose, CEO of M&S. Or rather, she’s offered him:

“a contract of cohabitation with optional sex and optional fidelity … While I am aware you may not wish for such a limited contract, I do assure you that it has great potential and offers greater protection for the assets of the wealthier partner”.

How could he resist?

Khaw describes her main occupation as being “in the gutter splashing its contents at passersby in order to draw their attention to the fact that our sewage disposal services are no longer working”.

She is instead simply an animal flinging its own faeces through the bars of its cage. She is an object lesson in the true danger of the internet, and that is not Facebook, Twitter or the democratisation of knowledge. It is that, with enough determination – and she has no shortage of that – any disturbed person can make a noise loud enough to be heard above the din. Some may say it was ever thus, but I think that their voices are louder, and carry farther, than has been possible before.