Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Adults?

David Cameron's attempt to introduce a porn filter mark the day the Conservative party embraced the nanny state.

If I had to pick one thing that I actually ever liked about the Tory party, the choice would be simple, it would be their libertine streak. You can say what you like about how they seem to like to plunder the country to line their own pockets, how they have gleefully fostered and exploited social divisions and how they tend to treat anybody without at least a knighthood as a parasite fit only for the Workfare gulag, but on issues of personal freedom they were the go-to guys during the Labour years.

The Labour Party, with the best will in the world, has never really been about fun. That Tony Blair actually volunteered to be a Catholic says all you need to know about his proclivities towards enjoying life and Gordon Brown just looked like a man who lived every day of his life with pockets full of piss. The internet knew how to have fun, it still does, and so the Labour Party going after the internet was inevitable. You could sense they were just waiting for a photogenic murder victim to validate their policies, probably with a team of bright eyed interns scouring the papers daily and a focus group on standby the vet the candidates.

Censor the porn, Labour said, because then horrible murders will stop, because apparently there was no murder before the internet. Nobody really believed that of course, but porn is not the easiest cause to fight for.

So to see that the Tories have now embraced the nanny state wholeheartedly is not just shocking, it is deeply worrying. That David Cameron would publicly declare that the internet, the single most significant British contribution to the modern world, needs to be censored should be of great concern. He leads the party that is supposed to let us be grown-ups, the party that lets us smoke, drink and gamble, while taking out ridiculously expensive loans to cover it. Even these guys now subscribe to the idea that we might see too many boobs online and be ruined for life.

We expect Labour to try to police what we see; to tell us what we like is wrong, politically incorrect, and likely to turn us all into murderers, terrorists and rapists. That’s what Labour does, because they know better than everybody else.

We don’t expect this from the Tories, not since the days of Mary Whitehouse anyway. Back when the Tories were old fashioned, blue-rinsed and God-fearing you could imagine them having plenty to say about all these horrible freedoms people are enjoying. But today’s Tories? It seems unthinkable that a bunch of Bullingdon Boys would even attempt to be seen as a credible moral authority, especially as they just burned their bridge to the Christian right and held a gay wedding in the ashes. When I saw David Cameron and his mob take over I thought at least one part of life would not be attacked for the next five years. This is a man, I thought, who might just not be a total killjoy. Or who at least might be too busy privatising all the things to find time to find the time to ruin anything else.

That the Tories would attack freedom of communication in this way under the ridiculous pretext that it is protecting children would be funny if it wasn’t a real thing that is actually happening. It is a foolish, reactionary, impractical move, and one that totally obliterates any Tory claim to being a party of individual freedom.

And so here we are, stuck in the middle. On the political right we have the born again moral guardians of the Conservative party, here to protect all of the children by flinging half-baked and technologically unsound ideas at a problem nobody seems to be able to prove exists. On the political left, of the Conservatives at least, we have Labour. The joyless overseers, making sure that wrongthink and dirtyfapping are expunged from our great nation so that we can live full and exciting lives of optimal make benefit for make great and wonderful United Kingdom.

There is no longer a political party in the UK for people who want the government to leave them alone. There is no longer a party that thinks what goes on in the bedroom or the internet browser is the business of the individual. All we will get at the next election is a choice of who gets to censor us and for what reason and this is an abysmal state of affairs.

At least when David Cameron was elected, you thought he might be too busy privatising things to ruin the internet as well. Photograph: Getty Images

Phil Hartup is a freelance journalist with an interest in video gaming and culture

Photo: Getty
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What's going on in Northern Ireland?

Everything you need to know about why Northern Ireland is heading for an early election - and how it all works. 

Northern Irish voters will elect a new government, just seven months after the last election. Here’s what you need to know.

It all starts with something called the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), a scheme designed to encourage businesses to switch to renewable sources of heating, by paying them to do so. But the plan had two flaws. Firstly, there was no upper limit to how much you could receive under the scheme and secondly there was no requirement that the new heaters replace the old.

That led to businesses installing biomass boilers to heat rooms that had previously not been heated, including storage rooms and in some cases, empty sheds.

 The cost of the scheme has now run way over budget, and although the door has been closed to new entrants, existing participants in the scheme will continue collecting money for the next 20 years, with the expected bill for the Northern Irish assembly expected to reach £1bn.  

The row is politically contentious because Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, and the First Minister of Northern Ireland, was head of the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) when the scheme was rolled out, putting her at the heart of the row. Though there is no suggestion that she personally enriched herself or her allies, there are questions about how DETI signed off the scheme without any safeguards and why it took so long for the testimony of whistleblowers to be acted on.

The opposition parties have called for a full inquiry and for Foster to step down while that inquiry takes place, something which she has refused to do. What happened instead is that the Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, resigned his post, he said as a result of frustration with the DUP’s instrangience about the scheme.

Under the rules of the devolved assembly (of which, more below), the executive – the ministers tasked with running the government day-to-day must be compromised of politicians drawn from the parties that finish first and second in the vote, otherwise the administration is dissolved.  McGuinesss’ Sinn Fein finished second and their refusal to continue participating in the executive while Foster remains in place automatically triggers fresh elections.

Northern Ireland uses the single transferable vote (STV) to elect members of the legislative assembly (MLAs). Under STV, multiple MLAs are elected from a single constituency, to more accurately reflect the votes of the people who live there and, crucially, to prevent a repeat of the pattern of devolved rule under first-past-the-post, when prolonged one-party rule by the Unionist and Protestant majority contributed to a sense of political alienation among the Catholic minority.

Elections are contested across 18 seats, with five MPs elected to every seat. To further ensure that no part of the community is unrepresented in the running of the devolved assembly, the executive, too, is put together with a form of proportional representation. Not only does the executive require a majority in the legislature to pass its business, under a system of “mandatory coalition”, posts on the executive are allocated under the D’Hondt system of proportional representation, with posts on the executive allocated according to how well parties do, with the first party getting first pick, and so on until it comes back to the first party until all the posts are filled.

Although the parties which finish third and lower can opt out of taking their seats on the executive and instead oppose the government, if the first and second party don’t participate in the coalition, there is no government.

As it is highly unlikely that the DUP and Sinn Fein will not occupy the first and second places when the election is over, it is equally unlikely that a second election will do anything other than prolong the chaos and disunity at Stormont. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.