PositionDial tells you which party you agree with – and it’s not tedious

There’s no shortage of services on the Internet that will help you to discern which parties’ principles match your own, but many of them are horrendously tedious – and that’s coming from a political blogger.

Thankfully the folks at PositionDial have come up with system that does not have you sifting through policy statements that the parties will never fulfil anyway, and instead outlines broad principles that you can agree or disagree with.

It’s not entirely without its faults. Whilst you can declare yourself neutral on an issue there is no button for saying you are completely ignorant, and it’s unclear how the weighting of policy areas works.

Like other tools it also lacks the ability to handle nuanced answers. Whether immigration needs to be reduced depends very much on what kind you are talking about, and at what rate.

Still, it’s quite good fun, even if it did declare me a Labour supporter…

Is it time to boycott political intolerance?

Honolulu Pride Parade, 2012, Daniel Ramirez

The long debate over what exactly freedom is reached a head last week as various American states wrestled with rehashes of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The bill – signed into federal law by US president Bill Clinton in 1993 – seeks to stop government forcing the religious to disobey their own principles, and has lately been mooted in state form in Indiana and Arkansas.

Such legislation seeks to mediate between individual conscience and “compelling government interest”, most notably over the issue of religiously-inspired discrimination. Handily for the media, a prime example of this emerged in the form of Memories Pizza, whose owner Crystal O’Connor said she would not serve a gay couple’s wedding due to her Christian beliefs when asked about the bill.

The backlash against O’Connor and her husband was swift, with the listing for the pizza joint on reviews site Yelp pelted with negative reviews and lewd images. The website of Memories Pizza was also seemingly defaced, and a charming (and presumably, in US parlance, liberal) high school sports coach took to Twitter to threaten the couple with arson.

This is some turnaround for a country that only struck down its prohibitions against sodomy in 2003. As the orthodoxy of homophobia has eroded in the West campaigners have gradually replaced it with a new one, criminalising the expression of old prejudices. Hate speech laws have spread over much of Europe, with countries such as France, Germany and Austria even outlawing the denial of the Holocaust.

The current furore also follows shortly after the defenestration of Brendan Eich, whose brief role as chief executive of the Firefox creator Mozilla was brought to an end last April after acolytes of the nonprofit discovered he had donated money in support of Proposition 8, a law blocking gay marriage in California.

Eich’s politics were no doubt unsuitable for his role at the open source firm, which prides itself on inclusivity. Yet the threats to boycott Mozilla in the wake of his appointment point to a far uglier trend in progressive politics: that of threatening a person’s livelihood when you find their beliefs repugnant.

In the case of Memories Pizza it was not enough for people merely to protest or boycott a malign policy: the business had to be shut down or forced to comply through the law. Such a case has been mirrored in the UK, with the No More Page 3 campaign against the Sun newspaper’s snaps of naked ladies seeing supermarkets obscure the tabloids in their displays.

When taken together such events show the desire for ideological conformity remains alive despite decades of rebellion from the greyness of the post-war years. So long as people exist there will always be puritans on the Left and Right who cannot tolerate any dissent from their viewpoint, and will punish those who openly express such things.

Unsurprisingly such progressive illiberalism has grown as such measures become unnecessary. Even in famously prudish America firms as big as Apple, General Electric and US retailer Walmart rushed to slate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, realising that the progressive markets are increasingly more lucrative than conservative ones.

That is not to say, as UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage recently recommended, that we rub out the anti-discrimination laws. But it is worth asking what sort of democracy we are creating if any dissent from orthodoxy is punished through boycotts and threats. It is also worth asking if such shrieking changes the minds of people, or merely pushes their complaints underground, where they fester and grow more noxious.

Image – Daniel Ramirez

How Left and Right posture on health tourism

Politicians in Britain are fond of talking about “tough decisions”. Even on the Left, which is supposed to be the more generous wing, the Labour leader Ed Miliband was happy enough to declare his willingness to tackle “difficult” ones at the leaders’ debate on Thursday.

Why then, was there such a furore over Ukip leader Nigel Farage’s comments over health tourism? Having prefaced his view with the disclaimer that people would be “mortified” that he dare talk about it, Farage said:

“You can come to Britain from anywhere in the world and get diagnosed with HIV and get the retroviral drugs that cost up to £25,000 per year per patient. I know there are some horrible things happening in many parts of the world, but what we need to is put the National Health Service there for British people and families who in many cases have paid into this system for decades.”

A predictable backlash followed, with outrage on Twitter and attacks from the other panellists. At the time Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party, said: “When someone is diagnosed with a dreadful illness, my instinct is to view them as a human being not consider what country they come from.”

This sounds nice, but it is hard to believe that any of the panel (bar Green leader Natalie Bennett) truly believe in not discriminating against foreigners when it comes to the health service. The alternative would mean offering free health care to all 7 billion people living in the world, which even the Greens would recognise as a bit ambitious.

That doesn’t mean that Farage’s interest in health tourism is not misjudged. In a country open to foreign travel and trade some health tourism is inevitable, or at least would be costly enough to clamp down on that it was not worth the bother. The figures he quoted in regards to HIV (7,000 diagnoses a year, 60% of them accounted for by foreigners) amount to a piffling addition to the health service bill, and the total cost of health tourism is equally piffling.

According to Farage the total cost of health tourism £2bn, a figure that is based on this research commissioned by the coalition. As George Eaton of the (leftwing) New Statesman pointed out at the time, this is not really true:

The £2bn figure refers to the total cost of treating foreign visitors and temporary migrants (such as students and seasonal workers), many of whom are eligible for free treatment and pay tax, not “health tourists”.

The report actually estimates the cost of health tourism at £70m. In the fiscal year 2013/14 the total bill for the NHS was £109.721bn, according to the NHS Confederation, a trade body.

In the end the controversy over Farage’s comment shows both sides posturing. The Left does not really believe that Britain should pay for the world’s healthcare, and the Right are not so bloody minded that they will pursue fraud at any cost.