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back to article Three more quit over Nutt sacking

Three more scientists have resigned from the UK drug advisory body after the home secretary sacked of its chief advisor, Professor David Nutt, for disagreeing with government policy on marijuana. The trio quit after a meeting with Home Secretary Alan Johnson that was called to reassure them that their independence would not be …

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Boffin

drugs policy & academic freedom & politics

I heard Evan Harris MP speak a few weeks ago in Ditton (nr Runcorn/Widnes). Yes, academic freedom has to happen. Yes, if you annoy (or get "yes men") voluntary unpaid, qualified advisers they'll quit if they feel they're restricted.

Universities all have policies on academic freedom (eg freedom of expression), even if your pet theory is different to the status quo.

However ultimately drug classification is a political decision. Yes cannabis went from class B to class C then class B again (tough on drugs?), however the law is ignored by millions of people. It also ties up a lot of police time in related crime; thefts, burglaries etc to fund a drug habit.

Personally, I've been burgled three times in the past year. The police caught them on two occassions. The first was an alcoholic, drug using (cannabis) next door neighbour and his cousin; both unemployed. The third only got away with a bicycle after managing to kick the front door in (although I had a suspect).

There was another theft that was drug related.

However, drugs policy needs to be changed. Lib Dem policy is for a more liberal approach to cannabis.

However at this point, I will declare I am a member of the "said party" and point out this conflict of interest. At 29 though, I do feel drugs policy needs to be based on advice from those "in the know", rather than knee-jerk headline chasing decisions by sucessive Home Secretaries to be "tough on drugs" by increasing the penalties for possession etc...

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Spin is the order of the day

If you check Dr. Evan Harris's blog he completely destroys the comments (read: lies) the Home Secretary made in Parliament. Alan needs booting out quicker than you can say sexed up dossier. The Drug war is failing everybody. Minor tweaks to the classification system won't send a message to anybody. Time in jail does not concern recreational drug users. This government is half way out the door I just wish it was going to be replaced by Lib Dems rather than Cameron's playboys.

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Flame

lol NuLab rules

NuLab is sure going out with a bang. What a worthless party. Being from the states they seem to be a mix of our partys. They are political inept like the Democrats but at the same time openly evil, and hostile to the powerless in society and proud of it like our Republicans. What a party.

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Dr. Evan Harris MP's analysis

This has been presented by Alan Johnson as a scientific adviser actively campaigning against government policy. Dr. Evan Harris MP wrote an open letter to Alan Johnson making the case that the Home Secretary had misled the House (albeit, no doubt, unintentiionally - I'm sure a government minister wouldn't do it deliberately) by mis-stating dates and misrepresenting the way in which Professor Nutt's views became known. Essentially Evan Harris says that the core part was based on papers that Professor Nutt had presented in an academic context before government policy was made and that later publication (which was what embarrassed the Home Secretary) was when the media got hold of it.

Anyway, here is Dr Harris's letter to the Home Secretary

nb. Dr. Harris has also written about Simon Singh and his current libel action with the BCA and the implications for scientific freedom of expression and investigation. On these subject at least, he is on the side of the angels.

http://drevanharrismp.wordpress.com/2009/11/09/professor-david-nutt/

This is the Home Secretary's reply with comments from Dr Harris (who rather takes the view that the former is being a bit evasive and answering questiosn that he would have preferred asked, rather than the ones in the letter)

http://drevanharrismp.wordpress.com/2009/11/10/nutt-sacking-johnson-responds-and-is-still-wrong/

So, the charge made is not that the Home Secretary sacked a political adviser who actively campaigned against his policy, but that the media learnt about those views via an academic publication made in the course of Professor Nutt's academic work.

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Reasons...

I'm sure the three who resigned realized the absurdity of the situation and decided, "Bollocks to that."

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FAIL

Well Listen To You If It Suits Us

Looks to me like the home office wants to listen and take advice from all walks of science except regarding cannabis and aclcohol. It's made its mind up and is unrepentant on its decision.

Alcohol = Good

Weed = Evil

http://open.spotify.com/track/41wSfjVVuwTIXb3SuWvM4c

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FAIL

The drug advisory body no longer exists.

It is required that 20 people vote on any decision the body makes, there are now 19 of them.

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Anonymous Coward

If only

The MPs would have the decency to jump on their swords when they are caught with their hands in the till.

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'effing politicians

An advisor with an opinion, what a surprise, I alwys felt that political advisors were nothing more than jobs for the party faithful, oh hang on, these people are independent, unpaid, advisors, right; so Johnson only thinks they are there to provide validity for his way of thinking.

Good to some people still have their principals and cannot be bought with a place on some quango

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FAIL

Charge 'em!

Unpaid!

Politicians expect people to work for nothing and treat anyone who does so as a skivvy.

Anyone who does voluntary work for any patr of government is a fool.

In my home town a many years ago the head of radiography wrote a report detailing how to move the department out of the "age of steam" and save money at the same time. He was ignored and eventually quit. A few years later a consultancy he worked for was asked to report of the best way to modernise the department. The same managers paid 50K for the *same* report but this time read it and accepted it.

I am afraid that in the UK we are often run by PHB's and to a PHB the value (and accurancy) of information is directly related to its cost. Thankfully I do not have any current clients that are PHB's but have had a few in the past . They are often told what to do by the IT people but it takes us to come in and charge for the same advice before they accept it.

Jacqui

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Johnson understands The Sun

"Liberal Democrat science spokesman Dr. Evan Harris told the BBC that the resignations coming after the meeting demonstrates that Johnson "doesn't get it" when it comes to respecting the academic freedom of independent, unpaid, science advisors."

That may be, but Johnson does get it when it comes to pandering to the Daily Mail and The Sun. Which is more important when it comes to not being wiped out at the next election.

Remember, its Rupert Murdoch who decides who wins elections in this country, not scientists.

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these aren't just science advisors

A common mistake in the popular press is to refer to the ACMD as "scientists".

Whilst Nutt is a very experienced and qualified scientist, the ACMD is composed of much more than just scientists.

The full list is available by jfgi, but the members include social scientists, teachers, therapists, police, and other professions too.

The ACMD's recommendations are provided after weighing up a host of evidence including social impacts.

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Grenade

Doesn't get it?!

"Johnson "doesn't get it" when it comes to respecting the academic freedom of independent, unpaid, science advisors."

The whole Labour Party don't get it when it comes to respecting any kind of freedom, except their freedom to fleece the taxpayer for their own personal gain!

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Anonymous Coward

Damn Scientists...

... Who do they think they are? I diden´t vote on them so why should they have any impact what so ever on the politics of the land. We voted these politicians into power so that they could do what's best for us. If they start listening to these so called scientists why should we have politicians at all? You can not run a country on what makes scientific sense alone. The moral superiority of the elected people is much more suited.

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Black Helicopters

Policy vs Reality

The Government can set any policy they like - just tell us clearly you are making that policy for what you think are popularist vote winning reasons, not based on Scientific fact.

The public can then decide just how big an arse you are.

Experts in any field must have freedom of speech to maintain integrity, otherwise who can we trust (as we clearly can't trust Politicians!)

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'politicking'

An academic article and a lecture are not playing politics, it's what Nutt does for a living. Is he never to comment upon his own views, based on research, of things that the Government sees as their area? Would that not mean that most academics, and people in general, were silenced?

I am by no means keen to add another substance to what people can use, given the wonderful effect of booze on, for instance, those at the wheel of a car, but it is pretty obvious that the average punter would smoke as often as he or she drinks, without suddenly descending into the Hell of Heroin. Let us stop criminalising one of many substances and get on with taxing it for the good of all.

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FAIL

6 vacant positions to be filled by...

More self serving govt. lapdogs.

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Hollow "Sacking" ..

"Sacking" doesn't quite have the dramatic ring to it when you add "from an unpaid job".. :-)

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Excellent

Now we have former government advisers, highly respected experts in their field, who agree with what the sane world has known for over two millennia.

Let's see if the Beeb will carry this story. Mainstream publication of events against prohibition improve the understand of the political system, and how to best get your point of view heard.

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Anonymous Coward

Waste of time/money

Johnson accused Nutt of playing politics, saying he "crossed the line between offering advice and then campaigning against the government on political decisions."

No, he just highlighted that the government don't make these decisions based on scientific evidence!

If they appointed this guy because he knew his stuff then they should have listened to him. If not close the whole drug advisory board and save the taxpayer 31x salaries!

What other decisions HAVENT been based on evidence!

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FAIL

Own goal

Our gorblimey home secretary has shown stunning misjudgement and one would hope his hasty over-reaction results in a precipitous descent of the greasy pole. But in the dying days of this accident-prone government, that seems unlikely - Brown needs all the friends he can hang on to.

The debate - if you can call it that - about illicit drug use has always been clouded with ill-informed FUD and driven by fear of the press. So not much new here - move along, please.

Alan "I'm a jolly Cockney" Johnson earns a massive FAIL for this latest example.

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Badgers

Are they GPs?

As there is an out of hours doctors service in South Cambridgeshire that could do with people more capable than the mob that have just been booted off the conteract

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Coat

@ Doesn't get it?

What? Expenses?

Mine's the one with the duck house brochure in the pocket..

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Fnarr! Fnarr!

"Nutt Sacking"?.. "Johnson"?.. Where's Finbar Saunders when you need him?

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Coat

Spiv

Does Alan Johnson remind anyone else of the spiv from Dad's Army?

No, just me then? I'll get my...

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Boffin

There seems to be a misconception here.

Lying for expedient aims = politics.

Telling the truth based on facts = science.

The home sec was playing science, not the scientist playing politics.

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Grenade

@Sceptical Bastard

Given the accelerating rate the current lot seems to be getting through home secretaries, I wouldn't be surprised if we saw another two or three of them take office before the next election (if our glorious leader ever allows us one).

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RE: Waste of time/money

RTFA you wouldn't save any money. They are unpaid

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@level80

"However ultimately drug classification is a political decision."

Well drug classification is a decision someone has to make, and sure it's a political decision in that it affects the people who live in this country: I'm just not sure I believe it's a decision a politician has to make.

Regardless of whether you think party politics is a truly representative form of democracy (I have my doubts), a system which is designed to classify and restrict drugs by the objective danger they pose to the public, but which is controlled by someone who wishes to appear popular (and who apparently gauges that popularity by reference to the press) is - to my mind - a poor compromise that doesn't serve anyone well.

Either make the classification entirely populist - let everyone vote on it and ignore the science - or make it scientific and get rid of an unnecessary decision-making middleman.

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Unhappy

@own goal

Agreed, but how much of the knee-jerk reaction politics is down to a dumbass population that will believe the media? Let's say a government enacted legislation to enforce responsible journalism, with the aim of blunting the hysterical headlines and trying to get people to read impartial, intelligent coverage to make their own informed opinion. Would we get an improvement, or would we simply see a drop in newspaper circulation figures due to the masses not understanding the content?

I think a middle ground would be more likely: A proportion of the readers would 'get' the matters being discussed, but a significant number wouldn't. Thus, a dumbed down mob-rule, hysterical, knee-jerk reaction publication would pop up, perhaps online, that would cater for the underclass of people that thus felt more detached than ever from the workings of the country. Perhaps it could be called 'The Sun' or 'The News of The World'....

(I'm not arguing with you though, Nulab and Johnson are complete pricks, and Murdoch clearly has too much influence....)

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Grenade

@Waste of time/money

"What other decisions HAVENT been based on evidence!"

Well seeing as you ask.

Governments both current and previous have shown a great lack of regard for the evidence when the well-informed drunkards littering the bars of Fleet Street have begun a new evidence-based witch-hunt.

Some of the more recently cases of sticking fingers in ears to prevent the voice of common-sense overpowering the visual impression of the (entirely British-owned press) headlines are:

The introductions of ID Cards;

The DNA database;

Alterations to SOCPA designed to prevent Brian Haw from demonstrating;

The search for WMDs in Iraq;

The decision to sink the Belgrano;

The introduction of the Poll Tax.

I stuck those last two in in case anyone reading has such a short memory they can't remember how utterly shit the Thatcher years were for anyone who wasn't a stockbroker wearing one of those fucking stupid pink-striped shirts with a plain collar that make you look like you should be touting for rough trade.

And it's not, indicidentally, going to get better at the next election because choosing between equally toss choices won't improve things: What we need is a better system for maintaining representative democracy.

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IT Angle

Portugal

Alan Johnson should take a long hard look at what happens when you don't follow advice from your advisors, look at Portugal they legalised ALL drugs against advice and now this countrys gone to pot, everyones lost there jobs and are all drug addicts that burn people in there homes for the kicks, there town centres are no go areas where feral yoofs stab you or kick you to death for looking at them funny and there A&E departments are full of people every weekend needing hospital treatment costing billions.

My friend was there recently with a couple of his mates and had done the very British thing of downing 10 pints for breakfast before heading out and came across said feral group of yoofs smoking cannibis, they where so scared to go near them because they all seemed to be smiling so much that they had to go back to there hotel.

Please Mr Johnson keep the message going Weed = Evil, Alcohol = heavanly, as i know which type of feral gang i'd like my Nan to have to endure living down her street when the police are to busy to help.

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@The Silver Fox

Unfortunately, the powers that be wish to have it a third way: a media driven populist decision designed to win the politician concerned political brownie points, with the illusion of scientific veracity. With the current lot, you can probably thrown a sense of moral superiority somewhere into the mix, along with half-truths, spin and scare tactics.

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@Dan 10

"Agreed, but how much of the knee-jerk reaction politics is down to a dumbass population that will believe the media?"

Fair enough but in this case it seems most of the population *don't* believe the media propaganda and are sided with Nutt. Even comments on articles on the Sun website are largely in favour of drug legalisation.

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Happy

@Dan10

"Agreed, but how much of the knee-jerk reaction politics is down to a dumbass population that will believe the media?"

Or how much of it is down to dumbass politicians that believe everything they read in the press?

I don't suppose they could, uh, ask us what we think? We have the technology for online voting - and I'm sure pretty much everyone would take part for the first couple of months at least.

I think they'd be rather surprised how few people pay any attention to what Mr. Haddock's sorry-ass press-monkeys write.

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Unhappy

Sacked or resigned?

I know that I am being pedantic, but I'm sure that the original Radio 4 coverage said that Professor Nutt was "asked to resign". Now I know that there is not much difference, but I wonder what would have happened if he had refused to resign, and actually had to be removed by invocation of some contractual or legislative clause.

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Alert

@ The Silver Fox

"We have the technology for online voting" -- no we don't.

The mechanics of democracy are too important to trust to anything except pure manual methods.

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@Ed Blackshaw

"Unfortunately, the powers that be wish to have it a third way: a media driven populist decision designed to win the politician concerned political brownie points, with the illusion of scientific veracity. With the current lot, you can probably thrown a sense of moral superiority somewhere into the mix, along with half-truths, spin and scare tactics."

I don't think a sense of moral superiority is limited to the current incumbents: The 15 or so years preceding the abomination which is the present administration wasn't that great: I remember a certain lady with a deep voice attempting to sound morally superior while at the same time having ordered a warship outside a certain exclusion zone be torpedoed with great loss of life.

The problem, frankly, isn't any particular administration, it's the administration system which purports to be democratic. The thing is I don't recall being asked if I'd like to have someone represent me in an administrative body set up over 300 years ago by a Puritan wearing a silly hat* and I'd rather not take part in the charade that's currently parades itself around the world as democracy, thanks. Tell an Athenian that what we have is democratic and he'd likely try and punch your lights out for taking his voice away from him.

Of course I don't expect anyone in power to give up that power willingly - and I doubt I'd be any different, frankly - but I am significantly dischuffed with the kind of media-driven populist democracy we currently have.

Give me facts, dammit!

* I'm not saying what he did didn't pave the way for the current situation, but this country has (like permanently recently bereaved relative) got a real problem letting go of the past.

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@A J Stiles

"We have the technology for online voting" -- no we don't.

The mechanics of democracy are too important to trust to anything except pure manual methods.

My, you've been away for a while, haven't you. Since you went away there have been lots of changes; we've invented the motor-car, electricity is now available to almost everyone in the nation, and

Electronic voting started in Belgium in 1991 and has been used in general and municipal elections since that date;

Electronic voting was introduced in Brazil in 1996 and all Brazilian elections since 2000 have been electronic ...

(source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_voting_examples)

I know Wikipedia isn't the greatest source of information but could you at least try to do some basic fact-finding before opining online?

The only thing stopping the British having electronic voting is the British. The technology is there already whether you like it or not.

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@The Silver Fox

"Electronic voting started in Belgium in 1991 and has been used in general and municipal elections since that date"

Actually that's not right. They've only been using it in general and municipal elections since 1999.

See? See what happens when you get on your high horse?

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RW
Boffin

@ The Silver Fox

Quoth he: "a better system for maintaining representative democracy"

From where I sit in my eyrie on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, what I see as fundamentally wrong with the British political system is the centralization of power within the political parties. This is expressed in two primary ways: one, the central committee decides who will stand for election in each riding; and, two, party discipline in Commons is very strong and ruthlessly enforced by the respective whips. There are also issues about who really makes party policy, but the details are too well hidden for certainty.

Now I know that many proponents of reform think a fundamental change to elections is the cure, usually either the STV (single transferrable vote) or proportional representation. It is by no means certain that either of these would cure the serious sickness of the British Parliament and government. They are, to be blunt, unproven pie in the sky. Moreover, neither of them attacks the issue of centralization of political power in the hands of obscure, largely anonymous, evil men in gray suits.

I offer as the first step in the cure the introduction of primary elections modeled explicitly on the American system. This entails, incidentally, opening party membership to all and sundry instead of a small coteries of party faithful. In the States, voters "register" - in effect, choosing which party's primaries they will vote in. The parties have no say in who votes in their primaries. In some states, you don't make your decision until you are in the voting booth. You may be registered as a Republican but vote in the Democratic primary elections, which leads to some interesting complexities. However, I don't think that detail is worth emulating.

Suddenly, the "selection" of candidates is taken out of the hands of the eminences grises and put in the hands of the people. Since MPs would then owe their presence in Commons to the electorate, rather than to an unnamed central committee, they would have considerably more freedom and the power of the whips correspondingly reduced.

Leave everything else alone and in twenty years, review the situation.

The American system is far from ideal: elections seem often to be won by simply spending more money than one's opponent. It may be that expenditures by candidates need to be strictly limited, ditto for any contributions made to political war chests. However, these are refinements that can wait in the wings.

Unless you are a true revolutionary, a one-step-at-a-time reform of the system seems to be more suitable than completely overthrowing it.

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Unhappy

@RW

From where I sit, what you say makes sense to me. I'd also suggest a much greater deal of transparency in the discussions and decisions that are currently made behind closed doors, for our 'benefit'.

However, the problem we have is that the political incumbents have no incentive to make any of the changes you suggest, and they are the only ones who have the power to do so. It is, in fact, a disincentive, as it essentially removes power from them.

The only really effective solution to proivide change is revolution. Unfortuantely, that is far from being a desirable outcome, as the changes that would result from that would most likely not be changes for the better, along with all the bloodshed that a civil war (which would be the likely outcome of any type of coup in this country) inevitably entails.

If I remember my history correctly, the last time we had a civil war in this country, we got rid of the monarchy, and then a while later, decided that actually we were better off with one all along. All it ended up achieving was a number of purposeless deaths.

So, I leave this as an exercise for the reader: How does one work within the system to effect real change that results in less corruption, greater openness and transparancy, and 'liberty and justice for all'? The US system is flawed, our system is flawed. Even the system in Greece (where they invented the word democracy) is far from perfect, although arguably better than ours. Answers on the back of a postcard please, no more than 30 words...

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Anonymous Coward

@RW

"From where I sit in my eyrie on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, what I see as fundamentally wrong with the British political system is the centralization of power within the political parties. This is expressed in two primary ways: one, the central committee decides who will stand for election in each riding; and, two, party discipline in Commons is very strong and ruthlessly enforced by the respective whips. There are also issues about who really makes party policy, but the details are too well hidden for certainty."

Partly, but it's also partly that there is no means for representing a general disgruntlement with the established system. In our system one has to vote for someone - but if you think that the candidates on offer are all self-serving nobodies who represent no-one but themselves what is one to do? Does one choose between some equally appalling alternatives, stand oneself, or just not vote?

Given that voter turnout at the last two elections has been lower than any of the preceding 15 elections I don't think it's stretching credibility too far to say that more and more people are going for the last option (but you'd have to ask each person why).

If you really want to encourage people to express their dissastisfaction with the current system 'Reopen Nominations' would go some way towards allowing people the opportunity to tell our politicians to buck their ideas up. Of course that idea isn't a panacea either - what do you do if 38.6% vote for RON and the largest party majority is 35.19%? Do we have a hung parliament? Do we start the whole process all over again and keep going until we can make our minds up? Do we do something else?

Personally I haven't voted for the past 22 years because I'm not about to say "I permit this greasy twat to live like a Lord" because I believe they're going to do it anyway and I refuse to give any of them a mandate. On top of that I don't want to be represented: I wish, like a grown-up person, to represent myself. If democracy is unable or unwilling to allow me to do this then I don't think it deserves its name.

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FAIL

Johnson accused Nutt of playing politics...

Which is a bit hypocritical when you have a Home Secretary like Johnson who insists on playing at science!

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Grenade

@The Silver Fox

You go ahead and implement your fancy 'lectronic voting technology. We'll have Rick Astley in office so fast it'll make your head spin.

-Anon

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