Kent refuse to reveal rejected proposals…


County Hall, Maidstone (image c/o John47kent on Flickr)

During a meeting earlier this year, proposals were put before the 73 Conservative members of Kent County Council regarding the future of libraries across the county.  It is alleged that these proposals included the potential closure of a substantial number of libraries across the county.  The Kent Messenger’s political editor, Paul Francis, wrote at the time:


“Precise figures are hard to come by but at least one source has mentioned over 40.”

There are presently over 100 libraries across the county, meaning that the proposals suggested the closure of nearly half of all the libraries in Kent.

Interestingly, not all the councillors were enthusiastic about the proposals:

“Sources say that many county councillors were aghast at the proposals, not least because some of those identified for closure were in Kent’s Conservative heartlands. Others pointed out that they had made various election commitments that local libraries in their areas would be safeguarded.”

Perhaps recognising the strength of many campaigns across the country, one councillor allegedly remarked:

“You can do more or less what you like to any other service and not many will care, but not to libraries.”

Read more at Voices for the Library.


Librarian day/week in the life…

11.30am - time to send another FoI (image c/o ToniVC on Flickr)

I know I have kinda already written a blog post for the Library Day in the Life project, but I thought why not write a post summarising the week as a whole.  Of course, the fact that my original post appeared to have become more of a personal reflection on my school days rather than a useful post about what I do and what I am doing has some bearing on this.  To be honest, I just didn’t think I had done it justice.  So, here I am, about to over-compensate to the max.  One of these days I will strike the balance just right.  Today, however, is possibly not going to be one of those days.

As you will have noticed from my original post, the bulk of my job is spend dealing with spreadsheets.  Most of the time I am either preparing statistical data, or ensuring that our online holdings are accurate.  I also deal with student queries in relation to our online resources and some general queries about their library access.  This past week I have also been covering for a colleague in ensuring that all of our OPACs and self-issue machines are working correctly.  This week happened to be the week were we had a bit of an issue with a number of our OPACs.  Luckily it was easily resolved and there was a very limited impact on our students.

Away from work, a number of other things have been going on this past week.  As part of my ongoing attempt to find new ways to spread the word about Voices for the Library, I have been looking into a new opportunity that I think could be quite exciting.  One of the joys (and challenges it has to be said) about the campaign is the fact that it is run with a zero budget.  This means that we have to be quite creative with how we spread the word (which is why it started life on social networks).  I’m not convinced that we have fully broken out into the ‘offline’ world and I think we’d be the first to admit there is still work to be done there.  However, I think we have made good use of the resources at our disposal and I am still dead chuffed at the amount of followers we have both on Facebook and Twitter despite lacking a marketing budget.

Anyway, whilst chuffed with our progress online, I am not one to rest on my laurels.  One of the other pleasures I get from VftL is that I can just go and try stuff out (within reason of course!).  I’ve always been a great believer in trying things out and taking risks and so I am always keen to take full advantage of this.  My current ‘risk’ involves the use of Foursquare as a tool to promote libraries.  Up until recently I was adamant I would never sign up for this particular social network as I saw limited value in it.  However, I decided to explore it as part of a project on mobile technologies and spotted an opportunity for VftL to have a presence on the network.  I won’t say too much about it at the moment as I am not sure it will come off in quite the way I hope, but if it does I will be sure to blog about it!

Regular readers will also be aware that I am currently studying a distance Masters at Aberystwyth University in Information and Library Studies.  I am currently in the process of conducting research for my dissertation, due in April 2012.  I have been getting rather panicky about it of late – worrying I wouldn’t get it finished in time.  My progress was not helped by recently moving house and being without internet for two weeks [insert ‘sad face’ emoticon here].  However, this week I scheduled a phone call with my dissertation tutor and, I have to say, having had a chat with them I feel much better about where I am and where I need to be.  In fact, it is fair to say I was buzzing when I put the phone down.  I finally feel like I can see a way forward and get cracking on the next stage.  Whilst I think I need to keep ‘on my toes’, I feel far more confident about completing before the deadline and (finally) getting that Masters.  Phew!

I prefer the metaphorical kind myself. (image c/o Wessex Archaeology on Flickr)

Finally, I have been involved in a bit of digging the past couple of days.  It recently emerged that Wakefield council intends on closing half the libraries in the district.  Annoyed at the councillor’s claim that:

“…since 1992 more than four out of every 10 library users have stopped going into libraries.”

I decided to write to the councillor to ask if he can explain how this figure was arrived at.  I am still waiting for a response.  Not content with questioning the councillor, I also entered a host of Freedom of Information requests to get a little more information about what has been going on in Wakefield.  I am hopeful that I will receive suitable answers to all thirteen (yes, thirteen) questions within the three week time limit.  If anything interesting turns up, you’ll be sure to find out about it.

I have also sent off a series of questions to Dorset County Council who are also considering closures.  After a recent council meeting, councillors narrowly agreed to withdraw funding on nine libraries across West Dorset.  It is good to note, however, that not all councillors take such a relaxed attitude to library closures (you’d think so sometimes when trawling around for the latest library news).  Cllr Ronald Coatsworth deserves a great deal of respect after expressing his outrage:

“We have heard of lies, damn lies and statistics and it seemed to me that here was another case of distorted figures being used as a justification for a particular course of action which had been pre-determined.
“They are discriminatory, treating different groups in different ways and have no place in the Dorset I represent.”

More councillors like this please.

Another bit of digging, this time a bit closer to home, turned up a blank but was referred to by the political editor for the local media group, Paul Francis, on his blog.  A while back it emerged that shocking proposals were put before a recent Conservative group meeting that (it is suggested) included the closure of forty libraries.  No further details emerged so I decided to enter a Freedom of Information request to see what could be uncovered.  Unfortunately my request was rejected (for reasons outlined on Paul’s blog) but not entirely convincingly.  I fully intend on appealing this rejection and hope I will be as success as I was in overturning the DCMS’s rejection of an earlier FoI request.  We will see.

So that was pretty much my week.  I had hoped (believe it or not) to have more things to share from the week, but maybe those things will happen at a later date.

This week was mainly fuelled by If Not Now, When? and, of course, this.

Injunctions and the restriction of information

Injunctions - unfairly restricting the flow of information?

There has obviously been a lot of chatter in the past few days in the light of the recent revelations regarding a certain well-known personality (I’m not going to name names given that the injunction is still in place).  Unfortunately, due to the nature of the injunction that is in place, the main focus of the discussion has been the kind of prurient revelations that are manna from heaven for the tabloid press.  Their rabid attempts to reveal the name of the individual involved have caused many to question any attempt to break an injunction.  However, not all injunctions are in place to protect celebrities from the tabloid press.

Previous to the recent revelations, John Hemming MP had revealed to the House of Commons a case that was particularly disturbing.  From The Telegraph:

Politicians criticised the injunctions as an “affront to democracy” after John Hemming, a Liberal Democrat MP, disclosed details of one on the floor of the Commons last week.

The hyper-injunction goes a step further. Mr Hemming told the Commons that the order, which was obtained at the High Court in 2006, prevents an individual from saying that paint used in water tanks on passenger ships could break down and release potentially toxic chemicals.

It specifically bars the person from discussing the case with “members of Parliament, journalists and lawyers”, along with the US coastguard and any ship owners, and also forbids any speculation linking chemicals in the paint with the illness of any individuals.

It says: “The defendant must not communicate to the third parties any speculation that the illness of any individual (including without limitation the collapse of H) was, has been or will be brought out by the chemical composition or the chemicals present in the coating of the potable water tanks.”

This is a particularly disturbing case.  To prevent an individual from even discussing a case with his MP is a gross violation of their democratic rights.  The ability of a corporation to restrict this information is also deeply troubling.  I am not going to pass judgement on the nature of the allegations (obviously), but the individual concerned should at least have the right to discuss the action that has been taken against them with their MP.  One wonders how many other such injunctions have been issued.

It is a shame that one sexual scandal has overshadowed the issue of injunctions.  Their use isn’t always restricted to personal matters between two individuals, they’re also utilised to stop the public gaining access to information which is very much in their interest (a case of public interest rather than in the interest of the public).  As someone working in the information field, any restriction on the flow of information is troubling and the aforementioned case especially so.  Of course, the woolly legislation around injunctions and privacy needs to be resolved by the judiciary and politicians as soon as possible.  And resolved in the best interests of the general public, not the media or wealthy individuals who can afford to take out such injunctions.

It is a shame that it was the tabloid baiting injunction that was revealed to the public, but it is entirely understandable why.  I don’t know if it was foremost in Hemming’s mind (I think events involving the attempts to gag Twitter users and imprison a journalist were possibly uppermost) but you can be assured that if the individual referred to in the Telegraph’s piece was revealed, there would barely be a murmur in the media.  It is a rather sad indictment of our celebrity obsessed culture that the only way to ensure publicity of such injunctions was to refer to the case of a renowned sportsman rather than that of a potential public health issue.

Whatever the motive and whatever the reasoning, the flow of information that is genuinely in the public interest should be protected at all costs.   This is the issue that should be central to the debate, not the private lives of so-called ‘celebrities’.

KPMG – The driving force behind library closures?

Last June, a report by the accountancy firm KPMG was published on public sector reform.  That report caused uproar amongst librarians and library staff across the country as it claimed that:

“…giving councils total freedom on libraries could mean that they create huge social value from engaging a community in running its own library, backed up with some modern technology, whilst also saving large amounts of money on over-skilled paid staff, poor use of space and unnecessary stock”.

Since then, perhaps unsurprisingly, talk has grown of so-called ‘community libraries’ or ‘unfunded libraries’ if you prefer.  It is fairly clear that the report has been wholeheartedly embraced by the current government.  In fact, it is hard to see the difference between the policies being adopted in authorities across the country and the paragraph above from their report.  It is certainly not difficult to imagine that central government is advising local authorities to take heed of this report and implement its recommendations. Particularly given the links between this government and KPMG.

A report back in July 2009 in The Independent claimed that:

KPMG, which also holds many public sector contracts, gave the [Conservatives] donations-in-kind worth more than £100,000 since the start of last year. A single KPMG consultant working in the Department for Children, Schools and Families costs the taxpayer £1.35m over three years, a parliamentary inquiry found. The company said it donated to all three main parties and had done so for many years. However, its gifts to the Tories were up in value from £17,200 in 2007 to £74,500 last year.

Furthermore, The Times reported that:

The Conservatives have received hundreds of thousands of pounds of free accounting advice as they prepare for government, raising accusations that they are too close to contacts in the City of London.

Britain’s biggest consultancy firms — which include PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and KPMG — have seconded some of their staff to Tory MPs as the Conservatives attempt to work out how to cut Britain’s £178 billion budget deficit and decide on a new tax framework.

They certainly appear to be quite close (although it is worth pointing out that KPMG had close ties with the previous government too).  Indeed a recent meeting at the Houses of Parliament suggest that KPMG’s recommendations are being taken very  seriously by this government.

On January 25th this year, a round-table discussion was held in a private room hosted by Ed Vaizey. The discussion (entitled “Libraries and the Big Society”) had the following items on the agenda:

  • Models for community libraries
  • Volunteering
  • Asset transfer
  • Philanthropy
  • Libraries role in empowering communities
  • Alternative suppliers for delivery including Mutuals and Outsourcing
  • Future Libraries Programme

You can actually read the full agenda here.  I recently submitted a Freedom of Information request for the minutes for this meeting which was rejected by the DCMS.  They weighed up the pros and cons as follows:

Public interest considerations in favour of disclosure

  • Public Libraries have potential impact on everyone and the greater the public interest may be in the decision-making process being transparent
  • Greater transparency makes government more accountable to the electorate and increases trust
  • As knowledge of the way government works increases, the public contribution to the policy making process could become more effective and broadly-based, particularly in this area where communities are being encourage to be involved in local services such as this
  • The public interest in being able to assess the quality of advice being given to ministers and subsequent decision making

Public interest considerations in favour of non-disclosure

  • The withheld information relates to the future guidance relating to libraries, which is not yet complete and subject to change.  Releasing may misinform public debate because we have not finalized our proposals.  The evolving nature of the information means that incorrect conclusions may be drawn, and undermine the policy formulation process. 
  • Ministers and officials need to be able to conduct rigorous and candid risk assessments of their policies, including considerations of the pros and cons without there being premature disclosure, particularly regarding contentious issues, which might close off better options
  • Good government depends on good decision making and this needs to be based on the best advice available and a full consideration of all the options without fear of premature disclosure
  • The impartiality of the civil service might be undermined if advice was routinely made public as there is a risk that officials could come under political pressure not to challenge ideas in the formulation of policy, thus leading to poorer decision-making
  • Advice should be broad based and there may be a deterrent effect on external experts or stakeholders who might be reluctant to provide advice because it might be disclosed
  • There needs to be a free space in which it is possible to ‘think the unthinkable’ and use imagination, without the fear that policy proposals will be held up to ridicule
  • Disclosure of interdepartmental consideration and communications between ministers may undermine the collective responsibility of the government.  Unless these considerations are protected there is likely to be a negative effect on the conduct of good government. If the public interests outlined above cannot be protected, there is a risk that decision making will become poorer and will be recorded inadequately.

Quite why public interest doesn’t trump the concerns of the DCMS in this case I am not really sure.  I shall, of course, be appealing this decision.

It seems fairly evident where this policy of unfunded libraries originates.  Whilst the government refuse to step in when local authorities engage in disproportionate cuts (unless it is in the Prime Minister’s backyard of course), it is also seemingly advising councils to make libraries a central part of the “Big Society” experiment.  This certainly seems to be reinforced by the appointment of Paul Kirby as No. 10’s new head of policy development.  According to The Guardian:

Kirby, who was appointed by Cameron on Friday, is one of the main minds behind a public service reform white paper due in the next fortnight, which the prime minister has hailed as the biggest revolution in the public sector since the 1940s.

He claims it will end a “state monopoly” of public sector services by opening contracts to outside providers.

Kirby set out his blueprint for reform in Payment for success, a paper written last year while he was at professional services company KPMG. He claims an aggressive programme of liberalisation is necessary and shares Cameron’s view that payment by results should be introduced right across the public sector “even if there is likely to be a bleeding edge in getting it right”.

Kirby proposes “the boundaries between public, private and third sector provision should melt away” and suggests “this empowerment agenda will have to be forced on to public sector organisations in the early stages to break the tendency to structural inertia”.

With one of the masterminds behind the ill-thought through KPMG report now directing policy development, it seems obvious that not only will the government not step in to halt authorities disproportionately cutting libraries, they will most likely be encouraging it and, even more worryingly, quite possibly seeking to overturn the Public Libraries Act.  They should know that librarians, library staff and library users will not allow this to happen without a fight.

Wikileaks – information should be free

Despite attempts to halt the leaks, they still keep coming....(flickr image: Brother O

As someone who is working in the information business, I have been fascinated by the leaks coming out from Wikileaks over the past few weeks. Fascinated as much by the reaction to the leaks as the leaks themselves. The reaction from politicians and commentators in the United States has been particularly….er…..disturbing. Calls for assassinations and equating Julian Assange with Osama Bin Laden are just some of the examples of blatant hyperbole that have dominated the airwaves since this series of leaks commenced. However, the leaks still come and day by day we are hearing new revelations in regard to foreign policy and international diplomacy. Yes, some of this may be tittle-tattle, but some of the information that is being leaked is noteworthy. Certainly they help to provide a bit of context to some of the events of recent years. But what about the future for information delivery in the light of these attacks on Wikileaks?

I guess before I go any further, I should disclose that I share Assange’s philosophy that the unlimited provision of free information can make the world a better place. Rational decisions can only be made when one has access to all the relevant information. One cannot, as an individual, make reasoned decisions without information. As I’ve noted before, one cannot expect people to make rational choices about the food they eat without being provided with information about it (or even the tools to interpret it).

What is more, the Internet is perhaps the greatest tool at our disposal to ensure the spread of information. Unfortunately, in the past couple of years there have been moves to restrict the flow of information on the Internet. Newspapers are steadily hiding things behind paywalls. Big name companies are placing restrictions on what content can be kept on their servers (see Amazon pulling the plug on Wikileaks). Large multi-national corporations have spent millions lobbying against net neutrality, effectively supporting a two tier information network. What we are seeing is the steady erosion of the liberty principle behind the Internet by corporations and governments, leading to a system where some have access to information and some do not, with money being the main dividing line.

As if the slow establishmentarianism and commercialisation of the Internet wasn’t bad enough, the only institution that can level the playing field (libraries) are being slowly taken apart (maybe not so slowly in some cases).  For libraries can subscribe to content to ensure that people can access materials without having to negotiate pay walls.  Why bother paying to subscribe to The Times online, when you can access it for free at the library?  In a way, the increased commercialisation should be a good thing for libraries.  After all, if libraries can purchase access on behalf of their users it could theoretically encourage people back into libraries.  However, it may be that this is seen as too much of a threat to the commercial world.  Whilst there is a free access model, they cannot make the profits that they would hope for.  And the free access model is certainly under threat – see the increased attacks on the BBC as media outlets start to put their content behind paywalls.  As long as the BBC puts out free news content, few people will pay for news content online.   Take the BBC out of the equation and bingo…users will be forced to pay for news content.

The internet is in very grave danger of moving towards a state where there is a large amount of content that people are simply not able to access.  As the commercial sector and the government tighten their grip on this resource, there is a very real danger of the digital divide becoming virtually impossible to close.  Certainly, without libraries to help provide access to content that is otherwise behind paywalls, there are a great many people who will never be able to access the kind of information that most of us will take for granted.  It would seem that not only is education being re-branded as a privilege, access to information may well be about to go through a similar re-branding process.  Governments and corporations both have much to gain from just such a re-branding exercise.  Control for the former and profit for the latter.

For more thoughts on this, I’d heartily recommend The Commercialisation of the Internet and the Erosion of Free Speech.  It’s a very interesting read and highlights some of the dangers ahead for free information on the Internet.

Cruising for a bruising…….

Voices made it into The Observer last week. Pling!

Well, it has been quite a hectic few days.  First of all, The Guardian‘s local Leeds edition published an article (thanks to @walkyouhome‘s press release) referring back to a recent statement on Leeds’ libraries that I had been doing some work on for Voices for the Library.  This statement came about after sending in a Freedom of Information request to Leeds city council requesting library usage statistics for the past five years (including visits, issues and computer bookings).  What I was interested in was trends in usage and where exactly these libraries were situated.  Trends because I wondered if although some libraries had poor usage, were they seeing an increase (perhaps due to the economic situation).  It turns out that in many of the performance indicators mentioned above, they were seeing increased usage.  Ten libraries in particular saw growth in library visits.  Some of these libraries were also in areas of high unemployment (@ggnewed dug those out).  It was quite interesting to see, particularly as these libraries are also in an area of the country that has some of the lowest Internet connectivity in the country.  Anyway, you can read more about it on the Voices website.

Then came Catherine Bennett’s excellent article in The Guardian about the destruction of libraries and how this reflects on a civilised society.  This story was all the more fantastic for having mentioned Voices for the Library (thanks to @walkyouhome and @jo_bo_anderson).  Of course the comments below were filled with their normal garbage (“you can find anything you need on the Internet” type rubbish).  And coming on the back of the article referred to below, it was clear that there is still a battle to be waged.  Which is where my title comes in……..

One thing that seems fairly obvious to me, from all of these articles, is that librarians and library staff need to fight.  They need to fight as if their lives depend on it (certainly, in mnay cases, their jobs do).  When articles are published that challenge our line of work and its value to society, they should be challenged on it.  They should be engaged with, debated with and persuaded to see the other side of the debate.  It’s no good now to just stand on the sidelines and grumble about some ill-informed comments that are being made about a subject that we are all experts in.  And it really isn’t hard to disprove some of the myths that are out there.  A quick look at the article referred to in my previous post will show you quite how flawed these arguments are.  These are not arguments based on facts, they are based on beliefs, beliefs that are highly individualistic (in the worst possible way) and not reflective of the needs of society as a whole.  We understand these needs, they do not.  We need to remind them at every opportunity what we do, from ebooks to children’s services and from local studies to supporting the public in accessing the Internet.  We need to remind them that library usage is growing.  We need to remind them that although they have an Internet connection, 9 million people do not.  On blogs and other forums these 9 million people do not have a voice.  We should be their voice.

Of course this is not easy.  One has to develop a thick skin when facing the onslaught that comes with the territory.  But who cares about being insulted by a stranger?  We should be prepared to defend our users and our service in the face of petty name calling.  And what is the alternative?  Sitting on the sidelines watching the debate run away from us?  Watching helplessly as the ill-informed assault an institution that benefits everyone in society?  These are not options.  That is the road to ruin.  And at this point I would just like to point out that yes, I am aware that I am starting to sound like Russell Crowe in Gladiator.  Sorry about that.

For this to work however, it needs everyone in the profession to get involved and be prepared to argue and debate.  Strength in numbers can make a very real difference.  This means academic librarians, public librarians, school librarians, systems officers, shambrarians, whatever name you like to give yourself, everyone needs to stand up and challenge these outdated notions of what a library is.  For me, this is part of how we can win back the narrative.  Sure we can get our articles published and make use of as many forums as possible, we can only truly be successful, however, if we challenge the beliefs that are unfortunately so prevalent.  So my message? Get a thick skin, get arguing and, if need be, go cruising for a bruising.  You never know, you might find you are one of those strange people who get a kick out of it………What do you say?

Free choice without free information?

Can we make rational choices without information?

I try to avoid writing about political events on this blog as this is not really a forum for my personal political views but a blog about my observations about libraries and information in general (as well as a reflection on my studies).  However, as time goes by I guess this is going to be increasingly difficult.  As the cuts start to bite and local authorities close libraries based on spurious financial grounds, it will be increasingly difficult to avoid the topic without sounding partisan.  I’ll try, but I’m not promising anything!

Anyway, one story in the news got me thinking about information in a more general way.  Yesterday, The Guardian reported that fast food companies are being asked to ‘help write UK health policy’.  The report goes on to say:

The Department of Health is putting the fast food companies McDonald’s and KFC and processed food and drink manufacturers such as PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, Unilever, Mars and Diageo at the heart of writing government policy on obesity, alcohol and diet-related disease, the Guardian has learned.

In an overhaul of public health, said by campaign groups to be the equivalent of handing smoking policy over to the tobacco industry, health secretary Andrew Lansley has set up five “responsibility deal” networks with business, co-chaired by ministers, to come up with policies. Some of these are expected to be used in the public health white paper due in the next month.

One of the likely casualties of this (frankly bizarre) decision is traffic light labelling on food packaging.  Whilst some manufacturers have employed the system, many are opposed to such labelling (for obvious reasons, it may rather hurt their sales of processed foods).  It was recently reported that the food industry spent 1 billion euros lobbying the EU against mandatory labelling of this type.  Unsurprisingly (and somewhat depressingly), they won.

The argument is often made that this is about avoiding ‘top-down lectures’ and allowing people to decide for themselves about the food they eat without being subject to state ‘nannying’ (even children).  However, how can people make free choices without free information?  It has often puzzled me that the argument is often made that people are free to make their choices and that the state shouldn’t interfere with their fundamental right to do so.  In many ways, this is laudable.  But without providing the public with the information they need, how can we expect them to make rational choices?  Particularly when the void is filled with misleading advertisements by the food industry.

For me, I think there is a worrying trend emerging recently.  Whilst Murdoch’s paywall hasn’t exactly been a resounding success, with less than 105,000 readers actually subscribing there will be many in the newspaper industry hoping that this does come off.  And what then for those that cannot afford to subscribe to any of the newspaper content protected by paywalls?  Suddenly they will find their information sources radically reduced.  As I have written before, there can be serious consequences for a democracy when its people are unable to access information freely.

Add into this the fact that libraries all over the country are being ear-marked for closure, and there is a real problem over the horizon.  Contrary to popular belief, not everyone has access to a computer, let alone an internet connection.  Statistics released earlier this year revealed that 9.2 million people had never used the internet and 27% of households had no Internet connection at al.  These are not insignificant numbers.  There is a very real digital divide at play here, one that the politicians are not only failing to address, but are also seemingly entrenching (if not actually widening).  Commentators and politicians need to stop pretending that everyone has access to an Internet connection, or indeed have the required level of digital literacy – let’s not forget that around 56% of the population of the UK have literacy levels below a good GCSE pass.

It seems ironic that although we live in the age of the Freedom of Information Act, we seem to be regressing in the amount of information that is in the public domain.  With information increasingly seen as a commodity that has a price, we are gradually seeing information put out of reach of the average citizen.  That this recent drive to put a price on all sources of information, whether they be digital or physical, comes at a time of questioning the relevance of libraries is a worrying and disturbing trend.  Once information about our democracy is hidden away behind paywalls, requiring costly equipment with which to access it, what then for those that cannot afford to access it?  And what then for a society with an increasingly poorly informed electorate?  I’m not sure what the future holds in terms of information as a commodity, but I am sure it is not particularly ‘fair’.