Nick Palmer is the Labour MP for the constituency of Broxtowe, which is effectively Nottingham West along with the surrounding nearby rural areas. He is 53 years old, has a doctorate in mathematics from Birkbeck College and worked as Internet manager for the Swiss pharmaceuticals group Novartis (previously Ciba-Geigy) before entering politics. I first knew him in the context of Flagship Magazine, which has been covering games played by mail (traditionally all postal mail, these days more electronic than not) for a hundred issues published over about twenty years; he edited most of the first seventy or so until his election to parliament in 1997. He is also the author of two books on board wargaming from the 1970s.
I acted as Sports Editor for Flagship magazine for five years - May 1997 to May 2002, a barely-paid couple-of-hours-a-month position responsible for a regular column which I variably managed to turn in at the very last moment possible. Nick had just about finished with his Flagship duties by this point; certainly I almost always dealt with his successor, the wonderful Carol Mulholland. Nevertheless, I swapped mail with him a couple of times and bumped into him briefly at a couple of games conventions. Maybe I was always just pleased that an intense gaming geek managed to make it to a relatively prominent station in public life, but I've always had a lot of time for Nick.
As well as being a gaming geek, Nick is about as big an Internet geek as you can be while making it as an MP. The Broxtowe Labour Party site is about as close as an MP will get to a personal site, the Widdy Web notwithstanding, with the Nick's Newsletters series of briefings to his (mostly local) audience being about as close as you will come to a MP's real-time open journal. (Memoirs after the event aside, of course.) Nick is a fine writer and does a good job at conveying national issues to a local audience. This is probably not a surprise considering he's Group Secretary of the All Party Internet Group, the crossover discussion forum between new media industries and parliamentarians. These are pretty geeky credentials. On top of that, he's prominent in a few other all-party committees as well. I remember he's prominent in the committee for relations with Denmark because he's about the only MP to speak Danish, having been educated there. He's also chair of the Cuba group, though I know of no particular connection. Other strongly-held stances: pro electoral reform, anti hunting, pro ID cards, anti fireworks.
Of course, he's not perfect. His All Party Internet Group took a bashing over the RIP bill; the worst personal insult I've heard about him - which comes from a well-placed source and which I can believe - is that "he tries to be all things to all men". (Favourite example: section 3, Lords reform: "So my current plan is to vote for 100% elected, 0% elected and options between 51 and 100, and against anything from 1 to 50." It does make sense in context, but it does sound kooky.) His newsletter index is poorly maintained; once newsletters roll off the end of the front page, they're hard to find again. Certainly you can search and the directory index hasn't been hidden, but few newsletters explicitly mention dates. It's particularly interesting to try to observe shifts in position over time.
However, the real reason I bring this all up is that it's been interesting to follow his stances on the Iraq issue. Searching through the archives, we have:
- 2002-09-09, all of: "... I'm one of the MPs who has opposed intervention to change the Iraqi regime, failing a UNO mandate or dramatic new facts." (NB imprecise date from context.)
- 2002, before October, point 1: "...A number of you have expressed either support for or concern about a possible attack by the USA on Iraq to replace the regime of Saddam Hussein. As most of you are aware, I'm opposed to this, and have signed a Commons motion to say so."
- 2002-10-06, point 6: "...I think we should trust the Security Council and indeed our own government to deal with them [some questions re: inspection] seriously until we see the outcome."
- 2002-11-25, point 3: "...I think that only serious violations reported by the Swedish-led inspectors (as opposed to the opinion of the US or anyone else) should lead to consideration of armed conflict."
- 2003-01-02, point 2: "...Either there is good reason to think that Iraq has an active interest in owning and using weapons of mass destruction, with the possible death of millions, or there isn't. If there is, then I think that it is necessary to stop them, and if all other avenues have been explored and it has to take some form of military action and costs some money, then in my opinion that needs to be done."
- 2003-01-22, point 1: "I don't think that, having started the inspector process via the UN we can reasonably either back off completely (option 1) or invade anyway (option 3). But I'd add an important rider: I think the inspectors *must* be given all the time they want to reach a clear conclusion."
- 2003-02-03, point 2: "I think that at this point we should simply continue to press for the inspectors to be given all the time they need, and make up our minds when the final conclusions are reached."
- 2003-02-11, point 2: "...If he [Hans Blix] says he's making some progress but needs more time to see if it's genuine (the most likely, I think), he should get it, and if that's militarily inconvenient, that's too bad."
- 2003-02-17, point 1: "...as Dr Blix has said he's made progress and hopes for more, it seems to me that there is no case whatever for war at this stage, and if it were proposed I would oppose it actively."
- 2003-03-03, point 1: "...I asked the Minister to confirm that war was the last resort and that if Blix reported full cooperation *even at the last moment* we would stop military action. He did."
- 2003-03-11ish, point 5: "...I have more understanding for the US position than some, but I still think they're mistaken to invade now."
- 2003-03-17, all of: "...I've come to the conclusion that, failing some amazing development in the next day or two, I should support military action, for the reasons that I'll set out below."
I think that he's pretty clearly anti-war at the start, but definitely has changed his mood ever since then. My conclusion is that he is in possession of more of the facts on the matter than members of the public are (particularly see the second last) and that he has changed his viewpoint primarily on these facts. If these hidden facts - which may very well be hidden from us for excellent reasons - have been enough to convince him, then they're enough to convince me at least to some extent. Accordingly, I don't feel as comfortable being strongly anti-war as many of you folk do.
Now I do know it's generally less-than-rational to base your opinion of an issue principally on one other person's view, but I hope you can see why I regard his opinion so highly. I think he's a lovable big geek - he's as much one of us as a politican ever can be - and he's in the right place to be well-informed. If I have to pick one person to base my views on, maybe it's the gamer geek in me talking, but it'll be Nick Palmer.
Now this is a position which is predicated on fairly shaky logic; after all, lest we forget, Nick is a career politician evidently with the Prime Minister's ear. Furthermore, Nick has been playing games all his life and knows very much indeed about politics, interpersonal relationships and diplomacy. Maybe his reasons for changing his mind aren't so pure after all; there would be no way to tell. Maybe it turns out to be very convenient for the Labour Party to have someone who has been making his feelings on Iraq known over time to radically change his views over the last couple of weeks just to influence commentators like me. Can't help feeling that that's more a conspiracy theory than anything else, though; he addresses this issue in the third last point of his most recent issue and I think it would be very easy for him to have voted against the government and taken no or very little political flak for doing so.
One other unrelated issue. People still occasionally mention the possibility of a coup in Iraq, either before an invasion or shortly afterwards. I am in two minds about this. Certainly if such a coup takes place and we have reason to withdraw having achieved regime change (relatively?) bloodlessly then it will be a relatively satisfactory conclusion - at least, relative to the other possible conclusions. On the other hand, I hate to think that it was only this extremely real and demonstrated threat of war which was sufficient to bring forth the coup. In some sense, it would be an extremely irritating irony if the tactics of the pro-war campaigners turned out to have been effective despite there not having been a war!
Nevertheless, I wish for peace and am thinking about attending the national demo on Saturday. I hope these viewpoints aren't incompatible to the point of hypocrisy.
OXFORD PEOPLE! - I'll be arriving by coach in Oxford at about 5:10pm on Thursday (this Thursday - a little over 36 hours away as I type). I have two choices: go straight to Abingdon from Oxford, or see nice people in Oxford first before going to Abingdon. Would 5:10-ish on Thursday be a good time to meet? Please indicate your availability now else I shall head directly to Abingdon instead. It would be particularly nice to see Oxford folk who I haven't seen for a long time or who I have never really met (yoo-hoo, truecatachresis, leathellin and others) as well as my friends who I have seen recently.
On another matter, it's interesting to see the "ask me any question" game going around again. However, in this iteration, people (whether deliberately or accidentally) aren't hiding the questions that people have asked. I hope you wouldn't feel that I'd need to say "ask me provocative questions now" if you did want to ask me something at any point. The fact that I haven't put a neat poll box for you to type your questions into won't affect the extent to which I am prepared (or not) to answer difficult or personal questions. On the other hand, it might be useful to get all the Qs and As into one thread for convenience - so let's use this one!