emperor: (Default)
2017-06-29 07:15 pm

Ian Hislop on Immigration

Ian Hislop is doing history on the TV again, this time "Who Should We Let In?" [available on iPlayer until 27 July], where he looks at how our attitude to immigration changed from the Victorian period where our open door policy was a point of national pride.

It's a disturbingly contemporary account, beginning with antisemitism in London's East End. Early on the press realise that lies about foreigners sell papers (the "Yellow Peril" stories about Liverpool resulted in the city council conducting an inquiry that concluded that the Chinese were in fact model citizens), and it is politically expedient to blame the woes of the poor on aliens.

It's not all depressing - the British took in a quarter of a million Belgians during the first world war, and people put them up in their own homes, rather as some people are now doing with refugees from Syria and other parts of the world. But, as the women who is hosting a Syrian refugee points out, we're a very rich nation and we are taking far fewer refugees than far smaller and poorer countries are.
emperor: (Default)
2017-06-08 10:08 am

GE2017 (with predictions)

It's polling day. If you can, do please go and vote (I'm expecting a parcel, and will vote once it's arrived). When the GE was called, I wrote thus on facebook:

So we're going to have a general election as a proxy for a referendum on support for the Conservatives' ultra-hard Brexit strategy. When the main opposition party has not been meaningfully opposing hard Brexit, and I live in a safe Conservative seat (whose MP has not meaningfully opposed hard Brexit, despite saying she opposes hard Brexit).

The result of which is that we'll now be told that the Conservatives have a mandate for their hard Brexit, and there will be no opportunity to try and vote down whatever deal we end up with. And there's nothing I can usefully do to change this outcome - South Cambs isn't going to go non-Tory.

Great. :'(

It's fair to say the campaign hasn't really altered my feelings. I have done some leafletting for the Lib Dems in South Cambs, and I'm hopeful we can at least make the seat look like a winnable marginal for the next GE. I've so far been resisting efforts by the Cambridge LD party to go and help in the campaign there (I may weaken and put an hour or two in after work); it's still frustrating to see so much effort expended on fighting between two anti-Brexit candidates.

It's notable how little Brexit has featured in the campaign, but I guarantee "support for our Brexit plans" (which have still to be described meaningfully) will be one of the things Theresa May says in her victory speech tomorrow, and I'm sure it's going to make getting a vote on the final basically impossible.

I predict that the BBC's exit poll will be very close to the right answer, and that the Torys will get a minority of votes cast but end up with a majority of around 50 (substantially bigger than before, but not a landslide).
emperor: (Phoenix)
2016-09-12 10:28 pm
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Corbyn vs Smith again

Inevitably, I've heard nothing in response to my email to the two teams, despite a gentle poke on twitter. With a week to go before the deadline, I still need to work out who to vote for.

It's a rather unappealing choice; Jeremy Corbyn has made no sign of thinking he needs to work more effectively with the PLP and is now clearly quite happy for us to leave the EU. Owen Smith strikes me as politically thin (in the sense that I'm not sure he has strongly-held political beliefs), I have little confidence that he's as left-wing as he's trying to appear right now, he keeps being a sexist pig, I don't see him strongly opposing blaming immigrants for society's woes.

So, Corbyn who is generally closer to me politically or Smith who is clearly closer to me on what is my currently number 1 issue, the EU?

I think the most pressing issue at the moment politically is trying to ensure we remain in the EU; if we do actually leave it'll be very very hard to un-do. Which I think means I am reluctantly moving towards voting for Owen Smith. I'm definitely still persuadable either way, though, particularly if either candidate says or does something that addresses my concerns.
emperor: (Phoenix)
2016-09-04 06:18 pm

Corbyn vs Smith

I have a vote in the Labour leadership election (as a registered supporter). I'm still not sure who to vote for, so I figured I'd email the candidates to see if they wanted to address my concerns...text of letter ) I'll let you know if I hear anything...
emperor: (Phoenix)
2016-06-22 11:40 am
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Please vote Remain tomorrow

I'm pretty worried about the outcome of the EU Referendum - the polls are really close, and the weather forecast is terrible (which tends to depress turnout, which is likely to help the Leave side). I've taken tomorrow off work to help the local Remain team get the vote out - I don't know how much difference it'll make, but I wanted to try and help. I've never done anything like this before, and am a bit nervous!

If you're eligible to vote (and haven't already done so), do please make sure you know when & where you will vote tomorrow (despite the rain!) - your vote is likely to count much more tomorrow than it does at general elections.

I strongly think that you should vote Remain - I think our future is brighter in the EU, and that we can make a positive difference to the EU (and, via the EU, to the world) by Remaining in the EU. If you're unsure, then vote Remain - we can better attempt to reform the EU from inside the EU, and be reassured that economists are almost universally agreed that we're better off economically inside the EU.

In the EU we can work together to make the world a better place - on the environment, on workers' rights and animal rights, in advancing peace and democracy, and in many other ways. We can enjoy the free movement of people - many of my friends and colleagues are from the EU, and some of my friends work in other parts of the EU. Fundamentally, I think the EU is a good thing; while it needs improving (what doesn't!), the way to improve it is not to turn our back on it.
emperor: (Phoenix)
2016-04-21 10:27 pm
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Victorian attitudes to the poor?

I quite enjoy Ian Hislop's programmes (mostly HIGNFY), although I suspect he probably annoys Proper Historians. Currently (until 6th May), you can see Workeer or Shirkeys? Ian Hislop's Victorian Benefits on iplayer (publicity piece on the programme).

It's about how the Victorians tried to deal with poverty, and how many of the same arguments and behaviours crop up now; there's some unforgiving segues between a Victorian and some Tory MPs. But the arguments we're familiar with now were all there: is poverty the result of individual misbehaviour or a failure of society? can we make sure people in work are better off than those out of work without punishing the latter? Who should suffer in a time of austerity? And can middle-class journalists report on the experiences of the poor without othering them?

Given how IDS was reviled for his policies, the interview with him suggests he really did think he was trying to improve the lot of the less well-off.

Ian Hislop handles a serious issue with a mixture of insight and wit, concluding that you might divide people into workers and shirkers - those who think poverty is something we can and should fix, and those who think it's inevitable and there's nothing we can do about it...
emperor: (Phoenix)
2015-05-08 03:06 pm
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Bother, said Pooh

Well, that was depressing, wasn't it? The opinion polls got things very wrong, and the exit poll (that seemed really unlikely at 10pm) was not far off. So all the early-evening talk about legitimacy and what parties might want what for coalitions was all moot.

Labour didn't lose because of the SNP (even if they'd beaten the SNP in every seat they contested, the Tories would still have a majority); they lost because they didn't make any impact on the Tories in England & Wales. The Libdems have been punished badly for the coalition; their votes have mostly gone to UKIP (!) although they were unable to turn those votes into seats, instead the Labour and Conservatives roughly split the LD casualties.

It's odd to paint this as a vote of confidence in the government (as some people have been doing) - while the Tories have gained, the previous government (Tory & LD) have lost heavily. Sadly, I suspect the SNP bloc will struggle to achieve much of note in the Commons - David Cameron seems more likely to move Right to keep his backbenchers happy rather than try and reach across the House for support.

I wonder if the SNP will consider another independence referendum if they do similarly well at the next Holyrood elections? If the new government pushes through "English votes for English laws" and appears to disenfranchise the SNP bloc even more, that might stir up the independence argument in Scotland. I would be sad to see Scotland go.

The other referendum is going to be on the EU. I'm really worried that we'll vote "out", which I think would be terrible. So I will be hoping to get involved in the pro-EU campaign in some form (I've heard some early noises in this direction already - get in touch if you want to hear about that). I wonder if an independent Scotland would try and retain the UK's EU membership if we voted "out" down South?

I'm also really worried about a lot of the Tories proposals around benefits, immigration, human rights, housing, etc. Hopefully the opposition can work together to try and ameliorate at least some of these. I hope that Labour will decide that they should move Left rather than trying to out-Tory the Tories, but only time will tell...
emperor: (Phoenix)
2015-03-28 03:13 pm
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Who should I vote for?

I saw votematch.org online, and thought it sounded interesting - and the setup looks like it's trying hard to be neutral.

You can see my results page here, but the short version is:

Green 95%
LibDem 74%
Labour 68%
Conservative 28%

[I said there was no chance I'd vote UKIP, so it didn't list them]. The site gets you to prioritise 9 areas, and then asks you 20 questions based on those priorities (i.e. things you say you think are important you get more questions about), where you agree/are neutral/disagree with a question (and can express the strength of that opinion). My questions were:

* There should be a limit on the amount landlords can increase rent each year
Me: agree (Green, Labour), LD neutral, Tory disagree

* The government's top priority should be cutting the budget deficit
Me: disagree (Green), LD/Lab neutral, Tory agree

* Public spending should be maintained at at least current levels
Me: agree (Green), LD neutral, Tory/Lab disagree

* The government should set targets for carbon emission reduction
Me: agree (Tory,Lab,LD,Green)

* The government should allow 'fracking'
Me: disagree (Green), Tory/LD/Lab agree

* The government should raise new taxes to fund the NHS
Me: agree (Green,Lab,LD), Tory disagree

* Private companies should be able to compete for all NHS contracts
Me: disagree (Green,Lab), LD neutral, Tory agree

* University tuition fees should be reduced
Me: neutral, Tory/LD disagree, Green/Lab agree

* All primary school children should get free school meals regardless of household income
Me: agree (LD,Green), Tory/Lab disagree

* The UK is better off in the EU
Me: agree (Green,LD,Lab), Tory neutral

* Rules for benefit claimants should be tougher
Me: disagree (LD,Green), Lab neutral, Tory agree

* The tax rate on personal income above £150k a year should be increased to 50%
Me: agree (Lab,Green), Tory/LD disagree

* The 'bedroom tax' should be scrapped
Me: agree (Lab,Green), Tory/LD disagree

* Winter fuel payments should only be available to pensioners on low incomes
Me: agree (LD), Lab neutral, Tory/Green disagree

* The government should cut UK foreign aid
Me: disagree (Tory,Lab,LD,Green)

* The government should cancel the High Speed 2 rail link
Me: neutral, Green agree, Tory/LD/Lab disagree

* The government should have the power to read anyone's digital communications
Me: disagree (LD,Green,Lab), Tory agree

* No one should be imprisoned for possession of drugs for personal use
Me: agree (Green,LD), Tory/Lab disagree

* Only skilled immigrants should be allowed to move to the UK
Me: disagree (Tory,Lab,LD,Green)

* Immigrants should have to wait at least 2 years before claiming unemployment benefits
Me: disagree (LD,Green), Tory/Lab agree

This is all a bit academic, because I live in a safe Tory seat, but I thought it was interesting to see how much or little I agree with the main parties.

[I wasn't sure whether to post this f'locked or public - if you feel strongly either way, please comment]
emperor: (Phoenix)
2013-07-20 02:47 pm

Meet the Landlords

Meet the Landlords (available on iPlayer until the evening of Thursday 25th) is an interesting but depressing look at the private rental sector. Perhaps inevitably, it gives us stories of things going wrong, from the self-styled "HMO Daddy" with his £26M housing portfolio and army of unhappy tenants to the single mother with cancer who no-one will house (and her local council saying they won't house her until the baliffs have thrown her onto the street), and a couple of people who have rented out their own home to discover that eviction is a time-consuming and stressful business.

I was alerted to it by the housing law blog Nearly Legal, whose take on it is here. What struck me is how desperately we need a decent supply of social housing again. I concur with them, though, that it's worthwhile viewing.
emperor: (Default)
2011-08-09 12:09 pm
Entry tags:


There were rumours of disturbances in Coventry, but thankfully they seem to have been just rumours. Violence in Birmingham is a bit alarming, though. I hope all my friends in London (and elsewhere) are OK!

There's always a danger in commenting on ongoing events, that your comments end up a hostage to fortune. Still, much of what I've seen written so far has been rather unsatisfactory. In particular, it seems to me that whilst just dismissing the rioters as mindless thugs and suggesting the army should be called in is unsatisfactory, it also won't do to tell someone terrified by the violence that this is all about the uprising of a repressed underclass. I don't claim to be able to manage anything much more sophisticated here, but I think we need (regardless of our political persuasion) to resist narratives of these riots that suggest the cause is straightforward to explain[0].

I think it's fair to say that the causes of the rioting include: the shooting by police of Mark Duggan; the recently-exposed corruption in MPs, journalists, and the police; a feeling that the rich (bankers) caused the current economic woe and yet are escaping the hardships that result; a feeling that the government is systematically undermining the support for the poor; the enormous inequality in British society; herd behaviour; the feeling that the police are powerless to stop one looting shops; warm summer evenings; boredom.

If I'm even remotely correct, then we need to be able to both condemn the violence, and consider how some of the proximate causes of it might be addressed. Politicians will want to do what Maggie Thatcher did in the 80s, and dismiss the rioters as "simply criminal" and avoid looking hard at where society might be going wrong. They must rise above the easy rhetoric, but so too must those who would assign political motives to the rioters and ignore the unpleasant criminality that has been seen on the streets recently.

[0] I found myself, while writing this, continually trying to frame a theory of my own. Like many people, I want to make sense of what has happened. I want to talk about gross economic inequality and how we should address that; but I think that's for another post.
emperor: (Default)
2011-05-13 04:42 pm
Entry tags:

Markets, Universities, and Healthcare

One of the things that has concerned me for a while with the thrust of government policy is its faith in the private sector (or, perhaps, its lack of faith in civil servants), and in the power of markets to make everything better. There's an assumption that government departments are large inefficient bureaucracies staffed by indolent jobsworth civil servants who are impossible to fire, whereas the power of the market means that companies can do the same jobs better and for less money. This lead to the privatization and marketization of utilities and the railways, and I think is underlying what looks rather like attempts to move towards markets and privatization in the NHS and university sectors.

One of the problems with markets is that they tend to value easy to measure things over things that are harder to quantify[0]. In healthcare, this seems likely to result in quality of care being sacrificed on the altar of driving down costs. The NHS Confederation agrees: "Economic theory predicts that price competition is likely to lead to declining quality where (as in healthcare) quality is harder to observe than price. Evidence from price competition in the 1990s internal market and in cost constrained markets in the USA confirms this, with falling prices and reduced quality, particularly in harder to observe measures". And, for all that some people in the US make a great deal of money out of healthcare, it's hard to see it as anything other than deeply dysfunctional on the whole. Even many UK doctors are against the proposed reforms, substantially because of their market-based nature[1].

In a similar vein, the government is trying to introduce a market element into higher education via variable tuition fees; there is also talk of encouraging more private input into the university sector, maybe even allowing companies to fund places at university for their chosen students. It seems likely that this is partly motivated by the successes of the big American private universities; but as this LRB article notes, even if you don't care a fig about public good, the US system doesn't deliver cost-effective excellence in Universities.

I appreciate that the boat has rather sailed, but I think it's time we realised that private enterprise may not be the best way to run services in the public interest, and that sometimes things that are hard to measure are more important than cold, hard cash.

[0] There is an ethical question here, too, of whether profit is the best motivation for, well, anything, but I think that's an aside for now
[1] http://www.bmj.com/content/342/bmj.d7.full [probably behind a pay-wall]
emperor: (Default)
2011-04-28 01:22 pm
Entry tags:

AV turnout sweepstake

[livejournal.com profile] antinomy has kindly offered a chocolate prize for the person who best predicts the turnout in the AV referendum next week. Since they can't run polls, I'm conducting the poll instead. The first poll below lets you select the outcome to the nearest 5% (and is viewable by everyone), the second free-entry box is visible only to me, and will be how the winner will be selected.

Voting closes "late" on the 4th of May - i.e. [livejournal.com profile] antinomy will vote as late on the 4th May as they are actually awake, and I will discount any votes received after theirs. There may be a prize if you predict the outcome precisely. In the event of different turnout figures, I shall go with what the BBC report. My decision is final :-)

[Poll #1735403]

[Poll #1735404]
emperor: (Default)
2011-04-15 04:57 pm
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I must confess that both sides' campaign material about the AV referendum have been annoying me. They have tended to exaggerate their claims well beyond what might be considered reasonable, and I've seen a fair amount of why seems to be plain lying (e.g. the No camp's claim that we'll have to spend millions on electronic counting machines, or that no-where uses AV when our own MPs use it to elect leaders).

As a pleasing counterpoint to all this, I'd like to tip my hat to Dr Alan Renwick of the University of Reading. He's produced a nice report in the probable impact of AV, which seems clear and reasonably even-handed. There's a brief article on the BBC or his full briefing paper [PDF]. If you want to be more informed about the pros and cons of AV, then I recommend you read his article.

Personally, I'm more "No to FPTP" than "Yes to AV", but I see it as a step in the right direction, so will be voting for it.
emperor: (Default)
2010-07-07 02:44 pm
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On keeping one's promises

Why is it OK to consider changing the law to allow the government to renege on promises it made to civil servants, when we're not considering doing similar to allow us to renege on, say, PFI deals?
emperor: (Default)
2010-07-07 02:19 pm
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Bishops have been in the news a bit recently. Firstly, it is reported that Jeffrey John is being considered for Southwark. Secondly, Synod is going to debate how women should become bishops, including a last-minute amendment proposed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

Firstly, it's pretty clear to me that if Dr John is the best man for the job, his sexuality should not be a reason to block him from the post. It's not like he's the first gay CofE bishop - the current Bishop of Edmonton is gay, for example. Jeffrey John abides by the church's teaching, and was shoddily treated seven years ago when he nearly became Bishop of Reading. LBGT people still face discrimination and even violence in our society, and so it's important that the church doesn't succumb to homophobia about Dr John again.

Secondly, we are (hopefully soon) going to see female bishops in the CofE. The revision committee has proposed that parishes that don't want a female bishop be able to ask her to get a male bishop to perform episcopal functions (confirmations and the like) for them, and that this process will be enshrined as a statutory code of practice. As Watch point out, this is still discriminatory, although the Archbishops' amendment is even more so. Elsewhere (e.g. in Canada), Anglicans have more straightforwardly just made women bishops; I read a piece by one in the Church Crimes the other week, where she talked about dealing with the anti-women parishes in her diocese - she visits them for services without communion, and has found that it's been a way for relationships to develop. Synod should avoid enshrining discrimination against women into law - surely our example to a society that continues not to treat both genders equally should be that women and men are equal in the sight of God?

What ties both issues together, to me, is the need for the church to stand up and show that discrimination just won't do.
emperor: (Default)
2010-05-06 02:22 pm
Entry tags:

Do you care?

[with apologies to those unable to vote today, and those who have already voted or decided to vote and are fed up of exhortations to do so]

Do you care who runs the country? Vote!
Do you care if we spend billions on nuclear weapons? Vote!
Do you care how we treat people who come to this country to work? Vote!
Do you care whether or not we join the Euro? Vote!
Do you care if we build affordable housing? Vote!
Do you care if we build all over the green belt? Vote!
Do you care if the poor are taken care of? Vote!
Do you care about the equality of women? Vote!
Do you care if we keep burning oil until it all runs out? Vote!
Do you care if we spend millions on renewable energy sources? Vote!
Do you care about free education? Vote!
Do you care about the wars we engage in? Vote!
Do you care about how NHS spending is prioritised? Vote!
Do you care about human rights? Vote!
Do you care about public funding of the arts, museums, and other cultural institutions? Vote!
Do you care about how the internet is regulated? Vote!
Do you care about criminal justice? Vote!
Do you care about electoral reform? Vote!
Do you care about our society? Vote!
Do you care?

Resist the temptation to say "oh, they're all the same", or "I don't agree with any of them", or "my vote doesn't count". The people standing in your constituency are not all the same. You may well disagree with each of them on major issues (I certainly do!); does that really mean you cannot rank them at all? I suspect most constituencies have at least one odious nutjob standing; at least vote against them. If we end up with a hung parliament tonight, then the number of votes cast for each party might actually influence the negotiations that follow...
emperor: (Default)
2009-12-09 04:04 pm
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Church politics in "depressing" shock

I have a certain amount of sympathy with the views expressed in this Grauniad blog entry. When ++Rowan is issuing statements condemning the election of a second homosexual bishop in the USA, but not issuing statements condemning the proposed criminalising of homosexuality in Uganda (including the death penalty for "aggravated" cases), nor the support of that law by Uganda's bishops, then it leaves a very unfortunate image of what the Church's priorities are. Surely protecting the already discriminated-against homosexual minority in Uganda from state oppression is the urgent priority?
emperor: (Default)
2009-11-11 05:21 pm
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I know drugs policy has been in the news a lot recently, and possibly there's a whole other post on scientific advice to government. Nonetheless, I have been of the opinion for a while that prohibition isn't the answer to "the drugs problem", despite having never partaken myself.

This short rant seems to cover quite a bit of the ground pretty well.
emperor: (Default)
2009-08-26 08:42 pm
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Open Government

It seems that the UK screwed up, and so the Video Recordings Act 1984 is currently unenforceable (and will be for 3 months, while we formally notify the EU). The Minister for Culture and Tourism, Barbara Follett MP, wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, telling him this, and advising him to try and suppress this information. Wikileaks has the letter here.

ETA Beeb article
emperor: (Default)
2009-06-22 06:06 pm
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Remember Rule 163

I would like to remind everyone of rule 163 [0]. It exists to protect a vulnerable minority who are regularly subjected to abuse and intimidation by a more powerful group. That intimidation and abuse nearly always goes unpunished unless injury results, and if this minority are killed and a prosecution occurs, the penalties are relatively small. I'm talking about cyclists.

Rule 163 states, amongst other things "give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car", which is sadly not very clear, but is helpfully illustrated:

It is my experience that many many drivers ignore this rule entirely if obeying it would mean the slightest delay to their journey. When you're in a car, please remember rule 163, and give cyclists plenty of room; if you're not driving, encourage the driver to do so, especially if they are a professional driver.

When commuting, I find I often have an unpleasant choice to make - either I cycle in the primary position, in the center of my lane, and get shouted and honked at and overtaken dangerously by some drivers who want to punish me for holding them up, or I cycle in the secondary position (about 1m from the kerb) and get people squeezing past with inches to spare because they are trying to overtake even though there is oncoming traffic and it's not safe to do so. This is quite frankly unacceptable.

On one evening cycle home, one taxi driver passed me twice (I overtook him while he was queuing in traffic). On both occasions, he sounded his horn repeatedly, revved his engine hard, and overtook dangerously close - if he'd misjudged it, or I'd wobbled, he would surely have hit me. I complained to the council's taxi licensing officer who said he'd do nothing unless there was a prosecution. The police/CPS won't prosecute unless a cyclist is injured, so taxi drivers can (and do) behave dangerously around cyclists they don't like without fear of any comeback.

There are a few further points I'd like to raise:

Cycle facilities are often worse than useless. The recommended width of a cycle lane is 2m; almost none that are not also bus lanes are this wide. That means that motorists overtaking at the white line (which many of them do) are passing at much less than the Rule 163 distance. Furthermore, the surface of these on-road cycle lanes is often poorer than the rest of the road, and they fill with debris from the road. I often cycle just outside these sort of lanes for these reasons. Shared-use paths for pedestrians and cycles are dangerous, for both cyclists and pedestrians; indeed there is research showing they are more dangerous to cycle on than the road proper. If you cycle much faster than walking pace, there is a risk of collision with pedestrians who meander across the shared-use path as if it were a pavement, and for all cyclists, there is a risk of collision wherever the path crosses a side-street - it seems that drivers don't expect to meet cyclists at these points, so fail to spot them. Indeed, I'd go as far as to say that many cycle facilities actually make cycling more dangerous, as drivers are more likely to bully cyclists using the road if they see such a facility that the cyclist isn't using.

Accordingly, I'd like to remind drivers that cyclists are not obliged to use these facilities, and you should not shout at those that choose not to. As I say above, often the cyclist is safer on the road. More generally, though don't intimidate cyclists who you feel are delaying you. Cyclists are perfectly entitled to be on the roads, and are a vulnerable group of road users. If you feel a cyclist has made an odd decision about whether to use a cycle facility or not, whether or not to wear a helmet, or whatever, consider that they are entitled to make their own minds up about these things, and have probably given the matter more thought than you have. Shouting "helpful" comments to them is bullying.

Finally, and it shouldn't need saying, driving dangerously to intimidate or punish cyclists is immoral and illegal. Don't do it! I should be able to cycle to and from work free from people threatening to kill or maim me with their vehicles. In an ideal world, there would be effective sanctions against dangerous drivers who collide with cyclists, even if the cyclist is not seriously injured. In practice, this doesn't happen, and even when drivers kill cyclists, they not infrequently escape being charged with any offense.

So yes, remember rule 163, and give cyclists a chance!

ETA This DfT article is quite sensible.

[0] No, this isn't a joke about rules about porn on the internet