Category Archives: Referendum

Is Anyone Out There Listening?


I do not wish to be parochial or small-minded. But the world, at least my world, is behaving in a most peculiar manner. Take Brexit,  or don’t take it, from my point of view, very large numbers of British people admitted that they might be  worse off if there was a  Brexit – but they voted Leave anyway. ‘What do people like us have to lose ‘ they said. Quite a lot actually: your job, higher shop prices, a collapse in annuity values and cancelling the annual holiday to the Costa Brava or some such place. Such warnings were greeted with a shrug. ‘So what’ and ‘they could hardly get worse’. Are you real don’t these things matter any more?

And take Corbyn – I wish you would -and the Labour leadership contest. Owen Smith has made himself as close to an identikit candidate as he could (excepting devising a way to stay in the EU and renewing Trident, that I admit from my point of view are extremely important). He is well educated, presentable. well-informed, has management experience and  the confidence of the Parliamentary Party .Shouldn’t we Labourites  give him a majority? The reply:’I agree he is very presentable and would make a good Prime Minister.but I intend to stay with Jeremy.’ Why doesn’t he agree with me?

Look at the Corbyn closely, listen to his speech, imagine him representing Britain at an international conference (no placards allowed) or mastering a complex document at No 10?You can imagine him doing these things??? Congratulations for it is quite an achievement.

‘Don’t worry. It will never happen.’ I hear you say. Are you really content with a Conservative Government as far as the eye can see. ‘What will be, will be.’ I hear you say.’I doubt if it will make much difference.’

Wake up, wake up, wake up!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ed Milliband: Schoolboy Politics


Labour supporters will be non-plussed by the performance of its leader. Any objective appraisal will come to some daunting conclusions. There are several policy and leadership issues where he has been found sadly wanting.

1. Libya. Labour’s policy support for the Libyan adventure is driven by emotion: the ‘we can’t stand aside while thousands are slaughtered’  argument. Maybe there would have been many deaths in Benghazi and maybe not. We shall never know. One thing is certain: by supporting the weaker side in a civil war  the conflict has been drawn out and will lead to many more deaths than not intervening. But the bigger objection is that Labour is buying into an Anglo-French strategy to use NATO to extend their influence in Africa and the Middle East. This is essentially a neo-colonial strategy that will lead to other interventions and a complex of economic and financial sanctions that will be injurious to everyone involved. The alternative is to patiently relate to the various situations as a friend and to allow the various civilian revolutions to work themselves out. The Anglo-French ambitions will divide NATO and lead to splits betwee northern and ‘Mediterranean’ states. The Libyan mis-adventure will work out badly for Britain and not to Labour’s advantage.

2. The AV Referendum and Constitutional  Changes. The electorate have rarely had any appetite for electoral and constitutional reform. Of course, the electorate distrust their MPs and Parliament itself. This is a healthy distrust and people have no wish to be deprived of it. Here Milliband had a judgement call. He got it wrong and labelled himself a loser. In practice he would have had no difficulty in finding a good reason not to seek to commit Labour to the preservation of Nick Clegg. And now Labour must be ruthless and sink Clegg’s constitutional proposals in the Lords. The time ‘to do’ constitutional reform is when you control the agenda.

3. Scotland

Labour got the issues badly wrong. Scots electors turned to the SNP as the best option to protect them from Coalition cuts. They were right in their judgement. This time the issue was not the menace of self rule as Labour supposed but which party can best be trusted most at this time to defend their interests. As with England, Labour has no convincing alternative narrative.

4 The NHS Reform Bill

Labour is getting this wrong. Today they should divide the House to defeat the NHS Bill. I believe that Cameron is willing to ditch the Bill in order to maintain the Coalition. There is no need for a Bill. The worthwhile reforms can be accomplished without one. If it is ditched the Lib Dems will be given the credit for it. Again this is a judgement call. Can Ed Milliband deliver on the NHS? I doubt it now.

5 And lastly a more basic point. Where is the evidence that Labour is working as a team and is the ‘team’ up to it. Precious ittle and ‘No’ are my answers and more to the ppint it may be the judgement of the country as a whole.

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Magic Numbers


I have news for you. Somewhere in the murky world of government there lives and plots a numerologist. Yes, a practitioner in the black arts of the occult world of numbers in our very midst. I kid you not, I was put on the trail of this mysterious and unnamed person by a Member of the House of Lords. As you may know, the House is in the midst of a giant fillibuster in a vain attempt to stop the gerrymandering of our electoral system. This Lord – blessed be his name – pointed out the Government’s seeming obsession with prime numbers. Think of it. Why does the Government persist in the notion that the House of Commons limit itself to 600 members, far from the dizzy heights of the past, and flying in the face of a growing population all queuing for the time and attention of their local MP? And why 600? Would not 591 or 617 do as well? Why 5 year and not four year Parliaments? And what number shall we set for the membership of the House of Lords? Not, 861 surely not. Or 913? How about 900? The advantage of 600 and 900 is that they are both divisible by 5. I think there is something sinister, from the occult point of view, in suggestions to the Electoral Commissiion (sorry commands) that each constituency should represent, give or take, 75,000 electors. There used to be a time when the Commission was charged with taking all sorts of things into account : local communities, traditional links the feelings and aspirations of local electors. There is to be no more of this kind of thing. No the numerologist is to have the last  and final word.

I do not think this numerologist, whoever he or she is, has been elected. Speaking for myself I resent his/her influence. Here I must take some account of the counter attack. We shall be told that we all practice the black arts. What about lucky numbers? How do we choose our lottery numbers? How many of us refuse to go out on the 13th of any month falling on a Friday? You see what I mean. Gotcha.

Something serious is happening in the House of Lords. Proceedural laxity encourages independence of mind. Could it be that it is the Lords who are speaking for the people of Britain? I do not expect the Coalition will last long. While it has a majority in the Coomons and members are in thrall to the Whips , the Constitution can be fixed to preserve the will of two political parties. When the Coalition is gone we shall be stuck with a Constitution that is unfit for purpose. So much for a thousand years of Parliament.

There is a solution to the awful Constitutional mess that is being composited for us. The Labour Parliamentary party must appoint a numerologist of its own from the white-wing of the occult. Every black number must be fought by a white number. If it is said that there are three prime numbers in a Government proposal Labour must come up with an alternative which has five. In this way all these daft proposals can be beaten off and the Constitution preserved. If I had the right mathematical qualifications I would volunteer. But you might have them. Volunteer, please, without delay. Your country needs YOU!

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Let’s Play Consequences


The electorate is a sceptical lot. So far that has worked in favour of the Coalition. After all it has to be accepted by reasonable people that the budget deficit must be lowered as rapidly as possible and if the OBR tells us that there will be more people in employment  by the end of 2011 then who will gainsay them. Opposition doomsayers predicting a 1930’s style depression  for some years can be safely shrugged aside. ‘They would say that wouldn’t they’ being  a common reaction. However, today’s increase in the  unemployment figures may make a difference to all that. Whichever way you look at it these are grim figures. So far the Coalition has benefited from the Labour fiscal stimulus and the first economic upturns in world trade. But as the blessed Gordon has told us there has been no follow through internationally to a viable global economic growth stategy. The moment has been lost and the monetarists have had their day. Goodness! Might Gordon (blessed be his name)  have been right all along? 

So far the Tories have been continued to ride high in the opinion polls at around 40 percent , marginally higher than in the General Election  while the Lib Dems have incurred the  public wrath with 60 percent of their vote disappearing. As the recession grips this will change , although given the nature of Tory  support among the affluent it is likely that support will  remain in the 30’s. The Tory position relies on  self-engendered high levels of confidence and David Cameron’s exuberant leadership. It can be expected that he will lash himself to the mast as the storms break upon the ship of state but not all the crew will remain. Some will cower below deck while others will wash overboard. The storm reaches an early climax in May with local and assembly elections and the AV referendum.

It is not all cheer for Ed Milliband. He has sought to play a long game and to plead unpreparedness for an early tilt at power. Might it not be desirable to build an acceptable platform much earlier than he has supposed? Come on Ed, get on with it. I have always believed that there should be good odds for an early General Election, say June 2011. I notice that the smart money has shifted  to it with the odds shortening  from 20/1 to 4/1. There is still time for you to put your money on. 

And a word to the besieged Lib Dems. Jump now while you have the opportunity to do so. Labour could do a deal not to oppose Lib Dem MPs linking  loosely with Labour at least in those seats in the south where the Libs may still have a chance. After all if the ship is sinking who could blame you for wishing to save yourselves.

You might think that I am in advance of my self and you would be right. But judgement is crucial in politics as in life itself. For God’s sake jump, your country needs you.

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Milliband Pragmatism


I believe that the first duty of Her Majesty’s Opposition in Parliament is to oppose. But is it right to oppose measures some of which you approve in order to get the other lot out? Lenin would have had no difficulty. His objective was the overthrow capitalism and its replacement  with a socialism. To hell with sensible social democratic reforms and shoot the bankers. You know the kind of thing. Long live the Revolution. What approach will Labour under Ed Milliband do?

Ed has already given us clues. The Coalition has come up with a Constitutional Bill , one of whose objectives is to cement Coalition rule for five years and to make it more difficult for the Coalition parties to win next time by changing the electoral system and gerrymandering the constituencies. In his Conference speech Ed told us that he is in favour of electoral reform and   will support AV in the proposed Referendum. How about changes to the Benefit System? Ed says he will support sensible changes to reform Benefit Entitlement  and so get more people into work. But would he support these changes if accompanied by an end to universal benefits, to Child Allowances, and the Winter Fuel Allowance, for example, to enable expensive reform to go ahead? Can you have one without the other? Ed is watching the progress of the Hutton enquiry into pay differentials, and no doubt talking to him (Why not? They must know each other well.) If Hutton comes up with sensible proposals, we might infer that they would have Labour support. 

These examples show that Ed is not RED in any meaningful sense. He is in that that tepid category of social reformers, of which I am one, who is prepared to support policies which realise social democratic aspirations. And he is a pragmatic with it.

Labour support for sound social democratic polices is to be welcomed as a contribution to good governance. What else could we desire? Might it not encourage alliance building acroos the floor of the House? Might it become more difficult for the Far Right to move the Coalition in reactionary directions and moderate the worst of the cuts? Might it in some circumstances encourage Lib Dems to vote against socially divisive policies that they abhor? Might cross party voting become the norm in this Parliament? Can some Lib Dems join with Labour and vote out damaging cuts across the floor of the House?

Moderation such as this is to be welcomed. It will be welcomed by the mass of the electorate because this is what it wants. If our Dave and Boy George become aware of open up opposition in the House might they not, even at this late stage, moderate their enthusiasm for cuts? It is possible. Might this be the tenor of discussions between the Labour Party and Charles Kennedy? No need to leave the House or quit the Lib Dems. Join together with Labour and vote out that which you think disastrous and wrong. I have always thought that there was enough cunning in the Tory camp to avoid this, that there is a Plan B and perhaps a Plan C. Who knows? Of course, I could be wrong. Ed could be wrong. In this case perhaps I shall bring out my Red Flag and chant Long Live Lenin with the rest of them.

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All that Glisters…


I do not like to be thought unfair. Here is a good word about the Coalition. I listened to the House of Commons debate on the referendum. I thought the Coalition got the better of the Labour Opposition and secured a comfortable Second Reading majority for the Bill. Labour had the stronger case but there was no doubt in my mind that the Coalition won the debate. It was obvious that many of the Tories had practiced the rhetorical arts in school and university debating societies. Their performances were impressive. The Tory benches were a sea of respectability and there was not a hairy oick in sight. Can Parliament survive this uniformity of representation? I thought not.

I was reminded of the advice my mother extended to my sisters on selecting male friends (assuming they are ever selected as such!). Look at their hands dear, she would say, you can tell what sort of man he is by the appearence of his hands and, in particular, his nails. If you don’t like the condition of his nails then dump him. This seemed wise advice to me at the time and it took time and a little experience before I concluded that she was deluded. Some of the worst murderers in English history were well-turned out respectable people with well-kept nails. You listen, Oh I was shocked. Such a nice man always neatly turned out – and polite. Always a cheery good morning. But with a black heart madam you are tempted to reply. All that glisters is not gold.

I applied my mother’s adage to Andy Coulson. We have many pictures and images of him in recent days. My mother would have approved. Such a nice looking boy, would you like to bring him home dear, might have been her question. I have never seen Andy’s nails at close quarters but my guess is that he has a haircut every three weeks and while there he has a manicure, I further suspect that he uses a colourless nail varnish. Of course this is only my guess. The public question is did this nice boy when  Editor of the News of the World reign over, tolerate and make use of information gathered illegally by phone tapping! For two years I was employed by a national newspaper group. In the trade ‘we’ might laugh and say that the Editors of all red-top newspapers are entirely willing to make use of information gathered by any method. Reporters struggling to break a compelling story understand the rules of the game. Look, Jones, we are told, get your finger out. I’m not telling you how to do this but break the story this week and get on with it. In tabloid journalism dog eats dog.

David Cameron admires Andy. He thought that he would make an ideal Director of Government Communications. From outside I think that our Dave was right. I admire the way the government is projecting itself. All very pleasant and meaningful. In my humble judgement Andy and Dave are tweedle dum and tweedle dee: ruthless, devious, well-organised, thoughtful and cunning, these are a few of the words that come immediately to mind. But what are they warming us up for? Such nice nails, and always immaculately turned out, with a smile for everyone. Well, dears, I say, all that glisters is not gold!

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Say No to the Referendum


Today the House of Commons debates the Referendum Bill which proposes a mix of hybrid measures including a Referendum on the Alternative Vote electoral system. The Coalition Tories and the Lib Dems will vote for it while Labour and some backbench Tories will vote against. At the General Election the party positions were reversed Labour proposed a referendun and the Coalition parties opposed. It is reasonable to assume that this Bill is not about reform. It’s purpose is to sustain the Coalition in power. A referendum is about genuflecting in the direction of a reform that no one wants. 

The Coalition is obsessed with holding on to power. A referendum is part of a price paid by the Tories for Lib Dem support of Tory economic policies which they opposed in the General Election. The Lib Dems are willing to go through the motions of achieving an electoral reform which its members do not support as part of the fairy-tale that the price paid for their public office is a fair one.

The Bill contains measures to reduce the number of contituencies by the simple application of the guiding principle that there are too many MPs, despite a rising population, and that the  electorate should be roughly equal in every constituency. Two Lib Dem held seats in Scotland are seen as an exception to the rule but in reality there are many others. The Boundaries Commission considers much more than numbers. It looks for natural communites. Some of these are below an average size  and some have more electors. Now the Commision is to be harried into a process much quicker than it prefers and to conclusions it would nomally resist. It is common knowledge than many electors are not registered to vote and past actions to get all that are entitled onto electoral lists have been inadequate. A Constituency that seems to be on the small side would often reach a national average if potential voters were identified and encouraged to be on the list. A compulsory voting system, which I would prefer, could ensure that every adult was  on the list and did vote. This is not part of the Bill.

If there were a General Election now the opinion polls suggest that the Tories might win. Whenever the election is called there is little doubt that the Lib Dems will be heavily defeated. 

There is every reason for the Labour Party to oppose the Referendum. It is Labour’s duty to bring down the Coalition as soon as it can to prevent changes in British Society that will make it a less just and prosperous society. This is not a time for fine words and delicate consciences. It is a moment to sound the bugle and to oppose.

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Coalition Illegitimacy


The  Coalition wishes to make significant constitutional and social changes. The process will begin this autumn. It cannot be argued that many of these changes have the endorsement of the electorate for no one voted for the Coalition or the patchcock coalition agreement. It might be argued that the Coalition partners received the votes of sixty per cent of the votes cast in the General election and that some of these  changes were foreshadowed in the General Election compaigns of both the Tory and Lib Dem partners. Surely, that suffices to claim a mandate? Well no, it doesn’t. Pushing through these changes relies on the doctrine of the sovereignty of Parliament: the majority in the House of Commons can do what it wants.

In such a situation it might be thought that the Coalition government should not embark on far-reaching changes that do not necessarily command support among the electorate as a whole; changes that a new government will find  difficult to reverse. Not so the Coalition is pressing on with unflagging zeal (indecent haste) to impose on us  its vision for the future.

Those who object will find it difficult to make headway. It is true that Coalitions are popular with the electorate to the very point of their collapse. The history of  20th century coalitions tell us that they invariabley commanded more than fifty percent of any poll. Today, even accepting the dire circumstances, it is true that the Coalition commands the support of 50 per cent of more of the electorate. It is open to the Coalition to pre-run elections where the weaker of the two coalition partners stands down for the benefit of the other. In a General Election campaign such an arrangement, if tolerable to  grass root activists, would save many seats. If this were to be a nationwide tactic the Labour Party would need over 45 % of the vote to win. A little political gerrymandering along the lines already put forward by the Colation parties might require an even bigger Labour share of the vote. No political party in recent times has polled half the vote.

Is it all hopeless then? Can the the Coalition literally do anything it likes, claim a mandate and win an election even if it is called early? I think not. In practice parliamentary sovereigny is a chimera and cannot be relied upon. The key to change lies with Lib Dem backbench MPs. If they decide enough is enough they can call halt the Tory gallop[ to utopia. You do not need a majorityof the House of Commons to bring down a government; a large scale desertion short of a majority will do. Is this what will happen? Well it might you know. It is possible.

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Too Important for Politicians


Clemenceau, a French Prime Minister, is credited with the remark that war was too important a matter to be left to Generals. It invites comparisons. Is Parliamentary reform rightly a matter for politicians or should we the people have the upper hand in all this? And at this moment should we place our trust in Nick Clegg, the self-appointed Reform Czar, or  take matters into our own hands.

How have we done it, this reform business,  in the past? Isn’t it true that Magna Carta which started all this in our time, in 1215, was the result of a group of Barons determined not to pay for King John’s foreign wars by the surrender of their rights and property? Did King John take any notice? Yes, he moderated his ways, which is all that could be expected, and we the people, established the principles of of ‘public’ consultation and justice under the rule of law.

The seventeenth century, that established for ever the principle of the sovereignty of Parliament, experienced a bloody civil war and the beheading of a King; and the Bill of Rights in 1689 was the result of an invitation to a European monarch, William III, to protect us against the ambitions of an English one,  to re-write the script for the understanding between monarch and people,  and to limit  the powers of Parliament. And  it was also an assurance for us that we would be protected against foreign powers. The 1832 Reform Act was the  outcome of mass protests and demonstrations by the Chartists; and the enlargement of the franchise was  achieved with the sacrifices of the many, the imprisonment and forced feeding of suffragettes and the untangling of woment chained to railings.

 So what now is the driving force of our modern day reform demands? Well now, as it was then, it is  the self interest of ‘politicians’  and those of us on the inside. It worries me that in one amorphous ragbag initiative called the Constitutional Bill all the various matters said to concern electors are lumped together in an all or nothing endeavour to appease an angry electorate   and protect  political prime movers from the wrath of the electorate: the reform of the House of Lords; a change in the composition of the Commons, involving the pressurising of the Boundaries Commission;  electoral reform; fixed term Parliaments; and a brake on Parliament’s power to get rid of a Government and summon up a new General Election. And it is all to be done in less than two years. Any one of these measures would justify a separate Bill – there is no demand for quick fixes. What is needed is a Constitutional progamme over five years not two and  involving the public in mature discussion.

Even if it were not true, and it is, such an unseemly scramble gives the impression of two political parties, the Coalition partners, seeking to cement their hold on power against  what is feared to be a vengeful electorate. Hold on boys, it might be said, we the electorate, are sovereign. It is our rights you are tampering with, and you are not going to diminish them. We shall  get rid of you if we choose. Blood and grief mark the passage to our rights and we are not going to concede them  to you willingly. 

As a reformer and revisionist, I  recognise the need for reform. However, I am prepared to wait a little in order to obtain an all-party, non-partisan approach – assuming that such an approach is possible. There is a need now to oppose this partisan reform bill, to see off the Coalition, and then to start again. Let’s get it right!

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