Category Archives: Take Back Parliament

Barnsley: Worse to Come

The Barnsley Parliamentary By Election humiliation for the Coalition parties does not come as a surprise. There is worse to come. A North-South divide  with Labour dominating the vote in Scotland, Wales and Northern England and the Tories, and to a certain extent the Lib Dems, in the South, South East and South West of England has been evident for decades. New Labour and the growth of Lib Dem support in the South has muddied this picture but the rift remains.

Even if an optimistic view is taken on economic recovery, the scale of Government cuts in expenditure and a lowering of household disposable incomes for years ahead is bound to alienate whole communities across Britain but especially in Labour areas of the country. The Lib Dems, in particular, will pay a heavy electoral price: Council and Assembly votes in May are likely to result in the virtual elimination of the Lib Dems in working class communities in huge swathes of the country. Both Coalition parties are likely to huddle together in what until recently has been the Tory south. Paradoxically, the Lib Dem vote in Council By Elections  in the South has held up and the party has gained some Tory seats. This is an historic pattern of Colaitions of the right and centre over more than 100 years of their temporary emergence and is likely to make more probable the eventual merger of them. While I do not wish to exagerate the similarities between the platforms of the Coalition partners, I do believe it to be true that there a few real differences between the radical economic liberals on  right of the Lib Dems and the social liberals of the Tories: they are cut from the same cloth.

Absurd comparisons between the political and social revolutions underway in the Middle East and Africa and the future we face  together in Britain are best avoided. However, there is a relevant question for we Britons. Are British people going to accept, will ordinary people up and down the country stomach, the destruction of the welfare state, a dramatic lowering of household disposable income and the loss of many jobs, Will the public go quietly when the NHS fails to hold on to many advances, in particular shorter waiting lists for hospital appointments, and the middle classes joining the dole queues?  Of course, of course, I hear you mutter. There will always be a stolid majority for social pain – so long as it doesn’t affect us and  others like us. But will this be true this time?

Well, the Coalition has been busy fixing the Constitutional rules so that it is more difficult to get rid of them. Five years of it and not a drop less has been their resolution. Political memories are short is their belief. But is there not a valid political question? What do people do when it becomes more difficult to throw out one Parliament and elect another. Do people up and down our orderly and responsible society take to the streets? If denied the one sure constitutional method will many people choose another? Surely not. But hold on.  After all we have seen the television pictures of peoples demanding change. This is the tele/internet age. If it works for them why not us? Don’t shoot we’re British is our shout. Of course, our needs are obvious.  Oblivion is what we need now, the bottle and the pills that is what happens in the TV soaps. Oh and throwing something as well. Come off it!


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A Very English Revolution

In England we do not do Revolutions. They are for foreign countries denied freedom of expression and parliamentary government. Is that right? It seems so but the belief in social cohesion and solidarity of purpose is about to be tested. Our beliefs may turn out to be illusory. In 2011/2 real incomes are likely to fall at a faster pace than at any time since the 1920’s a decade followed by slow growth and high unemployment. At that time we took it all very meekly. Then, as now, some thirty percent of the population was doing very nicely. They were in employment and enjoying steady increases in real wages. Unemployment and poverty was concentrated in foreign places: Scotland, Wales and the frozen North. Of course, the unemployed protested, but in a orderly fashion: hunger marches, dole queues and long lines of working people not at all like us. Men, and families, to be pitied, consciences to be stirred,  but largely to be forgotten on golf courses and at bridge parties.

Over the last two years citizens, you know the ordinary folk who pay the wages of the political elites, have wondered whether ‘that lot’ at Westminster are really representing us at all. While hardly anyone wishes to resurrect class war, many people must wonder whether these Old Etonians with their posh accents and monied interests really ‘get us’ the people. Do we wish to pass back to a Victorian condition of poor public sevices and a Samuel Smiles concept of self help and charity to all (sorry some, the deserving poor). 

Well, what can we do about it? Those who object We could start by admitting to ourselves that we are responsible. We allowed this lot to gang up against us, cobble together an agreement that no one voted for, and are busy changing the rules so that it is extremely difficult to get rid of a government in the short term.

I can hear some of my readers objections at this point. Come on now, they say, this is a parody of the truth. Every citizen knows that the huge public deficit must be reduced and the sooner the better. Personally I agree: drastic problems require drastic remedies. But just suppose that the economic strategy being imposed upon us is wrong. It doesn’t work. What if we are destroying a valued social structure and welfare state for nothing? What then? Why, you say, in all reasonableness . if we are proceeding for the rocks we can change course Can we? Boy George and our Dave say. ‘Not on your Nellie’, or words to that effect, Like the Blessed Margaret before them these Old Etonians warming themselves in the last rays of an   August sunset across their playing fields are not for turning.

Well Boys, then we must get rid of you by the means at our disposal. They know it, you can see it in their faces. and the panic measures they advance. Can we the people do it? Can we the people save ourselves? I don’t know. But I do pose the question

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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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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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Mandelson and the Millibands

Contrary to many comments, Labour members have a choice at the coming leadership election; between a long term commitment to  reassuring their members and erstwhile supporters or winning new adherents to an appealing alternative programme to  Coalition budget cuts and an immediate challenge to its authority.

There is a case for either. What do we think will happen? Can the Coalition be swept aside by public repuganance to its programme. If Boy George is stupid enought to press on with 25-40% public expenditure cuts when the economic recovery is stuttering to a halt, public repugnance may sweep the Coalition aside and the Labour Party might achieve a majority in its own right in an early election. If you believe that there is no space for genuflecting to a pre-New Labour past, teeth-gnashing and confession. If you believe the first, you should  vote for David Milliband. As the person with the most serious, senior experience of Government, he is your man for a snap General Election. It is said that David Cameron’s nightmares are focussed on the possibility of a quick and bloodless Labour transition to David Milliband.

Labour voters have an alternative candidate in Ed Balls. If you believe that the issue of the economy will be the one and over-riding issue of this notional snap election then Ed Balls is your man. At his best Ed Balls has  Churchillian qualities: he is pugnacious, and combative and (with a little help on delivery)  the best equipped candidate to be convincing on the economy. But for the disasters of war, Churchill would not have found his way to power in 1940. Do we not have economic disasters of commensurate gravity now?

If you believe that the Coalition will last a full term, which remains the view of academic pundits and right-wing journalists, Labour does not need David Milliband or Ed Balls. Anyone will do. Why not the engaging and popular Ed Milliband. If the latter it is likely that good sense will disappear in a welter of apologies for the past and the party will cease to be relevant. Labour will risk being  out of power for a very long time.

I favour an endeavour to sweep the Coalition from power as soon as possible before too much damage has been done to British society. There is a military analogy. Can we summon up the blood and sinews (do we have the will and have we got enough money); can we few, when confronted by the many triumph, (although weak, do we have a winning  strategy and do our enemies have exploitable waeknesses), if we are prepared can we catch them unprepared (do not underestimate your enemy he has probably anticipated your coming).

The Coalition cannot be assured of the whole hearted support of its troops: there are weaknesses on the  left flank, some of who have deserted the field and others who are switching sides. After a period of negotiation a cavalry charge is required here.

So in the final issue the choice is clear. For Victory in an early battle choose one of two Generals David Milliband or Ed Balls; for a long and inconclusive guerilla campaign, select Captain Ed Milliband.

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Coalition Weather Forecast

I have been reminding myself of the political history of coalition governments in recent times. There has been more of it than is commonly realised. In pre war Britain there was considerably  more: thirteen out of twenty five years. These governments  were born of crisis; the  result of a lack of national  confidence, of war and economic depression. These crises render it difficult to assess the effectiveness. of coalition governments. Arguably they lengthened and deepened the Great Depression and coalition foreign policy did nothing to deter the Fascist threat to world peace, and their defence policies weakened Britain’s ability to defend itself. It is wrongly believed by political opinion today that  Conservative dominated governments are committed to effective defence and robust foreign policy – a recollection associated with Winston Churchill –  but the facts speak otherwise. Even in more recent times Conservatism has led to weak defence policy and the run-down of our armed forces.

However, a balanced judgement of the effectiveness of these coalitions would give them a fair-wind. On the whole they have been popular and when tested in the polls they have consistently scored  52-57 percent of the vote (very similar to the current Coalition rating of 55 percent). While the thirties were  a bad time for the numerous unemployed they were thought of favourably by those in work: rising real standards of living and falling house prices benefited the middle classes and the employed and Britain and Britons dozed while Europe descended into chaos and dictatorship.

In the end these coalitions failed and the causes and circumstances of failure were common. The crises that created them were resolved and when given the opportunity of severance the parties that constiuted them reverted to their tribal loyalties. Goodbyes were said without regret. Who lost out? Liberals have always been the losers and the Conservative Party the winners. (1931 and 1945 are obvious exceptions). Although coalition in 1931 propped up the Labour  Party more often than not it was the loser. The Conservatives always gained.

The Lib Dems in entering this present Coalition are propping up and de-toxifying the Conservatives (thank you very much). But  they are flirting with disaster. They have bought some period of time of time  in government and a chance to influence policy but they risk many more years of ineffectiveness. But none of this is inevitable. History tells us that in the end it is the individual who shapes destiny. Providing the Lib Dems stick close to the Tories and its leadership exercises good judgement, and given the chemistry between Clegg and Cameron, some element of Liberalism will stick to government and thus Lib Dems will have influence, perhaps, for more than one Parliament : a new breed of Con/Lib, National Lib/Con politicians will arise.  But goodbye Lib Dem councillors, farewell Scotland, Wales and northern Britain and hello southern and western England.

The sixty four million dollar question  is how long will this Coalition last given that its days are numbered? It depends on you, dear citizen, and on the ability of the Labour party to rebuld itself and become relevant to the future. It must get its head out of the last thirteen years if it is to mount a challenge. In many ways they were good years and Labour can be proud of its achievements but it is no longer the time for gazing at one’s naval. The time has come the walrus said to think of other things. Go on then , think of them.

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Summer Camps for MPs.

I have a scoop. It has been brought to my attention by a reliable source (this is what he tells me) that the Speaker John Bercow is make a surprise statement to Parliament today. I do not know the exact words but it goes something like this. I hope you don’t mind but I have dramatised the occasion. Here goes, The Speaker says, ‘I have decided that it is in the interests of this house to further clean up our act. Numerous communications have been addressed to me from the public  complaining about the appearence, demeanour, and behaviour of Members. It is said that Hon.Members look bad, they are over-weight, unkept and  unfashionable. Their posture is awful: they slump and lounge and are louche. Behaviour is atrocious: Hon Members shout, interrupt and hurl abuse to the other side. Some correspondents make the point, not to mince words, that Members have been poorly brought up and should be ashamed of themselves. I confess to Hon Members that from where I sit I agree, absolutely, I agree. At one time I do most sincerely believe that most Members  cast a diffferent glow upon the world. I believe that they wished to please and some to serve. When they courted the attention of others they washed behind their ears and had regular haircuts. Some Members will have engaged in popular sports that require a degree of fitness. Their  mothers were proud of them. A summer recess gives an opportunity to make amends to the public. However, it is an unfortunate aspect of the recent difficulties on expenses that the foreign fact-finding tours to exotic places are no more. Members cannot rely on adventures abroad at public expense to sharpen themselves by relaxation and excercise. I am taking an intiative. I have set up a series of four-week Summer Courses for Members designed to get them fit by regular outdoor exercise along the lines of Military Training Camps. It will be hard for many Members but the medical facilities are first class and we have made appropriate arrangements with the Emergency Services. These Camps are not voluntary. I have the powers (Order, Order) to insist that Hon Members attend (Order, don’t wag your finger at me Sir). I intend to Suspend any Member who declines my invitation. (Order, Order). The Member clearly believes I don’t have the bottle for it. I am not interested in his so-called ‘family holiday’ in the Seychelles. Try me, Sir, Try me, if you dare. I know the Honourable Gentleman used to be much respected in this House for his outstanding record of service to others. But a long time ago, sir, a long time.’ (Loud noises off stage). Words of abuse will be shouted. ‘If it good enough for Old Etonians and louts from sink Council estates, why not for us?’ can be heard.  There is a rush for the entrance, ‘It has come to this. Nothing quite like it since Neville Chamberlain’.  ‘That’s done it.’ ‘This is what you get when you buy Lib Dem votes.’ And some such.’ The Speaker can be heard shouting, ‘This is inevitable. We have been given no choice. It is a legacy we inherited for the Honourable Gordon, of Blessed Memory.’ The vision is lost and confusion reigns.’ Can you believe it, it has come to this?

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Why Have a Parliament?

Well, good question. A Coalition spokeman said that in the long term he couldn’t think of a reason. In the Big Society most of what is done by legislators could be given to unpaid volunteers. There were such issues  as declarations of war and their conduct and repressive measures  against terrorists  that might require consideration centrally. But these could be considered by revamped Privy Council. After all for hundreds of years this how it was done. Just think of how much money could be saved that way. A lot, really. Locally? Ask this question? Do we really need local authorities at all? For two hundred years powers have been taken away from them. Perhaps this is the time for a final push. Just ask yourself, don’t you think that Volunteer Assemblies could do the job? What is so special about managing local services that an expensive bureaucracy is needed. Our central watchphrase is down with bureaucrats. Are there vacancies for them in the private sector? Of course, your bleeding hearts will tell you that there are not. False, even at the depths of the depression it is estimated that there were 20,000 vacancies in call centres alone. These calls require firmness and double speak. Who is better qualified than a bureaucrat? I realise that there will be opposition to our suggestions. There are some people who always object. We shall listen to them. The question to be asked of them is, ‘What are your proposals for eliminating the deficit?’ I can tell you know that we shall be greeted with a mighty silence. Those who criticise should tell us their plans, don’t you agree? All this will take time to do. But it is scheduled. Much of it can be done by September next. If you have suggestions, please let us know quickly. What did you say sir, pointing to a person at the back, please speak up. Representative government, what has happened to it?  Oh, and how do we bring these volunteers to account? Be reasonable sir, they are not being paid and you wish to make disagreable comments to and about them. Shame on you sir for that. If you want to have a say, roll up your sleeves and join in. (Wild applause from the audience).

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Michael Gove’s Mandate

The doctrine of the electoral mandate is a  Constitutional convention of practical as well as theoretical significance. It is expected of serious national political parties that they set out their programmes for a full Parliamentary term in detail so that the electorate knows what it is voting for. Of course, no reasonable person expects the programme to be carried out exactly as described: circumstances may change and  governments may have second and better thoughts. But nevertheless, in general, it is expected that parties should be as good as their promises. No one voted for  the Coalition programme. It was cobbled together in a backroom after the event. The Coalition is in its honeymoon period. So what, it might be thought,   if  promises cannot be met, surely the Coalition  must do the best it can?

Well, yes, but  the public should be warned. The government is is in the hands of a group of people, mostly public schoolboys from wealthy backgrounds, who are  unrepresentative of the electorate as a whole. It is revolutionary in intent. It actually believes that society should be changed in its own image. Under the cover of the need to sort out the public finances the Coalition is  intent on dismantling the enabling state.

Among this group of people is Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education. Mr Gove is uniquely unqualified for this position in the government and indeed , I would maintain, any position. He is more than intellignt and generally sympathetic: he is an intellectual and a romantic. By this I mean that his actions are primarily governed by ideas and thus his grip on reality uncertain. Mr Gove, on behalf of the Conservative Party, made certain promises in the election campaign to maintain expenditure in state schools in which over ninety percent of all children are educated. He has no mandate to end the school building programme or to cut schools expenditure by fifteen to twenty percent over the Parliament. And he should not be dishonest. He has no mandate to finance so-called Free Schools out of the budgets of state schools and often against their best interests.

Mr Gove should resign if he cannot defend state education from the Treasury. And a warning to the Coalition. The electorate did not vote for revolutionary changes to their way of life, thank you for the thought. They voted for jobs, decent education for their children, for the welfare state and an NHS they could rely on. And they will vote again. On that you can be certain.

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Fig Leaves and Sir Alan Budd

Sir Alan Budd has disappeared. He has left his post as the Director of George Osborne’s Office for Public  Responsibility in a fit of private conscience and mutterings about the need for independance and impartiality. So what now? It doesn’t appear that there is any way of fixing the situation before the presentation of the Budget Forecast in the autumn. Soon the political elites will be on holiday in the South of France, in villas on exotic islands and as guests on board yachts owned by  unidentified oligarchs (preferably Conservative party donors) and there will be little time for rearranging the chairs. Here is a word of advice for Boy George. Do not appoint a man with scruples and integrity for he might have a viewpoint of his own. Oh, and yes: Do not put your trust in an economist, especially if he is good.

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