Category Archives: Inequality

EDM: reduce the abuses of the revolving door between ministerial office and big business

Parliamentary lobbying condemned: 2010-2017

“It is the next big scandal waiting to happen. It’s an issue that crosses party lines and has tainted our politics for too long, an issue that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money.”

David Cameron, then prime minister, promised that a Conservative government would stop the lobbying industry’s attempts through former ministers to access and influence policy. His attack on “crony capitalism” came in a speech in which he attempted to tackle Britain’s “broken politics”:

“Now we all know that expenses has dominated politics for the last year. But if anyone thinks that cleaning up politics means dealing with this alone and then forgetting about it, they are wrong. Because there is another big issue that we can no longer ignore.

The Conservative leader said that the “£2 billion industry” has a big presence at Westminster and take in some cases MPs are approached more than 100 times a week by lobbyists.”

But in 2013:

And in 2017, admirable MP Paul Flynn has sponsored Early Day Motion 1079

ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON BUSINESS APPOINTMENTS

Session: 2016-17

Date tabled: 15.03.2017

Primary sponsor: Flynn, Paul

That this House recalls former Prime Minister David Cameron’s condemnation in 2010 of politicians who are out to serve themselves and not the country by lobbying; notes the abject failure of the Government’s watchdog, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, to reduce the abuses of the potentially corrupting revolving door between ministerial office and big business lobbying; and calls on the Government to establish an effective watchdog that would enhance the House’s reputation for probity, removing the opportunities for former Ministers to sell their inside knowledge and contacts for financial advantage by prohibiting their lobbying for companies they influenced or regulated in their Ministerial roles.

As ACOBA, the Government’s ‘watchdog’, has failed to reduce the abuses of the revolving door between ministerial office and big business lobbying, government should establish an effective mechanism which would prevent former Ministers from selling their inside knowledge and contacts for financial gain.

 

 

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Saluting the French President – the first head of state to seek fair food legislation?

Macron: “We should allow farmers not to rely on subsidies anymore and therefore ensure than they be paid a fair amount for their work.”

Reuters reports that President Emmanuel Macron – during a meeting at Rungis international food market in Rungis, near Paris – has called for changes to France’s food chain on Wednesday to ensure that farmers, who have been hit by squeezed margins and a retail price war, are paid fairly.

Macron said that he supported a new type of contract, based on farmers’ production costs

In common with Farmers for Action (NI) which has joined a producer organization (Farm Groups) he is proposing a change in legislation – ‘a new type of contract, based on farmers’ production costs, which would require stronger producer organizations and a change in legislation’.

Prices are currently defined by buyers tempted to pressure prices, leaving many farmers unable to cover their costs.

The changes are part of a wide field-to-fork review promised by Macron during his presidential campaign as a third of farmers, an important constituency in French politics, earned a third of the net minimum wage.

Macron endorsed a proposal from the workshops to create a reversed contract starting from farmers, to food processors and to retailers. This would ensure a better spread of added value along the chain.

Just Food adds: “He promised to shake up the current “balance of power” between producers, food processing firms and retailers. A tougher line would be taken on low prices and discounting and a higher loss-leader threshold for retailers established, Macron underlined . . .

“Legislation will be prepared early next year reversing the current system of food pricing. In future, prices will be calculated on the basis of production costs instead of being imposed by retailers”.

 

 

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Broken Britain 9: ‘populism’ is really ‘anti-elitism’ – a backlash due to economic and political inequality

Stephen Latner, an FT reader, reminds columnist Philip Stephens – and a whole range of commentators – that it would be more accurate to describe “populism” as “anti-elitism” and acknowledge that the backlash is not down purely to economic factors but political as well . . .

Philip Stephens had explained that the explanation for a rising sense of grievance and a collapse of trust in the old political order is to be found in the answers to the opinion poll question asking people if they expect a better life for their children:

“Voters are now more likely to answer no than yes. The march to progress, they assume, has ended . . .The pain is made the more acute when a small minority can indeed pass on great power and wealth to their children . . .”

Latner adds that many voted for Brexit because of the perceived elitism of the EU (“an unelected, non-transparent, central bureaucracy”) and sees that new technology – ‘the digital age’ – is ensuring that elitism will come under fire and more centralisation of political power will be seen as elitist and unacceptable.

Stephens supplies the element missing from Latner’s analysis – the added burden of a political elite allied with the wealthiest corporates:

“At its simplest, establishing trust is about behaviour. Today’s elites should ask themselves just when it became acceptable:

  • for politicians to walk straight from public office into the boardroom;
  • for central bank chiefs to sell themselves to US investment banks
  • and for business leaders to pay themselves whatever they pleased”.

 

 

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FT: a strange blend of truth and spleen unwittingly affirms Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘superannuated socialist’ stance

The FT’s Philip Stephens, Tony Blair’s biographer, pertinently remarks:Today’s elites should ask themselves just when it became acceptable for politicians to walk straight from public office into the boardroom; for central bank chiefs to sell themselves to US investment banks; and for business leaders to pay themselves whatever they pleased”. He continues:

“Now as after 1945, the boundaries between public and private have to change. At its simplest, establishing trust is about behaviour. . . The lesson Europe’s postwar political leaders drew from the societal collapses of the 1930s was that a sustainable equilibrium between democracy and capitalism had been shattered by market excesses.

“Citizens were unwilling to accept a model for the market that handed all the benefits to elites and imposed the costs on the poor. In the US, then president Franklin Delano Roosevelt responded with the New Deal. Europe waited until the continent had been reduced to rubble in 1945 before building what the British called the welfare state and continental governments called the European social model. Economic prosperity and political stability were the rewards.

“The present generation of politicians should learn from the experience. Defending a status quo that is manifestly unfair in its distribution of wealth and opportunity serves only to put weapons in the hands of populists . . .

“One way to start redrawing the boundaries would be to take on the big corporate monopolies that have eschewed wealth creation for rent-seeking; to oblige digital behemoths such as Google and Apple to pay more than token amounts of tax; to ensure immigration does not drive down wages; and to put in place worthwhile training alongside flexible markets”.

The difference: Corbyn would act for altruistic reasons, but thepresent generation of politicians’ concede only to retain privilege

Stephens (right) ends by saying that what we need is a social market economy – combining the central elements of a free market (private property, free foreign trade, exchange of goods and free formation of prices) and universal health care, old-age pension and unemployment insurance as part of an extensive social security system

And most of this is precisely what Jeremy Corbyn, Britain’s Labour party leader, wholeheartedly supports. Though dismissed by Stephens as a ‘superannuated socialist’, he would uphold and enhance the system presently faced with public disgust at the ‘fat-cat’ political-corporate revolving door with its rewards for failure. This disgust is combined with anger at the austerity regime imposed by those currently in power, which prevents local authorities from continuing basic public services and deprives some of the least fortunate of food and decent housing.

 

 

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Ms May undermines her hero’s work as cuts to council funding reduce the powers of local government

The presenter of this BBC radio programme, Adrian Goldberg, grew up on the Druids Heath council estate in Birmingham, the home of the ‘municipalism’ pioneered by Joseph Chamberlain when he was Mayor of Birmingham – summarised by Walsall MP John McShane in the Commons in 1930:

“A young person today lives in a municipal house, and he washes himself … in municipal water. He rides on a municipal tram or omnibus, and I have no doubt that before long he will be riding in a municipal aeroplane. He walks on a municipal road; he is educated in a municipal school. He reads in a municipal library and he has his sport on a municipal recreation ground. When he is ill he is doctored and nursed in a municipal hospital and when he dies he is buried in a municipal cemetery.”

Adrian is described as being an ideal candidate to judge the changing nature of the local council, because when he and his family moved there the local authority:

  • built properties and
  • collected the rent.
  • Adrian took a council-subsidised bus service to
  • the secondary school run by his local education authority.
  • On the way home he’d drop into his council-run library to pick up some books
  • or take a swim in the council run pool.

He comments, “Today the situation is much more complex”

Adrian considered the effect of austerity on the role of councils today. Birmingham council has almost halved its staff since 2008, from around 24,000 to 12,500. Last year another £28m was cut from Birmingham’s adult care budget of £230m. 2017/18 – the seventh year of cuts – is predicted to be the toughest year yet with expected reductions of £113m to the council’s overall budget, on top of £650m already cut since 2010.

Local government grants and powers have been greatly reduced in several areas, including education and housing. Read more about the following cases here.

  • The fate of the formerly successful council-run Baverstock Secondary School in Druids Heath
  • The group of residents who set up the Friends of Walkers Heath Park in November 2011
  • The volunteers who are helping to run the library
  • Druids Heath’s handsome and historic Bells Farm community centre (below), with its food bank and other services, also kept going by local volunteers.

The link also leads to news of high-rise tower blocks in the area; dilapidation, damp and fire hazards go unremedied, the splendid concierge system was abandoned and full time neighbourhood office advice centres, closed in 2006, were replaced by a private call service which was expensive, often not answering, with staff unable to supply the information needed.

In Birmingham there was a move under John Clancy’s leadership to take back ‘in-house’ the services currently undertaken by profit-making private companies, deciding not to renew one Capita contract and considering the future of refuse collection in the city. This, because the ‘market place’ economy which has developed, privatising refuse collection, road maintenance and ‘back office’ functions in Birmingham, has proved to be more expensive and often less efficient. This hope is fading as Richard Hatcher reports on the new regime: Birmingham Council Children’s Services contracted out, Children’s Centres closed.

The health and safety of council tenants is evidently not a government priority

Inside Housing reports the housing minister’s description of sprinkler systems for high rise blocks as “additional rather than essential” and refusing a council’s request for funding promised after the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Strangely, the conservative Prime Minister expresses admiration for Joseph Chamberlain

Mayor of Birmingham in 1873, city MP in 1876, Joseph Chamberlain directed the construction of good housing for the poorest, libraries, municipal swimming pools and schools. Unlike Ms May and colleagues, he was not in favour of a market economy, arguing for tariffs on goods from countries outside the British Empire. He was also an ‘economic interventionist’ (see Lewis Goodall, Newsnight), described as a “gas and water socialist”. He took profit-making private enterprises into public hands, declaring that “profit was irrelevant”.

In no way is she following the example of her hero.

Ms May’s government continues to implement a series of cuts affecting the lives of the country’s poorest and most disabled with might and main.

Ironically the contemporary politician sharing Chamberlain’s principles is the opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, whose policies she echoes but does not implement.

 

 

 

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Austerity 1: next year, UK ministers required to report progress on reinstating rights of people with disabilities

Equal Lives chief executive Mark Harrison said: “In a very short space of time we have gone from having some of the best rights in the world to a crisis situation where people are dying because of the barriers and discrimination caused by austerity.” 

In 2015, a team of United Nations investigators began a two-week visit to the UK as part of an inquiry into allegations of “systematic and grave” violations of disabled people’s human rights.

Stephen Naysmith Social Affairs Correspondent of the Herald has reported that the UN Committee on the Rights of Disabled People has issued a 17 page report on the UK which contained more recommendations for improvement than for any other country in the committee’s 10 year history.

UK rapporteur to the committee Mr Stig Langvad, said the review had been “the most challenging exercise in the history of the Committee”, and criticised the government for failing to heed a 2016 inquiry which had found “grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights.

He said Britain was “going backwards” in terms of meeting its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, particularly by failing to enable disabled people to have the same choice and control in their lives as people without disabilities.

Key among its concerns was the disproportionate impact of austerity-led cuts on disabled people, with the report claiming disabled people had been left in poverty

  • by cuts to benefits and support,
  • the closure of the Independent Living Fund,
  • the introduction of Universal Credit and
  • the change from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payments.

Last week committee chairwoman Theresia Degener described the impact of cuts on disabled people in the UK as a “human catastrophe”, a view she repeated at yesterday’s press conference.

The Scottish Government was praised for consulting disabled people over its plans for introducing a new social security system, under devolved powers.

UK ministers are required to report back on progress to the committee within 12 months.

 

Read more:

http://www.disabilitynewsservice.com

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/15508062.UK_Government_cuts_driving_disabled_people_into_poverty__key_UN_committee_says/

 

 

 

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Rewards for failure: 33 – five government civil servants and an MP

Three of many reasons for Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity are his care for the ‘ordinary person’, his ‘sufficient’ lifestyle and his freedom from the greed which leads many in the political landscape to ‘milk’ the system and promote decisions needed by moneyed interests.

This graphic is about an MP who was, until May 2015, Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor.

Attitudes to public expenditure

It was retweeted by a friend and in another article Greg Foxsmith neatly summarises: “Grayling is an MP who purports to want to cut public expenditure. However, when it comes to his own public expenditure, Chris likes to get as much of it as he can”. Foxsmith refers readers to the Telegraph for more information. Grayling’s record on cutting access to legal aid and lack of concern about prison suicides adds charges of inhumane conduct to those of greed.

Apart from passing through the revolving door to industry and then returning to aid government’s decision-making process, civil servants feature in the news less frequently than MPs.

Award-winning investigative journalist David Hencke recently re-published information about top bonuses and pay rises for five of the most senior and well paid civil servants at the Department of Work and Pensions over the last two years, which appears in the annual report and accounts of the DWP released last month.

The five civil servants named in Hencke’s article are Sir Robert Devereux, permanent secretary at the Department of Work and Pensions; Neil Couling, director general of universal credit; Jeremy Moore, director of strategy; Mayank Prakash, director general of digital technology and Andrew Rhodes, director of operations. All are responsible in one way or another for the delivery of Universal Credit.

All but Andrew Rhodes are paid more than Theresa May, the PM, but are, nevertheless, receiving bonuses

This, even though their new Universal Credit programme is said to be in chaos – leaving some claimants without money for up to six weeks. MP Kevan Jones (Durham North) has described the bonuses of £10-20,000 as “a reward for failure”, based on its performance in the Newcastle-upon-Tyne pilot project.

Catherine McKinnell, Labour MP for Newcastle North, said: “My office has been deluged with complaints from constituents about a Universal Credit system that is clearly struggling to cope and failing to deliver the support that claimants need in anything like an orderly or timely fashion. She reveals a very sorry picture. The new IT system means people can’t talk to a human. It has a verification process that requires claimants to produce photographic identification such as a passport or driving licence, “which many simply do not possess and certainly cannot afford”. There are numerous examples of Universal Credit claims being shut down before they should be; of documentation being provided to the DWP, at the constituent’s cost, and repeatedly being lost or even destroyed; and of totally conflicting, often incorrect, information being provided to constituents about their claims.” Precisely the case seen repeatedly 20 years ago when the writer was a volunteer in a local night-shelter.

In Civil Service World. Jawad Raza, of the FDA (the First Division Association) which represents the top civil service, said that the suggestion that these civil servants have been rewarded for failure shows a blatant disregard for the facts regarding their pay, and that highly skilled professionals working in challenging circumstances deserve to be adequately remunerated without having their names, faces (and incomes) spread across news pages – as they are in Hencke’s article.

All these pay rises were decided objectively by line managers, but the Department declined to say who these line managers are and which outside organisations and people recommended they should get bonuses. MP Kevan Jones plans to table a Parliamentary Question next month asking for this information.

Hencke ends, “What this shows to me is a growing disconnect between the people at the top – who are computer savvy, have nice centrally heated homes, no problems with bills, can afford expensive holidays, and can’t conceive of anyone not having a passport – designing a system for poor, dispossessed, desperate people without any understanding of how the world works for them.

“It was this disconnect between the elite and the poor in the USA that led to the rise of Donald Trump and I suspect this huge gulf between the Metropolitan elite (of which top Whitehall civil servants are part) and the provincial poor, is in the end going to propel Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street”.

Will we see a new breed of politicians in such a government? A significant mass?

Many see the need for the number of MPs who have lived for the public good, even using their basic salaries to do this, such as former Coventry MP Dave Nellist, to increase to such an extent that they will be able to transform the country.

Breaking news:

Reminding the public that universities receive benefits from their charitable status and are required to disclose information about the basis on which salaries are calculated, former Labour education minister Andrew Adonis is campaigning for a reduction in the high salaries awarded to university vice-chancellors, which only increased following the introduction of tuition fees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Austerity 7: “Governments are balancing budgets on the backs of the poor” (John Grisham)

1. State Pensions

2.6 million women born in the 1950s will ‘lose out’ because of changes to pension law: “while corporations and the richest individuals receive tax breaks”

WASPIs (Women against state pension inequality) protest outside Parliament. Their aim: to achieve fair transitional arrangements for women born in the 1950s, for whom the state pension age is being raised from 60 to 66 by 2020.Photo: WASPI Campaign/Twitter

A Bournville reader draws attention to an article in Welfare Weekly reporting the findings of a new analysis by the Labour Party which reveals that tens of thousands of Theresa May’s constituents will be adversely affected by her decision to bring forward changes to the state pension age. The state pension age for men and women will be equal at 65 at the end of 2018, before rising to 66 in 2020 and then 67 in 2028. This will then rise again to 68 between 2037 and 2039, meaning those born between 1970 and 1978 will be made to wait an extra year before becoming eligible to claim.

Data obtained by Labour from the House of Commons Library finds that nearly 37 million people in total will be affected, including 56,547 people in Theresa May’s constituency of Maidenhead. 61,753 people who are under the age of 47 will be hit by the changes in Chancellor Philip Hammond’s constituency of Runnymede and Weybridge. 59,290 people will also be affected in the Work and Pension Secretary David Gauke’s constituency of South West Hertfordshire.

A BBC video clip showed that an outline given by MP Guy Opperman (right, Work and Pensions) of government measures to assist older people back into work, including apprenticeships and retraining received a mixed reception.

Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Debbie Abrahams, said: “Thanks to the Tories increasing the state pension age, 36.9m people will be forced to work longer, at the same time that evidence indicates life expectancy has stalled in some places and is reducing in others.” She called on Tory MPs to “explain to the tens of thousands of people in their constituencies why the burden of Tory austerity is being pushed on them, while corporations and the richest individuals receive tax breaks.”

Abrahams added: “Theresa May should answer her 56,547 constituents, and the 36.9m people across Britain, whose hard-earned retirements are being postponed because of her Government.”

Labour is to begin a “national state pension tour” to draw attention to how many people will be affected and voice their opposition to the policy.

 

 

 

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At what age does the legal position on dying with dignity change?

Tom Norton from Tasmania asked this question in the Financial Times recently.

He set out the paradox: the legal position seems to be:

1-year-old Charlie Gard should be allowed to die with dignity by avoiding experimental treatment that might – had there been no legal delays – have preserved his life.

67-year-old Noel Conway (facing prolonged disability, suffering and a terrible death) should not be allowed the right to die with dignity as he asks.

A reader intends to go to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland if the time approaches when she will no longer be physically or mentally able to look after herself. She will have to do so far earlier than needed and will do so alone, to avoid legal hassle for her family. The financial cost is minimal compared with nursing care fees and all the horrors of dependence.

Assisted dying is tried and tested in twelve countries

The fears expressed of undesirable consequence – usually by religious fundamentalists – are not borne out by the facts. Assisted dying in several forms is legal in many regions, including five American states, see full list here.

Daniel Finkelstein recently opened his article in The Times by saying: ”Noel Conway wants the right to decide when his life will end and most of us, including the disabled, agree with him”. And later:

“The question is who makes the choice. Am I — or Noel Conway — allowed to make it for myself or will the state make it for me?

“Noel Conway is seeking a simple right, to be allowed to die as he has lived, as a free man. He’s not asking to play God, or have anyone else play God. He’s just saying that he’d rather not suffer avoidable, and unnecessary, anguish as he dies.

“It’s a right — I’m sorry to put it like this, but it’s true — that we wouldn’t deny, that we do not deny, to a cat.

“He doesn’t want to die. He is not choosing to die. He is accepting that he is going to die, and asking for the option of medical help to assist with the means and timing of his death. I think it is unconscionable to say no to him”.

Around 80% support the idea of a change in the law

Most MPs believe that their constituents are quite evenly split on assisted dying. But in fact their constituents are not evenly split. There has been around 80% support for a change in the law for 30 years. Public opinion is consistent and clear and stable.

Polling by Populus showed 86% per cent of disabled people supported the assisted dying reform, broadly in line with the rest of the population (download available)

Advocates for disabled people fear that provision for assisted dying would demonstrate that we do not value disabled people and are not willing to protect the most vulnerable, but that, Finkelstein points out, is not the opinion of most disabled people – see ‘Disabled activists for dignity in dying’.

Religious principles make it impossible to contemplate allowing someone to end their life before it ends naturally.

As Finkelstein says: “That is a choice for them. I am seeking a choice for me. And for Noel Conway”.

The current ‘arbitrary and disturbing mess’ is a lottery, where a person who helps someone to die might know what they are doing, or might not – or who travels to Switzerland with a friend or family member might end up in jail or might not.

Instead of this, a ‘concrete legal and medical procedure’ is sought to permit assisted dying, with careful consideration and legally clear deliberation of the evidence of the various models working well in other countries.

 

 

 

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Broken Britain 5: Martin Wolf annotated. Plus a lesson from Delhi

Extracts with bracketed comments = original text here, may be subject to paywall

In the Financial Times, Wolf asks: “Why has the appeal of populist ideas grown in western countries? Is this a temporary phenomenon?”

He continues: “What, first of all, is a populist?” And answers:

  • The abiding characteristic of populism is its division of the world into a virtuous (powerless) people on the one hand, and corrupt elites . . . on the other.
  • Populists distrust (corrupted) institutions, especially those that constrain the “will of the people”, such as courts, independent media, the bureaucracy and fiscal or monetary rules.
  • Populists reject credentialed experts (funded to serve vested interests). They are also suspicious of free markets and free trade (misnomers – so-called free traders erect tariff barriers whenever they can).
  • Rightwing populists believe certain ethnicities are “the people” and identify foreigners as the enemy. They are economic nationalists (but keen exporters and speculators) and support traditional (discriminatory & inhumane) social values.
  • Populists (left and right) put their trust in charismatic leaders
  • Leftwing populists identify workers as “the people” and (only the uncaring) rich as the enemy. They also believe in state ownership of property (if there were ever to be an honestly run state)

Wolf asks why these sets of ideas have become more potent (because central control, corruption and deprivation is increasing alarmingly). He refers to a Harvard study which considers immigration a cultural shift but argues that it can also be reasonably viewed as an economic one (because it’s cheaper to import subservient low-cost labour than to educate one’s own citizens)

What has changed recently?

“The answer is the financial crisis and consequent economic shocks. These not only had huge costs. They also damaged confidence in — and so the legitimacy of — financial and policymaking elites.

“These emperors turned out to be naked” (Correct).

He thinks that the results of past political follies have still to unfold:

  • The divorce of the UK from the EU remains a process with unfathomable results.
  • So, too, is the election of President Trump. The end of US leadership is a potentially devastating event.
  • Some of the long-term sources of fragility, cultural and economic, including high inequality and low labour force participation of prime-aged workers in the US, are still with us today.
  • The pressures for sustained high immigration continue.
  • The fiscal pressures from ageing are also likely to increase.

Wolf’s remedy the economic anxieties can and must be addressed: we must recognise and address the anger that causes populism. He continues: “populism is an enemy of good government (the status quo) and even of democracy (which has yet to be achieved)”.

Aam Aadmi (the Common Man’s Party) originated in the India Against Corruption (‘anti-graft’) movement. It claimed that the common people of India remain unheard and unseen except when it suits the politicians. It stresses self-governance, community building and decentralisation; advocating government directly accountable to the people instead of higher officials. It was formally launched on 26 November 2012 and won 67 of the 70 seats in the Delhi state assembly elections in 2015.

IMHO, as one correspondent often opens, building a stable democracy will require:

  1. proportional representation in which the votes cast reflect the true support for all participating parties and independent candidates;
  2. the attraction of parliamentary candidates with a track record of public service, offering only the national average wage, supplemented by basic London accommodation where needed and travel/secretarial expenses.
  3. and the clear understanding that after election these MPs (and their families) should acquire no shares or non-executive directorships.

And “self-governance, community building and decentralisation; advocating government directly accountable to the people instead of higher officials”.

 

 

 

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