Category Archives: Politics
On Tuesday, politicians from across the political spectrum, campaigners and people from all walks of life (a few pictured below), took part in the Hungry for Democracy action initiated by Make Votes Matter, a 24-hour hunger strike to call for a new voting system, one that truly represents the diverse nature of Britain today.
Labour, Green Party, UKIP, Lib Dems, Women’s Equality Party, SNP, and Plaid all shared a platform to fight for a parliament that truly represents the people.
Proportional representation is advocated to ensure a fairer distribution of legislative seats At present, the power of the vote is determined by geography because of the out-dated first-past-the-post electoral system. People feel disenfranchised and ask why they need to vote when the same party always wins in their constituency. In some of those places the winning candidate is elected on under 50%, and in some instances with under 40% of the vote.
In the last election our voting system made a difference in only 99 of 650 seats.
Over 80% of the public in 2017 voted for one of two parties. An estimated 20% of the electorate voted tactically to keep out the party they didn’t want.
Proportional voting systems used for elections in the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament, have been in place since 1999, providing a good blend of constituency MPs and regional MPs.
Several parties – or groups within parties – are fighting for a manifesto commitment to proportional representation, building a better kind of politics. There could even be a cross-party, shared manifesto commitment to electoral reform and a constitutional convention.
The following 2004 broadside was fired by Lord Steyn, described in his Times obituary as an “Outspoken law lord whose liberal views became a thorn in the side of the Blair government, especially over Iraq and Guantanamo Bay”, following Lord Hoffmann’s suggestion that the courts should not interfere with certain Government decisions.
“Courts must never abdicate their duty to protect citizens from the abuse of power by governments . . .The United States government has already created a hellhole of utter lawlessness at Guantanamo Bay by committing such abuse.”
Lord Steyn was born and bred in Cape Town and was one of the few native Afrikaaners who fiercely opposed apartheid. He won a Rhodes scholarship to read English at University College, Oxford and after being called to the bar and sitting as senior counsel in South Africa’s supreme court emigrated to Britain in 1973 to start on the bottom rung of the legal ladder.
Though English was not his native language, his Afrikaans accent remained thick and his ‘delivery’ in court was hesitant, he was admired for his clear arguments and his skill in cross-examination. Having served as the presiding judge on the Northern Circuit, Steyn moved to the Court of Appeal in 1992. He was made a life peer in 1995.
A detainee from Afghanistan is carried on a stretcher before being interrogated by military officials at Camp X-Ray at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (Telegraph 2016)
In 2003 he accused the home secretary, David Blunkett, of using “weasel words” to justify his policy on asylum seekers. Five months later, Steyn branded the US regime at Guantanamo Bay “a monstrous failure of justice” and declared that the system of trial by military tribunal was no more than a “kangaroo court” that “makes a mockery of justice”.
The unkett then blocked his appointment to a House of Lords judicial committee
The senior law lord, Lord Bingham of Cornhill, was asked not to include Steyn on the nine-judge panel to decide on the legality of detaining foreign terror suspects without trial – the first time a government had ever sought and obtained an alteration in the composition of the House of Lords’ judicial committee.
His other achievements include:
- being one of the judges who ruled by a 3-2 majority that the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was not entitled to claim sovereign immunity from prosecution;
- reproving Lord Irvine of Lairg, the lord chancellor who sought ‘an unfettered right to impose rule changes on the legal profession; “He is a member of the executive carrying out the party political agenda of the Labour administration. He is a politician. To entrust to a cabinet minister the power to control the legal profession would be an exorbitant inroad on the constitutional principle of the separation of powers”;
- claiming, when Britain introduced executive detention without trial in 2001, that the UK opt-out from the European Convention on Human Rights was not justified “in the present circumstances”.
- arguing, as chairman of Justice, the human rights group, that the Iraq War was unlawful and said that, “in its search for a justification in law for war, the government was driven to scrape the bottom of the legal barrel”;
- dismissing Tony Blair’s suggestion, just months after the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005, that the war had not made London a more dangerous place as a “fairytale”.
A champion of the Human Rights Act 1998, he retired satisfied that it had already “transformed our country into a rights-based democracy”. Hmm . . .
Anthony Lester, QC, wrote: “He has woven the Human Rights Act into the fabric of our legal system. He has a terrier-like tenacity and the courage of a lion. He’s going to be extraordinarily difficult to replace.” Agreed.
A reader sent the link to this consideration of e-petition 168657 relating to proportional representation
30 October 2017
Edited extracts, emphasis added
A constituent of mine has conveyed to me the fact that she feels passionately that unless some kind of system is devised that truly represents voters’ opinions, our democracy will be even more broken that it is at the moment—she cited the example of the United States. We must ensure that people feel that their voices are heard here in Parliament.
It seems a very odd and conflicted scenario that those who say that they seek a so-called fairer voting system are unable to accept the result of the last referendum on this very issue. “Ah,” some people will cry, “that was about the alternative vote, AV. This is about proportional representation—a very different thing altogether.” The fact remains, however, that the referendum result was not only a rejection of AV, but a massive endorsement of our current voting system.
I support proportional representation but voted against AV, because I thought that single transferable vote was a better system.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that first past the post is inherently an electoral system for a two-party political system? In England, there are at least five competitive parties, and in Wales and Scotland, which have national parties, there are six.
How can first past the post possibly reflect that diversity of political parties?
The hon. Gentleman is being very generous in giving way. Does he not have any concerns about safe seats and the sense of a local monopoly if there is no competition for power? His party surely understands the concept that if one party has complete control in an area, we get bad government.
I have always been a supporter of electoral reform. It has always seemed to me that the obvious starting point for any electoral system is that the number of votes that people cast for parties should be reflected in the composition of Parliament or whatever body is being elected.
Frankly, I find it absurd that on several occasions in British history we have had elections where a party with fewer votes than another has won the election and formed the Government. That happened as recently as 1974, and before that in 1951 and on several other occasions. The number of votes cast should be reflected in the composition of Parliament. That is the start and end of the debate for me,
We have this argument about strong and weak government, but strong government to me means good government. It does not mean a Government with an artificial majority propelled into that majority by the system when the people have not voted for that majority. Whatever we think of things such as the Iraq war or the poll tax, they are examples of strong government, but I argue strongly that they are not examples of good government.
The devolved nations have led the way on a whole range of policy issues, simply because they have a more representative political culture. Many know full well that first past the post is open to manipulation. It has always been the case in every party represented here that favoured sons and daughters have been parachuted into constituencies or selection processes have been manipulated. It is simply not true that that can be transferred to any system that has a list involved.
If democracy is about fairly representing the views of the people, we are failing with first past the post. As a country, we pride ourselves on our strong commitment to democracy, yet the vast majority of votes stack up and simply do not make an impact on the overall result. No fewer than 68% of votes cast in June’s general election were, in effect, wasted—they made no difference at all to the outcome.
Yes, I have a vested interest.
Some 1 million people voted Green in 2015. Under a proportional system, those votes would have given us more than 20 MPs.
However, I am also deeply worried about what our outdated, dysfunctional electoral system is doing to the legitimacy of our governance system—a system that not only fails the political parties and fails to deliver effective government, but fails the citizens of this country.
The Electoral Reform Society described the 2015 general election, in which a Government were elected on just 24% of the eligible vote, as “the most disproportionate” in electoral history. It further reported that in the election just gone more than 22 million votes —68%—were essentially wasted because first past the post takes no account of votes for the winning candidate over and above what they needed to win, or indeed of votes for losing candidates.
In five constituencies 90% of votes made no difference to the outcome because they were cast for candidates who did not win, or cast for the winning candidate over and above what they needed to win. More than 90% of votes—a huge number.
On the point about devolution, we have proportional representation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and in London. It works very well. People understand it, and it delivers good government in all those regions.
One disadvantage of our current system is that it has so many things that are negative and skew it.
As was mentioned, marginal seats are targeted, with parties throwing all kinds of money at them to try to win them back, whereas voters who do not live in a marginal seat are lucky to get a couple of leaflets through the door. That is not a good and representative system, and we need to think a bit better about how we get around and change those things. PR, under which all votes count a good deal more, would certainly be one way to change that, particularly when asking for second or third preferences from constituents, as happens in Ireland, which has a far more competitive system where people fight for those votes.
I also thank my constituents who have written to me on this very important subject.
First past the post neither reflects voters’ wishes nor is any more likely to provide strong government than proportional representation. I will also quote the late Robin Cook, who said in 2005: “Democracy is not just a means to an end. Democracy is a value in itself. And if we treasure that value, we need to provide a more democratic system for the centrepiece of our own political structure.”
I agree with the Electoral Reform Society that, under first past the post, people feel more like observers than participants in the democratic process.
Since the last Labour Government created the London Assembly, I have been involved in campaigning for elections in which the geographical link is maintained, contrary to the points repeatedly made by Members here who oppose a change. Furthermore, the London Assembly reflects the voting intentions of Londoners, as do all the new elected legislative bodies created by the last Labour Government in the years after 1997.
The hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) mentioned the recent New Zealand general election, of which I have personal experience. When I visited my son in New Zealand in September, I played a small part on election day. They have multi-Member PR there. Notwithstanding the unorthodox way in which the leader of New Zealand First announced his choice of partners in the Green and Labour parties, in order to form a Labour-led Government, there is no groundswell of opinion in New Zealand to move away from the multi-Member system. I spent the day reminding voters in a strongly Labour voting area in South Auckland to go out to vote. Because of the PR system, those people were more likely to come out to vote than they might have been under first past the post, which would have made it a safe seat.
In the UK, because of first past the post, many people in safe seats say on the doorstep, “What’s the point of voting?” In highly marginal seats such as my own—it was highly marginal until June 2017, but seems to be a safe seat for the time being—people often vote not for their first party of choice, but the candidate most likely to defeat the candidate they least want. One person in five votes tactically, according to the Electoral Reform Society. The lack of representation in Parliament of small parties is abysmal, but as the co-leader of the Green party, the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), said, those parties often represent millions of votes.
Going into the election in June this year, I had a majority of 465 in my seat of Brentford and Isleworth. The Green party—some of its members are here today—withdrew its candidate because it felt that I was more likely to further its priorities in Parliament than my Conservative opponent. I met many people on the doorstep who normally vote Green and said they would vote for me, but would have liked an influence on getting a Green MP elected to Parliament. I met many Liberal Democrats who were voting for me, but would have preferred the chance to vote Lib Dem. That is not democracy—it is not good democracy.
In my view, PR is a way to have a more representative voice.
While no system is perfect, all systems have elements of complexity. All can bring instability, hung Parliaments and coalitions. PR brings proportionality, as people know that their vote will help towards the weighting of the party they want to see sitting in that legislature, and reflects the complex diversity of the UK now.
I rise to argue that the central purpose of the campaign for proportional representation must be to shine a light on the clear, strong and manifold causal links between the state of our broken politics and the state of our discredited voting system.
The simple fact is that the British people deserve an electoral system in which every vote counts.
Why do the vast majority of developed nations use proportional representation, while our electorate are forced to accept second best?
Decades of research from around the world shows that proportional representation correlates with positive societal outcomes: greater income equality, less corporate control, better long-term planning and political stability, fairer representation of women and minorities, higher voter turnout, better environmental laws and a significantly lower likelihood of going to war.
Polls consistently show that a majority of the public want PR. The latest poll shows that 67% want to make seats match votes, and those people are joined by a growing alliance of parties, MPs and public figures who want real democracy.
The transparency of a more coalition-based system whereby parties are able to self-identify clearly as parties in their own right is a far more healthy way of running a democracy.
The truth is that it is first past the post that increasingly leads to backstairs deals and pork barrel politics.
I prefer the open politics of transparent coalition building, in which parties are clear about the trade-offs that they would make in a coalition, and the public clearly do too. They like to see their politicians putting the national interest ahead of narrow party political gain, because they can see that our entire political culture, underpinned and compounded by our winner-takes-all electoral system, is not geared to building broad-based political support right across the country. No, it is geared to focus on approximately 100 constituencies —the so-called battleground seats.
I shall finish in that spirit by calling on political parties to commit to including two things in their manifestos: first, an undertaking in principle to replace first past the post with a more proportional system; and secondly, a commitment to organising a constitutional convention, shortly after the next general election, to identify the best possible proportional system that we can implement for our country. True radicalism is about going to the root cause of a problem, identifying the solution and building consensus for change, so let us for once be truly radical.
Let us accept that our politics is broken and that our utterly discredited first-past-the-post system is preventing us from building the new political culture that our country so urgently needs.
The full debate may be read here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2017-10-30/debates/9D7C1DE6-0EA9-45D2-AD7E-D0EEB3ECCB92/ProportionalRepresentation
The Financial Times reported on Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘well-received’ address at the CBI’s annual conference in London on Monday.
Mr Corbyn said to the 1,300 delegates that there was “common ground” between business and the Labour party on the threat a “no deal” on Brexit posed to the economy. Guarantees are needed now to stop firms cutting the UK out of their business models. He continued:
“Many of you feel no closer to having the clarity about the direction of travel you so desperately need [than a year ago]” – the cause: “chaos and confusion at the heart of government”.
He added that time is running out and guarantees are needed now to stop firms cutting the UK out of their business models. He said a transitional arrangement was needed immediately “so that businesses know they won’t face a cliff-edge Brexit when the two year negotiating period is up” and that EU citizens working in the UK should be unilaterally guaranteed full rights to remain: “We agree on the need to signal that the UK remains open to the rest of the world, that Europe is not the enemy,” he said.
The FT’s view is that delegates at the conference appeared impressed by Mr Corbyn’s pro-business tone. Consultant Dina Medland said on Twitter that watching Mr Corbyn address the conference was like “switching from a soap suddenly to a hard news story about human issues — extraordinary delivery”.
Others applauded the confidence of his delivery.
Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director-general, said: “Labour are right that agreeing a transition deal as soon as possible is mission critical to maintain business confidence. There is cross-party agreement on this now and so this is the time for urgent action.”
Mr Corbyn repeated calls for employers to give British workers a pay rise, and said a Labour government would raise taxes and nationalise utility companies. Ms Fairbairn responded: “Industrial strategy and Brexit must be focused on building a fair, innovative and productive UK economy where society benefits.”
Cityam focussed on Ms Fairbairn’s message highlighting the mainstream business belief that “competitive markets are the best way to improve people’s lives. Abandoning this model will hurt those who need help most and make the UK a laggard in the global race for investment”.
The Telegraph’s article said much the same as the FT and the BBC, belying its ‘fake’ headline: “Businesses reject Jeremy Corbyn’s wooing and warn he would trash Britain’s economy”.
Judge for yourself: see the far more substantial and interesting video or transcript https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKNQNa_2anI
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”.
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.
As Boris Johnson rattles his sabre and peddles unsettling fantasies, a Chinese minister refers to Britain’s track record: bringing chaos and humanitarian disaster
On Thursday there was a joint meeting between British and Australian foreign and defence ministers, who discussed closer defence and trade co-operation as the UK prepares to leave the EU.
Boris Johnson, Britain’s foreign secretary, said that Britain was stepping up its commitment to the Asia-Pacific region following its dispatch of Typhoon aircraft to Japan and South Korea last year and plans to sail two new ‘vast, colossal’ aircraft carriers through contested Asian waters at a time of rising tensions between China and the US.
Jamie Smyth in Melbourne (FT) reports that Mr Johnson repeated this claim later in Sydney: “One of the first things we will do with the two new colossal aircraft carriers that we have just built is send them on a freedom of navigation operation to this area,”
HMS Queen Elizabeth is due to come into service in 2020 but HMS Prince of Wales is not due until 2023. They are designed to support F-35 fighter jets, which the UK will not have until 2020, according to the National Audit Office.
Belief in selected tenets of the rules-based international system
Mr Johnson said the aim was to vindicate our belief in the rules-based international system – freely ignored by UK<USA and allies when bombing civilians in several regions – and the freedom of navigation through those waterways which are absolutely vital to world trade.
Will Boris be foreign secretary long enough to implement this – or will he be long gone?
Euan Graham, an analyst at the Lowy Institute think-tank, said Mr Johnson’s commitment to Asian waters was unlikely to take effect until the early 2020s when the carriers would be ready to sail to the region.
The (‘blond British wombat’) foreign secretary told The Australian newspaper that legal certainty in the South China Sea was important and that Britain had a role to play in the region that would be welcomed by many: “People want the involvement of a country that sticks up for the rules-based international system, that is prepared to deploy its military in the area”.
On Friday CNN reports that Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lu Kang said “certain outside countries are determined to stir up trouble” in the region. Whatever banners these countries or officials claim to uphold, and whatever excuses they claim to have, their track record of bringing chaos and humanitarian disasters through their so-called moral interventions in other parts of the world is enough to make nations and peoples in the region maintain high vigilance.”
Broken Britain 7: prolonged, tragic sagas: infected blood transfusions, OP poisoning and Gulf War Syndrome, denial and delay, pending death
The Haemophilia Society has blown the whistle and called for an enquiry into its own failure and that of government, pharma and clinicians. More here.
Medics and politicians knew by the mid-1970s that commercially manufactured blood products from the USA were suspect. By the mid-1980s there were warnings of a similar situation in respect of HIV. Nevertheless these products continued to be imported and used – just as OP sheep dips were.
British haemophiliacs and other victims’ lives were blighted in the 1970s and 1980s by these cheap imported US blood products, harvested from inmates and drug addicts. More than 7,000 were infected and went on unknowingly to infect family
Last week in The Times, Margarette Driscoll recalls that in 2015, following the Penrose report into contaminated blood products in Scotland (which many victims denounced as a whitewash), David Cameron apologised to those who were infected by HIV and hepatitis C.
References to “compensation” have been changed to “payments” – to avoid admitting the liability which is already common knowledge? The sums received by victims of the contaminated blood scandal are known as ex gratia payments.
In April, as he left the Commons, the former health secretary Andy Burnham declared there had been a “criminal cover-up on an industrial scale in the NHS” over contaminated blood and called for a Hillsborough-style inquiry.
Diana Johnson, Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull North, has been campaigning on the issue since she met one of her constituents, a mild haemophiliac who was given factor VIII in 1983 to prevent excessive bleeding when he had a tooth removed in hospital. He discovered he was infected with hepatitis C in 1995, when it showed up on blood tests for an unrelated illness.
As Theresa May had set up the Hillsborough inquiry when she was home secretary, Johnson was hopeful she would do the same for contaminated blood.
May refused. Johnson requested an urgent Commons debate, which was due to be held on Tuesday. She then got the six leaders of the opposition parties — including the DUP — to sign a letter to Ms May asking for an inquiry, and this is to be set up.
Adding insult to injury? Payment to many victims of NHS blood contamination is to be cut
In March this year a scheme to pay the victims of NHS blood contamination is to be scaled back under government plans announced on Monday. Ministers believe the reforms are necessary because more people are now considered likely to develop serious health issues – and be entitled to higher payouts – pushing the programme as much as £123m over budget.
The government has proposed measures that would cut predicted costs, including limiting the availability of the higher level of financial support under the scheme
Will an enquiry compensate the victims of this NHS for the cuts?