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.
In an earlier post it was noted that “Governments are balancing budgets on the backs of the poor” (John Grisham) 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”.
Grahame Morris, MP for Easington, wrote earlier this month:
“Across Britain some 3.8 million women are affected by the increase to the state pension age. Though there is a good deal of sympathy for the aim of equalising the retirement age, what has taken place in practice has been appallingly unjust. Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) agrees with equalisation, but does not agree with the unfair way the changes were implemented – with little or no personal notice (1995/2011 Pension Acts), faster than promised (2011 Pension Act), and no time to make alternative plans”.
Guy Opperman, work and pensions minister with responsibility for financial exclusion, failed to reassure women in their 60s, hit by changes to their pension, by advising them to get a job or take up “extended apprenticeship opportunities”.
“Raising the pension age for women, often with little notice and sometimes failing to notify people of the changes at all, is a recipe for disaster.
“Many Waspi women affected by state pension inequality have been working full time and paying national insurance since the age of 15 or 16. In my constituency of Easington, the government’s changes to the state pension age will harm some 4,542 women.
“The OECD has recently ranked Britain’s pensions system as the worst in the developed world – yet the Tories are attempting to deny Waspi women even a basic state pension” . . .
“Excluded from the winter fuel allowance, from the free bus pass and now from the state pension, this generation of women are now in numerous cases having to sell their homes, take on precarious poverty-wage jobs or rely on foodbanks . . .
“The government’s given reason for failing these 3.8 million women is that to give them their pensions would cost as much as £30bn – for six years of pensions.
“Yet research from Landman Economics suggests the cost of helping Waspi women would likely be a more modest £8bn”. Morris lists the wider context:
- Refurbishing Westminster will cost the taxpayer some £7bn,
- Britain’s airstrikes in Syria are estimated to reach a cost of around £10bn.
- Increased privatisation of the national health service is estimated to cost at least an extra £4.5-£10bn each year.
- There have been billions of pounds of needless tax cuts to the bank levy.
“In this context finding the money for Waspi women seems a sensible price to pay to give these women justice and stop poverty from rising to ever more tragic levels. We know and we can see that it isn’t equal, it isn’t fair and it isn’t justifiable – it’s driving down the incomes and the quality of life of countless women.
Morris: “The prime minister is herself a Waspi woman but I doubt she ever has or ever will be faced with a choice between heating or eating. Yet this doesn’t mean it is too late for the government to do the right thing”.
“The parliamentary ombudsman is currently investigating the Department for Work and Pensions for maladministration, by failing to notify women of the changes to their state pension age. If the ombudsman finds in favour of the Waspi women the government could have to pay compensation to the tune of billions of pounds”
The Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, SNP, Plaid Cymru, the DUP and 50 Tory MPs support the Waspi campaign.
Twenty years ago, at the Mebyon Kernow National Conference on 4th October 1997, Dick Cole was elected the Leader of the Party for Cornwall. Two decades on, Cllr Cole continues to be a prominent public figure who is still at the helm of MK and serving his local parish of St Enoder on the unitary authority. First elected to Restormel Borough Council in 1999, he was re-elected in 2003 and 2007.
During this time, he balanced his civic duties with his work as an archaeologist (Cornwall County Council). When Cornwall Council was created in 2009, Dick stood down from his employment, so that he would be able to stand for the new authority. He was subsequently elected in 2009, 2013 and 2017.
In the most recent local election from earlier this year, he polled a vote share of 83%. His majority was the largest achieved by any candidate in Cornwall, and this was his fifth consecutive local election contest in which he polled over 75% of the vote.
Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall – is a modern and progressive left-of-centre political party, campaigning for a better deal for Cornwall and a fairer, more equitable world. It exists to fight for ALL the people of Cornwall, with a political programme that puts Cornwall first and offers an alternative to the London-centred parties.
Speaking on behalf of MK’s ruling National Executive, Deputy Leader Cllr Loveday Jenkin has paid tribute to Dick’s work as Party Leader. She said: “Dick’s long-standing commitment to Cornwall and its people is extraordinary. He has been at the heart of so many campaigns and it is truly remarkable that he has found so much energy to battle for Cornish communities over such a significant period of time.
“It is inspiring how hard he has worked as the leader of Mebyon Kernow and as a proactive local councillor. We are extremely proud of the work that he has done pushing for meaningful devolution to Cornwall, fair funding for Cornwall and its public services, as well as his interventions on a host of planning, housing and other matters. It is disappointing that so much of MK’s pro-Cornwall agenda has not found favour with the other political parties in Cornwall and Westminster, but we are determined to continue to campaign with Dick to secure a better deal for one and all in Cornwall.”
Earlier this year, Dick was listed as No. 3 on the “Cornish List” of the top 50 people who “lead the way in campaigning on Cornish issues” and “flying the black and white flag for Cornwall.”
The list was prepared by the Cornwall Live website, for the Cornish Guardian, Cornishman and West Briton newspapers. He has been at the forefront of numerous campaigns for a better deal for Cornwall, its communities, economy and environment. Read about six of his many achievements here.
Cole addressing MK conference
“Over the past few months, the UK Prime Minister made numerous assertions that there would be no snap General Election. She also repeatedly stated that the next General Election would take place in 2020, as specified by the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act. As a consequence, Mebyon Kernow has not been making preparations for parliamentary elections and, in 2017, we have focused our efforts on the elections to the unitary authority and town and parish councils across Cornwall. Our members consider that the Prime Minister and other Westminster politicians have shamefully misled voters on this matter and are extremely angry at the disrespectful way in which the General Election was announced during local elections. General Election campaigning undoubtedly over-shadowed and subverted the elections to Cornwall Council, where the focus was shifted away from important local issues and onto Westminster party politics, to the obvious benefit of the Conservative Party.”
Dick commented on Facebook that it had been hard to generate coverage in the mainstream media for MK. It announced that the party would not be contesting seats at the 2017 General Election. As a consequence, he then had to spend much of the day dealing with the media – a live interview with Radio Cornwall at 7.00, and recorded interviews with both ITV and BBC Spotlight. It seemed strange that there was almost zero coverage of MK’s local election campaign on television and yet when they announced they were we not going to stand they got full coverage.
He has been personally responsible for more than forty successful grant applications, large and small. In all, over £570,000 has been secured for St Enoder Parish Council and other community groups.
These projects have included the construction of new community buildings, improvements to existing village halls, as well as the purchase and installation of new play equipment and skate parks.
Hopefully one day there will be proportional representation in England, giving Mebyon Kernow and the Green Party the chances that the SNP have in Scotland and Plaid Cymru in Wales.
2014 meeting with Natalie Bennett, then Green Party leader and Emily McIver of East Devon Green Party
In July Peter Hitchens wrote: “Globalisation hasn’t worked but our elite have not yet been held to account”. As he said, the EU referendum result was a heartfelt protest, but is Brexit likely to enhance the lives of those who made that protest? He continued:
“There is nothing good (or conservative) about low wages, insecure jobs and a mad housing market which offers nothing but cramped rooms and high rents to young families just when they need space, proper houses with gardens, and security”.
But people are re-engaging with politics
Hundreds of thousands have joined Labour. Tens of thousands have joined the SNP, Greens, Tories and, since the EU referendum, the Lib Dems – and this, in an age when we have been told that people no longer want to get involved in politics. The growing adherence to Sanders, Corbyn, the SNP and radical parties in Greece, Spain, Italy and Iceland suggest that the existing order is being challenged and new hope is emerging.
In a different article Hitchens said: “If (like me) you have attended any of Mr Corbyn’s overflowing campaign meetings, you will have seen the hunger – among the under-30s and the over-50s especially – for principled, grown-up politics instead of public relations pap. Millions are weary of being smarmed and lied to by people who actually are not that competent or impressive, and who have been picked because they look good on TV rather than because they have ideas or character”.
Is it just a matter of time before parties regroup?
Some Conservative and Labour voters are moving to UKIP, some to the Liberal Democrats – and others are listening to calls for a cross-party progressive alliance.
In July there was a “Post-Brexit Alliance” meeting with speakers including the Liberal Democrat’s Vince Cable, the SNP’s Tommy Sheppard, Labour MP Clive Lewis, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, Amina Gichinga from Take Back the City and the Guardian’s John Harris. This month, a statement calling for progressive parties to work together for electoral reform was published; it is signed by Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, Leanne Wood, Leader of Plaid Cymru, Steven Agnew, Leader of the Green Party of Northern Ireland, Patrick Harvie, Co-convener of the Scottish Green Party and Alice Hooker-Stroud, Leader of the Wales Green Party.
‘Principled, grown-up politics’ indeed.
As primary sponsor, he introduced the EDM 1067: Country Living magazine Fair Trade for British Farmers campaign.
Then he became silent and left all to his colleague Andrew George who never faltered in forming and backing the campaign for a Groceries Ombudsman, despite strong opposition from large retailers. The fact that this has proved of little help to farmers is due to the government’s emasculation of the original proposal.
Opportunist youth or principled maturity?
Now, in a politically understandable but ethically reprehensible move, he is not only courting former party members who left during their spell in coalition but making headlines for a delighted establishment media, with unsubstantiated claims that Labour Party members are contacting him – the implication being that they might join the party.
A formerly active Lib Dem member, who has joined the Labour Party under Corbyn, has forwarded Mr Farron’s claims in his e-letter – apparently referring to the Miliband administration:
“Labour shows no intention or desire to understand economic responsibility. They have given up challenging the Government on the economy, and given them the freedom to make punitive decisions against the most vulnerable”. This does not apply to Corbyn’s administration. And ends:
“We cannot let the Government go unchallenged, and it’s why the Liberal Democrats are now the only party of credible opposition. Liberal Democrats represent people in Britain who care about helping those in need, who believe that those with the broadest shoulders must carry the heaviest burden, who care about how free and fair our society is, and who believe we need to spend within our means to achieve it”.
How much more logical and constructive it would have been for Farron to join the new politics being created by the current Labour administration and leaders of parties like NHAP, Plaid, the Greens and Mebyon Kernow. And many have welcomed the words of the SNP’s able Commons leader MP, Angus Robertson at the latest PMQs. In statesmanlike tones, and with an effective reproof after David Cameron’s lapse, he said that his party “looks forward to working with Jeremy Corbyn and against government austerity” adding “particularly on Trident”
Next: Times’ journalists: ignorant of John McDonnell’s work and alliances, economical with the truth, or under orders?
Arm of government – yet again?
The SNP Westminster Parliamentary Party met on Monday night, to discuss proposals to ‘water down’ the ban on fox-hunting in England and Wales. The 56 MPs decided to oppose these, following a host of letters from English correspondents asking the SNP – as a real ideological opposition – to intervene.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, was interviewed by a Today presenter, possibly Justin Webb
An hour later the BBC website underpinned this view, also – but more politely and by implication.
‘A’ for persistence: BBC later makes this subject the 8am news headline
In a thinly veiled attempt to rally public opinion against the SNP at Westminster, it is implied that the SNP is taking this stance due to pique at the proposal for Scottish MPs to be barred from voting on measures which will have financial implications for their country.
This strong, intelligent and public spirited leader will need all her strengths to counter political attempts to undermine her – and she has support all over Britain.
George Parker, Political Editor of the Financial Times, under the heading “Labour war erupts as Blairites turn on Ed Miliband” foresees a bitter ideological battle for the party leadership:
“Lord Mandelson (Ed: firmly allied with the ‘mega-rich’) said Mr Miliband and his supporters had made a ‘terrible mistake’ in abandoning the New Labour centre ground and undertaking ‘a giant political experiment’ that went badly wrong”.
Ed’s ‘vanity project’? He dared to express some care for the millions in need rather than the already prosperous
Philip Collins, a former Blair speech writer and columnist, tweeted that it would take more than five years to repair the damage of the defeat: “That is the price of the Ed vanity project. He lost two elections in one night.”
The trade union bogeyman
Lord Mandelson said the trade unions that helped to deliver victory for Ed Miliband in the party’s 2010 leadership contest could do the same again by enrolling Labour supporting union members to vote in the 2015 contest. “We cannot open ourselves up to the sort of abuse and inappropriate influence that the trade unions waded in with in our leadership election in 2010,” he said, failing to mention the type of influence he favours.
Bookmakers William Hill 2-1 favourite self declared candidate Chuka Umunna abandons the underprivileged millions
Since Mr Miliband announced his resignation on Friday, Chuka Umunna, shadow business secretary, has signalled his intention to run, echoing the Blairite theme that Mr Miliband had abandoned the centre ground. “For middle-income voters there was not enough of an aspirational offer there,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr.
Parker ends: “Labour’s national executive committee will meet this week to draw up a timetable for the leadership contest. A shorter timetable might benefit Mr Burnham, who already has a great deal of party support, while other less well-known candidates would prefer a contest that runs into the autumn”.
The FT’s editor surmises that the burst of activity by the Blairites was intended to stall any potential momentum behind Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, who is ‘a firm favourite with public sector unions’. Corporate shudder . . .
Media appearances present Andy Burnham as sincere, caring and capable – a socialist in the tradition of those who brought in the welfare state and national health service – though his record with regard to reported Stafford Hospital failures gives pause for thought.
If elected, he could work well with the progressive, humane SNP as long as he rejects the mainstream tradition of welcoming – even courting – advantageous corporate overtures. Untrammelled by corporate fetters, such a government could make decisions in the interests of electors rather than corporations.
Nearest to dream team for the 99%: Miliband, supported by Greens, Plaid, NHAP and SNP, with Brand as scrutineer?
Economic inequality: inimical to civilised life
The FT recently published an essay by Martin Wolf, their associate editor and chief economics commentator. He said that the extraordinary response to Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century revealed that the ground for renewed interest in inequality was already fertile, noting that two experts, the British economist Sir Anthony Atkinson and the French economist François Bourguignon [chief economist at the World Bank] have written books which make important new contributions:
“Those who desire a thought-provoking guide to policy options in advanced countries should grapple with Atkinson’s work”.
Atkinson notes that the US and UK have experienced exceptionally large rises in inequality since 1980 whereas levels of inequality are relatively low in the Nordic countries. He points out that ratios of wealth to national income have risen sharply since the mid-1970s and that a significant part of this increase in wealth belongs to the middle and upper-middle classes, because of the rise in the proportion of the population that owns its own homes, many of which have appreciated greatly in value. Underlying these trends, argue the authors, are complex economic forces:
- technological change;
- the rise of winners-take-all markets;
- financial liberalisation
Specifics: a huge increase in rent extraction and a decline in the egalitarian ethos of the ‘50s
There has been a huge rise in the pay of the business executives who control a large part of the economy’s resources, in extraordinary earnings in the financial sector assisted by the pro-free-market turn by politicians across the world since about 1980, and a decline in the egalitarian ethos that held sway in many countries in the mid-20th century.
Atkinson argues that unequal societies do not function well. The need to protect personal security or to incarcerate ever more people is likely to become a drag on economic performance and inimical to civilised life. If inequality becomes extreme, many will be unable to participate fully in their society.
He points out that the economic argument is that putting a pound in the hands of someone living on £10,000 a year must be worth more to them and to the economy than it would be to someone living on £1m.
His programme of radical reform for the UK is precise and costed, according to Wolf. It begins with the argument that rising inequality “is not solely the product of forces outside our control. There are steps that can be taken by governments, acting individually or collectively, by firms, by trade union and consumer organisations, and by us as individuals to reduce the present levels of inequality”. Policy makers should:
- develop a national pay policy, including a statutory minimum wage set at the “living wage”,
- offer guaranteed public employment at that rate,
- introduce a “participation income” at a national or even EU level, or — as an alternative to such a universal income — social insurance should be made more generous.,
- offer national savings bonds that guarantee a positive real return, and should create a capital endowment paid to all on reaching adulthood,
- return to far more progressive personal income taxes, up to a top rate of 65 per cent,
- make the tax on property should be proportional or progressive, not regressive, as it is now, largely because the main tax on property — the council tax — bears proportionately far more heavily on lower-value housing.
Yet, Wolf comments, history is not on Atkinson’s side. The two world wars and the Great Depression not only devastated private wealth, but also created a powerful sense that “we are all in it together”. Moreover, capital flows were controlled and capitalism was predominantly national.
Wolf: “a situation in which the world’s wealthiest are among the least taxed is indefensible”
Martin Wolf describing Atkinson’s thinking as ‘radical’, takes a palliative line advocating concentrating resources on children, and particularly the children of the relatively disadvantaged. This could in many cases break the multi-generational cycle of deprivation for some families.
He thinks that the sensible, though politically difficult course, is to tax ownership of land and other scarce natural resources more heavily. Furthermore, a tax on lifetime receipts of gifts and bequests, plus wider spreading of educational opportunities, seems to him to be the only way to limit the cascade of unearned advantages across generations.
It is also important to reduce rent extraction, including by corporate management, and to improve co-operation over the taxation of income, particularly income from capital.
Wolf believes Atkinson’s ideas will not be adopted, at least in the UK, even though he recognises that unequal societies do not function well, increasing ‘the need to protect personal security or to incarcerate ever more people, is likely to become a drag on economic performance and inimical to civilised life’.
The writer thinks that some South and Central American countries, Iceland, Scotland, Wales, the Nordic countries and, at present, Greece, have more sense and a desire to promote the common good with the potential to recreate a powerful sense that “we are all in it together”, with capital flows controlled – voluntarily or politically – and a co-operative capitalism, focussing primarily on meeting the needs of all rather than foreign trade and speculation.
Could Miliband, supported by Greens, Plaid, NHAP and SNP, with Brand as scrutineer move firmly in this direction?
Inequality: What Can be Done?, by Anthony Atkinson, Harvard University Press, RRP£19.95/$29.95, 304 pages
The Globalization of Inequality, by François Bourguignon, translated by Thomas Scott-Railton, Princeton University Press, RRP£19.95/$27.95, 200 pages
The choice and stakes in a general election have never been more stark
Another insightful article by John Wight, whose work was featured on this site in February. He celebrates the emergence, on a mainstream platform, of the voice of progressive politics for people in Scotland and all over Britain:
“Nicola Sturgeon, along with Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood and the Green Party’s Natalie Bennett, outlined a vision of hope as an alternative to the conservatism of the mainstream parties, Labour included, who remain prisoners of Thatcherite nostrums to greater or lesser extent”.
Wight sees Ed Miliband as being ‘in a bind’, commenting “Of course, in the event of a hung parliament, the Labour leader will cooperate with the SNP and other progressive forces in order to govern”.
Britain is described as being a desolate and callous place with child poverty, pensioner poverty, the demonisation of benefit claimants, immigrants and the ‘othering’ of entire communities.
For those whose lives have been blighted by austerity and (the writer adds) the more fortunate who are totally disgusted with “government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich’ to quote his earlier article, Wight says that hope is more than a word, it is a lifeline.
The country is crying out for an investment-led alternative in order to return sustainable growth to the economy, replacing the policy of economically illiterate austerity, whose outworkings are analysed by the distinguished American Professor Paul Krugman.
Wight concludes the Nicola Sturgeon, “in articulating the need for transformational change, has become the story of the 2015 general election – to such an extent that the old saw, ‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man’, needs to be amended to read ‘woman’.
“Austerity v humanity. The choice and stakes in a general election have never been more stark”.
To read his article, click here.