‘Why vote? they’ll just ignore you’, says Steve Beauchampé
The news that Sir David Attenborough has launched the 10,000-tonne hull of the UK’s newest polar ship – named after him – into the River Mersey, revives memories of the saga of Boaty McBoatface.
A 2016 article in The Atlantic, reported that the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council recently ran a contest to determine the name of the new $300-million research vessel (now launched, above):
“The new ship would explore the remotest waters, its side emblazoned with a name chosen by ‘the people’ of the internet. Or such was the idea . . . The name received three times more votes than the runner-up entry. The people of the Internet had spoken emphatically, and they were deemed to have spoken like a five-year-old”.
However BBC Science now reveals that a less imposing Boaty McBoatface, a small unmanned yellow submarine, “lives on”. These Boaty-class subs will frequently operate from the Attenborough, going into places the ship cannot reach, like the floating ice shelves that surround Antarctica.
Steve Beauchampé in the Birmingham Press gave Attenborough his due, continuing: “According to Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson naming the ship Boaty McBoatface would have been ‘inappropriate’, whilst other critics suggested that doing so would have left Britain open to ridicule”. Alternatively, he suggests, “It might have added further to our reputation as a nation of quirky, eccentrics, the country that gave the world Monty Python, cricket, Prince Charles and a wealth of quirky, much-loved traditions and customs”.
Though this disregard for the result of a public vote might be seen as trivial, Steve pointed out, “It is consistent with a government culture that regards the result of elections, referenda and the architecture of democratic structures as expendable”. He gave some examples:
- In in 2012, despite overwhelming votes against the creation of such posts, including by voters in Birmingham and Coventry, little more than three years later an even more powerful mayoral post (that of West Midlands Metro Mayor) was effectively forced upon the region, without the electorate being given any say on the issue (this has also happened in other major conurbations).
- Similarly, Police and Crime Commissioner posts were imposed without a public vote, the government afraid that the creation of such rôles would have been overwhelmingly rejected in any referendum.
- Whitehall has forced significant changes to our system of local democracy. From 2018 councillor numbers in Birmingham will be reduced from 120 to around 100
- and the present electoral cycle, whereby a third of council seats are contested in three years out of four (with no elections in the fourth year) will be replaced with all out elections staged every four years.
- The city council did not seek these changes, the electorate did not ask for them and nor were they given any say in them.
- Government ministers are increasingly overruling local planning decisions, disregarding the will of communities and traducing the democratic mechanisms campaigners faithfully and honestly employed.
- Increasingly, major housing developments, road and other infrastructure schemes as well as highly contentious fracking licenses are being granted consent even where a majority of local voters are opposed.
“A disrespectful attitude to democracy is ingrained in our political system”
This is shown, Steve says, by the regularly reappearance of MPs rejected at General Elections in the House of Lords, “negating their own failure and voting in perpetuity on legislation, with seemingly no sense of shame or embarrassment”, by others simply paying their way into the Lords and by political donors being “regularly rewarded with a place in the nation’s legislature”.
The ‘let’s pretend we never had a vote’ mentality also infects elements of the Labour Party. Despite leader Jeremy Corbyn’s resounding victory in the party’s leadership contest, several hardline right wing Labour MPs openly sought a way of running a new leadership contest that denied Corbyn a place on the ballot paper.
“When the electorate’s wishes can be so flagrantly flouted, it seems reasonable to ask how secure the result of the forthcoming EU referendum will be, or what manoeuvres and machinations might be undertaken to negate the ‘wrong’ result. And I think we all know what result that is”.
Three years later such a comment seems rather prescient.
Steve’s original article may be read in full here.
UK aviation policy is primarily predicated on the requirements of airport operators, major airlines and the Treasury – the needs of passengers come last says Steve Beauchampé in The Birmingham Press.
The government’s long-awaited – and unsurprising – decision to proceed with construction of a third runway at London Heathrow is fundamentally flawed, supported with redundant arguments and highly questionable financial assessments. If the UK had a comprehensive and comprehensible national aviation strategy Heathrow would not be operating at anything like 95% of capacity.
That it does so is the result of a system that essentially forces millions of UK passengers per annum to travel long distances, often in arduous and stressful conditions, to use both Heathrow and London’s two other main airports (Gatwick and Stansted) at great cost both to themselves and the environment. rather than utilising their local airports, many of which are working to a fraction of their capability.
Birmingham International Airport handled 12.9m passengers in 2017 but could cope with around double that number. Meanwhile, Nottingham East Midlands welcomed a paltry 4.88m whilst major population centres such as in the North East, South West, South Wales and along the south coast are all but bereft of decent flight choices. This is not only down to the London-centric approach which blights so many activities in the UK, but the failure of successive governments to challenge and take on the vested interests of London airports and the major airlines.
Two key arguments put forward in favour of a third runway at Heathrow are particularly fallacious
The first is that Heathrow must continue developing as a ‘hub’ airport, competing for passengers not with Birmingham, Manchester or even Gatwick, Stansted and Luton, but with Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Dublin and increasingly Dubai!
So a third (and later probably fourth and fifth) runway at Heathrow is essentially required to allow the airport’s operator Heathrow Airport Holdings to attract passengers who will never leave the airport environs but whose visit is solely to transfer from one aeroplane to another, Great news for HAH, who enjoy increased landing fees as a result, and good news for the Treasury, who collect airport tax each time that a passenger takes a flight.
But it is hardly good news for UK travellers who are not being provided with flights from their local airports to the locations that they want and at a time when they want to fly. Indeed the hub strategy encourages those in the north of England, Northern Island and Scotland to take domestic flights to Heathrow and then transfer planes to reach their ultimate destination.
Yet hub airports may soon be an outdated concept, with technological improvements meaning that modern aeroplanes will be able to fly further (and faster) without the need to refuel (it’s already possible to fly non-stop from London to Sydney). Point-to-point flying seems more likely to be the way ahead.
The second argument in favour of Heathrow runway expansion is that many airlines do not want to fly out of the UK’s ‘regional’ airports (with the possible exception of Manchester, which handled 27.7m passengers in 2017) and would be unwilling to give up valuable landing slots at Heathrow.
But this argument is unacceptable. We would not tolerate train operators refusing to serve smaller stations nor bus companies running services only on main routes. To combat this attitude the number of slots available at Heathrow needs to be limited rather than endlessly expanded, whilst the national airport strategy that Conservative MP and anti-Heathrow Runway 3 campaigner Justine Greening called for earlier this week should focus on ways to create an environment which encourages airlines to relocate services outside of London and the South East.
This is particularly apposite given that both Birmingham and Manchester airports will be stops on the HS2 network by 2030. And whilst there is a real risk that limiting slots at Heathrow will result in some airlines pulling routes and services out of the UK altogether, the country is a large enough aviation market to offer sufficient paths to profit that most such withdrawals will likely be less than crucial and, in some cases, perhaps temporary.
In agreeing to support Heathrow’s third runway the government have committed to paying £2.6bn in compensation to those communities near to the airport that will be destroyed or significantly affected by the project. To which can be added an estimated £10bn in public funding for the new infrastructure and environmental measures required to support the expansion.
How much better to invest this money throughout the UK to create a national airport infrastructure to meet the needs of the travelling public, and one befitting the world’s fifth largest economy.
As Steve Beauchampé writes in the Birmingham Press and Political Concern, generations of an elite have ruled this nation (with a few intermissions) for as long as anyone can remember, due to a rigged electoral system.
Their dual achievements:
- comfortable tax arrangements for the few, a political/corporate nexus which ensures highly paid and nominal duties for all in the inner circle
- vast military expenditure bestowed on the arms industry, as rising numbers of the population survive in relative poverty, wait in hospital corridors, receive a sub-standard education and depend on handouts to eke out their existence.
Direction of travel
Beauchampé: “(The) economy is increasingly kept afloat by the economic support of China . . . The modern high-rise residential blocks that have sprung up throughout the capital may give the impression of a modern, flourishing economy, but look closely and you will see that many are all but empty, whilst homelessness and a reliance on subsistence level housing grows . . . “He notes that surveillance is at an historic high with spy cameras, and even microphones installed in many public places -describing the state’s ability to track the population and follow their activities and conversations as ‘frightening’. . .
The elite stranglehold could be broken
OB’s editor agrees with many that electoral reform is a priority for beneficial change – but even under the rigged ‘first past the post’ system, if the weary mass of people (Brenda of Bristol) saw the true situation they would vote for the candidate with a credible track record who would be most likely to work for the common good.
When it comes to the Middle East, George Osborne seems as confused as ever suggests Steve Beauchampé.
The final reflections:
Syria, for all of its horrors, is not the West’s fight and to imply that we ought to have done something more militarily is to imply that there was more we could have done. But the Syrian civil war is a complex, multi-layered web of both centuries old religious, tribal and ethnic disputes and divides and modern day political and territorial opportunism that those recent western military escapades, enthusiastically supported both in opposition and in office by the likes of George Osborne, have exacerbated.
The fall of Aleppo will not end the Syrian civil war, merely change its dynamics. Britain’s best and most productive response must continue to be seeking as peaceful a resolution to the conflict as possible, providing humanitarian aid and bolstering the role of the United Nations.
Vested interests rule as Blairites attempt to replace their elite-free, increasingly ‘in tune’ leader
Ever since devolution and the establishment of a Scottish Parliament in the late 1990s, there has been a growing vibrancy to politics in Scotland. Energised by the 2014 independence referendum, boosted further by the election of the estimable Nicola Sturgeon as SNP Leader and First Minister, Scotland appears as a young, optimistic, politically engaged country . . .
Around two-thirds of under-25s voted Remain, the opposite of how middle aged and older people acted. The feeling that those generations which had enjoyed free education, a free health service, an abundance of affordable housing and triple lock protected pensioner benefits were limiting the life chances of the nation’s children and young adults was palpable. ‘Grandma, what have you done?’’ read one on-line headline.
Two decades and more of unforgiving, neo-liberal economics and globalization saw the export of jobs and the import of cheap labour and even cheaper raw materials; nearly a decade of austerity and the decimation of public services and the societal values which they underpinned; local pride sapped by a London-centric economy and an unprecedented and growing wealth gap. All this within a moribund political system where the First Past The Post electoral process locks in a two-party hegemony whilst awarding UKIP and the Green Party, who collectively amassed around five million votes at the 2015 General Election, a mere two parliamentary seats.
The impact of all this and more reached a crescendo in an outpouring of anger and frustration, although given the myriad warnings of the economic consequences of a Leave vote the response of electors seems as illogical as rioters attacking their own community.
The political elites voters so often complain of are not about to be replaced, our political infrastructure alone makes this a near-impossibility.
Because leaving the EU addresses none of the above grievances and if there is any taking back of control, to quote the slogan used relentlessly by the Leave campaign, then it will be done by those such as super wealthy, Eton and Oxford educated Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Iain Duncan-Smith, supported by a coterie of hard-right Europhobes rather than by the 17 million others who voted Leave.
And Labour’s Blairite wing, despite public rejection of their strong pro-EU stance, are attempting to replace their elite-free leader
Blairites – despite the fact that Jeremy Corbyn’s more conditional support for the EU and reformist agenda arguably chimed more closely with that of many Remain voters than he has been given credit for – are trying to replace him with yet another business-friendly, corporately connected, ‘Britain is open for business’ espousing candidate.
And whilst it would be pleasing to see increased calls for greater transparency and democratic accountability resulting from the UK’s EU referendum, the debate itself could have achieved this. Regrettably however, the more tangible outcome of our Leave vote is the empowerment of UKIP’s (often more extreme) nationalistic and sometimes fascistic counterparts in mainland Europe, most notably Marine Le Pen’s Front Nationale in France but also the Freedom Party in Austria, Law and Justice (Poland), Golden Dawn (Greece) and Germany’s Alternative for Deutschland, have received succour in their never pleasant, sometimes odious, desires to break up an increasingly multi-cultural EU and wallow in their insularities. Their rise means additional fear and hardship for immigrant communities.
The law of unintended consequences writ very large – sometimes people really should be more careful what they wish for.
Media 56: PR rampant in Wales: ‘Tories on the rise’ (BBC), UKIP set to surge (Times). Wrong-footed by latest by-election result?
Yesterday Boris Johnson said the Conservatives are “on the rise” in Wales ahead of May’s assembly election. The Mayor of London spent Tuesday campaigning in Wales, visiting Newport, Cardiff and Brecon, Powys.
The Times (aka the Stirrer) reported that UKIP will surge to election success in Wales as Labour risks losing its control of the nation’s assembly, according to a YouGov poll. Neil Hamilton predicted that his party would beat Plaid Cymru and hold the balance of power in Wales, with a breakthrough in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where they expect their first representatives to be elected.
Were they aware of the recent Caerphilly (Moriah Ward) result?
Labour 464 [55.7%; +8.6%]
Independent 196 [23.5%; +23.5%]
Independent 89 [10.7%; +10.7%]
UKIP 77 [9.2%; +9.2%]
Conservative 7 [0.8%; +0.8%]
Though a Conservative spokesman claimed that the party had “established an important bridgehead” by standing in a ward it has previously not contested, David Harse held the seat for Labour with 464 votes — an 8.6% swing to the party and more than 250 votes clear of the second-placed candidate.
Tory candidate Nigel Godfrey polled only seven votes in council election – 0.8% of the 833 votes cast at the by-election in Caerphilly’s Moriah ward on Thursday. The Tories’ performance was highlighted on social media and may not bode well for the party ahead of the Welsh Assembly elections. Steve Beauchampé drew our attention to this news in an article by Luke James (above, left), who sees this result as ‘a humiliating setback’ to the Conservatives’ Welsh election campaign.
We shall see.
Despite the government’s cruel raids on the most vulnerable, there is more than a bat squeak of pity for the PM as attacks mount
“There is something very satisfying about observing Prime Minister David Cameron on the receiving end of a hostile Tory media as he attempts to negotiate new terms for Britain’s continued membership of the European Union.
“This is a man very used to getting his own way, used to having and enjoying that same Tory media supporting his attacks not only on political opponents but on the poor and vulnerable, the defenceless, the voiceless and the marginalised, exaggerating and inflating his pronouncements in the process.
“Born into wealth, married into even more wealth, luxuriating in self-assurance and a veneer of charm, Cameron regularly dismisses legitimate concern and criticism of his government with a string of political catch phrases, jibes, insults and vacuous rhetoric. He does this not as a sideshow, but as a core trait of his political modus operandi”.
SB continues with a references to Cameron’s recourse to ‘fear tactics’ and a dependency upon his political foes to assist with the Remain campaign, as they did before the Scottish referendum, “to deliver a vital victory and personal salvation”.
Today in Rupert Murdoch’s Times, Philip Collins (below) wields the knife more gently:
“Only an incompetent leader would find himself with an overall majority but face possible resignation within months . . . David Cameron’s reputation as a leader has been rising . . . Yet, with all these advantages he has somehow contrived to get himself into a mess on the European Union such that, four months on from this undreamt of domination, he might be forced to resign. If the deal is declared a dud, if the referendum on EU membership goes against his recommendation to Remain, Mr Cameron will be finished. It is hard to think of a comparable political disaster . . .
He really isn’t as good as he appears, is he?
Mr Cameron has always been over-rated by his friends . . .
All fists flailing: the Plastic Hippo:
“Even if we disregard the blatant lies, the avarice, the duplicity, the arrogance and the sheer incompetence and if we forget the broken pledges, promises, pleas and piffle and if we ignore the bluff, double-bluff and triple-bluff, it is still possible to feel some sympathy for the Rt Hon David Cameron MP. It cannot be easy for a two-bit chancer, snake oil salesman and card-shark to invite himself to the biggest crap game in Europe and expect to be taken seriously.
“He might be a shallow embarrassment but he is our shallow embarrassment and at least deserves our pity.
“Cameron promised a “definitive” referendum on UK membership of the European Union. This solemn pledge was made when opinion polls confidently predicted another hung parliament and a continuation of the disastrous coalition between vicious Tories and the now extinct Liberal Democrats. Simply to break even, Cameron had to raise the stakes to see off the challenge of xenophobes, little Englanders and racists threatening to take votes in Tory marginal constituencies. Knowing full well that a referendum would never take place during a coalition government, he now has to go through the motions after unexpectedly gaining a slim majority.
“This bold action will reduce the national debt by about the same amount as the cost of Mr Cameron`s travel and catering bill accrued to secure the deal.
“The promise was of full-on treaty change, massive reform and ever widening European division. Realising that he is holding a busted flush, snake eyes Cameron has dropped the anti. He will fold and walk away from the Brussels crap game waving his winnings at a grateful British public. The massive reforms will include an end to benefits paid for the fifth, sixth and subsequent children of Transylvanian shepherds currently working in Redcar steel mills. This bold action will reduce the national debt by about the same amount as the cost of Mr Cameron`s travel and catering bill accrued to secure the deal.
The Hippo notes: “Full-on treaty change will ensure that the European parliament will not be allowed to impose impertinent and unnecessary scrutiny and regulation of the City of London thus maintaining the honourable reputation of that noble financial institution as the finest, most relaxed illegal gambling den on the planet. Knock twice and tell them Dave sent you”.
And Steve ends:
“For a variety of reasons I still think that Remain will win, yet be in no doubt that before polling day Cameron will be forced to make further concessions to salvage a campaign where both he and the Establishment will often be outflanked and outwitted by opponents. But the discomfort of David Cameron, watching him duck and dive serious political engagement, and find out what it’s like to be relentlessly pilloried in the media, promises to be something to savour”.
Pins for butterflies anyone?
In a recent Newsnight programme, as some speakers pointed out, having a leader with certain ministers ‘facing in different directions’ is not a viable game plan – and Jeremy Corbyn was urged to ‘establish a coherence’. Ahead of the media today, the Labour Party website gives the full list of the current shadow cabinet ministers.
That deeply disappointing, unsupportive deputy leader Tom Watson, misguidedly led tributes to the departing Michael Dugher (left), who previously worked in public relations as government lobbyist for American multinational Electronic Data Systems (EDS), one of the government’s largest IT contractors. He was one of several lobbyists who were elected to parliament in 2010.
His other media claim to fame is as Vice-Chair of Labour Friends of Israel, a title still used in today’s Jewish News article though he is listed on the LFI website as a supporter. Dugher has condemned academic and economic sanctions such as the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign which sees Israel as an apartheid state (putting it mildly) and alerts the public to multinational companies complicit in its activities.
Abysmally poor judgment?
In March, as vice-chair, Dugher gave a keynote speech at the ‘We Believe in Israel’ conference, where he said, “Each time I visit Israel, my admiration for that great country grows.”
Extremely short memory?
The far from radical BBC News reported that 2,100 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip and that the number of civilians killed during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge offensive raised international concern and condemnation. Admiration????
Corbyn’s strength comes from his wider support in the party and Dugher, with other careerist Blairite MPs, rounded on the establishment of Momentum – new grassroots volunteer-led groups – following Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the Labour leadership contest.
Progress supporters and ‘their acolytes in the commentariat’ (Woods) compared Momentum with the now renamed Militant. Caroline Flint MP acidly warned that the new group could “destroy” (right-wing) Labour and Michael Dugher said it was “crazy” of supporters to establish it.
Truth is the casualty here; first-hand experience to date is of four-square solid citizens: Birmingham Momentum who care for the 99%. Above: a cross-section of the 120+, eminently sane and constructive. Check its Facebook page.
Conspiracy theory? Yesterday the writer was told that when Indian rulers wanted to destroy their opposition, they ‘planted’ people within the movement. No need to do that here. Though in public meetings (notably Question Time’) applause is all for the new Labour movement, careerist hopefuls, including Watson, Flint, Dugher, Ben Bradshaw, Jess Philips, John Mann, Simon Danczuk, Mary Creagh, Mike Gapes and Tony McNulty continue to be enormously helpful to the Conservative government and media.
As Steve Beauchampé, a wise observer, said by email: “I agree with Danny Finkelstein on Newsnight (that Corbyn should) lead, dispatch his opponents in the Shadow Cabinet where necessary, don’t apologise, tough it out and set out a firm platform of policies”.
All Labour MPs, councillors and party activists who have ‘learned little from the excitement, energy and debate generated by the recent national leadership campaign’ please note
Steve Beauchampé observes, in the Birmingham Press:
“Regrettably it would appear that West Midlands Labour has learned little from the excitement, energy and debate generated by the recent national leadership campaign when eventual winner Jeremy Corbyn spoke to packed and overflowing halls nationwide, including in Birmingham, and party membership soared to its highest level for decades.
“Were the West Midlands Labour Party asleep all last summer?”
He describes the decision by West Midlands Labour Party officials to bar those candidates standing to succeed Sir Albert Bore as leader of the Labour group on Birmingham City Council from taking part in public hustings as portraying ‘what remains of democratically accountable politics in Birmingham’ in a very poor light.
This, though at least four of the five candidates – Councillors John Clancy, Barry Henley, Penny Holbrook, Mike Leddy and Ian Ward – appear to have been willing to participate in such a debate. One event had already been announced and a second was apparently being planned.
Steve continues: “It is a missed opportunity to reinvigorate the body politic, which in Birmingham has been largely moribund for a long time, thus creating a situation whereby the current government feels able to circumvent the will of the city’s electorate and barely a word of protest is heard”.
How different from the current Labour leader’s aspiration:
Beauchampé touches on “a decade and a half of unwarranted and unwanted restructuring and interference by central government, including the imposition of the Leader and Cabinet system of governance, the wholesale privatisation and outsourcing of public services and the ongoing, ideologically driven, seismic cuts in central government funding (which) have eroded and emaciated local government, and with it key parts of its democratic structures and accountability. Adding substantially to this meddlesome litany is Chancellor George Osborne’s imposition in all but name of metro mayors upon regions whose electorate roundly and democratically rejected the mayoral model just three years earlier”.
Read more about the city’s situation by following the Press link.
Steve Beauchampé ends: “One local political website has suggested that Labour’s hustings decision signals the death of democracy in the city. Well no, but it is a missed opportunity to reinvigorate the body politic, which in Birmingham has been largely moribund for a long time, thus creating a situation whereby the current government feels able to circumvent the will of the city’s electorate and barely a word of protest is heard”.
The Birmingham Labour Party has now announced that there will after all be a public hustings although the date and venue are yet to be confirmed.