Friday, 14 February 2014

Recall - the Political Class dig in

Adam Smith's butcher, baker and candlestick maker were models of civic rectitude by modern standards. Not only did they have to interrupt their trade to sit on both coroner's juries and quarter sessions juries, they faced having to take a year out of work in taking their turn as Constable. The Chartists in the 1840s would have imposed a further duty on them - that of having to sit as MP for a year's term. 

Annual terms for MPs, intended to rid the Commons of a permanent political class who squatted in boroughs as rotten then as Glasgow East or Witney are now, was of course about the only demand of the Chartists that was rejected. In effect, it would have given local voters the power of recall - or at least making sure they weren't saddled with a duff MP or one who failed to represent their interests for very long. 

Tory MPs, at least all those whose priorities are not in the order of country, constituency, party, are running scared that their disgruntled constituents will kick them out if they follow Cameron's promises of junior office, place and favour rather than the wishes of their constituents. So they've dumped the Recall powers from the next Queen's Speech. Recall as proposed was an empty power anyway - MPs themselves would have needed to condemn their fellow member before their voters were to be permitted to do so - but still, 'bent' MPs such as Yeo would have been at risk. Too many MPs see their own position as not very different to that of Tim Yeo.   

A few years ago I was in favour of the Chartists' option - or at least of limiting MPs to a single Parliamentary term - to avoid the creation of a permanent political class. Now I'm far less certain. There are MPs whose experience, ability, honesty or eloquence raise the quality of the House to the benefit of us all. Dennis Skinner and Tam Dalyell come to mind. But to ensure that we keep the ones supported by their constituents and prevent the liggers, dags and spongers from taking root we must have a power of recall.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Reding's meaningless roadshows

Viviane Reding is meeting Europe's 500m citizens. However, as an unelected EU official detached from the democratic process, this means in practice, if Monday's event at the Royal Institution is anything to go by, taking questions from just eight nationals from each nation. 

I counted about 150 people in the audience for her UK roadshow. As it turned out, many of these were European nationals working in London (one of whom thought it unfair that the 2.2m EU citizens in the UK were going to be denied a vote in our Referendum). A whole block in the centre, from whom most questions came, were from a single pressure group - European Youth, or European Future or some such. I didn't quite catch the name - which seemed to be a sort of dating club for geekish EUphiles. Only one angry little chap in a purple blazer asked a couple of intelligent questions that challenged Reding, and satisfyingly pulled her up sharply when she slipped and referred to Europe as a country.

The rest of the two hours was dull pap and tedium of the sort at which the EU excels. Reding proved that in contradiction of the mantras of the MBA dummies, there is an 'I' in 'Europe', and it's Frau Reding. I lost count of the directives she claimed to have sired, and with the mention of each one she swelled like a little red balloon with Europride and hubris. The defining moment came when she described her latest triumph - a Charter for the Rights of Victims. I tasted sick at the back of my throat. Was I a Victim of Euro-hubris? What rights could I claim?

Like the idiot colleague who once remarked to me 'I think I won that conversation', the EU's video of Reding's hectoring monologue is titled  'Vice-President REDING's citizens' dialogue in London'. Dear God, the woman loves herself. Here's a taste if you've the stomach for it.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Localism doesn't mean drowning

In a frankly silly piece in the Telegraph Dan Hodges fails to understand the difference between the central State micro-managing at local level, and the central State's role in providing additional support to local authorities in response to disasters and emergencies. Perhaps the editor of the DT will send him to spend a week with the FEMA in the US to learn the difference.

However, the disastrous flooding on the Somerset levels does raise a Localist issue. If taxes are determined and raised locally to pay for local services including flood defence, doesn't this mean that people in areas prone to flooding will pay more tax than those in higher areas, or have lower standards in other local services? The answer has to be yes. Just as insurance premiums should be linked to the actual risk, so that I, at 120' above sea level, should not be paying extra buildings insurance premiums for those who live on the flood plain below. The land of the Somerset levels without drainage and pumping would be worthless for agriculture; those who enjoy the economic benefits of maintaining it as productive land must pay the cost of doing so. If the cost is uneconomic, then they will abandon the land back to the geese. Let's stop distorting the market. 

The role of the central State must be confined to ensuring that flood protection is workable - and that means joined-up, literally. Building a river wall at 5.23m AOD in one London borough will not be of much benefit if its neighbour only builds at 4.90m.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Swiss immigration vote - what now?

Prior to Switzerland signing up to accords with the EU in 2002, the Federasts maintained trade and economic restrictions that hurt. Since 2002, the Swiss have enjoyed, in the words of a government minister, 'Ten fat years' in which the economy has boomed and the people grown wealthy. But this has come at a price - the loss of cultural and national identity from a million EU immigrants flooding across the open borders. 

The people of Switzerland have decided narrowly that the price of prosperity is too high, and have voted to restrict EU immigration. This places at risk all the other arms of the 2002 accords - and of putting them back to the pre-2002 position. They knew they faced severe economic penalties by defying the EU, yet still they have done so. 

The reaction of Brussels - vindictive counter-restrictions or soft accommodation - will be instructive. 

Miliband's 4-step programme: What it means

Miliband will be using the Guardian's Hugo Young lecture to launch his 'big idea' for Labour. He previews his speech in the paper today, setting out the four key steps to which he intends to commit the party. Here's what they mean.

1. First, people should own information about themselves. We should change the assumption that information on people's interaction with the state is owned by the state. Instead, there should be an assumption that such data is owned by and accessible to the parents, patients and those who use public services who it is about.

We won't increase data and information protection for individuals from the records held or created by banks, businesses, commercial data collectors, profilers or public-private agencies not covered at present by the FOI. We'll make sure that schools stop keeping accurate records on pupils in case they get sued, likewise GPs will record only the blandest, least judgemental notes on patients - Labour will end the 'NFN'* culture.

2. Second, no one should be left isolated when they could link up with others in the same situation. The old assumption of professionals delivering directly to the single user must change, because there is now a wealth of evidence that the quality of people's social networks can make a real difference to the quality of a public service.

We'll set up Oldie Chums Clubs run by experienced social workers. They will be compulsory for any lone adults over 65. Too many single old people are blocking homes that could house young people; eventually we'll make it illegal for old people to live alone in a house with more than one bedroom. This is for their own good.

3. Third, decision-making structures in public services should be thrown open to people so that we tackle inequalities of power at source – from personal budgets that help disabled people design their own care to councils that involve users in key decisions, to the empowerment of parents so that they don't have to wait for Ofsted if they believe things need to change in their school.

Councils will have to publish all key decisions 28 days in advance to allow the public to make representations. The notices will be in very small type at the back of local papers. No-one will take any notice.

4.  Finally, we should devolve power down not just to the user but also to the local level, because the national government's task is to set clear national standards for what people can expect, not to diagnose and solve every local problem from Whitehall. And if we are to succeed in devolving power to users, it is much easier to do it from a local level. In every service, from health to policing to education, and by devolving budgets more widely, we are determined to drive power closer to people

Of course we won't be devolving tax setting powers, or power over rationing those budgets at high level; we're just making savings by getting you people to do the final milk monitor bit for free. And our chums in PwC and KPMG are short of work so giving them the job of 'setting national standards' will bring back some of those 27,000 central State performance indicators the ruddy Tories abolished.  
 
*An acronym often used by East Anglian GPs - 'Normal For Norfolk'

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Mud-loving Green idiots or Treasury rectitude?

As Christopher Booker points out in his Telegraph comments piece, it is Dr Richard North's skills as an expert researcher that have exposed so clearly the EU strategies behind the Environment Agency's deliberate flooding of the Somerset Levels. Booker fears that the Berlaymont will find willing ears in Whitehall if it protests against any change in the EU policy of surrender. 

What no-one has yet adequately explained is why the Dutch, with their refusal to give up so much as a square centimetre of sea-won land back to the brine, is getting away with it? It costs of course - they pay £4bn a year for sea defence compared to the UK's £0.5bn - but I don't see the EU harassing the Binnenhof. And they're not even protecting their pumping stations against Baroness Young's enviro-terrorists and their limpet mines.

Could it be that whilst Richard North is undoubtedly correct, the EU policy is just too attractive to the Treasury not to be implemented?

Dutch Pumping Station that Lady Young wants to destroy 'with a limpet mine'