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Tuesday, 15 January 2019

They think it's all over .... It is now!

202 For
432 Against

May Lost by 230 votes

Well, we wanted a stake through the heart of the Robbins-Selmayr treaty, and that's exactly what Parliament has delivered. They will be weeping into their beer in the Berlaymont tonight.

We're in uncharted waters here.

Right. I'm going to drink a bottle of Prosecco, play some loud music and maybe air guitar. Ahem.

Macron's Peterloo

Since the beginning of the Gilets jaunes protests in November, reports Liberation, 93 protesters have been seriously injured by the French police, 13 of whom have been blinded in one eye by the careless use of 'flashballs'. 

Press reports are showing pictures this morning of police being issued with automatic assault rifles. It can surely now be only a matter of time before the police shoot dead their fellow Frenchmen and women. Older readers may recall the shootings at Kent State University in 1970, in which four protesting students were killed by the National Guard, and which traumatised a nation. And many more younger people in the UK today will draw a direct parallel to the Peterloo massacre in 1819, at which 11 were killed by Yeomanry. Mike Leigh released a film about it last year; few would imagine that Macron now fills the role played by William Hulton two hundred years ago. 

11 were killed at the original Peterloo
So far, 93 have have been seriously injured by Macron - including 13 blinded
There are strong parallels between the democratic disempowerment that motivated both the Peterloo protesters and the Gilets jaunes; as we have often remarked, ordinary people are the losers from a globalism that has seen
  • Increasing inequality
  • Living standards down
  • People excluded from decision making
  • Decline of working class power
  • Globalism / AI causing disempowerment
  • Cultural loss - damage to cultural identity
Street protest is the French way. In Britain we have been lucky in that parliaments and governments have usually eventually listened to the voices of the people before blood was spilled. But Peterloo was an exception. Let's hope and pray that we don't breed our own Macron here -  a violent and authoritarian man prepared to use extreme measures to retain power - nor ever again see a Peterloo. 

Monday, 14 January 2019

Post Brexit - the UK's urgent fixes

This is a filler post until the conclusion of the Commons vote tomorrow. As debate continues in the House, we must look forward to the UK's role in the world post-Brexit - and start to identify those characteristics of our national economy which most drag us down.

A useful tool is the WEF's 2017/18 Global Competitiveness Report. For starters, I've pulled off the rankings of the UK and of our closest competitor, Germany, in the field of Institutions.

Well, we rank much higher than Germany overall - 12th to their 21st - but we could do a lot better. In terms of legal rights - investor protection, property rights, judicial independence - we're way ahead. Giving investors confidence that the State won't seize their wealth on a whim is a sound foundation.

However, there are three key indices that completely drag us down. Government favouritism (pork barrel corruption), government efficiency (27th globally compared to Germany's 6th) and the burden of government regulation (32nd globally to Germany's 7th). My own view is that the drag of government on the nation's output is due to our highly concentrated central State. Whitehall wants to control and micromanage everything, but does so badly - and as a consequence economic efficiency is badly impaired.

The other index that lets us down badly is trust in our politicians. Britain's politicians are trusted less than 16 other nations. Of course, this was compiled before their disgraceful behaviour in Parliament over Brexit. Today it must be off the page.

MPs must put a stake through the heart of the Robbins-Selmayr Treaty

There is a remarkable consensus as to what MPs must do tomorrow evening. The weekend's final spasms of government frenzy in seeking to terrify Conservative MPs barely lasted past Sunday lunchtime - the story of the Chief Whip stumbling across a dastardly plot in the cloakroom, as Boris Johnson puts it in the Telegraph, "like Jim, the narrator of Treasure Island, who overhears the conspiracy of the pirates while hiding in an apple barrel"

The call now is not just for MPs to defeat the Robbins-Selmayr Treaty tomorrow, but to do so demonstrably, driving a stake through the heart of Martin Selmayr's plot to split Northern Ireland from Britain.

After tomorrow? Who knows. Corbyn has declared he will call a vote of no confidence in the government. He is likely to lose it, but if by some chance he gains the needed two-thirds majority, it would mean a General Election on Thursday 21st February. Other desperate Conservative Remainers are doubtless plotting puerile public schoolboy tricks, with little notion of the fury they will unleash amongst the 17.4m, who have to date proven remarkably patient, well-behaved and responsible in the face of naked anti-democratic sabotage.

No. I think Boris has the sense of it today;
If the PM is defeated on Tuesday, she should come to the House and announce:

(1) that the UK and EU will keep the sensible bits of the deal, notably on citizens;

(2) that the backstop is coming out;
(3) that we are going to use the implementation period to negotiate a Canada-style free-trade deal, and withhold half the £39 billion until we get it; and
(4) that we are going to intensify preparations for no deal – in the knowledge that it is by preparing for no deal that we are likely to get a very good deal.
Not my favoured Clean Brexit, but a pragmatic 'well, we did offer ...' solution that I'm sure Brussels would reject, giving us a Clean Brexit by default. 

Sunday, 13 January 2019

UK could cope without Dover

Amidst all the hysteria from those who should know better, all the shrieking and foot stomping that Dover, as the UK's principal port, will be rendered into stasis by 200 mile long queues of trucks in the event of a Clean Brexit, comes a simple and informative briefing from the government.

Now I have to apologise to the myriad ranks of mid-level civil servants here, dedicated and professional. They lack the anilingual abilities, mendacity and hypocrisy of those destined for permanent secretaries, but their straightforward research and inherent honesty has built up a dam of information that has been held back by their bosses, such was Mrs May's determination to restrict any useful information that would weaken the Robbins Treaty. From such internal censorship grew myths such as Dover.

Well, the recent past, once the government could deny Clean Brexit planning no more, has seen a veritable tsunami of evidence in favour of Clean Brexit coming from the bowels of government. I offer, ladies and gentlemen, just one graphic from UK Port Freight Statistics, from the Department of Transport (one of whose alumni is a valued reader of this blog):


Saturday, 12 January 2019

There's no better reason than this for a Clean Brexit

Well, we've all been expecting it for some time. Now it seems it is upon us.
"Something Biblical is approaching"
2019 has started more calmly after a very volatile year-end in the markets. Focus has been on the trade deal between China and the US and the words of the central bankers, most notably those of Jay Powell. However, this is all just a distraction, a side-show. The market volatility was only the first sign of an approaching global economic crisis, as we warned in December 2017.

As the recent PMI figures across the globe show, a global downturn has started and the world is utterly unprepared for it. The global imbalances that have been growing for years cannot lead to anything else than a global crisis . However, there are different paths the crisis could take.

Here, we present three scenarios that the global economy is likely to follow, when the global downturn morphs into something much more sinister.

We’ll start with the most likely scenario: Global Depression.
That from Zerohedge. And from Matthew Lynn in the Telegraph, 'The next Eurozone crisis has already started'
The numbers coming out of all its main economies, from Germany to France, Italy and Spain, are relentlessly bad. What does that mean? Far from winding up quantitative easing, the European Central Bank will be forced to step in with emergency measures to rescue a failing economy – but it may well prove too little, too late.
It's becoming increasingly clear that May's deal is like nothing more than clutching tightly to a man just about to jump off a bridge, whilst the EU is of course keen to pocket Britain's £39bn as rapidly as possible and ensure we go down in the Brussels Götterdämmerung. 

It would be a short-sighted and foolish government indeed that would want to lock the nation into a restrictive, destructive and harmful treaty at such a time. Britain is better placed by far to weather the coming storm alone and unencumbered, with our resources in the bank and trading on WTO terms. Those global corporates of the CBI and ERT that May is working so hard to please will be critically injured and many may not survive - so why shackle the people of Britain to their failure?

One thing is certain.The world economy that emerges with shredded sails and fractured spars from the storm will not be the same as today. Now is therefore actually the least favourable time for the world's fifth largest economy to seek to lock itself into trade deals. Germany is effectively a monoculture, the entire nation and economy geared to late 20th century metal bashing. It is at great risk from the downturn. 

The fight for a Clean Brexit is a fight to free us to take advantage of the post-crisis world - a world of AI, of managed worldwide migration flows, a world in which Internationalism justly defeats Globalism. With a Clean Brexit, and when the seas are calming after the storm, Britain stands poised to rise from the wind-piled spume around our Isles cleansed and renewed.  

For the nation's good, May's treaty must fall and we must leave the EU on clean terms.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Plans and Lies - the long betrayal

Back in the early 1970s, prior to the last EEC Referendum in 1975, Britain's ministers and civil servants were fully aware of the loss of democratic power they were signing up to. They were also concerned to hide the truth from the British public. From a secret Foreign Office file - FCO 30/1048 - the truth is even now emerging. Just one single paragraph -
26. To play an effective part in the Community British members of the Commission and their staffs and British officials as negotiators will necessarily assume more political roles than is traditional in the UK. The Community, if we are to benefit to the full, will develop wider powers and co-ordinate and manage policy over wider areas of public business. To control and supervise this process it will be necessary to strengthen the democratic organisation of the Community with the consequent decline of the primacy and prestige of the national Parliaments. The task will not be to arrest this process, since to do so would be to put considerations of formal sovereignty before effective influence and power, but to adapt institutions and policies both in the UK and in Brussels to meet and reduce the real and substantial public anxieties over national identity and alienation from government, fear of change and loss of control over their fate which are aroused by talk of the "loss od sovereignty"

To translate into modern vernacular, 'Unelected officials will assume more power. This is needed to allow the EEC itself to develop new powers in new areas. Power will flow to the Commission and its officials from national democratic Parliaments. We mustn't stop this, for it would hinder the Community's expansion into a Superstate. We have to control the public's reaction to their losing real and democratic power'

They knew. They've always known. And they lied and they lied. 

Government deception exposed - the great betrayal

Thursday, 10 January 2019

The whole point of Brexit

This is going to be a difficult post to write. I was challenged yesterday to demonstrate the benefits of Brexit for Remainers. Good idea. Let's look at their concerns and counter them, was my initial thought. The arguments against Brexit fall largely into two sorts; first is the stance of a privileged elite of achievers, who argue on economic, trade, legal, philosophic and rational grounds, argue that sovereignty is silly poo-poo and that glorious globalism is the only sensible way ahead. Well, we've argued all those points to death, and only actual Brexit will prove who is right.

The second sort of argument is that which one hears constantly on social media, on MSM interviews with the young, with students and travellers, with EU workers in Britain, from metropolitan remainers, and is far more personal and self-concerned. It is that Brexit will constrain their rights, their freedoms, their free stuff. Erasmus, free rail passes, EU subsidies for universities sending students to study in other nations. The more hysterical will howl that Brexit is stopping them travelling to, living and working in Europe. One can argue, demonstrate and reason that Brexit will have little effect on any of these rights - but will probably curtail the hidden subsidy paid by UK taxpayers for some 'free' stuff such as medical treatment. This is one of the most heinous costs. The UK charges the EU27 for medical treatment for EU citizens in the UK, and the EU27 charge the NHS for treatments provided in Europe to Brits. It's what the EHIC does. Except we pay the EU about £775m a year but the NHS only collects £50m a year. 

I could have gone on but would have been wasting my time. Figures and facts and lists won't counter the injury the second group have received - which is to their sense of entitlement. Their outrage is due to their deep sense of entitlement to ease, comfort and convenience having been offended. We're taking away free stuff. Facts and reason can't counter that.  

Then I watched 'Brexit: The Uncivil War' again and was reminded what we are fighting for; people. 

If you pop into Dot's in Jaywick fairly early, you may be surprised to see the quality 'broadsheets' amongst the piles of tabloids. Nowhere, not even Jaywick, is a stereotype. Although the ONS tells us that 50% of residents here have no qualifications at all, 7% have a degree and 4% a professional occupation. I know this to be true. I used to sail these waters and know people. One such who helped me with great kindness lived not in Jaywick but in a caravan at nearby St Osyth. He had a degree from Edinburgh and could crack through the Times crossword, but drink had cost him a life, job and marriage. When you look at pictures such as this and wonder who lives in these places, don't make assumptions. 

Independent, bloody-minded but poor retired people who shun Council or sheltered accommodation. Long-term sick and chronically disabled. And if you've seen Ken Loach's film, here live the Daniel Blakes. Maybe a third of residents have some sort of work, but those in full time employment get out whilst they can, to addresses not on credit blacklists, away from the pervasive sourness of quiet desperation.

Jaywick is not somewhere known to the rich middle-class kids ligging taxpayers for their Erasmus holidays, fleecing taxpayers for their medical care when they fall off their skateboards in Ibitha. Their new iPhones cost ten weeks income for many Jaywick residents, their trainers a month's food. And their concerns for the people who live in these places? They want them to die, to reduce the Brexit vote. 

When I watched these scenes in the C4 dramadoc I felt anger, compassion, frustration and pride in equal measure. We are either One Nation or we are nothing. We either spurn selfish grasping privilege or we are demeaned. When did sharp-elbows and rapacious self-interest become middle class virtues? When was it OK to discard whole cohorts of people such as these? If I voted Brexit for anything, it was to win back from the globalists, from the bureaucracy of the unelected elite, from the fat, corrupt and uncaring establishment, some measure of redress, some correction to these imbalances. 

And yes, there is one over-riding and critically important thing that Brexit can do for Remainers. It is to show them that their fellow man is not just the native they met on their gap year in Thailand, but the older bloke in the TKMaxx trackies in the Co-op queue at home counting the coins in his palm.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Designer primrose vests and obscene imprecations

There is a new suggestion going the rounds from the Remainers - that they should stage a Remainer 'General Strike' in the event of Brexit happening. The chaos, of course, would be appalling.

Schools and universities would be short-staffed as teachers would leave their posts to enjoy a strike day, some in London no doubt headed to Borough Market for a day of browsing and grazing. But Borough Market, like much of Hoxton and Spitalfields, would have come to a halt. The artisanal yoghurt-makers would be striking, as would the sour-dough bakers and vegan-rennet Islington cheese-makers. The Feng Shui carrot stall would be deserted, the hipster porridge and Quinoa bars empty and dark, and the cute bistrot start-up using roofer's nailbags as plates forlorn. 

In Farringdon, Exeter Market would be empty. The app design studios, the organic health workshop in which Guardian hacks have their feet nibbled by fish to the sounds of whalesong, the myriad colour consultancies and the interior design practices they serve all dark. Only St John, the coarse eaterie feeding ruddy Leavers with offal, would remain open. 

Across London traffic would flow freely as TfL's traffic consultants took a strike day. Black cabs would enjoy a near monopoly - Remainers preferring Uber - with drivers  explaining the perils of Qualified Majority Voting to imprisoned fares. The trains would be blissfully empty, and best of all the streets clear and safe from the swarms of lycra louts on their £3k death machines.

The BBC would broadcast Ealing comedies and 1950s war films non-stop as eight out of ten staff would not have turned up. James O'Brien (Ampleforth, LSE) would be lunching with David Dimbleby (Charterhouse, Oxford, Bullingdon Club) and Adam Boulton (Westminster, Christ Church, Oxford) at Le Gavroche whilst assistants covered their shows. 

And outside Parliament, a score of Remainers in plastic vests specially designed in pastel and primrose shades by Stella McCartney would howl vile and obscene imprecations at SPADs and researchers they mistook for MPs.

What's not to like?

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Reform and renewal - new forms of democracy

In the days following the 2016 referendum result, I posted the meme below on Twitter. It reflected the shocked reaction of the political establishment that we had not done as we were told, despite them having spent twice as much as the 'Leave' side on campaigning. It was meant as a joke - but too many on the establishment side have taken it as received wisdom. Leavers are too ill-educated, too ill-informed, too plain stupid to be entrusted with a vote on a matter as complex as EU membership - we've heard that so many times in so many variations not to understand that they actually believe it. 

Our system of representative democracy allows us to elect MPs and Councillors as representatives, not as delegates. Our representatives are independent. Parliament is supreme. Our strength comes from having universal suffrage, the secret ballot and the right to associate and campaign for political change. There's a saying that hard cases make bad law; using the Brexit mess to force changes to an essentially sound democratic system would be a mistake. Nonetheless, there are moves on both sides to do so. 

We have already looked at options to strengthen Parliament in holding the government to account, and as uncomfortable as it seems, the protracted Brexit approval process is actually an effective Parliament in action. Let's then look at the main contenders to augment or replace our current system of representative democracy

Deliberative Democracy
This is the favourite of the Remain side, who think that voters in their natural state are not fit to make important decisions. The schemes on offer vary, but all involve some sort of 'sortition' - the use of a voters' panel, a bit like Blair's focus groups, to make decisions on behalf of the rest of us. But only of course after being lectured by experts on the right choice to make. The experts would be neutral in the same way that the BBC is neutral. 

To me, this all sounds too much like the pointless design Charettes I have encountered. The architect generally conducts them to convince planners / clients that his or her ideas have community support. They involve the architect talking to a room of people for a very long time with tons of slides and display boards and then asking them at the end which shade of Farringdon Grey, of the three offered, they would like as a finish to the front door?

Direct Democracy
This is essentially about referendums. Referenda are valuable democratic tools that can engage the attention of the public in deciding important matters that have a binary choice. The Swiss in particular use them at all three administrative levels, national, cantonal and municipal. Swiss electors can challenge new Acts of Parliament in two ways, either by gathering 50,000 signatures out of 5.4m registered voters (0.93% - equal to about 420,000 signatures in the UK) or by 8 Cantons protesting. However, referenda in Switzerland - which I think work well -  are clearly intended to augment and scrutinise the normal system of representative democracy, not to replace it. The political power able to be exercised by the people is enhanced, not transformed. 

I really cannot imagine that a constant process of referenda on every matter that must be decided by local authorities is in any way feasible. School admission arrangements, planning consent for a chip shop, capital expenditure approval for a new public lavatory. A dozen referenda a week. You simply can't replace Councillors and a system of representative democracy by anything that doesn't degrade and lessen our democratic power. 

This is Richard North's idea for an annual, national referendum on the government budget. He's right in seeing that a government can't function without money - taxes - and wants to move the approval of that money from Parliament to the people. 

Simply, my problem with this is that the budget cannot be a simple binary choice. Only binary choices are referendable (if there's such a word). Public expenditure is too complex and priorities too personal to make this a helpful or constructive option. 

Power of Recall
Brexit has brought to the fore the problems of a Parliament based on representative democracy now we have moved to fixed-term Parliaments. Many constituencies are now faced with representatives in Parliament who vote precisely the opposite way to the majority of their electors, and there's nothing that voters can do about it for five years.

When I think of the options, I think about capital punishment, to which I am personally deeply opposed, but which I know would probably be approved by a national majority. MPs, as representatives, have consistently acted in opposition to the national mood in banning it. However, the bar would need to be high to enable a constituency's voters to unseat their MP on such a difference of opinion. 

On balance, I favour a Power of Recall, on the simple basis that 'The voters of xxxxxxx have lost confidence in the ability of xxxxxxxxxxxx to represent the constituency in Parliament'  BUT with a high enough bar to exclude vexatious motions.

Internet voting
Those of you reading this will by definition be part of a group able to use the internet to access democratic options and make choices. As a way of augmenting our fundamental democratic rights, the internet is invaluable. However, to extend it to replacing those rights is simply not possible. On just the matter of the secret ballot, how do you ensure secrecy in a household with just one computer? Or how, as a member of such a household, can someone explain that they want to walk down to the local primary school to cast a secret vote rather than click an on-screen box with the rest of the family? Think Tower Hamlets. 

Finally, the Power Inquiry pleads for the nations'  Electoral Quotients to be brought into line with the minimum standard for developed nations of + / - 5%. This was a problem in 2004, and it's still a problem. The nation has been here before; there was a time at which Oxford University elected two MPs but not a single one was returned by the whole of a newly-industrialised and vastly grown Manchester. The problem is the Labour Party - the Oxford University of the 21st Century - which will simply not relinquish its corrupt and anti-democratic seats. In its refusal to do so it insults British voters and degrades our democratic institutions. 

Recommendation 21: Text voting or email voting should only be considered following other reform of our democratic arrangements.

Recommendation 22: The realignment of constituency boundaries should be accelerated.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Reform and Renewal - party funding

Two more posts to finish this re-examination of the 2004 Power Inquiry, then back to real-time. Today, Party funding. Tomorrow, new forms of democracy.

I think sometime around 2010 - 2012 was the nadir for UK party memberships, the total number of members combined for the three largest parties having fallen below 1% of the UK electorate. Fewer than 450,000 members between them. With Labour dependent on Trade Union money, and the Conservatives dependent on wealthy donors, we looked as if we heading for a political duopoly of two central, Statist, metropolitan parties with money but no members. The Lib Dems were already in trouble, and paradoxically had depended on the state funding they got as an opposition party. From 2010, in coalition, they would actually be worse off, though party luminaries with their bottoms in government such as Vince Cable got a chauffeured Jag as a consolation prize. 

From 2007, first under Hayden Phillips then under Christopher Kelly in 2011, the political establishment - the grey men who really run the central state - sought a way to nationalise the two traditional parties, to convert them from democratic concerns run by their members into quasi-constitutional organisations. They could see clouds on the horizon; for Labour, a grassroots groundswell out of tune with the corrupt fraternity of fat officials, elsewhere the rise of UKIP, signs of dissatisfaction and a potential populist uprising. Both Phillips and Kelly pushed the same deal; a cap on both Union donations and large private bungs, and in place of those a State subsidy of up to £3 per year per vote won in the previous GE, provided the party had at least 1 MP in the Commons. It was a clever way to institutionalise incumbency - only Labour, the Conservatives and the LibDems would be effectively funded, and they would be secured for ever as the semi-official Parties of State. It's the job of the grey men - a self-appointed task - to create what they see as political stability. And bugger democracy. 

The Irony of course is that had the original Phillips / Kelly proposals gone through in time for the 2015 election, UKIP would have gained State funding of £12m a year - Douglas Carswell's defection in 2014 providing the single critical sitting MP to qualify. The final published version raised the bar to two sitting MPs.

However, things don't stand still in politics. The insurgency feared by the grey men is happening, Parliament is in turmoil and critically unstable, Labour has increased its membership to around 550,000 whilst the Conservatives and LibDems level-peg with about 120,000 each. The battleground has shifted to social media, the role of the printed press in kingmaking has become marginalised and circulations are crashing. 

It is not a good time for the central State establishment to relaunch State funding for a third try. 

I wrote to Kelly in support of Recommendation 20 from 'Power' in place of his own blatantly unbalanced suggestion. They rejected 'Power' on the grounds that having two forms / two votes in the polling booth would be too complex for most voters. This after the 2004 elections in which most voters in London had coped with three forms for five votes (first and second preference) for Mayoral, Assembly and Euro elections. 

I still think Recommendation 20 is the best and fairest suggestion if there is to be any State funding; it allows those opposed to public funding to withhold their £3 a year, and for voters to vote for one party whilst granting money to another. It achieves in other words exactly the opposite of what the grey men want to achieve.

Recommendation 19: Donations from individuals to parties should be capped at £10,000, and organisational donations should be capped at £100 per member and subject to full democratic scrutiny within the organisation.

Recommendation 20: State funding to support local activity by political parties and independent candidates to be introduced based on allocation of individual voter vouchers. This would mean that at a general election a voter would be able to tick a box allocating a £3 donation per year from public funds to a party of his or her choice to be used by that party for local activity. It would be open to the voter to make the donation to a party other than the one they have just voted for.

Friday, 4 January 2019

Reform and Renewal - Voting

This is the section of the Power Inquiry that gives me the greatest problems. In the 2015 GE, UKIP came in third, with 3.89m votes, 12.6% of the votes cast, and won not a single seat. The injustice of this was felt not only by the millions who had voted for the party - including me - but many non-voters and supporters of other parties. It seemed an incredible outcome to those in other nations, but was just one of the anomalies of the First Past the Post system in the UK. However, the shock of that 2015 result catalysed Cameron into enabling the 2016 referendum - so UKIP actually won it for us, after all.

And it's not as if the voters of Britain didn't have a chance to change it; a referendum in 2011 proposed going over to an Alternative Vote system. It was defeated 68% to 32%. And coincidentally also has its own 'Remainer' movement in the Electoral Reform Society; the majority against AV in 2011 didn't dent their commitment one iota, and they campaign today as though the vote had never happened. 

Recommendation 12 was about a change to a Single Transferable Vote system, and was overtaken by this poll seven years after Power was published. 

Recommendation 13 would prevent national parties from parachuting candidates into constituencies to receive safe party-based votes - and thus would reduce central Party power and increase local power. Why wouldn't we support it?

Recommendation 15 is an early example of virtue-signalling. Yes, we can all agree that the Commons should better reflect our wider society; cohorts of chums from the top public schools, of men and women who have never had a real job other than politics in their lives, of self-selecting self-servers and narcissists who want to be MPs for what it can gain them are all shiny arses we would want reduced as far as possible from the Commons chamber. But more important than colour or gender (silly, superficial and irrelevant characteristics) we should encourage more men and women of virtue, humility, talent, altruism, passion and ability to enter parliament. These are the qualities most obviously lacking in the present make-up. 

Recommendation 16 is about reducing voter age. Its effect would be to create a more credulous voter base, one less capable of balanced judgement and one more likely to be swayed by unicorn promises. Why would we want to do that?

Finally, since the report was published in 2004, we have made great strides in clearing-up a corrupt and third-world standard voter registry. Michael Pinto-Duschinsky estimated that before the changes, there were 3m on the electoral rolls who should not have been there and 3m missing who should have been. IVR and stricter controls for postal voter identity, together with voter ID at elections, should be very effective in restoring the probity of the national electoral register to first-world standards. We should do nothing that would degrade the probity of the register.     

Recommendation 12: A responsive electoral system should be introduced for elections to the House of Commons, House of Lords and local councils in England and Wales.
Recommendation 13: The closed list system to have no place in modern elections.

Recommendation 14: The system whereby candidates have to pay a deposit which is lost if their votes fall below a certain threshold should be replaced with a system where the candidate has to
collect the signatures of a set number of supporters in order to appear on the ballot paper.

Recommendation 15: The Electoral Commission should take a more active role in promoting candidacy so that more women, people from black and minority ethnic communities, people on
lower incomes, young people and independents are encouraged to stand.

Recommendation 16: Voting and candidacy age should be reduced to sixteen (with the exception of candidacy for the House of Lords).
Recommendation 17: The introduction of automatic, individual voter registration at age sixteen. This can be done in tandem with the allocation of National Insurance numbers.
Recommendation 18: The citizenship curriculum should be shorter, more practical and result in a qualification.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Reform and Renewal - Localism

This is the most understated section in the Power Inquiry, and I have omitted number 11 as it deals with our membership of the EU, which is simply no longer relevant. 

The excuse most often made for the shape of British government - a highly centralised State that determines 96% of all taxes, a lower tier of government tasked with the rationing decisions of a proportion of those taxes on local services (determined centrally), with the poorest rate of democratic representation in the developed world - is that it is both efficient and effective. Utter spew. 

The central power grab is just a century old, born of emergency war powers that were never reversed. Before 1914 just about everything - water, power, gas, health, hospitals, almshouses, welfare, roads, lighting, transport, planning, public health, licencing, education and policing - was taxed, designed and managed locally by democratically accountable members and bodies. 

Arguments about economies of scale - that a public body can only economically collect waste, police the streets, licence building and so on at a certain size is an absolute fallacy. My own small gemeinde here provides 2,500 souls with water and sewerage at a quarter of the cost I paid in London for those services. Look back in this blog and you will find a similar analysis of the small town of Vail in the US, which maintains its own police force in addition to providing all local services. Cheaply. There is no objective, scientific reason for the shape of local government in the UK except for the convenience it offers to its masters in Whitehall.  

Once you accept that arguments for scale are pretty much spurious, and accept also that all public administrative functions should be carried out at the lowest level possible in order to maximise democratic control and accountability, you cannot excuse the gross insult to democracy that exists in the British structures. 

As we all know, in Switzerland, functions are split roughly into thirds between the central State - including the army, air traffic control, law and justice and suchlike, functions that can only be done nationally - and the Cantons and Municipalities. Each tier has independence in levying and collecting tax for its functions. If the UK did the same, we could shrink Whitehall and the Treasury by two-thirds and remove an irrelevant burden from the hands of our national legislature and its unaccountable NDPBs and fake charities. 

The phrase 'postcode lottery' is a quite brilliant con perpetuated by globalist sympathisers seeking to impose a homogeneous system of taxation, spending and services across all lands and peoples. UK Corporation Tax lower than France's? Postcode lottery! they cry - the EU must impose a harmonised rate of CT across the Union, to make things 'fair'. It's rubbish. It's fallacious. It's risible nonsense. And yet it's one of the excuses that Whitehall globalists make to justify their own existence. If my gemeinde, unlike others in the area, wants to impose a local and punitive tax on certain types of commercial activities that its voters find undesirable, it's not a postcode lottery, it's democracy.

The 'Big bang' decentralism required in the UK to free our nation from the malign grasp of the Whitehall authoritarian central Statists is far, far beyond the feeble recommendations made in 'Power', but here they are nonetheless:

Recommendation 6: There should be an unambiguous process of decentralisation of powers from central to local government.
Recommendation 7: A Concordat between central and local government setting out their respective powers.
Recommendation 8: Local Government to have enhanced powers to raise taxes and administer its own finances
Recommendation 9: Government should commission an independent mapping of quangos and other public bodies to clarify and renew lines of accountability between elected and unelected authority.
Recommendation 10: Ministerial meetings with representatives of business including lobbyists to be logged and listed on a monthly basis.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Democratic reform and renewal - Parliament

Back to the key heads for the reform of our damaged democracy. Firstly, Parliament. If the Brexit process has shown nothing else, it has exposed the confusion that exists in exactly where responsibility lies in our constitutional system for international treaties. May's government had wanted to proceed on the basis that all such business was the prerogative of the executive - but was challenged both in court and by Parliament itself. Even now as we approach the 'Meaningful Vote' - Parliament's approval of the most important post-war treaty in our lifetimes - the HOC seeks to explain the constitutional anomaly
"Although foreign affairs and treaty-making is normally the preserve of the Government under the Royal Prerogative, it holds that position by virtue of commanding the confidence of the House of Commons."
The Power Inquiry made the following recommendations -

Recommendation 1: A Concordat should be drawn up between Executive and Parliament indicating where key powers lie and providing significant powers of scrutiny and initiation for Parliament.

Not a written constitution, note, nor a radical overhaul of Parliament.

Recommendation 2: Select Committees should be given independence and enhanced powers including the power to scrutinise and veto key government appointments and to subpoena witnesses to appear and testify before them. This should include proper resourcing so that Committees can fulfil their remit effectively. The specialist committees in the Upper House should have the power to co-opt people from outside the legislature who have singular expertise, such as specialist scientists, when considering complex areas of legislation or policy.

Again, these recommendations were written when Brexit was not on the horizon; last year we saw select committees with a Remain chair and and and overwhelming Remain bias seeking to use their powers to sabotage Brexit. If select committees are to have greater powers - and it's not a bad idea - then impartiality becomes absolutely critical. Select committees embody the powers of the British people in a small group of their representatives and already have extraordinary reach - it is absolutely essential that select committee chairmanships and memberships are not abused for Party or Personal interests.

Recommendation 3: Limits should be placed on the power of the whips.

This is inextricably entwined with the role of political parties. The role of whip is not a constitutional office, but a party appointment. If all MPs were independents, there would be no whips.

Recommendation 4: Parliament should have greater powers to initiate legislation, to launch public inquiries and to act on public petitions.

Government sets the business of the House, but there is always room for Private Members' Bills. Likewise, the parliament petitions website came into effect two years after 'Power', in 2006. So far the most popular petition debated was in opposition to the Trump visit, garnering over 1.7m signatures. Again, 'Power' was written at a time when Blair's War was an unhealed wound - the Chilcot Inquiry did not start until 2009. I'm neutral on  recommendation 4 and can be swayed either way.

Recommendation 5: 70 per cent of the members of the House of Lords should be elected by a ‘responsive electoral system’ – and not on a closed party list system – for three parliamentary terms. To ensure that this part of the legislature is not comprised of career politicians with no experience outside politics, candidates should be at least 40 years of age.

Brexit again has brought Lords reform to the fore. At the time of 'Power' the upper house was perceived as a Tory stronghold, liable to sabotage the actions of a Labour government. It's now seen as a stronghold of the patrician establishment, pro-remain and determined to frustrate the will of the British people. I agree wholly to the desperate need now to reform the upper house - though I'm not committed to any one solution. I do know, however, that the hereditaries are an undervalued resource - and would like to see any reformed house retain around 100 of their number, selected amongst the hereditary peerage by themselves.