Monday, 21 September 2009

Cable's asps in the fruitbowl

The word 'affable' could have been made for Vince Cable; an uncle-ish, decent, bloke who knows what he's talking about on banking, doesn't he? The bloke who called Gordon Brown Mr Bean. But Uncle Vince is, of course, a LibDem - and that means looking for the asps when he hands you the fruit bowl. Take his latest Ten Point Plan that appeared in yesterday's Mail;

1. Reform party funding. It is dangerous and corrupting for parties to depend on large donations from rich donors with a dodgy past, who evade taxes and try to buy influence.

What Vince means is introduce State funding for the three incumbent parties. Over my dead body. We should be radically cutting the £1.75bn over an electoral cycle that the parties get from the taxpayer at present; £500m could go within two years.

2. Cut the cost of politics. Despite the recent scandals, I believe that most MPs do an important job representing their constituents, holding government to account and legislating. But we don’t need 646 MPs and 740 unelected Lords, when the United States, five times bigger, has 535 Congressmen and Senators.

True - but the US has many times more elected local representatives. We have, on average, one council for every 118,400 electors - and we only have 472 of them. The US has one for every 7,000 voters, and has nearly 36,000 of them. It's not the cost of politicians that needs cutting, Vince, but State support for the central parties - including yours - and the costs of the whole central State structure.

3. Make MPs financially responsible. At present, decisions about spending your money are made by Ministers, civil servants and quangos. MPs get involved only later, investigating wasteful spending.

Not the case - Parliament must 'vote' either money or money raising powers to the government, so MPs are already financially responsible. If you mean having a vote on every line of the FCO budget in the Commons, forget it. It would add no value, and encourage the destructive pork-barrel politics so evident in the US Congress.

4. Freedom of speech. Democracy is being stifled, as people are afraid to speak their minds. Peaceful demonstrations are suppressed using the Government’s ‘anti-terrorism’ laws. I attended a recent, small protest over aircraft noise where paper darts were thrown to make a political point. Terror laws were used to clear the street.

Yes, we need to roll back the repressive legislation of the Labour years. Now remind me, how did the LibDems vote on the race and religious hatred legislation that makes it an offence for the Pythons to take the piss out of Jews and Muslims?

5. Clean up MPs’ expenses. The scandal has been aired but remains largely unresolved. I doubt that the public have forgotten. We MPs should accept, in advance, the recommendations of the Kelly review to ensure openness and integrity, without further quibbling and foot-dragging.

And what if the Kelly review goes nowhere near as far as the public now demands? What virtue, then, in accepting a favourable fudge that fails to deliver the reform that we demand? No, we'll buy no LibDem pig in a poke.

6. Restore local pride and decision-making. Local councils have been stripped of most of their functions by central government. Billions are spent on unelected Government quangos second-guessing and overseeing what elected local councils do.

Yes, a massive decentralisation of power is needed - including the powers of local councils to raise taxes and to run many of the things presently micromanaged from Whitehall. But I don't think the LibDems are the party to achieve this; will you support Cameron in this?

7. Involve young people. Large numbers of teenagers, students and young families take little interest in politics. The future of Britain is being decided by older voters, not those who will inherit it. One step should be to extend the vote to 16-year-olds.

If people are old enough to work and pay taxes, get married and die for their country, surely they should be old enough to vote.

Personally I'd reduce the voting age to 17 - along with the drinking age

8. Fixed-term parliaments. A lot of credibility is lost when governments, like Gordon Brown’s, prevaricate over when there should be an Election. Much better to have a four-year fixed term where everyone knows where they stand and can plan ahead.

I'm curiously opposed to this quite strongly, without quite knowing why. But all my instincts tell me it's a bad thing. We need both a strong government and a strong Parliament, and one of the strengths of government is discretion over the length of Parliament, up to five years. I think five years is right as a maximum, but there should be no minimum.

9. Expel the rogues. Politics is badly damaged when people can see that there is one law for those in positions of power and privilege and one for everyone else. When public trust is abused, there must be consequences.

If an MP has been found guilty of abusing parliamentary expenses, constituents should be able to petition for fresh elections.

Oh Vince. Another asp. You mean voters can only get rid of a sitting MP when they have been found guilty of fiddling their expenses? That means never, then. No, voters must have an unfettered power of recall for any reason, so long as a petition reaches a minimum number of local voters to trigger a by-election. That includes kicking out MPs who cross the floor as well as MPs caught badger-watching.

10. Fair votes. Under our present ‘first past the post’ system, most votes have no influence on the outcome. Elections are decided by a few thousand votes in a few dozen constituencies which are ‘marginal’, not by the overall vote count.

Oh no. The arguments against PR are massive - how can you have the local representation that forms the basis of our representative democracy? PR is a self-serving and myopic solution to aid the LibDems, and will do nothing for the people of Britain.

Well, I count six asps in that little basket of fruit. And six more reasons why the LibDems are poision for this country.


Jackart said...

Ask yourself this question: Who's worse, the Lib Dems or the Labour party? Given there needs to be an opposition, surely you'd rather it be the wooly in betweens, not Labour?

talwin said...

Cable "...knows what he's talking about on banking, doesn't he?" Based on the evidence of his recent 'Straight Talk' grilling by Andrew Neil, he doesn't.

Nick Drew said...

agree with you that the fixed-term parliaments issue is a puzzle

I recall, back in the early 1980's in the dying days of Helmut Schmidt's regime, there was an obvious case for the CDU calling a Confidence Vote - which eventually they did, successfully, and won office

but they hesitated a very long time before doing so, feeling that there would be a backlash from the electorate who might consider it somehow unconstitutional, a usurping of regular elections to be called when the calendar disctated (which it wasn't - their constitution allows for dissolving parliament on a No Confidence vote, on the Westminster model)

it's very much to do with ill-defined feelings of propriety