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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.  

Monday 31 December 2018

UFOs, scared Septics and Anglo-Saxon ghosts

I had intended to post about rebalancing political power this morning. No longer. It's not often that a story in which one was personally involved drops into one's lap, but today we have one. A story in the Telegraph  has just explained for the first time an old event about which I have been feeling a little guilty for many years.

First my tale. It was 1980. We were a small group of lads in our early 20s from southern Suffolk, scattered around Ipswich but meeting frequently to carouse and take fun. One Saturday we decided to make a lunchtime session at the Queen's Head in Erwarton, a cosy waterside pub in a small village looking southwards out over the mouth of the Stour into darkest Essex. A friend of a friend had just taken the lease, and we were trying our chance at discounted beer.

In the bar we quickly made friends with a young American Air Force Lieutenant, who like many from the nearby USAF cold-war squadrons was living off-base in a rented cottage and had immersed himself in English village life. The pub was now his local - and he loved it, and his status there, with his own pewter beer jug and folk that knew his name.

Of course we knew the USAF bases well. We would talk our way in usually claiming to be brothers-in-law to Airmen married to Brit women. They were like small bits of the Midwest transported by tornado into ancient East Anglia, with black and white Dodge police prowlers on the gates and cops with pistols on their hips. They had Main Street shops and outlets, and importantly a PX and American bars. The PX provided pints of vodka (bought by a compliant serviceman with ID) at a fraction of their UK price, and the bar provided a truly authentic American drinking experience. One needed dollars for everything, of course - and all of us carried them.

I was also at that age, not far from my pubescent Airfix model days, something of an expert in US aviation kit, as only the sponge-minded young are. I could not only identify an approaching low flying aircraft as a F4 rather than an A10 or rarely then as a Lightning from engine noise alone but could tell you which models of F4 were stationed at each base in Suffolk, their range, weapons payloads and more.

We were keen, as the young and foolish are, to let the young Loot know we were chums and that we knew all about his world and we thought it cool. The young Loot, for reasons I had not fully understood until this morning, felt obliged to report to his CO on the Monday following an encounter with some young Brits who knew a helluva lot about their base and aircraft. The result we heard from our mate's landlord mate a week later; the base security people had thrown him into jail and subjected him to three days of  'enhanced interrogation' by teams who had flown in from the States, extracting from his tortured mind every single word exchanged in the Queen's Head.

We weren't that worried. We hadn't done anything wrong and we believed ourselves untouchable. We put the experience down to many Septics being arseholes (let me tell you another time about being chased around the Three Tuns by an obese puce-faced Tech Master-Sergeant for tearing up a dollar bill into a bar ashtray ...). However, the Loot was a nice young man, albeit a silly one for reporting our encounter, and I've always held myself a bit responsible for his three days under torture / interrogation back in 1980.

Now of course it's clear that his action and their reaction was around the time of the SAS fooling the poor Septics with fake UFOs in Rendlesham Forest. Made believable by long local tradition of the ghosts of the ancient Anglo-Saxon court of King Raedwald haunting the plantations, the king whose 'palace' (read big hut) was located in that place. 

Thirty-eight years on, it's good to know it wasn't really my fault.

Have a very happy New Year's eve all and drink a dram for me. And one for the Loot.