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Saturday 21 September 2019

Ten lessons for young climate activists

1. More layers
Don't keep turning the thermostat up when wearing just a tee shirt. We're saving the planet at that 18° setting. Put on more layers.

2. Plastics
Look for well-made clothes fashioned from linen, wool, cotton or even hemp. The other stuff - stretchy, spangly, fleecy, non-crease - is made from plastics or oil-derived synthetics. Don't keep buying new cheap throw-way stuff from Asos and suchlike - you're either serious about the planet or about Instagram. And learn to darn your socks and sew buttons - if your grandfather can do it so can you

3. Lights
When you leave a room, turn the light off. When you leave a room unoccupied for any length of time, turn the radiator off or down to the lowest setting. Don't leave stuff on 'standby'. Dont leave chargers on all the time.

4. Shoes
Cheap glued Chinese and Asian shoes and trainers made from plastics, synthetic rubbers and oil-derived fabrics that last only a few months are killing the planet and choking landfill. Invest in well-made long-lasting footwear from UK makers - leather for preference.

5. Coffee
We know you don't like Starbucks any more, but Costa and the fake-brand 'artisan' chains owned by big-name global corporates are just as bad. Make your coffee at home, take a thermos and donate £9 a day to a climate change charity instead

6. Reuse and recycle
This doesn't mean just chucking stuff into the right bin but not chucking stuff away at all. Why does everything have to be new? What's wrong with your old phone that we need to poison the world with rare-earth cyanides and enslave children in Asian factories just so you can have a new one every year?

7. Walk and take the bus
Your parents are not free Uber. Maybe if you didn't keep treating them like it they wouldn't need that huge SUV in the drive. Walk. Take the bus. Lose a few pounds.

8. Help with the vegetable patch
A little help tilling and weeding the veg patch wouldn't come amiss. You're missing just how much growing our own French beans for the freezer saves the planet. And ditch avocados. Where do you imagine they come from? Somerset? Learn to love courgettes.

9. Forget Festivals
Don't even think about Glastonbury. It's not the fact that you throw away 80,000 plastic tents each year and create 5,000 tonnes of unrecyclable landfill waste but your travel carbon costs are killing the planet - fan travel costs make up 80% - 90% and performer travel costs the balance. And we're talking 10,000 tonnes of CO2 in total for Glasto.

10. Copy your grandparents
 Remember, your grandparents were saving the planet long before you were born. Brewing their own beer, making and mending their own clothes, keeping hens, growing food, making jam and cycling and trips in their old 2CV. You may be surprised that they regard you as an insufferable self-absorbed eco-lout trashing finite resources who talks the talk but doesn't walk the walk. 

Avocados are not grown here

Friday 20 September 2019

Schrödinger's Weekend

The HoL Supreme Court will keep us on tenterhooks until Monday (I think) for the prorogation ruling so enjoy the next three days. I always regarded this time, between the conclusion of submissions and the finding of the adjudicator in construction disputes, as a Schrödinger's Holiday; you don't know whether you've won or lost, so both states exist, you can do nothing more, there are no more deadlines, no more lengthy case conferences, so you might as well chill and do some leisure.

It seems Dave's gob has ended any hopes that Sam Cam may have nurtured at ever becoming Lady Cameron. Silly chump. However, Fraser Nelson  in the Telegraph reckons that Dave's Brussels experiences should have made him a Leaver anyway -
Once inside its inner circle, he was exposed to the horrors. The directives, the stitch-ups, the knives always out for the City of London. He found Silvio Berlusconi advising a table of EU leaders to take a mistress in Brussels, because it was the only way to survive the late-night summits. The purpose of these meetings, he discovered, was to grind everyone into submission. Including, eventually, him.
He found the EU to be "peacenik" on security, unable to respond to threats on its doorstep. He vetoed one of the eurozone bailout packages that threatened to suck in Britain, only to see the rules changed so the UK veto would not count. When the UK tried to go its own way, it "wasn’t simply a disagreement with the others, it was a heresy against the scripture".
We were early here in blogging about the deep need for democratic housekeeping in the UK and certainly over the months and years posts about reform and renewal, legal and electoral systems generate deeply felt and high quality participation. I'm wondering whether constitutional reform could be another Europe - let me explain.

Before the referendum, the political wisdom was that no-cared about the EU except a small and vocal group of fanatics. June 2016 brought a Damascene revelation - suddenly the entire nation was galvanised into passionate interest. Who knew? Well, today the political wisdom is that an election can be fought on the old ground of education, law and order, the NHS. To suggest that local government or constitutional reform might be a manifesto issue seems as absurd as suggesting in 2010 that the nation would polarise over the EU.

Thursday 19 September 2019

Democratic reform and renewal

This follows on from the previous post. Today we have the prospect of the cerebrally inadequate John Major making an appearance in court - though not speaking - for his 12.10 to 12.30 slot. One hopes Lord Garnier, who represents this most mediocre of intellects, has made some substance of his simple-minded bigotry or we will be bored to tears.

European nations as we know them are, constitutionally, mostly infants. As I have written before, by the end of the 14th century in England (and I mean England and not the UK) serfdom had almost practically ceased to exist, the wage labourer having emerged from the Black Death. By the end of the 16th we had an independent and prosperous middle class and were developing systems of law and democracy from which we would emerge through the turmoil of the 17th to the era termed by historians 'early modern'. In contrast, serfdom and feudalism survived in Europe until the mid-19th century, and Europe's birth-pangs took a century or more of war and chaos before democracy (of a sort) emerged. Yes, they have written constitutions - but in English terms, are barely out of nappies;

Date of Constitution
Sweden 1974
Denmark 1953
France 1958
Germany 1949
Italy 1947
Spain 1978
Portugal 1976

For most of Europe, the Maastrict and Lisbon treaties - in effect the EU constitution - are just a natural progression from what are already new systems of governance.

Not so for the UK, though as commenters made clear yesterday, Brexit has exposed major faults in our system which now needs some fixing. The Lords and the Speaker are the most obvious. Allister Heath in the Telegraph does a decent job this morning of setting out the Heads of Terms -
.... the next government will have to legislate to prevent MPs from ever “seizing control” again and then repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. The power to conduct international treaty negotiations must be left solely to the executive; at the same time, the ability to prorogue needs to be codified, alongside much else.

The governance of the Commons must change radically, with the Speaker bound by clear rules. Any MP who wants to change party should be forced to call a by-election.* The House of Lords will have to be scrapped or, preferably, comprehensively reformed, with a debate about who should belong to it and what proportion should be elected and how. An English Parliament is long overdue, with tax and spend genuinely devolved to a properly federalised United Kingdom.
The civil service is in desperate need of an overhaul: ministers should become CEOs, with staff working directly for them. In a world where special advisers have become so important, we ought to discuss whether more ministers should be directly appointed, or belong to the upper rather than lower chamber.

The next government must take to heart Lord Sumption’s Reith Lecture, perhaps the best political analysis of the year, and row back on the "rights culture". There has been too much mission creep, and too many decisions have been taken by the courts, rather than left to democratically elected politicians. This doesn’t mean that we mustn’t continue to protect rights: on the contrary, I would argue that we need a robust British Bill of Rights to replace our membership of the ECHR.
Add a general power of recall with a threshold high enough to prevent vexatious abuse and an overhaul of local government and electoral health measures and there you have a legislative agenda for the greatest reforming Parliament for over 150 years.

I hope and believe we can do all this without a written constitution. Just as statute law sits happily alongside common law and precedent, we can achieve change without throwing out the baby with the bathwater. As Blair found to his frustration and chagrin, you cannot abolish the Lord Chancellor.

It's really no longer just about Brexit. It's about re-forging our nation for the benefit of future generations, a legacy of love. 

*Allister is thoroughly wrong about this particular point; MPs represent their constituents, not their parties. It's the constituents who should have the right to force a by-election, not the judges. A power of recall would cover this.  

Wednesday 18 September 2019

In praise of our non-constitution

The interest with which the HoL Supreme Court has captured an unimagined video audience yesterday strained the government's servers. One could actually detect additional servers kicking in like generators on the national grid coming online, and the government's very recent upgrades of IT capacity to meet the heavy demands generated by the 'we're Leaving' ad campaign look now like a sound investment made in good time. The EU nomenklature and apparatchiks tuning into Middlesex Guildhall, used to the rehearsed and pre-determined theatrics of their own political court must have been deeply confused. They must have thought our eleven law lords were doing a brilliant job of pretending not to know the outcome of the case - surely they could never imagine, based on their own experience, that in the UK cases are not actually decided before they come to court? Let's hope for more bundle-fun today - the joy of an entire bench of QCs each charging Mrs Miller £2k an hour for losing their files in public is a pleasure not to be missed.

Back to Lord Sumption's Reith lectures and this:-
For quite a few years now, these calls have taken the form of proposals for a written constitution. I have been concerned in these lectures with our persistent habit of looking for legal solutions to what are really political problems. Calls for a written constitution mark the extreme point of that tendency. Theoretically, we could have a written constitution without expanding the constitutional role of the judiciary. The constitution of the French fifth republic, in its original form of 1958, came pretty close to that, but, in practise, every scheme of constitutional reform suggested for Britain in recent years has sought to limit the powers of Parliament and government and to increase those of judges.
This is not an accident. A written constitution is, by definition, a supreme source of law. It prevails over Parliamentary legislation. Any supreme law which sets out to regulate relations between the citizen and the state must necessarily put some rights beyond the reach of the elected legislature. But the power which the legislature loses under such schemes does not simply disappear, it passes to judges. Judges recognise, interpret and sometimes create constitutional rights. Judges decide when these rights may be trumped by other interests.
And it really does come down to how we want our democracy to operate - with, as David Starkey explained, the People sovereign or the People ruled by a caste of lawyers, a political class alien to the masses, a political class that holds us in contempt? The question hardly needs asking.

Wellington, after Waterloo, compared his own command of the armies to a bridle made of rope - that of the French to a bridle made of stitched leather. Theirs may look more elegant, more perfectly designed but it was vulnerable. Wellington said that if his bridle broke, he simply knotted it back together and carried on. If the French leather bridle came apart, it was finished and could not be rescued. And at the Duke's hands the French bridle frequently came apart. Our non-constitution is similarly - to use the jargon of the management consultant - agile. Sumption again;
If our existing constitution was intolerable, we might have to put up with the disruption and instability involved in jettisoning it. But, in fact, it has brought us real advantages. Because it remains essentially a political and not a legal constitution, it is capable of significant incremental development without any formal process of amendment. This has enabled the British state to adapt to major changes in our national life which would have overwhelmed much more formal arrangements, the onset of industrialisation and mass democracy, the existential crises of two world wars, the creation and then loss of a worldwide empire, the rise of powerful nationalisms in Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
All of this has been accommodated politically without changing the basic constitutional framework. Take devolution, not just because we are gathered here in the capital of a politically reborn Wales, but because it is probably the outstanding modern example of the advantages of constitutional flexibility. Devolution has radically altered the internal workings of the United Kingdom, but it was achieved politically by ordinary legislation after a general election in which it was part of the successful party's manifesto.
This Supreme Court case is seminal not just for the issue of the Brexit prorogation before their Lordships. Its outcome will also be a landmark in our constitutional history; either the affirmation of our unique democratic advantages, or the start of a descent into slavery under the heel of the political class and an end to the longevity and stability of our system of governance. 

Tuesday 17 September 2019

Bettel nuts

The images cannot be unremembered; a hysterical hairy little man in a cheap suit, looking more like Ricky Gervaise than the Prime Minister of a European nation (albeit a very small one) ranting about how much he hates Brexit. And this after he had tried unsuccessfully to set Boris up in a trap to be caught by a hostile crowd of establishment British ex-pats (mostly EU civil servants and their dags, I'll bet) yelling and chanting just yards away. Herr Bettel was nuts.

You can understand Herr Bettel's pain. Luxembourg is a handout State; 5% of the country's GNI, some €1.8bn a year, comes from the pockets of other European taxpayers. Brexit may mean a lower handout for the coddled citizens, coupled with a competitive UK that will be attracting overseas investment  at a time when Luxembourg's crooked corporate tax arrangements (set up by one Herr Juncker - whose criminal conviction hasn't stopped him reaching capo di capi of the EU) are being brought to an end.

However, this was an appalling display of boorish incivility not just towards Boris but towards Britain. Our Head of Government was there representing us, our nation, and this calculated insult from a little Nazi-friendly joke of a nation (they didn't exactly welcome Liberation) that has sponged on our taxes for too long is unforgivable. It was a major lapse in Statecraft.

The vacuous gurning fool who we are told is Luxembourg's PM
Finally, many thanks for the pointers to Brendan O'Neill's superb hour with David Starkey. rarely have I enjoyed a podcast more - and for anyone who hasn't yet heard it I commend it. HERE on the spiked! site. Worth it alone for the vehemence with which he calls Dominic Grieve a shit.

The three day hearing of the prorogation judicial review starts today in the Supreme Court with the appellants' arguments, government respondents tomorrow and 'interventions' on behalf of various concerned citizens (one John Major and others) on Thursday. Ho hum.

Monday 16 September 2019

Rogue Parliament - Rogue Speaker

When I was a youngster there was a dinosaur factoid about the time it would take a nerve impulse to travel from the tip of a Diplodocus' tail to its minuscule brain. I've still no idea whether it was true or not for dinosaurs, but it's a convenient metaphor for the lag between a change in public mood and the realisation of that change by our MPs. At times the message doesn't get through at all, as in the case of status and expenses. Contrary to every single snapshot of public opinion, MPs, like the models in the cosmetics adverts, believe they're worth it. They really do imagine that they're special.

Yet over the weekend another poll appeared that confirmed once more that our MPs are utterly mistaken in their high opinion of themselves. The ComRes poll for the Express hasn't at time of writing appeared on the ComRes site so I must rely on the paper's published excerpts.
- 73% of Remain voters think Parliament is in desperate need of reform
- 85% of Leave voters think Parliament is in desperate need of reform

- 73% of all voters think Parliament does not attract the brightest and the best
One MP in Parliament thinks he is even more special than anyone else - the vile and meretricious Speaker Bercow, the sanctimonious dwarf who has, more than any other MP, trashed our democratic nexus. He is defending nothing but his own tattered reputation, standing for nothing greater than his personal notoriety, committed to nothing but his own egoistic fantasies. And the British public are united in their view of his disastrous time in the chair - he has helped destroy confidence in Parliament.

My hope is that our only saving grace is the venality, cupidity and self-interest of MPs themselves. Faced with this crisis of confidence, they will agree to sacrifice the Lords to save themselves. It may be too little too late. Janet Daley writes in the Telegraph -
... even if the Leave case wins through, the damage that has been done to British political life is horrendous. We seem to have imported two of the worst features of the American tradition. First there is gridlock. In the US this occurs when one party has the presidency and the other controls Congress, thus making government inoperable. This should not be possible in the British system since the executive is comprised of the majority, or a functioning minority, in parliament. But the Speaker and Continuity Remain have found a way to abolish the principle of democratic consent which once accepted this arrangement.

Then there is the US predilection for a losing side to try to sue its way to victory with continuous vexatious litigation. This is alien not only to our customs but to our national understanding of the role of politics and the function of the law.
My own view is that the system, the configuration, is robust. It has been corrupted by a Rogue Parliament and a Rogue Speaker, a man who should never in a million years have been elevated to the chair. I just hope we can cull them, throw them from the place, eject them and reclaim OUR Parliament and OUR democracy free from these vulgar weasels.
An excellent graphic from the Daily Express