Archive for the ‘democracy’ Tag
Picking up from my post in the run-up to the Brexit vote about Democracy, Control & Project Fantasy I see the roots of yesterday’s dark shock as being in the same realm – the fundamental weakness of British democracy due to lack of proportional representation.
David Cameron offered the in/out referendum in January 2013 to appease members of his own party and keep the Conservatives yoked together in the run-up to the May 2015 general election. If the First-past-the-post voting system was not so inimicable to the third party and below, we could be looking at a much fairer and more democratic landscape in the UK.
The tension in the Tory party is down to the fact that it is not really a single party. There could be a centrist conservative party and a more right-wing one.
Likewise on the Left, the Labour Party is forever jumping through hoops to get round the fact it is not really a single party. It too could exist as a Socialist party and another Social Democrat one.
And that would still leave room for a Liberal party in the centre ground, as well as narrower/more focused parties from the Greens to UKIP making up a healthier, more diverse offering.
Instead we are looking at a riven Conservative Party, a leaderless Labour Party, a destroyed Liberal Party and what was a disenfranchised UKIP, whose followers have now taken revenge.
The way many Tories in particular (largely the ones that went on to back the Leave campaign) stifled and undermined the last UK referendum (May 2011) on voting reform was disgusting and ultimately very damaging as yesterday proved.
Yesterday’s Any Questions on BBC Radio 4 was a special edition in the wake of the murder of Jo Cox. There was no studio audience and the panel was made up of commentators rather than politicians. What cheered my heart to some degree, in the midst of a moronic and deceitful referendum and a tragic assassination, was that two disparate journalists, Polly Toynbee of The Guardian and Peter Oborne of the Daily Mail, emphasised the desperate need for voting reform and some meaningful form of proportional representation.
I have voted in every election in my adult life – for 34 years – until the recent London mayoral election which I did not turn out for because I didn’t care for either of the main candidates. In those 42 years I have never elected a single person. Because I’m a liberal by nature, though even when I’ve voted otherwise/tactically, as in May 2015, I’ve still made no difference.
In Anita Anand’s Any Answers phone-in after the programme an MP’s chief of staff rang in and threw away that great cliche that in our democracy we “can always vote them out”. But we can’t. I haven’t been able to.
We have a highly overrated ‘democracy’ in which elections have boiled down to become focused on a tiny minority of swing voters in marginal seats.
We have an increasingly disempowering ‘democracy’ in which a party like UKIP gets millions of votes but one seat only, gets three times as many votes as the SNP but 1/56th of the representation in Parliament. How should those millions of UKIP voters feel in the wake of that most depressing election? I’ve no particular sympathy for the UKIP perspective but I don’t believe their supporters’ votes should be without value or real meaning.
As I was walking along the river in Winchester yesterday evening I spotted a Leave campaign poster at the back of an affluent house, with a URL including the words “take control”. I would contend that even if we took back sovereignty from the EU we would continue to have no real control. At least ‘we the people’ would not. We the politicians, many of whom are elected on well under 50% of the vote, indeed many on under 30%, may gain even more unearned control and fundamentally undemocratic power.
UK democracy has been severely wounded and bleeding out long before the horrendous murder of Jo Cox, by all accounts a representative of great integrity, selfless conviction and beautiful character. Her death is tragic. Her killer’s state of mind is sadly poisonous. The referendum debate is toxic with hate and mendacity. I’ll go vote on Thursday – but with a deep sense of disempowerment and little feeling of hope…
I’ve just been re-watching this TED talk by TV presenter Rick Edwards, stalwart of E4 and Channel 4, about young people and voting.
It’s an interesting enough watch, clear, addressing a critical topic, not least just a few weeks out from a hard-to-call general election. But I’m having my own mid-life election crisis. I’ve managed to get to my silver fox period without missing an election but without ever having a vote that truly counts. I’ve lived in constituencies that are not marginal and I’ve voted for neither of the two big parties because neither represents my views. I’m having a crisis this time out and for the first time ever I’m going to vote tactically because I can’t take 5 more years of Toryism. Our MP seems to be hard working but that just makes him a hard-working cunt. He still comes from a mind-set that would sell its own grandmother. Does sell its own grandmother. Does sell the city I love. Does want to sell the library I love. Does sell the electoral roll data. Does sell the ground underneath my house and your house. Does sell our national health service.
…Ok, I just took a little rest after that rantette and watched this – it was made in 1976, just watch the first 30 seconds – nothing’s really changed in 40 fucking years…
I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!
Actually I probably will, like the rest of you schmucks. We’ll all get loaded up with debt from the minute we’re old enough to open our own bank account and be turned into wage slaves.
So here’s what I want help with – How is this Democracy…
- I get to vote once every 5 years (in a general election)
- I’m voting in a constituency and borough which is not marginal – so one party I loathe impacts on my life both locally and nationally
- When, in the past, the constituency was under other control, it was the other main party that doesn’t represent my views or philosophy either
- The two parties I’ve voted for have Big Fat Zero chance of being elected nationally, a bit more locally though it’s never happened so far
- I didn’t want to vote tactically on principle – I wanted to express what I actually think by voting for the representative closest to my views
- So my vote has made no direct impact on anything in over 30 years, both in the general and local elections
- Now I’ve cracked – I’ll be voting for the Lesser Evil – how rubbish is that as an option?
- So how is that Democracy? How can a first-past-the-post system be fair or genuinely democratic?
I genuinely would value your thoughts on this…
Rick Edwards’ and others’ ambitions to get young people to vote are laudable but while the UK system is like this for the many citizens in situations like mine (i.e. all non-marginal seats) it really does beg the question what’s the point?
China evidently blocked access to Twitter two days ago, two days before the sensitive 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Other Internet services that seem to have become inaccessible include Hotmail, Flickr and search engine Bing.
In recent years, access to YouTube, Western media outlets and many other websites has also been blocked, often before or after ‘sensitive’ events. And now’s a good moment to remember those who blocked themselves.
A few days after the blog of artist and government critic Ai Weiwei was shut down, he simply opened a new one (which you can see here, in Chinese). Ai also uses Twitter.
Only 22% of eligible British voters have declared their intention to vote in the European and county council elections today. In 2004 the turnout in Britain for the European parliamentary elections was 38.9%.
Chat rooms monitored. Blogs deleted. Websites blocked. Search engines restricted. People imprisoned for simply posting and sharing information.
The Internet is a new frontier in the struggle for human rights. Governments – with the help of some of the biggest IT companies in the world – are cracking down on freedom of expression … learn more
Got a blog or website?
In the wake of the justified disappointments and embarrassments about our democratic system this week, I switch subjects from my recent favourite of Embarrassing Bodies in the health arena to embarrassing bodies in the political sphere: namely, adding to the Telegraph’s sterling efforts this week with the House of Commons, the House of Lords, two national bodies that are neither right nor honourable as they stand. Memory being what it is – while everyday folk are getting increasingly angry at fat cats, dirty dogs and trough-snouting pigs across our society – it seems the right time to remind ourselves of an interface of Parliament and business/finance from January this year…
What Lord Taylor allegedly said
This is an edited transcript of the conversation alleged to have taken place between an undercover Sunday Times reporter and one of the Labour peers accused of offering to use his influence to deliver an amendment to legislation:
Lord Taylor: If I want to get a point over to a minister or a civil servant or someone like this, this is the place where I would do it: over this table. I can speak better and they can speak more freely over a cup of coffee or a pint, as I say, rather than over a boardroom table or a ministerial desk where everything is written down and so on … I don’t know if you know a company called Experian in this country?
Sunday Times: No.
Taylor: Experian are the company. They have got a terrific amount of intelligence and information. They are the people who advise banks on your credit worthiness and so on. You know, they will blacklist you or they will tell you how good you are. Also, they do a lot with government on ID cards and things like that, that are coming in. They have got all sorts of information. For example, I’ve been working with them on amending a statute that’s coming out, or was coming out, because I’ve got it delayed now, whereby it was going to be difficult for them to get certain information and so on. So I’ve got that amended and you do it quietly behind the scenes, you see.
Sunday Times: How did you manage to do that? Do you actually put in an amendment yourself?
Taylor: No, no, no, no, no. You don’t do things like that. That’s stupid. What you do is you talk to the parliamentary team who drafts the statute as it goes through and you point out to them the difficulty the retailer would be having on this, and how things are working and so on. And you get them to amend it that way. You’re too late when [inaudible] …
But if you can get it done when it’s in the draft form it’s far better because if you know what the principles are and if you know what the principles are of the bill and [inaudible] what you do is you meet the minister. You meet the various people, and it’s not always ministers or secretary of state or even permanent secretaries that do this, it’s some little chappie half way down the grade who does this drafting. It’s about identifying the decision-makers. It’s about identifying the people that make the recommendations.
Sunday Times: Obviously, from our point of view, this would be something we would remunerate you for. And I don’t think money is an object. But [what] I would ask you to do, I think, is to give us some idea of what a fee structure would be.
Taylor: This is absolutely difficult, this is very difficult for me because some companies that I work with will pay me £100,000 a year.
Sunday Times: £100,000?
Taylor: Oh yes. That’s cheap for what I do for them. And other companies will pay me £25,000. It all depends on what you are trying to do and how much time I think I am going to spend on it.
Sunday Times: Those fees are not impossible. They are all fine.
Taylor: Yes, but these are the sort of fees I get. I am being absolutely honest with you. I am not exaggerating. It’s whether I want to do it or not. You’ve got to whet my appetite, to get me to come on board.
Edited transcript of a second meeting some weeks later:
Taylor: I am very aware of the credibility I have achieved over 50 years of working here with government and departments. I am not going to put myself in an embarrassing situation or do anything that I think is illegal or using my position. I will work within the rules, but also rules are meant to be bent sometimes.
Published Tuesday 27 January 2009 – courtesy of The Guardian
Newspaper Report three days later:
Lord Taylor of Blackburn, one of the peers at the centre of claims about “cash for amendments”, has lost his consultancy with the credit check company for which he allegedly boasted he had altered legislation.
Experian said it was “surprised” by the Labour peer’s descriptions to undercover reporters of his role for the firm. “We have agreed that Lord Taylor will retire with immediate effect,” a spokesman said.
Taylor is the second peer to lose a consultancy in the row over possible abuses of rules which allow members of the House of Lords to earn money outside their parliamentary work. Lord Truscott resigned from Landis+Gyr on Wednesday night.
Taylor’s parting of company with Experian came as peers made a flurry of changes to the official register of Lords’ interests, which lists paid and unpaid work and appointments that could be thought to affect their parliamentary work.
On Tuesday and Wednesday they made a total of 37 amendments to the register, more than twice the normal rate, with several declaring paid directorships, regular jobs and sponsored overseas visits months later than they should have done according to their own code. Normally only 20 to 40 changes are made in a whole week.
A fresh version of the list, which is usually updated online every seven days, was last night posted on the House of Lords website for the second time this week as officials strived to appear as transparent as possible.
The apparent rush to ensure all interests are correctly registered comes after peers were thrown under the spotlight by allegations in the Sunday Times that four peers told undercover reporters they were willing to use their influence to help to amend legislation, for money.
Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said: “It’s an indication that self-regulation has been failing until now. It’s only the threat of exposure and the allegations that have come out in the last week that has pushed peers into taking the register seriously.”
Taylor, a peer since 1978, and Truscott, a former energy minister, allegedly said they had used their influence to alter legislation indirectly on behalf of clients.
A further two Labour peers, Lords Snape and Moonie, allegedly indicated that they were prepared to use their influence to help clients. All four deny wrongdoing.
Taylor was reported to have told them he had helped amend draft legislation “quietly behind the scenes”. He allegedly said of Experian: “I’ve been working with them on amending a statute that’s coming out, or was coming out, because I’ve got it delayed now, whereby it was going to be difficult for them to get certain information and so on.”
Experian said last night that Taylor had overstated his role. “The full extent of Lord Taylor’s role as consultant was limited to providing us with general advisory and introductory activities, which he declared as an interest,” the spokesman said. “His role was to keep us apprised on developments which may be of interest to our industry, and provide basic advice on the appropriate people our team ought to speak to.”
The peer was one of 18 who made changes to the register of interests on Tuesday and Wednesday. The 30 additions to the register of interests far outweighed the five removals and two alterations.
Lady Verma, opposition whip and Conservative spokeswoman on education, skills and health, made 11 additions to the register, the most of any peer. She declared for the first time her paid directorship of DCS Foods, seven months after she should have done so according to the peers’ code of conduct. She also registered foreign trips to Kenya, Switzerland, Norway, Bangladesh and New York, as well as a 50% stake in Domiciliary Care Services.
A month late, Lord Adebowale, appointed as a “people’s peer” in 2001, registered his appointment as a paid non-executive director of St Vincent Healthcare, a company which is advising on the NHS national cancer information management system, in which he holds shares.
Lady Amos, former leader of the House of Lords, registered a paid directorship on the board of England’s bid for the 2018 football World Cup more than two months late. Her declaration of a position on the global advisory board of a University of California “action tank”, Global Health Group, came a month late.
The leader of Essex county council, Lord Hanningfield, revealed his role as patron of the Academies Enterprise Trust, the organisation behind five secondary schools in Essex, two months late.
Published Friday 30 January 2009 – courtesy of The Guardian
Given my job and the organisation I work within, I spend a lot of time reflecting on Public Service. If nothing else, reminding ourselves of January’s shenanigans and absorbing last week’s revelations and reactions, one can only conclude that this country’s notion of Public Service needs a serious shake-up for our times.