The House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform select committee has just issued a report entitled ‘A New Magna Carta?’ , which sets out options for reform, and now seeks comments – deadline 1 January 2015. But they appear to be keen to rule out anything too radical.
This is a pity because, for reasons I set out below, I believe that without radical change Britain will be a failed state within a generation.
Respondents are asked:
- Does the UK need a codified constitution?
- If so, which of the three options (below) offers the best way forward?
- What changes would you like to be made to your favoured option if you have one?
The options set out in a paper written by Prof. Blackburn of Kings College London were:
- Constitutional Code – a document that doesn’t have legal force, but which would set out the existing principles of the constitution and the workings of government.
- Constitutional Consolidation Act – a document which would consolidate existing constitutional laws in one place.
- Written Constitution – a document of basic law by which the UK would be governed, setting out the relationship between the state and its citizens.
Prof. Blackburn sets out a possible model constitution but apart from an elected second chamber there are no significant changes from our current uncodified arrangements. Hardly a ‘New Magna Carta’, hardly a contribution to a national debate on what we really need.
Unlock Democracy had clearly envisaged the need for radical change and had recommended:
“ Unlock Democracy believes that the best way of bringing about a codified constitution would be through a UK government taking office with a commitment to instigating a constitutional convention; but then taking a step back from the process. It could establish a body, preferably made-up of a balanced sample of the UK population chosen at random, charged with considering the possible content of a constitutional text and making proposals. It would be to some extent removed from the party political arena and better placed to develop decisions for the country as a whole. This convention would be provided with sufficient time and resources, such as expert advisers, to carry out its task effectively. Ideally the Government would commit itself to directly submitting the recommendations the convention made for ratification without altering or interfering with them. This ratification might involve a referendum of the UK population, or perhaps approval by the UK Parliament and all of the UK devolved legislatures.” 
But the committee appears to have completely ignored this advice.
‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’, is often good advice. If you are a winner in the corrupt ‘winner takes all’ polity, and if you are confident that you and your children will remain winners, then this advice applies. If you are anyone else you should realise that the polity is broke, that the poor and the old middle class can only get poorer, and that civilisation will collapse within a generation.
The current situation is neatly summed up by Occupy London as follows,
” … we are ruled by an elite group of psychopaths who own the banks that control the governments and media. …and they manufacture the consent of the public through the propaganda of the media.”
How exactly does parliament fit into this picture? Perhaps the fact that senior civil servants have referred to the House of Commons as ‘the monkey house’ gives some clue. If democracy is to be restored we have to take this diagnosis seriously.
But it is not just democracy that is at stake; it is the very future of human civilisation. In a recent academic study Safa Motesharrei, Jorge Rivas, and Eugenia Kalnay, ‘Human and nature dynamics (HANDY): Modeling inequality and use of
resources in the collapse or sustainability of societies’, Ecological Economics 101 (2014) 90- 104, found at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800914000615%5D the authors sought a general theory to explain the collapse of past civilisations. They develop a simple systems dynamics model which explains the collapse of historic civilisations and use it to explore the conditions under which a civilisation may collapse. They conclude,
“In sum, the results of our experiments, discussed in Section 6,indicate that either one of the two features apparent in historical societal collapses – over-exploitation of natural resources and strong economic stratiﬁcation – can independently result in a complete collapse. Given economic stratiﬁcation, collapse is very difﬁcult to avoid and requires major policy changes, including major reductions in inequality and population growth rates. Even in the absence of economic stratiﬁcation, collapse can still occur if depletion per capita is too high. However, collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion.”
Who are the psychopaths referred to by Occupy London? Some are real life flesh and blood human beings. These include vulture fund managers, private equity bosses, those bankers whose whole life was making money out of money and not knowing how to spend it, and top corporate lawyers who wouldn’t know justice if it hit them in the face.
“Call it the asshole effect. That is the term coined by US psychologist Paul Piff after he did some stunning new research into the effects of wealth and inequality on people’s attitudes.
As we ponder Joe Hockey’s budget and his division of the world into “leaners” and “lifters”, as we learn from Oxfam that the richest 1% of Australians now own the same wealth as the bottom 60%, we would do well to consider the implications of Piff’s studies. He found that as people grow wealthier, they are more likely to feel entitled, to become meaner and be more likely to exploit others, even to cheat.”
The others are artificial creations, the corporations. The first corporations were created to serve a human purpose, but gradually through man’s folly they have become monsters, which like the machines in ‘Terminator’, have come to dominate us. We have to fight back.
One of our biggest follies was to give these creatures human rights. This started in the USA, but this doctrine has become part of the common law on both sides of the pond, so much so that when the European Convention on Human Rights was drafted by British lawyers after the second world war it was not thought necessary to define who or what was to enjoy these rights. British courts in particular have assumed that corporations enjoy these rights. Corporations need some rights but should have only those needed to carry out their functions and these should not be entrenched. In order to strip corporations of these ‘rights’ it may be necessary, temporarily, for the UK to withdraw from the Convention, and draw up a British Bill of rights. However in the meantime the UK should negotiate with other nations in the Council of Europe to amend the Convention.
Having stripped corporations of entrenched rights, then it is necessary to take other measures to curb their malign influence. One would be to stop any body corporate from making any political donations, limit the size of individual donations and provided more state funding.
The current position whereby ministers can use the Royal Prerogative to ratify treaties must be ended. Ratification must involve the consent of both House of Parliament and any attempt by ministers to ‘fast track’ this would be a treasonable offence. But it is also essential that treaty negotiations be as open as possible; otherwise treaties will continue to be in the interest of corporations not peoples. To this end ministers must not be permitted to enter treaty negotiations without the approval by Parliament of the negotiation procedure, even if this means that the UK might have to withdraw from the EU.
The corporate ownership of the media must be broken up. All print media distributed in the UK must be by workers co-0peratives. In the transition phase any news title distributed in the uk must be hived off into a subsidiary run by a board appointed by the workers. No representative of a creditor or of an advertiser shall be permitted to join the board.
As regards broadcast media, the BBC is a particular disappointment, its coverage of current affairs being very unbalanced, favouring the powers that be. All connection with government must be severed. The management board should be elected by the workers. There should be a supervisory board, randomly selected from the population and charged with ensuring that heterodox views on all all important issues are covered. However a power of popular recall should exist in case the supervisory board goes off the rails. The level of the licence fee should be set by a formula set by primary legislation and variable within limits through referendum.
The major political parties have become a mechanism for the corporate agenda to be imposed on parliament. In order to break this stranglehold, the House of Commons should be elected in 4 or 5 member constituencies by STV.
written evidence to The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee inquiry into ‘Mapping the path to codifying—or not codifying—the UK’s constitution’. Item CDE 07
Safa Motesharrei, Jorge Rivas, and Eugenia Kalnay, ‘Human and nature dynamics (HANDY): Modeling inequality and use of
resources in the collapse or sustainability of societies’, Ecological Economics 101 (2014) 90- 104, found at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800914000615
Anne Manne, ‘The age of entitlement: how wealth breeds narcissism’, The Guardian, 7 July 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/08/the-age-of-entitlement-how-wealth-breeds-narcissism?CMP=fb_gu
In June I suggested that the Post Office Reward Saver Account was an unsafe product for those who might lose mental capacity in the future. This arose from a technical error in their terms and conditions which they have now recognised and will correct. They do in practice recognise a Finance Lasting Power of Attorney registered with the Office of the Public Guardian.
If the OPG has been just a bit more proactive this issue would have been resolved months ago.
Slightly more coloured version at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/nasafunded-study-warns-of-collapse-of-civilisation-in-coming-decades-9195668.html
Full paper downloadable at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800914000615
A systems dynamics model is developed linking economic systems with natural systems and used to explain the collapse of historic civilisations. Inequality is as an important factor as aggregate over consumption of natural resources.
David Cameron trumpeted the improvement in employment figures in prime Ministers Questions today. Miliband did not contradict him. Surely he knows that in these days of zero hours contracts, the figures are meaningless. 1 person on 40 hours per week = 1 person on 2 hours per week average.
A better statistic would be ‘full time equivalents’ where (supposing the standard working week were 40 hours) 1 person working for 2 hours on average would be 1/20th of a full time equivalent. But even this would not capture the full horror of being locked into a zero hours contract where you are not allowed to work for anyone else.
Why will Labour not call time on this charade?
Many of those who have the misfortune of having to submit a self assessment tax form on paper will be aware of just how much more difficult things have become in the last two or three years.
A few years ago HMRC staff considered themselves as public servants rather than the tax farmers they now appear to be. They would not help you to minimise your tax bill; that never was their job, but they would explain things properly and help you as far as possible to file an accurate return.
I speak of those who deal with taxpayers over their own personal tax affairs. If you are acting as a trustee, a company director, or as a paid agent for someone else you are treated with respect. Otherwise they treat you like dirt.
Of course they want you to file online and now claim that most people do, but I am not sure if I believe that claim. There are reasons why many cannot. Either they are not confident enough to learn how to use the software, or may be required to submit supplementary pages for which HMRC does not provide the software. There is commercial software but HMRC does not warrant its accuracy, and holds you responsible for any cock ups.
If you do have to submit on paper and have to phone HMRC they are not normally openly rude; that would open them to formal complaints, which I guess could affect their bonuses, but they are passively unhelpful. If you as a tax payer state a problem, they never offer solutions. You are reduced to asking questions to which the answer is a simple yes or no. But if you suggest a solution and ask if that’s the right approach they will never say more than, ‘you could always try that'; they won’t even say whether it is acceptable to them.
Having submitted your return, you might be lucky and receive back a calculation that looks correct. If it looks wrong however the fun really starts. The first response is always, ‘We have done the calculation on the figures you have submitted.’ Never accept that claim, it’s bullshit. It assumes firstly that the calculation software is correct, (which it probably is, but how can you know?) More importantly it assumes your figures are correctly transcribed. The days that your figures are typed manually into their system are gone. The pages of your return are scanned in and not checked by human eye; HMRC staff have had to admit this to me when I challenged them.
Anyone who knows anything about Optical Character Recognition software knows that it is not perfect; it makes mistakes. Ideally if it is not certain it can read the page accurately it will reject it and then human beings would have to input it, but this is not in my experience what seems to happen with the HMRC software. It just adds in spurious figures which can double your tax bill or worse. Your first step is to find out what they have got in their system. You ask for their record of what you submitted. They will send you (after a considerable delay) a very poorly formatted and almost illegible print out of what is in the system. When you track down the spurious figures and point out the error, they will ask, ‘Do you want to change your figures’, and will warn you that submitting incorrect figures (even if as a mistake and even if the spurious figure is to your disadvantage), is a very serious offence. If you say, “No I do not want to change what I submitted I simply want your mistake put right”, they will accuse you of being delusional. If you then ask for a photocopy of your paper return, they will say they do not keep paper copies, and that is probably true but they will NOT say that they keep the scanned in images before conversion to text. If you ask for that they will say that it is too costly to provide.
At that stage you have to submit a formal complaint. The scanned in copy then magically appears and they have to give way on the substance of your complaint and correct the figures without any further threat of fines etc. However they will never actually apologise.
But that isn’t the end of their tricks. Before you even get to discover the misreads, your return may be rejected ( some months after submission) on a technicality. Suppose for example you are registered as a self employed author and you have published nothing that year. You submit a nil return. If you omit to supply the date up to which the books were made up, the form will be rejected, and you have to ask for a new blank copy of all the forms; they won’t be sent with the rejection notice. This delay of course severely compromises your ability to get errors corrected.
Another trap is on benefits. Some benefits such as Attendance Allowance are not taxable, see:
but HMRC do not want you to realise this. If you ask them the direct question on the phone, they will not give you a straightforward answer but suggest you read the notes for guidance. However the ‘Brief Notes: Tax Return’ form SA150(B) sent out with the basic tax form SA100 DO NOT clarify this point. It is true that the fuller notes, ‘How to Fill in Your Tax Form’ form SA150 do clarify this point, but the existence of this document is not referred to in SA150(B), and if you phone up you will not be told of its existence.
Is that a reasonable way of treating those caring for an elderly parent who have to fill in the tax form?
You may well ask why fill up your own form, why not use an agent? Apart from the the fee involved all kinds of problems can arise – be wary.
If you do land up submitting a tax form on paper, the following tips might help:
a. NEVER submit your return on forms downloaded from the internet and printed at home. Unless you have a top of the range colour laser printer it is highly likely that the OCR software will misread them. Phone the order line and ask for all the forms you might need.
b. Do download all the relevant notes for guidance and read them before you start. Otherwise you could waste time for example filling in a CGT form you don’t need to.
c. NEVER submit a form with a crossing out on it. This used to be OK but now the scanning operation will produce all those spurious figures. Instead always fill in the form in soft pencil, double check it, ink in the figures and carefully rub out the pencil marks.
d. ALWAYS take a photocopy or scan in of every page of every form you submit. Otherwise when you get to the complaints stage they will convince you that you made a mistake. Making notes is not enough.
e. When downloading or ordering notes for guidance ALWAYS obtain SA150 and do not be fobbed off with SA150(B). ALWAYS write a letter of complaint that you are not sent or offered SA150 automatically.
f.If in spite of the above you have a source of income which are are still not sure whether it is taxable, DO NOT include it in any of the numbered boxes. Instead list it in ‘any other information’, explaining that you have been unable to find out whether it is taxable. It is highly unlikely that anyone will read this unless they do an audit on you, but you are covered if they do.
This information is provided in good faith but in view of the Kafkaesque nature of the UK tax code and associated penalty regime, I cannot accept responsibility for the consequences of reliance on it.