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Sign my Petition: Require Parliamentary Approval before Ratifying Treaties

Britain is almost alone in not requiring parliamentary approval before it ratifies a treaty. In principle therefore things ought to change. However I need to explain why this is becoming much more urgent and important.

In the days of Empire Britain could and did dictate the terms of trade with many nations at the point of a gun. Most people including parliamentarians did not face to acknowledge what we were doing to these nations, and were content to wash their hands of such matters. They were happy for treaties to be secret at least until they were in force.

Things have radically changed. We have lost the Empire though it seems out politicains are reluctant to acknowledge the fact. We also have a very unbalanced economy. We cannot feed ourselves; we are no longer self sufficient in fossil fuels and are doing too little to replace them with renewables; and for many years we  have imported more goods than we have exported. In short we are very dependent on trade. If we remained in Europe we could manage at least in the short to medium term, but we have decided to exit. Those we will have to trade with in the future, especially the USA, will be keen to exploit our weakness.

Dr Fox’s department is woefully understaffed and Dr Fox has been hopelessly optimistic. If he needed parliamentary approval his hand would be strenghened somewhat because those he deals with would know. Also he would know that if he kept parliament in the dark he would risk failure; that it would be a case of more haste less speed. Giving way to the Americans would have catastrophic consequences for food standards, the future of the NHS and continued availablity of effective antibiotics. Doubtless there will be many other things we do not even know about.

My petition reads:

Require Parliamentary Approval before Ratifying Treaties or MOUs

An Act of Parliament is required which provides that:
a. Ratification is no longer a prerogative power
b. the treaty text must be laid before parliament for 3 months
c. an order to ratify must then be laid under affirmative procedure whereby both houses have to vote yes, or it fails.

Allowing ratification without thorough parliamentary scrutiny and the final say surely weakens the hand of the UK negotiators. I believe that the only rational motive for Dr Fox being allowed to ratify the deal with the US unchallenged would be to allow him to do something that the British public would not approve of, e.g. to hasten the destruction of the NHS.

To sign go to https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/221059

Most of those who campaign against the totally rigged and secret ISDS (Investor State Dispute Settlement) system, seem unaware that the UK imposed that system on no fewer than 94 lesser nations (and probably more now).

The current situation is defined in Part 2 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, which was described as bringing the Ponsonby Rule onto a statutory basis. The wording is a bit involved but the key points are:

a. A minister may ratify a treaty unless parliament votes against, but as the government controls the timetable, such votes very very rarely take place.

b. Even if parliament wre to vote aginst, the minister can override this in some cases.

The petition asks that parliament must vote in favour before ratification can take place.

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Loyalty to Party is not Enough

As not printed by Dorset Echo

‘Loyalty to party is not enough’. So said the late Liberal peer Nancy Seear. It is especially not enough where constitutional issues are involved. It is outrageous that a minister of a government elected by a whisker on a minority of the vote can ratify a major treaty which Parliament has not even seen. It is also outrageous that the major parties in parliament shrug off any attemprt to reform rhe voting system. And no, the 2011 referendum was not about whether people wanted to change from First Past the Post, but whether they wanted a shoddy compromise, which is not proportional and which was never properly explained.

Nearer home, the government clearly pressured local councils to agree to the plan to abolish nine councils, replacing them with two unitaries, in order to save money. What’s more it seems that the savings will largely be clawed back by the government by the £10m negative Revenue Support Grant expected next year [1]. When Sajid Javid announced the plan would go ahead, Dorset County Council leader Cllr Rebecca Knox said, “… We are committed to building on our positive collective work to develop a thriving economy, support and encourage aspirations for our young people and deliver services that make a positive difference to people’s lives.”  [2]. A very big claim in the circumstances; I hope she meant it. The challenges she and the new council will face are exemplified by a motion put to the last full meeting of Dorset County Council by Cllr Clare Sutton. In short because of the lack of job prospects in Weymouth and Portland she argues that ‘this council’  should ” …  when deciding where to physically locate certain services going forward, especially where skilled jobs are involved, for example Planning Services, give special consideration to the fact that, if it is to thrive, Weymouth and Portland NEED these jobs’. Although Conservative councillors could hardly deny the evidence presented, the idea that Weymouth should receive any favourable treatment seemed to be a step too far. It was argued that that was not the time and place to tackle the issue as the council was to be replaced it was agreed there should be an indicative vote. The motion was defeated, most Conservatives having voted against.

The other motion, proposed by Cllr Susan Jefferies said, ‘This council requests that the Government provides for elections to the Dorset Council in 2019 to be conducted by a system of proportional representation.’ A key argument for change was the fact that there is now only one Labour County Councillor, whereas on a proportional basis they should have around six. The proposers wanted a specific system, Single Transferable Vote, which not only delivers fair shares for parties but also allows voters an effective choice on other criteria than party.  That did not stop one Conservative councillor  displaying either his lack of attention or his ignorance in refering to Germany, with its very different party based system.  In the end though, the arguments for and against were irrelevant. In the ‘indicative’ vote that followed most (and I think all) the Conservatives votes against.

Whereas it might be impractical to introduce the change for next year, it should be a possibility for the 2024 elections. If Cllr Knox’s stated objectives are to be realised there has to be more co-operation than can be achieved under first Past the Post , which encourages confrontation. The Scottish experience of Single Transferable Vote which has been used for local elections since 2007 has been positive [3]. The new council should at least look at the Scottish experience and make recommendation to the communities secretary. If it does not, it will be clear that it has put party advantage ahead of the interests of the people of Dorset.

David Smith, Weymouth

 

Notes:

[1} as quoted in ‘Your Dorset’  spring 2018.

[2] https://new.poole.gov.uk/news/government-approves-unitary-councils-for-dorset/#.WvCfbJch3ct 

[3] https://stvact.wordpress.com/articles/stv-action-articles/stv-in-local-government-the-scottish-example/

We Could have ‘Proportional Representation’ for Dorset Next May

The Liberal Democrats have put down a motion for Dorset County Council full Council meeting on 26th April:

I understand this will have the support of the Green Party.

‘This Council requests that the Government provides for elections to the Dorset Council in 2019 to be conducted by a system of proportional representation.’

Sadly, experience suggests this motion is likely to be voted down by the Conservative majority without troubling to listen to the arguments. First Past the Post suits them; ‘end of’.

Such are the constraints placed on local authorities by central government, it seems inappropriate to me that councillors should be chosen mostly on their party political allegiance. They should be loyal to the community they serve rather than to the party. The Single Transferable Vote system is the one system that allows voters effective choice on grounds other than party: who the candidate is; how far does he or she really care about the voter’s particular concerns.

If the Conservatives do feel it necessary to listen to the arguments, they will argue that the chnge could not be effected in time for May 2019. I disagree.

According to the Electoral Commission: ‘Existing legislation – section 36 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 – sets out that local elections will be run under the Local Elections (Principal) Areas Rules 2006.  The method of voting under these Rules is the first past the post system.’ In fact section 36 makes no explicit reference to the aforesaid rules. Instead it says:

“(1)Elections of councillors for local government areas in England and Wales shall be conducted in accordance with rules made by the Secretary of State.

(2)Rules made under this section shall apply the parliamentary elections rules in Schedule 1 to this Act, subject to such adaptations, alterations and exceptions as seem appropriate to the Secretary of State.”

But Schedule 1 allows the secretary of state to change the design of the ballot paper.

In short I believe that a PR system could be mandated by an order in parliament under the negative resolution procedure. Such orders are virtually never challenged by parliament. The relevant order would be pretty much a copy of the Scottish Local Government Elections Order 2011 subject to very minor amendments listed at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/changes/affected/ssi/2011/399.

Importantly, none of these changes affected the STV counting rules used in 2012. Of course computer counting is involved. My source writes:

“It is (to me) one of the paradoxes of the adoption of electronic counting for STV-PR that the whole process, three times, has gone ahead without any real challenge. (The Open Rights Group made some noise, but no-one took any notice, and there were no formal challenges.) My own view of why there has been such public acceptance of the unavoidably “black box” process, is that everyone knows we always have the original paper ballot papers (with pencil markings) and an Election Court could always demand a manual count of the ballot papers should there be a serious challenge to an electronic count.”

Some changes would be needed to the provisional warding arrangements set out in the Dorset Area Size submission, Appendix 3. These provide for 41 two member wards based on existing county divisions except that the existing two member divisions (Bridport, Dorchester etc.) have been spilt in two. For STV to work as it should you need 3 or 4 member wards. This means that the town have to be brought back together and some other combined together in pairs.

Rural Dorset Elections (update)

Further to my post (on Dorset Eye) on 28th February, Secretary of State Sajid Javid has confirmed that the first elections to Rural Dorset unitary council will be on 2nd May 2019. All 82 members (not 76 as previously reported) will be elected then, and thereafter there will be ‘all out’ elections every five years.

Not much detail is to be found on the Dorsetforyou website or in the media; there is more on the (not widely publicised), Dorset Area Joint Committee website, https://dorsetareacouncils.wordpress.com/. In particular there are two useful publications:

  • Boundary Review: Dorset Area – Council Size Submission (submitted on 31 January 2018) and

  • Task and Finish Groups: A number of task and finish group shave been established and are detailed in the attached Task and Finish Groups schedule.  The document includes the remit of each group together with the membership and lead officer. “

A contact email address,  Dorsetareajc@dorsetcc.gov.uk is provided but messages to it are being rejected as spam; I have not been able to find out why.

A boundary review is under way, though there is a default position defined in Appendix 3 of the Council Size Submission. In this there will be 82 councillors elected in 41 2 seater wards. These will be based on existing county divisions. Single seater divisions will become 2 member wards. Each two seater county division will be split into two wards each electing two members. I doubt whether there is time to do better in time for May next year. Will the review continue in preparation for 2024? I don’t know. Elections will almost certainly be conducted using First Past the Post as prescribed by existing law.

The motivation to move to unitary councils is saving money. According to “Your Dorset”, the Revenue Support Grant from government for Dorset this year (2018-2019) is zero. Next year it is expected to be MINUS £10m; i.e. government will charge Rural Dorset £10m for the privilege of running its own affairs – a very regressive tax. Achieving the savings without further loss of services will be quite a challenge. Leader of Dorset County Council Rebecca Knox, is optimistic about this, saying,

“On behalf of the Dorset Joint Committee I am delighted that we have been given this opportunity to create a new council for the heart of the county across Dorset. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to remodel local services with our communities and partners to be responsive, innovative and above all else, efficient and effective.”

This can only work if people pull together. Differences of opinion must to aired to avoid group think, but they must be argued on their merits. There is no room for yah boo politics; but First Past the Post prevents inter party co-operation. A change of voting system is needed. Under First Past the Post we can expect Conservatives to win a substantial majority with no more than half the vote. Labour will be under represented. Single party government often does lead to group think. And it is not just a question of ‘fair shares for parties. Dorset is made up of differing communities, very rural areas with poor access to transport, and therefore shops and services; smaller towns with better access to shops and some services; and Weymouth where there is deprivation of a different kind. Voters need an effective vote for candidates who understand their particular needs. Only Single Transferable Vote (as now used in Scotland) delivers this.

If First Past the Post is retained, can Rebecca Knox and Sajid Javid achieve their objectives?

The simplest way of getting STV for Dorset would be for Javid to lay an order before parliament for use of STV for Dorset as a one off experiment. Assuming it was successful, primary legislation would be needed to ‘lock it in’, as has been done for Scotland.

An alternative would be to enact Conservative peer Lord Balfe’s Bill, (the Local Government Elections (Referendum) Bill), now awaiting a date for the committee stage in the House of Lords. This would be far too slow; the reform could not take effect before 2029 at the earliest.

David Smith

17th April 2018

Demonstrating Single Transferable Vote – Most and Least Trusted Journalists

We need proportional system to elect people to the new Rural Dorset unitary council in 2o19. We will probably get First Past the Post, but we should have Single Transferable Vote (STV) as now used in Scotland. I want to set up a demonstration election, so that people can learn about STV; but who should be the candidates? I suggest the most and least trusted politcal journalists, commentators and interviewers. I list some names below in alphabetical order of surname, but am not saying which category they fit into. Please give me your names. The next stage will involve nominating the most and least trusted to form a short list for the election, but for now please just give me names. If you have accessed this post from an email, please email me any new names to david.smith@aic.co.uk. If you got here via Facebook, please reply to the email post. If in doubt use email.

Jeremy Bowen
Gyles Brandreth
Thomas G Clarke (Another Angry Voice)
Jo Coburn
Nick Cohen
Evan Davis
David Dimbleby,
Jonathan Dimbleby
Jimmy Dore
Matt Frei
Frank Gardner
Glenn Greenwald
Krishnan Guru-Murthy
Julia Hartley-Brewer
Mehdi Hasan
Peter Hitchens
Ian Hislop
Arianna Huffington
John Humphries
Owen Jones
Max Keiser
Naomi Klein
Laura Kuenssberg
Emily Maitlis
Andrew Marr
Paul Mason
Media Lens
Kerry Anne Mendoza
George Monbiot
Andrew Neil
Cathy Newman
Peter Oborne
Greg Pallast
Jeremy Paxman
Robert Peston
John Pienaar
Prof. Allyson Pollack
Nick Robinson
John Simpson
Skwawkbox
Jon Snow
Peter Stephanovich
Jon Stewart
Kirsty Wark
Nicholas Witchell

 

Two Labour Objections to Proportional Representation

Recently I was talking to a group of Labour Party members about PR. They were a great bunch and did not mind talking to a Green Party member. Two objections to PR came up, which I should have been better prepared for.

The first one was a hoary old chestnut – the fear of extremist right wing parties coming to power. This has not happened in Northern Ireland where STV was introduced to improve relationships between Nationalists and Unionists. It has not happened in Germany (under a PR system) where Merkel and Martin Schultz made a serious error of judgement in presuming that the German people would put up with too many immigrants, though it was of course a wake up call. Even the Nazi party (under a different PR system) never got an absolute majority in the Reichstag, though as Goering pointed out at Nuremberg, they would have under FPTP. Meanwhile in Britain under FPTP, the BNP have at most two councillors left, and the UKIP vote collapsed from 12.6% in 2015 to 1.8% in 2017. It seems as though the increasingly Eurosceptic Tory party has taken their place.

The other objection is that it is claimed that PR ensures rule from the centre. Therefore a socialist programme can never be implemented. This presupposes that the socialist programme is in some sense right, even though the majority of voters might not agree. The argument draws some validity from the fact of extreme  right wing media bias. If this were removed; if people were properly informed, then I suggest the people would support most of the socialist agenda.

AS things stand Corbyn has problem under FPTP. If he fights the next election with the current bunch of candidates and wins, then in response to massive media  pressure, the ‘moderates’ will rebel and bring down the government. If he gets all the ‘moderates’ deselected beforehand, the accusations of ‘Stalinism’ will mean he will lose the election. I believe he has to go into the election promising to implement PR without delay, and in the meantime Labour members need to educate themselves in a sane theory of economics and promote it outside the Party structure.

Voting Reform – the Constituency Link

Many politicians insists that any reformed voting system preserves ‘the constituency link’. Unfortunately this is usually interpreted as the relationship between a single MP and his or her single member constituency. This relationship is of cause of great benefit to the MP who wants to be elected next time. However, since a parliament made up of MPs all of whom are elected in single constituencies cannot be proportionate, this causes some difficulties.

What about the interests of the constituents? The convention is that an MP represents all of his or her constituents, even though typically his or her views differ markedly from those of at least half of them. This requires the MP to exhibit the humility and social skills to listen to and communicate views that differ from his or her own. This is too often not the case, and is certainly not the case with my MP. If he had to the sense to listen to his own PA, things might be better, but he does not.

If on the other hand multi members constituencies are allowed then typically constituents will have the choice of several MPs. Under STV for example, a constituency link ceratinly operates, but it is a many to many link rather than a one to many.