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Reforming Parliament – another way?

The most popular proposal for the reform of parliament is to reform the voting system, but there is now a competing proposal – The Campaign for a Free Parliament (CFP) , http://freeparliament.org.uk/ ‘Free Parliament: a Campaign to Elect Indpendent MPs to Parliament’. It is funded by a reclusive Scottish multi-millionaire and endorsed by Lord Digby Jones.

On the 6 March 2016 the Independent reported, ‘A reclusive Scottish multi-millionaire industrialist, regarded as being on the right of UK politics, is the main money man behind the ambitious scheme to give £10,000  to 600 independents to fund an effective challenge to mainstream candidates in every constituency.’ http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/lord-digby-jones-millionaire-recluse-to-fund-disaffected-mps-in-the-next-general-election-a6915911.html . On 22 November a letter was sent to all MPs outlining CFP’s plans.

CFP aims to select an independent candidate for each constituency. There will be a national list of approved candidates who may then apply to a constituency for selection by open primary. Although they aim to replace general elections every five years with rolling elections, this can only happen when enough independent MPs are elected to get this enacted. Further, since (if they are successful)  the bulk of such MPs will have been elected at a general election, complicated arrangements for retiring some early would be required. They do not say what the term of office of an MP would be once general elections are abolished.

If all MPs were independent then ministers (including the PM) would be elected by Parliament.

In the Tooting by election in June 2016 the seat was won by Labour with 55% of the vote – although the result may have been influenced by the murder of Jo Cox – whereas Zia Samadani, endorsed by CFP, attracted just 0.1% of the vote. CFP have work to do in convincing people to vote for an independent. The BBC did not even mention his name.

Their proposals do address some problems such as the fact that mainstream parties making very similar and undeliverable promises. They should lead to more competent and honest government. Issues would be debated in parliament on their merits. Lobbying would of course continue, but it would be much more open as lobbyists would have to reach all MPs. However the promoters of the scheme do not seem to recognise the case for genuinely socialist policies, nor that some pretty radical policies are needed if the human race is to survive the threats developing in the 21st century. There is no indication that they need to question the current model of capitalism.

CFP say, “Although it is open for the candidates to express their preferences on a range of policies, their focus should be on setting out their qualifications, personal skills and any notable achievements to date. We strongly believe that policies should be decided in the debating chamber rather than touted for votes. In any event, an independent MP will only ever be able to get a policy implemented if a majority of his colleagues support and prioritise it. That said it will be open for any MP to propose a policy.” The danger is that all successful candidates will tend to follow the current orthodoxy, whereas at times it needs challenging.

They are opposed to proportional representation, which of course makes no sense if most MPs are independant. However they make no mention of ranked choice voting which would make sense in their primaries. Nor have they thought about the possibility that a natural community might be divided on a vital issue, and that more than one view should be represented in Parliament. Elections could be by Single Transfereable Vote in multi member constituencies.

All in all CFP have not thought everything through, but their ideas are worthy of study.

The Route to Voting Reform

Those of us who want voting reform for Westminster need to up our game somewhat. Firstly we need more signatures on the petitions, especially the official parliamentary one. Only 33,000 signatures so far though four and a half months to go. If the petition for a second vote on leaving the EU has attracted 4 million votes so far, we can do better. We do need to reach those who normally vote Conservative.

If arguments in terms of fairness to voters don’t work, what about attacking the competence of government? The Brexit shambles is a good case in point. For example it is clear that there is no common strategy amongst ministers. There should have been a contingency plan and work on this could have started in 2013. In addition the civil service does not have the numbers of people

The Guardian reported on Tuesday 22 November,

“The civil service will not be able to implement Brexit while carrying out its other duties after having been shrunk to its smallest size since the second world war, Bob Kerslake, a former Whitehall chief, has warned.

The former head of the civil service under David Cameron added to recent warnings that Whitehall was not sufficiently equipped to cope with the extra demands of leaving the EU.” https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/nov/22/civil-service-unable-to-cope-with-brexit-bob-kerslake.

More generally, one of the main arguments in support of First Past the Post is that it is ‘decisive’ in the sense that it produces single party government. The trouble with this is that either you get a government made up of like minded individuals who tend to make stupid decisions because of groupthink,  see https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/11/new-ministers-stupid-ideas-conservative-politicians  (“All studies of group decision making shows that increasing diversity means decisions taken tend to be better quality, even though they take longer. This might mean cross-party groups should work through the details of new policy before it is released on the world.”) or in the case of the May government you have a crypto coalition united only by their wish to hold onto power, and who fail to resolve their differences constructively.

Having made the case for proportional representation in principle, by what process should a specific system be agreed upon? It is a bad principle to leave this to the government in power; MPs should not decide the means by which they are elected. However the last two referendums campaigns have hardly given voters reliable information on which to decide. The referendum should be preceded by some sort of deliberative process. In the case of New Zealand it was a Royal Commission,but could we trust a commission made up of the ‘great and the good’ in this country be trusted to be independent. The altenative is an assembly made up of ordinary people selected by lot, as has been tried in Canada.

Two Models of Politics

I compare two models of politics. The first is the current dysfunctional model that seems to be an inevitable consequence of the First Past the Post Voting system. The second is the model we must have in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

At present:

  • Winner takes all: the need for an effective opposition is given lip service only
  • Scum Rises to the Top: Only those MPs who put their own selfish interests above the public interest or the wishes of their constituents rise to ministerial office.
  • Power is an end in itself; glory in it! Forget the public good.
  • Do not question the current orthodoxy, however destructive; it works for the majority of MPs.
  • Most MPs don’t need evidence; they know what is right; they just have to shout it out loud enough and often enough.
  • The truth is only admissable when convenient to the government.
  • They do not care about people; just pretend to.
  • They can afford to ignore ordinary people most of the time; when they cannot they manipulate them.
  • Loyalty to party is all; they are happy for the whips to push them physically through the right lobby when they are confused.
  • Hubris is inevitable. Serious mistakes will be made.
  • Never apologise; it is a sign of weakness.

What We Need:

  • Executive power is granted by parliament only to the extent to which it is necessary.
  • Good legislation is the result of collaborative effort.
  • New ideas are essential; the current orthodoxy must always be challenged.
  • Evidence is key; it may be challenged but never ignored.
  • Disagreements should be openly acknowleged and used as a means of mutual learning.
  • Loyalty to those you represent should trump loyalty to party.
  • If you know you have got it wrong apologise.

A proportional voting system does not of itself bring about the necessary culture change, but it does make it possible.

The government’s handling of the EU in or out issue has been disastrous. It is very unlikely the the current mess could have arisen if a proportional voting system had been in operation.

When in 2013 Cameron committed himself to a referendum, he was not interested in the arguments for and against Brexit. he just ‘knew’ it was right to remain, and that he would win, thus getting the Brexiteers off his back. It did not occur to him to look at the extent of and reasons for support for UKIP as an indicator of the possible result. He did not anticipate the need to plan for a possible Brexit,  to define what Brexit might mean before formulating the referendum question, or to consider whether there should have been two referenda. This was the height of insanity, but noone challenged him. If we had had proportional voting system premature and rash commitments simply would not have been taken seriously.

But we have First Past the Post and so Mrs May was confronted with an impossible dilemma. Had she any democratic legitimacy, and had she publicly told Cameron in good time what an idiot he was, she could have roundly denounced Cameron and said the process was so flawed that it had to be repeated. But the Cameron government had been elected by First Past the Post on a minority of the popular vote, and the way that May emerged was hardly democratic, so she has been boxed into a corner. Politically she has to appease the Brexiteers. In so doing she has had to assume she can invoke Article 50 under the Royal Prerogative but now the high court has said she cannot!

First Past the Post by fostering a poisonous culture both within and outside parliament, has created deep divisions in society. Brexit has has worsened this. If the high court ruling is upheld it is unlikely that Brexit will happen, and Brexiteers will forever hate the the Remainers. If the ruling is overturned, then it is clear Britain can expect no mercy from Europeans, and will face Hard Brexit. The economy will suffer and those who admit to supporting Brexit will be hated and attacked. Either way the whole fabric of society is in danger. I hope those MPs who support First Past the Post for entirely selfish reasons are proud of the disaster they have created.

Labour and AntiSemitism

In view of accusations of antisemitism in the Labour Party. I thought it appropriate to draw attention to a finding of the 10th report (HC136) of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Published on 13 October 2016, on ‘Antisemitism in the UK’. available at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/home-affairs-committee/
In the detail of the report the committee had to acknowledge that there is no evidence that Labout is any more antisemitic than any other party – see below for detail.
“Other political activity
120.
Despite significant press and public attention on the Labour Party, and a number of
revelations regarding inappropriate social media content, there exists no reliable, empirical
evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes
within the Labour Party than any other political party. We are unaware whether efforts
to identify antisemitic social media content within the Labour Party were applied equally
to members and activists from other political parties, and we are not aware of any polls
exploring antisemitic attitudes among political party members, either within or outside
the Labour Party. The current impression of a heightened prevalence of antisemitism
within in the Labour Party is clearly a serious problem, but we would wish to emphasise
that this is also a challenge for other parties.
121.
A representative YouGov poll carried out in May 2016 found that Labour voters were
no more likely than voters from other parties to express antisemitic attitudes, with UKIP
voters demonstrating the highest levels of antisemitism.
179
As outlined earlier in this
report, a survey of British Jewish people found that almost half of respondents felt that the
Green Party is too tolerant of antisemitism (compared with 87% in relation to the Labour
Party), 43% think the same of UKIP, 40% of the SNP, and over a third in relation to the
Liberal Democrats.
180
122.
Other political parties have not been immune to accusations of antisemitism, albeit
apparently with a smaller number of reported incidents, and with a lower profile. In April
2015, a Conservative candidate for Derby Council was expelled from her Party after she
said she would never support “the Jew” Ed Miliband.
181
In August 2014, the University
College London (UCL) Union investigated the university’s Conservative Society after it was
accused of creating a “toxic environment”, with one member reported to have said “Jews
own everything, we all know it’s true. I wish I was Jewish, but my nose isn’t long enough”.
Media reports suggest that the incident was never investigated by the Conservative Party,
182
but it is unclear whether it was ever referred to the Party, and questions have subsequently
been raised about the veracity of the complaint.
123.
A former Conservative Councillor who defected to the Liberal Democrats after losing
his seat, Matthew Gordon Banks, was suspended from his new Party in September after
writing on Twitter that “[Tim] Farron’s leadership campaign was organised and funded by
London Jews”, adding in a second tweet: “I tried to work with them. Very difficult.”

 

There is a very powerful Jewish lobby that insists that any criticism of Israel is antisemitic, although this lobby does not represent all Jews either inside or outside Israel.

Antisemitism in the UK

In view of accusations of antisemitism in the Labour Party. I thought it appropriate to draw attention to a key finding of the 10th report (HC136) of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Published on 13 October 2016, on ‘Antisemitism in the UK’. available at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/home-affairs-committee/

I quote the first part of the conclusions below but note para 3:

  • It is not antisemitic to criticise the Government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.
  • It is not antisemitic to hold the Israeli Government to the same standards as other liberal democracies, or to take a particular interest in the Israeli Government’s policies or actions, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent. (Paragraph 24)

This is vitally important because of those ‘Political Jews’ who claim that all criticism of the government of Israel is antisemitism. Readers are recommended to read Gilad Atzmon’s book, ‘The Wandering Who’. Gilad comes from a Jewish family who have been living in Israel/Palestine for generations (since before the Balfour Declaration I think).

“Conclusions and recommendations

Defining antisemitism

1.The Macpherson definition that, for recording purposes, a racist incident is one “perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person” is a good working definition, which provides a strong basis for investigation. As such, the perceptions of Jewish people—both collectively and individually, as an alleged victim—should be the starting point of any investigation into antisemitism. However, for an incident to be found to be antisemitic, or for a perpetrator to be prosecuted for a criminal offence that was motivated or aggravated by antisemitism, requires more than just the victim’s perception that it was antisemitic. It also requires evidence, and it requires that someone other than the victim makes an objective interpretation of that evidence. The difficulty of making such a determination in the face of conflicting interpretations underlines the importance of establishing an agreed definition of antisemitism. (Paragraph 22)

2.It is clear that where criticism of the Israeli Government is concerned, context is vital. Israel is an ally of the UK Government and is generally regarded as a liberal democracy, in which the actions of the Government are openly debated and critiqued by its citizens. Campaigners for Palestinian rights have informed us that they would expect similar standards of conduct from the Israeli Government as they would demand from the UK Government. It is important that non-Israelis with knowledge and understanding of the region should not be excluded from criticising the Israeli Government, in common with the many citizens of Israel who are amongst its strongest critics, including human rights organisations in that country. (Paragraph 23)

3.We broadly accept the IHRA definition, but propose two additional clarifications to ensure that freedom of speech is maintained in the context of discourse about Israel and Palestine, without allowing antisemitism to permeate any debate. The definition should include the following statements:

  • It is not antisemitic to criticise the Government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.
  • It is not antisemitic to hold the Israeli Government to the same standards as other liberal democracies, or to take a particular interest in the Israeli Government’s policies or actions, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent. (Paragraph 24)

4.We recommend that the IHRA definition, with our additional caveats, should be formally adopted by the UK Government, law enforcement agencies and all political parties, to assist them in determining whether or not an incident or discourse can be regarded as antisemitic. (Paragraph 25)

5.‘Zionism’ as a concept remains a valid topic for academic and political debate, both within and outside Israel. The word ‘Zionist’ (or worse, ‘Zio’) as a term of abuse, however, has no place in a civilised society. It has been tarnished by its repeated use in antisemitic and aggressive contexts. Antisemites frequently use the word ‘Zionist’ when they are in fact referring to Jews, whether in Israel or elsewhere. Those claiming to be “anti-Zionist, not antisemitic”, should do so in the knowledge that 59% of British Jewish people consider themselves to be Zionists. If these individuals genuinely mean only to criticise the policies of the Government of Israel, and have no intention to offend British Jewish people, they should criticise “the Israeli Government”, and not “Zionists”. For the purposes of criminal or disciplinary investigations, use of the words ‘Zionist’ or ‘Zio’ in an accusatory or abusive context should be considered inflammatory and potentially antisemitic. This should be communicated by the Government and political parties to those responsible for determining whether or not an incident should be regarded as antisemitic. (Paragraph 32)”

Towards the One Party State: Where Orwell Got it Wrong

We are in a situation where a Conservative majority in 2020, and perhaps thereafter, seems inevitable  This is ably argued by retired bishop Colin Buchanan in the Church Times, October 7th, but also reproduced at https://stvact.wordpress.com/2016/10/09/dirty-work-on-the-boundaries/. According to his analysis this is down to the  Conservatives’ reliance on, and ruthless exploitation of, the defects in our first past the post voting system. Even if Corbyn unites the Labour Party, no feasible increase in the Labour vote could change the result. Labour cannot wholly escape blame for this; up to now most Labour MPs have supported first past the post because it helped to get them elected.

So we are to be ruled by a party who attracted just 37% of the popular vote in 2015 (and a much smaller % of those who could have voted), which has so far hopelessly mismanaged the Brexit issue, and whose attachment to fracking threatens massive environmental degradation.

If this situation persists what can we expect? Continued ‘austerity’, steadily increasing hardship for the poor and disadvantaged, steady erosion of the NHS, steady erosion of pensions, continued housing shortage leading to continued unaffordability of decent housing, steadily increasing personal debt, steady erosion of middle class life style…, and to dwarf all these the effects of runaway climate change.

In some ways this parallels the socialist dystopia portrayed in Orwell’s, ‘1984’:

  • The attachment of the elite to power for its own sake,
  • The control by the elite of the perception of reality,
  • The steadily worsening situation of the vast majority of the people,
  • The deliberate waste of resources through endless war,
  • The replacement of a system of justice by the arbitrary use of state power, and
  • Fostering of hate as a means of subjection.

Orwell imagined a world system that originated in cataclysmic events including nuclear war (though the details are not spelt out). Reality was controlled by the vast bureaucracy of ‘minitruth’, which constantly revised history and refined ‘newspeak’ (which made many concepts impossible to communicate). Independent thought (‘Crimethink’) led to you being ‘disappeared’.

He ignored two things (perhaps deliberately for dramatic effect):

  • The way that unrestrained capitalism concentrates wealth and hence power. Something which was clearly spelt out in 1917 (way before Thomas Picketty), by G.K.Chesterton in his book, ‘Utopia of Usurers’ [note 1], and
  • How propaganda can ‘tame’ democracy, not by censorship, but simply burying the truth in lies, omissions and trivia. This had been clearly spelt out by Edward Bernays in (for example) his book ‘Propaganda’, 1928.

The capitalist dystopia has evolved largely unnoticed until recently. It could be countered by a strong democracy which truly represented an informed population. Two of the necessary conditions for this are:

  • A voting system which not only gives fair shares to parties but also represents the various interests and concerns of voters, and
  • A free and diverse media, independent of wealthy proprietors and advertisers.

In Britain today there seems little hope of achieving either. Sadly the BBC is one of the culprits. It does not have to lie; merely selects what is reported and fails to challenge what the powerful say. There is a faint glimmer of hope in that elites sometimes make mistakes. If the government tinkers with the BBC it could destroy all trust and get people to explore alternatives.

********************************************

Note 1: “Now I have said again and again (and I shall continue to say again and again on all the most inappropriate occasions) that we must hit Capitalism, and hit it hard, for the plain and definite reason that it is growing stronger. Most of the excuses which serve the capitalists as masks are, of course, the excuses of hypocrites. They lie when they claim philanthropy; they no more feel any particular love of men than Albu felt an affection for Chinamen. They lie when they say they have reached their position through their own organising ability. They generally have to pay men to organise the mine, exactly as they pay men to go down it. They often lie about the present wealth, as they generally lie about their past poverty. But when they say that they are going in for a “constructive social policy,” they do not lie. They really are going in for a constructive social policy. And we must go in for an equally destructive social policy; and destroy, while it is still half-constructed, the accursed thing which they construct.” (Summary from Gilbert Keith Chesterton, d. 1936)

Will the next President be Impeached? The case for Instant Run Off Voting

Assuming Brexit happens, Britain really needs to worry about its relationship with the USA. Neither of the presidential candidates inspires confidence.

On the one hand we have Donald Trump who says what he thinks voters want to hear, (see https://www.ineteconomics.org/ideas-papers/interviews-talks/getting-to-grips-with-the-trump-phenomenon ). He has criminal associates and is a  P T Barnum. He has some crazy (somewhat isolationist) ideas, but would have no real prospect of realising any of them. He has no clue about how government works.

On the other hand we have Clinton who thinks about nothing but Clinton. To maintain the support of the arms lobby she is a war monger, and is also a general sleazeball. She understands the system and could lead us into WW3.

It seems to me that the Republicans have plenty of motive to impeach whichever of them becomes president – Clinton because she is dangerous and is a Democrat – Trump because he would be a lame duck president and would bring the Grand Old Party into disrepute. As for the grounds for impeachment, they both have skeletons in their cupboard.

Either way we cannot expect much positive leadership from the USA in the next four years.

As in Britain our first past the post voting system does not work for the people. If there had been Instant Run Off Voting, Bernie Sanders could have stood as an independent rather than feeling he had to support Clinton. On the Republican side too there would surely have been better candidates. Even Green candidate  Jill Stein would have attracted the support she deserves.