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We should not neglect the Lib Dems

Most of MVM’s efforts are being devoted to winning over Labour (the only ‘progressive’ party not totally convinced) of the merits of proportional representation (PR). In spite of our best endeavours however we can never be certain that a Labour victory in a general election will win us PR. Those labour MPs in safe seats may vote with the Tories. Look what has happened in Canada. Another hung parliament could be our best hope. The role of the Lib Dems could be crucial.

In theory they support PR; they have every incentive to do so. The most spectacularly unfair result for their predecessors – the Libersl/SDP alliance was in 1983 when they received just 23 (3.5%) of the seats for 25.4% of the vote. In the ensuing ‘all party/ no party’ Campaign for Fair Votes, one million signatures were collected on a paper petition to the House of Commons. This involved door knocking up to 9 p.m. on winter evenings! It was all in vain; in accordance with custom, the boxes of signatures were placed behind the speaker’s chair, but no debate ensued. There was no media coverage, the event being overshadowed by the abolition of the Greater London Council.

Since then, during periods of majority government, the Lib Dems  have made little effort to win public support for PR. This was left to ‘all party’ groups, ERS which was hopeless and Charter88/Unlock Democracy which campaigned for far too many things. It has taken another manifestly unfair election and an 18 year old to take up the fight.

Following the 2003 Scottish Parliament election, the Scottish Lib Dems were for the second time in coalition with Labour and were able to use this position to secure STV for local elections, the first of which were held in 2007.

In the 2010 general election things went less well. The Lib Dems did not appear to have prepared for possibility of coalition, or else why did Clegg make that promise that they they little chance of delivering on? Although there had to be a Tory led government, the Lib Dems were their only possible partners. Theye should not have gone for coalition but only maintenance and supply. They should have fought harder for PR. It would have been good for the country and good for the long term future of the Lib Dems. Ther can be no question about the latter.

They must be helped to learn their lesson. They should ignore the inevitable Tory claims that campaigning for PR is special pleasding. It is vital for the future of Britain.

How New Zealand Got PR and How it has Gone

At the first meeting of Make Votes Matter in Rural Dorset on 27th June I was asked how New Zealand, which had used FPTP up until the 1990s, managed to achieve reform. I was a bit vague. I hope this puts things right, see, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_reform_in_New_Zealand. In short:

A Royal Commission was appointed in 1985 which recommended MMP with a single top up area encompassing the whole country and a total of 120 MPs (up from 99 under FPTP).

In 1992 there was a non binding referendum at which 85% of people voted for change, and of the four systems on offer 65% voted for MMP, 16% for STV, 6% for PV and 5% for Supplementary Vote.

In 1993 a 2nd binding referendum was held to choose between MMP and retaining FPTP. This was much harder fought. The opposition got organised and ‘project fear’ ruled. The vote was 54% for MMP and 46% to retain FPTP. A pro reformer said, “Had the referendum been held a week earlier I believe we would have lost.”

The first election was held in 1996 in which there were 65 electorate seats and 55 party list top up seats. The proportions have varied over time for reasons I do not understand. On three occasions a party (I think the Māori Party on each occasion) won more constituency seats than the total they were entitled to on the basis of the party vote. This is called ‘overhang’. The no. of seats was increased in order to restore proportionality ( by 1 in two cases and 2 in the other).

A further referendum was held in 2011. 58% voted to retain MMP and 42% to change.

A review carried out by the Electoral Commission in 2012 recommended a fixed ratio of 72 electorate seats to 48 party seats. However in 2014 the ration was 71 to 50 (including one overhang seat).

Read the details at the above link and at:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_system_of_New_Zealand

Letter to Richard Drax MP, South Dorset

copied to news editor Dorset Echo

Subject: Britain a Laughing Stock in Europe

Dear Mr Drax

It is very sad that according to the Guardian ( https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/24/brexit-europe-laughing-britain-unstable-government ) Britain is now a laughing stock in Europe. First Past the Post has not delivered strong and stable government recently.

The article points out that under a proportional system ‘balanced’ parliaments (to use a less emotive term than ‘hung’) will be more likely, but once politicians have  learned to live with this they might be more likely to face the challenges faced by this country as grown ups rather than as a crowd of jeering schoolboys and school girls. Political leaders might be persuaded to show a modicum of humility and start listening.

You may wish to reflect on this. Just to remind you that we are holding a meeting at the United Church, Dorchester on Tuesday to discuss this (see attached). It would be good to see some Conservatives there.

yours sincerely

David Smith, 9 Old Station Road, Weymouth, DT3 5NQ, tel: 01305 815965

Modest proposals for cleaning up UK politics

It has been argued that this is the most important election since universal suffrage. If the Tories are returned to power and Mrs May carries on as she has been doing, many of our rights will be removed (under the pretext of security) in the Great Repeal Bill, much hard won environment and safety legislation will be lost. But also we are likely to face exit from the EU without either a trade deal or even a ‘divorce settlement’. If we leave without the latter then we feel the EU’s displeasure and face huge tariff walls. My only hope is that enough Tories realise in time what a disaster she is, dump her and do something pragmatic.

If we have the opportunity then we should consider the following reforms (in addition to proportional representation), which would have to be enacted as primary legislation:

Election funding: attempts to limit donations from the very rich will always fail; people are inventive enough to get round any regulations. Instead there should be tight limits on NATIONAL party election spending. As a rough guide I would suggest a figure of a little less than what Labour will have spent this time. The figure should be linked to the number of votes received by that party at the last election, but there should be a fixed sum to allow for very small or new parties. This is a limit; they may not be able to raise such a figure. In order to enforce this:

Any transgression whether knowingly or not would attratct a fine levied by Electoral Commission.

Knowingly transgressing the limit would be a criminal offence

Exceeding the limit by 5% or more would automatically lead to the whole election being declared void and the offending party be liable for the cost of rerunning the election. The Electoral Commission would submit evidence to a court which would judge the matter. Any appeals would have to be heard within 6 weeks. The court could treat any undue delay in a party submitting the expenses return as evidence of a 5% overspend.

The BBC has quite good editorial guidelines but they are not consistently applied. They do not lie but they are lazy and biassed in the matters they report. They are also biassed as to the treatment of the people they interview especially during election periods. Channel 4 and even Sky have better records. Members of the BBC Trust should be chosen by lot, but with a power of popular recall. The terms of the BBC Charter should be agreed in primary legislation. Any powers granted to the secretary of state should be subject to the AFFIRMATIVE resolution procedure.

Any commercial media company operating in the UK would be limited to one newspaper title OR one TV Channel. If two companies had any significant connection they would be entitled to just one title or channel between them. A significant connection would be, either company with an equity holding of more than 5% of the other, any loan (including bonds) of more than 5% of the net assets of the debtor company, or anyone who is a director (whether executive or non executive) of both companies.

It has been alleged that Mrs May on Question Time made a false allgation against Diane Abbott to the effect that she had advocated the removal of the DNA samples of ‘criminals and terrorists’ from police databases. (see https://skwawkbox.org/2017/06/04/may-reported-to-police-for-abbott-comment-electoral-breach-ge17-bbcqt/)

“Abbott has, of course, done nothing of the sort. She has advocated the removal of the DNA of innocent people, because it infringes on our civil liberties, disproportionately affects ethnic minorities and includes the DNA of, for example, victims of crimes such as rape.”

If this is true then Mrs May has committed an illegal act under Section 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. I am unclear what penalty is prescribed for this act if proved. It would of course be libel, but libel law is not a satisfactory solution in this case. It is not just Diane Abbott’s reputation that is at stake but the result of the election. It should be a criminal matter and the fact that the alleged offender is the Prime Minister should make no difference to how she is treated. The CPS should consider any complaint without fear or favour. If it is suspected that they are not doing so then a group of citizens should have the right to raise a defined sum of money and demand a judicial review of the CPS’s actions. The penalty for such an offence would be permanent banning from any public office and several years in prison.

Section 106 appears to apply also to media outlets making or repeating false allegations about candidates, but there serious issues of enforcement. In the case of print media, journalists, editors and distributors could be held personally criminally liable for any such offence. But thetre could be delays and difficulties. This needs more thought.

Steering the Economy

I have just been reading Kate Raworth’s book ‘Doughnut Economics’, a brilliant and very readable account of how economics has to change if everyone is to have ‘enough’ whilst staying within the resources and carrying capacity that the planet can cope with. She explains why economic growth cannot in future be the primary goal. We have to learn that the economy is not in stable equilibrium, and that the market cannot solve all. Orthodox models are useless. Systems Dynamics models such as those used by Steve Keen give a good explanation of why credit crunches, such as that occurring in 2008, happen and could potentially forecast the next one on the assumption we carry on as we are.

If we want to work out how we can get from where we are to where we need to be, we surely do not want to have to cope with recurring crises of that sort. Economies need to be steered. During the elction camapign a lot has been said about taxes. That is fiscal policy and is one aspect of what governments have to do to control the economy, but there is also monetary policy, now delegated to the Bank of England. What instruments does the Bank have for this purpose? Currently, for the most part, only interest rates, which are supposed both to keep inflation within acceptable limits and to ensure growth. Here  Kate Raworth says something I do not understand, ‘It’s time to stop searching for the economy’s elusive control levers (they don’t exist) and start stewarding it as an ever-evolving complex system.’

In the decades following WW2 the British did use powerful levers to control money – credit controls and exchange controls. In what Lord (Adair) Turner called a time of ‘financial repression’, the economy did ok. The crash of 2008 could not have happened. There are at least two measures to avoid another 2008:

The first is the one advocated by Prof. Richard Werner. Based on his investigation of Japan’s asset bubble followed by a long period of stagnation starting in 1992, he claimed that in order to prevent future asset bubbles, there should be controls on the amount of credit extended for speculation in existing assets, such as real estate, which makes no contribution to the real economy – see for example, on Richard A Werner, “New Paradigm in Macroeconomics: solving the riddle of Japan’s macroeconomic performance”, Palgrave MacMillan, 2005. This depends on being able to keep track of the amount credit extended for speculation in existing assets as opposed to that to fund productive investment. I am not sure the Bank fo England is good at that, but cannot find the appropriate reference. Werner is now professor of Banking and Finance at Southampton and continues to advocate his prescription. He has extensive knowledge of local banking in Germany and has been leading a team working to establish a Hampshire local bank, which would include current accounts, but I think they are still snarled up in the bureaucracy.

An alternative is to adopt the solution advocated by the campaign group Positive Money, whereby money is created by the central bank rather than by commercial banks in the act of lending. This is similar to the Chicago Plan advocated by Fisher et al in the 1930s. It has several advantges, one of which to allow counter cyclical issue of money. However as I argue at https://moneyversusdemocracy.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/positive-money-may-not-be-a-complete-answer-to-the-problem-of-debt/ whereas at present credit and money are indistinguishable, this reform would separate the two. Werner style credit controls might still be required.

I believe that the two solutions are complementary. For example if we got into a situation of debt deflation Postive Money could be an alternative to ‘People’s Quantitative Easing’.

One way in which these two proposals could be evaluated is by extending Steve Keen’s system dynamics models to encompass rules of thumb based suggested by them. We are straying here into the field of cybernetics, and it would be worth studying the work of the late Stafford Beer, both on his Viable Systems Model, and on the work of his team on the Cybersyn project in Chile on controlling the economy in as close to real time as the state of IT allowed in 1972 – https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2003/sep/08/sciencenews.chile. This promising experiment was brutally terminated by the overthrow of Allende by Pinochet and the CIA. Pinochet’s military examined the project, but they found the open, egalitarian aspects of the system unattractive and destroyed it. Since then neoliberal ideology has outlawed such approaches. Would such an approach kill subsidiarity? Not necessarily; this needs looking into.

These measures are in no way in conflict with Kate Raworth’s vision. They would merely create a situation of stability within which the hard work of matching people’s needs to the capacity of the planet could proceed. This requires hard work, much patient negotiation and imagination.

The Financial and Emotional Cost of Dementia

As of today 22nd May, the Tories are in disarray over their plans to change the rules over the funding of social care. In particular their plan as described in the manifesto does not appear to have addressed the position of surviving spouses or partners. Typically husband and wife hold their house as ‘joint tenants’ whereby the surviving spouse inherits the whole of the house whether or not there is a will. What happens if the house has to be sold on the first death? What if the survivor then needs social care? See: https://skwawkbox.org/2017/05/21/dementiatax-what-happens-when-surviving-spouse-needs-care-too-ge17/

It also appears that Philip May is a key executive of Capital Group a key provider of Equity Release schemes which the Tories are specifying as the only means of retaining the property up to the first death – surely a conflict of interest.

I expect lawyers will be very inventive in devising ways of getting round the ‘dementia tax’. But not everyone will think of contacting their solicitor.

But the Tories are only making worse a dilemma which couples face regardless of finance. Someone getting dementia may not want to impose a huge emaotional burden on their partner, but be unable to do anything about it. Living with someone who no longer knows you must be a nightmare. Dignity in Dying  believes ” the right law for the UK is one that allows dying people, with six months or less to live the option to control their death. We do not support a wider law.” They believe that their position is supported by 82% of the public. The Swiss organization Dignitas supports assisted dying in a wider range of circumstances.

Traditionally Christianity has condemned suicide as being a terrible sin in any circumstances. That attitude has changed somewhat, but the attitude of modern Tories seems to be logically consistent with a situation where people can make legally enforceable Living Wills. This could be implemented in the form of modified Last Powers of Attorney, Health and Welfare in which the attorney would have to be an independent person who would consult the family but not be bound by their opinion.

A Party to Enact Voting Reform?

This post is to explore the idea suggested by Jon Sessions of forming a political party to secure proportional representation. This recognises the difficulties of forming an effective ‘Progressive Alliance’ to oppose the Conservative Party in the forthcoming election. The idea of a progressive alliance has been especially promoted by the Green Party though it has had some support from the Lib Dems. Whereas the Greens have backed down in a couple of constituencies and the Lib Dems have withdrawn in Brighton Pavilion, the Labour Party has not reciprocated. Apparently its constitution forbids it. In Jeremy Hunt’s constituency where an independent is standing to try and unseat him, the Constituency Labour Party decided to withdraw, but their decision was overturned by the centre, and two local Labour activists have been expelled from the party. This finally convinced Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas to say enough is enough; the Green will fight every seat, see http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/progressive-alliance-greens-and-labour-collapses-after-members-suspended_uk_5911a6efe4b0104c73524551.

Decisions to co-operate can be tricky, for example in the recent Dorset County elections a very popular Labour councillor lost his seat to a Conservative. The local Green Party regretted this result which may not have transpired if the Green Party candidate had stood down. However this result could not reasonably have been predicted, and the Labour candidate had indicated he was not actively campaigning. The Green Party felt it had been right to stand everywhere on the basis of the information we had.

We can do nothing before the forthcoming election on June 8th, so we are thinking about a future election which could be in 2022, or in a couple of year’s time if it is realised Britain has made a huge mistake in deciding to leave the EU. We could threaten to field candidates to oppose progressive party candidates in winnable seats unless certain conditions are met. We do not need to register a new party for this; they would be formally independent. The conditions are:

a. That all ‘progressive’ parties make proportional representation their policy.

b. That it is recognised that AV, AV+ as defined in the Jenkins report, and Hansard AMS are unacceptable.

c. That no party’s constitution should prevent an alliance.

d. That active discussions on interparty co-operation commence in each constituency by October 2017.

This would be a wrecking action which would not result in legislation being brought forward to achieve PR in the ensuing parliament. There is a good chance that the progressive parties would regard our threat as not credible.

There are several possible outcomes to the forthcoming election, but the most likely is a Conservative win with increased majority. The economy might not suffer too much as a result of Brexit, and voters may accept the scrapping of environmental legislation and restrictions of our freedom of expression. The destruction of the NHS, which it will not be possible to reverse for a generation at least, will however give the Conservatives some problems. This could cause a Conserevative split.

I think we have to wait for June 9th before deciding what to do.

If the Labour Party does not split irrevocably after the election then MVM should be campaigning for them not only to adopt PR as their policy but also modify their constitution to allow alliances under certain circumstances.