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Genocide in Yemen

In parliament today 21 November 2017 Alistair Burt, minister of state in Dfid had the gall, once again, to deny that Saudi have blockaded Yemen. The conflict there is often described as a proxy war between Saudi and Iran. The USA and the UK have weighed in on the Saudi side, the motive on our side being arms sales.

It seems that throughout, the Saudi strategy has been to starve the Houthis rather than defeat troops on the ground. Bombing has been targetted to achieve this. Initially the cranes in the key port of Al Hudaydah were targetted thus preventing the unloading of ships supplying food. Next they have been targetting hospitals, schools and more importantly the electricity supply in northern Yemen has been knocked out. This has disabled water treatment plants thus causing the worst cholera outbreak on record – now approaching a million cases. One of the first acts of the banks in the South of the country had been the destruction of the currency – literally burning bank notes.

The excuse for the blockade of the North has been to prevent imports of arms from Iran. In fact not only has it caused mass starvation but also even journalists are unable to get in. Individual Houthis are trapped; they cannot get out. One of our sources of information is a Houthi whom we have contacted online with some difficulty, but we have now lost touch.

This promises to be worse genocide than Rwanda. The UK should be taken to the International Criminal Court.

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That Humble Address – Constitutional Chaos, or Merely Displaying the hypocrisy of our ‘Constitutional Monarchy’?

So last night (November 1st) Parliament unanimously passed an ‘humble address’ to the Queen to request her to demand that the government release the secret Brexit papers. Once again the chaotic state of our ‘unwritten’ (or un codified) constitution has been revealed. According to what the Telegraph wrote before the vote http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/11/01/labour-use-arcane-19th-century-parliamentary-procedure-try-force/ “Parliament’s rulebook Erskine May states that each House has the power to call for the production of papers through an address to the sovereign but it has rarely been used since the middle of the 19th century. “ The vote was unanimous presumably because the government did not believe it could win the vote. According to The London Economic, https://www.thelondoneconomic.com/news/fury-as-government-loses-unanimous-vote-to-reveal-what-reports-on-effects-of-brexit-say-but-insists-its-not-binding/02/11/ “[the speaker] Bercow confirmed the motion is binding, as did other independent Westminster clerks, and after a Humble Address the Queen is now expected to enter the fray by having to comment on whether it is and whether Brexit Secretary should reveal this information to the Brexit Committee.”

However the Daily Star https://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/politics/657035/brexit-news-latest-the-queen-labour-humble-address-labour-jeremy-corbyn said, ‘By convention, the monarch has to respond to a humble address passed by MPs in parliament. Her response will be delivered to parliament in writing, a spokesperson for the House of Commons said.

A senior government source told the Telegraph that the motion will embroil the Queen – who is impartial on political issues – in the row. “The Palace is not happy,” the source said. “It risks dragging the crown into political issues. It is a concern. The Crown has to respond. There are concerns at the Palace that about using a procedure to address non-controversial issues in a controversial way.”’ That is as may be, but apparently all the palace said publicly was that the Queen will not wade into political matters. “Parliamentary procedures are a matter for Parliament.”

Until about a year ago the monarchy website said that the Queen always acts on the advice of the Prime Minister. This statement does not appear on the new website, but it is surely not credible that the Queen has changed her position. In reality then it is up to the Prime Minister how she will respond.

This is somewhat different from the situation in 1931 when Ramsay MacDonald who had been leading a minority government submitted his resignation to George V. The King persuaded MacDonald that it was his duty to form a new government to address the financial crisis. This was a perfectly reasonable thing to do even if things did not quite work out as the King had hoped. At some point since then the monarch decided that such activism is too controversial.

These days, where the Royal family does have influence is over matters that affect it. If for example a Bill is drawn up that may adversely affect the finances of the Duchy of Cornwall, Prince Charles will complain privately and a minister will then advise him to use his power of veto over that Bill.

During the debate Jacob Rees-Mogg welcomed the use of the ‘humble address’ procedure. In fact Keir Starmer’s use of it was justified only because a suitable purely parliamentary procedure does not exist. It is not the role of the Queen that is in question, but the lack of adequate mechanisms to hold government to account.

None of this flummary would have been necessary if the government had behaved responsibly and had discussed what information could be divulged with select committees at a much earlier.

Holding Government to their Commitments on Climate Change

This posts covers notes prepared in preparation for a workshop at the Climate Change Conference at St Aldhelms Church Centre, Weymouth on Sat 21st Oct, organised by Transition Town Weymouth and Portland.

Clean Growth Strategy published 12 October 2017 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/clean-growth-strategy

Carbon Brief email 13th Oct 2017 says:

“Yesterday, the UK government finally published its long-delayed “Clean Growth Strategy”, setting out how it hopes to deliver the nation’s climate goals. The 165-page document is high on aspiration and positivity, but admits to falling short of meeting the UK’s legally binding fourth and fifth carbon budgets, covering 2023-27 and 2028-32.

Ministers say only some of the strategy’s policies were fully formed enough to be included in these sums and that the Climate Change Act offers “flexibilities” that could be used to make up any remaining shortfall. Furthermore, many big policies decisions have been kicked down the road into next year and beyond.

Carbon Brief has read through the strategy to put the need-to-know details in one article.[‘In-depth: How the ‘Clean Growth Strategy’ hopes to deliver UK climate goals’ “

‘, https://tinyurl.com/yc339956]…

So the government must try harder, but will it? What are the incentives?

  • Shortly before the UK’s strategy was released, the US administration moved to repeal its own Clean Power Plan. – though as Carbon Brief comments ‘federal policy is far from the only game in town.’

  • Continued media coverage of denier Nigel Lawson and his Global Warming Policy Foundation (charity), and its non charitable lobbying arm the Global Warming Policy Forum.

  • ‘The BBC’s Climate Denialism: Coverage of Hurricane Harvey and the South Asian Floods’, Media lens, 5th September 2017, http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2017/853-the-bbc-s-climate-denialism-coverage-of-hurricane-harvey-and-the-south-asian-floods.html . The article concludes, “A principal function of the corporate media is to keep uncomfortable truths about elite power, not least its role in driving humanity towards climate chaos and mass extinctions, ‘silenced and repressed’. We must resist this with every fibre of our being.”

  • Resulting public confusion and lack of solid support.

Points for discussion: We have to get the public on side if the government is to be convinced to stick to its guns. Author George Marshall suggests we need to tell good stories rather than use graphs and scientific language. Another angle is the appeal to the Precautionary Principle.

Additional Reading:

Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change

By George Marshall

260 pp., hardcover. Bloomsbury Publishing – Aug. 2014. $27.00

Extra references

1. More on the Clean Growth Strategy

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/12/uk-puts-energy-efficiency-at-heart-of-climate-change-strategy

Draughty homes targeted in UK climate change masterplan

Ministers publish long-delayed blueprint for hitting target of cutting emissions by 57% in next 15 years

2. https://www.breakthroughonline.org.au/whatliesbeneath

WHAT LIES BENEATH

The Scientific Understatement of Climate Risks

IAN DUNLOP

Human-induced climate change is an existential risk to human civilisation, yet much climate research understates climate risks and provides conservative projections. Reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that are crucial to climate policymaking and informing public narrative are characterised by scientific reticence, paying limited attention to lower-probability, high-risk events that are becoming increasingly likely.

This latest Breakthrough report argues for an urgent risk reframing of climate research and the IPCC reports.

3. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/17/uk-withdrawal-bill-rips-the-heart-out-of-environmental-law-say-campaigners

‘UK withdrawal bill ‘rips the heart out of environmental law’, say campaigners’

New bill omits key ‘precautionary’ principle requiring developers and industry to prove actions will not harm wildlife or habitats as well as ‘polluter pays’ protections

[amendments have been put forward to correct this]

Do Christians care about life on Earth?

When Christians recite the Lord’s Prayer, they say, “…Thy Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven…” But what is God’s will? In the middle ages it was accepted that this life is ‘nasty, brutish and short’. It was a trial to see whether when you die you deserve Heaven, Hell, or further examination in purgatory. You had to accept your station in life and if your ‘betters’ treated you ill that was just part of the test.

Since then things have changed somewhat. It is now recognised that everyone should be entitled to be adequately fed, housed etc. provided they have made all reasonable attempts to earn enough to support themselves. When this is not the case Christians will give food, money or practical help. Where the problem is a natural disaster there is no more they can do, but what about when the problem arises from a failure of government policy? This is something that Christians back away from – ‘it’s politics’.

No one is infallible but should we not expect a reasonable standard of behaviour from our politicians? Politicians are becoming renowned for their lying and their greed, but that is not the worst of their sins which Christians recognise to be Pride (self-conceit or hubris). That great Christian apologist the late C.S.Lewis wrote [note 1], “…power is what Pride really enjoys: there is nothing makes a man feel so superior to
others as being able to move them about like toy soldiers…The Christians are right: it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. Other vices may sometimes bring people together: you may find good fellowship and jokes and friendliness among drunken people or unchaste people. But Pride always means enmity—it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.” The proud politician does not respect anyone else’s opinion or evidence, but has a vastly inflated sense of entitlement.

Christians may reflect upon why senior politicians are so very prone to be being eaten up with pride. They maybe inhibited in calling out individual politicians because they recognise as Lewis did, “There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves.” So are Christians caught in a Catch 22? I say no. Politicians succomb to Pride because in our lousy political system they are simply not accountable; radical reform is required.

It is not for the Church as an institution to prescribe the details of those reforms. There are plenty of experts and campaign groups for that. The message is simple. British is a state built on sand; without radical reform we will founder.

Note 1: see C.S. Lewis, ‘Mere Christianity, book 3 – Christian Behaviour, chapter 8 -The Great Sin’, first delivered as a series of radio talks during WW2, published as a complete book in the early 1950s.

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