14 05 2010

Backlash Over Election Vote Rules” ran the BBC’s headline. Thinking back to the farcical scenes a week ago where numerous voters were turned away from polling stations, I assumed this story would be about the implications of this problem. Of course, it wasn’t. It is, instead, about the newly formed coalition government trying to protect its own skin by changing the 50% plus 1 rule in votes of no-confidence against the government.

The government are playing here with the weakness of the numbers in their favour. 55%, is of course, a number which can only be reached by the coalition pulling together. Which, therefore means that the opposition parties cannot pull together a no-confidence vote without the support of dissenting Tories or Lib Dems. Add to this the idea of fixed terms (a five year period under the proposals), and it is clear that the Tories are doing everything in their power to protect the vulnerable coalition.

I don’t agree with it though. I’m not sure I like the idea of a fixed term parliament for two reasons. The first is that  it seems to be the next logical step on the road to making Britain more like America. The second reason is that it seems to remove the power from the people to the politicians. By which I mean that, if a government fails, and continues to fail, the clamour for the removal of the party in power grows, eventually to a point where it is too big to ignore any longer. MP’s then respond, and a vote of no-confidence is taken. The government falls, and another election is called. If the term is set to five years (about a year too long if you are going to set a limit), then this means that the vote of no-confidence is a pointless task, unless something drastic goes wrong. There is also part of me that says that the fixed term removes the fun from the politics, there would be no talk of snap-elections, or short campaigns. It would become very regimented. Which is a bad thing.

Of course the underlining problem with fixed terms is the problem of the no-confidence vote. If this gets changed so that 55% is needed to secure the vote, then this is a huge cop-out from the government. The point is that, as it stands, once you lose 50% plus 1 you’ve lost the majority of support in the house. You therefore are governing with half the Commons standing against you, which is not a particularly healthy position to be in. 55% is just further evidence that you have lost the house, and should listen to the vote against you. For the opposing party, whoever it may be, not to have any power over voting against the government seems to me to be very undemocratic.

So the situation could be simple in two or three years. The coalition has lost the majority of support in the house (say 52%), but gets to limp on until the end of its five year term, unopposed, potentially further exacerbating the problems which have caused them to lose the house in the first place. Right. Sounds like a great plan to me.

Over the Dinner Table…

5 12 2009

Tonight my parents have had a dinner party, with a small band of their friends encircling our dinner table to laugh and talk about various things with a few bottles of wine handy. As seems inevitable, the conversation turned to politics. Having been invited in to grab some pudding, I found myself unwittingly dragged into the conversation (I hesitate to use the word “argument”), and found myself understanding so many things about the frustrations of the older generations.

To say I became scared of some of the stuff they were saying is perhaps taking it too far, but, through the course of the hour or so I spent listening, there was a frightening amount of stuff that the BNP’s publicist would have been proud of. Starting off with the premise that there are simply too many people in the country, thus necessitating a dramatic cull (we moved from Nazi Germany – with echoes of Nick Griffin’s comment about Hitler going just a bit too far with the Jews – to modern day China in the conversation), one particular member of the party exhibited his own take on the state of the country. Those we kick out of the country (roughly the 15 or so million people which would see our population be taken back down to about 50 million) would have to go somewhere else. Anywhere else. It doesn’t matter, as long as they aren’t on British soil. Look after your own first, then see what’s left to share with the rest of the world.

From there we moved through the problems of industry, religion, education, and class. The continuing theme was not, as I was perhaps expecting it to be, the fault of the current government in these issues; but was instead the larger issue of the psyche of the population. The phrase “white underclass” was one which was casually tossed around and seemed to be the common denominator in the matters. Laziness is to blame for the lack of industry in Britain (we have the know-how, so why don’t we do it anymore?). Religion is emphasised by varying gang cultures which is a product of the “underclasses” (I must have spent roughly ten minutes trying to explain that not all knife and gun crime is committed by black people). The education system is too saturated with children who know too much about the dole, about how to play the system to maximise laziness and reward. So ran, in a nutshell, most of the points that were made.

However, it was not only the fault of the white underclass, it is also the fault of immigrants (we take in way too many for our resources to cope). Having tried to explain Malthusian principles of a checking factor to the group, the response was that it will not be disease as we will simply find a cure. In short, for too many years we, as a country, have been to lax with too many things that we are now at a point where we are going to suffer greatly. Our import/export ratio is woefully imbalanced, our manufacturing industry is all but gone, and our gas and oil reserves are all used up. Or, to put it another way, we’re doomed.

Nor is the future any better, as younger generations are being taught too much in the way of other religions (apparently being indoctrinated into them) by our schooling systems, and they are being taught about gay rights from the age of four. They are becoming adults too quickly, a problem exacerbated by shops selling clothing which encourages them to grow up and act more like an adult from a younger age. Kids aren’t allowed to be kids any more. Apparently.

The problem was, that despite all these problems there were no real workable solutions offered. Getting rid of 15 million people to somewhere else and looking out for ourselves was the ideal principle. Cutting our imports down to provide a stimulus for our manufacturing was another suggestion (but failed to ignore the knock-on effects that that would have on various other trades and indeed, other countries who then grow disillusioned with the severence of economic ties). Starting again and establishing British industry once again to its former levels should be the aim. This industry which grew out of the industrial revolution will be pretty east to kick start as we have all the know-how, it’ll just take a bit of hard work. Apparently.

And yet, despite all this, they all freely admitted that they would not be joining their local political party. They would not be taking any actions as there is simply nothing they can do to stem this tide. And it was at this point I began imagining the same conversations happening in living-rooms, kitchens, dining-rooms, or over the garden fence up and down the country. Whilst the BNP are still largely discredited, it suddenly became so much clearer to me why people would want to vote for them. I maintain it would still be a protest vote, but it is not, as I’d thought, a protest vote against politics, it is a protest vote against the country. And it was then I began to feel uneasy. I’m pretty sure most of the party tonight would not vote BNP, as, for all their gesturing and posturing, they are not racist fools. The tide with which politics is battling is not against the BNP, as I’d have thought. Instead, politics must grapple with the consequences of the last 50 or so years, the decline of the empire, the industry, the rising dissatisfaction at all that has come to pass.

The Conservatives will likely come to office next year, and will be faced with the same problems. Industry will still be gone, the number of migrants will still remain “too many”. Bureaucracy and red tape will have to continue as a definition of our society. What seems to be needed is the foundations of stability need to be relaid. Industry played such a large part in British life for so many years, something needs to replace it, or it needs to be re-grown. I’m really not sure what the solutions are, if indeed there are any.

Tonight was an interesting eye opener, and it was nice to have another view of the world. However the hugely annoying uneasy feeling with which I left the conversation as the coffee arrived still lingers in my stomach, and I’m really not sure how to combat it.

The Growing Clamour…

28 05 2009

As MP’s continue to live in fear for their jobs, and, as has been suggested by some, perhaps even their lives, the Independent has found ten “respected figures at Westminster” for their solutions to the problems. Which, it seems, is increasingly in the call for political reform. Which is, apparently, an idea that has been floating around in the heads of many surviving MP’s for a long long time. Apparently.

The cynic in me suggests otherwise. The only way out of the hole is to push the case for political reform. And so they are. I will come back to the issue of reform shortly, but first I want to look at the continuing issue of expenses.  I’ve written previously about the hypocrisy of the Great British public, but I want to elaborate upon this a little more. I am convinced that anyone in the same position would have done the same. If they were not being stopped by those who should have prevented such abuses, they were inevitably going to claim for what they thought they could. It is easy for the public to act all high and mighty over this subject, but it should be remembered that MP’s are only human, with the fallabilities that the rest of society has. Now I do not condone what they have done, but I think I can understand it.

Anyway, returning to the issue of reform. David Cameron is climbing out of the political wreckage with a lot of credibility, if only because it has given him the opportunity to look more like a man of the people than ever before. His suggestions for reform, whilst not entirely new, certainly carry a lot of weight in the midst of the current predicaments. He has talked of “Progressive Conservative”, in much the same way it seems as Tony Blair once talked about “New Labour”. Two of the suggestions that have emerged are set-term parliaments and a change of system. Of course there are others, but it is these I wish to discuss.

I think I agree with the notion of a fixed-term parliament. The notion is easy to talk about and promote at the moment, with the clamour behind the idea, but in reality it is much harder to bring into practice. Fixed-term parliaments would tone down the level of party-politics that exists at the moment. Rather than the PM calling an election when his party is performing well in the polls, instead he would be forced to have it at a certain time, regardless of poll performances, regardless of situation or circumstance. Regardless of anything. It takes away frustrating uncertainty that grows with not being able to have a say when the chips are down for any government. There are problems with the idea of fixed-term parliaments, I will admit, but I think that for politics to move forward, steps such as this need to be taken.

The second issue is that of the system. People have criticised the ‘first-past-the-post’ system as being too ineffective, and not representative of enough of the electorate. Chuka Umunna, a Labour candidate, writes that it’s a “ridiculous situation” where “around 100,000 voters in a few marginal seats decide the outcome of an election”. Possibly. However, I do not think that the alternative is much more conducive to a strong, and more importantly, a stable country. PR, I would suggest, only serves to weaken any government into a fragile coalition incapable of making significant progress. I have never been convinced by the PR system and cannot see it providing any more answers than the system we currently have.

As I mentioned previously, there are  many more issues that come with political reform, many of which will be explored by the politicians in the coming weeks. There is one thing that is clear though. The idea of reform is very clearly on the table, and it won’t be going anywhere for a long time. What is to be seen though is whether Cameron can manage the pressures of promises with the reality of government.

Public Privacy…

9 01 2009

So critics are attacking the new law which says all ISP’s are required to record all emails sent. This is all very well and good, but it won’t change anything, the law will still come in at the start of March, and all our private emails will be recorded, because, of course, we are all terrorists until proven otherwise. I find this grossly invasive, and it matters not a jot to me that the content of any emails are not stored, it is the principle.

And it is easy for the government to get away with. If they had come out and suggested recording our post, there would have been uproar from a number of parties, and a number of generations. As emails are based in the new generation of internet users, the government have almost automatically eliminated any outcry from older generations simply because they send far too few emails to be concerned with any censorship that may or may not occur.

For me however, email is an important tool of communication. That all my email correspondances would be recorded for a year is an utter invasion of privacy. It doesn’t matter if there is something to hide or not. It is known that any email correspondance with key words on already alerts authorities, but they want to take this further by monitoring who we send our emails to? The law seems confused too, what good is the information of who the email was between without the information of what the content was? Surely this opens up the possibilty of actually recording, and storing, all our emails, and being able to access any content that they so choose? This is so very invasive it’s stupid. It is akin to going through someone’s bin and finding confidential letters. Except that these letters haven’t been thrown away, all that has happened is that they have been sent, to only the intended recipient(s).  Surely if there is terrorist communications made by email, it is the job of the security services to find out, and take appropriate action? Reading between the lines then, is such a blanket step of recording all emails an admittance that the services are not up to the job?

Such a law is in line with the default governmental setting of presuming we are all guilty of something, until we can prove otherwise. The old adage of being “innocent until proven guilty” has swung so far the opposite way that we are now all terrorists in the governments eyes, unless we can prove we aren’t. I’m not a terrorist, and I very much dislike being treated as one by my own government. The world of suspicion in which we live has taken another step on the road to an Orwellian ending. This isn’t a good thing.

Two thoughts…

4 01 2009

I have just a couple of ponderances to give to you today.

1. With the trouble in the middle east kicking off one more with disappointing gusto, just where is Britain’s middle east envoy? That’s right, he’s over in America telling everyone how part of everything is luck. According to Alec Trevelyan in Goldeneye Tony,  the other half is fate. At a time when the middle east is crying out for help from anyone who is willing to give it, wouldn’t it be nice to actively see Blair doing something about it rather fattening his own wallet by participating in student conferences?

2. At the moment I have nothing to confirm this, as I’ve heard it only in conversation, but guess who the biggest advertiser is on the tv? That’s right, it’s the government. Various governmental campaigns such as the “know your limits” campaign, the car-tax advert or the new obesity advert all come from those at the top concerned with our well-being. It goes a long way to explain just why most people get really annoyed with adverts, and, naturally enough, change the channel.