Archives for January 2013

The Mother of All Parliaments should be in a Care Home


It was in 1865 that John Bright used the phrase ‘the Mother of all Parliaments’. The full phrase is “England is the Mother of all Parliaments”.  It was used in a speech in support of reform of the electoral system, which culminated in the much delayed Reform Act of 1867, and gave the vote to urban working class men.  Far from complimenting Westminster, Bright was saying that England, not Westminster, was the Mother of all Parliaments. Westminster then was a deeply corrupt body, and as reluctant to embrace reform as it is today.

Bright’s misquoted phrase has stuck. In people’s minds Westminster is the ‘Mother of all Parliaments’.  And so revered has Westminster become that to criticise it, or even suggest that the dear old lady is in need of reform, is to blaspheme against democracy itself. And therein lies the problem. Why? Because the Westminster model is broken. Today, unreformed and suffocated by meaningless and cumbersome procedure and ‘tradition’, ‘Westminster’ answers the selfish needs of political parties and personally ambitious politicians, and ignores the best interests of the electorate.

After years of manipulating and ‘modifying’ the system to meet their needs, the political class has succeeded in marginalising the electorate and has effectively shut them out of the democratic process.

Traditional institutions of government, including Parliament itself, have been ignored or side-stepped by the new political class. ‘Government’ has become one enormous PR exercise conducted through the media. Powerful lobbies twist and influence major decisions, and politicians and political parties are ‘bought’ by corporations and the wealthy elite. The consequences of all this is dysfunctional politics, a marginalised electorate and a deeply divided society.

I would suggest there are three major reforms that need to take place:

First, money needs to be taken out of politics. The Kelly report of November 2010 recommended donations to any political party should be limited to £10,000 and that the state should increase its funding of political parties. In real terms, his recommendation would mean that it would cost each member of the electorate 50p per year. I would go further. In Germany, the state funds political parties and elections. I would advocate the same should happen in Britain. The state should increase its funding of political parties significantly, and the public purse opened to pay for election expenses. I believe £2 per elector per year would not be untoward. Private donations to political parties should be capped at £1500 per year, and donations should be limited to political parties, with donations to individual politicians outlawed. These changes are a very small price to pay for honest politics.

Secondly, lobbying as a means of informing politicians is a useful part of the political process. However, it can also be a gross distortion if only one side of the argument is put forward, or if excessive amounts of money are spent by one side in putting across their case. Lobbying should be done on a level playing field with no side able to out-spend or out-lobby the other. I would suggest a lobbying website where any person or company can lobby a minister or a politician. The format should be simple and limited. If the minister or the politician wishes any further information he can request it electronically, but again the format should be one that does not allow the availability of funds to improve or amplify the case of any lobbying party. Face to face meetings should only be allowed when there is an opposing view. These meetings need to be formal with equal representation and recorded minutes. There should be a heavy penalty for any person or organisation who lobbies outside these rules.

The third reform is probably the most important of all: the reform of the executive, both national and local. One of the main reasons for the ‘great disconnect’ in British politics is the outmoded way we organise local and national politics and allocate political responsibility.  The current system of local authorities is expensive and inefficient. England needs to be split into regions and have regional assemblies with an ability to play a part in national politics.

Nationally, I would suggest that the number of constituencies should be significantly reduced to 300 and based within the new regional boundaries.   Voters would have two votes. The first vote would elect an individual candidate .This would be on a first past the post system. The second vote would be cast for a party list. This would determine the relative strengths of the parties in the House of Commons.  300 seats would be allocated based on the number of votes a party had received. Each parliament would have 600 MPs. This system would allow voters both to support able individuals to represent them and to support the party they felt would act in their best interests. This voting system is similar to the one used in the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies.

Regionally, each region would have a regional assembly headed by a first minister. There would be 50 wards or constituencies per region. Voting would be on a similar basis to the national model; 50 individual candidates and 50 party candidates.

The House of Lords would be abolished and replaced by the House of Representatives. This would be made up of the First Minister of each region, (including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and 10 members from each regional assembly. These representatives would be chosen by the Assembly cabinet. Voting in the House of Representatives would be by region and not by individual.

This system envisaged is fundamentally different to the current system in that the principle role of those elected to the House of Commons would be to act as legislators and managers of Great Britain plc. The work of Regional Assembly members would be to manage the region efficiently and serve the everyday needs of constituents.

The effect of this new system would be to reconnect the voters to the political process. Not only would they elect MPs to the House of Commons and members to the Regional Assemblies, but through the House of Representatives they would have the power to exercise their influence over government.

Adopting this system or something similar might just save the Mother of all Parliaments being sent to the care home. We need to act now. The taxi has been ordered.







PR ‘fact bender’ Dave delivers a speech straight from ‘Distortion Central’

It’s no coincidence that our Prime Minister cut his teeth as a PR executive. Today’s speech on Britain’s future in Europe was a classic example of the fact benders’ art: distortion.  It was a lesson on how to confuse and manipulate an argument to achieve a desired outcome. Nothing wrong with that, you might argue. Well, maybe not if you’re selling dog food or soap powder, but not when the future prosperity of our nation is at stake.

The days of controlling attitudes and opinions by force have long passed. Today, PR is the weapon of choice of politicians and political parties – aided and supported by a compliant media who, as we witnessed last year, are in the kitchen with the politicians concocting our diet of half-truths and misinformation.

Their purpose is to control and marginalise the electorate so that the political class, and their wealthy elite paymasters, can rule. Our democracy, such as it is, has been seriously undermined.

Today we witnessed a prime minister running scared of a political party that doesn’t have a single parliamentary seat. In his panic to neutralise a perceived threat he tried to convince us that putting the future of the nation at risk by offering an ‘in – out’ referendum on Europe to an ill-informed, marginalised electorate was in our best interests. What we’re witnessing is what happens when the world of half-truths and misinformation meets itself coming round the corner.

If the Prime Minister did anything today it was to make the case for political reform. Why should we allow our democracy to be undermined by the actions of politicians who are prepared to lie, distort and manipulate facts to achieve their selfish personal and party ends?

All we require is to be honestly informed so that we can make rational choices. This is what true democracy is all about.


Coming soon! Dave Cameron in ‘Fatal Distraction’

In the Treasury, soon to be renamed Micawber House, it’s been a very pleasant start to the year. Despite unhelpful mumblings from the usual quarters about a triple–dip, the spotlight has moved away, and for the first time for a long time, Gideon has been able to come out from behind his desk. And joy of joys, the cunning plan, the great distraction, seems to be working! Not a day goes by without some mention of ‘the great leader’s’ long-awaited speech on Europe – which has been put off more times than a Berlusconi trial. Meanwhile the country slips ever nearer to the edge of the precipice.

Yet again the clown Cash and his eurosceptic cohorts have managed to get Britain’s membership of the EU to the top of the agenda. Not your agenda or my agenda or even the coalition’s agenda, but to their agenda. Yet again Britain is seen to be mithering on the sidelines about Europe. It’s boring, the timing stinks and this ridiculous charade is going to be very costly in terms of inward investment and jobs. Does Dave care? Not really, you see he’s completely lost. He hasn’t a clue what to do. Any distraction to get people’s attention away from Britain’s dire economic straits and his inability to do anything about it, even one as potentially dangerous as this which could prove to be fatal, is manna from heaven. He’s going to milk this one for as long as he can until ‘something turns up’.

What is sad about this whole argument about Europe is that too many of our politicians – mostly Tories, can’t see beyond the end of their noses. They wouldn’t recognise a ‘big idea’ if it hit them in the face. Europe is a ‘big idea’, a very big idea. It’s far from perfect, but like all big ideas it has to be worked on, patiently and diligently. It has to be allowed to evolve and to grow. There will be growing pains. The Euro crisis is such a pain, but out of it will come a stronger and more unified Europe. This is an evolutionary process that will take generations to perfect.

What the European ‘big idea’ does not need is narrow-minded ‘little Englanders’ carping on the sidelines about the restoration powers and using EU membership as a political plaything. What the European big idea needs is total commitment and involvement. What it would benefit from most is strong British leadership – from within.

Members of the Eurozone already recognise that with closer fiscal union there will have to be allowances made for those not a part of the Eurozone. These arrangements will need to be negotiated and there will be ‘powers’ that will be returned or amended.  But what is not needed right now is for Britain to derail crisis negotiations by threatening that unless ‘powers’ are restored to Westminster, it will use its veto.  It makes Britain look stupid and weak. What Britain does not need is a Prime Minister who is not prepared to stand up to his back benchers or one who refuses to put the best interests of the country before the interests of his party.

The Americans and major European leaders have made their position clear. They want Britain in Europe and playing a full part. And let’s be clear, Britain outside Europe would be heading for Third World status within a generation. The so-called ‘special relationship’ with the US would be in the trash can, Frankfurt would be the financial capital of Europe, inward foreign investment would dry up and companies would up-sticks and leave Britain: and we definitely wouldn’t have a place on the UN Security Council. In a word – disaster.

So, on Wednesday David Cameron has an opportunity to reaffirm Britain’s place at the heart of Europe or risk agreeing to what will inevitably become an in-out referendum on EU membership.

Will this well choreographed distraction prove fatal to Britain’s best interests? After his speech will Cameron be regarded as a bold, strong leader, or a fool? He’s already made himself look foolish on the world stage. He’s got some work to do to change that perception. I’m not holding my breath.



They profit at your expense. The unassailable arrogance of the wealthy elite


In New York, the international insurance and financial services organization AIG, whose demise would have plunged the world into a depression that would have made the 1930’s depression look like a walk in the park had they not been rescued in the nick of time by the American tax payer, is now suing the US government. Why? Because AIG consider the interest rate the government charged them was too high! So having saved AIG from the abyss, the US tax payer is being rewarded with jaw-dropping ingratitude and a massive legal bill. What arrogance!

In London last week, Goldman Sachs threatened to change the date they paid bonuses from January to April so that their already over-paid employees could take advantage of the reduction in the top rate of tax from 50% to 45%. It took a nudge emanating from No 10 to get them to change their tune. Goldman Sachs’s lack of sensitivity speaks volumes about the ‘vampire squid’. What arrogance!

Banks who have cheated the nation – and the world – by manipulating the Libor rate are still going to pay bonuses this year. It would be laughable if it wasn’t true. They’re definitely ‘havin’ a larf’ – and the frightening thing is that they don’t care. What arrogance!

But where did this unassailable arrogance stem from?  The wealthy ‘elite’ have always displayed arrogance, but this new unassailable arrogance has its roots in 20th century ‘neo-liberalism’.

In Britain it began when Margaret Thatcher turned her back on manufacturing industry. She began the de-industrialisation of Great Britain. In her misguided and ill-informed opinion, the country’s future lay in financial services not manufacturing. Those clever suits in the city had forests of money trees just waiting to be harvested. This was to be the country’s salvation. Why bother with troublesome, grubby Trades Unions and mithering workers: milking assets, not creating new ones, was the way forward.

To the average Joe, the demise of a sound manufacturing base and the lack of any industrial strategy meant that the chance of building a career, of achieving even modest social mobility was snuffed out – not that this consequence was appreciated at the time. Britain was destined to become a nation of white van drivers. Real wages would plummet, the effect of this catastrophe disguised by the availability of easy credit from the money tree forests.

In the subsequent years swarms of private equity firms were allowed, even positively encouraged, to pick over the bones of some of our best companies and dismantle them for personal gain. The ‘carrion classes’: lawyers, accountants and hedge fund managers and their like, have grown fat.  New ‘trades’ have appeared: ones that manipulate and gamble with existing assets and collect ‘rents’, commodity speculators. They are trades that extract value but create nothing, as do investment banksters who live in an illusory world created by infinite leverage. And all the while fat banksters sit smiling at the croupiers’ side, their pockets bulging with our money which they’ve confiscated to pay themselves, deliberately ignoring the needs of businesses that create value.

Our great nation, whose creativity and innovation has contributed so much to the world has been castrated by the idiocy of a handful of clever, selfish, but woefully ignorant politicians more interested in the immediate fortunes of their party and their own self-advancement than the future of the country and its citizens.

The inaction of the political class, their wilful ignorance, their unwillingness to recognise and to curb the activities of the wealthy elite has had a massive impact on inequality.  A recent paper by the IMF puts the blame of the whole of the British current account deficit, from Thatcher through to today, down to the rise in British inequality. Something to think about!

But here’s the real rub. Here’s what politicians and many commentators have failed to grasp. It is the distinction between profits that are the result of value creation and those that are the result of value extraction. Until this issue is addressed, the wealthy will become wealthier, inequality will increase and we will be staring at a sign pointing to the Third World.

Value extractors are destroying our nation and getting disgustingly wealthy in the process. Their unassailable arrogance exists because they can do what the hell they like. There are no ‘consequences’ for them to confront. They can act with impunity. Why? Because they use and control our politicians, those people we misguidedly think are working in our best interests. They call our politicians their ‘useful idiots’.   Useful idiots onside, they are free to practise their self-serving activities unquestioned and unchecked.

Their ‘donations’, personal and party, ensure that what’s in their best interests comes before the best interests of the electorate. They use vast amounts of their money to lobby and influence. These are the people who command the attention of our political class, not us. Their main purpose has been to misinform and marginalise the electorate so that they, the elite, can rule. It’s worked. It’s been very effective. What very useful idiots our politicians have proved to be!

Something has to be done before it’s too late. The question is what – and how?