The book isn’t finished, but I can’t be doing with the restriction of 140 characters any longer! There’s a lot going on and things are starting to heat up nicely. Check out ‘AN AGENDA FOR REFORM’ in the menu bar above, and let me know what you think. Pass it on to others if you agree.
I’ve got a book to finish and I need to give it my full attention…I’ll be back – probably in about six months.
I came across this brilliant white board animation of Professor Stein Ringen’s assessment of New Labour and the state of the British Constitution purely by accident. It’s fascinating and his conclusions are absolutely on the money. See if you agree!
Stein Ringen is Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Oxford
Regardless of the result of the Eastleigh by-election, it’s a racing certainty that the LibDems are going to be annihilated in 2015. Political oblivion beckons, and it may be that the party will cease to exist. So, if you were a Libdem, what would you do?
The current leadership seems to be in denial, convinced that ‘something will turn up’. Like most politicians they believe in miracles. If you’re a Libdem right now, you have to, there’s nothing else…or is there?
Desperate times call for desperate measures. There needs to be a coup. Yes, a good old fashioned coup. A coup to get rid of the tarnished Clegg, and to set the ‘new Libdems’ apart from their Tory appeasing fellow travellers. Who should lead the coup and replace Clegg? Cable is the only real option because he’s one of the few Libdem MPs who has managed to retain some of his credibility over the past two and a half years – and one the public believe.
But the cunning part of this plan would be to orchestrate a very public attack on the Tories. For the new leader to set himself apart from the Clegg era, from the disastrous Tory policies they have endorsed, and engineer the downfall of the coalition to…wait for it… to save the nation!
By really saving the nation from the idiot Osborne and the feckless Cameron, the Libdems could hang on to some of their credibility and live to fight another day. It would take careful planning and need to be choreographed to a tee. This about the survival of the party. The Libdems need to get moving. The window of opportunity is very small.
Barclays like doing their dirty washing before anybody else does. And so it was this week when a well- rehearsed Antony Jenkins, their fresh-faced new chief executive, was pushed in front of the cameras to tell us that from now on it’s all going to be different at Barclays, that they’ve ‘learned lessons’ (if I hear that phrase once more I’ll scream – it’s bankers’ speak for ‘we’ve no intention of changing and nobody’s going to gaol, so there!’) and to apologise (only with prodding) for the appalling behaviour of the bank.
One of the best interviews with Mr Jenkins was conducted by Jon Snow (see video). Jenkins started off by apologising for his role in the PPI fraud when he was head of Barclaycard. Very nice of him, I suppose. I couldn’t help thinking that he should have been sewing mail bags in Pentonville, not sitting in a television studio.
Jenkins looked decidedly uncomfortable when pressed on the interest rate swaps scandal, and had no answer as to why Barclays had been insisting businesses service these loans despite the fact that they had known for years that they were a scam. As Jon pointed out to a spluttering Mr Jenkins, the behaviour of his bank has resulted in suicides, bankruptcies and total ruin for many. Jenkins looked decidedly uncomfortable, but his admission that his bank had been self-serving and aggressive will mean absolutely nothing to those whose lives have been ruined.
Are we to believe Mr Jenkins when he says he is going to change the culture of Barclays? Why should we? Banks have betrayed our trust. They’ve confiscated our money and paid it to themselves – and they’re still doing it. Future generations might have reasons to trust banks again: this generation never will.
My day was made on Wednesday morning when, following another interview with the said Mr Jenkins on the Today programme, Evan Davis asked David Jackman, formally Head of Ethics at the FSA (ethics at the FSA – who would have believed it!) and Julie Meyer CEO of Ariadne Capital, to comment on what Jenkins had to say. I have transcribed what Julie said, because what she had to say about the role of banks and bankers has needed to be said for a very long time.
Welcoming what Jenkins had to say as ‘all the right words’, she went on to say:
“If we look throughout history, the role of capital has been to follow ideas. The role of the financier has been to back the industrialist of the day. Financial services went awry when it started thinking of itself as an industry. It’s not, it’s a service industry. It can create a lot more money than it has, but it has to think of that money differently. It has to think of it as helping other people make money. If it measures its success by the overall GDP of the country or by how many digital industrialists, industrialists or entrepreneurs or major firms that it helped to take the global stage: if that’s the metric of its success then it will indeed make a lot of money and Antony Jenkins will keep his job. However, if they continue to think of themselves as ‘masters of the universe’ where they’re merely playing with other people’s money, and frankly not making money, they’re just go-betweens. If the universe has rules which enable them to act as adolescents most of the time, they never have to think that hard. But if the rules of the universe are set so they actually have to deal with the things the entrepreneur and the industrialist have to deal with day in, day out, then they may understand what being a productive member of society is all about”
She went on to say:
“I think as a society we glorify bankers, and I think we have to watch ourselves because I think if we’re honest, if life were a video game, to be a white male banker would be the lowest level of difficulty. The system allows them to ‘achieve’ relatively easily and society then praises them for achieving the lowest level of difficulty. Instead, if we were to look at the people who are really achieve, teachers, nurses, entrepreneurs and industrialists, these people don’t get anywhere near the same social recognition. I think we have to ask ourselves some bigger questions. This is about people who ‘worship’ bankers, at dinner parties, at their clubs in Mayfair, and allow them to think of themselves as masters of the universe despite the fact that it’s the lowest level of difficulty.”
Spot on Julie, spot on!
The recent Israeli election clipped Netanyahu’s wings, but there is little doubt he will be the next Israeli prime minister. Who will be his coalition partner is yet to be decided, but it could be the extreme right wing Jewish Home party, whose avowed intent is to bring about the complete annexation of the West Bank. The discussions in the coming months are not going to be about a two state solution or even a one state solution. Israel has no interest in discussing anything with anyone whatever the make-up of the coalition.
Israel’s policy of ‘creeping annexation’ is effectively funded by the United States, and over the last four years, has gone unchallenged by their paymasters. Britain has been shamefully silent too, but that’s to be expected as most of our politicians are in the pay of Zionist lobby ‘benefactors’: their silence has been bought. Israel thinks it can do what it likes, and its doing just that. Its aim is simple, the complete annexation of the West Bank.
The only way this travesty can be stopped is for the US to pull the plug on the billions of dollars it gives to Israel each year. Is that going to happen? The signs are not good, but Obama, and a growing number of Americans, are getting a tad browned off by Israel’s antics and blatant disrespect for their benefactor.
It’s an open secret that Obama can’t stand Netanyahu and maybe, just maybe Netanyahu has overplayed his hand. The election showed that Obama needn’t have worried quite as much as he did about the Jewish vote, and despite millions of Israeli lobby dollars going to Netanyahu’s favourite party, the Republicans, it didn’t do them much good.
However, not to be seen to have been outdone, the Israeli lobby want to demonstrate to all, and Obama in particular, that they have real muscle and can control events if they so wish, which is why they are trying to trash the nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defence. Interesting times! Here is A J Rosenberg’s take on events in Washington.
US interests are being damaged by Israel’s current shift to the extreme Right, so why not nominate Chuck Hagel?
Thus far, President Barack Obama is sitting out the January 22 Israeli elections. There is no indication about who he hopes to see as the next Israeli prime minister. His noninterference, even disinterest, is not surprising except when contrasted with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s open preference for the Republicans in the US election two months ago. One might have thought that a little payback would be in order.
One reason for Obama’s apparent indifference may be that there is almost no possibility that Netanyahu will not be the next prime minister. The only question is whether Netanyahu’s next government will be as far right (and pro-settlement expansion) as his current government or much farther to the right.
To put the Israeli election in US terms, it is as if the choice two months ago was between the right-wing Republican Party and the ultra-right-wing Tea Party with the Democrats merely hoping to win enough support to compose a credible opposition or to get a cabinet post.
But that is the case in Israel where Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Likud-Beytenu coalition is being challenged by a new party to its right, the Jewish Home party. The Jewish Home party is led by 40-year-old Naftali Bennett who is running on an openly annexationist platform, in contrast to Netanyahu and Lieberman who, although also expansionist, occasionally pay lip service to the idea of reaching a two-state agreement with the Palestinians.
Less attention to the Israeli election
Bennett favours the immediate annexation of 60 percent of the West Bank immediately which would make the creation of a viable Palestinian state impossible. His 60 percent plan is rejected by other leading figures in his party – even more radical – who favour a 100 percent annexation just to make sure.
Needless to say, the new party is dominated by ultra-nationalist settlers and religious fanatics who, in addition to supporting land grabs, vehemently oppose equal rights for gays, women, Arabs and non-Jews in general. Nonetheless, Jewish Home is the first choice of Israelis under 30, who are abandoning the old right-wing parties for the extreme right.
Perhaps the craziest thing is that the new ultra-right party is rising as the Netanyahu/Lieberman party has shifted rightward, too. Gone are the more pragmatic Likud types like Benny Begin and Dan Meridor. In their place are the likes of Moshe Feiglin who told the Atlantic‘s Jeff Goldberg:
“Why should non-Jews have a say in the policy of a Jewish state?” Feiglin said to me. “For two thousand years, Jews dreamed of a Jewish state, not a democratic state. Democracy should serve the values of the state, not destroy them.” In any case, Feiglin said, “You can’t teach a monkey to speak and you can’t teach an Arab to be democratic. You’re dealing with a culture of thieves and robbers… The Arab destroys everything he touches.”
Feiglin isn’t alone either. Take a look at this list of rightist extremists who top the Netanyahu-Lieberman list, yet who are seen as too moderate for voters drawn to the up and coming new party.
The interesting thing is that few Americans are paying any attention to the Israeli election, a sign that even the pro-Israel community is losing interest in and hope for Israel. A country that once was a source of joy for so many Americans is now a source of pain; the prevailing attitude seems to be to just look away and hope that things will improve by the next time they pay attention.
But then it doesn’t really matter what most Americans think or don’t think about what is happening in Israel. Except for one.
The President of the United States matters very much. Every Israeli is aware that without the support of President Obama, Israel would be in desperate straits. The United States provides Israel with billions of dollars of aid a year, aid which is used to purchase the weapon systems that sustains Israel’s “military edge” which enables it to both maintain the occupation and defend itself.
That aid also provides Israel with the economic cushion it needs to preserve its immunity to the recession that has afflicted most of the world. It is the President of the United States who decides whether to stand (virtually alone) with Israel at the United Nations, using our veto to block any resolution that Israel opposes. It is the President who has adopted Israel’s position on Iranian nuclear development as our own, leading the effort to punish Iran with sanctions and reiterating Israeli threats that there will be war if Iran develops nuclear weapons (despite the fact that Israel is said to have some 200 warheads).
Dependent on the US President
In short, Israel is almost entirely dependent on the President of the United States. As for Congress, it matters too but, on all foreign policy matters, it is the President who leads. That is how the United States Constitution works. It is the President who defends the national interest abroad.
And the fact is that US interests are being damaged by Israel’s current course. Whether we like it or not, the United States is viewed as linked at the hip with Israel. An Israeli government dominated by ultra-nationalists, racists and fascists impacts on our standing throughout the world. After all, the world (and not just the Muslim world) understands that we are Israel’s enabler.
That is why it is time for President Obama to send a clear message to Israel by nominating former Senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defence. That is not because Hagel is anti-Israel. He isn’t.
The reason to nominate Hagel, in addition to his qualifications for the post, is that the Israel lobby has decided to demonstrate its clout by preventing his nomination. Like the National Rifle Association, the lobby has an intense need to demonstrate that it’s in charge. It does not like Hagel, so he will not get the post. Successfully blocking him will demonstrate that no matter how far Israel lurches toward the right, no matter how many settlements are built, no many how many Palestinians are thrown off their land or just abused, the United States will simply grin and bear it.
Obama could, of course, issue a statement or deliver a speech re-stating US policy on settlements, a Palestinian state, and the need for peace. But the sad fact is that no one believes that this administration will ever back up its fine words on Israel and Palestine with deeds, not after the past four years of giving in to Netanyahu over and over again. There is only one way to send a message to Israel that will be heard: It will be by nominating Hagel. It is Israel and the lobby that created the Hagel issue. Why not use it to America’s advantage? And Israel’s too. After all, it is Israel not the United States that seems to be going over a cliff and, sadly, it is not just fiscal.
Mr President, nominate Hagel. And fight for his confirmation. As for the lobby, let it do what it wants. Out in the open, for a change.
MJ Rosenberg served as a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow with Media Matters Action Network and prior to that worked on Capitol Hill for various Democratic members of the House and Senate for 15 years. He was also a Clinton political appointee at USAID.
Michael Gove’s elitist agenda is about to take English education back to the dark days of the 1950s. His so-called reforms are supposed to transform English education. They will do nothing of the sort. Why? Because he’s attempting to reform a broken model. He’s tinkering at the margins. Nothing he is proposing will bring about the fundamental change our educational system needs.
When he’s finished, the British taxpayer will still be asked to subsidise private education. Private education is socially divisive and should have no place in the educational system. Why doesn’t he remove the charitable status of public schools? If he did it would put private education out of reach to all but the children of Russian oligarchs, Chinese billionaires and bonus bagging bankers. It would force public schools to change and integrate with the state system. It’s not going to happen. Although Mr Gove is not a product of the public school system, he’s not going to do anything to offend his new up market chums. Nothing will change.
When he’s finished reforming the broken model, state schools will still struggle to compete with the private sector. We will still be churning out half-educated, bored children. We will still have a system that totally fails to identify and develop the talents of our children. We will still be denying them the opportunity to achieve their dreams.We will still have an education system that was designed to meet the requirements of the industrial revolution not the demands of the 21st century. We will still have a ‘one size fits all’ educational system that benefits the few, not the majority.
The system is tired and broken and Mr Gove’s efforts will achieve very little.
There needs to be a revolution in education, not evolution.
I am a great fan of the educationalist Sir Ken Robinson. His 2006 TED lecture video is an inspiration. Why is clever Michael Gove so foolish? Watch, understand and be inspired.
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.
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.
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.