Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Constituency Boundary Changes



In February 2016 The Boundary Commission (TBC) was tasked to review our parliamentary constituency boundaries and to report their findings by September this year. This review was to achieve two things. First to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600 and second to even out the discrepancies that had developed over the years, from population movement, that some constituencies had a bigger electorate than others.

On the basis that ‘turkeys would never vote for Christmas’ I was not surprised to read in the ‘Times’ yesterday that MPs were not happy with the review and indeed you may recall Nick Clegg put pay to the idea back in the Coalition days. The paper reminded me of two high profile potential causalities namely Jeremy Corbyn’s seat in Islington which would likely disappear and Boris Johnson’s in Uxbridge which redrawn would be vulnerable to a Labour challenge.

As a result, of the rumblings in the House of Commons and the hostility from many MPs, the Commons Public Administrative & Constitutional Affairs Committee has called on the PM this week, who amazingly stills supports the reduction of MPs to 600 and TBC proposed boundary changes, to abandon these plans. Instead the Cross-party Committee suggests TBC is allowed to produce a new map, keeping the number of MPs at 650, which would more likely pass through the Commons this September and thus be in place before the election in 2022.

Now the glaring omission form this debate and proposed future legislation is any involvement from the electorate as to whether we want or need 650 MPs, which given their collective incompetence over planning a safe Brexit, is highly unlikely.

Just by way of comparison with the USA the figures for those governing and the governed are quite startling. I will round up or down all figures for simplicity.

America has a population 323 million and a House of Representatives of 435 and a Senate of just 100. This gives a ratio of a H of R member to electorate of 1:700,000.

On the other hand, the UK has a population of 66 million and a House of Commons of 650 and a House of Lords of 800. This gives a ration of MPs to electorate of 1:101,000 
   
THA’s second demand for ‘Real Local Democracy’ suggests we could probably manage with just 300 MPs with the numbers allocated to counties with the ebb and flow of populations being taken into account before every election thus defusing any discussion or debate. For example, my own county of Somerset has five constituencies with each MP averaging an electorate of just 82,000. This could easily be reduced to three if not two constituencies which could be increased or reduced depending on the overall population movement in the county.

We also propose each county could set their own MPs pay and allowances and bring in a power of recall, between elections, if they choose to do so.

THA’s proposals offer us REAL democracy which at the moment, by any measure, we simply don’t have.
  

         

Monday, 12 February 2018

CHARTISM - by M. Chase.

CHARTISM - 'A New History' by Malcolm Chase is the first book I read on the subject of political reform back in 2012 after the THA's inaugural meeting in Harrogate and I recommend it as a sound base from which to grow an overall understanding of the historic roots to our cause.

This review is from the back page of the book:-

Chartism, the mass movement for democratic rights, dominated British domestic politics in the late 1830s and 1840s. Few modern European social movements, certainly in Britain, have captured the attention of posterity to quite the extent it has done. Encompassing moments of great drama, it is one of the very rare points in British history where it is legitimate to speculate how close the country came to revolution. It is also pivotal to debates around continutity and change in Victorian Britain,gender,language and identity.

Malcolm Chase deftly analyses the scope and character of Chartism and explores the aspirations and visions of those who called themselves Chartists. His analysis extends across the whole of Britian, also to Ireland, and to issues of race and gender as well as re-evaluating established themes in Chartists studies. Thoughout, the author relates the intimate and personal to the realm of the social and political, interspersing his chapters with short 'Chartist lives' that illuminate the experience of 'grassroots' Chartists.

This is the only book to offer in-depth coverage of the entire chronological spread (1838-1858) of this pivotal movement and to consider its rich and varied history in full. Based throughout on original research (including newly discovered material), this is a vivid and compelling narrative of a movement which mobilised three million people at its height. This book will become essential reading for anyone with an interest in early Victorian Britian:specialists, students and general readers alike.        


Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Rome wasn't built in a day.


I believe there are two reasons why, since its conception in 2012, THA hasn’t yet progressed to become a mass movement. The first, is that the vast majority of people are still too comfortable in their double glazed, centrally heated houses with two cars outside. The second, is that from a historical perspective such radical political reforms, as contained in our six demands, were never likely to be realised quickly. It is this second reason that I want to enlarge on this week.

Big ideas take time to implement and history is littered with ideas that come and go because their founders are trying to run a marathon at a sprint.

 The Chartist movement (1838-1857), from whom we took inspiration, actually only lasted 19 years but in that time, they left an indelible mark on our politicians who over the next 20 -73 years enacted five of their six demands. However, what one must also factor into the time taken, for each demand to be realised, is that the general dissatisfaction with the system of governance started some 70 years before the Chartists officially started. The Reform Act of 1832, also before the Chartists formed, being a key component of the political reforms that were needed.

For the record let me list the Chartists demands and the year of enacted and the time taken, form 1838, for each to become law.

1. 1858 – No property qualification for MPs – 20 years
2. 1872 -  A secret ballot – 34 years
3. 1884 -  A vote for every man over 21 – 46 years
4. 1885 – Constituencies of equal size -  47 years
5. 1911 – Payment for MPs – 73 years
6. Annual General Elections – never enacted – thankfully!

Another topical example is the time taken for the formation of the Common Market and EU. Monet first thought of the idea in 1917 and as we know the European Economic Community came into being in 1957 some 40 years later and the EU some 36 years after that with the Maastricht Treaty.

As I said above those with a big idea, but in a hurry, never seem to last the pace and our own UKIP is testimony to that and the 5 Star Movement in Italy is, so I read this week, on the wane with their leader Beppe Grillo bailing out, and with disarming candour, saying the real need is to create a “new people” and not a new ruling class which was his initial aim. Two further points to make here is that new political parties, competing with the status quo, seldom if ever break through the existing system while mass people movements, pressurizing existing politicians of all colours, do seem to work over time.

In conclusion people with a clear vision set about laying firm foundations and then soldier on, regardless of the time needed, until they hopefully see their dreams realised. However, some don’t live to see their dreams fulfilled and one can wonder what would have happened to the 170 parks designed by Lancelot (Capability) Brown had he expected to see the finished results of his work in his life time.

As the saying goes Rome wasn't built in a day.

  





Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Sortition


A few weeks ago, I read an interesting and thought provoking book called ‘Against Elections’ by David Van Reybrouck.

In it he explains that for most of its 3000 year history, democracy did not involve elections at all as members of the public were appointed to positions in government through a combination of volunteering and lottery. In fact, he points out that the original purpose of elections was to exclude the people from power by appointing an elite to govern over them.

The action of selecting or determining something, in this case a government, by casting or drawing of lots is called ‘sortition’ and of course our juries are selected using this system today. Based on this and the fact that sortition was used to select the governments in ancient Greek cities the author believes that there is no intrinsic reason why all our governance could not be selected in this way.

I don’t have any major issue with the principles of sortition, after all what is good enough for our justice system is certainly good enough for me. However, I don’t think a wholesale adoption of such a system is either totally practical or desirable. 

In my opinion governance of a country or even local region is now more complex and involves so much more than would have applied to the governance of an ancient Greek city. I certainly want to enable the ‘people’ to have a far greater say in our governance but I believe the nuts and bolts of our governance is best handled by dedicated elected officials. 

The six demands of our agenda set out very clearly how the people will no longer be able to be ignored and provides them with the mechanisms to have their views heard. We have also been very careful to ensure that certain rules and procedures need to be followed to avoid the situation where we end up with mob rule.

I also still believe in our FPTP system of elections which prevents the endless coalitions comprised of the same parties and people who perform endless deals behind closed doors. 

However, I see no reason why sortition could not play a part in the long over due reform of the House of Lords or in deed in the appointment of people to government official enquiries or quangos. Why should the members of the public not take part in such things which currently only go to the illiberal elite?

In summary I believe the limited and specific use of sortition could have its place in the long over due reforms to our system of governance but in general I still support the election of our representatives so long as we give the people the ability to get their views heard and if necessary get rid of any elected official between elections.   


  
  

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

The need for smaller government.


I recently came across this quote by Mahatma Ghandi which he made in 1915:-

“I discovered that the British Empire had certain ideals with which I had fallen in love. One of those ideals is that every subject of the British Empire has the freest scope possible for his energies and efforts and whatever he thinks is due to is conscience…  I have said that government is best which governs least, and I have found it possible for me to be governed least under the British Empire. Hence my loyalty to the British Empire.” 

Apart from this being a refreshing endorsement of the benefits of our Empire, compared to the usual PC accusations that we ran an evil Empire for which we should constantly apologize, it’s his reference to being governed least which caught my eye.

Our second demand, for ‘Real Local democracy’, not only wishes to see far more power being given to the counties, thus reducing the dominance of central government in so many matters that would be far better handled locally, it also aims to see the size of central government reduced.

In our pamphlet we point out that if “the United States House of Representatives manages to make do with 435 voting members, our House of Commons might be able to reduce itself to less than 300, with of course the added cost savings involved. 

We would also expect numbers in the House of Lords to be proportionately reduced – with perhaps only a hundred or so working members needed.”

The current situation, with sovereignty residing in parliament, it is hardly surprising that any efforts to reduce the size of government fail. In fact, the reverse is true, with the size of government ever expanding while the quality of our governance goes down and becomes more remote from the people it serves.

When the people are recognised as sovereign, our first demand, we will be able to ensure, with the right mechanisms in place, that our views and opinions be not only heard but taken account of and reducing the size of our bloated government would be high on the list of changes needed.


                                                                                                                                                               

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

More government is never the answer.

It is very appropriate that I posted my 'Thought for the day' on Monday, about how governments always making problems worse, with regards the news today that Mrs May's incompetent government has appointed Tracey Crouch to the new post of Minister for the lonely.

This is nothing more than window dressing, something all governments too often do, to look as if they are doing something.

For heaven sake when will our politicians realise that the solution to a problem is not more bureaucracy, especially at the central government level.

If there really are 9 million lonely adults, as reported on the front page of the Daily Mail, the last thing they need is anybody in Whitehall trying to solve their loneliness.

What is needed is for the government to support local experts like The Salvation Army.

Our second demand, that sets out to establish 'Real Local Democracy', is where efforts should be concentrated in helping the lonely and not by enlarging central government. THA believes that many of the functions of central government would be better handled at the local level thus closer to the people. 

Central government currently has around two dozen departments which, with more being done at the local level, could and should be reduced to around half a dozen centred on the four main departments of state namely The Treasury, Home Affairs, Defence and Foreign Affairs.

So with regards the lonely the solution lies with more support for existing experts and initiatives at the local level and not another government department which will only make matter worse. 

Monday, 15 January 2018

Thought for the day.

" The government's solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem"

Milton Freedman