Monday, 12 December 2016

When will the people be spurred into action?

One of the recurring questions that I have encountered, since our foundation in 2012, is why the pace of change we seek is so slow in coming.

The first thing I learnt, after reading ‘Chartism a new history’ by Malcolm Chase, is that political change is a slow process and that five of the Chartists six demands took between 10 and 63 years to become enacted – fortunately their demand for annual general elections never materialised.

The second realisation I’ve registered is that the majority of the people are still too comfortable which was summed up nicely at the end of the editorial, in the Christmas edition of the Spectator: -
“There is no doubt that the old rules of western politics are being rewritten, the clich├ęs disproved the old electoral playbooks abandoned. But this is not in itself a reason to panic. There can be a tendency amongst politicians to confuse their own disorientation with the end of the world - when, in fact, the world is doing rather well. By most objective measures of human progress, this has been yet again the best year ever. It might go against our instincts and against much of the news agenda – but most of us have had firmer grounds for expecting, or for wishing others a happy new year.”
Now I grant you this is rather OTT but in principle it is true that the ‘people’, on whom we rely to progress our movement, are not sufficiently bothered to take to the street in protest. However, when presented with an opportunity on a plate, as they were on 23rd June, then they clearly are able to muster enough energy to let our, out of touch, politicians know what they really want but then voting in a referendum is really not too taxing.

The third point I’d make, which leads on from the above two points, is that history shows us that our politicians never volunteer to give up their privileges or power. They don’t wake up one day and say ‘I’ve suddenly realised that the way I control and dominate others is wrong. I must change my ways. So, I’ll initiate a variety of changes to our governance to give the people more power over their lives.’ That is NEVER how it works. History is full of examples how power has to be fought from those that have it.

So, in conclusion, until people become more uncomfortable, and therefore have the incentive to take positive action, then all those who support our aims can do is to help ensure The Harrogate Agenda’s pilot light stays lit so we are there ready and waiting when needed.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Parliament is oblivious to our wishes.

When you stop to consider the recent issue of Keith Vaz and his exploits with male escorts and who is now being probed over drug allegations you realise that Parliament is as divorced from the people, they supposedly serve, as it is possible to be.

For while Keith Vaz did step down as Chairman of the Home Affairs committee 150 tory MPs supported his appointment to a committee over-seeing the justice system despite the above pending investigations.

Our pamphlet had this to say in its conclusion:-

"Furthermore, we the people have the right to demand a Parliament which truly represents our interests and does what it is told. Parliamentary representation, we feel, is compatible with THA. But we do not see the function of Parliament as being to provide a distressingly shallow gene pool from which ministers are recruited. The antidote to the contempt with which politicians are regarded is for Parliament to do its job as the protector of the people, rather than the supporter of governments and the provider of its management personnel.

Its main task should be preparing legislation for public approval. the scrutiny of government, and then the representation of the people to government. For that to happen, the institution has to attract the right people and be properly structured. As long as its main function is to provide ambitious politicians with the means to enter government, it can never properly perform those duties." 

The Brexit result and Trumps success are all signs that the people wish to teach the 'Establishment' a lesson but we still have a long way to go for the people to join up all the dots and realise that it is only through the reform of our governance, in line with our six demands, that real and lasting change will come about.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Leaving the EU is the prerequisite to reforming our system of governance.

Blog Action Day at the being of this month apparently saw bloggers from all over the world post on the usual suspects of the environment, poverty and climate change. The real issue they should be addressing, if they want to see things really change and to have their views listened to, is who should ultimately hold political power because unless there are mechanisms for the will of the ‘people’ to influence and if necessary alter government policy, outside of general elections ,then sadly nothing much is going to change.

The Harrogate Agenda, from its conception in 2012, has promoted the need for genuine ‘People Power’ or ‘Direct Democracy’ the key to which we believe is the recognition by the state that the people are sovereign. We have six demands for better governance, as covered on our website, and we also acknowledged from the start that our demands could never be enacted while we were members of the EU. On page 26 of our pamphlet we say this.

“As it stands, the direct democracy embodied in THA is not compatible with membership of the EU. It confronts one of the core principles of the EU, as specified in Article 10. This states that- ” The functions of the Union shall be founded on representative democracy” and that: “citizens are directly represented at Union level in the European Parliament”. Direct democracy – and the EU cannot exist side-by-side.”

It is because of this very clear belief that the EU and THA are incompatible that we joined with five other groups to form The Leave Alliance to fight the referendum. The Leave Alliance supported Dr North’s ‘Flexcit- The market solution’ which is still the only staged, flexible and continuous exit plan to leave the EU yet devised. However, despite winning our work is not yet done as there is no point leaving the EU to end up in a worst trading position than we currently have and so the need to promote ‘Flexcit’ must go.

The point is that after 43 years of integration into the EU it is totally impractical to believe we can simply leave overnight without the need to negotiate a deal. A further key issue is to differentiate between the 27 members of the EU, the 31 countries in the Single Market or EEA and the 51 countries which make up the continent of Europe. The Leave Alliance believes that while we should leave the undemocratic, corrupt. moribund and unaudited EU we should initially stay in the EEA, as an interim measure, until we can lead the way to help create a genuine free trade area between all the countries of Europe.

The interim solution, of initially remaining in the EEA, is also the only deal that has any chance of being finalised in the two years available once Article 50 has been triggered and there is plenty of evidence that to try and improve on the deal we already have will take much longer with adverse consequences for our existing trade.

Also it should be noted that free of the EU but still part of the Single Market/EEA we would be able to negotiate on Freedom of Movement under Article 112 of the EEA agreement. I would also point out that the issue of migrant workers is very different from the problems we face with refugees and asylum seekers which require quite different solutions involving the cooperation of the international community. Again free of the EU we could lead on these issues in our own right.

So once free of the interference of the political EU and with our own Parliament regaining control of our own affairs The Harrogate Agenda can once again focus on promoting our demands. Realistically nobody should expect that our government or our politicians will simply roll-over and accept our demands without a great deal of resistance as our primary aim is the recognition that ultimate power resides with the people and not with Parliament.

People power requires checks and balances to ensure it is not abused but real democracy requires that a sovereign people have the mechanisms to hold the government of the day to account as and when they want to rather than having to wait until the next general election. This is why it is so important to spread the word and to build up a grass root’s movement to bring pressure to bear on our politicians and other elected officials to point out that without supporting our demands we will not support them.

Finally remember this that until we the people have real power to directly influence government decisions as and when they are made we will always live in fear of a future government taking us back into the EU against our wishes. Parliament must become responsive and ultimately subordinate to the final will of a sovereign people.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

'Way Ahead' workshop in Warwick on Saturday 1st October 2016.

In a recent post-mortem on the EU referendum on BBC Radio 4 entitled Two Rooms, remainers from Brixton and leavers from Boston shared their thoughts on the vote and its aftermath. There were obviously differences of opinion, but one common aspiration for both groups was to take advantage of the opening provided by Brexit to bring power closer to the people.

The Harrogate Agenda (THA) was founded in 2012 for precisely this purpose and on Saturday 1st October seven established and eight new supporters met in Warwick, in a workshop environment, to discuss the ‘Way Ahead’. A few months ago, The Harrogate Agenda became involved, with full consent of our supporters, in the referendum campaign and along with the Campaign for an Independent Britain and several other groups, we became part of The Leave Alliance (TLA) which supported and promoted Dr Richard North’s Flexcit plan to leave the EU.

The Harrogate Agenda (THA) has six demands which, when enacted, will revolutionise the way we are governed in this country. These demands all evolve from the principle that ‘we the people’ must be recognised as sovereign. It is essential that our six demands are met to ensure we will remain outside the EU once we finally leave.

At the moment, there is nothing stopping any future government taking us back in, without even consulting us. This is because sovereignty - or power - currently resides in Parliament. This makes a travesty of the claim that we currently live in a democracy, for demos means ‘people’ and kratos ‘power’. Without demos these is no democracy, but people without power is not democracy either.

The origins and location of sovereignty are rarely understood fully. In the beginning, people had power in their own hands but over time this power was eroded by sovereign monarchs whose decrees were absolute. Later, in this country, sovereignty was wrestled from the monarch to Parliament where it resides to this day.

The past and present incumbents in Westminster feel that the criteria for democracy are met because at General Elections power is temporarily handed back to ‘us’ to vote in the next government. However, our politicians conveniently overlook that they promise us the earth before an election and then happily ignore us once in power. We have little scope to hold them to account.

In other words, our supposed “Representative Democracy” is a sham. The referendum result, where we voted against our government and the leaders of the Labour, SNP and Lib Dem parties, shows why things must change, with the recognition that sovereignty - and thus power - ultimately resides with ‘us’ the people. Our twenty-nine-page pamphlet which you can request from our website, linked via our logo on this blogspot, explains how we believe this would work out in practise.

Our workshop last Saturday confirmed the importance of communicating our message on two established and one new fronts. First, there is the ‘bottom up’ approach consisting of any one of many possible types of meeting that can be set up at a local level. These range from organising a meeting with your own MP to giving a talk at schools or even organising meetings in village halls and similar venues.

The second way of spreading the word is via the internet, including our new Blogspot, which can be accessed from our website. Also covered under this heading is the use of Social Media, especially Twitter. Third and lastly we considered the importance of working from the ‘top down’ which is currently an area that we had not previously considered. It is now our intention to create a think tank to explore the whole area of political power. This sounds ambitious and we are under no illusions that working from the ‘top down’ will take us a few years to become established and thus recognised. In the meantime, we will continue to develop our bottom up approach, using grassroots activists and the Internet to promote our cause.

So if anyone shares our desire to re-boot our country’s political system and see real power returned to the people, please get in touch with us form the 'contact' link on our website.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

There is nothing at all radical about Corbyn’s Labour

Everybody looks forward to summer. Unless of course you’re political animal in which case you’re in for six weeks of pure tedium as the entire political machine shuts down. It leaves us news junkies with little to cogitate. As far as politics goes there are only two stories. Brexit and the labour leadership contest.

The latter is of diminishing interest. It rather looks like Mr Corbyn is going to see off the challenge comfortably. And it’s easy to see why. Labour’s big beasts are more concerned with their career prospects than mounting an effective challenge. Losing in 2020 is a near certainty for Labour and none of them wants the job when it means a wipeout. Consequently the challenger is nobody with all the charisma of flat-pack furniture.

It seems that Labour has no-one to challenge Mr Corbyn’s appeal. He is well liked because he is a figure people can relate to. It’s not what he is. It’s what he isn’t. British politics in recent decades has been beset by a dismal ratings chasing trend whereby policy announcements are made on the basis of what their focus groups have told them – fighting over the centre ground.

The product of this has been bland managerial policy devoid of any principle or ideology pushed by anodyne people. You can barely tell them apart. There seems to be little point in voting when all of the major parties are chasing the same handful of voters and why bother with a political party chasing power for its own sake?

Labour as a party has largely forgotten who it serves and what it is for. A genuine movement is one that decides what it believes it, defines what it wants to accomplish and then goes out and sells it. Whether the agenda is popular or not should not matter. If you have the courage of your convictions you stand by what you believe and you build your movement over time. If it has something to offer then through persistence it will succeed.

Contrast that with Blairism. The Blairite way it to hold one’s beliefs cheaply – to ditch principle depending on the basis of what the most recent poll says. That may well be a shortcut to power but power without a real agenda is simply administration.

In that regard Labour should be bold and not afraid to lose support. It is better to have a coherent movement where voters know what you’re about than to have a generic umbrella party full of ambitious charlatans climbing the greasy pole. The test of whether it succeeds or not is really down to the ideas on sale. That is ultimately why Corbyn will fail.

Labour is supposed to be the party for the working class – but that is an increasingly nebulous term. It can apply to those on minimum wage with insecure jobs or it can apply to families with a mortgage and two cars. The latter being aspirational working class who have increasingly conservative views on taxation – and though largely socially liberal, not as permissive as the progressive left. The idea that the working class is a huddled mass of hapless serfs in need of rescue is an obsolete one. Labour continues to misdiagnose Britain.

Labour’s article of faith is that zero hours contracts should be abolished. While that may be noble in intent it’s not actually that big a problem and affects comparatively few people. Some even prefer the flexibility it offers. The insistence by Labour that Britain’s working class are necessarily poor and living in Dickensian poverty paints a picture that simply does not exist and is not recognised by ordinary voters. It cost Miliband the 2015 election. The patronising paternalism that comes with Labour’s anti-poverty crusade is also a big turn off.

And then we must look at Mr Corbyn’s bizarre fixation with nationalising the railways. Who owns the railways is neither here nor there. What people want is clean, affordable rail that turns up when it says it will. That’s all they care about. Presently it achieves none of these things.

But rail is beset by two problems. Overcrowding and price. Subsidise the fares and you create more overcrowding. Moreover, if you’re subsidising fares for London rail commuters then chances are that’s not a way to help poor people. You’re more likely subsidising middle class higher earners in London. It’s not a policy that speaks much to Labour heartlands like Sheffield where people take the bus to work – or walk.

What this tells us is that Corbyn has failed to understand Britain’s ills. Rail nationalisation is a solution in search of a problem. Britain needs bigger ideas than throwback socialist ones. The fact is we could spend a trillion on creating new rail infrastructure and not make any real impact on our capacity crunch. Rail is an expensive business. What we need is fresh thinking.

In Britain it’s not actually that difficult to find relatively good wages. The issue is how much of it we get to keep. After we’ve paid income tax and national insurance we’ve already taken a big hit in income. Add to that commuting costs and all the other costs associated with work and even a highly salaried job starts to feel like a mugs game. We need to rethink the very idea of work.

For starters, commuting is an absolutely absurd waste of time. We spend at least two hours in the day travelling – usually at the same time as everyone else – creating congestion along with all the health problems that go with it. Why? And if you’re not spending money on rail fares then it’s parking fees – often to do desk work we can just as easily do from home. This makes no sense. If we can get the workforce working from home then not only can we reduce spending on infrastructure we can end the spiral of wage inflation. This is where we can make tangible gains.

Instead of this, the Labour party under Blair introduced income support benefits and the minimum wage – but all of this is increasingly gobbled up by the cost of living – while at the same time adding to the overall tax burden or debt mountain. This is not sustainable – and the Tory national living wage is the same kind of thinking; inflationary measures which sound good but do nothing to increase our spending power or our ability to save.

What we need is radical ideas to bring down the cost of living and the cost of doing business. Nearly half the country can’t afford to save for a pension. We can live fairly comfortable lives on a day to day basis but it’s increasingly insecure with most of us being only two paycheques away from financial oblivion. The pound in our pockets is the key to electoral success – not who owns the railways.

In that, the government is going to have to do something about how much it takes from our wages. We have done a lot to take the low paid out of general taxation but you can’t have a dynamic economy unless people have money to spend, save and invest. But this is something that is alien to Corbyn. He thinks we are not taxed enough. It’s difficult to see how that message can connect with middle Britain. In that regard, Labour’s centrists have a point.

But then it’s Brexit that really tells us what’s going on. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU. That in its own way is a judgement on London. There is a lack of trust that London will do right by them. The rest of England voted to leave – again in defiance of London.

Politically, economically, socially, London is increasingly divergent from the rest of the country. The political narratives are forged in London. Banking, media and government is all based there. It has spawned its own insular culture that lives in a parallel universe to the rest of us. The political debate in London is one alien to the one happening elsewhere. Policies imposed on the regions have little or no relevance to the distinct problems of the north of England. London has too much power.

While we have seen a largely platitudinal effort to devolve powers to the north the new authorities are again imposed by London and in all likelihood will take power away from councils. Labour should have opposed this, but to them it’s just another elected office to fill and Andy Burnham couldn’t wait to give it a bash. The inherent paternalism of Labour will ensure it is yet another rotten borough just like Birmingham.

We need an agenda to restructure power in Britain. One that gives the public direct control over taxation and spending so that they are in control. An agenda whereby people are trusted to manage their own affairs and give themselves a break when the politicians won’t.

We need a movement that seeks to take the power back to give to the people rather than to take it for themselves so that they can pull the levers of power. And that's not Corbyn. There is nothing at all radical about Corbyn’s Labour. They are the same old paternalists who think things would be better if only they were in charge. It never occurs to them that people are perfectly capable of finding their own way. They are every bit as establishment as Mrs Thatcher’s Tories.