Tuesday 18 December 2018

National Populism

I have just finished a very readable book on National Populism by  R. Eatwell & M Goodwin which they believe is not just a passing fad but here to stay. They explain how the rising of NP was typified by the election of Trump in America and the result of the British referendum in 2016. They also cover many of the other populist groupings in Europe.

In the first page of the Introduction they get straight to the point with this -  “ NP prioritizes the culture and interests of the nation, and promises to give voice to a people who feel that they have been neglected, even held in contempt, by distant and often corrupt elites.”

The book is divided into six chapters titled Myths, Promises, Distrust, Destruction, Deprivation and De-alignment with the following notable extracts:-

  • NP is not new with The People’s Party Omaha Platform of 1892 proclaiming ‘ We seek to restore the government of the Republic to the hands of the plain people.’
  • The authors argue that NP has three core values – First, to make the popular will heard and acted on. Second, the call to defend the interests of the plain, ordinary people. Third, the desire to replace corrupt and distant elites.  
  • Lots of people feel frustrated about how their democracies are working, but most remain firmly committed to the democratic system.
  • The number of people who feel that politicians put the national interests ahead of that of their parties has slumped.
  • In 1960 in the USA 76% of people trusted their government most of the time yet by the time of Obama’s election the figure was 22%.
  • The feelings of ‘voicelessness’ help explain why lots of people are now instinctively receptive to the model of ‘Direct Democracy’ with 56% to 38% of the British believing the people should be able to vote on national issue. In America it was 67% to 31%, Germany 74% to 23% and the French 74% to 25%.
  • One way to get increased input from citizens is through referendums, especially local and regional, and devolving further powers from the centre.
  • Patriotism share three factors – a shared history and values, the feeling of a national community and the right to self-determination.
  • Four  Ds fuel populism – Distrust of elites, concerns over the Destruction of a nation, Deprivation caused by an unequal economic settlement and the increase of De-alignment from traditional parties.
  • The Brexit fiasco sets the scene for a serious examination of our system of governance which has thus far not yet materialised.

The final paragraph ends with this “ By word of final  conclusion we will stress just one point. NP, in whatever form, will have a powerful effect on the politics of many Western countries for many years to come”.

THA has always realised, as with the Chartist movement before us, that its six demands will only become a reality when they are supported by the people at large who then provided constant and increasing pressure on our political class demanding they take notice or lose their support come re-election.   

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Demand Six - A Constitutional Convention

Our last demand is that a constitutional convention should be set up to produce a codified constitution which would be put to us, the people, for our approval.

The aim of having a written constitution, for the first time in our history, would be to update our existing system and of course incorporate all the details of the first five demands in it.

A constitution should be directed primarily at governments and states agencies. Strictly speaking, it should be limited to defining the extent of their powers and the manner in which they shall be exercised. It can read alongside a Bill of Rights, and individual rights can be enshrined in a constitution, although separate documents might be preferable. 

Nevertheless if we are to have our own constitution, it must be produced by the people. Those who frame a constitution have to be the sovereign entity. The very fact that the people lay down the rules under which governments must operate is de facto recognition of their sovereignty.

We would also need a constitutional court as protector with the power to strike down any law or action of government that was unconstitutional but the ultimate protector should be the sovereign people who should be able to strike out any law or impost, such as a treaty, they deem unconstitutional.

We believe this demand should be addressed to a reformed Parliament, one in which the executive has been excluded and then put to the people in a referendum for approval.

As to the content, shape or form we offer no opinions save that we expect substantial amendments to the existing constitution.

In summary we call for a properly constituted convention, one that is capable of deliberating relevant issues in an inclusive manner, and which will put the fruits of its work to the people for approval.  

Wednesday 5 December 2018

Demand Five – No taxation or spending without consent.

This demand is summed up in the one word ‘Referism’ as the government has to ‘refer’ to the people for their funding.

A government without money can do nothing but it is our money they collect and spend so we believe that we  should therefore be consulted  over their proposed annual budget a decision currently left to parliament but to date has never voted down the chancellor’s budget.

Concern was expressed when formulating this demand that the people would simply vote themselves more money every year but experience from  a number of local authority referendums, around the turn of the century, to seek approval form the electorate for the level of rates, offering a choice between a rise, status quo or reduction, had the people realistically opting, in most cases, for the status quo.

The people seemed more than capable of judging whether they wanted to vote for an increase to their rates to cover an  increase in services and given that choice told their councils to consolidate their spending rather than increase it.

This concept of local referendums was taken up by the Conservative party in 2010 who passed a law that would make Councils have to hold a referendum if they wished to raise rates above 2%. Interestingly councils kept their increases to below 2% to avoid having to consult the people who would most likely have contested their spending plans.

So while the experiment to hold referendums, to get the people’s approval on budgets, has been tried at the local level it has not been tried at the national level.

Some worry that rejection of the national budget would disrupt government programmes but should the budget not be approved the government would automatically carry on with the same amount of money approved the year before thus giving them time to amend and resubmit their budget for approval.

The holding of referendums need not be an expensive exercise and we have always envisaged that the introduction of electronic voting would speed up the process and reduce the costs significantly.

It’s our money and we should approve the government’s plans to spend it – it really is that simple.    

Monday 19 November 2018

Demand Four - The People's Consent.

This demand is in three parts with each giving the people the ‘Power’, given certain criteria are met, to call for a referendum on any given matter.

The basic method for trigger a referendum, in all three areas, would be the raising of a petition given the set benchmark of signatures has been met. The next requirement is that a certain percent of the available electorate has to turn out to vote and then the third element is that the majority, to get change, has to be significant. The exact detail of each of the three stages is not yet set but what should be clear is that to hold a referendum is no easy matter.

So the first area a referendum could be held is only advisory on the government and can cover any matter than the public wish to draw to the government's attention. So for example if the correct number sign a petition to raise the motorway speed limit to 80mph then they could attempt to get a referendum held but the result if passed by the requisite number would only be advisory.

The second area that a referendum could be held is to specifically challenge a piece of government legislation before it becomes law. If the vote meets the requirements then the government’s bill is defeated. This gives the people real power over their government.

The third area in which the public could challenge decisions and seek rejection would be the decisions made by government or official bodies also elected and appointed officials including ministers and judges. Again strict benchmarks would need to meet and the sort of things that could be challenged would be planning consents and the sentences handed down by judges.  

This demand is critical to our whole agenda as it places real power in the hands of the public and therefore the ability to stop the government’s legislation if the majority so wish it.

Finally to avoid the public simply repeating the call for a referendum, should they not get the decision they want, we propose a ‘don’t ask again clause’ to cover a certain period  and while we suggest a period of 25 years in our pamphlet this would need to be discussed in further detail with a possible alternative being a yes/no question added to every referendum which asks if the public wish to be consult again on the issue within a defined period.

This demand gives real power to the people over their politicians and parliament which both become subordinate, under certain conditions, to a sovereign people.