Category Archives: UK Politics

Yorkshire First – Standing Up To Be Counted

Having worked with Lucy Brown for a number of years and both influenced her political thinking (or at least had some small part in it) and been influenced by her, I consider Yorkshire First to be a most important development which I hope will be replicated in other counties.

Yorkshire First – Standing Up To Be Counted.

A Parliament for England

Let’s Google “English Parliamentary Party” and see what we come up with.

First up: the English Democratic Party. They call themselves “the official democratic Party of England” but I cannot see who gave them the right to call themselves that. They have just issued a news release in response to the result of the vote in Scotland.

Here is a flavour of what is said on their web site: “The English Democrats commiserate with the Yes campaign and the Scottish National Party and Alex Salmond on the disappointing result of the Scottish Independence Referendum. They should however be congratulated on an excellent campaign against all the lies and propaganda and dirty tricks put up by the British Political and Media Establishment. The abiding memory for the People of England of the Scottish Referendum will be the sight of senior “British” politicians demonstrating again and again and again that they have no interest in properly representing English interests, England or the English Nation and every intention of selling us down the river.”

Now, I don’t know about you but that really is a turn off for me. However, let us move on a bit. ‘Robin Tilbrook, the Chairman of the English Democrats said:- “It is now England’s turn to be heard and the English Democrats have every confidence that the People of England will reject the shabby deal concocted by the Unionist Westminster elite in a conspiracy against English interests. This was rushed through for the purpose of subverting the democratic process in the Yes/No Scottish Referendum after the same gang had refused to allow the Devo-max option to actually be put on the ballot paper. The Westminster elite has shown itself to be utterly self-interested, dishonest, undemocratic and unfit to run our country. So far as England is concerned the English Democrats call upon all those who care about England to block the implementation of “Devo-max” until exactly the same is offered for the whole of England as a national unit.’

Here I admit he says a couple of things with which I agree although I still find the tone tasteless. The question is, “would I be prepared to join this party?” and I fear that the answer, having explored their web site is, “no”. You may care to check it out for yourself. http://www.englishdemocrats.org.uk/

Next up (we are on page 2 now because there are lots of lists of parties which ae of no great interest) is the English People’s Party. These have a WordPress blog site (and there is nothing wrong with that – this is a WordPress blog site) but the last post was dated May 9 last year. I think we can safely say this is not the way to go.

On to page 4 and we find the BNP which (and I hope you agree with this) should receive the least possible publicity. Next item takes us to a group calling itself Progressonline. Good name and it says some interesting things – but they all date back to 2011 or earlier. Oh dear, oh dear.

Page 5: nothing. Page 6: England’s Parliamentary Party (silent since 2008). Page 8: nothing and the same for 9 and 10. Enough. We can draw a conclusion here.

There is no viable group capable of uniting the people of the four nations in a way that they need to be united in order to establish a four-nation federation which – at least in my view – is the only sensible and doable way forward following the Scottish vote and the wild promises made by politicians of all colours: promises made with no reference to the view of the electorate of these four nations.

So we need to create one.

So we have.

Here’s the link – www.englishparliamentaryparty.com – but it doesn’t take you to anything more than a few ideas that need to be thrown around and thought about. That’s where you come in, if you want to.

Time for a federal UK?

This is bravado – it has to be since in a few days time there will be a referendum ion Scotland that may change everything. Or not, of course. Except that it will – it really can’t help itself. Anyway, here is a proposal for you to think about.

First – if Scotland votes “No”.

Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, on 01.01.2015 the House of Commons becomes the English Parliament and in it sits the existing English MP’s. Excluding the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office they take over the entire structure of government in Westminster and Whitehall. So far no costs have been incurred.

It is up to the Scots, the Welsh and those in Northern Ireland to decide what they do with their elected MP’s.

We then create a Federal Assembly to whom the MoD and the FO report. I suggest this should contain 74 members: 64 elected by the English Assembly from their elected members, 5 for the Scots, 3 for Wales and 2 for NP. That is on a basis of one member per million of the national populations (rounded UP for the smaller nations and DOWN for England). Again how the other nations appoint/elect their members would be up to them. This assembly meets as required in the HoL chamber and takes over the entire structure of Mod and the FO. Still no great cost.

Some matters should be dealt with on a federal basis but are presently not in either of those two departments. Those functions could be transferred – the border control from Home Office to the MoD, say, complete with the Border Agency. Still no great cost.

There may be a few other institutions that would have to work with the federal assembly but the only one I can think of is the Bank of England.

Meanwhile all the four national assemblies from that date have equal powers including the power to raise whatever taxes they like. Call it devo-max for all. Each would contribute as needed to the federal coffers (and I can see some interesting arguments between the four as to the level of each contribution) but how they raise that is up to the national assemblies.

I am, of course, assuming that the Welsh and those in Northern Ireland would welcome this move.

Second if Scotland votes “Yes”.

Much as above. Scotland would be invited to become a member of the Federation known as the UK from day one and would probably accept. If, however, they refused then it really is the end of the road with them. All that belongs to the UK is brought south and a proper border with all the usual controls is created and the Federation has only three members – and that federation would tell Scotland what was on the table – there would be no negotiations. There would be no purpose in them. Meanwhile, the possibility of Scotland joining the UK as a new member should remain on the table.

What’s not to like? It’s simple, it offers what most people seem to be saying they now want and it would not cost a great deal nor would it add any further to the required civil service/bureaucracy.

Am afterthought: I would be even happier if the federation elected to leave the EU.

The Smallest Competent Authority revisited

Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil: in its worst state, an intolerable one. (Thomas Paine)

This is what I wrote in March 2011.

Having entered the seventh decade of my life I often find myself becoming very cross with those who are running our country. Indeed, the whole process which once seemed so reasonable now seems awful – mendacious, self-serving and (most importantly) grossly inefficient. Over the years I have come to believe the following statements:-

It is beyond the wit of man properly to govern the sort of complex, multi-layered society in which we, in the UK, now live (or we aren’t as clever as we think we are!).

The form of representative democracy that we have in this country no longer works in the best interests of the people as it fails to meet the needs of many members of the electorate and has handed too much power to central government – as opposed to parliament – and to innumerable unaccountable bodies.

If, as seems likely, the problem is one of scale then the solution is to reduce the size of problems until they are small enough to be understood. Small problems, analysed as close to the source of difficulty as possible, with decisions being taken at as local a level as possible are far more likely to result in sensible decisions being made. Put it another way: all decisions should be taken by the smallest competent authority accepting that that could be anything from a town or parish council to the a multi-national authority such as the U.N.

* * *

After that blog appeared, I received a very interesting email from Marek Kubik which included the following.

“From reading your more recent blog posts I see you’re a fan of local governance. Breaking down the problem into smaller chunks and making it easier to solve. I can see the logic behind this, but I also didn’t see consideration for the potential pitfalls; namely:”

He then lists three points which I would like to take one at a time. The first is this:

“Centralisation is arguably better for efficiency (as one amalgamated office for say, the treasury is more efficient and cost effective to run than a separate one in every constituency).”

My first reaction is that this is not always true. Clearly where the requirements are identical in all respects (such as all the branches of a chain of opticians) and there are no local variations, savings can be made by centralising design and purchasing. However, that is generally not true when it comes to governance. Areas are different: they have different needs, different local suppliers and there is likely to be a difference when considering what the people of the area need and want. This is true even within the NHS. Every hospital has (or I assume has) a stand-by generating plant. Should they all buy the same model or even from the same supplier? I would argue that the answer is ‘no’. For a start, not all hospitals would need the same size of generator – so there can be no ‘best’ manufacturer to cover the entire range. Secondly is the question of the proximity of a service facility: If you are the western end of Cornwall you do not want to rely on a service engineer coming from, say, Bristol.

Here is the second. “Letting my engineering background shine through, a local based government system could be considered sub-optimal from a systemic point of view. The sum of local optimums may be worse than a single global optimum. By this I mean if every local community only looks out for and funds itself, the poorer communities will struggle most. Under a centralised system the taxes from the funding can be coordinated that the wealthiest constituencies can be redistributed to the poorest. I guess I’m talking about the concept of ‘the greater good’ here, and that is something that I guess depends very much on your political philosophy as to its relevance.”

Here I absolutely agree in that Marek hits on a problem that would arise unless it were to be properly addressed. My preferred solution (at the moment and very much work in progress) is that all income related taxes and property taxes should be collected on a local basis – both personal and business – whilst VAT, Customs and Excise and other taxes should be centrally collected. In this day and age of computers that should not present any administrative problems (but would, of course, if the IT is unreliable). One of the functions of central government would be to administer a levelling grant to local areas based on a formula taking into consideration a range of factors (each area’s average income, population, etc). Incidentally, at this stage I am deliberately not defining what I mean by ‘a local area’ as that is a complex subject requiring more consideration.

Marek’s third point was: “Re-emphasis on localism could potentially detract from national unity. This sounds like a very authoritarian statement from someone like me (I’m slightly left of centre and slightly libertarian on the political compass), but what I mean here is a danger of different laws and legislation being ratified in different parts of the UK. So, to take an extreme example, one liberal area supports and legalises full rights for gay marriage, and a very conservative one overturns and outlaws it.”

Yes, but that is the whole point. To put it bluntly, what is localism? Looked at on a global scale, were there a global authority which pronounced on, say, gay rights I would hazard a guess that there would be more against such rights than for. Whether or not that is true, I would be most upset – I am also a libertarian but swing wildly between left and right as I go from subject to subject – if gay legislation ion this country were to be reversed as a result.

All of which assumes, of course, that if the local authority is a major tax raising authority it will be taken more seriously by the electorate – but that again is another subject.

* * *

Reading through that piece again today, I remain convinced that central decision making far from what we have come to call ‘the coal face’ is at best inefficient and at times utterly wrong. This is true, I believe, in all walks of life, not just the government. There are two problems with it. The first is that the information from said coal face to the decision maker will have passed through a number of hands and some of those hands (if not all) will have an agenda. They may not even realise that they have one but everyone has one even when they honestly do not realise that they do. Indeed, then it is even more dangerous. Anyway, it means that the person who has to take the decision takes it on false data.

Then there are the distortions in the command as they travel back down through the various layers of managers and administrators, each layer will want to see how these instructions fit with their working practices and will seek to amend or even reverse certain parts of the instruction before passing it on.

And we wonder why each and every decisions seems to result in extra cost, a number of (often expensive) unexpected consequences and not very much actually changing in the intended direction. It is, I feel, reasonable to say that these costs are greater than the so-called savings that may or may not be achieved by centralisation.

One final thought which I do not intend to pursue here. Some of us have been discussing a reverse flow of tax. In other words local collection and the amount that filters trough to what would (in essence) be a federal central government would depend on the relative wealth of each locality. This is work in progress,

Not That It Matters

For various reasons, we have created a division of Devonwriters (the name of the partnership within which I work) called Dartside Press. This is because the office is pretty close to the river Dart here in Devon and this division is going into publishing. We can afford to do this because of ebooks. To do so with printed books would be far too costly.

Even then there is a lot to learn and I decided that I wanted something simple on which to cut my teeth. The result is a compilation of some of the political stuff I wrote in 2011 and 2012 – suitable edited and embellished as required. It is called “Not That It Matters” for two reasons. The first is that it seems a pretty accurate title. The second is that it was the title of a delightful collection of essays written by A A Milne who, apart from his children’s books, was a brilliant writer in an era when writing styles were at their most elegant (a personal opinion, of course). Anyway, this was to doff my cap at him (and at his son near whom we once lived and who I knew slightly).

The book is priced at a very reasonable £1.83 but I am afraid is available from Amazon alone at the moment. I have another steep learning curve to climb before we publish in other formats but hope get there reasonably soon. Should you care to know more click here.

Conflict or consensus in UK politics?

As some of you no doubt now know, we have returned to the bone which, as Team UK, we have been gnawing at for some time. In simple terms, having come to the conclusion that the governance of the UK is no longer fit for purpose, what now?

We struggled – and we failed. Then someone pointed out that we were doing the same thing as everyone else: we were trying to find policies to meet what we thought would be the right thing for the UK. That obviously raises a question: who are we to think that we know what is right for the UK? Clearly, we don’t and so we realised that the next step (really a step backwards) should be to see whether or not there could be created a group of people who, regardless of their traditional party loyalties, could agree – by way of a start – on what we should be aiming to achieve.

That led on to the idea that there should be a number of “core aspirations” which were generally not controversial so that most people (or so we thought) would be happy to agree on the aims of those aspirations. Then, having built up a group whose members are prepared to work together to approach the problem of creating policies to match our aspirations (which would, of course, take us from simplistic generalisations to more detailed objectives) we would have a wide range of inputs and, hopefully, gradually come to a consensus on proposed action that was acceptable (as a minimum) by the majority.

Not so. We have started to fall at the first hurdle – agreement on those nine core aspirations. We have received some responses – in part through the poll that we put on Team UK’s blog site, in part with discussions on Facebook and in part from email exchanges.

Let’s start at the beginning. Here are the nine core aspirations with the results of the polls (bearing in mind this is day 4 so do not expect high numbers yet):-

1. To create an educational, training and employment culture in which all have the opportunity to fulfill their potential.

Votes: 9 in favour: 0 against.

2. To create an economic model where stability, sustainability and the mental and emotional well being of the people are as important as growth.

Votes: 8 in favour: 0 against.

3. To create a culture in which small businesses (the key to the provision of employment) can flourish.

Votes: 7 in favour: 1 against.

4. To reduce dependence on imported energy to a minimum.

Votes: 9 in favour: 0 against.

5. To reduce dependence on imported foodstuffs to a minimum.

Votes: 9 in favour: 1 against.

6. To create a social culture in which communities thrive on self-help and reduce their reliance on centralised state benefits.

Votes: 8 in favour: 1 against.

7. To reduce the gap in living standards between the richest and the poorest.

Votes: 9 in favour: 1 against.

8. To ensure that the weak and vulnerable are cared for in a proper and fitting manner.

Votes: 9 in favour: 1 against.

9. To ensure that the nation’s assets (natural and man-made) are properly maintained and improved.

Votes: 10 in favour: 1 against.

What I find interesting is that clearly 10 people have voted so there are a number of abstentions. What is revolting (to me) is that there is 1 out of the 10 (10%) who do not want the wealth gap to close and, even worse, do not want to see the weak and vulnerable properly looked after.

Still, we may be onto something: those in favour are in the clear majority at the moment. We shall see what happens during the coming weeks.

Then there were also two responses to which I want to respond. We have been accused of being too vague in the first aspiration on the basis that young people have a wide range of potential and so the aspiration is meaningless. I would not accept that: it is because young people have such a wide range of potential that we believe there is a need to rethink how we prepare them for adulthood and – although this is somewhat off piste – how we put things right if they reach adulthood without the required preparation.

The other suggests that our society is divided in many ways (agreed) and particularly by class where their differences are irreconcilable. Now, I may have completely misunderstood what lies behind that comment but to me it spells ongoing, never ending conflict. I just have to hope that this is not true.

Sure, we are all people who are better at hating than at loving, better at killing than at healing and generally pretty damn unpleasant (which is how we have come to rule the globe) but surely, after the carnage of the 20th century and the appalling conflicts (that word again) in so many different parts of the world today we, living in one of the best countries in which to live (where even the poorest are far better off than many in other countries), could try to head towards some sort of consensus, couldn’t we?

If the answer is “no” then everything that I have tried to do over the last forty or so years has been a complete and utter waste of time.

Incidentally, if you want to record your vote on the Team UK blog site, please CLICK HERE.

My wish list

John Lockwood and I have been holding a discussion on Facebook basically about politics and the need for something new to get us out of the present system which we both feel is not really fit for purpose. I think that is all you need to know to make sense of what is, really, a very long (but I hope not too boring or self-indulgent) response to his last comment in that conversation.

The idea of a party of consensus is one that appeals very strongly to me. It was for this reason that we tried to start a new party which we called Team UK which would have a few core beliefs on which to try to build a culture of consensus. As John put it, “. . . a minimum agreed programme of the most central principled demands (and agree to differ on the rest)”.

He lists his minimum demands as being, “anti austerity, opposing racism, sexism and homophobia and for doubling minimum wage” and immediately we hit a problem (“we” being John and I not agreeing on something). I go with all he says (and want to add a few more but I’ll come to that in a moment) but I do not go with anti-austerity. Before John’s sword cuts my head off, I want to embellish that as it is possible that we agree more than it would seem on the surface.

Every family has to live within its means. To me the UK is a big family (with the usual mix of the good, the bad and the ugly) and if it is to be able to look after those members of the family that need looking after it, too, has to live within its means. That is not because I want the rich to get richer – it is because I want to be able to afford to do the right thing by the people who need our support. However, in order to do that we must stop throwing money down the drain. The old saying “look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves” is still a truth. Restrictive practices – be they caused by private sector employers, government or workers – should not be allowed to waste precious resources. So, yes to austerity but not by way of removing support from the infirm or vulnerable.

As to opposing racism, sexism and homophobia – I want nothing to do with any group that does not consider those to be the most basic of core beliefs so there John and I are totally at one.

In a later comment John said, “It strikes me as fundamental to capitalist economics that you can’t (sustainably) sell a commodity for less than cost of (re)production.” Well, yes, it is. No matter whether the production unit is in private or public hands, it remains fundamental that you can’t (sustainably) sell a commodity for less than cost of (re)production. So, where does that lead us? For a start please remember that I did not argue with John’s requirement for a doubling of the minimum wage. It follows that I believe that a part of the cost of anything should include a decent living wage in return for labour (in whatever form that takes). Furthermore I like the phrase “Labour power is a commodity” because it lays it on the line. Hopefully it is rather more than that but I trust we all know what we mean here.

So the problem is not that people are not paid enough but that people are not charged enough for some of the things they buy. This is especially true of dairy farmers (remember I am a very rural animal and I think in rural terms). They are not, of course, “labour” in the sense that John uses the term, However, they are extremely lucky, thanks to the bargaining power of the big supermarkets, to earn a positive rate per hour let alone anything approaching the present minimum wage. But – and this is often forgotten – it is us, the people, who give our business to the supermarkets knowing that they are screwing those supplying milk (and other things) but we don’t care. We don’t make that link.

Another little example. I was writing a report for a medium size company back in the 1990’s and the workers were in dispute with the owners over the annual pay rise. Obviously the workers wanted a bigger increase than the owners were offering and matters were getting rather nasty. People tend to talk to me and the consensus amongst the workers was that the owners were taking far too much out of the business and could easily afford the increases being demanded. Because of the work I was doing I was privy to the company accounts (although I couldn’t talk about them – that would have been most improper). Actually, the offer on the table was calculated on the basis that the profit margin would drop and that the shareholders (it was a family business with the shares owned by five people) were perfectly happy to see their dividends cut for what they thought was a good cause – cut to the extent that had they sold out and put the money in the bank they would have been far better off. Since the company was in some difficulty (they survived, by the way, by introducing austerity measures and so continue to be able to employ a work force of about a hundred and forty) they could not explain this to the workers – would have been a huge commercial risk. This is another case of the coin having two sides which is the title of a blog I wrote not that long ago.

Then John said (well, actually this was a bit earlier but . . . ) “I would question whether the tiny minority who hold virtually all wealth will ever surrender simply on the basis of consensus.” He is probably right. Nobody parts with brass unless they have to unless, of course, they are feeling charitable. There are, however, exceptions. I know the mother of a banker – you know, a rich no-good-for-anything banker. She proudly told me that last year (this was a few months back) he had earned just over £3,500,000. That’s a lot of brass. I did a quick mental calculation, “Hmm. And is he happy to be pay, what, £1,800,000 in income tax?” I asked. “Oh, no. He won’t do that – he wants the money to be spent properly. No, he’s giving just over three million to his favourite charities”. Which, of course, means he would still have about an average annual income each month on which to live. I think more of this happens that we know about. These wealthy buggers are like the rest of, a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly. They are not all tarred with the same brush but I agree, some are bad and some are ugly.

Now is the time when I say something very clever and explain how we get out of the mess we are in. Well, you will be disappointed. The very best I can do is to suggest a few aspirations – but turning them into doable, affordable policies that do not result in waste and too many unintended consequences is another matter altogether. Here is my wish list. I want:-

  • the creation of an educational, training and employment culture in which all have the opportunity to fulfill their potential.
  • the creation of an economic model where stability, sustainability and the mental and emotional well being of the people are as important as growth.
  • the creation of a culture in which small businesses (the key to the provision of employment) can flourish.
  • to reduce dependence on imported energy to a minimum.
  • to reduce dependence on imported foodstuffs to a minimum.
  • the creation of a social culture in which communities thrive on self-help and reduce their reliance on state benefits.
  • the gap in living standards between the richest and the poorest to be reduced to reasonable levels.
  • the weak and vulnerable to be cared for in a proper and fitting manner.
  • the nation’s assets (natural and man-made) to be properly maintained and improved.

What do you have on your wish list?