Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tie a yellow twibbon...

Yesterday, on the day that I added a LibDem twibbon to my Twitter image, I posted 6 reasons why, in the forthcoming 2010 British General Election, I've decided to vote Liberal Democrat.

I'm not a party official. I don't represent the LibDems. I can't speak on their behalf about their policies. I have no axe to grind.

But, having considered what all the parties have said this year and over the past few years, my firm view is that the Liberal Democrat Party is the only one of the three main parties that...

  1. Understands the urgency of tackling climate change.
  2. Consistently and honourably put the case against the Iraq War.
  3. Is fighting to get a more representative range of the country's views heard in Parliament, is campaigning for less centralised democracy, opposed the dreadful #debill, and is championing the role of independent scientific advisers.
  4. Opposed the corrupt MPs expenses system long before the scandal broke.
  5. Warned of the bank crisis before it happened.
  6. Always carefully weighs the evidence for draconian laws against the civil liberties lost.

It turns out that quite a few people agree that the LibDems are the best choice at this election.

I have been a lonely wonderer. Perhaps I am not quite so lonely now.

P.S. A note to the undecided voter

If you have not decided how you're voting, I urge you to read the party manifestos and make your own mind up. You might think it doesn't matter if you vote or not. It's just one vote. Perhaps your seat has been in the hands of the same party for generations. Perhaps you don't like any of the parties.

But even though it is a single vote, and you might disagree with my conclusions above, it is better to let your voice be heard than let a small number of zealots decide how our country is run.

Parties will tell you "X can't win here", "It's a battle between A & B. C has no chance", "You have to vote D to keep out E". Maybe. Sometimes a tactical vote is necessary, depending on the seat. But everything is different in 2010. The polls have never been like this. No-one really knows what is going to happen, however confident they may seem to be. And if enough people vote, the will of the people can be heard. So every vote ultimately matters.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Why I'm voting Liberal Democrat. Reason 6: Civil Liberties

I've decided to vote Liberal Democrat in the forthcoming 2010 British General Election.

I'm giving my reasons in six posts. The first one was here. Here's the final one of the six...

6. Civil Liberties

Henry Porter in today's Guardian writes "What is worrying is the chill that has descended on civil liberties, as though freedom was some minority issue for eccentrics, rather than the oxygen of democracy."

I find it amazing that there is so little interest among ordinary people in examining whether the authoritarianism of government is justified.

Porter continues:
"The [Labour] party has created a country where half a million people come under some kind of official surveillance every year; where emergency terror laws have become part of the normal policing arsenal; and where jury trial is under attack, total surveillance of communications and movement is proposed and secret courts meet to decide house arrest, without subjects ever being told what the evidence against them is."
To this I would add storing innocent people's DNA, introducing ID cards, covering up torture by allies, treating asylum seekers abominably, allowing "fast-track" extradition without proper scrutiny by a court, and passing new laws to curtail free speech.

The Conservatives haven't and won't oppose these measures. And they will exploit them to the fullest when they regain power. Labour has made a mistake in putting these powers on the statute book.

There seems to be an assumption that there are around us such grave threats from criminals - and from terrorists in particular - that only these tyrannical methods are effective. Maybe. Maybe not. It is only by putting careful legal safeguards in place that ministers' claims about particular threats can be tested. It is only the Liberal Democrats that seem to think we should worry about such things.

Why I'm voting Liberal Democrat. Reason 5: The Economy

I've decided to vote Liberal Democrat in the forthcoming 2010 British General Election.

I'm giving my reasons in six posts. The first one was here. Now...

Reason 5: The Economy

I can't begin to judge who is right in all these virulent exchanges between the politicians on what to do about the economy, how to deal with the deficit, how to protect jobs, and how to protect public services. The economists can't seem to agree either, which suggests that laymen probably shouldn't be setting themselves up as arbiters here.

However, several years before the crisis struck I remember hearing Vince Cable of the Liberal Democrats explaining the dangers of rampant consumer debt and the dangers of bank behaviour. He might not be right about everything, as he admits himself, but I'd much rather have someone like Vince in charge of the economy than the arrogant politicians who neither predicted the crisis nor acknowledged that they could have done things differently.

I also believe that it is the more consensual approach to politics proposed by the Liberal Democrats that will help eradicate the current unfairnesses in the taxation system and the education budget and help find a solution to the problem of funding care for an aging population.

Why I'm voting Liberal Democrat. Reason 4: MPs' Expenses

I've decided to vote Liberal Democrat in the forthcoming 2010 British General Election.

I'm giving my reasons in six posts. The first one was here. Now...

Reason 4: MPs' expenses

It is commonplace to say "They were all as bad as each other." It is true that no party is blameless, but...
  1. The Liberal Democrats have been actively opposing the expense system for years, proposing reforms that would have prevented this scandal. Labour and Conservatives voted against the reforms. They also tried to cover it up.
  2. No Liberal Democrat MP "flipped" second homes for financial gain. Labour & Conservatives still refuse to allow an official inquiry into flipping, which is the most widespread and corrupt practice in Parliament.
  3. >Only the Liberal Democrats are proposing an alternative to the electoral system that will rid our democracy of these "safe seats" that currently protect corrupt politicians from the voters.

Why I'm voting Liberal Democrat. Reason 3: A more plural democracy

I've decided to vote Liberal Democrat in the forthcoming 2010 British General Election.

I'm giving my reasons in six posts.

Reason 3: A more plural democracy

On the issues of climate change and the Iraq war (see Reasons 1 and 2), Parliament has lacked important voices. In the first case, every country in the EU has Green MPs except Britain. I disagree with current Green policies in several ways; but I find it astonishing that Green views - with which a huge number of people in the country, including me, have some sympathy - are not represented in Parliament. In the second case, there has been widespread opposition among the general public to the war in Iraq, yet these voices are grossly under-represented in Parliament.

Our democracy is suffering without pluralism. The Conservatives say that unfettered rule by a single party is necessary for strong government. I disagree: Germany has had coalition government for 60 years and is patently successful. Single party government lacks the restraint provided by a range of mandated views: some point to Greece as an example of this. I would also point to the current British Labour Government. Of course there are democracies with dreadful coalition governments, I've no doubt. The point is that better government tends to comes from the country's views being represented in Parliament rather than being ignored.

And as for the argument that strong government is impossible in coalitions, can I remind the Conservatives of the two most critical times of our history in the last 100 years, when strong decisive action was most needed? The parties came together to form coalition government in both world wars.

People often complain that politicians don't listen to them. They're right. There are more views than just two.

Only the Liberal Democrats are putting forward proposals that would enable Parliament to better represent the range of views in the country.


Another aspect of pluralism is that it is mad for Westminster and Whitehall to be trying to micro-managing great cities like Birmingham and Manchester, and counties like Kent and Merseyside. Devolution of certain powers to Wales and Scotland has been a great success, and no-one wants to return to the previous over-centralised system. Local people should be able to decide on their priorities for schools, hospitals, police, post offices and so on, within a freer national framework. There's a lot of talk of "postcode lotteries" whereas we should be talking about "postcode democracy".

The Liberal Democrats are the only ones proposing greater localism.

Scientific advice and technical scrutiny

Furthermore, the sacking of drugs adviser Professor David Nutt and the level of ignorance shown by MPs debating the Digital Economy Bill (#debill) point to another failing in our democracy that needs tackling: we need more expert involvement in helping legislators scrutinise laws and government actions.

Science advisers must be able to give their advice freely and independently, without the fear of being sacked if their scientific advice differs from current government policy. Furthermore , laws with far-reaching effects that require technical knowledge need to be pored over in detail by specialist committees, advised by the experts, rather than rushed through Parliament by means of bravado, horse-trading and ignorance. MPs on the floor of the Commons (still less unelected peers) should not be trying to re-hash in pompous 3 minute speeches the discussions that took Select Committees months. They should be weighing up the rationale of the final report, and sending it for revision if it's not good enough. We need an evidence-based legislature not a public school debating competition.

The Conservatives have sided with Labour both in relation to scientific advice and in relation to the Digital Economy Bill. It seems to be only the Liberal Democrats who are prepared to champion such independent scientific advice and scrutiny.

The man or woman in the street

It's sometimes said that it's only the geeks that care about voting systems, local government and evidence-based laws. Maybe that's true. It shouldn't be.

Why I'm voting Liberal Democrat. Reason 2: The Iraq War

I've decided to vote Liberal Democrat in the forthcoming 2010 British General Election.

I'm giving my reasons in six posts. The first one was here. Now...

Reason 2: The Iraq War
This might seem an old issue for many people, particularly first-time voters. After all, it might be said, the US & UK military campaign began way back in 2003, and Iraq was a live issue in the 2005 General Election. And the Labour Government survived that election.

But thanks to the various official inquiries since then, the facts of the case are even clearer than they were at the last election.

I'm not going over all the arguments here, but the resulting situation is this:

  • There has been no acknowledgment by those in the Labour Government who took this decision that they made a horrendous mistake.
  • Aside from the immediate deaths and suffering caused, there will continue to be negative consequences for British interests for years to come.
  • The people who made that decision are largely still in government.
  • The chance of such a mistake in British international relations happening again will only be minimised if the party responsible is seen to be punished by the electorate.

The Official Opposition, the Conservative Party, supported the decision to go to war, and again there has been no acknowledgment of error.

I do not call the politicians who took the decision liars - although the Labour party's spin machine has much for which to answer - but they did not take on board the reasoned arguments articulated clearly then and since then by diplomats, academics, and the British people. Politicians need to know that they will be held to account for their decisions, or we will make the same mistakes again and again.

Only the Liberal Democrats have consistently and honourably put the case against the war.

Why I'm voting Liberal Democrat. Reason 1: Climate change

I've decided to vote Liberal Democrat in the forthcoming 2010 British General Election.

Here are my reasons in six posts, starting with...

Reason 1: Climate change

I believe this is the biggest threat facing this country, indeed the planet, and it will be for a generation. I am pleased that the Labour Government has taken strong actions both nationally and internationally to help tackle the threat. However much more needs to be done and Labour does not seem to realize the urgency, as evidenced by the third runway at Heathrow, the lack of investment in rail, the low level of investment in renewable energy, and the limited measures aimed at energy efficiency.

The Conservative Party, apart from David Cameron and a small minority, does not accept the need for action in the first place. I would very much have appreciated a Green voice in national discussions. The lack of such representation in Parliament is a major failing of our current electoral system. In the meantime, of the three main parties, it is only the Liberal Democrats who seem to realize the urgency of the threat.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Unitary Exeter and the Laws of the Medes and the Persians

Not much has happened since last this blog reported on the Unitary Exeter plan. Despite opposition from various Devon and Norfolk politicians, the Parliamentary Order has passed in the House of Commons and House of Lords. Consequently, Exeter's scheduled 6 May local elections have been cancelled and the Implementation Executive has been constituted. However, the legal challenge by the county councils will be heard in the High Court on 28 and 29 April. Moreover, even if that challenge fails, the formation of a new government after the General Election on 6 May might result in a repeal, or a delay, to the Order.

In this post I simply wanted to draw attention to the debate in the House of Lords, which highlighted a number of useful arguments (for and against) in a calm and reasonable manner. One contribution in particular is worthy of repeating. It was by the Welsh politician Elystan Morgan:

My Lords, it is with considerable trepidation that I intervene in the debate: what possible contribution can a Welshman - from West Wales - have in relation to matters in Devon and Norfolk? I suppose one can put the other side of the coin and say that one is so far removed geographically from such places that one is able to look on the situation with total objectivity and complete neutrality. I shall speak for only a few minutes in what has been a fascinating, passionate debate with powerful arguments advanced. I do so because I have believed strongly for many years in unitary authorities.

I well remember attending the debates in the House of Commons in the early 1970s with regard to local government reorganisation. The late John Silkin made a speech arguing that one should reduce to the smallest number possible the tiers involved in any part of England and Wales. I remember him mercilessly using the words of Mark Antony:

"If you have tears, prepare to shed them now".

He was speaking a great and universal truth, one that we in Wales have exploited. We have 22 county authorities. Many are small, extremely poor and - I am sure that persons who have dealings with Wales would agree - hardly in a position to carry out their basic statutory functions. The answer is not unification of boundaries, but the unification and sharing of functions. It is in that spirit that I look on this situation.

The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, put very powerfully the arguments relating to the five criteria. If these criteria constitute the laws of the Medes and Persians in this matter, and if they relate to the shorter rather than longer term, then her argument succeeds. However, these matters are not the laws of the Medes and Persians. When one is dealing with the prospect of whether a city should be a unitary authority, one is dealing with imponderables. It is of course right that you should have guidelines at your elbow when making that decision-but they are guidelines. How can you calculate how the energies of a great city-for example, Norwich-would be released by having reinstated the authority that it had for many centuries, up to 1974? Norwich is the biggest city in England and Wales that is not a unitary authority. How can you calculate, over the relatively short span of a few years, whether that will be in the best interests of the community?

The right reverend Prelate [The Bishop of Norwich] referred to communities. Parliament can do many things. It used to be said that Parliament could do anything except make a man a woman or a woman a man, but I am not sure whether that is a restriction any longer. However, one thing that it cannot do is create communities. It is people who create communities-by their outlooks, their fears, their hopes, their aspirations, and very often their deeds. There is a community in Norwich, Norfolk, and Exeter in Devon. They are giants with immense potential, but are shackled by the present system. It is right and proper that they should be given the opportunity to develop that potential.
Original source: Hansard