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A Tale of Two Countries

20 May

Britain in 2010 is not a happy country – too many divisions, inherent antagonisms, and ideological chasms divide the nation and make it a country that could be described as “being at war with itself”.

So says Margit Appleton in an editorial for MJB Times, titled Britain at War Chapter II.

I can’t speak for the veracity of MJB Times, but it makes little difference when I can replace “Britain” in the quote with “America” and end up with the same word-for-word meaning. Ever since the lies and cover-ups of Bush and Cheney, politics aren’t discussed in either polite or impolite circles at the risk of a black eye. And the chasm grows wider as Democrats (liberal) and Republicans (conservative) spend their time slinging barbs at each other.

Appleton:

Quite apart from the more obvious—and undoubtedly more pressing problems—like the enormous debt crisis,  the trade deficit, the war in Afghanistan, the problem of immigration etc., the Coalition government has its work cut out for itself.

Ditto Democrat Obama, who is closing in on 1½ years of his administration with little or nothing to show for it—and that with a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress. He’s managed to spend hundreds of billions of dollars bailing out rich banks and funding “wars”, both within the bailiwick of the Republicans, but his “massive health-care reform” package has yet to see the light of day.

But Mr. Obama has a terrific smile. Appleton writes,

[W]hen Nick Clegg and David Cameron announced their coalition government . . . friendly banter in the garden . . . [a] wave to Obama’s relaxed style was clearly intended.

Never mind that the political systems of th UK and US are quite different; it is the politicians who account for the sameness. They smile to your face, give you a glad-hand, make promises to placate you—and the moment you turn your back, they stab it.

Appleton concludes her editorial with pie-in-the-sky smarm:

Here’s hoping that the new Coalition government has it in them to finally create what a previous Prime Minister called “a nation at ease with itself”.

Don’t make me cry. How can a Coalition possibly solve serious domestic problems? How can Obama solve serious domestic problems when his own Party is in disarray and does not support him?

The answer is obvious. In a tale of two countries, neither one of them can.

Posted from Chandler, Arizona May 20, 2o1o

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Fixed Term Parliaments: What would Churchill do?

14 May
Winston Churchill in Downing Street giving his...
Image via Wikipedia

Former Transport Secretary, Lord Adonis – yes, that is his real name – has been speaking out against the fixed term parliamentary system introduced by the new Tory/LibDem coalition, describing the idea as a “constitutional outrage”. I know, some might say it’s just a case of sour grapes from the losing party, but he does have some support from constitutional experts.

The argument for change is that the country needs a strong and stable government to oversee the rebuilding of the economy following the credit crisis and bailing out of the banking system. Superficially that does make sense, but closer scrutiny suggests it’s an extremely misleading idea.

During World War Two, Britain was run by a coalition government installed after a vote of no confidence led to the resignation of Conservative prime minister, Neville Chamberlain whose policies of appeasement had proved both unsuccessful and hugely unpopular. Winston Churchill became PM, and later found himself facing a similar vote, but survived to lead the country to victory. I do wonder what he’d think about his successors trying to manipulate public anxiety to make changes to the parliamentary system.

While it is true that we owe a stupendous amount of money, and that we will be paying it off for decades to come, this can not possibly compare to the threat the country faced in the 1940s. Back then, we also had a massive national debt – billions owed to the US alone* – and it was growing because not only did the country have to finance the war effort, there was also the cost of rebuilding once hostilities were over. And of course, the danger was not only financial, the world’s biggest super-power was camped just across the Channel and planning to invade. In the meantime they were bombing our towns and cities into rubble and attacking our shipping with the intention of starving us into submission. Yet, despite this, at no point did anyone think the government should be shored up with changes to the system which made it harder to remove them from power.

Fast forward to 2010 and that very thing could happen. The Tory government want to make it harder to remove them if it all goes horribly wrong. And make no mistake, these changes would protect the Tories, not the coalition! If the coalition falls apart, the fixed term and new rules about votes of no confidence will enable the Tories to stay in power until 2015, despite the fact they will have no majority. They tell us this is a good thing because the country is in financial crisis and needs a firm hand on the tiller to see us through the difficult days ahead. They may have a point, but surely a minority government is not a firm hand, it’s a weak hand, and one which could lead to at best stagnation, and at worst, catastrophe.

So what would Churchill do? Would he approve of a minority government playing on peoples’ fears to introduce undemocratic changes to the parliamentary system to keep themselves in power? I think not.

* It took until 2006 to repay the money owed to the USA


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Undecided voter? Please read this!

5 May

Just popping in to share a couple of links to great posts about what may await us if the Tories gain a majority in tomorrow’s vote.

Welcome to Cameron-Land: Johann Hari takes a look at Hammersmith and Fulham council, now in the control of “compassionate Conservatives” and considered to be the model for the new Tory government.

Remember 1983? I warn you that a Cameron victory will be just as bad: Jonathan Freedland looks back at the last Tory regime and warns us about the dangers of history repeating itself.

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Is lack of trust in politicans eroding our democracy?

2 Sep

Interesting post from Tim about the continual erosion of the trust (or what’s left of it) between politicians and the UK electorate.

This year, as with every other year has been a constant drip of political cronyism, lies and deceit, eroding trust, connection and communication between political leadership and the electorate.anarchyintheuk.com, Sep 2009

Do read the whole post!

Something Rotten in the House of Commons

18 May

Watching cross party MPs turn on the Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, was somewhat perplexing. On one hand, his lack of leadership was instrumental in allowing recent expenses scandals to take place. On the other, it is hypocritical of MPs to expect one man to take the blame for something they all seem to have been aware of, if not actively involved in; not dissimilar to seeing a gang of criminals blaming their crimes on the chief inspector of their local police force. If only he’d arrested them before they robbed that bank …

It is impossible to overstate the significance of today’s events. If Mr Martin does resign, he will become the first speaker since the 17th century to be forced to do so, and I’m sure the House hope this will draw a line under the whole affair. He will become a high profile sacrifice to placate a public who have lost all confidence in the democratic process and those who administer it. But will it be enough? Do we really believe the entire blame lies at his door? I think not.

The expenses system was drawn up by the very people who so readily abused it, yet, they seriously expect us to believe with one sacking honesty and transparency will be restored. This belief that we can be so easily hoodwinked smacks of extreme arrogance! These are the people we elected to represent us, they do not seem to be doing that. They appear to be more interested in lining their pockets and advancing their own interests, which really isn’t good enough. We deserve better!

Politics used to be seen as a form of public service. That may be an old fashioned idea, and it may not have always been true, but that ideal did set the tone of the House; MPs were there to speak for the interests of their constituents, not to further their own. Unless we return to that old fashioned notion the voting public will continue to feel unrepresented and disenchanted with the political process, and that could have far-reaching and disastrous consequences.

Hazel Blears says ‘newspapers no substitute for town criers’

3 May
I took this picture of Hazel Blears in March 2...Image via Wikipedia

“In a clear reference to the prime minister, who has been ridiculed for his appearance on YouTube, the strongly Blairite cabinet minister says such use of ‘new media’ by politicians is far less effective than old-fashioned campaigning. ‘YouTube if you want to,’ she says in an article in today’s Observer. ‘But it is no substitute for knocking on doors or setting up a stall in the town centre.’ “
Hazel Blears savages Gordon Brown over ‘lamentable’ failures – The Guardian

While I agree with the central point Ms Blears is trying to make – that politicians need to reconnect with voters – I do think she is denigrating the use of new technology unnecessarily. As other politicians have shown, it can be a valuable tool in the political process. And it’s one that will only become more so.

Every year thousands of teenagers who don’t really remember a world without social media become eligible to vote. Of course, talking to them is incredibly important. At the same time, given the choice between reading a pamphlet handed out in the street, or watching a video on YouTube, they are nearly always going to choose the latter. The same is true of many older people who make up a significant percentage of users on many networks. A leaflet is easily discarded, if someone has gone to the trouble of clicking a link they are likely view at least a small part of the content the page contains.

To dismiss new methods of campaigning as less effective is very short-sighted; in effect it’s giving up the chance to reach people who would not have accepted a leaflet, or talked on their doorstep. It would negate their chance to make an informed vote by denying them the opportunity to hear a range of opinions. While some might argue that these people should take advantage of more traditional methods, I disagree. If they expect us to make the effort to vote for them, politicians should reach out to us using the mediums of our choice!

To come back to my earlier statement; I can see Ms Blears’ point, but if new media has proved ineffective, it is not because people don’t want to engage with it. It’s because it has been used ineffectively.With the exception of some governmental and political Twitter accounts and the e-petitions site, Labour-style new media has been all about them talking at us, there is little interaction which is contrary to it’s whole ethos. It’s supposed to be a conversation, but I haven’t noticed much dialogue.

Sustainable Communities Act launched today

14 Oct

“The Sustainable Communities Act gives new powers to communities and their elected councils to drive government policy to tackle local economic, social and environmental issues. It was supported by 80 national organisations, 300 local organisations, over 1000 parish and town councils and thousands of individuals.”

Today sees the launch of the Sustainable Communities Act which was brought in to give local councils and communities to find and implement local resolutions to local problems.  The effects of the act could be quite wide-ranging, but could include initiatives to tackle crime, unemployment and housing; the protection of post-offices, shops, police stations and other other important services; plans to improve or implement local transport systems. You can read more about the act here and here,  you will also find sample letters you can send to your local councillor if you wish to ask your council to get involved.