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Archive for July, 2012

The Haphazard House of Lords Reform

So a 338  vote majority on whether to reform the House of Lords, making it partly elected, but only with a concession to scrap the narrow timetabling of the debates. Even with this everyone is saying that this bill is dead in the water due to that concession as well as the 91 Conservative MPs that rebelled against it (all of whom could have been predicted to have done this).

Reform of the House of Lords has been a long-held idea, especially within the Liberal Democrats. I remember being taught during my A-Levels whether there should be an elected House of Lords and I am still teaching it myself 10 years later. The positives seem self-explanatory. The idea of electing the House of Lords makes them more representative of the public and can therefore be held to account on bills and issues that they are involved in within the Houses of Parliament. Ultimately it would also seem an attempt to open up accessibility to the House of Lords (or whatever it would be called) to a wider range of people who electorally earn their position rather than just to the rich who donate money to the three main political parties. By making the system more democratic, law of averages would suggest that you make the system better….

…but is that true. It all seems to be in the detail of how this bill will be drawn up. Firstly 15 year terms are a joke. That’s not increasing accountability – If somebody does something wrong or contentious in their first year, how many people are going to remember it by the fifteenth? Either this needs to be reduced down ideally to five-seven or the power of recall would need to be built into it. Secondly, if there are some that are elected as well as some that aren’t some will be held to account whilst others will not. This will only cause more issues in terms of the inner workings of the system- either it has to be fully elected or not elected. A partly elected system simply is full of holes. Looking also at the fact that some of these ‘Lords’ will be representative of the people, surely they should have similar power levels to the House of Commons, which will be in the same position. Even if a redrawing of powers is not immediate, there will surely be a demand for more powers for the House of Lords to suggest that it needs these to be more representative of the people. If powers are changed, the House of Commons and Lords will turn in to a power struggle. Where will the PM come from? Where do Ministers come from? How will this impact on the numbers and make up of government? One key term that we look at in American Politics is ‘Gridlock’, where bills get stuck in the American Law Making procedure and very few are passed. This could be down to the fact that the Senate and the House of Representatives are both elected, both representative of the people and both similar powers. Surely this would be the way that the British chambers would go.

The big issue however is one of time. It’s the same thing when my pupils ask whether we will ever get rid of the monarchy, and my answer is always no. This is because of the time that it has been in existence. The longer that things are in existence for, the less likely that people will want to change them. It is the old cliché “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. There is a reason why the Conservatives are called this. They are conservative- they want limited change. Everybody living in the UK today has had the House of Lords in the current form (albeit with difference in types of peers) and most people will have had no issue with it. Why would people want to change something that they don’t have an issue with? Most people have more pressing issues that interest them.

David Cameron has been embarrassed. Even as I’m writing this watching Prime Minister’s Question Time, and boy is he rattled – lashing out and trying to protect his position desperately, he is struggling. The fact that he is unable to control his own party let alone the coalition in terms of rebellions shows his poor qualities as leader. He is a desperate man at the head of a sinking ship that is seeing a mutiny from the right-wing of his own party. Nick Clegg has on the other hand become delusional. He saw this as a giant success for the Liberal Democrats and has stated so to his own party. He need the Labour Party to help and even that was waiving the timetabling element of the bill. There is a very real chance that this bill will be filibustered to death or changed far away from the desires of the Liberal Democrats. He should have learned not to count his chickens before they hatched after the Alternative Vote referendum. By coming out with comments like this, he is simply diminishing his credibility further.

In terms of my own opinion, I feel that the House of Lords does need reforming. I don’t think it has enough power in scrutinising the House of Commons and holding MPs to account. This is needed to make sure that we have a fully checked and balanced system. The catch 22 of this is that there will be a conflict of power between the two houses. I believe that is always going to be the main issue with House of Lords reform and something that will be judged closely. What currently is going through Parliament is haphazard and unlikely to succeed however.

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Giving Cities More Powers- Yay or Nay?

Today it has been speculated that six cities in the United Kingdom (Newcastle, Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Bristol and Sheffield) will be given more money over a £1.5 billion investment fund that they will be able to control rather tha having to lobby London for the money. This will also seemingly give these cities a greater control over the things that they do with this money, therefore making them more powerful.

Firstly, these cities could do with some extra money to use to develop these areas, especially in terms of the economy and boosting the rate of employment. After all that is what this new idea is seemingly a return for. Personally speaking I would love to see both Birmingham and Newcastle develop and become greater cities not only within the UK but within Europe and the world. The beauty of this fund is that it is seemingly going to cut the red tape that is needed for City Councils to get these funds. That means that projects and new businesses can be started up quicker with little blocking or involvement for the national government. This creates more freedom and power for the local council to implement policies that they know, through their experience, will help the local area and more importantly help the people in these areas that desperately need the assistance.

However, this is not the first time that new powers have been attempted to be bestowed on these cities. In May, we had the referendums for elected mayors in some of these cities and all but one rejected it out right. This elected mayor, although it was never clear was going to be designed to be the leader of the Council, accountable to the people independently of the Council and control more of the finances of the City. Now to me that sounds a lot like what the Coalition are trying to introduce in terms of this policy except the directly elected mayor, which they clearly see as the major sticking point. All I will say is that politicians need to make it clear to the public what exactly is going to happen, how much power the council will have and the jurisdiction that they will cover. One of the problems with the elected mayor referendums was that people did not know their powers and what they would be able to do. This means it needs to be clearer – although this time there won’t be a referendum.

My other issue is why are only these cities the only ones receiving it. I understand that they are the big cities, but there are many others in Britain where this funding could make a lot of difference. Again from personal experience, Carlisle, Sunderland and Wolverhampton are places where this money, and easy access to it, could do a lot of good. There are many projects that could be set up that could be used to improve areas and help the people of these areas. So I find it hard to believe why more areas will not be involved in this and am wondering if this will be a trial for rolling it out further (although do we have the money??). I am glad to see that it is not limited to the South of England and that the north gets some fair treatment on these schemes for a change.

Overall, I think this could be a very good idea from the Coalition (..you can not comprehend how difficult that was for me to say…) as it will help boost local areas and put control of money into the hands of people who actually understand the area and have a knowledge of the issues. It will also remove a lot of the bureaucracy of this issue, which is something that plagues the development of local politics. All I hope, especially in Birmingham, is that the Councillors use the money wisely to develop projects to help the less fortunate and to boost employment as they are the key things that need to be tackled. I hope that they can do this without interference from the national government as insinuated. I also hope that they can be held accountable for their actions as well…

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Cameron – Leader of the Party, Leader of the Coalition or Leader of the Country?

The flip-flopping this weekend of David Cameron regarding an in/out referendum on the European Union is a been there, done that situation. We’ve heard about referendums before on Europe, most notably regarding a European Union Constitution under the Labour Party. We’ve even had an in/out referendum one time before in 1975 (one of only two national referendums) and the public voted to stay in the European Economic Community at the time. Times have changed. The European Union has developed and become a far more political beast than it ever was planned to be when the European Coal and Steel Community was created. It has a far bigger political role and the development of the Euro zone and the Euro as a currency has brought many countries closer together. Personally I believe that we are too invested within the European Union and it would cause a much bigger negative impact to pull out of it. The European Union can still be a positive force in terms of unifying Europe and bringing about positive developments. However, this issue of the European Union is causing a lot more problems for David Cameron in terms of his position.

One reason why David Cameron has called for a referendum has to be the fact that he is struggling to unify his own party, especially the backbenchers. It’s almost a weekly occurrence to hear of unrest among the backbenchers on a range of things and this has to be taking its toll on the Prime Minister. Arguably, if the Conservative Party had won the General Election outright, this would not have been as big of an issue as he could be far more accommodating of many of the right-wing conservative ideas that fall behind him. One of the big ideas from those backbenchers is that the European Union is taking too much power away from Britain, eroding at its sovereignty, and that the British government should pull itself away from Europe. There have been many calls in the press that UKIP actually convey more of the traditional Conservative Party ideas than the current leadership of the party, even so far as being said by chief Cameron/Osborne tormentor Nadine Dorries this past weekend. There is a very small chance that there may be a defection of Conservative Party members and supporters to a party that better represents their views. That’s why this claim by Cameron seems to be a token acknowledgement of the backbenchers to try and maintain their support and keep his party under him. Cameron is trying to be the tamer with his whip trying to tame the lion that is the Conservative right.

However, it was the phrase “when the time is right”, which really got me in the press. Firstly I hate that phrase. That almost always means that it will never happen and I wonder why it can’t be said outright that it is not wanted or that it will not be done. It wastes time and it wastes people’s’ opinions (even though I am spouting about it at the minute). The problem in this case though is that David Cameron has to tame his coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, as well as his own party. I think it’s very well-known that the Liberal Democrats are very much pro-European Union and very much pro integration. The members of the party will detest an in/out referendum and will fight tooth and nail to stop it. So it looks as though with the phrasing of Mr.Cameron’s words in the Sunday press are merely a way of trying to appease both sides of the Coalition. It is again a regular occurrence to hear David Cameron listen to his Tory backbenchers wanting to “ditch the Lib Dem menace” or “to get rid of the evil Lib Dem menace”. This would not be helpful to the Tories. Cameron knows this. One thing he isn’t is stupid. Hapless maybe but not stupid. He needs the Lib Dems because he knows that a Tory minority government would not be able to get bills passed and he will be held to account for these failings. It will be interesting to see how the next week will shape up with both parties of the coalition flexing their muscles with their differing views on Europe.

The other beast that David Cameron has to tame is the public. Ultimately his government is held accountable on their actions by the public. We are a democracy and we judge politicians on whether their actions help, aid or suit us. Now there is a broad mix of opinion on the European Union with a lot of people supporting our role in the European Union and many opposed to it. Many people want us to have a say in Europe and don’t want us to be isolated in terms of decision-making from the rest of Europe. Others believe that the European Union has taken too much sovereignty away from Britain and that we ourselves should pull out of Europe to regain sovereignty both politically and legally. As mentioned earlier, I fall into the former category. Part of the groundwork for European integration was trade agreements and preferential trading arrangements and I believe that is important especially when in an economic situation that we are in at the minute. We should be boosting our industries by focusing on these trade arrangements and putting money into them, which could in turn lead to creation of jobs. Have the government not learned from the austerity of the 1930s (surely that’s under Michael Gove’s History curriculum) that had us suffering  greatly until we boosted our military economies in 1938/1939, which led to unemployment beginning to go down. At the same time the USA and Germany spent money on their economies and they moved out of recession quicker than our National Government. I fear for these trade arrangements and businesses if we were to pull out of the European Union. Aside from that, David Cameron faces the eternal struggle of trying to appeal to all of the electorate on an area where they are so divisive.

So David Cameron faces his own Cerberus. Does he tame his party, his coalition or the country. This is why he is flip-flopping and sitting on the fence regarding the issue of the European Union and the mythical in/out referendum. He is the leader politically of all three of these bodies and has to tame them all. It’s a case of option A, option B or option C. However, this will not be resolved until he decides which of these bodies that he leads is his priority. That is the key. Then we will get an answer, an opinion, a decisive response from the Prime Minister. Either way he goes, he is going to face praise, and in turn face criticism, that’s the natural way with Politics. However he will show a backbone, which is something lacking at the minute.

Ed Miliband this week should be jumping all over this. He needs to be constantly pressing the Prime Minister, The Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats over this. He needs to be constantly pushing to get Cameron to give a decisive answer on this while offering up a unified Labour viewpoint. This is how he needs to demonstrate to the electorate that he could be a strong a decisive Prime Minister and that he could run a Labour government to help the people. Whether he does this though….

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