On Scottish Independence

September 8, 2014

Much has been said about the Scottish referendum on whether to carry on as part of Britain or go completely independent. Not living in Scotland, I do not have a vote, but I do, as always, have my opinion. I’ve seen very compelling arguments from both the ‘Yes’ for independence camp and the ‘No’ stay in the union supporters. I have also seen some untruths (or at least exaggerated claims) from both sides attacking the other. The ‘Yes’ side seem to be made up of a few very different viewpoints.

1) Those in Scotland who are fed up with England mainly deciding who governs them. The Tories are currently unpopular North of the border, and yet they are saddled with David Cameron as their Prime Minister due to the Conservatives having more seats in England. But this isn’t a reason for independence, rather an argument that our voting system needs reform to reflect the population better. Also, the very same reason could be put up to campaign for the North of England to separate from the South.

2) Those who want Scotland to go away and fail as a country in its own right. Not only is this a spurious reason to wish an end to the union, it is completely unfounded. PLENTY of smaller countries not only hold their own in the world, they excel! The Swiss and Norway spring to mind. Also, when Singapore was separated from Malaysia in 1965, many people predicted it would be the end for them. A few reforms later coupled with perseverance, and Singapore became an economic powerhouse with world-class public services (and enviable tax rates to boot). As for the currency, it is not unheard of for a nation to ‘peg’ it’s currency to a better known one. This is just one method Scotland could pursue.

3) Scots (and others) who believe that a few MPs in London cannot, even with best intentions, know what is best for a single parent in Edinburgh, a successful businesswoman in Dundee or a young couple starting out in Inverness. The complaints by many about the growing control of the EU is in a similar vein. And what about Scotland’s EU/UN membership? Well, if ‘Yes’ win, Scotland would have to reapply, but I’m sure the remaining countries of the UK would help their application. Independence wouldn’t happen until 2016 anyway, leaving time to sort out these details. Plus, the aforementioned Swiss & Norway have done well outside of the EU. Personally, I don’t want the Scots to leave. However, tradition alone should never be a reason to prevent progress. The anarchist in me is definitely on the side of those who are told ‘you can’t do that!’. Plus, if something rattles the elites, it is usually a good thing. As a fan of less centralisation and more devolved power to local authorities, the ‘Yes’ movement offers a whole new set of possibilities, not just for Scotland but for other independence movements in the world (think Tibet, for example). So if I had a vote, I might very well be voting ‘Yes’ to independence.


Same Sex Marriage Could Change Everything…And So It Should!

October 10, 2012

One of the hottest social issues at the moment is whether the state should allow same-sex partners to marry. Now, some have pointed out that homosexual couples now have the option to have a Civil Partnership so what is all the fuss about the term ‘marriage’? Well, as many now know, there are a couple of differences, though, thankfully, some have been ‘redressed’ (for example, the Inheritance tax ‘break’ for married heterosexuals now applies to couples of the same-sex if they have been in a civil partnership. The main difference, though, is in the details. You cannot legally call your civil partner a spouse on documents. You will still have to make sure you put in your will that you want your partner to receive your ‘estate’ in the event of your death, whereas in a heterosexual marriage this is done automatically. And a big one, is that churches are divided on whether they could permit civil partnerships as marriages, as this would go against the grain of their beliefs. Notice not all churches have this complaint, and not all churches are protesting for the same reasons.

But it would be a myth to suggest the only opposition to legal gay marriage is from religious institutions. In fact there are many people around who hold to no faith, who still think society as we know it would come crumbling down around our very ears should two women or two men decided they love each other so much they want to make a social and personal commitment to one another. People who do hold to such beliefs should stop and really think ‘Has prohibiting same-sex marriage stopped people being gay?’ The answer, obviously, is NO. because gay sexuality has been around as far as we can look back in time, just as heterosexuality. The same as when it was illegal in this country to be homosexual (which was decriminalised not legalised – a big difference), were there suddenly more gay people when the law changed? There may have seemed to be more openly gay people in society, but that’s because they no longer had to hide.

It appears that there is a massive consensus in the UK to allow people of whatever gender to marry each other if they wish to. If you don’t like gay marriage, then don’t have one. The point being that in a liberal democracy (and being a Classic Liberal in my personal politics) then an adult should be free to do as they please, as long as they bring no unprovoked harm to another. So what about churches and Christians who do not wish to perform a marriage ceremony in their buildings because they are bound by their scriptures or superiors, etc? Well, the view stated above applies to ALL, so churches and other religious institutions should never be forced to go against what they believe and practice. So what is the answer here?

In my view, we should be starting a process to separate church and state. that way, the state cannot force itself onto religious institutions and conversely religion cannot then do the same to democratically elected governments. there are e-petitions you can sign on this issue (as well as any other issue you wish to help prompt a debate in Parliament about) so sign them if you believe the same, contact your MP, convince people, be British and write a letter to someone, ANYONE! Think about the consequences – there would be freedom of religion, without the constrictions of years of antiquity allowing church superiors to dominate certain political debates. religious people would still have their say, and it would be up to those who run the church buildings whether they wish to perform a gay marriage or not. They would be allowed to use their own discretion. But the law defining marriage could then be changed to include same-sex as well as different sex, couples, and a homosexual couple could then legitimately refer to their married partner as their spouse.

Despite Christian’s protests at this suggestion of separation of Church and State, they would do well to look back at history at times when their religion has attained political power. It makes far from pleasant reading, from Constantine instituting it as an official Roman Empire Religion and corrupting with his Sun Worship, Henry VIII changing it to what he liked and destroying monasteries, the whole Dark Ages, the Inquisition, Galileo persecuted, scandals at the Roman Catholic Church involving superiors, I could go on. Christianity is a religion that has flourished when it has been ‘organic’, bottom-up and great when not seeking political power. It’s not just Christianity. Institutionalised Islam has kept a great many from freedom of choice and we see ‘The Opiate Of The Masses’ demonstrated with Bin Laden and Co. You can’t ban religion, and nor should any government attempt to. But also you shouldn’t be for banning freedom of thought, freedom to make your own decisions, freedom of expression or, indeed with this topic, freedom to love.

AV and the First Past the Post myth

May 5, 2011

Apparently, one of the ‘sinchers’ of Britain’s Liberal Democrats entering into a coalition government with the Conservative Party was the promise of a nationwide referendum on the country adopting the ‘Alternative Vote’ system of deciding elections. Britain has used the First Past The Post way of deciding elections since time immemorial, but in recent years many people have become warm to the idea of changing the way we in this country choose our MP’s (especially as the Liberal Democrats and other parties have gained in popularity). In the past, it used to be a straight choice between the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. Now Britain has become a ‘three party’ political scene (and even then the Lib Dems being continuously the third of the three) maybe the old FPTP system is not so representative?

Certainly, it’s been a constant complaint in recent General Elections that people would choose to vote Lib Dem but they didn’t in the end as they believed that the Party didn;t have a hope in winning. So they have relied on ‘tactical’ voting. In other words, voting for the party they think would be ‘least worst’. Meaning, of course, that the candidate they eventually plumped for is not actually the one they wanted. This is where the ideal of ‘democracy’ becomes blurred, and indeed, is the reason why alternative systems of voting have been implemented in other areas, ranging from the Alternative Vote (on offer in Britain’s referendum), Proportional Representation and the Single Transferable Vote (and even different methods of those just listed in some places).

Consequently, we have arrived at a point in time where British voters will now have an oppurtunity to have their say on what system they think is better (or, more accurately, least worst) for choosing their representatives. This has seen much campaigning from both the ‘Yes’ camp (Pro AV) and the ‘No’ camp (Pro FPTP). I have received much literature through my door, and seen the billboard posters and television advertisements pertaining to this issue. And, unfortunately, I have also witnessed the hyperbole that’s gone along with it. Both sides have some good points to make, but these are then blasted out of the water by either the No camp’s picture of a newborn baby quoting “we need more maternity units, not an Alternative Voting system”, or the Yes camp’s tv advertisement with a WWII veteran stating that he may as well have died! Over the top? Welcome to British politics at the moment! But this makes an interesting point in itself – if politics has got to the stage  where our representatives feel they have to win our votes through such heavy hitting ‘scare stories’, then maybe it IS about time we were having this debate.

So, at no cost to the taxpayer, here goes my analysing of the arguments that have been floated in relation to this topic.

  • ‘It will cost the country lots of money!’, So does EVERY election. Does the expense mean that we should do away with the very idea of democracy itself, then? After all, Colonel Gaddaffi seems to have been in charge a fair amount of time without holding elections. And things are rosy in Libya, yes? Utter PISH for an argument.
  • ‘Only three countries in the world use AV’ Does this fact in itself mean it’s a bad thing, then? How many other countries have actually held a referendum about adopting AV, or even about changing the voting system by another means? Find out the answer to that question before spouting this often used-hardly thought out statistic.
  • ‘It’s too complicated for people to understand’ The Prime Minister himself, David Cameron, used this argument (and is not alone in saying it). In actual fact it is quite a condescending thing to say. Basically it reckons most voters are too stupid to be able to be trusted with it. Insulting, to say the least, especially when it’s followed up with the fact that ‘only’ Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Australia use the AV system. Calling those countries ‘stupid’ won’t further the No camp’s justification for keeping FPTP.
  • ‘It should be ‘one person-one vote’ Apparently, the No camp also think that some people will have more ballot papers than others for this to be true. Under AV, you will still only get one ballot paper, and you will still only be able to make your choice once. Fair enough, you get to list your preferences under AV, but still it is only THAT ONE PERSON’S preferences. You can’t do it more than once, and everybody gets the same chance to make their choice.
  • ‘Only First Past The Post gives the correct winner because the candidate who gets the most votes, wins’ This is rather like a sleight of hand argument, that is used to try to catch people out. Like some of the No camp’s posters depicting the person finishing last in a race being declared the winner under AV. In fact ‘First Past The Post’ is the wrong term for the current system. It is more accurately ‘Nearest To The Post’ as there is no benchmark for any of the candidate’s to reach. Meaning that a candidate can be declared the winner and given keys to help run the country with just one vote more than the runner-up. Under the proposed AV system, the ‘Post’ is set as 50%. If no candidate gets 50% or more of the votes, then the person who finished last’s 2nd preferences are added to the others’ votes. This will keep going until there is a CLEAR majority winner. In other words, the candidate who wins the election under AV will have a clear mandate to go to Parliament and implement her/his policies. This will avoid the current electorial absurdity where the winner can be elected with, say, 35% of all votes when 65% of the voters backed someone else.

As you can probably tell, I am favouring the Yes to AV campaign. Don’t get me wrong, I think AV is a flawed voting system, too. In my opinion it should be the runner-up’s second preferences that are counted first, then the third placed, and so on. However, I still believe the AV method on offer at this referendum will add some much-needed legitimacy to the way we in Britain select our representatives.

And as a final note, I would point out that most ‘Establishment’ figures, MP’s and newspapers wish to continue with FPTP. Well, Turkey’s wouldn’t vote for Christmas, would they? The possibility of eroding some of the country’s ‘safe’ seats is also a tempting reason to vote YES to AV, too.

At the end of the day, the Alternative Vote is not perfect. But what system DOESN’T have its critics? And if the pro-FPTP win in the upcoming referendum, then you know it will be GENERATIONS before another election on the voting system will come along, as this will be held up as proof that people don’t wish to change the way our MP’s are elected. Just think of the 1975 referendum on Britain joining the European Common Market being used as justification for Britain being in the EU (when survey after survey shows most Britain’s want out). A vote for AV on May 5th may just send a message that the British public DO want change. And we may see a difference in behaviour from our politicians. Remember, I said ‘MAY’. But it would be a pretty difficult message for them to ignore.

A Liberal Argues Against Votes For Prisoners

February 10, 2011

Giving prisoners the right to vote in elections has proved a contentious issue in the UK. While others have been more warm to the proposal, the flurry of excitement from the right-wing press would lead one to believe that this reform is tantamount to the end of society as we know it. The fact that it is a ruling from the European Union seems to add fuel to an already towering inferno. So let’s look at the rationale behind this proposed reform.

To stop prisoners being disenfranchised, it is said, will help with their reintegration into society, as well as perhaps giving them some incentive to get educated about social-political matters. And let’s not forget that in a democracy, voting is a basic human right regardless of who you are or where you happen to be. This is all good, but is it justification for giving serving inmates the vote? My answer is no. I don’t think the case holds water.

What is the role of prison’s in the first place? It is to house those who have been found guilty by their peers of a criminal act, punishable by a stay in jail.the length of the stay depends on the nature of the crime. But let us not forget that prisons should be much more than a place to house criminals until their time is served. Yes, it takes a criminal off of the streets and keeps them and the public separated. In so doing it means they cannot commit a crime against society during their stay (and also prevents society from taking its own retribution against the one who has committed an offence).  Punishment is, of course, one of the main objectives of prison, but it should not be the only one. Equally, rehabilitation should be part of its agenda. Otherwise, what will prison release back into the free world besides a criminal that has been on a break? Education, targeted recreational activities and reward schemes are a MUST to people on the inside, if prison’s are to work in any meaningful way. The person who has served their time will be able to have some qualifications and hopefully an understanding of why they were there in the first place and how to avoid such a fate again. Society gains from a newly skilled individual in the job market as well as a someone who should have no desire to end up back inside (who can also use their experience to dissuade others, mainly younger members of society, from ending up on the same path).

No, not all former prisoners end up rehabilitated, and some have no desire even aim for that. It is a way of life. But anyone that’s engaged with someone who’s either been inside or still serving, it is not a situation they enjoy being in. The onus is always on the one convicted to WANT to change, but society must take up its responsibility and provide the means for the inmate to do so.

And so we come to the main tool that a prison has – The ability to take away an individual’s freedom. If you are convicted of a crime(s) and it is thought to be serious enough to be sent to jail, then your liberty is severely curtailed. This can be thought of as a contract between a citizen and the State/society. We know our rights, and any intentional transgression will result in jail – basically meaning that the choice is ours. I have no problem with that (besides the fact that in the UK we are NOT citizens and actually have very little rights, but that’s another issue). So if a person chooses to commit a criminal offense , they run the risk of losing their freedom. But if they can’t do the time, the saying goes, then don’t do the crime!

And this is the crux of the argument for giving prisoners the vote. Should loss of freedoms mean loss of  the right to participate in elections? I would argue YES. It was the choice of the person who is now in prison to carry out their deed, knowing the consequence. Rehabilitation should be vital in any prison system/ treatment of criminals. Would giving them the vote work to this end? I don’t think it would. They will get their right to vote back, ONCE their debt to society is paid. In the meantime, rehab can be approached in a variety of other reforms – improving education in prisons, drug treatment programmes to be provided by ALL prisons, recreational activities that can help them discover skills and create interests that might lead to work once on the outside, and improving availability to informative reading material and television programmes are just some of the ways this process can be helped along. It is important that a person’s self-worth is to be boosted following their previous life-style choice. If someone is treated as ‘scum’ then why should they have any incentive to change? They may as well carry on trying to be the best at being the worst.

But my main argument for rehabilitation is that it only truly starts from realising that what you have done was wrong, combined with a desire to change, and an acknowledgement that you are inside through no other fault than your own. Your life may have been tough (which is why counselling services should ALWAYS be provided inside) but ultimately a choice was made to commit a criminal act. This also means accepting the loss of liberty that has resulted from your actions as fair. And that should include the loss of the right to participate at the ballot box. True rehabilitation should never mean giving major freedoms back and hoping the person will change. It starts from the individual, and should work its way from there, with freedoms being returned once acceptance of their current condition and a desire to change is well on the way. This is called discipline. It is something that we are familiar with from when we are born and in every other major area of life. Why should prisoners be an exception to this?

Who Should Lead Labour?

September 7, 2010

Maybe this post comes a little late in the day for this topic, but I the feedback I get from many people who are in/support the Labour Party, is that they are still not sure who would be the best person to vote for.

Now, let me point out at the start, that I am NOT a Labour-ite and haven’t backed them for the last two elections. So please don’t expect an impassioned plea from a died-in-the-wool socialist, or a piece written with Red-Rose tinted glasses. That said, as one of the ‘Big Two’ political parties in Britain (and having spent 13 years in power till May this year) Labour DO matter in this country. Labour have proved that they are capable of running the country, have brought about some significant changes that are here to stay (minimum wage, devolution, student fees, etc), and as a person who believes that governments should serve its citizens I want a strong, vociferous, credible opposition. Even if they are wrong in most of what they say. For the sake of healthy British politics, it is vital that those voting for Labour’s next leader get this right. Or else, Labour could well go the way of the Tories under a succession of ineffective leaders and spend years out of power. Or even the way of the historical Liberal Party, and tear itself apart until it becomes an also-ran in General Elections.

The best way to sum up the pros and cons of each is by listing those involved and giving an analysis.

David Miliband – The favourite at the moment, and not surprising given his fast rise in the Party, and the fact he has rubbed shoulders with top Labour members, both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown for example. What he has going for him is his ability maintain a high-profile figure despite Labour’s recent election loss and unpopularity at the moment. He talks a good game, and has been a key player since around 1994, even helping to draft Labours’s successful 1997 manifesto. His sharpness has been commented on by many. All this gives leads to believe he could get to the top, but would he be any good. The priority of the next leader will be to unite the party and get a vision for them to bond with and fight for in the public arena. The elder Miliband brother has emphasised his differences with those he once served, and is prepared to stick to unpopular ideas, such as agreeing with Alistair Darling’s proposed cuts and stating he would not seek to liberalise union laws any further, which show he has his principles, too. The last thing Labour should go after is a populist, whose weaknesses will come undone at the first hurdle by the Coalition government. David Miliband is certainly one to consider as he has been there, seen it, and seen how it can go wrong. And if he doesn’t get the top job, whoever does needs to ensure he is put in a decent cabinet position, maybe chancellor.

Ed Miliband – The younger Miliband brother has been making all the right noises, and is another one who has been at the top and had some pretty important jobs. He was charged with writing the 2010 manifesto, and has risen to a very high-profile position in just five years. Just as impressive is his ‘common touch’ and the fact that he seems to have a knack for cutting to the chase and getting his point across in interviews that appear to try to ‘trap’ him. Again, an important aspect for any new leader. However, I do not like the fact that he has attempted to play himself as the maverick MP, who disagreed with the last governments seeming ‘war’ on civil liberties. Where was he complaining at the time? He claims he would have been against the Iraq invasion. Again, it’s not been on his list of priorities to speak out about it since his rise to public figure. Also, it’s a tad nauseating to see him reaching out to Liberal Democrat members in a manner that seems to suggest that Lib Dems are (and always have been) disgruntled Labour voters. It’s insulting, and more to the point, shows that he is not beyond playing the ever-changing populist. Definitely not what Labour should be looking for.

Ed Balls – Full of energy, and never shy in a debate, Mr. Balls certainly gives off the charisma that you would want in a leader. Also, the well-known fact that he was a key advisor to then-chancellor Gordon Brown shows he has experience of dealings at the top-level (especially the claim that it was his advice that played a big part in Brown  deciding that Britain should remain outside the euro-currency). Being Schools Secretary for a few years he showed he can handle himself in a responsible job, and many say he has had the better of his opposite number Michael Gove on more than one occasion since Labour lost power in May. My main concern with Mr. Balls is his seemingly dishonesty  with his deficit denial. On the economy, he seems to basically ignore all the evidence that says Britain IS in a bad shape, and urgent action is needed. But his insistence that ‘there is an alternative’ seems to just be ‘more government spending to create jobs, through more borrowing’. If this isn’t at least slightly dishonest, then it is definitely economic illiteracy. And Mr. Balls should be ignored at the leadership ballot.

Diane Abbott – She is passionate, well spoken, and probably the most likely of all the other candidates that the average person can relate to in her life experiences. However, does this make her the right person for the job? In my opinion, she is another deficit denier, and although her crusades to protect the public sector and restore civil liberties are commendable, it seems to be distracting her from the other main issues of how to balance the country’s books again and modernise the Labour Party to get in tune with the rest of the Globalised world. Ms. Abbott self-confesses to be on the left of the party, and while this may connect with the ‘hard-core’ Labour loyalist, it will do nothing to bring back the voters who deserted them in favour of David Cameron’s Conservative party or the businesses that trusted Labour with their votes from 1997 onwards. In my opinion, she is a Manchurian Candidate, that the more centrist members of Labour want to see put up to show how better the others are. If Labour veer to the left, it could end up in a much worse state. Think of when, in 1980, Labour had the choice of electing a moderate, centre-left candidate in either Denis Healy or Peter Shore they went for thoroughly left-wing Michael Foot. And spent almost 20 years in exile, while Margaret Thatcher’s Tories got even stronger, aided by this fact.  In addition to this, her decision to send her son to a private school (while criticising then-Prime Minister Tony Blair for doing the same) was hypocritical, and proved that on matters of principal, is she right for the job? Also, her decision to play the ‘race card’ in attempting to defend her choice to do so was weak. These reasons are why, if I had a vote in this contest, it would not be for Ms. Abbott.

Andy Burnham – Last on my list, but by no means least, is Mr. Burnham. Up until recently, he was declared a possible ‘lightweight’ for this position. However, since his official campaign, his momentum has been ‘snowballing’ and now has a genuine chance, even if he is not the favourite. He has had a few jobs since ‘New’ Labour first gained power in 1997, and proved himself credible in all. He worked his way up the ranks in a traditional manner, from researcher, to working for  political offices and being promoted on merit to Health Secretary (albeit for less than a year due to the 2010 Election). He has done what a Labour MP should be doing by campaigning and promoting a public service, the NHS, and highlighting the differences that his party offered and what the others would do. In debates he has got people who were undecided before, to come around to his thinking, and, despite one or two disagreements with the left of the party on his law and order record, he is a committed, principled Labour politician. And the main aspect that stands him out from all the others is his solid vision that he has been promoting. That of ‘Aspirational Socialism’. Now, whether you’re a socialist or not, it certainly shows that he has an idea of what he wants Labour to be, and where he will be taking it. He has not been forcing through anti-deficit slogans, but at the same time shows that he wants to be a defender of public sector jobs. He may be trying to connect with the ‘typical’ Labour voter, but shows that he understands the need for incentives for people and businesses to prosper in life. For those who say he may be too lowbrow for the position, have a look at Tony Blair pre-1994. He wasn’t most people’s idea for Opposition leader, let alone possible Prime Minister. But he did it, through clever alliances, hard-hitting speeches and, let’s face it, pushing through his own vision of what Labour should be and where he wanted it to go. Mr. Burnham would be my first choice. And if David Miliband was given a prominent position in his choice of cabinet, even better.

The Absurdity Of Democracy

August 29, 2010

We all love democracy in the Western world, don’t we? All our major political parties try to outdo each other on how democratic they are, and how the electorate’s voice MUST be listened to and how privileged we are to live in a ‘free’ country because of what ‘they’ have done. But I have been thinking – is this system of democracy (that dates back to the societies of Ancient Greece, as far as I’m aware) REALLY all that? Additionally, is this ‘democracy’ attainable? I mean, in Great Britain we have General Elections every now and then. Fair, right? Apparently not. Now I’m informed that the First Past The Post system of electing our representatives may not be democratic enough. Essentially, I’m discovering, democracy is pure populism.

This leads to a bizarre system whereby what the majority of people demand, they can usually get. Despite the fact that some of those things being demanded could be wrong. Hear me out. Way back, MOST people used to believe the sun went around the earth. There was even a prosecution brought against Galileo Galilei by the Pope when he begun to teach otherwise. So, what we have there (in an admittedly crude form) is a place where democracy led to a nasty stain on Church history, and hampered scientific development. This may be more of argument against select interests having disproportionate power, but my point still stands. Namely that because most people believe something to be right, doesn’t necessarily make it so.  

In recent times, most of the electorate have been increasingly seeking for their politicians to be more ‘heavy handed’ on immigration (and not just the illegal variety, either). There are arguments for this. However, looking through the actual statistics and history of countries that have been freer on allowing immigration, in my opinion it works out as a positive, on the whole. I mean, immigrants fill jobs that the indigenous population tend to avoid. This can give a service that would otherwise go unprovided, and also helps with the tax burden for a particular country. In addition to this, immigrants can arrive in another country with different ideas, which in their country of origin they could not have got the funding or momentum to put into practice. Think of ‘Google’ and ‘Intel’ – both successful companies started by immigrants [Sergey Brin; Russia & Andy Grove; Hungary, respectively). Plus, all the evidence indicates that Britain’s 13 years of economic ‘boom’ was aided significantly by immigrants in the workforce. (And for the nay-sayers, it’s also been suggested that had it NOT been for immigrant workers, we may have been in recession sooner, for the above reasons).

But now – due to people seeing immigration as a threat to domestic jobs, or as a potential import of terrorism – politicians from the main parties (with a notable exception from the Liberal Democrats during the last election) have vowed to clamp down on it. In other words, they know how beneficial it can be, but have to worry about courting votes.

So, essentially, democracies are just countries run by populism. And as the winners of most X-Factor television shows can attest, popularity can be fleeting – often with people wondering what on earth they were doing thinking that back then. Populism isn’t always good when two wolves and a sheep are voting on what to have for dinner. Unless you’re a wolf, of course. No wonder voting turnouts are getting lower year on year. 

We are always encouraged to vote at election time for such reasons as ‘people died so we could vote’. People died fighting for fascism. Should we indulge in that, too? People fought to retain the British Empire. Should all British people today be campaigning to get those countries back under British rule? NO and NO.

I will defend capitalism, with all its faults, as the best system designed in history to create wealth, and maximise human potential. As for democracy, I will speak up for it as the least worst system of government. Well, I suppose democracies don’t tend to go to war with each other. And if governments get too big for their boots, and go against the grain too often (for example, starting wars that they haven’t planned how to finish, introduce ID cards and fritter away the country’s money) then they WILL get thrown out. So, how can we ensure that our representatives do the right thing? Change our MP’s as regularly as possible? Well, there’d be no continuity. Plus, they might actually be doing a good job.

I’ll leave on the idea that Milton Friedman suggested about change in politics. He argued against the need to change Congress. He just said you need to make it politically profitable so that the wrong person was voting for the right things! May sound like a call to corruption. But I like to think that if an MP’s career is threatened by loss of enough votes, even he or she will vote against wrong things eventually. Just for your information, I’m pro-Alternative Vote to keep them on their toes in Westminster (and hopefully erode some ‘safe seats’). But democracy IS daft. Isn’t it? Tell me your views below. Whatever the majority say, I’ll go with it!

The Joyless Honeymoon

August 18, 2010

I wanted to write something on the first 100 days of the Coalition government. Usually this is referred to as a ‘Honeymoon’ period as an incoming government can enjoy the fact that they are not the previous party. However, in these times of doom and gloom what we were told is to expect a lot worse before things get better. I actually liked this fact, as I (and I’m sure many others) are tired of someone promising us the earth at election time and then reality hitting when it turns out they cannot (and never really expected to) deliver (see also Barack Obama).

I won’t hide the fact that the economy was the most important issue for me at the election just gone, and was the main reason I decided to back the Conservatives this time around, despite my Liberal values. Despite their anti-immigrant rhetoric, their reluctance to address voting reform and history of basically ignoring the lower paid in typically ‘working class’ parts of the country, they were the first, and only, party to address the need for austerity and announce much-needed ‘cuts’ to help the country recover. So when it emerged that we would have a Tory/Lib Dem coalition running the country, I was probably more optimistic than most (and still am, I’m happy to say).

This first 100 days has seen a lot of promise. Finally tax credits will be given to those who can benefit from them instead of given to everyone, including millionaires. And it looks as though other benefits will now be subject to the same treatment. Good. Another policy I will be happy to see come to fruition is the ‘free’ schools idea, whereby if parents are unhappy with the school currently on offer then they can start off a new one with money from the government following each pupil. So no extra cost, but ‘competition’ added to an area which much needs it.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, has shown himself to be willing to put himself in the firing line by his bold Emergency Budget, which raised VAT and froze public sector pay for at least two years. His cutting of the Corporation Tax, to become a record low of 24% within four years, and extension of the enterprise guarantee scheme is an indication that he is hoping that the private sector will be able to step up and drive the economy back to steady growth. Let’s hope it does.

On another area, the Coalition’s setting up of an inquiry investigating the possible use of torture of terrorism subjects abroad is a sign of how much LESS Conservative the government is socially than Labour are. Ditto the (correct choice) to scrap I.D cards, David Cameron offering the first true apology after the Saville Reports findings over Bloody Sunday, and Deputy PM Nick Clegg’s (admittedly personal view) statement the invasion of Iraq was illegal.

Coalitions can be a lot of fun when they start up. For example, we actually have a Liberal Democrat running the country while Mr. Cameron’s away, leading us all to wonder how he’ll do. Also, we’ve all secretly been placing mental bets on when the slight chips in the join will rip apart completely (or even if it will) and will the Tories and Lib Dems be running as Coalition candidates at next election? But when it comes down to it, whoever’s running the place we need to hope gets it right.

I thought ‘New’ Labour had a brilliant first term in office, and the way they approached government appealed to a classic Liberal like myself – promoting the idea that successful capitalism and social justice would go hand-in-hand. But look where it ended up.

In conclusion, I’d say the first 100 days of government may be the honeymoon, but it’s not a cast iron guarantee of how it will continue to run things. And often, honeymoons can be where the first major falling outs between couples occur. My verdict – So far, so good. But we must wait before anyone starts hailing the Coalition as any more than that.

Ground Zero Tolerence

August 14, 2010

I don’t think I’ve heard more contentious debate in the last week than about the proposed mosque building near the Ground Zero site of the 9/11 attacks. While I think it’s probably newsworthy, what has struck me in a lot of the comments is that, less than 10 years after it happened, it has become a matter of “us” and “them” in a way that pre-9/11 was not as pronounced.

New York is a fine example of an integrated community, and one of the best models to show how immigration can hugely benefit a city (in prosperity, in community, in shared emotion, in innovation, new ideas, in business, etc). This issue may very well stop all this. That, in my opinion, would be a shame and the end of a very long era. While I can emphasise with the feelings of a lot of people here, we all need some perspective before jumping to (incorrect) conclusions.

First of all, MUSLIMS WERE AMONG THE VICTIMS OF SEPTEMBER 11TH 2001. Have we forgotten this? Some of the most outrageous views espoused over this seem to be saying “it was the Muslims who did this, so why should THEY have a building in OUR city?” And that is plain wrong! Why can’t the people of New York who happen to follow the Islamic religion have a place of worship because of what some deluded man far away orchestrated? It’s not even logical. If I was to go on a power trip, think I was on a mission from the God of the Bible and successfully carry out an attack on someone’s property, should all Christians carry blame? Should we deny any church building projects in the area because of MY criminal act? In fact, in Nigeria, there have been attacks on Muslim cattle herders by Christian Taroks, leaving up to 300 dead. So, should we point the finger at dear little Doris in the congregation of my local Anglican church? Of course not! 

I’m sure there are a lot of people reading this who just say “get rid of religion and you get rid of war”. If only it were that simple, huh? Truth is those statements throw the baby out with the bath water. And many more people in the world follow a religious belief than those who do not, with the vast majority of them despising war. So, let’s learn to live with it, and learn how much we have in common. That might do a lot more good than letting the anti-West Taliban score a massive advantage by being able to “show” that America is against Islam because it will block the building of a mosque. By having this mosque built, it will show many things.

But none more important than New York, and the U.S.A, being able to show that it’s citizens suffered TOGETHER on 9/11, have recovered TOGETHER and the Taliban have achieved NOTHING in their attack! As Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, atheists, humanists, whatever will continue to get along in the city that never sleeps just as they did before 9/11.

(For a list of the muslim victims of 9/11 see http://islam.about.com/blvictims.htm)

Tackling the deficit should mean tackling old mindsets, too

August 11, 2010

Most media outlets have been publicising the Coalition government’s new proposals to crack down on benefit fraud. And rightly so. It’s a menace that feeds the greed and idleness of those that participate in it, and prevents money from being directed to those who are in genuine need.

However, don’t get me wrong, there are PLENTY of other things this government can be getting on with and focusing on for precisely the same reasons. Tax evasion, for example, costs this country approximately £15 billion. So I would like to see an effort rolled out, with just as much vigor, to try to stamp this out. But why stop there? Let’s have a look at other things that cost Great Britain and, for which, we might be able to save a few quid in these times of austerity. Here’s a list of figures from official sources on things this country spend on which we could probably forgo:

Cost of keeping the monarchy to Britain – Officially £38.2 million. But that’s without taking into consideration security arrangements and the use of the army at Royal parades, etc. True cost (according to ‘REPUBLIC’) could be as high as £150 million. Start a process of ending the archaic, undemocratic, EXPENSIVE, tradition.

Cost of Britain’s membership of the EU – Officially £6.4 billion. And we’re told that we get value for money, it helps our place in the world and assists trade, blah, blah, blah. Well the true cost, after combining the amount paid by businesses to comply with their regulations, food costs due to the despicable Common Agricultural Policy, fishing business who’ve lost out due to the Common Fisheries Policy, amongst others could be around £65 billion. The UK could easily start having a debate about ending membership, and entering into TRUE free-trade agreements elsewhere.

Cost of Britain’s ‘War’ on Drugs- Figures differ, but most reliable sources put the average at around £4 billion spent on attempts to reduce supply, tackle dealers, etc. Considering that the illicit drugs market is as big as it’s ever been and that prices of them are continuing to fall it’s obvious that current approach is not only failing, but it has never worked. Surely far more effective (and cheaper) to start a process of legalisation and regulation of these drugs, This will have the effect choking out the criminal gangs at the top, and for people on the street to get safer, monitored, narcotics thus reducing chance of OD’ing, taking some bad stuff or having to turn to a life of crime to fund their habit. And for some much-needed tax revenues to come in from it.

Which returns me to my point. These ideas are ripe for consideration. But until old mindsets are broken, until some decent politicians are prepared to put their beliefs before their salary and put forward such proposals, then lets carry on focusing on benefit cheats that cause about 1% of government waste.

New Foot-And-Mouth Epidemic: David Cameron

August 9, 2010

It seems that getting British Prime Minister David Cameron to speak out on anything ranging from Iran to a seemingly innocuous statement on football and chances are you’ll be reading about a ‘gaffe’ in the next day’s press.

The thing is we LOVE politicians that can’t publicly speak without putting their foot in it! That’s the impression anyway given the election of Cameron as PM, Boris Johnson as Mayor of London and, the biggest Gaffe-Daddy of all, George W. Bush as President of the U.S.

To be honest, I think we all like a giggle at the ‘stupidity’ of our politicians, and there are different levels of ‘gaffes’. But in their positions of power, it’s actually quite serious. Boris’ stuttering, over-familiar style may make good television, but when the coffers are running dry, it doesn’t make for good leadership of our capital city. And the PM provoking Iran is not really a sensible move, however unintended.

In Cameron’s defence, his words have not been linked to any upcoming policies, or show if his idea of government is to take a dramatic turn anytime soon. Unless you count his un-diplomatic comments on Pakistan not being able to “look both ways” on terrorism. However, there are many people who believe this is the case (myself being one of them), and this cannot be called a gaffe, or slip of the tongue. It was intentional, designed in my opinion, to get maximum impact on something he thought needed to get ‘out there’ and discussed.

My point is that, while politicians’ words are subject to extra scrutiny (as they should be) we need to look at the off the cuff remarks that might indicate where they are heading politically and socially, rather than the silly ‘Boris-isms’. Mr. Cameron may have ‘mis-spoke’ a few things that would rank him with the gaffe-prone ex-President Bush on silly quotes.

Let’s hope his actions on the international stage will not leave him compared to the internationally disastrous George W.