Sunday, 31 May 2009

Go Fig!

Amazing, this revelation from the Sunday Times today. Apparently someone in the House of Commons was authorised to rent, for the new House of Commons extension, twelve fig trees at a cost of £40,000 a year! Why MPs believe that this would be considered as proper use of tax payers money is a complete mystery. As the Americans might say, go figure.
But hang on a minute. Is this not just another example of how completely wasteful our Westminster machine has become? Not only that, I bet there are other examples of ludicrous and expensive rentals yet to be discovered. While the little people suffer the consequences of an economic slump, our money is being frittered on maintaining twelve of the most hardy and fecund trees in the world. We have complete forests that don't have that much money spent on them. In fact trees were around and happily looking after themselves millions of years before man and money saw the light of day.
There is no justification for spending such outrageous sums, even in the most affluent of times. The average salary in the UK is £22,000, almost half what it is costing the taxpayer to look after trees that they won't even see, let alone be able to afford. There is clearly a need for Ministers of Parliament to investigate whatever department thought this was a reasonable thing to do and stop these hair-brained and needlessly expensive contracts.
The Government needs to put the fruits of our labour to much better use than renting a dozen trees for their pleasure. The Americans might say 'go figure' but the UK tax payer is feeling far from philosophical at the moment. Forget go figure. We demand 'go fig'.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

We Live in Insulting Times

Today David Cameron rejected Alan Johnson's idea to hold a referendum on electoral reform (The Times) saying "Proportional Representation takes power away from the man and woman in the street and hands it to the political elites".

Turn over a few pages and Mr Cameron says in his speech on political reform that people are not just angry at the expenses abuse but "...they are the result of people's slow but sure realisation that they have very little control over the world around them and over much that determines whether or not they'll live happy and fulfilling lives".

So why is that then Mr Cameron? Is it perhaps because, under this First Past the Post system that power has been taken away from the man and woman in the street and handed to the political elites?

And anyway, what's all this about people's slow but sure realisation? How insulting is that? The electorate are much shrewder than you think and it is one of the reasons why people press for electoral reform, vote for different political persuasion or, as in many cases, don't vote at all!

If this is the Prime Minister of the future we are all going to hell in a handbag.

What the little people need is for the politician we vote for to represent the people and not be press-ganged into voting what the party wants. Otherwise we might as well just vote for a party and say who cares what MP represents us if they are all going to vote the same way as all the other MPs?

The Conservative Party and the Labour Party have too much of a strangle hold over our country. They are the political elite and we have had enough of being ignored. The so-called progressive Conservatives still want to abnegate the responsibility for anything and Labour wants to control everything. Neither way has worked in the past and it will not work in the future. Yes we need a new kind of politics but I believe we may need new political bodies to achieve the kind of change that the people want to see.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Real Proportional Representation

Monday, 25 May 2009

25 May 2009Alan Johnson is right about the public mood of anger and disquiet over the way MPs have abused the system of second home allowances (‘The Times’ today). They had a year to change it but decided not to (see All At Our Expense). I have no doubt that Labour MPs, staring into the abyss of an uncertain future and possibly having to come to terms with suddenly not being an MP anymore, would welcome the opportunity to cling onto power in any way possible. So is it not just an amazing coincidence that Labour politicians, fearing that their pedestal of power is about to be kicked from under them, would leap onto the bandwagon of Proportional Representation that they kicked, without a second thought, into the long grass back in 1998?
OK, I agree that some form of Proportional Representation is better than our current First Past The Post (FPTP) system but not if it only serves to pay lip service to the idea. In 1998 the ‘Jenkins Report’ came up with a system of ‘Alternative Vote Plus’ (AVP). Alan Johnson proposes to suggest we have a referendum weighing FPTP against AVP. Why is that? What is wrong with throwing a number of systems into the melting pot that satisfy the criteria that the Jenkins Commission followed? Does he think that the electorate is too silly to make up its own mind or does he fear that we would pick one that does not suit a particular political party or changes the balance of power in favour of the people? Why can’t we have a proper open competition on electoral reform?
In 2007 I proposed a system of PR on my website. I posted a copy to the Electoral Reform Society and they politely ignored me. Never the less I posted it on my own web site for anyone to scrutinize. See ‘New Voting System’. Let’s look at how my system sits against the guide lines given to the Jenkins Commission. The statements in italics represent the criteria by which the AVP system was devised.
‘The maintenance of a geographical link between MP and constituency ‘
The Jenkins Report rejected the idea of a ‘Single Transferable Vote’ (STV) system because it would require massive voting constituencies of 350,000 electors resulting, they concluded, with an oppressive degree of choice. There was also a number of counting systems that would have given different outcomes.
The average number of voters for Labour, according to the number of sitting MPs, in the 2001 election was 26031, for the conservatives 50347 and the Liberal Democrats 92583. Recently the political parties have tried to spread the fear that voting for extreme parties rather than one of the main three would allow parties like the British National Party (BNP) to get in. In 2001 the average vote for the BNP was 47129.
There are 650 MPs in Parliament and 60 million people in the UK. If 40 million are registered voters that would mean 61538 voters per constituency if the voters were evenly spread. But we know this is not the case because more people live in towns and cities than in rural and agricultural areas.
The constituency I live in has a demographic of 230,000 people, of which two thirds, 153,000 would be registered voters. As you can see from the above figures, nowhere near this amount of people are currently voting but if they did it would reflect the true amount of voters that sitting MPs are representing today. So MPs are already presiding over massive voting constituencies.
As far as ‘oppressive choice’ is concerned, we have seen elections with an abundance of candidates from the ‘Monster Raving Loony Party’ to an independent candidate with a personal axe to grind. Anyone can stand for Parliament now. There just needs to be a simple rule stating that a candidate must acquire 25% of a National Vote at least to represent those people and to save ourselves from lunatic fringes and real minority concerns.
My proposal would suggest the need to double the size of a constituency in order to keep the same number of sitting MPs, however, because my proposal would also share the vote between the MPs in that constituency, MPs will be presiding over no more a percentage of the vote than they have experienced before. So if we presume that two MPs could be presiding over the same geographical area that two MPs had covered previously, albeit disproportionate to the voters, nothing has changed.
‘The need for stable government‘
Many people opposed to PR tend to point the finger at Italy’s often fractious coalitions. Politicians love to throw fear into the path of change because they hope to distract people from the possibilities of change for the better that does not include them. Conversely one has to acknowledge the difficulty that exists in many political systems and how easily parties can split themselves into factions. On the other hand we can see this happening almost weekly within the current Government, as we have seen before in previous Governments. So whether there is infighting within one party or fighting among several parties, the only difference is that in the current systems there are whips telling MPs to vote a certain way and in other systems the centre of power does not lie with one majority. Considering the number of times the people have not been asked about things they really should have been asked about, is the act of ignoring the people considered as stable Government?
My proposal, like the AVP system, uses a ratio to decide what MPs sit in the House of Commons. The difference is that my system keeps MPs geographically based and MPs vote in the House of Commons with their vote percentage. In short, there are no arbitrarily picked MPs from a pool of 150 (the AVP system). And if the current political parties are any good, then our people will vote for them will they not?
‘The desire for broad proportionality‘
There is a balance required between the geographical size of a constituency and the size of populace. Beyond that, one has to consider how one is able to represent left wing voters in a staunch right wing constituency and right wing voters in a left wing constituency. The AVP system will not achieve this. Even if it elects a proportional representation from a list of 150 MPs who are not ‘directly elected’, they lose the geographical connection.
My system does not satisfy itself on ‘broad proportionality’ It is directly proportionate to the point where 99.6% of votes count both geographically, and where this cannot be achieved in sufficient numbers it can go regionally and even nationally. The AVP system cannot possibly compete with this.
‘An extension of voter choice‘
This is pure nonsense. Why not vote for your first choice and expect it to count? My system does not put up with second best, which is why my system aims to make 99.6% if voter’s first choice count – not second best.
Alan Johnson describes the Jenkins system as an ‘elegant solution – Alternative Vote Plus’. Personally I think it merely tinkers with the idea of proportional representation and is not proportionately representative at all. It is also unnecessarily complicated. I would dearly like to put my system up against Mr Johnson’s preference to see which one the public likes better and I challenge him to do so. Unlike Mr Jenkins, I don’t have to horse trade with other political parties and MPs desperately trying to save their own skins should a shake up in electoral reform actually occur.
So I say to Mr Johnson, your proposal is not acceptable. If you really wanted to see electoral reform using the Jenkins solution you could have done it back in 1998 when it was proposed. The electorate must question why you choose to resurrect it now, if not to save a perceived massive defeat at the next general election. The Conservatives, of course, will oppose any PR all the way, especially as they appear to be under the delusion that they will win a landslide victory at any general election. It is not as simple as that. And besides which, what makes Mr Cameron think that we want another political party in power that is just as guilty of abuse as the rest? The three main political parties not only abused expenses and would have continued to do so had it not been made public. Not one of them deserves our support because not one of them has represented the people who elected them.
Yes we do need electoral reform – not to save any of our current main parties but to stop that sort of corrupt power from ever taking a strangle hold on our democracy ever again. So if you really want to see electoral reform Mr Johnson, why not give people a proper choice? We should decide what to vote for in a referendum – not you.

Posted by shaneward at
09:03 0 comments

All At Our Expense

Friday, 15 May 2009

All At Our Expense
The UK public have been asked to swallow an awful lot of hardship recently. And quite frankly it is none of their doing. We seemed powerless to stop obscene bonuses being paid to city workers who took greater and greater risks with investor’s money, only to witness the collapse of the banking system. Then we could do nothing but stand by while the Government took taxpayers money to keep the same banks alive.
Now, and as a result of the worst example of target driven consequences, we experience a steep rise in repossession of homes, loss of jobs, a plummeting bank interest rate pushing fixed income savers into hardship and more expensive food and services. My sympathies are expressed to those who have been so severely affected by the consequences of greed and immoral business practice. One would have thought that our Government, in fact any of our MPs, might have had the intelligence and vision to see it coming. Oh, well done Vince Cable (Lib Dem), you were the closest. Pity it wasn’t in anyone’s political interest at the time to listen.
Is it any wonder that the members of Parliament did not want their expenses to become public knowledge? First, when the information was requested through the Freedom of Information Act, the Speaker of the House of Commons used tax payer’s money to go to the High Court in an attempt to stop it. Then, when that failed, there was going to be a delay until July 2009 before expenses would be published.
Credit must be given to the ‘Daily Telegraph’ for publishing the leaked information; most possibly one of those rare times when the information given is not only non-partisan but well within the right of the people to know. And it also demonstrated why politicians did not want the people to know.
The people now hear how MPs claimed for things like cleaning a moat, maintenance to a chandelier, the purchase of horse manure and even for a few tins of dog food. But whilst that in itself might be considered a scandal, the worst abuse had to be the within the claiming of second homes allowances and its contents.
Today the political leaders of each of the main parties are falling over themselves to say how sorry they are. They all say that the system is wrong and needs to be changed. They all say that they recognise that the public is angry and that something needs to be done quickly to win back the public trust.
The question now remains as to whether the public is as gullible as the politicians hope they are.
Let me roll back the carpet of history that I feel sure all MPs would like the contents to remain firmly swept under. A BBC news article for 4 July 2008 – almost a year ago – reads:
“MPs have voted to keep their £24,000 second home allowances… …They rejected tougher auditing and an alternative expenses regime proposed by a commons review”
Where was ‘needs to be done quickly’ then I wonder? Now it must be said that not all MPs agreed with keeping the second homes allowance but this must be tempered with the knowledge that MPs from all parties have been found guilty of expenses abuse. So whilst those who voted to keep the second home allowance felt justified in raking in as much tax payers money as possible (The Speaker said he was claiming his due), it cannot be conceivable that those who disagreed did not feel compelled to take full advantage as well. No political party is innocent and any amount of apology for this outrage will not do. The whole political system must be restructured.
Because whilst the politicians seek to justify their expense claims – including new kitchens, refurbishments, big flat screen TVs and other exorbitant items, people are losing jobs their personal goods and the only home they had and could no longer afford. Can we dwell on this a moment? These are supposed to be the people that matter. Perhaps politicians should be donating their second home to those who no longer have one.
But it goes further than this. Some MPs bought a second home and claimed the second home allowance. Then, when it came to sell the second home, they flipped it so that the second home became their main residence so they could avoid paying capital gains tax. There are numerous other examples of abuse but suffice it to say that the MPs claimed as much as they could, not to cover the cost of their expenses for sitting in Parliament at Westminster, but quite simply to profit from a lucrative trough, frequently perceived as an addition to their salary. As one member of the public put it, ‘if we tried to defraud the system like that we would be sacked for gross misconduct or even sent to prison’.
And it is only right that any Member of Parliament is as accountable to the law as the rest of us. For example, the Government believes that it is reasonable for people who are looking for work to travel up to one and a half hours to get to work. This is a condition they impose upon individuals claiming the Welfare Benefit Jobseeker’s Allowance of £60.50 a week. Why then should MPs be allowed to claim expenses equalling nearly eight times as much, if they too can return home within the same time?
No, sorry is not good enough. Excuses will not work and no amount of placatory noises about how hard one will try to make things better in the future can detract from what is already historical evidence of past wilful abuse. No MP from any party tried as hard to change the system of expenses until it suddenly burst into the public domain. Doesn’t that make you question what would have happened if the information remained buried, as many MPs would have wished? Doesn’t it also make you wonder what else there is that we know nothing about that MPs may be terrified we might discover.
Of course we may be forgiven for thinking that much of the scrambling to take the moral high ground has anything to do with the forthcoming European and local elections next month. Heaven forbid that we might vote with our hearts and dismiss all major political parties of the UK as corrupt and greedy. I mean, if we can’t contain their appetite for expenses in the UK, how on earth could we hope they would contain themselves in the terribly corrupt expenses system that exists in the EU Parliament?
But dismiss them we must if we are to show our so-called political elite that we can only accept an honest and credible voice to speak for the people – and not just in Europe but at home as well. Of course there is a danger that people may opt to vote for extreme parties but one must hope that the majority of the British people are sensible enough to leave far right and far left wing parties on the fringe where they belong. Don’t believe for one minute though that those same fringe parties will not rub their hands with glee at the opportunity to make mischief.
Perhaps the one thing we must not lose sight of is that we, the little people, are the driving force behind our democracy. As Tony Benn, a former labour MP, said today, the people are the power of democracy and we lend our power to a politician by voting for him/her to speak on our behalf. Is it possible that the big political parties are no longer mindful of this fact and may never be unless we give them reason to remember whose mandate they are supposed to deliver?
In my opinion, this is not happening and that is why the political system has to change (See my article ‘A New Voting System’). The first past the post system appears only to work for the benefit of the Government in power – just like the expenses they fought so hard to keep.
Like many people I regard my vote as important. If I had my way, there would be a voting box for ‘None of the above’, just to demonstrate to politicians how many people would actually vote if they had but a chance their voice would be represented. But in June 2009 I believe we have an opportunity to make our vote count in a way that could change the way in which politicians will behave in future. Today we have an unprecedented opportunity to use our vote to force politicians to think more seriously about how they should represent the people and what resources they rightfully need.
I believe that we should vote for representatives who are not Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat. They do not represent the people – they have proved it by wallowing in our money while the country has the largest economic deficit in history. They prove it by blaming each other while those who suffer, the taxpayer, is the same no matter what. It doesn’t matter if the claims were ‘within the rules’ as many MPs claimed. As they themselves now admit, the rules were wrong and each political party has had umpteen years to correct them. It is only now that they have been found out that, like naughty school children, they seek to justify their wrong-doing and wriggle out of being caught. We need to get rid of them and in June put into Europe and local Government the kind of politicians who will enforce the will of ‘we the people’.
I am not going to tell you who to vote for, that is your democratic right to choose. But to those people who would usually not vote I would say please make the effort and make your voice count because if everyone disclaims the big parties, the politicians might finally realise that we are not happy with the way any of them have abused our mandate to govern. We need a better system where everyone feels that their vote counts. This will not happen unless we the people stand up for our democracy as a united people.

Posted by shaneward at 09:35 0 comments

Deep Recession Predicted Long Ago?

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Deep Recession Predicted Long Ago?
"Grim warnings of Britain's worst recession since the Second World War... ...outpit will fall by 2.8 per cent.The IMF says GDP will shrink in the US by 1.6 per cent, France by 1.9 per cent, Germany by 2.5 per cent and Japan by 2.6 per cent.But it is the IMF forecast for 2010 that will worry the Government the most. It reckons that the UK growth will come in at a dismal 0.2 per cent for the year..." (Benedict Brogan, Daily Mail, 29 January 2009)
"So why 2009 and not 2008? Well, the big guys may not like this but it seems that the impact on the world is not what is felt by big business or by governments. The Barbault Scale seems to register the zodiacs effect on the masses – the little people – and while the credit crunch has begun in 2008, we the little people will start paying the price nearer to 2009 and beyond." (Shane Ward 'The Barbault Scale' 17 September 2008).
I don't know about other Goverments but what I was saying back in September 2008 (and earlier than that but not still in public domain) is now finally being admitted. What was being called an 'economic downturn' in 2008, a 'credit crunch' and other fancy names no doubt, is now recognised not only as a recession but a deep recession. It is estimated that the UK may stil be paying for it by 2030. According to the Barbault Scale it is more likely to be 2024 give or take one year. And it is possible that worse than we have experienced to date is yet to come.
It is interesting to note that the Chinese have commented on the dangers of unregulated capitalism in the finance and banking sector. I believe it is fair to say that the world no longer has a firm economic foundation and things must change to stop the pursuit of ever greater profits at the expense of global financial stability.
And why shouldn't those who created this problem pay for it? It would be easy to spot the culprits; they are the ones who gambled on hading out ever higher loans to those who couldn't afford it and those who packaged and sold toxic debts when they started to realise what could happen if they held onto them all. Individuals have gone to prison for less.