Saturday 29 August 2015

We live in troubled and turbulent times

Problems remorselessly keep on increasing and ever deepening.

I cannot recall in my adult life a time like the present where the world, Europe and the nations of the United Kingdom are being confronted with such a wide range of scandals, uncertainties, difficult and seemingly insurmountable problems. This applies to domestic and international politics, finance and economics, collapse of social cohesion, escalating humanitarian and refugee crisis, the global environment or matters of peace and security. There is an over-riding feeling that the political institutions whether at home, Europe or on the world stage are unwilling or unable to secure any semblance of control. By now I frequently doubt the common will or indeed the competence of existing international institutions to resolve matters.

Consider what currently faces us from the ever increasing European/North Africa humanitarian crisis; the financial difficulties of the Euro zone countries and not just in Greece, China’s economic woes, the chaos of Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Into that mixture world powers are struggling to cope with the widening advance of Islamic State, Boko Haram and other groupings in the Middle East, North Africa and parts of south-east Asia.  

After the General Election in May the key matters that immediately impacted on UK politics revolved around the future of the Union; the pending emergence of the SNP as the third force in Westminster; the implications for the continued health of our democracy after the election had resulted in the most unrepresentative House of Commons since universal suffrage; what would be the fate of the Liberal Democrats and who would be the next Labour leader. In the background as well were important unresolved issues centering on the pending publication of the Chilcott Inquiry, the inquiry into the Child Abuse scandal, Cameron’s renegotiation of our working relationship with the rest of the European Union and the migrant/refugee in Calais.

Other than Tim Farron election as the new Liberal Democrats’ leader and the modest recovery in the party’s fortunes all the above matters remain on the agenda.

There is little doubt that matters have worsened almost on all fronts yet the Prime Minister sails on oblivious to everything around him and behaving as if he has a 100 seat majority in the Commons. Indeed new issues have joined the list highlighted above and are beginning to dominate our politics. There are the allegations centering on the existence of a Westminster paedophile ring and the associated apparent cover up stretching back decades. Then there is growing controversy and concern over the potential serious social implications for the deprived, the underprivileged, the less well-off, weak and disabled among us as a result of the George Osborne budget measures. This is closely allied to the uncertain future facing millions as the pending Welfare Bill revolution kicks in. The DWP has been forced to release figures that show that some 2400 people have died after their Employment and Support Allowance claim was ended.

Then today we have arrived at a situation in our ‘great democracy’ following the appointed of almost 50 extra Peers of the Realm and resulting in the United Kingdom having the second largest unelected legislature (the House of Lords) in the world. The first being China!.
Finally the humanitarian/refugee crisis has imploded with such tragic consequences, death and human suffering.

I do not propose to deal with such a vast array of issues and problems in this blog nor is it possible either to provide simple answers. But what can be done is to provide further food for thought on three of the issues mentioned as we enter the holiday weekend. Hence I have chosen some links from various publications for information and further reading.   

There is no doubt that after the 9/11 attacks, Bin Laden, Al qaeda and the Taliban the American–led interference in the affairs of Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya has resulted in continuing and probably worsening chaos. Indeed the consequences are spreading further afield into Lebanon and Turkey. Into this cocktail of differing issues across the Middle East the Islamic State fighters, extremists and terrorists have emerged inflicting their own devastation and invariably in extremely barbarous ways.  Just as worrying are the activities of Boko Haram and other Islamic groupings in North Africa and south-east Asia.  

Little wonder therefore that western leaders and many others have all turned their attention to the religion of Islam and have spoken of it as being one “of peace.” Others have vehemently argued the opposite. But the debate about the nature of the faith and its relation to violent extremism is missing an important element. If we want to understand the world view and aims of IS, and why some people seem attracted to its project, we would do better to focus more on the history of Islam rather than the more  difficult question of the essential nature of a religion.

I was led to this conclusion by reading an enlightening and for me at least a highly educational article in Prospect Magazine which attempts to put everything in an historical context and to try to explain the dream of the Caliphate. I knew a little of the history but nothing like the detail outlined. By the way at one time I knew a person from North Pakistan who kept on telling me that these people will never forgive or forget and that they will inflict revenge - 'even if they have to wait a thousand years'. Obviously it begins to look as if he was right but I will leave the matter with you to ponder over.

In the UK there is an ever increasing debate over the likely impact and consequences of the forthcoming welfare cuts. The issue caused chaos inside the Labour Party who apparently did not want to be seen to being in opposition to what was viewed at the time as a popular centre-right view that something needs to be done over the abuse of the welfare and benefits system and especially its ever increasing cost. There is some merit to the proposition but as the dust has settled on the budget measures a different scenario is also emerging. There is the realisation that the Chancellor’s measures would in effect reduce benefits for people who are in work but on low wages.

Opinion polls after the budget indicated that there was a 3 to 1 opposition to the proposal with 45% of the view that too little is spent on those people who are on low wages and who are making good efforts to better their personal circumstance. The Institute for Fiscal Studies calculated that the poorest 10% of families would be worse off by £800 a year by 2019. The next poorest 10% would be worse off by £1,100 a year and that the four year freeze on working age benefits is estimated to cost some 13 million families £260 a year each.

Into the mix has been thrown evidence the government tried to prevent from being published information on the impact of ending the Employment and Support Allowance and the imposition of the Fit for Work Test. According to figures released by the Information Commissioner some 2,400 people have died over a 3 year period.

Again an associated issue is the ongoing debate over the financial burden the immigrant population is inflicting on the benefit system. As with IS I am seeking to find out answers and facts that are not just based purely based on propaganda propagated by right wing organisations or  those seeking to exploit the situation for political purposes.  Hence various links are interspersed with my comments  
Finally I must end with the Labour leadership election. What seemed like a straightforward matter has been turned into chaos and nigh on ‘civil war’ in the party. Ed Miliband introduced a new method of electing future leaders that had the expressed aim of making the trade union membership role more democratic and also promoting supporter participation in what was seen as a new and enlarged democratic process. All that made sense to me and Harriett Harman was eloquent in explaining its virtues at the start of the leadership contest.

Initially there were three candidates and frankly not one was an over impressive figure. But from somewhere emerged the idea of broadening what was on offer to the Labour electorate by including Jeremy Corbyn in the process.  It was argued that then all strands of the party, the centre/right, centre and soft/hard left would be on the ballot paper – an inclusive election! Indeed I believe Andy Burnham lent some of his supporters to Corbyn to enable the latter achieve over the number of nominations required from MPs to be a candidate.

That’s where the cosy scene comes to an end. I have little doubt that no one in their wildest dreams, even Jeremy Corbyn himself, ever imagined that he was going to have had such an earth shattering impact on the future course of the party. His consistent views on a wide range of issues had been well known since the 1980s and as a consequence there would be little chance of him making an impact it was thought. But to everyone’s amazement the contrary has happened. There has been incredible grassroots membership support for him and his popularity has taken everyone by surprise. In fact he hardly looks like a likely leader of a political party. So the old Harold Wilson saying ' a week is a long time in politics'! indeed has come to haunt the establishment and centre-right of the Labour Party.

Whatever one's view of Corbyn is he has made Labour face up to the need to make up its mind about what is the party for. The truth is that for far too long Labour has been reacting to the consequences of the SDP & Thatcher years and even though they would never concede this point Kinnock/Blair/Brown were in fact nothing else but SDP Mark 2 leaders.  

So the chaos that Labour has fallen into is beyond comprehension. The party hierarchy/ grandees/centre-right should have welcomed the explosion of some 400,000 affiliate trade union members and party supporters participating. It is a great exercise in democracy and has it not been the plea for decades that somehow we need the public to be more involved in politics? Vetting and finding reasons for excluding thousands of people from voting is somewhat futile particularly there is strong evidence that such a process has resulted in the exclusion of genuine supporters and even activists.

As I understand the situation if someone is not on the electoral register, or has been found to have voted or supported another party in earlier years or even communicated with someone from another party then that person is regarded as an infiltrator!. To try and find the flimsiest reason why a person cannot participate is so ironic when one considers that Kinnock courted former members of the Liberal party to join the party and then in the Blair New Labour years Tory MPs were welcomed into the party with open arms. In fact one or two became Government Ministers or ended up in the House of Lords. Isn’t that funny? But the individuals chosen were establishment people, so that's alright! The truth is Labour is in a flat panic over a possible Corbyn victory

As with the two previous issues I have used links to elicit more information as to the nature and causes of the grassroots uprising and about Corbyn himself. Whatever the outcome Labour will never be the same after this summer because the power of ordinary people will ultimately impact on the party’s policies and direction. So we’ll all have to watch the scenario unfold in the coming months.

Sunday 23 August 2015

Remembering old Friends

Roy Jenkins – A Very Social Democrat

A few days ago I was alerted to post on Facebook by one of my long lost - but now found again! friends - Mark Soady. -
His dedication, support and friendship in the 1980's is something I have never forgotten. Mark’s contribution to the SDP and the Alliance both in Wales and further afield was immense. He was a loyal assistant and colleague for years but then when my long standing friend and political ally the late Roy Jenkins won the Glasgow Hillhead by-election he was taken away from me and also Wales!
From 1992 until some months ago politics played no part at all in my life – completely different to the 25 years previous!  The consequence was that I lost contact with a wide range of friends, political allies and even adversaries. It has always been one of my failings – keeping in touch with people and some others would add ‘listening’ has been another failing!
For a few years family and acquaintances were trying to persuade me to join the social media world but I was not keen at all to do this. Anyway during a visit to Chennai end of last year where my youngest son works he took matters into his own hands and set me up on Twitter, created a Facebook account and the YouTube channel as well as the Blog site. Although I was pleased I continued not do very much at all with any of it. But by the time of the General Election in May something kicked in and all of a sudden I got interested, overcame my apprehensions and ‘went for it’. Indeed I managed to connect myself with Linkedin as well.
What I then happened slowly but surely over the last four months not only was I re-connecting with dozens of old friends and acquaintances but also how good it is to make new ones.
But as with everything else in life there was also a downside. When in the process of contacting several people from the SDP/Liberal Alliance days of the 80’s I discovered that one of my closest colleagues from those years had passed away. He was Ieuan Evans from Bangor a trusted friend who not only was a close ally but acted as my agent when I stood for the Presidency of the Liberal Democrats. Like Mark and several others I could mention such as Jan Dickens, Peter Sain Ley Berry and Clive Lindley he also made a notable contribution to Welsh politics in those years. But as so often is the case people like him never make the headlines and their tireless work and influence very often go unrecorded.   
It is only now I am realising how much I have missed it all for over 20 years.  So there is no time to waste! I am free to renew my political passions which mainly revolve around a fairer society, voting reform, a federal UK, our future in Europe and the governance of Wales.
There is another reason I am so grateful to Mark for his link because on the YouTube timeline among a number of other historical political videos was one on ‘Roy Jenkins – A Very Social Democrat’. Prior to writing this blog I listened to it for the first time, indeed I never knew the recording existed. It is an account of Roy’s life and a very accurate one, where he is very honest about himself.  
 Much of the story I knew about because from 1972 until 1992 we were very close friends indeed and I had been one of his Parliamentary supporters and for a period his PPS. The references to his upbringing, what happened when his father Arthur Jenkins the MP for Pontypool was jailed during the general strike of 1926, his meticulousness, shyness and his difficulties in mixing with people are all true. Also his attention to detail was at times frustrating especially when it came to time-keeping – a minute if not seconds mattered to Roy! What surprised me was that he was also quite relaxed about his relationships in high society and with some internationally known ladies being aired.
I am not going to write much more other than that he should have been Prime Minister is in no doubt. The power of his intellect, the strength of his character and political convictions – particularly over Europe, his introduction of a more liberal and open society which made him unpopular with many in the 1960's as well as being a reformer attracted me to him from my early days in Parliament.  The programme also shows how much of a fighter he was, never afraid to enter the ‘lions’ den’. I suppose that was his father coming out in him – the airs and graces came from his mother!

He was also engaging company and often witty and we enjoyed many pleasant social times together. The country home near Oxford I went to some two or three times and I well recall a Boxing Day visit towards the end of the 70's. Mind I paid a heavy price for my loyalty to him because the 70's was a time when the left of the Labour Party and the unions were in the ascendancy particularly in Wales. 

Thursday 20 August 2015

The Governance and the Voting System of the UK Union is:-

Bad for democracy, bad for government and bad for the voters

Just like the series I have been running named ‘From the Vault’ I intend to run the next series concentrating on my two great passions which are constitutional and electoral reform. My other two passions have been European matters and the governance of Wales.

Ever since my twenties the accounts of the struggles that led to the Peterloo massacre, the Tolpuddle martyrs, then the rise of the Chartists, the Rebecca Riots and later the Suffragettes have always been my motivation to concentrate on the themes of fairness, equality, human rights and democracy. Needless to say on the wider international scene it has been Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Mandela that have inspired my thinking and political beliefs. Viewers of my speeches on YouTube will notice how much of all those events and heroic figures are so often the cornerstone of the speeches. Just as in more modern times I have been inspired by the bravery of the students in Tiananmen Square and the factory workers in Gdansk.

Now linking all those events and people has been the innate desire of the human spirit for fairness, freedom and democracy. Whilst it’s true very many of the battles fought for have been won with the passage of time and they were achieved at enormous human cost and sacrifice however, it still remains the case that the United Kingdom is nowhere near being a modern, representative and democratic Union. In fact I have frequently drawn attention to how often the British are described as ‘subjects’ and not ‘citizens’.

Whenever the topics of democracy and fairness are raised there always appears a ‘core’ group of powerful vested interests in the establishment, political elite and the media that invariably parade as the ones who are concerned over the unity of the country and the retention of its values and traditions. They even pray in aid how much our ‘Mother of Parliaments’ is so revered across the world but they conveniently overlook the fact that we have the second largest second chamber in the world, other than China. Also the House of Lords is the only fully unelected second chamber in Europe. Then if all else fails they always resort to the age old political arguments linked with the creation of uncertainty, fear of the unknown, the implications of  any untried and untested proposal be it House of Lords reform, a fairer voting system or a federal structure of governance for the United Kingdom. None of the people that were involved in the events listed above had any fear of the unknown.

Although not the main topic of this blog whenever a federal structure of governance for the UK is proposed its opponents quickly step in with the usual arguments I have just stated but fail to recognise that over twenty five countries have such a system including Germany, Canada, Russia, United States, Australia, Brazil and the like. It is also ironic that in granting independence to some of our erstwhile colonial territories we saw fit to grant them federal systems of government notably India, Pakistan, Nigeria and as I have already indicated Canada and Australia. Good enough for them but not the UK!

The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has been in being over 130 years and when it was formed in 1884, then called the Proportional Representation Society, its founder declared:
‘I trust ….the Mother of Parliaments, may once more take the lead among the great nations of the world by securing for herself a House of Commons which shall really represent the nation’. But we’re still waiting. The establishment, political elite and vested interests have worked ever so hard to deny a true representative democracy to the people.

Over the last 35 years they have found themselves having to respond to public clamour regarding fairer voting arrangements but interestingly they have only ever deployed the tactic of conceding when it does not impact on the voting system to the House of Commons (the jewel in the crown of the political establishment!). The consequence of such a haphazard, unplanned and schismatic approach has been the creation of a patchwork quilt of voting arrangements across the UK. 

There are four different voting systems in use for elections in Scotland with three different ones in Wales and one for Northern Ireland. Then quite ironically despite setting its face against the use of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) method of voting for Westminster elections the governing elite of the two major parties have been perfectly content to see the system used for all election in Northern – council, Assembly and European Parliament elections. STV is also used for local elections in Scotland. So there is no reason why STV should be opposed and if that voting method is essential to ensure true representative democracy in Northern Ireland why not for ‘the Mother of Parliaments’!

The Northern Ireland situation in fact is quite revealing with regard to the use of STV for the local council elections. Those councils in Northern Ireland do not have powers over education, roads and housing yet they have a fairer voting system than for local authorities in England and Wales.

So local authorities in England and Wales with far greater powers have to operate under the First Past the Post system of voting which often results in power being over-concentrated in one party or another. The outcome is that vast swathes of the electorate in those councils effectively go without having any party political representation. What is more they often feel neglected if their area is not represented by a member from the ‘ruling party’. That I assume was one of the main arguments for the use of the single transferable vote system in Northern Ireland – odd that!

Again the opponents of reform point to the fact that a referendum was held in 2011 on electoral reform and the voters rejected the proposed change. That’s true but its timing was completely wrong and ill conceived —voters were being asked to consider electoral reform whilst in the middle of the most austere times in living memory for tens of millions of people. So there was an issue of priorities in peoples’ minds. In addition what was on offer to the electorate was not a truly representative alternative. At first glance the outcome appeared disappointing and that it was a serious rebuff. However, six million people (32%) voted to change the system and 13 million (68 %) voted to keep things as they are. In my judgement to have received 32% in support is not only positive but heartening given the circumstances I have just described.

It also augurs well for the immediate future and the task urgently facing us because as the recent ERS petition of some 500,000 signatories indicates the public appetite for change is not undiminished. So there is no time to waste. That is why I am heartened to learn that there is to be a meeting in the House of Lords September 9th Committee room 3A to discuss arrangements for a coordinated campaign. Not only do we need to work towards a cross-party campaign and establish a broad based convention, ERS must be organised closer to the people by strengthening regional groupings, better integrating with groups of local constituencies. 

The governance of the UK Union is in a fragmented state, its Second Chamber is unelected and currently in quite some disarray whilst our electoral arrangements within the four nations are inconsistent exaggerating national and regional divisions. There is a general understanding that the First Past the Post system is increasingly failing the British electorate. There is increasing disproportion between seat won and votes cast, the randomness of election results is becoming almost perverse and as a consequence it is of little surprise that voter turnout is in decline. Voter apathy is evident and there is a general feeling of being devalued. 

So now is the time. We have nothing to fear but Fear itself.

Monday 17 August 2015

English Votes for English Laws (EVEL)

Now arrived at a point where there is constitutional and governance chaos in the UK

The English peoples, and rightly in my view, feel hard done by as the implications and consequences of the significant devolution process over twenty years slowly but surely moves towards a federal structure. I do not intend going back over the journey since the late 1990s, or even before that, but suffice it to say that we have now arrived at a point where there the constitutional and governance arrangements for the UK are chaotic. There are different systems of government and different systems of voting.

The unplanned devolution journey and the panic caused at Westminster by the Scottish referendum elicited David Cameron’s promise of EVEL.  Unfortunately, what seemed a straight forward matter of ensuring that on bills or issues applying to England only English MPs should vote was not that straightforward. Yes it appeared democratic and fair in principle, but it was never going to be as straight forward as that. For instance many bills that seem to apply only to England have implications for Wales and Scotland in particular. Hence rushing through ill-thought out proposals at the end of the summer really was no way of dealing with such a major constitutional change.

Under the proposals, if a law relates to matters devolved to other countries in the UK, then English MPs would have taken part in two new stages of considering legislation. The first would take the form of a grand committee in which only English MPs—or English and Welsh MPs—would be able to vote on legislation relating to their nations before the third reading of a bill. The second stage would come after the bill has passed through the Lords, when it would have to be approved by a double majority of all MPs as well as English MPs, or English and Welsh MPs.

It would be the Speaker, John Bercow, who would ultimately determine whether the proposed bill under consideration relates to citizens across the UK, English constituencies, or English and Welsh constituencies. That poses considerable problems in relation to the traditional role of the Speaker as a defender of MPs rights and those of Parliament itself.

But another point has also arisen and it relates to the Barnett formula which governs the allocation of spending in the four nations of the UK. What happens if decisions about English matters actually have a financial knock-on effect in Scotland and Wales?

As far as Wales is concerned, there are other possible wider public service implications such as the cross border patient movement for treatment in relation to the National Health Service. Mind you, someone living in west Cheshire or along the border have no say how the health service in Wales is run by the Welsh Government, even though they may receive treatment or use a GP service based in Wales.

It is not only opposition parties and MPs that are critical of the proposals, making comments such as ‘constitutional outrage’, ‘pandering to English nationalism’, ‘populist’ and that the plans are ‘reckless and shoddy’ for instance. Tory MPs are concerned too with statements made such as ‘the UK hangs by a thread’, ‘the Union is at stake’ and that there are ‘major constitutional issues.’

The way the matter has been handled by the Prime Minister from the beginning has been woeful and shambolic. The future of the Union is without doubt on the line. Somehow EVEL will have to be sorted out, but in a planned and constitutionally proper way—then there is the spectre of another possible Scottish Independence referendum on the horizon and what of the upcoming European Referendum? I have little doubt that the voters of Wales and Scotland will vote to stay in the European Union. What happens if England votes differently?

I have been a strong advocate for a federal structure to the governance of the UK since the 1970s. My family come from a Labour/Liberal tradition and there was a time when both were ‘home rule’ parties. The only way through this chaos is to establish a Constitutional Convention whose membership would need proper and fair representation and it should be required to report by the end of 2017. This is not rocket science— everything that needs to be written has been researched and published since the days of the Crowther/Kilbrandon Royal Commission of the early 1970s.

Devolving administrative and decision-making powers from Westminster and Whitehall has been such a painful experience for the political and civil service establishment for three-quarters of a century. The end result has been a haphazard, unplanned and piecemeal approach that has landed the Union in this chaotic situation. As Pete Wishart a senior SNP Member of Parliament said ‘what is being created is a quasi-English Parliament in the unitary parliament of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland’. I believe the English should have their parliament but this is not the way to do it. 

Thursday 13 August 2015

‘Nothing new under the sun’ – well looks like that!

Trawling through the archives I came across a brief extract from an impromptu speech I delivered at the 1988 Conference of the new Welsh Social and Liberal Democrats in Deganwy, North Wales.
The merger debates in early 1988 at Blackpool and Sheffield delivered massive votes in favour of becoming one party. At the coalface, as it were, endless meetings took place over some eight months to arrive at agreed new constitutions for the UK party, Wales, Scotland as well as rules for local constituency parties. A recurring sore point that caused bitter controversy was the party’s name and, to some, the name of the party had become more important than what it stood for.  Even to the extent as to which word should be first ... ‘Liberal‘ or ‘Social‘.
The process of getting to March 1988 and Paddy Ashdown becoming leader was not easy. However, the show was on the road and the new party began with 19 MPs, 3,500 councillors and 100,000 members—but what had been achieved over a seven year period through ‘sheer hard work,' as Maggie Clay said at the time, was now being fritted away because of a troubled infancy.

So there followed controversy, divisions and recriminations that lasted for a couple of years. In addition, good people were lost along the way which was sad. Michael Meadowcroft led a band of Liberals and David Owen headed-up a significant faction of Social Democrats, both having been opposed to the merger. Owen’s SDP did have a couple of encouraging by-election performances but it was wound-up in 1990.
The infighting and divisions led to a serious loss of morale and members. Also, finances suffered and the organisation was not as strong. The momentum had been lost. The low point came at the European Elections of 1989 when the SLD only received 6% of the vote and we came fourth behind the Greens.

For my part, following Paddy’s inspirational leadership I was determined to do my bit—after all, too much effort and time had been invested to just see things fade away. So I actually addressed some 80 constituency meetings, social evenings and annual dinners across the country to rally the troops over a two-year period.

Through sheer hard work, things eventually began to turn round. Paddy Ashdown was emerging as a serious political force in UK politics and was often described as the most popular party political leader. The Eastbourne by-election was won and at the 1992 General Election, despite being written off some three years earlier, the party received 18% of the vote and 20 seats. Little doubt, Paddy Ashdown had saved the party from oblivion.

Now, we are in 2015 and there is a task of rebuilding again, but I fear it will be harder over the next couple of years following the debacle of the General Election last May. The member, councillor and Westminster representation base is considerably lower. But the fightback has already started—there is a 25% increase in membership, also there are clear signs of recovery in popular support (as is evidenced by recent local government election results) and importantly Tim Farron is already making a good impact as leader.
As in the period 1988-92, the party needs to quickly identify key themes on which to campaign. There is no need to enter into a period of writing endless policy papers on a vast range of issues. For me, the themes are clear and in many respects they are more or less the same as the ones that I spoke about endlessly in the 1980s. They number some ten in all, including freedom, justice, fairness, democracy, humanitarian values and standing up for the defenceless, Europe, the environment and international development.

The background to the video is as follows. The first Welsh Social and Liberal Democrat conference was in Deganwy and I did not expect to play much of a part. The attendance was extremely disappointing, numbering dozens compared to the 200-300 audiences we had grown accustomed to over six years. So I was relaxing socially when a media person approached me and said 'look, we’re struggling to get anything of value out of this for our 20 minute conference television report programme’. So I suggested that they speak with the conference arrangers which resulted in me making an impromptu speech as my relaxed dress code and appearance indicates!

The message is as relevant in 2015 as it was in 1988.

Monday 10 August 2015

Why is Jeremy Corbyn popular in many Labour circles?

The political establishment is yet to catch up with the mood of our times.

A fortnight ago the Guardian published an article which asked readers to get in touch and let the paper know which candidate they intended to vote for in the Labour leadership election. Over 2,500 people responded - all explaining their reasoning for backing any of the four candidates. Some three-quarters indicated that they would vote for JeremyCorbyn. Of course, the paper did not claim that it was an unbiased sample when analysing the responses. Nevertheless it was a very revealing exercise.  
I went through a number of the responses and there were common themes.
First on the Labour Party:

·         Labour has just decisively lost an election trying to copy the Conservatives

·         Labour has become akin to desperate sales people who will say anything to get elected. My advice is to stay true to principles and believe in them.

·         What is the point of winning just to implement Tory-light policies?

·         Labour is not facing up to the reality that millions of lives have been blighted by Tory ideology and their agenda

·         Labour’s stance on the Welfare Bill revealed a lot ...

·         What is the point of Labour if not to stand up for ordinary working people as well as the young, sick, disabled or unemployed?

Then on Corbyn:-

·         He is the only one talking about child poverty, homelessness, unaffordable housing, privatisation and progressive taxation

·         They (the four candidates) are all likely to lose the next election but at least Corbyn will do it with some principles.

So I come back to a question I asked in a blog some month or so ago. What indeed is the point of Labour today?

Shortly after the election Tristram Hunt, the Shadow Education Secretary, argued that Labour’s defeat was due to more than just policies. It was also down to how society has changed over time. He went on to list:

-       The steelworks and pits have gone …the chapels have emptied.

-       There is a weakening of class-based identity… the unions have disappeared in the private sector

-       The old political allegiances have gone…and have been replaced by a more fluid political identity

-       Globalisation and new technology have caused a new revolution.

Therefore he concluded that there is a bigger challenge facing Labour than just finding ‘its beating heart’. That could very well be true, but I am not sure that he is entirely grasping the enormity of the changes that have taken place and the challenges that, in fact, confront all centre-left parties.

Yes, it is true that times have changed compared to the period after the Second World War to the 1980s. But it is not only the times that are changing, but people also. The impact of new technologies has meant that now in an instant we all can become considerably more aware of what is going on in the wider world. As a consequence issues, scandals and the like cannot be hidden from people any longer. We all have instant access to how the establishment behaves, including the corruption and lies, abuse cover–ups that have seemingly been going on since the 1970s as well as other matters of principles in public life. So, in other words, the ‘age’ when people were easily  ‘kept in the dark’, ‘duped’ and ‘misled’ - for even centuries – came to an end at least ten years ago.

The problem is that the establishment and the political classes have not woken up to the fact, or are deliberately not responding to the major changes in people’s attitudes, values and expectations. We also know that they have powerful allies with a range of vested interests within the media, business, finance, multi-national corporations etc

The centre-left, or as I would much rather call it the ‘progressives’ of the political spectrum, have to accept that there is a core vote  – probably in the region of 25% of the electorate -  who will not ever buy in to the implications of responding to these changes. Hence such a situation has to be faced up to ... and the Tory agenda challenged.

The changes that are clearly evident in society manifest  themselves through  considerably more clamour for transparency; fairness; justice; freedom; equality; human rights; wider understanding of international development issues; apprehension over the environment and climate change; and concerns over deepening world poverty etc. All is being ignored at the altar of the Tory agenda along with a fear of being dubbed politically as far left, progressive and, dare I say, radical. The problem emerging in British politics is that the centre ground has shifted to the right.

We are still trapped in the old politics where there is a general feeling that the Tories have a ‘moral’ right to govern. So, at present, they govern as if they have a majority of a hundred seats. They claim that they have a ‘mandate’ to be the government but that is only valid under the definitions of the old two party political system. In reality, of course, they have no such mandate and, put simply, they did not win the support of anything like the majority of the people to have any such moral authority. 66% of the electorate either did not vote or voted anti –Tory and yet Mr Cameron believes, in his heart, that all is well with the world. Indeed only 24% of those entitled to vote made him Prime Minister under our crumbling, archaic electoral system.

So when Harriet Harman announced that she had been round the country and had listened to the people’s voices – stating that ‘they had given a clear message’- I am not sure that she had been speaking and listening to the right people. True, some people did deliver some kind of message, but they were far from being in the majority. Harriet Harman either misunderstood the message or only spoke with Tory swing voters! The consequence of this was the debacle of Labour’s response to the Welfare Bill and even abstaining in the Commons vote. So, in an instant, that illustrates everything about the current Labour leadership and the state of mind of three of its candidates to be leader.

Back to my question - what is the point of Labour today? Well the UK Union is fragmenting and so are its political allegiances along with the party political system. The two party political system effectively ceased at the General Election of 1983 and, since then, a clear plurality has been emerging in our politics. Progressive politics is about much more than economics, the debate over the national debt, the financial deficit, the size of the public sector and the like. This is a fact the centre-left leaders have to grasp ... and quickly. The Labour party in particular needs to understand that All-party cooperation is now essential on a wide range of matters. The traditional ‘macho’ Labour approach just will not wash anymore for any reform to happen.

For me the old adage that ‘politics is the language of priorities’ still holds true but importantly the ‘priorities’ are changing.  Whatever the view - of many in the Labour party and country – is of Jeremy Corbyn, there is little doubt that he is capturing that mood just as Tim Farron is doing as the new leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Sunday 9 August 2015

Personal Statement for Election to Electoral Reform Society Council

I have since the 1970s been a passionate campaigner for constitutional and electoral reform although the nature of my employment from 1994–2013 precluded my direct participation in politics. However, throughout that period I occasionally engaged in political commentary on radio and television in Wales and continue to do so today. I am therefore well versed in most aspects of media and public affairs networking.

As an overview, I am a former Labour Member of Parliament for Carmarthen, Member of the Council of Europe and Private Parliamentary Secretary to Roy Jenkins when he was Home Secretary. I chaired the SDP and Alliance in Wales during the 1980’s, National Committee of the SDP 1982-87, and National Committee of the Liberal Democrats 1989-92. Between 1994-2013 I concentrated on my business activities, heading a schools' inspections and conferencing company, which over its eighteen years of operations inspected approximately 10,000 schools in Wales and England.

Currently a little bored with blogging, tweeting and maintaining my YouTube channel, I am looking to make a greater contribution once again in public affairs over the next ten years, especially in relation to matters concerning electoral reform.

The recent ERS petition with 500,000 signatories along with the level of public dissatisfaction existing—gauging by the widespread reaction I receive through my online activities as well as the efforts of groupings such as Democracy Now, VotingReform1, PR4Labour and the other ‘anti-austerity’ parties—prove conclusively that ERS’s time has come.  Not only do we need to work towards a cross-party campaign and establish a broad based convention, ERS must be organised closer to the people by strengthening regional groupings, better integrating with local constituencies.  In effect, ERS should organise itself broadly as political parties do. 

The British electoral system has been dysfunctional since the 1960s, ever since the two major parties began to lose their dominance, leading to the emergence of four/five party politics—first in Wales and Scotland during the 1970’s and now in England with UKIP. At this General Election only 24% of the electorate voted Conservative but similar figures were familiar in the days of Harold Wilson and Margaret Thatcher.

In addition, some 400 of the 630 parliamentary seats never change political party representation, so in those constituencies the votes of some 30 million people are irrelevant.  The only election that matters in those contexts is the one to be chosen as PPC for incumbent party!

Not only is the governance of the UK Union fragmented, so too are its electoral arrangements within the four nations, exaggerating national and regional divisions. In many instances, the same is true at local elections with artificial majorities for the governing party in many councils and vast swathes of the voters left unrepresented.

I am well versed in a campaigning style of advocacy, contributing to the formulation of key strategic decisions and am an effective team player, leading others when called upon.    

The key skills I will bring to the deliberations and activities of ERS are:

Leadership and team working skills:

·      Led and chaired numerous research, working and campaigning groups throughout my working life.

Communication, interpersonal and advocacy skills:

·      High level of communication skills.  Have addressed countless audiences from a few people to thousands and have the attribute of being an effective speaker and presenter. Have made hundreds of radio and television appearances in both English and Welsh.
·      My work with various government agencies involved research, investigation, evidence based evaluations, confidentiality and effective report writing skills.
·      An understanding of the decision making processes in England, Wales, UK and Europe.   

Creative skills and strategic thinking and action:

·      I am well versed in preparation of policy papers on a range of subjects.

Further information available on: