The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘constitutional reform’

Eroding The Lords

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 5, 2010 @ 18:23

Just what kind of image would have been relevant to this post anyway?

Another thing interesting about coalition government is what is going on in the House of Lords. It’s been a long time since the governing party had a working majority there, ever since the hereditary peers were ditched.

But now, with Tory and Lib Dems combined, and with the new peers they have added, Baroness D’Souza on Lords of the Blog has sounded the alarm

It is reliably rumoured that the Government is planning to bring in yet more coalition peers come the Autumn. It already has a working majority of approximately 38 (the numbers change from day to day due to influx of new peers) and could have a majority nearer to 80 or more. This would place it in the same position as New Labour in the House of Commons in the last Parliament.

Baroness D’Souza has at least some authority here, as the Convenor of the Crossbench peers.

The idea of a government majority in both chambers is perhaps a bit worrying. Though their noble Lord and Ladyships have always been a little rebellious, and rather difficult to actually get in Parliament from day-to-day, there is still a hardcore of peers who attend regularly, and, if present trends continue, could be relied upon by the government to ensure it always gets its way.

In some respects, it would be sweet justice were this to happen. People like me, who have long argued against the uncodified constitution we have precisely because it could lead to its “conventions” being ignored by a government that doesn’t like them, might actually start getting listened to if the so-called “revising” chamber no longer does any revising.

Of course, we could blame it all on Labour. After all, they had 13 years to do something properly about it. Now they could be squished into submission in both Houses if the coalition sticks together. Thanks, as always, go to the useless Jack Straw, long-term opponent of House of Lords reform.

Whatever happens, though, I’m willing to bet that the muscle the Lords used to flex in keeping the Labour government under control will not be as used in this Parliament.

Unless they’re trying to stop elections to the House of Lords, of course.

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This Must Be Stopped

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 29, 2010 @ 10:22

All shall bow before the Ermine!

Yesterday’s unveiling of the dissolution peerage lists has to be the last time we see this kind of thing happening.

The list is a veritable Who’s Who? of the failed, the disgraced, the defeated and the meddling ones who had decided they wanted to continue to be in politics but not have to face the trifling inconvenience of facing the electorate by defending their seat.

The Labour list is particularly galling.

  • Quentin Davies: turncoat, couldn’t bring himself to face the certain defeat that was the consequence of his defection
  • John Hutton: couldn’t hack it any more in the Commons, apparently, so send him to the Lords instead…
  • Jim Knight: defeated
  • Tommy McAvoy: Gordon Brown lackey rewarded
  • John Prescott: expenses, so-called class warrior being unable to refuse the temptation of the ermine
  • John Reid: retired, wants to continue meddling
  • Angela Evans Smith: defeated
  • Michael Wills: Gordon Brown lackey rewarded

The Lib Dem and Tory appointments are not much better, but at least there are fewer of them.

The House of Lords is treated as a play-thing by party leaders as yet another weapon of patronage at their disposal. The sad thing is that, at the same time, the country appears to be woefully ignorant of the fact that these very generous gestures are not the equivalent of giving someone a nice title so we can call them Sir.

Oh no. It is conferring on them the potential of a lifelong seat at the expenses trough, and with the potential for continuing to influence government and legislation way after their democratic mandates have run their course.

That should be an embarrassment to our democracy.

The House of Lords has zero legitimacy. Our ancestors recognised that a century ago and tried to do something about it.

A century later and we’re still waiting.

The time for commissions and inquiries is over. If the Lords is not reformed in this first or second session then it never will be. Only a 100% elected House of Lords will suffice, and if that is not the outcome of these first two years, then the Coalition government will have failed its first test to clean up and strengthen British politics.

Or maybe they’ve failed their first test already

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A Lib Dem Vote Is A Wasted Vote

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 5, 2010 @ 09:51

… if you think the country needs a Strong Conservative™ government, elected by just 35% of the electorate, representing no more than 20% of the population, and awarded 100% of the power because of a totally flawed system that no one has ever voted for.

In my eyes, the First Past The Post electoral system has no legitimacy whatsoever. Tomorrow, I, like millions of other people, will cast yet another in a long list of ballots which have had no impact on the result, in a futile attempt to pretend that somehow I am doing my bit for the country.

But we let it go on.

One day I dream that I will be able to see my vote count towards something. One day I dream that I won’t need to consider spoiling my ballot paper because there is not an appropriate option for me. One day I dream that political parties won’t spend all their time only focusing on a handful of people in a smattering of middle-class areas that have little relation to what goes on in the majority of the country.

But we let it go on.

This is once in a lifetime chance to change that. Just this once, share with me a hope that a decent Liberal Democrat performance will finally put to bed generations of a cozy, corrupt two-party consensus that has seen the concept of Buggins’ Turn being turned into a principle for governing a major economic power. That’s not democracy. That’s a sham.

But we let it go on.

It may be another 30 years before this opportunity arrives again. Don’t for a second believe a Labour Party whose deathbed conversion to fake-PR is fleeting, skin deep, and designed to ensnare Liberal Democrat sympathisers into thinking they’ve seen the light. They lie. They do not support the principle of fairness. They might have once, but when the party sold its soul to the Blairite elite, it betrayed its working class roots so deeply that it should never be trusted again.

There is only one way to secure the political reform that this country needs, and that is to send the biggest number of Liberal Democrat MPs to Parliament in a century. Only the Liberal Democrats genuinely believe in the political reforms needed to bring this country into the modern age. Fair votes. Equal democracy. Transparency. Fixed-term parliaments. Real devolution of power.

We’ve had the same old, same old now since The Second World War War. The same, tired old politics of division, of fear, of patronage, of secrecy, of deceit, of complicity in illegal wars and torture, of authoritarian, statist solutions to everything, of wasted years, squandering away our unique economic and cultural position in the world for all the wrong reasons.

We’ve let it go on for too long.

Don’t let it go on this time.

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Labour’s Death Throes

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 4, 2010 @ 10:11

Unless they can't win. In fact, just don't vote for them at all.

This story is actually incredible.

To me it shows a few things.

First, Labour is admitting defeat. It is clearly a sign that Labour know they cannot possibly win a majority, and that in order to leave them in with a chance of staying in power, they need to ensure that the road ahead for the Conservatives is as bumpy as possible.

In some ways, though, Labour are only telling people to take the sensible option given our voting system. Take a LD-Con marginal like Eastleigh. It makes no sense for Labour voters to vote Labour there if their most hated candidate in the race is the Conservative. They could vote Lib Dem and at least make sure the Tory loses.

Nevertheless, no major party has ever been explicit that this is what the electorate should do. Usually it’s all about “getting the maximum vote for our party”. Changing the record now with just two days to go is a sign of desperation, no doubt about it.

The second point is that it is the biggest admission by the Lab-Con axis that the electoral system is totally flawed. By acknowledging the fact that millions of people across the country are going to be casting “wasted votes” unless they vote tactically, it is a potentially significant development. How can Labour, including Peter “Back Door” Hain, possibly get away with not supporting electoral reform after this revelation?

Finally, it is the clearest sign yet that Labour are prepared to work with Liberal Democrats on constitutional reform. After all, Labour have been the biggest tinkerers of the constitution in generations. They’re not averse to the option, and if it’s all they have to do to keep power…

Though it’s all coded, and all very subtle, it’s becoming very apparent that Labour both know they won’t win outright, and know their only hope is of a coalition or other deal which supports Lib Dem policies in return for a Lib Dem backing of a Labour Queen’s Speech.

In advance of the election, the Lib Dems are right to reject Labour’s advances. It is not good to admit at any point that you are weak and in danger of being propped up. Especially for the Lib Dems, where even if they don’t secure many more seats, a large number of votes will make the case for reform of its own accord.

That Labour would enter into such a strange game, one that damages its own message of how the Lib Dems cannot be trusted because of their inexperience, speaks volumes as to how worried they must be in the Bunker.

Now is the time for Lib Dems to strike a blow against Labour. There will never be another chance for the Labour Party to be replaced as the true party of the centre-left, of the progressive axis in British politics.

Labour is weakened. Labour is dying.

But can the Lib Dems take advantage, in spite of the electoral mountain that faces them?

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Constitutional Crisis Ahoy?

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 26, 2010 @ 09:24

I'm not sure that's the right metaphor, but hey, it's a picture isn't it?

People like me take great delight whenever we hear the words “constitional” and “crisis” in the same sentence. It’s probably because one day I’d love to see the joke that is the British mostly uncodified constitution unravel before our very eyes, because it makes no allowances for certain provisions.

Clearly, one of those provisions would be if the sitting Prime Minister got significantly fewer votes than everyone else, and still remained the largest party in a hung parliament.

The more cerebral reason why I’d like such an eventuality to occur is that I think it would finally demonstrate to everyone just how stupid our system is. Based upon the blatant fraud that is First Past The Post, and involving ridiculous conventions involving a supposedly neutral head of state who has zero mandate and zero legitimacy, and yet potentially exercising the enormous privilege of asking someone to form a government.

The revolutionary in me would heartily enjoy the head-scratching and conjecture drawn up by civil service mandarins and academic “experts” on the so-called constitution. A few days, or even a few hours, of grave and severe turmoil might finally encourage the British people to demand that, at long last, we get all of our constitution down into a formal document so we can cover these eventualities.

But I’m not at all optimistic about that. First of all, pushing Labour into third place in a General Election will be a mammoth struggle. If the Lib Dems could do it, it would be a remarkable achievement, almost a century after being replaced by the Labour party as the new opposition to the Conservatives. One of the world’s greatest, and longest, fightbacks.

The main obstacle to it, however, is the British people. We’ve had silly election results before from our system, and nobody took a blind bit of notice. Or if they did, the establishment remained resolute that change would not be in our interests. By which they mean, not in their interests. After all, who wants to share power with another party when you can have power all to yourself? Better still, power completely disproportional to the share of the vote you got.

Constitutional crises only occur when there is a dispute over which way we should turn. And they aren’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, this kind of one would be very good for us.

It would be appropriate, then, that this country, which is so battered and bruised by recession and 13 years of Labour failure, and in such a quandary over what party to elect, should take a moment just to pause and reflect. Let that ambivalence and uncertainty be represented in the election result.

Deliver the politicians a real dilemma. And a real opportunity.

A once in a lifetime  opportunity.

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PR In Last Chance Saloon

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 8, 2010 @ 11:45

WANTED: One algorithm for computing a Single Transferable Vote election in a timely and efficient manner. Enquire within.

Last night I vaguely discussed PR with a friend of mine, and how annoyed I was to be living in a non-marginal constituency, when a nasty thought suddenly dawned upon me.

No, it wasn’t a sudden realisation all along that my worship of the Meek method of counting STV is wrong, but something much more fundamental.

All this talk of constitutional reform is enough to make any true Lib Dem get just a little bit excited. Gordon Brown’s laundry list of changes yesterday, while totally insincere, still got my attention. Talk of fixed-term parliaments and referendums on House of Lords and electoral reform are enough to make political geeks like me wonder whether it could actually be possible.

All these years, we Lib Dems have been desperate for the opportunity to make our case for serious, long-term reform. People like me will probably never be satisfied, but politics is all about framing the issue. If we can make a serious land-grab on this ground, talking about huge, radical reform being the only thing that will satisfy public desire for a new, transparent politics, then the Overton window will be moved sufficiently to make the smaller changes, while still desirable, much more acceptable.

The change most of us Lib Dems would like to see above all is a proportional electoral system. Party policy is to push for Single Transferable Vote. It also seems that it’s party policy to accept the Alternative Vote as a step in the right direction (when it is anything but).

The Conservatives, naturally, are dead-set against any such change.

And that’s where my concern begins.

Opportunities to get PR on the agenda come round once in a generation… if we’re lucky. In 1983, the large SDP vote got the party nowhere, due to stacking up votes in unwinnable seats. A Tory landslide was the result, ensuring that any progress on the issue was stillborn.

Labour paid lip-service to electoral reform in the 90s, and Blair thought at one point that he may need it to ensure Lib Dem backing post-election. In the end, he didn’t, and suddenly Labour realised that they quite liked a system that was delivering them stonking great majorities on a minority of the vote. Into the long grass it went.

Now it’s back. Through scandal and the terrible behaviour of politicians, all of a sudden it might be good to change a system that ensures that those MPs with the safest majorities engaged in the biggest fiddles. That message needs to be drummed home loud and clear; the public will listen to it.

But not for long.

A Conservative win at the next election will finish the debate, and finish it for 20 years. The Tories plan no electoral reform. If the Tories get a comfortable majority, they will live with that. If they get more, they’ll be delighted, and we will despair.

And since the chances of it happening will be zero, the momentum for reform will evaporate.

This window of opportunity is tiny. It will only be achieved if there is a hung parliament, with Labour in the lead, or a tiny, tiny Labour majority. No other result will allow electoral reform to become an issue.

And it’s about to be slammed shut.

Electoral reform advocates need to be loud, prominent and vocal over the coming few weeks. It may be the last chance we get.

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David Miliband: The Radical

Posted by The Futility Monster on February 10, 2010 @ 09:20

Poor David. But will he get a chance when the clunking fist is no longer in command?

Last night a story sneaked out about how a senior member of the Labour party might actually want some real reform to the British system.

The Guardian claimed that David Miliband is in favour of a “reset referendum”, allowing the electorate to cast a verdict on the nature of our political institutions.

The worrying nature of this article is that it’s very thin on detail. I like his language. I like the idea of radical change to our rotten system, but am totally sceptical about it ever actually happening. After all, last night a mere 69 MPs voted for the thing that would revolutionise British politics: STV.

What does David Miliband intend then? He must have ideas of his own about what he’d like to see, but he is hiding behind the idea, I think, of calling a constitutional convention, something the people of England have never had the pleasure of enjoying.

Note the use of the word England. Scotland had a constitutional convention which produced the blueprint towards Scottish devolution. It worked to such a degree that the Scottish political settlement is now firmly entrenched and is playing an active part in the lives of Scottish residents.

Yes, us poor Englanders have always had to accept the status quo. Our institutions have been grandfathered to such an extent that any proposals for reform are invariably seen as heresy. Indeed, it’s only amazing that the AV referendum got through the Commons last night until you realise that most MPs saw it as a free vote for “change” that will never actually happen.

A constitutional convention could be just what the doctor ordered for the entire political settlement of Britain. A chance to start again and look at the way we want our government to be organised through 21st century eyes.

Perhaps we could have a live twitter stream of the thoughts of the voters flashing up within the Commons so they can see the public’s reaction to their behaviour…

Of course, I’m being facetious, but we do need to look at the way in which we communicate these days and make the British polity more responsive to that.

David Miliband may not truly understand the extensive nature of the proposal he has suggested. But I’m at least pleased to see that some of our major political figures are still thinking that recent changes are still only tinkering.

I know the Lib Dems would support a constitutional convention. Of course the Tories won’t.

But maybe a future Labour opposition will realise they have a real battle on their hands, and can harvest the cynicism in the British public regarding politics to challenge Cameron’s Model New Tories…

It’s just a dream, eh.

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Hannan: A Marked Card

Posted by The Futility Monster on November 26, 2009 @ 09:08

Carlsberg don't write books on party discipline, but if they did...

Dan Hannan, that strange creature whom the Tories once loved – and are now keeping him at a necessary distance – has decided its time to make MPs work harder:

There is a case, though, for making an exception in 2010 and having the House of Commons sit through August, as my party is apparently considering. Why? because doing so would allow an incoming Conservative Government to implement The Plan in just one legislative session

My first impressions on this post were that it was just another shameless Christmas sales plug. After all, his co-author Douglas Carswell has been doing that too. It might even be a concerted effort by them. Well, we all have to make a living somehow.

Then my thoughts turned to the size of the ego of anyone who can make the above statement. Yes, let’s make MPs sit through the summer so they can implement your agenda – a man who won’t even be a British MP, and is on the fringes of influence in the Tory party.

But then that’s an easy criticism to make. After all, most politicians have vastly inflated egos. It’s almost part of the job description, to think you’re good enough to represent 70-80,000 constituents. And in Mr Hannan’s case, his European parliamentary constituencies are even larger.

Of course, the idea of cancelling MPs holidays and getting them to put in some extra shifts is hardly revolutionary. People seem to be calling for it all the time, and I have a sneaking feeling that at some point in the future MPs very long summer recesses are going to be either broken in two or redistributed across the calendar, resulting in longer recesses for half-terms and Easter.

So far, so dull.

But Hannan is insistent on trying to claim the credit for the various raft of unconnected ideas the Tory party have came up with over the past 12 months. From open primaries to fewer MPs. But is he right? And furthermore, is any of it actually going to happen?

We still don’t really know. We may get a better idea when the Tory manifesto emerges for the next election. Some of the ideas are good, and I hope the Lib Dems will join on board for the useful aspects of parliamentary reform, assuming Labour kick all of this into the long grass before the election.

Yet on the question of whether he is right to say the party are following his lead… I suspect he is deliberately over-playing his influence in an attempt to appear relevant to the party leadership. He’s gotta stay in the news somehow. After all, Hannan resigned from his responsibilities amongst his fellow Tory MEPs. His ascent up the greasy pole lasted all of two months.

In truth, the trappings of office probably didn’t suit him. He is used to speaking his mind. Used to telling us how wonderful his ideas and plans are. And now he will be able to do so.

Loose cannon alert.

It will be very interesting to watch a Prime Minister Cameron deal with the likes of Hannan and his renegade chum Douglas Carswell. After all, Cameron has never really had to deal with real internal opposition.

With that in mind, maybe we don’t really know Cameron after all…

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Was That Worth It?

Posted by The Futility Monster on November 19, 2009 @ 08:35

Do you feel lucky?

Yesterday’s Queen’s Speech was seven minutes of tedium.

The event itself is worth watching, but mostly because I would love it if something went wrong. Maybe the crown slips just a little on the Queen’s head. Maybe Jack Straw falls on his arse because he can’t bear to turn his back on the Queen. Maybe Lord Mandelson comes dressed as a drag Queen because he can’t bear all the competition.

But no, as usual, another flawless execution of pomp and pageantry. Oh, except from a bum note from the trumpeter when the Queen entered the Royal Gallery. Yes, folks, that really was the highlight of my day.

Otherwise, was there much to write home about?

Well… there might have been, had Labour had some courage. Nick Clegg vaguely had the right idea when he suggested that perhaps this should have been a very short programme of reform bills to tidy up the mess before the new Parliament comes in. It makes sense: we are currently squandering our greatest opportunity in a long time to have the public engaged with questions of how we make our politics better.

Instead, it has been kicked into the long grass as usual. Which means nothing ever changes. The new Tory government will be no different. Indeed, I think it was Andrew Neil who said that the Tories pledge on an elected House of Lords was a “third term priority”.

Instead, we got a clutch of bills that would deaden even the liveliest of cocaine and amphetamine-fuelled pulses. As you can see from my neat little picture above stolen from the Guardian website… (see: newspapers steal from bloggers, bloggers steal from newspapers)

Is this the vision of the country Gordon Brown wanted to set out? Recall when he chose not to call an election in the Autumn of 2007 that he’d “decided” it would be better for the country to see what he is like as a Prime Minister first, which was a very convenient excuse for the suddenly disastrous poll ratings…

Of course it’s not. It’s a Queen’s Speech devoid of purpose, buffeted by events with no inspiration whatsoever. One might have thought, given that final year governments since time immemorial have used the last Queen’s Speech before a General Election to set out their stall, that Brown would have done the same. That it would be a revealing little list, showing us what a new Labour government would be working on. Tempting, teasing us into voting Labour. Letting the dog see the rabbit…

It’s events like this that reinforce my continued belief that Labour is doing its very best to lose the election, and are merely going through the tradition motions of uncontroversial governance that keep the country ticking over.

After all, the next election is not going to be fought over the Flood and Water Management Bill, or the Digital Economy Bill…

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