A batty Thursday in the House of Commons…

Oliver Letwin

Carry On, Minister!

Foremost political news story in the British media last week was regarding the increasingly incredulous revelations about the foreign and security affairs of the Conservative Member for North Somerset and the cherry on the ice-bun the Conservative Member for West Dorset with his disposing of Government papers in the bins of his local park. Both were members of the Coalition Cabinet at the time – the Doctored one no longer is, the unDoctored one still remains – for now?

While these scenes, that would be barely plausible in a Spooks episode, continued to struggle to resolve themselves, in the House of Commons on Thursday October 13 more prosaic affairs were being debated.

The affairs of the House of Commons (and Lords) are ever available for scrutiny even before cameras were allowed into the Houses thanks to Hansard and now more current and accessible thanks to their online publication.

The days affairs are started rather like a school day and its assembly with prayers. And rather like a school I wonder whether this is the secular place for such a practice? Certainly I have never been at a workplace where we all first gathered to say a prayer.

Much of Thursday’s business was broadly regarding matters of faith too.

Bats in the Belfry by Bennie B Off

From Flickr, by Bennie B Off

And to paraphrase the Conservative Member for Maidenhead ‘…I am not making this up’ one of the first items up for debate was Bats in Churches – these purblind creatures cause damage to Churches internal fabrics through their urination and defecation – but this item was not the day’s final item on churches or indeed bats.

Later debated were Church Commissioners then The Theft of Metal in Churches and then again Bats this time sans Churches! Then time was given to the inhabitants of those buildings practised beliefs, first on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s visit to Africa then the fate of Coptic Christians in Egypt. Fiona Bruce – no not the Scots newsreader and current presenter of The Queens Palaces – but the Conservative Member for Congleton – wanting to know what support the Church Commissioners were giving to them. Pardon me but this feels very much like the business of a village hall and raffle raising for those deemed less fortunate and deserving of charity. Whilst accepting there is a very serious and difficult issue about respecting the sovereignty of a country whilst having concerns of the (often deadly) treatment by governments of those sovereign nations towards groups of peoples it is supposed to be representing (and protecting) – if that is they have any sort of democracy in the first place.

Threading through the odd-couple chiroptological and Southern Kirks affairs were a number of constitutional issues.

United Kingdom Elections were considered toward increasing their participation – notable with voter turnout at historic lows – since 2001 less than two-thirds has become the new-norm. Though also notable in the context of other plans by The Electoral Commission to move toward Individual Voter Registration from the current system of Household Voter Registration which if not implemented carefully could lead to voter-registration falling not rising – some estimates such as from Unlock Democracy – by over one million.

MP Edinburgh North and Leith

Member for Edinburgh North and Leith

In passing the Labour Co-op Member for Edinburgh North and Leith challenged the very integrity of our UK elections due to a section (of about one-and-a-half-million) who can work, join the armed-services, give their sexual consent (and there are further anomalous examples) yet are legally disenfranchised – namely those 16/17 – no taxation without representation! An organisation Vote at 16 are currently campaigning this issue. The Member raising the issue noted that in Scotland the SNP as part of their proposed Scottish Referendum to separate Scotland from the rest of the UK are now considering adding another motion to it, that the voting age should begin aged sixteen.

Vote at 16 LogoFurther constitutional business concerned the proposed election of Police Commissioners. The Labour Member for York Central was more concerned about the cost of such elections making an obvious political if not unfair cost comparison to the cutting of police numbers and budgets as part of the Coalition Government’s ideological – sorry necessary – shrinking of Big Bad Government. And if Small Government is Good Government then presumably the apotheosis of Good Government is No Government – Anarchy for the UK – is that the Conservative Member for Whitney’s real unsaid agenda?! A Big Society, just not one that involves very much governance or regulation.

Next up was Local Referendums, specifically proposals to give powers to communities to hold local ones. This issue was raised by the Conservative Member for Harlow. Though it was not quite clear how a community was being defined here – I presume at the very least an electoral ward. I support referenda and do feel our democracy would benefit from greater use of them – whether at national or local level – though can see a danger too that if used too liberally they will decrease rather than increase electoral participation. And rather like online petitioning which I also approve the sheer number of them is making them unmanageable and thus unworkable?

On the other hand we already have a worrying Democratic Deficit where the two main political parties (leaving aside the SNP in Scotland) Conservative and Labour struggle now to get a third of the voters behind them – a feeling of Crony Capitalism and Government by the Few for the Few?

Voting in the Scottish Parliamentary Elections – for an Independent Green Scotland

The Scottish Parliamentary Elections for 2011 take place May 5.  Additionally there is the AV Referendum.

Will you be voting? Do you share who you vote for or believe it should be a secret? Certainly that is your constitutional right – usually exercised by Conservatives!

I voted today by post.  I am quite comfortable with voting this way – security is paramount and I believe that is as achievable by post as with the traditional ballot box.  I am pretty sure technological means would be as secure and more efficient.  I would have quite happily texted my vote today had I the opportunity.  Perhaps in the second half of this century we will get that opportunity.

For the Alternative Vote Referendum I voted yes.  I am not going to rehash the arguments given in previous posts – I have heard nothing further to persuade me to change my opinion that we need to ditch First Past The Post – and AV is a first if tiny and imperfect step toward doing so.

For the Scottish Parliament I was more uncertain.  I decided to compare manifestos and found this tool on the BBC News website very helpful toward that end.

The Banking Crisis of 2008 was a seismic event – not just economically but politically. It really gave the lie to unfettered unregulated capitalism. And when it came to it that New Labour were every much signatories of Crony Capitalism as the Conservatives were.

Yet there seems to be only populist rhetoric against the banks by the mainstream parties not matched by very substantial actions.  As if they would wish the issue would go away – they have to play golf with these bankers after-all!  And this is reflected in their manifestos – I had to dig deep to find policies and comments on the banking crisis – it should not be tucked away but one of the main platforms of their manifestos. Only the Green Party manifesto addressed this issue in any substantial way.

The Scottish Parliament

For my Regional ballot though the Greens alas were not an available option.  It was a choice then between the SNP and Labour.  The key dividing issue for me here is Scottish Independence.  I have some ambivalence toward the issue – I live and work in Scotland and my father’s family are Scots.  My mother’s family on the other hand is English and Welsh and I was born and brought up in England.  I am in fact a typical Brit.  And I feel English and British as much as I feel Scottish.

However I do think that Scots should have the right to determine their own independence and to be asked by a referendum.  Scotland is traditionally Labour and yet many elections return Conservatives to Westminster – it is easy to see their frustration and disconnect with London and England.  Though on this basis the North of England could also consider independence!

I understand Scottish Labour’s opposition – it is Real Politiks – if Scotland is independent then a huge swathe of their vote is lost to the UK Parliament – an English Parliament is almost certainly Tory.

Scottish people do need to be asked about Scottish Independence – so then I voted for the SNP.

On the Constituency ballot I did have the option to vote Green.  Here I had to choose between them and the SNP.  I liked the SNP’s green policies too.  But as said felt the Green’s response to the banking crisis most chimed with my feelings.  I also liked their proposals to abolish the Council Tax and replace with a Land Value Tax. They also propose a small half-a-percent rise in tax which I felt was honest in the context of the voodoo economics of monetary debasement and or fiscal austerity of the other parties. We have a huge deficit caused by bailing out the banks and yet all the other parties focus mainly on cutting back services and not raising taxes in any substantive way.  I am not for over-burdening taxes either but feel we no longer have the balance right – the gap between rich and poor continues to widen – we cannot expect quality public services without being prepared to invest in them.  Low to zero taxes and quality public services is not a circle that squares.

Today is International Mother Earth Day – not a reason for voting Green of course – but it felt fitting too.

And of course because of the proportional voting system we have in Scotland I was able to vote for a smaller party knowing that my vote will still matter.  In the UK I have to vote Labour just to counter the Conservatives – that is a negative rather than positive vote.

You know – vote yes to AV!