Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Consensus versus Democracy

There are some issues on which the whole nation needs to pull together - such as in war, when defending our existence against an enemy seeking to overwhelm or destroy us.

When we have internal disputes, even conflict, however, it is only by obtaining the majority democratic view of a free society that we can have some assurance that we, the people, will not be brought to heel by a government or establishment dictatorship.

That is why I cringe when I hear self-interested MPs or vested interest groups say that the only way to handle an issue which is becoming too hot to handle, is not by courageous democratic debate, but by "all parties coming together in a non-partisan way".  

That is the route to putting all power, unchecked and unscrutinised, into the hands of bureaucrats and subservient politicians, or, worse, at first into the hands of an elite clique and then of a demagogue.

Raucous debate across the floor of the House, and widely varying opinions during election campaigns, is a better way, the British way, than cosy, closed door coalition.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Democracy Diminshed.

The Coalition Government has  diminished the political influence of MPs even further than had the Blair Government.
Today’s Parties want puppets and clones on their books.  Few MPs dare to act in keeping with the stance they professed when elected.   

Indeed, because of the Act passed by Blair’s government, the Parliamentary Parties, Elections and Referendum Act (PPERA), few candidates dared to put any view at variance with the Party Orders, lest they be forced to stand without Party endorsement, as Independent candidates, unable even to aspire to a description on the ballot paper.

PPERA was introduced because of the introduction of the system of Lists required for the proportional representation for elections to the Scottish Parliament, The Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies and the European Parliament.  

For the first time in British history, parties had to register with the state authorities in order to be eligible to field candidates for Parliament.  Prior to that, anyone or any group or party, could be or field candidates who were able to adopt a description, be it a Party Name, or something as simple as ”Independent  Communist”, to fight their corner to take a seat in Parliament.

But no more – since PPERA, only registered parties can have party names or descriptions and the candidates need the specific endorsement of a Nominating Officer, from the registered Party, in order to have the description on the ballot paper.

The exception, for a candidate not accepted to stand for a party, or not wishing to, is to stand as an "Independent”.  So what, you ask?

Well, in the past, a free spirit could distinguish his or her “independent”  status with some description – for example, “Independent Communist”,  "Independent For A Free NHS”, “Independent Conservative” etc.   The rule now is that the only default description is the single word “Independent”.  So two, or three, independent candidates on the same ballot paper cannot explain or describe themselves as in any way different from the others – are they to the left, right or centre?

A small, harmless shift, one night say. Especially if one is a bureaucratic party, determined to keep MPs in line -  lose the label, lose the seat.  Power has shifted, in this as in so much else, towards  the controllers at the centre – party bosses and bureaucrats.
That is not good for democracy. 

And the Coalition bent the constitution even further – gone now are the good old days when a Prime Minster had to command the confidence of a majority of individual MPs in the House of Commons. 
Losing an important vote meant being unable to govern as pledge; but the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives in coalition sorted that –  they fixed the term of parliament so that they retain power even if they lose the support of MPs – and that has happened in this parliament. And adjust the margin by which dissent or dissatisfaction amongst MPs is needed before the cosy cartel can be challenged.

Are all our MPs now wimps? Why do they accept all of this?  To keep the job, regardless?

We must restore the convention we had when we were British, that is, that the Government must have the confidence of the House in order to govern, that MPs should not fear for their futures more than they do for the country, and that free spirits can stand as Independents but with some description,  so that the electorate can distinguish their intent.