All over the place

The Internet is leaking. Or at least the bits I was under the impression were only visible to me and whoever temps for 38Degrees on days ending in ‘y’. With the hilariously misjudged ‘National Service Bill’ and ‘Margaret Thatcher Day Bill’, a tiny corner of Parliament’s website, that which lists every current proposed piece of legislation somewhere gunked up within the Westminster pipework, has become an unexpected adjunct to Twitter. Well, the campaigning bit of Twitter, which I currently imagine to be a Parish Church’s community hall in which two trestle tables are manned by a rota of Guardian, Independent, and New Statesman journalists with handouts and loopy juice. I’m no stranger to it only because, as a nerd, keeping up to date with this sort of thing genuinely interests me, although Jimbo Wales’ talkpage and New Years Honours Lists genuinely interest me, so maybe I’m just completely mad.

Among the soon-to-be-talked-out Bills above lies another fringe-benefit proposal from the wackier side of the Tory backbenches, namely the “United Kingdom Register of Places Bill”, which at the time of writing hasn’t yet been published. The Bill is sponsored by Andrew Rosindell, who people may know for being the kind of Tory who speaks with an Estuary accent, walks around with a bulldog, and has a massive Union Flag as the background to his currently dead Twitter account. If ‘Working Class Tory’ still exists as a valid label, Andrew (or ‘Rozza’, maybe?) is yer man. The gist of his ‘Register of Places’ proposal seems to be a deeply held issue that the country has moved on since the 1940s, and isn’t about time we had Kircudbrightshire, Cardiganshire and Amounderness back on maps and road signs, for God’s sake, people, hmm? The bells of St Bonkers began to ring most clearly during the 10 minutes allocated for him (“Rozzi”?) to explain his reasoning. He said the Bill would “ensure that local authorities have a duty to preserve and uphold identities of genuine towns and villages that have been around far longer than…local government constructs“, whilst banging on like a broken SatNav about Dorset and Highgate and where he grew up and, oh yes indeedy, “Whitehall bureaucrats”.

By the end of his allotted time, I was no clearer to understanding what he was proposing to achieve. A big fat red reset switch, perhaps, to review every local authority in the country to ensure they represent the areas they’re supposed to, rather than be stymied by the 1970s boundaries in which many of them remain trapped? Redrawing local council wards to make way for the introduction of STV after 2015? Anything remotely progressive?

Nope. Not a hope. What Andrew wants is a time machine. He and other mavericks in the madcap organisations obsessed with ‘traditional boundaries’ wish to return to some fictional moment of English history where men were men and Lancashire stretched from Barrow to the Mersey without pausing to catch breath. And you know, I’d like to see a form of this happen in a way, but not under the leadership of Andy “Bruiser” Rozza, the man who would, he implies, force four London Boroughs to merge to enable one village to be re-united. Indeed his plea for local villages and hamlets to be respected beyond all other distractions suggests that he wants one single Government for the whole of England, to do away with pesky local councils, particularly those Labour ones oop North. It’s a charmless and blatant attempt to UKIPise the country, to redress progress in a retroactive and damaging way.

The unfortunate thing, for me at least, is how close A-Rozz gets to where I would like to see Government go with regards constitutional reform. We need to have a reset button moment, to take away all the local government constructs and start again – more representative local government with recognisable boundaries and responsibilities, and voted for by a fairer voting system. We need to do away with two-tier governance, to sweep away County Councils once and for all. We need to see true devolution of power from Westminster to Town Hall, and further to the streets. What nobody really wants is Rozza’s Register of Places, a paper-pushing exercise in nerdy nostalgia, where only people who obsess over the disapperance of Middlesex and  Lostwithel can be invited to stroke sepia maps of Ye Olde Countyies of England. The nerd-do-wells of the Traditional County Society cause enough damage as it is removing road-signs on a whim because their obsession commands they do. I don’t think an MP should be encouraging them.

True constitutional reform is the great overdue policy no Government dares touch. It’s left to “Bruiser” to tinker around with this sort of backwards looking history worship, rather than working towards a better future. We do deserve better than this.

HS2 seat-by-seat

North Warwickshire (Dan Byles, Conservative)
North West Leicestershire (Andew Bridgen, Conservative)
Rushcliffe (Ken Clarke, Conservative)
Erewash (Jessica Lee, Conservative)
Broxtowe (Anna Soubry, Conservative)

Nottingham North (Graham Allen, Labour)
Broxtowe (again)
Ashfield (Gloria de Piero, Labour)
Bolsover (Dennis Skinner, Labour)
Chesterfield (Toby Perkins, Labour)
North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel, Labour)
Sheffield South East (Clive Betts, Labour)
Rother Valley (Kevin Barron, Labour)
Rotherham (Sarah Champion, Labour)
Sheffield South East (again)

Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough (David Blunkett, Labour)
Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith, Labour)
Barnsley East (Michael Dugher, Labour)
Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis, Labour)
Barnsley East (again)
Hemsworth (Jon Trickett, Labour)
Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper, Labour)
Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls, Labour)

Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke, Conservative)
Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams, Conservative)

Leeds Central (Hilary Benn, Labour)

Lichfield (Michael Fabricant, Conservative)
Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy, Conservative)
Stone (Bill Cash, Conservative)
Crewe and Nantwich (Edward Timpson, Conservative)
Eddisbury (Stephen O’Briend, Conservative)
Tatton (George Osborne, Conservative)
Warrington South (David Mowat, Conservative)
Altrincham and Sale West (Graham Brady, Conservative)

Warrington North (Helen Jones, Labour)
Leigh (Andy Burnham, Labour)
Makerfield (Yvonne Forangue, Labour)

Tatton (George Osborne, Conservative)
Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins, Labour)
Manchester Withington (John Leech, Liberal Democrat)
Manchester Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufmann, Labour)
Manchester Central (Lucy Powell, Labour)

AVin’ a larf

Those of you with difficulty sleeping may have already noticed how long the House of Lords has held onto the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill. Having started before Christmas, it’s still there and they’re still at it.

One look at the amount of amendments lodged should give a clue as to what is holding back the Bill .

Essentially this Bill is in two halves, and reflects the compromise which ultimately brought the Coalition together. Reducing the number of MPs from the Cameron camp, removing the skewed and failed First Past the Post coming from Clegg. The one Bill – I’ll call it “PVSaC”, which sounds like a minor player in the first post-Communist elections in Transnistria – has joined a whole swathe of constitutional reform coming from the Conservative-led Government, and heaven knows we’ve been waiting for the Tories to flood the Commons with reform (voting change, fixed-term Parliaments, directly elected police chiefs, referendums on proposed council tax rises, what a time to be alive, etc.)

Labour’s foot-dragging has been an affront to democracy. They daren’t even put the door of reform ajar; they would rather lock it shut. Labour’s dinosaurs (“they’re off the leash, as Clegg put it, somewhat muddled) have not “scrutinised” the Bill, they have torn it to shreds. They patronise the electorate – (“People aren’t used to referendums” they say, “They might not know how to cope with multiple ballot papers on the same day”, treating voters as fools for the basis of a strawman argument made not from common-sense but spit and string.)

Make no mistake – this Bill is in serious danger of being talked out. Today, tomorrow and Wednesday is all it has left to have any chance to survive. Labour’s wrecking amendments have already pushed back polling day from May to October, and have promised to talk out the constituency boundary review section until they drop dead rather than hand the Conservatives with constitutional victory. The AV referendum may be suffocated before it is given to the people to decide. How offensive that Labour will be the Party who deny the people a right to say how parliamentarians are voted.

I have been a passionate (and doubtlessly boring) advocate for constitutional reform all my life. It is one of the rare passions I have left. It frustrates and angers me that Labour, of all parties!, are now those standing against reform whilst the Conservatives, of all parties!, are left making the case for change. The decision to talk out the Bill will ultimately kill any chance of future reform for my life time, if not forever.

Between today and Wednesday the future of democratic reform will be drawn. To borrow a phrase; “the Bill has been torn to shreds, the pieces are in flux, what happens when they rest is up to us. Let’s reshape the country.”

Greater Manchester Parliamentary Boundary Review

The Coalition Government’s proposal to reduce the number of MPs to 600 (the second part of this one), is one I support, if only to cut own costs of representation never mind the question of whether Britain requires so many Members of Parliament as an additional layer of representation.

Those “removed” MPs represent constituencies of thier own, of course, so as a consequence major boundary changes would have to be considered before the next (hopefully fixed-term) election in 2015. I have already given a broadbrush review of my Lancashire proposals elsewhere (though these have been tinkered with since, I’ll re-visit them later).

Greater Manchester had to, in my opinion, be attached to Lancashire for reasons of review. In some places, it seems very natural – Parbold and Appley Bridge are essentially Wigan anyway – though I concede some of my creations may raise eyebrows.

Manchester itself undertakes a massive change – gone is the very word “Manchester” itself from the Parliamentary map – whilst the one-time LibDem constituency of “Littleborough and Saddleworth” returns after 20-odd years away.

It’s not been easy, not least because the new regulations makes “wiggle room” almost impossible, but I present what I think it is a fair crack at the whip under the circumstances.

1. Wigan
2. Makerfield
3. Leigh
4. Westhoughton
5. Bolton
6. Radcliffe and Farnworth
7. Worsley
8. Bury and Heywood
9. Eccles and Prestwich
10. Salford Quays and Urmston
11. Altrincham and Sale West
12. Stretford and Chorlton
13. Piccadilly and Rusholme
14. Wythenshawe and Cheadle
15. Blackley and Newton Heath
16. Middleton, Moston and Failsworth
17. Rochdale
18. Ashton-under-Lyne
19. Littleborough and Saddleworth
20. Oldham
21. Stalybridge and Hyde
22. Stockport
23. Didsbury and The Heatons
24. Hazel Grove and Gatley
25. Gorton and Denton

HS2

The Coalition have confirmed the route of HS2, the High-Speed rail route which will drag the UK into the 21st Century [ish] with upgrades to the national rail system which still places us behind European and especially far-Eastern comporable countries in terms of public transport provision. I don’t believe our railways are falling apart – and I say this as a weary Northern Rail commuter – but the drag-heels approach to funding and modernisation is incredibly frustrating. That HS2 will bring rapid rail only to the Midlands and London in a long-term timeframe (the year 2015 to start work seems highly improbable) avoids the question of how Northern and Western England will connect to this ‘capital’ project.

Many questions have dealt with the political aspect of HS2, not least alleged concessions to people living near to the proposed route who may vote Conservative. Disquiet has been reported by those living in the Chilterns who have found their opposition to the route largely ignored.

By way of some alternative point of reference, I asked over on VOTE-UK (a fine website I recommend for all political junkies), to confirm which parliamentary constituencies would be visted by HS2. And an answer there came quickly…

(Colour coding should be obvious…and no, I don’t know how to tables in HTML)

==In Greater London==
Holborn and St Pancras
Hampstead and Kilburn
Westminster North
Kensington
Hammersmith
Brent Central
Ealing Central and Acton
Ealing North
Uxbridge and South Ruislip
Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner

==Outside Greater London==
Beaconsfield
Chesham and Amersham
Aylesbury
Buckingham [Seat of the Speaker, John Bercow]
Banbury
South Northamptonshire
Kenilworth and Southam
Meriden
North Warwickshire
Tamworth
Lichfield

==Into Birmingham==

Sutton Coldfield
Birmingham Erdington
Birmingham Hodge Hill
Birmingham Ladywood