all trigger, no bullets

What we know in Britain as democracy is a clumsy and chaotic compromise position, moulded through centuries of give, take and establishment necessity. Without the structure from a written constitution, it’s been possible to grow electoral administration only as successfully as it is possible to call “gardening” the act of throwing seeds onto a pavement. Every element of our electoral and constitutional machinery is broken – from the way in which legislation is timetabled to the voting system for Town Halls. Nothing works as it should, or indeed could, and for all the talk of necessary “repair work” on that machinery, not one party leader seems willing to break out the WD40.

It’s only a few years ago that David Cameron appeared on television with his sleeves rolled up and a screwdriver in his hand. Politics was broken, and he was the emergency call-out man who could help fix it. With the formation of the Coalition, it seemed even more likely that something would be done, as after all there’s no group on these islands more obsessed with improving the democratic ills than the Liberal Democrats. Maybe, just maybe, something would actually be achieved.

And then they had to spoil it all by saying something stupid like, “It’s being considered very carefully”. This is establishment speak for “We’re not interested, go away”.

The cases of Eric Joyce, Patrick Mercer and to an extent Nadine Dorries in the jungle have brought into stark focus one of many problems which keep the 21st century United Kingdom anchored in the 19th century. The good voters of Falkirk, Newark, and Mid-Bedfordshire did not vote for their MPs to leave their parties (or for that matter the country to appear on reality television), nor did they vote for an MP to confirm he won’t stand at the next election after being arrested though would stay on as an MP, on full pay, away from his party. The people of Falkirk voted for a Labour MP, not an independent, and under our broken system they can’t do a thing about this. They can’t even protest at the next election, because Eric Joyce won’t be there to face their decision.

This situation is one amongst many cuckoo-banana realities of British democracy.

When Cameron and Clegg spoke of the “right to recall”, one of the ways these situations could be resolved, there was a sense that lessons had actually been learned. Maybe, just perhaps, “right to recall” was on its way, and Britain would be able to boot out errant MPs in-between elections.

And then, the proposals came out, and the chance collapsed like a flan in a cupboard. What the Coalition proposed was not “right to recall”, as wanted by Douglas Carswell, Zac Goldsmith and others, but a form of State-approved confirmation hearings. Rather than allowing members of the electorate to decide if an MP should be subject to a recall by-election, Nick Clegg and Tom Brake put their names to a process by which electors would have to wait for the establishment to make its own decision. Policing the police, and all that, and nothing close to how Cameron had initially voiced his determination to clean up politics.

“Right to recall” would deal with examples like Joyce, Mercer and Dennis McShane if there was a genuine will within their constituencies. There’s little to no danger of opposition supporters trying to “rig” referenda; who other than political obsessives would attempt to oust all 650 MPs? There’s plenty of clear and obvious safeguards against “rigging” – including only permitting the process to start after a resignation or under-12 month prison sentence – that fears expressed about all MPs being under constant threat sound nothing more than willing the long grass to grow.

The Clegg/Cameron approach to the “trigger” element of the process lacks exactly the power which voters need to keep their MPs in check. It’s exactly the same fault which killed off the AV referendum, boundary reviews and House of Lords reform – a lot of talk about weaponary, very little evidence of firepower.

There are so many faulty and failing elements of the British electoral system that’s it difficult to know where to start. I’d love to see a fully proportional system for electing local government, I’d love to see an end to the stubby pencil, I’d love to see votes at 16, but with every passing year it seems the UK is happy to slide back another decade into a dusty, irrelevant past. “Right to recall” is a sidestep into responsibility, maturity, and the present day. Or at least the 20th century. Let’s see it introduced properly.

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thank you for your question

The time is two o’clock in the morning, the place is CSPAN, and the topic for discussion is Barack Obama mumbling and stuttering like teenagers embarking on the school’s production of Hamlet. Or public park chatting up of other teenagers. It was nervous, however you want to call it, and as every line he was supposed to say to his soon-to-be defeated opponent Mitt Romney had been rehearsed thousands of times before hand, this was not the act we had expected.

And that word ‘act’ is the problem. Leaders debates in the US remain by means of tradition and one-upmanship, not by means of democratic accountability for the President or his opponent. Everyone knows this – the television companies, the candidates, the viewers. It’s the same complicity which keeps Eurovision on television every year, for roundabout the same results. When the UK experimented with them for the first time in 2010, the result was an inflated, Internet-driven Cleggmania (oh how sweetly does nostalgia paint that recollection), and ultimately the first election result since February 1974 at which the talking heads of the good ship BBC declared, “The people have spoken, but we’re not entirely sure what they’ve said.”

My opinions towards leadership debates have undoubtedly hardened, and they’re undisputedly negative. The great breakthrough in the UK brought no tangible results. We got some new memes for messageboards and Twitter – “I agree with Nick”, “That’s a good question, Elaine”, and  “I met a one-legged black sailor in Brighton who promised he could get me some crack if I followed him just a little bit further, not long now, just about here,  not there, around the corner, he definitely said seventy quid, don’t follow him until I hear the sound of a car engine revving”.
There wasn’t any more great revelation during the three prime-time debates than we’ve experienced in any modern election campaign. It was more Kinnock on the beach than “Yes We Can.” Having convinced the party machines that another sprinkle of American political magic would work over here, the media were handcuffed to them regardless of results. When those results deflated like  a souflee in a cupboard, nobody could be blamed outside the television executives’ plush offices. Mary Berry would not be best pleased; as in the US, we ended up whipping up the batter too lightly and cooking the recipe on too low a heat. Nick Clegg wasn’t responsible for “I agree with Nick,” that was a cack-handed flirtation technique passed on like notes in a classroom, just with notes the size of novelty cheques for the whole country to see.

If the current trajectory of the Coalition continues to head euro-like into a ditch, and then through the ditch into the engine room at the middle of the Earth installed by the Daleks during their battle with Peter Cushing, leaders debates in 2015 would be even less advisable than David Cameron appearing on Celebrity Masterchef. We know the three leaders too well, now, and their traits are no good for that format. Clegg hasn’t lessened his tendency to meander through sentences as though soundbites don’t matter, Miliband is such a dorky policy wonk that he can memorise one-hour speeches like a borderline autistic man on You Bet!, and Cameron is angrier than Stuart Pearson and The Fucker combined. It wouldn’t be edifying or constructive to watch them try to battle it out on primetime ITV 1 any more than it’s enjoyable watching former boyband members sticking a spiders nest in their eyes or whatever they do on X-Factor these days to keep the viewers away from Strictly.

This is not me saying the political parties have a duty to reverse back to the 1950s and all that “Do you have any more questions you’d like me to ask, Prime Minister?” There are far more natural ways to question our leaders, in a context more natural to the United Kingdom. There’s the annual Paxman Run, for example, at which all former leaders have tended to only just scrape a pass. Michael Gove wouldn’t stand for that level of disappointing failure. There’s the soft sofa shuffle, against which Cameron came unstuck against a former Blue Peter presenter (“How do you sleep at night?”) and Blair managed to implicate himself in yet more Iraq nonsense (“If there wasn’t any WMDs, I’d have just invented another reason, Fern. Now, back to the sponge cake which as you can see here has been resting for a few minutes….”)
I’ve no doubt that the legal minds at the respective HQs of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and UKIP are already forming a joint action against the media companies hoping for a repeat of 2010 in April 2015. If they manage to scupper the debates for good, rejoice. There’s enough reality television in politics without our leaders turning into contestants on Million Pound Drop. I’m devoted far more than normal people should be towards accountability, democratic renewal and electoral reform, but putting our political leaders into contrived Q&A sessions where Downton Abbey should be is an experiment I don’t fancy repeating. Like hair gel, or reading the Observer or using my left hand….
TO WRITE WITH.
                           

masters of the map

Constitutional reform turns even the strongest man to jelly. Tony Blair was known to switch to ‘glazed eyes mode’ whenever someone mentioned a policy not related to the important stuff – like academy schools and PFI hospitals and invading Iraq without justification, that sort of thing. Mention ‘House of Lords reform’ to Blair after the 92 hereditary peers fudge and you might as well have been discussing boot polish.

For David Cameron, constitutional reform was supposed to be over and done with by last Christmas. Help defeat voting reform, stifle the Lords and cover party funding legislation with more grass than you’d find on a teenager’s windowsill. Well you don’t always get what you want, eh?

In the week we find that ‘man of the match’ is to be trademarked I wonder what we could come up with for our D-Cam. “You can’t always get what you want” seems a bit over blown, even if it is accurate. After all, I genuinely believe he wants to reduce the size of the Commons for good reason and not just partisan advantage. This is the proposal which sees Nadine Dorries’ constituency disappear, remember, it’s not as though the Conservatives come out of this without some advantage. Anything which might just open the door to the possibility of a new constituency being formed called “Valleys of Ribble and Lune” seems like a ruddy good scheme to me.

(Disclaimer, that might just have been an idea for which I’m partly responsible. At least I admitted it now, eh?)

What phrase should be look towards selling off to the highest bidder then? “We’re all in this together” seems to have lost more credibility with every passing nano-second so that’s out. “Compassionate Conservative” joins “Quiet Bat People” in the lexicon of the clinically insane. What about “be careful what you wish for”? That could be the 2015 manifesto title. “Party Chairman Grant Shapps, there, holding up the Conservative Manifesto, ‘”Be Careful What You Wish For”, it’s cover showing Nick Clegg in a car with the windows slightly ajar and the engine running, hint hint.”

Regular readers will know that I’m somewhat fond of the ongoing process of reducing the size of the Commons, as I see it without all the nanny goat bleating from the benches opposite. “Gerrrrrymandering!” they….bleat, I suppose….like so many of those people who stand outside shopping centres handing out pocket sized leaflets entitled ‘Let’s Think About Jesus;.  Only in this case it’s “Let’s Listen to Ed Balls”, for which there can be no greater punishment for committing any of sins for which Christianity has cobbled together over the years. I admit that the boundary review has turned into a pile of arseache, with Nick Clegg gambling on acting tough on the one subject matter 90% of the general population don’t care if he acts tough about or not. You see, I’m not that obsessed about equalising constituency sizes to think that it’s the first topic of conversation at the Cricketer’s Arms, no matter how many times I try to shoehorn it into whichever debate is ensuring amongst the barflies. And trust me on this, I’ve had a punch swung at me for daring to suggest that black holes might exist, it’s a tough crowd.

In his pursuit of the one constitutional reform which benefits his party the most (….well, second most, there’s still an in-built Labour bias in the system due to First Past the Post but let’s not meander along that cul-de-sac),  Cameron is in the territory marked ‘at least he tried’. No assists, no goals – he could be the Stewart Downing of politics. Now there’s a phrase I know won’t be trademarked.

2011 – reading tea leaves

It’s the end of Christmas but not quite January, that ‘no man’s land’ between family meetings, food stuffing and New Year champagne popping. You could spend the days watching old Warner Bros cartoons on YouTube whilst dunking Fox’s biscuits into endless rounds of brews (like…ooh I dunno….me) or fall back on that trusty standby of the festive period; the new year prediction game. It’s right up there with the elderly relative favourite, “Guess Which Programmes the Familiar Faced Actors Starred In”, available every Sunday afternoon from ten minutes into the episode.

It would be very easy for me to start with “LibDems will enjoy a massive resurgence in support when the knee-jerk anti-everything reactions die down a bit”. HOWEVER, I have stepped a few paces back to view the picture with a little less bias and have decided instead to predict….

It’s goodbye from Nick, but not the LibDems

Britain’s attitude to the Coalition has been interesting, as this is the first real experiment with coalition governance since the Second World War (it could be argued both cases were created through different definitions of ‘necessity’). There /is/ knee-jerk opposition for the sake of it from certain quarters, the type of “We wanted change from Labour but not this kind of change” blather which fills the comments sections of newspaper websites. The Coalition has achieved a lot since its formation (no, really, look beyond the blather and see what’s been done.)

Unfortunately (and this not going to be a diatribe), all that the Coalition is doing well has been overshadowed by the one big issue it has got completely wrong. On tuition fees for University students, the new Browne report influenced policies will have a detrimental effect on the finances of aspiring students. It’s not quite the Hell and Brimstone “class war” I’ve been hearing, but it’s not quite the place any LibDem supporters wanted to find themselves.

For putting us into Government and threading our fairness agenda through the Conservative-led programme for government, Nick Clegg has to receive a lot of credit. He has taken us supporters somewhere we never thought possible. But, and it’s a biggie, the way he has dragged over our party’s reputation such a large and dark shadow that no further ‘good’ can be completely out of this shadow of ‘bad’. Clegg remains an electoral liability when we need certainty and credibility; we cannot win the AV referendum with a man who called it “a miserable little compromise” leading the charge.

I therefore make the first prediction – that the man who took us into Government will step down before May to give us the best chance of coming out of that process with decent results and a referendum win.

(Okay, so…one-plus-a-bit predictions there, there’s no hard and fast rules about the constraints and such round here…)

Clegg is not the only “Nick” in politics, nor the only one whose leadership is mired in controversy and criticism. Having kept close eyes on the court cases and on-line reactions (always pays to lurk on internet forums), my next prediction has to be…

The slow, certain demise of the British National Party

This is a BIT ‘wishful thinking’ but forgive me. The BNP have been in serious decline for years. Their two victories at the European Elections (Nick Griffin in North West England, Andrew Brons in Yorkshire & Humber) was not followed up by any serious attempt to make hay while the country grumbled. In front of the Question Time audience, Griffin was an embarrassment, firing off his oft-rehearsed anti-everything rhetoric without once hitting a valid target.

The court cases brought against the BNP tell only one part of the story of its certain demise. At the general election, Griffin finished 3rd in the Barking constituency he targeted with more effort than any other. Running parallel to the cases, a general sense of malaise and leadership doubts, has been the upshoot in support for unelected protest groups such as the English Defence League (EDL). Rather tragically for Griffin, his attempts to rebrand his party as electorally credible has been compromised by the attraction of stomping through provincial town centres chanting “You’re Not English Any More” at anyone within ear-shot. The irony can’t be too easy to miss within the BNP.

My prediction therefore is for Griffin to downgrade the BNP to a lobby-group around May (when his party will suffer terribly at the polls, there’s another extra-prediction), though he will remain as an MEP. I suspect the many splinter groups who will come from the BNP before, during and following May will almost all disappear from existence before 2011 is out, leaving the far-right as electorally feckered as the far-left.

The world’s political scene is messy enough now so I darem’t poke a toe into any prediction waters. There are countless potential flash points – unrest in Korea, Obama’s reputation within and beyond the US borders, how the eurozone breaks out of the economic quicksand, Russia (….pretty much everything related thereto….) I’ll begin with…

Africa is the place to turn…towards Asia

Unrest in Côte d’Ivoire, almost certain unrest in Sudan even before the South Sudanese referendum is put, uncertainty in Egypt’s leadership, continued problems in Somalia and Eritrea….Maybe there is always going to be ‘easy pickings’ from looking at Africa and assuming there will be disquiet and disharmony.

2011 will be different, I think; there is increased international financial investment in African states with much to give (China, of course, being the biggest donating country). The ‘pull’ of northern, Arabic Africa from the rest of the continent must seem immense.

A reshaping of political and economic powerhouses is inevitable, as the move away from ‘the West’ to ‘the East’ continues. Europe especially will struggle to meet the challenges of the tipped balance. I worry that, militarily, the West will be pressed into action where there may not be obvious requirements yet today. Economically, Africa will look east.

Economic and political uncertainty across Europe has already manifested itself in riots and protests. I cannot see these dying down over night. There is fear and there is anger, vocal opposition in Ireland, France and the UK towards their Governments, and across Western Europe generally a mood of change is fresh on the wind.

Protests – but not revolution – will still be on the march

The nation states of Europe brought into ‘the age of austerity’ will continue to battle internal pressure and external economic constraints. Storms of uncertainty and unrest will feed the flames, so I cannot see London or Dublin or Paris or Madrid coming out of 2011 without serious and violent protests. The ‘long term’ view, espoused by some in Britain, that the protests are a curtain raiser for forms of ‘uprising’ are particularly silly (and just as “ideologically led” in their dreaming as the protesters allege are the cuts being proposed by government.)

Change and entrenchment of opinion is on the way, that is undeniable, though it seems still to be much light and little heat. Unions and protest groups such as “UKUncut” must keep public sympathy on their side. Similarly, the police will be under more pressure and scrutiny than before, and need to keep both the politicians and public confident in their ability and behaviour.

My prediction…predictions…That an event next year will fundamentally change the relationship between both protesters and public…and possibly between different elements of the protesters too….Not necessarily for the worse or better, just….altered. I am also very sure the police will make another severe mistake in their handling of the protests, one which changes the relationship between police and politicians, police and protesters, and importantly (most fundamentally) between police and members of the public.

(I am not anti-protest at all, looking with a wider view on the recent London protests shows there’s many subjects being stirred around the pot, from tuition fees specifically to anti-establishment generally. I’m not about to suggest that a National-Anarchist revolution is around the corner, heaven forfend…The amount of antagonism and how it manifests will be highly significant next year)

Right, so we have the politics out the way, what else do we have to occupy our time? Oh yeah, the Internet….

Google buys Twitter, Facebook fades, and as for censorship…

Twitter is what you make of it, just follow ‘slebs and you get what you pay for. Well, indeed, that’s the whole point. For all the real-time reactions and ‘two-screening’ (I’m not making that up) the cost is….nil. Though it’s not likely to increase from nowt next year, the business model missing from the centre of Twitter will need to be filled; I predict Google will realise it is missing out from all that lovely search revenue and put in a serious bid for the 140-character blogging bird before the days get shorter.

Whilst Twitter continues to advance, Facebook stumbles and stutters. There’s something not quite….all there with the social network that has spawned a film and a step-change in how we interact with friends and family. Its constant tinkers, complicated security and privacy settings and never ending hunger for more personal info (“It won’t be long before you can email your Info tab to future employers,” as a friend put it), has turned Facebook from the first visit of the morning to something fast becoming an afterthought. Got a Tumblr yet…? Just asking….(I haven’t, but if there’s anywhere to go after Facebook, there’s one very obvious place next….)

I predict further problems and issues as Facebook begins to lose its grip on the world’s social networkers.

Issues of net neutrality, and tighter whips for ISPs to crack (see what the UK passed prior to the election and proposals to restrict access to pornography show that the State has not yet managed to exhaust itself in the pursuit of greater control of its citizens on-line. China may be the “archetypal” national guard against the world wide web; I predict however that Western countries will put down their collective fists in 2011.

(It will be interesting to see how the ‘protest movement’ vibe runs into the ‘restricted internet’ debate, will “UKUncut” take on an additional meaning?)

And finally….There’s the small matter of sport and all that jazz, so in a roundup roundabout sort of way….

I’m assuming the Best Film Oscar will go the way of Inception (no, I’ve not seen it), though a cheeky fiver on Toy Story 3 wouldn’t go amiss for a curveball (no, I’ve not seen that one either). As this year seems to have been ‘the year 3D came back from the dead…again’, next year shows to signs of stopping. I’ll go for a 3D film winning the majority of Oscars in 2012, for a long-term pitch.

This season’s Premier League will be won by Manchester Utd…Yes, I know, it’s a bit obvious a shout, but all credible challengers are having a stumble and Utd have previous in making good when the opposition look away temporarily. So it makes me sound a bit Lawro, deal with it…..

…Right, so 2010 was a right old messy one, for all manner of reasons. Who can possibly predict what will come?

Thanks to all my readers, vistors and comment scribers. Here’s to the Missives still being the place to be next year…

Nick Clegg must resign

Before we are taken into Hallam in a handcart, the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg must resign.

There are many reasons to be cheerful as a LibDem supporter:

*Sure Start protected, social care fund of £2million, income allowance up by over a grand next year with a promise to reach the manifesto pledge of £10,000 by the time of the first ever fixed-term parliament, referendum on voting reform, museum charges still free, end of ID cards, end of the DNA database, scrapping of Section 44, increase in Child Tax Credits and available to more families by 2012…..

…..and then…..

Then there’s the shadow. The dark, thick, acrid smoke covering all the good news, turning it inside out like the toxic fog that does for the chrous-line Simpsons. The scare-story in today’s Guardian today – I assume the headline “LIBDEMS REALISED THERE WOULD BE A HUNG PARLIAMENT AND ACTED ACCORDINGLY” was considered too pedantic – nevertheless taps into the problems right at the heart of our Party and its role within the Coalition.

Clegg has delivered exactly what all activists and Councillors and voters wanted; LibDems in Government, giving the Conservatives a liberal accent on civil liberties and tax. But it’s the shadow, the darkness, the storm…

A few days ago, whilst returning on train from Manchester, I struck up conversations with students coming home from the NUS march in central London. All 5 of them – two each from Manchester and Salford, two from UCLan – agreed with despondency and regret that the march had largely been a disaster. As one said; “It was a great march, until we came out from a 20 minute break in Costa to find all Hell had broken loose.” Another said “We picked up stragglers who just wanted to start a fight, we won’t be on the middle pages never mind the front page.”

But any ire focused at the SWP and pick-n-mix anarchists ruining the march was nothing compared to what they had in store towards Nick Clegg. Not Liberal Democrats generally, I noticed (talking with them as a ‘supporter’, assuming telling them how I was a committed activist and former Councillor would colour the debate somewhat). Specifically Nick Clegg. One told me;

Clegg came to every Uni, day after day, telling us ‘Vote for me and I will help abolish tuition fees. My vote was to him on that one promise, and now that promise is broken. I feel betrayed.

Another said;

All I can see now is Nick Clegg lying about tuition fees and a left wing Labour leader wanting them scrapped. That’s it for me, and all our branch (of the NUS) feel the same. Labour will get thousands more student votes now and it’s all because Labour are taking the right words on scrapping fees, that’s just what we want

A few days later, a mate of mine talking on this issue said;

Clegg just comes across like Phil Woolas, lying to get elected. What’s the difference? He should be done for fraud

Each and every attack on Clegg – their voice hoarse, their hearts deflated, their LibDem support utterly compromised – rang in my ears like church bells. Although I don’t believe “Clegg = Woolas” (whilst Phil knew his election material to be untrue, Clegg had no notion of the election result until it happened), the substantive point still stands. The one policy which was our magnet for support has become repellent, abhorrent.

Partly due to bad PR, implementation of the Browne Report has tainted our Party as dream-stealers. The proposals for tuition fees deal with the unholy mess handed to us by Labour. Increasing the pay-back salary to £21k and rightly dismissing the grossly unfair Graduation Tax is amongst the better of very limited options. It’s not right, it’s not pretty, but here is where we find ourselves…

…I just have to blame Clegg for getting us here. During our Leadership Election – “Calamity Clegg”, remember that? – I voted for Chris Huhne as my first preference and spoke against Nick at every opportunity. At the time, he did not convince me. I didn’t like him at the time and I don’t trust him now. His leadership has become toxic. “Word Association” with Liberal Democrat buzzwords comes up negatively everytime. We’re achieving too much good whilst in Government to have the tuition fees mess drag us out of office.

I support all those LibDems – such as my Presidential preference Tim Farron – who won’t just abstain but vote against the fee proposals. This is the kind of progressive and independent matter of conscious actions I would expect from anyone on the LibDem backbenches. Such matters of principle clearly shut down when Clegg’s ministerial car opened.

For the good of the Party – maybe even for our survival as a Party in the longterm – Nick Clegg must stand down. I had no idea of the strength of opposition to him, the manner in which his personal standing is dragging the whole party in the mud. To get anywhere near the standing before the election, his actions now have to ensure elections later are not ballot-box killing fields.

I want the Party to remain in the Coalition, doing all it can for the people of Britain in the aftermath of Labour’s disastrous economic illiteracy. To do anything in this regard, the one man whose role is causing dense fog to cloud all other considerations of our Party must to the honourable and right thing.

Nick Clegg must resign as Leader as soon as possible.

NUS – the problems with issues

First things first, the old-fashioned, good old facts. I am against tuition fees, always have been, from the moment Labour introduced them in 1997 while I was just starting out at college. “Where did this policy come from?” we asked, in somewhat stunned confusion. Well, nowhere, for Labour sprung them onto the nation without much introduction.

(The same, of course as top-up fees, another post-election surprise from Labour)

I don’t know what the NUS have been smoking, but their current violent attitude spilling across the centre of London really does nothing to make them look like the mature counter-argument to university funding. The NUS have got this completely and utterly wrong. By promoting millions of pounds worth of damage to persons and property across London as part of their “debate”, the NUS “leadership” is showing the very worst characteristics of student politics. Shouty, slogan-sore ignorance on a national scale.

Their collective amnesia is stunning. Labour’s introduction and promotion of tuition fees have brought us all to this state, where the only affordable option is to keep the system going with the improvements suggested by Liberal Democrat MPs now in Government. There is no point, at all, in solely blaming the LibDems, as the NUS are doing with all the coherence of a bus-stop drunk.

Graduation Tax proposals were highlighted by the Browne report as being unfair, for they would be levied on students from the moment they earned around £7,000. The new tuition fee proposals, as recommended by Liberal Democrats in Coalition Government, would see repayments START at £21,000, an increase from £15,000. This is an improvement, something the NUS cannot hear above the screaming and gnashing of teeth.

Labour sewed tuition fees into the fabric of university funding. The NUS has to explain what system it would introduce instead of tuition fees, one which would raise AT LEAST the same amount of money. Nobody in the NUS has come up with a credible reason why the entire nation should be expected to pay for university education out of general taxation.

Their “plan” to force by-elections in every LibDem seat is also indicative of their ignorance. There is no “recall MP” law in place yet, that LibDem proposal is still to make it through Parliament (as with the fixed-term parliament proposal, and increasing tax allowances and all other promises made, these things take time). The “right to recall” is only for MPs who have broken the law – such as Phil Woolas. What has Nick Clegg done to break the law? Nothing.

I have great sympathy with anti-tuition fee protesters. BUT I do not, cannot, accept the view that the only organisation responsible is the Liberal Democrats and the only recourse is setting fire to the Square Mile. The NUS has got its argument completely wrong. In the court of public opinion, they resemble the very worst kind of student protesting stereotype.

Labour got us into this mess. If they had increased University funding in line with all other public spending splurges, this mess would not know be realised. There is no point in whinging about the result of the General Election, not trying to rewrite history to present Labour as “friends of students”.

As the sight of the NUS-led protests against “Tony B. Liar” prove, sometimes all the students unions need are reasons to be angry with no solutions to back up the slogans.

I am against tuition fees, now as ever. I am against the NUS setting the HE funding argument as a LibDem witchhunt. It is not accurate, it is baseless in fact and shallow in detail.

I agree with Diane

Labour’s leadership election has been – genuinely – fascinating. At a time when political philosophy and beliefs return as discussion points on the television news for the first time since ‘debate’ enraged over the extent of which Blair distrusted Brown, the Labour Party rage over who was more anti-Iraq than the others, who dislikes the Tories more. All the male contenders, one or two nuanced differences on public service reform aside, speak exactly the same; they are men who reached the highest level of public office possible under Blair/Brown and now talk with all the conviction of mid-level advertising executives at a lunchtime PowerPoint meetings.

I wish the male contenders could be taken seriously. Ed Balls is perhaps the worst of all, tripping up on Radio5Live yesterday with such gems as refusing to explain how he would grow the economy, (“I would grow the economy and make jobs”, he boasted, with a flourish of the Tommy Cooper ‘Just Like That!’). He waffled on about corporate hospitality at cricket grounds to the amusement of the audience, getting a knowing guffaw when he described his constituency of Morley and Outwood as “marginal”. It certainly wasn’t in the notional predictions, Ed, wonder why that was?

Andy “I’m not from London, you know” Burnham speaks with conviction, although his constant complaining about the New Labour way of doing things (he seems obsessed with talking about ‘dinner party ways of doing things’ like someone casually mentioning in their Facebook statuses how they don’t mind never being invited to friends’ events).

The two Millibands are perhaps the most emblematic of the defeated Labour regime. David looks and sounds and acts with Blairite ambition, even affecting the considered croak in the voice Blair used when saying one word while hastily calculating the next best word to use. David’s reputation has had, in once case literally, banana skin moments, the flawed genius unable to fulfil his promise at the right time, now he is struggling not to act like a “King uncrowned”.

Diane Abbott, helped to the shortlist by David Milliband, has been the candidate with the least to lose and the most to say. Sounding more genuinely Labour than any of her male opponents, on topics from privatising hospital cleaning contracts to renewing Trident, Diane is the sound of how the Labour Party used to be before, as she put it, the New Labour “marketing exercise” was introduced.

Blair’s reform of Labour was electorally successful, albeit at the expense of support from traditional Labour followers. The Party of 1997 was not that of 1979, and by following Thatcherite economic models and following George W Bush into the illegal invasion of Iraq, Blair did not break sweat in the aim of getting back those supporters. Labour now has an opportunity to set its course for the duration of this (fixed-term) Parliament; to continue as a centre-left “social democratic party”, or to return to its core values as a broadly left, socialist campaigning party. Diane will not win the leadership, she knows that, but her presence in the campaign highlights the state of Labour today – men of a certain age talking the same language, no difference dared spoken, no radical opinions dared suggested.

During the Liberal Democrat leadership campaign – I put Chris Huhne as my first preference over Nick Clegg, incidentally – what it meant to be liberal in the British political scene was debated right at the top of the contest. I am no closer understanding what it means to be a Labour supporter in 2010 having followed their leadership debates. David Milliband will win, there is no question, taking the Party back to Blairite positioning on welfare and NHS reform and Academy schools.

There could be another way, a genuine change from the Labour Party which alienated so many of its core supporters. To this end, I agree with Diane.

Cross in the Box

Yesterday in the House of Commons, Labour MPs bopped up and down like hyperactive children during the announcement on constitutional reform. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg had walked into the Chamber with the kind of reform for which the Labour Party was once known. Following 13 years of virtual inactivity from Labour on voting reform and constitutional renewal, the Party now seem to be going around cutting off their noses to spite their supporters.

Remember the Labour Party promise to change the voting system? It was first written in 1996, fought on in the 1997 election, and then dumped in the long grass for fear of handing the Conservatives a majority. Now they act like spoiled children, afraid of the improvements which are proposed as they sit still stunned by their election defeat. It’s like having an argument with a teenager; confident by their stance for a few stubborn months before changing their mind without notice a week or so later on.

Labour are afraid of change. Suddendly the Coalition government are talking their language; reform, renewal, progression, the Conservative Party speaking with a liberal accent. For 13 years, Labour barely touched constituentional reform, stuffing the House of Lords with more unelected members than ever before, and making changes to the postal vote rules which one election court judge described as “being akin to a banana republic”.

Labour are frightened of the Equal Constituency size plans because they sit pretty in undersized urban seats. They fear AV – after losing an election promising AV in their manifesto – because it may mean working in coalition with other parties after 2015. And they cannot stand the idea of fixed term Parliaments – another promise – because it takes control out of their hands.

Nick Clegg is holding another winning hand. Labour are sitting in the mud of their own contradictions and stubborn opposition for the sake of it. Renewal should be at the centre of our broken, tired, outdated constitution. Labour was once the Party which stood against the establishment, wanting equality for all, demanding the changes to renew the nation. Now Labour stick to the old routine, dumping their newest and freshest members into opposing these worthwhile changes like so many young men dumped into Occupied France.

Labour was the future, once. When it learns how to be an effective Opposition, maybe there will be some hope. For now, every Labour MP who stands against AV, fixed term Parliaments, and constituency shape reform, simply looks petulant and provocotive.

Your Freedoms, our opportunity…

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg today launched “Your Freedom”, to help collate ideas for the Coalition’s “Great Repeal Bill”.

Clear proof that this Government is serious about undoing the tangle of authoritarian, civil-liberty hating agenda from the previous Labour administration, this goes another step to disprove the hysterics surrounding the new Government: the Conservative Party are talking with a liberal accent, and long may it continue.

Some of my suggestions, with appropriate links where I could find them (hey, Government websites are not very good STILL, so much for new politics etc).

Freedom to take photographs

There are two popular links to this proposal – by “manwood” and “eafo

It is almost too surreal for words to consider that the police can confiscate a camera – or even arrest the photographer – as a potential ‘terrorist threat’ Even train spotters have been dragged under this paranoid legislation, as though operatives are busying themselves at the end of Platform 4 admiring a Class 150/2 en route to Blackburn. The freedom to take photographs of public spaces is too fundamental to trap under so-called anti-terrorist law. It’s a measure of Labour’s evil streak that they considered it sensible in the first place.

Freedom to live without suspicion

With reference to this from “nothing2hide”

RIPA [Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act] is another watchword for absurd paranoia under Labour, legislation gone feral. You may remember councils checking up on parents during the school run, or people being clocked putting cardboard into glass-can recycle bins, that sort of thing. RIPA is a snooper’s charter, totally at odds with the right to exist without fear of unnecessary surveillance. Its repeal is required as urgently as possible to return some sense of liberty to our daily lives. There are other ways to monitor potential threats without the legislation being misused by bored Town Hall clerks.

Freedom to learn without prayer

From “lousiealmond” comes a popular proposal to free schools from collective prayers and assemblies.

This is not an agenda against Nativity Plays. It simply asks that non-faith schools, especially primary schools, are freed from the necessity to ask children as young as 4 to say “amen” to opinions they may not understand or believe. Parents are able to decide how much religion their children learn at home; they are allowed to opt-out of certain lessons (such as sex education). They should be confident about schools not giving children too much religious teachings if this is against their wishes.

Freedom to smoke cannabis

As seen – perhaps inevitably – by plenty of submissions, with some taken at random being from “pillarofsoc“, and “mikeoldroyd

This is an oldie, but a goodie. By decriminalising and regulating the sale of cannabis, the Government would have a substantial income stream while being able to ensure the quantity and strength of that on sale. It would decrease the “Morrisions car park” branches of NHS Direct to barely a trickle, improve the ability of the police to focus on serious crime prevention, including harder drugs and money laundering. Cannabis has been found to have serious medical consequences, but its use has not fallen by a substantial degree; Government regulation would be the “compromise” between full banning and total legalisation.

Freedom to respect, and be respected by, the police

With reference to suggestions by “getcartnernow” and “sladen”

The powers to stop and search are an important part of police work and crime prevention. Under Labour, and their tag-team Home Secretaries, “Section 44” stop and searches enabled the police to ask anyone, without prejudice, many questions without the need to have a given excuse. Black, Asian, and younger people were targeted like the proverbial pot of jam. “Section 44” is now a watchword for authoritarianism. It cannot be defended if this country wants to be considered an open, liberal society. The paranoid amongst Labour supporters say “If our way of life changes, the terrorists have won”. Clearly they did not look at the legislative history of their own party…

Freedom to enjoy legal highs

As recommended by your good Doktor

We know, now as fact, that the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs was pretty much ignored by Alan Johnson during the ‘drone controversy. Wanting a quick headline on the back of tabloid hysteria, legal highs such as methedrone were banned. Websites selling the substance reported their highest ever takings; they vanished from the web within hours of the ban taking place. Drone was found to be directly responsible for one death – regrettable as one death is, it is nothing compared to the deaths linked to excessive drinking, smoking, or even deaths on the road. The Advisory Council must now return to this issue, allowing users who already “self regulate” and “self police” far more than people realise to use their drug of choice free from State control unless it is proven utterly unsafe to do so.

I have been distracted by other very good ideas – repeal the extreme pornography laws, allow voting across a weekend, set up an English parliament. Now all I hope for – all we all hope, perhaps – is that the Coalition are able to take these suggestions through the House of Commons before 2015. This is our best opportunity for many years to influence the tone of Government. Labour liked to tuck us all up and tell us ghost stories.

May the Coalition bring some light into the room…

university, challenged

I agree with Nick.

“I believe tuition fees are wrong, I believe they need to be abolished”

Unlike Labour, who over 13 years of misrule could not see the consequences of “spend, spend, spend”, Nick told Party Conference last year that the country may well not be able to afford the abolition of tuition fees; he maintained that they were a policy he could not abide and would, when circumstances were better, move to abolish.

In his first major speech as University Minister, David “I Had Two Brains Once” Willetts has sown the possibility of tuition fees having to rise, or at least remaining in place for English students. His blame falls on Labour;

Labour left a system on shaky financial foundations, without a viable long-term future

He went on to say;

“If fees were to go up, the government would have to lend people the money to pay for them – and that would push up public spending…It’s not just that students don’t want to pay higher fees: the Treasury can’t afford them”

Universities are not scraping the barrels quite yet; there are alternative revenue streams aside from the Government or tuition fees. As in all areas of spending over the next 12 months, 2 years, cost-cutting will have to be looked at from the very top to bottom. After 13 years of economic misrule, we all have to suffer the consequences.

The “T”‘s threatening the stability of the coalition – Trident, Tuition Fees, taxes – have all shaken the alliance since polling day. As I have always done, since their forced introduction, I will oppose university tuition fees. Their abolition for Scottish students in Scotland shows it can be done.

Tuition fees are inexcusable, a mortgage on education, a tax on learning. Students should not leave with the cost of a family car around their neck for the sake of their future careers. Reviewing what Universities spend, and how, is vital for the coalition.

But I will not support an increase in tuition fees. The consequences of the ill-thought out plan should not be putting more strain on students. Too many short-term errors were made by Labour – the arbitrary 50% aim for University admissions, for example, which now “ties in” future governments to the level else to look elitist. The aim of 50% has opened up the gates to too many students chasing too little places; little wonder smaller institutions are now feeling the financial strain. Little wonder the students loan service is close to imploding under the pressure.

Nothing related to spending commitments will be easy, with the tight constraints of the previous Government boxing in the aims of this one – “There is no money left!”. No matter the change in context, though, my convictions stay the same. I agree with Nick; tuition fees must, at some point, be abolished.