- oD 50.50
G4S: securing whose world?
Devalue or Else!
Re-birth of the nation?
Jon Bright (London, OK): Further to last week's liberty speech, the government have published three consultation papers on some of the proposed constitutional tinkering set out in this summer's Green Paper. Of course this is going to have the cynical spluttering into their morning coffee - but this is a (slim) chance to try and take some control of the process. The three papers are available in pdf format, with (very complicated) questionnaires at the back, and details about where to email completed questionnaires into in each one. Closing date is the 17th of January. The government is consulting on:
Jon Bright (London, OK): One of the cleverer aspects of David Cameron's still relatively short tenure as Tory leader has been his use of 'policy reviews'. Commissioned by him, six teams of Tories went out to examine six different policy areas, and report back. Clever, in my opinion, because each of the six reoprts was meaningful enough to breathe some publicity oxygen despite the fact that none of their recommendations automatically turned into Tory policy - Dave can see which policies are going to be popular or not before fully committing to them (he's set up a website for just such a purpose).
Saul Albert (London, The People Speak): In the midst of the furore over rigged TV 'voting' competitions, spurned elections and missing referendums, London-based art collective 'The People Speak' have recently been rekindling enthusiasm in the democratic process. Their latest show, 'Who Wants to Be?', mixes direct-democracy decision making, interactive animation and improvisation into dangerously spontaneous entertainment.
Jon Bright (London, OK): I was at a Google / Demos event on Wednesday night held in Google's rather swanky Buckingham Palace Road offices (note to self: corporate events have the best nibbles). Everyone coming in was made to sign a rather intimidating secrecy agreement which I'm hoping none of the following will be in breech of.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): As the Brown government makes a hash of its so-called citizens juries, James Fishkin reports on the conclusion to the altogether more serious efforts to listen to the people of Europe which Clive James Matthews has been blogging over on our sister site dLiberation. It is a must-read if you are really interested in 'listening to the people'. Fishkin works from the Centre for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford and has developed a sophisticated form of deliberative polling. For a good overview of the issues involved see his review of the best selling Wisdom of Crowds. He concludes:
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): On Newsnight Michael Crick said that he thought David Leigh and Rob Evans Guardian story on how, in the summer of 2005, Labour peer Doug Hoyle who works as a lobbyist for the arms industry, took money to introduce his client to Lord Drayson the Minister of State for Defence Equipment was not a big scandal as nothing illegal took place. Your Lordships have got to earn a living you see.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Just back from Washington DC and awake to the end of the Today programme with Geoffrey Robertson QC and Jack Straw on the Putney Debates. Geoffrey drives home their radicalism as the early but contemporary origins of modern liberty and trial by jury, Jack throws in the peasants revolt, Geoffrey just manages to squeeze in that we are debating principles and welcomes the Prime Minister and Straw for doing the same and the programme is quickly drawn to a close. Debating principles is for another day!
Tony Curzon Price (London, openDemocracy): So, ConservativeHome has discovered that the typical BBC employee who also has a profile on facebook has "liberal" political views - they out-number conservatives by 11-1 in the BBC, versus 2-1 in the country and 3-1 in London.There are lots of flaws in the conclusion that this means there is an anti-Tory bias in the BBC. Listing yourself as "liberal-minded" won't stop you from voting Conservative, for example. In fact, much of Cameron's repositioning can be thought of as making sure that more such self-describers consider the Conservatives an acceptable vote.
Gareth Young (Lewes, CEP): Gordon Brown, The Bard of Britishness, these days more of a Clown Prince, has been waiting and waiting for the Conservatives to play the English card so his backbenchers could scream 'nasty party' and accuse the Tories of 'fanning the flames of English nationalism' or 'breaking up the Union'. But it hasn't come, the Conservatives understand that Brown's Scottishness has dealt them a great hand and they intend to keep raising while the Mail and Telegraph go out to bat on their behalf. Gordon so desperately wants to paint New Labour as the 'Party of the Union' but right now it doesn't seem like much of a party, and even less of a union; the Barnett Formula is now coming to be seen as a tax on being English, and the West Lothian Question waits ominously in the wings while the Democracy Task Force delays its report from Spring to Summer to Christmas.
Stuart Weir (Cambridge, Democratic Audit): We should welcome Gordon Brown's political predicament, for if he is regain the political high ground that he assumed on becoming Prime Minister, he now clearly needs to reassure liberal Britain that our liberties are safe in his hands. The government's plans for a 'British' Bill of Rights have caused concern because it was possible that here was another political issue on which there would be cross-dressing with Cameron's Tories, on a measure that would distinguish between 'citizens' and others in the protection of civil and political rights in the UK.
Andrew Blick (Cambridge, Democratic Audit): I have just obtained a copy of the government consultation document on war powers and treaties. War powers will get all the media attention, so I will talk about treaties here. I am glad the government is dealing with this issue. In many ways it is more important than war powers, since treaties cover every aspect of domestic and international policy as executed by the UK government; and they can be the basis for us entering wars (as they did in 1914, and as in Afghanistan today). I was pleased when, in July, Gordon Brown promised to "put on to a statutory footing Parliament's right to ratify new international treaties." But now it has become clear that all that is intended is to place the convention known as the "Ponsonby Rule" on a statutory basis. In itself the Rule does not guarantee even that a treaty will be debated. If it is, as the consultation paper itself states: "there are no known examples in recent years of a vote being taken following a debate held under the Ponsonby Rule." The government's current intention does not therefore meet the Prime Minister's proposal for Parliament to possess the "right to ratify" treaties. Parliament itself and others outside it should engage with the consultation process to press for something better.
Jon Bright (London, OK): I've just come from the University of Westminster where Gordon Brown was delivering a speech on the them of 'Liberty', and I'm trying to scribble down a few hurried thoughts. He used it to announce the beginning of a consultation on a British Bill of Rights, as a first step towards establishing a new constitutional settlement.
Mike Small (Fife, The Guardian): Everybody's sorry these days. Des Brown. David Cairns. Big Gordon. Wendy's probably sorry but we've not heard from her (and none of the UK media news channels have mentioned her relationship to Douglas). Now even Douglas Alexander is ‘sorry' for the election disorganisation that effectively disenfranchised over 140,000 people. Alexander made his apology ahead of Prime Minister's Questions, where Tory leader David Cameron described the mishandling of the Scottish elections as a "scandal". Well it is a scandal, and it's crystal clear that Alexander should resign immediately.
Nan Sloane (Leeds, Centre for Women and Democracy): Does it really matter that only 19.8% of our MPs are women, that women constitute a mere 31% of local councillors, and that BME women are even more poorly represented at these levels? After all, women have the vote, and are free to stand for local councils or parliament if they want to. If they don't choose to, why should it be a problem?
Hugo Robinson (London, Open Europe): In an earlier posting, Jonathan Church at the Federal Trust suggests the Government's refusal to hold the promised referendum on the revised EU Constitution is justified on the grounds that "this particular broken manifesto pledge" should not be elevated above others - and that this means there is no need for Gordon Brown to keep his word.
Andrew Blick (Cambridge, Democratic Audit): Jack Straw - the first MP to be Lord Chancellor - appeared before a Lords Committee for the first time last night. Their main interest was in the judicial parts of his job. He seemingly conceded that the creation of the Ministry of Justice, which was decided without any apparent consultation with the judiciary, should have been handled better. And he implied strongly that he thought the former Prime Minister Tony Blair should not have opened his mouth over the decision to drop the investigation into alleged corruption around the the Al-Yamamah arms deal. The Committee did get onto the broader constitutional reform programme as well - taking particular interest in a subject they produced a report on last year, war powers. Currently the executive makes all decisions over war and peace without any formal obligation to consult Parliament. It seems that, like the Constitution Committee, the government favours a convention that Parliament should be able to vote on entry into armed conflict, rather than a statutory requirement. Discussion then got confused, with Jack Straw floating the curious idea of a hybrid statutory convention - surely an oxymoron. The nebulous conversation revealed the fundamental flaw in the Constitution Committee's approach to the war powers. Conventions are too vague and too malleable (especially by the executive) to work and cannot by definition be created out of thin air. The only way to avoid these problems is to formally define the role of Parliament in overseeing this and other prerogative powers, allowing the executive sufficient constrained discretion to respond to emergencies. This course was the one recommended by the Commons Public Administration Select Committee, as Jack Straw noted. Other countries, including our allies in Nato, have achieved this task and there is no reason why we cannot.
Akash Paun (London, Constitution Unit): Tomorrow's debate on the Modernisation Committee's report, Revitalising the Chamber: The role of the backbench member (opens pdf), offers the Brown government a chance to demonstrate its reformist credentials and its commitment to strengthening the House of Commons. Indeed, in the government's response to the committee - which is after all chaired by a Cabinet minister - it indicated its support for several sensible, if minor, procedural changes to make debates and question times more topical among other things, while rejecting proposals that might have had a greater impact such as the resurrection of facilities for private members' motions.
Stuart Weir (Cambridge, Democratic Audit): Everyone in Westminster, and probably the country at large, knows that the trade in honours goes on. John Yates of the Yard knows it too but was not willing to say so directly when he gave evidence yesterday to the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC may have a boring title, but it is the most lively and effective select committee in the House of Commons). The Committee itself informed Yates at the start of his 16-month investigation into the sale of honours that everyone knew it went on in secret and that he would not get anywhere unless he had hard evidence (under the 1925 Honours Act) that was too elusive to pin down in our political black economy. There is a strange paradox in the current concern over political corruption. On the one hand, great effort has gone into cleansing political life of corruption; on the other hand, the political class still "don't get it". Politicians and their aides continue to practice all sorts of dodges, largely for party and personal political advantage and not pecuniary motives, and to take advantages of the manifold opportunities that present themselves in the porous structures of British governance. They also insist that it is they in the political sphere who should exert control over their practices, not judges, not official commissioners, and certainly not police officers. Elizabeth Silkin perished because MPs of all parties, and at the apex of the parliamentary system, refused to accept her judgments on their often improper conduct. John Yates came up against a "Downing Street" mafia that closed ranks, regarding his investigation as a political matter, and not criminal; and masterminded an outcry when one of their number was subjected to a comparatively mild form of dawn raid that is properly reserved only for "real" criminals and terrorists, real and not-so-real.
Kiran Dhami (London, Women's Resource Centre): Women's Resource Centre, Urban Forum and Oxfam are calling on the Government to set targets to improve women's representation on Local Strategic Partnerships (LSPs) following research which shows that women are dramatically under-represented at senior levels. LSPs are key decision-making bodies at local level, controlling significant resources in the context of increasing devolution of power. The recent Local Government White Paper, ‘Strong and Prosperous Communities' emphasises the importance of community involvement in local decision-making processes. It is not only an issue of fairness that this decision-making includes women; priorities can be affected too. Women representatives are more likely to focus on social services, the safety of women and children, and gender equality. But as well as this, all public bodies now have legal obligations under the Gender Equality Duty to actively promote gender equality.Our report reveals that only a quarter of chairs of LSP Boards are women. We also found that the voice of women's voluntary and community organisations is hardly heard at all. Less than 2% of voluntary and community sector representatives on LSPs are women's organisations, despite making up 7% of the voluntary and community sector. The report also found that 80% of LSPs are not monitoring women's representation, and no LSP demonstrated awareness that issues, such as economic development or transport, affect men and women differently.
The Sunday Times noted that Andrew Duff, one of the three MEPs who helped to draft the treaty, has called the UK's ‘safeguard' on the Charter into question. "I am surprised the British feel so confident they have a cast-iron guarantee. It is not the view over here. "The charter obviously has to be tested in the courts and it lies with the courts to decide. There are some circumstances where it [the opt-out] could work and some where it wouldn't."
Stuart Weir (Cambridge, Democratic Audit): With an electoral system that diminishes, inhibits and fractures their election results and the traditional two-party mindset of the political class (politicians and journalists alike) being reinforced by the close rivalry between Brown and Cameron, it is easy to understand how readily their tormentors patronise the Liberal Democrats; less easy to understand why their leaders so often down play electoral reform. It is therefore interesting that Chris Huhne has chosen to make a distinct political identity for himself by emphasising electoral reform along with social justice as his themes in the contest with Nick Clegg for the Lib Dem leadership. By contrast, Clegg emerges as a regular good guy, and handsome to boot, and by implication a young and vigorous replacement for their "aged" predecessor. Clegg's image is further enhanced by whispers that Huhne's challenge to Campbell in their contest for the leadership was contaminated by yet more whispers. (Has there ever been a political contest sans whispers?) Then the Sunday press took whispering into a new dimension, as I wrote yesterday. Who is whispering, who is playing tricks here, and why?
Rupert Read (Norwich, The Green Party): A crisis can provoke the best in political leadership. Immediacy and clarity, brought on by the realisation of danger, can make middle-of-the-road administrators step out of their everyday roles, and do great things.But global over-heat is a different sort of crisis. Decisions now may create a better future, but the effects, good or bad, won't be known for a long time. If we're successful, then we'll never know how terrifying it might have got.
Gavin Yates (Edinburgh, GYMedia): The Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has taken the unprecedented step of writing to all 189 signatories of the International Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty in an attempt to get all nuclear weapons out of Scotland.Salmond is asking them to back his bid for Scotland to have observer status at future treaty talks. The countries that the FM has contacted include Iran and Zimbabwe, causing one Scottish Labour MSP to say: "He has written to some very despotic and dangerous individuals, which we have very sensitive and complex relationships with, and treated it like a weekly political football. It is potentially very damaging to our national security."
It is what the row about the European constitution is all about: what control do we have over our own destiny; and how do we call those who govern us to account?