No to TTIP
The European Union had the last word at Bali and that was probably fitting. They made many concessions and looked at times as if they could be bossed by both the Americans and the large developing countries.
But, all in all, Europe had a good conference. They have become climate change's playmakers, pursuing a strategy that has surprising subtlety.
Welcome to openDemocracyUK, the British section of openDemocracy.
"Everybody on the ground wants peace"
Mairead Maguire is currently travelling on board the MV Rachel Corrie delivering aid to Gaza. Read the Nobel Women's initiative call for the safe passage of MV Rachel Corrie.
Editor's note: You may have read in the papers that Phillip Blond launched his ResPublica think tank with the blessing of David Cameron. He does not mention OurKingdom in his list of places he publishes so we have brought this out from our archive - we originally published it on the 23rd September 2008 after it appeared in the e-book Is the future Conservative? edited by Jon Cruddas MP and Jonathan Rutherford, produced jointly by Compass, Soundings and Renewal.
Yet another British casualty in the war in Afghanistan has just been announced. Only the British dead rate a mention, not those who are injured or maimed for life, nor the dead and injured of the country itself. It is a long way from Tony Blair's confident statement in the House of Commons in October 2001 that British troops were joining a 'strong' coalition with 'robust plans' and 'humanitarian plans ... falling into place'. There was debate, but no vote, on Blair's commitment of troops.
In January 2006, John Reid announced in Parliament 'a seamless package of democratic, political, developmental and [oh yes!] military assistance in Helmand'. No vote. In March Reid added this comment: 'If we came for three years here to accomplish our mission and had not fired one shot at the end of it, we would be very happy indeed'. A large contingent of troops was deployed in Helmand in May of that year, the British presence rose by some 3,300 troops by the following summer. Fatalities immediately began to rise every year, from 39 in 2006 to nearly 70 so far this year. Now over 120 British troops have died there, the coalition is weak and growing weaker, and humanitarian plans have fallen into a corrupt limbo.
This eight year long war, tragic not only for the UK but more so for Afghanistan and Pakistan, has never once been put to the vote in the House of Commons. There has been no need. The government was able to enter into the war, and then to escalate the British commitment, through Royal Prerogative powers that do not even oblige ministers to inform Parliament on actions that they take under these powers. As Andrew Blick said, in his magisterial dissection of the Ministry of Justice report reneging on the aborted government pledge to reform the Royal Prerogative, Parliament's ability to debate and vote on the deployment of troops in action will not be statutory (but is limited to a parliamentary resolution), and leaves the government enough discretion to drive a battalion or two through.
I have just returned from a short visit to some of the (increasingly expensive) countries of the European Union. For much of the time I was in the enjoyable company of couples from the U.S. and had ample opportunity to overhear their conversations.
One such conversation between a wife who was a Democrat and her husband who was a Republican was brief and instantly amusing but as I pondered on it I was reminded that we need to be careful in wishing for what we want: we might get it.
The conversation ran thus:-
Wife. ‘The reason I like Obama is that he believes in what he says.'
Husband. ‘That is just what worries me.'
My first reaction was that the husband was simply reflecting a Republican view that Obama was both dangerous and seriously wrong in believing that the U.S. would be a more successful society if it embraced policies which were redistributive of wealth and ‘socialist'. I put ‘socialist' within quotation marks because, as another of my travelling companions explained to me, it is seen by many in the U.S. as a word connoting a political system based on the taking of money from those who work and giving it, in cash or kind ( e.g. ‘excessive' access to education or health care), to those who don't - ‘like in the U.K. and France'.
But on reflection I wondered if the husband also meant that, in an inherently selfish world, the interests of the U.S. would be served better by a leader who was more practised in the arts of deception and less inclined to honesty and openness.
As delegates decanted from Manchester recently, many will have reflected on what they view as a successful conference. The gathering, the biggest seen for a long time, contributed to the on-going rebranding and definition of ‘modern Conservatism'. The conference also proved instructive for those who seek to understand how the Conservatives will approach issues of citizenship, identity and constitutional reform. And what the last five days has highlighted is that Conservatives, progressive or traditionalists alike, have little time for or comprehension of the complexities, dilemmas and subtleties of post-devolution politics in the UK. The conference instead revealed a party which remains Anglo-centric in its political outlook and language.
In his keynote address David Cameron again stated his commitment to the defence of the Union, claiming he would never do anything to put it at risk. However the view that emerged from the conference is one which is confused, often contradictory and likely to further undermine the cohesion of the UK. The Conservatives gave scant attention to issues linked to constitutional matters either in the main debating hall or at fringe events. The only session scheduled in the main conference hall which explicitly dealt with the Union had representatives from Scotland and Wales, plus Sir Reg Empey, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. Empey's party is now again formally linked to the Conservatives, even though the memory of the previous connection, from the 1920s until the 1970s, is a bitter one for many Catholic nationalists.
The promotion of ‘Britishness' in Northern Ireland is set against a Good Friday Agreement which explicitly acknowledges the equal legitimacy of its two traditions. Owen Paterson, Shadow Secretary for Northern Ireland, claimed that the Conservatives were the only political party who campaigned in all four nations, yet it was instructive that the session was mis-titled ‘Great Britain' rather the ‘United Kingdom'. Although the Conservatives claimed to seek to build ‘a stronger union' and ‘a greater Britain', it was not felt necessary to provide representation for England, thus suggesting that the quasi-colonialist Thatcherite view of Anglo-Britishness still shapes the Conservative thinking.
During the conference, the Party avoided discussion of the central plank of their constitutional reform platform, namely English votes for English Laws. This is presented as solution to the vacuum created by New Labour radical constitutional programme, the West Lothian or English Question, whereby power has been devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but not England. David Mundell, the Conservatives' only Scottish MP, described such reforms as ‘sensible proposals' to give English MPs equitable powers of decision-making as those afforded to the Scottish Parliament and the other devolved assemblies.
To laugh or to cry? Up and down the land people are asking themselves this question as they watch Harriet Harman, Nick Clegg or... well here is something by Charles Moore. He's an old adversary of mine having adamantly opposed Charter 88 and any attempt at reforming the British system in a democratic fashion since yonks.
Now he is following the lead of Douglas Carswell MP, the Tory backbencher who took the scalp of Speaker Martin and is calling for open primaries in the selection of MPs. Moore doesn't follow him so far as to support his audaciously titled book: The Plan (what socialist would dare to issue a volume with such a title!).
The ductile Moore slips away from embracing the idea that there is anything fundamentally wrong. Instead he has this delightful approach to an argument:
I keep asking myself how all this has come about. How is it that a Parliamentary system which really was the envy of the world even only a generation ago is now the butt of its jokes? I think I have a possible explanation.
For a hundred years, the great issue which Parliament debated most often was the franchise. Who should be allowed to elect MPs? From the Great Reform Bill of 1832 until the final admission of all women as voters in 1928, this argument raged. It made MPs super-conscious of the people who put them into Parliament, since they kept on debating who those people should be. And it made the public feel that the right to vote really mattered.
With these battles won, people felt satisfied, for the time being. But after the Second World War, politicians began to take advantage. With their legitimacy uncontested, they made things more comfortable for themselves. MPs forgot that their House was esteemed because it genuinely made the laws for the people it represented, and so they transferred much of that right to Europe.
So there you are. What went wrong was that they just stopped talking about the right things. Whoops, this led to them "forgetting" they were they to make the laws so they transferred this to Europe. What a slip!
Having handed over their birthright, MPs then focused on their mess of pottage. Individual offices, more paid advisers, bigger pensions, shorter hours, second homes, free ginger-crinkle biscuits! It is not a coincidence that Tony Blair, the first prime minister in our history ever to show consistent contempt for the House of Commons, was also the first to make the hand-outs really gargantuan.
Corruption and ginger-crinkle simply followed loss of focus. Blair almost comes out of it well, or at least better than forgetful. He genuinely despised the place and so he pioneered a new level of corruption. One has to admire his consistency. However, "In the party conference season which has just finished, little bits of this subject came up", Moore laments,
David Cameron, in particular, was specific about one or two tough things which he wanted to apply in the next Parliament, such as an end to the MPs' pension scandal. But the mood in all the leaderships was that they wanted to "move on". They are avoiding plans for real reform. They should be reverting to Prime Minister's Questions twice a week, relinquishing government control of parliamentary business, providing for referendums. But of course they do not want to strengthen Parliament against the executive which they themselves hope to lead.
Here, at last, there is a glimmer of the deeper picture. "They are avoiding plans for real reform". They? It can only mean all of them. The whole lot of them - enfolded into the hope for unchecked executive power.
Now where did I hear that analysis before? Blow me down if Charles Moore isn't starting to make the case for a new Charter 88 now that liberty and freedom are no longer safe. Will he ever admit that only a generation ago, well 20 years, this was already being set out loud and clear?
OK, let's put the trumpet aside and recognise the strange common ground that is emerging - like a fresh island from the sewerage emitted by our ancient constitutional arrangements. In a striking analysis Timothy Garton Ash, just back in the UK after three months, wrote in the Guardian that he was puzzled and alarmed. Why has the constitutional moment not been seized? Where are the political forces and organised arguments able to take on a system in which all are, as Moore says, "avoiding plans for real reform"?
Garton Ash discusses Democratic Audit's hilarious 'Unspoken Constitution'. Set out for what it is, who can support the regime in its true light? Perhaps now that Moore recognises that the old regime has lost its vital link to the public even he will recognise the need for a new settlement.
On 10 June this year Gordon Brown, in the course of explaining to the Commons how he intended to respond to the MPs expenses crisis, said that ‘I personally favour a written constitution.' He thereby became the first sitting British Prime Minister publicly to express such a desire. An historic moment. But one which - like many other initially promising democratic reform proposals made since Brown moved into No.10 - has not been followed up.
The Ministry of Justice paper Review of the Executive Royal Prerogative Powers, published on Thursday, demonstrates that there is no serious commitment within government to realising the idea that Brown floated in June. At the heart of the ‘unwritten' - or as it might better be described, un-codified - UK constitution is a set of executive powers known as the ‘Royal Prerogative'. They feature strongly in the recent Democratic Audit pamphlet, The Unspoken Constitution, which sets out in tragi-comic form the existing UK settlement as it works in practice, but as no-one in official circles would like openly to admit.
Though a relic of personal monarchical rule, the Royal Prerogative is now wielded largely by ministers (in particular the Prime Minister) and officials. These authorities have never been framed in statute by Parliament, nor is their any formal requirement for parliamentary consent to their exercise. The potential for judicial review of the use of these powers is circumscribed. Consequently, the government is constantly carrying out a wide range of significant activities without being subject to satisfactory democratic oversight. Though no-one, not even the government, is precisely sure of its exact extent, actions covered by the Royal Prerogative include deploying the Armed Forces; making and ratifying treaties; issuing and revoking passports; conducting diplomacy; organising the Civil Service; granting honours and peerages; and appointing ministers.
If there's a problem with the Unspoken Constitution its that it barely qualifies as satire. The shenanigans surrounding MPs' expenses, Carter-Ruck's single handed attempt to rewrite the UK constitution to favour their client Trafigura and this torrid little paper sneaked out by the Ministry of Justice today (which patiently explains why Royal Prerogative powers are, in fact, all wonderful and the only thing that stands between us and authoritarianism), all amply illustrate that Stuart Weir and co's attempt to write the famously unwritten constitution is more a reflection of reality than an exaggeration of it. A Modest Proposal is satire. Yes, Minister and The Thick of It are satires. The Unspoken Constitution is merely frank.
I have to admit to finding this week somewhat depressing in that it is clear that a great many MPs have returned from recess determined to shut down any further discussion about reform and that, to an extent, they are succeeding. The media itself has been very helpful in this respect, detailing the process almost moment-to-moment but almost entirely lacking in analysis. Let us not forget that the people who are now complaining about the unfairness of Sir Thomas Legg applying new rules to them retrospectively are for the most part the same people who attempted to keep this little scam of theirs shrouded in secrecy - in defiance of the law - for years. All the indications are that for the most part, they still haven't learned why that was an utterly stupid and damaging thing to do.
As Tom Lehrer recognised in the 70s, the line between satire and reality is constantly in danger of being blurred these days. Guy has already mentioned the absurdity of certain proposals for individuals monitoring CCTV over the internet that tax even our limits to despair of them. Guaranteed to have you asking yourself if it’s all just a hoax, or perhaps a bad dream, the website for Internet Eyes -complete with the logo of an eye reminiscent of Big Brother, or the all-seeing Eye of Providence – can only add to the sense of unease already generated by this disturbing scheme.
The FAQs page explains how the new crime-stopping system will work. You receive feedback from the people whose cameras you notified, and they rate your alert according to whether it was right, wrong but in good faith, or just plain silly, which gets you points. The person with the highest points each month receives £1000 GBP. But what about the potential for abuse, and naughty internet pranksters? Well, the good people at Internet Eyes have a solution for that too. You only get 3 free alerts each month, and if you want more you have to pay for the added alerts. Plus, as soon as you alert you’ll be moved on and will view the feed from a different camera.
What does Sir Richard Dannatt, the former Chief of the Defence Staff who is to be David Cameron's military adviser with a seat in the House of Lords, have in common with Jonathan Porritt, the TV presenter, Kirstie Allsopp, and Stuart Rose, the boss of M&S?
According to PRWeek and apparently one Fiona Mason, managing director of Mandate, a public affairs firm, they are all likely to be made peers by Cameron with 16 other figures in a job-lot addition to the upper chamber of Parliament. I was going to write ‘our Parliament', but that designation is now utterly misleading. Meanwhile, of course, the customary creep of additions goes on. Speaker Martin, who sought desperately to cover up the MPs' expenses scandal, has just been 'ennobled'; and Jacqui Smith, whose huge expenses quite dwarfed the meagre cost of her husband's porn movies, will soon add lustre to the red benches. (I remember David Puttnam once looking round the Lords tea-room and saying to me, how proud he felt to be there with the likes of Helena Kennedy. I wonder how he feels now?)
Having just written a spoof constitution myself, I do wonder whether PRWeek's story is also a joke designed to show how vulnerable Parliament is to manipulation by first one set of party leaders, and then another. For the idea that a party leader could well be contemplating nominating 20 new peers in a batch simply confirms the continuing degeneration of the House of Lords at a time when reform, so urgently needed, is going to be ducked for at least two parliamentary sessions, and no doubt for longer still. Meanwhile new toadies will continue to cram in and swell the internal resistance to reform - perhaps reformers could get together to demand no more additions until that day comes?
An OurKingdom symposium: The rise of the Scottish nationalists, the Scottish dimension and what happens to England and the UK
In a series of four newly commissioned essays to mark the opening of the SNP's Annual Conference in Inverness, the party's 75th anniversary and the publication of the first ever study of the contemporary party, ‘The Modern SNP: From Protest to Power' this week, OurKingdom brings together four commentators on the changing nature of the politics of Scotland and the UK.
Like any sensible political party confident of electoral victory the UK Conservatives are already preparing for the uncharted territory of sharing power with an SNP minority Scottish Government. The French call it cohabitation, but unlike France the UK lacks a constitution that sets out the rules of the game.
The Tory challenge, therefore, is largely a tactical one, particularly as the existence of a Scottish Parliament precludes any prospect of a government ‘imposing' domestic policies on a Scotland which voted yellow, red and orange rather than blue. For the SNP too, this is the undiscovered country from which no MSP has yet returned.
Some old SNP battle cries will, however, re-emerge from the mist of the 1980s. Some SNP MPs have already raised the prospect of David Cameron winning a general election with ‘no mandate' north of the border, while the austerity in public spending laid out by the Shadow Chancellor George Osborne at last week's Tory conference is sure to be attacked as ‘anti-Scottish'.
Cameron and his advisers are not stupid. They realize that their biggest challenge on forming a government with only two or three Scottish MPs is to prevent a repeat of the situation the Conservative Party got itself into during the Thatcher years. Exactly how this will be attempted (saying ‘achieved' would be too presumptuous) already seems clear.
Scotland must seem like a place apart to readers of many newspapers in England. News that reaches the English public on the activities of the SNP Government often portrays Scotland as almost a foreign country. How else to explain the enduring popularity of a Government hell bent on picking fights with London, tartanising everything that moves led by a megalomaniac?
If this was anywhere approaching an accurate description of the SNP, it would be nowhere near power. So who are the SNP?
In order to begin to answer that question, colleagues in the Universities of Strathclyde and Aberdeen conducted a survey of the party's entire membership and conducted in-depth interviews with around 80 senior party members. The conclusions from this research are not startling, though there are some surprises, to anyone who follows Scottish politics seriously. But the findings are authoritative and shed light on a party that came to power in the Scottish Parliament in 2007 and shares power at local level, with the largest number of councillors, across the length and breadth of Scotland.
It seemed unlikely that Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling would be hounded out of office by the English mob, like Brown's predecessor Lord Bute, but for a moment in 2006 Alan Duncan looked like he might be a modern day John Wilkes. He was quickly slapped down. Since that time there has been a grumbling English discontent - articulated most forcefully by the likes of Simon Heffer, David Starkey and Kelvin MacKenzie - but the Tories themselves have resisted the temptation to play the English card and have not made an issue of Gordon Brown's Scottishness, or more specifically his lack of mandate on English domestic issues.
Soon though, baring divine intervention, the boot will be on the other foot; soon it will be Scotland that is ruled by a man they have not elected, who is not one of theirs, and who to them has no mandate. Step forward David Cameron to deliver the acid test of devolution. It was the democratic deficit of the Thatcher and Major years that provided the unionist rationale for Scottish devolution: Why should Scotland put up with a right-wing Tory government, and an English one at that, when Scotland consistently voted left-of-centre? If the devolution theorists are correct then the devolved Scottish Parliament should buffer Scotland from the worst excesses of English Conservatism and mollify the nationalist impulse. But there's a fly in the ointment, some Scots, most Scots in fact, are saying that devolution doesn't go far enough. They want a referendum and more powers, especially enhanced fiscal powers, and David Cameron doesn't want that. Respect, yes; powers to tax and spend, no! At least not yet, not now.
David Cameron is English, he's posh, he only has one Scottish MP, and he's a Tory. On paper he's an easier quarry for Alex Salmond than Gordon Brown is. But Salmond is a wily character, and he doesn't want the SNP to be the nasty party, so just as the Tories refrained from attacking Brown on grounds of his Scottishness, the SNP will most likely refrain from attacking Cameron's Englishness and class. This leaves Cameron's 'Tory-ness' and his lack of a Scottish mandate as the best grounds for attack, but then an attack on Cameron's Tory-ness may sound too much like the class-warfare and anti-Englishness of old, and may well alienate the Scottish voters that the SNP most wants to attract - those looking to cast their vote tactically against Labour. So Salmond's best tactic will be to point to Cameron's lack of Scottish support. Taking the best possible Conservative case-scenario that has presented itself so far (YouGov, 8th - 9th October 2009; Lab 34%, SNP 28%, Con 22%, Lib Dem 10%) the Conservatives could capitalise on the collapse of the Labour vote by picking up 7 Scottish MPs in 2010. However, this really is a best-case-scenario, for all their superior resources the Tories will find it tough campaigning in Scotland where they have failed to sanitise the Conservative brand to the extent they have in England and Wales.
George Osborne's proposed cuts in public spending will hit Scotland disproportionately hard, and hard hit too will be Scotland's representation at Westminster, delivered a double whammy of cuts through boundary changes and then enfeebled by English Votes on English Laws. "Vote Tory at the General Election and I won't be able to vote at Westminster" is not necessarily a good election slogan for doorstepping Tory candidates. On English Votes on English Laws the Tories may find that they have an ally in Alex Salmond, a man keen to see Scots side-lined at Westminster, though they may also find that it is Salmond who is the unlikely champion of England's cause. Worst of all, the Tories in Scotland have to explain their position on the Calman Commission, and they're not too sure what that position is. And the Tories in England don't particularly want the English to read in their papers about more Scottish devolution, lest they begin asking their own 'English Question'.
The SNP Annual Conference opens in Inverness on Thursday with the party in good mood: two and a half years into the first SNP administration, seen by most as competent and successful.
The party has a sense of purpose. Alex Salmond is a popular First Minister, leading a talented ministerial team - Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney, Fiona Hyslop, Kenny MacAskill, Mike Russell and others.
Underneath this sense of success and progress what has the SNP achieved, what has it not achieved, and what future challenges await it in office?
...protesting peacefully about climate change for example. Yep - more anti-terror idiocy, this time courtesy of the UK border police, who stopped climate campaigner Chris Kitchen from travelling to Copenhagen and interviewed him along with afellow climate activist under Section 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Paul Lewis has the full story in the Guardian.
This, then, is how the police are using their databases of activists - to cut back their freedom of movement and pre-emptively stop them from taking part in protests. How much longer are we going to stand for this rubbish? The Tories are talking the talk when it comes to certain parts of the "database state" and the "surveillance state". But what have they got to say about the freedom to protest and the ways in which protesters are being surveilled and tracked by sinsister Forward Intelligence Teams who collect profiles to be stored (probably illegally) on police databases along with criminals? Nothing, so far as I can tell.
Perhaps they think the freedom to protest is only of concern to left-wing trouble-makers. They couldn't be more wrong. Think, for example, of the rough treatment dished out to Countryside Alliance protesters at a rally in 2004. The right to protest is a fundamental democratic right common to us all and it must be protected.
I haven't heard anything on this coming from the Tories, despite the high profile of the issue since the G20. Until they start talking about reversing some of the draconian incursions on the right to protest their latest pose as the party of civil liberties looks very superficial indeed.
Power Shift ended a successful weekend with a bang, with two hundred young people descending on the London Eye and Parliament Square for a flashmob highlighting the urgent action needed to combat climate change.
Coverage of the event was good, with the Guardian, Channel 4 and the Evening Standard all giving it a story. Although reporting that "[t]he lovely thing about teenagers and 20-year-olds is that they don't really see why it can't just all be sorted out" is pretty lame, when the various youth delegations attending the UN conferences are part of a global campaign formally recognised and fully integrated into the climate negotiations and process.
The flashmob, originally planned to be performed solely in front of the London Eye, was given an impromptu second act, after Greenpeace supporters occupied the Parliament roof, and the entire Power Shift group taking the opportunity to show their support. The fortunate coincidence provided a good contrast of the diversification of protest. The flashmob, although not new is still a product of social networking, and is tailor-made to go viral on YouTube. It is also a far more community based and inclusive way to get a message out. Although given the extensive media coverage of the Greenpeace action, climate change activists will not be dropping direct action from their toolbox any time soon.
It also provided the opportunity to reflect on the ability of the UK political system to deal with an issue as complex as climate change. Power Shift participants enthusiastically took up the Greenpeace protesters slogan "CHANGE THE POLITICS SAVE THE CLIMATE". Indeed it remains to be seen whether a system geared towards short-term results to win elections, is even capable of acting on an issue that will primarily affect people not even old enough to vote. The political parties and their associated ideologies have had enough trouble dealing with social justice, without having to suddenly consider inter-generational justice as well. Of course this issue is not exclusive to the UK Parliament, and the legally binding carbon-reduction targets in the Climate Change Act are an encouraging start. But the battles of Kingsnorth and Heathrow, suggest that without continued civil society pressure the government is likely to default to its old carbon habits.
For anyone arguing that our rotten Westminster system needs reform, the expenses scandal is the gift that keeps on giving. Before the summer the three main parties were competing with each other to show how determined they were to clean up and reform our broken politics. Now, when the order comes from Sir Thomas Legg to pay back the mis-claimed expenses to the tax payer, we hear reports that they're ganging together across party divides in a co-ordinated attempt to refuse.
Talk about not "getting it"!
If MPs thought they could return to business as usual after their 82-day break with the expenses crisis safely behind them then they've made a dangerous mistake. Public outrage at the abuse of taxpayers' money and the shameful system of self-regulation that permitted it isn't going to go away so easily.
MPs should face up to this reality, do the decent thing and pay the money back. Their behaviour brings our humiliated democracy into even greater disrepute. The public just won't stand for it any longer. People in the UK have been switching off from formal politics for a long time and self-serving behaviour like this only makes things worse.
What is needed is real democracy, transparency and choice, so that voters set the rules and not the politicians. Power2010 has had nearly 2000 ideas already submitted by ordinary people who want to see root and branch change and we'll be challenging every candidate to commit to reform in the run up to the next general election. If MPs' recent behaviour has taught us one thing, it's that they just can't be trusted to deliver the change we need on their own.