How Low Have we Sunk?

Standards in public life are perceived to be at an all-time low. This is a problem. It is a problem because it means that people don’t trust politicians and all those associated with politics (and that includes many public servants). But of course many people in public life are trustworthy, have high standards, and are doing their jobs for the right reasons: to make a difference, to make things better for people and to make the world a better place.

In the years while I worked in public service myself, and in the years when I was doing advocacy with elected officials (and their civil servants), I had ample opportunity to encounter many people who demonstrated what is best in public service.

But of course there are the ‘rogue’ elements. And they give everyone a bad name. And we have seen them hogging the limelight for all the wrong reasons. And somehow, they seem to be the ones that get into power.

The Referendum Campaign

We have seen in this most recent campaign that both main campaigns told lies on an industrial scale. Whatever you think about the result, what must be clear to everyone is this: many people made their decision without having factual information that was relevant to the issue at hand. That is a major problem because it leaves open questions about whether the referendum decision should even be valid.

Politically, I would not want to question the validity of the result despite the fact that I am stunned – not to say grief-stricken – by the result. But I am sure that there are many who voted for Leave who already regret this and who realise that they were sold a pup by the chief Brexiteers.

And so the trust in politicians and the media sinks some more. That is the real problem.

Two petitions

Some activists have set up petitions to highlight the problems we have with the lack of truth and accountability in public affairs. The first of these was actually started well before the referendum and was on the government website (where people can set up petitions which have to be debated if they achieve 100 000 signatures or more.

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 15.46.25

This is that first one. It closed on 26 July 2016 and the government petition website suggest that this was the end of the 6 months period during which it was open. It didn’t reach it’s 100 000 signatures, but the government did make a response.

The second of these petitions was set up on Change.org and is still running. It has a target of 25 000 of which it has reached 18 300 approximately at the time of writing this post.

The nub of this petition is this:

We urge the Government to create an independent body like the ASA, with the remit and power to verify claims made in political campaign material and compel bodies to retract and correct statements which are demonstrably misleading.

 

This petition is addressed to David Cameron but of course he – along with many of the other architects of this dreadful Referendum and its outcome – has departed the scene.

The Government Response

The government has responded to the first of the two petitions; it hasn’t responded to the second one and is not likely to do so.

But the response to the first one is extra ordinary in my view. Here is the response I have downloaded from the government website:

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 15.45.53That’s it. A simple re-statement of some principles which are fine as far as they go. But the truth is, they are not being observed by many public figures and the reason the petition is there at all is that they are not working, they are not being enforced, people who breach them don’t face any serious consequences and so on.

In other words, the government is basically saying: not interested in the fact that 78 000 plus people are deeply frustrated (and of course the signatories aren’t all the people who think this). We are just going to carry on as if nothing at all needs to change.

It is, then, interesting to see that in a report on 2010, a report published by the Committee on Standards in Public Life found that the perception of perception of the conduct of MPs was pretty shocking (note: the perception – this means that this reflects what people think about the conduct of MPs and does not say anything about their actual conduct). Perceptions of conduct of MPs in 2010

Where does that leave us

Those of us who are trying to move things towards a different kind of politics aren’t getting anywhere right now.

The evidence that change is necessary is clearly there to see. But a government elected by less than 40% of those who bothered to go and vote with a majority of 12 and a Prime Minister elected by Tory MPs only is free to ignore us.

My thought on this: what are our MPs thinking about this? You don’t know what yours is thinking – well, there’s only one thing for it: go and ask.

We can’t really allow the government to ignore this important issue.

And as for the petition on the Change.org site – maybe the person who started it could come up with a strategy as to how to

(a) get a more significant number of signatures and

(b) move from petition to a definite proposal that is to be presented to government in a way they can’t ignore.

That may well require support from other politicians; but it is also something that might be part of a platform for any progressive alliance that may (hopefully) evolve before the next General Election.

What is absolutely essential is this: the electorate has to have a viable alternative to more of the same tired, dangerous, dishonest processes loosely described as democracy. The level of distrust is a verdict on the shambles we have.

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Democratic Deficit

I’ve written before about the antiquated and unfair voting system in the UK. But here, I’m going to widen this to look at the democratic system in the UK more broadly. We’ve just been subjected to weeks of rhetoric about the democratic deficit of the EU; it has culminated in what I must say is – in my view – one of the worst decisions the UK electorate has made in decades.

So I want to just flag up a little of what democratic deficit we have here, right on our door step.

Our Constitution

First of all, we don’t have a written constitution. That doesn’t mean we don’t have one; it just means that it is not properly codified and thus not all that clear-cut.

How are our laws are made?

Who makes the laws?

Setting aside what happens at EU level for a moment, our laws are made by Parliament (or so everyone says). But who is Parliament? Most of the laws are proposed by the Government (the executive arm of a democracy) which in our case is also part of Parliament (the legislative arm of a democracy). This can muddy the waters.

Secondly, we have a Parliament which consists of two chambers: the House of Commons, elected by a First Past the Post system that regularly returns majorities for parties who command less than the majority of the popular vote. Our current Parliament is a case in point. And the House of Lords, which is an entirely unelected chamber. It has less power than the House of Commons, but to say it has no power would be naive.

Finally, we have an unelected, hereditary Head of State in the monarch.

So how does that sound as far as government by the people for the people is concerned?

What are the constraints?

Generally speaking, a government should enact laws that broadly flow from the manifesto on which they stood for election. This is observed in the exception, more than in the norm. And because our electoral system throws up majorities that give governments more power than they should have – and the current government is a case in point – they do things they never talked about during the campaign. And they get away with it. Why?

Here, we get to the whip system. We should really be worried by the fact that we have people in our Parliament who are officially called Whips. Each of the parties has them – except those parties that have only 1 MP. And in the case of the Green Party, it is party policy not to subject elected representatives to such an antiquated form of authority.

The whip system basically says this: the party leadership decides how they want to vote on a particular matter before Parliament and they tell their members to vote that way. Members are obliged to do so; some don’t always do that which is called ‘defying the whip’. This simple act of voting on the basis of analysis, thought, values, and engagement with constituents is described as defiance in our democracy.

But there is more: MPs (on the government side) are appointed to be Secretaries of State and Ministers and Junior Ministers. In other words, they remain MPs but they are also part of the government.

On the opposition benches, there is a similar set-up but the people concerned are called the ‘shadow’ Secretary, Minister, or Junior Minister or spokesperson.

What does that mean? All of them are bound by ministerial protocol which seriously curtails their ability to engage in common parliamentary activities such as signing Early Day Motions and taking part in what is called ‘back-bench’ business. They also commonly don’t speak on matters outside of their portfolio.

Where does that leave their constituents? As a constituent who has been represented since  2010 by either a junior minister or a shadow junior minister, I can tell you where it leaves you: frustrated!

What is the alternative?

We need electoral reform: a system of proportional representation (the Additional Member System used in the London Assembly and the Scottish Assembly works well) which means that a broader range of views are represented in the parliament. This would also allow those MPs who are likely to take on ministerial or shadow ministerial positions to be elected through the list system and thus not compromise the functions of a constituency MP: to represent and listen to their constituents.

We need constitutional reform: we need an elected second chamber (again, with PR); we need an elected Head of State; we need a chamber for the parliament which is circular (to avoid the unedifying shouting matches) and which has sufficient seats for all MPs.

And that’s just Westminster. Wait till I start on devolution, local government and democracy and real engagement of the public. But that’s for another blog.

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Spotlight on the EU arms industry

This is a really good summary of some of the key issues in relation to the Arms Industry. Well done to QCEA for putting it together.
I hope you all enjoy it and forgive me for taking this from QCEA rather than doing it all myself. But having read theirs, I didn’t think it was useful for me to do the research again.

The QCEA Blog

QCEA has recently published an information sheet in four languages, providing facts about the EU arms industry.

Did you know…?

German-made tanks taking part in a military training exercise Photo credit: Bundeswehr-Fotos Creative Commons licence CC BY 2.0 German-made tanks taking part in a military training exercise
Photo credit: Bundeswehr-Fotos
Creative Commons licence CC BY 2.0

  • The manufacture and sale of arms is a multi-billion-euro industry.
  • The EU has an official policy, agreed at a summit meeting in December 2013, that treats the arms industry as an important source of both military strength and economic prosperity.
  • In order to continue to contribute to the economy, the EU arms industry needs to export arms to outside the EU. (The EU market isn’t big enough to sustain the industry.)
  • Over 99 per cent of arms export licence applications made in the EU are approved.
  • The arms industry maintains its influence over the highest levels of government through lobbyists and well-placed contacts.

Why is this an issue?

Those of you…

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CETA: always in TTIP’s shadow

Here is a very helpful update on international trade agreements being negotiated by the EU. It comes from a very reliable source and so I thought I’d share it with you.

The QCEA Blog

In the wake of the recent TTIP leaks and their fallout, including Francois Hollande’s threat to block those negotiations, there is a risk that discussions at the European Council on the very similar deal between the European Union and Canada, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), will slip under the radar. This inconspicuousness is part of a wider lack of attention on CETA, particularly in comparison with the notorious TTIP.

CETA is one of the group of mega trade deals currently in negotiation globally, the most infamous of which is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the United States and the European Union. Compared to TTIP, CETA has garnered relatively little attention, despite the fact that it includes the same controversial measures for investor protection, although Canada and the EU recently agreed to include the EU’s reformed system, ICS.

ICS-7reasons-T There are many problems with the EU’s…

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The soldier who made the difference?

There’s a lot of debate in the UK at the moment about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. I’m not a member of the Labour Party and don’t feel able or even in a position to comment on this beyond saying that anti-Semitism is wrong, always, under all circumstances.
But, so is the occupation of the Palestinian lands and the oppression of the Palestinian people by the Government of the State of Israel. And if those who say this loud and clear are accused of being anti-Semitic, this is just plain wrong.
The blog by one of the many Ecumenical Accompaniers makes it clear that here a whole people is being oppressed and that this has been going on for over 50 years with the acquiescence of the so called international community. And each time the government of one of the main allies of Israel voices criticism they are immediately accused of questioning Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself.
But Israel does not defend itself; it takes Palestinian land, and it ensures that time and time again Palestinians are humiliated and threatened. This does not make for security and it does not make for peace.

EAPPI UK and Ireland Eyewitness Blog

By EA Katherine, Southern West Bank.

“I’m 16 years old and preparing for military service,” David* begins. “Should I enlist and be the soldier who makes a difference or should I refuse as a sign of protest?”

We are in Haifa talking about our work at a synagogue and have reached the question and answer session.  Like all 16 year olds in Israel, David is about to make decisions which will affect what he does during his three years of conscription into the Israeli military.  He goes to one of the top schools in Israel and admits that most young people his age are just thinking about where to serve and not whether to serve.

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Surrounded by the occupation

I get the Eyewitness Blog regularly. I don’t reblog each one because it would be too many. But this one struck me as something I would like you all to know, to read about and to try to imagine.
I do my shopping in a variety of shops that are between 1 and 4 miles away from where I live. I try to do only a few big shops. Reading this blog I was trying to imagine how it would feel to be stopped on route to the shops, to be searched on the way back, to be told that some of what I had purchased was not permitted and I couldn’t take it with me.
Only once have I been stopped in that way – at an airport where I had bought a litre of milk and forgotten that I couldn’t take liquids through security. I had to give it up and was told that it would be destroyed. I was incensed but it was only once and only one litre of milk. Imagine this happening every week. And who knows how easy it is to predict what you aren’t allowed to take.
That’s why I’ve reblogged this piece and why I urge you to read it and to share it with your MP.

EAPPI UK and Ireland Eyewitness Blog

By EA Elaine, Southern West Bank.

Mahmoud, his family and extended family live in the beautiful South Hebron Hills at the southernmost tip of the West Bank. They are in what is now called the ‘Seam Zone’. Since 2006 his farm has been trapped in the area between the Green Line (the 1949 armistice line between Israel and occupied Palestine) and the illegal Israeli separation barrier which cuts deep into Palestinian territory. Next to his farm is a large illegal settlement.

29-03-2016-a-seefer-talking-with-mahmoud-photo-eappi-e-mitze.jpgMahmoud talking to EA Elaine in his village in the ‘Seam Zone’ [Photo: EAPPI/E.Mitze]

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Becoming homeless in East Jerusalem

One of many stories that remind us that it is people who are being hounded and made homeless. Never think of them as numbers. Always look at their faces and recognise them as our sisters and brothers, our equals.
It is happening to them now, it could happen to anyone anywhere unless we help to stop the assumption that this is ok when it happens to someone else.

EAPPI UK and Ireland Eyewitness Blog

By EA Isabel, Southern West Bank.

The home of the Risheq family was a pleasant house in the suburbs of Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem. Its three stories provided shelter for thirty members of the extended family, its shady courtyard and garden was a space to entertain and a playground for the younger children.

This was all shattered at 7:30am on 27 January when the Israeli police arrived. “My children were so frightened, they were woken when the police came into the house with their big dogs,” Samoud, one of the young women of the family, explained.

The Risheqs were ordered out of their home and not permitted to take their belongings. Instead, some were placed in sacks by officials. Freezer contents ended up stacked with children’s toys and bedding.

Worldly goods 2The Risheq family’s worldly goods piled up outside their house [EAPPI/I.Morgan] Once the house was emptied of people and guarded by…

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