Wednesday, 29 October 2014

For Stability and Pluralism in Parliament, by David Lindsay

Two political parties exist specifically in order to provide the Government of the United Kingdom. They are organised to that end.

Other parties, and we Independents, have a different role.

The failure of the present electoral arrangements to take account of this distinction looks likely to be thrown into sharp relief next May. A Bill needs to be introduced in the first Queen’s Speech of the next Parliament.

It would need to be made clear from the very start that the Parliament Act would be invoked if necessary, and that there would be absolutely no question of a referendum.

The United Kingdom would be divided 300 constituencies, each containing as near as possible to one third of one per cent of the electorate, with the requirement that constituency boundaries straddle the United Kingdom’s internal borders wherever possible.

Each constituency would return three Constituency MPs.

On the first Thursday of a month-long process, it being quite a recent phenomenon that a General Election was held on one day everywhere, each constituency would elect two MPs.

The Labour Party and the Conservative Party would submit their respective internal shortlists of two to run-off ballots of the entire constituency electorate.

On the second Thursday, there would be a contest between the previous week’s Labour loser and the previous week’s Conservative loser.

One may, and people do, join both of those parties in Northern Ireland. They probably ought not to contest Assembly elections there, but that is something else.

On the third Thursday, each of the 99 lieutenancy areas would elect two County MPs, one from between two candidates submitted jointly by the Co-operative and Labour Parties, and one from between two candidates submitted by the Conservative Party.

And on the fourth Thursday, each of the 12 European Parliamentary regions would elect 12 Area MPs, six from lists submitted by other parties and six Independents, with each elector voting for one party list and for one Independent candidate, and with the highest scoring six in each category being elected.

Parties that chose to contest these seats would not be eligible to contest any other election.

This would give a total of 642 MPs.

This system would give a voice to smaller parties and to Independent candidates from all parts of the country.

It would give everyone direct representation within both the governing party and the Official Opposition. It would give the two main parties direct representative responsibility for every community.

Simultaneously, it would guarantee that there would always be either a Labour or a Conservative majority government. Only the extreme unlikelihood of a dead heat would ever deliver a hung Parliament.

The lowering of the voting age to 16 might also be included in this, although with the strict conditions that under-18s (indeed, under-21s, and perhaps even slightly older people) would be ineligible to serve on juries.

Far more urgently, there is the need to reduce the parliamentary term to four years, or, as would be even better, to abolish the fixed term altogether.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Simon Stevens: Unrealistic, And Will Fall On Deaf Ears, by Clive Peedell

Simons Stevens's projected £22bn savings are unrealistic, and his call on political parties to fill an £8bn funding gap will fall on deaf ears.

Despite the swift declarations of political support for the principles of his plan for the next five years of the NHS, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens is a long way from securing the £8 billion extra by 2020 that he admits is needed to make ends meet even after extraordinarily ambitious efficiency savings of £22 billion.

None of the three main political parties is committed to raise NHS spending by anything like as much as £8 billion: the Tories are sticking rigidly to their planned further five-year freeze to 2021, the Lib Dems have offered two related injections of £1 billion from 2017, and Labour has promised £2.5 billion also in 2017 – by which point the financial crisis already brewing in the NHS will be boiling over into cuts and closures.

The Tories keep banging on about needing a strong economy for a strong NHS.

But only this week George Osborne was shown to have missed his deficit target and their real terms cuts to NHS funding have led to rising waiting times, an A&E crisis and GP surgeries in meltdown.

Meanwhile Labour's plans for a Mansion Tax are already falling apart and won't raise sufficient funds.

The National Health Action Party is putting forward a genuine alternative plan that would break now from the spending freeze and start with an immediate injection of extra funding, if necessary raised through taxation, to be followed by efficiency savings based on stripping away the wasteful bureaucracy of the market​,​ coupled with measures to force the rich and big business to stop dodging £120 billion a year in taxes and pay their fair share towards the public services and health care we all need.

Simon Stevens has totally ignored the grotesque financial waste that is draining billions of pounds from frontline care in our NHS - wasteful internal markets, commissioning support units, management consultancy fees, the cost of procurement of clinical services, profit-taking by private providers, the cost of fragmenting pathways due to outsourcing components to private contractors, and PFI deals bankrupting our hospitals.

We also need to consider the damaging physical and mental health impacts of austerity economics. Poverty and inequalities are the big issues that the government must tackle if good health is to be preserved.

Another striking thing about Stevens's plan, which many reports see as radical, is that few of the ideas are new: most have been at the centre of various attempts at reorganising the NHS over the last 20 years, during which time few of the promised new services outside hospital have taken shape, and far from reducing dependence on hospital services, attendances at A&E and GP referrals for hospital treatment of continued to rise stubbornly each year.

Many of Stevens's proposals to seek ways of reducing demand for hospital treatment by improving public health are quite sensible – even if they cannot be guaranteed to deliver any significant change in hospital caseload in the five-year period.

But it's less clear that some of the proposals for reorganising the delivery of services could generate anything like the scale of savings that are required, especially when some of the proposals in the Stevens plan involve substantial additional new investment:
  • He proposes an end to the continued freeze on NHS pay, which has so far delivered at least a third of the "cost savings" since 2010.
  • He proposes to "radically upgrade" prevention and public health.
  • He proposes to give "resources and support" to the introduction of what he calls radical new care delivery options including establishing "multispecialty community providers" bringing together GPs, nurses, community health services, mental health and social workers, employing hospital consultants and running community hospitals.
  • He promises more NHS support for frail older people living in nursing homes.
  • He also promises to "invest in new options for our workforce, and raise our game on health technology".
None of the costs of these suggestions is discussed.

But the plan for example for "multispecialty community providers" appears to revive Lord Darzi’s controversial "polyclinics", and would inevitably mean capital investment in new, larger buildings, new equipment, possibly including MRI scanners, and the recruitment of professional support staff, some of whom are already in short supply.

It's not clear how scattering the services which are currently provided in specialist hospital centres across a wider network of smaller centres could possibly be more efficient in terms of the time of consultants and professional staff or save money.

Dr Clive Peedell is Co-Leader of the National Health Action Party.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

To Speak The Truth To Those In Power, by Clive Peedell

This is a big opportunity for Simon Stevens to wake up the government to the realities of the crisis and meltdown that the NHS is facing.

He must make the point that flat funding of the NHS is a policy mistake in the context of health inflation running at 4% and an increasing population.

Hence per capita spend on the NHS has fallen under the coalition. Efficiency savings are effectively cuts, and they have gone too far. Patient care and patient safety are at risk.

The NHS clearly needs more investment, and that needs to be at least a 4% increase year on year. This could be funded by addressing the NHS elephant in the room. That is the internal market, which is estimated to cost the NHS at least £5bn per year.

Thus, instead of employing accountants and lawyers to deal with the market bureaucracy, the money could be spent on frontline care where it is needed.

We also need to hear about the wasteful PFI, and a call for it to be abolished, with existing schemes bought out or refinanced at better value for the taxpayer.

If Simon Stevens wants to save the NHS then he needs to engage with NHS staff to get them onside with his vision and plans.

This can only happen if he is open and honest with them. He therefore needs to follow the lead of the cabinet minister who admitted the NHS reforms were a mistake.

The enormous financial cost and associated upheaval of this undemocratic top-down reorganisation has been hugely damaging and must be acknowledged.

In order to address demand on the NHS, we must also see a focus on the social determinants of health such as poverty and deprivation.

Austerity policies are unsustainable and incompatible with a healthy welfare system and the NHS won't survive as as free at the point of service system much longer.

Public health must also be top of the agenda with a call to back plain cigarette packing and a minimum price on alcohol.

We must also hear the arguments that healthcare spending actually helps to stimulate economic growth and investment in the NHS will help fuel the economy and address wealth and health inequality.

I hope Simon Stevens takes this opportunity to speak the truth to those in power.

The solutions are actually there, but he should listen to NHS staff and the public, not to overhyped management consultants and to politicians with vested interests.

What the NHA Party is calling for:

Finance:
  • Guarantee a minimum 4% annual rise in NHS spending to keep pace with healthcare inflation. This should be funded from​ general​ taxation including a 1​ ​​penny temporary rise to address the NHS spending gap until ​NHA ​policy ​initiatives ​(remove the market, halt privatisation, end PFI) ​bring ​billions of pounds of ​savings.
  • Aim to increase NHS funding to at least 10% of GDP to bring us closer to the levels of healthcare spending in other G7 countries.
  • End the costly Private Finance Initiative.
  • Use the purchasing power of the NHS to get the best value in procurement.
Organisation:
  • Repeal the Health and Social Care Act in the least disruptive way possible.
  • Remove the competitive market by abolishing the purchaser provider split.
  • Halt and reverse NHS privatisation Integrate health and social care.
  • Bring back national and regional planning structures into ​the ​NHS.
  • Involve public health and representative clinical leaders in the policy-making process.
  • Keep public health improvement teams in Local Authorities and re-establish public health teams in the NHS.
Patient care:
  • Abolish prescription charges and resist imposition of charges for NHS services currently free at the point of use.
  • Improve the patients' complaints process and protect whistle-blowers within the NHS Prioritise prevention of illness and the social determinants of health in all policy-making​, including minimum alcohol pricing, plain cigarette packaging and a sugar tax.
  • Ensure safe staffing levels throughout the NHS with an increased number of GPs, nurses and midwives. 
  • Create a sustainable workforce by improving training places, recruitment and retention​, fair pay, reducing burn-out and losing staff outside the NHS.
  • Establish parity of esteem between mental and physical healthcare​ and invest in crisis care teams for mental health patients.
  • Ensure women are able to give birth locally and safely whether at home or in hospital, and improve continuity of care by midwives.
Dr Clive Peedell is Co-Leader of the National Health Action Party.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Secret Justice Is No Justice At All, by Loz Kaye

The trial of Erol Incedal, accused of plotting a terrorist attack in Britain, is now underway at the Old Bailey.

Just months ago, I would not even have been able to write that sentence. The fact that we know it is happening at all is thanks to pressure from British journalists and the Court of Appeal.

The trial is still going ahead with significant parts of the evidence being heard in secret. Once more, our shared British freedoms and principles of law that go back centuries are being chipped away.

Initially, senior Old Bailey judge Mr Justice Nicol had ruled that the trial of two men was to be held  wholly in secret and the accused be kept anonymous.

This was challenged by media organisations ,and in June the existence of the trial of “AB” and “CD” was acknowledged.

Anthony Hudson for the media groups told the appeal judges, “As far as we are aware no order has ever been made that the entire criminal trial to be held in private, with the media excluded...”

The appeal judges agreed, allowing “AB” to be identified as Erol Incedal. Lord Justice Gross was unequivocal.

He said, “We express grave concern as to the cumulative effects of holding a criminal trial in camera and anonymising the defendants. We find it difficult to conceive of a situation where both departures from open justice will be justified.”

As ever the justification for a secret trial has been that familiar catch all “national security”.

In particular senior prosecutors claimed that the trial was in danger of not getting underway if details were revealed.

That has clearly not been the case. Such headlines as “Blairs may have been terror target” have not stopped the prosecution.

In the run-up to this trial, it has been described as unprecedented and unique. Well, it is only unique until the next time.

In fact, a parallel secret legal system has been growing up in this country over the last few years.

So-called super injunctions have been a cause of much controversy, and they are not just about the doings of celebrities, but also firms like Trafigura.

Liberty has warned about the use of secret evidence in the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, leaving people unable to defend themselves properly.

Above all, the passing of the Justice and Security Act showed that the intention was not for this case to be unique.

The coalition government actively intend secret courts and the suppression of evidence through closed material procedures.

For all that the Liberal Democrats have claimed to be a break on the Conservatives' worst instincts, this is the reality that they have created, neither liberal nor very democratic.

We are now left with the bizarre situation in the Erol Incedal trial that the secret part of proceedings can be attended by 10 journalists who will not be permitted at this stage to report on the evidence that they hear.

This makes us look ridiculous in the eyes of the world, and hands a get-out to dictators wanting to muzzle the free press.

Surely, we need to be able to hear the evidence for the very reasons of national security and our confidence that justice is being carried out correctly.

Otherwise we are in danger that all the general public comes away with is that this is just about somebody having a bit of paper with Tony Blair's address on it.

The secrecy does nothing to make us safer. Quite the reverse.

It allows conspiracy theories to flourish, and raises the question of whether there are other trials we do not know about. It acts as a recruiting sergeant for the very people who wish us harm.

Of course we want to get to the truth if someone was plotting a “Mumbai style” attack on our streets. That is why we have courts, and that justice needs to be seen to be done, not just pushed through without scrutiny.

As Reprieve's Clare Algar put it, “To hold trials entirely in secret is an assault on the fundamental principles of British justice”.

Even if we know some of the detail of the Incedal case, this trial still leaves justice undermined.

This is a real threat to the very British values that those who argue for the national security state claim to uphold.

Loz Kaye is the Leader of the Pirate Party UK.

Monday, 13 October 2014

'New' UKIP, by Godfrey Bloom

This is reprinted here at the author's request, with his recommendation to watch Panorama on BBC One at 8:30 this evening, even though "I ended up on the cutting room floor because I stuck to pure fact and not vilification or salacious gossip":

Some newer members have not, it appears, heard the term 'New' UKIP, coined, I believe, by Andrew Neil (perhaps Helen Lewis, New Statesman), but no matter.

Transition to New UKIP was not an overnight makeover. It followed a number of quite deliberate steps to fight the 2015 election. Believe me, I used to be part of the hierarchy.

  1. New constitution granting almost complete power to the leadership.
  2. An unelected party Chairman, Secretary and other senior positions.
  3. The 'adjustment' concession so member votes can be set aside by the leadership in secret.
  4. The curtailment of regions to select their MEPs with a much more easily manipulated national vote which also can be circumnavigated and has been.
  5. The withdrawal from a basic libertarian ethos.
  6. The suspension of due procedure for membership cancellation.
  7. The secrecy of the vote counting and refusal to publish members' votes (where are the national lists for the August 2013 MEP vote?).
  8. The quite obvious swing to main party political correctness as illustrated by MartyCaine's posts. A fundamental concession to the metropolitan press elite.
  9. The strategic advance in favour of a coalition in some form.
  10. The ruthless dogma that criticism of the leadership is disloyal to the cause, party, country. Where, I wonder, have we seen that historically?
  11. The outright refusal to allow regions to elect representatives to the NEC. Yorkshire Region is still not represented in spite of 400,000 votes. This skews the whole governing body to the south.
  12. The final say on PPC selection remains with the leadership.


Folks, I still vote UKIP, remain a member and advocate on TV and radio of UKIP. My record on this is above reproach. Long-term members who still remain know exactly what 'New' UKIP means. The irony is that UKIP governance follows almost exactly the EU method. The referendum 'no' vote polls are now the worst in 10 years. So who in Brooks Mews works for the government?

A few things for the record. I spoke to four packed houses in the north of England in the winter, exhorting people to vote UKIP in May. Head Office vetoed other appearances.

My continued technical support for the region for 12 months, post July 1st, has been vetoed. I paid all staff and kept Yorkshire on the road right up until the 1st of July.

Every TV and radio appearance has me endorsing UKIP. I am a founder member and have donated over £150,000 in the last 20 years in some format. All accounts are logged.

I flag these points up because there are thousands of new members who perhaps think this is how it always was.

On Mistakes and Strikes, by Clive Peedell

This and ​this are a huge embarrassment for the Tories, but also a depressing revelation.
It's no surprise to us that these reforms have been a disaster as this is exactly what we predicted - a huge mistake from start to finish. The NHA Party was launched precisely because of, and in direct opposition to, these reforms.
Within months of taking office, the Tories broke their promises of no top down reorganisation of the NHS and no privatisation. They ignored widespread professional opposition and forced through their disastrous Health and Social Care Act.
It's totally reckless of David Cameron to have backed the​ reforms without even understanding them. And his decision to make the protection of the NHS a central part of his conference speech is now shown to be disingenuous and inept, as behind the scenes he was regretting his own reforms as a huge strategic error.

The Prime Minister seems to care only about the dreadful impact they've had on the Tory party rather than on millions of NHS patients and staff.

This damaging reorganisation wasted billions of pounds at a time of unprecedented NHS austerity, has accelerated privatisation, worsened patient care and  left the NHS facing a £30bn funding gap by 2020.

No wonder Andrew Lansley vetoed publication the NHS Risk Register at the time, which predicted the current problems now facing the NHS would occur in relation to the changes.

It just goes to show that the Tories can never be trusted with the NHS, and that the NHS is electorally toxic for them.
We can’t run the NHS without suitable staff, we can’t improve the NHS without more staff, and we can’t recruit staff if pay keeps falling behind inflation and comparable jobs.

The nationally agreed pay system established in the last decade is now under sustained attack.

It’s outrageous that Jeremy Hunt has refused even a meagre 1% pay rise for 60% of NHS staff and 70% of nurses. One in five NHS workers are now forced to take on second jobs just to get by.

It’s also disingenuous to claim there has to be a choice between paying staff at agreed rates and inflicting savage cuts when it is this government that has wasted and continues to waste billions of pounds every year on an NHS reorganisation that no one wanted, on a market system and accelerated privatisation that  mean worse patient care, and on PFI loans that are bankrupting hospital trusts.

Why is Mr Hunt able to dismiss the 1% pay rise for NHS staff that was recommended by the Independent Pay Review Body, and yet David Cameron is unable to dismiss a 10% pay rise for MPs recommended by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. It appears there is one set of rules for hardworking NHS staff and another set of rules for MPs.

The fact that NHS staff have been driven to take strike action speaks volumes for the damaging, morale-sapping policies this government has inflicted on them.

For these reasons, we support this strike action. NHS staff deserve fair pay.

Dr Clive Peedell is Co-Leader of the National Health Action Party.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Reflections on Lib Dem Conference and Beyond, by Linda Jack

During Lib Dem Conference, I bumped into a Tory journalist, who couldn’t believe how upbeat and cheerful the atmosphere was given our 6% rating in the polls.

‘If this were the Tories, Linda,’ he said, ‘they’d be murdering each other by now!’

And there we have the enigma wrapped in a mystery. It doesn’t matter how hard you hit us, we just bounce back. Whatever anyone throws at our party, resilience is our stock in trade.

So, despite concerns about the internal issues in the party and our external prospects – at conference we are a family – having the odd spat but coming together on the last night for a good dose of gallows humour at Glee Club.

For me, the issue is very clear. A political landscape without a strong liberal voice will be all the poorer.

Both main parties offer a form of authoritarianism – even Labour didn’t try to centralise education the way the Tories have.

Both are more concerned with vanity projects and targets than delivering truly effective and joined up services.

Both give a nod to localism and then continue to hoard power.

Both take every opportunity to chip away at our civil liberties – while the Tories want to take away our human rights as well.

In this respect, I’m not sure the ‘Stronger Economy, Fairer Society’ works in clearly stating who we are and what we are for. If anything, I’d prefer Fairer Economy, Stronger (and Freer) Society.

As someone who never supported our decision to go into Coalition, I feel I am at last beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Even if we come out at the other end, blinking, battered and bruised – at least we’ll be back in the light.

Our leadership is getting back to stating our core values and what it is that differentiates us from the Tories.

Whether this is too little too late remains to be seen, but I was particularly moved by Nick Clegg’s commitment to parity for Mental Health – that is a real demonstration of what we say we are for.

The enormous force for good that both Paul Burstow and Norman Lamb have been in an area that has been ignored by successive governments, presumably because there were no votes in it, is a clear demonstration of what a Liberal Democrat government would look like.

However, if we are to rebuild trust with our erstwhile supporters and attract new ones, we need a much bigger dose of humility and the courage to be honest about when and where we have got it wrong.

Apart from the car crash that was Tuition Fees; or our inability to explain how signing up to cruel and vindictive benefit reforms furthered our aim of ‘no one enslaved by poverty’; or the attempt to justify Secret Courts, or ‘top down reorganisation’ of the NHS, allegedly ruled out in the Coalition Agreement.

Apart from all that, and more, we have a mountain to climb to rebuild trust.

I think it is harder for us as a party because we claimed to be different. We were going to ‘clean up politics’, remember?

People may have been unsurprised when Labour broke their promise on tuition fees, but they were truly shocked when we did.

Whenever I used to get told on the doorstep ‘you’re all the same’m I used to be able to say, ‘If we were all the same, why would I be in the Lib Dems?’

But sadly, we have not proved immune from the malaise that seems to infect anyone in or near power. So now we need to take our share of the blame for the rise and rise of UKIP, filling a vacuum as much of our making as anyone else’s.

So, where now for the party? Well, it won’t be good in May, but it won’t be as bad as our detractors would like to imagine.

There won’t be a coup this close to an election, and the party will grit its teeth and get behind the leadership. After all, a house divided against itself will fall.

If our manifesto has some strong messages like our commitment on mental health, although we have a way to go, since the pre-manifesto was a little disappointing and safe.

If we are seen to be recognising the error of our ways and taking the fight to the Tories on Human Rights, the Bedroom Tax, and I trust arguing to reinstate the Independent Living Fund.

If we can find a narrative that recognises why the electorate has lost trust in us; that owns up to, and apologises for, our mistakes; that sets out a clear vision and an even clearer programme to create the freer, fairer society in which ‘no one is enslaved by poverty ignorance or conformity’ that we exist to create

Then, and only then, will we have a chance to continue to be a force in British Politics.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

This House Would Not Police The World, by David Lindsay

This speech was delivered to the Durham Union Society on 10th October 2014 by David Lindsay, Editor of The Lanchester Review:

Thank you, Mr President. There is nothing that a Chadsman likes more than a warm hand on his entrance.

A few months ago, as I meandered back to my humble abode from the nearby hostelry and turned on my email machine, I found, nestling among the other unsolicited filth, the following:

“Dear David, Please could you come and second This House would not police the world, 10th October? We’ve tried everyone. Freshers’ Debate, so take your pick. Feel a little fresher every day. Cheers, Joe.”

Well, I do not understand why the Freshers’ Debate is tonight rather than having been last Friday.

It seems that it was moved in order to make way for the upstart Durham Student Union’s Freshers’ Ball, at which a member of the University’s staff seems to have assaulted a reveller. What was this Professor Green doing at the Freshers’ Ball, I should very much like to know?

But when a College Brother calls, then it is like the bat signal shining out from The Bailey, or, as I think of it, Friends With Benefits Street.

So I have dragged on my only ever dinner suit. Oh, yes, I have made the effort. You can no doubt see that a struggle has taken place. And here I am. Not exactly for the first time.

You play everywhere twice, once on the way up and once again on the way back down. So it’s good to be back.

Back where I was Custodian, so good luck to the candidates for that, from about this time in 1998 until about this time in 1999.

Back to where, although my record could have beaten by now, I made more speeches from the floor of this House than anyone else in the history of this Union, going all the way back to 1842.

And back to where, like at least one other person here this evening, I am a twice-failed Presidential candidate.

Tonight, I intend to show you why.

David Cameron and most of the House of Commons, including Mr [Kevan] Jones, sentenced Alan Henning to death. That sentence has been carried out.

If we find public beheading so objectionable, then why are we at war alongside, and on behalf of, Saudi Arabia, where that practice is routine?

Saudi Arabia, which, with Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and with conspicuously absent Kuwait is up to its eyes in both the ideological and the material support of IS, or whatever it is called this week.

As, of course, is our closest ally, Turkey, the government of which The Economist charmingly describes as “mildly Islamist”.

We have been here before. Pakistan has been playing both sides of the street throughout our latest involvement in Afghanistan, which has proved as successful as any and all of our previous such involvements.

Now, to put things at their very, very politest, Turkey is also playing both sides of the street. It obviously has no sympathy with Kurdish separatism (I don’t have awfully much myself), and it no less obviously regards IS as preferable to Assad.

Why would it not? How could it not? Like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Emirates, it created IS, and, like them, it regards the Alawite Assad dynasty as infidel. Not merely heretics, like the Shia, although would be bad enough. Infidel.

It is even more terrifying than it is in the case of Pakistan that Turkey is also, as used to be said of Prussia, not a country with an army, but an army with a country.

Last year, David Cameron wanted to take this country to war in support of IS. He was prevented from doing so by the much-maligned figures of Vladimir Putin and Ed Miliband. Mr Jones voted the right way on that occasion, and all credit to him for that.

But Mr [James] Bloodworth was writing articles on his website, holder of the line though it is against payday loans and TTIP but even so, calling for an International Brigade after the manner of the Spanish Civil War. He got it.

When Jihadi John set out for Syria, he was only doing what David Cameron wanted to send Her Majesty’s Armed Forces to do, and what Mr Bloodworth was inciting people like him to do of their own accord, despite the fact that that was and is a criminal offence.

There is no Third Force in Syria. There never has been. There never will be. Anyone who thinks that elderly émigrés sipping coffee in Paris amount to a row of beans, coffee or otherwise, in Syria needs to get out of not even the student union that this venerable House is not, but the primary school playground.

The same is true is of those who are now scrabbling about for some “Third Force” of Sunni “moderates” in Iraq. In fact, we all know who those would be, if they existed at all. They used to run Iraq, until we policed them out.

If IS really is now the great enemy, then we are not in any sense allied to those who are already in the field against it: Syria and Iran, which for all their faults more than bear comparison with Saudi Arabia or Qatar; the Iraqi Army, which we have already managed to bomb by mistake; Hezbollah and its Christian and other (including Sunni) allies, so that prayers are now offered for them as “the brothers in the South” in the Catholic and Orthodox churches of Lebanon; and, yes, the Peshmerga, although we must not be soppy about the likes of the PKK.

Only the alliances with pluralist, Anglophile and almost democratic Bahrain and Jordan stand in any kind of mitigation, and that assumes that Jordan and Bahrain, like the rest of the Sunni states, are actually doing anything, despite the fact that the Saudi Air Force, in particular, is enormous, mirroring Turkey’s largest Army in NATO other than that of the United States.

That Emirati female fighter pilot turned out to be a photo call, and in any case her family has denounced her and expressed its support for IS.

As one of Mr Jones’s colleagues, Barry Gardiner, put it during the Commons debate, we are not the poodle of the Americans, but the poodle of the last theocratic absolute monarchies on the planet.

It is no wonder that even the Foreign Secretary at the time of our last incursion in Iraq was present, and clearly on television, yet abstained. He is, dare I say it, as consummate a Labour machine politician as even Mr Jones, a man called Jack Straw.

Funnily enough, he shares a surname and a number of facial features with and the founder and eminence of Left Foot Forward.
We have gone to war in Iraq three times in as many decades. Every Prime Minister since Margaret Thatcher has either taken us in there or pulled us out.

That is almost every Prime Minister of my lifetime, which cannot be much less than half-over. It is more than every Prime Minister of most of your lifetimes.
Our purported policing of the world took out the bulwark against everything that has been unleashed there, whether the sectarian Shia regime that has emerged, or the reaction against it in the form of IS.

Saddam Hussein would probably have been dead by now, anyway. If he were still alive, then he would be 84.

We could have been dealing with what succeeded him within the Ba’athist tradition, which is far from perfect, but which is an awful lot better than the alternatives, as we now see.
Our perceived need to police the world took us to the brink of making the same mistake in Syria.

It caused us, with the compliance of the non-Opposition in that event, to do something very similar in Libya, with absolutely catastrophic results that are still being played out.

Of even our apparently good interventions, what good can be said?

The frankly non-Labour Tony Blair could not see the connection between welfare and security, so we left no healthcare system or alleviation of poverty in Sierra Leone, which now, however unwittingly, threatens our security, for how else can imperilling the very lives of our people be described?

Kosovo is a cesspit of heroin-trafficking, people-trafficking and eye-watering corruption under an ideology combining Islamism, vicious ethnic nationalism, and the Albanian Maoism of the late Enver Hoxha.

Speaking of Maoists, for what did we supposedly “fail” to intervene in Rwanda 20 years ago? If anything, there were really two genocides in Rwanda.

Yet Bill Clinton and Tony Blair continue to besport themselves with Paul Kagame, a leading perpetrator of one of those genocides. The Opposition would castigate us for our “failure” to intervene in its support.
And now, they are eyeing up Ukraine.

A generation ago, their cultivation of assorted wearers of the black shirt in tribute to their fathers and grandfathers destroyed a rather Anglophile multinational state in which historically Christian and historically Muslim areas and communities were bound together by workers’ self-management and by the eschewal of the global military power blocs.

In its place, they created a magnet for jihadi on a scale not seen until their more recent police operations. At the centre of it all was the original Islamofascist, Alija Izetbegovic, the first President of Bosnia-Herzegovina, an SS recruitment sergeant turned Wahhabi rabble-rouser.

Today, they seek to repeat the trick.

They know that their favoured elements in Ukraine are wholly unacceptable to the south and east of that cobbled together unit of Soviet administrative convenience that merely happened to be in place when the Soviet Union collapsed.

And good for them, in the south and the east. Svoboda are neo-Fascists. Pravy Sektor, now the de facto police force on the streets of Kiev, are neo-Nazis.

The coup was characterised by the prominent display of the picture of Stepan Bandera, who promised to “lay the severed heads of the Jews at the feet of our Leader, Adolf Hitler.”

He made no small progress towards that end. The regime supported by the Opposition is in explicit continuity with his. The swastika is now seen at football matches.

As for those Soviet monuments that are being torn down, they are war memorials.

If they had been glorifications of the gulag, then they would have come down 20 or more years ago. They are being demolished because the side that is now in charge took the other side in the Second World War.

They have stood until now for the reason that there are still streets in Britain named after Stalin, and a London local authority continues to maintain a Soviet war memorial with an annual wreath-laying ceremony.

Does the Member of Parliament for North Durham wish to go around Stanley demolishing Marx Street and Lenin Terrace?

Bring us back, in conclusion, to the present emergency.

In their adolescent opposition to any alliance with Iran, or with Assad’s Syria, or with Hezbollah, or therefore with that last’s Christian, Sunni and other allies, where would the Opposition have been during the Second World War?

Their lack of any such scruple about Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, the Emirates, and Kuwait if it could be bothered to turn up, suggest an answer even worse than the obvious.

The difference is that by the time that we fought the Second World War, we had to fight it. For whatever reason, our own country was under attack.

We do not have to police the Middle East. We do not have to police the world.

You are at university now. You are not in school. Even if the Opposition refuses to do so, you can, you must, and I trust that you will grow up, and support this motion.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The View from Jaywick, by Dan Casey

Jaywick is the poorest village in England. I am a Labour District Councillor representing it, and I live there. It is within the Clacton parliamentary constituency, where a by-election is being held today.

Jaywick has been the most deprived ward in the country for the last four years. Not one penny has come from central government. Douglas Carswell  has been the MP for the last nine years. The local investment group was brought to the table by the two Labour Councillors.

Carswell has been part of the most uncaring government of our time, and for him to jump ship to UKIP sums him up: blaming everyone but himself. UKIP has done nothing apart from take vast salaries and expenses from the EU while biting the hand that feeds it.

Taking action on GP services, I did not see Carswell in Golf Green Hall when we had two meetings of over 100 upset residents. He was going to secure a new unit in Clacton's Kennedy House, but this did not happen, and people now have to travel long distances for care.

But the classic was "saving the maternity unit in Clacton". All that Carswell did was to lead a march of 30 to 40 people with himself at the front. It was for him. The mothers and expectant mothers walked behind him. 

At Harwich, which is now outside the constituency, there were 250 people, led by the mums. When the mums led 150 people in Clacton, Carswell was not there. It is shameful that he now claims to have saved the day. If, indeed, the units are safe.

The party of which Carswell was part made choices on planning, and what a mess they have made. He voted for their policies, as part of the uncaring lot under whom the rich have grown richer and the poor here have grown poorer. Their doctrine has done nothing for ordinary people.

What do we do for all the people in this County of Essex who find themselves with no job or no home? Carswell wants to stop the immigrants' benefits, thereby putting more people onto the streets. Immigration here has gone up on his watch.

Carswell has now joined a party that does not believe in the EU, yet which has 24 MEPs who take the money but who do nothing for the people who elected them.

Having worked in retail all my life, from the shop floor to group controller with Tesco, if decisions have been made with discussion and debate, then there is no point in coming out of a meeting and throwing your toys out of the pram.

The future of our young people lies in Europe, our main trading partner, as 80 per cent of business people understand. The party that Carswell has joined thinks that we still have an Empire.

Contrary to Carswell's claims, the sea front was not his baby, and I am surprised that his former party has not pointed that out. I wonder why not?

Douglas Carswell is an opportunist who wants to be the first UKIP MP. Can you trust someone like that? No. Can you trust UKIP with our country or our county? No.

Politics of Character, by Matthew Cooper

The issue of traditional versus simplified Chinese characters has historically been quite a contentious one, though in an age of global communications and computerised typing the debate has come to be more symbolic than anything else.

But even symbolic disputes still have to symbolise something.

What can confuse many observers of the traditional-simplified debate is that the political actors that have come to champion each (the mainland Chinese favouring the simplified set; and Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Overseas Chinese favouring the traditional) have for their own purposes obscured the history of the characters and the actual reasoning behind their use.

It is commonly believed, and commonly asserted by both sides of the debate, that simplified characters have a leftist raison d’être – as an effort by the Chinese Communist government either to (depending on whether you are a detractor or a supporter of the effort) distance the Chinese people from traditional classical education and traditional culture, or to promote greater functional literacy amongst the Chinese populace.

But character simplification was not exclusively or even first promoted by the Communists.

The shinjitai simplification scheme was promulgated first by the post-war Japanese Ministry of Education in 1946 – many of these simplifications (such as xue -> , luan -> or tai -> ) were adopted without alteration by the mainland Chinese government ten years later.

The simplification scheme was not, as is popularly believed, imposed by the American occupation.

It was a compromise between existing literary and political blocs: those arguing for continued traditional character use on the one hand; and those arguing for restriction, simplification and even elimination of kanji from official Japanese on the other.

Indeed, plans to simplify or even eliminate the use of Chinese characters in Japan had been in the works since the 1880’s.

The primary impetus for altering or restricting the number of Chinese characters in use came from liberal intellectuals and newspaper executives (particularly from the Asahi Shimbun and the Mainichi Shimbun) who stood to gain a higher readership by broadening their reading audience, to include Japanese people without a classical education.

However, there was also mingled in a political element.

The primary proponents of character simplification, of whom Prime Minister Hara Takashi may be taken as a chief representative, were members of what we would now call the ‘new class’, who were openly hostile to the old military class and to the traditional Confucian understanding of humane government.

They were angling also to protect the gains of a Western-style parliamentary democracy in Japan. Broadly, the initial advocates of simplified characters were advocates also, for closely-related reasons, of a technocracy based on merit, of an expansive capitalist economy and of militarism – particularly against China.

These militaristic, technocratic liberal arrivistes were opposed at the time, it should be noted, by the proletarian and social-democratic Japanese parties and movements of the time (the Social Democratic Party, the Labour-Farmer Party, the Communist Party and the related leftist student and labour movements), which wanted to popularise Sun Yat-sen’s Three Principles and to retain friendlier relations overall with, then Guomindang-ruled, China, as well as by the old-guard cultural conservatives and traditional feudal-military families.

The positions shifted only when the Mukden Incident of 1931 led the military and its associated news organs to demand greater freedom to print materials borrowing heavily from Chinese, particularly to describe place-names and people.

Of course, it would be highly insulting to many advocates of simplified characters to insinuate that they are perpetuating what is essentially a Japanese militarist-bureaucratic project – in any event, nowadays it simply isn’t true.

For better or for worse, the people and government of the Chinese mainland have taken the simplified Chinese character scheme as their own.

But Japanese history should make it clear that the use of traditional Chinese characters has not in the least been associated with anti-leftism. Still less is the logical transposition true, that the use of simplified characters necessarily implies leftist politics.

I know of few people who would claim Lee Kuan Yew as a leftist, and even fewer who would claim the government of Malaysia under the Barisan Nasional as such.

Japan’s history of character simplification should illustrate at the very least that there are more dimensions to East Asian politics than merely tradition versus modernity, and that the Left, broadly considered, is capable of being more sympathetic to concrete expressions of Chinese tradition than the Right, broadly considered.

But it is in China and amongst Western expats and China-watchers that this lesson needs to be taken most to heart.

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution finds very few defenders these days on the Left. None in the CCP are actually willing anymore to claim it as a good idea, let alone anything like a success.

Though it is a depressingly popular canard amongst right-liberal ‘public intellectuals’, netizens and Western observers that the Chinese New Left (新左派) are trying to bring back the politics of the Cultural Revolution, no one of any stature in the movement will lay claim to it in any substantial way.

Indeed, Dr. Wang Hui is a stout advocate of greater protections for the traditional collective rights, land claims and life-worlds of China’s ethnic minorities – including in Tibet.

It can be further argued that his cultural critique owes more to Daoism than it does to Marxism.

Dr. Cui Zhiyuan, architect of Bo Xilai’s ill-fated and much-maligned Chongqing reforms, does not cite Mao at all but draws his inspiration from James Meade, and, it is to be presumed, from the non-Marxist British Labour tradition more generally.

Though there are liberal-democratic motions within the Chinese New Left, there are also interesting areas of overlap with the Burke-tinged institutional Confucianism of Kang Youwei, now represented by Kang Xiaoguang and Jiang Qing.

Mainland China is very rapidly becoming a far more interesting place, intellectually and politically, than most outside observers (with their focus on officialdom and its official right-liberal ‘dissidents’) tend to realise themselves.

Although the debates of character politics have cooled, the larger political debate over the fate of China’s concrete traditions is simply not going away anytime soon.

And that debate still has the capacity to take a variety of interesting strokes.

Monday, 6 October 2014

A Strong Liberal Voice Is Needed Now, by Ben Myring

The United Kingdom has long had a deep-rooted majoritarian political culture.  Two-party politics has been the norm since the formation of modern political parties.

There have occasionally been splits and recombinations, and even less-frequent cases of parties collapsing and being replaced by new contenders.

But, by-and-large, the adversarial two-party system has remained dominant.

This dominance, so different from most of our continental neighbours, is partly cultural and partly due to an electoral system which has continued to reward the party with the plurality of votes with a majority of Commons seats at most elections.

However, psephologists and other observers have long observed that this would be hard to sustain.

Underlying the two-party system is an increasingly diverse and pluralist population who no longer cleanly divide their votes between two parties.

From a peak of 96.8% of the combined vote at the 1951 election, by 2005 this figure had fallen to 67.6%.

Tony Blair’s clear majority, acquired that year, rested on the support of only 35.2% of voters. By that same year, the third-place Liberal Democrats had reached 22%.

In 2010, the Conservatives under David Cameron achieved – with 36.1% - a higher vote share than Blair had five years earlier.

Yet the first-past-the-post electoral system, combined with a further rise in support for the Liberal Democrats, left the Commons well and truly hung.

The unfortunate Liberal Democrats, compelled by the electoral math to enter a coalition with the party most despised by their activist base, have subsequently taken a serious battering in the polls, often lurking in the high single-digits.

Yet in those same polls Labour and the Conservatives are still only able to muster less than 70% between them.

Instead of returning to a two-party system, the electorate appears to be gaining an appetite for more pluralism.

Smaller parties, most especially UKIP, the Greens, and the parties of the Celtic Fringe, are growing rapidly in support.

While the electorate continue to claim that they prefer single-party rule, they do not appear to be planning to vote in a way that is likely to deliver this.

Current polling rarely puts Labour much higher than 35%.  History suggests that this lead will erode as the election campaign gets underway.

If the Liberal Democrats hold more than 30 seats (as seems likely) and the SNP make the gains that are being predicted (let alone gains by UKIP and others) Labour may well be denied a majority.

The possible outcomes of the May 2015 election are more febrile than ever before.

Sooner or later, the electorate may have to come to terms with the reality of a political pluralism of their own making – coalitions are likely to become a fixture of British politics as much as on the Continent.

Add to this the narrow result of the Scottish independence referendum. It seems certain to result in much greater devolution of power to Scotland, further unbalancing the constitution.

The apparent willingness of all parties to address this creates perhaps the greatest opportunity for radical constitutional reform in British history.

Assuming that the Conservatives do not win then next election outright and implement an ‘English votes’ fix, it seems likely that some sort of constitutional convention – formal or otherwise - may soon be upon us.

The possible outcomes of this are not limited to devolution or even ‘home rule’. Federalism – perhaps with a proportionally elected second chamber – and electoral reform of local government are both on the table.

The party that is most interested in – and has given most studied consideration to – such constitutional reform is of course the Liberal Democrats. 

It may be a case of cometh the moment – an ironic case given the party’s current weakness.

Yet should Ed Miliband find himself with the largest party but short of a majority in May, he might well be tempted to partly delegate responsibility for constitutional reform to the Liberal Democrats in exchange for their support – perhaps thereby avoiding having Lib Dem ministers in every department as per the current arrangement.

Any significant reform is likely to result in a much more pluralist political system than the one we have now, and that may provide the basis for a restoration of Liberal Democrat fortunes.

Certainly a strong liberal voice is needed now, when both Labour and Conservatives are tempted to implement authoritarian schemes in the name of security, and the Conservatives threaten to undermine the hard-won system of human rights and wider international law.

Regardless of the outcome of 2015, there are few signs that a two-party system will be restored. The underlying sociological foundation has changed.

It’s time our political culture and institutions caught up.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Theresa May and the Return of the Snoopers' Charter, by Loz Kaye

This year's conference season has seen the parties laying out their stalls for 2015's General Election.

Given her attitude to civil liberties it should probably come as no surprise that Theresa May's contribution has been to vow that a future Tory government would reintroduce the “Snoopers' Charter”.

Once again the Conservatives are angling to strip us of liberties and privacy in the name of the war on terror.

We have already had this debate during this parliament.

The Communications Data Bill (dubbed the Snoopers' Charter) was intended to further extend already existing powers to retain information on our communications.

In other words, who all of us phone, email, text, location data and much more.

It was rejected as disproportionate, and after all significant obligations already exist for telcos and ISPs to retain this data.

The rejection of the ever further eroding of our rights to a private life has clearly rankled. Politicians have cynically seized every opportunity to try and press for the widening of the scope of mass surveillance powers.

Each time there is a new atrocity the argument is made that the Communications Data Bill would be a way of preventing it.

Former Home Secretaries queueing up to use the appalling murder of Lee Rigby as a justification for the Snoopers' Charter without a shred of evidence that more intelligence would have made a difference was a particularly nauseating example.

Yet again we have Theresa May at the Conservative Conference saying that we are facing a  “crisis in national security”.

The specific justification made each time for further powers is that there is a declining ability of the police and security services to monitor phone and Internet use. Home Secretaries are presenting this as if it's an upgrade to do with the rapid change of technology and the way that we communicate.

Yet we know from the Snowden revelations that it is simply not the case that our capabilities have fallen behind, quite the reverse.

The myriad alphabet soup of surveillance programmes – PRISM, TEMPORA, XKEYSCORE and the rest have an unprecedented reach.

For example GCHQ's ability to tap in to the transatlantic fibre optic cables has in secret allowed it to access to vast streams of sensitive personal information.

The Guardian compared the sheer volume to being equivalent to sending the entire British Library 192 times each day. This is hardly a diminishing capability as Theresa May claims.

All of this took place without proper public debate and under an oversight regime that GCHQ lawyers themselves described as “light”.

It's preposterous of the Home Secretary to claim that we “risk sleepwalking in to a society in which crime can no longer be investigated”.

This is clearly just pre-election jockeying for position to be able to accuse the Liberal Democrats  of “outrageous irresponsibility” for not backing the Snoopers' Charter.

In fact she of all people must be aware that far from preventing mass surveillance, the LibDems have allowed it to continue in government.

This is shown by their craven backing of shoving the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act or “DRIP “ through parliament in a matter of days.

The latest justification for blanket powers is the rise of ISIL. Yet the alarming success of these extremists shows the failure of massive blanket communications interception.

ISIL has grown up, apparently been operating oil refineries and command posts, UK citizens have left to fight in the Middle East, under the all seeing eye of what Edward Snowden described as “the largest programme of suspicionless surveillance in human history”.

Either the US and UK have not actually been able to make sense of the vast streams of data, or we have and not known what to do about it.

The key dishonesty of all those who argue for further invasions of privacy is to confuse monitoring all of us with monitoring where it's required.

Limiting our collective liberty is no guarantee of our security, far from it.

Theresa May hoped for British values prevailing and winning the day in her speech.  The British values I want to see prevail are preserving liberty and private life.

I welcome that debate for the General Election.

Loz Kaye is the Leader of the Pirate Party UK.