Featuring alongside Billy Bragg

Oh, what that could have meant …
Duetting on “Lover’s Town Revisited” which was on my Radio Nottingham featured 8 tracks.
Having him sing my updated version of his “Days Like These” – “liking Facebook is not enough ...”.
Instead, we’re both in a Guardian video. He’s saying he’s not sure about another referendum and wants a peoples’ assemblies. I’m saying we need to learn from Ireland on how to do a referendum for a result we can all get behind.

The editor cleverly has a man saying people are saying they know when they don’t, then Billy Bragg saying we need an People’s Assembly, then me saying we probably need a 3 option vote, but don’t know how to safely do it, and then the street cleaner saying put the 5 best speakers on a platform to lead a decision.

Billy Bragg, at 3:24, 26 seconds –
“I don’t support People’s Vote. I think it will be divisive. I would prefer, rather than having a referendum, that we have a People’s Assembly, so that we can debate the issues, we can all have our voices heard and come to a decision through deliberation rather than a one-day winner-takes-all referendum cos what we need to get out of this is some kind of consensus and a People’s Assembly will start the process of bringing people back together again.”
then me at 3:50, 43 seconds –
“I think one of the genuine problems is that I don’t know how you carry a referendum that isn’t one or the other. And yet it feels like that’s what we need.
People who want to come out as quickly as possible deserve an option.
The people who actually think May has done the best she can and they deserve a voice [option].
And those of us who felt … our future is properly in Europe – we feel we deserve a voice [option] as well, … so how do you safely conduct a 3 option ballot, cos I don’t know how to do that and what I am impressed by is places like Ireland where they’ve had the referendum and they’ve made processes on how to pose the question and then get an answer that people can accept.”


I’m also recorded talking about poverty –
At 2:38, for fifteen second –
“There’s new kinds of poverty.
And it’s time people woke up and realised just what’s going wrong in our society,
cos in 10, 15, 20 years’ time, we’ll all be saying why didn’t we do something about it,
and we’ll have to do the whole Blair – Brown thing all over again.

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For a kinder politics

Three claims in particular distress me about the claims being made by MPs leaving the Labour Party to create an Independent Group.
1. that Labour are putting their policy views ahead of the needs of the country;  
2. that politics is broken;  
3. that politics needs to address the needs of our times, (of the 21st Century), and it doesn’t.
–  
To which –
1. that Labour are putting their policy views ahead of the needs of the country;  dressing up differences in vision for the country as betrayal is often cited but is anti-political;  and charges like this were made against New Labour when we were in power too; 
2. that politics is broken; party politics deciding affairs is the fundamental test by which you assess whether we have a free society;  party political allegiances are under strain at the moment, but that’s cos the referendum took away simple party loyalties away from MPs and cos the decision to Leave was ambiguous about how to leave; 
3. that politics needs to address the needs of our times, (of the 21st Century), and it doesn’t;  except this is another anti-politics charge that has been made for decades, indeed probably from the time of Cock Robin.  And my main response to them is that Labour’s policy responses are much stronger responses to the challenges of today.

Polls are reporting lower scores for the Conservatives and for Labour with 10 points or so for the Independent group, to which I’m either surprised  or underwhelmed and I’m not sure which.  Cos on the one hand, 10 points is a lot and on the other, the SDP had much higher scores when its was launched in 1981.  
It is perhaps inevitable that social media responses – where people can make statements without being held to account – might be more trill than is warranted, but the trillness Is not not good for us in the Labour Party, as has been shown by –
– the Parliamentary Labour Party giving those leaving a round of applause, clearly believing they have been treated badly and that many of them are receiving poor treatment too; 
Tom Watson’s statement, with a particular emphasis on Luciana Berger being a victim;
– most tellingly, John MacDonnell dropping plan A (Monday – they all need to resign as MPs and stand for fresh elections) and adopting Plan B (Tuesday – the national party needs to listen to the concerns raised)
– Barry Gardiner expressing regret at the treatment of Luciana Berger MP by anti-Semites from the front bench.

Because there has been conduct in the party and from outside the party against MPs that has been too brutal.  Some of it has been anti-Semitic.  A lot of it has been macho.  Some of it – e.g. votes of no confidence in their MP by branches using emergency motions and thus not informing all branch members – has been wrong in principle and according to the rules of the Labour Party.  
So we should acknowledge that we can improve.

If we’d adopted a listening approach – 
– we could have refrained from saying MPs who have changed parties should resign their seats – 1) only 4 out of the most recent 64 have; 2) we need people in Parliament to be voting on Brexit; 3) people get elected as individuals; and everyone who stands know that they stand on that basis; elected representatives are just that and are not delegates to be withdrawn;  and there are no mechanisms yet designed that can make a delegate approach work; 
– we could have refrained from saying people have made decisions to leave lightly – cos people who have been elected have invested significantly in the Labour Party and for years, and cos they have deep convictions too;  indeed the testimonies of roots and life stories was the strongest part of the launch on Monday;
– we could have refrained from suggest they are careerist – especially when I think they’ve done something that will end their careers as MPs at the next election; and because people say this of all representatives;  it’s actually a dig at the way a free society decides who decides and a way of stopping people think about the issues;
– we could have refrained from saying MPs are mandated by the party national manifesto, cos before the Summer of 2015, loads of MPs were congratulated by not standing by the manifestos of Blair and Brown;
– we could have refrained from saying a vote for a Labour candidate was a vote for the Labour manifesto; cos whilst a win gives the party the opportunity to implement the manifesto, we certainly don’t say vote for the manifesto or don’t vote for us at all; and in 2017, we actually said, don’t vote for Theresa May, she’s not a good PM, has had a terrible campaign and she des not offer string and stable government.  
And we could do without those rolling out defences of those who have been anti-Semitic (e.g people haven’t been, or the favourite – “I’ll say what I want when being critical of Israel and no code is going to stop me”); cos the Labour Party has a problem (and it’s annoying cos we are supposed to be the best at being anti-racist).

These analyses look cruel, shrill, out of touch and condoning of very poor bullying and racist behaviour. Having a tin ear rather than listening.

Smarter to celebrate the ambition we have – including re-implementing levies on banks that have cost public services £5,000 million and created the space to campaign against further proposals to cut Corporation tax by 2% at a cost public services £8,000 million.

Boundary changes are a condemnation of British government and politics

We are a nation that does not know how many people live within its boundaries.
Centuries after statistics was invented as a branch of mathematics to help run a state, and centuries after the census was introduced to know where people live and to plan and to predict for the future, we, the British are incapable of such an obvious task, that even William the Conqueror set out to do it in 1066.  (IBM made their breakthrough by automating the counting of U.S. census returns in the 19th Century.)
The obvious starting point is that each MP should represent an equal number of people resident.  And yes, resident, not just registered to vote.
An exact divide is impossible.   This review goes for tighter tolerances, missing more opportuniies to avoid crossing primary authority borders  – e.g. Nottingham and Notts; and even Devon and Cornwall.
Changes in the modern world having broken up communities that build up collective action, such as encouraging people to turn out to vote; and changes to the tax system (Poll tax, then council tax), the benefits system (bedroom tax) and the registration system (annual individual registration) have driven up the numbers not registered.
Despite a late addition of 2 million people in the run-up to the EU referendum – ignored in this review (and something I highlighted with a question in full Council on Monday; Graham Chapman’s updated reply available here) – there are millions still missing.
That reducing MPs by 50 was about saving costs is negated by having increased the number of Lords by some hundreds.
So the terms of the boundaries review are wrong and set to skew the new seats in favour of the Conservatives.
new-boundaries-bc0661h
Yes, I’d stop this process.
(I’ll also work to suggest better solutions as it continues .)
But I would go further –
– a requirement for every citizen to be registered, prompted by using information from a number of sources beyond the existing register, such as tax and social security to prompt the most likely address;
then, a democracy needs higher turnout –
– rewarding voting by some kind of voucher and / or tax discount;  (more representative outcomes and perhaps reducing costs of registartion);
and even –
– making the Lords votes proportionate to votes cast at a General Election, with a clearer focus on scrutiny and maybe even filling a Regional gap in democratic governance that the public seem reluctant to have an election for.
Oh, and making the Commons more relevant by committees that more faithfully shadow Ministers and their decisions, with better public information on the decisions to be made.  Give the media some proper substance to report on.

We could govern ourselves in such a better way.
This review shows how useless we British have become.

Better government in England

The debate on devolution within England is the wrong debate at what BBC East Midlands journalist John Hess hinted is a convenient pre General Election debate time.  Truth is, any national gov’t needs to know its mandate is able to shape the country.  It’s also true that the balance of powers is wrong.  But so is the balance of the country – the real reason why the Scottish referendum was so close.

England does need better government.  It’s hard to see what value any kind of English assembly could add.  The natural levels of gov’t here are – UK, principal local authorities, boroughs & districts, towns & parishes, and finally regions.  Notably, health and education structures are fitting less easily into that model.  Core cities don’t fit the model well enough either – but they’re meeting a need and who wants to hold them up with boundary re-organisation?
IMG_1634
New Labour developed a psyche – “Look, there’s a problem! Quick! Re-organise!”  At its worse with the re-organisation of social services into adults and children (as if families don’t contain both) because of Baby P.  Top down, expensive, knee-jerk and merely creating different boundaries to manage. 

Yet New Labour also developed models for service delivery – based on project management, service planning and inspection that tests key criteria for success – ambition; planning and performance management; capability, capacity and culture; legitimacy; inspiration.  (I’ve added some, but I’d also expect a Labour gov’t to be looking to equality and participation.)

benn-l by kathleenEnglish gov’t would be better if people could more easily understand it – to which Tony Benn’s five questions are interesting.  My version would say –
– elected representatives are accountable for all public money raised and spent;
– more than FoI, freedom of quality information;  the planning that allows the spending of public money published, along with its results;  available (on-line) to the public, journalists and inspectors; giving substance to political debate.

Democracy – all equal on election day – gives so much, but it gives more when people take the responsibilities along with the rights.
The greatest disappointment of the new technology in politics (and in journalism) is that it has led to trolling and conspiracy theories, impugning motives and attacking personality (even for opinions on baking on TV) and putting people off from joining in, rather than enlightenment and participation.  Legislation can only take us so far; instead we should all work to what George Orwell said – publish nothing rather than publish anything barbarous. 

Better government requires better information.  Pathetic that we can no longer properly count the people who are out of work.  Civil servants should be given a duty to publish more fully the options that have been suggested by those not in majority power.  And check everything for the impact of poverty;  check performance in the context of adding value – don’t fail teachers for deigning to teach the deprived.

My immediate steps for change (which I think could appeal across the political spectrum) would be –
– new accountability for the NHS, including commissioning by principal local authorities; the restoration of full local education authorities;
– along with new rights for principal local authorities, new responsibilities for them and Whitehall – embracing value-added analysis, FoQI and inspections (based on key criteria and self-assessment, including peer inspectors, and Ofsted mark 2 rather than Ofsted marks 1 and 3);
– allowing core cities to find their own ways of evolving, and locally elected representatives to provide regional co-ordination;
– the North, the Midlands and the South-West to take on more of the economic activity conducted in London and the South-East;
– a massive drive on tackling tax avoidance.

For Labour –
– an electoral register drawing from all sources of public authority information, from which people have to opt out of; enfranchising millions of people left off the lists;
– new expectations that public services are provided by staff in recognised workplaces, working to the living wage as a minimum;
– commissioning that allows choosing local suppliers.

Longer term –
– can we find ways of town councils being the viable second tier of local government, rather than boroughs?
– could the regional assemblies be the new channels for creating a new House of Lords?

Postscript:
Should have said something about the need for national (and possibly regional) government to ensure that neighbouring authorities don’t undermine each other – not bringing forward plans to build housing, allowing out of town dev’t that takes retail away from existing shopping centres supported by public transport, schools taking away the most able children, not taking opportunities for green energy. You need a framework. And it’s just one reason why “independence for Nottingham” is so ridiculous.

For a quiet PMQ’s

Prime Minister’s Questions has been very noisy but was very quiet for me today.
A constituent rang with a concern just as it began and so the TV got switched to mute.
Apparently Ed Miliband played it low key, asking earnest questions on domestic matters in a quiet tone.
In part cos the death of an MP, in part cos of worries about how noisy and rowdy PMQs has become.
On the phone, I was missing it, and instead only occasionally saw snippets, including some angry and contorted backbench faces.
I hope PMQ’s can change.
It’s not a good advert for politics.
Questions and put downs, spoken to the rhythm of ring-a-ring-roses, don’t sound great.
Given the advances in camera technology since cameras were first introduced, I hope they can have cameras in different locations, capturing MPs’ faces rather than the tops of their heads. Might help persuade MPs to change.
Small beer of course in the context of what’s right for Britain and the world, but hey, let’s hope today’s change can stick.

please read some … Orwell … and some Webb

20131030-221819.jpgNow I know why people take arts degrees before writing in public.
Truly, I am not worthy.
A compelling essay on why voting, and the political activity that encourages it, is the way; but with some compelling humour.
Robert Webb – the other half of the “Peep Show”.
And it’s so true that young people not voting prolongs the bad deal they’re getting.
Educational Maintenance Allowance – abolished so easily cos the sixteen and seventeen year olds can’t vote.
Select graphic to read article on the New Statesman web-site,