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.
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?
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?

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,

Nottingham City Council debating the NHS

Nottingham City Council today debated developments in the NHS.
And the Nottingham Tory Leader describes the NHS as a “hotbed of socialist propaganda”. But denies wanting to privatise NHS.
Another Conservative complained at how the Conservatives were not seen to care about the NHS, but then bewailed the £96 billion “Labour chucked” at the NHS and the £71 deficit from the PFI schemes.
An opportunity for Cllr Sam Webster to make his first speech to the Council.
As usual, a terrific contribution from Cllr Brian Parbutt – @ng_labour: Cllr Parbutt – ‘Private’ does not automatically ‘better’ e.g. recent breast implant scandal created by private doctors & fixed by NHS #ncc
Read the motion here –
I seconded the motion, with a speech that I had to shorten even though I’d rehearsed it –
Key points – people value the NHS as a principle, it’s a defining aspect of Britain, part of the post-war settlement for the people, some of the clinical commissioning is already showing problems, and local Councillors playing a bigger role would help the NHS.