British Politics’s Blog

The ravings of an individual, UK voter frustrated with our politicians

Archive for August 2008

Should the UK government impose a windfall tax on energy companies?

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The government is under pressure to impose a windfall tax on energy companies including UK based domestic fuel suppliers as well as international petroleum businesses based in the UK. This is a risky strategy given many of the companies have no particular need to remain in the UK for tax purposes and no longer to we have a favourable business tax system as an incentive to stay. Hence the reason some companies have been moving to places such as southern Ireland because of a better tax regime.

This would not be the first time the government has imposed a windfall tax on energy companies, but the last time, the tax regime was favourable and no doubt many of the companies decided to be pragmatic. But a second raid may be the last straw. I am not advocating that no action should be taken against these companies, only that it must not be quite so blatant as a windfall tax, instead the government could look at the carbon credit scheme, because many energy companies benefitted disproportionatly when the trading scheme was introduced. Some energy companies have clearly taken advantage of the current crisis to boost their own profits and this must be looked at, but simply appearing to ‘punish’ business in such a penal way as a windfall tax smacks of short-termism and desparation. See my recent article here: Windfall tax on the energy companies is not the answer.

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Is the UK turning into a Police State?

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News that home secretary Jacqui Smith intends to provide security guards and town hall workers with sweeping new powers has to send shivers down the spine of the average UK citizen, who surely cannot help thinking that we are becoming something of a police state. Instead of utilising our police force to enforce the law, the government are seeking to use civilians who pass an accreditation course costing just a few hundred pounds, to punish and fine the general public. The use of the ‘extended police family’, is akin to the German war machines’ use of collaborators during the second world war to snitch on fellow citizens. This concept is ill-conceived, smacks of desperation and surely is no different to the plain clothes infiltrators used by the Chinese and Russians.

We are already the most spied on nation in the world, with more CCTV cameras than anywhere else in the world. We have had to endure the introduction of community support officers who have simply been sent out in place of normal beat bobbies, but with less powers, less training and less experience. Now, they are going to be joined by a group of badged or uniformed civilians with the power to issues fines, stop cars, direct traffic, remove abandoned vehicles, seize alcohol and even take pictures of so-called offenders. Where will it stop.

If a police officer stops us, we tend to accept that as everyday policing, but when civilians with uniforms, or civilians with badges do so, we are entitled to feel we are being hounded or persecuted. How ironic that successive government’s have criticised so called “police states” and yet with one wave of their wand, the people of this country find themselves policed by untrained civilians. Ask yourself this, what type of people will apply for this accreditation, perhaps people that like having a uniform, those that have failed to get into the police force or are not suitable to become a special constable, or security guards who think a uniform makes them important?

This is a scattergun approach to policing, rather than admit that they have failed, by having experienced police officers chase targets instead of criminals, this government wants to drown us with a pseudo police service, ready to pounce for any misdemeanor. These powers can be given to council workers, social workers, car park attendants, housing officers, trading standards, charity workers, dog wardens and private security staff.

The fact is there are already 1400 council workers and private security staff with this accreditation, but the government want to expand the programme massively. I am all for effective policing, bobbies on the beat and a no-tolerance approach to anything that affects the lives of ordinary people. But this must be done by trained and experienced police officers. This government promised to reduce the amount of paperwork police officers are expected to complete in order that they could be released to investigate crime, return to the beat and pursue offenders.

They have lied to us again, instead of doing as they have promised, they are simply putting more and more untrained people on the streets to police the public. Not only is this a derogation of the governments’ duty of care to the public, it is also a breach of our trust. The opposition parties must come out now and say that they will reverse this policy when they get into office, we don’t want to be policed by civilians, we pay an enormous amount of money for policing through central and local taxes, we want our value for our money. Proper trained police officers on the streets.

One of the biggest blights on our quality of life in this country is anti-social behaviour. Will a civilian or a PCSO for that matter issuing an on the spot fine make any difference, no, it will not. These yobs need to be taken down to the station and charged. The PCSO can detain for 30 minutes until a ‘proper’ police officer arrives, the accredited snoopers don’t even have the ability to detain. So what difference will they make to persistent offenders? The truth is, law-abiding citizens will, for the most part, cooperate with these badged jobsworths, because that is what we do and we will accept our fines for small misdemeanours, because that is what we do. But the people that are guilty of anti-social behavior, well, they will run away, give false details or simply fight. So these snoopers and PCSO’s will make no difference at all to our quality of life.

Ministers are so cocooned, they haven’t got a clue what goes on in the real world and that is the problem with having a government in office for so long. They run out of ideas, believe if they are doing something, anything, then they are earning their pay and worse of all, they forget what it is like to be an ordinary citizen and yet, spend their lives trying to avoid talking to us. This government needs to go and now!

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UK parliament is run by MP’s that are alien to the rest of us

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Perhaps it is just me, but I am beginning to believe that our MP’s are on another planet, not that they were born on another planet, just that once they become elected they appear to move to another planet.

We, the electorate, are almost always referred to as the “people” whenever our members of parliament or, more accurately, our ministers talk about us. Almost as if we are something different to them, of a different class, a different sub-species and, perhaps we are. Because MP’s simply remove themselves from the real world within months, sometimes days of being elected, or re-elected. They are quite happy to communicate with the “people” when they want something, such as your vote, but don’t expect them to talk to you again, at you, but not to you. Instead they will use any medium capable of delivering a one way message such as newspapers. Or perhaps, the internet savvy will use a blog, albeit many do not allow comments or moderate them to avoid anyone expressing an opinion that may differ from their own.

My point is, do any of the MP’s out there sound like us, talk like us or act like us. If we are being honest with ourselves, the majority don’t. For example, we make mistakes, but our MP’s in general and our minsters in particular, they never do. No, it is always a contractor, world events, the previous government, a civil servant, in fact anyone but themselves at fault. It is akin to driving a bus and claiming the accident was caused by weather conditions, the state of the tyres, the passengers, the previous owner etc., not because of anything the bus driver did. After all, it can’t be the bus driver’s job to check the tyres, the weather conditions or keep the passengers under control.

To err is human and believe it or not, most people can relate to that and the honesty that goes with being able to admit responsibility or culpability. Perhaps if more members of parliament were to admit the failures or weaknesses, we could repeat the entire saying, “to err is human, to forgive is divine”. In other words if they acted like the “people” they claim to represent, and admitted their mistakes, we would probably forgive them, because we can relate to something that happens to us all. In fact, at least making mistakes means we are doing something and it is better to do something and get it wrong occasionally, than it is to do nothing. Making a mistake and being able to admit to it can demonstrate our depth; provide a tangible example of our honesty and our integrity, not to mention our skills at objectivity and self-analysis. All the things, in fact, that we would expect of an elected member of parliament.

As soon as an MP is elected, they lose their ability to communicate with us, why, because they are then expected to toe the party line, they have to become part of a machine? So they must think about each and everything they say. They are no longer real people; they just spout the same party line, too scared of their own shadows to say anything else. This is a generalisation, but then, if we are honest with ourselves, this type of behaviour is a familiar trait with the vast majority of MP’s.

In the past, we have had real ‘characters’ amongst our MP’s most were not flamboyant, just outspoken. You may not have agreed with their politics, but at least they were prepared to step forward and say what they think, not the party hierarchy. Today, the number of characters amongst our 650 or so MP’s can be counted on one hand, simply because they are required to leave their opinions, beliefs and personalities behind if they want to get on or not be labelled a maverick. We would probably consider someone labelled by the party machine as a maverick as a person of principals, gravitas or of independent mind.

Once in parliament, our MP’s become robots, part of the machine where every line has to be rehearsed, every comment considered to ensure that is doesn’t offend anyone, difficult questions must be evaded and if you are fortunate enough to be a minister, then you determine what questions can, or cannot be asked. It is so far removed from the real world, that it is alien to us; therefore it is impossible for the electorate to relate to these elected officials. So, we have around 650 members of parliament ruling 65m people, but in such fear, that in truth, we are probably ruled by less people than in the Politburo of the Communist Party of China.

Take Prime Ministers Question Time, the PM always knows well in advance what questions will be asked, they also have a few stooges who are ready to raise an issue where the PM can preen his feathers and claim all of the credit. If the PM is rounded on by the opposition, he simply blames the previous government, in spite of the fact that Labour has been in government for 11 years, or refers to the voting patters of the other parties. Everything is staged, yes the PM or some of his ministers may be lampooned, but we are given carefully rehearsed and research answers that are delivered in such a way as to ensure that the government record or minister is cleared of any wrongdoing, responsibility or culpability. This is not real life, it is alien to us.

Gordon Brown has many, many problems to deal with, but the people, as we are patronisingly referred to, are quite forgiving, because we are normal. Imagine if you will, Gordon Brown standing up and admitting, that he should have put a little money away in the good times, to ensure that we could survive the difficult times, which were bound to come. He could admit for example, that there would be fewer pensioners in fuel poverty had he not raided their pension schemes. We can relate to these admissions because they demonstrate that to err is human. He could also admit that he made a mistake by allowing the Labour party to renege on its commitment to allow the people the opportunity to vote of the ratification of the EU Constitution. He could even offer to put that right, by allowing us the vote and saying sorry. He won’t because that would make him look like us.

Our leaders and our members of parliament need to start talking like us, speaking like us and acting like us if they are to re-engage with the public. We don’t all speak with one voice like the political parties, the vast majority of us are willing to accept our share of responsibility when things go wrong, we don’t disparagingly refer to a group of people like they are some underclass, we don’t rehearse our answers or have speeches written for us.

Members of Parliament have to re-engage with the public and to do so is quite simple, they don’t have to spend hundreds of millions on consultants to work out how. They just need to act like normal people with a big job to do. They need to talk to us as equals. They need to keep their promises and maintain their values, not sell them for a cushy junior minister’s post. They need to talk to the people that put them in parliament for the entire period of their term in office, not talk at them, but to them. Above all, they need to be humble, admit their mistakes, tell us what they are going to do to put them right and move on.

It is not difficult for our members of parliament to demonstrate that they are not aliens or resident on another planet.

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