British Politics’s Blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘mp’s

David Cameron’s Amnesty for wrongdoers

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Am I the only one that believes that Cameron is actually weak, not strong on wayward MP’s? Yes, he has told us how he is taking a strong line, but does the evidence back that up? I think not. If you are in the shadow cabinet, according to Cameron, it is sufficient to pay back anything that may not be considered “reasonable” and all will be forgiven. If you are a backbencher, then you may be referred to Cameron’s “kangaroo court”, if you have been a good boy or girl, but a little greedy, then you may be asked to pay some money back, but you will be exonerated. On the other hand, if you are a bit of a maverick, then Cameron will use this as an opportunity to get rid of you. At least that is my take on it.

So, are we to believe that tough man Cameron is going to tell all burglars and car thieves that so long as they return their ill-gotten gains, then they will be forgiven and can get on with their lives? Is it possible that Cameron’s so called tough approach is a bit of a misnomer, designed to deflect attention. A cynic might suggest that by telling everyone that he is a bit of a tough guy, he has successfully diverted attention and at the same time, ensured that it is not the court of public opinion that decides on whether an MP has misbehaved, but the court of David Cameron.

Sorry to all those that like Cameron, but I just don’t trust him, the more I see him in action, the more he gives off the air of an opportunist. I have noticed that whilst he says a lot, if you dissect what he has said, it is rarely tangible of even measurable. I really want to believe that Cameron and the Conservatives are a worthy alternative to the discredited Brown, but if I am honest, there is little that he had done or said that impresses. I think it will just be more of the same. I recognise that because I so want Brown gone, I am almost prepared to accept that the devil himself could do a better job…..but, I said almost! No matter how much we may want to have this country put back on track, we cannot just will someone to succeed, they first of all have to have the wherewithal to make it happen, and I do not see that in Cameron.

Also, where has all the talk of reform gone? Cameron is pushing Brown into an early general election, great, but not before we have had some electoral refirm. What is the point of being able to put in a new government if we are obliged to accept the people put before us by the party machine? That is not democracy. It means that our choice is limited to our preferred party, not candidate. If Cameron wants the people to support an early election, then he must allow the people to select their preferred candidate at the next election, not afterwards. We all know that when party’s win power they seem to forget about everything that said to get them there.

Boycott the mainstream parties

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I have often advocated to friends and colleagues that the best way to deliver a hard-hitting message to politicians is to vote for fringe parties rather than mainstream. The reality is, at least for the most part, leaders of the main parties take our votes for granted. They know that there is a hardcore of supporters, but it is floating voters that really decide results, so that is who they target with populist policies. The thing that they fear most, is something that upsets the status quo, that is, the voters responding in an unpredictable or uncontrolledable way. Whether we like it or not, most voters are predictable, the mainstream parties like that.

This is perhaps why Lord Tebbit urged disaffected voters to “teach the big parties a lesson” by endorsing one of the smaller parties. Now this has been admitted by a former Conservative Party Chairman, perhaps my friends and colleagues will start to realise that a vote for a fringe party is not a wasted vote. As a fellow blogger stated in a recent post; “Politicians of all parties would do well to listen. They rule by consent, not as a right. The public could scupper all of their plans by simply voting for fringe parties, it may not give us a joined up government, but lets be honest, we haven’t had one of those for generations!”. There is no need to vote for extremist parties, in the EU Election there are quite a number of choices, including, but not necessarily limited to; UKIP, the Greens, the English Democrats, the Christian Peoples Alliance, NO2EU, Libertas, and the Jury Team.

Truth be told, MEP’s have very little power, so using the European elections to deliver a message to our domestic politicans carries very little risk and a great deal of upside. I know that I may be criticised for this comment, but the real power in the European Union lies with the unelected Commissioners, not the MEP’s. Our domestic MP’s have disappointed us, many have either abused or stood by whilst others abused an expense system that was actually designed to be abused….by the abusers! Ironic isn’t it! – Clearly our MP’swere quite prepared to treat the very people that elected them with contempt, but why not, they only needed us once every 5 years?

I dislike being taken for granted, both in terms of my goodwill and my vote and I am sure many people will feel as I do. So maybe we should all consider delivering a very explicit message to the mainstream parties, that we cannot, nor will we be taken for granted. And, if they don’t start to listen following the June 4th results, then there is a very real possibility that people power will ensure that the vast majority of current MP’s will lose their seats at the next election and I mean from all parties. If existing MP’s are unwilling to listen, especially those from New Labour, then I will consider standing as an independent MP and I will urge others to follow suit. If there are enough independent MP’s, the people of this country may actually regain their voice, because massive majorities will be replaced by the need to gain a consensus. Authoritarian rule will be replaced by a democratic process. Now that would be nice.

I am happy to be accused of being naive. But I will say this, MP’s abused their expenses because we let them, we assumed that they could be trusted to self-regulate. We have accepted an electoral system that favours the larger parties, a system that provides these party’s with massive majorities, even if they get just 35% of the vote, in turn we get what amounts to single party rule. The ruling party, as evidenced by the New Labour Party Machine, want ever more state power and control over the people. New Labour, for example, has become completely disengaged and out of touch with the people, they have introduced a raft of  new laws, well over 3,500 in 12 years, many removing long-held rights to privacy and liberty and the New Labour delivery has become authoritarian, not inclusive. 

If we have to vote for fringe parties, or independent candidates to deliver a harsh lesson to our self-serving MP’s and political parties, then I am up for it. I want to return to a democratic process where our views are taken into consideration, not one where we are controlled or spied on; I want our government to be truly representative and, above all, I want to feel proud of our democracy, our politicians and our government….and I am sure many people would agree with those sentiments, so lets take the “necessary action” to repeat the overused phrase by our illustrious leader…and “do what’s right” to use another!

Tony McNulty and an expense claim too far

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I am angry with Tony McNulty, because, although I disagree with most of his party’s policies, I always considered him to be sincere and committed to the policies adopted by New Labour. He was believable and one of the few ministers who could hold his own when challenged by the likes of Jon Snow’s  on the Channel 4 News programme, without sulking. Therefore, to find out that he was one of the members of parliament exploiting the rules related to second home allowances (which was designed to cover rent, mortgage interest payments or hotel expenses) was a great personal disappointment. I do not suggest that McNulty has done anything in contravention of the rules or regulations, but to claim as much as £60k in expenses for a home his parents live in, when it is just a few miles from his home, is truly stretching what could be termed, at least in my judgement, reasonable.

Members of Parliament are supposed to set an example to the rest of us, they are in a privileged position and as such, we are entitled to expect the very highest standards from those who are elected to serve the people. By and large, MP’s tend to vote and decide on their own salaries, perks, pensions and expenses, therefore is it essential that they are seen not to put self-interest first. It is quite clear, to anyone with half a brain cell, that second home allowances were intended to assist those MP’s who lived in their constituency and needed to cover their additional costs in terms of travelling or overnight accommodation in London. It was never intended to be a tax free perk, but that is precisely what it has turned out to be for many. They know that and we know that. Can Tony McNulty really justify his claim, when his permanent home is so close to Westminster, not in terms of the ‘rules’, but in terms of the spirit of the allowance? He may be an excellent debater, but even he will not be able to come up with a set of words that would convince me, let alone the public at large. To his credit, however, he has suggested that the home allowance rules ought to be reviewed.

This discredited expense system, that has become a method for MP’s to boost their earnings, needs to be overhauled NOW! Not by members of parliament, because most of them have demonstrated that they cannot be trusted to demonstrate objectivity, much less intelligence and independent thought, but by a committee of lay people. No longer is it acceptable that MP’s should receive benefits that those in the private sector could only dream of. MP’s need a reality check, they are so insulated from the people they govern, that they seem to have no idea how to act responsibly or appropriately. There is a recession going on out here, people are losing their jobs, companies are closing, families are becoming homeless, personal wealth is falling at an alarming rate and no-one in power seems to give a toss, so long as they are okay.

Ask the average MP why he decided to go into politics and you will get dozens of different answers, but I guarantee that they will not say they did it for the money, yet on closer analysis, it appears that greed (if lawful greed) is the order of the day. If MP’s earnings are so low that they feel they must maximise expense claims whatever the morality, then I suggest they step aside and let ordinary people take their place at the next election. God knows, this country needs people that are in touch with reality, rather than on a different planet.

Gordon Brown needs to get his house in order and Cameron needs to come off the fence and make some recommendations regarding a review of expense allowances, not simply insist that MP’s publish an account of their past expenses. Sometimes I think Cameron is even more removed from reality than Gordon Brown, now that is scary, especially given he may be our next prime minister. The bottom line is, however, that there are few people in this government that deserve their positions, starting at the very top, but I am becoming more and more concerned that there are an increasing number MP’s, from all side of the house, that do not deserve to be described a honourable nor are they fit to represent the good and predominantly honest people of this country.

UPDATE:

Anyone that is angered by the information contained in this post may also like to be aware that there is a new Bill going through parliament which seeks to provide MP’s and all other public servants with what amounts to an immunity from prosecution (civil and criminal) with a legal definition of the term ‘reasonable discretion’. You can find out more here: Bill to Exercise Reasonable Discretion

Prostitution, pimps, trafficking and criminal intent

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There is an interesting post over at Power to the People on the government announcement that they intend to introduce new legislation to protect women that have been forced into prostitution by people traffickers or pimps. The post does not cover the rights and wrongs about prostitution, but instead the issue surrounding a fundamental change to criminal law, in that there is no need to demonstrate intent only “strict liability”.

The following paragraph probably sums up best the argument contained in the post:

I am no law expert, but by introducing a “strict liability” clause into criminal law, (I believe it is already used in civil law), means a serious criminal offence can be committed without there being any intent. Now I know that ignorance of the law is no excuse, but this legislation means that even if a man asked the necessary questions and was given the appropriate responses, he is still playing a game of Russian Roulette, with odds that would not be lawful in a casino! Worst still, the man doesn’t even need to have sex in order to commit the offence, he just has to conduct the transaction.

If true, this is a very worrying precedent being set by government ministers, perhaps made worst by the fact that Harriet Harman is actually a QC. She more than anyone must know the consequences of a piece of legislation that can find a man guilty of rape simply because he conducted a transaction for sex with a prostitute.

Surely this is what is wrong with this government. They try and intefere in everything, with little or no knowledge of the problems, issues or implications. It is always a sledgehammer to crack a nut, draconian and penal laws introduced against a backdrop of political correctness or a wish to grab the headlines. The Big Brother Database was one way in which this government attempted to run roughshod over the civil liberties of the people of this country. Now they seek to introduce a strict liability clause which means that no ‘act’ has to take place for a very serious offence to have been committed which could result in a life sentence.

Vulnerable girls forced into prostitution are entitled to and must be protected. However, the laws are already there for the police to use, so why don’t they? If 70% of the girls are working under duress, then the police should have no problem bringing prosecutions. I don’t know how many ‘sex transactions’ take place everyday, but if 70% of them could lead to a serious offence being committed, surely the courts will be inundated with criminal cases. Also, we need to start building new prisons now, because I suspect, that this law will not stop the oldest profession in the world. In a worst case scenario, it could make the girls more vulnerable and drive it underground where it will be impossible to protect them.

Those that sponsor or support this bill in its current form should hang their heads in shame for they seek to change a fundamental aspect of criminal law in this country and fail to achieve the objective set. As for Jacqui Smith and Harriet Harman, they should resign immediately, because they have demonstrated that they are not fit for the high offices that they hold.

Has Hazel Blears been reading our blogs?

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Based on an article written by Communities Secretary, Hazel Blears for The Guardian newspaper, it is a reasonable question. Especially given she naively attacked political bloggers a couple of weeks ago. Now she appears to have used these same blogs for her own research into what is wrong with politics. In this particular article, she was specifically taking a swipe at the BNP, no doubt because they make an easier target than other mainstream political parties. But, as we know, her comments could apply to any party that is gaining votes at Labours expense. Here is a summary of some of the points she made.

  • Politicians from all parties must work hard to win back the trust and confidence of disaffected voters by proving that mainstream politics has the answers they seek
  • Politics required a revival of local political culture, a significant shift of power from the centre to the community and politicians who look and sound like the people they represent
  • Estates have been ignored for decades; voters taken for granted; local services that have failed; white working-class voters who feel politicians live on a different planet

Now of course, delivering rhetoric is one thing, delivering solutions is quite another. As we know, Hazel Blears may be vocal and enjoy getting her name in the press, but lets face it, not many people hang onto her every word. So whilst it is a pity that a more serious politician did not make these comments, lets hope one of them can read, because she does get to the root cause of why so many people feel both disenfranchised and disaffected with politics.

Of course there are many other issues, such as the creation of a nanny state, the constant waste of taxpayers money, the government’s introduction of Big Brother, voyeuristic, privacy invading, civil liberty busting programmes designed to control and oppress the people of this country, as well as, of course, the complete screw up of our economy. However I believe there are two comments that she made that are particularly relevant today and those are ‘politicians need to look and sound like the people they represent’ and ‘voters feel politicians live on a different planet ‘ . 

These two comments could not be applied exclusively to the Labour Party, although that would be an excellent start, they would apply to MP’s of all parties. With only a few exceptions, once our members of parliament are elected, and they enter the house of commons, they really start to believe that they are a cut above everyone else and power goes to their heads. The only time they become ‘human’ again, is when they are begging for our votes! Most MP’s are, or become in a very short period, pathetic self-serving, self-righteous, self-obsessed dickheads, interested in the position, rather than the responsibility or why they were put there.

Nonetheless, as always, Hazel is keen to highlight problems. However as with most Labour MP’s (and David Cameron), short on ideas of how to address them. May I suggest therefore, that a good start is for the main political parties to start selecting the person they want to represent them at election time and in parliament, from ordinary citizens, rather than career politicians or party activists? Party activists and career politicians lose their personality or individuality on the way, learn to do as they are told, rather than what is right and more often than not, are the very people that see getting the job as more important than doing it. Better surely, that prospective MP’s are selected based on a passion for their local community, values and making a difference, rather than simply seeking a political career?

Anyway, at least we know that whilst Hazel Blear may not like the home truths that arise from those prepared to take the time to comment on political issues, at least she is prepared to accept some of them may be quite pertinent. Even if she is not capable of making a difference.

Members of Parliament and Honesty

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Have we all become immune to what MP’s do and say? In all walks of life, honesty and integrity are valued commodities and yet, when it comes to members of parliament, how often are we left wondering about what they are telling us? We should be entitled to expect, from those elected to represent us, the highest levels of honesty, integrity and candour. Not many of us can claim to feel enlightened or reassured after receiving utterances and platitudes from our members of parliament. Now, I know that not all MP’s seek to mislead and there are some that respect their positions, as well as their constituents and act with conviction, but there are all too many that do not, therefore, I do not apologise for choosing to generalise.

The terms ‘Right Honourable’ is supposed to mean something, a gentleman and man (or woman) of honour, but in recent years the term has lost its shine and, in my opinion its value. I am not just pointing the finger at the Right Honourable ladies or gentleman from the Labour party, we could also address the same issue at some of the previous administrations. However, for the time being, I want to concentrate on recent history, given New Labour has, arguably I accept, taken matters to a new level over the past 11 years.

Take Gordon Brown’s and Alistair Darling’s claim that our economy was better placed that virtually any other in the developed world, to handle and recover from a recession. In spite of the fact that this government has some of the best economic brains, albeit contracted in at great expense to the taxpayer, how could they not have known what the IMF knew? That in fact, we were likely to be the worst affected country by the world recession, at least in terms of the developed world.

Take for example, Gordon Brown’s world of economics. According to him, our national debt is 37% of GDP, against a figure of 44% in 1997. Before I deal with the reality, it is worth noting that in fact, it was actually 43.4% and as many will recall, we were actually coming our of a recession at that time. Similarly, GDP was considerably lower in 1997, than it is now, so percentages can be misleading if used in the right, (or wrong depending on your perspective) context. However, Gordon Brown has actually re-written the rule book, because for him, what is classed as government debt is different to what most other agencies, such as the Office of National Statistics and many other experts would accept.

For example, Gordon Brown omits from his figures the debts related to Northern Rock, Bradford & Bingley and Network Rail (the latter being £17bn). As if this was not enough, there are the long term liabilities related to the governments Private Finance Initiatives, estimated to total some £170bn between now and 2032. There is also, the unfunded public pensions deficit of £780bn. If all these figures were taken into account, conservative estimates have claimed that this deficit is equivelent to £76,000 for every single household in the UK. The fact that Gordon Brown has written his own rules does not negate the fact that these a very real liabilities, so the public must ask themselves why they are not included in the figures, as indeed, the ONS believe they should be?

Of course, if these debts were taken into account, Gordon Brown would also have broken his so called “golden rules” ages ago and his reputation for prudence would be in tatters. So is it vanity? Whatever it is, at best, Gordon Brown appears to want to dupe the public, lull us all into a sense of false security. Far be it for me to accuse Gordon Brown or anyone else of being dishonest, but I could, I am sure, safely argue that he has been a little economical with the truth insofar as government debt is concerned. Therefore, my question is, can he be regarded as a truly honourable gentleman demonstrating honesty, integrity and candour? Of course he is not alone, many would argue that Tony Blair was not completely frank with the public over the so called “weapons of mass destruction” that were supposed to be in Iraq, but of course, never existed.

Other members of parliament and cabinet ministers are also frequently guilty of a failure to answer difficult questions by side-stepping them or choosing to ignore them. This happens, of course, all of the time at Prime Minister Questions. Yet MP’s are elected officials, answerable to the electorate, therefore we are entitled to honest answers to direct questions, anything less is not the action of an ‘honourable gentleman’ or ‘honourable lady’. Once again, I cannot accuse every member of parliament of being guilty of a failure to act with honesty, integrity and candour at all times, equally, I would not have the time, certainly in my lifetime, to name all of those MP’s that genuinely do have a question mark over the comments and actions. Perhaps I would find it more acceptable if the were not referred to as ‘honourable’ or ‘right honourable’, because that tends to suggest that they have much higher standards than my own. But whilst only being able to speak for myself, I can say, with all honesty, that I have much higher standards, than many of these honourable ladies and gentlemen, as do many of my friends and colleagues.

I am sure when new members of parliament are first elected, they have for the most part, genuine and sincere intentions, but it doesn’t seem to last long. As soon as members of parliament join the club, they seem to remove themselves from the real world, their views of their constituents appear to be to change, now they are just “people”. Those that are members of one of the main political parties are no longer entitled to act independently, instead they must toe the party line. How can that benefit local constituents? Once someone has been elected to parliament and becomes an MP, they join a very exclusive club, with just 648 members. This seems to go to their heads, as does the way in which people address them and elevate them, to many this changes their perspective and the role, or more accurately the title, becomes all encompassing. Quickly forgotten are the ‘people’ that elected them to this position.

In my view, many of our MP’s believe that it is a game, perhaps a game of cat and mouse, between the MP’s and the public, MP’s and the press and of course, MP’s and their opposite numbers from other parties. It is, for all intents and purposes, a theatrical production, parliament’s version of Eastenders! Take PMQ’s for example, how often have we heard a carefully placed questions from, for example, a Labour party MP, which allows the prime minister to preen his feathers and tell us how much he has done for us? How often have we heard David Cameron ask the prime minister a question? Gordon Brown doesn’t answer the question and he is let of the hook by the leader of the opposition. Why, are we all being played here? It certainly feels like it.

How often have you watched a government minister get a “grilling” and asked yourself why certain questions aren’t being asked, or why the minister has been able to get away with avoiding the original question? The truth is, in many, but not all cases, the minister already knows what questions are going to be asked, or they have placed certain questions off limits. In addition, there are for example, many ministers who will only be interviewed by certain interviewers, this is because in their constant game of cat and mouse, each party needs the patronage of the other. A minister doesn’t want to be treated too shabbily and the interviewer, wants to have as many ministers as possible on his or her programme. They win, we lose!

The bottom line is MP’s are very much a law unto themselves. They vote on their benefits, salary, pensions and expenses. The golden rule seems to be, don’t get caught, not don’t be naughty. They have their very own parliamentary committees, membership of which, is often as a reward for some political favour or other, or perhaps a shortcut for a knighthood or place in the House of Lords. Even the parliamentary standards committee is, in effect, another club acting like stewards rather than policemen. In many cases, MP’s are guilty of hypocrisy of the highest order. Take for example expenses, whilst the rest of us have to submit receipts for everything we buy in the course of our business, they do not when it is under a certain value, because they are seen as honourable. The amount of course, has recently fallen. Other expenses that MP’s can claim include kitchens, furnishings, rent on a second home etc., many of these items would be considered a ‘benefit in kind’ to me mortals like us and therefore, we would be taxed on the value. Not so members of parliament.

Our MP’s can work the system if they wish, to maximise the allowances permitted for a second home, for example, they get to choose which home is their principal place of residence. They can decorate them, furnish them and claim other allowances, that mere mortals like the people that actually elected them, could only dream of. Now, I accept, that MP’s salaries are not particularly high, but it has to be said, most  MP’s would claim it is a vocation, they want to make a difference, that they are not doing it for the money etc. However, a system that relies on every member being honest, is subject to abuse, particularly given disciplinary action if any, is only normally taken if they are found out, as I have already stated, this game of cat and mouse.

In another example of the hypocrisy demonstrated by our members of parliament, take the databases that they insist we must be included on, you know…. what we do, what we say, where we go, our medical history, what our children do, our DNA, who we call etc., it doesn’t apply to MP’s because of the “security risk”. Don’t worry about us, the destruction of our civil liberties, our right to privacy and freedom of speech, so long as MP’s are exempt, that is all that matters.

Now I accept that this posting takes a very cynical view at our members of parliament, but that is how I feel. In a world where we are constantly told that we should all be treated equally, that we must not be subjected to any form of persecution, I feel persecuted, by the very people elected to represent me. I feel they are taking me and everyone else as a mug and I don’t like it. I believe that they are supposed to act with the utmost honesty and integrity, that they must remain answerable to the electorate throughout their period of office and if they are found to have misled or lied to the public, they should be stripped of office, no matter what position they hold. Why, because they are supposed to be honourable, they are supposed to represent everything that we hold dear and yet may of them, would not be fit to wipe our boots. If our members of parliament cannot be sincere, honest and act in the interest of others instead of themselves, what type of example are they setting the rest of us?

Little wonder that so many people feel so disenfranchised with politics, the fault lies firmly with those members of parliament and more specifically those cabinet ministers that treat the public with disdain and contempt. Those that fail to act honourably, but feel the art is not getting caught with your pants down, those that fill their own pockets, whilst emptying ours. Those that fail to accept any form of responsibility when something goes wrong. Those that say one thing and mean another, those that provide executive summaries to sell policy, yet seek to remove our liberties, rights and/or money in the small print. Above all, it is the fault of those members of parliament that think they are better than the rest of us, those that believe their own publicity machine and those that would readily, willingly and consistently take advantage in that most cynical of ways of the very people that elected them into a position where they could be described as honourable.

UK affairs, do the British care anymore?

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Yes, it is a rhetorical question, but I found myself asking this last night. At a time when the UK PLc is supposed to have racked up debt of some £1.3 trillion, or if you prefer, over £50k per household. At a time when the engine house of our economic activity and employment, small and medium sized businesses are suffering. At a time when the UK government seeks to gain more and more control overs its citizens in the latest Big Brother Britain move. What do we find time to complain about? Yes, you guessed it, Russell Brand & Jonathan Ross and their cheap prank.

It is no big deal whether you think this prank is funny or not, I personally think it was a cheap, cowardly attack on a 78 year old man. But I did not find the need to join 10,000 other people and complain to the BBC. Why? Well, does it really matter, Sachs is quite capable of demanding an apology and any more airtime given to Ross and Brand, just boosts their egos and raises their profiles? It is the proverbial storm in a teacup.

But, what I would really like to know is what motivates 10,000 people to complain about a couple of pranksters, when you couldn’t get a fraction of that number to write to their MP about the plight of small business, the state of our economy, or the  ‘Big Brother Britain’ state intrusion into our everyday lives? Really, has the world gone mad. If this was not enough, what of the prime minister, the leader of the opposition and other cabinet ministers and members of parliament. They all managed to spend time to offer up their opinion and what they think should be done about this little spat.

So, how come, when Gordon Brown or David Cameron are asked about serious issues like the the plight of small business, they skirt the issues with bland statements, such as “we will do what is necessary” (GB), or “small business needs help with what’s going to be an extraordinarily tough time” (DC)? Yet, when it comes to this small spat between celebrities, they can’t wait to tell us what they think and then what they would do (or they think others should do) to address the issue. On this issues, they are unequivocal and unambiguous. So how come they can answer direct questions with clear answers, when it comes to minor issues such as a celebrity spat, but when they are asked questions about things that matter, they ignore the question, or offer a bland, generic response?

Little wonder then, that so many voters feel so disenfranchised and disconnected from government, politics and politicians, when they set the priorities in such a inane way. That said, it is high time the public started to bite back, our politicians are in a privileged positions, we must demand and expect that they act in our interests, not their own. If 648 politicians want to lord it over 65m people, then they must demonstrate that they have the capability and are in touch with the electorate. They need to be coming up with constructive proposals to deal with the financial and economic crisis we are facing. They need to keep clear of celebrity.

It may just be me, but I feel a chill in the air, not from the deteriorating weather, but by a growing number of people that still care about what happens to our Country and are willing to be more vocal, forthright and action orientated to ensure that our politicians earn their keep or lose their jobs!

Fuel Poverty – The case for creative thinking and solutions

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Within the UK, there is no denying that there are a high number of people in fuel poverty. These include ordinary families on low incomes, pensioners, lone parents, the unemployed and those with long term disabilities and registered as unable to work. In fact, the problem is so large, estimated to be some 4.5m, that the government cannot wave their wand and make the problem go away. That is the long and short of it.

Union leaders and Labour MP’s can huff and puff as much as they like, but the harsh reality is, this government has squandered much of the income it has gained as a consequence of the economic boom, higher taxes and borrowing. This means that the cupboard is bare. The union leaders crying foul, are the same people that fought and succeeded in getter higher wages for their members and in the process, supporting this government. The MP’s bleating, are the same ones that thought the gravy train of higher taxes, followed by waste, was okay. They have themselves, New Labour values and specifically, this government to blame. So there is no point trying to convince us that you are fighting for the ‘people’ when you are as guilty as the rest for the position we all find ourselves in.

It is time to stop the whining and start thinking creatively. It is time to forget trying to fleece the ordinary taxpayer that has spent the last 11 years supporting those that cannot or will not work and propping this government allowing them to claim that they have successfully invested in our services, whilst failing to demonstrate any real tangible benefit to the majority.

The Labour government typically throw money and/or resource at problems in the hope that it will fix the problem, or at least provide a brief respite, perhaps with some good headlines. Their spendthrift ways have lumbered this country with an enormous mountain of debt, which includes official borrowings of £450bn and another £170bn that needs to be paid between now and 2032 on PFI schemes. This ignores the £800bn or so shortfall in government pension schemes. In fact, it is an utter mess, and demonstrates what a tardy bunch this government is. Many of the foolish press barons have hailed Gordon Brown as a prudent or successful chancellor, history will judge him differently.

With nothing in the kitty, ‘working’ taxpayers are so highly taxed through direct, indirect and stealth taxes introduced by this government and with realborrowings at an all time high, there is little room to manoeuvre, even for a government adept at screwing every last penny from the rest of us. Now is the time for new ideas, a bold approach, creativity and above all honesty.

Windfall taxes are a ‘one off’ short term measure with long term consequences, given the energy companies will get the money back somewhere, either by reducing necessary investment, increasing energy cost for the majority, or, most likely a combination of the two. Similarly, throwing money at the problem, assuming we had any, in the guise of fuel credits is knee-jerk and would then be expected every year. The answer is investment in ways to reduce energy consumption through insulation, energy saving appliances and bulbs and other such measures. Estimates suggest that these measures could reduce our energy bills by up to 35%.

The government should encourage the energy companies to invest their carbon credits in the UK rather than elsewhere. They should be incentivised, rather than bullied into offering more support for the Warm Front programme and the government should put back the money they withdrew from the scheme. The energy companies should, however, be forced, by legislation if necessary, to offer the so called ‘social tariffs’ to all those in need and should be prevented from charging higher tariffs for meters on non-direct debit customers. The energy companies have dragged their feet on social tariffs and the penal rates they charge people who use pre-payment meters, this in unacceptable. The regulator should be given more powers to mandate and control issues such as access to social tariffs as well as price rises.

The government then needs to be more creative. Lets face it, at a time like this, everyone needs to pull together. Those in fuel poverty should be encouraged to help themselves, not simply come along to the government expecting more money, which the rest of us will have to pay. Ordinary working families, whether they fall inside or outside the fuel poverty trap are feeling the pinch. Many have had to reduce their expenditure on non-essentials in order that they can meet the higher fuel prices, higher costs in getting to and from work, higher food prices, higher mortgage costs and higher local taxes. They too are suffering, even though they are working, some, many have had to also take on a part-time job in order that they can meet their obligations and keep their head above water. What of these people, the taxpayers that make it possible to support so many that are not working or are retired, don’t they matter?

No solution is going to be perfect, but you can be damned certain, that chucking borrowed money that this country doesn’t have at the problem is going to be much worse. Here are some ideas the government could consider.

  1. Determine which of those in ‘fuel poverty’ are capable of helping themselves with government assistance or encouragement and which are not.
  2. Allow those on fixed incomes, such as lone parents, disability allowances and the unemployed to take on a part-time job (stacking shelves, land work, cleaning houses etc) and retain the income, free of tax, national insurance and, most importantly benefit deductions. The limit for this extra income should be set at a level equivalent to what the government believes is the additional cost of living as a consequence of food and energy increases.
  3. Allow those in ‘fuel poverty’ and in receipt of some form of ‘tax credit’ to earn an additional income through a part-time job, free of tax and national insurance, albeit up to a pre-determined limit, set by the government or better still, experts!
  4. Remove VAT and any other forms of duties on items that are routinely used to save energy, such as, energy saving bulbs, insulation, gas boilers and so on.
  5. Reduce the amount of paperwork pensioners have to complete in order that they can take on a part-time job. Provide them with an additional ‘work credit’ whereby they can earn up to a pre-determined amount, free of tax and national insurance contribution, without affecting their pensions. Increase the work credit by an amount equal to each allowance they do not claim, such as the ‘winter fuel payment’, the savings could be reinvested.
  6. Stop paying the winter fuel allowance to pensioners that no longer reside in the UK and reinvest this money into support for the most needy or energy saving measures.
  7. Provide, if necessary, secured short-term, interest free loans to private landlords, housing associations and local authorities to allow them to bring properties under their control up to acceptable standards in terms of energy efficiency. – A large proportion of homes that need upgrading are in the private sector.

The policy of assuming that there will always be enough taxpayers that can be fleeced to support those that are actually capable of helping themselves in times of need has to stop, it is not sustainable. Yes, if they cannot work, through a genuine disability, age, or lack of mobility then we should offer support, but if they can help themselves, why should they get away scotfree whilst the rest of us pick up the tab through higher taxes and having to take on extra jobs? It is time to view the so called priviledged not as a gravy train, but as the conduit through which those less fortunate can have a better existence.

The truth is, many of those that are capable of helping themselves, probably would if they are in dire straits. However, New Labour has exercised and grown this culture of state intervention, the government will always come to the aid of those less well off. Little or no effort is put into finding out whether they can or are willing to help themselves. If someone on benefit tries to get a part-time job to cover the additional energy costs, they can expect to lose the equivalent amount in state benefits. Why, where is the incentive? I am not suggesting that we should let people abuse the system, just that they are encouraged to help themselves, within limits that relate to their assessed additional needs.

Similarly pensioners are penalised if they work part-time. Clobbered with paperwork and additional taxes, encourage them, don’t penalise them. Government should look to incentivise, cajole and if necessary bully people into helping themselves, rather than transferring the burden onto overburdened taxpayers who are suffering just as badly.

Okay, I accept there are flaws and risks in some of my suggestions, but then I am not an economist or a civil servant. What I do possess is commonsense and a desire to be constructive in my criticism, the former is something the government lacks and the latter something the opposition parties lack. At least my suggestions are a start, perhaps those better qualified than myself can come up with working proposals that encourage those that need help to do more for themselves, thereby reducing the burden on existing taxpayers already facing pressure on their own finances.

 

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OECD UK Recession Warning and the future for MPs

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The OECD have now confirmed what everyone else in the UK could ‘feel’, but our own government was keen to deny, that the UK is about to enter a recession. Darling and Brown simply had to know the truth and it is unforgivable that they could not be straight with the electorate, many of whom, entrusted New Labour with the future of our economy. That abuse of trust is shameful.

Instead of worrying about our economic situation, all Gordon Brown seems to be concerned with is his future as leader, instead of worrying about the people of this country, all New Labour seem to be concerned with is whether they can retain their seats. They are all spending so much time looking inward, for self-interest, that they are ignoring what is happening in the outside world, or more specifically, in the UK.

Contrary to Gordon Brown’s assertions, the UK’s fundamentals are not strong, in fact, it takes the highly respected OECD to tell us that the UK is in trouble. However, not only is the UK economy predicted to shrink in the next two quarters, but the UK is also the only economy not expected to see a recovery this year. The OECD said that Britain would fare worst amongst the Group of Seven leading economies. This is in spite of the assurances from Gordon Brown who has regularly claimed that the UK is the best performer among the G7, which includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. The OECD expects the UK to grow by 1.4% in 2009, against the government forecasts of 2.5%. Okay this government has missed most of it’s previous growth targets, not something they brag about, but in the current climate, wishful thinking is not appropriate. There is also a prediction of some 200,000 people being added to the jobless total, which is already at a record high when you consdier that thatere are estimated to be some 2.5m on some form of long term disability.

The OECD have even given some of the reasons behind our weak position, most noteably that the Government’s policy of spend and borrow has left this country ill-equipped to deal with this economic slump. Interesting, that the average man in the street could see this wasn’t sustainable, but our elected officials could not, or perhaps, would not. The truth is Gordon Brown, as chancellor, borrowed in a boom, leaving us with the largest budget deficit of any industrial economy. Now we are all going to have to pay the price.

Aside from the fact that New Labour, as guardians of our economy, should have been able to predict much (not all) of what is happening and tightened their fiscal belts, what is most disappointing is the other parties. The opposition parties are keen to criticise, but if they want to show that they are fit for government, then they should tell us what they would do. It doesn’t matter if New Labour steal their ideas, it is the well-being of our country that matters and the electorate will know who came up with the answers and demonstrated true leadership skills when we needed them most.

David Cameron and the conservative party are running scared, they are shouting from the sidelines, rather than getting stuck in. In other words, they are basking in the failures of this government, they are gloating, but, above all they are failing to demonstrate that they could do any better. There is no time like the present, for Cameron and the conservative party to show their mettle, air their policies, demonstrate their competence for government and show leadership under pressure. If Cameron cannot see that this is his chance, then he does not deserve the highest office in this country. If he continues to say nothing of any value or substance, then we are entitled to believe that he doesn’t know what to do and therefore, he and his party would be no better.

New Labour in general and Gordon Brown in particular have lost all credibility in terms of economic confidence and they have long lost the integrity that is essential to govern long term. This is not helped by the fact that they have patently denied any personal, or policy culpability, electing to blame everything on other factors such as the credit crunch and oil prices. We know that it had as much to do with this governments policy of spend, tax, borrow and spend, leaving nothing in the kitty for a boom period. 

Cameron on the other hand is demonstrating a lack of courage, an absence of policies or ideas, poor judgement in a time of trouble and little depth or gravitas. Charm and fancy words simply do not wash at a time like this. Cameron and the conservative party are so worried about getting it wrong, they have been paralysed with fear. We expect far, far more from the conservative party, which in the past has invariably been the principal bastions for economic competence, but under the leadership of Cameron, they seem to lack bottle, confidence and spirit.

In fact, if we look around, never has this country been so poorly served by its members of parliament. Most of our MP’s are more interested in playing up to the cameras and preening their feathers with statements to, and interviews with, the press, the editors of which, in turn, attempt to set the policy agenda and influence public opinion. Never before have we all felt so removed from our politician’s, who don’t talk like us, act like or or think like us. Our whole electoral system needs a good shake up, no longer should we be represented by career politicians who have rarely held down a proper job, no longer should we be represented by union activists who, however they may try and convince you otherwise, have little in common with the public. We need a system where real people, those with life experiences, families, mortgages, business experience and integrity, can be elected to represent us. In other words, people that look like us, act like us and speak like us.

All too often, as our elected MP’s enter parliament, they immediately go native. Corrupted by power, position and prestige. They forget why they were put there and start to believe that they are ‘different’ from the rest of us. For the most part, our MP’s are just good salespeople, yet once they are put to the test, they appear superficial. What we need is depth, all parties, but particularly the conservatives, should be selecting their candidates based not on gender or race, but whether or not they can make a contribution to society, to government. Not based on whether or not they went to school with them, but based on life experience, how grounded they are and whether they are likely to be seduced by membership of this exclusive club called parliament.

The British people are no longer as politically naive as they were in the past. The Internet means that they can communicate more easily with like minded people, no matter where they reside in the UK. They are more vocal than they have been in the past and they have more information at their fingertips than they have had in past decades. By comparison, parliament is firmly rooted in the past, it is crusty, old fashioned and inward looking. Newly elected members should be looking to modernise parliament, not simply fall in line, they should be looking to use their time in office to pass more control back to the people, rather than entrenching their grand and priveledged positions, by gaining more and yet more state control. Most importantly of all, they should be listening to their trustees, the people that elected them. Placing the electorates’ interest’s first, before their own and before that of the party.

This recession is likely to be different to previous ones. Not because of the suddenness, not because of the depth, or the expected duration, not because our government has lied to us about our true economic position. But because, this time, there is a very real risk that the groundswell of public opinion will not only impact on the government, but also on the lacklustre opposition, and the weak ‘other’ parties. If people have time on their hands due to lack of employment, an easy method of communicating with like-minded people and a desire to see change, we could well see another, formidable political party formed, this time with real people, who have genuine feel for what needs to be done, the energy and the desire to be part of this change and above all, new ideas and a commitment to follow them though.

Political parties take note, members of parliament take note, the public have had enough of micromanagement, of state control, of tax and spend government, of mortgaging our future through uncontrolled borrowing, of manipulating the figures to make things look better than they actually are, of being treated like fools, of lies, of ever rising taxes and above all, of you! In this time of need, we still have an overseas aid budget of £5bn, yes, £5bn, when there is a very real prospect that some of our pensioners will have to choose between heating and eating to use that over used, but insightful term. Where are our priorities?

Opposition parties take note, you need to stop gloating while the people of this country are suffering, you need to stop looking so weak, when we need strength, you need to demonstrate the courage of your convictions, to show us what you would do to make things better. You need to show your true colours (if you haven’t already). Above all you need to lead by example, be confident and at the same time remain grounded and in touch with the people that matter.

Imagine what would happen if the people of this country decided to vote, not for the principle 3 parties, but independents? If we have nothing to lose, this could happen. Yes it would be chaos, but it could be a precursor to a new political force, one that included the voters, rather than career politicians, then the boot would be on the other foot. Just 650 people rule 65m people, this is by consent, not as an automatic right. Our colonial past demonstrates only too clearly what happens when so called leaders consistently let down the people, when they are removed, remote or aloof from the mood of the public and when our leaders start to think they are better than everyone else.

In the UK is will not be a military coup, it won’t be a work to rule, it will be through the ballot box. Once the public recognise that it is possible to make a stand, buy choosing not to elect anyone from the main three political parties, then there will have to be change. When we, your trustees, have little to lose, expect the unexpected. Members of Parliament, you have been warned!

 

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