Tag Archives: Reform

More on Laws

You know – there’s a distinctly unpleasant smell about many of the comments surrounding David Laws at the moment, accusations that ‘militant’ homosexuals (god alone knows what they look like) and ‘agenda pushers’ will keep him in his job: and you know what – maybe that’s a good thing? Not the keeping in his job because he’s a woofter, no – but keeping him in his job because he’s good at it, and if the Parliamentary Standards Commission finds his ‘crime’ to not be worth a reprimand why should rabid commentators thirsty for blood get a scalp just for the sake of it seeming ‘the decent’ thing to do (in best daily mail speak).

As I was saying yesterday, his expenses pale into insignificance compared to what others have taken, it’s his honesty over the nature of his relationship which you have to call into question. Of course if they were just friends with benefits then one can understand why it was treated as a landlord/tenant agreement, if they formalised the relationship in any other way however – then it’s an entirely different matter: and the money should be not only repaid, but investigated to the full extent of the law.

I’ve been saying for a long time that Parliamentary expenses should be simplified – this is yet another case where the rules were grey and we’re once again all pontificating on whether to hang David Laws out to dry or let him ‘get away’ with it. Of course this stems from our general assumption that most politicians are scum, movers and operators of the lowest order; which is unfair – many really, genuinely, aren’t – but while there is still not enough public transparency in the details of how they’re paid and how they claim work expenses, and indeed who presides over the ajudication of setting those fees and how they’re administered, we’re going to rub against this again and again.

It is of course, not just Parliament: Parliament is just an unfortunately public example. Expense fraud, if you want to be blunt about naming it, is rife in any business where expense accounts are the standard way of claiming back a significant proportions of outlaid income. Maybe that should be the argument for building a hotel with 650 rooms for MPs, setting a standard pay grade for all of them, giving them a free travel pass (as in the forces) to and from their nominated home to their nearest London terminal free on national rail or an airline of choice (in standard class) and doing away with all the expense and rigmarole of the IPSA and the fees office – Simplistic many in Westminster might scream, but you’ll never know until you actually give it a try.

Turning the tide of waste…

The first cut is the deepest, or at least that’s how the song goes – clearly the coalition haven’t listened to much Rod Stewart (or if we’re being picky Cat Stevens), because the first cuts made to public spending have been a little shallower than we might have expected. It’s great news of course that schemes to create jobs have been cut (as the reality of those schemes is many of the jobs ended up being public sector), it’s superb, and humanising, news that the Ministerial car pool is being shelved, and even better news that the frankly ludicrous child trust fund has been axed.

But amongst the many cuts announced this week you couldn’t help but feel that this was simply a prelude: the ’emergency’ (in all senses of the word) budget being where the sharpness of the axe really will be felt. I applaud the immediate cuts, but I’m mindful that in many cases these were the easy ones – the government has a really messy job ahead of it, because it isn’t just going to be expected to make cuts: it’s going to be expected to change whole sections of society’s outlook away from it being the Government’s core job to provide employment.

You see, the problem with all Labour governments is that they have all historically mixed up private and public sector, it doesn’t matter which one you’re in, so long as you’re working – except that’s economic nonsense: public sector jobs don’t generate wealth or tax revenue. While this is perfectly acceptable for core essential services (security, defence, health and teaching) it’s totally ludicrous anywhere else. Under New Labour the public sector exploded; whole towns and cities where unemployment was traditionally an issue suddenly found themselves awash with work opportunities – all paid for by the tax payer, and all – ultimately – doomed to be unaffordable.

This is the attitude we’re going to have to change, the coalition is going to have to make people understand that jobs created by government don’t raise tax revenue – they’re subsidised jobs paid for by an ever shrinking group of entrepreneurs and business owners and the people who work for them, the people by and large who have smaller pensions, work longer hours, have less holiday and less job security. There is something horrifically unfair about this – Labour perpetuated that it was all for the ‘fairer’ society – but it failed to do this miserably by creating a society where a huge proportion of the jobs were paid for by mugging Peter to pay Paul.

You can browse the Grauniad or any number of local authority websites to find the dredges of this era of profligacy at the private sector’s expense: Community street football advisors, Gypsy & Traveller Liaison Officer, Biodiversity awareness officers, vast numbers of ‘communications’ and ‘pr’ advisors – the list is as bizarre as it is endless; these non-jobs (as highlighted by the TPA) are a fallacy, and it’s going to take a long time to convince people that this society can do without endless state-sponsored jobs, and even longer to convince people that they can (in many cases) create their own wealth, start their own businesses, and most importantly that you can thrive in the private sector if you’re willing to throw away the unaffordable perks of being paid by the public purse.

Laughing at the Euro?

There’s a lot of rather haughty laughing coming from many sectors of British political society at the moment: not least from a vocal group of little-englanders enjoying the Euro’s current difficulties and praising the hinterland of Sterling for ‘saving’ us from the economic woe caused by a lack of initial control in the Euro and the profligacy of almost all of the southern states.

But wait. Let’s take a look at the facts:

UK Exports – Main sources :

  • European Union 57%
  • United States: 15%
  • Switzerland: 2%
  • China: 2%
  • Japan: 2%
UK imports – Main sources :

  • European Union 55%
  • USA: 9%
  • China: 8%
  • Norway: 5%
  • Japan: 3%

Now, using this as an anchor for our perspective, maybe we could have a little sensible debate: clearly it would be entirely inapproriate for Britain to stump the Euro, even though we’re bound in part by the Lisbon Treaty to do so (and indeed have when Alistair Darling put up £6bn hours after the election result). But we have to be reasonable – we are reliant on trade with our European neighbours, and if they’re in trouble then let’s be under no false pretence, we will be too.

Also, let’s not forget that we’re a veritable speck in the economic ocean compared to the Eurozone, let’s look at the markets, we have a ‘critical’ election that decides how UK government spending is going to change and days of uncertainty as coalitions are forged and it’s barely acknowledged on the international markets. The Eurozone sneezes on the other hand and it’s massive percentage knocks day after day: let there be no question – the Eurozone is taken very seriously, and will continue to be taken so.

Of course, this is a major set-back for the Euro, it’s reputation has been damaged by it’s inability to control the states which make it up, and that’s always been my problem with it: huge economies rubbing shoulders with economies that are barely functioning. Powerhouses of export next to countries that live in the economic past struggling to pay the bills with second-rate tourist attractions. It simply never made sense that Greece, Spain, Portugal, Slovenia and Malta (to name but a few) were rushed into the Eurozone. The checks and balances that should have been in place were swept away in preference of unchecked growth.

What is needed now is a period of reflection and reform: the Euro needs to be reigned in; countries that are incapable of paying their bills need to get out – and serious questions now need to be asked about the way the Euro is set up: should it be the case that the countries in the Eurozone share a common taxation base, common economic policies, and if so – who will set that up, and will anyone but the major northern european states actually be able to cope with that, both economically and socially?

Athens descended into rioting and flames when it was suggested that people work longer and with less public services: but in Germany and Britain, this has been the acknowledged truth for many years – with interruptions from various unions yes, but generally, we all know that in reality if you’re my age now, then you’re likely to be working until you’re well into your 70s, and after that there won’t be a national pension of any worth to fall back on (if there’s even one at all). Should this cause social panic? Indeed has it? Of course not – yes union’s have screamed and thrown their toys out of their prams, but the bulk of the population simply see it as impetus to provide for one’s own future… a plan which I hasten to add many thought shot to pieces by Brown’s audacious private pension raid.

So where next for the Euro? Well despite Cameron’s position with Chancellor Merkel the other day, I think we’re actually heading for a period where Britain will hold a bit more power in Europe: played right Cameron & Clegg now have a mandate to use our vote in Europe to make real change happen, fiscal responsibility, reform of waste, reform of the CAP and other european problems that (believe it or not) don’t just irritate us here in Britain. We’d have support to demand change, we’d have a platform to place them upon, and we’d have the right timing to make change in Europe happen for the first time since before Maastricht, because if past-precedent is anything to go by, the hardline integrationists will use this as an excuse to push through unified tax and fiscal policy whatever the cost – and a quick fix is not what Europe needs right now.

We need Europe, and Europe needs us – we are still the gateway to the english speaking world for many major corporations. So let’s take this opportunity to stand with our partners in Europe and roll back years and years of profligacy, selfish and excessive regard for individual nation’s interests and the rampant need for expansion at all cost. Let’s put ourselves at the centre of Europe and make it work, not just for it’s own sake, but for ours.

Expenses: the monster that just won’t die.

Parliamentry expenses is the monster under the bed that just won’t die: it’s once again rearing it’s ugly head as MPs complain that the new rules regarding expenses are unfair, we’ve heard it all – from MPs complaining they’re being treated like they’re on benefits to one MP bemoaning that it’s going to be unsafe to go home.

What happens on a January night in London? I suppose I will have to take the tube, then a bus and then a long walk home. That is not safe.

Well, that’s just awful – I know what I shall do, I’ll fund the police better, I’ll lock up the criminals, I’ll insist train companies fund proper staffing for their stations and I’ll work with councils to ensure that better late night transport routes are provided between hubs… oh wait, I can’t do that: that’s the job of my MP! If the streets are so unsafe for you, then guess what – they’re unsafe for everyone – so use the powers we invested in you to do something about it?

The level of stupidity and hypocrisy regarding expenses is truly staggering, the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority created to ‘solve’ the problem of duck houses, husband’s porn and flipping (or to give it it’s proper name ‘fraud‘) is an unwieldily behemoth. It’s generated a situation where for every transaction invoices are received, authorised and paid by MPs they’re then sent to IPSA where they’re re-checked, approved and reimbursed by IPSA – that’s a ludicrous waste of time. When the Sunlight Centre published their report Disinfecting Parliament last year they made a suggestion which draws on vast amounts of real experience from the private sector – that MPs should be issued with a debit or charge card on which all expenses must be charged: that way you get real time electronic tracking, no spending beyond agreed limits and a massive reduction in paperwork and manpower as the card issuer is already well placed to deliver accounts ready for immediate audit.

Here’s hoping that Cameron & Clegg take another leaf from the private sector and take steps to abolish the IPSA (an organisation which has just advertised for a £80,000+ marketing director at our expense). It’s my opinion that the IPSA is nothing but another wasteful quango creating work for itself and it’s beneficiaries when there’s a better solution available from the private sector… I’ve used company debit and charge cards for years, both for myself and my staff, and I see no good reason why this solution is not good enough for Parliament when it’s used by millions of private companies worldwide.

The best of both worlds?

So, Nick Clegg, bless is cotton socks is standing by his word – speaking in the first instance to the party with the largest number of votes and seats. Cameron made a particularly Prime Ministerial speech, no nonsense and no tractor facts, just a plain speech laying out the points of outreach and the redlines which they won’t move on.

I’m extremely excited about this, many people seem to assume the Liberal Democrats are in some way social democrats: but I don’t think that’s their position – most of the Lib Dems I know are just that “liberal” “democrats”, conservatively focussed on freedoms of the people, freedoms of the markets within strong frameworks and a realistic view that many ‘unmovable rocks’ in British democracy are in fact entirely movable; and in an open democracy always should be.

A conservative liberal coalition would for me deliver many of the things that I’ve always wanted from a parliamentary party: strong reform of our public bodies, fairer voting, a more balanced outlook on Europe and a tempering of the budget.

I find this extremely exciting.

You’re not a citizen, you’re a subject.

If you are British and you’re reading this, I’ve got some news that may shock you: you’re not a citizen of the United Kingdom, you never have been – you’re only a European Citizen. Rubbish, I hear you cry – I’m British through and through, a proud British citizen, John Bull, as British as they come – but gird your loins, because it’s true: you’ve never been a citizen, because you can’t be a citizen without fundamentally guaranteed rights of citizenship.

The 1948 British Nationality Act made everyone in the crumbling empire a ‘Citizen’ yes, but it didn’t fundamentally change the relationship between ‘we the people’ and the Sovereign state. Magna Carta & The bill of rights never granted us citizenship, we’ve always been Sovereign subjects. The one thing that’s been the same over three hundred years of ‘modern’ parliaments is that no one parliament can bind another. Our ‘rights’ to freedom of movement, the vote, fair trial by jury with appeal, even the right to life – these absolutely basic freedoms are not enshrined anywhere in British law in any fundamentally sticky way, they are simply privileges afforded to you by the grace of parliament, privileges that could be taken away by any government with a big enough majority.

We have of course signed up to the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the Council of Europe’s European Convention on Human Rights (1950), but it should be remembered that neither of these are legally binding, they can be ignored and thrown aside at the whim of any parliament. The only citizenship you hold in the UK is that of the European Union, it gives you the right (not the privilege) to vote, to move freely, and to live your life with fundamental rights guaranteed by law.

With the election coming up so quickly think carefully about where you lay your vote: the parties crying out for us to leave the EU make no promise of fundamental constitutional change, and frankly constituional reform (alongside financial reform) needs to be the top priority for any incoming government.

Our rights need to be enshrined in perpetuity: our constitution or basic law should be take precedent over any individual parliament. The rights of the people in Britain should come first, and ironic as the Daily Mail might find it (and let’s not forget this is the same paper that thought Hitler was a good idea) so far the only place that’s done that for us is the European Union. So as you place your tick in the box tomorrow, and I hope you will be ticking a box, think carefully about who is most likely to make the revolutionary constitutional reform that for the first time in our history will place the British Citizen above their representatives.

Union Reform? Part Deux

Speaking of the unions, there’s an excellent article in Today’s Times from Alice Miles talking about the rise of the gold plated public sector job that’s crippling our economy and is going to burden my generation with a bill that could reach £1 Trillion; and while we’re going to ‘retire’ at 75 to virtually no state pension, we’re going to spend our entire working lives supporting a generation that retired at 60 on cushy final salary pensions.

Union Reform?

Amongst other things that the next government will have to fix including our broken economy, damaged civil liberties, lack of housing, poor public transport, spiralling public debt yadda yadda… one of the priorities must be to reform labour laws, the 21st century economy and the unions are at odds, the unions with powers given back to them under new labour’s reign have become increasingly blasé about what they stand for, some militant unions have side stepped the democracy of the vote for staged votes designed to promote dangerous stand-off’s between the establishment, private industry and themselves in a way that almost always guarantees their success.

The last ten years have seen unions, pushing political agendas, demanding ludicrous increases and forcing un-competitive working conditions on organisations both public and private: and they’ve done this by blatantly ignoring their members, their own regulations and, in some cases, the law. Of course this doesn’t apply to every union, many are thoroughly respectable organisations which are dedicated to protecting the rights of their members and the wider working world, but it cannot be denied that many of our essential services are not represented by democratic union bodies, and this is damaging employee relationships, damaging business, and damaging the wider economy of the UK.

It would seem nowadays that arbitration, something that should be brought in at the earliest possibility when agreement cannot be amicably reached, is now a last resort rather than an early fire break, and action and grievances are most often brought to the table at times when the potential, and almost always inevitable, action will be most crippling; the unions of course say that this is coincidence, and a failure of their respective opponents, but whether it be bank holiday weekends, new years eve, christmas, or the school holidays, the result is always the same, the same unions time and time again up the ante and force positions on services both public and private where the only option left is to surrender to outlandish demands or suffer the public’s wrath for the ensuing chaos that strike action causes.

Some people advocate banning unions’ altogether, I don’t: I can’t see how banning a work force from it’s democratic voice is compatible with social conservatism, but I do believe that reform of employment and union law is key in the coming parliament so as to redress the balance of power that has been so damaged by the incumbent bankrupt union supported Labour party so going into the second decade of this century the pendulum swings back in favour of the needs of the many rather than to militant niche groups. To this end I’m advocating that the next government form a union’s charter, a set of play-fair rules that democratises the union process and that prevents the all to familiar ‘end game’ stand-off’s that have become so familiar at any time of the year when a union realises they can cause maximum damage with minimum effort for maximum reward.

Some ideas for a unions charter might include:

1) Arbitration being moved to immediately once agreement between union and company cannot be reached without notice of strike action being made public by either party, this removes the public relations aspect of many disputes that causes fear of disruption with the wider public to further negotiations or strengthen the position of either party.

2) Arbitration should have a time limit applied to it before strike action can be considered, this should be at least 2 working weeks of face to face negotiations, not as is often the case today unions storming in and out of arbitration whenever they feel their point of view isn’t being listened to.

3) Strike action that specifically sets out to cause maximum damage to the organisation (whether that be through maximising financial loss, inability to function or inconvenience to the customer or general public) should be banned. The withdrawal of labour should be used as a negotiation tool, not as a weapon.

4) Any arbiter should be appointed by the organisation and the union, that arbiter will be considered entirely independent. The arbiter should be given a legal right to decide to postpone arbitration for a maximum of 6 weeks. This has many benefits, it acts as a cooling-off period to avoid pressure cooker negotiations, it also would allow the arbiter to independently assess if any potential strike action is being specifically planned to cause specific damage and if so postpone arbitration and rule out strike action that would break the terms of clause three.

5) If, and only after initial arbitration has failed should strike action be proposed to the union members and announced to the general public.

6) It should be a requirement that, should strike action be proposed, unions ballet all members, not just selective groups for strike action. Any vote should return at least half of the papers sent out to be considered valid and of that return a proposal to withdraw labour should only be passed if over half of the returned papers advocate such action.

7) Any vote should be considered a legally binding proposal from the membership to the union executive, and it should be the case that the executive hold no power to authorise legal strike action without a defined member vote.

8) Remove any options for unions calling for industrial action in support of other unions.

9) Employers, whether it be public or private should have the rights to instantly dismiss without compensation any employee that breaks with these terms.

As we enter what appears to be a deep recession with a looming bombshell of pensions to pay for in future generations, the ability for unions and public and private organisations to effectively and fairly communicate and negotiate is becoming an issue that needs to be resolved – and I can’t help but feel that an equalisation of power between union and organisation, not to mention these two sparing partners and the wider public, is much needed.