Not Mid Morning Matters

JD in the Morning, off air…

Tag: liberal democracy

For Facts Sake!

In or out it has certainly been shaken about and what ever happens the day after 23rd of June, Europe will never be the same again. This is not a vote for change or status quo (although their brand of four cord rock is very popular) it is a vote for change or change. Before “that” referendum you have the local elections on 5th May and even if you council is not up for X marks the spot this year, you will still have a Police and Crime Commissioner to vote for. Yes you do. Unfortunately it’s not like the one from Batman with a loveable Irish side kick and a red phone under a transparent cake cover, our Police and Crime Commissioners hold our police to account and set the crime plan to help us feel safe and be safe. Now you know. Do you know who is standing? You should.

So it is pencils to the ready and let’s wait to see who comes knocking our doors wearing a rosette looking to “count on our vote”. You might have a long wait. It’s just not like it use to be in delivery of politics or its outcome. The delivery seems to be more about reassuring the core voter that they are right to back you message (much like most newspapers assure their readers that they have bought the right paper and here is why we are as one by not letting the facts get in the way) or it is about bombarding “the undecided” with a material ranging from simple policy headings to good old-fashioned fear. Project fear.

And here is the real fear. Turnout. Look at the recent turn out for national and local elections. In 2015 the General Election turnout was 66.1% and the best we have managed on one of those since the Second World War was in 1950 at 83.9%. Still, could be worse. In 2001 it was 59.4%. At best nationally a third of the country can’t be bothered to vote. In the European elections of 2014 the turnout was 35.6%, the high point was 2004 when 38.52% of us voted and the lowest was in 1999 when just 24% bothered to play X marks the E.U spot. Our local elections are even worse when these determine our day-to-day governance and management! 2012 saw Bristol make a huge change to the way it was run to being governed by an elected mayor. This massive change to how the residents council tax was spent was decided by just 28% of registered voters. Some Wards didn’t get above 20%. 260,000 people either didn’t care or didn’t understand. This is what we proudly call democracy and this is what we hold as a standard against other countries in our foreign policy and its advocacy.

What can be done? Legislate to make us all vote, have a none of the above box, use the same technology behind Bitcoin to offer secure on-line voting? MAybe we could turn it into an X Factor or The Voice type thingie where Dermot O’Leary has all the contestants, err politicians on a Saturday night TV show standing in a row, complete with tension building, drum beating music and a long pregnant pause before announcing the winner? All of these have been considered.

Surely it is actually down to us. If we can’t be bothered to vote then why should our political class be bothered by us. If our political class seemingly can’t be bothered then why should we. It is down to us to change it. It is our vote not theirs.

Democracy is about the people, about and for us. We need and must be involved, to turn up, to seek out the information and ideas that best suit us and our loved ones and then vote for them. We need to read, listen, ask, check and qualify then turn up to vote as it is our tax that pays for it and our tax that the elected spend on everything. “Taxes are price we pay for civilisation” wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr the noted US Supreme Court Judge. Our voting determines how we want our civilisation to be, whether it is for our local councillors or our place in Europe. So maybe it is worth a few minutes of our time to research, discuss and actually vote, stating on 5th May. It’s always much more fun when you take part rather than moaning from the sidelines.

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‘I think y’know’

The current Labour leadership contest has thrown up many interesting moments not least the man who only just made it to be nominated is, according to those ever reliable polls, leading the field. Those who nominated him weren’t expecting that, only doing so to widen the leadership debate. Now many in Labour are crying foul because Jeremy Corbyn is doing just that. Watching and listening to the Labour leadership debate is both refreshing and 600,000 people getting involved can’t be a bad thing, even if some are making mischief.

Whatever your flavour or colour of politics any government needs a strong opposition. Democracy needs opposition or it doesn’t work and some very bad things start to happen. Look at Syria as a very painful, worrying case in point. The point of opposition is to oppose and give credible, thought out alternatives. As those alternatives are debated it makes the government up its game and we get better governance and a choice, a real and actual choice. We may even get something to believe in too.

What the last election proved was the ‘centre ground’ is not what many want, as to have a centre you need to have two points to know where it actually is. We didn’t have those two real opposing points. As a result other parties flourished although they are now not fairly represented in our first past the post system. Can it be fair that 4 million voted for UKIP and they got one MP and 1.5 million voted for the SNP and they got 56 MPs?

Whoever gets the Labour leadership we all need them to be an effective opposition, to hold the government to account. We need Labour to come up with ideas and policies that inspire, to raise the debate and our interest in politics for all our sakes. But there is a bigger issue.

Our political class, both locally and nationally, seem to lack any real ideas and vision. There are some obvious examples of those who do but the majority don’t, hence the disinterest and our contempt in our leaders and elected representatives. The evidence? Simple. When you hear them speak you will hear two key ‘tells’; ‘I think’ and ‘y’know’, as in ‘i think the NHS needs reform’ or worse ‘y’know, I think the NHS is the best in the world’. If our politicians need to think then they can do it in their offices or one of their many homes. When they talk to us through interviews or through parliamentary debate I want them to know.

I want our politicians to have arrived at some certainty, a clear vision and conviction and not to be still thinking about whatever it is they are talking about. And, y’know, ‘y’know’ is just lazy and shows a lack of clarity too. I don’t know, I’m waiting for you to inform me so I can make my own mind up, so I can decide who or what is best to make the big stuff happen. That is why I have elected you, to do this for me so I can live my life knowing that you know, that you are doing the thinking about it and then when know you tell me. I want to know our elected representatives are certain in their purpose, having informed me at the election their thought out intentions.

Currently our elected representatives keep putting it all back on us, maybe we so we can’t hold them to account for it. That is not part of the deal in a liberal democracy. The rise of the consultation is the weak answer to a lack of certain vision. It’s crept in from weak management and leadership in business. It’s the ‘I don’t know despite being elected/paid the big bucks/being somehow put in charge, so I will put it back to you, and then when it goes wrong it’s your fault not mine’ mentality of our decade.

Leaders lead, they tell us their already thought out vision and then do it, with our democratic support. Leaders don’t expect us to know ‘y’know’ because if we did know then we wouldn’t need them.

In the next few months we can only hope that when the silly season is over, the summer holidays are done and the political pondering is complete we have an effective government and an effective, vibrant opposition. This might get us all involved in the process more as we may have leaders who thoughts lead to conclusions, policies and actions.

You never know, y’know.

Election Predictions

There will be an election, there will be a result, there will be a government and there will be a lot of coverage, an awful lot of coverage. Reporters will be standing outside doors and buildings talking about what is, isn’t or might be or not be going on inside. Or not. Old political faces who are not ‘in the room’ will be talking about what is going on ‘in the room’. All this, which could go on for weeks, will happen while we the voters wonder what was the point of our X marks the spot on Thursday 7th May. Please vote though, it matters. It really matters.

There will also be winners and losers, careers made and careers destroyed. From 10pm on Thursday 7th May until around 5pm on Friday 8th May it will be theatre and reality at its most brutal, without gallons of Kensington claret. Yet shouldn’t there have been something more to this whole General Election thing? It was briefly touched on during this ridiculously long and terminally dull campaign. The world beyond our shores.

Our world is in a parlous state and that world is part of our country whether we like it or not. We can no more shut the doors on our boarders and then ride around in a fantasy 1950’s England with baskets on the front of our bikes, doffing our hats to the vicar from the church we all go to on Sunday, than we can ignore what is actually happening in the world we all live in and on. And least we forget that the 50’s ‘Kath Kidston’ ‘I could leave me back door open’ ‘we was poor but we was ‘appy’ image was forged from two conflicts that cost us dearly in every way but required us to step up and be.

We can and we should influence our world today but this requires statesmen, stateswomen and statecraft. This requires real political will. It also requires our commitment to do better, to be better and to stop dwelling on the mistakes made in the past or use them as an excuse for our inaction to influence the future. Our duty, because of our history and our place in our world, is to do more and be more than just anxious bystanders claiming ‘its not my problem mate’ or that we ‘are not the worlds policeman’.

As a nation, as a people we are better than that and it’s about time our leaders, all of them, faced up to what is actually happening in and to our world. Our leaders, what ever combo is ultimately in government (NOT power), need to actively take part in our world to help sort it out. Why? Because I have four children who I want to grow up safe and happy.

Since the recession we have become insular and inward looking. Our national leaders have followed this. They have amplified this tune and, as a result, our politics have become the ideas of the niche. Political parties have sprung up like dandilions each with a ‘solution’ for a ‘thing’. There are no grand ideas, no proven track records, no statecraft of statesmanship just a lot of little parties dealing with ‘immigration’ or ‘equality’ or ‘pay’ or ‘rights’ but beyond their founding principles they fall apart once questioned and scrutinised.

Democracy is not easy. It’s not supposed to be. It is about the elected majority bringing the minority along with it and not leaving them behind while they are ‘in power’ to feel there is nothing in it for them. If any government uses that ‘in power’ phrase we should all be very scared. If the majority fails the minority then anger sets in with that minority and they do stupid things like hide in the shadows, graffiti cars and try to scare innocent people. They act like 13-year-old boys yet to discover masturbation.

The politics of the majority seems be about telling us what is wrong and who is to blame for it, usually the minority. That is an easy hit but it’s not so easy to actually do something about it. We have a generation of evidence for that. Politics must change and if there is a low turnout in this general election, say below 63%, that could finally be the tipping point toward that change.

In the coming months lets hope we can really consider our place in society and our place in the world. The coming months must also be about Governments first responsibility to all of us. To keep us safe, in everything that means.

One last thing. After the results and the pantomime, politicians please leave us alone.

It’s election time, there’s no reason to be afraid

It’s less than a month until the nation decides, until we get our chance to have our say. Excited? No, me neither.

The Fix Term Parliament Act has taken all the excitement and fun out of ‘the election’. We knew when this election was going to be, if we actually gave a stuff, years ago. So did the politicians and so did the media. All this nonsense about TV debates not happening and candidates not being ready or prepared is utter tosh. If any of them are not ready then, frankly, get off the stage preferable pursued by a bear. That would make great TV. Channel 5 would make a series out of it.

There was a time, not in a good ole days ‘Gorr blimey, ‘ave a banana, we use to leave all our windows and doors open’ way, when elections were called and you got three weeks of campaigning. Out would trot the political candidates wearing oversize rosettes like podgy gymkhana ponies asking for your vote. Then, after polling day, they left you alone again for another four years or so. Now Politicians seem to have it in their heads that we want to hear from them all the time. Politicians should be like the bank manager, the Doctor or the police. You never, ever want to hear from them because when you do it’s usually bad news.

The 2015 General Election has been going on since the party conference season last year, and look where we are in the polls? It’s neck and neck and not a cigarette paper (to be found behind a screen and soon to be in a plain packet because nanny knows best) between the two main parties in policy terms. At least some of the smaller parties have more radical or wacky, far out, sensible or stupid policies. Please delete or use the words you feel fits your politics.

Politicians have got to stop thinking we care about them and are actually interested in them. Politicians have a job to do and we have our life to lead. Our electoral contract should be as simple as this. I elect you as an MP or Councillor and then you go away and do your job. You don’t get in my way or tax me too much. You are fair to everyone, not just those who support your party and you keep me safe. And stop asking me what you should do as I elected you to do it, as I have my own life to lead.

A sensible, liberal democracy should allow us the right to vote freely and then to be left alone. If Politicians or political parties are going to muck about with our local schools, healthcare, energy bills or the tax I pay (and tax IS the price of civilisation) then it better be for the REAL benefit of my family, friends and me. If not then you’re out next time.

A few last points.

If you are a political party member or standing for election don’t think most of us give a stuff about your party’s ‘vision’ or ‘policies’ because we don’t. Have you ever read a manifesto? More people are members of the RSPB than are members of all the main political parties. We like birds more so maybe politicians should more like birds? Maybe, if you want to get elected, you should dress up as a chicken or a cock.

TV debates are for a presidential system not for our constituency based electoral system. You and I should be voting for the best person to represent us where we live, not a just a leader and a bunch of party lemmings to do their bidding.

Any politician who says they want ‘power’ or ‘when we are in power’ or ‘when we get into power’ must be denied that power at all costs. You are not voting anyone into power. You are voting for someone to represent you, your family, your friends and your neighbors. You are voting for someone to keep you and yours safe and well. Any election candidate who wants power is in the wrong country. You and your vote is the power and those you elect are your servants.

The General Election is all well and good and when you have your MP you will either desperately need their help (and I hope this never happens to you) or you will want to avoid them like a bad smell emanating from an old dog. Please remember the local elections too, as this matter more in your everyday life. Local Councils and your local councillor are more important than your MP.

Finally to that vital democratic cross you have. It’s yours to use. It is real power that you give in majority to your elected representative. Many have died for you to use your vote. Your vote is not free. Your vote comes with responsibility and reason. If you decide not to vote that is your absolute right in our democracy, but if you don’t vote then you can’t moan about the ‘bloody government or council’.

Cut the efficiency crap.

All local councils and unitary authorities are about half way through their cuts, austerity programmes or whatever you choose to call them. Bristol City Council have implemented just shy of a 150m of cuts by slashing grants to service providers and charities, cutting services and making efficiency savings. There will be more to come. Bath and North East Somerset have cut, so have North Somerset and South Gloucestershire. Have you noticed the cuts so far? Have you? Really? Probably not as the cuts so far have mostly been ‘efficiency savings’, changing what councils do and how they do it so the cuts actually doesn’t bother you. They should.
You will soon begin to actually feel the Council cuts too, and there will be little you can do about it. Or can you?
Take BANES. One of their cuts, proposed last year, was to close public toilets. ‘No’ said the residents, one of whom ended up sleeping in one the toilets slated for closure in centre of Bath. The Council decided to not go ahead with the cut. In Bristol, the council have 19 members of their Parks, Crematorium and Cemetery tending these council grounds and gardens. They were late in recruiting them, maybe as a result of wage saving or a wage bill cut. On my radio programme we heard that Bristol City Council were not looking after these parks, that cemeteries were over grown and one widow told me she fell into an over grown grave trying while trying visit her husbands grave because the grass was so tall. Two weeks later these cemeteries have now been tended, of sorts, and the grass has been strimed. Why? Simply because pressure was brought to bare on Bristol City Council.
Is this the answer? Shout on local radio and council will do it? Maybe, but it is a little more complicated than that.
The liberal democracy argument is that you vote for your councillor (or Mayor), the one with the most votes gets in, they act in the interests of all the electorate and then, in due time, you vote for them again (or not) depending on how they have done. The reality of our actual relationship with our council is that they don’t really effect most of us beyond paying out council tax and them collecting our rubbish and filling in the pot holes on the roads we drive.  It all seems very simple. But it isn’t.
Local Government effects you more than you realise and to not get involved, to just do your recycling and drive repeatedly over a pothole riddled road without reporting it is NOT good enough. You need to get involved. The money you pay every year is enough for a good family holiday or a better pension when you retire.  You need to hold your councillor and your council to account. If you don’t the leaders of each council or the elected Mayor of Bristol will end up being responsible for managing the waste management contract and adult social care and they will be unable to do anything for you or your neighbours. They will do what they have to do and not what you want them to do, with your money.
So what has happened to your money so far? Here is a clue. Most of the cuts so far have been achieved through ‘efficiency savings’. Bristol achieved 50m through ‘efficiency savings’. Why was any council allowed to ever be inefficient with your money. Every penny you pay should go towards what you want it to, for the benefit of you and your neighbours. Any council inefficiency is not acceptable. It’s your money, it’s your vote and between you voting it is your right to hold your councillor and council to account.
To put this another way, would you give someone you know a £150 a month, every month and not ask questions about what they were doing with it? It is your democratic right to make sure that your council do what you want or, at the very least, you know what they are doing even if you don’t like it. Never again should we allow any council to say they are making ‘efficiency savings’, and if they do you must ask why. And then ask why again.
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