Not Mid Morning Matters

JD in the Morning, off air…

Tag: voting

‘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.

The United Kingdom? Why the majority needs a say NOW

We are still a United Kingdom, or Queendom if you prefer, as the vote in Scotland has given the whole of the UK a real chance to consider its political future. But will it? Not as I write. It seems that big P politics is set to get in the way, again.

The result from Thursdays referendum in Scotland was decisive, if not slightly born out of Westminster panic based on one Sunday Times poll. The real winner was democracy and the Scottish people with a voter turn out of 86%. The engagement of 16 and 17-year-old voters must mean that they are enfranchised on all future votes but the total turn out proves that when it really matters ‘we the people’ will get involved, listen to the arguments on both sides and vote. Politics in the UK could learn a lot from the experience of Scotland. This vote may also finally kill the ‘centre ground’, which has done more to damage democracy than anything else in a generation.

Yet as one question is answered many others are posed and one of those questions is very big. What of the rest of the UK and its governance? Scotland has it’s parliament, Wales and Northern Ireland have their Assemblies but England has, err nothing. That is not entirely true. England has councils, lots and lots of councils. There are parish, town, district and county councils plus unitary authorities and there are local enterprise partnerships, MPs and lets not forget MEPs too. The South West has six of those. All those people, elected and doing what? We are not short of governance or politicians to do it. They all cost you money and they all have their agendas.

If you have ever watched a council meeting or been part of this level governance at any level you can see why so little actually gets done. It’s a miracle that anything ever gets done. So does England need is own Assembly or Parliament as well as councils various or does it need to look at all the layers of government it currently has and make it more effective?

First question. Do we really need all the various councils we have? It is hard to get good Councillors, even harder to get people to vote for Councillors. Local government and governance is the one that actually affects us more day-to-day than anything else. Why not have one single level of local government rather than three or four? And why not pay those who do it too? No amateurs, part timers, parish pump types but local politicians dedicated to public service and paid properly for it.

Second question. Does England need a parliament too? The simple population statistic is that 85% of the United Kingdom … phew … Is English, in that they live in England. Minorities have their voices heard and constantly championed through assemblies, parliaments or pressure groups who are often shouting about how hard done by they are and why the need more money/representation/say/rights. The English majority have nothing. There is real need for an English parliament for English governance.

This would lead to an English and Scottish parliament, a Welsh and Northern Ireland assembly. Add to this a single tear of regional assemblies, and a House of Lords replaced by an elected Senate for UK wide issues and governance and Robert’s your father’s brother, it’s a new way of doing politics and running the UK.

The single tear regional assemblies plus a Welsh and a Northern Ireland assembly would deal with the day-to-day services we all use including education and health. An English and Scottish parliament would deal with law making, Police, Crime, Defence etc, oversight of regional assemblies and would have the ability to set and raise taxes. An elected Senate would deal with international policy, with oversight over parliament, National parliaments and assemblies and regional assemblies, and all this would be held in check and balance by select and scrutiny committees, both regionally and nationally.

This means you only have to vote three times; locally, nationally and for the senate. It might also arrest the real danger that government by consent of the majority is slowly heading for government created from the apathy of the majority and narrow politics of the minority. Change is needed as we are increasingly getting the Councillors, MPs, party leaders and government we deserve.

One last thing. We need to teach democracy in schools.

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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