Yet again, events are occurring faster than I can write about them in any depth so I thought I’d do another round-up post briefly detailing my thoughts on recent issues. I may well go into more detail in future posts but I wanted to get these down.
- The scuppering of the EU referendum bill – This irritates me, of course it does. However, it was always going to be scuppered one way or the other and, naturally, it wasn’t going to be voted down in a debate where voters could actually hold their MPs accountable. This is politics at its worst and I live in hope that the Westminster bubble will pay for it at some point. If they don’t think we can tell what they’re doing then they think even less of us than I supposed. Talk about being ruled by your inferiors! But the fact is, apathy will win. Apathy always wins.
- Ideas for HS3 – Yes!! I’ve detailed my hatred for HS2 on numerous occasions, both here and elsewhere. I think it’s a colossal waste of money which will only benefit the south. I think the first stage will prove so calamitous that the second will never be built. I also believe that the cost benefits are vastly over-estimated and the money would be better spent on other aspects of the rail network. However, HS3 is designed to link northern cities together. In that respect, it steps away from the London-centric attitude which permeates planning in this country. Trimming time between Leeds and Manchester and freeing up capacity on other routes in the area could actually be useful. I could defend the differences between the two projects in detail if you want me to but my stance is this: No to HS2, Yes to HS3. Scrap the first. Or at least build the latter before it. If the government is really serious about these rail projects benefiting the north of England and not just sucking more oxygen down towards London.
- UKIP’s voting in the EU Parliament – I’ve seen a lot of criticism floating around about the things UKIP have voted against in Brussels as a form of attack, mainly from the left. My understanding of the UKIP voting policy is that they vote against everything. Anyone who’s watched a voting session in that parliament knows how confused it is. Items are lumped together and it’s said that nobody knows what they’re voting for. UKIP’s decision to vote against stems from that and, also, a reluctance to engage with the bureaucracy they want to detach us from. I don’t see much wrong with that in all honesty.
- PCCs – With a turnout of less than 15% for the recent PCC by-election in South Yorkshire, I don’t see how these pointless roles can continue to be justified. Fair play to the Lib Dems though – they think the roles should be scrapped and so didn’t field a candidate. Labour, on the other hand, think the roles should be scrapped and DID field a candidate. Do as I say, not as I do?
- Recent EU rhetoric – Do they want rid of us? I can only hope. The language around the bill demand and the free movement issues has been strong and, really, I think those are areas of resonance with average voters. People are waking up to the fact that it’s not racist to worry about the impact of immigration on schools, the NHS and other services. Only a minority of people demand that all immigration be stopped – the majority want us to have control of our own borders. That means we can’t exist within the EU. When/if a referendum comes, the EU will throw the kitchen sink at us – they want us to stay on their terms or not at all. It could be an interesting few years.
- Labour’s Scottish problems – Are they trying to self-destruct? Personally, I find the reach of the Westminster elite to be problematic in Yorkshire as our MPs are parachuted in at the behest of London-centric politicos. In Scotland, this seems to be have been taken to the extreme and I don’t blame Lamont for stepping away. It’s ironic, really, that Labour’s response to this is to back a Westminster MP who is arguably part of the problem as her replacement. There’s stupidity and then there’s Labour’s stupidity. On the plus side, they might as well scrap their opposition to ‘English votes for English laws’ since there won’t be enough Scottish Labour MPs for it to make a tangible difference to their prospects.
- Fiona Woolf – This may be an unpopular one but I think the child abuse inquiry should’ve gone ahead under the leadership of Fiona Woolf. I honestly don’t think you’re going to find somebody with the expertise required who hasn’t got links somewhere along the line with someone who’s potentially involved. The process is going to be a transparent one – if things weren’t progressing as expected then the inquiry could’ve been halted. As it is, it’s not even getting started. I’ve seen no suggestions (others might have) of who Woolf’s critics would actually want to lead the investigation, there just seems to be incessant complaining. Without a compromise, this inquiry is going nowhere and that’s a travesty for the victims.
It was good to see on Friday that the EU Referendum Bill (to enshrine a 2017 referendum in law) jumped its latest hurdle in the House of Commons with no problems. Though Labour MPs spoke against it, it was pushed to a symbolic vote where nobody voted against the democratic principle of giving the public a say on our EU membership. Labour have realised that putting their names on the record as being anti-democratic cowards is a bit of a vote-loser, especially with UKIP on the rise, but it won’t last. There are three alternatives I see occurring next. First, Labour block the bill on its next reading, actively enshrining their distaste of democracy in Hansard for everyone to see. Secondly, that they ‘talk the bill out’. The reason I think this didn’t happen on Friday was that it was scheduled first and there were other bills, including one on circus animals, that Labour wanted to get to and they couldn’t justify jamming up in the system. Talking the bill out would still be active disdain of the electorate but it’s harder to prove and you can’t just say ‘your MP voted against you having a say’ on the doorstep. It’s a sneaky trick, of course, but that’s just what politicians excel at. The third option, though, is the sneakiest. Suppose Labour let this bill through? They don’t vote for but they don’t oppose it – they let it become law. And, then, once they win the 2015 election (or, more likely go into coalition with the lapdog Libs) they just repeal it. There’s nothing the public will be able to do about it at that point. Think about it. We have five year fixed-term parliaments with ridiculous thresholds for votes of no confidence. We don’t have a proper recall mechanism where MPs could be brought to account for repealing such a law. It would be acceptable for Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg (or his successor) to combine and repeal the legislation. Is that Labour’s plan? I do wonder.
The other EU-related occurrence over the weekend massively aided the Eurosceptic cause. In the wake of Downing Street rumblings about curbing freedom of movement, the outgoing President of the European Commission has been doing the rounds. Jose Manuel Barroso has poured cold water over David Cameron’s attempts to limit freedom of movement, calling it an ‘essential’ component of EU membership. Well, that’s us told, isn’t it? In addition, he’s brought out the big guns, saying we’ll have ‘zero influence’ in the world if we leave the EU. He cited the response to the Ebola crisis which made me wryly chuckle: while the EU has been having meetings about it (in my understanding), our little isolated island nation has been a little bit more proactive. Not only has a ship loaded with supplies just set off, we’ve had soldiers in Sierra Leone building treatment centres for several weeks now. I’d love to see a breakdown of what the EU has been doing. The only thing I recall is a meeting last week where they discussed the response to the crisis and basically tried telling us what we should be doing about it. We’re already acting, I’m afraid. Don’t like it? Kick us out.
Cameron is either being impressive putting himself out on this limb or extremely sneaky. He wants to appeal to those voters who have abandoned him to UKIP and recognises freedom of movement raises hackles all over. But does he just want to be seen as the underdog who tried? Since he doesn’t want us to leave the EU, I can only see that being a precursor to an acceptance of the status quo. I wonder if Downing Street has thought through all the permeations of this. There is, of course, the possibility that Cameron is making these noises with no expectation of a 2015 victory and so no need to renegotiate properly on the tough points.
Can it be that both David Cameron and Ed Miliband are hoping to knife voters in the back after the 2015 election? Surely not.
In a bid to be a calmer human being, I’ve been taking a break from following politics religiously. I even skipped PMQs yesterday (though I gather all I missed was a bit of ‘waah-waah-you’re-wrong’). However, I accidentally caught a little of Newsnight last night and my interest was reignited through a three person panel that I looked at and categorically disagreed with all of them. The details of the debate don’t matter. The thing that does matter, I’m back and I’m angry so I’d like to make a few relatively random points which I may follow up on at a later date.
- Getting us out of the EU (you knew this one was coming) would save us millions every day, money that could be put back into our own infrastructure and businesses to help us trade properly with non-EU countries.
- I’m relieved we’re not changing our voting date just to appease the EU.
- The Europhiles (Ken Clarke, I’m looking at you) become more desperate every week and I can’t wait to see how many of you dare show your face at the reading of James Wharton’s bill. The voters will remember, you know, and if they think you don’t trust them then even you old dinosaurs may be in trouble. While I’m at it, Ed Miliband is playing a dangerous game. He plans to allow the EU bill through in the Commons simply by abstaining but will then contrive to block it in the Lords. It’s curious, is it not, that voters currently can’t hold the Lords to account but Ed Miliband can apparently make them do as he pleases and subvert democracy while he’s at it? Be very careful, Ed. This is something else the voters will remember – that you didn’t even have the conviction of your pro-European policies to order your MPs to make an appearance in the Commons and vote your way. Did you sense it might put too many of those marginal seats in peril? No one likes a wimp, Mr Miliband.
- The economy seems be to be going in the right direction but you can’t base that assumption on one quarter’s figures. Stop the crowing and the celebrations and wait and see what the next set of results bring.
- I think Maria Miller’s as useful as an axe murderer. Either give the arts brief back to Business or just find a minister that seems to care about the arts. And please don’t forget that the ripple effect caused by the arts is unquantifiable. Close a museum and the surrounding area just starts dying. Remember that when you’re saying that culture must make a ‘business case’ to survive.
- The Bedroom Tax is still an unworkable and generally bad idea, penalising those who can’t alter their circumstances and particularly affecting disabled people most severely.
- I agree with Sheila Gilmore that East Coast should remain a publicly-owed rail company – it’s working as it is and the rule of ‘ever-more privatisation’ seems pathetic when there is no business case for it. Why should we get rid of something that’s working well in the public sector so that it can work badly – and cost the taxpayer more – in the private sector?
- Nick Clegg is still a weak-willed political non-entity who will, alas, probably retain his seat at the next election.
I think that covers it for now. Anything you want me to elaborate on?
It may just be me but I detest the idea that party whips should be able to force party members into line. It’s something all the more relevant today following last night ‘rebellion’ (for want of a better word) of 116 Conservative MPs who expressed ‘regret’ at the lack of EU referendum legislation in the Queen’s Speech. Now, we know the landscape of the EU argument is shifting daily so I don’t want to focus on that. What ignited my fury was James Kirkup’s blog in The Telegraph entitled ‘Nadine Dorries has taken a week to prove that David Cameron needs a new Chief Whip’.
Now, Dorries is hardly my favourite MP. Jaunts to the jungle aside, her stance on gay marriage and her scare tactics about abortion are not to my tastes. But I can’t fault her for having a mouth and using it, whether I like what she says or not. The fact is, she causes such a problem to the Tory high-command because she refuses to keep her opinions to herself. I would love to have an MP willing to speak out against their leader in my constituency. At least it would convince me they were human and not some zombie able to be manipulated by one word from their leader.
Nigel Farage has made the point quite frequently in recent weeks that the country is ready for a new type of politics. I think that, more than ever, citizens want to be able to hold their MP to account. They want their MP to be able to justify themselves to their constituency and not just to their parties. I would respect my MP if I believed her opinions were her own and not just those she trots out to ensure her place in the Shadow Cabinet.
As I see it, whipping has no place in modern politics. The party system is fast losing its grip on reality. The internet has enabled people to check up on their representatives, social media has helped those representatives to connect with the people. If you want to run an effective party these days, you need to work from the ground up in individual areas. Yes, you need to generally have a right-leaning or a left-leaning consensus but you do not need to dehumanise MPs by making them part of a herd to be controlled. The public should control their politicians, not David Cameron or Ed Miliband. I actually have respect for a party that is divided, like the Tory party at present. It means that there are people within that party who have their own opinions, who listen to the concerns of their constituents. Go on, Ed Miliband, tell me why that’s wrong.
It doesn’t give me pleasure to point out the stupidity of today’s politicians – or their hypocrisy. I’d rather the people at the top of the tree were worthwhile, honest people who listened to their constituents and didn’t try to govern in a way that they believe is in the ‘national interest’. I am terribly uncomfortable with a few people who ‘know best’ overriding the wishes of the country as a whole. Yet they keep telling us that they do ‘know best’. This weekend Ed Miliband did it again.
In his speech to the Progress Conference Miliband repeatedly pointed to giving power back to the people. He said, ‘Power in Britain is far too centralised. Local people don’t feel they have a say in the decisions that shape their lives.’ He said, ‘But immigration doesn’t just work for everyone automatically. And we got it wrong in government. Not just the policy. But our failure to listen.’ He doesn’t see the irony of promising to listen then reiterating, quite firmly, that he will not offer the British public a referendum on our membership of the EU.
He makes fun of the problems in the Tory party over Europe without acknowledging the incredibly high number of people (of all political colours) who would now like a referendum on the EU. He said, ‘David Cameron may try to out Farage-Farage on Britain’s membership of the European Union. But in all of our decisions we make, we will always stand up for the national interest. And our national interest lies in staying in the EU. And working for the changes that will make it work better for Britain. It is wrong now to commit to an in/out referendum and have four years of uncertainty and a ‘closed for business’ sign above our country. Of course people are frustrated about the EU, but in town centres across the country I heard loud and clear where people see the national interest, what people are most worried about: jobs, living standards, the fate of their small businesses. One Nation Labour will not put them at risk.’
There are so many things wrong with this. For a start, he believes – as David Cameron seems to – that there is some incredible prospect of renegotiation. He apparently thinks that the EU will roll over and let us dictate the terms of our membership when senior European figures frequently say that there is no chance of moving backwards, that it is towards ever-closer political and fiscal union that the EU must go. And then he states that our ‘national interest’ will be served by staying in the EU. I wouldn’t mind if he and Clegg and the people who frequently trumpet this could give us sound and credible figures but they can’t. That’s why they’re losing the war and, if they can’t concoct a decent argument, they deserve to.
I wonder what Miliband’s actual vision of ‘One Nation’ is. At the moment it feels very much like a nation having to believe what one man tells them. Is that the message he was trying to put across? Wake up, Mr Miliband, and realise that you can’t talk about listening to people and connecting with them only to deny them a referendum that more and more of them are clamouring for.
Now the dust has settled after last week’s local elections, the Tory party still seem on the back foot. They’ve wheeled out some of the big guns – Theresa May and William Hague – who promise ‘greater certainty’ on a referendum in response to the UKIP threat but, I think, they’re being overly optimistic about the limited appeal of UKIP. A ‘cast iron guarantee (for want of a more fitting phrase) might’ve have quelled the UKIP problem a few years ago but now I don’t think it’s going to be so easy any more. UKIP now have many more councillors than the Tories would like. Come 2015, as everyone keeps pointing out, these will be footsoldiers. UKIP suddenly have a stronger army at a local level and the Tories are that little bit weaker.
What Cameron needs to do is think about the wider picture. He can’t bring forward legislation to guarantee his referendum in 2017 because of his coalition partners (the way I see it, Nick Clegg is sulking in a corner with his arms crossed threatening to leave – but go where?). If the Tories had a majority I think they’d squeeze this legislation through but they don’t. So what’s the solution? Get a backbencher to propose a bill.
Think about it. A proposal for legislation guaranteeing a referendum is debated in the House of Commons and then voted on. It will probably be defeated but, here’s the point, in this country (unlike the EU MEPs who can shield themselves if they wish) we can see exactly who voted for a bill and who voted against it. Come the next election, voters will be able to see whether their own MP voted for them to have a say in the future of the UK or whether they neglected to trust their constituents. One thing that characterises UKIP’s rise is that they listen to the fears and concerns of ordinary people. The main criticism of the career politicians who litter the benches at Westminster is that they are out of touch with everyday life. How better to make them confront it?
In such a scenario, Ed Miliband would face a dilemma. He clearly wants us to stay in the EU and would, I think, be inclined to whip his MPs to agree with him. Why would he allow a bill he detests the thought of to slip through via the backing of some of his own MPs? It’ll be a test of two things – the loyalty of MPs to their constituents and the strength of Miliband’s leadership. I think whichever way you look at this, Ed Miliband loses.
In my own constituency of Wakefield, Labour’s Mary Creagh (currently Shadow Environment Secretary) is only sitting on a majority of 1,613 votes. The Tory candidate was snapping at her heels in 2010 but, crucially, UKIP neglected to stand in the area because the Tory candidate was a Eurosceptic. I wonder if such a decision will hold in 2015? Nevertheless, Creagh is one of those MPs who needs to think long and hard about where her responsibility lies – to her leader or to her constituents. However, I fear I know which side she will land on and it’ll be one that’ll cause her some problems come 2015. If a Tory leaflet drops through my door proudly proclaiming that Creagh voted against giving her constituents a say in the running of our country, that she didn’t trust us to have an opinion, I doubt I’ll be surprised.