EU Issues

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.

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Miliband Fudges, Cameron Spies a Chance

For most of the weekend, the news has been on a loop. It consists of ‘Gordon Brown’s vow’, ‘Ed Miliband blusters’, ‘Alex Salmond calls us all liars’ and ‘David Cameron sees his chance’. At this point, I’m wishing it had been a ‘Yes’ vote, just to shut everybody up. Because, as important as our constitution is, there are other important things going on in the world – ISIL are still terrorising the Middle East and we’re sat on our hands infighting. I understand why no moves to join in properly with the air strikes were made before the referendum but we need to push our internal resentments aside and join with our allies. I hope people on both sides of the Scottish debate would recognise that constitutional change while groups like ISIL remain a threat would be like tinkering with the car engine despite knowing a meteor is about to hit – extremely short-sighted.

Of course, this isn’t to say we can’t multi-task. We need a good balance between focusing on the larger problems across the world (Russia’s another one) and national introspection. Which is another good reason why constitutional change cannot and should not be rushed. I’ve seen a lot this weekend about Gordon Brown’s ‘promise’ being broken. I’ve become almost hoarse saying that Gordon Brown is not in government and therefore could not make a binding promise.

Before anyone screams at me, I’m not backtracking on the idea of devolution at all. As I said on Friday, though, I believe we need to do it properly. We can’t stick to an artificial timetable just because an ex-Prime Minister says so. This timetable hasn’t been put to a parliamentary vote yet and, more importantly, it hasn’t been put to the British people. I say ‘British’ and I mean ‘British’ – this time devolution has the opportunity to affect us all and I’m afraid if the Scots have to wait a little while because of that then that’s the way it is. Apparently a good percentage of Scottish voters see the inherent problems in Scottish MPs voting on English-only legislation. Can these reasonable people give us five minutes to catch our breath and work out what’s to be done about it? We’re not denying you your devolution, just trying to grasp some of our own.

Amending our entire political system quickly would be a disaster. Ed Miliband wants a constitutional convention next autumn: that is untenable. Miliband hopes to deflect the issue; he hopes to get into power (utilising Scottish MPs to win, of course) then fudge things from there. He’s repeated this weekend that he doesn’t really believe in ‘English votes for English laws’ because it puts him at a disadvantage electorally (not that he said that, naturally). Miliband will get through this round of Scottish devolution according to Gordon Brown’s timetable and hope the rest of us just shut up. I’m not sure that’s going to work this time.

David Cameron is guilty of opportunism. Weakening Labour’s electoral chances was too great a prize for some Tories to pass up and perhaps that’s why they’re suddenly dancing around at the idea of ‘English votes for English laws’. Opportunistic, it may be, but it is most certainly right. It just can’t be rushed, that’s all.

The Labour conference this week is momentous. I’ll be watching closely to see what Miliband’s speech contains. Any more hopeless platitudes and I fear that his electoral campaign’s over before it’s really begun.

News: A Wakefield View of Westminster – Available Now

(Cross-posted at Secluded Charm, my writing blog)

Dartside Press have just published a compilation of my political blog posts and articles, gathered from four years of observation and irritation. Spanning 2010-2014, the pieces in A Wakefield View of Westminster have been collected from various sites, edited and, where appropriate, commented on. It’s rather fun looking at predictions from three years ago and seeing where we’ve actually ended up. Well, fun and depressing in some cases.

I’m fairly non-partisan, though I have to admit that Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg come in for quite a lot of criticism throughout the collection. On issues such as Europe, HS2, the bungling of welfare reform, democracy and party politics, I’m very vocal – and unapologetically so. These are just my opinions, of course, but I hope they’re an entertaining read.

The book can be bought from Amazon here.

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PCC Problems

Yesterday I came across an issue I hadn’t previously paid much attention to – the ‘forcing out’ of a chief constable by the local PCC in Gwent. What drew my attention to it was the question asking in yesterday’s PMQs which, in my opinion, the Prime Minister answered badly. The case is explained here for anyone who hasn’t come across across it, focusing on the evidence both parties gave to the Home Affairs Select Committee earlier this week.

I was wholly against PCCs in the first place. I thought they added another layer of bureaucracy to a service that was already steeped in it and I worried about the political aspect of things. I firmly believe that politics has no place in policing but something startling in this case is that it seems to be an independent candidate with a similar attitude throwing his weight around. Would it have been so bad if his target hadn’t been a woman? I think whichever way you look at it, targeting someone you freely admit isn’t incompetent just because you have different working styles and viewpoints is wrong. It shouldn’t be for a PCC to remove people who are doing their job because of what seems to be a clash of personalities.

Of course, the fact that a woman was the target comes into play when you read some of the language allegedly involved in the dismissal – the word ‘humiliation’ crops up. I doubt that it would if the chief constable had been male. But what struck me as I watched PMQs yet was that Cameron still has his ‘women problem’, judging by his wholly inadequate response to a question on the subject from Paul Flynn (Lab, Newport West):

Flynn – Was it the Prime Minister’s conception when he set up the office of police and crime commissioner that a fine chief constable such as the one in Gwent should have a career cut short by a vindictive bully who told her to resign or he would humiliate her?

Prime Minister – The point of having police and crime commissioners is to make sure there is proper accountability and that police constables have to account to a local person. That is why a number of former Labour Members of Parliament stood for the post. In some cases, such as that of John Prescott, the people of his region saw sense and rejected him.

In what way is that an answer? How does ‘proper accountability’ for a chief constable equate to them being hounded out of their job? I’d love a fuller explanation from Cameron but I won’t hold my breath.

There will be many more PCC problems in the future. There are already complaints about how much they cost and what precisely their role in. I expect this to come to the fore ahead of the general election but I doubt any party will go into it with the promise to scrap these ridiculous posts.

Nadine Dorries – An Example of a Good Politician?

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.