The Campaign For Real Democracy

At this time of year a lot of people assess where they want to be in a year's time. I think politically for those of us on the left of politics, what happens in the next year is absolutely crucial to what direction politics takes for a very long time.

The right have dominated for a very long time now, even when we had a Labour government and even though we currently have a Democratic President. This year more than ever we can see how our right wing press is run like a protection racket, blackmailing and bribing our politicians. The day the press all turned on Clegg during the election was the funniest example of Tory bias. Will the people continue to tolerate a 'free press' owned almost entirely by 4 billionaires and headlines that reflect their tax averse priorities. In fact we must remember that even that is incorrect, because these wealthy people living abroad have no problem with high taxes on the lowest earners, as long as they at the top are left alone. So we head inexorably towards a US style tax system where the US median earner pays more than the average Brit yet gets no decent health service or state education system, let alone welfare. Rich people like money spent on defence and law and order, but hate pretty much everything else. They figure they are paying for other people's services - 60% of people get more back than they pay in. But what price a decent safety net even for those doing well?

So, the questions seem to be; how do we get the rich to pay their taxes and how do we reduce inequality? I think the answer for the left, is not just to represent the 99%, but to persuade the 1% that paying taxes is also in their interests. Even if the Occupy movement achieve nothing else, at least they have put inequality back on the agenda.

The big problems as I see it are; an overcomplicated tax and benefit system that annoys all and fails to achieve even the most basic aims of society. There is also talk of 'a culture of greed' both at the top and bottom of society, a media that feeds this selfish attitude and is corrupting and corrupted by the powerful elites in our political and judicial system. Inequality seems only to perpetuate itself unless something dramatic alters course.

So to the Labour party and Ed Miliband. First of all, Ed has to learn some hard lessons from the failure of new Labour to control the media and tame the very rich. Ed has to be prepared to go against what his focus groups tell him. He has to start taking real risks, he has to lead public opinion not just follow it. Because one thing is sure, opinions do change and you need to anticipate this before the media do. Yes, all Labour leaders have a lot harder job than any Tory, because the media will never be their friends and the concentration of media ownership especially with so much local media now in fewer Tory supporting hands is something that Labour have to tackle. That will not win them any friends and somehow it has to be done without Labour facing accusations of censorship or political interference. Here are my suggestions for what it is worth.

1. Vocally support the coalition where their policies lean to the left; so support Ken Clarke in reducing prison numbers, lowering sentencing and even fewer police numbers. Support the abolition of legal aid. Anything that is truly liberal. Not only will this guarantee attention from the media (obviously negative, but you never get positive attention anyway in the long run), it will strengthen the leftist rebels in the government and help schism. It will also show the public in no uncertain means that you will go against public opinion and demonstrate you as a strong liberal. Obviously this is a risk.

2. Defend Gordon Brown where you need to. Explain constantly that you reject in strong terms any indication that the deficit is "labour's fault". State that before the crisis hit Brown borrowed less every year than John Major did and also the obvious fact that the banking crisis has led every country to take on bankers debts and that that is the real reason for the crisis and not spending on essential public services. We still spend less than most of Europe on health and education etc.

3. Back the strikes and back the occupy movement and do it with real conviction. Explain however that you are for the 100% not the 99%. Even the wealthy 1% can benefit from the social cohesion and economic efficiency that reducing inequality will bring. Explain in detail how you are going to radically alter the tax system, how you will tax the 'bad' and exempt the 'good'. So expect tax cuts for R&D, wealth creating income and profit. Taxes that the big guys/companies no longer seem to have to pay anyway. Taxes will focus on 'unearned' speculative income and land values and taxes that cannot be avoided. Also tax will have to become more redistributive, so regressive taxes like VAT and council tax will have to be reduced if not abolished. A 2% land value tax and 0.05% financial transaction tax will raise enough revenue to fund a small citizen's income for all equivalent to dole. This would remove one benefit trap as dole is paid regardless of unemployment. Miliband should also reinforce the view that ALL means testing is bad, much cheaper to have universal benefits that avoid the stigma of testing all. The Tories and Lib Dems will come for bus passes and winter payments first but then what next; the NHS? If they want to make the rich pay more then up their taxes - much easier and more efficient and without putting any stigma or hassle on the poorest.

Anyway, happy xmas and new year to you all. Here's hoping some of this becomes true in 2012, but I'm not holding my breath.

PS. Also just to mention once again that the all 17 countries will remain in the Euro. Reading the media you would think the Euro breaking up is a certainty, but as I have explained before, devaluation is only a short term help and setting interest rates is over-rated as you still have to follow the big countries rates anyway.

PPS. What this government is doing to our electoral system is disgraceful. Not only did we reformers lose the referendum on AV, but the Tories are making the present system more undemocratic by removing 10 million from the registered rolls by making it harder for them to register and removing the legal requirement. So the 2015 boundaries will be bigger, more remote from voters and ignore 3.5m unregistered adults of voting age. In 2020 this will rise to 10m unregistered voters rights removed by enlarging their constituency. The job of MPs in poorer areas with these massive number of adults without a say will be even harder. Won't affect any Tory MPs though as the poor never vote for them anyway.

A very Merry Christmas!

A very Merry Christmas to everyone.

Keep in mind the fact that the Son of Man, the Christ who lived and was executed by the government of His day, was a great leader, and leader of the common people. It was his great message of Love and Brotherhood which brought him to his death. He knew the poor of the earth were oppressed by the rich and wealthy, and in scathing terms denounced the money changers and all those who defiled the Temple and brought suffering to starving humanity.

George Lansbury, 1926.

How Conan Doyle's detective destroyed Jeremy Brett

 This piece of mine on the late, great Jeremy Brett, appears in the Sunday Express.

With a movie and TV series based on Sherlock Holmes out soon, Neil Clark recalls Jeremy Brett and the sacrifices he made to be the greatest Baker Street detective.

This weekend the latest Sherlock Holmes film, ‘A Game of Shadows’, starring Robert Downey Jnr in the title role, opened in cinemas across Britain.  The New Year meanwhile sees the return of Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC‘s series ‘Sherlock’.  Overall, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary detective has been played by more than 70 actors on the big and small screens but for Sherlockians-the hardcore fans of the pipe-smoking Victorian sleuth, one stands out from all the rest for his portrayal: Jeremy Brett. 

Brett played Holmes in 36 one-hour episodes and five feature length specials on ITV between 1984 and 1994, programmes which are still regularly broadcast all over the world today. Brett’s Holmes is widely regarded to be the definitive version; the closest to the Sherlock Holmes in the original stories.

Brett was a perfectionist who took his role seriously but he paid a terrible price for his art. In a story as fantastic as any of Conan Doyle‘s tales, the brilliant but melancholy detective took over the life - and mind- of the sensitive British actor who played him.

"Holmes was a shell in which he (Brett) began to live. The dark, cerebral detective sometimes took him over, and the actor and the part he played for ten years eventually became one,” says Terry Manners, author of ‘The Man who became Sherlock Holmes- The Tortured Mind of Jeremy Brett’.

At the time he started playing Holmes, Brett was already a well-established actor. Born Peter Jeremy William Huggins, into a wealthy upper-middle class background in 1933, Brett’s father was the Lord Lieutenant of Warwickshire, while his mother, Elizabeth Cadbury, was a member of the famous chocolate manufacturing family. After attending Eton, Brett set out to be an actor and made his stage debut in 1954. His most famous film role came 10 years later, when he played Freddie Eynsford-Hill in the classic musical My Fair Lady.

In 1982 he was offered the part that was to change his life. Terry Manners says that Brett’s close friend, the actor Robert Stephens- who had played Holmes in a 1970 film, warned him about the demands of the role. “Don’t bloody well do it! You will go into such a pit to get into that man that you will self-destruct“.

For Brett, however, the challenge of playing the great sleuth in the new Granada tv production was too big to pass up. Brett immersed himself in his new role. He re-read all Conan Doyle’s original stories. The producer of the series and his assistants compiled a 77-page ‘Baker Street File’ on everything relating to Holmes’ habits and mannerisms which became Brett’s Bible. “While other actors disappeared to the canteen for lunch, Brett would sit alone in the set’s Victorian sitting room , thinking about Holmes, fretting about him,. Terry Manners records. “Jeremy was anxious to capture not just the darkness and cerebral power of Holmes, but also the period. Day and night he would sit huddled over history books, trying to recapture the Sherlockian 1890s”.

Brett was determined not only to ape all of Holmes’ mannerisms, but to look exactly like the man he was supposed to be portraying. He grew his hair longer and lost a stone in weight to appear as Holmes appears in Walter Paget’s illustrations. His brother even taught him to smoke a pipe.

Brett’s meticulous performances earned him rave reviews. “Brett’s true brilliance is overlooked not because no one says he is splendid but because everyone does”, wrote Kevin Jackson. Dame Jean Conan Doyle, daughter of Sir Arthur, sent him a letter which said : “You are the Sherlock Holmes of my childhood”. Few knew the stresses that the actor was under however. The death of his second wife Joan from cancer in 1985, pushed Brett into depression. Playing Holmes added to his anguish. “Holmes is the hardest part I have ever played — harder than Hamlet or Macbeth. Holmes has become the dark side of the moon for me. He is moody and solitary and underneath I am really sociable and gregarious. It has all got too dangerous”, he admitted.

After suffering a nervous breakdown, Brett spent eight weeks at the Maudsley Psychiatric Hospital in London. He was diagnosed as a manic-depressive.

Brett’s mental torment took a toll on him physically. The lithium which he was prescribed for his depression made him appear bloated. During the filming of the last Holmes series in 1993, Brett, whose heart had been damaged by childhood illness, arrived on set in a wheelchair and needed an oxygen mask. When the programmes were televised, fans were shocked at his physical deterioration. Those who worked on the set with Brett, and who loved him for his generosity and kindness, were greatly saddened at his decline.

Brett died from heart failure in London in September 1995, aged just 61.

“Some actors fear if they play Sherlock Holmes for a very long run the character will steal their soul, leave no corner for the original inhabitant", he said in one of his final interviews.

As the latest incarnations of the world’s most famous detective appear at the cinema and on our television screens over the festive season, let us remember the ultra-dedicated professional who gave everything he had in his ambition to be the greatest Sherlock Holmes of them all.

Let's hear it for Ed Miliband (and not just because it's Christmas)

This piece of mine appears in The First Post/The Week.

Neil Clark: Ed has become the equivalent of Stoke City – we're told they have no style but they keep winning

HE'S A 'WASHOUT'.  His prospects are "bleak". He's the man "with the word 'Loser' printed on his forehead". He's the geek "who can't even get being a geek right".

Reading newspaper commentators opine about Ed Miliband and his leadership of the Labour Party you'd think that the party had actually lost last week's Feltham and Heston by-election.

In fact Labour won it with an 8.56 per cent swing from the Conservatives. The party's share of the vote increased from 43.6 to 54.4 per cent and its majority rose from 4,658 to 6,203.

You can read the whole of the piece here.

Vaclav Havel: Another side to the story

This piece of mine appears on the Guardian's Comment is Free website.

Neil Clark: The Czech leader was a brave man, but the voices of those who lost out after communism's demise are seldom heard

He was the symbol of 1989, the anti-communist playwright who helped free his country – and the rest of eastern Europe – from Stalinist tyranny and who put the countries that lay behind the iron curtain on the road to democracy.

So goes the dominant narrative of the life of Václav Havel, the former Czech president, who died on Sunday aged 75. Havel, we are told, was a hero and one of the greatest Europeans of our age.

But, as with the recent consecration of Christopher Hitchens, another "progressive" opponent of the communist regimes of eastern Europe who found favour with Washington's neocons, there is another side to the story.

You can read the whole piece here.

Iraq: The Supreme International Crime that remains unpunished

 So the last US troops are leaving Iraq. Supporters of the war would like us to ‘move on’ and forget the illegal invasion- the porkies told about Iraqi WMDs to justify it- and the death and destruction it caused. 
But until those responsible for this great crime are brought to justice we must never do so.

It’s timely to remember the words of Robert H. Jackson, Chief U.S. Prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials.

To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.

Europe needs an FDR to break the mould and bring prosperity

This article of mine appears in the First Post/The Week.

Neil Clark: Under Sarkozy and Merkel, all Europe can look forward to is years of unemployment and falling living standards.

WHILE most of the attention in Britain has been focused on the domestic political implications of the Cameron-Clegg split over Europe, the bigger, more important story is what the EU leaders actually signed up to last week.

You can read the whole piece here.

Why The Euro Will Not Collapse.

I didn't explain clearly in the last post why I think the Euro will survive, so here goes.

The Euro is a political project first and an economic one second. This is both a strength and a weakness. It is a weakness because there will always be a reluctance for individual nations to commit financially to the project. So the stability and growth pact was broken - even Germany and France failed to stick to the rules on borrowing, yet alone the 'club med' countries.

There was never a recognition (or large enough central fund to redistribute) that could cope with very different economies, cultures and languages. This was always going to restrict the mobility of labour needed to allow for a single market/currency zone. But it is also a strength because ultimately when it comes to the choice between a united Europe or a fractured one, from Italy to France, Germany to Spain they will choose the former. Germany certainly played a brinkmanship game over funding Greek debt but it had too much to lose by any country leaving.

And that is the crunch, leaving the Euro wouldn't solve any debt problem. Yes they could devalue but the power to set your own interest rates is overstated. Interest rates would still follow the major economies anyway (that is why from the US to EZ to UK rates only vary 0.5%. The costs of leaving the Euro would be astronomical. The markets may wish for a Euro crash, but it just ain't going to happen. Cameron has just bet the UK economy on a Euro collapse. Both him and his Daily Mail, Murdoch Tories are going to be sorely disappointed and every Brit except perhaps a few hedge fund managers are going to suffer as a result.

The odds that the Euro will collapse are virtually zero.

Even the bookies are giving odds of 3-1 against and we all know they take no risks. The truth is a Tory leader has been here before. Knowing that a European bloc off its coast cannot be ignored but by wishful thinking just hoping it will be a failure and go away. We walked away from the Treaty of Rome. But eventually we realised that of you can't beat them better join them. Only on the inside could we at least shape the direction of this monster devouring our power and influence.

As an anonymous French diplomat said; Cameron is like a guy who wants to attend a wife swapping party but refuses to bring his wife. So the EU is dead, or to be precise now only has one member, the other 26 will form the super EU. Cameron is hoping that his hedge fund buddies are safe, but even in putting these elite few who constitute less than 1% of GDP, he is going to prove disastrous. A financial transaction tax will stabilise markets from their destructive behaviour. When Cameron realised he had no allies he could have set the level very low, rather than the higher level we will eventually have to accept. This whole episode will prove to be very costly for all of us in the UK. Cameron has sold us down the river.

How I'd stop neoliberalism in its tracks

This piece of mine appears on the Guardian's Comment is Free website:

Neil Clark: If I had a Tardis, I'd save the world from the relentless march of neoliberal capitalism by going back to the 1970s

So, we're heading back to the 1970s. Well, at least that what some respected economic pundits are saying.

Of course, they're speaking metaphorically, and in fact the nearest we're going to get to the 70s is watching the regular Thursday night repeats of Top of the Pops on BBC4 and the Saturday night reruns of Dad's Army. But if it were possible to travel back in time to the decade of flared trousers, Opportunity Knocks and Fawlty Towers, I'd set the controls of my Tardis to 1 March 1973.

Here's why.

You can read the whole of the piece here.

Aung San Suu Kyi: It Ain't Half Hot Mum fan

I’ve always had enormous admiration for Aung San Suu Kyi. (you can watch a great John Pilger interview with her here). But she’s gone up even more in my estimation now….

Labour Will Struggle Unless They Shoot Down Deficit Lie.

It doesn't matter how right Labour are proved about the Coalition's slash and burn approach to the deficit if people believe that the deficit was Labour's fault in the first place. As Cameron and Osborne persist in destroying public services under the guise of responsible deficit reduction, the economy is going into a downward spiral. Reduce demand by sacking hundreds of thousands in the public sector and far from stimulating the private sector, it not surprisingly drags it down. And without growth, the deficit won't go down either. Labour will win the argument that the Tories and their Lib Dem sidekicks have cut too fast and too drastically. Labour might even win the argument that this was an ideological decision. But they will struggle to win support if people believe the deficit was created by Labour in the first place.

It actually wouldn't be that difficult for Labour to argue their case, but strangely they have given up the ghost and allowed the media and government free reign to claim that Labour overspent so therefore we have to tighten our belts. On first inspection this sounds very plausible to most voters, but as soon as we consider some actual facts it quickly looks very absurd.

1. In 2008 when the financial crisis hit, both the Tories and Lib Dems were still claiming they would maintain Labour spending on public services. Strangely this fact has disappeared from the media. If they believe Labour had overspent why would they claim to match their spending?

2. Just before the banking crisis hit, the national debt was actually lower than Labour had inherited off the Tories at around 37%!

3. The financial crisis has hit the entire developed world, even the most die hard Tory would struggle to claim that Labour spending policies in one small country off Europe - i.e. the UK have affected the whole world. So to blame Labour for the crisis just seems wierd.

4. Finally, government debt only ballooned when it had to take on the private sector debt of the banks. You can blame Labour for not regulating enough, but the only voices advocating that were on the left, certainly not from the hedge fund bankrolled Tories.

Imagine if Labour had not increased spending AT ALL on public services in its 13 years in office. Well for a start I don't imagine that would have gone down well with voters who in 1997 were crying out for investment in health, education and the rest. But leaving that aside, the maybe 200 billion Labour might have saved in expenditure, would still only have made a small dent in the trillions of bad debt the banks had racked up by buying up US and other bad debt in casino style deals.

Which ever way you face it, the problem is not that Labour overspent on public services (we still spend less than the EU average). Yet that Labour spent too much on public services is what most people believe, and until that changes, Labour and Miliband are in real trouble. They have to be clear about this and absolutely refute it when the media and Tory led government try to pin the blame on them. It is rubbish and people need to be told.

Don't Attack Iran: Please sign the Stop the War petition

We are extremely concerned at reports that plans are being drawn up for an attack on Iran. The case being made for war on Iran is based on a series of speculations about 'undisclosed nuclear-related activities' reminiscent of the disproven 'intelligence' about weapons of mass destruction used to justify the disastrous attack on Iraq.

The West's attitude to Iran's nuclear weapons is hypocritical and contradictory. The US and its allies remain silent about Israel's covert nuclear arsenal, the only one in the Middle East, while they are tightening the campaign of sanctions against Iran without real evidence......

You can read the whole of the Stop the War petition (which also calls for the lifting of sanctions against Iran), here. Please spend a moment or so to sign the petition, and tell your friends about it too. We can't allow the serial warmongers to initiate yet another war of aggression against an independent sovereign state.
UPDATE: Great piece by Seumas Milne in today’s Guardian: The war on Iran has already begun. Act before it threatens all of us.

The Green Budget

The Greens have produced a draft budget for Brighton and Hove. They consulted all the political parties, trade unions and voluntary organisations and over 2000 members of the public. They have done the best they can making very tough choices when faced with an unprecedented 33% grant cut from the Tory/Lib Dem government. The largest cut that any local authority has had to face. The greens have published this budget early and in detail and plan to consult even more before finalising in February. This is unprecedented transparency, see their budget calculator here and see if you could have done better than the Greens.

Because a lot of council expenditure is either ring-fenced, locked into long term contracts with the private sector and because council tax is capped to a maximum 3.5% increase. A lot of in-house front line services had to be cut, there was no getting away from that. As Jason Kitkat of the Greens put it, to refuse to comply with government cuts would have meant Whitehall writing the budget. This is what the Tories and Lib Dems call local democracy! Some Localism. Some freedom.

So the local Tories backed by the Tory Argus have attacked the Greens for cutting services and increasing council tax. Obviously the Tories could have frozen tax and maintained services. Will people really swallow that sort of lie? We will find out on 22 December in Westbourne. As for the Argus - lets have an Argus type survey - "The Argus is a lying Tory rag that has completely misrepresented the Green budget. Bearing this in mind do you a: Think they are lying Tory bastards. or b: Think they are paragons of virtue and I will happily give them my wage packet this week to spend as they wish." Not surprisingly the Argus gets the survey results it wants with this type of questioning. The Greens have produced a myth buster to combat Argus lies.

A lot has been made of the Greens refusing the 1 year grant to freeze council tax, supposedly worth 2.5%. But as the Greens rightly recognised, this 1 year grant coupled with the cap on council tax increases would mean depriving the council of even more revenue next year, as any 3.5% increase next year would be from the lower 2010 base losing the council 8% overall and meaning a massacre of services. Precisely what the Tories want.

The Greens have hit parking (hooray!) but as they point out, it is still cheaper here than Lewes or Eastbourne (boo).

The 3.5% rise is below inflation and is one of the lowest increases in council tax since the formation of the city. So not a big increase at all.

The gall of Labour and Tories claiming they could do better is so depressing it is beyond parody. It is appalling that lying is now the chief political tactic to combat the Greens. I hope this tactic is punished heavily by the people of Brighton and Hove. First up, Westbourne where another Tory can be thrown out and replaced with a Green - vote Green on December 22nd.

The west has Iran in its sights

Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya.... and now Iran.

William Hague has denounced the action of the students as a violation of international law. But Iran itself has been targeted for many years by a series of western and UK policies that are gross violations of international law. Repeatedly threatening Iran with a military attack, thinly disguised under the phrase "all options are on the table" and publicly announcing that the west must use covert operations to sabotage Iran's nuclear programme (as John Sawers, the head of MI6, demanded two years ago), are only two examples of the UK's disrespect for the UN charter. It is no wonder that many Iranians believe the UK must have been involved in the assassination of two prominent Iranian nuclear physicists in the past two years.

You can read the whole of Abbas Edalat’s great article on the west’s increasingly aggressive stance towards Iran, and what it is building up to, here.

Abbas is the founder of the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran.
Do try and lend your support to their campaign.

The Local Government Pension Strike

Just a few things to mention.

1. The LGPS is currently in surplus by around £5-6bn, i.e. it is fully funded for quite a few years to come. Yes, predictions of future returns on investments and increasing life expectancy suggest that in decades to come, there might be a shortfall of several billion for the taxpayer to find. But these are predictions, not certainties and surely the overall savings to the taxpayer of having people on occupational pensions rather than claiming benefits in their old age more than make up for this.

2. When people sign up for a pension scheme they are doing the country a favour by providing stable finances to companies and government and expect the government to honour agreements in the long term. Already the government has put people off the LGPS by not keeping their promises. Those who decided not to join have been proved right - paying into a scheme where the terms can be changed on a whim of government policy is no advert for joining. People are gambling not only that they are going to live to 67,68 and beyond but that they are going to be in any sort of health to enjoy this money when they get there. Personally I think anyone on less than £21,000 a year (which is the average wage) is not getting that good a deal (paying £100 a month for 40 years for just £13k p.a. on retirement), when their life expectancy is only around 71-73. They need to live this long just to get their money back (and the government are going to make the scheme worse. Remember life expectancy is lower for people in lower wage jobs. They are generally subsidising those on top salaries who not only get a better return, but live longer as well. Those on £40k plus are rightly kicking the door down to get on and stay on this scheme.

3. Saying public sector pensions are better than the private sector is hardly saying much. Putting your money under the mattress would have been better than most private pension schemes.

For these reasons and the fact that this is an attack on pay and conditions make the strike perfectly reasonable in my humble opinion.

Why private sector workers should support the strike

This piece of mine appears in The Week/The First Post.

Neil Clark: Pension cuts are all a ploy to reduce costs so that more public services can be privatised

WHOSE side are you on in Britain's biggest industrial dispute since the 1920s?

The public sector trade unions, who are leading Wednesday's national strike of up to 2.6m workers, say they are fighting to maintain the living standards of their members, who are being hit with wage freezes, cuts to their pensions and a higher cost of living.

Prime Minister David Cameron says that far from being hard done by, many public sector workers will still receive pensions "far, far better" than ones in the private sector.

You can read the whole of the article here.

Craig Murray on Fox, Werrity and Gould and the questions which must be answered

Top class investigative blogging from Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan.

Take a look at this.  Then this.  And then this.

It’s good that, after all Craig's digging, the MSM are now asking questions about the Fox/Werrity/Gould meetings.

The neocon elite doesn’t want ordinary people to find out what they’re up to behind the scenes- so bravo to Craig for his persistence.

HAT TIP: John Edwards.

The Trial of George W. Bush and Tony Blair for Crimes Against the Peace

Happening now in Malaysia. Let’s hope one day in the US and Britain too.

UPDATE: Bush and Blair have been found guilty.

The charge is proven beyond reasonable doubt. The accused are found guilty. The Tribunal orders that the names of the 2 convicted criminals be included in the war register of the KL War Crimes Commission. And the findings of this Tribunal be publicised to all nations who are signatories of the Rome Statue.

Kauto's star lights up Haydock

There’s been some emotional days in National Hunt racing over the past few years.

Best Mate’s third Gold Cup win. Denman’s heroic victory in the 2009 Hennessy, which I wrote about here.
But yesterday’s wonderful performance by veteran chaser Kauto Star, to land the Betfair Chase for the fourth time was right up there. What a sensational, front-running performance. National Hunt racing doesn’t get any better than this.

Syria needs mediation, not a push into all-out civil war

Syria is on the verge of civil war and the Arab League foolishly appears to have decided to egg it on. Where common sense dictates that Arab governments should seek to mediate between the regime and its opponents, they have chosen instead to humiliate Syria's rulers…

You can read the whole of Jonathan Steele's excellent piece on the situation in Syria, and why the US and its allies are making the situation worse, here.

Meanwhile, Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague is to meet with Syrian rebels in London. What a surprise. More on this here.

If you lived in Iran, wouldn't you want a nuclear bomb?

Imagine, for a moment, that you are an Iranian mullah. Sitting crosslegged on your Persian rug in Tehran, sipping a cup of chai, you glance up at the map of the Middle East on the wall. It is a disturbing image: your country, the Islamic Republic of Iran, is surrounded on all sides by virulent enemies and regional rivals, both nuclear and non-nuclear.

The map makes it clear: Iran is, literally, encircled by the United States and its allies.

If that wasn't worrying enough, your country seems to be under (covert) attack…

Wouldn't it be rational for Iran – geographically encircled, politically isolated, feeling threatened – to want its own arsenal of nukes, for defensive and deterrent purposes?

You can read the whole of Mehdi Hasan’s brilliant Guardian article on the threat posed to Iran, here.

The vulture hedge funds poised to swoop on Africa's poorest countries

The Guardian reports:

Twenty-six hedge funds are demanding over £1bn debt repayments from Africa's poorest countries - more than twice the International Red Cross budget for Africa this year. They are using legal loopholes around the world, including the Channel Island of Jersey.

And who exactly are these vultures? Check this out. And this. But as Greg Palast says, we should not forget the economic ‘restructuring' that made all this possible:

I think the focus on Grossman and his fellow carrion chewers is distracting. The destruction of Bosnia's power-pylon industry was the direct consequence of privatising it, bringing the free market to socialist Yugoslavia and Brankovic to power over its debts, allowing him to buy and sell debt securities on the deregulated world financial market.

It was the privatisation of Congo's state cobalt mine and the looting of its riches, all at the behest of the World Bank, IMF and privateers, that drained Congo's treasury.


Seven alternatives to the EU (in case it all gets too much)

This article of mine appears in The Week/The First Post.

Neil Clark: As German leaders issue heavy-handed threats, here's a timely survey of Britain’s options

A SENIOR German politician has inflamed the great Europe debate by saying, in effect, that all European countries are expected to fall into line behind Germany, Britain included – even over the controversial Robin Hood tax on financial transactions...........

So, it's a good time to ask - would it really be the disaster Nick Clegg and this fellow europhiles prophecy if Britain did the unthinkable and left the EU?

You can read the whole article here.

Some good news from Rome: Hungarian superstar Overdose wins his 16th race

video: 06 frankel


Well, what about the events in Rome this weekend? No, I’m not talking about yet another undemocratic EU/‘markets’ coup d’etat, (anyone out there still thinks that the EU is about increasing democracy?),  but the great comeback victory of the Budapest Bullet, Overdose, who chalked up his 16th victory from 19 starts in the Group Three Premio Carlo & Francesco Aloisi.

Ridden for the first time by Frankie Dettori, it was the Hungarian hero’s first run since finishing a close-up fourth in the Group One King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot. Enjoy a great performance on what was a wonderful day for Hungarian sport.

Inequality: Survival of the Richest

The Occupy movement have already managed one thing - to shift the terms of debate back towards how unequal our society has become.

When 200 billionaires have more wealth than the poorest 2 billion people in this world, when 100 families own a third of British land, when we cannot pay a minimum wage that is even a thousandth of a director's bonus, it is time something was done.

The right have a number of arguments they wheel out as to why nothing can be done about inequality. One of the most commonly used is that the rich can just move abroad they cry - then tax their land assets we say. That is a tax that cannot be avoided. I admit it has got to a state where only the poor and middle classes pay income tax, only the medium and small firms have to pay corporation tax and inheritance tax is almost a voluntary tax. It is time all of these were scrapped in favour of Land Value taxes.

Then there is the argument that more equality will lead to less innovation and aspiration and less wealth creation. The Soviet Union is cited as where it will all lead. But the Soviet Union was undemocratic socialism. Real democracy leads to more equality and I would argue, more efficient capitalism. We are heading towards a system where the next government would have less than 20% support in most cities, less than 10% in the North and Celtic fringe (see Canada where 39% of the vote gave the Tories a landslide).

Our winner takes all voting system will give 100% power to a party with just 35% of the vote (even worse when you consider most adults don't vote anyway). Appalling levels of support like this lead to a government that can get away with catering just for the most powerful 5% - those who own the wealth and crucially own the media support the politicians crave.

Proportional systems are not a panacea but could double the support a party needs to win to get into power as turnout improves and at least 50% of the vote is required to govern. The occupy movement have taken this a step further with 'consensus' of all people required for decisions to be made. Peter Hitchens suggested (maybe tongue in cheek) that some people get 2 votes if they have certain respected jobs like doctors, nurses - a situation bound to harm the poorest. I would suggest (equally tongue in cheek) that maybe only the unemployed and lazy have the vote. That would at least make it more difficult for the powerful and wealthy to overlook them.

Of course some entrepreneurs/inventors etc can be argued to be worth almost any sum of financial reward, but most at the top are there for other reasons - luck of birth or even for activities that are detrimental to the economy and society. If we are to make society valuable to all, the wealthy have to come to realise that paying their taxes is noble and moral and that there has to be some common sense in the distribution of wealth and incomes. Nobody should work long hours and not be able to share in a decent amount of financial reward. Nothing would get people to work more than a citizens income and a guarantee that work will always pay well. This will require paycuts at the top.

The Victorians eventually came to realise that it was in everyone's interest to have mass sanitation. It cost them a lot but it was the only way to save their own children from the diseases of poverty that afflicted the masses. In the same way, educational standards and social wellbeing for all will only come when the rich are willing to see inequality decrease. It may even have stopped the economic crisis we find ourselves in now. The rich lent more and more to the poor to rachet up growth. But the poor are too poor to pay them back, now we all lose.

neil danton

welcome to my dear friends from all parts of the world

A Very British Coup.

Up to 10 million people are about to be disenfranchised in this country. Not my view. but the view of the Electoral Commission. In any developing country this would surely be viewed as a scandal and given ample time in the Western media, yet somehow most people haven't a clue what is being done in their name and most seem to be unconcerned even if they do have an inkling.

Despite their hostility to politics in general, people seem to generally trust that one person one vote is enough for things to be fair, but under our system each vote only really affects the result in a minority of constituencies, and where you draw the boundaries determines who wins and whose votes count or not. This boundary task is left to the unelected boundary commissions - quangos with the power to allocate power. Where you draw the boundaries can have a bigger impact on the result than even large swings in voteshare for the parties.

The government are implementing boundary enlargement to increase the number of electors per constituency, thereby making MPs even more distant and unaccountable.

On top of this they are restricting variation in the size of 596 of the 600 seats to just 5% either way. This is leading to seats that are even more arbitrary and confusing, as county boundaries and geographical considerations are overlooked. As Lewis Baston puts it; "The impartial boundary commissions are carrying out very partial legislation".

The Tories are desperate for these boundary changes to correct what they see as a gross unfairness in the system - the fact that they can't win a majority of seats with just 36% of the vote (like Labour managed in 2005). Of course the real unfairness is that ANY party be allowed to win a majority of seats with such a small voteshare - but it would require proportional representation to cure that and hell will freeze over before the British people get that for Westminster elections.

But what really scares me, above all this, is the proposal to remove the legal requirement to register to vote. Mostly it is the young urban poor that fail to vote that will fall off the register. If they don't vote, why does this matter? Because boundary size is determined by those who register, not those who live there. Already urban areas have larger adult populations, this will exarcerbate the problem. The Tories are annoyed that Labour can win seats in urban areas despite low turnouts of voters there. This change coupled with the enlargement of such seats to include more rural Tory voters will add seats to the Tories without winning any extra votes. The Lib Dems would be mad to support this change that will go to parliament in 2013. But before the 5th December you can register your disapproval, if you can be bothered, that is.

New Constituencies Make A Mockery Of Democracy.

So now we know what has been happening behind the closed doors of the boundary commissions. We know a little earlier than we should of thanks to this leak (hat-tip brighton politics blogger). The 4 constituencies we had in Brighton Pavilion, Brighton Kemptown, Hove and Lewes have become 3 - Brighton Pavilion & Hove, Brighton & Hove North, and Lewes & East Brighton.

What these changes do is create 1 very safe Green seat and 2 safish Tory seats. It also demonstrates the arbitrariness of the boundary system. There are no community links between some of these wards. For instance the Brighton and Hove North constituency doesn’t even live up to its name. It includes coastal wards like Westbourne, Wish and… South Portslade!!

If we are to have a horizontal – north/south divide of Brighton and Hove, it makes much more sense to swap these B&H Nth wards for BP&H wards Goldsmid and Preston Park which lie to the north of the coastal wards. This would leave both constituencies relatively unchanged in terms of electors (plus 523 in B+H Nth 80118 and minus 523 in BP&H - 75468). Still well within the remit of having between 72,810 and 80,473 electors that the rules allow.

It would also have been possible to have kept the east/west split and therefore kept the constituencies similar to the present situation if they had wanted. A cynic might suggest these boundaries have more to do with containing the Greens within 1 constituency and therefore just 1 MP. Making the changes I suggest would turn both B+H Nth and BP&H into marginal Green/Tory seats, surely a much better outcome for democracy and common sense. It will be interesting to see if any of these suggestions are seriously considered during the consultation process which now follows for 12 weeks ending 5 December.

Generally, these boundary changes are a big political con, a gerrymander to help elect more Tory MPs. The boundary commissions may try to be impartial in theory, but they work within a clear remit that is very partial indeed as Lewis Baston puts it:-
"Part of the Conservatives aim is to tilt the balance in marginal seats based on free-standing towns by adding a few thousand rural electors.
They don't even deliver the equal constituencies they champion. Before we had constituencies varying from 55,000 to 110,000. But this was skewed by a few anomalies - western isles and Isle of Wight, most were actually within the 65,000-80,000 bracket. The new boundaries do nothing about the current extreme anomalies and boundaries will still vary from 55,000 to 81,000. But as Lewis states about the new rules:-
"An under-appreciated aspect of the legislation is the further boundary reviews every parliament. These will not be minor tweaks, as the likelihood is there will be huge disruption each time. The numbers on the electoral register, particularly in urban areas, are not a stable quantity and they are likely to fluctuate more wildly when Individual Electoral Registration is introduced from 2014. This will cause unstable parliamentary boundaries. Even fairly small changes in numbers registered can have big ripple effects...This instability, as well as some highly artificial constituencies will undermine the electoral system....If the constituency is little more than an arbitrary splodge on the map, with a lifespan of about five years, what becomes of the 'constituency link' argument for First-Past-The-Post?"

Riots Are Determined By 'Direction Of Travel', Not Current Level Of Status.

Why do we have widespread rioting/looting e.g 1981, 2011, whenever Tory governments come into power on a cuts agenda? As any criminologist/ social anthropologist/ or even casual observer will tell you - it is not the level of poverty on it's own that makes the looter, but the looter's 'perception' or the general perception of society as to what the potential looter's future holds coupled with their low status in a highly unequal society.

As any rightwinger will tell you, there are plenty of examples of people much more socially deprived than some of the rioters and looters that were about last week across English cities. No, what matters is how these people foresee their future - do they see it getting worse, or better? The current recession coupled with the miserabilist ideology of the current government has combined to set this perception well into the negative. Add the spark of anger and mistrust at establishment and the police with a perceived injustice of police murder and there you have it, the conditions for widespread rioting are created.

So what of the moral debate that the right has set raging in the country? Aren't these looters just morally bankrupt? Well, for a start politicians like David Cameron have one hell of a cheek asking that question when they are happily taking £20k a year off the taxpayer to pay a mortgage they don't need. Are these looters really any worse than the bankers who take millions in bonuses while simultaneously wrecking the balance sheets of both bank and country? Two wrongs don't make a right. Looters are rightly being arrested and prosecuted, it is a shame the same hasn't happened to the elite who created the conditions for riots in the first place. Until we tackle widespread greed at the top that widens inequality, we will continue creating miscreants at the bottom of society as well. Shop windows full of goods that they can't afford are bound to be smashed by people with no hope of ever attaining what the media tells them they must have. Are they really solely to blame for this?

Meltdown In Politics, Banking And Now Media. But What Progress?

My hopes just keep getting raised; a referendum on changing the electoral system (ok, to a system not much better) but.., result - lost; MPs caught with their hands in the till, result - no real change, bankers - ditto.

So I haven't raised my hopes during Murdochgate. Yes we have some judicial inquiries, yes some resignations (with handsome payoffs no doubt), yes the BskyB bid is defeated (for now), but will any of this really convict the establishment figures up to their neck in it?

My reasons for starting this blog 6 years ago were to highlight how centralised and monopolised our politics, media and finance had become. This breeds a lack of competition. The main solutions seemed simple enough to me - proportional elections, regulated ownership and impartiality rules for the media, and regulating speculation, debt and inequality. All these things could be achieved if only powerful rich vested interests could be defeated. There has been no time better than the present, yet somehow the people have been sidetracked, bamboozled and it remains 'business as usual' for the powered rich elite that form the establishment. I really don't know how they do it.

On MPs expenses, what highlighted just how little had changed was Tories like David Cameron berating large families on benefit for claiming £20k in benefits just so they can pay their exorbitant rents (not their fault). While at the same time Cameron claims £20k from the taxpayer for interest on a mortgage he doesn't even need. While this guy on a taxpayer funded salary in excess of £150k and worth an estimated £30m can get away with this there is little hope (MPs still get 3 times average salary and £100k expenses on top). What real chance has a family on benefit got to change their circumstances when it is obvious to anyone that there are no jobs going to pay them the amount they need to live. Is that their fault? Isn't the solution to make sure work pays, rather than throw them on the street? Of course you would never read any of this in the press. Even if Murdoch is destroyed, would it be better if the Daily Mail or Richard Desmond have even more power? And of course bankers are still getting millions in bonuses.

I was trying to reason that surely Murdoch can't be all bad, but looking at Fox news in the US and hearing Murdoch wailing at the injustice of it all just emphasises we should have no sympathy for this guy (face-pie or no face-pie - I just wish that idiot hadn't done that).

How Will Murdoch Get Out Of This One?

I cannot possibly write down all the thoughts I have on this hacking crisis. Nowadays you have to be very careful. Just to say that if you add up all the people who have been in jail in the UK, add in their families and then add all those who deserve to be in jail but got away with it, it probably comes to around 4 million people. Around 4 million people bought the News Of The World on Sunday. Just a thought. In my humble opinion, buying the NOTW (or for that matter any tabloid involved in hacking) after this scandal is like spitting on the graves of murder victims, war dead etc. Provocative I know, but sometimes it needs to be said.

There is a very simple test as to whether Murdoch is going to get away with this hacking scandal - whether or not the BskyB bid goes through. Ed Miliband has forced this issue into a parliamentary debate - he has kept 'punching the bruise' as one Guardian journalist put it and Cameron and the Tories have consequently without Lib Dem support looked very weak and had to back down in their support for Murdoch.

Miliband has been very brave and I hope he reaps the rewards. He will definitely at some point get a payback from the Murdoch press, they will bide their time. The revelation in the Guardian that Miliband received threats from NI sources about this was a turning point for me. Miliband showed he now is willing to take the risk and that is good news for all of us. Without Miliband's intervention (and the Guardian's persistence), Murdoch would have triumphed. Whatever his other lily livered failings, on this Miliband has shown real courage.

I think Murdoch still hopes he can get BskyB in 6 months time, his willingness to go to the competition commission shows he is willing to lose some of his print media to get it. He also knows any diversion from the real issue of 'fit and proper' ownership is welcome. So to answer my question in the title. If public opinion fades on this, like it did with the expenses scandal, if Miliband and Labour lose their nerve, if the Lib Dems are offered policy/media sweeties by Tories/Murdoch to allow it through, don't write off Murdoch yet. He has a knack of getting his way.

Labour's Credibility Problem

Labour are being labelled 'deficit deniers' because they are not fully backing the demolition of public services being performed by the coalition government. The government backed by the media are claiming that only reductions in spending will reduce the deficit. The public generally agree with this analysis. It sounds sensible. Surely if you are in debt, you have overspent? And surely, the best way to redress this is to cut spending?

This is the 'person' analaogy and quite understandably it works for a lot of people, but let me explain why this is rubbish when applied to government spending.

The TUC has estimated that for every pound spent on employees employed in the public sector the government immediately gets back 84% in extra taxes and lower benefit payments. The extra economic activity of public employees also generates extra boost to the economy which helps the private sector. The key is, if this is larger than the 16% shortfall in immediate expenditure, the deficit will be reduced despite the extra government expenditure. For example a company supported by government agencies or grants might boost exports or increase the size of a domestic market, generating more GDP and more tax revenue. Or a company who supplies to local or national government contracts might win an export order through the extra expertise it has gained from the government contract. So we can immediately see how cutting public expenditure can be counter productive in reducing the deficit.

This is all classic Keynsian economics and has a proven track record of reducing government debt. This government is however trying a different approach, the austerity approach tried after the 1929 crash which led to the great depression and eventually to world war. Why are the government trying this? Despite all the attention given to the deficit, their main reason is clearly ideological. They want to reduce the size of the state. Is this a good thing on its own? Won't this reduce taxes for the median earner? Well it could do if the government was interested in reducing inequality, but the omens are not good. The last Tory-led government trebled inequality and poverty in the recession hit 1980s. They also signally failed to reduce the deficit despite the massive oil revenues coming on stream and privatisation of large swaths of government assets generating billions. Which leads me to the government approach today.

I personally feel that this present government, both Tory and Lib Dem are very aware that their austerity drive will not reduce the deficit. The theory they cite in defence is called 'crowding out'. They claim that the private sector will fill the gap in jobs and GDP and expand into the void where the public sector once was. They are less vague on what will happen to inequality but sort of hint at a neoliberal 'trickle down' solution of wealth descending down the wealth hierachy and helping all. This failed in the 80s as already noted inequality exploded under Thatcher. And as government jobs tend to be more equal in terms of pay and conditions and treat gender and race more equally we can expect inequality once again to start to explode.

So my point is, it is extremely likely that the austerity drive will not reduce the deficit, indeed it might make it worse. The government are not pinning their hopes of deficit reduction on reducing the state (like I have said, that is a ideological cause). No, they are pinning their hopes on a weaker pound helping exports - this will undoubtedly help reduce the deficit, but would have happened whatever happened to government spending. The other way they are going to reduce the deficit, is once again selling off public assets. The housing minister Grant Shapps has recently announced the sell off of £10 billion of land to housing developers. The sell off of forests was thwarted by public opinion. The government are also looking to sell off NHS services, but this is likely to be watered down after the recent uproar. All of these will help reduce the deficit. My best guess is that the deficit will be fractionally lower come 2015, but nowhere near the government targets as these rely on strong economic growth which all the indicators are showing is disappearing as fast as the public sector.

So not only are the public misguided in believing that cutting public spending will correspondingly reduce the deficit. They are also wrong to believe that Labour are responsible for the deficit in the first place. For that to be true, Labour would have had to have caused the global banking crisis. Even for hard right commentators this is one hell of a claim, yet somehow they have persuaded people of this.

In actual fact the deficit had been reduced by Labour in its first 11 years, only when the banking crisis hit in 2008, did it start to rise. And still our deficit is lower than most other developed countries. So none of the claims of the right stack up, yet if you repeat them often enough the people can believe them. It is quite a complicated argument to rebuff their claims and the left have little access to the media to get this message across.

My advice to Labour and Ed Miliband is to keep on banging on about how a lack of growth is ruining deficit reduction. Those on the right of the party hanker for a short term media pleasing hardline on cutting spending. Like I have explained this is the wrong strategy. Sometimes you have to face ridicule and ostracisation, but when eventually proved right, your resolve is rewarded. Labour also have the problem that without spelling out exactly how their milder spending cuts plan is going to work and what exactly is going to be cut, they are open to the 'opportunism' accusation.

Labour should make the case for 'progressive' cuts. They should be supporting Ken Clarke in reducing legal aid, prison sentences and number of prisons. They should be supporting Theresa May in reducing police budgets and numbers. They should support any reduction in defence spending especially nuclear. These are difficult policies for Tories to hold to in the face of tabloid hostility. They are essentially left of centre policies and if Labour is supposed to be left of centre they should be supporting them. There is also scope here for tens of billions of savings that will relieve any cuts in other areas. It is a win-win for Labour, except in terms of the criticism it would recieve from the right-wing press. But the right thing to do is not always the easiest. Ed should remember that.

10 Ways To Make First-Past-The-Post Better

Now that people have rejected AV, changing from first-past-the-post for electing our MPs seems further away than ever. The AV campaign may have been pathetic but the truth is people rejected AV in favour of first-past-the-post even in places where preferential voting takes place e.g. Scotland.

Labour party members are split down the middle on any reform and the parliamentary Labour party are even more hostile to PR than they were to AV (more than half opposed AV). Maybe it is time we reformers looked at making the most of the crap system we have got - first-past-the-post. Here are my suggestions for progressive Labour and Lib Dems to consider.

1. Smaller constituencies. This would make MPs more accountable and closer to their electorates. In 1945 most MPs had around 50,000 constituents, currently the average is 71,000, but this government wants to make that 76,000. This is a move in an undemocratic direction in my book. Smaller constituencies will give independents and smaller parties more of a chance to campaign as well, and generally delivers more proportional results. Moving to 50,000 constituents per MP will result in around 900 MPs in parliament which will strengthen backbenchers at the expense of the executive and also give more competition for government posts.

2. Fewer boundary reviews. People move around and this is a nightmare for systems that rely on boundaries, constituent sizes need to be as equal as possible but equally voters need to be able to vote our their MP - constantly moving them between constituencies makes MPs unaccountable. This government is proposing major reviews every 5 years, instead of the current 15 years. This will make a mockery of accountability and be confusing for voters. Smaller constituencies will make it easier to respect geographical and administrative boundaries, reduce the opportunities for bias and gerrymandering and reduce confusion for electorates as they will remain within local authority borders. Reviews should stay at 15 years, making constituencies smaller will lessen the need for changing boundaries anyway. One of the most costly aspects of our present system are boundary reviews.

3. 10% flexibility in size of constituency, instead of just 5% variation as proposed for the next general election by this government. This flexibility makes considering county and local boundaries and geographical consideratons much easier. For example the variation on an average of 50,000 would be from 45,000 to 55,000 constituents. This would allow, for example, a solution to the 'Isle of Wight problem' where we currently have a vastly oversized constituency, it could now be split in two. Also very rural areas would be accomodated by this change, thereby avoiding large geographical areas. The 5% proposal is for variation just 3,000 either side of 76,000. It will be impossible to stick to county, geographical and local authority boundaries with such a restriction.

4. Make the 'constituency link' really count. Stipulate that any candidate must have been born or schooled in the constituency they represent (or in a neighbouring constituency adjacent to it), or have lived there (or a neighbouring constituency) for at least 2 years PRIOR to applying to be a candidate. This will prevent candidates 'constituency shopping' for safe seats. At the moment many MPs represent constituencies they had never set foot in before they applied to be a candidate there. This would mean less MPs from the south east of England elected in northern seats. Also hopefully a less 'Londonocentric' campaign.

5. Replace deposits with large constituency petitions. A candidate would have to garner 2500 signatures or 5% of the electorate to stand. This is a better and more democratic way of limiting the number of candidates than using a 5% vote threshold and lost deposits (where a vote is less than 5% of total). What is now in effect is basically a big tax on small parties and independents, especially as our electoral system puts such a big tactical squeeze on any party without a chance of winning. This would have the benefit of making all the parties have to contact large numbers of voters in every seat. It shouldn't be money that determines whether someone can stand, but their support in the constituency (even if for tactical reasons they ultimately choose to vote for someone else at the actual election).

6. Parties must have at least 1000 party members (2% of electorate) in the constituency to be able to field a candidate. Parties would have to widen their appeal (especially as they also need 2500 constituents to sign their petition (see point 5 above)) and larger memberships would introduce more inter-party competition for candidature especially in safe seats where one party has a monopoly on the local MP. There would be panic amongst parties at first, as large numbers of constituency parties would not have enough members to be able to field a candidate. I would imagine that membership would become free in such places. If no party could meet this membership rule then the top two candidates nearest to achieving 2500 signatures and 1000 members in the constituency are allowed to stand. If only one party or candidate can meet the criteria, their candidate is automatically elected without the need for an election. Ultimately it is unlikely that more than 5 candidates could make the ballot with all these restrictions, and even the major parties might not be able to field candidates. There would be more 2 candidate elections, Tories would struggle to stand in the urban north and Labour in the rural south. This would mean less split votes, and more honest elections especially when first-past-the-post is only really works for 2 candidate elections. Candidates would have to get the written support of 2500 potential voters and membership support of over 1000. This would mean a frenzy of door knocking and campaign literature in EVERY constituency and right throughout the parliamentary term. Candidates would be allowed to garner support for up to 2 years before an election - they would probably need this time. For once voters would have to be canvassed and listened to.

7. Allow a tick box on the ballot, so a voter can donate £5 of tax money to said local party if they so wish. A voter could donate to a different party than they vote for or to no party at all if they leave the box unticked.

8. Top 400 second placed candidates elected to second chamber. This would mean a reduction in overall parliament numbers of over 200. Currently there are over 900 Lords and 650 MPs, a total of 1550. Under my proposals there would be 900 MPs and 400 in the Lords, a total of 1300. (Maybe MPs could swap to the bigger Lords chamber and vice versa). Those who lose out by just a few votes on becoming a MP will now be elected to the revising second chamber. The 400 best second places (runners-up with the highest percentage of votes in each constituency around the country) will be elected. This avoids any legitimacy issues (as second placed candidates are obviously less legitimate). And also avoids extra elections that the public might tire of. It would also ensure a more regional outlook of the Lords.

9. Smaller wards for local government. Just like for Westminster, local councils could do with smaller wards. Currently 2 or 3 councillors are elected in each ward in the UK, why not make it 1 councillor per ward and have the wards much smaller. This would make them closer to their electors and make the ward identity easier to adhere to local areas. It would also be good if candidates were made to live in either the ward or a neighbouring ward.

10. Fixed 4 year terms instead of 5. I am dubious as to what difference fixing terms makes anyway (as it seems a government will always find a way to dissolve parliament if they have to) but 4 years is definitely more democratic than 5. Gives people their say more often. (There is an argument for annual elections with a quarter of seats up for election every year of a 4 year cycle around the regions, but I won't make this argument this time about avoiding too much London-centric campaigns).

The Great Boundary Jigsaw Puzzle

Psephologist Lewis Baston has helped produce a report on what the new boundaries might look like. The report suggests that the Tories are not going to gain many seats and that the Libs are going to lose loads. Possible, but we must remember that the Tories and Lib Dems are in government making these changes and there are 2 years of wrangling ahead of where these boundaries will be drawn, so I won't be surprised if somehow the boundaries are drawn to be kind to both governing parties otherwise why would they vote it through - just you wait and see.

The four nations boundary commissions will work within the rules set and try to minimise change but as I have argued before, we are talking about completely abolishing 50 seats and moving to a less than 5% margin around an average figure to be newly set at 76,000 constituents (the margin at present works out by chance around 10% against a lower average of around 71,000). To make this new 5% margin possible, local geographical and administrative boundaries will have to be over-ridden and boundary reviews to be every 5 years instead of 10 to 15 as at present. The consequence of this will be an inevitable reduction in accountability and even a small change of adding 5-10,000 in one constituency will have massive knock on effects right across the country - most constituencies border on at least 4 or 5 others and all could be radically altered.

Just imagine MPs might have to deal with up to 6 different local authorities in their area, and the constituents they help are very likely to be under a new MP's constituency come the next election. Not exactly a very good incentive for MPs to help constituents. It makes a mockery of the so called constituency link if a voter is unable to 'throw the bugger out' because they are now in another constituency altogether. And that's even before we get on to the subject of 75% of seats being safea anyway.

This boundary review is the most far reaching constitutional change for a hundred years. Far more MPs will have their tenure ended by this boundary review than has happened in any election. If we ever needed a lesson in how our system is only a semi-democracy, then the fact that boundary reviews make more difference than voters is a salient lesson in first-past-the-post's democraticability (to invent a word). The power resides with the power brokers not the voters and this is exactly how they want to keep it. The people win concessions from the ruling class inch by grudging inch and have to fight tooth and nail to hold onto anything they have gained. Only when it becomes too much trouble for those at the top, do they throw us a crumb. This is what they call democracy, I demur.

Incredibly, Most People Still Think FPTP Is Fair.

Speaking to people who voted no in the referendum, I was amazed to hear how many people say they voted against AV because they wanted to stick with a 'fair' system.

This just demonstrates to me how ineffective the yes campaign was. I could accept that people thought AV just wasn't good enough, or just too complex or whatever else the no campaign told them, but to actually argue that FPTP is a fair system! That is just absurd. FPTP is only one step away from having no elections at all, it is completely unfair. We reformers have a lot of work to do to explain this, but we have to keep plugging away with the facts.

At the last general election campaign, the Lib Dems were top of the polls at one stage. People at the time were shocked to hear that the party in third place (Labour) would get twice the number of seats as the Lib Dems who topped the poll. How absurd is that? How fair is that? It is amazing how quickly people forgot this fact. Everybody should have had this fact rammed down their throat at this referendum by the yes campaign. But somehow people were persuaded that FPTP is fair. That it most definitely isn't!

For example, here are some results from the 2010 general election.

Basically, in Scotland, Wales and Northern England, Labour got 39% of the vote yet over 66% of the seats. In the South excluding London, the Tories got 47% of the vote yet over 82% of the seats. That leaves the Midlands and London where the Tories just topped the poll with 38% of the vote to get 52% of the seats. Northern Ireland is only about 3% of seats in total, so effectively irrelevant.

A 3.9% increase in the Tory vote to 36% garnered them nearly 30% more seats in parliament, a 1% increase in the Lib Dem vote lost them nearly 10% of their seats. Does any of that sound fair?

But when we look even closer it gets even worse. From these charts you can see how results are distorted from region to region, exagerating the difference between the parties, not only smaller parties suffer from FPTP but millions of Labour voters in the South and Tory voters in the North. (South = south west, south east, eastern) (North = north west, north east and yorks+humber).

But even this doesn't show us the real distortion of FPTP. In the South the Tories might get 47% overall, but this hides the variation between their urban and rural vote. They typically get near 80% of the rural vote, but just 20% of the urban vote and about 40% in surburbia. In the North you can halve these figures, so 10% urban, 20% surburban and 40% rural.

The Labour party are facing near death right across the South only averaging 17% of the vote, and getting just 5% of seats. In the European elections, the Labour vote dropped as low as 8% across the South. In rural areas of the South the Labour vote can be less than 3%.

But of course all these figures are affected by tactical voting.

The Tories have big hopes for their boundary changes and this is what makes me think they will want to get to 2013 before wanting to leave the coalition. It makes sense for the Lib Dems to keep this coalition going till 2015 to give people a sense that they were part of this government from start to finish.

The Tories hope they can manipulate the larger boundaries to include more of their rural vote in urban areas to create more marginals. They really couldn't hope to win more seats in the South on this evidence, but in the North, maybe there are possibilities for gerrymandering some more seats. Who knows. Whatever you want to call this process, it ain't fair and it ain't democracy in my humble opinion. The challenge is to get this across to the mass of voters out there.

Boundary Changes Are Like A Rubik's Cube

Brighton Politics Blogger is having a debate about what will happen to Brighton and Hove's parliamentary boundaries in 2013.

It is really impossible to know because the changes nationally will have knock on effects on every boundary. By my calculations, at least one in six voters will have a change of MP by an administrators pen. Rather more change than any general election has ever managed.

Despite the no doubt best efforts of the boundary commission to minimise change, every small boundary shift has an even bigger knock on effect on the next constituency and so on, so Brighton and Hove could be radically redrawn despite Brighton Pavilion being within the margins of 73,000 to 80,000 electors that the new rules permit and Hove being only a few hundred outside, well they would be that close before the new individual voter registration starts which will disenfranchise millions of transient voters in poor urban areas. If you move house often as students and other renters do then expect to find yourselves removed from the electoral register and unable to vote.

This government has proposed some quite radical changes to our constitution. Only one - the proposed change to AV have we been consulted on.

The change to AV and electing the Lords by PR would both be a move towards more democracy. Sadly neither are going to happen. It was never going to be easy to persuade people that changing from the worst electoral system to the second worst was a worthwhile change. An inept Yes campaign made a NO vote a certainty and the Tories and Labour lords are determined to stop a democratic upper house.

Individual voter registration, fixing parliament terms at 5 years rather than 4, enlarging boundaries, scrapping administrative and geographic considerations and more frequent reviews are all anti-democratic moves. All of these are now likely to happen.

Shame we didn't get a referendum on any of these changes.

An Analysis Of Local Elections Brighton & Hove 2011

The safest Green wards are St Peters & North Laine where they hoovered up an amazing 61% of the vote (a 39% majority over Labour on 22%) followed by the extraordinary performance of the Kitcats in Regency ward moving from 41% of the vote in a 2009 by-election to 56% of the vote now (33% lead over Labour on 23%). 690 votes elected Labour's Roy Pennington in 2007, it would be a poor third place now, the Kitcats managed over 1650 votes each!! Hanover and Elm Grove the Greens got 56% to Labour's 33% and Goldsmid is now also fairly safe for the Greens on 40% to Labour's 29%.

Adding up ward votes across the constituency the Greens managed to win Brighton Pavilion with 46% of the vote compared to Labour's 26% and Tory's 22%. Good omens for Caroline Lucas's re-election even with some boundary changes for 2015. Overall the Greens have 11 councillors in this constituency, the Tories 5, and Labour just one - Jeanne Lepper - what would ex Labour MP here, David Lepper, think of that?

In Brighton Kemptown the Greens also managed to top the poll there with 34% of the vote, compared to 29% for Labour and just 26% for the Tories. Could be a real nerve dangler in the Greens can convince people of this for 2015. Both Labour and Greens have 6 councillors each and the Tories have 5.

In Hove & Portslade the Tories topped the poll with 35%, closely followed by Labour on 33% and the Greens trailing in third with 22%. The Tories have 8 councillors here, both Greens and Labour have 6 each.

The few safe wards for Labour were again East Brighton where they polled 49% of the vote beating the Greens and Tories neck on neck on 22%. Moulsecoomb & Bevendean has again reasserted itself as a solid Labour seat with 46% Labour to the Tories 26% and Greens 25%. Labour also reasserted itself in Portslade with 53% in the North ward and 50% in the South ward. A majority of 22% and 18% respectively.

The dwindling number of safe wards for the Tories are super safe Hove Park with 67% of the vote to Labour's 16% and Woodingdean with 55% and Rottingdean Coastal with 53%.

Once safe Tory Patcham is now a battlefield between Tory and Green 46% to 29%. Withdean is now a split marginal 38% Tory to 36% Green. Only an even split of the votes saved the Tories in Westbourne as they won all seats with just 39% of the vote. The Greens are now on 25% there to Labour's 29%.

Other super marginal split wards are Hollingdean & Stanmer with Greens getting 40% of the vote to Labour's 37%. Central Hove 33% Tory to 32% Green. Wish which split 37% to both Tory and Labour and Hangleton and Knoll 44% Tory, 40% Labour.

Other seats where the Greens consolidated their lead were Queens Park 44% of the vote to Labour's 37% and Preston Park 46% to Labour's 37%.

Overall Labour gained 5 seats from the Tories and lost 5 seats to the Greens. The Greens gained 5 from Labour, 3 from the Tories and 2 from the Lib Dems (wiping them out by 38% to 23% in Brunswick & Adelaide). The Greens have never lost a seat in Brighton and Hove, ever!

Why I Want An Independent Scotland

The right-wing has a problem. After years of telling its supporters that Scotland does very well out of English taxpayers, it is not surprising that most Tory voters rather support the Scottish Nationalist cause. But of course this is not what the right-wing establishment wants at all. The truth is that whatever subsidy England does give to Scotland (if anything when you think of how much government is based in London) it gets much more back in power and prestige. No way do the Tories want a socialist republic on these Isles showing exactly what the English are missing out on.

Now don't get me wrong when the Scots vote on Independence as they now surely will, it will be incredibly hard for the SNP to win. For one thing, without a draft deal on how it is all going to happen, then the Scots could be voting on a blank cheque. Voting for independence with less than 10% of UK national debt taken on (as per capita it should be) is very different from say 20% of UK national debt.

I think the EU would embrace the Scots nation and the Euro would be the natural choice for its currency. Total fiscal autonomy and not having to pay towards the UK's sizeable defence bill, especially Trident will free Scotland - a big land area with a small population. Even without oil, Scotland can easily produce its entire electricity and power consumption. All from renewable sources.

But apart from thinking that Scotland will enjoy the fruits of freedom from London diktat, and plentiful raw materials, it will also be free to be a small democracy fo five million people. For me small is beautiful. Small European nations lead the way on democracy, whether it is excellent public services, large per capita GDP or green economies and high political participation. Scotland will be better off. In fact I would like to see independence for London, the North West, Midlands etc as well if at all possible. Democracy is better when small, for that reason, go for it Scotland, I wish you all the best.

Greens Should Organise A Boycott Of The Argus...

...unless the Argus stops its nasty rightwing campaign against them.

I concluded long ago that the Brighton Argus was a rightwing rag. If the Greens tolerate the sort of nasty rightwing headline they were given on Thursday, then there will be plenty more to come - the Argus is leading the Tory fightback with as nasty headlines as it can.

I doubt anyone thinks the headline 'Greens want more sites for travellers' was a helpful promotion of one of the Greens policies.

The truth is this was a small part of a raft of policies the Greens are putting forward. The only reason the Argus put it on their front page and across billposters across Brighton and Hove was to make people think this is the number one priority of the Greens when it is nothing of the sort. Of course most people who saw that are going to think it is the first act of the new Green administration. And whatever the merits of having more sites for travellers this is not going to go down well with a lot of voters and the Brighton Argus knows that.

The Greens need to counter this distortion as quickly as possible to limit any damage to their reputation. They need to do at least one of two things (and preferably both). 1. They need to argue why more official sites will ease the problem of travellers on unofficial sites. and 2. They need to make clear in no uncertain terms that if the Argus continues along this line (which is of course entirely up to the owners of the Argus) then the Greens will publicise exactly who owns and is pulling the strings of the Brighton Argus and why they might have a particular political bias. Also the Greens should tell people to boycott the paper because it is so distorted.

Now, a lot of people might think this an over-reaction, but if the Greens want to avoid the plight of Labour who were pilloried and bullied by the owners of the press into being completely pathetic on socialist principles, then they had better act and act quick.

Some Greens may think they can ignore the Argus as it only has less than 30,000 readers, but they must also remember that virtually everyone in Brighton and Hove reads their billposters. This is a powerful weapon as Ken Livingstone can attest to in London when 6 months of Evening Standard bilge helped remove him from being Mayor.