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Friday 12 December 2014

Try Cutting Out Waste, Rather Than Vital Services:

As we head towards the next British General Election in May 2015, it is becoming increasingly clear that the two big legacy parties, Labour and Conservatives, have decided to engage in an economic arms race with one another, in an attempt to try and persuade the great British electorate, just which of them is more fiscally responsible when it comes to the subject of the nation's money; and perhaps more importantly to the dreaded subject of the country's growing debts.
As I am always keen to point out in these various personal ramblings, I do not consider myself to be any sort of financial or economic expert, otherwise I might be a wealthy man, rather than being like many other British citizens, just struggling to get along financially. However, that having been pointed out once again, just because I'm not a wealthy financial genius, doesn't mean that I can't balance a budget, or even see the basic logic of cutting out unnecessary waste, when you're seriously threatened with drowning in debt.
It seems to me, as a moderately intelligent person living in the UK, that a major part of our economic problems, at least from a governmental point of view, is that our politicians, ministers, advisers and even some supposedly professional economists; and those others who are charged with looking after the nation's finances, often overlook one of the most obvious tenets of economics, that is that it's all about the numbers, the maths, or in other words, the basic sums. Like it or not, you have to make your books balance; and if you can't do that then you probably shouldn't be in charge of a budget, or better still maybe you should hand the job over to somebody who does know how to do it properly.
Of course in most instances, part of the problem with running a local council, a government, or indeed any other organisation that is entirely publicly funded, is that the money being used to run it hasn't actually been earned or freely given, but has been taken from the public's pocket through one of the various forms of tax; and therefore is not as highly valued or best employed, as might normally be the case had the recipients had to work for the monies in question. As a consequence of the public purse (through taxes) being generally regarded as a constantly available "cash cow", or "magic money tree", (please feel free to use your own epithet), then should any of us be really surprised that successive governments and various politicians have regularly squandered billions upon billions of pounds of taxpayer's money, in the certain knowledge that more is available should they, the public bodies, actually need it?
It is precisely because governments have unlimited access to this endless pot of unearned income (unearned from their particular perspective) that they seemingly continue to regard it as "unreal" money, with no real explanation as to what each government's specific spending intentions are, with little real accountability as to how or why the money has been spent; and with no real independent oversight as to whether the taxpayer has ever actually received any "value" for the billions of pounds that have been spent in their name. How often have we all heard the old refrain "Oh, it's only public money"? The fact that such an expression has become so commonly ingrained in the public's consciousness and is so widely accepted as normal, perhaps best sums up one of the reasons why our country's economic fortunes have become so abysmally stretched over the past few decades.
As is my own personal habit, when thinking in terms of our own country's national economic state, it often helps to see things through a much smaller prism, rather than trying to imagine the multitude of costs that are inevitably involved with a large national economy such as ours. I often try to draw a comparison with an individually indebted household when considering the seemingly overwhelming financial plight that is currently affecting our country, an exercise that often helps cast light on the sheer financial lunacy of our supposed leaders and betters.
As an example, just how sane would it seem for a single indebted household to borrow money from a bank, only for them to then use that same money to feed their neighbours, while they themselves went without the basics of life? How mad would it be for a single indebted household to borrow money from a bank, only to then use it for an annual subscription to an elitist club, even though they had no need for a membership of that particular club in the first place? What would be the reaction if a highly indebted household were to borrow money from a bank, only to then use it to purchase an overpriced and largely unnecessary family car, when they have a slightly weather-beaten, but perfectly adequate vehicle sitting on their driveway? How sympathetic would people be if a highly indebted household were to borrow money, only then to spend it on frivolous and completely unnecessary luxuries, which they couldn't afford, or didn't actually need?
But aren't all of these things exactly what successive governments do on a regular and much, much larger basis. At 0.7% of our country's national GDP, the Coalition government is currently borrowing between £11-12 billion every single year, simply to give it away in Foreign Aid, in an act of extravagance they'd like to impose on every future UK administration as well. Just how insane do you need to be, to borrow billions of pounds from the international money markets, only to then hand that same borrowed cash over to some of the most questionable regimes in the world, just so their leaders can then use it to finance military insurgencies, to purchase private jets, to build themselves private palaces, or even to hide it away in a Swiss bank account, in readiness for when they are finally forced from power? Just how many homes in the UK could that same £11,000,000,000 build? Just how many doctors, nurses, teachers, policemen, soldiers could that money employ every single year? Just think that one year's Foreign Aid budget could pay down almost the entire outstanding debt that the last Labour government incurred as a result of their ill-fated NHS computer system, which was cancelled having amassed a debt to the public purse of around £12,000,000,000. 
These figure of course don't include the hundreds of millions of pounds that are paid to the European Union each and every year by way of our membership fees for access to this overly bloated and ultimately failing customs union, which is estimated to cost British taxpayers around £10 billion, not including any associated regulatory costs, which are thought to add on many billions more to the cost of doing business in Europe. On top of these fees, there are also the hundreds of millions of pounds in welfare benefits that are regularly being paid to the stay-at-home dependents of those EU migrants who come to the UK for work; and who receive working tax credits, child tax credits, housing benefits, along with free healthcare and education, in exactly the same measure as their British born counterparts.
Now although nobody doubts that some migrants do make a positive overall contribution to the UK economy; and are not in reality the sorts of spongers and scroungers that some would have us believe, it has been estimated that only those migrants who earn in excess of £26,000 per year, around the level of the mythical average wage, actually make a positive net contribution to the financial costs of running of the country. In other words, most migrants probably don't add any substantial economic value to UK Plc; and in fact, all things taken into account, most probably represent an overall net cost to the economy, rather than any sort of net benefit. Based on that same £26,000 per year, the average person would pay around £3200 in Income Tax, which contributes towards meeting the costs of running the country, but takes absolutely no account of any additional benefits received by that individual, including child tax credits, healthcare, education, defence, governance, transport costs, any or all of which might essentially wipe out the relatively small contributions they have personally made through tax.
In the case of child tax credits alone, it has been estimated that around 50,000 children living abroad regularly receive payments via their parents who are working in the UK, with roughly 25,000 of these children residing in Poland alone, at a direct cost of millions of pounds to the British taxpayer. Just consider this one fact alone, a working migrant with three young children in their home country, who earns an average salary of £26,000 per year in the UK would pay £3200 in tax, but would receive around £5000 in child tax credits, turning them into a net beneficiary rather than a net contributor. 
On top of these highly expensive and fiscally crippling outgoings from the public purse, we also have the current coalition government committing itself and the country's highly stretched exchequer to financing a £50-80 billion pound train set in the form of the proposed HS2 line. Almost before a wooden railway sleeper or a length of rail has been laid, or an earmarked property purchased, tens of millions of pounds of public money have been spent to carry out reports, feasibility studies and campaign propaganda to persuade the British people that the project is both economically necessary and financially achievable. Putting aside the more obvious fact that this proposed project is nothing more than 19th century technology for a 21st century Britain, the basic argument that such a railway will encourage investment in the north of the country is highly questionable at best, given that cutting journey times would almost certainly undermine the basic need for northern based offices or factories, if goods and services can be shipped more quickly from already existing southern based facilities.
Then of course there is the more mundane question of costs. If, for the sake of argument the HS2 project ends up costing the best part of £100 billion, as some parties have suggested, just how is that public investment going to be recouped and over what time scale? If one assumes that the new rail line is handed over to the private sector, to a "for profit" company, then how much more will be added to the daily running costs in order for the shareholders to see a reasonable return on their investment; and for the initial public investment to be repaid? Is it too fanciful to suggest that once it was finished the HS2 would become little more than a hugely expensive "white elephant", only being used by those who can afford the price of the ticket, or perhaps more likely being used by the already much put upon daily commuters who will be forced to pay whatever exorbitant passenger rates the company and government decide between themselves?
Apart from such "vanity" projects, often favoured by the likes of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and now David Cameron, there are also the multi-billion pound job creation schemes that political parties of all stripes like to leave behind, in the form of the Quango. Although I have been unable to put a total figure on the annual cost of these various quasi-autonomous government organisations, it is probably safe to say that they cost taxpayer's hundreds of millions of pounds every single year, simply to duplicate work that is being done elsewhere, or that probably doesn't need doing in the first place. In fact it's sole purpose appears to be to act as a well paid job creation scheme for retired or failed politicians, who have otherwise failed to find themselves a better position in the private sector. 
Along with the annual running costs of these ministerial job creation schemes, several more billions of public money have been promised to helping create "northern" power houses, centred around larger cities such as Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield, whilst at the same time billions extra are thought to have been earmarked for various road improvements schemes around the country. In total, it has been suggested that long term infrastructure planning has identified a variety of schemes that might well total some £450 billion worth of central government spending in the years to come; and all this from a government that claims to be "economically competent"?
At present Britain's total debts are reported to amount to £1.4 trillion pounds, which if I'm right with my number of noughts, is £1,400,000,000,000 currently owed to our various creditors; and yet our economically "competent" chancellor, George Osborne, would rather save a couple of billion here and there, by depriving some of our most vulnerable citizens of vital services, whilst at the same time borrowing tens of billions of pounds to spend on Foreign Aid, EU membership fees, maintaining unnecessary government Quangos and building outdated life-sized train sets.
Our country's annual deficit, the money we borrow from the markets to make up the shortfall between what we spend and what we earn as a nation yearly, currently stands at £90-odd billion pounds, which Mr Osborne plans to cut over the next five years through reducing public spending, principally on the nation's vital welfare benefit and services. For me that would be akin to my highly indebted hypothetical homeowner, borrowing money to feed his neighbour, paying his club membership fees and purchasing his new car, while his family starved, their utilities were cut off, their roof blew off and while their old, but perfectly serviceable car stood idle on the driveway. It would be complete and utter economic madness, one driven entirely by an insane ideological zealotry; and if any real person were to attempt it, they would be locked up and the key would be thrown away!  
Of course, all of these big budget items worth tens of billions of pounds tend to overshadow what at first glance would appear to be the rather small and unimportant areas of local government spending, which most of us doubtless believe is not as wasteful as that undertaken by central government in London. Clearly though hundreds of millions of pounds of local taxpayers money is regularly frittered away by local chief executives and councillors every single year, either in the form of personal rewards, foreign fact-finding trips, feasibility studies of one sort or another; and of course the much more common council expenses. It used to be the case that serving as a local councillor was purely regarded as a legitimate form of public service, carried out by those who had themselves benefited from their local communities and were keen to offer something back through giving their personal time and efforts to improve and enhance their home communities. Clearly though, nowadays public service is an entirely outmoded concept and it is not uncommon for some local councillors to have turned their elected positions into a reasonably well paid employment post, sometimes in addition to any full-time job the individual councillor might have outside of the council itself. Bearing in mind that such local councillors are said to be responsible for a combined national budget of around £150 billion per year, one could almost take it as a "given" that the likely amount of waste, graft and outright theft within these combined local government budgetary systems would be shocking and alarming to the general public, whose pockets are regularly being picked by these very same local public service politicians. 
Common sense would suggest that there are several recurring reasons why our country currently finds itself in such a highly restrictive financial bind, not least of which is that we have people holding the nation's purse strings that shouldn't be trusted with running a bath, never mind a major world economy such as ours. It is probably also worth making the point that only someone with reasonable economic experience, a banker, a book-keeper, an economist, an accountant, or even a mathematician should be allowed anywhere near the nation's finances, in order to ensure that they can at least understand what they're doing with the public's money.
All too often governments of all flavours seem to use the public chequebook to pay for their own particular party's ideological beliefs, whether it's schools, hospitals, universities, airports, foreign aid, international intervention, defence, or whatever, but without the courtesy of ever discussing such things beforehand with the British public, who are after all the lenders of last resort. The truth is that politicians, both local and nation, are not necessarily better at managing money than the people they purport to represent. In fact, given a choice I would much rather put an everyday housewife in No.11 Downing Street than the degree-holding halfwit towel folder who currently inhabits that particular property, as I'm reasonably confident that an average housewife cum budgeter would probably do a better job of managing the country's finances than the present incumbent has thus far.
Just as a final note on the subject, according to the Guardian, there are said to be 1164 Quangos in the UK, employing 715,000 staff, costing the British taxpayer in the region of £63 billion and responsible for budgets totalling £100 billion per year. Now clearly some of these non-governmental departments are necessary for the efficient administration of the country, but just how many could be cut entirely, or amalgamated together, to produce sizeable fiscal savings is unclear, but obviously there appears to be scope for that. Even if one assumed a 20% saving across the board that would save the country an additional £12 billion pound per year, to be added to at least £10 billion from the Foreign Aid budget, plus a further £10 billion saved by exiting the European Union, which comes out at around £32 billion pounds per year, or £150 billion over the lifetime of a five year parliament. In other words the current deficit of £90 billion would be gone at the end of year three and any subsequent year's savings could be used to pay down some of the country's still existing national debts. Like I said, I'm not an expert, but clearly there is an alternative to cutting down vital services; and that is to cut down on the waste instead. After all, there's evidently plenty of it there to be cut!  

Monday 27 October 2014

What Happens When Our Tolerance Runs Out?

I'm not sure whether I've read it somewhere, or if it's entirely a product of my own imagination, but I have a recurring idea in my mind that one of these days we're all going to wake up and find that good old tolerant, peaceful and multicultural Britain, isn't going to be so tolerant, peaceful or multicultural any more. I imagine that, not because of any sort of wishful thinking on my part, but simply because I question just how much tolerance, peacefulness and community spirit any single country can bear, before it starts to fragment and fall apart, because of the stresses and strains that are applied to its very social and cultural fabric.
In so many ways we are already a deeply divided nation, whether that's in terms of the old North South divide, the rich versus the poor, the haves versus the have-nots, the employed versus the unemployed, the young versus the old, the Scots versus the English, along with any number of other divisions or classes that actively separate certain elements of our native population, one from the other. In fact, were it not for those traditional ties that unify us, our shared history, our common language, our cultural heritage, our legal systems, our inherited freedoms, our mutual defence and our system of central governance, then it would be difficult to see how our country has or could survive in the modern age, given the immensity and variety of the divisions that have been allowed to spread throughout our society.
Those fundamental things that bind us, our shared history, our common language, our cultural heritage, our legal systems, our inherited freedoms, our values, our mutual defence and our systems of central governance, these are the pillars on which our country has been built over the past two thousand years. Yet, within the space of the last forty years or so, we have allowed governments of all stripes, social commentators of all hues, political advisers from all persuasions, scientists from all backgrounds to both fatally undermine and erode all of these supporting pillars, ostensibly in the mistaken belief that such fundamental changes were necessary for making our lives, our society, our democracy better and stronger, which they almost certainly weren't.
Today, thanks largely to these small, but highly influential groups of politicians, advisers, commentators and scientists our shared national history has either been trashed or forgotten, our common language is in danger of being subsumed by a myriad of foreign tongues, our cultural heritage is being diluted or even in some cases legally outlawed, our legal system has become subservient to foreign courts, our inherited freedoms are withdrawn or overlooked, our values are altered and amended to suit our newly imposed multicultural and European identity, the means of our mutual defence is diminished, undermanned and under-funded, whilst at the same time our systems of central governance is not only devolved, but fractured and left generally toothless, as real executive power is relentlessly released to the various regions, or worse still, freely handed over to a foreign parliament based in Brussels.
As a direct consequence of this surrender of executive and legal jurisdiction to foreign based courts and assemblies, the individual rights and lives of Britain's own indigenous peoples have been seriously blighted, not only be the arrival of millions of foreign migrants, but also from the increasing amounts of burdensome European legislation, the rules and regulations enacted by foreign politicians in foreign parliaments and in foreign courts. The resulting explosion of highly intrusive, ugly and extremely expensive wind turbine farms, along with the closure of coal-fired generating plants, will both ensure that British energy consumers will end up paying much higher fuel bills throughout their lives. Stringent and unrealistic environmental targets that will make little or no difference to overall global pollution levels ensure that UK customers continue to pay the price for unregulated Chinese and Indian consumption. Only today, Britain's years of cost cutting austerity measures were somehow rewarded by European demands for an additional payment of £1.7bn from the British taxpayer to the EU's coffers, simply because the UK had been relatively successful in managing its national economy. It is worth remembering too that such new measures and demands are not being imposed on us through force of arms, or implicit threat, but rather by our own nationally elected politicians, who having sworn a sacred oath to Queen and country, then surrender their personal allegiances to foreign powers in the form of having accepted the EU's shilling. 
And these previous matters are in addition to the thousands of foreign criminals who regularly pass from the continent to our own country, to rob, to rape and to murder our citizens, or indeed those who ultimately end up serving lengthy sentences in our prisons, before hopefully being deported to their homelands, always assuming of course that they can be removed in the first place. Where is the justice for the victims, families, or indeed for the British people, when foreign criminals, ne'er-do-wells and wrongdoers, often the very dross of humanity, can legitimately claim an entitlement to remain here, purely on the basis of their "right" to a family life, when little or no account is given to the victims rights, not to be robbed, raped, or murdered by a foreign born criminal, who shouldn't have been in the country in the first place? Is it any wonder that the British law is held in such low regard by the people of Britain, when the law itself pays such scant regard to the inalienable rights of the people that it purports to protect?
Crimes against the person or even  property aside, why would any right-thinking British subject have any regard for a judiciary that regularly supports the legalised punishment of people who dare to speak freely, where publicly expressing a personal opinion can lead to legal sanctions being imposed by the courts? What sort of judiciary is it that allows a national government, local authorities, or even a state-owned broadcaster to purposefully misuse anti-terror legislation to pursue what are often civil matters? What sort of independent judiciary is it that deliberately defers their authority, their duty of care, to what is first and foremost a foreign based power? Why should the British people have any respect or regard for a judicial system that has little or no regard for them? The answer is they shouldn't!
Then of course, we have the chief architects of our country's ongoing demise as a sovereign state, the political classes, those self serving individuals who choose to believe that they and they alone are best placed, to not only instruct us how to live our lives, but who are also content to undermine and destroy the founding pillars of our society. They alone are the people largely responsible for the steady erosion of our shared history, our common language, our cultural heritage, our legal systems, our inherited freedoms, our values, our mutual defence and our systems of central governance. It is the likes of Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg who have led these wholesale changes to our historic rights and entitlements, ably assisted by the likes of Ed Miliband, Ed Balls, Iain Duncan Smith, Ed Davey, Andrew Lansley, in fact almost the entirety of Britain's political elite over the past thirty or forty years.
With every successive Labour or Conservative government it seems the country becomes a little more diminished, as step-by-step, drop-by-drop, people's traditional certainties and cultural norms, the very things that make us the sovereign people that we are, or rather were, are eroded, forgotten or forbidden by the prevailing political classes and climate. Speech, thought, opinion, comedy, religion, community, history, culture, language, laws, human rights, personal status and even government, have all in one form or another been reshaped and reconstituted to conform to one political ideology or another. Virtually every ethnicity, race, gender, religion, nationality and age is now a highly protected subject, for fear of offending someone or other and having the full force of the law brought down on your head for having offended them. You are not allowed to speak negatively about, think negatively about, or publicly express a negative opinion about anyone or anything for fear of some form of civil or criminal litigation being introduced. You cannot make fun of anyone, for fear of hurting their feelings, nor can you criticise, question or oppose anyone else's religious beliefs.
Community in the traditional sense is now widely regarded as an outdated concept for all native Britons, unless of course it suits a specific political leaders personal ideology, as is the case with David Cameron's "Big Society", which was simply a means of having vital community services provided for free by the local citizenry. British history has become largely selective, with only periods and events deemed to be highly positive being taught in schools and mentioned in polite society, while any reference to our "Imperial" past has to be avoided at all cost. Our native cultures, including those of the English, Scots, Irish and Welsh are perfectly acceptable, provided that they don't conflict with, or cause any offence to those foreign citizens living within our numerous towns and cities. However, if people are in any doubt, it now seems to be common practice that if there's the possibility of causing any possible offence to non-indigenous residents, then the general advice appears to be to cancel the planned cultural celebration, just to be on the safe side, Christmas, Easter and Birthdays included.
The English language it seems is now optional, but where necessary and assuming that the individual doesn't speak English fluently, then a translator will be provided for them free-of-charge. In respect of the law, the authorities may use whatever means they choose, to pursue British born miscreants, even if that means that anti-terror legislation is used to prosecute TV licence evaders, remembering that the ends justifies the means in any and all  circumstances. However, in order to ensure that non-indigenous suspects don't feel that they're being discriminated against, by virtue of their colour, ethnicity, or religion, it is probably best to assume that they're always innocent, have no case to answer and that their British accusers are just inventing the allegations through their own intolerant attitudes, a basic approach that has been seen to be successful in a number of places, including Rochdale, Rotherham, Manchester and Sheffield, to name but a few.
As regards personal status and the approach currently being adopted in modern Britain? The advice seems to be as follows. If you are a white native born Briton, a member of the 85% of the indigenous population whose opinions don't count for a great deal, then you are required to abide by a highly stringent set of social rules and regulations, designed to specifically regulate your inherently racist, xenophobic, homophobic, whatever-phobic, intolerant and ultra patriotic passions. As a member of this generally overlooked social group you implicitly agree to be treated as a second-class citizen by any government, political party, pressure group, think tank, social commentator, or adviser, that is advocating the primacy of multiculturalism in the UK. By virtue of remaining in Britain, as opposed to emigrating to another country, you have tacitly agreed to your nation being governed by an un-elected foreign parliament, for it to become a region within a larger United States of Europe, for your legal rights and protections to be transferred to a foreign court, for your elected representatives in Westminster to become mere "rubber stamp" functionaries within a federal Europe; and for Britain to surrender its historic military, economic, diplomatic and cultural independence, in exchange for it being subsumed by the bigger, supposedly much more influential European Union.
Obviously, there have been other significant changes to your status, if you happen to be a member of the majority white British born population. If you're working and making a net contribution to the economy of the country, then you can expect to receive no special consideration when it comes to your ethnicity, religion, colour, or indeed your cultural values, save for the fact that if you don't make a fuss about them, the government won't bother you either. However, if you're a white, British born citizen whose unemployed then you're going to be widely regarded as a scumbag, a freeloader, a waste of time, so it's likely that the government will pursue you until the end of time, or at least until you decide to get a job, or go back into full-time education, which just might well saddle you with an accumulated debt of £27,000, assuming of course you do a three year degree course. Alternatively, you might well decide to take a full or part-time job, assuming that they exist in your particular area, which pays the minimum wage, in which case the government will happily top-up your measly weekly wages with working tax credits, or housing benefits, or both, but at least you won't be registered as unemployed any longer; and that's all that's important.
If you white, British born and have young children of school age, whose education is being regularly held back by teachers and classroom assistants having to spend so much time dealing with other kids who don't speak English as a first language, then perhaps you should try looking on the bright side and possibly encourage your own children to pick up a bit of Polish, Spanish, Portuguese, German, French, Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali, Gujarati, Arabic or even Romanian while they're in the playground. You never know, the way things are going, they just might need such language skills in the future, as there's clearly going to be a strong ongoing demand for foreign translators and interpreters in the UK.
Although it's easy to be facetious about such matters, the reality is of course that just as the current immigration situation plays havoc with our country's native inhabitants, our culture, our services, our jobs market and our language; and just as it makes it easier for worthwhile migrants to come to our country, so too the current system permits the worthless migrant to arrive and settle here. Just where exactly is the net benefit in the thousands of foreign born criminals who clog up our justice system, our police stations or our prisons and then can't be deported for fear of infringing their human rights? Just where is the benefit for our country in the dozens, hundreds or thousands of foreign born "dossers" who turn up on the streets of Britain begging off passers-by, pissing in shop doorways, or shitting in our public parks? Since when did vagrancy become such a vital skill that we needed to import it from the European continent? Since when did breeding & raising large families become a legitimate form of labour for non-English speaking couples, so that they can legally exploit our country's welfare system? Since when did selling the "Big Issue" become such a highly skilled job that we needed hundreds of foreign workers to undertake it, or that it became too technical for homeless British citizens to do it in their stead? And most of all, how is it that we have created a modern British society that not only actively encourages and protects foreign born rape gangs, sex traffickers and organised criminals, but then prosecutes anyone who might have the temerity to publicly state that they're unhappy about the entire immigration situation?
Surely it cannot have escaped the notice of the white British born majority, the 85% of the population who inhabit these islands, that the entire concept of multiculturalism, the imposition of largely unchecked foreign habits, languages, cultures and beliefs is very much like the two sides of the same coin, where perceived benefits are equally weighed by the cost to our own traditional British habits, language, culture and beliefs. In reality however, multiculturalism requires the 85% to compromise on virtually everything they hold dear, whether that's their culture, their faiths, their traditions, their rights, their history, their laws, their educational systems, even their food, simply in order to accommodate part or all of the remaining 15% of the population, many of whom hold absolutely no regard for this country whatsoever, never mind the priority issues for the 85%.
Clearly there are those within the white British majority who take the view that multiculturalism works and has brought nothing but a net benefit to our country, whilst at the same time being happy to accuse their fellow citizens, those who are opposed to it, of being small minded, uninformed, xenophobic, racists and any other form of personal pejorative that happens to spring to their mind. Of course, it is often the case that it is they themselves who are both biased and uninformed, being the sorts of people who see little value in retaining or protecting Britain's traditional culture, its history, its language, its laws, its inherent rights, its community, or indeed its everyday norms. It is precisely because they hold no faith in, have no regard for such things that they are content to discard them so readily, because if they don't believe in them, if they don't treasure or value them, then why should anyone else?
If the quality of our country's political representation and discourse reflects the level of protection surrounding our nation's traditions, culture, laws, foreign influence, individual rights, religion, inherited freedoms and values, then we are in deep trouble indeed. Modern day political leaders such as Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg have more than most been responsible for undermining the very fabric of our country over the past two decades. Not content with making most of our traditional freedoms illegal under a series of pernicious new regulations, they have also actively encouraged the saturation of our labour markets by migrant workers, to the extent that they have purposefully created a third world low wage economy, in what is/was a first world nation. Not only has this led to wage compression, the noted "race to the bottom" for the traditional working classes, but has also created virtually unmanageable pressures in associated service sectors, including the NHS, housing, welfare, education, transport and social care. None of these things were accidental or unforeseen, but were deliberately and systematically imposed on the UK by the Blair, Brown and Cameron governments, not for any economic, social, or cultural benefit, but purely for selfish ideological dogma and party political advantage.
It is hard to remember a time when Britain was so divided, either by region, by income, by status, by political beliefs, by culture, by ethnicity, by colour, or by nationality, even though we're all supposed to share a single overarching United Kingdom. With many of the ties that bind us having been eroded or undermined over time, our shared history, our common language, our cultural heritage, our legal systems, our inherited freedoms, our values, our mutual defence and our systems of central governance, then what is it that will hold us together now and into the future? Above all else the greatest characteristic of the British people is reputed to be their tolerance, but what happens if and when that capacity for tolerance finally runs out, which it inevitably will if things remain the same as they are now? Which rather neatly brings me back to where I started this piece!

Monday 6 October 2014

Finally, Putting The People Back In Charge:

Regardless of the tub-thumping declaration made by David Cameron this past week, about the 2015 general election being a straightforward choice between himself and Ed Miliband for Prime Minister, in truth there are so many caveats, conditions and addendums that might be added to his statement, as to make it little more than wishful thinking, or a special pleading on his part. Such is the parlous state of British politics today, with the main three legacy parties reviled and distrusted by the electorate in fairly equal measure, it remains to be seen whether any of the mainstream parties will end up with a big enough parliamentary majority to be able to form a workable national government.
Although Mr Cameron is right, in the sense that only he or Mr Miliband is likely to become the Prime Minister in May next year, it's perhaps also worth remembering that that particular office of state has its own specific limitations, in that the holder is only ever the leader of the government of the day and thereby little more than the main political and public representative of the United Kingdom to the outside world. Ultimately real political power, as much as it can exist, given our membership of the highly unrepresentative European Union, lies with the elected members of the Commons, who in turn rely on the support and sponsorship of the general public, or at least those millions who choose to exercise their franchise by turning out to vote at the various national elections.
But of course therein lies the major problem with our own electoral system. Our politicians, their parties, their leaderships, in fact their entire constructs are often so despised, distrusted and disliked by so many within the wider electorate that it is often questionable as to whether or not the government in office can ever truly regard themselves as being representative of the country as a whole, when they are regularly elected into office on fairly minor voter turnouts. It seems extremely odd that any political party can claim to be the legitimate voice of the people when they are able to take office having only achieved 30-40% of the popular vote, meaning that some 60-70% of the electorate either voted for someone else, or didn't bother casting their ballot at all. As if to prove the point, the present Prime Ministerial incumbent, David Cameron, only holds that high office by virtue of his Conservative Party having attracted 10.7m votes out of a national total of 45.6m, or 23.4% of the total popular vote. For their part, Mr Cameron's coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, garnered a total public vote of 6.8m, which is equivalent to 14.9% of the total votes available at the general election in 2010. The two parties having agreed to work together in government, purportedly for the common good, this means that with a combined total vote of 17.5m, or 38.4% of the available vote, the Tory/Liberal Democrat subsequently coalition was formed, even though 61.6% of the UK population had voted for other parties, or hadn't bothered to vote at all.
Quite clearly then, where one single political party, or even two in coalition, are unable to meet the basic criteria of a public majority, which would generally be 50% and above, there will always remain a question as to the democratic legitimacy of any government that cannot achieve that figure. And of course that takes no account of specific regional differences that question that legitimacy even further, as is obviously the case for the Conservative Party in Scotland, where its political legacy still remains fairly poisonous, decades after the hated poll tax and large scale de-industrialisation of the country's major manufacturing centres were first implemented by the London-based Tory administrations.
As to whether there is a way to resolve this question of democratic legitimacy remains open, although the proposal to introduce a form of proportional representation in the UK, put forward by the Liberal Democrats doesn't seem to have enjoyed much public support, possibly because of the party actually proposing the idea and that it didn't go far enough. Regardless of the reasons for that particular failure though, increasingly it is becoming evident that our current and long established First Past The Post electoral system (FPTP) is not sustainable in the long term, simply because the system itself is not conducive to a democratic outcome, as it takes not account of a majority view. Any result that falls short of the 50% plus criteria (something that the governing coalition has insisted on for Trade Union strike ballots) will always be open to question and criticism, simply because anything less is not an irrefutable majority. How the country is run and managed is far more vital and important than a foot, horse or car race, so to run them along the same sort of lines, or to suggest that they are similar types of competitions, is patently absurd. After all, it's also worth recalling that in most sporting competitions those coming second, third, or even those who participate get something for their efforts, often in the form of prize money, while in politics those coming second, third, etc. get absolutely nothing for their troubles and neither do their supporters.
As it is the 8.6m people who voted for the Labour Party at the last General Election, despite being some 18.9% of the total electorate, nearly one in five people, simply got their MP's, whilst the smaller parties including the likes of the Greens, Plaid, Respect, SNP, UUP and UKIP, along with their multitudes of supporters barely got a handful of MP's and little in the way of real political representation for their specific party views.
Whether or not some form of proportional representation will ever be introduced to UK national politics remains to be seen, but given that both Conservative and Labour parties would undoubtedly suffer as a result of it, would likely indicate that both parties would be resistant to any such change to the current UK electoral system. That being the case then it is almost certain that significant numbers of potential UK voters will continue to deliberately avoid exercising their franchise at both local and national elections, ostensibly because they cannot see the value in voting for parties that they consider to be unrepresentative, out of touch, or even in some cases inherently corrupt. According to some estimates up to 35% of eligible British voters, accounting for some 12m people chose not to cast their ballot in the last general election in 2010, more than voted for any of the individual political parties that were standing for election. Not only is this a shocking indictment of our electoral system that a full third of the voting population could simply choose to excuse themselves from their civic duty, but also that so many of our citizens felt so angry or indifferent to the whole electoral process that they purposefully decided not to participate, even though the outcome will doubtless affect nearly every aspect of their everyday lives.
Research on the subject of non-voting in the UK would appear to indicate that there are any number of reasons why people choose not to participate in the electoral process, including 19% of people who simply couldn't be bothered, 15% who found voting inconvenient, 13% who distrusted politicians generally, 10% who were either ill or who had suffered a bereavement, 9% who didn't like the choices on offer, 4% who didn't receive a polling card, 4% who believed that all politicians were self-serving, 4% who believed that voting didn't really make any difference, 3% who lacked specific information on the various parties, 3% who didn't like the choices on offer, 2% who were on holiday, 2% who didn't vote for religious reasons, 2% who were so undecided that they couldn't choose, 1% who believed that the outcome was already certain, 1% who felt that their favoured party couldn't win anyway, 1% refused to vote as a protest measure, 1% who were too busy, 1% who didn't know how to vote; and 1% simply forgot to vote on election day.
Taking the three largest reasons for people failing to vote, those who couldn't be bothered, those who found it inconvenient and those who distrusted politicians generally, this accounts for approximately 47% of the 12m eligible voters who failed to exercise their franchise in 2010 alone. It is precisely these sorts of voters who need to be encouraged to exercise their rights, if any future UK government is to claim any form of electoral legitimacy, or to avoid the sort of questionable mandate that the current Conservative coalition has been accused of having. Quite how the authorities can successfully manage to overcome voter apathy, unreasonable expectations and basic distrust is unclear, but one would imagine that increased knowledge and education about our national systems of governance, introducing alternative methods of voting and offering greater public oversight of politicians and their behaviour might just help encourage more people to take a greater interest in politics generally.
Unfortunately, given that our country's traditional electoral system is primarily founded on a tribally based and adversarial system of competing political ideologies, where a lack of both common sense and common ground exists, the likelihood of the major parties actually agreeing to campaign, let alone govern, for the common good of all the people, would seem to be a forlorn hope at best. Consequently, the tiresome and generally unhelpful "Punch & Judy" politics that we have all lived with for the past few decades; and that turns so many people off politics completely, so that they deliberately choose not to vote, not to participate, will almost certainly continue well into the future, to the detriment of our democracy.
Perhaps though, as is sometimes the case, broken systems often provide their own solution to the problems that affect and hinder them. For far too long our political system has been blocked by the increasingly centrist policies of the two major parties, resulting from both Labour and Conservative parties essentially chasing the votes of the same unaligned voters in the centre of the political spectrum, the squeezed middle, as they are commonly called. However, given that this group of citizens only represents a very small minority of the 45m people who are entitled to vote, it is hardly a surprise that the remaining tens of millions, both affiliated and unaffiliated are becoming increasingly frustrated by the major political parties overlooking and ignoring their needs, their demands, their plight; and as a result are looking elsewhere to offer their electoral support.
With concerns such as the economy, immigration, employment, education and healthcare being on everyone's minds; and with both Labour and the Conservatives failing to offer any comprehensive, long term  solutions to such vital issues, it is hardly surprising that large numbers of the electorate are beginning to look elsewhere for answers to the nation's many socio-economic  problems. Bearing in mind that between them both Conservative and Labour parties have governed our country for the past seven decades or more and between them have been the chief architects of Britain's cultural, industrial and social demise, so to expect either one of them to suddenly find a workably effective solution that will solve the national malaise that has beset our country in recent years, would be akin to finding money trees growing at the bottom of your garden. It simply isn't going to happen.
For far too long we have chosen to elect politicians who couldn't balance a household budget, let alone the finances of one of the world's leading economies. Can you imagine a housewife working to a budget, choosing to pay her neighbours bills, while her own children starved? Well, isn't that exactly what we're doing with Foreign Aid? Borrowing money from the markets, at a rate of interest, in order to give it away to foreign countries who just happen to be poorer than we are, even those like India who have their own space program, or like Pakistan, which has its own nuclear arms program! And just why are we giving £13bn away? Is it because it's vital to each and every recipient nation, or is to help create a political legacy for the British Prime Minister who initiated the 0.7% of GDP figure, the Tory leader David Cameron?
Our schools, hospitals, roads and armed forces have all been left short of money and yet successive governments have chosen to spend billions on administrative money pits, the Quangos, which seem to serve little purpose but to make more work for themselves and the industries that they purportedly oversee. Wouldn't their costs be much better used if they were abolished and the monies pumped back into the vital services themselves, for more and better schools, hospitals, roads or armed forces? If you believe that railways are little more than 19th century technologies in a 21st century country, why would anyone look to invest anything between £50-80bn in a new rail line, when upgrading existing railway infrastructure could be done far more cheaply and achieve the same sort of outcomes? Why would anyone join an international trade bloc of 500 m people, at a cost of billions of pounds every year, when you could just as easily re-establish historic trading links with countries totalling two billion people, which would cost you absolutely nothing at all?
According to various think tanks, which are generally staffed by proper economists and experts in virtually every field you might think to name, government waste in the UK, both at a local and national level, amounts to around £100bn, which is equivalent to our current financial deficit. Waste within the NHS is estimated to be in the region of £5bn per year, double the amount of money that Ed Miliband has pledged to inject into the health service if he is elected to government in May 2015. Interestingly though, neither the Conservatives, nor the Labour Party have specifically mentioned about tackling the outrageous levels of financial waste that exists within the system itself, suggesting perhaps that they themselves are part of the problem, rather than any sort of solution.
For me, the answer to our country's many problems is a relatively straightforward one. We need to break the system in order to mend the system; and to do that we must vote for anyone BUT the Conservative or Labour parties, the two competing economic ideologies that have trapped our nation in an ongoing cycle of boom and bust, spend and save, punish one group and reward another, divisive policies that have pulled our country apart, rather than holding it together. I'm not sure that it matters who one votes for, just so long as the two main legacy parties are denied the power to govern in the interest of the minority, rather than the majority of the British public. Only by breaking the system will people force the likes of the Conservative and Labour leaderships to reassess the priorities for the country, replacing the views and opinions of their focus groups and their special advisers, with those of the citizenry who actually live and work here. In other words putting the people of the United Kingdom back in charge of the country, which is where they should have been right from the outset.

Friday 26 September 2014

How About What They Don't Say Or Promise?

I guess that like it or not, most of us pay some sort of attention to the manifesto promises made by the various mainstream political parties during the traditional conference season, even if it's only through the small number of carefully placed and often pre-leaked policy commitments that mysteriously find their way into the mainstream broadcast media, or onto the front pages of the country's best selling newspapers. Whether we like it or not, whether we're interested in politics or not, ultimately someone has to run the country on behalf of the citizenry and surely the purpose of the party conferences is for politician's of all stripes to publicly lay out their proposals to the British electorate, so we can best determine which group of people are best placed and most able to look after the economic, industrial, social and cultural interests of our country.
Over the course of the next few weeks all of the UK's major political parties, Labour, UKIP, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives will hold their individual party conferences, during which they will lay out their specific political visions for Britain in the coming years. Each in their turn will offer up a range of economic, industrial, social and cultural policies for our consideration, in an attempt to garner our electoral support on election day. It is worth remembering however that much of what is said, what is offered to the public, by the various political parties, will only ever represents the broadest of strokes in terms of specific policies; and it is what they don't say, don't promise, is probably just as important as what they do. 
This week we have been treated to daily reports from Labour's annual party conference in Manchester, the last one before next year's general election, during which Mr Miliband's party publicly laid out the policies and strategies that they intend to pursue, or that they would like to implement, should they be fortunate to be elected to office once again by the British people.
According to these reports the Labour Party's priorities for the next ten years will include; a) Giving all school leavers and young people an equal opportunity to either be offered an apprenticeship, or to go on to university. b) Tackling the country's cost-of-living crisis, by helping working families share in the wealth of the country, by ensuring that wages grow at the same rate as the economy. c) Restoring the dream of home ownership by increasing the rate of new house building to 200,000 per year by 2020 and doubling the numbers of first-time buyers gaining access to the property ladder. d) Tackling the issue of low wages, halving the numbers of workers on low pay, by increasing the rate of minimum pay to £8.00 per hour. e) Securing the future of the country and the economy by creating one million new high tech jobs, at the same time making Britain a world leader in "green" technologies. f) Saving the NHS, by creating a world class, 21st century healthcare service. 
In pursuit of these six central and highly populist policies, the Labour leadership also announced that: g) They see Britain's long-term future in a reformed EU. h) That they favour giving votes to 16 and 17 year olds i) That they would like to turn the House of Lords into a more representative Senate. j) That they want to devolve more powers to England, Wales & Northern Ireland, as well as to the regions and larger cities. k) They vow to create 36,000 more jobs in the NHS. l) They pledge to pay for all these policies by cracking down on tax avoidance, as well introducing a mansion tax and by targeting the profits of tobacco manufacturers. m) That Labour will create a "time to heal" fund worth £2.5 billion per year. n) That they vow to repeal the coalition's Health & Social Care Act. o) That Labour will build a new generation of Garden cities. p) That firms bidding for government contacts would be forced to offer apprenticeships in return for receiving government business.
Of course on the face of it, all of these policy proposals go down very well with the general public, especially those who would be more inclined to vote for Labour during a national election, as is clearly reflected in a recent Survation poll, which showed extremely high levels of support amongst both Labour and Liberal Democrat voters when these same policies were presented to them in a positive manner. After all, who wouldn't like to see the NHS gain an additional 36,000 frontline staff, especially if they're going to be paid for by owners of properties worth more than £2m, or by the big tobacco companies, by tax avoiders, by the big banks, or indeed by the greedy utility companies?
But before everyone gets carried away and imagines that the many and the fairly intrinsic problems with the NHS are somehow going to be fixed overnight through the provision of this much talked about £2.5bn and the resulting 36,000 extra staff, perhaps it's worth considering the few major wrinkles that exist within Labour's much vaunted NHS rescue plan.
First, it is worth pointing out that in actual percentage terms this extra £2.5bn of health spending is only about half of what the Thatcher government spent on the NHS in every single year of the "Iron Lady's premiership, so the suggestion that Labour's proposed extra spending on the health service is in any way notable, or exceptional is entirely false.
Second, it is worth recalling that the last Labour government actively pursued the idea of private investment in the NHS, both through the outsourcing of services to entirely "for profit" health companies; and through the imposition of the hugely expensive PFI contracts. So for the Labour Party's Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham and the rest of the Labour leadership to now try and disassociate themselves and their party from such blatant privatisation of the NHS is a wholly contemptible attempt to try and rewrite the history of healthcare in our country. 
Third, the coalition's Health & Social Care Bill, which the Labour Party proposes to repeal, has already been in place for the best part of five years; and during that time fundamental changes have been made and presumably numerous contracts have been signed that would undoubtedly cost the NHS millions, if not billions to cancel. It also appears to be the case that Labour are not content to simply restore the NHS back to where it was in 2010, but rather to reorganise the entire healthcare system yet again, so that the nation's health and social care budgets are inextricably linked to one another. By any stretch of the imagination, such changes would almost certainly involve massive administrative start-up costs being incurred by Health and Social Care departments throughout the country, which then begs the question, just where is all this extra money going to come from?
Fourth, in various media interviews given by an assortment of Labour shadow ministers during the recent party conference, there seemed to be a great deal of confusion as to where these additional government revenues were likely to be spent. Were they going to be spent on reducing the country's deficit, or on the NHS, or even on funding housing, apprenticeships, jobs, etc? Obviously the same money cannot be spent more than once, assuming of course that you can raise it at all. After all, one particular Labour spokesman thought the "Mansion Tax" might be levied on properties once they were sold, whilst another thought that an annual tax might be applied to each property on an ongoing basis, assuming of course that they could actually identify which "mansion" was worth £2m to begin with.
Finally, there's the question of what to do with those owners who are deemed to be asset rich, but cash poor, including those numerous people who have been fortunate enough to see their properties rise in value, but don't have the annual incomes to pay a regular tax on it. What would happen to them? Would they be exempt from the tax? Would a charge be put on their home, which would then be reclaimed once they had died and the property sold? Would they be forced to sell up and move to a smaller cheaper property, in order to pay the proposed "Mansion Tax"? Wouldn't homeowners in London and the South be disproportionately affected by such a proposed levy, through a geographical anomaly rather than any real fault of their own?
With regard to Labour's proposal for new work apprenticeships! Just how are small to medium sized companies bidding for government contracts supposed to afford the cost of establishing and running these new mandatory apprenticeships? Will they be excluded from tendering for government contracts entirely, thus ensuring that only larger, better funded companies are able to secure government work? Wouldn't current EU regulations forbid the creation of such national-only job schemes anyway, meaning that foreign youngsters and workers, skilled and unskilled would be equally entitled to apply for such apprenticeships; and how exactly would that then help our own under-skilled British youth to improve their employment prospects? Also, would any government money be spent on helping to create, run and fund these new job opportunities; and just where will this new money come from?
Although on the face of it Labour's promised minimum wage of £8 per hour sounds attractive, the reality is that this particular figure is only proposed to be achieved by 2020, even though a similar hourly rate would likely be arrived in the marketplace, with or without direct government intervention anyway. So in a sense the Labour Party is simply forecasting the likely hourly rate in 2020, rather than promising to proactively improve British workers lives. Two other things are also worth bearing in mind with regard to this issue. Firstly, some employers, if faced with increased wage costs, may simply choose to reduce the size of their  workforces in order to reduce their wage liabilities, thereby forcing a smaller number of people to work harder and longer. Secondly, it has already been suggested that some workers might well find that they're actually worse off by having increased wages, as they inadvertently find themselves not only losing welfare benefits, but also having to pay more income tax, as a direct result of the increase in their minimum wage.
On the subject of home ownership and the house building programme proposed by Labour, there are several key points to make. The first is, are the proposed 200,000 homes per year going to be built purely to meet the needs of the existing population, or does that figure also include the 200,000 plus foreign migrants who will undoubtedly arrive in Britain as a result of the Labour Party's open door migration policies? Just where exactly are these new houses and Garden Cities going to be built, without them having a catastrophic effect on our current green belt land? How precisely will a future Labour government force supermarkets and developers to surrender the land-banks that they currently have in their possession?
It's all very well issuing a "use it, or lose it" ultimatum to very large landowners, but how exactly would they be forced to "use" the land, or how would government force them to lose it; and how much will it cost the public purse to compensate them, in the event that they choose not to use their properties for building houses or supermarkets? Finally, if a future Labour administration were to actually build a million or so new homes, what effect will that have on existing property values? Will current house prices be maintained, or would they fall, thereby causing some homeowners to then be caught in a negative equity trap?
In addition, Mr Miliband's promise to create one million new "high tech" jobs, would indeed be a welcome one, even more so if he explained just where and how these new employment posts were going to be found and funded. There is a suggestion that many would be found within the "green" economy, which as most of us know, tends to have a direct impact on consumers, who have to carry the burden of paying for new technologies through their utility bills. Could it be the case that these one million new high tech, environmentally friendly, green jobs will ultimately be created and paid for by Britain's commercial and domestic users, either through their electricity, gas or water bills? After all, aren't we already having to fund the thousands of green and environmentally friendly wind turbines that litter our countryside and our coastline, at an exorbitant cost to each and every household? Will Mr Miliband and a future Labour government provide us with more of the same; and if so, how does he propose to keep fuel bills down, at the same time that he's creating a million "green", high tech jobs?
As voters, there are several things that we know and that we can rely on. The first is that we can generally be sure that our mainstream politicians will promise us the earth and deliver us as little as possible, often because their manifesto promises are generally nothing more than a wish list of the things they would like to do, given an ideal set of circumstances. We also know that the Labour Party has a less than enviable record when it comes to economic competence, so quite why anyone would choose to believe that they're anymore capable of meeting their proposed economic targets now, than they have been in the past should rightly occur to each and everyone of us.
Surely the vision that Mr Miliband and his party are offering us for the future, is more of the same old policies that they offered us before? More unfettered foreign immigration! Higher levels of indigenous unemployment! Higher costs of living through increased utility bills! Increasing loss of our greenbelt! Higher taxes on both tobacco and liquor! More government intrusion into our private lives! More EU involvement in the running of our country! The greater fragmentation of our country through regional devolution and the creation of city states! The NHS and other vital services being endlessly reorganised and restructured to best suit a regional, rather than a national, identity! More foreign multi-culture than English traditional culture!
Obviously, each one of us in our turn will have to carefully consider the public promises and pledges made by the various political parties during their annual conferences, before deciding which of them, if any, deserves our individual support in the forthcoming general election. In the case of the Labour Party however, there still remains a significant question mark over their ability to make good on their electoral promises, even assuming that sufficient people are prepared to overlook the mistakes and oversights that the last Labour administration committed whilst in office.
For me as an individual voter the decision to invade Iraq, the damage that their multicultural agenda has wrought on Britain and its people, as well as the catastrophic damage caused to our national economy, NHS, schools and our society generally, means that I could not in good faith trust Mr Miliband and his colleagues to have learned the lessons from their past. As the title of this blog post suggests, sometimes it's the things that our mainstream political parties don't promise, don't say, the questions that they don't answer, which are far more enlightening and informative than those that they do?  

Saturday 20 September 2014

Regional Devolution: Empowerment Or Exploitation?

I have to say it comes as little surprise that within days of the Better Together campaign having managed to convince a majority of Scots to vote "NO" to independence, slowly but surely, the political consensus arrived at between the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties in order to achieve that common goal is already starting to fall apart. But maybe that's what happens when you make policy up on the hoof, without any great thought being given to the possible long-term outcomes that result from making promises that are either impossible to keep, or that will almost certainly suffer from the effects of unintended consequences.
After all, it's pretty easy to promise people the earth, but not so easy to deliver that once such undertakings are considered in both the cold light of day and having fully taken into account everyone else's needs, opinions and demands. Consequently, it was pretty easy for a former Labour Prime Minister and Chancellor to promise the Scottish people the earth, if they stayed within the Union, but did anyone really imagine that the English, Welsh and Northern Ireland electorates wouldn't want, or demand exactly the same rights for themselves? It's all very well for a former Labour Prime Minister to make whatever promises he likes to a receptive home audience, but considering that elsewhere in the wider British Union he has no public mandate, no executive power and no personal moral authority, then who or what gives him the right to hand out new executive powers to Scotland, as if they were free party favours, or as if they were going out of fashion?
All of those things having been done, the words uttered, the promises issued however, it was perhaps inevitable that after the referendum victory the three main political parties, those who ostensibly stood behind such promises, would perhaps take stock of the resulting situation, to see just how much electoral advantage, if any, their own political party might derive from having promised so much power, to so few people. Just to clarify, it's worth remembering that although Scotland's geographical landmass might account for nearly a third of our United Kingdom, in people terms they represent around 10% of the total, whilst England, which was initially promised nothing at all by way of political change, accounts for approximately 80% of the UK's total population.
The three minor regions of Britain, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already have their own form of devolved governments, which are based in their home countries, as well as full representation within the overarching British political establishment based in Westminster. In Scotland's case some fifty-nine elected MP's have been returned to Westminster, eleven of which are Liberal Democrats and forty-one of which are Labour MP's representing their various Scottish constituencies. In overall terms these elected Scottish MP's represent slightly less than 10% of the total number of MP's sitting in the House of Commons, which generally concurs with the size of the Scottish population within the UK as a whole.
However, given that Scotland has its own devolved assembly and therefore has overall executive control over a number of competencies; and with many more having been promised as a result of the independence referendum, the pre-existing West Lothian Question, involving Scottish MP's having direct influence over English only matters, is due to become an increasingly vexed issue within the British parliamentary system. Whilst the likes of Douglas Alexander, the Labour MP and Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat MP can influence, direct and vote on often purely English policy matters in the House of Commons, the likes of David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband have absolutely no influence whatsoever over matters pertaining to devolved competencies within the Scottish, Welsh or Northern Ireland assembles.
As is evident from the figures the main political beneficiaries from the West Lothian Question are the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, both of which have benefited from the toxicity of the Conservative Party, north of the border; and from the traditional support that they have managed to amass over time. Clearly, neither party is likely to willingly see their Scottish contingents removed or undermined within the House of Commons, as this would automatically reduce their party's overall political influence within Westminster as a whole; and yet that is exactly what needs to happen, in order to address the perplexing issue of the West Lothian Question. However, for the Labour Party specifically, the prospect of losing or surrendering the influence of forty-one of its elected Scottish MP's on English only matters in the Commons, would appear to be a sacrifice that the party are unwilling to make in order to make good on their shared promises and undertakings to the Scottish people. Within hours of the Better Together campaign having secured victory in the Scottish Independence referendum campaign, both Douglas Alexander and Danny Alexander had utterly refuted any suggestion that they might excuse themselves from any English only business within the House of Commons, at the same time accusing their Conservative opponents of simply playing "politics" over the impending constitutional crisis that will almost certainly envelop the entire United Kingdom.
No doubt there is an element of party politicking in Mr Cameron's proposals for English only MP's to vote on English only parliamentary business, if only to negate the electoral bias that the Labour Party has traditionally enjoyed within the UK's constitutional boundaries. That having been said however, it is perhaps no surprise that the Labour leadership are just as keen to exploit the current constitutional crisis for their own narrow party political benefit, by attempting to find an alternative solution within their own traditional Labour heartlands, in the regions, cities and larger metropolitan areas where their own support networks are particularly strong. Rather than just settling for a shared House of Commons, which might host separate "English" and "British" parliamentary sessions on different days of the week, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats would much rather fragment the country even further by devolving substantive powers to the cities and regions of England, their own party's areas of political influence, despite the fact that ordinary voters in such areas don't generally want or indeed need such localised executive powers.
But of course therein lies the real issue, the real purpose behind the suggestion from the likes of the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party, that rather than dispersing power from the centre to the people, they are in fact moving executive power from central government to their own regional or city power bases, where their parties tend to hold influence, where they have the political infrastructure, where they have the armies of activists on the ground. One only has to look at the likes of London and the other large metropolitan areas where the Labour Party has significant numbers of traditional supporters; and where it is jokingly said that you could pin a red rosette on a dog and see it elected to office. Imagine then if these regions, these metropolitan areas, these cities were handed real executive power, one where they could raise or lower taxes, choose where and what to spend all their monies on, choose who to pay welfare to, choose who to house, who to educate, who to treat, to care for? Try taking a look at the small number of cities that already have elected mayors. How representative are they? How effective are they? Do their citizens get any better treated, are they wealthier, happier, better fed, better housed, better educated, better represented?
Just how representative are the elected mayors of Liverpool and Leicester, when it was the councils of those two cities that took the decision to have a mayor, irrespective of what the local people may or may not have wanted? If elected mayors are such a major step forward, why did the electorates of both Stoke-on-Trent and Hartlepool vote to get rid of theirs and revert to a council leader and cabinet? If local people were so desperate for devolved powers, in the form of elected mayors, or regional assemblies, why in 2012 did only one city, Bristol, vote for a directly elected mayor and yet nine other cities rejected the idea? Up to May 2014 there are reported to have been fifty-one local referendums held with regard to the creation of an elected mayor, with sixteen cities choosing to have one, as opposed to thirty-five cities that rejected the idea, a ratio of roughly 2:1 against the post. Interestingly, average voter turnout for these referenda has been around 30%, although where YES campaigns have been successful the winning margin was thought to have averaged around 45%, the same level as the YES campaign for Scottish Independence, which was ultimately unsuccessful. Noticeably of the sixteen elected mayors currently in post in England, eight of them (50%) are Labour representatives, whilst two are Liberal Democrats, four are independents and the remaining two are Conservatives, perhaps illustrating why the Labour Party in particular believes that more devolution to the cities and regions of England is such an amazingly good idea.
Part of the problem is that we have successive governments endlessly listening to the likes of think tanks like ResPublica and others, who continually tell them what they should be doing to engage the voting public, how to spread the wealth and/or improve the lives of the UK population, but without taking the time to actually talk to the public themselves and find out what it is that they want, dream of, aspire to. More politicians, more lobbyists, more think tanks, more so-called experts, either national or local will not fix the fundamental problem that affects British political life, which is a basic distrust of, disinterest in and disengagement with politics generally and politicians specifically. After all, a crooked or incompetent politician, be they local, national or even international is still basically a crooked or incompetent individual, regardless of whether they're based in Brussels, London or Manchester. Not all national politicians are rubbish legislators or dire public administrators, just as not all local councillors are truly representative of their local communities, or indeed actually interested in the lives and troubles of their local constituents.
The fact that in the aftermath of the near constitutional disaster that was the Scottish Independence referendum all three major political parties instinctively reverted to type, in the narrow minded, adversarial, politically biased manner that they generally do, perhaps best illustrates why our four countries of the United Kingdom are where they are; and will no doubt continue to be so, for the foreseeable future. Putting it bluntly, if there's a way of screwing the country up, then our current crop of politicians, both local and national, will find a way of doing that, just so long as it best serves their own narrow party interests. Centrally or locally, the idea of the political classes actually allowing "the people" further empowerment, so that they can truly scrutinise, oversee, or hold their elected representatives to account is little more than a fantasy, a false dawn, being sold to a largely gullible and indifferent public, who will no doubt be further exploited as a result of it.