Bruges Group Meeting 1 June 2015 – John Redwood says he could vote to stay in the EU

Meeting title: The EU and the Future of Britain

Robert Henderson

Speakers:

Tim Aker  (Ukip  MEP)

John Redwood (Tory  MP)

Peter Oborne (Associate editor of the Spectator  magazine)

The meeting was well attended with in excess of 200 people present, many of whom stayed   throughout despite having  to stand.  Particularly pleasing and encouraging were the number of young faces, which made up perhaps  a  quarter  of the audience.  The audience was very animated and a positive forest of hands were going up when questions were taken.

The order of the speakers  was Aker – Redwood – Oborne.  However, for ease of summary of their views both in their  speeches  and in answer to audience questions I shall  deal with them with them in this order:  Redwood – Aker – Oborne.

John Redwood

Redwood was so out of touch with the feeling of the audience that  he came close to being booed. As it was there were frequent cries of “no”, “rubbish” and general murmurings of dissent as he asked the audience to trust Cameron’s honesty in his attempt to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU and put forward a plan for the OUT campaign which side-lined Nigel Farage . (The traffic of  audience disapproval   was countered by support for Redwood , but judged by the noise made  those against him were   considerably more  numerous than his supporters).

Redwood said that he  believed  in Cameron’s honest intent  in  his negotiations  with EU. Consequently, he would not make up his mind whether to vote to leave until Cameron had completed his negotiations. Also said explicitly  that he would vote to stay in if the renegotiations were successful.    I think most people who have followed Redwood’s voluminous pronouncements  on  the EU over the years will be more than a little surprised by his adoption of  such an equivocal position as the referendum approaches.   His position was all the more unexpected because he began his talk by  denouncing  the fact that  membership of the EU  meant elected governments  –  most notably Greece at present – could not  do  what their electors wanted even if they wished to.  An important question arises,   if  Redwood  is  undecided about which way he will vote  how can he be part of the planning of the OUT campaign?   Indeed, if Cameron gets concessions which Redwood deems enough to persuade him to vote to stay in,  presumably he will be campaigning with the  stay in camp.

While Redwood’s unwillingness to directly dismiss Cameron’s stated aim as a sham is understandable, he is just a backbencher   who is unlikely to find a place in  a Cameron cabinet in a Parliament where his party only has a small majority.  These circumstances mean Redwood  has considerable freedom  to speak his mind. He could have said something along the lines of “The Prime Minister is sincere in his desire to reform the EU but I am  sure we all know in our hearts that this is a lost cause. Therefore, I have no doubt that I  shall be voting  to come out of the EU” or,  even better “, I  shall be voting to leave the EU regardless of what is offered by the EU  because for me the question  is not about renegotiating our term of membership but  of Britain being a sovereign nation state”.  Either statement would be consistent with what Redwood  has said over the past few years.

Redwood also  failed to  describe in any  detail what  would constitute  sufficient changes to the UK’s relationship with the EU to make him vote to stay in.  Neither Aker nor Oborne challenged him on this and no audience member who was called to ask a question raised the subject.  However, the subject is  academic in the long run because it really does not matter what Cameron obtains by his renegotiation, because whilst we remain within the EU any concessions given now may be reversed at a later date by the EU, most probably  in cahoots with a British government consisting of Europhiles. .

Perhaps most  disturbing for those  who wish  the UK to leave the EU as a matter of principle, that is, those who wish our country to be a sovereign nation again, was Redwood’s strategy for the OUT campaign.  He  adopted the line that Nigel Farage should not lead the OUT campaign because  Farage is a marmite politician  who will alienate large chunks of the waverers  as we approach the referendum.  In fact, Redwood gave the impression he would like to see  Farage completely excluded from the OUT campaign.

Redwood’s tactics  for the OUT side  consisted of not frightening the voters with vulgar non-pc  talk about immigration or , indeed, being  brutally honest  about anything relating to the  EU. Of course it is true  that both  the undecided voters and  faint-hearted supporters of Britain leaving the EU will have to be appealed to in the right terms. The mistake Redwood is making is to imagine that the right terms do not include putting immigration controls  at the heart of  the OUT campaign.  Polls consistently show that immigration is one of the  major concerns of the British public and,  when the politically correct inspired terror of speaking honestly about race and immigration is taken into account, it is odds on that immigration is the number one issue by a wide margin.  A British Future report in 2014 found that 25% of those included in the research wanted not only an end to immigration but the removal of all immigrants already in the UK and a YouGov poll commissioned by  Channel 5  in 2014 found that 70% of those questioned wanted and end to mass immigration. .

Putting immigration at the heart of the OUT campaign would also have the bonus of appealing to the Scots through  a subject on which they feel  much the same as the rest of the UK, that is they are   opposed to mass immigration.  That is important because the SNP are trying to establish grounds for Scotland having a veto over the UK leaving the EU if Scotland votes to stay in the EU and either England  or England, Wales and Northern Ireland  vote to leave.  The larger the vote to leave the EU in Scotland is , the less moral  leverage they will have for  either a veto over Britain leaving  the EU or another independence referendum.

Why is Redwood putting forward the  idea that Farage should be kept out of the limelight?   It cannot be simply to damage Ukip in the interest of the Tory Party  because there will be no general election for years (probably five years) . Could it be personal spite against Farage on Redwood’s part because they have quarrelled? I doubt it because I cannot recall Redwood and Farage having had a serious disagreement.   How about Redwood being  contaminated with the politically correct imprinting on the subjects of race and immigration  with the consequence that he thinks Farage’s views on these subjects are simply beyond the Pale? This is much more likely.  Interestingly, such a view echoes that of Douglas Carswell  who said of Nigel  Farage’s comments about foreign HIV patients costing the Earth:  “I think some of the tone that we deployed – for example the comments about HIV I think were plain wrong. Wrong at so many levels. Not just wrong because they were electorally unhelpful but just wrong because they were wrong.”

Redwood added fuel to the fire of the audience’s  discontent  by adopting a patronising tone adorned with a  supercilious smirk to anyone who disagreed with  him – Redwood kept on repeating that the referendum  would be lost if any general  plan but the one he described  was followed – and refused to answer when he was asked to comment  on what he would  do and think if Farage did lead the OUT campaign.  The smirk became particularly  pronounced at this point.

Tim Aker

Unlike Redwood and  Aker   was very forthright and uncompromising, dealing pretty roughly with Redwood  whose position on Cameron’s sincerity   he treated with undisguised  incredulity. He  pointed out the impossibility of the EU  giving Cameron anything substantial  and the folly of trying to sideline Farage.  He pointed out that without Farage and Ukip there would be no referendum, a simple  truth  because before Ukip began to make substantial inroads into the Tory vote  Cameron had  shown no serious interest in a referendum.

In his speech Aker made all the right sort of  political noises likely  to appeal to most  electors :  immigrants reduce the wages of the low paid; the unemployed of other EU states are being dumped on the UK;  the need for positive patriotism; a vote to remain in the EU would betray future generations;  billions in  Aid went to foreigners while  some of our own people went to food banks ; England was being Balkanised through the city regions being forced on the country by Cameron;  it is time to get rid of  the Barnett Formula and so on. All of this produced in Redwood and Oborne the kind of  facial expression  that people adopt when they have encountered an unpleasant smell.   That alone told you that Akers is  on the right path.

Peter Oborne

Oborne gave a very poor speech. It  largely  consisted of backing up Redwood’s objections to  Farage and Redwood’s   plans for the OUT campaign.  He described Akers as misguided and predicted that Farage  would bring to the ballot box only  the 14% or so who voted Ukip at the General Election.  That  claim was simple nonsense because  a general election and a referendum are chalk and cheese, and there are many  Eurosceptics in other parties, even some in the LibDems.  To assume that Farage would  cause such people to vote to  remain in the EU or to abstain is ridiculous.

However, Oborne  was strong on the need to have spending restrictions during the referendum campaign and made  the  interesting claim that  Rupert Murdoch will be coming out for the stay in the EU side because Murdoch has re-established his close association with the Tory Party.

What needs to be done

Nigel Farage must not be shouldered aside but put in the forefront of the OUT campaign. Not only is he an increasingly effective public performer, especially in debates,  unless he takes a lead role the OUT campaign is likely to end up in the hands of people such as Redwood and Carswell who have bought into the politically correct view of the world.  What this campaign needs is emphatic, unambiguous and above all honest  explanation of what the EU represents .  It needs  Farage  at the forefront of the OUT campaign  to set that tone.

Immigration must be at the heart of the OUT campaign because it is (1)  the issue which concerns more voters  than any other issue and (2)  it  cuts across party and ideological lines in a way no other issue in the referendum will do.

Setting spending limits must be made a priority and should be agreed and  put into operation by the end of 2015. The Europhile political elite will doubtless try to  restrict spending limits to a short period before the vote is held.   This would produce a re-run of the great inequality of resources between the YES and NO sides  the 1975 referendum.

The fixing of the EU referendum by the Europhiles has already begun with  the choice of a palpably biased question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?”  The bias comes from both the trigger word “remain” and the fact that the status quo has captured the  YES answer. Ideally a  judicial review should be launched as soon as possible. If Ukip  could fund it,  that would be a most  effective way of exercising control over the OUT campaign.

What should the question be? The original question put into European (Referendum) Bill  was “Do you think that the United Kingdom should be a member of the European Union?”  That is much less biased because it does not overtly ask electors to vote for the status quo.

An alternative would be a double question with a box to mark against each question, for example

I wish Britain to be a member of the EU

I do not wish Britain to be a member of the EU.

Even that is not perfect because there is the problem of the order in which the questions come (being first gives a slight advantage because people tend to have an inclination to read the first question on a ballot and  be swayed by that before reading subsequent questions).  However, it could be objected that people would be confused by having the question in different orders.

Above all the OUT campaign needs to get its skates on as the referendum could be upon us quicker than we think, perhaps by the end of 2016 if Cameron has his way.

Posted in Nationhood | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Shamocracy – The Tories give a whole new meaning to democracy

If you won’t vote for an elected mayor have an unelected one

Robert Henderson

The Tories are currently bleating their heads off about how they  are all for bringing  politics and the exercise of  political  power to the people. Local democracy is, they shout ever louder, the order of the Tory day.  In the  vanguard  is Manchester, where a mayor and a “cabinet”  is to have the responsibility  for the spending and administration of  billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money  on  public transport, social care and housing as well as police budgets and, most dramatically, ultimately  the devolving of all NHS spending for the region.   When the process is completed local politicians will control more than a quarter of the total government money spent in Greater Manchester.

The political structure to support the mayor will be this:

“The mayor will lead Greater Manchester Combined Authority [GMCA], chair its meetings and allocate responsibilities to its cabinet, which is made up of the leaders of each of the area’s 10 local authorities.”

This is to be known as a city region. The mayor will not be an absolute  autocrat and can have  both his strategic decisions and spending proposals voted down by two thirds of the GMCA members – go to para 8.  On public service issues, each  GMCA member and the Mayor will  have one vote, with a  policy agreed by a majority vote. However, the mayor will have considerable powers and the requirement for over-ruling him  on strategic decisions and spending – two thirds of the GMCA members – is onerous to say the least.  That will be especially the case because the  councils of the  Manchester city region are largely Labour and the mayor, at least to begin with, will also be a  Labour man.

The casual observer might think this is a democratisation of  English politics. But wait, was not Manchester one of the nine English cities which firmly  said no to an elected mayor in a referendum in as recently as  2012? Indeed it was. Manchester voted NO by  53.2% to 46.8%  (48,593 votes to  42,677).  Admittedly, it was only on a 24% turnout,  but that  in itself shows that the local population generally  were not greatly interested in the idea. Nonetheless, 91,000 did bother to vote, a rather large number of voters to ignore.   Moreover,  low as  24% may be,  many a councillor and  crime and police commissioner has been   voted in on  a lower percentage turnout.

After the 2012 referendum the Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese said  the vote was  “a very clear rejection”  of an elected mayor  by  the people of Greater Manchester while the  then housing minister Grant Shapps said  ‘no-one was “forcing” mayors on cities’.   Three years later that is precisely what is happening to Manchester, well not precisely because  Manchester is to have an interim mayor (see para 11)   foisted on them without an election,   who will serve for a minimum of two years and a maximum of four years before an election for a mayor is held.( The period before an elected mayor arrives  will depend on how long it takes to pass the necessary legislation,  create the necessary powers for the mayor and create the institutions on the ground to run the new administration ). When the time comes for the elected mayor the interim mayor, if he wishes to run for mayor, will have the considerable electoral advantage that incumbency  normally brings.

Sir Richard Leese, now promoted to be  vice chairman of Greater Manchester Combined Authority, has had a Damascene conversion to the idea of a mayor : “It was clear that an over-centralised national system was not delivering the best results for our people or our economy.

“We are extremely pleased that we can now demonstrate what a city region with greater freedoms can achieve and contribute further to the growth of the UK.”

The  interim mayor will be appointed  on 29 May by  councillors meeting in private.  There are two candidates, Tony Lloyd and Lord Smith of Leigh. Both are Labour Party men.  This is  unsurprising because the body organising the appointment is the  Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, (AGMA) which  is comprised of the  leaders of the 10 councils making up the region. Eight of them are Labour.   The job description for the interim mayor included the provision that he must be a politician from Greater Manchester ‘ with a “proven track record” of “achievement at a senior level in local government”’ . These requirements  made it virtually certain that both candidates would be Labour politicians.

The exclusion of the public from the appointment of interim mayor  is absolute. Here is Andrew Gilligan writing in the Sunday Telegraph:

“ The two candidates for mayor  have published no manifestos, done no campaigning, made no appearances in public and answered no questions from voters or journalists. Last week, The Sunday Telegraph asked to speak to both candidates. “He’d love to,” said Mr Lloyd’s spokesman. “But he’s been told he’s not allowed to talk to the media.”’

A spokesman for Lord Smith said: “He can’t speak about it until it’s over.”

Perhaps as a result, the “contest” has been barely mentioned in the local press and has gone completely unreported nationally.

His precise salary, predictably, is also not a matter for public discussion. It is being decided by an “independent remuneration committee” which meets in private and whose members’ names have not been published.

Judged by the mainstream media coverage there has been precious little public dissent about this gross breach of democracy  from influential Westminster politicians. Graham Brady, Tory MP for Altrincham and chairman of the    1922 Committee,  has ‘questioned whether the process was “within the bounds of propriety”, saying that any arrangement which gave the interim mayor “two or even up to four years to establish a profile and a platform for election would clearly be improper and unfair”.’  But that is about it  and  the appointment of the interim mayor carries  on regardless.

There are many serious  practical objections to devolving power to  English city regions , but the naked disregard for the wishes of the voters  makes the practical objections irrelevant  if democracy is to mean anything.  Nor is the fact that eventually there will be an elected mayor of any relevance  because the voters have already rejected the idea. Even if  there was to be an election  for the mayor now instead of an interim mayor,  it would still be wrong because the voters of Manchester have already said no to an elected mayor.

This affair smacks of the worst practices of the EU whereby  a referendum  which produces  a result that  the Euro-elites do not want is rapidly overturned by a second referendum on the same subject after the Euro-elites have engaged in a  huge propaganda onslaught , bribed the offending country  by promising  more EU money if the result is the one the elites  want and threatened the offending country with dire consequences if the second vote produces the same result as the first referendum. In fact, this piece of chicanery is even worse than that practised by the EU because here the electorate do not even get another  vote before the elite’s wishes are carried out.

But there is an even  more fundamental objection to the planned transfer of powers than the lack of democracy.  Let us suppose that the proposal for an elected mayor for Manchester  had been accepted in the 2012 referendum, would that have made its creation legitimate?  Is it democratic to  have a referendum in   part of  a country on a policy which has serious implications for the  rest of the country  if  the rest of the country cannot vote in the referendum?  Patently it is not.

The effect of the proposed devolution to Manchester would be to set public provision in the  Manchester city region  at odds with  at the  least  much of Lancashire, parts  of Cheshire and  Derbyshire plus  the West Riding of Yorkshire.  For example,  Manchester could make a mess of their NHS administration with  their medical provision reduced in consequence and   patients from    Manchester seeking better  NHS  treatment elsewhere.  This would take money from the Manchester NHS  and place pressure on NHS services outside of Manchester  as they catered for people from Manchester.  Alternatively, Greater Manchester might be able to improve their health services and begin to draw in patients from outside the city region, reducing the public money  other  NHS authorities  receive and driving down the quality and scope  of their services.

A single city region having the powers that Manchester are going to have will  be disruptive to the area close to it, but  If other city regions  follow suit – and it is clear that the new Tory government intends  this to happen –  the Balkanisation of England  will  proceed apace, with city region being set against city region and the city regions being  pitted against the remnants of England outside the city regions.

Nor is it clear that  the first candidate city regions would be evenly spread around the country.  The cities which like Manchester rejected an elected mayor in 2012 were Birmingham,  Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield, Wakefield, Coventry, Leeds and Bradford.  Having been chosen to vote for an elected mayor It is reasonable to presume that these would be the cities which would be at the front of the queue for city region status.  They are all either in the  North  or  Central Midlands of England. Even in those areas there would be massive gaps, for example,  all  four  Yorkshire cities (Sheffield, Wakefield, Leeds and Bradford) are  in the West Riding.  The most southerly one  (Birmingham) is 170 odd miles from the South Coast.

There may of course be other city region candidates , but  it is difficult to see how such a policy could be rolled out across the country simply because there are substantial areas of England without  very large cities or towns. In fact, south of Birmingham there are precious few large towns and cities (London being  a law to itself)  which could form a city region in the manner of that proposed for Manchester.  The only  Englsh cities south of Birmingham which have a population of more than 250,000 are Bristol and Plymouth.   Hence, it is inevitable that England would be reduced to a patchwork of competing authorities with different policies on vitally important issues such as healthcare and housing.

The idea of giving powers to city regions  stems from the imbalance in the devolution settlement which leaves England, alone of the four home countries, out in the cold without a national political voice. It is a cynical and shabby  political fix for a problem which will not go away but may be submerged for the length of a Parliament  through a pretence of increasing local democracy in England.  Anyone who doubts this should ask themselves  this question,  if devolving power to the local level is so desirable why do Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland show no appetite for it?  The answer is that their politicians recognise that to do so would weaken both the  political clout of their countries and deprive their electors of a focus of national pride and loyalty.

There is also an EU dimension to this. The EU welcome anything which weakens national unity, and there is no better way of doing that than the time honoured practice of divide and rule. That is precisely what Balkanising England through creating regional centres of political power will do. The EU will seek  to use city regions (or any other local authority with serious powers)  to emasculate the Westminster government by  attempting to deal directly with the city regions rather than Westminster and using the fact of the increased local powers  to justify bypassing Westminster.

Once political structures such as the city regions are established it will become very difficult to  get rid of them because the national political class is weakened by the removal of powers from central government and the new local political power bases develop their own powerful  political classes.  If the Tories or any other government – both Labour and the LibDems have bought into the localism agenda – succeed in establishing city regions or any other form of devolution in England it will be the devil’s own job to  reverse the process of  Balkanising England. That is why it is vitally important to either stop the establishment of  serious powers being given to local authorities or  to put a barrier in the shape of an English Parliament between  Brussels and the English devolved localities.

 

 

 

Posted in Devolution, Nationhood, Politics | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Cameron is unwittingly preparing the way for Scotland to become independent

Robert Henderson

All the signs are that the incoming Tory government is  going to pander incontinently  to the Scottish National Party (SNP)  and grant ever greater devolved  powers to Scotland, viz Cameron saying  post-election  “In Scotland our plans are to create the strongest devolved government anywhere in the world, with important powers over taxation”, while  the newly appointed  Scottish Secretary  David  Mundell  speaks of the possibility of  powers for Scotland  greater than those recommended by the Smith Commission  after the NO vote in the Scottish independence referendum. There are even hints that full fiscal autonomy – the ability to set and collect all taxes in Scotland and decide how to spend the money raised – might be on the cards with Nicola Sturgeon saying the SNP would vote for it if it was offered and  the  Tory ex-Scottish Secretary Lord Forsyth has advocated a White Paper on the subject.

The problem with appeasement is that it can never be a strategy only a tactic to buy time.  This is because any concession is viewed as a sign of weakness and  encourages the appeased to demand more and more. What Cameron and his fellow  supposedly  pro-union appeasers of Scotland do not  give any sign of understanding is that each granting of extra powers to the Scotland is preparing the country for eventual independence, because the more power a devolved government has the greater confidence  the politicians in the devolved region will have that they can go it alone.  As things are going,  there will quite soon  come  a point where  the SNP will be able to say to  fainthearted voters , look, we are virtually independent now so  there is nothing to fear from independence.

The reasoning of those  unionists who support   new tax raising  powers for Scotland is that if the Scottish parliament  has to raise much of the money their government spends it will  cause  the attitude of  both politicians and the public in Scotland to change, with the politicians behaving prudently or facing the wrath of the electors, who would cease blaming the UK government and become disenchanted with the SNP.

This is pie-in-the-sky. If the SNP get anything short of full fiscal autonomy they will continue to blame the UK government for underfunding  Scotland. The massive preferential Treasury funding which Scotland receives compared with England (currently worth around £9 billion pa) will show this to be a lie,  but SNP supporters and Scots more widely will eagerly swallow the lie.   Moreover, it will be easy for the SNP to fudge the matter  in public debate,  because if Scotland gets  substantial powers to  raise taxes , the  Barnett Formula (which creates the higher per capita Treasury payments to Scotland) will be adjusted to reduce the amount of UK Treasury  funding  that Scotland receives.  The SNP will inevitably  claim any reduction is unfair.  They will also dispute how much taxpayers’ money  goes on  what might be termed UK spending, things such as defence and foreign policy.

If full fiscal autonomy is given to Scotland the same general problem would  arise, but in an even more extreme form because the Barnet Formula would be scrapped.  This would result in a considerable revenue shortfall  for the Scottish government. Not only would there be arguments between Scotland and Westminster about what would then  be  de facto federal measures – defence, foreign policy, the financing of the national UK debt, the management of the Pound  and so on –  but disputes over Oil and Gas revenues and  things such as the distribution of public money to pay for the administration of the domestic UK national civil service.

The dangers of devolved public debt

Devolving serious  tax and spending powers to Scotland would carry grave risks for the rest of the UK.  A Scottish government might well be reckless in its spending and run up large debts.  This could happen even if no formal further borrowing powers were given to Scotland because policies for Scotland would be based on estimates of future tax revenue.  These estimates could be seriously wrong if the SNP’s absurdly optimistic  predictions  over North Sea Oil and Gas tax revenue  are anything to go by. If serious  formal borrowing powers are  given to Scotland  the risk of overspending and large Scottish debts would be even greater .

These are not fanciful fears.  Spain stands as a salutary  example of what can happen when devolved power allows regional governments to run up debts. A significant part of  Spain’s present economic problems stem from the huge debts the 17 regional governments in Spain ran up prior to the present Eurozone crisis.

The Smith Commission proposals for further devolution to Scotland  (see p 23 onwards)  provide for a good deal of Scottish control over  fiscal matters . These proposals  have been broadly accepted by Cameron’s government. They include the following borrowing  proposals:

(5) Borrowing Powers: to reflect the additional economic risks, including volatility of tax revenues, that the Scottish Government will have to manage when further financial responsibilities are devolved, Scotland’s fiscal framework should provide sufficient, additional borrowing powers to ensure budgetary stability and  provide safeguards to smooth Scottish public spending in the event of economic shocks, consistent with a sustainable overall UK fiscal framework. The Scottish Government should also have sufficient borrowing powers to support capital investment, consistent with a sustainable overall UK fiscal framework. The Scottish and UK Governments should consider the merits of undertaking such capital borrowing via a prudential borrowing regime consistent with a sustainable overall UK framework.

There is untold opportunity for reckless behaviour there.  The danger is that Scotland will run up debts they cannot service let alone pay off and in those circumstances as happened in Spain, the central UK government (effectively the English taxpayer) t would have to bail Scotland out.

Nor would the dangers for England stop there. The effect of  less UK control of  taxation and Scottish borrowing would have a depressive  effect on the international credit worthiness of the UK as a whole  because the rest of the world would see that an element of new potential risk and uncertainty  had been introduced to the UK economy..

Leave the SNP to twist in the wind

The comprehensive  way to deal with the SNP threat would be to set up an English Parliament. That would immediately dissolve  SNP influence over the rest of the UK  both for  now and the future. However, there is no realistic prospect of an English Parliament  in the near future.  (The Conservative proposal for English votes for  English laws is no substitute for an English Parliament although  it is a stepping stone to one).  Short of an English Parliament  what could be done to nullify  SNP  influence?  The answer is ignore them because  the great enemy of the SNP is  time.

There is a kind of collective madness amongst the Scots at present. Not all Scots by any means, but at least half of the adult Scots population. From England it may seem that Scotland is a land of milk and honey because of the incessant reports of the Scots getting heaps of public goodies denied to England ,  such as no university tuition fees and  free  personal care for the elderly.  But the truth is that the SNP is struggling to fund such things even with the £9 billion or so extra they get from the Treasury each year. Look at any of the Scottish national papers and you will find every day a litany of complaint about poor public service or the  incontinent waste of money on projects such as the Edinburgh tram system fiasco.  Importantly, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has calculated that the SNP manifesto  contained larger spending cuts than Labour. If true, those are rather nasty pigeons coming home  to roost in the next year.

The way to tackle the SNP  is to give them nothing  and plenty of it for the next few years so that there is time to allow the economic mess that the SNP is creating in Scotland to come to its full fruition, time to  allow the many disturbingly authoritarian measures they have put in place  such as the centralisation of Scottish Police in a single national police force, the creation of a state guardian for every child in Scotland  and the banning of Auld Firm chants and songs to begin to  seriously worry people.    Sooner or later the Scots will start  blaming the SNP for their policy failures and misrepresentations  and begin chaffing against the growing restrictions on their  liberty. That will be the beginning of the end of  the SNP as a hugely dominant political force in Scotland.

The really angering thing about the dangerous course the Cameron government seems set on taking is that it is completely unnecessary because the SNP are powerless in the present House of Commons.  It smacks of political masochism.

Posted in Anglophobia, Devolution, Nationhood | Tagged , , | 17 Comments

Reasons why Ukip will underperform in the upcoming election

Robert Henderson

Editor’s note: Robert Henderson recently sent me a link to his article, “British Future report says 25% of British adults want all immigrants repatriated” which discusses a survey showing a great deal of hostility toward immigration in the U.K. The question then is why are we reading that Ukip is losing ground in the polls and not expected to get more than a handful of MPs. The most recent poll, published in the Telegraph, has Ukip at 13% and 3 MPs for the May 7 election. Given that Ukip rankshighest of all the parties in the popularity of their immigration proposals, the question is why. Many of his points apply also in the United States and  elsewhere.
1. Political inertia.  The first past the post system makes it  immensely  difficult for new parties to get established as a real political force because most British constituencies have large in-built majorities for either the Labour or Conservative Parties.  This is because the nature of the populations in those constituencies are such as to make a winning vote for the  Conservatives or Labour  candidate very likely, for example, Labour safe seats will lie at the centre of major cities and towns and old industrial centres  where thy continue to capture the White working-class vote and those of ethnic/racial minorities. Safe Conservative seats will  tend to be in the suburbs and countryside.   In many constituencies people will think there is no point in voting for anyone but the almost certain winner and often will not bother to vote if they do not support the party of the probable winner.
In the years since the Restoration in 1660 and the formation of the Whigs and Tories only one entirely new party (Labour)  has every formed a government in the UK , although the Whigs transmuted into the liberals and the Tories mutated into Conservatives  during the 19th century.  The fate of the Social Democratic Party formed by four dissident leading members of the Labour Party  in the early 1980s is instructive.  It managed to win by-elections and in alliance with the then Liberal Party managed to gain 25% of the vote at the 1983 General Election. That gained the alliance a paltry  23 seats out of 650.    By the next general election the SDP was a dead duck.   The problem for the alliance was that their vote was spread much more evenly across the country than the vote of Conservative and Labour  parties.  The same applies to Ukip.
2. The fear of being called a racist runs very deep in Britain.  This is unsurprising because almost every week there are stories in the media about people, normally white Britons, being involved in a “race row”.  These incidents  will frequently  result in the person losing their job, and increasingly people accused of racism are being sent for criminal trial. The police also have a regular practice of investigating people for “hate crimes” without any  real intent to prosecute — the intention  being  to intimidate individuals and, by their example,  the general population.
3. People are subjected to incessant politically correct propaganda on race and immigration.  Those under the age of 35 will have had it blaring at them all their lives, including hard-core indoctrination at school.  [Editor’s note: Today, listening to BBC radio while driving through Scotland, there was a comment  on the drowning of 400 African “migrants off the coast of Italy. The comment managed to discuss the Holocaust based on survivor accounts (the Nazis came to our farmhouse and shot our dog in sight of the child) and the British involvement in the slave trade in the 18th century (where slaves were huddled together in overcrowded ships), both of which she recalled from her school days; the message was that the U.K. must be open to such people. Endless empathy and compassion needed.]
This propaganda produces a strange state of mind in many . They  do not agree with the propaganda but they  f eel that opinions which go against the propaganda are somehow beyond the Pale.   Fear lies at the root of it but it manifests itself not in a conscious focused fear but as a general sense that something should not be done or said.
4. The mainstream media  in Britain give far less time to Ukip in general and immigration matters in particular than they do to other parties and political subjects.  When Ukip speakers get onto television and radio  they are almost invariably face a more hostile questioning  than those from other parties.  If they appear on panels  with other politicians or commentators they are invariably in a minority, normally a minority of one with chairman who is biased against them.   If there is an audience the audience will invariably be packed  with people who support the politically correct view of the world. As for the written media, they get much less opportunity to publish their views than the parties who oppose them.
5. Ukip send mixed immigration messages because they try to fit what they propose into a politically correct envelope.  They advocate a points based system  such as the Australians have.  Unless the numbers are severely capped this could mean more immigration than we presently have.  Ukip are advocating a cap of 50,000 per annum on skilled workers  (which would be far  more immigrants more than the British want),  but are saying nothing coherent about immigration through family reunion, students and asylum claims which forms the major part of immigration to the UK from outside the EU.
Then there is the rhetoric. Ukip claim constantly that race/ethnicity does not matter.  They  say that that their scheme for “ managed migration”  shows they are not racist because they want everyone in the world to have the same chance of coming here if they meet the skilled worker  criteria.  The idea that Black, Brown and Yellow migrants are to be substituted  for White European migrants is unlikely to appeal to the British public.
6. Ukip also embrace the free trade mania.  As a prime  justification for leaving the EU,  Ukip place alongside control of immigration the idea that we should leave because this will allow us “to trade with the world”.  Having seen what  “trading with the world” in the context of globalism has brought them even within the EU — offshoring destroying huge swathes of British jobs,  iconic British companies sold to foreigners in the most cavalier fashion and  claims that free trade must  by definition include the free movement of labour  (the reduction ad absurdum of classical economic theory)  — many of the British public are unwilling to jump from the EU frying pan into the laissez faire globalist fire.  That policy will alienate many.
7. Ukip are also for shrinking the British state radically. In particular Farage has made it clear that he thinks the  NHS  should be  replaced by  an insurance system whereby treatment is free at the point of use but the state ceases to own the medical infrastructure and employ the staff. The official Ukip policy is not for this,  but as Farage is seen as Mr Ukip, most voters will think the party is for the privatisation of the National Health Service. That is electoral poison in Britain.
8. The muddled thinking of electors. Many of those who say they want an end to mass immigration also support staying in the EU. This is nonsensical because unless we come out of the EU, immigration cannot be controlled.  This reduces support for Ukip because the “we want to stay in the EU” trumps the desire for immigration control.
9. A widespread  lack of discipline within Ukip, both in terms of promoting Ukip policy and personal behaviour, from Westminster candidates , MEPs and councillors. This all too often provides opportunities for the mainstream media to represent Ukip as at best as amateurs put of their depth.
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Britain needs electoral reform but the abolition of first past the post  (FPTP) is not the answer

Robert Henderson

As parties outside the British political mainstream garner more and more support the call for electoral reform will increase.. It is not simply that the coming general election will produce a House of Commons whose representation will be  radically different from the votes cast , because that has long been a feature of the British electoral system. What is different this time is the number of smaller parties such as Ukip and the Greens who will  gain significant electoral support but few MPs . The position is further complicated by the unbalanced devolution which allows non-English seat MPs to sit in the Commons and vote on English matters while English seat MPs cannot vote on the issues which have been devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

After the election there are likely to be renewed calls for  some form of PR to replace FPTP for Westminster elections. This would be a mistake because it would simply  be to swap one unsatisfactory electoral system for another.

There are two major problems with any form of PR:

(1) The link between the parliamentary representative  and a constituency is necessarily broken.  There are mixed systems with some members  elected for constituencies and some from a party list,  but they are very messy and do not thoroughly address the main objection to FPTP, namely, the failure to produce representatives  in proportion to the votes cast nationally.

(2)  Experience shows that  where proportional  systems exist the political classes   almost invariably transmute into conspiracies against the electorate.  This happens because majorities for one party are rare and where there is a situation of more or less permanent coalition no party can stand on a meaningful  manifesto  for the obvious reason that no government will deliver on any party’s manifesto or come close to it unless a coalition is comprised of parties whose policies are next to identical.   This means politicians can rarely  be held to account for failing to deliver.

It is also true that many  forms of  PR are complex compared with FPTP and  the  types  of PR which would be likely to be adopted  are  the  ones which would have fair degree of complexity, for example, the Standard Transferrable Vote.  Such a system would confuse a significant part of the electorate – ten percent of the UK population have IQs of 80 or less –  which could drive those people away from participating in elections.   Nor is it clear that having first and second or even more preferences invariably  produces something closer to what the electorate wants.  As I pointed out above, it is rare for any two candidates, even those of the major parties, to represent policies which  overall  are similar enough to make the second choice  a really satisfying option.

What would be better than PR?

I suggest Britain retains the  first past the post system with MPs representing the people who elect them, but moves from single-member constituencies to double-member constituencies .  This would have dissolve much of the objection to FPTP as it is now and bring additional benefits.

How would it work? Each  constituency  would have  roughly double the size of  the present constituencies.  A maximum of two members  for each political party would be able to stand in each double constituency.  This would allow a  single party to get an overall majority. Electors would  be able to vote for two candidates.  The two candidates with the most votes in each constituency would be elected regardless of how far behind the leading candidate the second candidate came.  Second or additional preferences would not exist.    The beneficial  effects of such a system would be:

  1. a) It would undermine the idea of safe seats.  There would still be constituencies  which returned one party over and over again, but the likelihood of both MPs in a constituency coming from the same party  would be relatively small because of the much greater  size of the double constituencies. In most cases this would mean a much more mixed electorate both socially and politically than in constituencies half the size.
  2. b) the constituency connection of the voter and MP would be maintained .
  3. c) Electors would be able to vote for the candidate they favoured with a greater chance of getting them elected.  If the voter favoured one of the two presently major parties there would be a very strong chance that at least one of  their chosen candidates  would be one of the two candidates sent to the Commons.   But even electors who voted for the lesser parties would have some real expectation  of success for their chosen candidate,  because there are many constituencies where the second  party in a constituency is not Tory or Labour. In addition, the fact that  those coming second in an election could  be elected on a substantially smaller vote than those coming first would increase the likelihood of minor party candidates being elected. Moreover, once such a system was up and running and electors saw  how it worked, the patterns of voting could and almost certainly would begin to change with more and more people being willing to risk voting for what are now  smaller parties.
  4. d) Such constituencies would allow for MPs of radically different views to represent the same set of electors. This would mean most electors would be able to have an MP to represent them whose party policies bore some resemblance to the policies they Even if  an elector was in a constituency which had two MPs of the same party, they would still have a choice of two MPs to go to for help  and advice.
  5. e) Because two MPs from different parties would be elected in each constituency and there is greater opportunity for minor party MPs or even independent MPs being elected, the relationship between votes cast and MPs elected for each of the parties would be much closer than it is under the FPTP system we now have now.   However,  unlike PR the double-member constituency would  only mitigate rather than remove entirely  the disproportion between votes cast and seats obtained  under single-member constituencies. This is worth tolerating  because it would avoid the undesirable   state of  permanent coalition.   In terms of party representation and electoral support it would be a halfway house between what we have now and the conspiracy of permanent coalition which is virtually guaranteed by any form of PR.

Other changes to improve alter the balance of power

Other changes to alter the balance of power between voters and politicians to favour electors should be made:

Institute a  power to  for electors to  recall of MPs through a referendum conducted in their constituency.

Citizen initiated referenda on the Swiss model, with tight legal underpinning to ensure that politicians abide by the result  of a referendum and take   the necessary practical steps to  ensure that the will of the electors is realised .

Not perfect, but probably the best which can be done

What I propose would not entirely remove the anomalies and unfairness found in our present FPTP system, but it would remove most of the poison in the system  by giving smaller parties much greater opportunity to gain Commons seats,  whilst retaining the good things such as constituency representation and the simplicity of the system.

It is worth adding that a significant part of Britain’s present electoral deficiencies stem substantially from Britain’s membership of the EU (which increasingly constrains what her major political parties can offer by way of policy) and the imbalance of the present devolution settlement which leaves England out in the cold.  If Britain left the EU and switched to a true  federal system  which included an English Parliament that in itself would make the present British system function more democratically and would enhance the benefits of the double-member solution I propose.

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Who will  speak for England?

Robert Henderson

It is a singular thing that the question of English votes for English laws let alone  an English Parliament  has gone almost unmentioned during the 2015 general  election. There has been a great deal of noise made by the Tories about the threat offered to England  by the SNP in coalition with Labour ,  but precious little if anything has been said about how the SNP threat could be neutralised entirely by  establishing  a federal system for the UK.  This would require an English Parliament, something which could be created  quickly and with little extra expense by simply allowing  MPs for English seats to sit as the English Parliament.   The few UK federal policies such as defence, management of the Pound and foreign affairs could be dealt  with by  representatives from the four home countries  sitting as a federal Parliament in the House of Lords.

Such an arrangement would remove the SNP’s ability to operate as Irish MPs under leaders such as  Charles Stewart Parnell and  John Redmond  operated  before the Great War when Irish MPs sitting at Westminster supported liberal governments  and in return pressured the Liberal Party top grant   Home Rule for Ireland.

Stripped of their ability to interfere with English affairs the SNP would lose  any meaningful power over English politicians. They could of course continue to seek independence or at least more and more powers until they were on the brink of becoming independent, but there would be a great difference in the way such ambitions were treated by English politicians.  There would no longer  be an  incentive for English politicians to pander to the Scots, as they  now do in the most craven fashion, because  the great  prizes  in UK politics would be to become the  Prime Minister of England (or whatever  the position might be called) and take part in the government of England.  As the government of England  would be decided only by the English electorate, there would be no need to make compromises with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland which would affect English interest adversely.

There would also be a general change in mentality amongst English MPs because they would have  an English Parliament with an English electorate to satisfy.   English politicians of necessity  would have to look to English interests before the domestic interests of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland .  Most importantly, the Barnett Formula that determines Treasury disbursements  (which favours not only  Scotland but Wales and Northern Ireland over England)  would be unsustainable.

The extent  to which  England is disadvantaged by the formula is startling.   In 2013 the Treasury funding for each home country was as follows:

  1. Ireland £10,876 per head  (£2,347 more than England)

Scotland    £10,152 per head (£1,623 more than England)

Wales          £9,709 per head    (£1,180 more than England)

England      £8,529 per head

The ONS estimates of each home country’s population for  mid-2014  are:

England 53.9 million

Scotland   5.3 million

Wales       3.1 million

  1. Ireland 1.8 million

If  the per capita Treasury payments to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2013 had been  reduced to those received by England, the money paid to these three home countries would have been reduced by:

Scotland    £8.6 billion

Wales         £3.6 billion

  1. Ireland £ 4.2 billion

Grand total of reduced payments £16.4 billion.

Such a reduction would be a very sharp wake up call for those wishing to break up the United Kingdom. It would give them a taste of what independence would mean.

If there was such a reduction, the SNP would doubtless keep chanting their mantra about the oil and gas extracted in British waters  being Scotland’s oil and gas. But  even if  all the oil and gas in the North Sea was in Scottish waters, which it is not,  it would be a poor argument because while Scotland is part of a nation state called the United Kingdom, the oil  and gas around British waters is not Scottish oil and gas but the United Kingdom’s oil and gas.  They also need to bear in mind that oil and gas revenues have only flowed since 1980, so there is the previous 273 years since 1707 to be accounted for, much of which time Scotland  was Churchmouse  poor and produced little by way of tax revenue.   Moreover, oil and gas extraction from Scottish waters is expensive compared with much of the oil and gas being extracted elsewhere  and consequently very vulnerable if the price of oil drops below $100 a barrel. If the price remains as low as it is now, hovering around  the $50-60 dollar a barrel mark, even the most naïve Scot would begin to worry about basing Scottish independence on oil and gas revenues as heavily as the  SNP do now.

Apart from the Barnett Formula abolition, the Scots might well find that with an English Parliament the English did such things as taking the SNP at its word about wanting rid of the Trident nuclear submarine base in Scotland and removed the base  to England with the thousands of jobs which go with it and decide to repatriate English public sector jobs administering  services  such as English welfare payments and taxation  which have been sent to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Faced with an English Parliament looking after English interests first,  the prospect of Scottish independence could  fade rapidly. The problem is no party in this election which is likely to win seats is proposing an English Parliament and only two -UKIP  (see the Political Reform section) and the Tories –  support the idea of  English votes for English laws. Even there the Tories are ambiguous about exactly how far their proposal would go in stopping non-English seat MPs voting on English only laws, not least because while the Barnett formula exists  – which it would continue to do while there was no English Parliament to cut the Gordian knot of a misshapen devolution settlement – – there would be few bills of any significance which did not have direct implications for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland because their funding is linked to English funding.: England gets more money for something; the other three home countries get a proportional increase. Even the strictest possible interpretation of what was an English only measure was adopted,  the problem with non-English seat MPs pressuring a party without an overall majority in the Commons  to grant favours to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would remain.  Moreover, under English votes for English laws, it would not be the English seat MPs  only who initiated English-only legislation.

Labour and the Lib Dems are resolutely opposed to  any form of devolved power for England as a nation and are attempting to fudge the question of the imbalance in the present devolution settlement which leaves England out on a limb by Balkanising England by giving power to local and regional bodies in England with the Lib Dems having the particularly fatuous idea  ”devolution on demand” whereby local  areas ask for devolved powers with the consequence of this being a superfluity of differences between parts of England.

Patently, England’s interests are being wilfully neglected in this election. Is there really no one in British politics who will call for an English Parliament,  no one who will  speak for England?

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Devolution and the House of Lords

Robert Henderson

There is one important aspect of the devolution mess created since 1997 which receives little or no attention in the mainstream media or from mainstream politicians, namely, the role of the House of Lords.  As things stand  all legislation which affects England goes through the Lords,  while ever increasing swathes of legislation affecting Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland avoid such scrutiny  because the legislation is initiated, debated, amended and either passed or not at the will of the three devolved assemblies. Yet another instance of how England is grossly disadvantaged by the unbalanced devolution in Britain.

Many will shrug their shoulders and say what does it matter, isn’t the Lords just a talking shop with no power?  The answer is an emphatic no. Government ministers sit in the Lords, the House  can initiate their own Bills, amend   or strike down completely  Bills  sent to them by the House of Commons ,ask  questions orally and in writing, including questions of ministers,  sit on  their own select committees and on  joint committees of the Lords and Commons . Members also have the great privilege of a national political platform to get their views to the public.

The power of the Lords to delay

The sharpest power  the Lords has is to delay.  This can be achieved   by being tardy over  their examination of Bills sent to them by the Commons, by heavily amending Bills sent to them by the Commons (this means they have to go back to the Commons for re-consideration) and  by refusing outright to pass Bills. (There is one important exception to the power of the Lords to amend or refuse outright to pass  Bills from the Commons and that is what are called money Bills, legislation  which involves   the collection or spending of money by the government. Such Bills have to be signed off as Money Bills by the Speaker. )

If the Lords does refuse to pass a Bill from the Commons in its entirety or in part, the 1949 Parliament Act allows the Commons to force through a Bill regardless of the wishes of the Lords in the  session of  Parliament in which the Bill was originally introduced into the Common. This procedure    typically  results in  a delay of  around a year.  When the Bill is reintroduced it is passed without the Lords having any opportunity to delay it further. This is a very rare procedure with only seven Acts have been passed in this way either under the 1949 Parliament Act or its 1911 predecessor.

Being able to delay Bills sent from the Commons is a  powerful weapon  because  government legislation may be lost for want of Parliamentary time if an election is looming or a session of Parliament (which normally lasts a year)  is coming to an end and other government business takes priority in the new session.   Even if time is not absolutely pressing, governments are generally anxious to get their legislation through quickly and will often accept a Lords’ amendment to Bills sent from the Commons simply to get the legislation passed quickly.

The political composition of the House of Lords

“As at 16 December 2014, the total membership of the House of Lords was 847. However, excluding those currently ineligible to sit (such as members on leave of absence or those holding particular posts), the ‘actual’ membership was 791. The average attendance of the House of Lords in the 2013–14 session was 497.”

The  791 Members eligible to sit in the House of  consisted of 679 Life Peers, 86 ‘excepted hereditary’ Peers and 26 Bishops.  Their political allegiances, where declared, were:

Conservative  230

Labour  216

Liberal Democrat  105

Crossbench  180

Bishops  26

Even on the declared allegiances  the House is heavily tilted toward the liberal left who are instinctively anti-English.  Not only do Labour and the Libdems  have a majority together over the Conservatives, those  who take the Tory whip  will more often than not have much the same politics  as the Labour and LibDem peers .  As for the officially politically  non-aligned, it is reasonable to assume that  most  of  the Bishops will also be of liberal left  because  the upper reaches of the Anglican Church has long shown themselves to be consistently  left of centre with their unwavering support for political correctness .  The crossbenchers   will also have a healthy component from  the liberal left  simply because  they are selected by those who generally subscribe to political correctness  with  the consequence that they  will do the very human thing of selecting those who resemble themselves.

The geographical spread and size of the  of the Lords is very  important. Peers can come from any part of the United Kingdom and there is no limit to their number.   This means that the Lords could easily become imbalanced, if it  is not already so, by the creation of disproportionately large  numbers of peers who were not English. Moreover, because peers are not elected , in principle,  a government could create any number of new peers to push through  legislation which is damaging to English interests, for example, to Balkanise England with regional assemblies regardless of the wishes of the English.

Less dramatically, because of the power to delay and force compromise from a government, it is easy to see how a House of Lords which was  against England controlling its own affairs could cause considerable difficulties if  the Commons voted , for example, to  end the Barnett formula or to set up an English Parliament  simply by delaying matters, for example, if General Election was due in less than a year’s time and sufficient numbers in the Lords thought there was a fair bet that the election would result in a change of government.

If England had English votes for English Laws

Would English votes for English laws solve the constitutional imbalance?  The idea  raises many problems such as how to define what is English only legislation while the Barnett Formula is in place because the Formula  determines what Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland gets from the UK Treasury  because it is linked to government  spending in England.  But the  Lords adds another complication because the proposal  as it has been suggested to date makes no mention of removing from the Lords’  the power of  scrutiny of any House of Commons Bills which are deemed English only Bills. If that were the case then there would still be the anomaly   that the Lords  could interfere with English only legislation while having no power to intervene over the equivalent legislation for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland .

The difficulty could be surmounted by giving English only laws the same status as money Bills but in reality, only an English Parliament and a truly federal constitution for each of the four home countries will permanently solve the problem of the imbalance of the present devolution settlement.

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