Sunday, 31 May 2009

Succinct leaflets

I was writing about my second leaflet yesterday as I printed it on 29th May and a lot of it has already been delivered. Today I will share with you a small section of the leaflet which I started on the first leaflet. I called it "Liberal Democrat Quotes" and I thought it was a succinct method of getting across why people should vote Liberal Democrat. This time it wasn't about reasons to vote, but the headline was still fine. I just had space for three ideas.

“You cannot propose a council tax freeze and then say expensive council services will improve. There has to honesty in politics.” I don't think it registers with the electorate when Liberal Democrats say that their manifesto is costed. It means that you can't say what you like without recognising the consequences of any claims.

“Liberal Democrats pay for their own leaflets.” This was a reaction to the Independent leaflet in which they claim to be all things to all men. They are independent of party politics (but they are a party, presumably with a constitution to say who they are and what they think but I have not been able to find it which means that the electorate have certainly not been able to find it). They put people first but how they put people first and if two people have different opinions then life gets very complicated for them.

“The Liberal Democrats Policies are made by the members.” Again this was a reaction to the Independents. I don't know how they decide their opinions, I don't know their preamble to their constitution, and I don't know their constitiution.

It takes a while to write about three quotes and people don't have time to read a full leaflet.

Change the world

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Morecambe Winter Gardens

I am a candidate in the County Council elections for Morecambe West on June 4th, and I printed my second leaflet today. I would like to share part of that leaflet with you.

If you know Morecambe then you will know the Midland Hotel. You may be old enough to remember the beauty contests, and you may know about the Winter Gardens. It is a fine building. Unfortunately it has not been used since 1977. There is a possibility that it could re-open and here is part of my leaflet:

Liberal Democrats back Winter Gardens

Lancaster City Council met on April 29th to discuss the Winter Gardens. This important project in the regeneration of Morecambe could become reality because of the hard work of the Friends of the Winter Gardens. Liberal Democrats believe this would be a great asset to Morecambe and a draw for tourists.

At the meeting councillors were asked to give their support to the project and in so doing they were asked to look at the Council's own CulturalServices to make sure they were not competing against the Winter Gardens. They were also told to look at the council's budget to see if they could afford to back the project. The Liberal Democrats were the only group to support these proposals. In a shock move MBI councillors voted for a Labour proposal which the Liberal Democrats believe will scupper the project.

Stuart Langhorn, leader of Lancaster Council said 'The effect of this is to say that they do not support the business plan put forward by the Winter Gardens. What sort of message does that send to potential funders?'

Change the world

Friday, 29 May 2009

Who is investigating our MPs?

Today's news (28th May) is that Tory MP Julie Kirkbride and Labour's Margaret Moran are standing down at the next general election victims of the expenses fiasco. If they are victims and standing down because of harassment by their constituents then shame on their constituents.

I don't think they are victims. They may have made claims within a system that was not strict at all. Sloppy might be a better word. Regardless of how sloppy the system was, it looks like they have milked it, and some would say broken the law by theft.

Whether they are victims, honest people working within the system, or thieves, we don't want people's courts setting up everywhere. Trial by Telegraph. We also don't want Gordon Brown telling us that MPs will be weeded out and not stand again as Labour candidates. We want the same punishment to occur to MPs as it would to anyone else.

Thora Hird worked in a shop in Morecambe before she became famous. She had to wear an overall and the story goes that she was late for work and she kept some of her own change in the overall. I can't remember the detail of this story (so if you know then please add a comment) but the result was that on that very day she was out of a job. This happened without proof, but we have a lot of evidence with MPs. Who is investigating our MPs?

Change the world

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Sometimes people know what they want

More than a hundred people were evacuated from their homes in Morecambe in the early hours of Bank Holiday Monday (25th May) because of a fire that swept through a chicken processing factory. The factory was devastated by the fire and investigations to evaluate the amount of damage will take some time. Nobody was injured but it will be some time if ever before more chicken comes out ot this factory.

It is in a residential area and in the past there have been many complaints about bad smells. There have also been a lot of problems with parking in this area. It is not just this factory that is the cause of the parking problem but it has contributed.

On the Monday morning Liberal Democrats were campaigning for its closure. In today's local paper (27th May) the editorial agrees. It is a peculiar time for local newspapers. They don't want to publish anything to do with party politics. The photographer avoided the campaigners and their rosettes and no mention was made of the petition. Local democracy is about campaigning for what people want. This can sometimes be confusing because the people don't know what they want, but in this case they do.

Change the world

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Outrageous claims by public employees

Ten years ago if you asked an MP how much they claimed in expenses they would have told you that it was none of your business. Even ten weeks ago they would have said the same thing. Now everyone agrees that expenses should be open for everyone to see. It is our business because it is our money.

Now what about employees in quangos? Should we know their salaries and expenses. We pay for the BBC, the NHS and the police. Are we entitled to know all about all these employees? We are picking on MPs because of a leak to the Daily Telegraph. I have written that we should praise the person who blew the whistle. The difference between MPs and all the other employees concerns self-regulation. MPs regulate themselves. The other employees of the state have their expenditure audited. However all public sector expenses, not just MP's, are paid for by the public, out of taxes. Also, I think we have a right to know whether or not the audit process is working as it should.

It strikes me that we should know details about all public employees. MPs are being put through the mill, and the result is beneficial to the country. Let's see if there are any outrageous claims on our money in any other public organisations.

Change the world

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

An independent independent

I have received a leaflet from an independent candidate for the Morecambe Parish Council. He is not happy with the extra charge for this level of government and was misled into asking for it by the 'Independent Party' (The 'Morecambe Bay Independents' - they meet every known definition of a party, and so are independent in name only, but that doesn't stop them promoting themselves as the 'anti-party' party). He proposes to terminate the council on the grounds that we were misled. If this fails he proposes to put a cap on the council's expenditure. I would agree with this as I fear that a small group within a party could do what they want and we would all be paying a lot extra for an extra tier of government that even some of the people who called for it don't want.

I won't tell you all the details, but this person has thought carefully about his platform for election. I may be wrong but to stand in an election and saying that the whole basis for standing has a poor foundation, it strikes me that he will not gain a lot of votes.

I share his fears but accept that we now have to fight from within this council. We will see how he gets on next week. At least he is trying to...

Change the world

Monday, 25 May 2009

Get the books to balance

Today (24th May) I pass Conservative leafleters. The children aren't pushing their leaflets through the letterbox and it makes it difficult for me to deliver my leaflets. However I don't have this leaflet as I live across the road from the County division. I meet them again and I ask for one so we swap leaflets.

The priority for the Conservatives is to cut waste and give value for money. There is nothing in the leaflet that says how they will do this. What they do say is that they will spend money on improving roads and footpaths, provide better social care for children and the elderly and tackle crime. All these things cost money.

They criticise Labour for cutting the funding for roads, closing a school in Hornby, and cuts in the county care programme. The only time they mention a possible saving (apart from vague efficiency savings) is for the £250 000 on the publication of a magazine. This happens to be the same amount that they will presumably spend on the £250 000 cut in the care programme.

There are lots of gaps in the information given. The public deserve better than this. The Conservatives have criticised, made claims for savings with no detail, and said they would freeze council tax. I presume this means they would cut services at least by inflation. Wouldn't it be nice to see the books balance!

Change the world

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Polish squadrons fought valiantly

On Monday (18th May) I went to the dentist. The work that was done was carried out very professionally and I was very pleased with the result. The dentist happened to be Polish. Many years ago a friend of mine was a newly qualified dentist and my dentist was always trying to get me to influence him to join his surgery. There was a great shortage of dentists at the time and I am sure that there is still a shortage now. My friend was English but both his parents were Polish. I mention nationality because of the BNP's policies.

The BNP aspire to all things British. Last week they unveiled that truly British spitfire that happened to be part of a Polish squadron in the Battle of Britain. We needed the Polish then and we need them now. To put it politely the BNP have not thought through their policies. Would they send my dentist back to Poland? Would they send my friend somewhere even though he was born in England. Perhaps not, but what would they do with his parents? They are more interested in issues of skin colour, so would they send Ronaldo back to Portugal or does Ainsley Harriot have to explain his nationality to the BNP? Do first or second generations from ethnic minorities have to explain themselves because they happen to have a different skin colour? If the BNP accept them as English, do they have to be separated from older generations of their family?

The whole concept of this party stinks. They propose to pay for repatriation. This will increase resentment and race hatred. I am not sure how they get away with their policies, but I have seen some posters in windows supporting this party. I just hope that these residents have not thought through what they are doing.

Change the world

Saturday, 23 May 2009

People you meet during elections

This morning (22nd May) I met a Conservative candidate for the County elections. He told me that there was so much antagonism towards candidates that he thought canvasing was counter-productive so he wasn't doing any. Yesterday evening I met a Labour candidate who was getting abuse on the doorstep. His response is to ask if they want to stand. I mentioned yesterday that even I am getting some abuse as a Liberal Democrat. If people want to make constructive criticism they can write to the papers, speak to me, or simply add comments to this blog.

I also met a very nice lady who told me about her work keeping the streets clean. The improvements that can be made are obvious. It is people who put litter in the street and we need to educate them. The answer is also to have more people cleaning the streets and giving them an area that they can be proud of - and so can the residents. This lady told me that she needed more time so there is another answer.

I also met a former Liberal Democrat councillor. It was very nice to meet her - another poster has now gone up, and we may have another activist. So some people do care enough to act politically despite the expenses scandal.

Change the world

Friday, 22 May 2009

Public reaction to politicians

As a Liberal Democrat it is fairly easy to knock on any door. I suspect it is a lot harder for Conservative and Labour supporters to knock on some doors. Last week I was asked to talk at a public meeting in Morecambe, but I found out a couple of days ago that it has been cancelled. During election times there has to be fairness between parties in the media and in public meetings and unfortunately there is a BNP candidate standing. I would have found it difficult to share a platform with a person if they held the views of this party, but from their point of view when they knock on the door they must meet a lot of hostility because of the BNP's odious policies. This morning (21st May) I saw a handwritten note on the letterbox 'No BNP'. I also saw one BNP leaflet in a window.

This morning I gave a leaflet to a lady and she hesitantly said 'I shall read it but I won't be voting for you'. I would guess that she was a Tory, but I thanked her for reading it. This evening somebody shouted 'get lost' after a leaflet had been delivered. I hope he will reconsider his approach sometime. I also met someone who started to rant about all politicians being as bad as each other. I asked if he would stand (which seems to me to be a logical conclusion) but he didn't seem interested and didn't take my leaflet. What a pity that he couldn't see the current
situation as a call to action, and act on it. It also strikes me that his behaviour is worse than many elected politicians.

I could have said that I am untainted by victory in elections, but this doesn't sound good. In my leaflets I prefer 'time for change'. I detect a mood of antipathy towards politicians in general, but I also have a sense of change in direction. We will have to wait for the result in June.

Change the world

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Do we want a general election now?

David Cameron is talking today (19th May) about how he has been calling for transparency for at least a year. He is obviously right to do so and he is saying mostly the right things. He did say that the public are not happy with MPs apologising and paying money back. He is right on this too. His answer is for a general election to be called sooner rather than later. On this he is wrong.

Our electoral system is not good enough to weed out some MPs who may now be seen as criminals. Our electoral system is not even good enough to reflect the views of society. We need a proportional system of representation.

David Cameron's point is that constuency parties can deselect their MP if they think they should. Unfortunately the party members and the law think differently. The former are influenced by how well they can present the party's points of view, and can they win the election. There may be an element of choosing an honest person but we all hope everyone is honest. There is a correlation between the decision making process for constituencies and the police but only the latter is related to the justice system.

The public are now angry because we may be dealing with criminals. In any other walk of like we would be looking at instant dismissal and police involvement.

Change the world

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Bonus Blog

I was delivering leaflets this morning for the elections in June, and I was stopped twice to talk politics. The first person called me over and asked if I was canvasing. We still canvas in the sense that we look for opinions from the public, but we don't canvas in the sense of asking for votes. There are less and less party workers in this area for any party and taking numbers at polling stations is usually for show, not to knock on doors later in the evening. I am sure there are areas where this still goes on but not here. Today I was leafleting but I am always happy to listen to opinions.

He said that the only reason he was not working was because of the government and the quarry tax. I am not an expert in quarry tax but I do know that the landfill tax is there to decrease the amount of waste that we produce and increase recycling. I mentioned that the quarry tax may serve the purpose of conserving the earth's resources. I also mentioned that sand is a commodity that does not regenerate and we have to use the earth's resources wisely.

At this point he told me that everything had sand in it for building, we weren't talking at the same level and he couldn't continue the conversation. I came home to look up quarry tax and the first thing I learn is that it provides funds for nature reserves - try googling quarry tax yourself. The next thing I learn is that there are adverse effects on the environment from quarrying. I had guessed something along those lines, but I also know that we do need quarries. There must be a balance somewhere.

I did not think that I had said anything wrong but the main point of this conversation is not to try to defend Government action. They can defend it themselves. However I will give this gentleman the opportunity to reply to this blog. He can tell us the benefits of the quarrying industry. At least he took the time to speak with me, and now he has the opportunity to tell the world what he thinks.

The second person who wanted to talk politics with me criticised Europe. We agreed that trade was necessary and there is a whole lot of politics that goes with trade. The involvement of banks to exchange our money, the taxations on trade, I am sure you can create a long list yourself. Then we agreed on environmental issues being important. Then the action of government departments was important within Europe. I said I would give him a copy of my recent blog on Europe, and he too can have the right to reply to this blog.

Change the world.

A fair voting system

As a member of the Liberal Democrats I have a vote when there is a Liberal Democrat leadership election. I also have a vote to put candidates in order for the party list system in the European elections. You know that the European election is based on proportional representation, and there are eight MEP places in the North West. If you have a quarter of the vote you get two MEPs, one eighth you get one, and so on.

So we already have a rough idea who will be elected. My concern is that we don’t have a system that can weed out MEPs (or MPs) who behave disgracefully as we have seen in the expenses scandal.

I know how the Liberal Democrats placed their candidates in order. How do Labour and Conservatives place their candidates in order? Who punishes MPS and MEPs if they misbehave? Look back in the blogs and you will see my reservations about list systems but my worry in this blog is that the electorate or at least party members have no power to deselect rogue MPs and MEPs.

Change the world.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

How to clean up politics.

It has not been a good few weeks for politicians. If you are being kind then it looks like most of our MPs are milking a system to the best of their ability. Those who are less gentle would consider MPs to be thieves. The answer is transparency. This is one of those wishy-washy liberal ideas that can now be seen as essential for the smooth running of society. It’s a shame that we need such extreme problems to occur before we realise what is valuable in life. Everyone may be tempted. We have to have a system that minimises temptation. It looks like the expenses system needs an overhaul.

How do I play my part in cleaning up politics? In the past I have criticised the policies of my opponents. Well I will start by not criticising my opponents whatever they may say about me or the Liberal Democrats. In fact I will try to say something good about them. And here is a start... I believe that the vast majority of people go into politics for the right reasons. As for the Morecambe West candidates where I am standing, I have met the Labour and the Green Party candidates and heard them speak about their beliefs. They are both hard-working people and would be a credit to the electorate. I am afraid I don’t know the Independent or the Conservative candidates but I have spoken with many in their parties. I am sure that they are fine candidates.

I hope that the electorate turn out to give one of us their vote. If apathy rules then we are on the road to dictatorship.

Change the world

Monday, 18 May 2009

Party Politics at Parish Level

So far with these blogs, I have written them from the point of view of someone who thinks about political issues and then writes about them. I want more people to be interested in politics and then get involved. It is difficult to get involved without joining a party as I have mentioned in a few blogs. Well today I will mention that I am a member of the Liberal Democrats. I have stood for them in the past and I am a candidate for the Morecambe Parish Council and for the Lancashire County Council in Morecambe West. Both elections along with the European election are to be held on Thursday 4th June.

In Morecambe we have an Independent Party. I have also written about the value of Independents previously. It is great to see that people can be moved to act politically as individuals. At parish level you often find that there are no political parties, just individuals who make up the council. In Morecambe’s case, the council was instigated by a party. The Liberal Democrats decided to fight this election with our party name. The Labour Party decided to change their name to ‘Residents First’, presumably to keep party politics out of parish elections (but more likely to get more votes as they are still Labour Party candidates) and the Conservative Party candidates have no party name next to theirs. The Independent Party kept their name.

So should parties keep their name? The Independents prefer people to politics, whatever this means. I presume the no-name Tories prefer no parties but they have to recognise that they are standing because they are Tories. Labour are confused about their image but act as a party. The simple answer is yes. There are far too few people interested in politics and if you act as part of a party it would be dishonest to disguise it.

Change the world.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Don't abuse any section of society

Yesterday's blog showed a concern about extremist views because I received a leaflet from the BNP who 'put British people first'. There is a picture of someone with a stethoscope around their neck, who is concerned about immigration. What does this mean? What is the BNP trying to say? A concern for immigration panders to xenophobic fears. A friend of mine who is Caucasian and Canadian was in a queue for a supermarket till and the lady in front of him started to complain about foreigners who were taking our jobs. He did make her aware that he was Canadian. He didn't say this to her but he did make a joke to me by saying "I'm not taking your job because you can't read or write". Some people have the ability to get over insult by joking but others cannot. A deeper understanding of the joke is that we need skilled people and sometimes we need to bring them in from other countries. Exactly the same arguments could be used for semi-skilled and non-skilled workers.

I believe that I should have the ability to live and work anywhere in the world and I would like others to have this ability. My friend is a professional and works in a hospital but it doesn't matter if they are artists or musicians or street cleaners. In practice, BNP literature panders to xenophobic fears and arouses race hatred. How would the BNP deal with our multi-cultural society if they had any power? How would I be dealt with if I worked (or retired) abroad? In their leaflet they claim that Muslims are abusive (no reference given). How do they get away with racist insult? All sections of society may be abusive and the BNP lead the way (reference their election leaflet).

Change the world

Saturday, 16 May 2009

How do you change the world?

When the disgraceful claims came to light about MPs' expenses I was comparing their oversights to how the average person would be dealt with. There are some examples that are obvious lies, telling the expenses people one thing and the tax man another. The system for expenses is not strict. How did a husband and wife both manage to claim for their same second home? How does an MP get thousands of pounds for a mortgage that he doesn't have? There have been examples of second homes which look like they have nothing to do with Westminster but we pay for them. If only expense claims had been made public at once then none of this would have happened.

All claims (it seems) are within the guidelines, so I am not sure why MPs paid a lot of money back. They must think that their claims were not in 'the spirit' of the guidelines, whatever that is. Who decides the spirit? My first thoughts were that all MPs were behaving disgracefully, but is there a difference between taking one pound and taking a million? Is there a difference between giving a job to a friend and putting in claims for fictitious mortgages?

I am starting to see how complex this situation is and I now wish it would get sorted quickly. I think that some crimes have been committed and MPs should be dealt with just as severely as any other citizen. I think that mostly MPs have milked the system and worked within the system, which is not good and for the most part our poor electoral system will not weed them out. However my main concern is that the public become disillusioned with the major parties and vote for extremists. I sign off each blog with 'change the world'. We do need to change the world but we must not give extremists the opportunity of gaining power.

Change the world

Friday, 15 May 2009

Tough on the causes of crime.

I am going to a debate this evening so I want to use this blog to gather my thoughts on our prison service. What is its purpose? Is it working? Well the reason for having prisons is to protect the public from criminals who may do harm to others. A second role is to punish offenders which is linked to deterring others from crime. A third aspect of prisons is to rehabilitate prisoners.

Generally the public are protected from prisoners. There may be problems when prisoners are released but inside I believe that the public are usually protected. I base this on my local prison in Lancaster. I heard that around six years ago two prisoners escaped because some workers had left ladders for them. They had to jump some distance and one of them was injured and recaptured immediately. The other was recaptured a week or so later. Apart from this episode I understand that no prisoner has ever escaped from Lancaster.

On the second point, there is only a punishment if prisoners are worse off inside. You read stories in the tabloid press that prisoners complain if they can't get channel 5. I have no first hand experience of prisons but I don't think they are nice places to be, and as such they are acting as a deterrent. However this depends on your standards. Some people may be better off as prisoners where they can expect regular meals and a roof over their head.

For me rehabilitation is the most important aspect because offenders re-offend. Prisons become criminal universities and we end up with hardened criminals.

Should we be tough on crime? Of course, but it is much more important to be tough on the causes of crime, because we end up with a very expensive scheme that isn't a punishment, treats some people better than they would be treated at home, and then teaches them how to be better criminals.

Change the world

Thursday, 14 May 2009

We should be at the centre of Europe

What do I think of Europe? Well these thoughts are off the top of my head but I am sure that there are lots of other things to think about. Well to start with, we are geographically part of Europe - so far so good. If we go on holiday to another country then the chances are that it will be to a country which is a member of the EU. We can help the planet by travelling to Europe rather than another continent and we also have health protection in EU countries. Many people have told me that they have fallen ill in Spain and Germany and France, the care they received was exceptional and no payment was needed. The world is getting smaller and people go on holiday all over the world, but with the recession and with the environment to think about, Europe is a popular choice.

If I had to fight a war and I had a choice then I would rather have it fought on the other side of the world. I didn't agree with the war in Iraq. I am not belligerent but war against France would be a much greater concern than war in the Middle East.

Pollution knows no national barriers and we are more aware of the effects that we have on the whole of the world and Europe in particular. So I would like to influence the environmental policies in the rest of Europe. Chernobyl happened in 1986 but there are still 369 farms that have restricted use of their land according to today's Guardian (12th May). For that matter I would like to influence the whole world but let's take one step at a time.

If I were in business and I had to change my money each time that a transaction went through, then I would find that I am not competitive in Europe because of the Euro exchange rate. It doesn't matter how strong or weak the pound is, the banker gets his cut. This applies to businesses and to holidaymakers and it works in both directions. We have to pay for going abroad and less people come to us.

I want to see an equally strong and vibrant Europe and for that matter the world. There is a good chance that the recession will hit Britain much worse than the rest of Europe because of our dependence on banking. We may find economic ties to Europe really helpful when our competitors are beating us.

If we had the same rules and regulations as the rest of Europe then illegal immigrants would not risk life and limb to get across the English Channel. I am sure the police work internationally and I would think that most government departments need links abroad. The tax man cannot reclaim the yacht in Spain if we don't have political agreements.

We should work with Europe because they are our neighbours, for trade, for defence, for the economy, for equity of opportunity, for cheaper holidays, but mainly because we are members of Europe and because we are members of the human race. A common market is what we signed up to in the 1970s but Europe has moved on and we should be at the centre of it.

Change the world

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

What kind of NHS do you want?

What do I want from the NHS? Well I would like it to be accessible, as I would like to be treated locally. I would like to think that there is a better chance for me to get better in hospital rather than catch illnesses by being there. I would like to think that the major effort in the hospital is to take care of the patients rather than to manage the business. I don't particularly want a business. My preference is for the tax payer to pick up the bill for people who fall ill. It would be good if someone was responsible who didn't have a vested in their own salary. This could lead to less activity for more cost.

I don't want to keep ringing the GP surgery for an appointment because all the lines are engaged and then find out that there are no appointments. I would like to see the same doctor each time that I went to my GP surgery. If I have to be admitted to hospital then I want to have a bed in my local hospital. I don't want a choice of ten hospitals. I wouldn't know the difference and even if the GP gave me kind advice that the care is better at one hospital then it is worse at others. This division of care would increase further and my local hospital may then close. I want local accountability. If I want to speak to an elected politician about my NHS then it is first stop Westminster. There is no local accountability.

This wish list is not rocket science. What has happened is that management has become more important than care. Local accountability has been taken from us, and the people who paid for their local hospital (prior to the formation of the NHS) now find it closes for the sake of greater efficiency. People who can drive to their GP are fine but less and less people will find that they are in walking distance of their GP. I could say a lot more but this has been a long blog anyway.

Change the world

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Michael Martin, hold your head in shame.

Public faith must be restored immediately in our MPs. This is now the rallying call of all political leaders and it seems most MPs are getting the idea that working within the guidelines is not a good enough response when blatant abuse is going on. A Conservative MP didn't expect the authorities to pay the bill for his moat to be cleaned. Well who claimed? Incompetence is worse than abuse of the system. I'm afraid they are just digging a deeper hole for themselves. David Cameron is right when he says it is not good enough to say 'I have worked within the rules', but now he has to apologise for incompetence.

There is one aspect of the expenses fiasco which for me is the most important aspect. We should be grateful to the person who leaked the documents to The Telegraph because without the leak the abuse would be carrying on. So it was saddening to hear the Commons speaker Michael Martin criticise the leaks and asked the police to investigate. What will happen to this person if found? My suggestion is to give them a reward for saving the country from a disgraceful expenses system. Michael Martin, hold your head in shame.

Change the world

Monday, 11 May 2009

Who chooses the MEPs

If the European election is by proportional representation then you can have a good idea who will be your MEPs before the election. In the North West there will be 8 MEPs elected so the first four or five will not be too bothered about the voting. Maybe there will be a big swing and some of the candidates may be very concerned about holding their seats.

The real question about who elects our MEPs is not about whose name is down for election, but about who puts those names in order; because in any list system those candidates who are low down on a particular party's list are unlikely to be elected, even if that party is returned by a landslide. Position is everything, and (except in an "open list" system, where the public get to vote both for candidates and for parties) position is not something in which the public has any say. Most countries, including the UK, have a "closed list" system.

In the European Union, rules for how candidates are selected are not stipulated. Each individual country, and in some cases each individual party, has its own rules. In some countries the candidates, and their rankings in the list, are appointed by the party leaders. This has the unfortunate effect of encouraging conformity and subservience, at the expense of performance. MEPs know that no matter how well they perform, they won't be high up the list at the next election, or even on the list, unless they have created a favourable impression with their party leader.

Another possibly unfortunate effect of a selection process is self-selection by the rich and powerful. For instance, James Goldsmith became an MEP in France back in 1994, as the representative of a party which he led and had recently founded. In Britain he similarly formed and financed the Referendum Party, but in the 1997 General Election they obtained no MP's, and Goldsmith himself received very few votes and lost his deposit. Back then the French had a list system, with the whole of France effectively being considered as a single constituency, and the British General Election was of course first-past-the-post.

Fortunately, more and more countries and parties are adopting a democratic candidate selection procedure for the Euro elections - one in which the party membership as a whole decides both who their candidates will be, and their order on the ballot paper. For instance, the Liberal Democrats select and rank their candidates by a ballot of members using a transferable vote system.

This means you can influence every stage of the European electoral process, including the crucial selection and ranking stage. Just sign up for the party of your choice, then exercise your power!

Change the world

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Trust in politics

When an MP decides to leave a party and join another one, they are generally seen as courageous individuals unless you support the party they left. It does take courage to go against your beliefs, or at least the beliefs that you said you had.

The European elections are coming up on June 4th in this country. Other countries don't vote on Thursdays so people will still be voting on June 7th. In Morecambe we will vote for North West MEPs but this vote is different because it is not first past the post. This time we have proportional representation. There are 9 MEPs so the party with the highest number of votes gets the first MEP, and the second highest gets the second. This continues until the party with the highest number of votes is again the highest. If you are the first name on the party list then you know that you are an MP almost immediately. The people who have to wait are those who are the 8th and 9th to be elected. In the last election the last to be elected was a Liberal Democrat who just beat the BNP. He was proud to have done this.

In 2009 we have one less seat, so this time we will have 8 MEPs, but this Liberal Democrat will not lose his seat because he decided to become a Tory, the week after he found out he had come second on the party list. Now I didn't think the Tories and the Liberal Democrats were very close on Europe, but the timing of his departure reminds me of MPs expenses. It may be within guidelines but does it do anything for politics when politicians look towards their self-interest in claiming expenses or changing parties to keep hold of their seat?

Change the world

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Openness In Politics

I heard Chris Davies speak this evening (Friday 8th) as he was talking at the Midland Hotel in Morecambe and he spoke about openness in politics. This is the same evening that MPs are busy defending themselves about their expenses. 'They have done nothing wrong' but the public can see through the MPs' charm. Thanks to people like Chris Davies we are seeing what our MEPs are doing with our money.

There is nothing wrong with the Daily Telegraph documenting where MPs' expenses are going. The PM and the Chancellor and Hazel Blears have 'flipped' i.e. claimed for different second homes. Hazel says she has only ever had one second home but she has really missed the question and this will come to haunt her. She has claimed for things that most people would think are unreasonable. This system also means that John Prescott can ask for payment for mock Tudor beams, when no beams look fine. Peter Mandelson says the paper is creating a perception that the MPs are doing wrong. Well it may be news to you Peter but it is wrong even if it is in the guidelines! At least Gordon Brown knows that reforms are necessary.

Jack Straw says he isn't making an excuse, he was just too busy and that is why he claimed for expenses when he didn't pay for them. Jack does know that ignorance or being too busy is not a proper defence. It was his way of explaining his errors. This might be alright for Jack but ordinary people lose their jobs because of errors like this. Phil Woolas, the friend of Joanna Lumley, is considering suing the Telegraph because the paper claims he bought women's clothes and nappies. The answer is simple but lawyers won't like it. Let's have openness in politics.

Change the world

Friday, 8 May 2009

Didier, You Are Wrong

Chelsea lost to Barcelona in the Champions League on Wednesday 6th May. It was a highly charged match and the referee wasn't brilliant. There were three calls for a Chelsea penalty and the commentator said that the second appeal was clear cut as Drogba's shirt was pulled. As I was being told this I saw Drogba pulling the shirt of his opponent. That's the nature of sport and that's why you have referees.

At the end of the match, some would say that Didier Drogba confronted the referee and got booked. To me it looked more like abuse before he went on to swear at a TV camera and then had to be restrained from going near to the referee. This led John Terry to say that he was "fully behind Didier for the way he reacted". I love the next quote from Terry. "People are saying we shouldn't have reacted the way we did but the fact is six decisions went against us".

Many years ago there was a fight on a rugby pitch and one of the players was injured. The debate at the time was whether the police should be involved when a sport is being played. I am absolutely convinced that the police should be involved. Many would say a fight causing injury is one thing and verbal abuse is another, but this verbal abuse bordered on physical. My point is if something is going on around you that shouldn't be going on then we all have a duty to do something about it.

The message is clear. If a referee makes a few errors (and we all make mistakes) then the players and the fans have a perfect right to abuse him. Ridiculous! These 'rational' post-match comments need highlighting as they cause great harm to society in general and football in particular.

Change the world

I have just read (evening of 7th May) that Drogba has apologised. That is something, but Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Profesional Footballers' Association , still "knows where Drogba was coming from". Well it is time that we didn't know those places. Keep emotion in sport but banish verbal and physical abuse. Tell the players and the fans that there is no place for this behaviour - and Gordon, don't have any understanding of this kind of behaviour as it just perpetuates it.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Speed Cameras

In the last blog I didn't even mention my bugbear regarding speeding drivers. There are many people who have accidentally broken the law and find that they are driving at 31mph. There used to be a 10% leeway to take account of this. My bugbear is speed cameras for a few reasons. People decelerate when they see one coming up, and then accelerate away from it. These are the same people who will say they are safe and it is the slow drivers who have the accidents. You may have your own stories. I heard about a motorbike rider who managed to put his foot over the rear registration number as he was speeding through a camera.

Now that speed cameras are established, the only people who get caught are the people who are generally law-abiding. If the government was serious about reducing speed on the road it could impose satellite tracking to each car. We have the technology. The problem with this is even the boy racers occasionally break the speed limit by accident. It would not take long before none of us could drive.

A much more sensible response would be to use the technology but allow some percentage error and allow some discretion e.g. taking a relative to hospital. I am always wary of discretion because it could translate as let your friends do what they want, but a system with discretion and checks on that discretion would be much better than a camera that fails to catch the real criminals.

Change the world

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Speed Limits

There is one road in Morecambe that has a 40mph speed limit. I have been told that drivers use this as an excuse to speed on other roads. They thought neighbouring roads had similar speed limits. The biggest problem is with drivers who deliberately break the speed limit. They may say that they are safe and the problem lies with drivers who may stay within the speed limit but are simply bad drivers. They have a point, but it is not one I agree with.

The same point is made by those who drive a motorbike. They are safe speeding. My response is that whoever's fault it is, the bike rider is the one who comes off worst. A few years ago I played squash against someone who was far better than me. I didn't know him too well but the next I heard of him was a few months later in the obituaries. I don't know whose fault it was but he was on a bike. Even in a car, an accident is worse at greater speeds. There is also the environmentally friendly answer that lower speeds, slower accelerations, and gentle braking conserves the world's energy.

You can't pick and choose the laws that you want to uphold and those that you want to break, but politicians have the ability to make law and influence our lifestyle.

Change the world

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Apathy in politics

There is a lot of apathy regarding politics. There are some who are openly hostile to politicians. How did we get to this position? Partly it is because the vast majority of votes do not elect anyone. There are clear majorities that are not affected by one vote or ten, or in general elections majorities are often in the thousands.

Once in power, there are some politicians who abuse that power. Some MPs work within guidelines for their benefit and do not see the wrong they are doing because guidelines say it is acceptable. Sometimes the policies that get governments elected are not the policies that are followed. Apathy also arises from the confrontational design of government. It comes from the watering down of powers at lower levels of government. The more power that is centralised, the less power goes to the electorate.

There are many other reasons for apathy, but having looked at the negative aspects of politics I want to finish with a strong positive. the vast majority of politicians go into politics for all the right reasons. They are honourable people who want to make a difference. Experience may change some of them.

What are the answers. Change the electoral system. Make votes count. Allow meaningful representation at lower levels of government. Avoid political conflict and allow government by consensus. Make government transparent. If the public are informed they can make informed judgement. Successive governments have avoided change knowing that the pendulum would swing back to them. Well the pendulum has nearly stopped. It is time for a change.

Change the world.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Hazel Blears and time for change

Cabinet ministers have rallied round Gordon Brown claiming that he is the best person to lead them into the next general election. This may be the case but it is hardly a ringing endorsement, especially if you take Hazel Blears words that the ministers have been 'lamentable' at communicating. This is the same Hazel Blears who wanted to be so good at communicating that less than two weeks ago she held up confidential documents for photographers in Downing Street.

Hazel is quoted as saying 'YouTube if you want to' which referred to Gordon Brown's recent foray into using YouTube to let us know how he would reform MPs expenses. She explains further by saying that new technologies are no substitute for knocking on doors. The problem is Hazel, that I don't think anyone has said it is a substitute. The second and major problem, is that Gordon is thinking presidentially. He knows what is best and is prepared to tell us using new technologies. He is not thinking his ideas through. He needs help but thinks he is above it. This is the reason why it is now time for change.

Change the world

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Who supervises a parish council?

My main concern for a Morecambe Parish Council is that we end up with a high maintenance council that spends its money on projects chosen by the leader of the council. I have nothing against a parish tier of government, if Rousseau is happy then I am happy, but we may have to bow to the whim of a small group or even dominant individuals.We may even have to deal with a single-issue group.

Unlike a district council, there is no ombudsman to turn to if things go wrong. If Morecambe Council wants more money then they tell the district council and they are given it. The ultimate check is the electoral system, but we all know the failings in our system. A small minority of the electorate may be sufficient to keep one party in power and we may all end up paying through the nose for a parish council.

Change the world

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Stand Up If You Like ID Cards

I am really trying hard to appreciate the benefits of ID cards. I have listened to people who support them. It would safeguard our borders from illegal immigrants. It would mean that criminals would have to identify themselves. ID cards were not a problem during World War II when we had to carry these cards.

On the first point, you have probably seen the lengths that some immigrants will go to in order to get into this country. The need for a card will either be meaningless to these people who will still risk life and limb to get here, or they would find a black market that would give them an identity card. I can't see an advantage to the second point that criminals could be identified. If someone is arrested then the appropriate measures can be taken to make sure they are brought to justice. No card is needed. Thirdly, there are many restrictions on freedom that are acceptable during wars that are not acceptable during peacetime.

Since the idea of ID cards was first raised in 2001 by David Blunkett, I have always felt that compulsory ID cards were a waste of money and could make criminals of us all. Forget your compulsory card and you would be a criminal. If you were not a criminal then the whole idea was a waste of time. Also take the idea of illegal immigrants. If you policed people who looked like immigrants and checked on their ID, what is the difference between this vigilance and obvious racism? One common defence of restrictions of our liberty is to say 'you have nothing to fear if you are innocent'. Well what if you accidentally forget your card? You become guilty.

I read today (29th April) that Mr Blunkett has called for ID cards to be scrapped. Stand up those who are still in favour of ID cards.

Change the world

Friday, 1 May 2009

Political Posturing

I was looking at the internet and I saw a story about Conservatives making a big deal about the way they were spending money in a Conservative Council. This time it was on flood prevention but it doesn't matter what it is. Look around and you will see our roads and pavements in need of repair. You will see litter on the streets which could be improved if more money was available. The talk nowadays is more about grassing over flower beds rather than producing more, but wouldn't the world be a better place if we could have more flowers?

You can pick on any aspect of council or government spending. Everyone would like more money and we could well see an improvement if the money were available. The comments that I hear about the Morecambe Parish Council are generally on the lines that it could be a good thing if the service improves.

The reason why I picked on the Tories at the start of the blog is because we have David Cameron talking tough but saying nothing. If we really are going to have unpopular cuts then tell us where they are coming from. If the situation changes before the election then tell us how your policy would change. Anything less is political posturing.

Change the world.