Posts Tagged 'Referism'

Let the people decide. Let the discussion begin.

Since the Harrogate conference at the Old Swan Hotel, the participants at the meeting have engaged in a great deal of discussion about what is being called The Harrogate Agenda.

Emails have flown back and forth and debate has taken place the forum on Richard North’s EU Referendum blog.  Today is the day that the provisional list of demands has been published.

Provisional because, in a demonstration of the very democratic settlement we are demanding, everyone is being invited to share their views and ideas, and participate in the enhancement and improvement as we draw closer to the adoption of a final charter.  Your thoughts and suggestions are extremely valuable and very welcome – just join in the discussion at the link above.  So here are the draft demands…

The get the old debating juices flowing and get people thinking, below are some challenging thoughts shared in an email round robin between the Harrogate group (which really should have been on the forum) about what the aims of the charter should be and how the movement that has been spawned should approach this endeavour.

First, making the EU the target is doomed to failure. The UK’s destiny can still be mapped within domestic structures – albeit structures that need reform. That should be the target. We need to think strategically. There is no point attacking the opponent’s queen if your opponent is about to checkmate you with his pawns. We need to have our pieces in the right places on the board in order to win and ensure we have a positive and constructive path that people will want to tread.

Second, history has shown political parties are not the route to bringing about change. Movements are the method to drive change as parties will always lose focus and devote attention to their own internal intrigues and rivalries. They develop their own interests and waste energy servicing their own machine.

Having the post constitutional pieces in place is the priority – and before that we need to set aside the illusion of Magna Carta and a Bill of Rights being any use to us. They have been ripped apart with ease by successive Parliaments exposing their weaknesses. We need a modern, watertight constitution that serves the nation’s people, not vested interests, which cannot be by-passed for political expediency or changed without permission of the electorate.

What do you think?  Why not click over to the forum and contribute your thoughts.

Democracy is about power – people power.  The task the attendees at Harrogate set themselves was to define six demands which would bring us closer to controlling our own destinies and governing for ourselves the great nations of which we are part.  With the focus on bringing power to the people, this offering is a start.  It’s now time for others to play their part.

That Cameron low tax small government in action

So, if I want to replace the windows or boiler in my house, under plans drawn up by the Department for Communities and Local Goverment on the watch of the low tax small government Cameron Conservatives, my local council would have the power to make me add new insulation or draught proofing before allowing me to do the work.

No matter what I determine to be my spending priority, the government would demand paperwork about the work being done in my home be submitted to them so they could scrutinise it and compel me to undertake actions I might not be able to afford.  Could this be another example of civil service ‘gold plating’ of the diktat of our supreme government in Brussels?  [Update: Witterings from Witney has more]

An army of civil servants would be poring over work dockets to decide what measures to impose on me in my own home, no doubt assembling information about my house that could be used to re-assess its value and make me liable to pay even more in Council Tax for ever poorer services.  This is the Cameron Conservatives in action.  They talk about low taxation and small government, then one of their departments comes up with this assault on privacy and individual freedom.

And if I can’t afford the additional measures, I would have to borrow the money (which I have already had ripped from my pay in the form of taxation) from the government and repay it through the already rising gas and electricity bills over a period up to 25 years.  Naturally no one has thought to explain what happens if I move house in that time.  Do I still make repayments for something I no longer benefit from while living in a new property – one that potentially will also see me compelled to take on even more debt to undertake measures over and above what I may need to do to that house, just to satisfy the demands of my public servants?  Or will the cost have to be passed on to the people buying my house thereby reducing the likelihood of me being able to sell it in the first place – perhaps making it impossible for me to move for employment reasons thus undermining my career?

Either way, the net effect will be the same.  More money will be forcibly taken from me on the orders of the political class.  More government bureaucracy will service more intrusion in my life at more cost to me.  More records will created about my house and my possessions stored on databases for government use resulting in more legislation that adds yet more cost to me.

A government that is truly accountable and answerable to the wishes of the people it serves would not get away with this.  In fact they would not even put it on the table for consideration.  What we have is just one more example of why we need to take back power from the political class and operate a system such as Referism.

It belongs to us

There have been many stories this week, but there are two that have dragged me to my keyboard at a time when I really haven’t felt like writing.

This post concerns the first one, the news on Thursday that the government is planning to introduce charges for FOI requests, perhaps involving a “range of tariffs”.  As our blogging friends at Save FOI explain:

Charging for FOI requests would drastically curtail the ability of ordinary people as well as charities, journalists, businesses and others to hold public bodies to account.

Save FOI goes on to say that this seems a particularly strange move for a Government whose Prime Minister has said “We want to be the most open and transparent government in the world.”  But of course, as readers of this blog have long known – and an increasing number of people up and down the country are at last starting to realise – it is impossible to trust anything most politicians say, and when it comes to David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband in particular our default position must be the justifiable assumption that they are lying through their teeth.

But there is a more fundamental point to be made here that even Save FOI appear to have missed, namely that we are required to request information to be made public in the first place.

While there are obvious exceptions where some information has to be kept out of the public domain lest it aids a potential enemy to do harm to this nation, the fact remains this is information that should be released and made public proactively.  The information is the public’s.  It is produced and exists supposedly to serve the public.  We pay for it.  Therefore it belongs to us.

That we are forced to go in search of it (and all too frequently encounter significant obstruction in getting it) is a scandal.  That we may also now be compelled to pay for that which is ours is an outrage.  This reinforces the reality of a them and us society, where on one side we have a self selecting elite operating in its own interest at our expense and on the other side we have the general public, abused and treated with contempt.

If we had genuine people power in this country via system like Referism the inverted master and servant relationship would be corrected.  Power is exercised through the  control of funds.  Under Referism the people would decide regularly where our money is spent.  Representatives would be forced to abide by the public will instead of acting as our masters.  And one outcome would be the end of the pantomime that sees us forced to crawl and beg for titbits of information from those who pretend they are a class apart.

Sign the petition opposing this move to charge for FOI by all means.  But don’t lose sight of the fact that this is our information that should be made public, without delay or hindrance, by default.  That is what we should be demanding, not going cap in hand to the likes of Cameron – whose two faced party (if you can believe the irony / hypocrisy / self delusion *del as appropriate) produced the t-shirt on the right – hoping we can cling on to scraps of information, sometimes supplied when it suits the political class, on request and under sufferance.

We should not be addressing the symptom, we should be fighting the problem.  That is why it is time for disparate voices to combine and declare our demands.  I will be there at the Old Swan in Harrogate with the other people who will be working to frame those demands and pursue them.

With that event in mind, two of my favourite bloggers make essential points that all need to burned into our collective memory.  Firstly, Raedwald who reminds us that we don’t request, rather we demand our freedom, because it’s our freedom and not for others to grant us.  Secondly, Witterings From Witney who reminds us that that the politicians are always the servants and never the masters of the people, irrespective of the fact they behave otherwise.  It is time to make both a reality.

Did anyone ask Newcastle council taxpayers what they want?

In Newcastle, the Sunday Sun is reporting that:

Newcastle Council has pledged to hand over the wages it saves as a result of Wednesday’s national strike – potentially up to £100,000 – to good causes.

The Tyneside decision has put the spotlight on other councils who have so far refused to offer any extra help, despite the strike action set to see them save more than £1m.

This underlines the lack of accountability in our town halls.  Lets remind ourselves why we pay tax to councils.  Newcastle City Council‘s website kindly explains:

Every year the council assesses its budget and plans what needs to be spent on the services we provide for you. When that is decided – at the end of February – we calculate how much council tax we need to help us fund the work.

Not all council services are funded by council tax, in fact only around 20% of a council budget comes from council tax. We get money from the Government, from European funds and other grants. When the tax is calculated we send out bills to everyone who has to pay, based on their circumstances at the time.

There is a principle here.  This is yet another example of a small, unaccountable group of people deciding how other peoples’ money should be spent because there is no mechanism that requires councils to refer back to taxpayers.  Some Newcastle residents might feel giving their money away to charity is a good thing, but others might feel that as they pay increasing council tax charges and experience reduced basic services, the money should be kept and taken off council tax charge next year.

Yes, it is only 1/365th of the council tax bill, which for a Band A property in Newcastle works out at £2.47 and for a Band D property equates to £3.71.  But the money was appropriated to provide services, not to be given to charities so some officials can appear virtuous.

The selfish vanity of the political class writ large

While the likes of Andrew Mitchell (Minister for International Development) and John Major (quisling former Prime Minister) urge the British people to rejoice in the fact our hard earned money is being sent overseas – while services at home for our own benefit are cut to reduce debt and subsidise follies such as wind power and extremist organisations who seek to do this country harm – we see a further squeeze in our disposable income as gas and electricity prices soar to even higher levels.

We are already at the point where poorer people are having to choose between spending money on food and spending it on heat and light. This round of huge energy price increases will dramatically increase the scale of that problem. Yet the wealthy (and therefore immune from their own policy agenda) members of the political class that has got us into our financial mess, with outlandish and reckless borrowing and insanely wasteful spending decisions, are reducing the help available for the most vulnerable in our society.  As EU Referendum observes:

“Nearly a million extra households face the prospect of being plunged into fuel poverty within months after one of Britain’s largest energy companies raised gas prices by almost a fifth and electricity prices by a quarter”.  That is from the paywall Times, with the Failygraph giving more details about the price rises.

And where one leads, the rest follow. We are in for a torrid time, and the timing is impeccable. Only a week ago, the Cleggerons announced a cut in winter fuel allowance, as they sought to turn us into a “development superpower”.

Superpowers, by definition, tend to have their own house in order before projecting their strength. Conversely our house is in ramshackle state, our landlord in Brussels is extracting more money from us year on year and forcing us to spend more of our dwindling resources on their latest wheezes, and yet we are pretending to be a powerhouse so politicians can look virtuous on the international stage.  It is perverse.

Here we see no more clear an example of how the interests of the political class are not our interests.

I defy any politician in this country to identify a single British voter who believes it is reasonable that we let people in our country die from malnutrition or hypothermia due to avoidable poverty, in order to spend money on people abroad whose own government prefers to spend billions of its own money on a new aircraft carrier and advanced fighter jets rather than alleviating the poverty of its own people. Why should we sacrifice our own fellow nationals to service the ambitions of a political class overseas?  This is a scandal, but it should be a crime.

Taking the argument a step further, it is no secret that there are pockets of extreme poverty in this country.  This was underlined in the BBC1 programme ‘Poor Kids’ last night.  While our money is being sent overseas and politicians speak of helping poor people whose lives are blighted, perhaps we should stop and think about these youngsters who live in squalid conditions and get nothing like the help needed for those who need the help of a safety net.

Consider that destitute family in the Gorbals in Glasgow that is desperate to move to acceptable accommodation because they are living in a damp riddled flat, their health suffering and lives a misery as a consequence. Then consider the spending priorties of that city’s council which focuses its resources on climate change strategies and spend money on its new Riverside Museum while that family continues to suffer. The city council’s ‘vision statement’ shows how low down its list of priorities its residents are:

We want Glasgow to flourish as a modern, multi-cultural, metropolitan city of opportunity, achievement, culture and sporting excellence where citizens and businesses thrive and visitors are always welcomed.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the vision was to devote its resources to ensure no child in this 21st century lives in accommodation that livestock would be banned from inhabiting and that vulnerable people will not be allowed to go hungry or freeze to death? Wouldn’t it be nice if Glasgow City Council’s vision was a vision we could all identify with and its priorities put people before ideological campaigns and monuments to self glory?

The answer is to ensure government at local and national level cannot spend money on anything unless we approve it.  One wonders how many people would vote to spend money on climate change wheezes and new cultural buildings rather than ensure rubbish is collected weekly, people live in properties that are not covered in mould and elderly or infirm residents get at least one hot meal per day. It is time to make our priorities the ones our public servants focus upon.

Who are they serving, exactly?

The Daily Mail is going to town over the decision by Crispin Blunt to approve a prison inmate’s application for artificial insemination because of his human rights. They sense blood in the water and are hunting for a scalp.

But irrespective of the rights, wrongs, accuracies or otherwise of the story and the reporting, one line in the Mail’s piece should stand out as yet another example of how the ruling elite serve their own interests rather than ours. Attempts by the media to find out who exactly made the decision to let the prisoner attempt to father a child while still in prison, resulted in this outcome:

The Ministry of Justice yesterday refused to say who took the decision.

These are public servants who are supposed to be accountable to the people of this country. We are entitled to know which Minister or faceless bureaucrat took the decision. The Ministry of Justice has no legitimate reason whatsoever to deny us this information. This is deniability and lack of accountability writ large and it is unacceptable.

It is a measure of the contempt in which we are held. The political class wants us to do two things, pay up and shut up. It is another example that underlines how Referism is an idea whose time has come.

How Cameron confirmed our democratic deficit

Those readers who have also been following Dr Richard North’s developing theme of Referism over at EU Referendum may remember his original post on the subject early in May.

In his piece, Richard made reference to a piece by David Cameron in the Barclay Brother Beano in April 2010 titled ‘My credo for my Country‘. Cameron’s piece is insightful as he underlines in his own words the fact that this country suffers a democratic deficit. Cameron actually validates the need for people to take back power from the insular, self regarding and self serving political elite. Consider these words from Cameron’s op-ed:

Thankfully, the gods were smiling on me that night in June 2001 and I was elected MP for Witney. Barely a week later, my party leader resigned and I found myself being canvassed by this paper on how to revive the fortunes of the Conservative Party following its second defeat at the hands of Tony Blair.

The party has to change its language, change its approach, start with a blank sheet of paper and try to work out why our base is not broader,” I told the reporter, with what was, looking back, alarming confidence for someone just starting out in Parliament. “We need a clear, positive, engaging agenda on public services.”

Did you notice what was missing? In describing what he felt the Conservative Party needed to do to revive its fortunes (i.e. win a General Election) nowhere did Cameron say anything about asking the people what they want.

This is not an example of representative democratic politics. Cameron knew then as he knows now that once safely in office there is no need to pretend to consult the people and seek to follow their wishes, hence his autocratic and arrogant pronouncements on issues such as the EU. As Prime Minister he presides over a Cabinet Government (junior to our EU government) that can basically do what it likes (within EU law and bureaucratic control) domestically until the next election. There is no need to refer to the electorate. That is why Referism matters.

Cameron went on to add:

Believe me, I’ve had some run-ins, but I never wanted to annoy party stalwarts or pick unnecessary fights. I just knew that unless we got in touch with the modern world, we would not get the chance to bring our beliefs and values to bear on the challenges of the hour.

Therein lies the problem. It’s all about internal party spats, control and personal agendas. In a referist system there would be no need to talk of getting ‘in touch with the modern world’ because politicians would have to listen actively and continuously to the wishes of the people before embarking on activities that require the spending of our tax pounds.

The political class would know our views, our concerns and our priorities and it would have to react to them and present plans to address them. Cameron rounded off his pre-election pitch thus:

So, I have the team, I have the ideas, I have the values and I have the energy to show you, to show Britain that a better future for our country is not only possible but is just weeks away.

Sadly what he did not and still does not have is a pair of ears, or a desire to listen to our wishes and take heed of them. Power must be wrested away from the political class and they returned to their proper role – that of servants, not supposed masters.  Until we have the power and politicians are required to refer to us to seek our approval for their legislative and governance agenda this country will not be democratic.

People power and the restoration of democracy

Many people in this country turn off when the words ‘politics’ or ‘politicians’ are mentioned.  Ask people why they react in such a way and you will hear many different answers, but there will be several common themes.

Among these are the feelings that politicians are incapable of telling the truth and they work in their own interest; there is no point voting because politicians in the different mainstream parties have indistinguishable views on the major issues; and that politics itself is now irrelevant because the wishes of voters are ignored.

So it is that we hear politicians pontificating about ‘reconnecting’ the public with the politics and encouraging people to ‘engage’ in the political process. These sentiments by politicians are evidence that our politics is broken. It is an admission that politics is not working for the people. But despite this that same political class responsible for breaking our politics and bringing about the disconnect and lack of engagement refuses to acknowledge itself as the root cause of the problem. That is why we need a new approach and why I am supporting the idea of Referism.

What we have before us is not democracy but a hollowed out shell. Politics in this country, as in many others, has become a one way conversation. Politicians speak and they expect us t0 listen. The political class is set in ‘transmit’ mode but refuses to flick the switch to ‘receive’. They present their non binding manifestos and declare this is what they want you to vote for. This is the ‘democratic’ choice laid before you. But the manifestos have not been constructed by listening to the wishes of voters. As such the elections in this country are largely meaningless and – importantly – the ability to bring about real change is denied to the electorate.

It is the pursuit of power that accounts for most of those people who join parties and become politicians. The notion of entering politics to ‘make a difference’ or merely to ‘serve’ is seldom a genuine explanation, and in any case it lasts only a short time after election success.

I can vouch for the reality of this having been elected as a Councillor with the best of intentions – and then having seen at first hand how any effort to carry out the wishes of the people who voted for me was met by inertia or outright opposition from civil servants. This was accompanied by warnings from local party leadership that positions on key committees or ascent to deputy or chairman roles depended upon not rocking the boat. That is why so many Councillors get involved enthusiastically for the right reasons then turn native after their election. For my part, I resigned rather than compromise my principles.

The problem is that during a term as an elected representative there is absolutely no need whatsoever to take heed of what those who cast their votes actually want their Councillor or MP to do. When I argued in open Council that Councillors should listen to what people in their wards wanted and do all they can to deliver on those wishes, I was told that we should act as leaders and tell the people what we believed they needed instead. The very idea of letting people decide what they want is anathema to those who hold power.

The power in this country resides with the political class, and the civil service which only seems to serve its own interests and objectives. It should reside with the people. That is what democracy is supposed to be about.

So it follows that in order to restore democracy to this country power must be taken back by the people. The power our politicians possess is the ability to make decisions requiring them to determine how our money, collected through taxation, is spent. If people had the ability to veto decisions by refusing to allow their money to be spent, the power of the political class – supposedly our representatives and servants anyway – would be removed. Ordinary people would be calling the shots, which is as it should be.

In the Referism model politicians would have to ask us for money to spend. They would become accountable if forced annually to seek our approval for spending and therefore receive our money. If their request was, for example, for money to hand to the European Union as part of our contribution to Brussels’ unaccountable spending a majority of voters could deny the request and prevent that money being handed over.

Money is power. This works not only in the world of business but in the world of politics. When it comes to government spending it is our money being used, therefore we should have the power.

The Referist idea is developing and more people are joining the debate. Do join the debate and share your views about how we ordinary people can take back power and how this democratic ideal can supplant the system of elective dictatorship in this country.

Taking back power and imposing discipline on our politicians

This is a subject to which I will turn my attention properly in the days to come.  But for now I offer this partial cross-post to remind readers that in order for the people to take back primacy we need to focus our power.  As Richard North has says in his thought provoking post:

To focus our power, we too need to adopt an ideology. In essence, we have one – one which underwrites the supremacy of the individual and positions the State as the servant, not the master. Referism – control over the budget – is a means by which we exercise our power. If there is a better way, I am open to offers.

The next question is: where do we start? The answer is here, on the blogosphere. We have a number of fine, independent blogs, written by independently-minded people. There is now a blog covering these – Independent Political Bloggers.

As if to underline their independence, I don’t always agree with everything that write.  But collectively, between us we reflect the views of our readers. If we did not, we would not have a readership. Now ask, from where does the BBC and the MSM get its power? Why do politicians listen to them, fear them and curry their favours? We are back to the numbers game.

Grow the independent political blogosphere. And if you have a view, start your own blog. We will support you. Want a voice? Either as reader or writer, or both, you have it … your call.

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