Ozzy's Corner

A view from the Libertarian Left. With no spin


A new politics needs a new parliament

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

Guy Fawkes, guy, t’was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England’s overthrow.

By god’s mercy he was catch’d
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.

And what shall we do with him?
Burn him!

As the fifth of November approaches, I go back annually to one my very favourite films ‘V for Vendetta’. For those not familiar with this adaptation of a  comic book, it’s story about a dystopian United Kingdom. The government is a right-wing fascist one, where the public are controlled through fear, violence, mass surveillance, media control and the ‘disappearance’ of dissenting voices as punishment for not being compliant with the system. Against this backdrop a masked stranger emerges, who undermines the government, and eventually leads the people see the light and overthrow their oppressors. The finale is the demolition of the Houses of Parliament by an underground train packed with explosives, timed to the music of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

The film is firmly fiction, yet as each year passes, the resonance with contemporary politics grows. Most people have political ideas they are interested in, yet dissatisfaction with Westminster politics is significant. I can’t be the only one that thinks after watching yet another PMQs full of partisan hot air, with no light and all heat, the idea of blowing the whole place up seems quite a good idea. Hearing another round of media interviews where political opponents just oppose for opposition’s sake, without making a positive contribution , and the main parties just play games and set traps really hacks me off. Most of the public realise that while these squabbles go on, real life issues are left unresolved – the NHS, the housing crisis, job security and all the other things that concern voters the most.

It turns out that we don’t need a tube train full of explosives to destroy Westminster – it’s doing a great job of falling down all by itself. Westminster is aging, and  is badly in need of repair, with recent estimates putting the cost at up to £5.7 billion. Bad electrical cabling, leaking sewerage pipes, asbestos and sinking are just some of the issues. MPs are expected to make a decision by the middle of 2019. This will certainly involve parliamentary business being moved elsewhere for a number of years.

I have been to Westminster twice, and in truth I think blowing it up is a little harsh. It is a magnificent place, and preserving it must be a priority for nation. The history of centuries of politics is in it’s bones and permeates the air. Combined with the stunning architecture and deep traditions, time spent there is like walking through a history book. This creates the perfect atmosphere for a museum or art gallery, but a wretched place to build new progressive and transformative democracy that we desperately need for the twenty first century.

So how can this opportunity be used reshape our democracy for the better? Here is my plan:

Move out of London

Our national politics are far too London-centric. Moving parliament to another place would be transformative in the national perception of it. A new parliament in Birmingham would be around two hours from most areas in the country, and much cheaper to build that a similar building in London.It would help break up the London/South East centralisation of the country.

Move from adversarial to cooperation

Parliament is based on adversarial politics. The premier event of the week is considered to be Prime Minister’s Questions – nothing more than a tribal, pointless ding dong.

MPs line up opposite each other. They are separated by two lines (two swords length apart). The effect of the positioning of people in a room is known to change the ambiance and nature of the exchanges. This is why when power, control or hostility is required, people sit opposite each other with barriers between. For example, the layout of police interview rooms when questioning suspects. People sat around each other, without barriers, creates a more cooperative environment, for example, people in counselling groups sat round in a circle. A good example of a better layout is the European Parliament, where MEPs sit in a semi circle.

The current First Past the Post electoral system is designed to give one party an excess of parliamentarians to command an unrepresentative majority. This immediately creates a them and us set up from the start. A better alternative would be a PR system, where cross party cooperation is normally required.  In most parts of peoples’ lives, be it at home, work or leisure, they do a good job at compromising with different people to create a more conducive environment and get on with things. A common complaint of the public is that politicians don’t just get on with running the country and work together. The petty, tribal squabbling that constitutes much of our politics brings it into disrepute.

Conclusion

Westminster politics is crumbling like it’s roof, sewerage system and electrics. We can fix the building and preserve it’s architecture and history. However, it’s political culture need to thrown in a skip, and new modern parliament, fit for the twenty first century, created. This new parliament can then give birth to a new political culture, one we can be proud of and that is relevant now and into the future.

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How PR could be Labour’s next radical reform

Unless the opinion polls are wrong on an massive scale, it’s likely that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party will be massively defeated by a coalition of Theresa May’s Conservatives and former UKIP voters fleeing their rapidly sinking ship.The Tory lead of 15-20% predicted could produce a landslide for the Prime Minister with a parliamentary majority of over 100.Labour MPs could be reduced to well under 200 in number.

It would easy to blame Jeremy Corbyn for this (and many Labour MPs surely will), but the truth is Labour has been suffering from a long term decline, at least for the last ten years. The big tent that held together Dennis Skinner and Tony Blair has fragmented and split.

Labour and the Conservatives stride across our FPTP landscape, one where only two parties can be in contention. The political ecosystem squeezes out smaller parties. Yet times are changing. These two predators once enjoyed over 90% of the vote within living memory, but have in recent years had to survive on slimmer pickings, with the support of barely two thirds of the electorate. There is simply not enough food for the two dominant dinosaurs any more.In addition to less votes to fight over, the political tectonic plates have been shattered by two earthquakes – the 2007/2008 banking crisis and Brexit.

The Labour dinosaur is dying. Once confident and strong, it is wobbling badly. Those previously willing to tactically support it are standing aside. If propping up a dying beast is pointless, perhaps the best thing is to let it die sooner rather than later. Westminster politics is a zero sum game. There are a finite number of MPs and a finite number of voters. If a great tree crashes down, on the exposed ground where it lay, fed from the rotting trunk and new sunlight, new life can form. Left and centre-left voters would be free to build a new party or parties, better equipped for the new world.

Labour has a great tradition of radical reform, and herein lay an opportunity to forge a new democratic future for the country, just like it forged the NHS and Welfare State. Instead of refusing to adapt or change, and just die away, it could become the party to create a new democratic system. Proportional Representation would undermine the inherent benefit the Conservative Party enjoys. Of course, we need a FPTP winner to bring this about, and it therefore must be led by the Conservatives or Labour. Conservative turkeys won’t vote for Christmas.

Labour could become the party dedicated to reform the system. By committing to PR, Labour would attract voters from across the centre left. A Labour Party asking for non-Labour voters to lend their vote, to win the election to smash our out of date system, would be fresh, exciting and relevant. Labour will always be remembered for creating the NHS – it changed Britain. The 1945 Labour Government was a radical reforming Government.
By promoting a radical change to our democratic system, Labour could do that again.


Progressives must accept a Brexit world

If the UK votes to leave the EU, mark the evening of June 13th 2016 as the time when everything changed.

The news of two new polls broke last night. You Gov recorded a seven point lead for Leave, and ICM reported a six point lead. My social media stream, mostly populated by left wing people, was mostly silent. I think the reaction was one of shock and incredulity. The nightmare of Remain supporters could be becoming a reality very sharply.

Also, The Sun came out backing Brexit. That is of no real surprise to anyone, but The Sun does not lead opinion, it follows it. It only backs who it seriously thinks will win, and this can be judged by the way it has backed the GE winner for a very long period of time. If The Sun backs your horse, it’s probably favourite to win.

This morning, the social media streams that were stunned into silence last night, have gone into panic mode. You can smell the fear. Remain just might be heading for serious electoral kicking. The public could be about to reject a core belief of the UK’s mainstream progressive parties.

At this point it is vital all progressive parties think very, very hard. It has two choices.

Firstly, it can continue to run around like Chicken Licken, screaming the sky is about fall down should the vote go for Brexit next week. Will this help? Almost certainly not. All sorts of negative information about what Brexit could mean has been the core of the Remain argument for weeks, yet the referendum is going away from them. If the public has discounted the risks already, there is no sign yet further warnings will help either. The remain campaign looks like a collective group of Cassandras

Alternatively, it can begin to think how it could influence a post-Brexit United Kingdom. Occasionally politics goes through a sea change. In 1979, there was no going back for Labour. They had been heavily beaten. In 1997, when Tony Blair routed the Conservatives, the game had changed. Labour and the Conservatives spent a long time in opposition until they realised change was required, before the public would listen to them again. In the same fashion, progressive parties need to consider an independent United Kingdom, and how they can ensure they are part of the process that rewrites what is a brand new rule book.

If they can’t learn and adapt to the new political geography, they will simply be ignored, and the foundations of the country will be written by conservative and reactionary forces. It is time for progressive parties to move on from the apron strings of the EU and work out how Labour, Lib Dems, Greens, SNP and Plaid can cooperate and ensure they lay down the foundation blocks. Holding grudges about who voted for what during this referendum is pointless, and will result in wasted years of counter-productive arguments, while the electorate shake their heads and give their support to other parties.

The left needs to wake and smell the coffee fast. If the public vote to leave the EU, the left had better accept it or be irrelevant.


A Response to a Left-wing ‘Remainer’

Yesterday, an person who I will not name posted this on the Internet:

My warning to all Lexiters – and there are many on my timeline, unfortunately.
I’m afraid this is my vision. On June 24th we wake up to discover the UK has voted “Leave”. Soon after, Cameron resigns. We then probably get Boris as PM.He may call a General Election, because a) he can and b) he wants a full term to put through HIS changes. He will negotiate our exit, on his terms, not by referring to the country. Those terms will be followed by a gradual or not so gradual erosion of our rights at work, because there is no EU to protect them, and because that’s what he, IDS and Priti Patel have promised, under the banner of “a more flexible workforce”. He’ll also tear up our environmental protections, hastening the advent of mass fracking etc. And he’ll also continue apace with the project to sculpt our democratic system into a permanent Tory-electing one. One of the more exciting things he’ll do along the way is to get a TTIP-style deal with the USA – whether Clinton or Trump – which will almost certainly be on worse terms (is that possible?) than the current one. Come 2021, there’ll be another General Election. With the changes Boris will have made to the system, and despite our best endeavours, Boris will win a second term.
If that, or anywhere near that, happens, I shall hold each and every lexiter responsible for the disaster.

I post this, as it is very much typical of the doomsday prediction that is driving left-wing voters to vote to remain in the EU. I was challenged to respond with the scenario I think is likely to occur, to defend my position as a ‘Lexiter’.

Dear Remainer,

Thank you for outlining your vision.

I agree that a Leave vote would be terminally damaging to David Cameron. He has already given notice he will quit anyway, and as evidenced by Tony Blair’s departure, stating an intent to step down makes you yesterday’s man immediately. If Leave wins, he would not only have backed the wrong horse, he has stated many times the disaster that Leave brings to the UK. How could he lead UK negotiations after that? In addition, 50% of his MPs and the majority of his grassroots members will be against him.

Who follows David Cameron? Boris would like it to be Boris, but he has demonstrated on a continual basis to change his mind more frequently than his underpants, and suffers ‘foot-in-mouth’ disease. He’s great for rent-a-quote Journalists, but I can’t imagine enough MPs or party members trust him to be Leader. Even if they did, the public would quickly realise they have a buffoon as PM.

Therefore, I reject the idea that he would become PM.

Whoever follows will be keenly aware that the misery of being an unelected PM brought upon Gordon Brown makes it unlikely anyone else would try it. Also, even before the referendum, the Conservative Party had a small majority and simply couldn’t get controversial bills through Parliament without lots of U-turns. Given the massive fissures that would have opened up in the last few months – wounds that won’t heal quickly – leading the Conservative Party will be a nightmare akin to John Major’s last few years.

For all these reasons, I conclude a new Leader will quickly be established and an election will follow, probably in October. The Fixed Term Parliament Act can be easily be engineered to do this.

All the policy ideas of the Tory right (Priti Patel and IDS et la) are very controversial. Do you really think the public would vote for such a manifesto in big numbers? Who would vote for reduced holidays, the loss of maternity rights and so on? I think the chances of a big Tory election win in October looks slim, as the party will still be fighting over Europe.

Assuming that this hurdle is overcome, if a small majority Tory Government tried to reduced holiday entitlement etc, there would be too many Tory MPs in marginal constituencies with post bags full of opposition from their voters, to get such measures through. Conservative MPs are nothing less that practical, and they won’t vote in a way that threatens their seat at the next GE.

So what do I think would happen should Brexit occur?

  1. David Cameron would resign very quickly or get pushed out by his party
  2. A non-Boris Candidate would win – my personal tip would be Theresa May or Phillip Hammond
  3. The Conservatives would win a small majority at best (my bet would be a hung Parliament)
  4. The negotiation to leave the EU would be hampered from the Tory-side by lots of infighting and old grievances. The list of right-wing fantasy policies would be ditched to get something through Parliament that other parties could support

There would plenty of scope for a progressive alliance of Labour, the SNP, Lib Dems and Greens to ensure the shape of the UK as independent nation would be far from the right-wing nightmare you have envisaged. In fact I can see scope to improve the country, as everything would be down to the UK voters without reference to another supra-nation body.

Best Wishes,

A Lexiter

 


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The Left must not turn on itself over Europe

Until recently, much of the EU Referendum debate has been seen as a blue-on-blue matter. David Cameron on one side, and the person most keen to replace him, Boris Johnson, on the other. This has been the perception, but it hides a more complex picture under the surface.

Without a doubt, the Conservative Party is deeply split, and the rift could be very long lasting. Conservative MPs are evenly divided between Remain and Leave, and the membership similarly affected. No matter what the referendum result, the Conservatives will have to try to form a working Government with a tiny majority, hindered by the self-inflicted campaign wounds.

Labour also have difficulties. Their Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has been a long term critic of the EU, but is supporting Remain alongside 90%+ of the PLP. Labour voters are far less supportive of the Remain camp than the Labour Party itself. The latest You Gov poll show support for Remain at 65% and Leave at 24%. There have been warnings from Labour Campaigners that in many areas of the country, Labour voters are not coming to the Remain side. If the country votes for Brexit, the vast majority of Labour MPs will have backed the wrong horse.

I support Green Leaves, a campaign group for Green Party members and supporters who wish to leave the EU. Labour also has a campaign to leave the EU. There is a substantial debate within the left about how to vote on the 23rd June. This debate has become more and more fractious, and has become very hostile in recent days, given the poll movements that have brought the chance of a Brexit vote becoming more likely.

Baroness Jenny Jones, Green Party Peer, has published a number of articles setting out a left-wing and progressive case for Brexit. I have seen comments about her that are utterly disgraceful, and disrespectful to a person who has worked for the Green Party and progressive causes for decades.

I know good left wing people, who were supporting Leave, but due to being tired of being called fascists, UKIP supporters, traitors and so on have switched their support to Remain under duress.

There are no certain outcomes, no matter what the referendum result is. There are a range of possibilities that exist, and it is for each person to evaluate the best way to vote for themselves. Supporting Leave does not mean supporting Nigel Farage or the Tory right. Leaving the EU does not mean workers rights being destroyed or environmental protections diminished. Should Brexit occur, our Government who has struggled to get fairly basic things passed with a tiny majority, will have even more difficulty removing holiday pay or others workers rights, given they will be in civil war. The Conservative Party has too many MPs in marginal seats, who will surely cave in under the pressure a constituency mail bag, threatening their seat at the next GE. And the power handed to UKIP? They have one MP now, and will still have one after June 23rd.

I ask that people of the left understand that voting Leave isn’t traitorous.

I ask that people of the left understand that voting Leave isn’t a sign of stupidity or character defect.

I ask that people of the left understand that given the same partial and ultimately subjective information, others may come to a different conclusion.

 

 


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For Hilda

DSC_0106Hilda Margaret Elizabeth Sanderson 1935 – 2013

Yesterday, on Tuesday 9th July, my dear mother-in-law died in Dewsbury Hospital.

After being severely affected by one stroke some days earlier, a week last Saturday she suffered a second one. This one did such immense damage that recovery was impossible.

With great sadness, she was placed on the Liverpool Care Pathway. Care is quite an odd description for a process where essentially a person is deprived of food and water, being allowed to slowly die while just being given drugs to ease the pain.

One cannot watch a loved one slowly die in such a fashion and consider it anything other than cruel. Watching them just waste and fade away, not knowing if they can see or hear you. You are torn between wanting them to hang on, and the guilt of wanting them just to let go and stop the suffering. Once she had finally gone, it good to know she looked in peace and at rest. No more suffering.

Hilda hung on for seven days.

I cannot escape the idea that once someone is deemed so ill to be put on the LCP, then surely for humanities sake leaving them for days to die is much worse than allowing a form of euthanasia. This should be severely limited, but someone on the LCP is going to die. In reality, the LCP is a form of euthanasia.

Hilda Margaret Elizabeth Sanderson was a wonderful lady who deserved more dignity at the end of her life, more dignity than the LCP offers.

Update 11th July 2013

Today, as per Hilda’s final wishes, her three cats were put to sleep. They died quickly, painlessly and with much more dignity than Hilda herself.


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Cameron’s Mythical Dragons

01021_george_and_the_dragon

You know a Government is in trouble when they start slaying mythical dragons.

David Cameron announced this week that immigrants families would face being ineligible to apply for a Council house for up to five years. The Prime Minister has been under pressure from Conservative MPs since their appalling Eastleigh by-election result, where they slumped to third behind UKIP. The UKIP campaign was based strongly on an anti-immigration and anti-EU stance.

With a background of a stalling economy, poor poll ratings, internal conflict and a stress-cracked Coalition, the omens for the next election look poor for the Conservatives. With under three years to go, it would take a remarkable and unlikely turn around to reverse the trend.

So how does such a Government in this mess move forward?

They roll out their mythical dragons to slay.

For the Conservatives these are the EU, immigration, the public sector, unions, the welfare state and the so called deficit. Each is chosen for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the myth must be commonly shared. It is useful if your friends in the media will propagate helpful stories, using one-off extreme cases to demonstrate the rule. For example, a single mother with eleven children was the centre of a media storm last month. This case was used to demonstrate the ‘failing of an over generous benefit system’ , despite being a highly unusual case that represents a minuscule percentage of benefit claimants. The domination of the right-wing press ensures that such issues are rarely portrayed accurately, or with a fair evidential basis.

Secondly, each dragon should represent a group that is vulnerable and weak. This applies to immigrants and welfare claimants. These groups do not have the influence to seriously fight back.

Thirdly, the concept of scape-goating should apply. Are immigrants responsible for the lack of social housing? No, the issue is decades of not building them, while simultaneously selling the stock off. Are people on Job Seekers Allowance holding back the country and responsible for their own worklessness? No, our economy is so configured to ensure a permanent high level of unemployment to create a downward pressure on wages, and transfer wealth to global corporations and the super-rich.  Scape-goating also helps to ensure ordinary workers focus their rage on those they should unite with. Why should the elite fight everyone else, when they can have ordinary people fight among themselves?

The Conservatives know that organised labour remains a barrier to eroding employee rights and creating the  preconditions which would enable global capitalists to further asset strip the people of the United Kingdom. This is why the public sector and Unions are targets for slaying, not because they are bad, but for ideological reasons. The Miners strike in 1984-85 was a classic case of artificially constructing a fight, with the intention of destabilising the union movement and to justify a reduction in union rights.

The Conservatives always talk about the deficit as something Labour grew so large due to spending too much. This is nonsense, and even a cursory look at historical data blows this myth out of the water. The deficit is being used as a trojan horse to fragment and privatise our services for corporate profit.

So given the Conservatives inability to win the next election based on their performance or benefit they have brought to people, we can expect two years of further attacks on the classic Tory dragons.

Those on the left need to ensure that they fight every myth propagated by this Government, as it gets down and dirty heading towards 2015. No action should be done or speech made that gives credence  to these myths.

This lesson needs to be quickly learned by the Shadow Cabinet.

Are you listening Liam Byrne?