Monday, 29 June 2015

It is not only “the mother of all parliaments” that is broken. Our entire political system is as well

Britain has the sixth richest economy in the world, yet 13.7million of our citizens are living in poverty and 4million of those are children. Our government are driving a counter productive, ideological program of austerity against the poorest and most vulnerable in society, while cutting the top rate of income tax and plans afoot to cut it even further from 45% to 40%. The chancellor intends to sell off our 81% shareholding in RBS, to an Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund, despite objections from the public that the sale will result in a £13bn loss on our initial £46bn investment. However, when inflation and interest repayments since 2008 are factored in, the actual loss to the taxpayer will be £32.6bn. A proportion of our share holding in Lloyds bank has already been sold off, but what we were not told is that it was at a loss to the taxpayer of £530million.

In 2014, an estimated £104bn in tax revenue went unpaid through tax avoidance and evasion. The independent living fund, which provides disabled people with independence and a much needed lifeline will be scrapped and the money it provides will not be replaced. In the name of austerity, all public sector workers have endured a pay freeze since 2010, while MP’s are in line for a 9.6% pay rise that will be back dated to April, which 88% of respondents to a public consultation carried out by IPSA voted against. Due to cuts in the legal aid budget, people are now being forced to defend themselves in court, against well paid and highly trained barristers & solicitors and this may be in breach of their fundamental human right to a fair trial. Despite their denial and having no public mandate to do so, successive governments have been pushing our NHS towards full privatisation.

During the election campaign, David Cameron promised us 5,000 new GP’s by 2020, but just six weeks later health minister Jeremy Hunt has been forced to admit the pledge is unachievable. Since the introduction of the Health & Social Care Act 2012, the provision of all NHS services must be put up for legal tender. But contrary to both UK & EU competition law the process is not a level playing field. As a public sector organisation, our NHS is unable to reclaim the VAT it pays on purchasing medicines, medical equipment, legal advice etc, while private corporations are able to. This means that NHS costs are always 20% higher than those for a private healthcare provider when bidding for a contract. Due to continuing under funding, a growing population, cuts to local authority funding effecting social care provision and staff leaving in their thousands, our NHS is teetering on the very edge of a cliff. Successive governments, who want to see it fall off the cliff so they can declare it is unaffordable and must be handed over to the private sector, have deliberately caused all of the current problems with our NHS.

The outcome will be a two tier health service, where world class healthcare will be available only to those who can afford it. Future governments will provide a certain amount of funding and we will all be expected to take out top up health insurance to cover the additional costs of treatment, or fund it ourselves. Those who cannot afford the top up insurance will not receive treatment. Our NHS is a national treasure and in 2014 was rated the best healthcare service in the world. No government, either past or present have had a mandate from the people for privatisation. It is our NHS, we pay for it and it is a shameful indictment of the state of democracy in Britain that our governments have been able to attack it in the ways that they have, for their own political gain. We should have been given a say in the PFI contracts that were forced upon NHS trusts, changes to the structure of our NHS through the introduction of foundation trusts, the changes made to GP contracts, the introduction of the HSCA 2012 and the way our NHS is funded. If we had, perhaps it would not be in the crisis it is in now and would not have the chronic shortage of GP’s we now have.

Successive governments have not been listening to us and despite their promises, have proven themselves both unwilling and unable to provide a better, more democratic society where we can all prosper. Britain is not a democracy and is playing dangerously close to the edge of becoming something much worse. As our governments have failed to provide the kind of democratic society we all want, it falls to us, the people of Britain to design and build it for ourselves. A society where all of it’s citizens are equal before the law, regardless of their position in society. A society where we decide the role of our government, monarchy and all other institutions. Where our politicians are truly accountable to their constituents, who will have the power to sack their politicians. The make up of government is reflective of our wishes, as expressed in general elections. A society where we set the rates of corporation tax and decide the consequences for those who do not pay what is due. We will decide the structure and funding available for our education system and our NHS. It will be for us to decide the role of our police forces and the powers with which they are entrusted.

In a democratic society, teachers will be free to teach, nurses and doctors will be free to treat patients without the added and unnecessary burden of forms and paperwork, if we so choose. We might decide that in the event of our government wanting to take us to war, a referendum will be called in order for the people to decide. It might be that we decide all government spending is made freely and publicly available, including full details of politicians expenses. All exceptional public spending will require public approval, for example in the event of another bank bailout being necessary, if we so choose. In fact all of the rules around how a new democratic Britain will work, including it’s institutions, would be decided by us, the people of Britain. This will require a mass movement of the people. A coming together of all creeds and races in the name of democracy, to build a better, more democratic and fairer British society. It would be a vast demonstration of people power and a statement to our government and institutions that we will not lay down and take their self serving creed anymore. We will not allow them to divide us. Instead we will unite and from now on we will be setting the rules.

This will be a movement of the people towards a citizens’ convention on the constitution. A constitution is basically a rule book which dictates how society operates and the role of it’s institutions. In Britain, we do not have a written constitution. The citizens’ convention will be a national event involving people from all corners of Britain. We will come together to decide the kind of democratic society we want to live in. We will decide the rules around whether we have a welfare state and how it will operate. We will decide if and when our share holding in RBS & Lloyds banks is to be sold off. We will decide if and when any of our public sector assets are to be privatised. We will decide how many foreign refugees to welcome into Britain. All of this and more, we will decide in the first ever written constitution of Britain. The peoples constitution.

Friday, 26 June 2015

A new democratic society, fit for the 21st century

Westminster palace is crumbling into the Thames and suffering from years of neglect. The lowest estimate for the repair bill is £5.7billion, but we all know how accurate the government have been in estimating costs before, the millennium dome and Olympics being good examples. Some say parliament should move to a more central location while the repairs are being carried out, while others say the move should be more permanent. It has been suggested that the building should be sold and that carries a certain amount of credibility, given our governments appetite for selling off our public assets and the building could be opened as a national museum after the repairs have been carried out. But whatever the outcome, it is not only the home of our politics that is broken. Our entire political system is fundamentally broken and unfit for a 21st century democracy. Lack of trust and confidence in not only our politicians, but also our entire political system have never been higher.

We have now reached a stage where one third of those eligible to vote do not because they simply do not believe it will make any difference. Politicians refuse to tell the electorate anymore than a few sound bites about what their policies are during a general election campaign. Multi national corporations and accountants are writing our tax laws, rather than civil servants. Our tax collector are handing out cushy deals to multi national corporations and cannot be held to account, because they aren’t even accountable to parliament. Our government deny they have an agenda to privatise our NHS, yet another £1billion deal to provide back office services in GP surgeries was handed to a corporation this week. For all but a minority, the dream of owning our own home is now far out of reach due to rising house prices and stagnant wages. In the nation with the sixth richest economy in the world, we have 13.7million people living in poverty and our governments’ plans are to cut in work benefits, which will drive even more families into poverty. An estimated 250,000 people marched the streets of London last weekend, protesting the governments’ austerity program and in response our chancellor announced scant details about his plans to cut a further £12billion from the welfare bill.

The truth is our government are not listening to the people and have no intention of abandoning their ideologically driven agenda. Marching in protest has it’s place, but things have gone too far now and the government are not listening anyway. If we want to make a fairer more democratic society, we need something much more radical. Successive governments’ have proven they are neither willing nor able to deliver the kind of society we all want. What we need is to write the rulebook in a new constitution and one way to achieve that is through a peoples convention on the constitution. In order to stimulate interest we could hold a national event and call it something like crowdsourcing towards a citizens convention on the constitution. Open the event to people from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. A mass get together where there would be keynote speakers in the morning speaking on topics such as what is a constitution? What is the British constitution? Our membership of the EU & democracy, are they compatible? We could have a question and answer session after each keynote speaker. Then in the afternoon we could break up into facilitated workshops, with topics such as What should be in a constitution? What are the different models of democracy? Why do we want a constitution?

The event would be about empowering people with information and knowledge in order to enable them to come together and produce the first ever written British constitution. By the end of the event, people would feel empowered and we would call for a second event, a citizens convention on the new constitution. At the convention, we could have workshops where people would be divided up, with those in each workshop working on writing a specific section of the new constitution. Facilitators would be on hand to help and guide the groups, but it would be the people doing the actual writing. At the end, the different sections would be combined to create the first ever written constitution. It would be real people power in action. Citizens taking control and coming together to design a new British democracy for the 21st century. A fairer, more equal and more democratic society in which we would all want to live. Where we, rather than multi national corporations make decisions that effect our everyday lives. A society where our politicians are truly accountable to us and no longer bow to the wishes of corporations and their lobbyists. The type of society that will ensure we have adequate housing for everyone, that does not allow any one of us to ever fall into poverty. We will decide the rate of tax payable by corporations, as well as the terms and conditions under which they are allowed to trade in Britain. Everyone, regardless of their position in society will be equal in the eyes of the law and face the same consequences of breaking the law.

Assemblies for democracy are already leading that movement and have started making steps towards an international event in 2016. So I call on everyone to check the Assemblies for democracy website and if there is not already an assembly in your local area, contact them and they will help you to start one. Many other attempts at achieving what we want have been made in different ways and have not been successful. I believe it is only through a radical movement of people coming together in order to create what we want, that our dreams will ever be realised. So let us join together and create a better, fairer and more democratic Great Britain.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

A full frontal attack on the working poor

During the build up to the 2015 general election the conservative & labour parties jointly agreed on a further £30billion of austerity cuts from public spending. As the only two parties in our out dated and wholly undemocratic electoral system who could lead a government, it was a cast iron guarantee even before the election that the previous coalitions program of austerity was here to stay, whatever the result of the election. Sanctioned by just 24% of the electorate, we now have a conservative majority government for the next five years. While an estimated 250,000 people demonstrated in the streets of London last Saturday against the governments’ austerity measures, minister for work & pension Ian Duncan Smith announced that plans for their pre announced £12billion of cuts to the welfare bill will be produced in the chancellor’s emergency budget on 8th July. He demonstrators declared they were sending a message to David Cameron, but clearly he was not listening and in fact had a message of his own, “austerity will continue despite your demonstrations.” Leading economists, the International Monetary Fund, the Office for Budget Responsibility, members with the conservative party and others have joined a growing chorus of pleas for a rethink, but David Cameron & Co are moving forward with their plans regardless.

All we know at the moment is that the £12billion of cuts to the welfare budget will not effect pensioners income, simply because they are more likely to vote conservative at an election. There is however widespread speculation of plans to cut working tax credits and housing benefit for young people. Despite the governments’ claims that wages are rising and having created 1,000 jobs per day over the period of the last parliament, the truth is that wages are still below their pre financial crisis peak in real terms and many of those new jobs are either part time, in zero hours contracts or self employment. The resulting low household incomes, means that the vast majority are claiming some form of tax credits to top up their low wages. Those with children will also be negatively effected under the speculated plans, which include reducing child tax credit payments back to their 2003 levels. The Institute for Fiscal Studies have calculated the move would reduce entitlement for 3.7million low income families by £1,400 per year, while saving £5billion from the welfare bill. David Cameron has said that the UK should be paying out less in tax credits and that companies should pay workers higher salaries instead. I agree with him, but he should not be cutting benefits from low income families unless or until higher wages are actually being paid.

According to the campaign group End Child Poverty, there are 4million children living in poverty in Britain. That equates to 1 in 3 children and is among the highest rate in the industrialised world. If our government go ahead as planned with their cuts to in work benefits including working tax credits, there were be an additional 600,000 children living in poverty by 2020. Last week, David Cameron very publicly called on world leaders to unite in order to eradicate child poverty by 2030, but in this case actions speak louder than words. Parents are already being forced to get into more debt in order to meet the basic needs of feeding their children and keeping a roof over their heads. These planned cuts to in work benefits will effect millions more people and leading economists have already warned of increasing personal debt and the possibilities of a personal debt crisis such as the one seen in 2008. Our government, the vast right wing media and right wing think tanks such as the IFS and Taxpayers Alliance are alienating sections of our communities by attacking them and spreading their lies about the importance of reducing the budget deficit and our national debt. In truth, none of these measures are about reducing the deficit, they are an ideologically driven agenda and all out assault on the poorest, disabled people and those least able to defend themselves.

If the government did genuinely want to help and reward working people and children out of poverty, there are a number of alternatives ways to do this. Raising the national minimum wage to a living wage and properly enforcing it is one such approach and would mean that the need for in work benefits would be vastly reduced overnight. But in doing so, the government would have to make a much more concerted effort in enforcing the national minimum wage. Since the then new labour government in 1999 introduced it, there has not been a single prosecution of an employer for not paying it. An adequate system of initial financial penalty and eventual criminal prosecution must be introduced to enforce the national minimum wage. The government seems to have paid equally scant regard to the young people who will be effected by the suggestions it plans to cut their housing benefit payments. What will happen to the young people who for whatever reason cannot live with their parents and therefore need to have a place of their own, but cannot afford the rent? No consideration has been given to where these young people are going to live. The more democratic option would be for our government to enforce a cap on the outrageous rents being charged by private landlords.

Another way to reduce poverty and eventually our welfare bill would be to invest in building more social housing. Through a scheme championed by fair tax campaigner and economist Richard Murphy the chancellor could use a new program of quantative easing to build the homes we so desperately need. As was done with the banks between 2009-11, the bank of England could release perhaps up to £50billion per year into the housing economy in a huge house building program. In simple terms, quantative easing is effectively the bank of England printing free money and therefore would not increase the national debt. As Murphy suggests, we could call this program green quantative easing and make the houses being built the most environmentally possible, thereby reducing energy bills for their inhabitants and helping the government to reach it’s targets for carbon emission reductions. The new house building program would create new jobs, meaning higher household incomes, increased tax revenues for the government, better standards of living and millions of children being lifted out of poverty. People would have more disposable income, meaning more spending in the high street, which will help other businesses and the treasury from the increased spending. All of these steps would help give our economy a much needed boost.

However as David Cameron & Co demonstrated last Saturday, they are not interested in listening to calls from the those they were elected to serve and will carry on regardless with their neoliberal thinking and ideologically driven agenda regardless of what the people say. The labour party are equally committed to austerity, although a slightly lighter version than the tories and have proven themselves to be totally incapable of either holding the government to account, or offering an opposing argument in any meaningful way. While I am a strong supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s policies and ideas, I can’t see him and his supporters being able to realise the reform of British politics that we need and bring a more democratic and fairer society to Britain. There is simply too much opposition to this kind of politics in our current system. We must tear down the British state and rebuild it from scratch and the only way I know of doing this is to create a new constitution, written by the people, for the people. Let us come together and create the kind of British society we want to live in.

Friday, 19 June 2015

A call for a new British constitution

Once upon a time we had a great British value of looking after each other. There was a real sense of comradeship and some fundamental values like we look after our own. I am involved in a political campaign at the minuite about fair taxes and the attacks, insults and vileness that I have witnessed from those who oppose our campaign has been horrendous. The insults that have been spread about Jeremy Corbyn and those who support him in the current labour leadership campaign are just toxic. What happened to the great British right to freedom of speech? What happened to mutual respect? What happened to each to his/her own opinion? But perhaps most important of all, where did this need to attack, insult and discredit anyone and anything that believes or aspires to something different that what “I” believe? To a great degree, we appear to have lost those great British values we once held and it is to the detriment of us all.

This toxicity has even become a normal part of our political system. Long gone are the days of having a debate, each putting their point of view across, while respecting that of the others and then coming to a consensus. In the recent election campaign we never got to hear what each party fundamentally stand for, or how they will fix the problems our society face. The majority of the campaigns from the main political parties was about playing the blame game, pointing the finger at someone else, nobody accepting responsibility for anything and discrediting the policies of their opposers. Our government is about to launch phase two of it’s idealistic and completely unnecessary austerity program, despite warnings from within their own party, the IMF and leading economists. A program that will unleash massive suffering on the poor, disabled and most vulnerable on our society. They claim to have a mandate of the people, but only 24% of the electorate voted for them and I doubt many of them even know the effects the governments policies will have.

Our government wonders why young Muslim men and women are leaving Britain to fight for ISIS is Syria, blaming the Muslim communities and our security forces. They do not think to look at how divided our society is and the effects of the toxic messages it spreads, or the sometimes illegal wars it has participated in around the world. Through attempts to attack our fundamental human rights, on disabled people and the vulnerable through cuts to welfare, sustained attempts to privatise our NHS, participation in wars, selling off our public assets and privatising everything we once owned, Great Britain has lost it’s greatness. We have sold off the values we once stood for, like free healthcare, taking care of the sick and elderly, public ownership of our railways and producing British products. Successive governments have sacrificed those Great British institutions and values at the altar of neo-liberalism and a free market economy. They have gone to war, not to protect our values, but to impose them on others who hold different values. Collectively, they have created a society that is not open to new ideas and beliefs, in fact we now systematically attack anyone and anything that opposes, or thinks differently to what we as individuals believe. Having sold off almost everything we own, our government is now turning us against each other through their political game playing and lies.

Our political system is broken. It is no longer fit for purpose and has all but cost us our standing as a democratic state. We need change and our current political system is unable to deliver the vast changes we need, if we want to become Great Britain again. That means we will have to scrap our current system and go back to the drawing board with a blank sheet of paper and redesign for kind of British society I believe we all want. A society that will reinstate those once Great British values of freedom of speech, mutual respect for others, the concept of real communities that share, welcome and learn from those with individual believes other than our own and we look after people, including those who are not able to look after or pay their own way for whatever reason. The kind of society where the people hold the power and make the decisions rather than big multi national corporations. Where all businesses pay their fair share in contributing to society, rather than artificially shifting their profits to an offshore tax haven. A society that upholds and protects it’s citizens fundamental human rights, rather than trying to abolish them. One that will provide jobs for everyone, in whatever sector they want to work in. Adequate housing of a decent standard could also be a basic standard of our new society. As too could a good standard of education for anyone, whatever their age. We could make our politicians truly accountable to us, with the ability to sack any politician found to be breaking the rules. In fact we could have whatever we want, that would enable us to create the kind of society we want to live in.

The way we can have it is through a new British constitution. I suggest it should become the first ever written first British constitution, enshrined in law and unbreakable. A constitution sets the rules by which the state operates and how it relates to the people. In a new constitution we could remake and rebuild the make up of the state. We could build new ones and abolish those that no longer serve our democratic purpose. We could improve or redesign the state, from the monarchy, state administration, including quangos and the bank of England, police, military, justice system, education system, health, to our political system. Britain is one of the few countries in the world that does not have a written constitution, so we could design and produce the first ever written British rule book, which would outline how we want our society to be. It would be a step towards creating a fairer and more democratic society for all.

Parliament has already demonstrated it’s inability and unwillingness to provide the change we need, through it’s refusal to reform our voting system for example. It therefore falls to us the British people to enact a new written British constitution. So I add my voice to people such as John Mc Donnell MP and organisations like Unlock Democracy who have called for a convention on the constitution. This should be a people’s convention, organised by the people, for the people. We could have keynote speakers to talk about what a constitution is, what is might look like and what it could achieve. There might then be break up groups, with each given a topic to discuss and make keynotes on. I would support the idea of one convention for the whole of Britain, where all people would be invited to come and join in the discussion. This would become a huge movement of British people, coming together to debate and discuss how we want to be government and the roles each part of the state will have in a more democratic British society.

The end result would be the first ever written British constitution. Written by the people, for the people.