Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Alternative to AV

Jumping on a bandwagon is not something I do very often but the debate around AV has started so I am going to jump in with both feet.

The AV system should encourage main parties to discuss and engage with more people. If you are in a 'safe seat' but only get around 35% of the votes (quite common) then you will have to ask what the other 65% of the electorate are thinking. If all of those people end up with the second placed candidate - you will be in trouble.

Unfortunately, we don't have huge amounts of forward thinking, innovative and popular politicians. We don't have politicians who will go out and speak to people who may not agree with their party ideas or who will debate and consider arguments rather than shout louder and discredit the alternative view.
Politicians and the main political parties are the main reason that this system might not deliver what it promises. It relies on politicians taking brave steps forward and doing things differently, which is not what British MP's are renowned for.

So here is my alternative.
Make the House Of Lords 100% elected through PR. Give the HoL more powers to scrutinise the HoC and to act as the 'Big Brother'. I would like to see the HoL act as the connection between National and Local Government by sitting on Local Council boards in rotation. They would only need to physically sit in HoL for one or two days per week as we would move to remote access debates through video conferencing etc.

This ensures that everyone has at least two but usually more people who they can go to if they have an issue and that these people are closer to the masses. Surely this is a better solution than messing around with grumpy idiots in HoC, who can then sit back and watch how they should be doing their job.

Yes it would cost money, but then so does the current system and who can you talk to in the HoL to get your point heard? This would be an investment in the future of the whole country and would provide more of a voice for those who do not currently have one.

As for AV, it is a good start and we all need to start somewhere. It will only change the results in a few very close seats and I doubt it will change the behaviour of MP's - but at least we are trying.

A more detailed proposal for the deficit!

There is an alternative - anyone who says there is not is fooling themselves and you.
There is a price to pay both for the current path and for the alternative path - anyone who says there isn't is deluding themselves.

The question is, what price are we willing to pay and for what alternatives?

Having just had an operation, I spoke with a nurse who said to me, 'Your operation has resolved the problem but it is causing you short term pain, your physio will help you get back on your feet and stop the problem in the future'.  I think this is a good way of looking at the economy.

I had a series of options to resolve my pain (in my back) which would then have different types and different lengths of pain associated with it, but unless I change what I do, that problem may come back in the future.

We are in a sticky situation as a national economy, yes we have a bigger debt than Portugal and Greece but we also have a much bigger economy and therefore a much better ability to repay that debt.
The case for a slower rate of cuts to allow the economy to recover more has been well made and the current 'Financial extremism' is only benefiting the extremists in the city and is having very little positive effect on the rest of the economy.

But where is the physio? Where is the plan that says this is how we will stop this happening again? Is there a better way of repaying the debt and ensuring we don't fall into the trap again?

Here is mine.
Firstly, We should have a written constitution that protects the people of the country from political whims and short term moves (please see my previous blog regarding this). What is the price to pay? It may be costly to set up but it needs setting up once and once only.

Secondly, It is the banks that should be repaying this debt. The government is aiming to take debt back to the levels of 2007, prior to the crisis. From this we can surmise that the extra spending has been made to protect the people from the worst effects of the recession and the banking balls up. Therefore we should offer banks an option of repaying our national debt for us. In exchange we reduce the level of tax on banks for a period of time after the debt has been repaid. The amount of tax and the length that it is reduced for will vary depending on how much of the debt they repay. This then allows the economy some breathing space to grow (which will in turn be good for the banks) and allow for job creation to grow. If you know that you will be losing an amount of tax in five years time, you can plan ahead and take account of it. This is a much more balanced approach rather than the slash and burn approach.  The flip side of the coin is that if banks decide not to assist the economy then they will be penalised with extra tax now. What is the cost? There will be a cost to the city of London traders in the form of more difficult trading conditions. They would have to invest in less risky and more assured accounts which would result in less profits for them. There would be a short term complaint of  'We are not being competitive' and 'We will lose talent' etc, but these will disappear quite quickly (They are not talent - they are the problem and the rest of the country becomes more competitive).
There would be a loss of face for the government and political leaders but they would also benefit from a smoother repayment of the debt.

Third, the banks need to be split. If I want to invest money I need to have all of the risks and benefits explained and I need to sign a piece of paper to say I understand what will happen. Why then is the money in my current account taken and used for investments by the bank that I will receive no benefit from at all. it is simply wrong - they are playing roulette with other peoples money. If that then goes wrong, it is you and me that suffer the consequences, while we bail out the failing 'Talent' and make sure they don't leave to cock up someone else's economy.
Separate the banks and ensure that Retail banks and Investment banks are not owned by the same company and that they act in the interests of their own customers. I would also ensure that no institution has more than a 25% exposure to the stock market. This includes insurance companies and Pension funds.
The price to pay would be less profit and less risk. Some banks might become open to international takeover, but these would also be subject to the trading conditions within the UK.  There may be a short term increase in interest rates but if you look at where we are now, that will not be a big change.

We have another choice, we have a different way of achieving the same target, we need to decide what we want and how much we are willing to pay for it.

Monday, 28 March 2011

What is the point of a Government?

When you watch an American court drama at some point somebody will mention their constitutional rights. Political programmes within the UK quite often mention 'Our Constitution'. The vast majority of developed and developing countries have a constitution.

For most countries, a constitution is a number of statements that guide the country and the rights that every person has in order to achieve the aim of those statements.
The UK does not have a written constitution and it needs one now more than ever. Successive governments (Blue, Red and multicoloured) have demonstrated that they are incapable of acting in the long term good of the country. They act for the short term good of their ideals and those ideals change regularly, ebbing and flowing with who ever has most power at the time.

I would like to see a written constitution with protected rights that every person in the UK is aware of and every Government can be challenged against. The constitution should be an amalgamation of the views of the country - not the politicians - and should be seen as the yard stick by which we measure ourselves. It should be the document that protects us and ensures that no single Government can affect the country negatively and that the Government acts within the will of the people.

Why do we need it now? Times are hard and when times are hard, the first people to flourish are the corrupt and the illegal. Government should be free of big business and free of media. It should have an aim of creating long term well paid jobs and a well balanced society. It should be capable of making decisions with the public in mind but with the current 'financial extremism' the long term view is being distorted and forgotten as the need to make progress before the next election takes priority.

It would be a brave politician that stands up and says 'We need to be held to account over the long term - We need a written constitution!' Unfortunately, we don't have many brave politicians. 

'Removing barriers to growth' e.g. Coastguards?

'We are removing the barriers to growth' is a direct quote from Vince Cable when he was justifying the current cuts.
How on earth is cutting back the services that my local authority provides 'removing a barrier to growth'.  I used to hold Mr Cable in high esteem, he used to talk sense but he has lost his voice and his credibility with it.

I actually agree that local government needs to re-prioritise its services but the solution is to give them more of the important services to deliver instead of sidelining them and restricting their ability to operate. I give you the Parking Police who currently zap anything that stays still for ten minutes, who hinder business and smooth traffic. Why are they needed? Because councils have to raise money through parking charges in every single car park, which encourages people to park illegally and take chances. Or, the council could adjust traffic flows and make car parks free (certainly at low pressure times) thus encouraging trade back to the high street.  The priority is wrong!

From Mr Cables comments, I would therefore conclude that the areas being cut are somehow preventing businesses from trading! 
How exactly Mr Cable, does my local Coastguard station prevent companies from growing.  How is preventing Oil tankers from crashing onto the rocks, preventing growth? How many Oil clear up businesses have gone out of business over the last few years?
How many 'sailing boat rescue services' have gone bust? How many Cliff rescue companies are struggling to make ends meet due to those pesky Coastguards stealing their business? How many 'Super Tanker guidance services' have gone to the wall as their trade has been stolen by 'over investment in the Coastguard'.

Does Mr Cable remember the Sea Empress disaster 10 years ago? Allow me to assure him that those of us who live in Pembrokeshire have not.
What exactly is my local library doing that prevents businesses from expanding and when did my local public toilets last prevent somebody from making money? How is cutting the funding for the caring service (a private business) going to boost private business? Who exactly suffers from keeping lawns and flower beds neat and tidy? How will businesses be affected when these 'sub concious signals' start to deteriorate and how exactly will businesses pay for this with no knock on effect?

As I stated previously, I used to respect Mr Cable for his independence and ability to think in a straight line to achieve an end. Unfortunately, the smell of power has (as often happens) affected this ability and ensured that positive thinking in the political arena has been stamped out.

Why are politicians so unwilling to accept that there is an alternative way?  There is another way of achieving growth and there is a price to pay for it. The reduction in government spending can be slowed and targetted in areas where the effect will be felt less. You can offer the high profit companies a tax reduction in the future in return for assisting with the current issue. You can clamp down on the high earners who avoid taxes, you can break up banks and restrict pension companies from investing in the stock market, you can offer subsidies to re-locate Head Office operations out of big cities and into areas where job losses will be felt and you can move to a greener economy to make the most of the resources we have.

The price we will pay, will be that traders in the city of London will find it more difficult to raise money to invest in finance funds. The government might need to pay a higher interest rate on it's debt (It never bothered Cameron that much when he oversaw the collapse of the ERM which cost us Millions in extra borrowing) but most of us would accept that in exchange for having a job.

The unwillingness to even consider an alternative view will be the fall of this government. The lessons from the 80's and 90's have not been learned. The rich will benefit most from these cuts and the poorer will ultimately end up rebelling against society and given the starting point of the current society, any decline will have a significant effect.

It is time to reconsider and ask for the alternative view, before it is too late.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Has 'Miss World' got a point?

Can you imagine a Miss World contestant running the country - any country? Would it really be that bad?

PMQs would be a lot easier to watch, you would engage a lot more shallow people who have never even spelled politician let alone spoken to one and everything would just be a little bit more pretty.

The main change that I think we would see would be the priorities. When asked at every contest (so I am told!) what their priorities are, contestants regularly reply with, 'Feed all the children of the world and encourage World Peace'. Ask yourself is that really such a bad thing to be aiming for?

Compare that with the priorities of most governments, which usually move along the lines of, 'Expand the economy, grow big business, be better than than other countries'. How is this helping?
We are obsessed with beating others, being the best, improving faster and growing faster - constantly judging ourselves against others instead of our potential. We look at what other countries do and we say, we can do that, only better so that makes us better than them. This does not feel like the right way for a country to be heading.

Surely, as one of the most developed and mature societies, we should be setting the lead in focusing on non financial measures as our priority. Maybe we focus on everyone being capable of working, rather than how many are working, maybe we should focus on how many people play a team sport or are active in their community rather than pushing to work longer hours.

Maybe we should focus on developing a more balanced society, where people enjoy the opportunities they have and feel they are capable of of taking those opportunities, rather than growing our stock market faster than Wall Street.

Many of my views and opinions are already in other blogs and many of you have contacted me to say -'It is just not realistic'. I would reply that the only thing that stops us from changing - is us!

So while Miss World may not be in line for a government office, maybe the views and intentions of the contestants might be better than some that current politicians tell us are 'the only way forward'.

Or is it just me?

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Budget reply

I will keep it short and simple (similar to most politicians!).
We had a chance in yesterdays budget to really start pushing in a new direction but the Chancellor decided to stick to what he knows works i.e. the 80's! The situation feels very similar to the recessions of the 80's with high unemployment being blamed on those who are out of work rather than looking at the economy as a whole and saying what can we all do.
The Government thinks that simply restricting spending is somehow going to make everybody sit up and go 'I could have started my business before, but now that we are in a recession - the time is right - lets do it!' There will be some fantastic businesses that emerge out of this recession but they would have done that anyway. There are far more decent, hard working businesses that have not and will not make it.
To say that the public sector was preventing these businesses from growing is pure folly.
There are opportunities to reduce spending on a local level but sadly, the government has decided to turn it's back on these areas and hit the softer services that are actually vital to society functioning properly.

I agree that NI and Income tax should be merged, I fail to see why it will take six years to consult on it - that is not even implementing it!
The penny off fuel has been seen through by the public very quickly as a marketing and PR stunt - talk for an hour and everyone remembers the last minute! The Government has only got itself to blame on this as the public have become very wary of anything that they are told by Cameron &co.

So where did we miss an opportunity?

Osbourne himself admits 'I cannot control the price of fuel - only the tax upon it'. We have never been able to control the price of fuel and never will be able to, regardless of how close an eye he keeps on the oil companies (very easy to do it if you lunch with them and they attend party fundraisers!).
We had the choice to take some independent green steps. We could have left the fuel charges where they were, still taken the oil tax money and maybe even put airfuel charges up to encourage people to holiday in the UK rather than abroad. I heard one commentator say, 'It is only fair that the average family should have at least one holiday abroad each year, so holding the fuel charge makes sense.' What planet are they on?

We could have taken the tax from pollution generators and invested it in green technology, to remove our reliance on oil. We could put solar PV panels on every sports ground in the country, we could put them on every council house in the country, we could use wave generation technology (as we live on an island with huge tidal changes), we could have given tax breaks to electric cars throughout the country but we didn't.
We encouraged people to drive more, fly more and build where they want and how they want.
That is not progressive, that is the language of the 80's and it will result in the same end.

Big business and the City of London traders try to over centralise and control the money and therefore the power. This is a dangerous and corrupt path to walk down and I hope we can find a nice seat to sit down on soon, look around and make a path of our own for others to follow. Unfortunately, it will now be another twelve months before we have this option again. I wonder what the price of oil will be then?

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

NHS reform - bursting a political football !

The debate continues and will continue, regardless of the decision that comes out of this current round of political football. AT some point in the future, another party, another leader or another Health Secretary will take over and the direction will change again. This is wrong!

It is unfair to our NHS, it is unfair to the employees of our NHS and it is unfair to the patients i.e. me and you!

How can any system operate when their objectives and targets (yes we all need something to aim for) can change from day to day and week to week. The only reason the service is still operational is because there are enough people who have been willing to stand up and defend the idea of free health care for all.

For me, the NHS is too important to leave to the politicians to run. For them, it is a party issue, one wants more privatisation, one wants more targets and investment and the other wants what ever they need to agree with to be in power. This system of management will not provide us with the best Health Care system in the world and that is the one target that all major parties can agree on.

There is no point in going to other countries to see how they do it and then trying to apply the system here. Grow some balls and make a decision for the country you represent while you still have the chance. If there was one health care system that worked perfectly and could easily translate between countries, then everyone would be doing it and there would be no issue.

The point is that we need an NHS that serves the people of this country and it cannot do that while it remains a political football and until it actually asks the people of this country what it wants the NHS to be.

So here is my proposal. We make the NHS independent of government in the same way as the Bank of England is. The NHS is far more important for more people than the BoE so it should be treated as more important. The national NHS would be run by a body of professionals, experts and members of the public who would be tasked with ensuring that the wishes of the people of the UK are met.  There would need to be a national consultation where everyone has a chance to have an input into the targets and aspirations of the NHS, which would then become a 5, 10 and 20 year plan. Local NHS boards would be selected and run in a similar manner with the aim of delivering the national and local targets.

The thing to remember is that what works in one area of the country might not be right for another and the adaptability and flexibility to make local decisions is vital to make any organisation a success.

There would obviously be more complexities to be dealt with an ironed out, but they could be dealt with in the knowledge that 'This is what the people want' and any solutions would always have that in mind.

We can mess around with structures and delivery mechanisms as much as we want and for as long as we want, but if we genuinely want an NHS that delivers what the people want, how they want it and when they want it, we need to take politicians away from it and give it the respect that it deserves.

I am about to have a back operation in a private hospital, because I have the option to (through my job). I have used the NHS for many years and think the people that work within it do an amazing job and I would like to think that when my kids grow up and they may face the decision of whether to go private or NHS, they have a bit more to think about than I did.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Room for a new one - Is it time for change?

Something is wrong with British Politics - come to think of it Politics in general is in pretty bad shape. In large parts of the world people cannot be bothered to vote or take any interest in their politics, while in other parts of the world people are regularly spilling blood as they fight to gain the right. There is a feeling that governments in both developed and developing countries, do not act in the best interests of their people - they act in the interests of big business. Whilst big business is not always against the interests of society as a whole, they certainly do not hold the well being of society as a main target.

We in the UK have long dispensed with the idea that politicians work for us and in our interest, whilst in places such as the USA, it is frightening to see the lurch towards special interest groups, that now appears to lead politics.

The current political parties and interest groups are far too well established to simply set up another party, with good policies and direction and then hope that common sense prevails. My previous Blogs have advocated the return of decision making and power back to local governments, with national government providing more of a guiding and supporting role but this would mean people in government effectively deciding to make themselves redundant - I am not thinking that is very likely.

We currently have the party that used to be 'The new voice', the party that people thought might actually deliver something new and progressive, jumping into bed and supporting a series of backward and regressive policies. The British people are being let down and dragged backwards, while those that put the brakes on have jumped cars and are racing again.  We need a stronger and genuinely different option that gives everyone in the country a fair chance and opportunity.

So, is there an alternative?  Of course there is and you are part of it. Right now you are part of a huge revolutions that is changing the way the world works. You are on the Internet and reading bits of information put together from different parts of the world.  So far my Blogs have been read by people in the UK, USA, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Japan (Our thoughts are with you), Germany, Switzerland, Chile, Russia and probably loads more that I have missed and together we all have our own thoughts on the way forward.
How powerful would a political movement be, if it were to harness all of thoughts and feelings? How strong would that voice be if it came from all around the world, offering advice and support? Would it be possible to have a consistent message, one party existing in many countries all over the world, all aiming to achieve the same things and all working together in order to achieve a better outcome for all of us?

I think yes.
Let us all, together, start the first genuinely international political movement, with common aims and standards decided by ourselves. A party born and grown over the Internet, where everyone has a voice.  I am up for it and I know there are some of you that feel the same.

Your comments on making it happen would be appreciated.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Why do politicians fear de-centralisation?

The increased powers of the Welsh Assembly should be welcomed by the national government as a further step towards a much more progressive society where decisions are made closer to the places where the effects are felt. The traditional Downing Street reaction of a polite welcoming but several comments from senior insiders regarding the break up of Great Britain, was to be expected.
I would ask those in Downing Street and Westminster to think why people have requested the powers and why they want to do things differently.
I heard one commentator say 'We used to rule the world - now we don't even rule our own island'. He was disappointed with the fact that people did not want to be controlled by London because he felt they did an amazing job.  That is the problem!  London thinks it is doing an amazing job - very few others do.

Our government has lost touch with the people it serves and lacks the moral and emotional authority to make decisions on their behalf. We, as a society, have given up on influencing those that make decisions as history has demonstrated it to be a pointless task. Decisions are made by people who most people will never meet, see or listen to and there is no connection between the two.

It is only by bringing decision making closer to the point of impact, will we start to re-engage people in the democratic process. More power and control of money should be given away by central government back to local governments who are closer to the effects of decisions.
Does central government really care if social housing is managed correctly, or if rural roads are maintained, or if local youth groups have decent facilities to meet in?  No - they don't. They will only ever meet a few success stories once every five years during an election and then only if their seat is in a marginal.  They don't have to deal with these problems on a week to week basis, local councils deal with them on a daily basis and are in a much better position to create effective solutions for them.

The fact is that there will be a solution that works in central London, a different solution for the north of Scotland and a different one again for mid Wales. The 'single solution' generated by London, will work for some, will do ok for others and will be a waste of time for the rest. A better solution is for central government to become smaller, Income tax goes to local government with National Insurance going to national government to pay for genuine national services. When I try to think of a service that cannot be managed and paid for locally, I start to struggle, with the exception of the armed forces.

The over all effect of this change would mean that National  Government would become less relevant and smaller, with Local Government and services becoming more important. The biggest barrier to making this change happen, is the vanity of the politicians, who would ultimately cease to exist. This is why politicians do not like de-centralisation and why we, the people, should push for it at every opportunity.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Is China the next Egypt?

What happens when the people of China decide that they want reform and political freedom - what does the west do then. Those of us old enough will remember the massacre of the last uprising in China and the horrific images that were smuggled out. The world now relies on China for the supply of cheap products and our supply chains simple could not cope without Chinese products.
So what would happen if there was another uprising and civil unrest in China?
Modern media would allow more images to be broadcast and the message would spread rapidly. The sheer volumes of people in China would make a popular uprising almost unstoppable. If the will was in the people of China for reform and freedom, then they would be able to take it rapidly.
But here is the problem, the west is now so in bed and so reliant on China, that it has decided to overlook the human rights record in the interests of trade. The spin that 'We are helping them to change' does not wash - it was the same spin that we put on UAE, Nigeria, Egypt, Libya and Bahrain and look where those countries are now.
As a country, we need to be strong enough to say 'NO!' to trading with certain countries who do not match or show signs of matching our expectations on humanitarian issues and political freedom. Unfortunately, we are too far down the road to do a U-Turn and stop trading with some countries, but we can put pressure on our politicians to start putting the brakes on at the very least.
Unless we 'the people' start to take a stand in our country, then we are leaving ourselves open to the political unrest that will surely come in other countries. In order to support ourselves and protect our future, we need to support people in places such as China and the Middle East/North Africa by encouraging a rapid a peaceful move to democracy. The best way we can do that is to hit them in the pocket.

How we do that is over to you - however, given the current financial situation, I am not going to hold my breath for radical change in the UK.