Saturday 22 June 2019

Honour at the top.

Our politicians and press like to bang on about "British Values" and are very keen that immigrants should make themselves more acceptable by absorbing them.

it is a nonsense of course that these values, however defined,  are exclusive to Britain.  They are what are, or should be, observed by decent people in all civilised societies.

On my younger days  "honour" was an important one.  We were taught  in Sunday School to "honour" our fathers and mothers (with the incentive that if we did our days would be long in the land which the Lord had given us.)  When I was 11 and enrolled into the Scouts I promised  "On my honour" to "do my duty to God and the King." (then George VI.)

At school it was drilled into us that the honour oft school was in our hands, and we absorbed , from  our avid reading of "Smith of the lower third" (Wizard, on Tuesdays) and Red Circle (Hotspur, on Thursdays) that pupils in establishment far superior to ours held this value in great esteem, even to the "honour of the House." (See Lindsay Anderson's film  “If .) Those who were drafted into the army heard a lot, I understand, about the honour of the regiment.

The definition of honour in my dictionary is quite long, but includes "reputation, good name, nobleness of mind."

These characteristics have not been all that evident in the conduct of the Tory leadership so far, or in the character of the front runner.

In the conduct of of the election we understand "beyond reasonable doubt" that  Michael Gove was pushed out of the final round because votes were "loaned" to Jeremy Hunt "  from the Johnson team.  Not that I feel much sympathy for Gove, given the damage he did to the education service.

 I do however feel sorry for Rory Stewart,who polled 19 votes in the first round (just enough), shot up to 37 in the second, and then fell back to 27 in the third.  We understand that his "surge" in the second round was through "loaned "votes in order to eliminate Dominic Raab, which they did.

On the radio this morning political correspondents of both the Sun and the Guardian were asked if such chicanery were likely and acceptable and both said yes:  "They are playing for high sakes."

So both extremes of our political spectrum agree that decent behaviour is for the Plebs and needn't apply to those vying for the top.

In an article in the Guardian earlier  this week an occasional  columnist, George Pitcher, wrote:

"[Johnson] is a serial liar, philander and shirker .  He was fired from the Times for making up quotes as a reporter, and as an opposition spokesman  for lying to his leader about an affair; a spendthrift mayor of London, who relied on is deputies while he played to the gallery with vanity projects ; incompetent beyond belief as foreign secretary; said to have deliberately misled the people on the post-Brexit economy; and a provocateur of racism and hate crime  through his casual insults  of our ethnic minorities."

Strong stuff.  You'd think it would be actionable, but the Guardian must be prepared to defend it, probably  on the grounds that it is a) true and b) in the public interest, which I believe is one of the defences for libel.

Certainly there's not much sign of "reputation, good name, nobleness of mind."  I wonder what  "hidden curriculum" they aim for at Eton?

Higher standards are, however, prescribed for those in authority lower down the pile.  A friend of mine Emailed this to all we enthusiastic Remainers in this part of Yorkshire:

I was reading through some of the Town Councillors handbook references this morning and came across this interesting piece of information:

Councillors’ conduct and interests

The seven Nolan principles apply to the conduct of people in public life – they are:

Selflessness – you should act in the public interest
Integrity – you should not put yourself under the obligations to others, allow them to improperly influence you or seek  benefit for yourself, family, friends or close associates
Objectivity – you should act impartially, fairly and on merit
Accountability – you should be prepared to submit to public scrutiny necessary to ensure accountability
Openness – you should be open and transparent in your actions and decisions unless there are clear and lawful reasons for non-disclosure
Honesty – you should always be truthful
Leadership – you should promote, support and exhibit high standards of conduct and be willing to challenge poor behaviour.

It would be good to circulate this to all those 160 000 Tory members who are entitled to decide between Johnson and Hunt..   

But the really sad thing to me is that, knowing all of the above, 160 Conservative MPs, over half the parliamentary partly, are prepared propose a character almost  as far away from traditional British values as it is possible, to be our future  prime Minister.

PS (added Monday 24th June)

According to a graphic in last Saturday's Guardian (22/06/19) 75% of Conservative Party members believe that "Young people  today don't have enough respect  for traditional British values."  Let's hope they put their votes where their mouths are.

Thursday 20 June 2019

Conservative democracy

There seems to be some disquiet about the fact that it is 160 000 or so Conservative Party members who will make the final decision as to who will become the next leader of their party and, in the present circumstance, our prime-minister.

 To find this curious is to ignore history.  It is only recently that party members have had any say in who should be their leader.  That was a matter usually left up to the MPs , and in the case of the Tory Party, not even all of them.

In the post war period Sir Anthony Eden was the long-standing heir apparent to Winston Churchill, and, when Churchill finally resigned Eden succeeded without, as far as I know, anyone at all being consulted.

After that, for a long period, Tory leaders "emerged."  The process was not all that public, but we understood that three "men in grey suits" would conduct "consultations"; one with the party's MPs, one with the party's peers in the House of Lords, and the third with the party chairs in the constituencies.  Then these three would get together and decide, if the party were in government,  whom the monarch should send for to become the next prime minister.

Thus Harold Macmillan rather than R A Butler "emerged" to take over from Eden after the Suez fiasco in 1957, and Lord Home (who demoted himself to Sir Alec Douglas-Home), again rather than Butler, "emerged" to take over when Macmillan resigned because he felt poorlier than he really was as a result of  a prostate operation in 1963.

The Tories narrowly  lost the election which followed in 1964 and the party took its first step towards modernity by deciding that their leader should be elected by its MPs.  Peers and party chairs were now cut out.

The rules required that the winner should have an over-all majority plus 15% in the first ballot. (Note that "super-majority" and think to mention it every time you're told that leaving the EU is our democratic duty because 17.4m people voted for it).  Edward  Heath did not quite achieve this but his nearest rival, Reginald Maudlin, withdrew and so Heath became leader of the opposition and, eventually prime minister when the Tories won their surprise victory in 1970.

Heath was prime minister for four years but lost to Labour twice in the two elections of 1974.  He was then persuaded to put himself forward for re-election, again solely by MPs, and to just about everyone's surprises, was beaten on the first ballot by the rank outsider Margaret Thatcher, although she did not get the required majority.  However,  she did on the second ballot,  became Leader of the Opposition and led the party to victory in 1979 (and again in 1984, and again in 1987 - thus sowing the seeds of most of our present woes.)

In 1990. while she was still prime minister, the (now) wonderful Michael Heseltine challenged her for the leadership.  She won, but not with the required "super-majority" and, to avoid humiliation in the second round, withdrew.  The second round was won by her favoured candidate, John Major.

(Note that the initial challenger, and favourite, didn't win. Let's hope history repeats itself.)

While Major was prime-minister he received much hassle from "The Bastards" as he called the Euro-sceptics in the party,  and at one stage was so frustrated that he resigned and challenged them to "put up or shut op."  He won the vote which, as far as I can remember, was still by MPs only.

When Major lost to Tony Blair's New Labour in 1979 he resigned and was replaced as party leader and leader of the opposition by the youthful William Hague  (leader 2001 to 2003).  I think this was the last time when the new leader was elected by MPs only although I cannot find confirmation  of this on Google.

Hague introduced new rules for the election of the party leader and I presume these are the basis for the ones under which the present procedure operates - ie the MPs whittle down the list to the final two and then the party membership decides.

So as far as I can make out the first election in which the members contributed to the choosing of the Tory party leader was in 2001 when, after Hague's resignation following the loss of the 2001 election,  the self-styled "quiet man", Ian Duncan Smith, was elected.  He lasted only  two years and was replaced without opposition by Michael Howard, he who had "something of the night about him"

Two years later IDS too resigned and David Davis and David Cameron were the two chosen by MPs to "slug it out" with the membership.  Cameron won and was leader from 2005.  Under his leadership he didn't actually win the 2010 election bit the Tories were the largest party and formed the ill-fated (from the Liberal point of view) Coalition.

To his surprise Cameron won an over-all majority in 2015 and, without a Liberal Democrat minority to blame  for preventing him from doing so, was forced to honour his promise to hold a Referendum on EU membership.  When, again to his surprise, the referendum did not come out as he'd, and most others, expected, he broke another promise, walked away for the premiership and left it to his successor Theresa  May, to sort things out.  The choice of Mrs May was not put to the members  as her opponent, Angela Leadsome, withdrew.

So, as far as the Tories are concerned, giving the final choice to the party members is a well established, though recent, procedure, which should surprise no-one.

As far as I know the Labour leader has, from their earliest beginnings, been elected by the MPs (and their entire shadow cabinet when in opposition).  However from 1980 to 2014 this was broadened to an electoral college, with a third of the votes allocated to the Party's MPs and MEPs, a third to individual members of the Labour Party, and a third to individual members of all affiliated organisations, including socialist societies and trade unions.

The 2015 leadership election  used a "one member, one vote" (OMOV) system, although a candidate needs to receive the support of 10% of Labour MPs in order to appear on the ballot.  Well-meaning believers in democracy signed Jeremy Corbyn's  papers so he could reach this 10% and "give the Left a voice", but never expected him to win

Leading the way as always on constitutional reform  we Liberal Democrat members have been helping to elect our leaders since 1976 when the parliamentary party narrowed the choice down to two candidates, David Steel and John Pardoe, who were subjected to a ballot a ballot of an electoral college made up of representatives of the various constituency associations, with their vote "weighted" by the strength of the Liberal vote at the previous general election.

Yes, we do believe in "fancy franchises."

That system lasted for only that one election and after that the entire membership voted after the parliamentary party had selected the runners.

This grafting of "participatory democracy" on to a system that is essentially a "representative democracy" causes problems, as the Labour Party has discovered and the Tories  may be about to.

Tuesday 11 June 2019

Pensioners: two ends of the monied spectrum

Two announcements made yesterday affect pensioners at both ends of the monied spectrum.

As part of his pitch for the Tory  leadership (and hence the premiership) Boris Johnson announced that, if he wins, he will raise  the threshold for liability to the higher, 40%,  income tax rate from  £50 000  to £80 000 a year.  The cost will be partly offset by making recipients of these high salaries pay more National Insurance Contritions (NICs) for which at present the rate drops from 12% to 2% for incomes above £50 000.

However, pensioners don't pay NICs, even if we are working and receiving lavish (or even modest) incomes.  So he biggest beneficiaries  of Johnson's largess to the rich will be people over 66, working or not, whose combined salaries, investment incomes  and pensions exceed £50 000. Those on £80 000 will gain  by about  £3 000 a year, which is £60 a week.

They do not include me.  Indeed I wonder what they do with  all the money they already have.  Maybe pay school fees for grand-children to give them  an advantageous start  in life

By contrast the BBC announced that it cannot afford to continue to provide free TV Licences to the over 75s.  These cost £154.50, which is about £3 a week.  About  three million of us (yes, this one does include me) will lose this nice little perk.

 Mrs May, still prime minister,  is said to be disappointed, forgetting presumably that she was part of the government which dumped the responsibility for this payment from the government to the BBC back in 2015.

The poorest pensioners, who receive Pension Credit, will still be able to receive a free licence.  (I'm not sure whether this il be automatic or they will have to apply)  However, about 1.3 million families who are entitled to Pension Credit don't actually claim.  These are often the very elderly or people with disabilities.  So they will suffer most.

That's the trouble with means-tested benefits: the most in need often miss out.

Personally I have no objection to paying for a TV licence.  I can well afford it.  In terms of opportunity cost it's half a bottle of wine a week.  (My tastes in wine are modest - I'm very happy with plonk, or le pinard, as the French call it.)

A solution I've suggested before is not to give these otherwise universal benefits to anyone who pays income tax.  As a member of Liberty I am aware of the privacy implications of this but it does seem to me to be an acceptable way of avoiding the means-testing problem. 

I am, however, ashamed to be living in a country where our leaders believe, probably rightly,  that they will win elections by giving more to those who already have enough, and by taking away from those who have least.

Thursday 6 June 2019

D-Day: what we should remember

I was six years old when the D-Day landings took place on this day in 1944. By the time I reached "call-up" age National Service in the UK was just about ending, so I have never been forced to "give" my life for my country and I am very thankful for that.

It is right to remember the young men on all sides who were sacrificed on the Normandy Beaches 75 years ago.  But note, for the most part they didn't "give" their lives, they were largely conscripts who had their lives taken, through a failure of politics.

Thankfully, in my lifetime, through the efforts of the United Nations, NATO, and, yes,the European Union, mass slaughter of the young and not so young on this scale has been avoided.

So, as well as the bravery and the bugles and the legitimate nostalgia for "past glories" we should look seriously at the causes of the conflict they died to end, and how to avoid the politics that might lead to another.

We should look carefully at the Treaty of Versailles and the policy of "squeezing Germany until the pips squeak?"

 What, if any, support did the "victorious allies" give to the struggling Weimar Republic?

To what extent did we create the conditions which enabled the aggressive nationalism and fascism of the Nazi regime to take hold and flourish?

To what extent are we replicating those conditions now?

Yes, I know, neither Donald Trump, Boris Johnson nor even Nigel Farage are proto=Hitlers.

 But to what extent are the fake news, undeliverable promises, blatant disregard of the niceties of diplomacy, the take-over of our fragile democracies by the most powerful monied forces, the policies of "ourselves first", creating the circumstances by which the relative peace and prosperity of the last seven decades may founder?

And  a little modest might help.  D-Day may have been the greatest  seaborne invasion in the history.of the World, but It was not the dominant factor in the defeat of Nazism.  The Western allies  lost military lives in the hundreds of thousands. The USSR, on the Eastern front, lost  between eight and eleven million. 

When and where do they commemorate that?  Shall we be there?  Are we treating the Russians and their government with the respect they deserve?

Tuesday 4 June 2019

Trump visit: a national embarrassment

Time and again our government has done things and I think we have plumbed the ultimate depths - then they do something even worse.

The Sate Visit of President Trump is the latest humiliation.

 it was humiliating enough to see Theresa May so eager to be one of the first leaders  to meet Trump after he was first elected (on a minority vote.)  But why did she offer him  a Sate Visit?  After all, it's not something that goes with the job. Only two previous US Presidents (Bush in 2003 and Obama in 2011) have had one.  Not Wilson, not Roosevelt, not Eisenhower, not Kennedy, nor any of the others, though most have made official Presidential visits - not quite so posh.

So why this "rogue" world leader whose odious views, unacceptable actions and dangerous economic illiteracy make him unacceptable in civilised company and, if he continues in office, a threat to world prosperity.

From comments I've heard on the media, apparently the pomp and ceremony, the hob-knobbing with royalty, the trophy photographs, are going down well among his supporters in the US. So we are helping him to get re-elected.  Democrats in the US must be as dismayed  as we are by this inappropriate shenanigans.

Presumably the government is hoping to ingratiate itself with the US administration with a view to favours in the future, not least in trade deals.

In truth, rather than "taking back control" by leaving the EU, we are reduced to kowtowing  to a foreign power  over whose policies we have no say and which publicly declares its policy is to "put America first."

As part of "putting America first" the US has insisted that any future trade deals with the UK (after we have left the EU) must include health provision.

This morning I caught a snatch of of an interview on Radio 4 with a health spokesman (I think it was Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation.  I have learned to be suspicious of spokespersons who use business-studies  jargon, but three times in the 90 seconds or so I heard of the clip he used the phrase "going forward."  - which usually  means, "Never mind going over the mistakes we've made in the past - let's just blunder optimistically into the future).

So "Going forward" there's no danger of our NHS being subjected to [further] privatisation via the massively wealthy US providers.

In the present atmosphere of "never let the facts get in the way of your feeling" quite a lot of people will believe that.