Saturday, 1 December 2012

More press regulation is a bad idea

There can be no doubt that some members of the press have behaved very badly. Everyone agrees that phone hacking is against the law and anyone found guilty should be punished.

But do we now need new laws to ‘regulate’ the press - or as euphemistically described, to 'underpin' regulation? The hysterical voices now clamouring for more regulation may have good intentions, but are they right?

Clearly, some of the people urging the government to adopt the Leveson recommendations ‘in full’ are motivated by genuine sympathy for the victims of the phone-hacking scandal. However, others are just usual suspects - hoping to use the report as a convenient opportunity to put the boot into the Murdoch Empire.

Whatever the motivation, the simple fact is statutory regulation won’t work. Newspapers are already ‘yesterday’s news’ - most people now do their reading other ways. At the click of a mouse or the tap of a screen citizens now have instant access to news and views from around the world - yet the internet is barely covered by the Leveson report.

In the USA, freedom of the press is guaranteed by the First Amendment. Whatever measures are implemented in the UK, people will still be able to access news and information from other sources.

Whether they realise it or not, citizens need protection from politicians more than they need protection from the press.

The Leveson proposal must be rejected.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Clegg does not speak for the UK on Europe

Are you listening Dave?

Nick Clegg tells us that there is no prospect of cutting the EU budget because the other member states would “simply not have it”. But why take such a defeatist attitude? Are the Lib Dems yellow? The simple fact is that taxpayers across the whole EU are fed up with the burgeoning bureaucracy and wastefulness of the EU machine. The EU has only become an apparently unstoppable juggernaut because weaselly politicians like Nick Clegg have allowed it and actively encouraged it. The people of Europe have not had their say. When the citizens of France, Netherlands and Ireland had a rare opportunity to vote on the constitutional issue, they voted “no”. Their wishes were then ignored.

Let us not forget Nick Clegg’s blatant dishonesty on Europe. In the Lib Dem 2005 manifesto, Clegg promised that any change to the EU constitution “must be subject to a referendum of the British people”. (Page 13, Europe). But when push came to shove, Clegg ordered his troops to allow Gordon Brown to bulldoze the Lisbon Treaty through Parliament without a referendum. Clegg had the opportunity to block Brown by voting with the Tories, but chose not to - thereby breaking his own manifesto promise.

Now Clegg tells us we can’t repatriate any powers. The fact that he personally conspired with Labour to hand more powers to the EU in the first place is conveniently forgotten.

Similarly, Labour has nothing to feel proud about in their new and wholly unconvincing conversion to EU frugality. Although Labour joined Tory ‘rebels’ in supporting an EU budget cut, it was pure humbug. The last Labour government gave away our rebate, getting nothing in return. Has Labour apologised to British taxpayers? Hardly!

While national budgets continue to be slashed, it is totally unacceptable for the EU to increase its budget, wasting even more of our money. The fact that the EU’s accounts have not been signed off by the auditors for many years really tells us everything we need to know.

It’s totally dishonest to suggest that it’s just British voters complaining again. If the citizens of all the European nations were allowed to have any say, the result would be the same.

It’s time for some strong leadership. But that’s not going to happen with this useless coalition.

UK citizens have been badly let down. The Tories are trailing behind in the polls with UKIP looking to take even more votes at the next election. The Tory Rebels clearly know something that the leadership doesn’t.

Are you listening Dave?

Clegg: Repatriation of EU powers is a false promise. (Clegg knows all about false promises!)

John Redwood's riposte to Clegg:

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Reform the House of Commons before the House of Lords

There can be no doubt that the UK needs constitutional reform. But the most urgent changes that are needed concern the House of Commons, not the House of Lords.
For too long parliamentary democracy has been usurped by a powerful executive backed by party whips. The government can impose its will on backbench MPs - essentially stifling any meaningful debate. All too often, the government of the day uses the 'guillotine' to prevent a full debate in order to push through its own rushed agenda. Backbench MPs can rebel against their party leadership, but this would almost certainly end their parliamentary careers and could even lead to deselection.
Legislation is often hurried through the Commons without being fully debated. Where the legislation is badly drafted (as is often the case) unforeseen consequences may arise that have not been properly considered by our elected representatives.
The House of Lords, although unelected, can scrutinise the proposed legislation in a more orderly fashion, and if necessary propose amendments. These amendments can be accepted or rejected by the House of Commons, but in reality this process often helps to improve the bill which MPs have not properly considered.
Is there a case for an elected Second Chamber to replace the House of Lords? Certainly an argument can be made. But if the second chamber is to be elected, it must also have more power. It must be able to challenge the House of Commons as an equal partner. Currently, the House of Commons always has the final say.  If the House of Lords does not accept a piece of legislation, the Government can invoke the Parliament Act to force it through.
The use of the Parliament Act to over-rule an elected Second Chamber would obviously be unacceptable. Yet, this is exactly what is being proposed by Nick Clegg’s ill-considered ‘reform’ of the House of Lords.
Furthermore, Clegg wants members of the second chamber to be elected for a 15 year term, which would be non-renewable. 15 years?! This means once elected, there would be no way for voters to get rid of the person - effectively making them unaccountable to the electorate. Even by Clegg’s standards, this must rank as one of the most stupid ideas ever put forward in the name of constitutional reform.
Clegg also wants members of the Second Chamber to be elected from party lists - a form of ‘proportional representation’ already roundly rejected by the people in a referendum last year.
Given voter apathy in general elections when selecting MPs, why should we expect people to turn out to vote for members of a second chamber who will not have any power - and who cannot be got rid of for 15 years?
Reform is needed, but it is the House of Commons that most urgently needs to change. The London Bugle makes the following recommendations:

  • The use of the ‘guillotine’ must be outlawed. Legislation should not be passed by the Commons until it has been properly debated clause by clause, line by line. If this means the government needs to slow down its legislative programme, then so be it! It would be better to have fewer laws that are properly considered than lots of badly drafted legislation passed without adequate debate.
  • Scottish MPs should not be allowed to vote on any legislation that does not directly affect their own Scottish constituencies. Scotland has its own Parliament, but thanks to Labour’s botched one-sided devolution, England is now at a democratic disadvantage within the Union.
  • If MPs promise something in their election manifestos but then willfully break their promise after being elected, the constituencies should have power to recall their MP and demand an explanation. If constituency members are not happy with the explanation, they should have the power to dismiss the MP and trigger a by-election. This might help MPs to remember why they were elected in the first place. They are there to ‘serve’, not to ‘rule’.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Independence for London? You must be bonkers!

The population of London is roughly the same as Scotland and Wales put together - yet Londoners have very little autonomy within the UK. Despite having an elected Mayor and Assembly, on matters of national policy London is still effectively ‘ruled by Westminster’. 
Should London break away from the UK? Would London be better off as a separate country? Should London have self-rule?
The idea of an Independent London is absurd - and only someone who was seriously bonkers would put this forward as a suggestion. The World is currently getting smaller by the day. The United Nations, European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank all play their part in eroding the sovereignty of the Independent State.
Whether we like it or not, the direction of flow is towards greater political and financial integration. The idea of an EU member splitting into even smaller parts to be ‘more independent’ makes no sense.
London on its own would have even less influence in Europe and the rest of the World than the UK as a whole. Going it alone would mean less independence, not more.
So why is it that Scotland with its tiny population is now seriously considering voting to leave the UK? It really boils down to the vanity and personal ambitions of Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party. 
Following years of Labour’s failure, the SNP has been very successful stirring up nationalistic feelings. Why should Scotland be ‘ruled’ by Westminster?
In reality, Scotland is NOT ruled by Westminster. Scotland has far greater independence than any other part of the UK. Scotland has its own Parliament, unlike London, despite the fact that London has a much larger population.
Even at Westminster, Scotland punches well above its weight. Scottish MPs vote on English affairs, but not vice-versa (the so called West Lothian question, conveniently ignored by the previous Scottish dominated Labour government).
There will be no referendum for London Independence. It has never been an issue.
As the Scottish referendum approaches and Alex Salmond pursues his personal vainglorious ambitions, let us hope that the wisdom of the Scottish people wins through.
The people of Scotland deserve a leader with vision, not delusions.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

There is only one choice for London

At election time, Lib Dems love nothing more than stuffing leaflets through doors telling voters that candidates from other parties ‘can’t win here’
The Mayoral election is of course a two-horse race. Lib Dems ‘can’t win here’ - but oddly this time they don’t mention it. Brian Paddick seems a nice enough chap, but he knows he is wasting his time. When interviewed on LBC radio, he hadn’t done his homework and didn’t even know how much his own policies would cost.
The Green candidate seems to have thrown in the towel and has suggested her supporters give their second choice vote to Ken. So, if you don’t want Ken, you can’t support the Greens either.
So, it’s a straight choice. It comes down to this:
Do Londoners want a Mayor who will speak up for London, keep costs down, cut waste, cut crime, invest in public transport and get the best possible deal from Number 10? Or do they want a dinosaur from a bygone age who has been shown time and again to break his own promises?
When he was Mayor, Ken Livingstone famously said “only a ghastly dehumanised moron would want to get rid of the Routemaster”. Then he got rid of them - and in so doing wrote his own epitaph.
Do we move forwards or backwards? The choice seems clear. Here’s wishing Boris good luck for May 3rd

Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Problem with Bus Lanes

Bus lanes do help buses move faster - that’s true. But they also cause a huge amount of congestion (and pollution) for everyone else using the roads. Bus passengers enjoy the use of the public highway - paid for out of public funds - but unlike car owners, pay no road tax, no insurance, no insurance tax, no fuel tax.
Bus lanes are empty for most of the time while the other lanes are permanently congested.
Keeping buses moving makes good sense, but some sort of compromise could significantly improve the flow of traffic for all road users. As an example, motorcycles have recently been allowed to use most bus lanes - with no ill effects whatsoever.

Minicab firm Addison Lee believes that its vehicles should also be allowed to use bus lanes. After all, minicabs carry passengers and keep London moving - just like black cabs. However, Transport for London has won a High Court injunction to keep them out of the bus lanes, forcing them to join the traffic jams - adding to the congestion and increasing the misery on London's roads.

Boris should really think again. Letting minicabs use bus lanes is a good idea. It would not slow buses down at all - but would certainly ease congestion for everyone else.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Surveillance Britain - now it's the coalition's turn

Isn’t it odd that the government wants to read our emails while keeping its own grubby dealings and internal memos secret for 30 years?

The coalition plans to introduce new measures to snoop on citizens in ways that would not be out of place in China, Burma, Russia or Syria - yet they have no mandate to do so. In fact, in 2010, the Coalition’s ‘Programme for Government’ promised to do the exact opposite.

Page 11 states “we will implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties and roll back state intrusion” and “we will end the storage of internet and email records without good reason”.

Back in 2010, Nick Clegg was telling us snooping did not make us safer. If there were a word in the English language to describe the antithesis of a mandate, this would surely be a prime example.

As recently as their Spring Conference March 2012, the Lib Dems declared the need to “undo the damage done to civil liberties, including Labour’s sustained assault on basic freedoms” (Page 50, policy motion)

When in opposition, Conservatives and Lib Dems (rightly) howled in protest when Labour tried to introduce similar plans. Yet, now in government they are all for it! What hypocrisy! What dishonesty!

So why the 180 degree change of mind? The suspicion is that this is a civil service driven policy. When Sir Humphrey fails to push through a much cherished plan with the sitting minister, he simply waits for the next hapless stooge to be appointed and tries again.

The Coalition feebly claims they need the powers to access people’s emails and web history as part of the fight against crime and terrorism. However, given the government’s track record on keeping personal data safe, having access to this sort of information actually increases the risk of crime. And there are already ample powers for the police and security services to be used when needed.

To assuage our fears, Nick Clegg promises the plans will be subject to the ‘highest possible safeguards’. Unfortuanetly, given Clegg’s track record on tuition fees and the referendum on the EU constitutional treaty, we know the Lib Dem leader’s promises are totally worthless. So hungry for power are the Lib Dems that they have simply swapped all their principles for seats on the front bench.

The Conservatives have nothing to be proud of either. If they back the plans, they will breaking their own 2010 manifesto pledges to ‘restore our civil liberties’ and ‘protect our freedoms’ (See page 79 of the Conservative 2010 manifesto if you want a good laugh!) They will also be in breach of the Coalition’s ‘Programme for Government’.

Clearly our political leaders can no longer be trusted to protect civil liberties. Miliband has nothing to say as it was his Labour government that introduced RIPA, the Snooper’s Charter that allows local councils to spy on citizens suspected of putting out bins on the wrong day or dropping litter. The change of government has not brought about the promised change of direction. It is now all too plain to see that Cameron is not a conservative and Clegg is no liberal. Shame on them both.