Emma Does Politics

There is such a thing as society. It's called politics.

Liberal Democrats Confusing on Tax Evasion

According to the Guardian, Danny Alexander of the Liberal Democrats wants to make people who facilitate tax evasion as liable as the tax evaders they helped. This is a lovely sound-bite to hear.

“Lovely” is all it is though.

The problem with it is that what is popularly called “tax evasion” is in reality merely taking advantage of legal tax loopholes. It’s all morally wrong, but nothing is actually illegal as such. If, as I suspect, he means facilitating illegal tax evasion, then it’s a meaningless statement (aiding and abetting a crime is already an offence in itself). If he means facilitating a legal tax dodge, that enters weirdness territory (helping people do things legally can be punished?) He surely can’t mean that creating the legal tax loophole in the first place (the act of government) could be prosecutable!

Debating NOTA on Democratic Audit

Recently, I entered an email debate with Mr Berry of Democratic Audit. Part One of the debate is now online.

 

Update on NOTA (None of the Above)

It’s been an interesting start to the year in the world of campaigning for a NOTA option.

Arvind Kejriwal recently won a landslide victory (India Times) (BBC) (Times of India) in Delhi’s election (Wikipedia) (BBC). His Aam Aadmi Party champions the ideas of both NOTA and Voter Recall. It’s unfortunate that this is only a city-wide election and not a nationwide one. But nonetheless I look forward to hearing more news from India about election reform.


Earlier this month, Mr Birdwell of Demos posted an article about NOTA. I feel he is wrong about promoting online voting and compulsory first time voting though. Online voting greatly opens up the opportunity for election fraud (BBC) (The Independent) (Telegraph). Compulsory voting, even for first-time voters, not only challenges the idea that it should be legal for an adult to sit at home with curtains drawn minding their own business, but also ignores the wider fact that the person may not be sufficiently informed or even interested in voting – such votes would be election “noise” that increases the turnout without genuinely counting up heartfelt political opinion. And it is opinion that matters more than raw numbers. Anyone can build numbers, as witnessed by Britain First’s social media campaign.

Mr Birdwell doesn’t seem clear on the key difference between merely spoiling a ballot and a NOTA with teeth ballot option, confusing the two concepts in some paragraphs. Nonetheless, it’s a good start. He also proposed the idea of open primaries in the resulting by-election. I’m not so sure about this. Asking a party to allow non-party members to assist in choosing their candidate opens up the door to “spoiler” voting, in which the members of the Magenta Party intentionally vote for an extremist candidate for the Mauve Party, in order to spoil the Mauve Party’s chances in the by-election. Most parties already have internal systems in place for choosing their own candidate, and forcing a primary on a smaller party or an independent may result in an excessive cost that they cannot fund, effectively pricing them out of the election.


There’s been some discussion on the Democratic Audit website about NOTA. Mr Berry recently wrote about election reform, claiming that PR, election primaries, and a lower financial burden on candidates would be better ways to make our government democratic, rather than NOTA. Mr Stanley has responded in his own way.

My view is that PR and NOTA are entirely compatible, and should be implemented simultaneously. Election primaries suffer the same problem noted above; namely it either opens the way for non-party members to spoil a party’s primary election, and it can create an unnecessary financial burden. Additionally, it reinforces the idea that people should be voting for parties, which marginalises independent candidates even more. Open primaries can in effect polarise political thought, rather than reflect the true spectrum of political opinion, because there would be a greater expectation that once the primary is completed, dissent within the party should be silenced. Mr Berry also correctly notes that the £500 “entry fee” to standing is a barrier for candidates. What he ignores is that the actual entry fee is closer to £5000, and much more in a hotly-contested seat. Without spending time and/or money (preferably both) on the election campaign, a candidate will be a mere “paper candidate”, and cannot reasonably expect to break triple digits in the vote count, let alone win.


Finally, I have parted company with Mr Stanley of NOTA-UK. I found a recent blog post of his unconscionable, and against the principles by which I personally would campaign for NOTA. In his role as a leader of a NOTA campaign (one of a handful, despite the claim made on the site), he called for unity and for everyone to all be “on the same page”. He then clearly states that he will be taking his own vote home and will support any other group that encourages others to do the same.

If that had been posted his personal blog, it wouldn’t matter. But as leader of a campaign, posting his personal decision on what to do with his ballot paper whilst simultaneously calling for unity, a neutral observer could quite reasonably understand that call for unity to be a request for everyone to do likewise with their ballot (even though he says it is not a policy that the campaign “should be putting all its eggs in”). This is a form of “election hacking” that was discussed in depth in the Facebook group, which I argued strenuously against, as it would in effect reduce the campaign to just another “one of the above” competing for peoples “votes”.

I am flattered that he continues to champion a slightly modified form of the NOTA with teeth proposal that I posted some 18 months before his version. I still support, and will continue to campaign for, a “NOTA with teeth” option on UK ballots.

Free Speech?

What is freedom of speech? Workers at Charlie Hebdo paid the price for exercising theirs. As far as freedom of speech goes, does the right to free speech come with the right to say stuff like “I don’t think that people really needs to have its own nation-state” or “let’s kill all the [insert group here]”? Is the right to offend an inherent part of the right to free speech? Where is the line between causing offence and hate speech?

To be clear, where freedom of speech is defined in law in so-called modern liberal democracies, that freedom is not absolute. The traditional claim is that it doesn’t include the right to shout “fire!” in a crowded theatre hall. And it is limited by laws against libel and slander. Many nations also have laws against encouraging terror, “fighting words”, obscenity, hate, distributing state secrets, or discrimination in their free speech laws. Regardless of what people claim, we don’t have absolute free speech; nor should we. We might argue on the degree of free speech, but ultimately, only the worst kind of libertarian-anarchist argues in favour of absolute free speech.

“Monsieur l’abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.” — Voltaire

“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.” Salman Rushdie

“It’s now very common to hear people say, “I’m rather offended by that”, as if that gives them certain rights. It’s no more than a whine. It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. “I’m offended by that.” Well, so fucking what?” Stephen Fry

“No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.” — Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen

“I get a bit disturbed when people talk about a right to offend. It’s not a positive thing. The UN declaration talks about freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, not our freedom to offend.” — Henderson Mullin

Just t be clear, I think “let’s kill the xxxx” is expressing hatred, even though the word “hate” is absent. But why is “expressing hatred” (a.k.a. “hate speech”) criminal, yet “expressing offensiveness” okay? What if one kid in the playground says to another, “I hate you!” Is that hate speech or just kids being kids? (The latter, I suspect.) What if the ‘hating’ kid had been bullied by the ‘hated’ kid? What if someone uses the N-word, or any of a myriad other colourful insults the English language has to offer? Is that hate speech, or merely causing offence? Where is the line? That’s not a rhetorical question. Lives (more lives) may depend on it if we as a society don’t have a serious debate about it.

Suppose I say to the notion that expressing hatred is wrong, “you feel hated upon? So fucking what?” One could argue that as long as no one is actually hurt, expressing hatred is okay. It’s certainly what Stephen Fry argued in the context of expressing offensiveness.

When I think about it, expressing offensiveness can be just as hurtful (or hurtless, depending on whether you think words in themselves can hurt at all) as expressing hatred. There’s no functional difference in the emotions created in the person who feels offended and/or hated upon.

Some time ago, the Vatican of all places denounced the Harry Potter novels as offensive. I recall finding that slightly ridiculous at the time. I think the real issue is whether there is intent to cause hatred or offence. In the case of the Harry Potter books, I’d say obviously not. In the case of Charlie Hebdo, given the previous statements from the editors, previous public statements, it seems easy to believe there was an intent to be offensive with the limits of French free speech law (Spectator) (New American Media). I would specifically note that the ‘Mohamed’ character as drawn by Charlie Hebdo wears a piece of headgear that bears no resemblance to any real-life headgear worn in the Middle East, but bears a remarkable resemblance to a pair of testicles, an imagery made even more striking given the character’s elongated head. Alongside the stereotypically racist hooknose image of a Middle Easterner (which would be proclaimed as obviously offensive if an equivalent Jewish caricature were drawn), the character is inherently offensive, even ignoring the debate within Islam over whether their prophet should be drawn at all.

With the exception of the worst kind of libertarian-anarchist, we all agree that free speech should have limits (and in every legal system that discusses free speech at all, it always has). The problem is where to draw the line. Wilful intent is ideally the place to mark out, but it’s just not possible to see inside a person’s head to determine intent without a doubt. And looking at consequences (did the other person feel offended and/or hated upon) is much too subjective to be useful, as witnessed by the Vatican saying HP was hate speech against the church.

On the topic of what is satire, free speech, offensive, or hate speech. Here’s another one. Charlie Hebdo did a cover showing a Muslim being shot through a Koran, with a caption stating their holy book is no good because it doesn’t stop bullets. Protected satire and free speech, apparently. I recently came across a parody version showing a Charlie Hebdo cartoonist being shot through a Charlie Hebdo issue with a similar caption. At least one person who shared that piece of satire was later arrested for supporting terrorism (Loonwatch). Now imagine it had been a drawing of a Jewish man being shot through their holy book with a similar caption. Does anyone doubt that would have been considered hate speech and anti-Semitism of the worst kind?

We need to enforce these things objectively, or at least consistently, or else acknowledge our own biases.

My biggest problem with the “Je suis Charlie” reaction is that it doesn’t help in the struggle against terrorism. Few people do anything out of one and only one motivation — not even terrorists. While the terrorists may well have had “they insulted our prophet” as a publicly-stated motivation, part of their goal was undoubtedly to recruit more moderate Muslims to their cause. In that regard, “Je suis Charlie” works wonderfully for them. An entire continent of people marching in support of a comic that insults their religion? Moderates are going to be thinking “what have we got to lose?” especially in light of Saudi Arabia denouncing all atheists (me included) as terrorists (Independent) (American Humanist).

Douglas Murray from The Spectator says he doesn’t want to live under Islamic blasphemy law (Spectator). Well, fair enough. I don’t want to live under Islamic (or any other) blasphemy. What I do want to live under is secular “play nice with each other” law. I am entirely unsurprised to fight various Muslim voices declaiming CH as racist. Olivier Cyran, a former writer for the magazine, says that whatever it was at the time he worked there, it has become racist in the years since (Leninology). Maybe that’s just bitterness at no longer being employed there though. I’ve tried hard to find some objective statistics to determine how much content attacks Islam, Judaism, Christianity, the French far right, the EU, other countries, and various other targets. Sadly, while I found plenty in every category, I couldn’t find any actual studies to prove or disprove their claim that it is an equal-opportunity offender or M. Cyran’s claim that it focuses more on Islam than on other targets.

Neither form of extremism is acceptable. Murders offend me. Those cartoons offend me. And while cartoons are certainly less extreme than murders, that still doesn’t mean they are an acceptable form of extremism. Had Charlie Hebdo’s satire been against extremism, I’d have been okay with that. But satirising a whole religion for the views of the extremists within that religion? Not cool.

But the point is, Charlie Hebdo is offensive. As an atheist and a humanist, it offends me, because in the name of secularism it breaks the golden rule: “play nice with each other”. Who am I to criticise religions for not keeping their houses in order if, as an atheist, I refuse to do the same in mine?

And Stephen Fry can make of that what he will.

Further Reading

The Scottish Referendum and the Future of the UK

It is right that Scotland had this referendum. The result is apparently in, as a decision to stay a part of the UK. I know this is an unpopular result with many self-determination movements across the world, who saw it as a potential model for how their own nations can achieve independence.

Nonetheless, based on the principle of self-determination, this is what the Scottish people have decided, and we must respect that.

There are a number of ways forwards.

1) Press for a new referendum as soon as possible. This will not go down well. It will likely be seen both as sour grapes and as wasteful of public resources. It is also unlikely for the vote to shift far in so short a period. (For comparison, Quebec’s referendums were in 1980 and 1995, 15 years apart.)

2) Try to carry on as before. Given that a notable number of MPs have declared they want to “punish” Scotland for this vote, that might not be a good idea.

3) Press for a greater devolution of powers for Scotland. This is what Salmond originally wanted as an option on the referendum but was denied, then Westminster offered at the last minute if the voters voted “no”. While the original vote was purely about Scotland, the rest of the UK will then get left behind (e.g., the north-east: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/an-independent-northeast-the-possibility-that-scotland-will-govern-itself-has-reinvigorated-those-in-the-north-of-england-who-want-more-local-powers-9292704.html).

4) Press for a more federal UK. The other regions of the UK (not just the so-called constituent “countries”, but also regions such as the north of England) are also badly in need of proper investment. We should use the momentum to press for change not just for Scotland, but for all parts of the UK. The simple fact of the matter is that London accounts for about 40% of the entire nation’s infrastructure budget. We can’t go on like this.

Personally, I favour option 4 as he best way to get an equitable result for all people in the UK.

Infrastructure Spend Across the UK:

Electoral Reform Society AGM de-brief

An open letter to Angela Eagle MP

Dear Angela Eagle,

Thank you for your enlightening talk on Monday (24th February 2014). It is slightly unfortunate that the topic of your presentation didn’t quite tie in with the name of the event (“How We Re-Engage People with Politics“). Given the title of the event, people were bound to expect the ideas presented to be about restoring engagement in processes where people used to be engaged. The most notable such example is voter turnout, which as you noted, has been declining steadily since I can remember, and even since before that.

Instead, we were given a presentation on parliamentary procedures and one idea on how it should be reformed. Unfortunately, I am not the parliamentary procedures geek that Emily (one of the event’s organisers) is. I doubt many (any?) members of the public who attended were, as were were led to believe the topic would be something else. Don’t get me wrong — I learned a great deal from your presentation, but it was very much Parliamentary Procedures 101 for me. I didn’t have the background knowledge necessary that evening to give a fully considered and meaningful response to many of the points you raised. Judging by the questions from the audience, neither  did many others.

However, I do not mean to appear dismissive. I would very much like to engage in a meaningful discussion of the important issue you raised. It has become clear during the life of the current parliament that bills can be sped through parliament without due process with regard to whether a bill can be implemented in a practical manner, and without proper time for review by those who would wish to consider whether the proposed bill is a just and fairly-written bill. I would very much like for you to either publish your notes on Monday’s presentation, or directly send me a copy, so that I may study them and give the well-thought-out responses and queries that I believe you had hoped for that evening.

Bringing this letter round top my favourite topic (implementing “None of the Above” on election ballot papers), I would like to thank you for your time listening to me talk on the subject that evening. You raised a few objections to the idea, such as how we can already spoil our vote, and if we had “NOTA with teeth” it might lead to an unending series of by-elections.

While it is true we can spoil our vote (or indeed, abstain), neither of those truly express a conscious expression of disapproval for the candidates on offer. A spoiled vote is, for official purposes, read as an accidental error, and historically, has resulted in ever-more-precise instructions about the “correct” way to vote. A “spoiled” ballot in which the voter placed a cross too many or too few or not clearly for a single candidate is, in the final analysis, considered no differently from a “spoiled” ballot in which the voter has written a long essay explaining his disapproval of the candidates and/or parties available in his constituency. Even if we were to officially recognise all spoiled ballots as NOTA votes, the resulting statistic would still be viewed with suspicion, since there will undoubtedly be “genuinely spoiled” votes, in which the voter intended to vote for a single candidate but got it wrong. The only way to clearly disambiguate protest votes for NOTA from spoiled ballots is to make NOTA a conscious choice rather than the result of human “error”.

I later explained that genuine NOTA has yet to be implemented anywhere, as the current implementations across the world simply call for the leading “live” candidate to win the seat outright as if the NOTA votes were abstentions. After I outlined my proposal for how “NOTA with teeth” could be implemented (a by-election to be called after one year), you objected to that idea, as it could lead to an unending series of by-elections.

I have two counterpoints to that. In the “real world”, everyone is subject to annual performance reviews anyway. Asking for only those MPs who had a nominal level of mandate granted at the polls (instead of say, all MPs) to prove their worth in an annual review seems quite reasonable when examined in that light. Knowing that their performance will be reviewed at the polls in a year’s time might even incentivise that MP to do a better job (or at least, that is the popular theory among management experts). Second, I would put forward the notion that any MP who is demonstrably less popular than a literal “someone, anyone, other than these guys” vote probably shouldn’t be put forward by their party again in the by-election. Having a NOTA with teeth might motivate parties to put forward candidates who are more acceptable to the general public.

Additionally, NOTA would be of demonstrable advantage to all parties. First, it would increase the voter turnout; people who would vote NOTA currently tend to abstain. The increased voter turnout would serve to increase the perceived legitimacy of the electoral mandate. Second, since NOTA voters are actively engaged in the election process by voting, it is that much easier to convert a NOTA voter to a party voter, something that should be of relevance to any political party. And given the topic of the event on Monday, something that really should have been given proper air-time that day.

Angela Eagle, I look forward to receiving your response at your soonest convenience.

Politician-Speak and Trains of Thought

I must admit I haven’t studied Marx, or Orwell, or Rand, or Smith, or any of the other notable political and economic thinkers of the last couple of centuries. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s not necessary. This is of course a piece of heresy against the cult of the expert.

My usual approach is to work out solutions from first principles, rather than trying to find out what the great and not-so-great philosophers of yesteryear would have done. It probably takes longer, but on the other hand, the old thinkers didn’t have the contextual knowledge of the present situation we do. Karl Marx didn’t have the Internet. If he did, he might have called kittens the opiate of the masses instead of religion.

This approach has a couple of consequences. It means I never have the One True Answer to the world’s problems, which will remain now and evermore the way to fix the crisis of the day. That definitely leads to accusations of having “politicians answers,” and not keeping a stable political position, but dodging and weaving as the need demands. Nonetheless, it has to be the case. No answer will always apply in all situations. Much as we would want to make-believe otherwise, society and the global political situation changes, and we need to have the flexibility to change with it. Giving an answer to a problem as the One True Answer Now And Evermore simply sets us up for failure.

I prefer to find solutions that work in the present situation and cause no unforeseen bad consequences, and acknowledge it might not be the right answer the next time something apparently similar comes up. Because it probably won’t work (the fact that the apparently same problem had come up again would show that solution didn’t work first time, after all).

I also rather dislike the idea of using the word “politician” as a bad word. Simply by expressing a political view, we are all politicians — Society *is* politics. Being a “politician” is something people should embrace, instead of hiding behind other labels, such as lobbyist or pressure group campaigner or concerned citizen or environmentalist or writer of letters or citizen-journalist. We are all politicians!

Part of the reason I try to work my ideas from first principles is because it acts as a learning process and helps me to better understand and explain my own ideas. It also means I don’t fall into a rut of following the old thinkers’ ideas just because it is easier to do when it might not be quite right for the present situation. I prefer to look at problem, think up solutions, think up problems with those “solutions,” think up different solutions either to the original problem or as patches the the flawed solutions, think up problems with those new solutions, and so on. It’s an iterative process. I basically play devil’s advocate against myself.

The Problem with Trade Unions

I like trade unions. They do a great job of fighting for workers’ rights. Without them, we’d probably still have 8/0-hour working weeks with no sick leave or holidays. But it’s not all good.

A trade union’s primary motivation is to fight for the rights of its members. Just as a short-sighted corporation typically fights for profits over the interests of the general public or its workers, a short-sighted trade union fights for the employees in its sector over the interests of the general public or the corporation. Neither view taken to an extreme is good. All three interest groups — the business, the workers, and the general public — need to be considered.

For example, a hypothetical strong coal miners’ union today might be strongly opposed to reform of energy production towards renewable energy sources, because it would reduce the need for coal miners, even though the needs of the population as a whole are in favour of cleaner energy for environmental reasons.

More relevant to today, transport unions in London fight for keeping more public-facing staff, which I agree with, but then they also fight for some truly incredible bonuses for certain staff to work at key times (such as train drivers during the Olympics). I couldn’t help noticing that non-train drivers in that union didn’t get that bonus. Either way, I’m not sure people should get a bonus for simply doing their job correctly. Following the lead of bankers simply results in a race to the bottom. And train drivers going on strike for pay that is often twice that of their passengers doesn’t do much to elicit sympathy. Yes, driving a train is stressful. But the transport union would elicit a lot more sympathy if they on strike over the lousy service the underground offers to Londoners. I’ve more or less given up hope of doing anything in London on weekends due to closures. On weekdays, the trains are so overcrowded I’m lucky if I can breathe in fully, let alone find a vacant seat.

When the unions have already struck a deal far superior to what the customers (“passengers” we used to be called) get, they could more usefully campaign for a better service to be delivered. Or at least, campaign for the rest of the transport workers to get as good a deal as the train drivers. I wonder if the train station cleaning staff get paid more than minimum wage, or if that union even cares.

Left Unity, and a Manifesto of Sorts

So I was recently contacted by a member of Left Unity, possibly because we might share some common cause. I thought it might be interesting to go through their founding statement to see just how much common cause there is. For reference, here is their founding conference statement:

I strongly agree with points #1, #2, #4, #5, and #6 of statement one. Regarding the other points,

#3: I’m not fundamentally opposed to capitalism, although I am opposed to the excesses expressed by the neo-liberal agenda.

#7: Unions have certainly be weakened too much by the past several governments. However, too strong can be just as problematic as too weak. Just as with capitalism, unionism too needs to be in moderation. Compared to the present, they do need to be made stronger. Alternately, the need to make them stronger should be reduced or removed.

#8: What about ‘classes’ other than the working class? Personally, I’m not a fan of the class war rhetoric. What Cameron said with cynicism, I say with conviction: We really are all in it together. I’d rather have everyone on the same page working together.

#9: Again, I’m not a fan of the left-right paradigm rhetoric. Thanks to the slide to the right from Labour and Liberal parties, what the mainstream calls left is now really just what used to be called right. I’d rather talk in terms of policies than wings. Agree that coalitions damage the sincerity of any party that enters them. I do believe in cooperating with other parties on an issue-by-issue basis though. Make common cause where there is a genuine agreement, but never at the cost of selling out on another issue.

#10: Generally agree. Most places have some good ideas and some bad ideas. I fully believe in the idea of interacting with other groups to gather together and spread the best ideas from everyone.

In terms of immediate action that needs to be done,

Economic Crisis:

The austerity measures have proven fatal to many people, and created levels of poverty and need unheard of in this country since WWII rationing ended. They need to be ended.

Despite many popular calls for it, I don’t think the bankers should be charged with crimes. Any such crime would have to be added to the law books and enforced retro-actively, which sets a very dangerous precedent, and probably goes against an international convention or two. That said, such laws should be added to the books and enforced.

I’d like to see proper investment in restoring the national stock of public housing. This could be used to train up an army of expertise in construction, which would then be a tradeable asset when bidding for international construction contracts, strengthening the economy at the same time as fixing the housing crisis.

I’d like to see some proper research done into the Swiss idea of a “basic income,” to replace the current complex benefits system.

Ownership of essential “key industries” (public transport, roads infrastructure, energy utilities, and healthcare) should be managed carefully. At a bare minimum, ownership should be limited to UK citizens or companies 90% owned by UK citizens (by restricting sale of shares). Serious consideration should be made into either nationalisation or employee-customer ownership models. Usually, the “profit motive” does provide the best interests of the nation. But when taken to excess, or when deliberately abused, or when a company is asset-striped in line with capitalist “rules,” it can be devastating for the nation and people. The USA and other countries carefully control ownership of key industries for a reason. We should be doing likewise.

Public Services:

Just as with Left Unity, I believe the NHS is a key industry that should be preserved under national ownership, not sold off to the highest bidder and starkest cost-cutter. I’m less emotionally attached to the royal mail; given the rise of the internet and a number of express delivery companies, it’s no longer the key industry it once was. Nonetheless, it still serves a vital function in maintaining communications with more remote areas, and the post office network (which should be preserved and restored) provided a useful focus to rural life.

I believe education should be free up to age 18. Students should be free to choose vocational training instead of a university-focused “A-level” route, and it should be presented as a viable option.

I am not entirely convinced that free university education is necessary or desirable. Most jobs that currently ask for a good university education plus experience used to be taken up by people who “only” had good O-levels. The inexpensive access to university education has created a qualifications inflation, where employers now have to ask for qualifications way in excess of what the job actually requires in order to whittle down the candidates to a manageable number. Conversely, the glut of university graduates has created false expectations of having fabulous jobs straight from graduation, creating massive levels of disappointment, and large numbers of graduates in vacancies that often don’t really require much more than basic literacy and numeracy. I think more research is definitely needed in this area. Too many graduates is a problem in its own way as too few.

At the same time, for many years there has been a stigmatisation of non-university paths to higher education. Practical skills (e.g., in construction) are just as valuable. The country needs builders and hairdressers as much as it needs mathematicians and chemists.

Environment:

Fracking in heavily populate areas is stupid. Stop that. Sincere efforts to switch to renewable energy sources should be made.

Employment Rights:

A proper national living wage should be set. There are some professions where zero-hour contracts are standard, so a straight ban on such contracts is infeasible. However, no one should ever be required to accept such a contract, and any such contract should be subject to minimum hourly wage laws far higher than the general national living wage level. For example, if the minimum wage for a normal (16+ hours per week) is set to £7.50 per hour, the minimum wage for a job with fewer contracted hours would be £22.50 per hour. This ensures that such contracts will be primarily used with traditional “professional” jobs, the traditional primary users of such contracts.

Tax and Welfare

It’s long been known that the unemployment benefit isn’t actually enough to live healthily on (based on government guidelines about what constitutes a healthy lifestyle). By sanctioning people, the government is in effect saying that these people don;t even deserve to live unhealthily. And quite often, sanctions have happened for trivial reasons.

The so-called bedroom tax should be abolished, ideally replaced by incentives to downsize to smaller properties. At the very least, councils should be required to show that the person has refused multiple offers of suitable properties to move to; quite often, people are in a “too large” property because the council literally does not have any smaller properties, because they were all sold off thanks to Thatcher’s right-to-buy policy. This is yet another reason we need to rebuild the housing stock.

The growth in the need for food banks is a national disgrace brought about by austerity measures. It’s shameful that in a supposedly developed nation, a quarter of a million people regularly go hungry.

Equality

Fairly straightforward really. I am fully in favour of the 2010 Equality Act.

Foreign Policy

I want to see an end to military interventionism and military adventurism. Britain’s military is kept up mainly to ensure we can play with the big boys in the global military intervention arena. We don’t need to be that. By all means maintain a military for genuine national defence and security. Anything more than that is a waste and promotes bad feeling in those countries where we intervene. I’d like to see the “peace dividend” invested in a body similar to the  VSO or Peace Corps. Getting a reputation as “the country that sends people to help” rather than “the country that sends the gunners” would do a lot to enhance our reputation abroad, and decrease threats of terrorism to boot.

I am also in favour of self-determination for all peoples, although ideally within the framework of international bodies to aid cooperation for mutual benefit of the people.

Election Reform

I strongly believe the following are needed to restore faith in the British democratic tradition:

  • Some form of proportional representation.
  • A valid and meaningful None Of The Above” option on ballot papers.
  • A means for voters to recall their MP and force a by-election.
  • A general reduction of MP salaries to bring them in line with typical middle management incomes, and stricter controls over “expenses.”

And the Rest…

I’d like to introduce St George’s Day as a bank holiday within England. Wales and Scotland have days to celebrate their national identity, and so should England. While the far right have done much to make it a distasteful thing to celebrate, there is still something to be said for it. Equally, I’d like a referendum on whether to have a separate parliament for England, similar to the devolved Welsh and Scottish parliaments.

That “English Parliament” could then be a prelude to reforming the UK as a federation instead of the present system where everything revolves around London. If that English Parliament is based in a second city (I’d suggest Birmingham due to its central location), then that would be a powerful spur to develop that city as a second global city, eventually on a par with London. For too long London has been invested in to the cost of the rest of the country. If we have two global cities, we can be twice as good; it’s not a zero-sum game, and the split would also enable the transport within each city to function better, because the population density in each hub would be lower.

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