Friday, 27 January 2017

On the Article 50 bill-and why overall I would vote Aye were I an MP

The Article 50 Bill, aka the 'Brexit bill', is being voted on as we speak, and what is notable is that within the Green Party Caroline Lucas MP will vote 'No' but Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb will vote 'Aye': and that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's decision is to unfairly and unethically impose a three-line whip for Labour MPs to vote 'Aye':

Like such moral issues as abortion, the subject of Brexit is one where the vote should automatically be free to all members of both Houses of Parliament, given the division over the issue and how to handle it during negotiations and after negotiations finish. The fact that some Labour frontbenchers (Tulip Siddiq, MP for Hampstead & Kilburn and Jo Stevens, MP for Cardiff Central) are now resigning over the 3-line whip to endorse the bill, is a key indicator of how unwise Jeremy's decision is. Both the Conservatives and Labour in particular are clearly divided over Brexit in terms of MPs, peers, members and supporters. Everyone who votes on the 'Article 50 Bill' should do so with their conscience and that of their constituents, not because of a whip.

I would vote 'Aye' to this bill were I am MP (with reservations). The reason why I would support the fundamental point of this bill is to uphold the wishes of the people decided in that 23 June referendum, and to therefore uphold democracy-not because I support Brexit (I have serious concerns about its consequences for us). Even though it was only a small majority, it is a majority nonetheless. However, the wishes of the 48.1% who voted Remain, as well as the 51.9% who voted Leave, must be taken into account and this proposed Article 50 bill fails to do so. Those who criticise it for its shortness and lack of a requirement for negotiations to be genuinely democratic and engaging with the public are correct.

Nevertheless, we need to get on with that task so that the EU referendum result serves as more than an expensive opinion poll, and not unnecessarily delay in this task. However, I believe it is important we maintain links with EU member states in the same way Norway and Switzerland do (neither nation has ever joined the EU but they both have Single Market membership and ECHR membership) and Europe in general, particularly in social terms. There is a green way to prosper outside the EU, as I have highlighted earlier, and Britain will need it.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Why the end may be nigh for all remaining British county councils

Lincolnshire has just become the next English county to propose 'unitarisation' (abolition of existing districts and creating one or more unitary authorities in its place, also being proposed by Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Dorset, and possibly other counties as well). This is mainly being done for financial reasons, however (some county councils are losing all central government funding), rather than ease of governance, and is part of a growing trend that could see the end of the two-tier system of local governance England has had since 1974.

I nevertheless believe the remaining county councils in Britain (including the one where I live, Hertfordshire) should be abolished, irrespective of funding or lack thereof. Why?

Increasing suburbanisation of Britain and the corresponding expansion of many urban areas means that many cities and towns have boundaries that are 20 years out of date at this time of writing, and have effectively absorbed large parts of their existing counties. Half of the population of Nottinghamshire, for example, lives either in the city of Nottingham itself or towns that can arguably considered to be suburbs of said city of Nottingham. Cambridge has effectively absorbed many Cambridgeshire villages (e.g. Girton, Shelford) surrounding it in the same way the City of York did with villages like Haxby (although in York's case, its boundaries were changed to accommodate this expansion but Cambridge's city boundaries still have not been). Particularly in large counties, county councils have overall not been as effective or fair in administering public transport and trying to maintain services as unitary authorities have been, and as we need more and more decisions at more localised levels, county councils are no longer necessary. Local government in Scotland and Wales only has one tier anyway, and would work better with more financial devolution.

Smaller unitary authorities, and only one tier (two-tier when town and parish councils exist in a particular area) of government will make administration easier as well as more suited to community interests, provided sufficient funding and fair powers to raise funds and control services are given to those councils. This is a better type of devolution-not the 'regional mayor' devolution large portions of England have been given, particularly since many places rejected the mayoral idea and when they are too large for one person to exercise control over efficiently.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Which Labour MPs could depart next in protest against Jeremy Corbyn?

The two parliamentary by-elections of Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central are now set to take place as early as 23rd February, just five weeks from now. I am certain the attention both have been receiving in the media will attract many by-election hopefuls (although Stoke-on-Trent Central, being inner-city, will undoubtedly attract more candidates).

One local by-election took place this week in the Norton ward of Bromsgrove DC, on the same subject, and this was the result:

Bromsgrove DC, Norton: Conservative 219 (43.2%, -16.6%), Labour 182 (36.7%, +7,1%), UKIP 82 (16.6%), Green 20 (3.9%, -6.6%).

Labour came surprisingly close, a point exacerbated by the low turnout of ~15% and the lack of a Liberal Democrat candidate. This should have helped the Green Party but sadly it did not, as our vote share dropped by more than half even though UKIP was the only party in this by-election that had not stood last time and Norton is a safely Conservative ward covering a village near Bromsgrove town itself.

There have been suggestions that the exodus of non-Corbynite (I.e. not left-wing) Labour Party MPs will continue after the departures of Jamie Reed and Tristram Hunt. Ostensibly they were both after more lucrative non-political jobs, but they also wanted to get away from Jeremy Corbyn's influence and (in their mind) his dragging down of the Labour Party. Which Labour MPs are likely to follow? Here is my list of the five 'Blairite' Labour MPs most likely to resign their seats in the next few years as a consequence:

1. Rachel Reeves (Leeds West). Rachel has always been on the right of the Labour Party, and her support of Conservative welfare cuts back during the Con-Dems' tenure was a clear marker of that. Her seat is also set for abolition during the next round of boundary changes, meaning her parliamentary career could be cut short anyway.

2. Owen Smith (Pontypridd): Owen showed how useless a leader he would be when his challenge to Jeremy Corbyn last year failed spectacularly, and before he entered Parliament he was a corporate consultant for drugs giant Pfizer. Given his lack of a political future and his maintenance of connections to lobbyists it is conceivable that he could leave Parliament early, particularly as he will likely find himself without a seat to contest if the next round of boundary changes are pushed through.

3. Liz Kendall (Leicester West) Liz failed badly in her bid for Labour leader, and resigned from the Shadow Cabinet as soon as Jeremy took office as Leader of the Opposition. She is one of the most active Blairites remaining in Labour and supports many things Jeremy Corbyn supporters never would-like supporting free schools and the benefit cap.

4. Chuka Umunna (Streatham): Chuka has been rather critical of the Labour left, and like Jamie Reed and Tristram Hunt he is relatively young (38 years of age). He has shown himself to be pro-business on several occasions (e.g. his criticism of Andy Burnham's report of 2014 calling for the restrictions of the sale of tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy food for health reasons), and before he aborted his bid for Labour leader, called for Labour to target 'Conservatives and middle-class voters' just as Blair did.

5. Angela Eagle (Wallasey): Angela has been a loyal member of the 'Labour right' from the beginning of her Parliamentary career and has never strayed, to the point where she announced a leadership challenge against Jeremy Corbyn (but later pulled out). She has also been a minister and shadow minister before 2016, but it seems she is unlikely to return to the frontbenches.

Of course, there is a chance that this 'exodus' will not happen after all, and that other MPs from the 'Labour right' which I have not listed here may resign for similar reasons.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Why Britain needs to stay in the Single Market even when it leaves the EU

Prime Minister Theresa May announced that the type of Brexit she wanted would be a 'hard Brexit'-meaning that her plan is for Britain to completely sever all ties with the European Union, even its single market which includes Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland amongst European nations who are not part of the EU.

Alongside calling for Britain to withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights, whose convention it helped create, this is one of the biggest mistakes Britain can ever make in this matter. Britain needs proper access to international markets without having to pay excessive tariffs in order to make the investments into green technology and infrastructure it needs to make sure it can prosper outside the EU. Given the economic output of the single market, combined with fundamental freedoms (including free movement of workers, importantly) that it provides to all p$articipating states, I believe it is imperative that Britain only goes for a soft Brexit allowing to maintain its position in the Single Market, whilst escaping some of the more problematic EU regulations like the Common Agricultural Policy. Britain needs more small farms and a better ability to help its fisheries recover if it is to reduce its reliance on imported food in the long-term, make its agriculture environmentally friendly, and allow more sustainable maintenance of fish stocks, especially those in decline.

Britain also does not have a plan for a viable alternative socio-economic model if it leaves the Single Market and other EU-related institutions; it cannot just be a tax haven on the edge of Europe and the increased tariffs it would have to pay regarding European trade could have a crippling effect. Its contributions to markets are too significant for that, and it obtains substantial benefits from its connection to the Single Market. Many people do not want a hard Brexit anyway-a recent poll showed that only just over half of those who voted Leave in the EU referendum want a 'hard' Brexit as opposed to a 'soft' Brexit. Although Theresa May has promised that both houses of Parliament will be able to vote on the deal, it is the will of all people that needs to prevail, as are the wishes of society's various groups who will all be affected differently by Brexit when it finally happens.

On solving the Ulster conundrum

The power-sharing deal in Northern Ireland between the DUP and Sinn Fein, the largest unionist and nationalist parties in Northern Ireland respectively, has collapsed, paving the way for fresh Stormont Assembly elections to come as early as 2nd March-only seven weeks away at this time of writing. The collapse was down to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal which prompted the resignation of Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein.

These snap elections will take place with only 90 Assembly seats available instead of the previous 108 following legislation to reduce the number of seats per Assembly constituency from six to five, which puts many prominent MLAs in danger of losing even if results stay relatively static in percentage terms compared to May 2016.

However, given that many of the internal divisions in Northern Ireland stem from the fundamental fact that Ireland was split into two in the first place back in 1922 (due to religious differences between Catholics and Protestants in case you are unfamiliar with Northern Irish history) and remains divided to this day, and no election has been fully able to solve this problem, a snap election can only go so far.

So what is a good long-term way to solve the long-running Ulster conundrum?

Reunification of Ireland, even if a lot of people in Northern Ireland do not care about it or are against it, is in my personal opinion the best long-term solution here.. Irish identity and culture transcend religion, and many people especially amongst the younger generation are turning away from religion in general anyway, and are certainly more sceptical about it overall than older generations. The Irish poets and writers of old, and Irish music of all kinds, can be appreciated simply for their cultural merit and are not clouded by religion anyway, and in fact are appreciated by so many. Also, Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU just as Scotland did whilst England and Wales voted to leave, and Northern Ireland borders one of the most pro-EU European Union nations, the Republic of Ireland. Irish unification would allow the six counties of Ulster to prosper in Ireland when they languish in Britain now in many ways, and help improve inter-Irish connections (the split isolates County Donegal in many ways, for example). Thus, if you cast religious differences aside, a good case for reunification of the island of Ireland can be made regarding these long-running issues.

Friday, 13 January 2017

My analysis of local by-elections from 12/1/16, tributes, and on the political volatility of Stoke-on-Trent

Readers, the results from local by-elections that featured Green Party candidates this week (both of them) were as follows:

Sunderland MBC, Sandhill: Liberal Democrats 824 (45.0%, +41.5%), :Labour 458 (25.0%, -29.9%), UKIP 343 (18.7%, -7.2%), Conservative 184 (10.0%, -5.7%), Green 23 (1.3%).

Three Rivers DC, Gade Valley: Lib Dem 626 (60.9%, +24.0%), Con 196 (19.1%, -22.9%), Lab 119 (11.6%, -9.6%), UKIP 69 (6.7%), Green 18 (1.8%).

In the context of local by-elections, the Liberal Democrats' win of Sandhill, a traditionally Labour ward in Sunderland where the main competitor was briefly UKIP, and from last place, will go down as one of the biggest surprises, especially when the Liberal Democrats are still not faring that well in national opinion polls. It cannot merely be blamed on the fact that this local by-election happened when the previous Labour councillor was disqualified for lack of attendance (a councillor must attend at least one meeting every six months or lose their seat under the Local Government Act) or their loudspeaker tactics (no longer that effective in an age of modern politics). The Liberal Democrats' gain of Gade Valley was meanwhile a foregone conclusion (last year was the first time they had not won the seat in 25 years), but remarkable nevertheless for allowing them to gain overall control of Three Rivers District Council, which surrounds Watford Borough Council that they recaptured last year. In both cases, my Green colleagues found their vote relentlessly squeezed by said victorious Lib Dem councillors, as did other parties.

Renowned psephologist Professor Anthony King, who once did by-election analyses on Election Night Specials, has died, and as a psephologist I wish to pay tribute for the many analyses he did past and present. I also wish to pay tribute to former English football manager Graham Taylor, who has died aged 72. His ability to take clubs from medium towns and small cities like Watford and Lincoln through the Football League to take on such established metropolitan clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City alone puts him in English sports' history books. However, after he failed to get England to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, his fortunes quickly went south and he never recovered. In fact, a man named Peter Newman even used the description 'Sack Graham Taylor' in the 1993 Christchurch by-election, surprisingly getting as many as 80 votes.

Finally, Labour MP Tristram Hunt is resigning to become director of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, which will trigger a by-election in his constituency of Stoke-on-Trent Central, which recorded the lowest turnout at the 2015 general election with a dismal 49.9%. Although all three Stoke-on-Trent seats have been held by Labour continuously since 1935, they can no longer be considered safe locally or nationally. Only 3 of Labour's 21 council seats in Stoke were won with over 50% of the vote in 2015, even those council seats not represented by Labour are usually marginal by any standards, and this was one of the few seats where a local Independent managed a good performance (6.8%). No Independent candidate has gained a seat at a parliamentary by-election since World War II, but with the City Independents still widely respected in Stoke, this by-election could potentially mark an Independent gain, particularly since the more socialist ideals of Jeremy Corbyn will not go down well in this former industrial hub of pottery and glass-making.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Welcome to 2017 :)

We are now in the year 2017 Anno Domini, everyone, and with it begins what can be termed as a new chapter in the history of human civilisation-one which overall will be dominated by substantial progress in virtual intelligence and electronic, online communications and transactions becoming the norm rather than the exception, and the consequences of such progress.

This year, general elections will take place in France, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Norway, and New Zealand, and many other nations. The first three of these, as well as the French Presidential election, will be particularly important to watch because of the rise of hardline nationalist parties (FN, AfD, and PVV), a revival of alternative progressive politics (the Dutch Green Party, GroenLinks, is set to receive its best ever results this year having fallen to a low of 4 seats in 2012; it could even finish as high as third), and the continuing failures of the triad of traditional centrist parties (which in Europe belong to the S&D, ALDE, and EPP groups, and which are generally represented by the 3 primary colours of red, yellow, and blue). Current French Presidential polling worrying puts the hardline nationalist and racist Front National and Les Republicanes (formerly UMP) neck and neck on aggregate, with Parti Socialiste lagging in fifth place (behind Front Gauche and En Marche) even though the very disappointing Francois Hollande has stated he will not run for re-election, a historic first in modern French Presidential history. Our Green counterparts, Europe Ecologie-Les Verts, are sadly not to set to perform nearly as well as in Germany or the Netherlands, despite the increasing popularity of environmental initiatives in France.

Meanwhile in the UK, the first 'metro mayor' elections will take place in Greater Manchester, Merseyside (and Halton, not too far from Liverpool), the West of England (the majority of the defunct County of Avon in practice; North Somerset fka Woodspring opted out), Cambridgeshire & Peterborough (nearby Norfolk and Suffolk refused to participate in the devolution deal), the newly created Sheffield City region (which in addition to all of South Yorkshire also includes rural areas of north and west Derbyshire and the Bassetlaw district of Nottinghamshire even though none of these areas identify with Sheffield itself; Derbyshire Dales and Doncaster do not even have a Sheffield postcode!), Tees Valley (the defunct County of Teeside plus Darlington), Greater Lincolnshire (really just the entirety of Lincolnshire pre-1974; removing northern Lincolnshire administratively was a daft idea) and the old West Midlands County. As I have said before, this is not the kind of devolution Britain needs-we need councils at the smallest viable level to have those powers, not metropolitan combined authorities which are not directly elected (apart from the mayor) or accountable to the people living in them, and nor is it sensible to put so much power into the hands of one person.

The entirety of Britain will be having council elections (except for those areas not covered by any county council or unitarised county council) as well, with the majority of Scottish councils experiencing substantial boundary changes, and with Welsh councils experiencing them in the next cycle. In 2013, UKIP made 139 gains in county council elections, and its likely collapse (depending on area) this year is set to be a big storyline in county council terms, as are further Green surges and a Liberal Democrat recovery in the South West. Meanwhile, Labour's rural/urban base will likely be hit hard in Cumbria, Derbyshire, Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire in particular as they fail to properly connect with rural and small town voters under Corbyn's tenure. For some county councils this year could be their very last county council election, as I have stated earlier. For example, as we speak, Buckinghamshire and Dorset County Councils are each preparing to submit a fundamental restructure which will result in the effective abolition of both county councils and their replacement with new unitary authorities.  (latest news on Buckinghamshire plans for new councils) (latest news on Dorset plans for new councils)

UPDATE: The Greater Lincolnshire Mayoral election will now not be taking place:

UPDATE 2: The Sheffield City Region Mayoral election has been delayed until next year, and might not take place in its proposed form at all: