“The world is not going to be solved by legislation” (William Howard Taft – 27th POTUS*)

‘A good compromise, a good piece of legislation, is like a good sentence; or a good piece of music. Everybody can recognize it. They say, “Huh. It works. It makes sense”.’ Wise words from presidential candidate Barack Obama in an interview with staff writer William Finnegan of The New Yorker, published in 2004.

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Which suggests that not all legislation is ‘good’ legislation. Governments, at least in the United Kingdom, seem obsessed with introducing new legislation—sometimes (often perhaps), it seems to me, without thinking through all the social consequences. The parliamentary agenda is crammed with this measure or that, introducing new rules to govern us (not necessarily good?) or repealing legislation no longer in line with the current mores of society (mostly good?).

Now that the 2015 General Election is over and done with, and Cameron’s Tories have a workable majority in the House of Commons without having to be propped up by the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems) in coalition, the fetters are removed from the Conservatives following their increasingly (and frighteningly) right-wing agenda.

As usual, I was lying in bed this morning, drinking my cup of tea and listening to BBC Radio 4’s Today program, my daily ritual. The headline was the proposed legislation that will, apparently, be in the Queen’s Speech** in two weeks time, to tackle Islamic extremism and radicalization. Introduction of such legislation was apparently blocked by the Lib Dems during the term of the 2010-2015 coalition government. In a commentary I read earlier today, such an anti-extremism bill will address ‘the symptoms not the causes’. And, therefore, I wonder (naïvely perhaps) what other changes could be made to how we are governed without always having to resort to new legislation.

In my younger years, I had, admittedly, limited knowledge of or interest in the legislative agenda of consecutive Conservative or Labour governments since the 1950s. But I did recognize the groundbreaking legislation that changed British society forever at the end of the 1950s and throughout the more liberal 1960s, such as the ‘Lady Chatterley trial’ and reform of the Obscene Publications Act (1959), the abolition of the death penalty for murder (1965),  the decriminalization of homosexuality (1967) and subsequent amendments, the legalization of abortion (1967), and recently same-sex marriages (2013).

Another forthcoming bone of contention will be the promised repeal of the Human Rights Act (1998)—under which the death penalty was finally abolished for all offences—and its replacement by a ‘British Bill of Rights’. Admittedly the legal basis of some of the successful appeals under this Act have seemed ludicrous to many. But I believe there are considerable grounds for concern that incoming Justice Secretary Michael Gove will endeavor to turn the clock back. And perhaps the same can be said for much of the expected legislation that only about 35% of those who voted in last week’s General Election actually supported.

I’m sure my lawyer friends will put me straight if I have misinterpreted any of the issues here.

Based on what one of them told me yesterday, the government could do to look at some ancient laws that are (or could still be) on the ‘Statute Book’. I put this photo on my Facebook page, showing the work being carried out to repair the roof of my home.

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‘Nice crenalations,’ commented one Facebook friend. Whereupon, a lawyer friend replied: ‘ In Henry II’s time, you needed a royal licence to crenelate. The law is probably still in force!’ Time for a smiley!

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*Interestingly, William Howard Taft, who served just a single term as President from 1909 to 2013, later became the tenth Chief Justice of the United States from 1920 to 1930.

** The Queen’s Speech is delivered by HM The Queen (as Head of State) at the beginning of each parliamentary session in which the government’s legislative agenda for the coming year is spelled out.

 

 

The election dust is settling

The dust has yet to settle on what turned out to be a rather surprising Tory victory in last Thursday’s General Election. While the pollsters got it wrong—consistently—in the weeks leading up to the election, the exit poll conducted by Strathclyde University’s Professor John Curtice was spot on. Now we are all waiting to see which hat former Liberal Democrat (Lib Dem) party leader Paddy Ashdown will eat, having declared his intention to do so if the exit poll turned out to be correct.

I was an undecided voter almost until the moment I put my X on the ballot paper around 11:30. But weighing up all the options, I decided to vote Lib Dem. Not that my vote counted for much, as it turned out. As throughout the country, the Lib Dem support collapsed, down almost 15% in the Bromsgrove constituency. On the other hand, incumbent Conservative MP Savid Javid increased his share of the vote by more than 10%, winning the seat by a massive majority over the Labour candidate of more than 16,500 and almost 54% of the votes cast. The data below are copied from the BBC website.

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Bromsgrove MP Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

I didn’t vote in 2010—couldn’t, in fact. We arrived back in the UK from the Philippines on 2 May, just a few days before the General Election was run. And being outside the country beforehand, we were not registered to vote. Sajid Javid was elected to Parliament for the first time in 2010, and became Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport a year ago when the then incumbent had to step down. Now he has been promoted to Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills in the new Cameron Cabinet.

Bromsgrove has been a Conservative constituency forever. And I get the impression that Labour and the Lib Dems didn’t really mount much of a campaign. UKIP were in evidence (so my wife told me when she went into the town centre twice a week), but I never saw hide nor hair of any of the candidates, just received campaign materials through the door, with Javid’s team sending us the most.

So why did I vote Lib Dem? I’m not a Lib Dem ideologically. In fact, I blogged some months back that I’m your typical middle of the road voter. Not all that is Conservative is wrong, although much is. Likewise, there were important elements of the Labour manifesto I could support, but not all. I really feel that the Lib Dems have been unfairly hammered by their own supporters, opponents, and the media for joining a coalition government in 2010, particularly on the issue of student fees issues. As I have also written before, coalition is all about the art of compromise, and there are good things that the Lib Dems prevented the Conservatives enacting in their legislative program. Just read this analysis in today’s Independent newspaper. Of course that’s academic now that Cameron has his majority, albeit a tiny one. Heaven help us if (probably when) the pressures of his right wing back-benchers force him to adopt measures that many of us fear.

Former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has been vilified in the media. I watched all the leader interviews hosted by Evan Davis in the weeks leading up to the election. Clegg was the first leader who Davis interviewed. I was incensed by what I perceived as an unfair grilling by Davis; the other leaders in subsequent interviews were treatedmuch more benignly, almost with kid gloves on. I even took to Twitter to vent my dissatisfaction with the Clegg interview as you can see in my tweets below (the most recent of the string at the top).

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Leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband

Former Leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband MP

I was never going to vote for the UKIP or Green Party candidates. In the end I just couldn’t bring myself to support Labour either. Ed Miliband just didn’t do it for me. I couldn’t envisage him in No. 10 Downing Street as Prime Minister. Well, having resigned in the aftermath of the Labour bloodbath, Miliband seems to have shrugged his shoulders, and just walked away. He’d better look over his shoulders because the knives are already out, many being wielded by erstwhile former colleagues.

So I’m one of the few million nationwide who saw a possible role for the Lib Dems in another coalition government. That’s what the polls had indicated was the likely outcome of the vote, and I placed my X accordingly. Either the pollsters got their methodology totally wrong in this election, or they were told ‘porkies’ by all the people they polled. Whatever the reason, it seems likely there will be an independent inquiry about how and why they got it so wrong, because the ‘guidance’ from the polls must have influenced many voters—me included.

 

 

 

 

When all night long a chap remains . . . WS Gilbert (1882)

First performed on 25 November 1882, the Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera Iolanthe targets the aristocracy in its satire. At the opening of Act II, we see a lonely Grenadier guardsman, Private Willis, on sentry duty reflecting on politics, and reaching the conclusion that ‘every boy and every gal that’s born into this world alive is either a little Liberal or else a little Conservative‘. Was this Gilbert being sarcastic, or was he just poking fun at the Establishment and ingrained political affiliations from birth with his piercing and brilliant wit?

Well, this must seem a strange way to begin a blog post about the current state of UK politics, and the dilemma I personally face come next May 2015 when the General Election will be held. I began this blog post about three weeks ago, but just didn’t get around to completing it before Christmas and the New Year. And on Monday last (5 January) the ‘starting gun was fired’ to mark the beginning of the General Election. Good grief! That’s four months of electioneering that we are going to have to put up with; attack and counter-attack, platitudes and spin. No-one telling the British public how it really will be.

I’m 66, and I first voted in the May 1970 General Election, at age 21 (that was the voting age then). I was a student at Southampton University on the south coast of England, and I voted for the Conservative candidate, helping to bring the government of Prime Minister Edward Heath to power and, as a consequence, the UK’s membership of the European Union (the EEC as it was then).

Many of my perspectives on life and what is happening politically in the UK today have certainly been colored by my work experiences. For over 27 years I lived and worked abroad in South and Central America and in Asia. While teaching at the University of Birmingham in the 1980s, most of my graduate students came from developing countries. The 1980s was one of the most turbulent recent political decades. Thank you, Margaret Thatcher!

So I have experienced – and celebrated – diversity of culture, and ethnic origins, and the tensions that unfortunately are unhappy bedfellows. I myself am partly a product of the Irish diaspora, through my maternal grandparents; however, they were ‘British’ when they moved from Ireland to mainland UK as Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom.

Why am I prattling on in this way? Well, unfortunately, immigration is going to be one of the major campaign issues for the election. Along with the state of the economy (the UK seems to be doing better than many at the moment), the future of the National Health Service (NHS), and the nationwide devolution fall-out in the aftermath of the referendum on independence for Scotland.

And here is my dilemma. I found myself feeling like the proverbial ‘floating voter’. I have no idea – almost – where I will place my X on the ballot paper on 7 May. It’s my democratic right – and responsibility, I believe – to vote. But for which party? Now if I interpret WS Gilbert’s words slightly differently, then I am ‘a little Liberal and a little Conservative’. No one party claims my complete allegiance. I am a man of the centre ground. In this sense I believe that the Liberal Democrats (LibDems) have played a useful role in moderating what would have been even more disastrous Conservative policies – and unfortunately they have been hammered for it in the polls and are likely to be decimated in the General Election. Coalition government is all about compromise – but many voters don’t seem to have appreciated that fact.

My problem is that I find the leaders of the three main parties – David Cameron (Conservative), Ed Miliband (Labour) and Nick Clegg (LibDems) – unconvincing leaders and politicians. The sound bite and spin have certainly debased political debate. Thank you, Tony Blair!

Will my vote make any difference? Should I vote strategically on 7 May? The Bromsgrove constituency (where I live) has a Conservative Member of Parliament (MP), Sajid Javid, first elected to parliament in 2010 and considered a rising star and possibly a future Prime Minister. He’s also the first British Pakistani Conservative MP, and joined the Cabinet in April 2014 as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Javid also seems to be a good constituency MP, in spite of his Cabinet responsibilities, and is frequently seen around the town, and attends many local events.

Bromsgrove MP Sajid Javid

Bromsgrove is a safe Conservative seat (with a majority of more than 11,000 at the last election) and has been for decades. That’s unlikely to change. Neither Labour nor the LibDems will unseat him. But what about the UKIP (UK Independence Party) elephant in the room? It’s the impact of swings to UKIP throughout the country (primarily in England) that has many worried. The outcome of this election is perhaps the most uncertain for a generation or so. Most pundits are predicting a hung parliament again and another coalition. But what will be the flavor of that coalition?

From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigel_Farage#mediaviewer/File:Nigel_Farage_MEP_1,_Strasbourg_-_Diliff.jpg

UKIP Leader and MEP, Nigel Farage

Returning to the Bromsgrove constituency, however. We don’t know yet who will be the candidates fighting the Bromsgrove seat. I would be surprised if UKIP did not field a candidate. Labour and the LibDems most certainly will. I have no idea about the Green Party. One thing is certain: I will not be voting under any circumstances for any UKIP candidate. I cannot stomach the thought of supporting UKIP leader Nigel Farage and his buffoons, albeit dangerous buffoons. UKIP is anti-EU, anti-immigration, and anti-Westminster.

Will my vote for the Labour or LibDem candidate allow a UKIP candidate to gain ground on Javid? Or should I vote for Javid in order to deny the election to UKIP? Supporting a continuation of the Conservative government sticks in my throat, but would a Labour administration do any better? Today’s politicians lack credibility, and that’s probably the basis of the anti-Westminster sentiment that abounds in the UK today. I also think that many of them are not conviction politicians. We could do with a few more of those around. You might not approve of ‘The Beast of Bolsover’, veteran left-wing Labour MP Dennis Skinner, but he says what he believes. Read his put-down of recently sworn-in UKIP MP Mark Reckless following Reckless’s comments on immigration.

What will probably happen is that UKIP will win enough seats – as will the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) in Scotland from Labour, and possibly Plaid Cymru (PC) in Wales – to deny either the Conservatives or Labour from forming a majority administration. So although I won’t be voting for UKIP, nor for the SNP and PC in Bromsgrove (they won’t be fielding candidates here, nor will any of the Northern Ireland parties) – these ‘minority’ and regional parties could well hold the balance of power in the next parliament. What a thought! While 2015 looks like it will be interesting politically here in the UK, it’s not a future that I look forward to with any enthusiasm whatsoever.