Democracy and deckchairs

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As David Heath alluded to, the media are studiously ignoring any discussion of democracy at this conference, so it’s incumbent on those of us who happen to think it is important to report what has been decided. Much as I agree with the motion on packaging, the fact that it has been prioritised (by whom? the media? the press office?) over and above proposals to fundamentally change our constitution is appalling.

I’m pleased that For the People, By the People was passed overwhelmingly and unamended. And while I only got to make a one-minute intervention, I’m pleased that there were two speakers who explicitly rejected the idea of an English Parliament to only one who spoke for (using the usual tired threats about “sleeping giants” – even Don Liberali would baulk at the disgraceful tone of English Nationalists – “nice country you’ve got there – it’d be a shame if something were to happen to it”).

Debates about democratic renewal are always an opportunity for certain people to make bonkers speeches, and we were not disappointed. Sandy Walkington did the rhetorical equivalent of a dad deciding to dance at the school disco by informing us that apparently there’s these things called the internet and text messaging that young people use a lot, and that because the paper wasn’t all about the internet and text messaging, it missed the point and that the members of the working group were thus all face slapping morons fit only to rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic.

It all sounded remarkably similar to the sort of speech New Labour ministers would make in the early noughties. Never mind all this bollocks about having a constitution; if we want to engage young people we need to embrace text messaging! Despite Sandy’s exhortation, I don’t think Twitter is about to take the political world by storm just yet. He failed to appreciate two fundamental aspects about MoveOn. Firstly, in the broad scheme of things, despite huge numbers of supporters it hasn’t actually been terribly effective. Since its creation, every single presidential and mid-term election apart from the last one has gone Republican not Democrat. The Democrats’ victory in 2006 was more due to Bush’s incompetence than net activism; indeed the net’s most high profile intervention in 2006 – the attempt to oust Lieberman – was a crushing failure. That isn’t to say net activism hasn’t had an impact in softer, more subtle ways, but it hasn’t changed anything fundamental about American democracy.

Secondly, the model has not exported well in the UK. OurWorldOurSay failed to fly. Avaaz is going well, but that’s because it is a global movement, not just a UK one. The model hasn’t worked here mainly because we have neither the political culture associated with aggressive political advertising on TV, nor the philanthropic culture of giving to political causes. The tectonic plates may well be shifting, but there is no evidence to suggest we are sitting on the political equivalent of the San Andreas fault.

Fundamentally though, these developments only make the case for an entrenched constitution and Bill of Rights even more pressing. I’m all for an initiative and referendum system for example, but without a written constitution I fully accept we would need to be extraordinarily careful to prevent it being abused. Without these safeguards, the changes in culture that Walkington alludes to could lead to chaos. Far from rearranging the deckchairs, the working group has made a strong case for the need for the Titanic to change course.

And then there was the ironically named Paul Baron, who managed to combine a Marxist view of capitalism with a paean to the hereditary principle. His argument was that hereditary peers would be less corruptable than elected politicians – you could audibly hear the spirit of David Lloyd George groaning as he spoke. Presumably the argument goes along the lines that if you are already utterly corrupt, your price will be much higher. I could go on, but it is cruel to mock the afflicted.

So. We’ve renewed our policy on democratic renewal. In manifesto terms, the main points in it are the commitment to STV and the establishment of a constitutional convention. I have no doubt that both of these will appear in the manifesto, but have less confidence they will end up listed as a top priority. This will be a missed opportunity: the Lib Dems’ critique of the political system is one of our USPs. If we run away from it instead of building it into our overall narrative, we will simply end up with another 10 disparate bullet points that only appeal to people’s basest self-interest. That may make sense for fighting target seats where the swing voters are the only people who matter, but it fails to sell us as a party of government to either the public or the media.

If the Lib Dems are about anything, it is bringing power to the powerless. That applies whether we are talking about health, education, poverty, local government or democratic renewal. That connects with the widespread sense of alienation within the public. That challenges the other two parties who are nakedly only concerned with feathering their own nests. It is high time we started to shout about it.

47 thoughts on “Democracy and deckchairs

  1. What’s wrong with the idea of an English Parliament?

    Makes absolute sense to me – being English not British as I am.

    Democrats indeed. For the people by the people? Unless they happen to be English.

  2. We are the only party committed to an independent constitutional convention to which supporters of an English Parliament can make their case. If they can convince people of the need, they’ll get it.

    During the debate we had two ENGLISH speakers reject an English Parliament on the basis that it wouldn’t bring power closer to the people; one from Yorkshire and one from Kent. Clearly, as far as you are concerned they should not be allowed their say.

  3. Easy tiger.

    Where did I suggest they shouldn’t have a say?

    “I’m pleased that For the People, By the People was passed overwhelmingly and unamended. And while I only got to make a one-minute intervention, I’m pleased that there were two speakers who explicitly rejected the idea of an English Parliament to only one who spoke for (using the usual tired threats about “sleeping giants” – even Don Liberali would baulk at the disgraceful tone of English Nationalists – “nice country you’ve got there – it’d be a shame if something were to happen to it”).”

    I wasn’t there… can you explain the “disgraceful tone” part of that?

    and who said “nice country you’ve got there – it’d be a shame if something were to happen to it”

    cheers

  4. You know as well as I do what English nationalist are implying when they go on about stirring the the sleeping giant of England. Every time an English Nationalist speaks they go on about how if we don’t have an English Parliament, we risk having a civil war. Given the overtly anti-Scottish sentiments and use of violence-related imagery (guns, etc), there is no question they relish the prospect.

  5. Sorry but I don’t recognise that at all.

    Where are these anti scot English Nationalist? I was at the English Democrats conference last week-end where a speaker from the SNP was invited to speak and was very welcome and well received.

    I am an English Nationalist. I think the WLQ and the Barnett Formula are abominations. I don’t hate Scots or the Welsh or the Irish – far from it I admire them. I don’t like the EU but it doesn’t mean I hate Europeans.

    I can’t speak for others and no doubt there will be some who do take a path of hatred – but I think the picture of English Nationalism you’re trying to paint is highly inaccurate and frankly it says more about your own prejudice than that of any collective English Nationalist movement.

    As for sleeping giants – that’s fair enough. England is 90% of the population so in “UK” terms it is the giant.

    Are you capable of answering my previous questions?

  6. I am very pleased that we didn’t support the idea of an English Parliament the last meeting I attended there was at least one member of the working group who wanted to see us support the idea but I think them majority were against.

    I don’t support the idea of an English Parliament because I think that an English Parliament will be just as centralised and remote from the people affected by its decision as the Westminster Parliament is. I think that what we need in England is greater devolution of power primarily to councils and then allow local people to decide if they wish see the establishment regional or sub region decision-making or service delivery bodies.

  7. “Presumably the argument goes along the lines that if you are already utterly corrupt, your price will be much higher. ”

    Presumably the argument goes along the lines that it is cheaper to bribe the poor. Which is probably true, as far as it goes.

    Or that people who very badly want power are not likely to be especially trustworthy, which is clearly plausible.

    Why do you think that people selected by a hereditary principle should be especially corrupt? Is it only corrupt people who are careful in their choice of parents?

  8. “This will be a missed opportunity: the Lib Dems’ critique of the political system is one of our USPs.”

    Totally agree – one reason why I am a liberal is that I believe we need to change the system as well as the policies of government (of which PR is only part).

    One of the problems the party has – and one of my reasons for my feeling less enthused with the party than I have in the past – is that we have reined back our anti-establishment attitudes in favour of policies which see us tinker a bit at the edges but don’t change anything fundamental.

  9. “We are the only party committed to an independent constitutional convention to which supporters of an English Parliament can make their case. If they can convince people of the need, they’ll get it.”

    Correct. But the difference between the Lib Dems constitutional convention and the constitutional convention in Scotland that led to the creation of the Scottish Parliament is that only Scots took part in their convention whereas the Lib Dems propose that every man and his dog gets to have a say on whether English people have the same right to self-determination that the Scots apparently have.

    Minge Campbell signed the Scottish Claim of Right affirming Scotland’s right to decide how best it should be governed and pledging to put the interests of Scottish people first and foremost. He didn’t pledge that the “British” people have the right to determine the best form of government for Scotland, why should that be the case for England?

    Like Jools, I don’t recognise your description of an English nationalist. I’m an English nationlist and a member of the Campaign for an English Parliament and I can honestly – hand on heart – say that I do not know a single English nationalist who uses imagery of weapons or saying anything that would encourage civil war.

    I’m interested to know why the Lib Dems think that English nationalism is bad and Scottish nationalism is good, why English nationalism will cause the breakup of the union but Scottish nationalism won’t, why talking about an English Parliament will cause a civil war but the Scottish Parliament won’t, why English nationalists are racist but Scottish nationalists aren’t.

    The Lib Dem aversion to English nationalism could be considered an irrational hatred of English culture and the English identity but it’s more basic than that. The Lib Dems simply want to share the spoils of Gordon Brown’s personal fiefdom – England.

  10. Jools – I’m just tired of the same old circular arguments.

    For example, I could cite Gareth Young – who runs Witangemot – whose frequent anti-Scottish bile is simply brushed aside as “jokes” (the sorely unmissed Bernard Manning used to make the same argument about his comments about blacks). I could cite the stuff that comes through my work letterbox on a weekly basis claiming Scottish conspiracies.

    I could site the fact that until recently, the Campaign for an English Parliament used to have this image on the front page of their website – a clear equation of the struggle for English devolution with World War One.

    The problem is, none of you are prepared to consider the corrosive effect such loose and irresponsible language has. I’ve blogged about all this before – slagging off Scottish nationalists in fact – but then you come here and claim I’m some kind of Scottish apologist.

    The fact is, there is no real case for an English Parliament. It wouldn’t bring decision making closer to the people. There is no issue whatsoever that should be decided at an English level that wouldn’t be better handled at a higher or lower level. But all you’re concerned about is “protecting” English identity. It is pure chauvinism and should be treated with the contempt it deserves.

  11. I see mention of the English Parliament has brought out the defenders again…

    One thing about these people, they are persistent…

    I tend to share your view James, an English Parliament will not help devolve power, and we have the problem of a very uneven federation.

    I do wonder if the supporters of an English Parliament really want English independence from the Union. If they do they should just say it…

  12. So please explain how England being governed by the UK Parliament is devolution? What exactly do Scottish Westminster MP’s get asked to do by their constituents when they hold their clinics? Are they asked to make England’s transport more efficient? Are they asked to improve England’s national health service? Apart from the UK government matters most of these issues are devolved matters that MSP’s would vote on, what exactly are we paying Scottish Westminster MP’s to do? Is this a new democracy? Or is it simply fair? Did the Labour party actually plan devolution this way? You seem to be joining those who hope that if English people stop asking questions then the discrimination to the English will go away. As an English nationalist myself these are the questions I ask. And remember the devolution mess is not the fault of the English of this I am certain, you see nobody has ever asked the English people (that includes all colours, all races, all people that live and pay taxes in England) what they want. Have a referendum or dissolve the Scottish,Welsh and Northern Irish Parliaments/Assemblies and we can all go back to being British again or does being British only apply to the English! There I’m all confused again.

  13. James.

    Politics is full of circular arguments.

    Is this the “violence-related imagery” you were talking about? Terrible isn’t it?

    As for your comment on that CEP graphic.

    “a clear equation of the struggle for English devolution with World War One.”

    Have you any idea how pathetic that sounds? Are you suggesting that graphic incites violence? Are you suggesting the CEP is inciting violence because of that graphic?

    “…then you come here and claim I’m some kind of Scottish apologist.”

    Whoa there! Did you bother to read my posts? Where the hell did I say you were a “Scottish apologist”? You’re just making stuff up now.

    I dispute your “fact” that an English Parliament “wouldn’t bring decision making closer to the people” on the contrary it would bring decision making a whole lot closer to the people – the English people and that’s what I want.

    “But all you’re concerned about is “protecting” English identity. It is pure chauvinism and should be treated with the contempt it deserves.”

    There you go again. Where the hell did I say that? You even put “protecting” in quotes – and until I wrote it again your post was the only place that word was mentioned. .

    Your contempt is obvious. Your hatred of the independence movement is obvious. Your lies, are obvious. Your fear and loathing are obvious. Your argument is as stale as the Union itself.

    Tristran.

    Speaking for myself, I want home rule for England and English taxes to be spent on England.

  14. I’m a member of the Witanagemot as well, I’m proud to be a patriot.

    As for imagery …

    http://campaigns.libdems.org.uk/user_images/703_n736880310_353679_6664.jpg

    Quite an angry picture if you ask me.

    An English Parliament would bring government closer because it would be responsible for 50m people instead of 60m which the British government is responsible (in part) for. However, this is NOT the crux of the argument for an English Parliament. In the current climate it is absolutely indefensible for there not to be an English Parliament. MP’s elected in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland make decisions on matters relating only to England which are the responsibility of the devolved administrations in their own country. This is undemocratic and anyone who attempts to defend such blatant racial discrimination by the British establishment is quite clearly lacking in both intelligence and morals.

    Why should England be denied what the rest of the country has? Why is an asymetric federation a problem? The whole point of a federation is that the devolved administrations are responsible only for “local” matters. The difference in size wouldn’t weaken a federal government because the federal government would only be concerned with British affairs.

    There is no reasonable argument against an English Parliament.

  15. “Your hatred of the independence movement is obvious.”

    Guilty.

    And I’m proud to be a member of a political party that champions devolution to the lowest practical level – which with the possible exception of deciding an English national anthem will always mean a lower level than England. Your contempt of Kent and Yorkshire autonomy is aboundingly obvious.

  16. James, England is a country. If it is to be governed at anything less than English national level then that should be a matter for an English national government to decide, not MP’s from another country. English MP’s didn’t have a say over how Scotland is governed.

  17. You see Wonk (can I call you Wonk?), it’s real difficult to argue with you when you don’t actually know what you’re talking about. English MPs say how Scotland is governed on a daily basis. The Scottish Parliament has incredibly limited tax raising powers; all other revenue is set by the UK Parliament via the Barnett Formula.

  18. Oh James, you really are priceless. The Barnett Formula is administered by the Treasury which is headed up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is … Alistair Darling, MP for Edinburgh South West. English taxes have been raped by a Scotsman for the last 10 years.

    Please give me an example of any piece of legislation in the last 10 years that only affected Scotland that was subject to a major amendment by an MP elected in England or was rejected by a majority of MP’s elected in Scotland but pushed through using English MP’s votes. Actually, let me save you the time and effort of making some up because there aren’t any. I can list a few where the reverse has happened if you like?

  19. I don’t need to because EXPENDITURE is controlled by the UK Parliament and EXPENDITURE is the single most important power any Parliament can have. The fact that Darling and Brown are Scottish is irrelevant since more than 90% of MPs are not.

  20. The fact that Darling and Brown are Scottish is irrelevant

    We’ll see about that, I think you’ll find it’s not as irrelevant as you would pretend it to be. You’ll see this if a Conservative government gets into power – at which point you’ll be swiveling on your arse and telling the Scots and the Welsh that it’s irrelevant that the entire government is English.

  21. Gareth, you seem to be blissfully unaware that Labour has a majority of seats in England (and yes, it is indeed the case that the Tories have the largest share of the vote – further proof that the main problem is not the WLQ but the electoral system), and the difference between Government and Parliament.

    It would indeed be a problem if the party in government had no Welsh or Scottish MPs – that would represent an English takeover. But the people in government ought to be the best people, regardless of nationality.

    Outside of your fever dreams, we don’t have a government which lacks any English ministers – in fact the majority of them are English.

    Finally, you’re asking me to support the status quo when I never have. The reason Scottish ministers should not be deciding on Kent education policy is because Kent should be allowed its own education policy. Yet you would seek to impose a Devonian minister on them, or (gasp!) even one from Rutland.

  22. James said “And I’m proud to be a member of a political party that champions devolution to the lowest practical level… will always mean a lower level than England.”

    Then why do you support devolution to Scotland and Wales. It would have made more sense to devolve power to the Highlands and Islands: the Scottish Lowlands: North East, North West: North Wales: West Midlands: South Wales etc.

    Why do you support devolution on national lines for three nations and deny it for the forth? This kind of policy will threaten the Union because the forth nation will demand equality with the other three.

    If you support devolution on national lines (as you obviously do) then you must see that an English Parliament is the only fair solution? If you don’t then I suspect you’re working a different agenda, what is it?

  23. I DO support further devolution within Scotland and Wales, and so does my party. To suggest that a major county like Kent is no more capable of autonomy than a tiny outpost like the Orkneys is a bit offensive to the people of Kent isn’t it? Seems to me it isn’t I who has a sinister agenda: just why do you bozos always talk down the English and assign them victim status?

  24. James said (comments by Terry)…

    “If the Lib Dems are about anything, it is bringing power to the powerless. (as they’re the only ones without a Parliament, that’ll be the English then) That applies whether we are talking about health (a devolved matter), education (yet another devolved matter), poverty (housing, social work, planning, all devolved matters) local government (by its nature a devolved matter) or democratic renewal (there’s been plenty in Scotland but please sir, may we have some for England?). That connects with the widespread sense of alienation within the public (do you think all major parties ignoring the call by two thirds of English calling for parity with the Scots and Welsh have contributed in any way to this alienation?).”

  25. I too support more autonomy for England’s counties, but such further devolution is a question to be answered by an English Parliament and no one else! You support national devolution, then further devolution if they want it. Fine, bring it on, that’s what we want too.

    Why do you non-bozos always resort to petty name calling when you run out of arguments? Have you any idea how it undermines your attempt to be taken seriously and how immature it makes you sound?

  26. Terry, given the abuse that is out there about me by English nationalists, I think you should be a little more circumspect about accusing others of resorting to abuse when they run out of arguments (my favourite quip was “GO FUCK YOURSELF YOU ANTI ENGLISH CUNT! JUST WAIT TIL WE GET OUR PARLIAMENT WELL HAVE YER”).

    It is ridiculous to say that we should put off autonomy for English local government until we have an English Parliament to deal with it. That’s where the problem is, right now.

    Of course, in doing so, it would inevitably undermine the case for an English Parliament, which leads me to conclude your argument is entirely ideological and totally divorced from the real world.

  27. James I know there are some (many?) out there that have little reasoning skills and have to resort to outright abuse. My tactic is not join them because their rants do all the work for me; I understand your frustration though.

    With regard to devolution, we have Scotland with a Parliament, Wales and NI with National Assemblies and England with none.

    This doesn’t make sense if the objective is to take Government closer to the people. Wales is almost twice the population of NI and Scotland is almost twice the size of Wales, so population has nothing to do with it. The only way you can make sense of this settlement is if you look at it from a national perspective… then the mist clears. Size has nothing to do with it because this Govt decided to devolve power to the nations.

    If we go the regional route, I’ll be nation-less. I’m not a nationalist but that doesn’t mean I want to be one of the few people in the world that is without a nation. I think civic national pride can be harnessed for good (especially when assimilating people from other countries) and I’ll subscribe to that form of nationalism, if any. We should look to that objective, rather than deny Europe’s oldest nation state what has been granted to Wales, Scotland and NI.

    Is it really unreasonable to ask for this?

  28. Apparently so Terry.

    “(my favourite quip was “GO FUCK YOURSELF YOU ANTI ENGLISH CUNT! JUST WAIT TIL WE GET OUR PARLIAMENT WELL HAVE YER”).”

    That link returns a 404

  29. What am I in a “deep state of denial” about?

    Thanks for fixing the link James. But why do you have to bullshit over a broken link? We all make mistakes?

    In fact, you have repeatedly lied and misquoted throughout this thread and no doubt others.

    Destined for high places in government no doubt – you’ll fit in a treat.

  30. So on the basis that one illiterate posts an insult in the comments of a post where you accuse English nationalists of risking civil war by asking for equality in the “union” you conclude that all English nationalists are bad.

    Can you please confirm that using the same twisted logic you also think that all Scottish nationalists are racist scum that beat up English children because of the brave Scotsman that punched a 7 year old boy in the face during the world cup?

  31. I think Scottish nationalists are in as deep a state of denial as you lot, yes.

    And it isn’t one illiterate post – read that entire thread.

  32. James, do I get to be included in the “you lot” state-of-denial grouping. I just love to belong…

    Seriously, though – I would not describe myself as a nationalist (more of an internationalist, but as Gramsci said of the proletarian revolution: “To be sure, the line of development is toward internationalism, but the point of departure is ‘national’ — and it is from this point of departure that one must begin.”)

    However, I would concur with Terry’s sentiments about the civic nation’s ability to help people from different cultures get along.

    On the question of Brown’s nationality – it is irrelevant. What is relevant is that the constituents he represents will not be affected by his many of his actions in parliament and in government because they are devolved matters dealt with by the Scottish parliament. Now, there’s an issue here because student fees, for example, were introduced in parliament off the back of votes by Labour MPs whose constituencies are in Scotland – where the matter is devolved.

  33. “Outside of your fever dreams, we don’t have a government which lacks any English ministers – in fact the majority of them are English.”
    I think you will find you are wrong here, England politically and constitutionally does not exist, therefore in Westminster there are Scottish ministers, Welsh ministers, Northern Irish ministers and BRITISH ministers.

  34. James Graham sounds like a self-rightous porridge eating twat to me!
    How is graham pronounced by your very arrogant self then Graham? Is it gra’ham? Sweaty sock name aint it? ha! ha! I bet your some prick with a sweaty sock great great grand daddy aint yer mate?

    Personally, I couldnt give a fuckin’ shite, opps, I meant to say rat’s arse whether anti-English fascist idiots like you agree with the English having self-determination or not! Know what I mean sonny?
    How immature are you? Posting your own quip (“well ‘ave you sonny”) to try and justify your own bigotry! You truly are an amateur!

  35. Charlie: your problem is that by standing with people with abhorrant views (and I think you know that many of these people have pretty abhorrant views), you legitimise them. Clearly you’ve concluded that your enemy’s enemy is your friend, but I do question your priorities.

    Terry: I’ve spelt that out so many times now. The fact that you don’t even register the accusation says it all.

    Tommy: What better illustration of ingrained denial is there? One minute you’re demanding for the reality of English identity to be recognised, the next you’re claiming it doesn’t exist.

  36. James, no you haven’t explained at all.

    The first you mentioned it was at 6.33 when you accused Jools of being in a state of denial because he told you a link was broken. He asked how he was in denial, and you didn’t answer except to say the Scottish nats were in a state of denial too.

    Charlie then asked if he was in a state of denial, but you didn’t answer him. I then asked what we were denying and you said you’ve “…spelt that out so many times now. The fact that you don’t even register the accusation says it all.” It doesn’t register because you’ve never explained it, I’ve been through the whole bloody set of posts again…where is it? Humour me.

    …and then you went onto ask Tommy “What better illustration of ingrained denial is there?”

    So there’s me, Jools, Tommy, Charlie and the Scottish nationalists all denying something, but what that something is, is a closely guarded secret.

    …and finally, you say we’re proving your point…are you sure you’re not “projecting”?

  37. PS. cujimmy is a Scottish troll IMHO, I’ve never heard anyone speak like this before.

    I think he’s just trying to give us a bad name.

  38. Going on James’ track record for honesty, “cujimmy?” is most likely to be James himself in sock puppet mode.

  39. Jools, yes indeed. Cujimmey is too “cartoon-ey” and way unrepresentitive of the supporters of an EP that I’ve encountered. The sentences of both scan in a similar way too.

  40. James, I have not concluded anything more than that I think that England should have a parliament. If there are others with repugnant views who agree with me on this question, should I change my mind?

    As for my priorities, in Scotland and Wales the neoliberal assault on working people has been ever-so-slightly slowed down. Brown’s pay freeze held only in England, where there was no devolved government that could bow to pressure…

  41. Terry and Jools: don’t humilate yourselves any further. “cujimmy”‘s IP is: 98.206.89.167, which ain’t mine.

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