Tag Archives: daniel kawczynski

You can’t be a half-iconoclast

If there’s a problem with the Unspoken Constitution its that it barely qualifies as satire. The shenanigans surrounding MPs’ expenses, Carter-Ruck’s single handed attempt to rewrite the UK constitution to favour their client Trafigura and this torrid little paper sneaked out by the Ministry of Justice today (which patiently explains why Royal Prerogative powers are, in fact, all wonderful and the only thing that stands between us and authoritarianism), all amply illustrate that Stuart Weir and co’s attempt to write the famously unwritten constitution is more a reflection of reality than an exaggeration of it. A Modest Proposal is satire. Yes, Minister and The Thick of It are satires. The Unspoken Constitution is merely frank.

I have to admit to finding this week somewhat depressing in that it is clear that a great many MPs have returned from recess determined to shut down any further discussion about reform and that, to an extent, they are succeeding. The media itself has been very helpful in this respect, detailing the process almost moment-to-moment but almost entirely lacking in analysis. Let us not forget that the people who are now complaining about the unfairness of Sir Thomas Legg applying new rules to them retrospectively are for the most part the same people who attempted to keep this little scam of theirs shrouded in secrecy – in defiance of the law – for years. All the indications are that for the most part, they still haven’t learned why that was an utterly stupid and damaging thing to do.

The media, frankly, loves the status quo because it means it can write about politics on its terms. Everything can be about story; the notion that politics is about a battle of ideas takes a back seat. There has, if truth be told, always been a tension between the two, but the latter took a distinct turn for the worse 20 years ago and has never recovered.

The paucity of vision in politics today was on display at the Vote for a Change/All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Continuation of First Past the Post debate on Tuesday. I won’t attempt to sum up the debate because there wasn’t one to speak of; as Oona King pointed out very early on, almost everyone in the room had made up their mind already so what was the point? But I was struck by the number of MPs who stood up and waxed lyrical about how they regard their main role being to represent their constituents and their constituency, above all else.

Historically, that is quite a new notion and I know it is a notion that has a lot of support within the Lib Dems. But it is a dreadful one nonetheless. MPs’ primary role is to scrutinise – both the executive and legislation. Their first duty should be to the national interest, surely?

I’m not suggesting, incidently, that a sense of place for MPs is unimportant or that local issues should play no part. My beef is with the notion that this should be the priority. What’s worse is that it is a fiction to suggest that they do. Most MPs put party loyalty above parochial concerns most of the time. Local campaigns can force them to abstain or even defy their whips, but only if a lot of pressure is created. True, MPs are generally more likely to defy the whips than at any point in the recent past, but this is still the exception rather than the norm.

Either way, the notion of the MP as an independently minded individual who cares passionately about working within the system to bring forth their vision of the good society is extremely unfashionable. This is true whether we are talking about party politics or even this current vogue for indpendents; in fact, when it comes to the Martin Bells, Richard Taylors and Jury Teams of this world, ideas appear to have gone out of the window entirely – at least political parties have manifestos still. What I found on Tuesday was that the supporters of FPTP were united in arguing for this idea of parliamentary politics.

It’s a real problem for supporters of proportional representation because it is an argument that holds real resonance amongst the public. Who wouldn’t want an MP who is committed to doing whatever you tell them to do (leaving aside the fact that there will be 70,000 other constituents with competing interests for one second)? This idea of the ultra-local politician has taken a firm grip in the popular psyche; people even imagine that it was ever thus.

The problem for electoral reformers is that thus far we have failed to take on this argument. Worse, a great many electoral reformers actually agree with it. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard people tell me that they are a) pro-proportional representation and b) in favour of retaining the constituency link. It is one of the main arguments that people who support the Jenkins system assert.

I don’t believe we can ever win the argument for proportional representation until reformers can agree that what we need is a radically different kind of politics. Each time someone argues for essentially the status quo with a few tweaks to neutralise the worst aspects of it, they concede almost all the ground to the other side. It becomes, essentially, a narrow and technocratic argument about systems and practicalities. The moral force behind the argument for PR is entirely lost. We might as well not bother.

Ultimately this argument applies to the reform debate more widely and brings me back to The Unspoken Constitution. Our current system has become so toxic that the time for incrementalist change is now past. We need a fundamental shift, not an attempt to meet the status quo halfway. Tim Garton Ash is correct when he says that the Lib Dems aren’t arguing for this any more and that it is a crying shame. What’s odder is that Nick Clegg’s language nine months ago – before the MPs’ expenses scandal erupted – was significantly more radical. Even Cameron comes across as more forthright on this area now, even if he is hopeless when it comes to specifics.

Maybe it doesn’t poll well, but I’m not convinced that sounding like everyone else does either. Either way, the lack of a clear iconoclastic liberal voice in this debate at the moment is lamentable.

Only an idiot would ever agree with Daniel Kawczynski

Over on LabourList, Tom Guise cites five examples which suggest that my favourite Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski is a couple of strawberry creams short of a Quality Street selection box. He could have added Kawczynski’s bizarre attack on the BBC and the “liberal elite” for waging a propaganda war against Poles (but not the Daily Mail and its swan-eating nonsense, you understand, that was all fair comment).

But the most uncanny omission of Guise’s list is Kawczynski’s utterly moronic defence of the first past the post electoral system (Kawsczynski is the chair of the All Party First Past The Post Group). I mean, seriously, only a complete cretin would think such a dreadful system which sucks pluralism and diversity out of our political system is a good idea.

Given that is proof positive for Tom’s theory and LabourList’s love of bashing Tories, I wonder why he didn’t mention it?

Kawczynski is a disgrace

In a very short term, Daniel Kawcynski has, for me, come to represent everything that is venal about the Conservative Party. I’ve already written about him a couple of times, about his fact-free attack on electoral reform and his equally evidence-lite claim that evil liberals were trying to stir up hatred against Poles. Now he has turned his particular line in smear at the police, already (justly) reeling from the Damien Green affair.

There are several ways in which this is not at all like the Damian Green affair. For a start, it would appear that the police were investigating a serious issue. Sending white powder to a minister, post 2001, is a genuinely big deal. If there was an attack – and we have no reason to assume there wasn’t – then I would expect any MP to cooperate with the police. But even if this wasn’t the case, after the incidents of November last year no MP can be in any doubt about what the police can and can’t do. They didn’t have a warrant and so if Kawczynski didn’t feel like cooperating he should have simply shown them the door.

Except of course he has to have it both ways. So rather than turfing them out, he cooperated with their “intimidating” request while at the same time whinging about it on the floor of the House.

It is hard to see what case the police have to answer here. Worse, while the Green affair genuinely did raise some important questions, shouting about the Kawczynski One threatens to trivialise all that.

At a time when the State is taking a turn for the sinister, it is all the more important not to cry wolf. That Damian Green chose to sit next to Kawczynski and thus symbolically support his complaint to the Speaker, suggests that the Tories as a whole have got this whole business out of proportion.

Do liberals hate Poles?

Yes, according to Daniel Kawczynski, who blames the “liberal elites” – and in particular the BBC – for increased attacks on Poles in the UK.

If there is a widespread vendetta by the BBC against Poles, presumably the Poles themselves are up in arms about it? Well, not on Polish Forums they’re not. The Federation of Poles in Great Britain are rather more exercised about the distinctly un-liberal Daily Mail (a paper which has lost no time in jumping on Kawczynski’s bandwagon), yet strangely Kawczynski doesn’t mention this fact.

Kawczynski’s speech doesn’t actually cite a single example of what his complaint is, merely assuring his Honorable Friends that “I have undertaken a study of BBC coverage of immigration” (where is it then? Can’t find it on his website) and that MPs “would be amazed at the amount of BBC coverage that focuses on white, Christian Poles because it is politically correct to do so.” When someone alleges something as grave as this using Parliamentary privilege as a shield yet can’t even come up with a single anecdote, it is only reasonable to view such allegations with contempt.

Over at Open House, Andy McSmith raises some other points which illustrate how bizarre, even sinister, Kawczynski’s comments are in other ways. The thing that struck me is that in his claim that “9 out of 10 immigrants are not Polish” he appears to be confusing the concept of “immigrant” with that of “member of an ethnic minority”. No-one denies that there are a lot of people with brown skin in this country. They have made a big impact on our society (in my view an overwhelmingly positive one). But the rise of Eastern European shops and workers is a recent phenomenon and that’s why it has been getting a lot of airtime of late. Surely the role of news is, well, news – not history?

The biggest joke is how Kawczynski blames all this on “political correctness”. How is calling for a bank holiday to celebrate a specific ethnic minority and alleging victim status not political correctness? There’s an interesting debate on PC over at Lib Dem Voice; I suggest he goes and reads it.

What interests me most about this incident (tangent alert!) is Kawcynski’s allegations about the “liberal elite”. I’ve been meaning to comment on the Well Known Fact that the BBC has a “liberal” bias for quite some time now. This claim has been accepted by a number of people including Andrew Marr. Marr’s comments are particularly interesting because in my view he gets close to the truth, but doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head:

The BBC is not impartial or neutral. It’s a publicly funded, urban organisation with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities and gay people. It has a liberal bias not so much a party-political bias. It is better expressed as a cultural liberal bias.

I would not disagree that the Beeb has a cultural, urban middle class bias. What I quibble with is the inclusion of the word “liberal.” As an habitual Today Programme listener, what strikes me every morning is quite how similar the editorialising of John Humphries and James Naughtie is to the Daily Mail’s.

The Today Programme’s particular obsessions are with bird-watching, poetry, why young people today are so rude, house prices, shares, most sports except football and anything Saint Lynne of Truss happens to be banging on about at any given moment. None of these are particularly liberal, some of them teeter on the illiberal side of things, but all of them are unremittingly urban, middle class and middle aged obsessions. I simply can’t fathom how a channel that has as its main political interviewers Humphries, Andrew Neill and the Brothers Dimblebum can be described as “liberal” but it is undeniable that it has a certain middle class bias.

These same biases are prevalent within the Daily Mail as well. The fact that the Beeb has a tendency to veer between the worst excesses of the Mail and the Guardian suggests that politically it has probably got the balance right but culturally is failing woefully.

What does all this have to do with Daniel Kawczynski? Not a great deal, except to suggest how empty his attacks on the “liberal elite” really are. Meanwhile, I suggest everyone goes and reads what James Oates has to say about Poles and Ukranians.

Daniel Kawczynski: a whinger and a wanker

Neil Kinnock famously (and anecdotally; he hotly denies it) described Charter 88 as a bunch of “whingers and wankers.” It’s good to see that the shoe is now on the other foot, as demonstrated by this whine by Daniel Kawczinyski.

What is amusing about this article is that it is wrong in almost every single important respect. To start with, he deplores closed lists. But he then goes on to exhort first past the post which is, erm, a closed list system. If he wants accountability, then why not advocate a system which encourages it, i.e. STV?

Secondly, he claims that voters in London were confused. Well maybe, but the vast majority of them managed to vote okay. Indeed, compare the number of rejected votes for the Mayoral election (1.67%) and the London-wide list (1.69%) with the first past the post constituency election (1.95%). It would appear that the system that caused voters the greatest confusion was the one Kawczynski is advocating!

He refers to Scotland’s elections debacle last year, yet fails to mention that the lessons of that incident have already been learnt – hence the low ballot spoilage. He claims that “the overwhelming will of the people of London was to get rid of Ken Livingstone and elect a Conservative mayor”. If that is the case, why didn’t they vote that way? Boris Johnson got 43% of the vote in first preferences – a plurality to be sure but well short of a majority. He fails to explain how the preferential system got in the way; all it did was illustrate that of the voters who preferred a candidate other than Livingstone or Johnson, more of them (not not that many more of them) preferred the former over the latter. And he claims that is in some way undemocratic. Inconvenient for an ideologue like him maybe, but undemocratic?

He then drops this clanger:

“The fact that Brian Paddick, Sian Berry and Ken Livingstone did well on second preferences only goes to show the bias which is built into the system in favour of left wing parties, parties which, in the case of the Lib Dems and the Greens were not well supported by people’s first choice.”

Uh? How does this show the system is biased? Paddick and Berry could have carved up the second preference votes between them and it still wouldn’t have got either of them elected as Mayor. The system doesn’t care if you count the number of second preference votes for candidates who failed to come first or second or not. The system only considered those cast for Livingstone and Johnson.

In fact, this demonstrates almost the exact opposite: generally the public are left-inclined but the system made no allowance for that.

Not all of Kawczynskis are completely invalid, but his prescription certainly is. To claim that first past the post is a tool for engagement, when in fact it guarantees that come election time the parties will ignore that vast majority of voters is simply ridiculous. He knows this. He knows how it leads to a fixation on swing voters.

It is ironic that he bemoans that PR systems don’t allow for by-elections while FPTP not only does but allows for greater accountability. Bob Neill didn’t stand down and make way for a by-election for his Assembly seat in 2006, and yet in Bromley and Bexley the Tories had an increased majority. I’m sure that numerous Tories might like to think that was solely down to James Cleverley’s hard work, but we all know it had more to do with the Mayoral election. Where is this magical accountability that Kawczynski has been telling us about?

We certainly could make things more democratic. If we had open lists or, better yet, STV which would allow voters to rank candidates in order of preference rather than purely on party lines, then accountability would increase. In doing so we could also cut down the numbers of ballot papers to two. We could hold the Assembly elections on a different day, possibly on the same day as the London council elections so that they aren’t completely overshadowed by the Mayoral election.

Yet somehow I suspect that accountability is the last thing that Kawczynski wants. He just wants the system that he feels suits his brand of rightwingery, knowing that under any system of fair votes the majority would make his life much more difficult.

At least not all rightwing ideologues believe that the only recourse is to steal elections rather than compete in them. Douglas Carswell, no wet he, has been advocating multi-member constituencies for a while now. It seems that the days of the Kawczynski Tory sense of entitlement may be numbered.