but democracy!

but democracy!

As we approach Brexit Ground Zero, Labour’s leavers, at least those too embarrassed to talk about immigration are pinning their hopes on the “but Democracy” argument.

In March 1975 Margaret Thatcher described referendums as “a device of dictators and demagogues” but she got a lot wrong and I ask myself if this is true.

Britain is run as a Parliamentary Democracy but there is no basic law and Parliament can do as it pleases. Many if not most of the checks on the Executive or on Ministers are based on convention not statute. We have an unelected upper chamber in which both hereditary peers and Church of England bishops have votes and we have a hereditary Head of State. I thought and wrote about the UK’s Democracy last year and found it wanting.

A democracy must exist under a rule of law; Britain does not because Parliament, which means the House of Commons can do as it pleases. Our only Human Rights guarantee is two Acts of Parliament, which can both be repealed. We should note that Government impunity is increased as the Coalition Government took away legal aid for judicial review and while this was designed to stop benefit claimants suing the Government when it broke the law, it also makes it much more difficult to defend more political rights.

Political systems must be designed to resolve priorities either by building a consensus or by articulating a majority view when the issues are such that there is a polarisation in society. We have furthermore the need to define and defend basic Human Rights which the world has developed a consensus around the UN Declaration of Human Rights, although in Western Europe we tend to ignore economic rights, such as freedom from poverty.

The problem of a dual mandate is not uncommon. Presidential systems based on the US model have this built in, as does the French system and on a smaller scale our system of Executive Mayors.  It should be necessary for a President to build a wide-ranging coalition to win, which should be a protection against the degeneration of Democracy, but history would suggest this is not the case. Where a society is split on critical social & economic issues, or religious[1] or national identity issues, the “winner takes all” nature of Presidential systems and Plebiscites is a centripetal force on the unity of the polity. (This is powerfully identified in Juan Linz’s paper, Democracy: Presidential or Parliamentary, Does it make a difference?) I say,

Only a Parliament can represent the breadth of interests[2] in a complex society, only a Parliament can negotiate popular compromises based on 2nd choices and changing priorities.

Presidents and plebiscites pose a tyrannical threat to the nuances of the people’s will, only a Parliament has a mandate and capability to resolve & negotiate these complexities and we should note its mandate is comprehensive and current. The issue of developing a compromise may be critical, particularly in the terms of the Brexit debate where a number of advocates of Leave have changed their minds from seeking a deal to opposing one. I was of the view that the advocates of Leave should negotiate the terms of exit and then as Unions do, ask if the deal was acceptable. This allows people to change their mind, and consider their opinion when the detail of the proposal is concrete.

The history of the degeneration of democracies, most recently and obviously in Turkey, is one where a Parliamentary system is transformed by plebiscite into a Presidential one, and then bit-by-bit the checks and balances are removed, starting usually with an attack on the independence[3] of the judiciary.

We are sleep walking along a similar path.

While I cannot find an inexorable proof that plebiscites[4] are the tools of dictator’s and demagogues, their history would strongly suggest that this is the case.

ooOOOoo

[1] For a short period, Bosnia & Herzgovina had a multi-ethnic/faith presidium and the Lebanon had an ethnic/faith power sharing convention sharing the President/Prime Minister/Speaker roles.

[2] This needs small-ish constituencies and fair voting systems, and in the UK the abolition of the House of Lords

[3] Although the only independence that the UK judges has is indefinite tenure; another area we could do better.

[4] I am of the view that Presidential systems based on the US model are also less capable of representing the breadth and nuamce of the politics of the nation and are fundamentally less stable. …

Confusing

While there is not a lot of theory for HR professionals, one piece of good practice is to separate performance management systems from pay assessments in order to encourage employees to admit their weaknesses. I wonder why no-one does this? …

Zero day right to justice

Jeremy Corbyn and Laura Pidcock made speeches to the TUC which covered the Party’s commitment to fairness at work. They commit to a worker’s protection agency to enforce the minimum wage and the necessary ban on zero hour contracts.  To these two critical reforms the need to reduce the employment service qualification for access to Employment Tribunals should be added.

I have made a proposal to Labour’s Policy Forum to this effect, although I might be a bit moderate in that I suggest a 3 month period where others are asking for Day Zero. Absolutely, the 2017 manifesto was to implement Day 1 rights as it should be. You can login and vote it up if you like. …

A week to remember

What a week it’s been for British Politics! Prior to the re-opening of Parliament after its summer recess, Johnson announced he planned to ask for the longest prorogue of Parliament since 1945. On his 2nd day in Parliament as Prime Minister, he lost control of the Parliamentary timetable, the following day he lost his majority after one of the Tory’s crossed the floor to the Lib Dems, he then threatened his Party with expulsion if they supported the cross bench bill to ban a no-deal Brexit, which they did and so did he! This put his working majority at -41. The Bill passed both the Commons and Lords. Johnson asked for an election, which is now in the hands of the House of Commons and they said No! All this within five days, thus proving what I said, that its possible he should not have been appointed as he does not command the confidence of the house. To cap the week, his brother resigned for the Government and announced he would not seek re-election and Amber Rudd, finally found her backbone and resigned from the Government and the Tory whip, with an excoriating letter.

In exchange John Mann, the semi-detached alleged Labour MP has resigned from the Labour Party and agreed to take up the role of “Anti-Semitism Tsar” (sic).

A couple of wits, put Parliament to the words of Monty Python, one of the Romans, the other on self defence from being attacked by  fresh fruit.

A week to remember! …

Member’s rule change proposals

Member’s rule change proposals

I met up with some people who had seen Labour’s Conference Agenda items and they said that the following rule amendments were to be debated, or at least rules on the following topics. N.B. I have not yet read these, so my comments may be a bit off.

  1. A proposal to amend the so-called three year rule on rule changes, allowing popular changes to be debated within the current three year moratorium.
  2. There will be a rule change about OMOV for Executive Mayor’s and Council Leaders (& Deputies).
  3. An amendment to re-establish Clause IV, the rule not the group
  4. A proposal to permit amendments to motions at Conference.
  5. A rule change to clarify the rules on access to membership data lists.
  6. A rule change to permit BAME only shortlists; I have not read this rule change but am aware that this is likely to require legislation.
  7. A rule change on democratising the LCF, barring councillors and increasing the size, and having 25% of delegates as TU delegates.
  8. A proposal to submit  both a rule change & a motion. Again I have not read this so I don’t know if it changes the number to be submitted beyond one of each.
  9. A motion changing the rules to ensure the transparency of public official’s/candidate’s finances
  10. A proposal to revise revision of disciplinary rule, C2.I.8. (I have not read this, but it’s a clue to search it out and read it.)
  11. A proposal on greater diversity in CLPs.

It seems the NEC will be proposing to amend the disciplinary process. The desire is to create a fast track process but the fear is that they are proposing to fatally weaken the legally necessary separation of powers/segregation of duties between the NEC and the NCC. Obviously one needs to read it, but this sounds like one to oppose.

Rules are currently proposed to be debated on Saturday afternoon. Delegates will need all their credentials, including their card vote books which are *not* sent by post. …

What I said on the surveillance state

What I said on the surveillance state

I took my “surveillance society/human rights law” motion to my CLP GC last week. This is the speech I intended to give, it runs for about 2 mins; I had to cut it down.

In 2013, Edward Snowden, a contractor at the US’s National Security Agency blew the whistle on the NSA, and it’s five-eyes’ allies attempt to bug the whole of the internet, exposing the lengths that the intelligence services were prepared to go in building a surveillance society.

A debate exploded about the legality of their activities and we came to see the importance of their failed attempts under both Labour & Coalition Governments to legalise their activities with the Communications Data Bill versions 1 & 2.

In 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union struck down the Data Retention Directive as in violation of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights; in the UK a law was rapidly passed to leave the rights of the intelligence services in place.

Over time these surveillance powers have been extended by via both Legislation such as the Immigration Act, the Counter Terrorism and Security act which authorises Prevent and by “voluntary” agreement such as the #getitrightfromagenuine site programme.

This has been capped of by Theresa May’s Investigatory Powers Act, which has since been declared in contravention of the Charter of Fundamental Rights because the captured information can be retrieved for reasons other than serious crime and these retrievals are not reviewed by a Judge.

To this list we should add the Data Protection Act’s immigration exception, which means that immigration data is not subject to the GDPR rights of accessibility and correction.

At the centre of this is the intelligence service’s desire to treat everyone as suspects and to infringe their privacy without proving “reasonable suspicion”.

This is also about political power and how to exercise it; these measures are designed to take power away from us, from citizens and our neighbours.

If you look at the laws that underwrite the surveillance society, Immigration, Counter Terrorism and the DPA Immigration exception, you can see that the first victims of the surveillance society are migrants and ethnic minorities.

We should say and conference must state that freedom of expression and the right to privacy are universal human rights, that the current surveillance and investigatory powers regime is in breach of these rights.

It’s time for Labour to get on the right side of this debate, for too long the portfolio has been in the hands of fans of, or those that fear the securocrats.

250 words is too short to make the whole argument which is why I propose a commission to develop the policy further.

This motion is unlikely to be passed elsewhere so it’d be great if you voted for it and agreed to send it to conference.

The motion carried but we decided to send a great motion on social care. Does anyone have time to put it to conference? …

Council Power

Council Power

I wrote to one of Lewisham’s Councillors on the results of the Democracy Review and pointed them at things I have written and published, on Mayor’s and power in the council.

  1. https://davelevy.info/lewishams-democracy-it-could-be-better/ … what i thought was needed
  2. https://davelevy.info/what-is-to-be-done-with-lewisham-council/ … summarising what I said, i.e. my submission
  3. https://davelevy.info/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Lewisham-Democracy-Review-DFL-V1_1.pdf … my evidence, in which I recommend a series of reforms to improve the accountability and transparency of the Mayor, Council and senior officials including a recall mechanism, term limits and much improved monitoring of personnel, decisions and programmes.
  4. https://davelevy.info/abolishing-executive-mayors/ also hosts the LGIU paper which talks about returning to the Committee System.

And here are my notes about what they said; http://wiki.davelevy.info/lewisham-councils-democracy-review/ which includes comments on power & communication.

For completeness, https://davelevy.info/dictatorship/ my manifesto for abolition of the Mayor. …