Too ill to work?

Too ill to work?

In its autumn statement, not exactly hidden, the government have announced their plans to extend sanctions against benefit recipients, included the mentally ill and the disabled, if they fail to look for work. The sanctions scandalously include the levying of prescription charges and prohibition on receipt of legal aid. Labour’s leadership is sadly relatively silent on these proposals. I remind myself that access to healthcare is a human right, as should be access to justice.

Here are some links I have discovered, they include the government’s boastful announcement, where they focus on the increase in expenditure from the low levels that previous statements have created. Rachel Reeves in her reply notes that the overall taxation level is as high as it’s ever been due to changes made in previous years, but her reply does not deal with the issue of sanctions; Liz Kendall’s words are deeply unassuring [and also here last month] for those who consider these sanctions to be a step too far. In the abstract it’s possible to argue that people who can work should work, but it is impossible to build the means by which this can be implemented without simulating the worst of labour conscription programmes from historic totalitarian regimes.

Not only are these rights, I remind myself that once upon a time many of these benefits were funded through National Insurance, and seen and conceived as an insurance based benefit. People or their families have paid for these benefits and even if an individual’s work record and contributions are low, they will have been paying VAT and various other taxes.

All the human rights charters including those that we are still members of require that legal support is provided where it cannot be afforded. Admittedly, this is usually when being prosecuted by the State but then human rights law primarily addresses abuse by the State against its citizens and denying benefit claimants access to legal aid so they can’t sue the government when the break the law is a policy goal of the government.

The UN Declaration of Human Rights & the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights express a right to healthcare. The European Convention does not although, they say, case law requires states to safeguard people’s mental and physical well-being in many different circumstances and ensure that people can access the healthcare they need, they have a say in the treatment they receive and they can get justice when mistakes are made.

The government and the Tory Party’s contempt for universal rights is one reason why the UN has issued so many adverse reports against the UK and its government. …

History education

History education

I rather enjoy the portfolio of videos made by Simon Whistler, and recently watched one on how the history of the British Empire is taught in British Schools.

Like many, he tries to look at the benefits, such as increased trade, good government, and developed infrastructure, although this is focused on the later stages of the empire. It like Ferguson’s book Empire, but not the TV show, reviewed critically by Andrew Porter, ignores the destruction of Mughal Empire and its economy. Whistler quotes a UK educationalist later in the video, arguing that the colonised territories may well have developed these things themselves even where they did not have such things before the British arrived.

What took me to “Empire” was my memory of the line, about what may define the best of the Empire was the way it ended. Ferguson argues that Britain bankrupted itself fighting fascism in Europe and that its debts to the Commonwealth (and the US) and its impoverishment led to its dissolution. The catalogue of pre-war & post-war atrocities makes this hard to sustain.

The British Museum Reading Room by bobulous, from wikipedia, CC 2004 BY-SA

Whistler pulls no punches over Britain’s engagement in slavery, the slave trade, its active ethnic cleansing in India, both during the initial colonisation wars, and latterly during partition, the invention of concentration camps, the incidence of civilian massacres, and the use of famine as a tool of political control, although Whistler argues the last of these, and even the partition of India was incompetence, callousness and hubris.

Whistler looks at the development of the national curriculum, noting Thatcher and Cameron’s reforms; I studied history at school, from 1966 – 1974, i.e. before these governments and our curriculum for world politics ended in 1939, not as argued by 1066 and all that in 1945. Politicians and teachers were too frightened to allow recent history to be taught; they considered it politics and forbidden.

Whistler reports that the national history curriculum has always included difficult topics but getting them into the classroom was more difficult due to the curriculum being overfull and the topics actually taught were left to teacher choice and of course the remaining political scrutiny which has not gone away.

It reminded me of my experience as a history student at school, I remember having to ask for a lesson in my “A” level history course on “imperialism and colonialism”. We got 45 minutes, and my recollection is that I was disappointed in what was covered, it being more of a geography lesson, but I am sure the teacher involved had their eye on the likely questions in the exam. We were, for instance, taught nothing of the UK’s relationship with China and so remained ignorant of the Opium Wars and Boxer rebellion. Perhaps my teacher’s reticence to teach the topic was based on his knowledge of those very exam questions.

The biggest impact that slavery had on the then curriculum was its abolition, which avoided any mass struggle dimension posing it as a victory for moralism and definitely avoided the fact that British slave owners were compensated while slaves were not. My memory says it had no impact on the “A” level syllabus.

We spent more time studying Irish home rule movement, although my recollection is that we did not study the Irish civil war in 1916 nor its denouement in 1921. The focus was on Gladstone and his parliamentary struggles with the Irish question and, I’m sorry to say, that even in 1972 to 74, it bored me.

The revolutions of 1948 were, like the disgraces of empire, glossed over and much of Europe’s popular and democratic resistance rolled into studies of the unification of Germany while missing the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. WW1 came as a big shock. Did we even study the Russian revolution?

I have no doubt that, possibly despite the inclinations of my teachers, we were taught that Great Britain was great and that any blemishes on our reputation were ignored. Even after studying the reactionary politics of the role that Britain played in European politics after the Napoleonic war, in my mind, I failed to condemn Palmerston’s gun boat diplomacy, the opium wars and the later colonisation of Africa. This left me unprepared for Suez (although I was one at the time), the growth of Chinese power and its assumption of power in Hong Kong and the hostility of many black African countries within the Commonwealth. Fortunately, most of us grow up. …

The popular will of the masses

The popular will of the masses

Starmer was glitter bombed at conference, the person that did this is part of the people demand democracy campaign who are campaigning for both proportional representation and a sortition based 2nd house, which they call a people’s house. They seem very proud of the impact their demo had, although I have to ask, why only at Labour conference. The rest of this article looks at citizen’s assemblies and Labour’s proposals for change, which last reviewed in an article, “New Britian, New Britcon” [or on Medium].

My work with CTOE has introduced me to several campaigning academics who have studied these citizen’s assemblies and developed a great belief in them. Such assemblies have been successful in numerous places such as Ireland, Iceland and Chile where they have been used to shape the debate and decisions on the constitution. The London Borough of Newham has implemented one and there are a number of others developed in the UK, and reported by the Constitution Unit whereas a more global view is taken at Bürgerrat who reference the OECD’s catalogue. Newham are to be congratulated because as we explore below, politicians are loathe to share either power or democratic legitimacy and in the UK, proposals such as this, for example the neighbourhood assemblies are often about putting barriers in the way of political party’s manifestos, enabling the the super-active and NIMBYism. Any representative body can and probably should convene Citizen’s Assemblies and the Ost Belgien model shows how even the agenda i.e. topic selection of citizen’s assemblies can also be devolved and a rolling programme implemented without creating a new class of unelected politician.

The citizens’ assembly that has preoccupied me is the EU’s Conference on the Future of Europe, which made numerous recommendations, including that the experiment be continued, however, there is a growing opposition within particularly the European Parliament to proposals for powerful citizens assemblies. This would seem natural where people argue about a superior democratic legitimacy of citizens assemblies, even as is the case of CoFoE the agenda was tightly controlled by the institutions and the membership of the assembly stuffed with politicians from those institutions. At a  more cynical level, those that have power rarely want to share it and often mythologise the role of the institutions to which they belong; from wikipedia’s article on parliamentary cretinism, in the words of Friedrich Engels:

‘Parliamentary cretinism’ is an incurable disease, an ailment whose unfortunate victims are permeated by the lofty conviction that the whole world, its history and its future are directed and determined by a majority of votes of just that very representative institution that has the honour of having them in the capacity of its members.

this is a cropped copy of an image on “people demand democracy’s web site”

I argue that the legitimacy of citizens’ assemblies is based on their expertise. The role of citizens’ assemblies is that people’s lived conditions and experience is directed towards solving a problem not on portfolio governance. This local expertise is then applied to specific problem solving and solutions development. The ‘lived experience’, the closeness to the problem, local expertise all lead to an enhanced solution development process and the focus on solution design is enforced by term limits. All of this makes sortition or random selection an effective, useful, and enhancing selection technique; it eliminates manifestos and prejudgement and weakens the personal networks of leading politicians. Citizen’s assemblies are also best when given a project or task & finish framework. Merely creating a new group of politicians chosen by random lot is not a democratic advance.

I ask myself, if there a dichotomy in political decision making between polarising decisions and decisions better taken by consensus, if so then sortition assemblies maybe better at developing consensual solutions. Pendulum i.e. polarising decisions might be better taken by representative assemblies. If this is right, then the role of referendums needs to be considered carefully. It seems to me that they have no role in either type of decision, certainly not if there is no super majority threshold.

Labour’s proposals are for an elected 2nd chamber with a renewed mandate. They also conceive of a treaty/constitution which the new 2nd chamber would enforce by having the power to reject Commons’ laws that breached the treaty thus ending Parliamentary Sovereignty. Again Labour’s proposals, have little room for the role of a revising chamber which study of the Commons over the last 10 years shows is badly needed. I have little doubt that the power of scrutiny and quality of legislation could be improved and that for some legislation there should be a means by which expert opinion can be sought.

There’s lots of room to do democracy better, but replacing representative democracy with juries is not really one of them. The advocates of Citizens’ Assemblies should not be suggesting they are an alternative, but they are a democratic supplement. …

Gaza, my thoughts

Gaza, my thoughts

On October the 7th, Hamas attacked Israel, killing over 1400 people and taking civilian hostages. The scale of the impact of this operation has shocked Israel. The Israeli government has promised to make Israel safe but its first actions were to cut off power and water from the Gaza Strip. They warned Palestinians residents in North Gaza to move south and then launched a bombardment on Gaza; from reports it would seem that the targets of this bombardment were not exclusively military.

The actions of Hamas were an atrocity.

In the UK, the leader of the opposition Sir Keir Starmer interviewed on television reinforce labour’s position that Israel had a right to defend itself and while qualifying such acts of defence have having to conform to international law, however he stated that he felt that the blockade, which had been extended to people and medical supplies, was a legitimate act of defence.

Rishi Sunak, the UK’s prime minister, visited Israel and declared that Britain wanted Israel to win.

The Israeli bombardment has tragic consequences.

“At least 8,306 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the Israeli military bombardment began on October 7, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, about 40% of them are children”

Defence of Children International ..

There have been three marches in London demanding a cease fire, bit-by-bit politicians are coming to the conclusion that this is necessary. I attended the march held on 28th October; there were people there chanting things with which I don’t agree, but the scale of death is appalling, and I felt I had to do something.

The United Nations Security council has failed to act, its general assembly has called for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities.”

Across the world there are incidents of lethal anti-semitic acts which are equally wrong.

An anti-occupation Israeli correspondent writes on Medium,

So it bears repeating: release the hostages, declare a ceasefire, help the survivors, start working towards a real, long term solution.

There are others talking peace and sense, but not enough, however committing the UK to supporting Israel’s need to win (as opposed to acting in defence of its citizens) is war-mongering.

I grieve for the dead, and their families and hope for the hostages.

I call on my Party, and my government to act as peace makers and not cheer leaders and enablers of this humanitarian catastrophe. …