Tag Archives: UK

Rebuilding a Broken United Kingdom- A tale of 4 Kingdoms.

JR Max Wheel

 

14 March 2017

 

The UK’s proposed exit from the EU has thrown up some serious fault lines inside the Union.  A core reason is a failure that goes back years, the infamous West Lothian question so eloquently described by its own MP. Tam Dalyell, whereby the devolved administrations MPs sitting in Westminster can vote on English matters, yet English MPs cannot vote on those arising in those administrations. The movement towards decentralised power in the UK was in principle fair enough- to move decision-taking closer to the people, but as with many important issues it was not thought through, thereby creating another anomaly in the quirky nature of the UK’s unwritten constitution.

 

Despite sitting for a Scottish seat- West Lothian, Dalyell opposed both plebiscites in 1979 (Callaghan Government) and in 1997(New Labour- Blair). He was right. Nonetheless New Labour pursued the devolution agenda in Scotland and Wales creating a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly. The tortured politics of N.Ireland was subject to a separate agreement. The critical failure was to confine the plebiscites to the constituent countries only and not open to English voters. This might be seen as a cynical ploy to entrench Labour votes in its traditional heartlands especially Scotland and Wales. In Scotland, all it has done is the reverse, encouraged a nationalist and separatist movement, based on actual and perceived historical grievances. The situation in Wales has not (yet) resulted in a similar upsurge in nationalist feeling. Had the devolution argument been aired properly it would have queried the relationship of all the constituent parts, not just the devolved regions.

 

Thus, rather than redefining the United Kingdom for the future, it has created confusion and mutual suspicion. A much better solution would have been to have redefined the role of the Upper Chamber, long a parking lot for the great and the good and a handy way of rewarding party political participation. Its role as a revising chamber is a valuable one, but it has become a bloated anachronism, with over 800 members. In addition, it contains bishops, law lords and hereditary peers. Why so many when the US can have an upper house of 100 in the Senate and other parliamentary democracies make do with many less than the UK. There have been endless attempts to re-legitimise the Upper Chamber by direct election, none has really succeeded.

 

What is needed is a Chamber that reflects the diverse interests of all the countries, and thus represents regional interests which cannot then be over-ridden by solely English interests, nor vice versa, this would force a level of real debate and concerted decisions. Needless to say this would provide a perfect opportunity to reform the Chamber and to rid the UK of its excess peers, and to concentrate their minds on issues of real importance.

 

This matter acquires an extra urgency as Scotland contemplates a second independence effort and whilst N. Ireland faces a very difficult problem arising from Brexit. It suits no one except those willing to frustrate the electorate’s result, of which there are plenty, with quite specific and anti-democratic views.

 

Brexit – now Government and Opposition Chaos!

JR Max Wheel

30 June 2016

Today brings news of fresh turmoil in UK politics in both the Government and opposition ranks. Irrespective of the rights or wrongs of the UK case for leaving the EU it is blindingly clear that the country’s governance has been found wanting. Under more normal circumstances there would and should have been a vote of no confidence in the Government and a likely general election.

It is however symptomatic of deeper constitutional issues which have been festering since the Scottish referendum and the devolution settlements: it seems to me that this now requires wholesale changes to our voting system which is increasingly exposed as unrepresentative. It may be as well that the UK does not do “Government by plebiscite” normally, but this referendum has exposed deep fault lines, as well as abuse.

It should have escaped no one ‘s attentionthat since the campaign was carried out on a cross party basis, that any subsequent action should require a similar cross party arrangement and agreement to implement, not a prolongation of the status quo ante.

The UK’s first past the post system has generally served us well enough, this time it is in danger of embedding a very divisive decision through Parliamentary majority and in the near absence of a Prime Minister, a full-blown leadership campaign and with no effective opposition. Worse the leaders of both campaigns have been exposed as acting in self-interest and not necessarily in good faith. This is unworthy of any democracy, let alone the UK.

We now need comprehensive overhaul of the following and with some urgency.

  • A move to proportional representation for the House of Commons.
  • Reform and radical downsizing of the Upper House to function as a reforming chamber – a Senate. Removal of all peers, whether Lords Spiritual or Temporal
  • Direct representation for the devolved administrations in the Senate
  • Abolition of the much abused honours system
  • A charter of British Rights applicable to all citizens, and extensive to all legally, if temporarily residing in the UK.

 

We may still decide to exercise a sovereign right to execute a withdrawal from the EU, but it  should not be rammed through on the current basis. The leadership of the campaign has by its behaviour and the turmoil evident in the opposition, forfeited the right to proceed “as is” after the unseemly brawl of a leadership campaign being embedded in the process and in so doing distorting the result together with flagrant abuse of Government department resources. Two choices remain – neither of which should have ever been necessary, a rerun of the referendum or a general election when the opposition have a new leader and team in place.

No side emerges with any credit from this exercise which is worthy of a banana republic and not Britain. It’s time for serious change.

 

Under-defended UK?

JR Max Wheel

3 March 2014

 

The standoff in the Ukraine, which may well have turned into something a great deal more serious if Russia pursues its sphere of interest policies to annexe parts of the country, once again shows total short-sightedness of European defence and foreign policy. If the EU is to mean anything in an increasingly dangerous world, it needs the capability to act and to project its power decisively. NATO is a post WWII construct whereby the EU has largely sheltered under a US nuclear and defence umbrella. The rapid decline in UK capabilities is even more alarming, the Strategic Security & Defence Review of 2010, whilst written in the light of austerity politics is now an irrelevance, it urgently needs updating and defence spend needs to rise to provide the UK with a credible force. This is not an argument for war-mongering, but it is a recognition that both men and materiel have been cut down to dangerous levels: equally the nature of conflict described in the document has been proved to de-emphasise state on state conflicts, yet that is still a threat, as we can see.

 

Despite admitting overstretch in the Iraq and Afghan conflicts, we have opted to reduce the regular army to 80,000 and to use territorials as substitute front line troops, this is blatantly inadequate. So is the reliance on a single aircraft carrier and the decision to decommission Harriers before a much delayed US alternative Joint Strike Fighter is ready;  it is late, wildly over budget and there are serious questions of its capabilities. Reduction in frigate capacity by four and decommissioning of aging HMS Illustrious and Ocean is also weakening naval capacity. Failure to ensure inter-interoperability of the carrier with European allies is  a major strategic mistake,

Britain is dependent on US C17 aircraft and a delayed over-budget A400M European built plane for air support transport. Eurofighter Typhoon orders were cut back effectively depriving the RAF of both adequate air superiority capabilities and theTornado is now obsolete. The Sentinel airborne battlefield surveillance aircraft is due to be retired and there is no replacement in sight. The RAF has been emasculated as a fighting force in most of its roles.

The Navy which retains its Trident nuclear capability and its hunter killer submarines has the major strategic weapons capability. Delivery systems however are also aging Vanguard class submarines and with reduced capability i.e.configured with half the firing tubes compared to the original design capability.

It is little wonder that Russia brushed aside the UK as being of little consequence any more. It is true it isn’t: this is not to denigrate the quality of fighting troops but the woeful lack of quality transport equipment and helicopters was evident in the Iraq and Afghan deployments.

 

This review was an accountancy exercise and not a sober military assessment and is urgently in need of revisiting. There is little doubt that cyber attack and remote-controlled vehicles will be a major part of any future strategy, but the flawed assumption behind this limp and flawed review was to underestimate good old-fashioned threats to national security can come in both traditional forms as well as via conflict that requires a low-level, rapid deployment force. Expenditure on Defence is rarely a popular choice, but it is nevertheless essential as is a credible European capability. It is after all the first not the last duty of Government to keep its citizens secure, current policy fails on nearly any measure.

 

UK. Decline & Fall

JR Max Wheel

3rd. September 2013

The shock defeat of the UK Government’s Commons motion to intervene in Syria seems to have unnerved the political classes in the UK and the US. In its watered down format, it was not even seeking explicit approval to act. Public sentiment is against involvement as it is largely in the US and much of the EU. Any action is mainly symbolic, the supposed upholding of international law against a regime that appears to have little or nil restraint, although evidence, as always in war zones, is not conclusive. This is again ultimately a judgement call, The UN inspection regime is positively glacial and its leadership seems to have little urgency or guidance, nor will it do more than confirm the use of chemical weapons, without attribution as to who used them, which explains the impatience in the US. Another impending tragedy is the mass displacement of Syrian people, now estimated to be over 2m and more within its borders. Where is the UN urgency in driving a resolution to this regional mess, whether in Jordan, Lebanon or Iraq?

None of this standoff should actually be a surprise, as these issues stretch way back beyond the second Iraq War, Afghanistan and Britain’s now exhausted military, hobbled by poor long-term decision-taking and budget cuts. The historical trail leads at least back to the Great War settlement of Versailles, when the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire produced a plethora of double-dealing and confusion, especially from the French and British, all overseen by a still naive United States. As with many bad deals worked out by the “Great Powers” Versailles provided a succession of them in the Middle East, whose malign consequences are alive and well today. Palestine, the foundation of Israel, the frustrated cause of Arab nationalism and the division of Syria into pieces, part Lebanon, part Jordan and part old Syria. Its borders were arbitrary and its citizens an unholy mix of Druze, Alawite, Sunni, Shia, Christians and Jews. The Ba’ath party itself, a messy concoction of pan-Arabism and socialist and secular ideals flourished in both Iraq and Syria, but its idealism became rapidly splintered into factionalism. Unsurprisingly in the collapse of the United Arab Republic between Egypt and Syria, power passed to the Army in 1963 and then finally with the Assad coup of 1970, the rise of a tyrant, enshrining the new regime in a near one party State.  Syria under Assad Senior was a formidable and brutal mix of repression, nepotism and corruption, with the army involved in all aspects of Syrian life.

Much as in Iraq, the power vacuum resulting from removal of a demagogue creates the ideal conditions for the spree of reprisal killing and sectarian violence that marked the toppling of Saddam Hussein; a similar fate is equally likely in any post war Syria. The Assad dynasty aided and abetted by Russia, by supply of modern firepower is a cynical regional power ploy with Putin playing the same game of Great Power politics. Throw into this heady mix, regional meddling by the Iranian theocracy, an international extreme jihadist movement spread through the Maghreb, Yemen and beyond and it is easy to see why this is such an intractable and toxic brew. Trying to impose principles of international law or even curtailing the Syrian Government’s capability to inflict further misery on its people is a triumph of hope over experience. Whatever the “West” does will always have echoes of an imperialist past. Trying to bomb dictatorships to the negotiating table does not have a great record of success anywhere. The regional powers lined up are also in anything but their more normal configuration. Thus while Egypt has abstained; Turkey, Israel, most of the Emirates and Saudi Arabia are aligned against Assad, whilst Lebanon, Jordan, Iran and Qatar are against direct action.

Britain has seemingly now decided that it will not act, despite French agreement to do so. Whilst unusual, it may represent a more realistic assessment of our actual military capabilities as well as a more thoughtful approach to what happens next.  Whether or not the US and allies succeed in gaining any meaningful advantage from a proposed degrading of Syria’s capacity for war is disputed even by many in the US military, who rail at the naivety of more political posturing. Shades of 1919, a proxy regional war led by superpowers, couched  in the specious name of upholding a worthy principle, but likely to bring anything but peace.

How can Parliament reconnect with the public?

By Graham Reid

9th June 2013

A democratic nation needs a Government that has been elected by a positive vote of its people and NOT the distorted result of either a large protest vote or many not voting at all. The UK is currently at great risk of such distortion in 2015 unless MPs of all major parties reconnect with voters. This is not to say that minority parties (some gaining much new support from the disillusioned) are not valid. There is a place for them and they give a voice to those who feel forgotten.

Articles are now appearing tinkering with the details of MPs pay and conditions, the place of lobbyists in the overall scheme and the perils of minorities in power. However, I have yet to see anyone suggesting a larger reform to a system that would be both welcomed by the voters and attract suitable individuals to stand for election.

Very basic questions need to be asked not least because the current system is an anachronism that is falling apart at the seams.  For a start, the parliamentary system should resemble voters normal way of life, pay structure, behaviour, holiday entitlement and responsibility. Here are a few questions:-

Why do MPs only sit in the Commons for 135 days a year and then complain that there is not enough time to debate important legislation?

The USA has a population of 316m; the UK – 63m. The USA has 435 in their lower house and 100 in the Senate so why do we need 650 in the Commons and 763 in the Lords?

Why are “expenses” so easy to define and administer in UK corporate life but seemingly impossible in parliament?

Why is the behaviour of MPs in parliamentary debates and during Questions to the PM at a level that would not be tolerated in any school in the land let alone a serious company?

What is a reasonable salary for an MP who actually undertakes the duties and what higher reward should be given for extra responsibilities?

I would suggest that all parties agree to a full review during the course of the next parliament (2015 to 2020) with the new system being in place for 2020 onwards.

My suggestions, for inclusion in the debate are:

400 MPs plus 100 elected to an Upper House – boundary commission to define the constituencies.

MPs to work 52 weeks of the year with a week off at Christmas plus 5 other weeks holiday during the year to be taken as agreed with Party Whips (plus public holidays). Sound familiar to the rest of us?

House of Commons to sit 51 weeks of the year from 0930 to 1830 Tuesday Wednesday and Thursday, 1030 to 1930 on Mondays to allow distant MPs to arrive and 0830 to 1630 on Fridays to get home.

Constituency work will be undertaken on days and times agreed with Party Whips in advance when “pairing” will be in place for votes but at least 65% of MPs will be in the debating chamber at all times.

Expenses will be allowed as for employees for companies – i.e. wholly necessarily and exclusively in the course of duties undertaken upon production of receipts. This would include travel between constituency and Parliament as well as cost of overnight expenses on a pre-agreed scale (also on production of receipts).

Basic salary for an MP to commence at £100,000 pa increasing in bands for Junior Ministers, Chairs of Select Committees, Senior Ministers, Whips, Members of Cabinet, Secretaries of State up to £300,000 for the Prime Minister.

As the Speaker and party leaders appear totally unable to control the disgraceful behaviour of MPs, including Ministers, it would appear sensible to leave the current debating chamber as a museum, rather than lavish huge expenditure on the proposed modernisation, and use that sum instead to create a new chamber in say Westminster Hall with MPs sitting in a half circle facing the Speaker and his team rather than the confrontational face-off as at present. Of course, if adult behaviour was insisted upon and enforced, then the current chamber could continue!

These changes might give voters a sense of MPs “living in a part of the real world” and hopefully lead to some respect being accorded to them rather than the current total contempt

In the absence of agreement to a responsible change, I fear that current minority parties do not even need policies to ensure that their support in 2015 will at the very least “skew” the resulting composition of Parliament to the detriment of democracy and the good of the British people, They deserve better than that.