Tag Archives: House of Lords

Brown Hints at Constitutional Moves

A referendum on proportional representation to take over from first-past-the-post? A fully or mostly elected House of Lords/Senate? Could it be true?

The question it must boil down to though is – will this all be scuppered because it’s being presented by the wrong man? The tabloids will quickly discredit AV+ as the means by which Nick Griffin could enter the Westminster parliament, and I don’t see where the breakthrough will come in reforming the House of Lords. Robin Cook’s attempts at reform were all tragically rebuffed, and again – with a Prime Minister with so little authority, how is this going to make it through the House of Commons?

If this is going to work, Brown and his new Lord and Master Mandelson will have to realise the political focus has shifted from the expenses scandal and onto Brown himself. Handled wrongly both moves will look self-serving and will sadly (but understandably) be trashed. I’d say if both issues are genuinely now on the table, much will depend on who the messenger is. Ed Miliband’s turn to shine? Or Alan Johnson’s? And just what does Johnson think of ID cards and superdatabases?

Time For a Constitutional Revolution

Polly Toynbee has it exactly right:

Seize this moment to make real constitutional change, bring in proportional representation for the Commons, a fully elected Lords and clean party funding. It’s too late now for a fag-end government to command the power to do it. Hubris and the arrogance of a huge majority caused Blair to abandon reform in the early days. Now it would smack of last-gasp gerrymandering to save parliament’s sorry necks. But a formidable array of reformers is gathering to demand a referendum on the principle of PR and Lords reform to be added to the ballot paper at the next election. Let the people decide if they want to blow fresh air into parliament. It means ­coalition governments instead of de facto coalitions inside the shells of the old parties, whose sham unity disguises differences as wide as Alan Milburn on the right to Jeremy Corbyn on the left. Your vote should determine the colour of the coalition.

Voting reform must now be a top priority for anyone seriously claiming to represent the will of the British people. This lot have had opportunity after opportunity to reform themselves, but have conclusively blown it. Only PR and an elected House of Lords/Senate can now possibly bring this crisis to an end. I would personally prefer moves towards a written constitution, with the necessary constitutional convention bringing in all voices currently excluded from the political process into mainstream politics, but these two measures are surely needed as the barest minimum right now to get the people back on board the political process. The alternative, as George Monbiot shows, is more of the same:

Any politics that does not endorse the liberal economic consensus, which challenges the concentration of wealth or power, or which doesn’t accept that growth and consumerism can be sustained indefinitely, is off-limits. Just as the suffragettes were repressed because their ideas – not their actions – presented a threat to the state, the government and the police must suppress a new set of dangerous truths. By treating protesters as domestic extremists, the state marginalises their concerns: if people are extremists, their views must be extreme. Repression, in a nominal democracy, cannot operate accountably, so the state uses police units which are exempt from public scrutiny.

The potential to continue down this road to disaster remains: ID cards, governmental data sharing, precriminalisation, police behaving like unaccountable militias, superdatabases are all hanging over our heads as a means of ‘protection’, yet they do nothing of the sort – they perpetuate the attitudes which caused the economic collapse and led to the current political collapse. If we really are fed up with this drive towards ever more illiberal means of of control, the solution is obvious (and now perhaps politically unavoidable) – a decade-overdue constitutional revolution. It’s time for a new settlement to guarantee the right people in with progressive priorities, not the current, illiberal, dishonest rabble.

Govt Tries to Grab Power to Seize Passports

Plans to allow civil servants and private firms to seize passports without a court order violate the constitution, peers have warned.

The government wants to take passports and driving licences away from parents who refuse to pay child support.

It says it would only use the measures – contained in the Welfare Reform Bill – as a “last resort”.

But the Lords Constitution Committee fears bureaucrats and firms hired by them are gaining too much power.

(source)

A ‘last resort’ eh? How many times do we have to hear that, before the agency which has grabbed the power starts to abuse it with no checks at all? The Committee said:

“The freedom to travel to and from one’s country is a constitutional right of such significance that restricting this right as a punishment demands rigorous examination by an independent judge.”

The Committee, which is chaired by Tory peer Lord Goodlad and includes former Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf, expressed concern that the power to seize travel documents would also be available to private contractors hired by CMEC.

It said: “It would not be constitutionally appropriate for a third party to have decision-making power over who may leave the United Kingdom.

Indeed. But for a government which is hellbent on going ahead with ID cards, even when they can no longer afford to do so, are you surprised they have no such compunction?

Labour Sleaze? Alive And Well!

To use Obama’s terminology – this is a party on the wrong side of history. After the cash-for-honours scandal, we now have Labour peers accepting cash to change the law:

Four peers — including two former ministers — offered to help undercover reporters posing as lobbyists obtain an amendment in return for cash.

Two of the peers were secretly recorded telling the reporters they had previously secured changes to bills going through parliament to help their clients.

Lord Truscott, the former energy minister, said he had helped to ensure the Energy Bill was favourable to a client selling “smart” electricity meters. Lord Taylor of Blackburn claimed he had changed the law to help his client Experian, the credit check company.

Taylor told the reporters: “I will work within the rules, but the rules are meant to be bent sometimes.”

And this is the legislative chamber which ‘Justice’ Secretary Jack Straw says he’s so eager to reform, yet curiously never does. I wonder why that might be?

but the finding on Mr Straw took MPs by surprise.

The case relates to a donation of £3,000 from Cantaxx Energy, a gas company, to a Labour dinner held in Mr Straw’s honour in his Blackburn constituency in 2004. The firm was then seeking planning permission for an energy project elsewhere in Lancashire.

The committee found that Mr Straw not only failed to record the donation on the Register of Members’ Interests in 2004, but again in 2006 when it was drawn to his attention by Ben Wallace, a Tory MP, and again in 2007 when he was shown a copy of his declared donations that omitted the Cantaxx.

Draw your own conclusions.

The Brown Postmortem

Edward Timpson is now the Tory MP for Crewe and Nantwich and Brown is without much doubt finished. I believe he should be replaced by Alan Johnson, who made a big mistake in not running against him for the top job last year. Johnson is personable, comes across as reasonable, and has good political instincts, although whether anyone could stop the rot now is another question. First however the reasons why Brown has to go. Whilst rising prices and particularly fuel and energy prices are significant, they’re demonstrably not the root cause. Instead:

- He’s a co-architect of Iraq and not making moves to get out. Whilst his initial meeting as PM with Bush was frosty, that’s now completely changed to being similarly pally as Blair. There’s no doubt that’s because he plays a weak hand internationally and domestically, but he had an opportunity to differentiate himself fundamentally from Blair here and he missed it.

- He can’t say he’s going to work flat out to save us from the credit crunch when he engineered a core plank of it. Building Britain’s economic boom on credit was always going to come home and hit either him or a successor sometime – it was unsustainable. Now that conceit has been broken he can’t say its results are only down to international economics which he doesn’t have control over, because most people know better. It’s true that it was their fault for building their financial livelihoods on such a dreadful facade, but when the government practically screams ‘spend spend spend’ with cheap money, what else are you to do?

- He isn’t displaying any understanding of equality and how inequality has risen out of control during his and his predecessor’s runs. Not only does he have to reform the House of Lords and Westminster voting system (which he may yet do), but he has also to appreciate that the low paid will only take so many sucker punches to the head before returning the favour. The 10p tax rate was the last straw for enough people to knock Labour’s core support out entirely. He did a good job in 1997 with his windfall tax, taking massively excess profits from the public utilities – that was seen as fair and effective, yet he then stole from the pensioners, thinking he could get away with it. He couldn’t then, he can’t now.

- His Home Secretary is a monster. Whilst she is talking about encouraging the police to be more anti-social, Boris Johnson largely won an election on headline grabbing initiatives like the police carrying more metal detectors. I’m not saying I agree with either of them, but the current lot are criminalising people by reputation alone, committing horrific human rights abuses within the asylum system, trying to ratchet up the amount of time someone can be held by the police without charge and both screwing over the police and giving them free rein to stamp on even the most legitimate public demonstrations. Don’t get me started about ID cards…

- He’s now lost so much authority that his protege Wendy Alexander is now openly defying him and misrepresenting his position in Scotland. Reading between the lines it seemed the Scottish Labour leader decided to push for a referendum regardless of the damage it would do to Brown. At a time when he desperately needed to regain voter confidence in England it was insane to be in a position of having to defend the Union against one of his closest allies. She’s clearly not fit for the job, but he is also clearly not leading the larger Labour Party.

Of course he’ll stay, and whilst Alan Johnson would do better, and Parnell’s cooing Blairite mantras, the fact is Labour’s going to lose the next general election. They all know this, and it’s why none of them is currently trying to oust Brown – they’re looking to determine their post-Brown credentials now. And they’re all at it, just watch any given news report. There’ll be a cabinet minister not talking about what they are doing, they’re discussing what the government should be doing. And they could:

- tax the super rich again or take the poorest out of income tax entirely;

- implement some form of grand environmental policy gesture, like authorising HS2 or refusing the third Heathrow runway;

- walk away from ID cards and 42 days, although they can’t possibly get the police back under control, given Jacqui Smith’s blunder with their pay;

- reform the Westminster electoral system and the House of Lords, making Parliament more representative and accountable in a stroke;

But they won’t and people just think they’re incompetent. Billions have been thrown at the NHS, but the average experience of the health service hasn’t markedly improved. They said they would be ‘tough on the causes of crime’, but prefer to lock up harmless asylum seekers, attack the rights of protesters and most insidiously want to be in sole control of our identities. Is it remotely surprising that when the Tories present themselves in apposition to these positions, people choose to vote for them instead, regardless of their backgrounds? So there are some Old Etonians playing socialist-sounding policies – well there are a bunch of socialists who are enjoying the Tory high life too.

The most recent demonstration I photographed showed me in no uncertain terms just how political the next generation is, and that the current administration and they aren’t even on the same page, let alone speaking the same language. But ultimately it’s New Labour’s inherent timidity and authoritarianism, coupled with its fundamental tie to neo-liberal economics at a time when that system is fracturing, which is destroying it. Brown could even be true to his own personality for a change, and his popularity still wouldn’t recover; the basic infrastructure of New Labour is dead in the water.

Mehdi Kazemi Now Back in UK

It should quite frankly surprise noone that Mehdi Kazemi should have already been deported back to the UK without any mainstream British news agencies noticing at all, but he’s now here and a free man – at least as long as Home Secretary Jacqui Smith chooses to keep it that way of course. Her position is unchanged about reviewing his application, but until/unless the Home Office changes its policy of requiring additional information with which to change their minds about an asylum application, it’s hard to see what will change here. It’s also a serious concern that the Home Office’s ignorance on the plight of gay people Iran is so thorough and so unapologetic.

If we are to guarantee his safety, we must push as a international community, be we concerned gay bloggers or Conservative MEPs, and keep it politically impossible for Smith to send Mehdi back to a certain death. The Home Office’s most recently stated position was 18th March 2008 in the House of Lords and it’s one which should alarm everyone:

we are not aware of any individual who has been executed in Iran in recent years solely on the grounds of homosexuality, and we do not consider that there is systematic persecution of gay men in Iran.

 Keep his case as visible as possible and keep an eye here too.

 

And What Of Mehdi Kazemi?

He’s conspicuous by his absence, isn’t he? Mehdi Kazemi is still in Rotterdam, awaiting deportation back to the UK under the Dublin Treaty, where Home Secretary Jacqui Smith still hasn’t granted him asylum. It appears that a Dutch MP has secured a parliamentary debate in the Netherlands to take place tomorrow, because he doesn’t believe Jacqui Smith can be trusted with his safety. Given that their Dutch Supreme Court ruled that the Dublin Treaty supersedes Holland’s policy of not deporting gay asylum seekers back to Iran at all, it’s regrettable that his tactic looks likely to have little effect on the case, other than to lengthen Mehdi’s period of detention.

On the other hand, following on from a group of peers in the House of Lords publicly clamouring against his deportation to Iran and for an end to any deportations of asylum seekers to Iran, a group of MPs from all parties are doing likewise. Hopefully his support throughout the European Union will now make a deportation politically impossible for Smith, who has recently defended her department’s competence in this matter, despite its shortcomings, failings and institutional homophobia being widely acknowledged.

We should keep in mind as well the complicated attitudes which are driving the controversy about his fate. Scott Long of Human Rights Watch asserts that there have been no executions in Iran for just homosexuality since 2005. In this he is making the same two dangerous assumptions which George Galloway, Lord West of Spithead and others have made: that the Iranian theocratic regime can be believed when secondary charges like ‘child rape’ get added, and that the homosexuality of victims of Iranian state executions can’t be substantiated. This is a nonsense which even the Iranian regime doesn’t try to conceal, and which is well documented by Doug Ireland. And any of you still unsure about whether the famous executions of gay teens Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni (warning: link to strong images of their hanging) were based on any ‘legitimate’ grounds, please read this article. Why Long and especially the British Home Office can’t do such basic research themselves is beyond me.