Why a rhetoric of ‘parliament versus people’ is both dishonest and dangerous

Why a rhetoric of ‘parliament versus people’ is both dishonest and dangerous

Meg Russell

Having just read this valuable article, I decided that I must host it for the benefit of my followers. As Meg Russell points out, corrosive populism can undermine democracy as we are seeing in other countries. Instead we need our politicians to rebuild public trust in politics and not undermine it. Responsible political leaders will put the national interest, not their own self-interest, first and foremost.

Why a rhetoric of ‘parliament versus people’ is both dishonest and dangerous by Professor Meg Russell Posted on November 5th by The Constitution Unit UCL

Tensions over Brexit have led some public figures to adopt a narrative of ‘parliament versus people’. Such comments can be seen in the words of Boris Johnson and his ministers, and risk becoming a frame for the general election period ahead. But, Meg Russell argues, this is the language of corrosive populism, designed to exploit dissatisfaction with the institutions of democracy – and points to a dangerous path. In troubled times, it is the job of responsible politicians to seek to rebuild, not drive down, public trust in politics.

In a general election campaign, language can get heated. But words matter in shaping people’s perceptions, and can alter the public mood. One worrying recent development is the move by some senior politicians and campaigners towards adopting a rhetoric of ‘parliament versus people’ in narrating the UK’s Brexit drama. For months, it has been suggested that Boris Johnson wanted a general election based on that narrative, to boost his support as the man who can ‘get Brexit done’. Now that an election is happening, politicians and journalists should resist cloaking it in a ‘parliament versus people’ narrative. First because such language is dishonest, and more importantly because it could have dangerous long-term effects.

To be fair on Boris Johnson, he did not single-handedly create this framing of events – it could be argued that his predecessor kicked it off. Having been defeated twice on her Brexit deal in the House of Commons, Theresa May made an ill-tempered statement from Number 10 in which she sought to distance herself from parliament, pledging to the public that ‘I am on your side’. This language was widely criticised as potentially inflammatory. But its tone was mild compared to some recent statements. For example, after Johnston’s attempt to prorogue parliament for five weeks (in itself a divisive and troubling move) had been ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox suggested to the House of Commons that ‘This parliament is a dead parliament… [that] has no moral right to sit’. On another occasion, Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested that, by acting to block a ‘no deal’ Brexit, ‘parliament sets itself against the people’.

Starting with the dishonesty, in calling for an election Johnson has argued that parliament gave him no choice. In an early campaign video, he stated that ‘after three and a half years it was perfectly obvious… that this parliament is not going to vote Brexit through. There are too many [MPs] who are basically opposed to Brexit, who want to frustrate it’. But there are two reasons why such claims are disingenuous.

First, MPs actually approved the second reading of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill to implement Johnson’s Brexit deal. This meant that they agreed it in principle, and supported proceeding to detailed scrutiny. A large, complex bill of this kind – at 115 pages, and full of important detail with major consequences – would normally be scrutinised over weeks or months. For example Theresa May’s 62-page European Union (Withdrawal) Bill had 36 days parliamentary scrutiny in total, starting with 12 days in the Commons. While Johnson’s bill clearly needed to move quickly, external experts judged the three days of Commons scrutiny proposed by the government to be grossly inadequate. MPs’ rejection of the bill’s ‘programme motion’ was hence reasonable – and the government simply needed to offer additional time. Instead, Johnson moved straight to demanding an election (as he had done on two previous occasions in September). As former Conservative Chancellor Philip Hammond told the Radio 4 Today programme, ‘the government is trying to create a narrative that parliament is blocking Brexit and therefore we need an election. But that is simply untrue’. Many Conservatives clearly agreed.

The second difficulty with Johnson’s statement is the implication that it is opposition MPs, or ‘remainer’ MPs that are responsible for the length of the Brexit delay. As is well known, Johnson himself and various ‘hard Brexit’ supporters on the Conservative benches voted repeatedly against Theresa May’s Brexit deal. This helped to scupper the original exit day of 29 March. As explored in a previous post on this blog, several of those people now sit in Johnson’s Cabinet. Theresa May battled to get MPs to support her deal over months, but Johnson withdrew his just three days after they were first presented to the Commons. As another former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, Father of the House Ken Clarke, suggested: ‘following the ordinary principles of government, we would be well on our way to leaving in the middle of November’ had the bill not been dropped. Clarke, unlike Johnson, had voted for all Brexit deals put before the House of Commons.

So the ‘parliament versus people’ rhetoric can be seen as opportunistic, rather than driven by any clear imperative – it is designed to attract public support to Johnson’s position for electoral purposes. This is disreputable, and even sinister: again for two reasons.

A language of ‘the people against the elites’ is the hallmark of populism – a divisive approach, which seeks to sow the seeds of discontent with political decision-makers for electoral gain. The rise of populism around the world has been widely noted by academic and media commentators, with increasing concern. A populist approach is in essence antipolitical, making it difficult to reach the kinds of agreements that are necessary in complex societies. The diversity of views among ‘the people’ is glossed over, as are the challenges for politicians in meeting these complex demands. Instead, political actors and institutions are demonised, driving out compromise and mutual understanding.

As democratic theorist Nadia Urbinati has put it, ‘the trajectory of the populist leader starts with the attack against the political establishment… he has to go on humiliating the other state elites and institutions that obstruct his government, and attacking the checks and balances and independent institutions that limit his power’. Despite being written by a US political scientist, for publication in 2018, this seems to exactly describe Boris Johnson’s strategy. Urbinati tells us that ‘once elected, the leader feels authorized to act unilaterally and make decisions without meaningful institutional consultation’, which neatly predicts Johnson’s attempted five-week prorogation of parliament. Even the Supreme Court’s ruling that the prorogation was unlawful did nothing to temper the rhetoric of the Johnson administration, as shown by the comments from Geoffrey Cox above. Such approaches have clearly alarmed many Conservatives (and former Conservatives). As Rory Stewart has suggested, ‘If this great party stands for anything, it stands for respect for parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law… [Johnson] is tiptoeing on to a dangerous path. He is pitting… people against the parliament’.

A significant threat of populism is that it ultimately leads to the dismantling of democratic institutions, and of the proper checks and balances on executive power – as seen in regimes such as that of Viktor Orban in Hungary, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey. In other words, populism can lead to very dark places indeed. The UK may yet be some distance from that. But an immediate concern is that a populist language of ‘people versus parliament’ can serve only to drive down trust in our core political institutions. The populist twist in the language of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who launched his election campaign with a rhetoric of ‘people versus elites’ is also worrying – as some commentators have noted. But has at least not yet aimed its fire at core bodies such as the courts or parliament.

The legislature lies at the heart of any democratic system. It is, fundamentally, not possible to be a democracy without a functioning legislature. And any such body, as a representative institution, needs the consent of the public to be able to do its job. In the UK system, parliament can be seen as even more central than that. As the Supreme Court judgment set out, most agree that the core principle of the UK constitution is that of parliamentary sovereignty. This means that parliament is the most senior institution in our system of government, sitting above both the executive and the courts. For the executive to pit itself against parliament in such a system, where it has no independent electoral mandate and gains its authority from parliament, is to put its own legitimacy at risk. Parliament may not be perfect, but public support for our entire system hence rests on acceptance of its authority.

A rising antipolitical sentiment, seen in many countries around the world, coupled with declining attachment to political parties, and key events such as the MPs’ expenses crisis, have already been coupled with low levels of trust in political institutions. For example, the Hansard Society’s Audit of Political Engagement has seen a steady increase in the number of respondents saying that the present system of governing Britain could be improved ‘quite a lot’ or ‘a great deal’ – a figure which reached 72% in the 2019 Audit. The same survey found that 57% of respondents claimed the Brexit process had reduced their confidence in MPs. Another poll in September 2019 suggested that only 12% agreed that parliament ‘can be trusted to do the right thing for the country’ and just 10% that it ‘works well’.

Evidence such as this offers great temptations to populists, to exploit a negative public mood. But the proper reaction by responsible politicians is instead to work to maintain, and indeed enhance, trust in our political institutions. Johnson may hope to exploit the Hansard Society Audit’s most worrying headline finding – that 54% believe ‘Britain needs a strong leader willing to break the rules’. But that would be a disreputable and dangerous path. For the short-term gain of winning an election, further undermining of the long-term stability of British democratic institutions is far too great a price to pay.

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About the author

Professor Meg Russell is Director of the Constitution Unit, and a Senior Fellow at the UK in a Changing Europe studying ‘Brexit, Parliament and the Constitution’. She is also the co-author of Legislation at Westminster: Parliamentary Actors and Influence in the Making of British Law.

If you value this article, you may wish to subscribe or become a supporter of the UCL Constitution Unit https://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/

I am an author, writer and speaker. I give participative talks in communities, universities, schools and at conferences. My latest book is The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness If you like what you read in my Blog, please spread the word.

 

Why is the Democracy of the United Kingdom in such chaos and at such a low ebb?

Banging on the door

Black rod -Photography by Jessica Taylor, copyright UK Parliament.

Why has British politics fallen so low? This question has pre-occupied me for some time. Why do we not have the great leaders capable of addressing the existential challenges facing humanity?  There are many excellent MPs. On the other hand why are a so many MPs and government ministers clearly uninformed and unfit for their jobs? Why has the quality of our politicians deteriorated? There is no shortage of outstandingly able people. Why aren’t enough to politics? In this article I shall describe how far our democracy has fallen, the consequences for citizens and present the key arguments in A C Graylings article The Long Road Back that explain why it fell and how it can be retrieved.

 

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Successive governments over the past forty years have failed to tackle our systemic problems. Economic growth has been has not been equally shared. Income inequality and wealth inequality is now twice as high and rising. Labour’s share of the national income has fallen for nearly 40 years. A UN expert claims UK has violated its human rights obligations through sustained and widespread cuts to social support. The UK is the most regionally unequal country in the EU. 14 million people now live in poverty- 67% of whom live in working households. 5 million are estimated to be working in insecure jobs. Child poverty is rising – 1 in 3 children live in poverty. 5 million people have in insecure jobs. The housing crisis continues. Life expectancy has stagnated and homelessness has become an epidemic. Wealth is concentrated at the top: the richest 10% now own 45% of the country’s wealth; the poorest half of households own just 9%. Brexit is hitting the economy and will make it harder to address these challenges. (With acknowledgement to The New Economics Zine.

Growing anger with the failure of Westminster to change all this underlies much of the Brexit vote. In contrast with this, Jacinda Ardern, the enlightened prime minister of New Zealand has announced that wellbeing will be the organising principle of her country’s national budget.

 

The UK is deeply divided over Brexit. Not only are the nations and regions split; so are people within them. Families are split. It makes little sense when two opposing Ministers, MPs or members of the public express their views in a few minutes on radio news or television. We are left none the wiser, no more enlightened than before. Membership of the EU is too important to be treated superficially.

 

Feelings are strong. There is abnormal uncertainty about the future. It is not good for us. Many people are depressed and in despair. People are tired of Brexit and just want it over. Anger is becoming a dangerous epidemic. The Labour MP Jo Cox died after being shot and stabbed multiple times following a constituency meeting by a man apparently with far right views. Some women MPs have decided not to stand again. Others have asked to be escorted by police. MPs, some red in the face, shout at each other in the House of Commons. Much debate is a display of ideology and ignorance. Prime Minister’s question time is a display of nastiness, insults and evasion rather than sensible dialogue. Surely it is time to end this senseless performance. It serves no useful purpose. It must be said that this is in contrast to the useful proceedings in parliamentary select committees. Then there are the absurdities of the ancient rituals in that Gothic Parliament building, and the involvement of the monarch.

 

Boris Johnson must be the worst Prime Minister in living memory. We have a Prime Minister 0.13 per cent of the population voted for whose word cannot be trusted, and to quote Alastair Campbell’s article in the New European 31 October We’re still in the game…but boy, do own goals make it harder: “a liar, a charlatan, someone parading as a man of the people while pursuing a policy that will damage the lives of the poorest and weakest most”.  Why have we sunk so low?

 

A C Graylings article The Long Road Back casts considerable light on the matter. Here I shall an abridged version of his key arguments. He argues that when the Brexit issue is resolved, as well as addressing serious inequalities and injustices in our economy and society, there is a huge clean-up operation required in our political and constitutional order.

 

Whatever the outcome of the Brexit debacle – whether the UK leaves the EU or remains in it, or soon returns to it, or survives as ‘the UK’, or splits into two or three separate states – the debacle itself is already a mark of closure, an ending, to something that has been integral to one major stream of British self-identity. This was the lingering belief, after the end of empire, in the superior nature of everything British: The character of the people, the institutions of the state, the contributions made to world science, thought and culture, and the globally dominant English language itself.

 

The pride and pomp of the British in the heyday of empire did not last long. The phrase “lost an empire and not yet found a role” was on their lips. Entry to the EEC/EU saved the country’s economy and saw it flourish, and offered a new and significant role as one of the big three states in one of the big three blocs in the emerging new post-Cold War world, alongside the USA and China.

 

A mature and intelligent acceptance of this new role and its great possibilities seemed to have established itself at the beginning of the new century, as expressed by the success and confidence of the London Olympics in 2012. But alas, there was still too much rot in the floorboards, and British self-congratulation in the first decade of the 21st century had given a group of people in our political order – a fifth column from the past – the feeling that now was the time to reassert what they mythologised as the spirit of Britain in Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.

 

The ‘Eurosceptics’ in the Tory Party, soon and unexpectedly to be aided and abetted by the little rump of far-left Eurosceptics in the Labour Party, had been giving their own party leaders a great deal of trouble ever since the UK joined the then-EEC in 1973. Their power varied inversely with the number of Tory seats in the House of Commons. They succeeded in getting a Tory prime minister, David Cameron, leading a minority Tory party in the House of Commons and therefore in coalition, to commit to a referendum on continued EU membership.

 

There was no other reason for having such a referendum; it was purely an internal Tory party affair. The surprise win by the Tories in 2015 (gifted by the swing to the left of the Labour Party, away from the successful version of liberal-left social democracy created by Blair and Brown) cemented Cameron into carrying out that promise. However, very few things have a single, simple cause. The circumstances of the 2016 referendum, its nature, and its consequences, have multiple causes that jointly led to the stupefying mess in the country and its political and constitutional order that we are now in.

 

The Eurosceptics made good use of these other factors. They are as follows.

 

First, there was the policy from 2010 of austerity and the resulting large and rapid increase in inequality, which affected some areas of the country and economy much more drastically than others. This was a foolish and short-sighted policy that did not reduce national debt but caused harm to the social fabric and hardship for millions of individuals and families. Keynes had taught that you borrow and spend in a downturn, save and repay in an upturn; the Tories did the opposite.

 

Second, there was a series of bad mistakes and misjudgements by David Cameron and Ed Miliband, the leaders of the two main parties. Cameron’s mistakes were to offer a referendum, to introduce and enact a poorly designed referendum bill, to make a political promise to treat the result as mandating despite the fact that no referendum can trump the sovereignty of parliament, to regard himself as a lucky chap so there was no need to make much effort in campaigning to remain, and to assume that the country would not be stupid enough to vote to leave. Miliband’s mistake was to change the rules for Labour Party membership and for election of the leader in such a way as to make the party hostage to the least electable – and as it has proved, least effective – leadership since Foot.

 

Third, there is the quality of MPs after decades in the EU. Membership of the EU brought a degree of general consistency and equilibrium to the economies and states of the member nations, even taking into account the misguided austerity policies after 2010 in the UK itself. This has lessened the temperature of political debate in the UK, premised as it is (unlike most other EU countries) on a deeply adversarial style of politics.

 

That moderated, with a more temperate tone entering politics in the period between the end of Thatcher and the post-2010 coalition. But as a result, politics became somewhat less attractive to energetic, clever and ambitious people, with the result that – with some extremely honourable exceptions – the general quality of MPs is not nearly what it was.

 

Banal careerism, the unchallenged sway of the party whips, unthinking sound-bite ideas as the staple of political discourse, the fact that literally hundreds of MPs in the Tory party can support a profoundly unfit person such as Boris Johnson in the office of prime minister – this is a mark of serious decline in quality of those elected to the legislature. Add to this the nature of party machines – so inflexible that in the Labour Party (for example) a deeply unpopular, ineffective, electorally toxic leader such as Corbyn can remain in the position of leader in the face of every indicator that he should be replaced – and one sees that ossification in the country’s political structures invites much blame.

 

Fourth, there is the innate fragility and dysfunction of the UK’s outdated and ramshackle constitutional order. The uncodified constitution – ‘a series of understandings that no-one understands’ – is very convenient for any party that commands a majority in the House of Commons, because they can do whatever they like, always getting their agenda enacted and controlling the business of the House of Commons itself.

 

Among many other problems, this is the result of a key fault of the UK constitution, which is that there is no separation of powers between the legislature (parliament) and executive (the government – meaning, the cabinet and prime minister). In normal circumstance the government is drawn from the majority in the House of Commons, which means that the government controls the House of Commons through the whipping system of party control. Instead of holding the government to account, therefore, parliament is in effect the creature of the government, and does what the government wants.

 

This situation was accurately described as “elective tyranny” by a British Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham and concluded that the system was unsafe: governments which control the legislature have unlimited powers to do what they like.

 

This is as true today as it was when he wrote it. This is dangerous enough in itself; but now consider what happens when a clique – say, Eurosceptics – come to exercise power over the government in respect of crucial decisions such as EU membership, holding the government hostage to their demands. The clique controls the executive, the executive controls parliament, parliament is absolute in its powers: The clique is the tail that wags the entire dog. So long as those in office are mature, intelligent and honourable men and women, they will act with restraint, and resist the pressures to wield the absolute power they have; this is what John Stuart Mill saw as the chief means of maintaining ‘constitutional morality’ in the state. But obviously, when people of lower quality, less integrity, less intelligence and less honour populate these offices of state, danger looms. And that danger has burst upon us in the form of Brexit.

 

Every referendum held in the UK since the Irish unification referendum ……(and referendums should not happen in a representative democracy) has been held on a different basis. Lack of clarity and consistency in important events such as these is the mark of an unstable and fragile constitution. The doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty is very uneasily challenged by referendums: the latter raise the question – Which is the authority in the state – elected representatives with a duty to be informed and to act in the interests of all, or an opinion poll of people many of whom are casting their vote on the basis far more of emotion than information?

 

One of the major scandals of the 2016 referendum is that its outcome has never been debated in parliament. The question, ‘Shall we take the advice of 37% of the electorate to take an enormous, uncosted, unplanned and unpredictable step?’ has never been debated and voted upon in our sovereign state body.

 

And finally on this fourth point, we need to recall that our hopelessly undemocratic first past the post electoral system lies at the rotten core of these arrangements. It disenfranchises the majority of voters, turning them off politics. It puts majorities into the House of Commons on minorities of the popular vote. It entrenches two-party politics, in which elections produce one-party government by turns – with the foregoing ‘elective tyranny’ resulting. It is a mess, and reform is urgently needed.

 

Fifth, there is the availability of powerful new ways to practice the old tricks of spin and propaganda: Social media – which allows careful targeting of messages to identified groups which only they see, so that others cannot contest the messages and correct misinformation. This was a significant factor in the outcome of the 2016 referendum, as claimed by Dominic Cummings and Cambridge Analytica themselves. Some 37% of the electorate was persuaded by these means to vote in favour of a blank proposition with no plan, no impact assessments, no costings, no road map and no set of policies attached to it, an astonishing achievement when you think about it: A perfect con, the sale for a very high price of a tatty paper bag with an unknown thing – or nothing – in it.

 

Put all the foregoing together and you see that the UK is in a woeful state, and once the Brexit debacle has been cleared up – I hope and expect by being stopped – there is a huge clean-up operation required in our political and constitutional order, in addition to addressing the serious inequalities and injustices in our economy and society. The slogan we need to be shouting from the housetops is not just “STOP BREXIT” but also “REFORM”. If we are still in the EU when we do this, we can expect a double benefit – all the good of continued membership, and with it greater stability, transparency and common sense in the governance of our own state. If we are (temporarily) outside the EU, we need to get rid of the rot in the floorboards of our constitutional order in order to construct the mature, intelligent and responsible governance required to get us back on track.

 

We in the UK have skated on very thin political and constitutional ice for a long time; the wealth and prestige of empire, the nostalgic dream it left behind, the self-deceptions and illusions of those who could not see how good a future was developing for us as a leading nation in Europe, made us unaware of the danger. We have fallen through that ice, and the bitterly cold waters we now flounder in must at last wake us up.

 

This is my summary of what needs to be done:

 

Re-imagining Democracy A Collaborative Democracy

  • A written Constitution
  • A Citizen-led Convention to determine the Constitution .
  • Parliament to be the principal decision-making body of Government
  • First Minister as head of Government elected by Parliament as a whole
  • Proportional representation for national, regional and local government
  • 50:50 representation for women and proportionate representation for Black, Asian and ethnic minorities.
  • Devolution of power from Westminster to regions, local government and communities – the principle of subsidiarity
  • An elected reviewing chamber representing the regions.
  • Total recall for all elected politicians
  • A cap on individual funding and complete disclosure
  • End the so-called “revolving door”
  • Votes from age 16
  • The Rights of Future Generations to be recognised
  • Strengthen the powers of the Electoral Commission

Re-imagining Political Leadership.

  • Compassionate – compassion is the most important factor in making decisions
  • A servant leader
  • Presence rather than charisma
  • Enabling – a leader of leaders
  • Getting the whole system into the room, involving all stakeholders, using Citizens Conventions in making change
  • Far-sighted
  • Strategic
  • Collaborating to bring about change
  • From Heroes to Hosts
  • Modelling good leadership for others such as valuing difference, non-violent communication and listening
  • Able to unite a highly talented team as Clement Attlee did
  • Internationalist – wanting all nations to flourish. Peacemakers
  • Inclusive, involving diverse people in creating a vision for the future. Standing for diversity
  • Integrity – truthful, values based, able to admit mistakes, putting national interest rather than party interest first
  • Not engaging in silly point scoring

 

If you want to change things for the better, here are some campaigns to support:

Campaigns to Stop Brexit: Another Europe is Possible, European Movement UK, People’s Vote Campaign, Scientists for EU, Remainer Now.

Campaigns for political reform: The Young People’s Party, For our Future’s Sake, Our Future Our Choice, UK Youth Parliament, Compass-The Progressive Alliance, The Electoral Reform Society , Citizens Assembly Project, Unlock Democracy, Make Votes Matter, Counting Women In, 50:50 Parliament, Women’s Equality Party, Voice4 Change, People’s Vote.

I am an author, writer and speaker. I give participative talks in communities, universities, schools and at conferences. My latest book is The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to GreatnessIf you like what you read in my Blog, please spread the word.

 

 

“Brexit is the will of the British people” is complete nonsense

This mantra is clever propaganda but complete nonsense. We are duped.

Boris

Getty image.

It’s a lie that needs to be contradicted firmly in Parliament and the news media including television. The facts are that of those who voted, only slightly more than half voted for leave. 51.9% voted for Brexit and 48.1% voted for Remain. However only 37% of the 46 million registered electorate voted for Brexit. Almost 13 million people did not vote at all. The UK as a whole is deeply divided: Scotland, Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK being in favour of Remain. There is an age divide: the younger you are the more likely you are to want Remain; the older you are the more likely to want Leave. It is the young whose future is most at stake. Yet 16 to 17 year olds, large numbers of whom were in favour of Remain, were denied the vote.

The referendum process was flawed. Senior politicians and many newspapers were irresponsible and lied. Dodgy financing and misuse of the internet were involved. A proper referendum on such an issue would require a super majority of say two thirds. But a referendum was inappropriate for such a complex issue.

Only now are the full damaging consequences of leaving the EU clear. Over three years after the vote, we have the benefit of full information and a greater understanding of the complexities of the issue, especially the economic consequences for Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the danger to the Good Friday Agreement. It is therefore appropriate to hold another people’s vote requiring a super majority for any decision.

A useful way of reaching consensus on complex issues such as membership of the European Union is the Citizens’ Assembly. We know that Brexit was a symptom of discontent. Put ordinary voters from both sides in a room and they may talk, listen and find a superior solution to the underlying issues. Such a process needs to be used in Parliament, instead of old-fashioned adversarial debate. People need to listen to each other. Consensus decision making is needed.

If you agree with me, please use your people power to lobby your MP or candidate and use social media.

I give participative talks on the big issues facing us. My most recent book is The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness  was Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016. Professor Katherine (Kathy) J. Willis, CBE, Principal of St Edmund Hall and Professor of Biodiversity, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford said I am greatly enjoying it; you write beautifully”.

Why we need a written constitution

Things are falling apart. Brexit has shown us that we need a Democratic Revolution

Mogg

AFP PHOTO / Anna Turley MP via Twitter

The infamous scene of Jacob Rees-Mogg, Leader of the House, lying asleep on the front bench symbolised the contempt Government is showing for Parliament and MPs.

 

Summary Basically there is a battle between the Executive and Parliament. It is a fight to protect the sovereignty of Parliament. It is an outrage that Johnson was put in office by 0.14 per cent of Britain’s population. I shall include Will Hutton’s arguments for a written constitution, summarise Unlock Democracy’s, quote some of Lisa Nandy MP’s address on Compassion on Line and finally summarise my own proposals for constitutional reform.

 

The Case for a New Written Constitution.

 In his article, The sheer scale of the crisis facing Britain’s decrepit constitution has been laid bare , Will Hutton exposes the weaknesses of an unwritten constitution. Here I summarise his key arguments.

 

Whoever commands a majority in parliament today too easily collapses into a highly centralised executive acting dictatorially ….and becomes toxic if that dictatorial dimension becomes legitimised by the “will of the people” in a referendum. It is only unwritten, uncodified understandings that protect the body politic from regressing to government with minimal checks, balances and accountability. They depend upon a political class that, whatever its differences, accepts common rules of the game, especially making sure that any recourse to direct democracy by referendum is firmly subordinated to rule by parliament. But the idea of common rules has been exploded by the passionate Brexiter conviction that their referendum victory empowers them to use any ruse available to achieve their goal, even a no-deal Brexit, against the scrutiny of a “Remain” parliament.

 

Proroguing parliament to avoid parliamentary scrutiny of a no-deal Brexit may have been an intolerable abuse of power, and an affront to democracy, but in Britain it is constitutionally possible. Despite the threats of judicial review and court actions, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to challenge.

 

No super-majority was required for this fundamental change in Britain’s relationship with Europe. There were no requirements for Leave to spell out its case, the policing of how money was raised was feeble and there were no sanctions for outright misrepresentation.

 

Countries that use referendums a lot have elaborate rules for how they are conducted, Switzerland and Ireland, for example. In Britain, typically, there are no pre-agreed rules, just ad-hoc legislation arising from the particular power conjuncture of the day.

 

What is happening is the culmination of a right-wing coup that has deployed the weakness of Britain’s constitution to drive through toxic, divisive change, the manipulated will of the people trumping representative democracy.

 

To win then and now, those in favour of EU membership needed to recognise they had to trump the narrative of an undemocratic Europe by recognising more profound democratic failings at home. Remain instead found itself the advocate of a hard-to-justify status quo; an archaic state, a decaying democracy and rampant social inequality inflamed by fears of immigration. Leave was allowed to blame it all on the EU – cover for their ultra-right-wing ambitions.

 

A wholesale change of mind set was needed. Remain should have stood for a re-democratised Britain that put power in the hands of the people and for transformative economic and social change that would make Britain better, not worse. To leave the EU, it should have said, would be to abandon that prospect.

 

The Annual Report of Unlock Democracy

 

The Annual Report of Unlock Democracy makes valuable reading. Their polling found that there is a huge gap between what people of the UK want from their democracy and what they get.74% of people think Britain needs a written constitution. 66% agreed that the old way of doing politics no longer works. 58% think Britain’s system of government doesn’t work. They outline the way forward. This included building a movement to raise awareness, a Parliamentary process, a Constitutional Convention and implementation. They will be publishing a new pamphlet Building a New Democratic Settlement in Autumn 2019. There is a crisis of confidence in our current political settlement. Most people, 63 %, (Audit of Political Engagement, 2019 ) believe the system is rigged to advantage the interests of the rich and powerful. 68 % feel that none of the main political parties speak for them (Hope Not Hate, 2019 ).

 

Meanwhile there is the existential threat of the climate crisis. We are more concerned about global warming than ever before. Some 85% of respondents to a recent survey registered their concern around climate change, while 52% noted that they are ‘very concerned’. The United Kingdom became the first nation to officially declare an environmental and climate emergency in May. This measure was a great symbolic victory, with Extinction Rebellion achieving only one of its three initial demands.

  1. Tell the truth Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
  2. Act Now Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
  3. Beyond Politics Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice

 

Yet, while a useful step, this sadly does not legally require that the government take any particular action on climate change. Surely such a requirement must be part of our written constitution.

Climate and environmental protection. Caroline Lucas MP has made clear to Chancellor, Sajid Javid, that there should be at least a doubling of spending on climate and environmental protectionInstead there was almost nothing – another £30m for decarbonisation schemes.  If the Government were serious about tackling the crisis, they would have announced a Green New Deal and a mass programme of zero-carbon housing.

Unlock Democracy’s Proposals

This is a shortened version of their proposals

We need a New Constitution.

 Right now, most people don’t think politics works for them. Decisions are too often made for people and communities, not with them. At every election we replace politicians, but the old way of doing things stays in power.

Together, we want to rewrite the UK’s entire political system. Instead of Westminster handing down instructions, communities have more say over their futures. Instead of serving the interests of corporations and the super-rich, politicians could work in the public interest.

We’re building a movement of people who will convince politicians it’s time for a new national founding document. This new constitution, written by and for the people, say what the government can do in our name. The process of writing it will let us decide which of our rights need extra protection, and how the different parts of the UK will work together in the future. If we want a fairer society, we need to start with a fairer political system.

Today, it’s hard to make our voices heard in politics, but if we’re united, we can win the change needed to make it work for us, just like when our ancestors won the vote for everybody.

 

To end the political crisis we need a new constitution. We want a new constitution for the UK that replaces the unwritten, Westminster system of gentlemen’s agreements.

The constitution would:

  • Set out the rules for how the Westminster parliament and government works, and what they can and can’t to.
  • Set out how Westminster deals with the governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • Secure citizens’ rights so that they can’t be overruled by the government of the day with a majority of one.

The details would be decided by a citizen-led constitutional convention, and be put to the public to endorse. We believe this process is critical to rebuilding trust in our politics, and permanently rebalancing power so all of us have more say.

 

What is a constitutional convention?

A constitutional convention is where a group of people meet with the express purpose of writing a new constitution or revising an existing one. They have met in Iceland after the financial crash, and recently in Ireland to consider big changes such as legalising abortion.

Unlock Democracy wants to see a citizen-led convention, given the access to experts and the resources needed to do the job.

How it works

Members of the convention should be randomly selected citizens and should be representative of the UK’s population. Public debate, discussion and consultation should be widespread. There should be a maximum of 200 people in the convention. It should provide ample opportunities for individuals or groups to present their perspective and/or provide evidence throughout the process. Any proposals about the future of the UK should also have a majority of each national group within the convention.

Once the process has finished, we want to see the new constitution put to a referendum.

 

What difference would it make?

Protecting our rights

MPs can take away our rights at any time with a majority of one, and there’s no real limit to what the government can do in our name.

  • In 2016, MPs passed the Investigatory Powers Act, “The most intrusive surveillance law ever introduced in a democratic country” according to Liberty.
  • In 2018, a small majority of MPs voted to scrap a swathe of our rights in the EU Withdrawal Act. Politics isn’t done with us, it’s done to us. It’s time for us as a nation to decide what our fundamental rights should be, and protect them from over-zealous governments.

 

Letting communities decide local services

The UK is one of the most centralised countries in the developed world. Councils and communities have very little say in how much money they raise to spend on local services.

For the last 8 years, Westminster has forced Councils to impose enormous cuts to local services. Without proper powers to raise money from elsewhere, local government increasingly has few genuine choices to make. Libraries have been closing across the UK, while schools and social services are under unprecedented pressure.

We want to see a system where instead of Westminster passing down orders, communities and citizens have a genuine conversation about local needs, with the powers needed to deliver.

 

Here I quote from Lisa Nandy MP’s inspirational talk (with thanks to Compassion on Line ). “We have allowed our institutions – parliament, political parties, the media, technology – to encourage the worst of humanity. But there in Ireland, as Seamus Heaney captures in those short lines, is hope flickering back to life. For all the signs we have reached the end of representative politics, I think we have merely reached the limits.

 

We need power, more accountable, and much closer to home. Electoral systems that bring in new voices rather than just shut them out. New democratic tools, like citizen’s assemblies, that create both tables and bridges. Power in the media dispersed across the country …….so the agenda is no longer set by a narrow few who live and work together in similar experiences and with similar backgrounds.

 

Even those tools that seem at present to divide us, offer hope. Social media has brought a range of voices to the fore but in that roar of noise people are encouraged to move to extremes to be heard. Our traditional media has followed suit. We have mistaken the debate online for a real debate anchored out there in our communities, and become adrift from the voices, grievances and potential in those places.

 

But it could be different.

 

It needs regulation…..to revolutionise a system in which technology is developed by a small number of private individuals, who can direct its ends. It should be a national priority. Because the potential it offers is enormous.….. Above all, able to do away with the greatest tragedy of our era. The centuries old waste of human talent that we wouldn’t or couldn’t use. Utopia? Why? If as I’ve said all along the universe is at any time what you say it is, then say. This is the new settlement of which I think might start to live up to an Attlee settlement for this next era. “Because “socialists” he said “are not concerned solely with material things. They do not think of human beings as a herd to be fed and watered and kept in security. They think of them as individuals co-operating together to make a fine collective life. For this reason socialism is a more exacting creed than that of its competitors. It does not demand submission and acquiescence, but active and constant participation in common activities.”

And this is where the hope lies. For all of the anxiety, anger, and despair that characterises modern times out there is better, if we seek build it. For all the efforts to divide us those values of tolerance and decency that point to a plural, diverse, open country are alive and well. We feel that we are greater than we know. We have learnt in recent years that progress is not inevitable and that the arc of history does not always bend to the left. If we want a hopeful, open, confident country we must build the institutions that allow us to create it the only way we can-together. In the end, our best hope is each other.”

 

Re-imagining Democracy A Collaborative Democracy

The sensible way forward is to collaborate for change – not to divide ourselves in opposition but find common ground by Consensus Design ).  

 

Here is a summary of my proposals;

  • A written Constitution
  • A Citizen-led Convention to determine the Constitution.
  • Parliament to be the principal decision-making body of Government
  • First Minister as head of Government elected by Parliament as a whole
  • Proportional representation for national, regional and local government
  • 50:50 representation for women and proportionate representation for Black, Asian and ethnic minorities.
  • Devolution of power from Westminster to regions, local government and communities – the principle of subsidiarity
  • An elected reviewing chamber
  • Total recall for all elected politicians
  • A cap on individual funding and complete disclosure
  • A fully empowered Electoral Commission
  • End the so-called “revolving door”
  • Votes from age 16
  • The Rights of Future Generations to be recognised*

*The importance of this is eloquently expressed in fourteen year old William Wale’s article Time to listen to UK’s youth  .

(Main sources Green Party and Electoral Reform Society )

 

For more, see my blog post Re-imagining Politics – A Collaborative Democracy

To take action, support organisations campaigning for democratic reform: Make Votes Matter, Compass-Together for a good society, Electoral Reform Society, The Citizens Assembly Project, Constitutional Convention, Unlock Democracy, Counting Women In, 5050 Parliament and Voice4 Change.

 

If you like what you read, please spread the word and use Twitter or Facebook.

 

Bruce Nixon is an author, writer and speaker. He gives participative talks in communities, universities, schools and at conferences. His latest book is The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness 

 

Review and Synopsis of Brexit without the Bullshit – By Gavin Esler.

Brexit without the Bullshit

Review and Synopsis of Brexit without the Bullshit – By Gavin Esler.

Gavin Esler is a Scottish journalist, television presenter, author and Chancellor of the University of Kent.

 The book Nigel Farage doesn’t want you to read. Published by the Canbury Press and available from Blackwell’s.

 

This is an account of the damage Brexit has already done, continues to do and will do to Britain and its people especially in the worst case scenario of a no deal unless we stop it. A highly readable book, of 172 pages, packed with information, it offers a thorough and well-researched analysis.  Reading this book, at first I felt depressed. Then angry. That made me determined to publish this review and synopsis. It’s the least I can do.

 

Britain has long been admired for its institutions, its universities, enterprise, arts and culture. Many foreign leaders have studied here. Hitherto it has been a tolerant multi-cultural society though a lot of abusive, even violent behaviour has been let loose since Brexit emerged. It has enjoyed soft power, able to punch above its size. Despite its out-dated democracy, people can protest without being imprisoned, tortured or shot. We have a free, though predominantly right-wing, press, much of it a poor source if you wish to be well-informed. Britain has been seen as a good place to do business and a place to “get on”. It has a long history of migrants coming here and making valuable contributions.

 

Britain is a representative democracy. We elect MPs to make decisions on our behalf. Yet David Cameron called a referendum which produced an almost equally divided result. It also divided the United Kingdom and divided the people. Importantly, for many people it was an opportunity to express their anger at Westminster for having failed to address their concerns for over a generation, the failure to rebuild the economy outside London. Leave won by 51.9% to 48.1% and the UK as a whole is now deeply divided. Instead, Citizens’ Assemblies and Constitutional Conventions provide useful ways of bringing people together, getting to the root of discontents, reaching consensus and deciding the way forward.

 

Now our government and parliament are seen as incompetent, a laughing stock. We have lost the respect of other nations. Our place in the global world is small. Our soft power diminished. Throughout the world Prime Minister Boris Johnson is regarded as a sad joke. Many business leaders no longer see the UK as a good place to do business and are moving elsewhere or shifting parts of their business to EU countries. We have been misled and hijacked by a group of selfish, ambitious people ignorant of the facts, and likely consequences of Brexit, careless of the truth, unconcerned about the future of young people and those who will suffer most.

 

Leadership. Our country is full of inspiring, visionary leaders in all walks of life, people who create great initiatives and are essentially servant leaders. But, partly because of the flaws in our out-dated unwritten constitution, they are not represented at the top of levels government. Thus far no great political leaders have emerged capable of putting the nation’s interests first and getting us out of this mess. That does not mean they are not there. We have a narcissist Prime Minister, full of bluster but light on truth and competence, elected by 92,153 members of the Tory Party or 0.13 percent of the population. How could a democratic constitution produce such a result? Many people are in despair.

 

Benefits from EU Membership It is important to understand the benefits Britain and other EU countries gain from membership and the financial contributions we make. This Commons Library briefing looks at the funding received by the UK from EU institutions and considers the implications of Brexit on the EU as a source of funding for regional development, agriculture support, research and innovation and other areas. The EU funds its economically disadvantaged regions . The EU spends a fifth of its budget on “regional development”: That’s €200 billion to support universities, roads, businesses, banks and more. This analysis shows how the European Union’s regions benefit from EU funding.

 

Chapter by Chapter

The Facts on Food, Health and the NHS, Our Money and Our Jobs and Our Children’s Education. Frequently I shall paraphrase Gavin Esler’s text.

 

Chapter 1: Brexit & Our Food

Britain imports more food than it produces. Half our food comes from other countries, 30% from the EU. Depending on the form of Brexit, our food will become more expensive. Tariffs at borders will not help get fresh food onto the shelves. We are already suffering a shortfall of seasonal workers, 12.5 % by 2017, as a result of Brexit related uncertainty, “Brexodus”, and the fall in the value of the pound. Our farmers export a lot of food to EU countries, especially meat. It is fantasy to imagine that we can easily negotiate trade deals with countries such as the USA. But most importantly in a warming world, it is vital that we cut “food miles”. So it is better to buy from nearby Europe when possible. Of course there are flaws in the EU policy of subsidising large farmers most (95% goes to the wealthiest farmers). The EU policy of registering only a few varieties of seeds for sale reduces food diversity. That endangers food security . The fishery policy makes no sense to many fishermen. We need to be at the table and press for reform.

 

Food poverty. The continuing slide in the pound means higher prices that will affect the poorest citizens most severely. Food inflation hit a five-year high of 2.5% in 2019, partly as a result of bad weather. The Trussell Trust runs 400 food banks but the total may be around 2000 and users may be half a million. 10% of children in UK are living in severe food uncertainty. Higher prices will lead to more hungry families and more hungry children unable to concentrate at school. Certainly we could and should produce more of our own food but not all of it. We need variety.

 

British shoppers have benefitted from low taxes on goods from other EU states and trade deals made by EU negotiators with countries such as Japan which would otherwise have taken years. It is folly to think that we, a small country, could rapidly replicate these, to the same high standards as in the case of food, on our own. Do we really want chlorinated chicken, GM crops, industrial agriculture, with its reliance on synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation that has come at a cost to the environment and local communities.

 

Chapter 2: Brexit and the NHS

“We send the EU £350 million a week” written on the side of a bus as if this might be available for extra spending on the NHS when we left the EU was a big untruth. It took no account of all the payments currently made by the EU for the support of agriculture and scientific research and much more. More reliable figures are here .

Two thirds of us would be prepared to pay more for a better NHS .

 

However these figures are just part of the total picture. There is unhappiness in UK with the services we receive, long delays and the shortage of hospital beds. Bed crises are unknown in Germany. The UK has fewer than three beds per 1000 citizens whereas Germany has eight and France six. We are being squeezed. The NHS is at the top of the league of efficiency and in 11 advanced countries and its resilience and efficiency are outstanding. But because of Brexit the economy is being squeezed. From having the highest growth rate in the G7 we have slipped to the lowest and productivity has suffered, much of this as a result of Brexit uncertainty. This means the money available to fund the NHS is less and health care funding is likely to come from a shrinking cake.

 

Drugs The post-referendum drop in the pound has made importing pharmaceuticals more expensive. The NHS is the biggest byer of drugs in the world. That means it can drive a hard bargain but the cost of drugs is rising above inflation. A fall in the pound makes drugs more expensive if they are not available in the UK. The book gives details of where various drugs come from many of which come from the EU. Supplies could be held up at the border if we are outside the EU.

 

Staff shortages Long waiting times caused by staff shortages and lack of facilities are a key concern. So is a lack of social care. Some 10% of staff come from the EU. The author gives Homerton University Hospital as an example. Motivated staff from all over the world happy working together. Staff comment on enjoying working with people from around the world. The NHS is proud of its diversity. Since Brexit, staff are harder to find. Many have returned to Europe.

 

Patients waiting more than four hours to be treated in NHS Accident and Emergency units in England rose from 353,617 in 2010 to 2,778,687 in 2018. The NHS employs around 1.7 million people, 1.2 million in England. It is unclear to what extent staff shortages are attributable to Brexit as opposed to the policy of “austerity” and an incoherent approach to workforce policy at a national level, poor workforce planning and inadequate training places.

 

Social care 400,000 people live in adult social care homes. Finding caring people to work in 11,000 adult care homes has never been easy. Pay is low. In 2018 the vacancy rate in the 1.4 million jobs was 6.6%.  And the Nuffield Trust calculates that by 2025-6 we may be short of as many as 70,000 care workers if migration of unskilled workers is halted or seriously disrupted. Post-Brexit, the situation may be even worse. If EU workers are replaced they will have to come from Asia or Africa or wages will have to be substantially raised.

 

The cost of medicines. There is considerable information about the damage already done and what more we stand to lose here. Briefly, the European Medicines Agency has already quit London. Financing for the NHS from European sources will dry up. UK will be less attractive to launch new medicines and their availability in UK could be delayed. Brexit will harm the UK’s European and global leadership in health. US Big Pharm will see opportunities to “invade” the NHS and remove barriers such as and the independence of NICE (National Institute for Health Care Excellence.  Nigel Farage’s statements about moving from a tax-payer funded NHS to private health insurance are noted. Finally, under the withdrawal agreement reciprocal health care arrangements will end after 2020 and those of us who travel to Europe will need private health insurance.

 

Chapter 3: Brexit, Our Jobs & Our Money

“Brexit has profoundly affected our money, our family finances, our jobs, our economic security and our future prosperity since 2016”. The drop in the value of the pound is only part of it. The actual or looming departure of manufacturers, entrepreneurs, financial services and other employers has done lasting damage to the UK economy, jobs, businesses and capacity to innovate all pointing to a poorer Britain. How can a responsible government allow this and indeed help it happen?

The Jobs Lost Index estimates that from June 2016 to April 2019, 218,839 jobs have been lost due to Brexit and annual wages lost add up to £6.27 bn. Losses in annual income tax and national insurance amount to 1.8 bn. Top of the list of job losses by region are Midlands, London, South West Wales and North East in descending order. Sectors in the same order are Auto, Transport, Food and Drink, Finance and Construction. “Just in time “supply chains are part of it”.

 

Britain is poorer. We were seen as a land of opportunities. EU citizens working here bring value and put in more than they take out. They are not a drain. It is estimated they bring a net contribution of £78,000 to the exchequer over a lifetime. Predictions that Brexit would make us poorer were right. Altogether we are poorer than we would have been had it not been for Brexit. And any form of Brexit is likely to make us poorer still. GDP grew 2.3 % in 2015. In 2018 it fell to 1.4%. The London School of Economics estimated that since June 2016, the economy lost 2% of expected GDP, or £40bn per year, £800m per week – more than twice the £350 claimed on the side of the bus. We live in the world’s fifth largest economy but one fifth of its population (14 million people) live in poverty and 1.5 million of them experienced destitution in 2017. Close to 40 % of children are predicted to be living in poverty by 2021. Philip Alston, the UN’s poverty expert said “sustained and widespread cuts to social support” are “in clear violation of the country’s human rights obligations”.

 

Chapter 4: Brexit & Our Children’s Education

British schools and educationalists see problems ahead. Language teaching is important if we wish to be Global Britain. GCSE language learning courses have dropped by up to 50% since 2013.Germanand French have fallen most. Britain has a worldwide reputation for education. We have some of the best universities and schools in the world. This is part of soft power. Visitors generate 200,000 jobs in university towns and students and their visitors spending generate 25.8bn gross output in the UK and £10.8bn export earnings.

Teachers Membership of the EU has allowed teachers to come here with their qualifications recognised to teach. The knowledge economy has benefitted from free movement. State schools often short of teachers have relied on foreign teachers. Without EU teachers these shortages would have been much greater. There are about 450,000 full time equivalent EU teachers in England. However, from 2017 -18 EU teachers were 25% down including a drop of 33% from Poland partly as a result of bad publicity about racially motivated attacks. Leaving the EU is expected to worsen shortages.

 

Some £3bn European Structural Funding (ESF) helps pay for local projects with young people, libraries and adult learning will also come to an end.

 

Universities, Soft Power and Brexit Much of Britain’s success in the world depended on brain power and exchanging ideas and theories with other peoples. For decades Britain has attracted people from around the world. This pull is weakening. So instead, English private schools are exploring expansion on mainland Europe.

***************************************************************************

Great leadership will ultimately emerge. And there is a good chance that this folly will be prevented. My conclusion is that no deal is better than remaining in the EU with a seat at the table. We have been let down by our government and collectively by our representatives. We ordinary citizens will have to use our power and fight for Remain, for reform of the EU and fundamental reform of the United Kingdom constitution. See my proposals Re-imagining Politics – A Collaborative Democracy

 

Actions I suggest are:

Talk with your MP

Campaigns to Stop Brexit

Another Europe is Possible, European Movement UK, People’s Vote Campaign, Scientists for EU, Remainer Now.

Support campaigns for political reform: The Young People’s Party, For our Future’s Sake, Our Future Our Choice, UK Youth Parliament, Compass-The Progressive Alliance, The Electoral Reform Society , Citizens Assembly Project, Unlock Democracy, Make Votes Matter, Counting Women In, 50:50 Parliament, Women’s Equality Party, Voice4 Change, People’s Vote and many more.

Bruce Nixon is author of The 21st Century Revolution: A Call to Greatness .

Bruce gives talks on the situation we are in and what is to be done. Contact me from my website Creating a just, sustainable, non-violent world .

 

 

 

 

ConnectedCities – A Global Sustainable Development Strategy – Planning for prosperity. Review of book and website.

This visionary proposal is made against the backdrop of the existential challenges facing all humanity. It makes inspiring reading in these otherwise depressing political times.

 

Challenges and opportunities Sir David Attenborough warns “Climate change is humanity’s greatest threat in thousands of years.” “…time is running out.” “We must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home.” The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) COP 24 report October 2018 showed that CO2 emissions are on the rise again after stalling for four years. To limit global temperature rise to 1.5C, an essential goal, governments must slash emissions of greenhouse gases by 45% by 2030. Teresa May committed the UK to cut carbon emissions to almost zero by 2050. Much more drastic cuts are needed. The Extinction Rebellion demands that Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.

 

The demands of humanity constantly increase. By 2050 global population is likely to be 9.7 billion, an increase from 7.7 billion today. The UN predicts that by 2030, almost 60 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas. 95 percent of urban expansion will be take place in the developing world. Today cities account for 60-80 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions. Clearly we need to plan for sustainable growth worldwide.

These problems are not new. A century ago Ebenezer Howard identified three big problems for which Garden Cities were the solution: mass migration to cities from the countryside and the resulting slums; pollution; and the need for green spaces and access to the countryside. Today the world faces exactly the same forces, but now on a global scale. And the reason they are now global is because we have not done what Howard proposed.

 

The UK’s population, now 66.96 million, is expected to rise to 78 million. Population growth, poverty, extreme inequality , the housing crisis and the pressing need to address climate change and car dependency must be addressed. It is essential to reduce both emissions and traffic congestion. This offers an opportunity for a comprehensive new approach to strategic planning integrating brownfield and green field development.

 

The Future ConnectedCities draws its inspiration from Ebenezer Howard’s Social Cities . The vision, especially in developed countries, is for compact, high quality, walkable, sustainable developments focused around existing and new railway stations, providing frequent train services, clustered around “hub towns”. Disused railways could be re-opened.  There are some 2500 railway stations in the UK – a good place to start. Groups of settlements – some existing, some new – would be linked using existing rail corridors and clustered around a ‘hub town’. Together they would form a ConnectedCity. Local business could flourish. Local transport would become viable. Long, stressful, expensive daily rail travel would be reduced. See 2050 Travel.

 

There is a broad range of alternatives:

  • Town growth within an existing town
  • New green quarters on the edge of a town
  • Or a new green town

 

Unaffordable Housing is a major issue for the under forty year old generation. People being unable to live near their parents adversely affects family life. Public ownership of land and the removal of land cost could result in more affordable housing. The ConnectedCities approach could help avoid Green Belt controversies. We need to re-think local government. If people are fully involved in making decisions about their ConnectedCity, by means of Citizens Assemblies, it will be possible to avoid the situation in which Borough Councils are criticised for imposing unwelcome decisions on a neighbouring town like mine.

 

Wellbeing – not growth. Whilst helping to address these issues, the ConnectedCities proposals would help create a flourishing economy and greater wellbeing for all citizens. Clearly, constantly increasing GDP (Gross Domestic Product) drives overconsumption of the Earth’s resources when we should be reducing our ever growing footprint now exceeding 1.7 planets. New Zealand is eschewing GDP in favour of wellbeing as a guiding indicator . The Welsh government has a Well-being of Future Generations Act .

 

One of the many advantages of a ConnectedCity is that people are generally able to travel by one means or another to their destinations within fifteen minutes and would not need to use a car. Globally, nearly 1.25 million people die in road crashes each year, on average 3,287 deaths a day, most of them young men. A Connected City would similarly provide access to countryside. We know how important a green environment, particularly one including trees, is to human wellbeing. No one should live in a totally urban environment. We also know how good it is for peoples’ mental health to grow food together. Agriculture, sustainable, would be nearby. Butterflies, moths and birds would re-appear. Countries could become more self- sufficient, cutting food miles .
Case Studies On the website, case studies are provided applying to a broad range of circumstances: a town growth zone, a new green quarter on the edge of an existing town or a new green town .

 

A Cities Act is required to confer on local authorities which adopt it powers to establish ConnectedCities, supervise their development, and eventually transfer the administration of each to a ConnectedCity council.

 

If you want to help make all this happen, sign up for the occasional newsletter , get the support of your MP, County Councillor and local representatives and contact ConnectedCity http://www.connectedcities.co.uk/contact-us . Buy the book from Connected Cities and access the excellent website which can be navigated to provide detailed information on every aspect of these proposals. You may also wish to support the New Garden Cities Alliance whose aim is to work in partnership with existing bodies to establish standards for Garden Cities that Britain can be proud of. Also to establish exemplars for an environmentally sustainable society that promotes the wellbeing of all citizens.

 

Bruce Nixon is author of The 21st Century Revolution: A Call to Greatness . Bruce Nixon https://brucenixon.com/

Bruce gives talks on the situation we are in and what is to be done. Contact me from my website Creating a just, sustainable, non-violent world .

 

Teresa May faced an Impossible Task.

Peoples Vote

Protesters carry a banner at the People’s Vote anti-Brexit march in London on March 23, 2019. Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images.                                     

She faced a deeply divided House of Commons and divided Tory and Labour parties, unwilling to agree to the Brexit proposals she negotiated with EU leaders. Almost certainly any other leader would have faced the same situation. Leaving the EU is the wrong diagnosis for a real crisis – see The dismantling of the state since the 1980s .  

 

Vote Leave was launched in October 2015 with the support of both right and left wing Eurosceptic politicians, leaders from the business world and trade unions and the European Research Group . It was arguably a campaign organised by politicians wanting more power. It was not about giving more power to the people.

 

The constantly repeated “Brexit is the will of the people” is propaganda. It was the will of people instigating the campaigns. It was the will of Nigel Farage, a narcissistic demagogue, hungry for power. Nigel Farage, head of the UK Independence Party, was de facto leader of the Conservatives, argue Messrs Hutton and Adonis in a chapter of their book Saving Britain. Certainly, 52% of those who voted, voted leave and 48% voted to remain. However only 37% of electorate, representing 26% of “the people”, voted for Brexit. So 74% did not vote for Brexit – see Democracy and its crisis. It is important to note that just over 70% of 18 to 24-year-olds who voted in the referendum backed Remain. I have argued elsewhere about the flaws in the referendum .

 

Citizens were grossly misled. For a democracy to work there must be standards of truth and integrity. Citizens, MPs and Ministers need to be well informed. Both Vote Leave and its rival organisation, Britain Stronger in Europe“, were severely criticised by sections of the media and academia for a campaign described by the Electoral Reform Society as “dire”, which left the public seriously lacking proper information. Now far more information is available, particularly about the damage to our country already taking place.

 

On 17 July 2018, Vote Leave was fined £61,000 and referred to police for breaking electoral spending laws. It was financed by Aaron Banks and other sources, now under investigation https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/may/16/arron-banks-allegedly-gave-450000-funding-to-nigel-farage-after-brexit-vote. Farage’s new Brexit Party, which has no manifesto, is in fact a company with shareholders . Boris Johnson is due to appear in court over Brexit misconduct claims. The Electoral Commission claims that urgent improvements are needed to ensure transparency for voters in the digital age .

 

Underlying the popular vote for Brexit was the failure of successive governments to create an industrial strategy that would bring prosperity to citizens outside the prosperous London area.  To a considerable extent, the Brexit vote was a protest against government from Westminster. Of course the issues were diverse. But the essential problem was that for over a generation successive governments had failed to create an industrial strategy that would bring prosperity to citizens throughout the UK.

 

Brexit is not a solution to the diverse problems of the UK.  Brexit revealed the UK as a deeply divided country. For Teresa May to devise a Brexit acceptable to all parties was impossible. Furthermore, Brexit was a supposed solution to problems that had not been systematically defined. The idea that departing the EU would be a solution is simplistic.

 

All solutions other than Remain are inferior, in my view, and offer less benefit. Remain provides a seat round the table so that we can work with our European colleagues for a better EU. There is absolutely no doubt that the EU needs considerable reform. It already faces criticisms from other member countries. Wealth is systematically extracted from southern countries of Europe to the north.  Some of its policies are flawed – such as the costly registration of seeds which reduces essential plant diversity, fishery policy and above all the farm subsidies mainly benefitting large landowners rather than the small farmers we need.  People also forget that the EU was formed, partly to prevent war between European nations. Today we need a united Europe to defend ourselves from the threats posed by China, Russia and Trump’s USA. The EU is a powerful representation of high standards for goods and services, sustainability, human rights, democracy and enlightenment.

 

When there are essentially three alternatives – in; out or some modified membership, and one is chosen, it is inevitable that large numbers of people, half the nation, will be dissatisfied and feel unrepresented. Win, win solutions are needed, not a compromises. This can be achieved through consensus design instead of ideological battles that divide our country.

 

The current way of doing politics is inappropriate when humanity faces existential threats such as irreversible climate change . Nor is it the way to do politics in a nation so divided in wealth. Poverty in the UK is ‘systematic’ and ‘tragic’, says UN special rapporteur. We need entirely different ways of addressing the existential challenges we face. Instead of being tribal, political leaders need to collaborate in bringing about change. There needs to be continuity, not “all change” when government changes. Leaders need to be servant leaders.

 

There are ways in which the diverse needs of the United Kingdom can be met. Power needs to be devolved to the countries and regions of the United Kingdom under the principle of subsidiarity. More specifically we need to use Citizens Assemblies . Around the world people are innovating with new forms of democracy. Drawing from classical ideas of random selection and modern institutions such as juries, more deliberative and participative forms of democracy are taking shape”. And through Citizens Conventions Citizens should decide where power lies in this country”.

 

“Citizens Assemblies are in the news, from the assemblies that led to the referendums on equal marriage and https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/the-irish-abortion-referendum-how-a-citizens-assembly-helped-to-break-years-of-political-deadlock/, to demands for a Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit to sort out the blockages at Westminster. While the Electoral Reform Society has helped run two citizens’ assemblies recently, and political scientists have been studying them for years, to most people the phrase ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ means little. Firstly, Parliament and your local council are not citizens’ assemblies. Rather than elections, the members of a citizens’ assembly are typically selected at random from the general public – like a jury. It is still up to elected politicians whether or not to follow the assembly’s recommendations”.

 

To quote from the Electoral Reform Society website: “A constitutional convention is a process for involving members of the public in making decisions about the constitutional shape of a country, region, nation or state. Conventions and assemblies on constitutional issues have been held in a number of countries and regions, including Ireland, Iceland and British Columbia. The UK also has experience of constitutional conventions, most notably the Scottish Constitutional Convention which paved the way for the creation of the Scottish Parliament…..It’s time for a UK-wide, citizen-led Constitutional Convention to decide the future shape of our country”.

 

For comprehensive proposals to bring about fundamental change in how we do politics, see my blogpost Re-imagining Politics – A Collaborative Democracy

 

What can you do? Lobby your MP, use your vote and support the many campaigns for reform of our outdated democracy including proportional representation and a new written constitution.

Support campaigns for political reform: The Institute for Public for Public Policy Research, The Young People’s Party, For our Future’s Sake, Our Future Our Choice, UK Youth Parliament, Compass-The Progressive Alliance, Electoral Reform Society , Citizens Assembly Project, Unlock Democracy, Make Votes Matter, Counting Women In, 50:50 Parliament, Women’s Equality Party, Voice4 Change, People’s Vote and many more.

 

Bruce Nixon is an author, writer, speaker, blogger and activist.