Tuesday, June 30, 2015

UKIP members of Parliament

By members of Parliament I do not mean just MPs but peers as well who are members though not of the elected House. I am not going to argue in this posting about the need for a non-elected House as well as an elected one in order to keep some kind of a constitutional order even now when we are members of the European Union and, especially, once we are out of it.

As we saw in the General Election in May UKIP came third with 3,881,099 votes that constituted 12.6 per cent of the vote in a turn-out that may have been the highest since that fateful 1997 election but was still only 66.1 per cent. For that UKIP got one seat and there is a great deal of understandable dissatisfaction around.

It is impossible to discuss matters rationally with most members of that party as too many of them belong to the Farage Cult but the truth is that UKIP conducts elections and political campaigns as a Continental party - it is all about the party and the leader not the local candidate. These may crop up from time to time but they are given less pictorial space on UKIP leaflets than the Dear Leader. All too often one does not even know who they are. I consider myself to be something of a political geek but I did not know who the UKIP candidate was in my constituency until two days before the election.

We are getting some (ever less) traction in the demands for an electoral reform to some form of PR system but that is not very likely to happen any time soon. It is, as it happens highly entertaining to hear the left-wing anti-austerity demonstrators shouting for it. Had we had PR this time round we would have now had a Conservative/UKIP government with possible support from the DUP though, obviously, there is no reason to suppose that people would vote exactly the same way under a different system. Now, I could actually live with that government but what would the lefties say? They are convinced that UKIP is the epitome of all that is right-wing and, therefore, evil. (Actually they are not either but a rather muddled statist, socialist and protectionist party who seem to have morphed themselves into the Labour Party of the 1950s.)

The point is that four years ago we had a referendum on the question of the electoral system and the people of this country voted quite decisively in favour of keeping the first past the post system. Is UKIP recommending that we should keep asking people over and over again at not very long intervals until we get the answer they want? There is another organization out there that takes the same attitude and the fact that UKIP and it (let it remain nameless) have a similar attitude to the People's Voice, despite being the "People's Army" proves what I said above: UKIP is essentially a Continental party in its political behaviour.

Which brings me to the question of House of Lords membership. There are now three UKIP peers and not one of them was appointed as such - they left the Conservative Party and lined up under UKIP colours. The question is should this be rectified or should we go on acquiring endless Lib-Dem peers even though their support in the country has collapsed. This is of particular interest since the Lib-Dems have long been in favour of an elected Upper House or, at the very least, one that somehow reflected electoral preferences. Will they now resign most of their seats and let UKIP have them? Is that a squadron of piglets I see taking off?

Lord Pearson of Rannoch has been asking questions on the subject as can be read on page 7 of this document.

Question no 1 was:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to address the disparity in representation in the House of Lords between the Liberal Democrats and Ukip, in the light of their respective shares of votes in the recent General Election.
Question no 2 was:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to recommend more Liberal Democratic peerages to Her Majesty the Queen; if so, why; if not, why not.
Question no 3 was:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to recommend any Ukip peerages to Her Majesty the Queen; if so, why; and if not, why not.
As it happens the Labour peer, Lord Campbell-Savours also showed himself interested in whether there are going to be any more Lib-Dem peers:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the proportionality objective on appointments to the House of Lords as set out in the agreement made by the governing parties in the 2010–15 Coalition agreement remains an objective for Her Majesty's Government over the next five years.
A good question. The situation has changed somewhat.

HMG is not committing itself to anything as Baroness Stowell of Beeston made clear:
Appointments are a matter for the Prime Minister. Any appointments will be vetted for propriety by the House of Lords Appointments Commission.
Something of a conundrum for the PM, I would say, given those electoral results. Of course, he could appoint lots of Cross-Bench peers or, even better, declare a moratorium on any more appointments for the rest of this government's existence but, somehow, I do not think he will do either of those.

So, any suggestions as to who should be the first appointed UKIP peers?

Friday, June 26, 2015

This is getting out of hand

Your Freedom and Ours is what this blog is called and that is what it is. I am getting a little perturbed by the news that is coming over from the other side of the Pond where there is now war of cultural and historical vandalism going on in the wake of the tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina.

There is no need to rehearse what happened, which was terrible, or the dignified response of the city to the tragedy that struck them. Nor is there any need to go through the various articles, essays and analyses (the books are to come) that have followed the shooting. For one thing I have no space for all the links and for another anyone who is interested would have read a great deal and will probably do so in the coming days, weeks, months but not years because something else will happen to take people's attention away.

What caught my interest, inevitably, is the campaign against the Confederate Flag, which is now being taken off not just public buildings but private merchandise. In fact, it will soon be banned completely and not for the first time in American history. It came back last time and it will come back again but, in the meantime, a good deal of historical knowledge and understanding will be destroyed in the name of some spurious feeling of justice. The truth is that the events that led up to the Civil War or the War Between The States or the War For The Union, the actual war and the years after it are far too complicated to be reduced to this sort of simplistic rubbish. (Though I am rather enjoying the reminders that the Confederate Flag was the flag of the Democrat Party. Of course, it was. Don't believe me? Look it up, while you can.)

I hear stories of Civil War memorials being defaced with stupid slogans and suggestions that Confederate generals should be dug up (what's left of them) and put on trial or their bones thrown to the dogs or whatever. This is insane. All of it.

The killer of Charleston did not carry out his attack because of the Confederate Flag or the presence of Civil War memorials. And, let's face it, even on this side of the Pond we know that the greatest number of black lives wasted in many American cities are in gang fights and criminal attacks carried out by other black young men. The situation is appalling and something ought to be done because black lives do matter but not only when the killer is white.

The worst suggestion I have seen is that Gone With The Wind should now be "retired". Well, good luck with that - "retiring" one of the most popular films of all times is not going to be easy, not even for leftist, progressive journalists. I hope nobody is thinking of retiring Birth of a Nation, which I am due to see at the NFT on Sunday. I notice that there are several comments on the NY Post article that I have linked to, which compare this attitude to the destruction of historic and cultural sites by IS because they do not like the religion or ideology that motivated their building. Well, I cannot disagree too much.

Incidentally and completely off the topic, here is a conundrum: why is it that the best and most highly regarded films about the Civil War, Birth of a Nation, The General and Gone With The Wind are all from the point of view of the South? There have been films from the point of view of the North, not least several biopics of Abraham Lincoln (no, dear, he was not a Democrat either, but a Republican) but nothing of that calibre. Is it because like the Royalists, according to 1066 And All That, the Confederates were Wrong but Wromantic?

So, just because I hate what is happening I have decided to post two pictures: one of the Confederate Flag as it used to fly together with the Stars and Stripes and a photo of General Robert E. Lee, the man who not only fought in that War but, when that became hopeless, surrendered, refused to institute a guerrilla war and worked for the reconstruction of the shattered union.

Monday, June 22, 2015

More on that Bill

First things first: we have had the Second Committee Day of the EU Referendum Bill on Thursday and you can read the debate here. The date for the Report is to be announced but, meanwhile, here is the amended Bill as it is to go forward to the next stage.

Before that, however, Derek Thomas (also here), MP for St Ives asked:
If the Electoral Commission will commission a lay-person’s guide to the costs and benefits of UK membership of the EU before the EU referendum.
Not precisely the Electoral Commission's job, as the Minister pointed out, but then whose job is it, given that HMG, singly and collectively, has refused to provide such an analysis over a number of decades?

We do have a volunteer in the person of the Wellingborough MP, Peter Bone (also here):
If they [the Electoral Commission] are not the people to do it, I am quite happy to take on that task. It would be pointless having such a document because it will have pages and pages and pages of costs; I doubt that we would find a page on the benefits.
Mr Streeter's response was dry:
I will certainly put that offer back to the Electoral Commission. I am sure that it will be as enthusiastic as I am.
However, he did not produce an alternative suggestion. Incidentally, the Member for South-West Devon was replying to questions on the subject of the referendum because he was representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

First Day of Committee

The Referendum Bill has reached Committee stage (yes, I fear, there are a number of stages in this process) and it can be watched directly here. Not a particularly well attended House but then Committee stages rarely are, since debates are about various, often minutely detailed amendments.

Some of today's (unedited) record can be read here. The edited version will be published tomorrow morning.

Monday, June 15, 2015

This anniversary has to be noted

Magna Carta, a crucial and still controversial document was signed on June 15, 1215 and a great deal of time is being spent this year on discussions about its importance and relevance.

It seems to me that there is a case to be made for reading the text, though few of us can do that in the original but here is a seemingly reliable English translation.

Here is a good summary of the history of the document and of its subsequent fate, an analysis of the Clauses and the text of the three still in English law:
I. FIRST, We have granted to God, and by this our present Charter have confirmed, for Us and our Heirs for ever, that the Church of England shall be free, and shall have all her whole Rights and Liberties inviolable. We have granted also, and given to all the Freemen of our Realm, for Us and our Heirs for ever, these Liberties under-written, to have and to hold to them and their Heirs, of Us and our Heirs for ever.

IX. THE City of London shall have all the old Liberties and Customs which it hath been used to have. Moreover We will and grant, that all other Cities, Boroughs, Towns, and the Barons of the Five Ports, as with all other Ports, shall have all their Liberties and free Customs.

XXIX. NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.
There are some excellent pieces on the History Today site and on spiked-online. So, are we right to be celebrating the signing of the Great Charter? Is it really relevant today and if not should it be made more relevant? Are all clauses to be rescued and if not (I can think of a few that ought to be buried) then which ones. As they say: Discuss.

Friday, June 12, 2015

HMG replied to Lord Pearson

As readers of this blog recall, Lord Pearson's first Written Question in the new Parliament was covered by it and it concerned security at a putative Mohammed drawing competition. To my surprise HMG did not obfuscate too much in its reply.

The Question was:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to support a contest in the United Kingdom between artists depicting the prophet Mohammed, and if so, whether they will provide security protection for such an event.
The reply was:
The Government is not aware of any plans. The safety and security of an event is an issue for the event organisers in consultation with the police.
Could have been worse. Could have been stronger in support of law and order, as well, of course, but we cannot have everything.

Next stages of the Bill

I must admit that I have not managed to read through the whole of the debate on the Second Reading of the EU Referendum Bill but did note that only the SNP voted against it, which puts them into a slightly odd position. Do they or do they not believe in the right of a country to vote in a referendum about its independence? That is a separate question about whether they think the UK should stay in the EU or not.

The next stage is Committee and it is scheduled for June 16 and here are the notices of Amendments already put down.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

More from the House of Lords

Tomorrow or whenever I can get through the turgid stuff they spout in Another Place, will be the turn of that place, to wit the House of Commons. Today, however, I concentrate on the House of Lords. Well, for one more posting.

One of the procedures in the House at the start of a session is the appointment of Select Committees who will then spend a good deal of time (for which the members do not get paid) studying various subjects and producing reports, which are almost invariably informative and well argued. Indeed, more attention ought to be paid to them. This blog has tried to do so but has failed miserably. Perhaps, a new resolution to that effect is in order.

The one Select Committee over which there was a debate was the European Union one and that is because Lord Pearson of Rannoch has rightly raised an objection or two, which he does every time simply because these things need to be put on record.

The following peers were named as members of the Committee but they do have the right both in full and in sub-Committees to co-opt others: B Armstrong of Hill Top, L Blair of Boughton, L Borwick, L Boswell of Aynho (Chairman), E Caithness, B Falkner of Margravine, L Green of Hurstpierpoint, L Jay of Ewelme, B Kennedy of The Shaws, L Liddle, L Mawson, B Prashar, B Scott of Needham Market, B Suttie, L Trees, L Tugendhat, L Whitty, B Wilcox.

They can all be looked up but I have to admit that on immediate perusal I can see two peers whose attitude to the European Union is mildly sceptical, a subject that both Lord Pearson and Lord Stoddart raised in the subsequent debate.

It all started with the following proposed amendment:
Leave out the sections relating to the membership of the Committee, and the power to appoint sub-committees and refer to them any matters within its terms of reference, and insert: “That the Committee have power to appoint up to two sub-committees, one of which shall deal with European Union constitutional affairs and one of which shall deal with European Union economic matters; that the membership of the Committee and its sub-committees be balanced between members who favour the United Kingdom leaving the European Union and those who favour staying in it.
Setting aside the question as to how many sub-committees there ought to be, which is a somewhat esoteric point, let us look at what Lord Pearson said about the membership:
Noble Lords appear to be aware that in recent years I have regularly raised the balance, effectiveness and number of our European Union Select Committees before we agreed their appointment. For students of this important but perhaps refined subject, I last raised it on 16 May 2013 at col. 544 and on 12 June 2014 at col. 528.

As to balance, this proposed new committee appears to be just as Europhile as its predecessors. I do not pretend to know all their views, but of its 16 members I can detect only three who I would describe as mildly Eurosceptic and six who are among the most ardent Europhiles in your Lordships’ House. This is more important than usual in a year when we are approaching an EU referendum. Your Lordships’ other Select Committee reports are widely respected, and if our EU reports suffer from a Europhile slant, that will not be helpful to any fair outcome. I want to put the public on alert now, and I hope that I do not have to come back to this point too often in future.

I admit that the second part of my amendment, that our committees should be balanced between those who want to leave the EU and those who want to stay in, will not be easy to achieve. I put it down to underline what a Europhile place your Lordships’ House is when compared to public sentiment on this matter. In fact I can think of only perhaps a dozen of your Lordships who would be prepared to say publicly that we should leave the European Union whatever the outcome of the current negotiations. However, we should at least try to make our committees as balanced as we can, and at the moment we do not.
He is not wrong about the membership though I have always found that the Committee's and the various Sub-Committees' reports rather more critical of HMG and of the EU than the membership of those bodies would suggest. In fact, I seem to recall being asked on the BBC Russian Service how it was possible for a Parliamentary Committee to produce quite such a hard-hitting and critical report as the one on HMG's and the EU's preparedness to the Ukraine crisis was.

Lord Pearson's other point about the usefulness of those discussions and reports is sadly true. In the first place, as I have pointed out too many times to count, scrutinizing legislation is not quite the same thing as legislating or being able to reverse legislation.

Going on from there:
Our committees are there to hold the Government to account on the legislation that emerges from Brussels—that is what I am constantly told by noble Lords who favour the present arrangements. However, the trouble remains that that is all that these committees can do: they can only scrutinise, and the Government regularly ignore their findings.

I remind your Lordships of the scrutiny reserve, whereby successive Governments have promised not to sign up to any piece of legislation in Brussels if it is still being scrutinised by the Select Committee of either House of Parliament. Yet since July 2010, the Government have broken that promise 303 times in the Commons and 266 times in your Lordships’ House. Some 238 of those overrides were on measures being considered by both Houses. Each override means that a new EU law is being forced upon us without the consent of Parliament, because the EU juggernaut rolls on regardless. I hope the respected chairman of our EU Select Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, will not mind if I remind your Lordships of his disappointed interventions on that subject on 4 December 2014 at col. 1400 and on 17 December 2014 at col. 95. I do not know if he can reassure us now that, as a result, the scrutiny reserve is no longer broken.

I fear that our EU Select Committees do not and cannot hold the Government to account in Brussels. Since 1996, up to last year, the Government themselves have objected to and forced to a vote in the Council of Ministers 55 new measures, and they lost the vote on every single one of them. I add that the situation is just as depressing in that democratic fig-leaf, the European Parliament. Of its 1,936 most-recent Motions, a majority of all UK MEPs voted against 576 of them, but 485 still passed—a failure rate of some 84%. So it does not seem that our Select Committee reports carry much weight there either. None of that should surprise us. The big idea behind the EU has always been that member states should be diminished in favour of the unelected bureaucracy, under the pretence that that would maintain peace in Europe, which was of course, in fact, always sustained by NATO, not Brussels—but that is still at the root of our powerlessness in the EU.
I may add that though Lord Pearson's other points were debated, this highly important one, about powerlessness was not discussed.

Some more about that discussion of 16 and 17 year-olds

As I pointed out earlier there seemed to be a good deal of discussion going on in the House of Commons about the somewhat peripheral question of 16 and 17 year-olds voting in the forthcoming referendum. Somebody (I shall have to check that out tomorrow) compared the arguments against people who are treated as children in most ways and increasingly so to those used by Lord Curzon and others against women's suffrage. Or, in other words, according to this particular Labour MP (sitting next to Harriet Harman, she of the pink van) considers that there is no difference between women of any age and experience and teenagers of, necessarily, limited knowledge and experience. What, I cannot help wondering, would those tough Labour ladies of yore have made of this drivel.

Meanwhile, I thought I would check out something and that is the proposals to raise the age of compulsory education. We haven't quite got to that but it is in the pipeline and once it is introduced, the law will maintain that 16 and 17 year-olds will not be old enough to choose whether they want to study or work but, apparently, old enough to make decisions about this country's membership of the European Union.

In the meantime, I have found an interesting paper on the subject, which tells me that
The Education and Skills Act 2008 increased the minimum age at which young people in England can leave learning. This requires them to continue in education or training to the age of 17 from 2013 and to 18 from 2015. Young people will be able to choose whether to stay in full-time education, undertake work-based learning such as an Apprenticeship, or part-time education or training if they are employed, self-employed or volunteering for more than 20 hours per week.
Or, in other words, the spectrum of choices for 16 and 17 year-olds is being narrowed by law and they are increasingly reduced to the status of children. Could it be that the people who want them to vote in the referendum actually believe that and think that, being children, they will be easier to influence?

As if we lacked any of it

Lord Dykes (and here) who has turned up on this blog from time to time as the man who is guaranteed to come up with some easily debunkable europhiliac comments has surpassed himself. He has introduced a Private Member's Bill, which is unlikely to go very far, under the title of European Union (Information etc) Bill.

Its purpose is
Make provision for information to be available in various public places relating to the activities and organisation of the European Union; to make provision for the flying of the flag of the European Union on various government and public buildings; to provide information to further the establishment of twinning arrangements between towns in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the European Union in accordance with the European Union’s town twinning support scheme; and for connected purposes.
His lordship is entitled to his ideas, of course, and is entitled to some of the House's time and expense (it will not be a great deal) but one cannot help wondering what he has in mind.

What, for example, is his definition of "various public places"? Are we to have this gumf showered on us when we go to public parks? Or enter a public house? And - crucial question - will this Bill, should it ever become an Act, which it will not, allow for well-researched information about the European Union that does not exactly present a rosy picture also be available?

As to the rest, there are already provisions for the flying of that wretched flag on public buildings but, curiously enough, a good many people do not want to see it. As these are public buildings, funded by the public a.k.a. taxpayer, the public should have some say on the matter.

Nor do we lack information about all those jollies for civic dignitaries and suchlike twinning arrangements. So, what precisely is the purpose of this Bill (not that it is going anywhere)?

Second Reading

The Second Reading of the Referendum Bill is going on at this moment and it can be watched here. I spent a few minutes doing so but the discussion seemed to be about 16 and 17 year-olds voting with nobody bothering to make any substantial points. So, I stopped watching and shall read Hansard tomorrow. But anyone who has time to dip in and out of what will prove to be a long debate is welcome to do so.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Are they deliberately destroying the country?

Anyone who gives it any thought knows that the amount of damage a government can do outweighs the amount of good by a factor of about a thousand. However, it is rare for a government to try to destroy the country it is supposed to be in charge of deliberately. Usually the outcome is more of unintended consequences or lack of understanding. However, as one looks at the government of Vlad and his Chekists one has to come to the conclusion that they actually want to destroy a potentially very great country.

We all know that the money that poured into the country while oil and gas prices were high was largely stolen by Putin's very own oligarchs, the ones who did not speak against him and made deals whenever he or his minions wanted it. We know that the country's economy is doing very badly and it is not the Western sanctions that are the biggest problem. We know that the war in the Caucasus and now in eastern Ukraine are drains of money, resources and human lives with no real gain in sight unless one considers the growing vicious and obscurantist nationalism a gain. (Few people of any intelligence do and, I suspect, most Russians simply ignore the blather that pours out of the state controlled media.)

This story, however, shows that the Cheka state is determined to destroy the country's future as well as its present.
One of Russia’s largest scientific benefactors has cancelled millions of dollars in funding after the government branded his foundation a “foreign agent”, a label used to target organisations seen as hostile to the state.

The move to alienate 82-year-old Dmitry Zimin has stirred Russia’s scientific community, which has watched with despair as mismanagement, dwindling budgets and a “brain drain” have eroded their capabilities.

The move follows a dismal month for scientists, as dozens of universities and institutes lost access to online journals after the government failed to pay nearly $1m in overdue subscription fees, and a botched satellite launch became the country’s 16th failed lift-off in six years.

While the Russian government has ordered deep cuts in its space and hi-tech programmes, Zimin’s Dynasty Foundation had just raised its annual budget to $8.6m to be allocated to research stipends, publishing, and outreach.
So, we have a situation in which universities and institutes, which are funded by the government are losing access to vitally important online journals because their funder has failed to pay a sum that would not buy one day in the life of the average oligarch and the private Foundation that is prepared to do the funding is being hounded out of the country.

There is no point in showing pictures of Yury Gagarin as the Guardian article does - Soviet science, despite its initial victory in the space race was not that brilliant but considerably better than the what we have now. Indeed, we have a government that in the name of some perverse "patriotism" is prepared to destroy the country's science and technology, its future.
Since its founding in 2002, the Dynasty Foundation has been praised by Moscow for both its generosity and its strictly non-political work. In February, Zimin became the first-ever recipient of a “loyalty to science” state award, presented by Russia’s minister of education and science, Dmitry Livanov.

The justice ministry initially explained its decision to add Dynasty to the “foreign agents” list by saying the foundation was engaged in political activity and technically received money from abroad, as Zimin holds overseas accounts.

The ministry then broadened its explanation to blame Dynasty’s funding of Liberal Mission, an organisation run by former economy minister Yevgeny Yasin which aims to spread liberal values in Russia.

Supporters say the attack on Zimin just months after his award is both self-defeating and a sign of government disarray.

Zimin, speaking ahead of the move, suggested that the Kremlin’s extreme pro-nationalist rhetoric had created a chilly climate for philanthropists who, by nature, serve as a reminder that Russia still has room to improve.
"Not invented here so we don't like it" is not exactly unknown in other countries (think of our ridiculous discussions about the NHS) but this is carrying that idea to a point of complete lunacy. How is it justified?
Dynasty’s blacklisting has been met with a heated response from Russia’s scientific community.

More than 3,000 researchers, writers, publishers, and students have signed an open letter calling on the justice ministry to reverse the decision, which they called “not an ordinary example of mindless bureaucratic zeal but a direct blow to the pride, prestige, fame, and future of the country”.

Scientists have also called for a rally to be held in Moscow on 6 June in support of Dynasty, and Russian science generally. “We can’t sit idly by and watch as the government destroys one of the best charitable funds,” the rally’s organisers wrote on Facebook. “We can’t accept the fact that the government sees teachers, scientists, and patrons as enemies.”

In the wake of the academic backlash, some state-backed media have sought to embellish the claims about Dynasty’s political agenda. An NTV news report broadcast on 31 May cited “suspicions” that Zimin’s son, Boris, was secretly funding opposition activist Aleksei Navalny and independent channel Dozhd TV.
So the philanthropist's son is suspected though not proved to be funding a media outlet that is completely legal and, possibly an opposition activist who is mostly allowed to get on with things as the state has no idea what to do about him. That, of course, is an excellent reason for closing off funds to scientific publications, conferences and various other events, particularly when, let us remember, the government is not paying for any of it either.

About three and a half thousand people came out in Moscow to demonstrate against this anti-scientific, anti-educational obscurantism. Not bad on an issue that is not, perhaps, all that clearly known and understood, at a time when most Moscovites spend their week-ends in their gardens dealing with fruit and vegetables.

Dozhd has pictures of which I am reproducing two. The slogan in the first one is well known and, for once, apposite: "War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength." The second one says: "If you bury science, you bury the country."

Friday, June 5, 2015

Further to the previous

It is appropriate that on the fortieth anniversary of the 1975 referendum that kept us in the EEC we should go on discussing the forthcoming referendum.

As it happens the question of EU citizens, who live in the UK but have not bothered to take UK citizenship for reasons of their own that I fully accept and respect, voting in the referendum and other elections has come up though is unlikely to go far. A European Union Citizens (Electoral Rights) Bill was introduced into the House of Lords by Lord Balfe and read for the first time, which is a formality. Its purpose is to
Make provision to allow European Union citizens who are resident in the United Kingdom to vote in parliamentary elections and to become members of Parliament; and for connected purposes.
The "connected purposes", one assumes, refers to the referendum. I do not see this Bill going very far as Private Members' Bills need HMG's support to achieve even a Second Reading, let alone further stages. All the same, it is a silly idea, especially as it seems to make no provisions even for the length of time an EU citizen has been resident in the UK in order to qualify.

Lord Balfe, a former member of the Toy Parliament, is a Conservative though he seems to have started life as a Labour politician.

And now, back to the question of whether children should be given the vote in the referendum or not. The subject of 16 and 17 year-olds voting was raised in the House, as this blog reported, and will, undoubtedly come up again.

Curiously enough, part of the same age group was discussed in the ensuing debate on the Queen's Speech. Speaking for the Liberal-Democrats, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, a barrister himself said inter alia [scroll down when you go to the link]:
In the justice area there are several proposals which are to be welcomed. I will mention just four. First, the proposed policing and criminal justice Bill promises that 17 year-olds will be treated as children under all the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, bringing English law into line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the European Convention on Human Rights, and in particular ensuring that 17 year-olds have a legal right to be interviewed in the presence of an appropriate adult.
I assume this means that 16 year-olds are already treated as children under all the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. Equally, I assume that Lord Kennedy of Southwark, who asked the question on the subject, and his party (Labour) do not object to that or to the notion that 17 year-olds should be reduced to being children when questioned by the police or required to give evidence. Yet, at the same time, they propose that both those groups should be raised to the status of adults when asked to vote in a referendum. Logical, this ain't.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

First attempt to change the conditions for voting in the referendum

Readers of this blog will recall that I mentioned who will be entitled to vote in the coming EU referendum. In brief it will include everyone who is entitled to vote in a General Election with the addition of peers of the realm if they are entitled to vote in local elections and citizens of Gibraltar (something I forgot to mention but I do not think anyone will object to that). I also said that, undoubtedly, there will be attempts to change those qualifications to make them more "inclusive".

The first attempt involves qualification by age. In the UK as a whole people can vote once they have attained their eighteenth year but for the Scottish independence referendum the Scottish Assembly gave the vote to 16 and 17 year olds. There is now an attempt to add that group to those who should be able to vote in the EU referendum. HMG is, rightly in my opinion, resisting it.

On June 1 Lord Kennedy of Southwark asked HMG:
what plans they have to consider proposals to allow 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in any referendum on membership of the European Union.
HMG has no plans at present to consider any such thing, as Baroness Anelay of St Johns told him:
This is an issue of national importance, so the parliamentary franchise is the right approach. It was the franchise used for previous UK referendums. The Government have no plans to lower the voting age.
Ah yes, said Lord Kennedy, but this is an issue that will have a profound effect on the 16 and 17 year-olds' future and should they not be allowed to vote on such matters.

Given that Lord Kennedy's party has resisted the idea of asking anybody in the country on this issue that will have a profound effect on all our futures it seems a little odd that he should be so worried about 16 and 17 year-olds not having a say in it. Furthermore, I would say the decision will have a profound effect on the future of 14 and 15 year-olds and, as it was mentioned in the subsequent discussion, some 14 year-olds have more sense than many 17 and even 18 year-olds.

In the end the arguments for making that change boil down to two: there are certain things that young people of that age can already do, though joining the Armed Forces and getting married is something they can do only with their parents' consent and the Scots have, presumably in the hopes that this group will vote for independence introduced an anomaly into an already complicated electoral system.

We were told by several peers that the 16 and 17 year-olds embraced their right with enthusiasm though the evidence for that is not all that clear:
The pattern is much as would be anticipated from the experience of other countries such as Austria and Norway that have already enfranchised 16 and 17 year olds. On the one hand, encouraged perhaps by mum and dad to make the journey to the polling station, 16 and 17 year olds were more likely to vote than were those aged 18-24, many of whom would no longer be living at home. On the other hand, they were still less likely to vote than those who were more than twice their age. To that extent, the referendum turnout amongst 16 and 17 year olds still reflects the general tendency for younger voters to be less likely to make it to the polls. Those who look to the enfranchisement of 16 and 17 year olds in all elections as a way of boosting turnout should, it seem, not set their expectations too high.

More precisely, according to ICM’s survey, 75% of 16 and 17 year olds voted, compared with 54% of 18-24 year olds and 72% of 25-34 year olds. The turnout in all three groups is markedly lower than the estimate for 35-54 year olds (85%) and those aged 55 and over (92%).
Or, in other words, the fact that they no longer have compulsory education (though there is some talk of changing that) and can legitimately indulge in sexual activity is not necessarily a good reason for giving those 16 and 17 year-olds the vote even if mum and dad will chase them out to vote, particularly when we note that the turn-out for that referendum was exceptionally high.

The subject of turn-out among young voters came up again in the subsequent debate on the Queen's Speech that covered matters of constitutional importance (and anything that noble Lords thought they might drag in).

Lord Falconer of Thoroton, speaking first for the Labour Party, said [scroll down]:
In the last election, for example, 43% of those aged between 18 and 24 who were registered to vote voted, whereas 78% of those aged over 65 did so. I am glad that the turnout was so high among the over-65s. I worry that the Government will not be a Government for the young. Of the 43% who voted in this youngest age group, only around a quarter supported the Conservatives—so the Conservatives have the support of maybe 12% of those aged between 18 and 25.
One sympathizes with the noble Lord's worries but they are entirely misplaced. It seems that the majority of the "young" do not care all that much who is in the government and those who do tend to vote left, not an unknown phenomenon in history. Given the figures for older groups of voters, people tend to overcome both those mistakes. By the time of the next election a good many of the "young" will decide to vote and may well vote Conservative, depending on what this government does in the meantime.

In any case that is no indicator of how the same "young" will vote in an IN/OUT referendum and hardly an argument for extending that vote to 16 and 17 year-olds who would then be in the slightly anomalous position of not being allowed to decide whether they can drink alcohol or smoke but being considered old enough to make electoral decisions.

As I said before, I suspect that this is the first of many attempts to widen the electorate of the EU referendum.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Some of the names seem a little random

Readers of this blog may have noted that Russia has responded to the various sanctions imposed by the European Union and its member states (well, some of them) on individuals of that country by issuing a list of its own, though whether any of these people actually want to go to Russia is a moot point. We know that the members of the Russian elite desperately do want to come to the West, to bring their money here, to buy property, to do their fantastically extensive shopping, to send their children to British schools and American universities and so on.

The list is a little odd and one cannot help thinking that it was put together somewhat randomly. Some are in a position where they could have influenced decisions, though the influence wielded by the Toy Parliament's various committees is strictly limited; some may have made pronouncements; some are just known to hold negative views of the Russian government and President Putin himself.

Some remain incomprehensible. Nick Clegg? Why him? Has Andrew Robathan really been more active than some other MPs? As for Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the punishment seems a little harsh though he has made some public comments that might have displeased Vlad and his Chekists:
On 18 March 2014, during an interview with CBC Radio News, Rifkind spoke out against the Russian annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, stating that this risked destabilising the entire area and European politics in general. In his opinion Ukrainian forces had demonstrated "remarkable restraint" against Russian "humiliation", and had turned their military disadvantage into a substantial "moral advantage". While declaring "robust economic sanctions" to be the best response to Crimean situation, and describing a number of possible options, he nevertheless referred to the Western implementation as "pathetic", claiming that current measures affected a mere 23 individuals, and inferred this to be the reason why Russia seemed unfazed by sanction threats.
2015 has not been Sir Malcolm's year. Or, maybe, this will go some way towards rehabilitating him.

Not unexpectedly, Poland has the largest number on this honourable list with 18, with no-one else even close. Latvia and the UK have 9, Sweden and Estonia 8, which gives one some idea how much the Russians fear the the tiny Baltic countries.

The French group of 4 seems to be particularly odd: Daniel Cohn-Bendit. Former MEP, Greens group, Bruno Le Roux. MP and chairman of the Socialist, Radical, Citizen and Miscellaneous Left group at the French National Assembly, Bernard-Henri Levy, Public figure and Henri Malosse. President of the European Economic and Social Committee.

Astonishingly, they even found a Greek to ban: Theodore Margellos. Co-owner of the consulting firm Informed Judgment Partners.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

I find Putin's propaganda department disappointing

Had this happened under Stalin we would by now have had a definite story of what actually was wrong with Vladimir Kara-Murza, a well known Russian oppositionist who is in hospital, having been taken ill suddenly a few days ago, almost immediately after showing a film about the rule of Putin's buddy Ramzan Kadyrov in Chechnya. Mr Kara-Murza is, apparently, still unconscious and on a life support machine with many different tubes attached to him. Here is a fairly good summary of events and comments.

Given the number of President Putin's opponents who have died either violently or mysteriously and given the sequence of events that immediately preceded Mr Kara-Murza's sudden violent illness, inevitably certain conclusions were drawn by all those who follow these events in Russia and outside it.

What astonished me is that there was no counter-story prepared. We have been given no official version of what is wrong with Mr Kara-Murza beyond the odd bleating about the possibility of out of date yoghurt or a bad banana. Oh really? Total kidney failure and coma because of out of date yoghurt? Who is going to believe that?

Well, I'll tell you who: NYU professor and Russian security expert Mark Galeotti who told RuNet Echo:
Let's wait for proper medical assessments before constructing fantasy scenarios that say more about our own assumptions than anything else. Kadyrov certainly is all too willing to resort to murder, but his is the way of the gun and the bomb, not the subtleties of poison.
Kadyrov? Really? No other person and organization might have been involved? Hmmm. I appreciate the need to be cautious (as I more than appreciate Mr Kara-Murza senior's ultra cautious comments) but this is going beyond anything sensible. Which brings me to my original point: where are those "proper" medical assessments? Really what on earth did Lieutenant-Colonel Putin learn in the KGB?

Monday, June 1, 2015

Tax Freedom Day was yesterday

So, yesterday was the day on which we stopped working for the government. Put another way, as the Adam Smith Institute does:
Brits work 150 days of the year solely to pay taxes; every day from 1st January to 30th May.
That is, in fact, a day longer than we worked in 2014 and a month longer than they do on the other side of the Pond, where Tax Freedom Day was on April 24.

There is a little bit of good news:
Cost of Government Day, which represents Total Managed Expenditure as a day of the year, falls on 29th June, three days earlier than it fell in 2014. While this suggests a slight improvement over last year, the money borrowed to cover the month-long gap between Tax Freedom Day must eventually be paid off with future taxes.
Those tax cuts are badly needed for the economy and before anyone tells me that tax cuts will mean the government will not be able to afford the great many things it tries (very badly) to run, I may say that it is high time we re-thought what ought to be the state's competence.