Friday 26 December 2014

5 reasons we don't get the politicians we deserve

1. First past the post

Under First Past The Post (FPTP) voting takes place in single-member constituencies. Voters put a cross in a box next to their favoured candidate and the candidate with the most votes in the constituency wins. All other votes count for nothing. - See more at:

People don't vote for who they want to win, but who the least bad candidate with the (maybe?) best chance of winning. Tactical voting gives politicians a false impression about what the electorate want, and is open to abuse by political parties speculating who has the best or worst chance of winning (rather than discussion on issues and policies).

There really are a lot of tried and tested fairer systems which we could be adopting.

2. The House of lords

One quick look down any statistics, analytics about the make up of the House of Lords should scare any democrat. 89 Members are hereditary (i.e. they get to influence our politics because their family always has, and yes, they are mainly Conservative), 26 are C of E Bishops (many more are retired bishops - how representative is this of faith in this country?).

At 11 June 2012 there were 775 peers able to sit on the House of Lords, and until 2005 the Conservatives always were the largest party group. By gender there is one woman to four men, and the median age was 69 years old in 2012. For more see -

Electoral reform has been talked about for 100 years - a number of attempts having failed, even though the vast majority of British people have consistently demanded it (recent Polls suggest 79%)

3. Gagging law/ Lobbying

To quote from the Guardian: There has been loud, stringent opposition from a huge number of charitable and campaigning organisations, from the British Legion to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, as well as the Electoral Commission and Citizens Advice Bureau. The UN rapporteur on rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Maina Kiai, joined the foray, said: "Although sold as a way to level the electoral playing field, the bill actually does little more than shrink the space for citizens – particularly those engaged in civil society groups – to express their collective will. In doing so, it threatens to tarnish the United Kingdom's democracy...The lobbying industry is free to continue secretly cajoling politicians while charities and trade unions will be silenced. This is an attack on the rights of individuals to speak out and, most worryingly, it increasingly seems that was the point from the outset."

4. Public schools, masonic lodges, gentlemen's clubs

While Unions will be obliged (Gagging Law) to hand over records of membership (possibly in contravention of European convention on Human Rights), the workings and influence of masonic lodges, gentlemen's clubs and other 'old school' networks appears greater, while at the same time more opaque.

Grand Secretary Brown is looking to 2017, the tercentenary of the United Grand Lodge of England as, ' the natural culmination of the open public relations strategy we have embraced', he is also keen to keep some information withheld - 'Keeping a bit of mystery is good news. If people joining know absolutely everything, where would the excitement be?"

It is apparently possible to be a woman and a freemason (there are separate lodges for women), but all this is rather hard to test as my brief search suggests it is hard to find out if an individual belongs to a lodge. Likewise, it's hard to test the influence of lodges or other clubs, but I suspect Eton College and ex-Bullingdon Club members in Government (see Daily Mail Photo) is an indication of increases in influence more generally.

5. Politicians Lie

Well actually, they're under no obligation to tell the truth if they speak in Parliament, which is a rather curious anomaly:

So, what about voter apathy?  Well, in recent surveys it turns out non-voters 'share many of the same concerns', but are less likely to trust politicians to tell the truth, but not by a large margin.  'Voter Apathy' is very much with us, and so is the solution - a fairer, more transparent political system which properly holds our politicians to account.  So why aren't our politicians making the changes we deserve?

Friday 19 December 2014

Keep Bankers away from Food Banks

Cuts hit across Birmingham.  Erik Pickle's man puts the boot in after Trojan hoax.  Restucture of the restructure, with additional cuts and consultation of the cuts of the cuts.  It's getting tough here in Birmingham, but at Christmas time it's important to reach out - think of those people worse off than we are.

Birmingham City Council is 'consulting the people' again about Birmingham Budget 2015.  We get to choose between spending money to maintain a half functioning Library Service, clear up the remnants of the Bin men, or skeleton adult care provision.  Parks, youth services, any profitable part the Council, heritage & arts are pretty much out of the picture already.

It's important to visit the survey, although it's increasingly hard to have 'positive ideas about the future of Birmingham City Council'.  At first I thought the best thing to do would be to campaign to raise council tax, but as @politicalhackuk helpfully makes clear with graph after graph, no amount of increased council tax, or other income can really deal with the root cause of our problems.

That's why I propose everyone working should send a pound a week (or whatever you can spare) directly to George Osborne to redistribute to his friends, colleagues and other bankers.  If nothing else, it will reduce the bureaucracy and hedging necessary for party funds normally raised from bankers and other investment specialists.

It works in America so why not here?  I've done the maths.  The Daily Mail suggests there is a record 30 million in work.  If we all contribute £1 a week, that's nearly half the wealth of the cabinet in a week!  A pound a week would be £1.5 billion a year, which while this wouldn't make a huge dent in the debt of £(insert any figure you like, depending on what your trying to prove) billions we owe (it could, however, pay for a knighthood - at present cost, it could collectively buy four Houses of Lords).

Newspapers highlight Russel Brand's bullying tactics when discussing bankers.  Is Russel Brand blaming poor bankers for the financial difficulties leading to the poverty we (and bankers all in it together) face in the investment sector?

If we aren't prepared to pay our bankers, how long will it be before bankers are taking handouts at food banks (and sell it on for huge profits)?

Thursday 18 December 2014

So why are we here?

I was making willow stars with girls from Swanshurst Girls School at their 'Winter Celebration' event when a friend saw me, and asked, 'So why are you here?'

A fair question, as I have no children at the school.  I was at the event representing Swan Corner Community group, and over the past month or so, we (Swan Corner community Group) have been working with girls from the school, planting apple trees, dancing, gardening generally, and creating a fabulous Swan sculpture sitting on our roundabout.

Swan Corner Community Group was started nearly a year ago to address local issues, in particular the risk to lives and the number of accidents caused by cars.

As you can see from this map, we've had nine accidents with casualties reported in the past five years all around the roundabout (to see accidents near you, check out for a very useful map of info).

We've not had any fatalities outside Swanshurst yet, as happens annually on Kings Heath High Street, but there is no doubt it could happen.  A much harder question for Swan Corner Community Group is how can we make our local area safer?

We have regular meetings.  We were involved in 'Playing Out' on 6th August, encouraging children to play outdoors, worked with Swanshurst for a number of events, all developing closer community.  Again with Swanshurst School, we have made improvements, including our rather fabulous Swan sculpture, noticeboard and Apple trees - many were sceptical saying it would be vandalised and destroyed, but a year on, there's been no real damage - willow and apple trees continue to grow.  It's tough though, coming back to that key issue of safety, knowing there will be at least a couple of serious injuries every year we fail to make things better on the road.

We haven't made the roundabout safer, but the reason I was at the school, and the reason we will continue acting and campaigning to improve the area, is because it is our home and all our neighbours mean a lot to us.

Thanks everyone who has helped - it's been a good first year!

See here for more about Swan Corner Community Group