In, out, or shake it all about?

‘Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, [David Cameron] said voters would be offered “real choice” on this at the next election.’

There’s something I’d like to see, but I won’t hold my breath.

As I have said before, I am extremely sceptical of any political party offering any modicum of “real choice”. Whilst he was at pains to keep his hand concealed on the subject of a possible referendum on EU membership before 2015, the Prime Minister did say that ‘any vote would happen within five years.’

There was no mention of what form this officially-sanctioned Question would take, nor was there any clear indication as to whether he’d wait until the Government has prevaricated over how to secure some token concessions on sovereignty from Brussels before that would happen. Instead he focussed his energies on defending Britain’s right to be truculent.

It’s an interesting rhetorical trick that Dave uses in this interview, as it neatly glosses over a glaring logical inconsistency. He starts by listing sub-treaties to which the UK does not subscribe, such as the Eurozone and Schengen, and infers an “opt-in” approach to international legislation, which (he implies but deftly avoids stating) gives the UK a certain licence to cherry-pick its own way through the European buffet.

Both the Eurozone and Schengen agreements are opt-in (at least as far as the UK is concerned; let’s not discuss countries applying for EU membership just yet). The UK chooses not to be a part of either, yet by being a member of the EU and ratifying its various treaties it agrees to suffer any potential fallout – be it from common market economic ties or the free movement of the European labour force.

Cameron alleges that the Eurozone states have “got to change [their internal economic policies in an externally concerted effort] to make their currency work” but that this changes “the nature of the organisation to which we belong.” This is like saying that changing (for example) Dutch citizenship eligibility will affect UK immigration beyond our control. In an indirect way, both of these statements may be true, but this nonetheless makes Cameron’s distinction void. The choice in either case is “lump it or leave”, as with many other consequences of treaties we have signed in order to be the constituent member that Cameron so readily champions.

But not opting into Schengen and the Euro enables us to control our own interest rates and external immigration policies, right? So why should we be necessarily tied down on other issues? Because, Dave, these are subsequent undertakings not explicitly covered by the various binding European treaties like Maastricht and Rome that we signed.

Cameron fishing

If we use this premise as a precedent to unpick the unfavourable aspects that happen to underpin the entire European initiative, like the free movement of peoples, or common fisheries policy, why not rethink other treaties? We could rethink the Treaty of Amiens, put the fleur-de-lis back on our royal standard and reclaim northern France! We could decide that too many people are voting the wrong way and revoke universal suffrage!

Yes, I agree; it starts to get a little bit silly, really. And people wonder why other European states see the Coalition as the political equivalent of a petulant three-year-old in a tantrum.

I’ve just got to get this one off my chest

One of the main reasons for starting this blog was my fury at the way in which the Yes To Fairer Votes campaign threw away the most (and possibly only) promising opportunity to effect meaningful political change in the UK. Their failure at the AV Referendum in 2011 pretty much sealed my disaffection with party politics, and here I explain what could have happened.

Armando Ianucci, the heroic genius mind behind The Thick Of It and In The Loop, wrote a marvellously impassioned treatise in the Independent’s election issue. Katie Ghose could have used it in her campaign months earlier instead of going negative (turning the entire referendum into a political mud-slinging match). Unfortunately for sane liberals everywhere, it was published in a newspaper whose readership was – in all likelihood – going to vote yea anyway.

During the 2010 general election, there was really only one question to be answered: ‘which party/leader is most capable of dealing with the economy?’ That was it. The economy. It was undoubtedly important – and the various parties did indeed have differing views as to how to solve it – but nowhere in the leaders’ debates was anything else mentioned unless it was ancillary to reducing the national debt. Healthcare, currying foreign investment, transportation and Trident were all discussed, but only through the lens of how much they would cost. I don’t remember the foreign ministers having a debate – anybody catch it? Aspiring home secretaries didn’t duel it out on TV over prisons and sentencing policy, nor can I recall seeing prospective environment ministers holding forth about our ratio of renewable energy. Now we have a coalition government for which no one directly voted (one vote each, chaps and chapesses) claiming a wide mandate pieced together from their respective manifestos, when all The People actually did was answer, “whose numbers seem to add up the best?”

I am sick and tired of being offered the choice between a meagre handful of parties on just one particular issue: that which has been deemed the most salient topic of the day come a general election. Subjects declared to be of lesser significance are merely side effects of choosing between representatives based on the single major issue. In 2005 it was the war in Iraq. Back in 1992, the electorate went to the polls to say whether or not it approved of John Major’s leadership. Elections throughout the 1970s were dominated by miners’ concerns and discussions of the relative bargaining rights of trades unions.

The two or three major parties are typically either united on a given issue, giving no freedom to disagree and still make one’s voice heard, or so wildly divergent on entire groups of issues that voters must choose the least unattractive package deal. I am passionately in favour of a more proportionally representative electoral system, as it would allow so-called ‘factions’ of the three major parties – who agree on most issues (those governing their party allegiances) but who ‘rebel’ as their Whips order them to vote against their personal principles – to decentralise into separate parties.

Just as the world is made up of more than three colours, so should be politics. The dividing lines that so often cause tensions, rebellions, resignations, expulsions or even defections within a party would instead become the decisive factors upon which the electorate should be allowed to make an informed choice. Who can honestly say that they have always agreed with every single policy of a given party throughout their voting lifetime? Elections would be very different and drastically duller affairs if that were the case.

How many people feel trapped between two or more parties, agreeing with the economic policies of one party with the social policies of another? How many people wished they could vote for a party if it weren’t for the personal philosophies of that particular candidate?

Imagine what it would be like with more than one party on the left, middle and right. Imagine having the choice between, say, five parties you could generally support but who differ on the very so-called ‘minor’ issues you feel strongly about, that are never discussed under FPTP? You could vote for all five, and rank them in order! Wow, no more tactical voting! It wouldn’t matter that one party never reaches an absolute majority – in fact it would be marvellous. Governments would have to justify their policies to secure the votes of their allies, rather than relying on their Whips to call their backbenchers to heel. Bloc majorities would exist for certain ‘important’ issues, but would not guarantee any dominion over ancillary debates.

Europhile Conservatives would bloc vote with other Tories on issues of justice or education, but would be heard in chorus with liberals on issues of EU integration. As such, liberally minded, fiscally conservative voters would no longer have to decide between economics and foreign policy.

Equally, gone would be the days of Old Labour disenfranchisement with the post-1994 face of the political left: socialists would be free to advertise themselves as such, Marxists could come from the woodwork and expound the theories they really believe, the centre left would not feel constrained by trades unions dictating policy where they would rather listen to the voters, and the rife Brownite/Blairite factionalism that continues to besmirch the party image would be an irrelevance; a dispute deferred to the electorate.

Liberals, for their part, would no longer feel the need to align themselves on the left/right spectrum – instead, those for whom liberalism represents a social philosophy that transcends other political considerations could freely associate with members of the left or the right, without being defined by them: no more permanent slant from Social Democrats or role of political flak jacket for a Conservative-led ‘coalition’.

And finally, the voter would have more of a choice than the least of three evils on a single, pre-determined issue.

Boles Bowls Wide

The housing strategy proposed by Nick Boles, DCLG’s new planning minister, will irresponsibly destroy precious greenfield sites, whilst countless unused land remains in need of regeneration in the cities – precisely where it is needed most.

Nick has completely missed the mark. Confident in his self-assured quest to have single-handedly “solved the housing problem”, he has stridden into the road without looking both ways again and forgotten to consider anyone who may have an objection to him building on unspoiled land. As with its forest selloff U-turn debacle, the Coalition is once again showing its hand: Liberal Democrats failing to stand up for any of their principles as Conservatives belie their utter disregard for preserving the environment. Yes, we sorely need to create more – particularly affordable – housing, but why irrevocably tarnish natural beauty when we have brownfield sites littering the country and hundreds of thousands of homes lie vacant?

Instead, shouldn’t the government be working towards funding a large-scale housing project to buy up dilapidated urban areas and inner-city brownfield sites, and build twenty-first century urban hubs akin to Stratford’s Olympic Village? These, not cookie-cutter settlements on a newly thrown-up ring road, would be the “more beautiful” built environments Boles seems to champion. These would rejuvenate city centres whilst creating more housing where it is actually needed.

Instead of raising capital by pawning off our natural resources to our children’s irreparable disadvantage, we should increase taxes on luxury goods and impose a stricter stamp duty on a band of houses higher than that which currently exists. The punitive proposed ‘mansion tax’ should be scrapped. All it serves to do is overly affect the metropolitan middle classes, who are evidently to be punished for merely possessing the fiscal rectitude necessary to save for a mortgage in an urban environment with an elevated cost of living. Finances should instead be raised from taxing those who can afford to buy a premium car for their enjoyment as opposed so a household in suburban London that has two cars because both parents have to work.

Fascinating new developments in green technology and energy efficiency have arisen since a government last had such an undertaking, and we must now make the best of them. New building techniques now permit us to create aesthetically pleasing domiciles for our denizens, and finally we may now heed the sage advice of visionaries like Hundertwasser and Gaudi, a century ahead of their time in terms of using light and space to their fullest advantage. Small-scale community development works have done wonders in our cities, and forward-thinking architectural styles have been shown to pay dividends in places like Chicago’s riverbank, where successive schools have adapted new methods to work in harmony with existing structures.

When development is more than piecemeal, there is a real opportunity to invest in the necessary infrastructure to create entire community centres that have long-lasting benefits. Better transport links, new shopping areas, and properly equipped schools and hospitals will create family-friendly environments, increase worker capacity and productivity in commercial centres, work towards solving the housing shortage (and the percentage of UK citizens still below the poverty line), as we once again become a beacon for foreign investment as a fiscally strong, developed state.

Introduction

Disclaimer: This blog is for the disaffected liberal.

To put the following posts into a comprehensible context: I am a twenty-five-year-old liberal Humanist with an MSc in international politics, who has long felt ostracised by the petty rivalries and lack of choice in the 2¼-party system that we have in the UK. Educated in an environment largely saturated with theocentric Tory ideals, I quickly realised that its value system was in no way my own and have progressively shifted leftwards. I have been trying for more than a year to find gainful employment in Westminster Village and have decided to publish my various frustrations with occurring events for all to see.

Right from the outset, I will make no apology for my political views. I feel (as most typically do of their own) that they are valid, and that our system has serious, inherent, chronic flaws if someone as moderate (albeit vocal) as I feels unrepresented. After all: what is the political Holy Grail, if not securing consensus in the centre ground through informed debate?

Those on the fringes (those with views too left- or right-wing for any self-respecting representative with viable career aspirations to get near) will have to look elsewhere. Because this is a blog for the disaffected, but not the extreme. This is a blog to see if there are any others out there who feel like they fall through the ideological cracks over which our system blithely paves, whose views are not effectively represented by any political party, and who face the choice between ‘supporting’ a party whose actions become difficult to justify or disenfranchisement, apathy, and a lonely, empty ballot paper.

To me, Liberalism means abandoning preconceived judgements of others (especially those mandated by self-aggrandising, external moral authorities); reacting to linguistic and cultural distinctiveness, not with fear, but profound interest and a willingness to learn; and taking pride in holding lofty aspirations for change. New discoveries in technology and methods of communication are opening up vast swathes of new possibilities for development in an inordinate range of areas: from political participation to healthcare, civil rights to educational practices, environmental protection to infrastructure, the potential for bettering ourselves and the world in which we live is growing at an exponential rate.

The past few years have seen some wonderfully progressive steps undertaken by various governments, as well as some woefully anachronistic reactionary politics, dredged from the barrel-bottom of respective conservative arsenals in times of crisis. Because the world can be a scary place, true. But by the same token, that which is alien is not always fear inducing; differences (in language, culture, politics, values, traditions) can also be awe-inspiringly fascinating.

My aim in this blog is to share my thoughts on political issues as they arise, predominantly in the UK, and promote a firebrand liberal vision of the way in which the country should be going. Agree with an article? Disagree? Feel like a disaffected liberal yourself? Comment.

Enjoy.