Independent Cabinet Members?

November 26, 2009

I’m really pleased to have received another guest post from Sonny. Of course part of the reason I’m pleased is that it saves me from writing posts – I can keep the debate going on here and still concentrate on the day-job. However, the main reason I’m pleased is that it raises another really interesting topic.

Over to Sonny.

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Think about independent MP and how this might impact the day to day running of government, it’s hard not to conclude that party politics in the current system will always win out. For the simple reason that even if 95% of MPs were independent and the other 5% was one party… the combined organisation and collaboration means that the party would rule.

So you can see how and why party politics have come to govern our country over the years. A group of like minded people coming together to unify resources. But this could mean something like 37% of the votes rules 100% of the population because they get to choose the cabinet from their group of like minded people. It’s frowned upon to do otherwise.

When Boris Johnson was campaigning for The Mayor of London he asked Menzies Campbell to work underneath him if he won. Campbell considered it but from what I can see to be peer pressure only, he turned it down. It would be “letting the side down” or “sleeping with the enemy” as it was construed. I thought this was a preposterous way to look at it. Johnson was simply asking the person he considered to be best for the job regardless of colour (party colour I mean) and the Lib Dems looked a gift horses in the mouth. They turned down the opportunity to be a seriously active part of a governing body, not just someone shouting from the side lines.

It was a sad day for politics and democracy in my opinion, but it shows how our government might be forced into picking a cabinet in the manner of “best of a bad bunch” rather than “best man for the job” (or woman obviously). I would have thought that a conservative would have been better suited to running the fiscal elements of government, where as a socialist better at social welfare issues, a green party member better at energy management, a BNP member on immigration (only joking, the only role they have in the cabinet is locked away in the bottom draw behind the bed linen… just my opinion though). Essentially though, our current system of choosing a government means that we are not utilising some of our countries finest talents, just because of their party affiliation.

In order to make sure Independent MPs is a viable option of government and not one that is sacked off after the first term in office I think we need to get rid of party politics altogether. So Fred Smith stands as Fred Smith for Northampton, not Fred Smith, Labour. You choose the person that best represents you as a constituent not who you think is more likely to stop the other party that you don’t like getting in. Tactical voting would no longer be an issue.

Instead we have a House comprising completely independent MPs, who get together to choose a Prime Minister and a Cabinet so that all MPs have as much of a say, rather than the situation we’ve had with Gordon Brown becoming an unelected PM. With the whole House choosing the Cabinet/PM who are in turn accountable to the whole house, this would encourage people to stand up for what they actually believe in and what their constituents believe in. Not the current system where some MPs suck up to those with a bit more power, just to get a nice seat in the cabinet and then when it all goes wrong they just all swap places and do just as bad a job. How many positions in Cabinet has Mr Mandelson held even after he has been involved in scandals…. (hushed tones from a lawyer)… allegedly.

This is surely a better form of democracy than party politics and first past the post?

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Very interesting.

So, what do you think? Should we scrap party politics altogether?

Fewer Or Greater Numbers Of MPs?

November 24, 2009

I’m delighted to have a guest post from Sonny.

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Since the whole debate about MPs expenses two arguments surrounding the matter have arisen:

A) The suitability of Party Politics to represent public opinion (and the birth of Independent MPs)

B) The number of MPs we have in parliament.

Both heavily interlinked I feel. The vast majority of suggestions at the moment point toward fewer MPs, but I don’t think that helps the fight for greater number of Independent MPs… or democracy.

With devolution in Scotland and Wales over the past years, the trend has been pointing toward greater numbers of MPs and giving power back to local government… until the issue of expenses came about. Then the consensus shifted in favour of few. “Let’s get rid of the dead wood and cut expenses”, but are we confusing “how our money is spent” with “how many people our money is spent on”?

I believe a reduction in the number of MPs would be detrimental to a more democratic government and to the ability to elect Independent MPs. The idea of IMPs is to give power back to the people by making them more willing to vote, regain a face to politics and introduce variety. This would be hard if one IMP were to represent a bigger constituency, unable to really represent all opinions and make Party Politics more attractive. We should be working towards “A local face for local people.”

We need to engage the voter more by showing them their vote counts toward something close to their homes and their hearts. Give power back to the local authorities whilst reforming the system so that more independent MPs can come together in Parliament and govern our collective needs.

It’s like any form of sampling whether be polls, quality control or something like frames in a second of film; only by taking more samples can you get a more accurate representation of the overall picture. A large number of MPs and a proper system that allows them to work out their differences is the only way forward.

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Thanks Sonny. So what are your thoughts on whether we should cut the number of MPs have even more?

And if you want to write a guest post – I’d love to receive it, send it over to

The Jury Team fails to ‘Make me an MP’

November 19, 2009

I watched last night’s programme on BBC1 called ‘Make me an MP’ – it followed John Smeaton’s attempt to win the recent Glasgow North-East by-election. (You can see it on iPlayer here until 25th November).

And if you don’t know, John Smeaton was the baggage handler who ‘chinned’ one of the Glasgow airport terrorists.

The first thing to say is that it was a good programme and that was of course it’s primary aim, so any conclusions we might want to draw are influenced by the filming/editing process. That said there were some interesting points to consider with regards to independent MPs.

Overall, John Smeaton came across as a nice, engaging guy who genuinely had an interest in his local area – there was one nice bit where he was passionately concerned about the amount of dog mess on the streets.

However, he didn’t seem to understand the level of work that was involved – firstly to kiss all the babies and shake all the hands on the campaign trail, but also once in parliament. The expectation from the voters is that you’re working all the time for them, that you never stop trying to help improve their lot – and possibly even more so if you’re an independent – and that the effort put into the campaign is possibly a good indication for voters of the effort you will put into the job you do in Parliament.

The main feeling though, was that he was let down by The Jury Team.

The programme itself was a publicity coup for The Jury Team, but in the end it was bad PR as they came across quite badly.

One element was particularly painful to watch and that was the initial press release. John Smeaton was crucified by the media attending it and it seemed that it was his ‘support’ from The Jury Team that was picked up most.

Now, he had obviously been very badly briefed by whoever was working with him and not only had he not been given details about what policies were held, but he wasn’t even given the most basic media training on how to deflect difficult questions.

At that press conference the scepticism of the media was frightening – was it for The Jury Team, was it for the candidate, or was it (most frightening of all) because he was an independent?

While the Bonfire Night stunt was clearly a stupid, stupid idea from the very moment it was mentioned. The candidate himself was “livid” and it was at this point he felt he was being let down by The Jury Team. John’s dad said it best when he said, “The Jury Team should not treat Parliament with contempt.”

In the end John beat other fringe candidates (including an ex-Big Brother contestant), but still came a distant 8th with just 258 votes (Labour won with 12,231).

In the final analysis it felt like John Smeaton had been let down by The Jury Team. While they offered some financial backing that allowed him to stand (as he may not have been able to without it), they also wanted to hijack the campaign.

The Jury Team talks about wanting to support independent MPs, but it doesn’t, it wants people who are not affiliated to a mainstream party – which is very different. The Jury Team, or possible Sir Paul Judge, seems to want to use ‘independent’ candidates to promote its own agenda, i.e. become a political party through the back door.

This is a long, long way from supporting true independents.

The show did finish with a nice quote. As John Smeaton looked back on his failed campaign he was pleased to have tried:

“The most honourable thing to do in politics is to stand as an independent.”

What did the BNP’s appearance on QT mean?

November 12, 2009

I haven’t rewatched the recent appearance by Nick Griffin on Question Time yet on purpose. My previous post was written in the immediate aftermath of the show and was based on my first impression. This one is based on what thoughts and feelings I’m left with after the event. And that’s why I haven’t rewatched it as I wanted to let the thoughts occur naturally and without intense analysis.

So what are my thoughts about the implications of Nick Griffin appearing on Question Time?

The main one is that I don’t think that the show will have really changed anyone’s mind, or at least not enough people to have any statistical relevance. I know that the BNP has made claims that an additional 300,000 people joined following Question Time, but I suspect that that is just clever PR.

From my perspective Griffin didn’t do enough to persuade any floating voters. With the exception of perhaps one soundbite – paraphrased as “we should leave the Middle East and let them sort it out themselves” – he didn’t come across very well in my opinion. And I’m quite pleased about that.

But I’m really not pleased about the fact that the ‘real’ politicians didn’t do enough to convince any floating voters either. I’m pretty sure that is a substantial pot of people who are happy to be branded racists, but feel that the BNP best answers their problems and issues. The real politicians didn’t do anything to attract those people in my opinion.

So what did they do wrong?

Too much time spent defending the fact that they weren’t racist

To be fair to the politicians this wasn’t necessarily their fault. This is the trap almost everyone falls into whenever a discussion of this nature takes place. “Obviously I disagree with what Nick Griffin said …”; “I can’t condone what the BNP stands for …”; is how nearly everyone starts the conversation.

However I do think that Jack Straw was too quick to use the “some of my best friends are black” approach – in his case it was the fact that he represents a very ethnically diverse constituency, something he told us about five times during the course of the programme.

No understanding of the root causes of BNP support

It was easy to shout at him for being a racist, but clearly the BNP policies have got some support. Maybe I’m being naïve, but I don’t believe that everyone that voted BNP is just a racist. Instead I believe that they feel they have genuine concerns that are not being addressed by the major parties.

Generally speaking it’s not racism, but: poverty; lack of opportunity; fear; unemployment; worries about immigration; the fear of terrorism created and promoted by the Government; historical and cultural issues (i.e. immigrants being given the lowest paid and least skilled jobs – therefore treated like an economic underclass); the ghettoisation of some areas/towns; institutional racism (reflected back by some elements of society). And of course some people are just racist too.

But at no time were any of these other issues discussed and addressed.

No understanding of the fact that Griffin has clearly done a good job of raising the support of the BNP

I don’t like the guy and from his appearance on QT he doesn’t even come across as a particularly skilled politician; but he’s done something ‘right’. He’s turned the BNP into an electable party and that’s no mean feat. So while they were busy shouting at him did the rest of the panel actually take the time to think about what it was he might have done and how he might have done it?

If they could understand that maybe they could go some way towards challenging it.

They didn’t pick up on Griffin’s homophobia

Race was the thing they were there to shout at him about. So when he wasn’t discussing race it was as if they switched to standby mode – and in that mode they missed homophobic comments and they were allowed to pass almost unchallenged.

Surely intolerance is what the BNP stands for and that should have been challenged in every guise.