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Article 50 Appeal: How Can The British People Respect A Remote And Opaque Judiciary They Do Not Understand?

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The nation’s eyes were fixed today on the UK Supreme Court as it hears the government’s appeal to overturn a High Court ruling that ministers cannot trigger Article 50 and begin the formal Brexit process without first winning a vote of MPs in parliament. But the arcane, complex and remote British judicial system makes it almost impossible for even informed citizens to follow proceedings or judge the validity of the court’s eventual findings for themselves

Unlike the much more famous United States Supreme Court, the UK Supreme Court is televised – anybody can log onto the court’s website and watch cases being heard via live webcast, including the momentous case currently before the court, in which the government is appealing a High Court ruling that ministers cannot trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to formally begin the Brexit process without first gaining the assent of MPs in a parliamentary vote.

And so today the British news channels spent large parts of the day simply broadcasting the goings-on in Court room 1, where the appeal is being heard. Anybody with a passing interest was able to tune in and watch for themselves as the government’s legal team, led by the Attorney General, made their case to the eleven justices (incidentally the first time that all eleven had sat together for the same case).

And yet despite this wall-to-wall media coverage, I doubt that more than a fraction of those who watched any of the proceedings really understood what was happening, or could place the appeal and the arguments being made in the context of Britain’s judicial system and how it fits into our system of government. I include myself in that group of confused onlookers. And if citizens do not understand the basic workings of one of the three branches of government, how are they to know whether the decisions reached are just and legitimate? And how are they to confer their own legitimacy of acceptance upon those institutions?

If a case about mass surveillance makes it to the US Supreme Court, many Americans will automatically recognise that this concerns the Fourth Amendment (forbidding unreasonable searches and seizures of property by government). They may not know much more than that, but the fact that America has a written constitution gives even ill-educated citizens a basic frame of reference when discussing newsworthy legal matters, while a fundamental education in civics teaches them that a president or Congress cannot simply override the rulings of the Supreme Court if they find them inconvenient – and that trying to sidestep the court by amending the Constitution is prohibitively difficult, thus forming one of the famous “checks and balances” in the American system of government.

Contrast this basic civic awareness in America with the dire state of affairs in Britain. Although I do not have an opinion poll to back me up, I would be surprised if one third of British citizens knew that we even had a Supreme Court (it was only founded in 2009, taking over from the previous Law Lords), let alone the names of a single one of its justices.

(Incidentally, the PC Left and rabid practitioners of identity politics are missing a trick here – ten of the eleven current justices of the UK Supreme Court are old white men, with the remaining justice an old white woman. Are these people really the most qualified for the job, or did they get their positions through the chumocracy and establishment connections? Why is there no public confirmation process, to give democratic oversight to the selection of new justices, as there is in America? And yet how many times has the UK Supreme Court been picketed by angry Social Justice Warriors demanding gender and ethnic balance on the court? Never.)

I will be honest and start by admitting that prior to the EU referendum campaign this year, I could only name one justice of the UK Supreme Court – Lord Neuberger, the court’s president. And that’s awful. I write about politics and UK current affairs every day and consume several hours of news on television, the internet and social media besides, but I could only name one person on the bench of the UK Supreme Court. I could speak for hours about the US Supreme Court, its current and past justices and many of the famous cases it has decided, but not so for the Supreme Court of my own country. And if I can’t rattle off a handful of facts and names together with a brief commentary on their respective legal and ideological outlooks, how many people are actually able to do so?

How many laymen – people without a direct professional or personal interest in the workings or judgements of the court – actually do know who sits on the UK’s Supreme Court? How many could explain at a high level how the judicial system works, with the division between civil and criminal court, the work done by solicitors and barristers, and the hierarchy of trial and appellate courts? Or the difference between the Scottish system and that of England and Wales? All that I currently know, I learned from an Introduction to Business Law course while studying at university – there were no civics lessons in the 1990s National Curriculum while I was at school. And many others will not have even received this basic primer.

But how are we to fulfil our potential as informed and engaged citizens when we fail to understand how one of the three major branches of government works? Most people have a passable grasp of the executive and the legislature, even if they don’t recognise the Government and the Houses of Parliament using those terms. But I very much doubt that one adult in twenty could explain the fundamentals of our legal system, let alone the many layered intricacies.

But flip it around. Why would we know how our legal system works, or recognise the major personalities in the British legal scene? And why should we bother to take the time to educate ourselves?

People in America know the names and ideological leanings of the justices on their Supreme Court for a number of reasons. For a start, they take their civics a little bit more seriously on that side of the Atlantic – something that we could learn from.

But more than that, the American legal system is far more responsive to the citizenry than the British system is to us. One major difference is that many local judges are elected. Now, this may or may not be a good idea – and having watched a number of local races for positions on the bench, I have my grave doubts as to the wisdom of elected judges. But you can’t deny that you are likely to feel much closer to the legal system if you have a direct say in who gets to don the black robes.

Even more important is the fact that unlike we Brits, Americans have a written constitution to act as a common frame of reference when talking about legal matters. Even half-educated Americans will talk about whether something is “constitutional” or not, and apply this test to all manner of public policy debates, from government surveillance to gay marriage. This is important, because it gets people thinking beyond the mere fact of whether they agree or disagree with a particular law, and toward the broader question of exactly why the law in question is good or bad. That’s not to say the ensuing debate cannot still be ignorant and intemperate – it often is – but at least everyone is able to take part in the debate along the same parameters.

Consider the Edward Snowden leaks, when one whistleblower’s actions laid bare the extent of secret government surveillance in Britain, America and the other “Five Eyes” countries. In America, the people – outraged at this secret, systemic violation of their privacy – were able to haul officials in front of congressional committees and debate the legality of the government’s actions with reference to the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures of property. And in due course, the American government had to make a number of concessions and restrict its surveillance activity. In Britain, by contrast, we had David Cameron and Theresa May pompously telling us that they respect the “tradition of liberty” but are basically going to do whatever they want. And what recourse had we to stop them? None.

Then there is the central role which the US Supreme Court often plays in matters of great social importance in America. In Britain, Parliament’s “elected dictatorship” is the Alpha and the Omega for nearly all significant decisions made in this country – the government can pass or repeal any law almost at will and with no reference to any higher text or law, so long as it can muster the votes in the House of Commons. The courts then simply apply what has been handed down by Parliament, which is sovereign. Refreshingly, this is not so in the United States.

Consider just some of the most famous cases – household names, even to those of us living in Britain. Dred ScottCitizens United. Roe vs Wade. Brown vs Board of Education. We may know next to nothing about American current affairs, but we know that these relate to slavery, campaign finance, abortion and racial segregation. Because in America, the president is not the only person who matters in politics. Nor are the leaders of Congress. The third branch of government matters equally, and how the Supreme Court chooses which cases to hear and applies their interpretation of the Constitution to those cases constitutes a vital check and balance in the American system.

Can you name a comparably important British legal case? They do exist – the Al Rawi case, for example, with its implications for the legality of secret hearings, or Nicklinson vs Ministry of Justice, which confirmed the current illegality of voluntary euthanasia, or the “right to die”. But few people know about these cases or why they are important, because the British legal system is so much more remote and unaccountable to the people.

Finally, there is the question of sovereignty. The United States Supreme Court is the final arbiter of what is and is not constitutional, and therefore applicable to American citizens. It cannot be shunted aside by an impatient government if it holds up or overturns key legislation, and nor can it be undermined from the outside – the court determines for itself which cases it will hear, and a majority decision made by five out of nine Supreme Court justices will then bind the government and lower courts. This goes against everything that the current British establishment – who are only too happy to wreck every institution and overturn any tradition in pursuit of their short term goals – stands for.

But crucially, the US Supreme Court is also not subordinate to any external or foreign body. By contrast, until Brexit is completed, the UK Supreme Court is treaty-bound to defer to the decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), and must interpret all UK legislation not through the lens of compatibility with a British constitution, but rather to ensure its compliance with EU law and the European Convention of Human Rights.

This begs the question why we as a country do not trust ourselves enough to be the final arbiter of important issues affecting our society. Are we naturally more corrupt, untrustworthy or barbarous than our European neighbours, and in need of constant judicial restraint by our moral betters on the continent? Whatever the answer, the inescapable truth is that legal subjugation to an external, supranational body is the antithesis of national democracy.

So to recap, there exist a number of deficits between the American and UK legal systems in terms of ensuring citizen understanding and engagement with the judicial branch of government, namely:

1. A weaker sense of civic duty and engagement in Britain

2. Greater democratic distance between the people and the legal system in Britain, compared to America

3. Lack of a written British constitution as a common frame of reference when discussing legal matters

4. A much clearer link between decisions made in the US Supreme Court with American social policy

5. Lack of sovereignty: the American legal system is sovereign and subordinate to no external body, unlike the British legal system which (for now) remains subordinate to EU law

But in 2016, in the wake of the Brexit vote and with a key court case relating to the government’s execution of the referendum mandate to leave the EU having reached the Supreme Court, there is simply no good argument for continuing to abide such a remote, elitist and unaccountable legal system as we suffer in Britain. None. Especially when other countries, including our closest ally, have demonstrated a far better approach.

And anybody tempted to sniff haughtily at the American system, with their elected lower court judges and Scopes Monkey Trial culture wars should remember that however passionate and unseemly the public discourse can sometimes be across the Atlantic, this is only because more American people are actually engaged citizens with a moderate grasp of how their country actually works, and therefore confident enough to participate in that process. We should be so lucky to have a system as simple, accessible and easy to explain as they have in the United States.

And it should be a source of great shame to us that our journalists, politicians and private citizens often know more about another country’s legal system through watching Hollywood movies or Law & Order than they do about our own.

Right now, the American public is fixated on the issue of who President-elect Donald Trump will nominate to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the late Antonin Scalia – a first rate mind and writer of opinions and dissents which are accessible and entertaining even to laymen like myself. Americans care about who takes up the ninth seat on their Supreme Court, because unlike Britain, their legal system is clearly more than a plaything of the establishment or a rubber stamp for the government of the day.

The ninth justice of the US Supreme Court may well end up casting crucial swing votes in important matters of human governance in the next decades, such as the right to bear arms in self defence, the right to privacy and the right to free speech. And these decisions could well have tangible, real-world consequences for the 330 million people who live under the court’s jurisdiction.

Elevating the people and the institutions into the public consciousness is not crass sensationalism, as some may charge. On the contrary, focusing on the personalities helps to elevate the issues to a place of prominence in our public discourse, which is exactly what we should be doing here if our own elites were not so busy trying to hide from public accountability anywhere they can scurry – be it behind the black veil of EU lawmaking in Brussels or the bewigged, dusty obscurity of the British legal system.

It will be ironic if it takes a bitter legal dispute over a referendum fought partly over the principle of restoring the supremacy of British laws to force Britain to finally take a proper, critical look at our currently impenetrable legal system. But public interest in legal matters peaks only very rarely, and so those of us who want to see real legal and constitutional reform have a slim opportunity – but also an obligation – to make our case.

For as things stand, a constitution and legal system in force over 3,000 miles and an ocean apart often feels more familiar – and less remote – than our own.

As things stand, the highest court in our country is hearing arguments and preparing to make a decision concerning the most significant political change to come to Britain since the Second World War, yet for most of us, the judges and lawyers may just as well be speaking in Klingon for all that we will learn from the proceedings.

And a legal system which is made deliberately opaque and inaccessible by definition can neither claim legitimacy nor deliver justice, on the Article 50 appeal or anything else.

 

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Problematising Boundary Review Is Just A Way Of Entrenching The Labour Party’s Structural Privilege

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There are many obvious reasons for delaying or scrapping the upcoming constituency boundary review changes – but no good ones

See what I did with the headline there? Right-wingers can adopt the wheedling, victimhood-soaked language of the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics too, if we think it is going to advance our cause or smite our enemies.

Left Foot Forward editor Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is in high dudgeon because the coming boundary review and shrinkage of the House of Commons from 650 seats to a slightly more manageable 600 MPs apparently means that too many of those who are left will be on the government payroll.

Ní Mhaoileoin writes:

The government’s plan to cut the size of parliament will increase the proportion of MPs on the government payroll, the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has flagged.

According to new research, in a 600-seat Commons some 23 per cent of MPs would be on the government payroll, the highest proportion ever. The ERS warns that this could have ‘deeply worrying’ effects on parliamentary scrutiny and is calling for a cap on the number of payroll MPs.

‘This research shows we risk a crisis of scrutiny if the cut in MPs goes ahead without a corresponding cap on the number of payroll MPs,’ ERS chief executive Katie Ghose commented.

Having nearly a quarter of all MPs in the pocket of the PM is not a healthy situation for our democracy.

I think we can all agree that a body tasked with holding the executive to account which itself includes government ministers, parliamentary private secretaries and other hangers-on is always going to struggle to do an effective job – which is why many of us who think and care about constitutional issues all the time (as opposed to only when the system throws up a result we don’t like or disfavours our own preferred party) favour the total separation of the executive and the legislature.

Conservatives and progressives could potentially work together on reducing the size and cost of government while improving oversight by reducing the number of unnecessary junior ministers and official bag carriers, were it not for the leftist desire to have a government minister for everything under the sun, from Culture, Media and Sport to “Children, Young People and Families”. When your political philosophy expects and demands that the state be involved in every aspect of our lives, it inevitably necessitates a large cohort of ministers to do the meddling.

A cap on government payroll MPs would nonetheless be a reasonable (if typically British) compromise, but of course this is not what Ní Mhaoileoin really wants. And what Ní Mhaoileoin really wants is to maintain the current structural privilege currently enjoyed by the Labour Party. As Labour tends to perform best in urban seats, which themselves tend to be smaller and less populated than the suburban and rural constituencies where the Conservatives do well, the net effect for many years has been that it takes far fewer votes to elect a Labour MP than a Conservative MP.

Think of the gross anomaly whereby the SNP won 56 seats in Parliament at the 2015 general election with just 1.5 million votes, while UKIP won just a single seat despite winning 3.9 million votes. In the case of Labour and the Conservatives, the disparity is less pronounced – but it still exists. Boundary reform seeks to equalise constituency sizes, thus addressing the problem (though sadly not helping UKIP, who do not boast the SNP’s narrow geographic concentration of support). And this equalisation will enforce a basic fairness, the value of which makes it worth suffering through any negative side effects, particularly where these can reasonably be mitigated.

The concerns about the upcoming boundary review are well-rehearsed and rapidly becoming tedious. One might take them more seriously if those who raise the concerns showed any interest in solving or overcoming the issues that they raise rather than cynically using them as an excuse to halt something which – despite its inherent merit – is likely to be detrimental to the Labour Party’s electoral fortunes.

In short, this overwrought leftist concern about a toothless Parliament in the pocket of Theresa May is merely an attempt to problematise the issue of boundary reform, throwing a spanner in the works to prevent electoral disadvantage to Labour. Ní Mhaoileoin is doubtless in favour of reducing the size of the Commons as an abstrat theory, and if she were pressed through a hypothetical example would likely object to the current distribution of voters among seats which favours one party over another. But because the currently-favoured party in our system is Labour, and because Labour stands to lose out in relation to the Tories through this particular boundary review, Niamh feels compelled to oppose it.

But how to oppose something that is so self-evidently worthwhile and logical? The only way is to go grasping for every last flaw or possible technical hurdle in the review, inflating them out of all proportion and presenting each one as a show-stopper (or at least as justifiable grounds for interminable delay). As with the British Left’s general approach to Brexit, Ní Mhaoileoin is desperately problematising the boundary review, hoping to scupper it without ever having to reveal her true, grubby, anti-democratic reasons for doing so.

Smart politics? Maybe. The principled, moral, liberal thing to do? Absolutely not. Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin’s position is actually profoundly conservative – and not in a good way.

But apparently any behaviour, no matter how tawdry and self-serving, becomes noble and virtuous when it is performed in the service of the Labour Party.

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Top Image: Wikimedia Commons

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Julia Hartley-Brewer Is Wrong To Fear Mandatory Reselection Of MPs

Why are conservatives so concerned that the Labour Party is moving in a more socialist direction?

On last night’s Question Time, journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer – a journalist with whom this blog often agrees – held forth on the state of the Labour Party, and calls by some activists for the implementation of mandatory re-selection of MPs prior to a general election in order to make the Parliamentary Labour Party more representative of the membership.

Huffington Post reports:

Journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer said Britons would “never elect a Socialist Government” on Thursday’s edition of the programme, as Corbyn is expected to be re-elected Labour leader easily on Saturday.

She was speaking after Blairite Labour MP Liz Kendall was the target of an audience member who advocated the mandatory re-selection of MPs before they could defend their seats in a General Election, something Corbyn supporters could use to remove those critical of the Labour Party leader.

“What a depressing conversation, genuinely,” Hartley-Brewer said.

“I’m a great believer in democracy. The thing about democracy is you have a Government but you also have Her Majesty’s Opposition.

“The reality is the Labour Party needs to make a decision about whether it wants to be a serious alternative Government in waiting or a Friday night Marxist book club. It can’t be both.”

This, of course, is a common refrain from conservative types either hoping to have some fun at Labour’s expense or express genuine concern about what they see as an unbalancing of Britain’s political system.

Personally, I don’t understand why so many prominent movement Conservatives – people who would never vote Labour in a million years – are so upset that the Labour Party is once again expressing genuine socialist tendencies, and desperate for it to tack back to the centre and become an electoral threat to the Tories again. Even after the EU referendum have these people learned nothing about the dangers of a stultifying cross-party consensus in the middle of British politics which shuts out whole swathes of people who dare to hold staunchly conservative or socialist (or individualist/authoritarian) beliefs?

The Huffington Post continues:

Hartley Brewer then defended [Liz] Kendall, calling her a “very good, very sensible hard-working MP” who “talks about the real issues affecting real people”. She bemoaned the fate of Labour MPs who face either “deselection for speaking sense” or losing their seats at an election.

I can’t help but feel that Julia Hartley-Brewer is failing to consider the upside of mandatory reselection for conservatives. Finally, real small government conservatives would have a mechanism to get rid of statist, pro-European Tory-lite interlopers like the pointless Anna Soubry, and those numerous other MPs who pretended to be staunchly eurosceptic during their initial constituency selection procedures only to come running to the Remain campaign like loyal dogs the moment that David Cameron snapped his fingers. Don’t Conservative Party members deserve a parliamentary party – and a government – which more closely reflects their interests and priorities, too? And what better way to do this than through mandatory reselection?

Yet many people with whom this blog usually finds common cause seem to see this issue differently. They seem aghast at the idea that a party founded on socialist ideals should actually dare to be socialist, which is puzzling to me. Julia Hartley-Brewer will probably never vote Labour for the remainder of her lifetime – so why the concern that Labour avoid becoming a “Marxist book club”? At a time when the Conservative Party is so soul-sappingly centrist in outlook, would she really rather have a battle-ready, equally centrist Labour Party nipping at its heels?

As this blog recently commented:

It is as though it is no longer enough for the party we personally support to reflect our own views and priorities – we now expect opposing parties to reflect them too. This is a politically stultifying and increasingly ludicrous state of affairs. As a small-c conservative I believe strongly in maintaining our nuclear deterrent, a strong military, the NATO alliance, low taxes and small government. But I don’t for a moment expect the leader of the Labour Party to hold these exact positions, too. And while it would be calamitous were Jeremy Corbyn to become prime minister by some dark miracle and actually enact all of his policies, I trust in the wisdom of the British people to see through his policies and reject Corbynism at the ballot box.

And that’s the difference, I suppose, between this blog and the political and media establishment. I trust the people to look at the political parties and refuse to vote for a party campaigning on a manifesto which is so clearly damaging to our economy and national interests. The establishment do not trust the people, because they do not respect the people. They have no faith that the British people will make rational decisions when presented with a range of political alternatives – therefore they see it as their job to artificially limit our choice beforehand, taking certain options off the table by declaring them “unacceptable” and suppressing their very discussion by mainstream politicians.

Besides, who should be the judge of whether an MP is “sensible” and “hardworking”? Come general election time, surely the best people to pass judgment are those from the local constituency party, who know best whether their MP is adequately representing their values. If they are dissatisfied with their candidate, why should their views be steamrollered by a cliquish Westminster conspiracy to protect the centrist Good Old Boys (and Girls)?

If Labour’s centrist MPs really do speak such “sense”, they will surely have no difficulty in winning the support of thousands of non-aligned voters who do not subscribe to the Jeremy Corbyn agenda. If they are so wise and pragmatic, surely they could not fail to succeed by striking out on their own and forming a new centrist party?

And yet the centrists are going nowhere, because they have no compelling vision of their own to offer the electorate, and many of them would struggle to even win back their deposits if they ran as independent candidates or under the banner of a new centrist party. Therefore their only hope, in the short term, is to cling on to their seats despite often being loathed by their own local parties, in the hope that one of them will come up with an alternative policy agenda which actually commands enthusiasm and respect. And frankly, few Labour centrist MPs have done anything to deserve such an unfair helping hand.

The cold, hard truth is that the Labour Party has shifted decisively to the Left. Julia Hartley-Brewer’s attitude seems to be “to hell with the party members who actually do all of the hard work and unglamorous campaigning – they should be lumbered with a centrist leader they despise, just so that British politics can continue to be fought over a vanishingly small sliver of real estate in the centre ground”. Personally, I find that idea repellent.

In a democracy, decisions are made and influence is wielded by the people who actually bother to show up. And right now, the Corbynite Left are showing up and making their voices heard, while the various centrists (despite their prestige) are able to conjure up all the excitement of a cold bucket of sick. The left-wing have earned the right to be heard, while the centrists have demonstrably not. Hearing what the Corbynites have to say and abiding by their wishes is therefore not only the fair thing for the Labour Party to do, it is the only remotely democratic thing for the Labour Party to do.

And the proper reaction from conservatives is not to brim over with sympathy for the poor Labour centrist MPs who have so grievously lost touch with their own party base – it is to demand a similar rebirth of radicalism on the Right.

Julia Hartley-Brewer is aghast at the idea of mandatory reselection for Labour MPs, but I say bring it on. Let the Tories have their own version of Momentum too, something to put a rocket up the government’s complacent and depressingly un-ideological posterior – and then give Conservative Party members the same opportunity to shape the future of their party, hopefully by dragging it away from the smoking ruins of Cameron-era centrism.

 

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With David Cameron’s Resignation From Parliament, British Conservatism Can Begin A New, Bolder Chapter

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Finding himself prematurely out of power and seeing no value in life as a mere backbench MP, David Cameron brings the curtain down on a bland, centrist, disappointing and entirely forgettable political career

Having successfully completed Tony Blair’s fourth term of office and having a premature end called to his fifth, David Cameron today announced his decision to flounce out of parliament – despite having earlier promised to stay on as an MP after his fall from power.

He took his leave of us with these words:

With modern politics, with the circumstances of my resignation, it isn’t really possible to be a proper backbench MP as a former prime minister. I think everything you do will become a big distraction and a big diversion from what the Government needs to do for our country.

And I support Theresa May, I think she’s got off to a great start, I think she can be a strong prime minister for our country and I don’t want to be that distraction – I want Witney to have a new MP who can play a full part in parliamentary and political life without being a distraction.

[..] I hope I’ll continue to contribute in terms of public service and of course contribute to this country that I love so much.”

[..] I spoke to Theresa May and she was very understanding about this decision. I support her, I support what she’s doing, she’s got off to a cracking start. Obviously I’m going to have my own views about different issues – people would know that. And that’s really the point: as a former prime minister it is very difficult, I think, to sit as a backbencher and not be an enormous distraction and diversion from what the Government is doing. I don’t want to be that distraction; I want Witney to have an MP that can play a full role in parliamentary and political life in a way I think I would find very difficult if not impossible.”

Naturally this has led to speculation that David Cameron somehow disagrees with Theresa May’s loudly-trumpeted plans for new grammar schools and the return of potentially widespread academic selection to the education system.

I find this explanation…unconvincing. If the capsuled history of David Cameron’s premiership and leadership of the Conservative Party has taught us anything about Cameron the man, it is that he has absolutely no core political convictions which he is not more than willing to toss overboard for the sake of political expediency and his relentless desire to engage in centrist triangulation.

Fiscal conservatism? As long as he and George Osborne were able to find some statistical or rhetorical device to falsely claim that they were “paying down Britain’s debts”, Cameron was more than happy to continue spending hand over fist, driving Britain’s national debt ever-upward while exhibiting enormous timidity in reversing many of Gordon Brown’s most draconian tax increases.

Strong national defence? It took his successor, Theresa May, to drive through the parliamentary vote on the renewal of Trident, while under David Cameron’s watch Britain temporarily waived goodbye to our aircraft carrier capability (a true diminution in the eyes of the world) as well as the ability to effectively patrol our own coastline and airspace without the help of allies.

A smaller state? The much-vaunted “Big Society” was dead on arrival in 10 Downing Street back in the spring of 2010, and whatever rearranging of deckchairs the coalition government engaged in, nothing was done to tackle the biggest budget black holes – pensions and the NHS. Under David Cameron, the government preferred to virtue-signal their progressive credentials by spending borrowed money on international aid than get to grips with departmental spending.

So given this singularly unimpressive track record, the idea of David Cameron suddenly discovering an ideological backbone and beliefs strong enough to resign over is frankly ludicrous.

In fact, what really happened is quite obvious. Cast from power unexpectedly and with unexpected speed, Cameron lied when he said that he intended to stay on and complete his term as MP for Witney. To have said otherwise and admitted his intention to resign would have appeared churlish, and more than anything Cameron wanted to cultivate the image of himself as an easy-going happy warrior, ready to relinquish the trappings of office without regret and re-assume a more humble role as a backbencher.

This announcement came as quickly as it possibly could without making Cameron look completely dishonest and reprehensible. At least when Gordon Brown resigned as an MP he had managed four years as a backbencher – albeit four years in which he collected a hefty MP salary while being virtually invisible in Westminster. David Cameron’s brittle ego wouldn’t even permit him to last a year on the backbenches. His top flight political career having been brought to an unexpected end, Cameron saw no reason to stick around as a mere constituency MP.

To politicians like David Cameron, the role of constituency MP is merely a springboard to ministerial power. When the possibility of prize cabinet jobs or the keys to Number 10 Downing Street are no longer an option, wasting time on select committees or dealing with constituents’ issues appears a supreme waste of time – time which could be better spent cashing in on fame and carefully tended relationships while they are still relatively fresh and can bear the most fruit.

James Kirkup is similarly unimpressed with the manner of Cameron’s departure:

On June 27, David Cameron issued this statement: “I will continue with my duties as the MP for Witney. It is an enormous privilege to serve the people of West Oxfordshire.”

So enormous that he could only bear it for a few more weeks, apparently. He’s off, leaving the Commons and triggering a by-election in Witney: some lucky Tory will soon inherit one of the safest and prettiest seats in the country.

What does this tell us about Mr Cameron? Nothing terribly positive, to be honest. Let’s remember, he fought the EU referendum campaign promising not to quit if he lost, then quit when he lost — but only having clung to office as long as possible and having banned the Civil Service from doing any preparatory work for Brexit, thus making it harder for his successor to actually get on with the job.

In between breaking his promise not to resign as PM and breaking his promise not to resign as an MP, the only significant official work he undertook was drawing up an honours list handing an OBE to his wife’s stylist and a knighthood to his press officer.

Not exactly the most dignified departure from office, is it? And certainly not one that’s easy to reconcile with many, many statements from Mr Cameron about the sense of duty he owed to his nation, the selfless service he felt obliged to render.

And Kirkup’s unsparing conclusion:

And this is why flouncing out of Parliament in this way is so telling: it speaks to something fundamental about Mr Cameron’s character and his approach to politics: a lack of seriousness, the absence of real commitment.  Yes, he wanted the job and yes he put the hours in, to the cost of his family.

But he would never die in a ditch for his political beliefs, never shed blood and move mountains to hammer home his arguments. It was always enough to get by, to do just enough to get the top grade and do better than the rest.

Sadly, that describes Cameron perfectly – far more obsessed with optics than reality, and forever in search of the path of least resistance, even when that path ran direct through traditionally left-wing territory.

Ultimately, David Cameron was a weak and instantly forgettable prime minister because he was a centrist triangulator and a technocrat at heart. As prime minister he had no real interest in reforming Britain in his own image, imposing his own worldview or being a statesman. Rather, he was content to campaign and govern as a mere Comptroller of Public Services, the living, breathing symbol of the diminution of our national politics.

With his happy departure from Parliament (en route to a minor footnote in history) one hopes that the ground has shifted under British politics, and that the age of the technocrat might be coming to an end. His successor, Theresa May, while far from being this blog’s preferred choice, at least seems to have some strongly held political views of her own, while Jeremy Corbyn’s imminent re-election as Labour Party leader promises a 2020 general election offering genuine choice to the electorate.

All we need now is for George Osborne to follow his chum David Cameron into political retirement and we may finally be able to turn the page on this most boring and depressing chapter in Conservative history.

 

David Cameron - Coke Zero Conservative - I Cant Believe Its Not Miliband

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Mandatory Reselection Of MPs Should Be The Norm For British Political Parties, Not A Scandalous And Controversial Idea

Jeremy Corbyn - Mandatory Reselection Labour MPs

MPs do not have a divine right to represent their constituencies forever once selected by their local party, Jeremy Corbyn is quite right to consider mandatory reselection for MPs and all political parties that profess to care about democracy should follow his lead

The Telegraph leads today with a breathless piece warning of Jeremy Corbyn’s intention to press for mandatory reselection of MPs whose constituencies are changed as a result of the coming boundary review, assuming he prevails in the Labour leadership contest.

Jeremy Corbyn’s allies are planning to end the parliamentary careers of dozens of critical Labour MPs by approving plans for mandatory reselection by the end of the year.

The Telegraph understands his supporters will use their increased majority on the party’s ruling body to clarify rules about which MPs can stand for election after the 2018 boundary review.

Rhea Wolfon, elected to the Labour’s National Executive Committee [NEC] this week, hinted at the move by saying the party must have a “conversation” about “mandatory reselection”.

However Andy Burnham, Labour’s new mayoral candidate for Greater Manchester, said it would “pull the rug from under our MPs” and fuel a “climate of distrust”.

While Politics Home reports that Steve Rotheram, Jeremy Corbyn’s PPS and now Labour’s candidate for the Liverpool city regional mayoralty, has also made approving noises about challenging the “divine right” of MPs to remain in their position come what may:

Steve Rotheram, who serves as Jeremy Corbyn’s parliamentary private secretary, said elected politicians should not think Westminster is the “repository of all the best ideas”.

It comes after Rhea Wolfson, a newly elected member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee, said the party should have a “conversation” on the mandatory reselection of MPs.

When asked whether he was in favour of such a proposal, Mr Rotheram said he was “attracted” to Tory MP Zac Goldsmith’s 2014 plan that would see misbehaving MPs face a by-election if 5% of constituents signed a “notice of intent to recall” and 20% then sign a “recall petition”.

He said he did not support Mr Goldsmith’s defeated amendment to the Recall of MPs Bill amid concerns about the exact motion he was putting before the House of Commons.

The MP for Liverpool Walton added: “But yes, I think that MPs should reflect what the membership who select them are putting them into parliament to do. We shouldn’t believe that we’re down here and that we’re the repository of all the best ideas.

“We really should be looking at what our members are telling us to do and I think that’s part of the role as a Member of Parliament.”

Cue shock, horror and clutching of pearls from the political establishment – Andy Burnham, himself about to jettison a Westminster career cul-de-sac in the hope of municipal glory in Manchester, says that it would be “pulling the rug” out from underneath MPs. Well, perhaps MPs need to have the rug pulled out from underneath them. Perhaps they need the rug to be yanked hard enough so that they either become genuinely responsive to the party activists who work to get them elected or quit the field of play altogether.

The great thing about democracy at its best is that it rewards those who show up when the times comes to choose. Old people reliably vote in large numbers, therefore government policy when it comes to housing, welfare spending and any number of other policy areas is generously skewed in their favour. If only young people could put their Pokemon Go games down for long enough to make it to a polling station, government policy might begin reflecting their concerns too. But they don’t, so it isn’t.

Unfortunately, the way MPs are currently selected by Britain’s main political parties takes this important aspect of democratic responsiveness and throws it out the window. Once an MP has been chosen as their party’s nominee, they have very little use for their own party activists. These dedicated and principled people are hardly likely to ever support a candidate from another party, and therefore an unscrupulous MP can abuse and betray them to their heart’s content knowing that they automatically qualify as their party’s parliamentary candidate the next time a general election rolls around.

And inevitably this can lead to a growing gulf between the political stance of a constituency party and the views espoused (and votes taken) by that constituency’s Member of Parliament. This is what we now see happening to the Labour Party, where depending on your view either the parliamentary party has shifted to the right or the membership has shifted dramatically to the left (in reality a bit of both) and no longer stand for the same principles.

The brutal truth right now is that many Labour MPs, including some quite prominent ones like former leadership contender Angela Eagle, are now irreconcilably out of step with their own local parties. Why, therefore, should they have the automatic, divine right to continue to represent local parties who despise them and wish to put forward someone for parliament who more closely reflects their own priorities and positions?

When viewed this way, Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal seems quite tame. In fact, this blog would go further – MPs should not only face mandatory reselection in the case of constituency boundary review (the specific circumstance currently under discussion) but every five years ahead of a general election. This would bring Britain into line with other countries like the United States, where Representatives and Senators do not have “jobs for life” and must compete in party primaries if they wish to run for their seat at the next election. Such a move would put the wind up an often self-entitled political class, forcing MPs to justify their worthiness of a place on the ballot at regular intervals and forcing many of the older, less useful bench warmers off into retirement.

No constituency should be lumbered with a doddering old MP who doesn’t care any more, or a sharp-elbowed go-getter who ignores their constituency as they focus on climbing the greasy pole. Mandatory reselection goes a long way to solving those problems.

The current system, by contrast, is an abomination – incumbent MPs, often initially selected to stand for parliament in their constituencies through dubious, opaque or even downright corrupt means are then largely free from scrutiny by their own party for the rest of their career. As soon as they enter parliament they are enveloped in the Westminster self-protective cloak which serves to insulate parliamentarians from the consequences of their behaviour and political decisions.

If you know that nothing you can do will ever get you fired – if there is no political betrayal (like, say, pretending to be a eurosceptic during selection and then turning around and supporting the Remain campaign) for which you will ever be held to account – then there is every incentive to lie about your real political beliefs and motivations during selection, and then behave in as abominable and self-serving a way as you please as soon as your are elected to the Commons.

The status quo needs to change, and whatever else one may think of Jeremy Corbyn (and however self-serving his motivations may be), he should be applauded for taking a stand for democracy and accountability and against the entrenched privilege of the political class.

If political parties are to be accountable to their supporters then there needs to be an established process for the base to hold their candidates to account for decisions taken in office. Mandatory reselection – together with a proper right of recall, empowering constituents to recall a failing or unpopular MP subject to a certain percentage of the local electorate signing a petition – is an important aspect of that process.

Under a properly democratic system, MPs should fear the wrath of their local constituency party and be closely responsive to their priorities and concerns. At present, too many MPs take their local party for granted as soon as their selection is assured, shunning the activists who knock on doors and deliver leaflets on their behalf in order to cravenly pander to the centre.

This needs to change. This can change. And Jeremy Corbyn should be commended for trying to do something about it.

 

Ed Miliband Labour One Nation

Top Image: Huffington Post

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