Fears over the drinking culture reached a head this year when some impromptu fisticuffs hit the headlines, but it has been an ongoing issue for years with late-night voting merging into a boozy macho culture among some MPs and their staff.
Speaker John Bercow is the latest would-be moderniser who, according to reports this week, seems to have hit a brick wall in his attempts to cut costs and clean up the culture a little.
However Bercow’s moves still reflect the feelings of entitlement rife among MPs as his proposals have amounted to little more than ‘at receptions and events where alcohol was served, glasses would be topped up less frequently’ and for staff, but not MPs, to be banned from drinking in working hours.
The argument for subsidised, on-site, bars and restaurants is that MPs may be called upon to vote in the middle of the night or hang around for the Commons bell to signal a vote and so can’t leave the premises. This doesn’t seem to be an argument for conducting Parliamentary business half cut, nor does it explain why these premises have to be subsidised.
I would not suggest that we make them eat Burger King as visitors to some of our hospitals are encouraged to do; some decent canteen facilities and pleasant places to loiter is all that’s really necessary.
However, the real answer to modernising Parliamentary culture is to go beyond questioning the need for subsidised boozers and tackle the bizarre conduct of business.
Waiting around for bells to ring, MPs “talking out” motions, queuing to vote “aye” or “nay” without being able to register abstentions and a host of Byzantine rules make Westminster an insiders club, and an inefficient one at that.
Caroline Lucas MP made a serious contribution to reforming Parliament with her 2010 paper (pdf) which called for, among other things, electronic voting, holding over votes to a specific voting period each day, a systematic modernisation of Parliamentary language, and an end to night shifts that make family life extremely difficult for MPs, which is seen as particularly hard on women MPs.
The examples of the London Assembly, Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament show that serious decision-making does not have to be conducted in such an ossified environment. While I’m aware that many members of these institutions make substantial contributions to the profits of the drinks industry in their free time, the creation of a more professional environment means the weird culture of Westminster is all but entirely absent during business hours.
It’s simply not necessary for voting to be conducted into the night, and unhelpful to have rules that the general public often find it difficult to understand, let alone engage with. Drinking on the job is simply one aspect of an institution that has not kept up with the times leaving it far from fit for purpose.
This morning the Green Party announced that Australian-born journalist Natalie Bennett was elected to lead the party. In a hotly fought contest Bennett polled 42% of the first preference votes and was elected after second and third preferences were redistributed.
As her campaign manager I’m really proud that the party has chosen Natalie to lead them and that decision signals both an increasing willingness to professionalise the party while maintaining its distinct, radical politics.
Though-out the campaign we had three clear themes. And we stuck to them from start to finish.
continue reading… »
Caroline Lucas MP, has announced that she will not stand for re-election as Green Party leader in September in order to make way for new leadership voices.
In the announcement says that “I will also be able to dedicate even more of my work to the political frontline, putting the Green case for change in Parliament and in all circles of national political debate.”
This is an extremely positive development despite the fact that Caroline Lucas is clearly the most capable, extra-ordinary green politician.
continue reading… »
There’s been much gnashing of teeth over the government’s proposal to cap tax relief on charitable giving at £50,000 (or a quarter of your income).
Charities are concerned that the changes will discourage the rich from donating if it’s no longer in their interests and The Telegraph reports today the government has accepted the changes in the rules will impact on charitable giving.
Most of us donate money without taking any tax benefit and no rich person will be prevented from donating to charity, only prevented from taking that money out of tax revenue in order to do so. Even with those caveats, charitable giving is in desperate need of reform.
continue reading… »
At a special meeting on Monday night London Green Party made the decision to recommend a second preference vote for Ken Livingstone for Mayor, after their own candidate, Jenny Jones.
Livingstone attended the meeting and was grilled by London Greens on topics as diverse as domestic violence, the financial system, and the record of Labour councils as well as more traditional environmental topics like air pollution, walking and cycling and incineration.
Although many at the meeting were skeptical when Ken claimed that the election of Ed Miliband proved that New Labour was dead they also appreciated that his environmental record was head and shoulders above that of Boris Johnson.
The Greens formally backed a second preference vote for Livingstone after debating whether associating with Labour would cost them votes by associating with a “toxic brand”.
A number of members pointed out that their experience of Labour was not a happy one and they had no wish for the decision to be misrepresented, as it has sometimes been in 2008, as an endorsement for Labour as a whole.
Others thought the priority had to be to get Johnson out and that Livingstone was the only candidate placed to do that.
After a robust but friendly debate members voted by a ratio of just over two to one to back a second preference for Labour’s candidate.
“If Transport for London’s roads were a factory it would have been closed down with this number of deaths and accidents.” So said Hampstead resident Tom Kearney at a Road Safety hearing last week.
We were treated to the spectacle of otherwise straightlaced councillors laying into the powers that be.
Some even suggested TfL executives should be charged with corporate manslaughter for their alleged negligence.
continue reading… »
One criticism of the Occupy London Stock Exchange movement has been either the lack of concrete demands or their incoherence. While that’s not necessarily fair it is certainly true that only one point in the initial statement was policy.
To get the ball rolling I thought I’d make a few suggestions, based on things we already know, that may not abolish capitalism but would at least re-establish a little social democracy.
I’m sure collectively we can come up with something stronger.
continue reading… »
The Green Party autumn conference declared its absolute opposition to the Coalition’s immigration policy this weekend. It called for the immigration cap to be scrapped and for a “real review” of this country’s border controls that “take[s] into account the full benefits of immigration”.
The Party opposes the cap on the basis that it is socially divisive. It rejects the argument, put forward by many supporting the cap, that immigration harms the economy, saying rather that it has many positive effects.
The Green Party is for liberalising our current immigration controls to help ensure that individuals are not left vulnerable to exploitation and ill-treatment by virtue of their immigration status.
I said to Camden journalist and blogger Richard Osley:
diversity is something to be celebrated rather than be constantly treated as a problem. The current muddle headed Coalition policy does not even have the backing of employers and will certainly be used to restrict the rights of those who did not happen to be born in this country. To those who argue that migrants can be used to undercut wages and divide and rule I say that the answer to exploitation is not to regulate the exploited but to regulate the exploiters.
Jean Lambert, London’s Green MEP, said
The immigration cap is a dishonest policy which sees migrants treated as the cause of problems they have had no part in. There are serious issues around housing, casualisation at work , and the need for improved public services but we cannot address these by blaming immigration.
The Coalition have not defined the problem that they are using such a blunt tool to solve and that’s why the Green Party is calling for a real review that takes into account the full benefits of immigration rather than simply treating migrants as a problem to be managed.”
The motion reads;
“The Green Party reaffirms its commitment to a liberal immigration policy. Everyone is equal no matter what the colour of their passport.
The Coalition’s policy of introducing an immigration cap restricts people’s rights based purely on their nationality, harms the economy and is not conducive to a free and happy society.
The Green Party is in favour of a real review of border controls that takes in the full benefits of immigration and stops treating those who are not native to the UK as a problem.”
This weekend’s Green party conference reaffirmed our manifesto commitment to “protect basic public services, which are the foundation of an equitable society”.
The motion reads:
The Green Party of England and Wales is opposed to cuts in essential local government services.
Conference calls on GPEX [the national executive], within existing resources, to offer support (e.g. policy and external communications support) to Green Party councillors and other publicly elected Green Party representatives not to vote for such cuts, support them in refusing to do so.
GPEW deplores the Coalition Government’s huge reductions in government grant to each local authority but recognises that each local authority has a legal duty to set a balanced budget.
Green councillors will be supported in putting forward imaginative alternatives that will protect jobs and services.
Such alternatives could include the following:
- cutting senior pay for top council executives
- reducing the millions spent on expensive private sector consultants
- cutting down on glossy PR and council spin
- reducing council fuel bills by making schools, libraries and other buildings more energy efficient
- introducing workplace parking levies
Such a stand will facilitate the effective participation of such representatives and members in the local campaigns against cuts which are required, and will provide a lead for other councillors, trade unionists and community activists.
YouGov has come out with a fascinating survey on how left/right wing people think they are.
Inevitably they’ve chosen a scale where being on the right takes you up to +100 and being a lefty is -100 but, despite this outrageous bias I think there’s something quite valuable about asking people upfront where they see themselves on the political spectrum.
So the headline news is that 25% of people see themselves as left of centre and 24% see themselves as right of centre. Hurray! We’re winning, let’s move on…
Although another way of saying that would be that the majority of people do not describe themselves as left or right-wing, even a bit.
The other number that jumps out at you is that women are twice as likely to be less certain of their political direction. Seeing as most men think they know everything I guess this fits.
Although, the big thing for me is that so many people simply did not know how to answer the question which, as ever, is probably for a whole number of reasons. Come on, let’s look at the regions (and Scotland, which is not a region but a country).
Would it shock you to find out that Scotland and the North were the most left wing parts of the UK? No? Me neither.
There is an interesting difference between them though in that Scotland’s 33% left, 23% centre and 15% right is not identical to the North’s 31% left, 19% centre and 20% right. The North’s lefties are more likely to see themselves as harder left but, unlike in the North, Scots are more than twice as likely to see themselves as on the left than the right.
While London is to the left of the sea of right wing South surrounding it, it is still the place where a ‘person’ is most likely to describe themselves as on the far right. I bet loads of that is Essex.
I should point out that 2% of the South thought David Cameron was very left wing. Who’d have thought? I guess you can show anything with statistics…
NEWS ARTICLES ARCHIVE