Author Topic: What's wrong with British politics  (Read 13499 times)

Alasdair5000

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What's wrong with British politics
« on: January 18, 2008, 05:27:51 AM »
Politics. I used to be very far to the right wing.

I've changed my mind politically as well.  I used to believe that it mattered who I voted for, or if I voted at all.

If you don't vote, you have no right to do anything other than sit there and be quiet.  If you want to stand up and bitch, you have to at the very least cast your ballot.

   stePH, I absolutely see your point.  English politics which skews SO far to the right now it's nearly funny instead of just plain tragic has, for most of my life, been both functionally a single party system and a choice not so much of who to vote for but who you dispise more to vote against.

   That being said, I'm with Russell on this one.  The only tool any of us have to change things is our voice, or in this case, our vote and if enough of us vote in the same way then change (Even if it's just giving the other shower of bastards their turn) is inevitable and in a lot of cases, desperately needed.

   And to answer the original question, politics is mine too.  I grew up in an England being run by Margaret Thatcher, a woman whose monumental sociopathy led to, amongst other things, the functional destruction of the National Health Service, the dismantling and rebuilding of the teaching system (Which continues to this day), the privatisation of the rail networks, Scotland being used as a petri dish for taxation and health issues and institutionalised corruption of a level which staggers me to this day.  Oh and the Poll Tax, a tax so astoundingly unfair it led to one of the largest protests in the last fifty years. 

   My dad's a teacher.  My mum's a nurse.  I watched both of them get progressively more buried under bureaucracy, constant changes and openly aggressive attacks on their competency.  I spent my last five years at school, amongst other things, wondering whether my Dad would have a nervous breakdown or a full on heart attack before he could take early retirement.  This is a black and white issue for me, Thatcher, and Conservatism is someone and some thing I defined myself against.    One of my happiest memories at University, no lie, is sitting up till 2am on election night, listening to my house mate roar with laughter as Tory MP after Tory MP lost their seat.  It couldn't have happened to a nicer group of people.

   But at their worst, their ABSOLUTE worst, the Conservatives didn't take away habeas corpus.  The Conservatives didn't instigate a National ID card scheme which will cost billions, takes years to implement, is unlawful and is based on technology which, at best, is shaky and at worst is broken.  Throw in Iraq, feeding Dr David Kelly to the wolves, the open assault on journalistic freedom and the fact that the Labour government have in the last few months managed to lose the tax, bank account and postal details of every single family claiming family benefit in this country as well as outsource 3 million Provisional Driver's details to Iowa and lose them and I've drawn the only conclusion I could draw.

They're actually slightly worse than Thatcher-era Conservatives.  And that's not a conclusion I come to lightly.

   So, next election I find myself with a fun choice.  The Liberal Democrats, our third party, are a joke, the Greens are a minority and everyone else is either a decades old joke in search of a punch line (The UK Independence Party whose slogan may as well be WOMEN! KNOW YOUR LIMITS!) or outright racists and fascists who lack the moral character to admit that's what they actually are (The British National Party).

   So...my only option is the Conservatives.  I'm going to vote for the party that made my parents' lives hell, that almost destroyed English society, because they're the best option. 

   That's what I've changed my mind about.  Although I'd be lying if I said I was happy about it.

   

Simon

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What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #1 on: January 18, 2008, 06:41:28 AM »

   stePH, I absolutely see your point.  English politics which skews SO far to the right now it's nearly funny instead of just plain tragic has, for most of my life, been both functionally a single party system and a choice not so much of who to vote for but who you dispise more to vote against.

   That being said, I'm with Russell on this one.  The only tool any of us have to change things is our voice, or in this case, our vote and if enough of us vote in the same way then change (Even if it's just giving the other shower of bastards their turn) is inevitable and in a lot of cases, desperately needed.

   And to answer the original question, politics is mine too.  I grew up in an England being run by Margaret Thatcher, a woman whose monumental sociopathy led to, amongst other things, the functional destruction of the National Health Service, the dismantling and rebuilding of the teaching system (Which continues to this day), the privatisation of the rail networks, Scotland being used as a petri dish for taxation and health issues and institutionalised corruption of a level which staggers me to this day.  Oh and the Poll Tax, a tax so astoundingly unfair it led to one of the largest protests in the last fifty years. 

   My dad's a teacher.  My mum's a nurse.  I watched both of them get progressively more buried under bureaucracy, constant changes and openly aggressive attacks on their competency.  I spent my last five years at school, amongst other things, wondering whether my Dad would have a nervous breakdown or a full on heart attack before he could take early retirement.  This is a black and white issue for me, Thatcher, and Conservatism is someone and some thing I defined myself against.    One of my happiest memories at University, no lie, is sitting up till 2am on election night, listening to my house mate roar with laughter as Tory MP after Tory MP lost their seat.  It couldn't have happened to a nicer group of people.

   But at their worst, their ABSOLUTE worst, the Conservatives didn't take away habeas corpus.  The Conservatives didn't instigate a National ID card scheme which will cost billions, takes years to implement, is unlawful and is based on technology which, at best, is shaky and at worst is broken.  Throw in Iraq, feeding Dr David Kelly to the wolves, the open assault on journalistic freedom and the fact that the Labour government have in the last few months managed to lose the tax, bank account and postal details of every single family claiming family benefit in this country as well as outsource 3 million Provisional Driver's details to Iowa and lose them and I've drawn the only conclusion I could draw.

They're actually slightly worse than Thatcher-era Conservatives.  And that's not a conclusion I come to lightly.

   So, next election I find myself with a fun choice.  The Liberal Democrats, our third party, are a joke, the Greens are a minority and everyone else is either a decades old joke in search of a punch line (The UK Independence Party whose slogan may as well be WOMEN! KNOW YOUR LIMITS!) or outright racists and fascists who lack the moral character to admit that's what they actually are (The British National Party).

   So...my only option is the Conservatives.  I'm going to vote for the party that made my parents' lives hell, that almost destroyed English society, because they're the best option. 

   That's what I've changed my mind about.  Although I'd be lying if I said I was happy about it.
   

Woh, That's quite a long diversion you threw up there Alasdair...  So, I'll respond in type and wait for a mod to cut us off and throw us out...

I sympathise, I really do...  After the Blair years, the nation was in desperate need of a moment of collective catharsis - exactly what the US primaries are releasing into the American body politic, and what 1997 gave us after Major.  What we got, was the handover...  The vile snake left Downing Street, the big beasts were retired (Prescott, Blunkett, Blears, Clarke, Reid) and we got a slightly different edition of the Labour government.  Similar names and faces, slightly different tone.

Your charge sheet is a pretty solid one too...I've tried to stand up and be counted against the ID cards scheme, raged a blue fit against Habeus Corpus and Double Jeopardy, and the war is... well...The War.

But for me, personally, I see this as a new government... The Brown Administration is a tangibly different beast, and while Blair personally had a knee-jerk-illiberalism born of his legal training that led him to systematically undermine our justice system, I've yet to see anything more than a slightly malevolent pragmatism from the current incumbent.  I don't think there are any ground at all for blaming the current regime for the illiberalism in the legal system of the last one (after all, Jack Straw is the only former Home Secretary who has a place in the current government), when that attitude came firmly from the head of the snake, not its tail.  But then, we could argue these issues all night - what it comes down to is instinct.

The Brown government has lost the support of the middle classes in the South, and specifically it has lost any support from the media...  You can almost feel the gears turning as Britain returns to it's old system of class-party-region-media factionalism.  Under Blair the divide was firmly urban versus rural... Blair was the leader of the urban classes, the Tories were the old shires.  Under Brown this has shifted, as Cameron takes back the urban elite and Britain re-polarises to South V North, the elite schools climb back up to the forefront of importance.  The financial vested interests that have infested the south of England since the enclosures of the 17th century are waiting to take the country to the cleaners yet again, divvying up tax cuts between them as they fuck up our relationship with Europe, hand us a divorce from our northern neighbour, and get into bed with any tin pot dictator who wants to hand BAE a pile of cash.

And so, I'll say it simply, deep in my guts, I feel the way Nye Bevan felt:
"No amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin." - Aneurin Bevan

Three and a half further years of government with Osborne as Chancellor, and Redwood back on the front line throwing rocks at Brussels, is far too scary to risk for 6 months of cathartic "change".  I used to hope that one day we could get a decent Lib Dem semi-government via a hung parliament, and through them we'd finally fix the constitution in a less partisan way than either of the two main parties would be willing to countenance.  But at the moment the risk of an overall majority to the Tories is looking too great.

And it is for this reason, after 4 elections of uniformly voting for the Liberal Democrat candidate on my poll sheet, I'm probably going to find myself biting my tongue and voting Labour at the next election.
« Last Edit: January 18, 2008, 06:55:25 AM by Simon »

Russell Nash

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What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #2 on: January 18, 2008, 06:46:43 AM »
Woh, That's quite a long diversion you threw up there Alasdair...  So, I'll respond in type and wait for a mod to cut us off and throw us out...

If this conversation gets a little traction, I'll just split it off.  Always feel free to comment on what folks say.

I actually like the inside veiw of British politics.  Inside meaning British as opposed to American.
« Last Edit: January 18, 2008, 06:51:31 AM by Russell Nash »

Alasdair5000

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What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #3 on: January 18, 2008, 11:43:01 AM »

Simon:  Woh, That's quite a long diversion you threw up there Alasdair...  So, I'll respond in type and wait for a mod to cut us off and throw us out...


Cool:)

Simon:  I sympathise, I really do...  After the Blair years, the nation was in desperate need of a moment of collective catharsis - exactly what the US primaries are releasing into the American body politic, and what 1997 gave us after Major.  What we got, was the handover...  The vile snake left Downing Street, the big beasts were retired (Prescott, Blunkett, Blears, Clarke, Reid) and we got a slightly different edition of the Labour government.  Similar names and faces, slightly different tone.

   Yeah, the old Who lyric 'Meet the new boss, same as the old boss' springs to mind.

Simon:  Your charge sheet is a pretty solid one too...I've tried to stand up and be counted against the ID cards scheme, raged a blue fit against Habeus Corpus and Double Jeopardy, and the war is... well...The War.

Simon:  But for me, personally, I see this as a new government... The Brown Administration is a tangibly different beast, and while Blair personally had a knee-jerk-illiberalism born of his legal training that led him to systematically undermine our justice system, I've yet to see anything more than a slightly malevolent pragmatism from the current incumbent.  I don't think there are any ground at all for blaming the current regime for the illiberalism in the legal system of the last one (after all, Jack Straw is the only former Home Secretary who has a place in the current government), when that attitude came firmly from the head of the snake, not its tail.  But then, we could argue these issues all night - what it comes down to is instinct.


   That's a very good point, and I won't lie to you, for the first few weeks I felt the same way.  That being said, the presence of Jack Straw (A man SO DESPERATE to be Colin Powell in the run up to the war by the way, that there is footage, my HAND TO GOD, of Powell coughing and Straw taking a drink of water directly behind him.) doesn't bode well. 

At all.  Ever. 

   On the other hand, Jacqui Smith actually seems to be the first Home Secretary we've had in a while who isn't

A)Certifiable
B)just to the right of Ghengis Kahn

or

C)Both of the above.


Simon:  The Brown government has lost the support of the middle classes in the South, and specifically it has lost any support from the media...  You can almost feel the gears turning as Britain returns to it's old system of class-party-region-media factionalism.  Under Blair the divide was firmly urban versus rural... Blair was the leader of the urban classes, the Tories were the old shires.  Under Brown this has shifted, as Cameron takes back the urban elite and Britain re-polarises to South V North, the elite schools climb back up to the forefront of importance.  The financial vested interests that have infested the south of England since the enclosures of the 17th century are waiting to take the country to the cleaners yet again, divvying up tax cuts between them as they fuck up our relationship with Europe, hand us a divorce from our northern neighbour, and get into bed with any tin pot dictator who wants to hand BAE a pile of cash.


   I do think there's a strong case for saying that Brown's being judged for Blair's crimes and frankly, there's a case for that being justified.  The man wanted the big chair for years and had ample opportunity if not the courage, to oust Blair on several occasions.  Also, the Phantom Election is going to one of the things he never gets out from under.
   Although you're absolutely right, the North/South divide in particular is back in huge effect.  Not so much as some groups, such as the BNP, would have us believe but it is there.


Simon:  And so, I'll say it simply, deep in my guts, I feel the way Nye Bevan felt:
"No amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin." - Aneurin Bevan


   Never read that before, thanks for pointing me at it.  I see his point.

Simon:  Three and a half further years of government with Osborne as Chancellor, and Redwood back on the front line throwing rocks at Brussels, is far too scary to risk for 6 months of cathartic "change".  I used to hope that one day we could get a decent Lib Dem semi-government via a hung parliament, and through them we'd finally fix the constitution in a less partisan way than either of the two main parties would be willing to countenance.  But at the moment the risk of an overall majority to the Tories is looking too great.

Jesus they've let John Redwood out of his cage?  That bodes ill.

Simon:  And it is for this reason, after 4 elections of uniformly voting for the Liberal Democrat candidate on my poll sheet, I'm probably going to find myself biting my tongue and voting Labour at the next election.


   I sympathise and for the record, you've given me some stuff to chew on.  Comes to something doesn't it, when your vote is decided on who you're least scared of?

And I totally agree, a Labour Liberal Democrat hung Parliament would have been the best possible outcome for us. 
« Last Edit: January 18, 2008, 11:49:22 AM by Alasdair5000 »

eytanz

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What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #4 on: January 18, 2008, 11:46:14 AM »
Alasdair - as someone for whom this discussion holds quite a lot of interest (being an outsider that just moved into Britiain, I'm pretty interested in getting to understand people's views of the politics here), could I ask you to correct the quotes in your post? At some point they become so scrambled I can't tell who is saying what.

(Also, using italics instead of quote tags may make your post look better, but they do make it harder to parse).

Alasdair5000

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What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #5 on: January 18, 2008, 11:51:18 AM »
Sorry about that:)  Any improvement?

Simon

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What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #6 on: January 18, 2008, 12:59:02 PM »

That's a very good point, and I won't lie to you, for the first few weeks I felt the same way.  That being said, the presence of Jack Straw (A man SO DESPERATE to be Colin Powell in the run up to the war by the way, that there is footage, my HAND TO GOD, of Powell coughing and Straw taking a drink of water directly behind him.) doesn't bode well. 

At all.  Ever. 

On the other hand, Jacqui Smith actually seems to be the first Home Secretary we've had in a while who isn't

A)Certifiable
B)just to the right of Ghengis Kahn

or

C)Both of the above.


Consider: a lot of the business of Illiberalism in this country has been the effect of "hard-man" home secretaries...  The PM loves the home secretary to stomp around in their size 12 boots saying "We will clamp down on terrorism" and "In order to guarantee the safety of families on the estates of Liverpool" and this sets the tone that the rest of the Home Office has to follow.  The only HS I can remember in my lifetime who wasn't a hardman was Ken Clark.  Finally, with the end of the Blair regime (and this was guaranteed to have been done with consultation with Brown), Justice has been cut off from the Home Office...  So the HS - the PM's no. 1 thug - is now no longer involved in the judicial process.  It's the best single administrative measure to fix the cancer of illiberal justice that has happened in the last 30 years...  And what does Brown do to top it?  He gives the job to a remarkably sane woman, talk about a change of tone. 

In terms of policy this hasn't reversed any of the cancerous measures that Blair followed through...  And his meandering-around last week about dropping ID cards wasn't a good way to begin (although I think I smell change in the air on that one, a free-vote in parliament), nor his attempt to extend detention without charge again.  But still, this is definitely, definitely progress... 


I do think there's a strong case for saying that Brown's being judged for Blair's crimes and frankly, there's a case for that being justified.  The man wanted the big chair for years and had ample opportunity if not the courage, to oust Blair on several occasions.  Also, the Phantom Election is going to one of the things he never gets out from under.


No, not when you have an extremely hostile media...  Nothing makes me sympathetic to Brown like watching the media condemn him as "one-eyed" and Scottish.  I saw a BBC program a few weeks back, classic "talking heads" nonsense called The Most Annoying People of 2007...  In which was contained a 5 minute character assassination of the PM...  These things worry me.


Although you're absolutely right, the North/South divide in particular is back in huge effect.  Not so much as some groups, such as the BNP, would have us believe but it is there.


I don't know, maybe I overstate this...  But it certainly feels to me like Class is back, and with it comes all it's baggage.


Jesus they've let John Redwood out of his cage?  That bodes ill.


There are two issues at the moment that I consider the deal-breakers against the Conservatives...  I trust Brussels more than I trust Westminster,  as a liberal I reckon that while we are in the union our own government can't go too far against our interests.  I am absolutely convinced that the Conservatives cannot be trusted on Europe...  They've spent the last 10 years witch-hunting the wet-European tendency out of their party (the Hurds and Ken Clarkes), you could see that by the selection of IDS and Howard as leader by the party base...  All of their MP's standing for selection this time around are likely to be visceral Anti-Europeans, so even if they are avoiding talking about it now, they won't be able to control themselves when they are in power.  The Conservatives are going to do their best to throw a spanner into every aspect of our relationship with our closest allies and - to be honest - cousins and family (definitely my family personally), because fundamentally a large proportion/majority of their support base want out.

Redwood was a prominent member of what Major called "The Bastards" in his famous off the record recording, and more than any other Major-era figure he has been re-habilitated by Cameron...  The Bastards were named that for systematically undermining the Conservative Government on Europe...  I think Iain Duncan Smith was also one of The Bastards...  It makes me very wary of them on Europe (Addendum: Redwood is apparently only chair of their committee on economic competitiveness, not shadow cabinet material)

The other deal breaker for me is Scotland... The union is at the most fragile it has been in a hundred years, and Salmond in the devolved government up against Cameron in Westminster will end up the most god-ugly spitting contest.  There has been a sea-change in England's attitude to the union of the last 5 years that, I suspect, means that if handed a referendum they'd choose to drop their union with Scotland.  The best way for that to happen is to hand Salmond (leader of the Scottish National Party to non-Brits and head of the Scottish Government) a Tory enemy that he can fire up his base about, make himself into a Ken Livingstone figure, and annoy enough that Cameron sees English votes in deepening the rift.  I do not want to end up a citizen of neither Europe, nor Britain, but just England...  And that is my ongoing nightmare of a Conservative government.

Maybe i'm being melodramatic, it's perfectly possibly that the Civil Service will do what the Civil Service always does, and make sure no real change ever happens...  But I'm not really willing to take the risk.  I'll stick with a Scot in Westminster, until that ***** Salmond is kicked out.


   I sympathise and for the record, you've given me some stuff to chew on.  Comes to something doesn't it, when your vote is decided on who you're least scared of?

And I totally agree, a Labour Liberal Democrat hung Parliament would have been the best possible outcome for us. 

Yeah, and if it looks like a likelihood i'll vote Liberal Democrat again...  But the Conservative resurgence is looking overwhelming, and in that battle I know which side I am on.

Edited for profanity and accuracy
« Last Edit: January 18, 2008, 02:03:14 PM by Simon »

Alasdair5000

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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #7 on: January 19, 2008, 06:03:05 PM »

Simon:Consider: a lot of the business of Illiberalism in this country has been the effect of "hard-man" home secretaries...  The PM loves the home secretary to stomp around in their size 12 boots saying "We will clamp down on terrorism" and "In order to guarantee the safety of families on the estates of Liverpool" and this sets the tone that the rest of the Home Office has to follow.  The only HS I can remember in my lifetime who wasn't a hardman was Ken Clark.  Finally, with the end of the Blair regime (and this was guaranteed to have been done with consultation with Brown), Justice has been cut off from the Home Office...  So the HS - the PM's no. 1 thug - is now no longer involved in the judicial process.  It's the best single administrative measure to fix the cancer of illiberal justice that has happened in the last 30 years...  And what does Brown do to top it?  He gives the job to a remarkably sane woman, talk about a change of tone. 
   Take your point.

Oh and Clark wasn't a hard man he was just an idiot.

And here's a hideous geek confession.

   The moment where my tory hatred was cemented was a lot earlier than the, frankly, basically permenant damage to my father's mental health (He's not a drooling basket case, I hasten to add but no one, no one should ever have to sit in a class room aged 17, watching their father scream at a late arrival for absolutely no reason other than his job is slowly killing him and wondering whether he was going to have a heart attack.  Good times.).
   No, the real stressor, as Criminal Minds would put it, was when I was 10 and I heard Ken Clark (Who would later go on to royally shaft the Education system) explain that there was no money to back the HOTOL spaceplane.  A system that worked, was cheap and could have put the UK in direct competition with every other spacefaring nation.

Like I say, idiot.

Like I say, I'm a huge geek:)

Simon:In terms of policy this hasn't reversed any of the cancerous measures that Blair followed through...  And his meandering-around last week about dropping ID cards wasn't a good way to begin (although I think I smell change in the air on that one, a free-vote in parliament), nor his attempt to extend detention without charge again.  But still, this is definitely, definitely progress... 
   See I disagree on this one because if they step down ffrom ID cards, at all, then it's a huge loss of face AND money.  I honestly think they're cretinous, and embarassed, enough to push it through.  Even then, if it goes to a free vote, I cannot see enough MPs with the backbone to vote it down.

Simon:No, not when you have an extremely hostile media...  Nothing makes me sympathetic to Brown like watching the media condemn him as "one-eyed" and Scottish.  I saw a BBC program a few weeks back, classic "talking heads" nonsense called The Most Annoying People of 2007...  In which was contained a 5 minute character assassination of the PM...  These things worry me.

   Christ.  Although in fairness I do think that ten years of Labour briefings, Campbell standing on the necks of journalists who were out of line and oddly, hard man HS'es (John Reid, it is reported, in the days after the 'sexing up' allegations broke and shortly before the extremely odd death of David Kelly, arrived at the BBC and announced 'You fuckers have been giving us the shaft for the last eighteen months.  Now it's your turn.') means that the Beeb in particular are looking for payback.  Whilst that's not journalism it's as you say character assassination, I can't help but feel there are bridges to be built there, on both sides.


Simon:I don't know, maybe I overstate this...  But it certainly feels to me like Class is back, and with it comes all it's baggage.

   I don't think class ever left.  I think it was stratified under Thatcher and reconfigured slightly under Blair, mostly along the lines you say.  But fundamentally, this country has an institutionalised class system that's now expanded to take in schools and hospitals too.

Simon:There are two issues at the moment that I consider the deal-breakers against the Conservatives...  I trust Brussels more than I trust Westminster,  as a liberal I reckon that while we are in the union our own government can't go too far against our interests.  I am absolutely convinced that the Conservatives cannot be trusted on Europe...  They've spent the last 10 years witch-hunting the wet-European tendency out of their party (the Hurds and Ken Clarkes), you could see that by the selection of IDS and Howard as leader by the party base...  All of their MP's standing for selection this time around are likely to be visceral Anti-Europeans, so even if they are avoiding talking about it now, they won't be able to control themselves when they are in power.  The Conservatives are going to do their best to throw a spanner into every aspect of our relationship with our closest allies and - to be honest - cousins and family (definitely my family personally), because fundamentally a large proportion/majority of their support base want out.
   I remember reading somewhere that the baseline age of the Conservative party was now up in the mid-60s.  The Family Guy line about the symbols of the Republican party ('An elephant and a big fat white guy whose frightened of change!')leaps to mind.  And this one, I think, is the issue that the Conservatives may well break over.
   See, I think there's a real sense in the party, a realisation that they HAVE to be seen to at least try and do something different.  18 years under a Conservative government turned an entire generation against them, and it's both fascinating and horrifying to see how thin that generational line is.  One of my best friends is 27 and he shares my rabid hatred of Thatcher.  His wife is 24 and has absolutely no memory of her.  Weird huh?
   But yes, I don't think the people who WANT to be in Europe are going to win on this one for two reasons.  Firstly because the Conservatives are fundamentally frightened of change and secondly because the people in favour of closer ties never had the guts to stand up and be counted. 


Redwood was a prominent member of what Major called "The Bastards" in his famous off the record recording, and more than any other Major-era figure he has been re-habilitated by Cameron...  The Bastards were named that for systematically undermining the Conservative Government on Europe...  I think Iain Duncan Smith was also one of The Bastards...  It makes me very wary of them on Europe (Addendum: Redwood is apparently only chair of their committee on economic competitiveness, not shadow cabinet material)

   Letting a man who on being made Welsh Secretary not only couldn't be bothered to learn the anthem but attempted to mime badly, whilst being filmed, back into the building in any capacity is a biblically bad plan.

The other deal breaker for me is Scotland... The union is at the most fragile it has been in a hundred years, and Salmond in the devolved government up against Cameron in Westminster will end up the most god-ugly spitting contest.  There has been a sea-change in England's attitude to the union of the last 5 years that, I suspect, means that if handed a referendum they'd choose to drop their union with Scotland.  The best way for that to happen is to hand Salmond (leader of the Scottish National Party to non-Brits and head of the Scottish Government) a Tory enemy that he can fire up his base about, make himself into a Ken Livingstone figure, and annoy enough that Cameron sees English votes in deepening the rift.  I do not want to end up a citizen of neither Europe, nor Britain, but just England...  And that is my ongoing nightmare of a Conservative government.

   The simple fact that of the oil and gas that comes in through Scotland is, I feel, both Salmond's greatest asset (Never piss off the man who controls the lights, heat and power) and the biggest guaruntee that Scotland is going to remain part of the country for the forseeable future.

Simon:Maybe i'm being melodramatic, it's perfectly possibly that the Civil Service will do what the Civil Service always does, and make sure no real change ever happens...  But I'm not really willing to take the risk.  I'll stick with a Scot in Westminster, until that ***** Salmond is kicked out.


   Odds are that's going to happen.  After all, I actually have friends in the CS now and their experiences have made it clear to them, and me, that the checks and balances element of the system does, for the most part, work.


Alasdair5000

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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #8 on: January 19, 2008, 06:04:25 PM »
As an addendum by the way, the first thing I thought of when I read the thread title was this:

What's wrong with English Politics?

LOTS

:)

Russell Nash

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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #9 on: January 20, 2008, 04:25:30 AM »
As an addendum by the way, the first thing I thought of when I read the thread title was this:

What's wrong with English Politics?

LOTS

:)


I noticed that problem after I split it.  To change the title at that point would require me to go into your first post.  I figured it was just better to leave it.  "All that's wrong with British politics" probably would have been better.

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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #10 on: January 20, 2008, 12:11:30 PM »
Fascinating thread, mates. :D   And, for anyone who has tried and failed to enjoy the novels of Iain Banks* and Ken McLeod because you didn't get the political references, this is the thread is your chance to gain some helpful insights.

I wondered if you were going to explain a few things for your non-UK residents.  Such as the difference between "British" and "English"  (sadly, this is often lost on people until they have actually lived in the UK), and the vast gulf between what Americans call "conservatives" and the Tories.

I promise to avoid making my usual "purposely obnoxious Yank" comments; when these UK-focused political conversations came up during my time with the RAF (1998-2001), I thought it was hilarious to say things like, "I don't know why y'all just don't apply for statehood and be done with it!"  Then I would go make tea, partly because I wanted to mollify the fellas, and partly because I wouldn't trust any of them to make a cup for me after a comment like that.

I also thought it was hilarious to drive my E-reg Mini Cooper down Lincolnshire High Streets playing the Proclaimers Sunshine on Leith or the Pogues "Young Ned of the Hill"...

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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #11 on: January 20, 2008, 04:57:56 PM »
Alasdair and Simon, thanks for having a discussion like this.  Here in the US we don't hear anything about politics outside of our borders.  I'm sure the media just doesn't report on it because our simple minds can't handle what's going on in other places. ::)   It's truly fascinating to hear this stuff.

I usually use the BBC for checking news while at work, because I know they will cover issues all over the world.  I just wish they wouldn't cover the US primaries.  I'm sick of it already.  Oh well, only 10 more months to go until we get a new tyrant president.

I do have a question however.  Are the third parties in England similar to third parties in the US?  By which I mean some have great ideas, but because their funding is a joke they get zero attention from the media.  The people see voting for them, even if they agree with them politically, as "throwing their vote away".  I'm a Libertarian and when I explain it essentially means that the government keeps out of your business people like it.  They would rather vote for someone they think can win though, and third parties are NEVER discussed on the major news networks.  They are passed off as nutcases.  Are third parties like that across the pond?

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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #12 on: January 20, 2008, 06:13:37 PM »

I do have a question however.  Are the third parties in England similar to third parties in the US?  By which I mean some have great ideas, but because their funding is a joke they get zero attention from the media.  The people see voting for them, even if they agree with them politically, as "throwing their vote away".  I'm a Libertarian and when I explain it essentially means that the government keeps out of your business people like it.  They would rather vote for someone they think can win though, and third parties are NEVER discussed on the major news networks.  They are passed off as nutcases.  Are third parties like that across the pond?


Hmm, Well thanks...  Problem is I've kinda said my piece here, I jumped into this thread because the idea of The Tories getting back in scares the piss out of me and I lost my temper a bit.  I don't think it's clear to foreigners at all that Britain has only had 2 separate governments in the last 30 years (1979-1997 and 1997-now), meaning that there is a staggering amount of unhealthy inertia in our system, and frankly I hate both the rats and the wolves (as I just decided to call them). 

Anyway, multi-parties... Emphatically no, we do have third parties of considerable influence: The Scottish Nationalists now have a minority government in Scotland, Northern Ireland is split between the total domination of two minor parties, and Wales has the Welsh Nationalists (called Plaid Cymru) wielding considerable influence as junior coalition partner. 

And this is without mentioning the main third party: The Liberal Democrats, who are a moderate force in all the regions.  In any regional election a regional party is likely to be a major force (and the regions as they currently are have only existed since 1997), but for the national government (referred to as Westminster) Labour and The Tories have had total domination for almost a hundred years.  To give an idea of the scale of the Lib Dems in Westminster: Labour currently has 355 seats, the Tories 198 and Liberal Democrats 63, the total number of seats the Liberal Democrats possess is almost exactly as many seats Labour has more than all the other parties put together...  Thus in order for the Lib Dems to wield real influence, they would need an election where the other 2 came to a dead heat, and they held that 63 seat base giving them the balance of power.

Since we've only had 2 governments in the last 30 years, the likelihood of a dead heat (in which the Lib Dems have the unlikely outcome of still holding 63 seats) is slim enough that when people get really, truly, sick of the government they lose interest in the honest-third-party and hand the government from the rats to the wolves and back again.  So the LD's get treated as a wasted vote - as Alasdair has illustrated above. 

And it is true that their policies are a bit wet - in real ideology I don't support them - but they always seem to mean well and they were the only party on the right side of The War (and openly pro-European).

- Anyway, this is turning far too much into a "hey, look at the strange Brits with their archaic Westminster System of Parliamentary democracy" so I think I'm signing out... This feel way too much like being peered at under a microscope, so cheers and adios -
« Last Edit: January 20, 2008, 06:39:53 PM by Simon »

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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #13 on: January 20, 2008, 06:59:49 PM »
Thanks for the info, Simon.  It sounds like while your third parties may be weak in comparison to the "big two" they are a lot better off than any third parties in the US.  The Senate is broken down 49 Republicans, 49 Democrats, and 2...that's right, 2 independents.  They don't even give them the credit of saying which third party.  The House of Reps is 202 Republicans and 233 Democrats.   Zero third parties.  Zero.  It really pisses me off. 
It does make me feel a little better to know my country isn't the only one with a completely messed up government though.

This may sound very, very ignorant (because I admit, I am ignorant about British government), but where does the royal family come into all this?  Are they mostly just figureheads, or could they theoretically say, "Nuts to this democracy crap!  We're in charge again!"?  Again, I'm embarrassed by how little I know about your political system.  Just trying to get rid of a little ignorance.
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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #14 on: January 20, 2008, 07:54:00 PM »

- Anyway, this is turning far too much into a "hey, look at the strange Brits with their archaic Westminster System of Parliamentary democracy" so I think I'm signing out... This feel way too much like being peered at under a microscope, so cheers and adios -


If it makes you feel any better, it's more of a "hey, look, there are real Brits who can tell us what they actually think instead of us trying to figure out whether the BBC Brits are making fun of us or actually reporting the news"...

Incidentally, I heard this on the radio today.
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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #15 on: January 20, 2008, 09:24:55 PM »
Thanks for the info, Simon.  It sounds like while your third parties may be weak in comparison to the "big two" they are a lot better off than any third parties in the US.  The Senate is broken down 49 Republicans, 49 Democrats, and 2...that's right, 2 independents.  They don't even give them the credit of saying which third party.  The House of Reps is 202 Republicans and 233 Democrats.   Zero third parties.  Zero.  It really pisses me off. 
It does make me feel a little better to know my country isn't the only one with a completely messed up government though.

This may sound very, very ignorant (because I admit, I am ignorant about British government), but where does the royal family come into all this?  Are they mostly just figureheads, or could they theoretically say, "Nuts to this democracy crap!  We're in charge again!"?  Again, I'm embarrassed by how little I know about your political system.  Just trying to get rid of a little ignorance.

Yeah.  I wasn't joking about that "Big Book of British Politics."  I'm really curious about how your system works (or fails to work?).  All I know about England comes from Monty Python and Doctor Who.  England is a mystery to me.
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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #16 on: January 21, 2008, 04:51:12 AM »
Simon:  I will add my thanks to the chorus here.  I hear a lot about Britain's international stances, but not much about internal politics, so I'm very interested in what you have to say and not in a point and laugh kind of way.

Chodon:  The reason other countries have more than two political parties is because they use Parliamentry Systems.  They work totally differently.  The US is the only country to have ever had a Presidential Democracy and not fallen into a Dictatorship. 

I won't go into details (the Wikipedia artical is very precise), but I'll give a little example from the Berlin local government.  (Disclaimer: There are many variations to the Parliamentary System.  This is just an example from one)  My numbers are fictious, but the positions of the parties and the outcome are correct.  There were seven (maybe eight) parties of decent size running in the last election.  They were fighting over seats, that are similiar to the seats in the House of Reps, each represented a section of Berlin.  I forget how many seats, so let's just say 101. 

After the voting they looked at the results and saw:  The SPD had 45 seats. The CDU had 33. The FDP had 8. The PDS had 7. The Greens had 6.  The NPD(?) had 2.  You need 5% to get your seats, so the NPD had to give up their seats and the seats were split between the two frontrunners.  Nobody had the 51 seats needed for the majority.  The SPD and PDS made a coalition giving them 52 seats.  They picked someone to be Mayor and that's the government in Berlin. 

That's why third parties make a difference in other countries and why they can't in the States.  A party can start off small in other countries and still make a real difference and then they can grow.  The FDP had 8% and could have been in the controlling coalition and the party is only 20 or 25 years old.  The Greens make an impact to and their about that old.  The German foreign minister was a Green in the last government.

In the States you need to do more of a battle inside the party to make a difference.  Like the evangelicals have done in the Republican Party. 

Anyway, I'll stop here. 

Edit: Clarification and spelling
« Last Edit: January 21, 2008, 05:01:06 AM by Russell Nash »

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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #17 on: January 21, 2008, 05:40:46 AM »


I do have a question however.  Are the third parties in England similar to third parties in the US?  By which I mean some have great ideas, but because their funding is a joke they get zero attention from the media.  The people see voting for them, even if they agree with them politically, as "throwing their vote away".  I'm a Libertarian and when I explain it essentially means that the government keeps out of your business people like it.  They would rather vote for someone they think can win though, and third parties are NEVER discussed on the major news networks.  They are passed off as nutcases.  Are third parties like that across the pond?


   Like Simon's mentioned, the Liberals actually make a fairly solid showing and have done for some time, up to and including, prior to the ousting of the last Tory government, the possibility of a Liberal/Labour Coalition being discussed if I remember correctly.  They're not a wasted vote, by any stretch of the imagination but again, as Simon discusses, they're also more than a little wet when it comes to their policies.  For what it's worth, the reason they're at least partially off the table for me is I live in a city with a Liberal controlled council who have managed some epic incompetence since they came to power.

But, then again, so did everyone else, and that's the problem.

   So yeah, the Liberals are actually a measurable force.  After that, there's a REALLY big drop off to the twin hilarities that are the British National Party ('We're not racists but foreign people should be thrown out and should stop coming over here stealing our jobs and marrying our women.'  SERIOUSLY.) and the UK Independence Party who are four businessmen and, briefly, a Chat Show host who want us out of Europe and, one can only assume, back wearing those charming large hats with the huge buckles on the front.

   So, the good news is we have a three party system.  The bad news is that none of those three parties are an attractive prospect, nor have they been for close to a decade and the end result is that it comes down to, as I was saying in the other thread, who you hate the least or who scares you the most.

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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #18 on: January 21, 2008, 05:42:19 AM »
Hmm, Well thanks...  Problem is I've kinda said my piece here, I jumped into this thread because the idea of The Tories getting back in scares the piss out of me and I lost my temper a bit.  I don't think it's clear to foreigners at all that Britain has only had 2 separate governments in the last 30 years (1979-1997 and 1997-now), meaning that there is a staggering amount of unhealthy inertia in our system, and frankly I hate both the rats and the wolves (as I just decided to call them). 

   SOLD!  And for the record, you're one of the smartest, most articulate people I've come across on this subject.

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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #19 on: January 21, 2008, 05:46:11 AM »


This may sound very, very ignorant (because I admit, I am ignorant about British government), but where does the royal family come into all this?  Are they mostly just figureheads, or could they theoretically say, "Nuts to this democracy crap!  We're in charge again!"?  Again, I'm embarrassed by how little I know about your political system.  Just trying to get rid of a little ignorance.


   I wouldn't worry, our political system is more than a little eccentric in some ways.  As I understand it, the way the Royal Family fit in is as follows:

They're in charge.

Technically.

   A sitting Prime Minister must visit the Queen and ask for Parliament to be dissolved when a General Election is called (By the way, there's actually a sliding scale, a window of opportunity about a year long as I recall, within which said election can be called.).  The Queen is Head of State, the various senior Royals are heads of the Armed Forces but it's technically a figurehead position.  Which hasn't stopped friends of mine speculating about exactly who the Army would side with if it came to it, but that's a whole different cheap air port novel...

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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #20 on: January 21, 2008, 05:48:04 AM »
Yeah.  I wasn't joking about that "Big Book of British Politics."  I'm really curious about how your system works (or fails to work?).  All I know about England comes from Monty Python and Doctor Who.  England is a mystery to me.

   No problem, try this:)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_of_United_Kingdom

Very impressive, very focussed article with a bunch of satellites, should get you started.

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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #21 on: January 21, 2008, 06:59:16 AM »


This may sound very, very ignorant (because I admit, I am ignorant about British government), but where does the royal family come into all this?  Are they mostly just figureheads, or could they theoretically say, "Nuts to this democracy crap!  We're in charge again!"?  Again, I'm embarrassed by how little I know about your political system.  Just trying to get rid of a little ignorance.


   I wouldn't worry, our political system is more than a little eccentric in some ways.  As I understand it, the way the Royal Family fit in is as follows:

They're in charge.

Technically.

   A sitting Prime Minister must visit the Queen and ask for Parliament to be dissolved when a General Election is called (By the way, there's actually a sliding scale, a window of opportunity about a year long as I recall, within which said election can be called.).  The Queen is Head of State, the various senior Royals are heads of the Armed Forces but it's technically a figurehead position.  Which hasn't stopped friends of mine speculating about exactly who the Army would side with if it came to it, but that's a whole different cheap air port novel...

Ok, well done Chodon, you've just walked straight into one of my pet subjects... So please excuse me for coming back into this discussion.  Disclaimer: Simon's opinions on the monarchy are unusual and aren't shared by pretty much anyone-else.

As Alasdair just said above, the Monarchy is technically a figurehead position, but this isn't really the way it works.  The thing about the monarchy is that, like any other political role, it reshapes itself to whoever has the job.  Elizabeth II has had the job of Queen for quite such a long time (over 50 years now) that there is almost no collective memory of what the monarchy used to be like before she came along.  In my mind Elizabeth II has undermined almost all the historical roles of the monarchy and moved it from being a position of leadership to being the stuff of gossip columns.  Elizabeth II is the worst Queen England has ever had.

Common Sense by Tom Paine (you know, the book that kick-started the American Revolution) has a nice summary (in hostile terms) of the role of the monarch in the British system, and I'll stick it up here:

I know it is difficult to get over local or long standing prejudices, yet if we will suffer ourselves to examine the component parts of the English Constitution, we shall find them to be the base remains of two ancient tyrannies, compounded with some new republican materials.   

First.—The remains of monarchical tyranny in the person of the king.   

Secondly.—The remains of aristocratical tyranny in the persons of the peers.   

Thirdly.—The new republican materials, in the persons of the commons, on whose virtue depends the freedom of England.   

The two first, by being hereditary, are independent of the people; wherefore in a constitutional sense they contribute nothing towards the freedom of the state.  To say that the constitution of England is a union of three powers reciprocally checking each other, is farcical, either the words have no meaning, or they are flat contradictions.   

To say that the commons is a check upon the king, presupposes two things.   

First.—That the king is not to be trusted without being looked after, or in other words, that a thirst for absolute power is the natural disease of monarchy.   

Secondly.—That the Commons, by being appointed for that purpose, are either wiser or more worthy of confidence than the crown.
But as the same constitution which gives the commons a power to check the king by withholding the supplies, gives afterwards the king a power to check the commons, by empowering him to reject their other bills; it again supposes that the king is wiser than those whom it has already supposed to be wiser than him. A mere absurdity!


He's obviously hostile to the whole system, but if you read through Paine's propaganda you see an idealised view of what the Monarch is for.  Basically the Monarch is supposed to be the vessel that has to be used by Parliament to get things done, and by withholding their executive privilege they act as a check on government (and of course this has changed over the last 300 years).  They can't actually say no, but by paying attention and withholding their powers, a competent monarch is a superb check and balance on corrupt government.  Bills don't become law till the Queen signs them, the Queen has national standardised addresses to the nation in which she is supposed to be politically impartial, and a number of executive powers can only be followed through in the name of the Queen.  Basically the Queen is supposed to be politically impartial, act in a leadership role for the country, and use her powers in the interests of the country at times of crisis.

Thus her great-grandfather declared War on Germany in WW1, and there were a number of examples in the first half of the century of The Monarch leaning on Parliament in the interests of the country as a whole (the most significant would be when her grandfather asked the two main parties to form a government of national unity after the economic crash at the beginning of the Thirties, and they did, something that goes completely against normal politics).  Elizabeth II on the other hand is, to be brutally frank, hideously poorly educated...  She lacks any leadership skills, any real interest/understanding of the political process, and is primarily interested in her family rather than the country.  This isn't just my view, there was a fantastically amusing article in The Guardian by David Starkey - a major, even the major British Monarchist historian in the media - titled Queen is poorly educated and a Philistine, says Starkey in which he spells out something similar to my argument.  Because of her exceptionally long reign, this flawed individual has allowed The Government and her minor officials to usurp almost all of her executive powers...  Some examples: up until the mid-'60s The Queen was responsible for choosing the leader of The Conservative Party, The Dismissal Crisis in Australia occurred when her vassel, The Governor, used her supreme authority to dismiss the elected government and demand a new election.  This means that when a genuine crisis occurs in which The Government could be viewed as acting against the interests of the nation (The David Kelly affair is a perfect example), there is no constitutional body who can do the job of taking them to task, because all these powers now reside in the government (we are all so used to this Queen that if she actually did start doing her constitutional job, there would be dismay).

So, for instance in the aftermath of David Kelly's death - when the entire country suspected The Government (and the PM's personal team) of having a major Public Servant's blood on its hands due to its desire to go to war, and the government was proving extremely difficult about setting the terms of a public enquiry, a situation that could have been akin to Watergate if there was an independent body to act on it - the Queen should have the authority to step in and act as a check on The Executive when it comes to the terms and remit of the public enquiry.

Some further examples of the total neglect of duty in the House Of Windsor is the total disdain they have for their roles as Head of State in the Commonwealth countries.  She is Queen of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, and Saint Kitts and Nevis; Duke of Normandy, Lord of Mann, and Paramount Chief of Fiji (I copied that list, I admit it) but acts in an extremely provincial fashion. Her family spend the vast majority of their time on large estates in the countryside of England and Scotland, and treat visits to the countries where she is equally head of state as if they were foreign visits. No state-houses that her family are sent to actually live in at all.  No wonder The Commonwealth is a toothless international organisation if for its entire existence it has been embodied by a family who refuse to take their responsibilities to it seriously.

Now the role of the Queen is seen to be to perform certain ceremonies in a dramatic and austere fashion, for her family's life to be documented at length in the national and international media... Vessels for the media to enjoy as a narrative,a constitutionally important Britney Spears.  Their main job now seems to be as vessels for everyone to feel sentimental and nostalgic about - to somehow embody Britishness for the tourists.  She makes the occasional international visit, and her family are supposed to shake hands with people to make those people feel important.  As leaders, and as a check and balance on the government, they are totally incompetent.

If a different person were monarch, and that person tried in some way to act in the interests of the country/countries rather than defending their own selfish Clan, then Britain may have had a very different time over the last 50 years.  Unfortunately Elizabeth II is a moron, her son is a fool despised by the country, and her family have spent far too long doing things Elizabeth's way... 

The Queen is a half-wit, and has done serious damage to the constitution...  We'd be better off with a President.  I wish her ill, even dead.  Better yet she would never have been born.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2008, 01:25:21 PM by Simon »

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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #22 on: January 21, 2008, 07:39:24 AM »
Thanks for the info, Simon.  It sounds like while your third parties may be weak in comparison to the "big two" they are a lot better off than any third parties in the US.  The Senate is broken down 49 Republicans, 49 Democrats, and 2...that's right, 2 independents.  They don't even give them the credit of saying which third party.  The House of Reps is 202 Republicans and 233 Democrats.   Zero third parties.  Zero.  It really pisses me off. 
It does make me feel a little better to know my country isn't the only one with a completely messed up government though.

The thing about our system is it's much closer to being an Elective Dictatorship than yours...  National sovereignty resides in Parliament (both the Commons and The Lords) meaning any decision made by Parliament and signed by the monarch is law.  Thus we don't have a written constitution because anything Parliament does, is now the way its done.  Further, because of the way Parliament is elected (1st past the post, as opposed to the Europeans system of Proportional Representation), we tend towards a winner-takes-all system.  Whoever wins a general election with a total majority becomes government (the executive) and controls The Commons (The Legislature) and holds the keys to The Lords (mainly a check and balance second house), and whatever the force through government becomes law, period.

There is no written Constitution to guard against The Executive wielding power any way it chooses, only a series of traditions and precedents that people have to work around.

This is why governments can get involved in strange constitutional games based on their own self interest.  The last Tory government dismissed the London Council because it was too powerful and opposed to its interests.  Labour created Regional governments in Scotland and Wales because they thought it would solidify their hold on these regions (actually it did the opposite).  Whatever The Government says, happens...  And only The Judiciary can act as an independent check on them (and even they are subservient to The Lords).

Thus, far more than The US...  When a Government gets in, it can do whatever the hell it wants and get away with it.  For the last 30 years this has led to only two governments, The Queen refuses to intervene, and the Electorate are too lethargic to kick either side out regularly (and each party has its own internally decided constitution which is typically a little corrupt) and everyone pretends we have a functional democracy.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2008, 07:45:19 AM by Simon »

Chodon

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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #23 on: January 21, 2008, 08:00:30 AM »
That is some great perspective on the royal family, Simon.  Just to make sure I understand, you think the monarchy could be good if someone competent were in place, but that has not been the case for the last 50 years.  Am I right?

As an American the idea of someone having power as a birthright is about as wrong as it gets.  If someone can have great power just by having certain parents why can't someone also be a slave, or a mill-worker, or anything by birth?  It's a version of the caste system as far as I can see it.  I'm really surprised anyone puts up with it.  Our system is powerful f*cked here too (politicians have their hands so far in the corporation's pants it makes me ill), but I think monarchy is slightly worse.

As an aside (and I really don't want to re-open the 'Guns in America' debate) when someone asks why I own guns, my first response is,"to keep the King of England out of my face."
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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #24 on: January 21, 2008, 08:36:26 AM »
That is some great perspective on the royal family, Simon.  Just to make sure I understand, you think the monarchy could be good if someone competent were in place, but that has not been the case for the last 50 years.  Am I right?

As an American the idea of someone having power as a birthright is about as wrong as it gets.  If someone can have great power just by having certain parents why can't someone also be a slave, or a mill-worker, or anything by birth?  It's a version of the caste system as far as I can see it.  I'm really surprised anyone puts up with it.  Our system is powerful f*cked here too (politicians have their hands so far in the corporation's pants it makes me ill), but I think monarchy is slightly worse.

As an aside (and I really don't want to re-open the 'Guns in America' debate) when someone asks why I own guns, my first response is,"to keep the King of England out of my face."

Hmmm...  That is certainly how I phrased that argument, yes...  But no, that's not what I actually think.  The thing is the monarchy debate tends to split into two halves: Those who are opposed to it on principle and try to ignore the person who actually has the job, and romantic monarchists who fully support the Institution as tradition and therefore support the family (possibly with a spirit of blind patriotism).  So in the above piece (and in a few I've written before) I've tried to take the third option "How good is our current monarch at doing its job?" (answer: bloody awful).

It's not really a sensible system of government at all, but the idea of having a weak head of state, who's only job is to "Speak For Britain", certain key roles in the law-establishing process and ceremonial occasions is fundamentally sensible.  A parliamentary democracy with a sane, intelligent Head Of State figure is probably my ideal form of modern government, but I'd prefer an Italian/Israel (At which point I'd like to ask Eytanz how well that system work) style president than having it being hereditary (obviously, hereditary adds so much complication to the process and makes it so much harder to get rid of a bad one, and even then they raise the next).

Also, it does make a countries class system far worse... Although to be honest our class system is so ridiculously institutionalised its not even funny... House of Lords (The upper classes used to automatically become the lower half of government) Church of England (The Bishops of our Established Church end up in The Lords).... Our constitution is mad, it's just unfortunately I do not (and probably never will) ever trust either of the two main parties to reform it in the interests of the country rather than for partisan reasons...  Which is why I keep voting for the Liberal Democrats.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2008, 09:38:51 AM by Simon »

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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #25 on: January 22, 2008, 08:30:51 AM »
That's a very interesting system, Simon.  I had no idea the monarchy had such a critical role to play in British politics, and I really didn't know that they had done such a poor job of executing their responsibilities.  Do you think there is anything that can be done to fix the system, or is it broken beyond repair?
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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #26 on: January 22, 2008, 09:01:42 AM »
Simon,  A request from someone who showed his ignorance up-thread.  I described the German form of a parliamentary government without fully appreciating the differences between that system and the British system.  I would appreciate it if you could answer what I hope are a couple simple questions.  Simple meaning I hope you don't have to write a PhD thesis to explain them.

1)  I described an example of coalition building to form the government.  You told us it doesn't happen in Britain.  Is that because they never need to or does the system not allow it?

2)  You mention "first past the post".  I took that to mean: the first party to get a certain number of seats.  Is that 50%?  What happens if neither large party gets 50%, because the third party gets 6%?  Or is it 45% or so?  What happens if both get more than that?

I'm sure these two questions roll into one big answer.  Thanks in advance for your answer.

Simon

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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #27 on: January 22, 2008, 12:37:54 PM »
Simon,  A request from someone who showed his ignorance up-thread.  I described the German form of a parliamentary government without fully appreciating the differences between that system and the British system.  I would appreciate it if you could answer what I hope are a couple simple questions.  Simple meaning I hope you don't have to write a PhD thesis to explain them.

1)  I described an example of coalition building to form the government.  You told us it doesn't happen in Britain.  Is that because they never need to or does the system not allow it?

2)  You mention "first past the post".  I took that to mean: the first party to get a certain number of seats.  Is that 50%?  What happens if neither large party gets 50%, because the third party gets 6%?  Or is it 45% or so?  What happens if both get more than that?

I'm sure these two questions roll into one big answer.  Thanks in advance for your answer.

Yeah, sorry about the epic above...  I realised how incomprehensible that must be to foreigners afterwards.  Our constitution is based hideously heavily on precedent.  So where you have the Roosevelt ammendment firmly cemented into your constitution to prevent any more 12 year terms of government, we get weird little diversions like The Parliament Act (used by the commons to beat the lords over the head).  The British Constitution really only makes sense if you've paid attention to all the details of the last 300 years of history...

"First Past The Post" is the system used in Britain and in the US, it means that in each individual seat (chosen by region) the person with the most votes wins the seat.  Our Parliament operates in a similar way to Congress, so if a party gets an overall majority (greater than 50% of total seats) they have the ability to push any bill through parliament and become the government.  This is as opposed to "Proportional Representation" as used often on the continent, under PR a party who has 2% support, widely spaced across the whole country, will get 2% of the seats (or city in a local election).  Proportional voting systems are the reason why smaller parties do better in most European countries than they can in Britain and the US (Ron Paul for instance, would win 10% of the total Republican caucus, as opposed to being treated as lunatic fringe).

In Britain, The Liberal Democrats have continuously polled at about 20% of the popular support since the early 90's, but have got at absolute best 10% of the total seats because their support isn't as regionally strong as the two main parties, and votes for losing candidates are non-transferable.  Coalition's aren't impossible under the British system, they are just extremely unlikely.  A minor swing in popular support tends to convert into quite a large swing in terms of parliamentary seats , and since parliament is so heavily dominated by the two main parties (and each vote applies only to individual seats) we move from one to the other and back again.

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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #28 on: January 22, 2008, 12:49:57 PM »
So the example I gave before is roughly the way it works in British Parliament?  It's just that the two main parties are so strong the third isn't needed by whichever of the big two wins?

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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #29 on: January 22, 2008, 01:07:45 PM »
So the example I gave before is roughly the way it works in British Parliament?  It's just that the two main parties are so strong the third isn't needed by whichever of the big two wins?

It's not so much that they are strong in absolute terms, but that the system is non-linear - having a small advantage in the popular vote makes a huge advantage in the outcome. The only way a coalition can emerge is if the two largest parties are evenly matched or very close to it.

In the British system, party A can have support of 40% of the population but 75% of the parliament, if it just happens that in 75% of the regions, that party is the most supported one (say, if party B has 35% of the support and party C has 25%).

So while, once a parliament exists, it operates much by the same rules as the one you proposed, the chance of a coalition situation emerging is miniscule.

Simon

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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #30 on: January 22, 2008, 06:46:29 PM »
That's a very interesting system, Simon.  I had no idea the monarchy had such a critical role to play in British politics, and I really didn't know that they had done such a poor job of executing their responsibilities.  Do you think there is anything that can be done to fix the system, or is it broken beyond repair?

Laughs, the thing about the British system is it has always been completely knackerred..  It's similar to our legal system: a huge mess of precedents and prior rules built on top of each other, more like a pyramid than a wall.  And a lot of people like it that way, they call it tradition.

Now, at present, the biggest things that are wrong as many Americans would see it with our political system are having an established church, this electoral system that favours the big two and our farcically badly organised second house (the lords).

Personally I'm quit a big fan of having an Established church, I think it makes the country's main religion a little more toothless, because by being linked to the state it means they are constitutionally prevented from trying to drive politics according to their moral agenda.  I think part of the reason religion is so weak in Europe nowadays is because we have established churches, which pull the teeth out of the blood and death side of religions.  As an agnostic I'd far prefer to live in a country with an established church than in one with a separation of church and state allowing them to blaze fury at elected politicians.

The Lords is a hideously bad idea, but somehow, for the last decade (since a major reform kicked out the hereditary peers I was complaining about above), it has proved extremely good at it's role as a wisened check and balance.  As a vast room full of old men and women who consider themselves wise and untouchable (you get appointed a Lord for life if you've done sufficient good works, or have made friends with either party, and for the rest of your life you can go there and vote laws down), they've done a pretty superb job of shooting down the insane ideas professional politicians on the other side of Parliament come up with.  They have shown a much, much greater concern for individual liberty than the commons.  Furthermore, both the main parties suggestions of reform have sounded like a plan to professionalise the second house, and thereby stuff it with the same yes-men career politicians that infest the first house.  Fundamentally I don't trust any attempts to democratise the second house that come from our current generation of political leaders, because the government hates the Lords on principle.

Same applies to the electoral system... They've both got a long and horrendous history of (we call it jerrymandering) changing the goal posts of individual elections for partisan reasons.  So, personally, the only situation where I would trust the government to reform itself is that extremely unlikely coalition between Labour and The Liberal Democrats mentioned above.  If that happened, the Lib Dem obsession with giving themselves a fair chance at winning (the one issue they all agree on is that they hate the constitution) might just lead to a constitution with a viable valid system of checks and balances.

Yes, it's really, really broken.

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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #31 on: January 22, 2008, 09:01:23 PM »
As a vast room full of old men and women who consider themselves wise and untouchable (you get appointed a Lord for life if you've done sufficient good works, or have made friends with either party, and for the rest of your life you can go there and vote laws down), they've done a pretty superb job of shooting down the insane ideas professional politicians on the other side of Parliament come up with.

Okay, I have decided what I want to do with my life: be in the House of Lords.  What do I have to do to get in?  Wear a powdered wig?  Check.  Eat crumpets?  Check.  Drink tea?  Check.  What am I missing?  That sounds like the best job EVER!  Almost like a federal judge here in the US!
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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #32 on: January 24, 2008, 08:08:45 AM »
Okay, I have decided what I want to do with my life: be in the House of Lords.  What do I have to do to get in?  Wear a powdered wig?  Check.  Eat crumpets?  Check.  Drink tea?  Check.  What am I missing?  That sounds like the best job EVER!  Almost like a federal judge here in the US!

Pristine set of inbred genetics?  No check?  Sorry... you're out, chum.
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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #33 on: January 27, 2008, 06:05:29 AM »
We like the House of Lords when they stand up to the Government on civil liberties, we're less keen when they start talking excitedly about sodomy and how everything except heterosexuality in the missionary position should be outlawed, even though all of them went to public schools.

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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #34 on: January 27, 2008, 12:01:10 PM »
Alasdair and Simon, thanks for having a discussion like this.  Here in the US we don't hear anything about politics outside of our borders.  I'm sure the media just doesn't report on it because our simple minds can't handle what's going on in other places. ::)

I think it's more like "nobody here really cares about politics outside of our borders.  We're more interested in Britney Spears' latest meltdown."

Chodon:  The reason other countries have more than two political parties is because they use Parliamentry Systems.  They work totally differently.  The US is the only country to have ever had a Presidential Democracy and not fallen into a Dictatorship.

(... yet.  But with the executive branch aggregating more and more power to itself, we could find ourselves under a de facto dictatorship not too far down the road if a correction is not made soon.)
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Chodon

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Re: What's wrong with British politics
« Reply #35 on: January 27, 2008, 12:15:46 PM »
(... yet.  But with the executive branch aggregating more and more power to itself, we could find ourselves under a de facto dictatorship not too far down the road if a correction is not made soon.)
Representative democracies always have this issue though.  It's essentially tyranny by majority vote.  Also, the majority isn't always right.  I think we straddle the line between representative democracy and dictatorship quite a bit.  Nixon and Watergate.  Johnson and Vietnam.  Jackson and the banks.  It goes back a long way.  Bush and the oil cartel is just the latest.  The people who become president don't get there by being nice.  They get there by lying, cheating, stealing, and sometimes murdering.
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