Change and Reform

Some thoughts on things I’d like to see happen over the next 20 years. Sooner rather than later.

I’m a social democrat and a libertarian who believes in individual freedom and social equality. If this displeases you please look away.

Britain
We have lost an empire and still have not yet found a role we are happy with. Britain needs to stop pretending it’s 1904 or 1954 and look at our role in the world as it is now. Politicians, TV and the Press need to stop harking back to the ‘War’ and focus on what we can do in the future with our economic base and our substantial soft power of influence in finance, jurisprudence, science, learning, media, fashion and technology.

We need to accept that we are an important medium-sized European country that ‘punches above our weight’ due to our being the 5th largest economy in the world and that soft power. Our economy is no longer declining it’s the rest of the world is catching up and overtaking us due to the effects of free trade and the interconnection of industrialisation taking place in the world. We have to accept this change as it is a good thing.

As a person who voted remain this is my pragmatic view on the fact that we are now out of the EU and seem to have the best of both worlds.

There is going to be a massive change in the way we generate wealth over the next 10 Years. The City has sucked up too much capital in non-productive finance and taken some of our cleverest people away from doing other things. With the Europeans excluding us from working in their markets we will have to find other ways to make money. Sure the City will still produce revenue – but the capital and minds that were used for this – might be put to better use in other markets. Just a hope.

We have:
Access to the EU markets for goods
Control of our borders
No free movement of people
European laws that we can choose to enact or ignore
No inclusion in an ‘ever closure Union’

Europe will now look inwards with power focused in its core countries – the net contributors – and the rest, who are in for the security and flow of funds it provides. This is a good thing as I’m certain that nationalism in some of the eastern countries would have spilt over into ‘small wars’ if it was not for EU membership. The ‘rest’ will have to accept being run from Brussels/Berlin/Paris and play by the rules or leave.

It will stop the expansion of the EU into Eastern Europe and Turkey as they have realised these countries are still to unreformed to play by these rules.

They only way Ukraine will be allowed in is if it is; truly democratic, with an independent judiciary, it divides along the old 1954 border with Russia and the Russian speaking Crimea and Don basin recognised as part of Russia by the EU. If that miracle happens they might as well let Russia in as well, at least up to just the other side of the Urals.

Reform of:
Monarchy
House of Commons
House of Lords
Taxation
Defence

Monarchy: A pragmatic approach to reform because ‘we are where we are’ and we don’t do revolutions, well not since the 1640s, and they are not much fun.

Public funding should be for the core royal family only of the Sovereign and their direct family. Then the Prince/Princess of Wales direct family. Not the children of the heir’s siblings, cousins and second cousins. Same with protection and travel as they should be so low key and unknown as not to need protecting.

They have Fourteen public palaces with over 1000 servants paid for by us. We only need four at the most – one for each part of the UK.

A clear line drawn between private and public and if a minor Royal wants to use a helicopter to fly from London to Birmingham then they pay for it – not us.

All of the above audited by the Public Accounts Committee with the accounts made public.

The laws of this country applied to them as they do us, specifically:
Inheritance tax
Legal wills
Freedom of information act for money spent from the public purse

The Crown Estate owns the sea bed up to 12 miles off our country. This is an outrageous anomaly leftover from the past. Their 15% cut of this revenue is unearned and a tax on peoples energy needs. They need to give this and the Prince of Wales ownership of the foreshore over to the government.

I believe that the Royals are surrounded by a little industry of hangers-on and sycophants who via them are living off the public purse. This is a closed shop for white people and ‘old money’ with jobs, income, access to servants and accommodation they would not get anywhere else. These people will fight any changes tooth and nail because they see it as their entitlement. Look at the people who surround our Royals, are any of these perks given to the 15% of the population that is now BMEA.

Reducing the size and scope of the Royals, with a public audit of any money spent and the law applied to them as equally as it is to us, would go some way to making society fairer.

As for the rest of the curtsying, bowing, can’t arrive after and cant leave before pantomime that is our current Monarchy – it’s your choice to do this – or not. The more people who don’t do it whenever they meet the Royals will mean the message will get through.

(Thanks to Norman Baker and his book ‘what do you do’ for a lot of the inspiration for the above)

Reform of the House of Commons and House of Lords one step at a time.

House of Commons

Proportional Representation (PR) is a ‘first step’ too far because of the complication of agreeing on change by the various parties, enlarged boundaries and the loss of local representation this will entail.

There is an easy and needed change which will go a long way to making the electorate feel that their vote counts. It will also make MP’s be seen as a representative of the majority of the electorate the existing constituency

This is the Alternative Vote (AV).

This was dismissed by a vote 10 years ago – but it was a crap campaign that focussed on the negatives of the MP’s expenses, not the benefits of AV. This first small step which will cost nothing and would mean as a minimum – the majority of voters would have their chosen representative. Simple, no costs and easy to do with only a limited effect on the various parties power base and control. We need to just do it.

Implementing AV for the existing constituencies in the House of Commons will;

Abolish first past the post
Get voters to feel more engaged with politics
Have a chance of getting through Parliament Be the first step towards getting PR for future elections

The changes suggested by the Electoral Reform Society will never go through Parliament unless there is a movement as strong as that for Reform act of 1836 and the Chartists in the 1840s – so that’s never looking at the political landscape as it is now.

Only after the House of Lords has been reformed with a PR system and this seen to be fairer by the electorate will we have any chance of moving to PR and larger constituencies for the House of Commons.

So make this change and then reform the house of Lords.

House of Lords Representative (R)
The government needs to be able to reward people who have done good things. This can be Lords, Knights, various awards and shinny medals. These are one of the levers of power that a government has and needs. We can still make a Lord as the ultimate accolade of doing good – or bunging a large donation to a party – but they don’t have to sit in the House of Lords. Only Lords (R) will be able to.

This is taken from the proposal of the 2012 bill with some changes that reflect what I feel is workable and also reasonable in 2020.


1) The reformed House of Lords should have 450 members.
2) 360 elected members, 90 appointed members to allow various people with the Needed expertise to help form laws, nominated by the parties in proportion to their seats in the commons. Eight additional “ministerial members”- needed to represent the Governments departments and to make their case in the Upper Chamber
3) Election of members held the same day as the General Elections and a 5-year term.
4) No spiritual Lords in a reformed House of Lords. We are the only democracy to allow this and with the makeup of the UK’s religious beliefs – or famous agnosticism – having any religion in a position of Government is indefensible
5) Election by Single Transferable (Proportional Representation) with seat numbers based on the population within the 191 authorities in the UK.
6) Roughly, this would be one seat for the 180,000 people living in an authority. Some authorities in NI, Wales and maybe Scotland would have to be combined to reach this number of voters and seats.
7) The change to the Lords should be done midterm of the 5-year election cycle and Peers with the least attendance should be the first to be removed until the numbers are reached.
8) After leaving the Lords any Peer will keep their titles but not have the (R) after it.

There is no denying this is a massive change and will take a lot of Government time, votes and a need for a consensus from all parties to get it passed. Clegg tried but was in coalition with the Conservatives whos backbenchers had it in for him and the Liberals.

That’s why I suggest starting small with AV for existing Commons constituencies, removing first past the post as an anachronism and then moving on from there.

Taxation
Our current taxation runs at roughly 36% of our GDP with France and Germany having roughly a 42-43% level of taxation. That 5% or 6% less revenue makes all the difference as to how we live as a nation and the fairness in our society. Most of this difference is caused by an unfair tax advantage to a very small percentage of the population.

Namely:
Tax relief on Pension contributions – £39 billion in lost tax revenue
Capital gains and the way it is taxed – £14 billion in lost tax revenue

To put this in perspective this is 40% of the NHS or 25% of our social security budgets. Can you imagine the effect on our society of a 10% increase in both budgets and the rest given to Education and Pensions?

Tax relief on Pensions scraped as its manifestly an unfair tax break for the wealthy
You can put £40K away each year for 25 years and pay no tax on this. Why is this given to some when most of the population can not even think of earning £40k p.a. never mind saving it in a pension pot? Even the FT thinks it a bit unfair.

Article explaining how this tax revenue is lost

Capital gains – treated as income and taxed as such.
This is unearned income where your money works and not you. Currently, there is an annual allowance of £12.5k for capital gains after which a lower rate of 10% and higher of 20% (18% and 28% for all property except your main house.) and no National Insurance contributions. This is a big saving in tax what is in effect income described in a different way.

If you are living off investments and sitting on your arse doing nothing you are paying less tax (as a percentage of income and definitely as a percentage of disposable income!) than the person cleaning your house.

Article on Capital gains should be aligned with income tax

This change might have the effect of less private investment available, talent moving abroad and to some degree companies doing the same.

I think they will prefer the rule of law, a fun place to live, no kidnapping and safe streets, no need for a bodyguard or to live in a gated compound. And pay for it through taxation that supports a welfare state that allows this to happen.
With these two changes, which the Conservative chancellor is considering, we will have a fairer society without raising the general taxation burden for the middle and poorer members of our society.

Defence
“Something must be done” – OK, but why us?
The first part of the above appears in all the press and at times even the Guardian wants us to go to war for no reason except ‘something must be done’ and it was our role in the world in the past.

We need a Powell doctrine for the UK – as a balance against the urge ‘to do something’.

The Powell Doctrine states that a list of questions all have to be answered affirmatively before military action is taken
1) Is a vital national security interest threatened?
2) Do we have a clear attainable objective?
3) Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
4) Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
5) Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
6) Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
7) Is the action supported by the people in the UK?

Criticism of this doctrine is that we would not have got involved in Sierra Leone – a good war with few casualties except the bad people.
The benefits would be no more Iraqs/ Afghanistan’s – a bad war with an estimated one million innocent people killed

Every journalist should ask these questions before they write an article saying ‘something must be done’ and spell out the issues from the above.

Drones

Drones are the biggest change all three services have to get to grips with. The ripple effect of this change is enormous. It will also have an effect on the military-industrial complex and jobs in the UK that the defence budget fund. This is where you might get the biggest resistance to change – as the defence budget is often seen as a way of protecting jobs in marginal seats or for politicians to reward their supporters. (The big – empty – Aircraft Carriers and Gordon Brown come to mind!)

Drones mean there will be no need for big aircraft carriers, ground attack aircraft, reconnaissance assets of all types and highlights the vulnerability of tanks. The latest war in the Caucuses highlights the need for a massive change in military thinking and buying of equipment. We need to learn from this war, stop fighting the last war and think of the next.

  1. They’re cheap. (Fifty drones £50m, fifty planes £9 billion)
  2. It was ‘kit bashed’ by Turkey from parts bought all over the place in including the UK
  3. It resulted in the destruction of 242 armoured vehicles and the air defence system

Drones: Article on drones used in Azeri Armenian war 2020

The Armed forces need to prepare for small interventions when the above criteria have been met and know why they are fighting and what outcome they are fighting for. And defending this island -through military and electronic means.

Ideas where they could also start to think about changes.

The Armed forces are currently bloated and top-heavy. We have over 450 generals or above each costing £1 million a year in services and staff. This is 8 times what the Americans have for a similar-sized service.

It needs to be cut back to 150 – enough to give cover for sickness training and holidays.

The army has 510 regular Colonels and 33 regular infantry battalions -that gives 17 to command each battalion. Yes, that’s right 17 each!

The Army has more Generals than tanks (and more horses than tanks!)

The Navy has more Admirals than ships.

The Airforce has more Squadron Leaders than planes. Just saying.

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I don’t expect many of these changes to happen as we need a progressive government to make these changes. One made up of parties who will work together for the greater good and the long term. The current parties are divided, with Labour still thinking it can win big if it can only get Scotland and the North back, the SNP will insist on another referendum before any changes and the Liberals have lost their way after being shafted by the Tories when in the coalition. The Conservatives quite like it the way it is and will never rush to change – it’s in their name.

But I live in hope.