Thursday, 5 July 2007

Voter apathy in the UK

Returning to the new UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s ill conceived idea of emulating our continental cousins by holding elections at the weekend , mooted at the despatch box yesterday.

After all he has only been in the job a week ;-) and as he intimated (before he realised quite what he was saying) can’t be expected to know much about what has been going on in Government. Give him a chance…

As I observed elsewhere we do all have ‘better’ things to do with our weekends ;-)

Why has he come up with the idea? Certainly it is ‘fresh’ (for the UK) and ‘newsworthy’, probably that is enough in it’s self for a politician who desires to associate himself with these concepts -

It may be related to the apparent loss of voter interest in politics.

Lets examine that. Party politics. In my experience few supporters of any party actually like all their parties policies. For most of us who take an actual interest, rather than vote for a cardboard cut out with the right coloured rosette, it is a case of finding the party with the least objectionable set of policies and promises.

Then we cast our vote knowing that a random selection of those policies and promises will in all likelihood never actually be honoured as they were probably designed to hook votes and nothing more anyway.

Now if your constituency is subject to swings, then it is worth voting for the package you have the least objection to, but don’t be surprised if it turns out not to be as advertised. ”The manufacturer reserves the right to vary the product specification without notice” as they say - As an example in the headlines, Nu-Lab’s empty manifesto promise of a referendum on the EU Constitution springs immediately to mind.

Too much of that sort of thing and you start to loose faith in the whole system, let alone interest in voting.

Then if you live in a ‘safe’ seat and you don’t happen to support that particular party, then you are effectively disenfranchised anyway, so the best you can do is move, or make a protest vote.

What do voters do under those circumstances? They either loose interest, or if they are sufficiently motivated, drift towards single issue politics - and work to pressureall parties on their particular issue/s.

Then again there is the gradually increasing awareness that much legislation is actually now driven more and more from Brussels - and the UK Parliament is becoming increasingly irrelevant as a consequence. When you think about it, by failing to call for a referendum, Gordon Brown will significantly increase that irrelevance.

Still unelected Commissionerhood could eventually wait in the wings for our Gordon…

What might get voters interested again? Well a 'none of the above' box on the ballot paper springs immediately to mind, but I can’t see Politicians going for that as it damns the lot of them.

Maybe a negative vote. So instead of voting for someone you could vote against someone if you wanted. That would be a more honest form of tactical voting and at least probably engage the electorate. Again I can’t see politicians being too keen on it though.

Maybe binding referenda on some single issues might engage the public? A civil service dept, or independent commission, might come up with a spread of proposals for each issue, on various issues, based on opinion polls. The Referendum should be framed and worded so it didn’t prejudice the result.

A referendum on the EU Constitutional Treaty would almost certainly galvanise voters.

The prospect of Parliament regaining some of it’s powers, or at least not loosing more power, might well make voting for it’s members more relevant to the UK electorate again.

Gordon's first PMs Question Time

Yesterday was Gordon Brown, the new Uk Premier's first PMs Question Time. He Waffled on a lot for the political greenhouse that is Westminster - but he said very little that would actually engage the electorate - Disappointing.

He has used his first Commons statement as Prime Minister to talk about earth shaking stuff like:

Giving up the power to appoint bishops - That’ll make a big difference to my daily life.
Giving up the power to declare war – Parliament, a committee, or the PM. Again big deal, It won’t be up to me – probably looks good on paper though.
Elections at the weekend – are you kidding! We all have better things to do with our weekends without having to fit in staying local to vote: Leave them on Thursdays.

One suspects it he fondly imagines forcing us to vote on a weekend may increase turn out, or his vote, he is sadly deluded. Still it is daringly French isn’t it?

Maybe he is dimly aware that a lot of the electorate has gone one or two issue and don’t necessarily vote on party lines any more.

He is not keen on addressing the issue of Scottish MPs being able to vote on English matters, but English MPs not being able to vote on Scottish matters. Well he wouldn’t be would he ‘cos that would include him wouldn’t it?

He avoids the really important though - He is obviously really not at all keen on a referendum on the EU constitutional Treaty. He might have scored some brownie ;-) points with the electorate if he had the intestinal fortitude to call for one. That’s a cross party single issue (democratic principles) people a who are interested are unlikely to forget.

David Cameron, ironically echoing Tony Blaire’s “Let the people have the final say” (Or was that “The cheque’s in the post” or “Of course I love you”, I get confused) challenged the new PM saying of the Treaty "It should be put to the people,".

Brown, in a typically irrelevant to the rest of the country, Westminster type response, pointed out that only Ireland so far was having a referendum (conveniently ignoring the fact that most of the ‘treaty’ was so good it had already been thrown out once already by the French and Dutch) and anyway – Nur-nur-nur-nur-na - the last Conservative government didn’t have a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty, or any other treaties, so there!

Now Gordon. We all know that MPs and Parliament can’t be trusted with something like the Constitutional Treaty. We know we can’t really rely on the bulk of MPs to represent our interests in this, instead of the political elite’s interest - Also what the Conservatives may, or may not, have done in the past is not a legal precedent and we wouldn’t be impressed with the argument even if it was.

You need to ask yourself. If you foist this ‘treaty’ on the UK Electorate without a specific mandate will it actually ever receive any support from the people? Will you in the end be doing incalculably much more harm than if you were honest and called a referendum?

New Licence law harms small gigs

The UK Government (surprise surprise) brought in new laws in 2005, introducing a single licence covering entertainment and alcohol, aimed at easing restrictions on live music.

Where would the law of unintended consequences be without good old Nu-Lab and their constant regulating and meddling.

The Live Music Forum is complaining that small local venues staging acoustic concerts are being put at risk by the new licensing laws and should be exempt from the regulations.

The forum, set up by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, recommended that acoustic performances and performances that are not the main attraction at a venue should be exempt from licensing.

Without unknown bands playing at small gigs you will eventually run out of more successful groups, as they will find it much more difficult to ever develop in the numbers we are used to. What will that do to the music industry, or the aspirations of young hopefuls.

Apparently in one instance a brass band was told it could only perform religious songs if their performance was for charity. They were told they needed to apply for a licence which would cost more than they actually expected to raise.

There was also a case where a pub landlady was told she must obtain a variation in her licence so regular gatherings of a group of elderly men who sang folk songs together could continue.

Licensing minister Gerry Sutcliffe welcomed the "interesting and challenging" findings. Oh-Oh - weasel words alert!

He continued: "We will now look at each of the recommendations, discuss with stakeholders and will respond fully in due course." Why do politicians talk like this? To avoid actually saying anything at all? To avoid committing themselves to anything.

Why can’t they say something like: “From what you say, it does sound as if things are not quite working as we had intended. Give me the report and I’ll look into it to see if it can be improved. “?