Thursday, September 20, 2012

"The Wider Case For Constitutional Reform" by Ken Curran

The cause of our present economic crisis has its roots in a number of areas. Whilst I subscribe to the opinion that the main factor is the very nature of modern capitalism, there is another key matter to consider. If we had a very different form of parliamentary system where the power of the executive was both defused and diminished, it is possible that the current crisis would have been averted. We  need far more democratic forms of government. In what follows, I will argue that a Written Constitution and provisions for devolved Government in deprived areas such as the North would assist us in pursuing the type of political awakening I am seeking. These are not panaceas by themselves, but they offer a better framework for a democratic future than anything in today's sterile arrangements. But they must be pursued not just as constitutional tinkering, but as clear avenues for achieving economic and social justice.   

In 2007 a number of economic commentators began expressing concerns over the behavior of the Sub Prime Market in America. A leading British economics writer, Larry Elliott of the Guardian (along with Dan Atkinson) had a book published called "Fantasy Island". He was referring to the United Kingdom. The front cover had Tony Blair in a deck chair on a tropical island enjoying a fancy drink and sunning himself, whilst behind him there is a huge storm and everything is collapsing.  Whether Tony and Gordon Brown (who is clinging onto a palm tree as a tsunami is about to engulf the fantasy island) were deliberately misleading parliament and the country over the true state of the economy is history and may never be fully established. Anyone who heard the infamous Mansion House speech of Chancellor Brown could be in no doubt that they were listening to a man (who represents one of the poorest constituencies in Scotland) extolling the virtues of the City of London. Gordon Brown had fallen in love with Capitalism and its London manipulators. Blair and Brown were apparently oblivious of the pending storm. Within three weeks of Gordon's speech, the alarm bells were ringing over the collapse of Fannie Mae on the US West Coast, exactly where Larry Elliot had forecast it would. Which begs the question. How can a newspaper's economist forecast what was going wrong and accurately state where the economic collapse would occur, when both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor were oblivious of the pending doom?

Northern Rock and the Icelandic Government were the next to fall. By then, Gordon Brown realised that something was wrong. Larry Elliott was not the only one who suspected that all was not well with the economy. I know a good number of ordinary people who couldn't make sense of our boom in house prices during the early years of this century. Little did we realise that this was due to illegal manipulation of the market to boost the profits of the banks. Which begs a further question. How was it that ordinary people questioning the ever rising value of houses, never led on to politicians searching out the reason for this phenomena? Of course, it wasn't a phenomena at all. It was a big scam! Even as all was falling around Gordon Brown and he was struggling to manage the chaos across the world as the British economy headed for the buffers, both Cameron and Osborne (the Laurel and Hardy of British politics) were also oblivious to what was happening. Their remedy was to continue to call for further relaxations of controls upon businesses, plus reductions in public spending.

Over the past thirty years, the percentage of people entitled to vote has been in decline. The underlying truth is that people feel unrepresented by their very representatives. There is little at stake for them in the representative process.  The influence of Capital on Government is weakening democracy. Money versus the People. Politicians seduced by Business. The City of London and its Finance is the cancer at the heart of British Democracy. Like an ancient army raping everything of value, Capitalism marches on consuming all before it and laying to waste where it has been. It is imperative that we reform our political system to ensure that we protect humanity from the rapacious and greedy system which currently is destroying everything which our parents and grandparents strove for.  Currently the new technology is being used to enslave and indoctrinate the people in order to create a malleable and docile people under the control of the Corporate State. Fascism is not dead!

We must revive the spirit of the founders of Chartism. If not for our sake, but for that of our children and grandchildren.

We still try to govern the United Kingdom in the 21st Century using the protocols and rules of a bye-gone age. I am sure that the Government's constitutional lawyers must constantly struggle with the many varied interpretations which exist of Magna Carta, trying as best they can to link the relevance of modern day issues with a document written in order to resolve conflicts of interests between the King and Norman Barons in the 13th Century. It was not written with the interests of the wider population in mind. Bearing in mind the passage of time since the Great Charter was written, the case for Constitutional Reform is self evident. Britain must be the only country in the world without a written constitution. Most countries in the West have constitutions written in a single and accessible document, which clearly define rights and responsibilities for the governed and their governments. The Magna Carta makes no mention of either women or children, for like the peasants and yeomen of the day, they were held to be of no account. The references in Magna Carta to Peers originally referred to Barons, yet by a clever devise of political and legal expedience this is now taken to mean everyone. When one considers the huge changes taking place across the world, these contrast with the semi feudal rules and customs which still influence our decisions. Our arrangements are quaint, out-of-date, or in modern parlance "not fit for purpose". When the Magna Carta was originally signed and sealed, all rights to award titles, awards and appointments rested with the Crown. Over time all of this patronage has passed to the Prime Minister. This has put a huge amount of power into the hands of whoever holds this office. We should remember that whilst the electorate participate in electing individual Members of Parliament, they are never directly involved in choosing the Government or the Prime Minister. In normal circumstances, whoever is King or Queen uses historical protocol to invite the Leader of the Party with the largest number of House of Commons members, to form a Government. The amount of power at the centre of our political system is unhealthy. We need to bear in mind that much of our system is not controlled by laws which are on the Statute Book, but by age old practices, with a good deal of nods and winks.

This is hardly a way for a democracy to work in the here and now. To my own knowledge and experience, we can today see our way of life changing more rapidly then any time over the past 70 years. There are a number of issues thrown up by the modern life-style of living in the fast lane, which we do not have the ability to find solutions to. Of these, the impact of new technology upon employment is not yet fully understood: yet this is coupled to the global market with its swift movement of both money and decisions. It is imperative that we create a democracy that is both strong and able to respond to the strains of the system. On top of the problems created by new technology, we have to find answers as to how we cope with climate change. After the summer we have just experienced, most people should be convinced that climate change is actually with us. Governments have paid insufficient notice to scientists, whilst listening instead to the lobbyists from big business.

Even as I write politicians are still beating the drum for competition and more competition, when what is needed is co-operation. In the present circumstances it is only by co-operation that we shall survive. We face an uncertain future, with crops destroyed by storms, forest fires and floods. These take place in the context of market forces creating unstable economies and declining resources. For the first time in 60 years we are witnessing a decline in our living standards.

Yet our needs to tackle both climate change and impacts of our private enterprise system, are also key constitutional issues. This is because our parliamentary system has a cosy relationship with big business and its comprehensive lobbying system, which acts as a barrier to the essential changes which are needed for the general well-being. Examples of corporate connivance abound, such as the attempts governments have taken over several years to get a simple system into our shops and supermarkets whereby customers can readily distinguish between healthy and unhealthy products. I defy anyone to tell at a glance whether what they have purchased is actually healthy or not.  This is just one example of the business community influence in blocking governmental objectives, on top of which large numbers of MPs have both direct and indirect links with business. For example, these are never worried about matters such as the amount of salt contained in a packet of crisps.

I was a schoolboy during the Second World War. Squadron after squadron of Luftwaffe Bombers would drop thousands of incendiary bombs, not only on our docks and factories, but our residential estates were targeted. We suffered power cuts, severed water mains, rationing and frequent food shortages. We survived only by co-operation, not competition. Out of this approach an improved life was built after the Second World War. But what was achieved is now being destroyed. We will move into a permanent state of chaos, unless  we learn to throw off the political lethargy that currently prevails at almost every level of society. I honestly can't see the needed leadership grit and determination coming from our current political parties. They have been seduced and corrupted by Capital, which has robbed them of their freedom of thought and action.

It is my experience of over 60 years of political activity, and the history I have lived through, which has led me to conclude that it is only by a complete cleansing of our political and business institutions that we can avert the worst conditions which confront us all. The reform of our current political system alone cannot address the huge chasm in our society. All of the various regions of the United Kingdom suffer from the malaise which is eating away at what is left. There is still a good deal to be done in the UK by lots of the people of these islands. Increasingly people are astonished by our sports athletes and their achievements, whose behaviour is quite at odds with our Bankers and Politicians who generally lack a commitment to anything unless it involves loads of money.


The Hannah Mitchell Foundation aims to achieve a Northern Government. This important aim will not, however, be achieved just on the basis of a campaign for constitutional reform. For a public debate limited to the whys and wherefores of constitutional reform will fail to generate enough enthusiasm to maintain public interest. The campaign needs two strands. One to promote the technical arguments for constitutional reform. The other to put the economic, social and environmental cases.

Those of us who have lived through and endured the pain of the industrial decline of the North of England have been quietly seething to see the way our manufacturing base has been destroyed. We have stood witness to both men and women workers being thrown on the scrap heap. At the age of 40,  people being told that they were getting too old for re-employment. The North still suffers from its loss of its Textile Industry, Ship Building and Repairing, Fishing Industry, Heavy Engineering, Steel Manufacturing, and its Coal Mines. They have been replaced by what a famous veteran of Labour Politics, Denis Healey, once disparagingly described as a "Candy Floss Economy". For too long we in the North have tolerated being treat as second class citizens and our loyalty to Labour has been abused. It is time for the North to get angry and speak up for itself. Our Parliamentary Representatives have been timid and afraid to rebel to make demands on our behalf. We need to create a Charter for the North. Part One dealing with the case for devolved Government, promoting new ideas and suitable alternatives. Part Two could be in the form of a Manifesto spelling out what we believe could be achieved under a suitable Government of the North. It is Part Two which is most likely to enthuse and excite people with its vision and possibilities.It is when people are enthused by the full picture that they will realise the possibilities of the full venture. At that point people shall be part of the wider movement for social, economic and political change, pointing a clear way out of our dark and uncertain future. We can give people a sense of hope and rid ourselves of the political lethargy which currently exists. We must be clear in our message - there is a better way.



Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ed's Clause 4 Moment

 In effect it now reads -

"To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable predistribution that may be possible upon the basis of the operation of responsible capitalism."

Below is the relevant extract from Ed Miliband's speech made (appropriately) at the Stock Exchange where he called for "predistribution" under "responsible capitalism" . The full speech can be found here.

"Of course, redistribution will always remain necessary.  But we've learned that it is not sufficient. And fiscal circumstances will make it harder not easier.  The new agenda is that we need to care about the model of the economy we have and the distribution of income it creates.We need to care about predistribution as well as redistribution.

Predistribution is about saying: 'We cannot allow ourselves to be stuck with permanently being a low-wage economy'. It is neither just, nor does it enable us to pay our way in the world. Our aim must be to transform our economy so it is a much higher skill, higher wage economy. Think about somebody working in a call centre, a supermarket, or in an old peoples' home. Redistribution offers a top-up to their wages. Predistribution seeks to offer them more: Higher skills.  With higher wages. An economy that works for working people. Centre-left governments of the past tried to make work pay better by spending more on transfer payments. Centre-left governments of the future will have to also make work pay better by making work itself pay. That is how we are going to build growth based not just on credit, but on real demand. And that is how we are going to help the squeezed middle of this country and, build a better economy when there is less money around."

So what are Eds the first steps in his journey towards predistribution under responsible capitalism?

He went on to say "to tackle the challenge of predistribution...we have made proposals on changing the way the banking system works, and promoted a British Investment Bank...Sir George Cox, formerly Director General of the Institute of Directors, is leading our review on short-termism...We need proper competition in all sectors of the economy so that consumers get a fair deal. That means not allowing any cosy cartels to develop in any sector, from energy to our train network...We also need...all Government departments working together, including through procurement, to support British business...We need a skills system...And we plan to build that new agenda with schools, young people, businesses and trade unions working together to fashion our new vocational training system...We need a special welfare state that encourages people to work, and rewards those who do...the move towards responsible capitalism is actually being led by many business people...A responsible capitalism is a resilient capitalism".

Ed's dream seems to be a belief in the establishment of a system of "perfect competition", whose early advocates claimed would work for the benefit of all - whether they earned their living from their land, their labour or their capital. But it is a long time since this idea was even seen as a dream. We have long since moved into a world dominated by forms of monopoly capitalism, whose interests have themselves come to dominate political activity. An effective move to predistribtion would require measures such as a ceiling for earnings and wealth holdings, as well as improved minimum wages and benefit levels. But that would be called redistribution, rather than predistribution.