Tag Archives: Leaders Debate

Time for change?

There’s a fascinating article by Camilla Cavendish in today’s Times in which the pros and cons of a presidential style of leadership could be applied to the British electoral system. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a real cabinet government, I think you could maybe argue that Sir John Major had one – but that was through his acknowledged electoral weaknesses and the disintegrating Tory party rather than by choice. Thatcher, Blair and Brown have all lead from the front: it’s been their ethos, their vision that have defined for better or worse the direction of the nation.

So would we be better voting for a leader and an office and having the checks and balances of an upper and lower house deciding – would it encourage real people with life experience to stand up and be part of our political system, or would it encourage dynasties of politically elite families? I’m not sure. What I do know is that the public haven’t voted for a party for a long time: I voted for Blair or Thatcher is what you hear on the doorstep, you don’t hear the parties and most people couldn’t name the cabinet or shadow cabinet, let alone assign the departments to the people.

The TV debates of this General Election have in my opinion put the final nail in the coffin of Cabinet government, the final swirl of confusion between the party and the person if you like – and maybe it’s time to acknowledge that with a change of system? I’m not sure it’d make any difference; if the American system is anything to go by the political class in the UK wouldn’t have the patience to put up with lame ducks, filibustering, and shady deals done behind closed doors – but then, with the amount of political apathy that seems to be on display between those that aren’t tied to their tribal camp, you have to wonder whether anyone would really notice a change.

the penultimate debate

Tonight we had the “final” leaders debate, which of course is the final televised debate before the really important debate when the British public step forward with their voice – and it was unsurprisingly a clear win for Cameron, closely followed by Clegg with Brown a dead third.

What interests me is that after 15 years of hearing about ‘the nasty party’ all three leaders were portraying their parties in the voice of ‘the nasty party’, tough on crime, immigration, tax-dodging, anti-europe – they were all at it, they couldn’t be tougher, it was like watching 3 lads in the street after a drunken night out: all sizing each other up before a fight, but all playing more mouth than trousers.

Whatever happened to the liberal Tory big society, the pro euro cannabis friendly Liberals, or the entirely laissez faire attitude of the Labour party to immigration, crime, schooling, public spending… They talked tough, and the people liked it – it’s very strange that our society which for 95% of the time seems to be fundamentally liberal and open to cultures new and old battens down the hatches during an election preferring to hear tough messages from all the parties rather than hearing the progressive voice that they bask in for most of the rest of the year. The voting public can be described as nothing other than fickle.

Green Energy

A question came up in the Leaders Debate on Sky News (in HD apparently) last night that got me thinking, why are politicians in the UK unable to come to terms with the big green issue: it’s multi-faceted yes, it’s sometimes controversial, absolutely, but at it’s core is a truth that surely all of us can agree on. Living in greener homes and driving greener cars would make us all richer. Green technology is a jobs growth sector, and with dwindling access to carbon fuels we need to do something soon to secure our energy security?

But seemingly not one of them wants to grab the bull by the horns. It’s not about carbon trading or even the choice between wind power or nuclear, let’s get down to basics. Let’s pass laws that houses need to be better: for years the big builders have thrown up unsustainable poor quality housing without enough insulation, without good windows, efficient boilers or access to better recycling services. Let’s change that first.

Second let’s make recycling compulsory, nationwide: no flip flopping between different councils: Germany has the right idea – it’s not a choice, it’s the law, and because it’s the law the german people have found better ways of working their recycling, you don’t find German shops chucking carriers bags at you at a rate of knots (Ocado with 34 plastic bags for a weekly shop for 2 people please take note!), paper bags are used more, buy or bring your own bag schemes are everywhere, and they’re used too – not because it’s fashionable, but because it makes sense to cut down your personal recycling ‘liability’.

Third, we need Micro-generation, you can’t move on the continent for wind turbines and solar panels, in even the most picturesque places you’ll find them on buildings, do they spoil the view? I don’t think so.

Micro and Macro generation

Micro and Macro generation

This is the view from the Mohne Dam, (of Dambusters fame), a hydroelectric power station in Nord-Rhine Westphalia, this is the village of Günne in it’s very pretty shadow. Here we see a huge amount of solar PV, wind turbines and energy efficent homes with strong double and triple glazing as well as night shutters to keep heat in and out depending on the season.

What’s so awful about this view? In my view it’s a good trade off for a healthier, greener planet – and what is so bad about that? We need to make sure that NIMBY’s don’t have a leg to stand on, it’s the one area where devolved localism has destroyed people’s right to make personal choices – this needs strong leadership that definitively shuts the door on parish council’s planning ruling against green improvements to personal property… We’re not talking about legislation that means that cement works can be built in the middle of a grade 1 listed thatched villages, we’re talking about sensible legislation that will allow our buildings to come into the 21st century to meet 21st century environmental demands.

I didn’t hear this simple solution from any of the Leaders, and to me, this is such a simple set of steps that’d move the UK forward in green terms by light years.

talking of the EU

The leaders debate this evening, despite being billed as the Foreign policy debate, again failed entirely to properly cover the European issue: considering it’s the poltical equivilant of a cosh for all the parties to clout each other with, that’s not surprising – but it’s quite depressing that there doesn’t appear to be any leadership on the issue.

I grew up in what was West Germany, and Germany is arguably the most Pro-European in the Union. I speak 2 European languages to a decent standard and love the place both to travel and do business: don’t get me wrong though like all institutions the EU has more than it’s fair share of problems which all need reform; because of this I have a long held love/hate relationship with the EU: but let’s be clear on a few points.

Personally speaking I don’t have a problem with the Euro – I think as a businessman that the Euro is a good thing, it gives us block strength against the world powerful dollar and the up and coming Chinese and Russian currencies, as we found out during the ERM disaster, and more recently in the Credit Crunch, the Pound, although still a reserve currency, is – because of our own economy – hugely exposed to Global fluctuations and hedging. Don’t get me wrong though, I love the Pound – much like I loved my Deutschmark’s when I first really learned the value of money saving my allowance, but I can’t help but think that we’d be better off, and we’d find a new power in Europe if our (frankly, huge) economy joined Germany and France in the Eurozone… potentially so much so, that we could excerpt serious reform of Eurozone policies; something Germany in particularly would likely support us in.

When it comes to freedom of movement I’m baffled about the Schengen Agreement and why Britain feels it needs to be outside the core structure of the agreement: first and foremost as an Island our ports would clearly need to retain custom control to the wider world; and let’s be under no false pretence – entering the Schengen Agreement wouldn’t just suddenly open our borders to one and all: we are still an Island, and that will not change (unless the EuroBridge ever goes ahead!). Britain’s position on Schengen is fundamentally flawed as an argument – we won’t open our borders, except to Ireland – where we have no juristiction over their immigration or border and port controls. We’d save a fortune using Frontex rather than establishing our own border patrol force and many experts predicts that it would actually help the immigration issue. Especially considering that migrants from the East and the South passing through Europe to get to Britain would have to be dealt with under the terms of the Dublin Agreement (which we’d be able to wield with teeth) and in partnership with other nations as part of one co-operative block: they’d have no right to settle here having passed through our official ‘border’ 1000’s of miles before they reach our shores. (via land, rail and continent to UK sea travel). Immigration is a European problem, full stop. Just ask the Italians, the Daily Mail might like to make out that it’s Britain against the world, but if we opened our eyes there’s clear room for European unilateral action to control and temper immigration to all of our benefits.

I think the European human rights legislation (despite the protestations of the Daily Mail) is bang on, Human Rights are none negotiable, how we interpret them in our legal system for criminals and immigrants needs sensible debate, but the fundamental rights of the individual to live without pain, humiliation, servitude, torture and with freedom of expression & association and discrimination are just that: fundamental. To often the ECHR and other human rights legislation is blamed for allowing rapists and pædophiles to walk the streets, that’s not human rights failures though, that’s a failure of our justice system to interpret the various bills, and a failure of politics in the UK to adequately caveat criminal legislation to ensure that those who break our laws or attempt to breach our controls on citizenship are always held to account within boundaries that protect the public in the first instance.

You might think that I’m a screaming integrationist because of this, but you couldn’t be further from the truth: indeed I think we need to fundamentally examine and change the way we  integrate European laws into our own, for too long we’ve taken everything and integrated it wholesale into our own law – something that almost no other nation in the Union does, that needs to change so we protect our national interests both personal and corporate more effectively. We also shouldn’t give up our Military; the idea of a European Armed Forces sounds wrong, we already have NATO – and we have provisions for nation state (and by proxy military) support of European nations written into the Lisbon Treaty, that’s as far as that needs to go. I also think that tax needs to be set locally, personally I’d prefer a flat rate system for all, (and that’s another article), but I don’t think that the EU presently has anywhere near the amount of consensus required, or indeed the amount of economic similarity between the various nations in the Union to harmonise our tax affairs successfully.

Other stuff though I’m more open to conversation about – I’d prefer Germany’s road laws for starters, but if you think for one minute I’d like their or the French, Italian or Austrian police systems you can think again. I think we should harmonise Europes extradition and immigration policies so it isn’t up to individual nations to support asylum seekers who travel into the EU, it should be a union wide issue. I love the idea of harmonised green energy requirements – not just by directive, but by treaty – it takes the wiggle room away from politicians that are happy to talk the talk but generally ignore the elephant in the room.

And you know what, I’m not going to stop there – the ferrying of MEPs between 2 (technically 3) locations, is outrageous, pick one place, and that’s where the affairs of the EU shall be carried out, travelling between Brussels and Strasbourg accomplishes nothing but burning cash. There also needs to be more direct power devolved to the people, presently the system is a mystery to most – so it needs transparency, especially within the groups that draw up the directives, what drives them – the interests they represent and the way they come to their respective decisions needs to be better understood. And finally (although far from finally I could wax about this all night) we need to do away with the worst policy ever implemented between European nations since the appeasement of National Socialism: the divisive, horrifically expensive, widely abused, anti-comptitive Common Agriculture Policy. It’s an unruly disaster that’s tainted an entire generation of politicians and laypeople against the EU, so in my view the quicker it’s dismantled the quicker all Europeans will be able to look their African neighbours in the eye, the quicker we’ll reduce friction between nations that have abused the CAP and those that haven’t, and most importantly the quicker we’ll cut the cost of running the EU in general: and cutting the size and cost of any element of government in my book can never be a bad thing.

There are plenty in UK politics that want to isolate us: and if there’s one thing we should learn from our own history is that Britain’s always been stronger, whether as an Empire or as part of the Allies against fascism and communism, when it co-operates closely with it’s friends: and for all of our sibling rivalry there’s no doubt that we’ve got plenty of friends in Europe.

Leaders Debate

What a palaver, the three leaders were on TV (like they are every Wednesday at 12), but apparently this is a big thing, in front of an off-puttingly silent studio audience the leaders today battled it out to get their point their policies and ways to move the country forward…

…Or rather, they didn’t. They sort of answered questions in parrot fashion each given a time slot to get out a soundbite. None of them came across badly, even Brown who you expected to be grinding his teeth within minutes seemed human, but I’m not convinced, as someone that’s been an obsessive follower of the Westminster village for a long time I don’t think this did anything to humanise politics: if I were a floating voter right now I’d be none the wiser, they basically agreed on all the good stuff.

Looking at the Polling, Clegg came out of this well – some seem to see this as a surprise, but really it’s not, he was given a platform to play with the big boys, and he used it. Cameron came across strongly toward the end, more of that please next time around, and Brown, despite the doom-mongering about Brown from both sides (said with glee and despair depending on your standing), came across as a passionate advocate of public services and the UK in general.

What I didn’t understand was the lack of debate, blatant mistruths were allowed to come tumbling out from all sides without much in the way of any argument, I personally think the threeway was an uncomfortable one – what you really wanted to see was Brown & Cameron head to head, well refereed but raw. What you got was a little anodyne, the clear anger at the political system on display in the queue to get into the audience was completely absent.

I don’t think we’re quite on the American level yet, I don’t think our public want blood on the dancefloor, but I think most would have been happier if it appeared there could have been a fight.

  • Brown 5
  • Cameron 7
  • Clegg 8 (but frankly was +2 before he started…)