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Woodhouse Weekly News Roundup Sunday 22 February 2015

1. Former member of the Labour National Executive Committee Harriet Yeo joins UKIP.
A former chair of Labours’ National Executive Committee has left the party in order to support UKIP in the coming general election, Nigel Farage has announced.ember for eight years and chair in 2012/13. She will sit the remainder of her term as a councilor as an independent, after being deselected as a candidate for the 2015 local elections.

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The Snoopers Charter- Supporters and detractors

The Draft Communications Data Bill (nicknamed the Snoopers’ Charter) is draft legislation proposed by the Home Secretary Theresa May which would require Internet service providers and mobile phone companies such as BT, Virgin and Sky to maintain records (but not the content) of each user’s internet browsing activity (including social media), email correspondence, voice calls, internet gaming, and mobile phone messaging services and store the records for 12 months.

 

 

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Weekly Parliament Roundup: 18th -24th January

Mandelson Attacks Mansion Tax

Lord Mandelson has warned Ed Miliband that he won’t win the election by “clobbering” the wealthy a “crude, short-term” mansion tax. Speaking on BBC Newsnight, Mandelson supported instead a Lib-Dem plan to increase the council tax bands to raise the tax on homes worth more than £2 million. “It will be more effective and efficient in the long term,” he said. Alongside Mandelson, other Labour members such as Tessa Jowell and Diane Abbot have criticised what is seen as a “London tax” because of the high property values in the capital. Despite this, there seems to be a support for the mansion tax as a recent YouGov poll shows that 72% of all voters support the mansion tax and among Labour voters, 85% support it. Additionally, support is also shown by Tory voters with a 58% vote for the tax. But it’s Mandelson’s critique that Miliband can’t win by “clobbering” the rich alone that will strike a chord with former New Labour MPs who never voted for Ed as party leader.

Are the Greens more radical than UKIP?

Recently, the Green party have been quite popular as a result of Cameron’s demand for their leader, Natalie Bennett to be included in the Live TV debates ahead of the General Election. Furthermore, Green party membership has overtaken UKIP’s, while in the latest Ashcroft poll they are up three points on 11 per cent – higher than the Lib Dems (nine per cent) and not far off the slumping UKIP (15 per cent). However, will the Green’s still be as popular after their polices have been examined? If they come out of the general election with more MPs, would any major party want to invite them into a coalition? As the Daily Telegraph reports, the Greens have been dubbed the “UKIP of the left”. Their core policies however might be seen as more radical than Farage’s. For example:

In regards to advertising they have stated that: The “overall volume” of advertising on TV and in newspapers would be controlled and reduced, as part of a war on the “materialist and consumption-driven culture which is not sustainable”. All alcohol advertising would be banned.

Economy: The only way to a greener future is for zero – better still, negative – growth. It leads to less personal consumption.

Healthcare: The NHS would return to full government-run status with an NHS tax brought in to fund it. Assisted dying would be legalised, abortion liberalised and “alternative” medicine promoted.

Sex and drugs: Brothels and all elements of the sex industry would be decriminalised. Trading and possession of cannabis would be decriminalised, too, along with possession of Class A and B drugs for personal use.

The monarchy: Sorry, Your Majesty, it would be abolished.

Plain cigarette packaging laws to go through before May

The government has finally decided to introduce new laws on plain cigarette packaging before the General Election in May. Public health minister Jane Ellison announced the move, which will make all cigarette packs uniform in size, shape and design with large picture health warnings. Ellison said the new regulations would be laid before parliament in time to be agreed by both Houses before the election. Cross-party support for the measure suggests it is almost certain to pass. The announcement comes after years of delay and disputes about the success of a similar Australian scheme. Australia’s Daily Telegraph reported last week that tobacco and cigarette spending had fallen by 7.3 per cent since plain packaging was introduced in December 2012. But others continue to argue that smoking rates were falling anyway and that other factors, such as tax increases, are at play.

Gloria Ganda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Is there a Democratic Deficit in the UK?

democratic deficit  occurs when government or government institutions fall short of fulfilling the principles of democracy in their practices or operation or where political representatives and institutions are discredited in the eyes of the public. In the UK there has been a discussion in recent years that Britain’s democracy is flawed. Politicians are held in low esteem. Parliament seems outdated and the expenses scandal exposed just how many politicians had lost a duty to public office.

One of the main factors forwarded to argue there is a democratic deficit in the UK is the low levels of voter turnout and widespread disillusionment with the political system. In 2001 the UK received a general election turnout of 59.4%, the lowest since the start of universal suffrage in 1918. A greater number of voters voted against the Labour government than those that elected them. In 2010 it increased to just below 65%. In effect, low turnouts bring to question government legitimacy and the strength of it’s electoral mandate. Ergo, if citizens are having little influence in politics, democracy weakens as it is no longer really a government “of  the people, by the people and for the people”.

On the other hand, defenders of the status quo claim that there is not a democratic deficit in the UK because citizens of this country, unlike many others,  have their human rights and freedoms guaranteed under the rule of law. Evidence of this can be found in the 1998 Human Rights Act and 2010 Equality Act, as well as Britain’s continued membership of the European Court of Human Rights. In addition to this, reforms are taking place to develop our country so it is more democratic and fair, this is evident in Labour’s 1997 pledge to increase the use of referendums and even, David Cameron’s backing of e-petitions and increased devolution of powers to Scotland and the regions, as a result of the close verdict of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.

With exception to the Scottish independence referendum (84.5%), turnouts for referendums have been historically poor, for instance the 2011 AV referendum got a turnout of just 42.2%.  Local referendums have often had lower turnouts, in Sunderland the referendum for a directly elected mayor (2001) had a turnout of 10%. As for e-petitons, Parliament’s Backbench Select Committee still retains the sole power to abandon or debate an issue that may have generated the 100,000 signature threshold gained online. It may be that e-petitions cause more disillusionment for the above reasons.

Another defense of democracy in Britain is that the UK, unlike other nations, has a system of free and fair elections and that therefore there cannot possibly be a deficit. Britain’s democracy has evolved overtime. Women got the vote on equal terms to men in 1928 and plural voting was abolished in 1948. Now UK citizens can begin voting at the age of 18, and they are allowed to vote under a secret ballot, elections held every 5 years. These elections are organised by the Electoral Commission, not by government, and are world renowned for being free fair and unbiased. The transition following any given election is peaceful, with the leader of the winning party being sword into office within a matter of days. Even the negotiation in 2010 as a result of a hung parliament went relatively smoothly, with agreements resolved within days (not the months seen in some countries). The fact that the voting age begins at 18, and people of all classes can vote, ensures that party policies are both balanced and fairer to all sections of society.  Citizens have a duty to communicate how they feel about the government by voting for them or for voting for someone else.

Some suggest elections are not fair because of the First Past the Post voting system. Being a simple plurality system of voting; FPTP favours two party dominance between the Labour and Conservative party. In the 2010 general election, the Labour party got 29% of the vote and gained 258 seats, where as the Liberal Democrats only got 6% fewer votes but got 201 fewer seats.  FPTP discriminates against smaller parties like the Liberal Democrats who have a low concentration of support and so are unlikely to gain a majority of votes in any one area. FPTP also promotes tactical voting (people voting for parties they don’t like to stop parties they like even less getting to power) and it increases the number of wasted votes (votes which do not help to elect a candidate). In 2010 it was found that 15.7 million, or over 1/2 the votes cast in the general election of that year, were wasted and the general election would have produced the exact same result if those 15.7 million voters stayed at home. Therefore one can conclude that the FPTP system undermines democracy as it creates “disproportionate outcomes” for general elections, and this is argued to be “un-democratic”. It also contributes to voter apathy as voters assume that any vote they make would be a wasted one if they vote for a minority party, or if they live in an area where their candidate of choice is going to win anyway (more than half of the seats in parliament are safe seats).

In 2010 the Lib Dems in the coalition government proposed another system called, The Alternative Vote. This system is a majoritarian one that ensures that the winning candidate reaches the 51% majority, via 2nd or 3rd preferences if necessary, so that legitimacy is sustained. Unfortunately, when it came to the 2011 referendum , most Tory and some Labour politicians campaigned against AV, resulting in a convincing defeat for the motion (32.1% of voters supported the motion and 67.9% opposed it). Reformers argue that politicians could be the factor hindering democracy in the UK by their unwillingness to promote serious change or reform of our electoral system, since it’s against their interests to do so.

Fundamentally, there has been a growing ‘democratic deficit’ in recent years, mainly due to low political participation.

Nana Amuzu

Weekly Parliament Roundup: 11th -17th January

Osborne ‘to back Boris over Theresa May’

It has been speculated that George Osborne’s hopes of becoming the next Tory leader have apparently been dashed. Osborne was thought to be running hard for the leadership, undergoing a regrooming exercise and slimming down dramatically, ready to take over when David Cameron stands down – either in May because the Tories lose the election, or in 2017 because he loses interest once the EU referendum is out of the way. But Sam Coates of The Times reports today that Tory MPs have made it clear they do not see Osborne as a contender:” he is viewed as too distant and cliquey, preferring to surround himself with members of his inner circle rather than engage with the wider party. “As a result says Coates, Osborne is to make a spectacular U-turn and back Boris Johnson in a bid to stop Theresa May who is unpopular with Cameron’s inner circle, Osborne included.

Miliband on the hunt down for student voters

Ed Miliband launched a drive on Friday to get around a million people, mostly students who are registered in time to for in the general election on the 7th of May. Voter registration has been on the decline especially since individual registration was introduced last June to replace the old system whereby the head of the household was responsible for registering everyone living at that address. Despite the fact that Nick Clegg is the minister responsible for getting local authorities to maximize registration, Miliband says Nick hasn’t done enough and that’s why he’s launching a voters’ registration drive in Nick’s constituency which is full of students, Sheffield Hallam. The missing million are important to Labour because, when it comes to students, the party enjoys a two-to-one advantage over the Conservatives according to a YouGov poll last year. Many defected from the Lib Dems because of Clegg’s notorious U-turn over tuition fees.

Green Party membership now higher than UKIP’s

As a result of the disputes between Parties regarding Cameron’s refusal to join in on the TV debate prior to the election, Green Party Membership has risen dramatically and as of Wednesday night, it has overtaken that of UKIP. The membership figures have been audited by Adam Ramsay of Our Kingdom, who reported that membership had more than doubled since September and that “at the current rate of growth, the Greens will overtake UKIP within a week, and be ahead of the Lib Dems before polling day”. Around 2,000 people joined the Greens in the course of one day, taking the party’s total membership to 43,829 – nearly 2,000 ahead of Ukip’s membership which, by its own latest estimation, stands at 41,943.
Gloria Ganda

Weekly Parliament Roundup: 5th -10th January

‘Empty chair’ threat for Cameron if he doesn’t participate in TV debate

Miliband, Clegg and Farage have recently expressed the fact that they are ready to ‘’empty chair’’ David Cameron by going ahead with the leaders’ election debates on TV without Cameron if he keeps on stressing upon his demand that the Green Party leader Natalie Bennet also takes part. The leaders’ wishes might come true as Ofcom and the TV broadcasters are able to legally ‘’empty chair’’ Cameron, as long as his views are represented within the debate. Cameron’s recent insistence on the Green Party joining the debate if he is to participate has been seen by the other leaders as his attempt to go Green again and that this is his ‘’Naked device to sabotage the TV debates, by tying up the broadcasters in interminable red tape’’.

Ed Miliband plans four million doorstep visits in bid for No 10

Ed Miliband is urging Labour activists to carry out four million conversations with members of the public before the general election in May. According to Miliband, carrying out four million conversations with the public is twice more than they did in 2010 and it will be more than any other British political party has tried before. He claims that, “We will win this election, not by buying up thousands of poster sites, but by having millions of conversations,”.

Merkel pays a visit to the UK

This week, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel came to the UK on a flying visit, one which was seen to be one of Cameron’s most important meetings in office. The main reasons why Merkel came to visit was to discuss her agenda for the G7 summit in Bavaria, including the European economy and security issues such as the Ukraine crisis, the Ebola response and the threat from the Islamic State and not to forget- Cameron’s demand for EU treaty changes regarding free movement in the EU, work and welfare. Merkel has already insists that the freedom of movement in the EU is ‘non-negotiable’ and because of this, she will likely do what she can to keep Britain in the EU but these actions might be limited. According to the Financial Times, the German Chancellor is expected to back Cameron’s calls for reforms but also remind him that Germany will not back any British demands for a major rewrite of existing EU treaties.

Clegg stays in Coalition despite distaste of Osborne’s measures

Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, ruled out giving up the trappings of coalition office before election day – despite engaging in open warfare with the Conservatives over Chancellor George Osborne’s austerity plans. Clegg told MPs at Deputy Prime Minister’s Question Time that he takes pride in the government’s achievements even though “I disagree with the Conservative Party’s approach to carrying on with the cuts even after the deficit has been dealt with.” In other words, despite attacking Cameron and and his team, Clegg will continue in his role as Deputy Prime Minister until polling day, as will the other Lib Dem members of the coalition Cabinet.

Gloria Ganda