Saturday, 26 October 2013

Moses Misses The Promised Land

With my Quiet Times, I am beginning Joshua. It seems appropriate if there are big changes coming up, as this has the familiar verses:

Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses My servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Josh. 1:6-9)

So here we have the Israelites about the enter Canaan, with their long-suffering leader, Moses, seeing the Promised Land but not being allowed to enter (Deut. 34). But why couldn't Moses join them?

The answer comes in Numbers 20, at the waters of Meribah. There is a clue in the Apostle Paul's first letter to the Corinthians:

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. (I Cor. 10:1-5)

So clearly this incident at Meribah is a prefiguring, as it were, of Jesus. There is an allegory here which Paul draws on, which is consistent with the spiritual meaning that Christians associate the events of Exodus through to Joshua with - the Passover prefigures the Last Supper, crossing the Jordan prefigures death, entering the Promised Land prefigures entering Heaven etc.

Moses's sin was:

Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in Me, to uphold Me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” (Num. 20:10-12)

So, Moses made out that it was him and Aaron - rather than God - who caused the rock to give out water. It was him taking the credit for something God did.

When I thought about this again, I suspect that a deeper message is being given as well - about salvation. Which is that Moses is without doubt one of the great Old Testament figures, being obedient (most of the time), putting up with a lot from the ungrateful Israelites, being mocked and ridiculed.

But even the great Moses was not good enough to earn a place in the Promised Land.

That might seem shocking. If Moses couldn't earn a place there, then who could? Well, there is a simple answer - no-one.

So, I wonder if this is the lesson here. God's judgment isn't a weighing up of good and bad deeds - as some clergy might have us believe. Rather it is the case that:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:21-26)

So, the Biblical teaching is that all of us have fallen short of God's standards, but He has provided a way for us, by Jesus Christ being a propitiation, paying the penalty for sin.

If entering the Promised Land is an allegory for entering Heaven, then here the point is surely that individual Israelites entered it by God's grace, not by having been good. Even Moses wasn't good enough to claim a place there by right.

But there is a coda to Moses's story, as the New Testament tells us:

And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If You wish, I will make three tents here, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. (Matt. 17:1-7)

On one mountain, Moses dies seeing the Promised Land. On another mountain, Moses lives seeing his Saviour and Lord.

Moses died without entering the earthly Promised Land, but he entered the heavenly Promised Land.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Time To Change My Mind On Whether To Change The Time

The nights are definitely drawing in and it is darker in the mornings. And this means it's time for that twice-yearly debate, namely whether we should keep the current practice of being on Universal Time (often called Greenwich Mean Time) from late October to late March and Central European Time (often called British Summer Time) the rest of the year, or whether we should follow the practice of most of the rest of the European Union and be on CET from late October to late March and one hour ahead (Eastern European Time) the rest of the year.

Naturally, the further west you go the later sunrise/sunset will be, and the further north you go the more dramatic the change in day length throughout the year will be.

To see this, we can look at how some northern and/or western places in the Anglo-Celtic Isles will be affected by a switch to a CET/EET system - the latest sunrise and earliest sunset will be in December/January, so would be in CET, while the earliest sunrise and latest sunset would be in June, and hence in EET:

Location Earliest Sunrise (EET) Latest Sunrise (CET) Earliest Sunset (CET) Latest Sunset (EET)
Bellmullet 6.06am 10.00am 5.16pm 11.18pm
Berwick-upon-Tweed 5.23am 9.38am 4.34pm 10.57pm
Carlisle 5.33am 9.36am 4.44pm 10.54pm
Lerwick 4.38am 10.10am 3.56pm 11.34pm
Londonderry 5.50am 9.54am 5.01pm 11.13pm
Steòrnabhagh 5.20am 10.13am 4.34pm 11.35pm

A place name in italics is in the Republic of Ireland.

We see the effect of moving the clocks forward to a CET/EET system - in the north and west sunset would be very late at the height of summer, whilst sunrise would be very late in the depths of winter.

One problem with this emotive issues is that there are extremes on both sides. On one hand, some time back the Mail on Sunday decided to call CET/EET "Berlin Time", with suitably Germanic lettering.

This month sees 20 years since the then-Conservative Government proposed ID cards. And what have ID cards got to do with clock changes, you might be asking? And it is a reasonable question.

ID cards proposals began as the solution to social security fraud. Sorry, they began as The Solution to social security fraud. And then came 9/11, and they were The Solution to terrorism. They turned into The Solution to the latest problem.

For enthuasiasts of a CET/EET system, then there is the same danger. It is there to improve road safety. Then it becomes to encourage tourism. Then it reduces energy consumption. I am always wary - and indeed, cynical - whenever something seems to be a flexible Solution to the problème du jour.

One argument for the CET/EET system is that we need to maximise the way we use the hours of daylight. Now, we cannot change the length of the day - whenever anyone talks about "an extra hour of daylight" they are talking twaddle. But is there such a thing as "an extra hour of usable daylight"?

This seems to be the tourism and health argument. Getting dark later extends the amount of time available in the evening - for some of the year. At the height of summer, it is getting dark so late anyway that such an effect is irrelevant. And in the depths of winter, most people would be getting home in the dark anyway. But this would have an impact for a substantial chunk of the year from late winter to early summer and again from late summer to mid-autumn. So CET/EET does make sense on that.

The energy consumption argument is similar, but at this point in the year I am turning the lights on when I get up. Yes, there will be people using less energy in the summer, but in the winter people will turn their lights off later in the morning. So, these effects will more-or-less cancel out.

I used to be persuaded by the argument in favour of the current system which was that when we tried CET all year round, the number of road accidents increased in the mornings. And it seems logical, after all, wintry mornings are going to see ice and snow and hazardous conditions. But then I saw an interesting response.

Basically, you can only know which accidents happened. No-one can tell you which accidents would have happened. No-one can be interviewed who could say "if we had not been on CET, I would have been killed." So, we need to look at the overall figures.

And I think this argument has swayed me in favour of switching to CET/EET, bringing us in line with most of the European Union.

Yes, had to bring the EU into it. I expect if we made the switch, then there will be the usual crowd writing to the local paper about how it was a Brussels diktat and how voting for the UK Independence Party would enable us to keep our time rather than a, well, I can expect the phrase "harmonised Eurotime" to be bandied around. We have what is probably the most Eurosceptic Government we have had, so this is the best Government to introduce such a change without accustations of bending to Brussels.

Although, if you look at the Mail on Sunday stance, any switch will be a concession to the Liberal Democrats:

Berlin Time has been promoted by supporters of the European Union's efforts to harmonise members' time zones, leading Tory opponents of the plan to claim that the attempt to revive the idea was being driven by pro-EU Liberal Democrats in the Government and was being tolerated by No 10 as a concession to [Lord President of the Council and Liberal Democrat leader] Nick Clegg.

'It smacks of yet another Coalition compromise,' said one ministerial critic. 'I don't think it is a coincidence that the Business Department is top-heavy with Lib Dems.

'And it is the sort of thing that Clegg would like.'

One Government source even claimed that the idea had 'the fingerprints' of Mr Cameron's chief of staff, Ed Llewellyn, ‘all over it’ as a ‘sop to the Cleggites’.

Mr Llewellyn, who used to work for former Tory EU Commissioner Chris Patten and pro-European ex-Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown, is the prime suspect because of his friendly relations with his Lib Dem counterparts.

Yep, have to make it out to be a big conspiracy to Germanise/Europeanise the United Kingdom, complete with the obligatory picture of the Brandenburg Gate and the hyperbolic protest-by-coupon-clipping stance:

And to cap it all, we have:

A map of the present Central European Time Zone looks disturbingly like a map of a certain best-forgotten empire of 70 years ago. Would it really be silly to suspect that the neatness and standardisation fanatics of Brussels and Frankfurt, who have abolished almost every border in Europe, devised the European arrest warrant and the Euro passport and the European number plate and the European flag – and imposed a single currency on almost every state – would not also like a single time zone?

But wouldn’t it also be fatal to their desire if people in Britain recognised that this was what was going on? Are the smiley, optimistic ‘daylight-saving’ lobby perhaps useful idiots in someone else’s campaign? [Conservative MP for Castle Point] Rebecca Harris emphatically says that this is not so. But then, if it were, would she know?

Anyone in Britain who wants to live by Berlin time is welcome to do so, just as they are welcome to breakfast on bratwurst. There are good arguments, too, for schools and offices in some parts of the country to open earlier and close earlier in the dark months from November to February.

But that is quite different from our whole country being permanently shifted on to foreign time.

It is not too late to stop Mrs Harris’s curious Bill if enough MPs – more responsive to the public than they once were since their recent embarrassments – can be persuaded by public protest to vote against it.

If we are foolish enough to hurry down this path, it is by no means certain that we shall ever be allowed back if we decide we do not like it. Once we have fallen in, who would be surprised by a quiet Brussels Directive making the change permanent, whatever Parliament does? Now is the time to save our own time.

Sadly there seemed to be no-one around who could draw a picture of Britannia, so she had to be left out of the articles.

Politics comes into the matter in other ways. The nearest country to the United Kingdom that has more than one timezone is Russia, where the Far East, such as Cape Dezhnev, is 9 hours ahead of the Kaliningrad exclave.

As the map shows, this is a similar time gap as that between Alaska and the United Kingdom.

Even Germany, with a 9 degree 10 minute longitude difference between Selfkant and Neißeaue manages one time zone - CET/EET - as does France, with a 14 degree 20 minute longitude difference between Pointe de Corsen and Cervione.

In that case, it might seem that the United Kingdom, with a 9 degree 53 minute longitude range from Soay to Lowestoft, would be OK with one time zone.

Although the Mail on Sunday is busy scaremongering, there is one interesting question, namely The End Of The Union. But, is there any reason why Scotland cannot be put on a separate timezone to England and Wales. And where does Northern Ireland fit in?

The same issues that arise with changing Scotland to CET/EET arise for Northern Ireland - but there is one added one. If the whole United Kingdom shifts to CET/EET, but the Republic of Ireland doesn't, then there is a cross-border time difference. On the other hand, if Northern Ireland opts out of changing to CET/EET, then there will be the situation of Belfast being on the same time as Dublin, but not London.

I feel the sensible thing with to do with regards to Scotland is to amend the Scotland Act 1998, which has, in the list of reserved matters the Summer Time Act 1972. A simple one-line Act would remove this from the list of reserved matters.

With regards to Northern Ireland, one option could be to slightly amend - by mutual agreement between London, Dublin and the Northern Ireland Assembly - the Good Friday Agreement so that time would be dealt across the island of Ireland by the North/South Ministerial Council.

In December 2010, the House of Commons debated the Daylight Saving Bill 2010-11 that had been introduced by Harris to make the switch to CET/EET, and the House of Commons Library had produced a Research Paper in preparation for the debate.

Harris covers the issue of road accidents:

Although I am certain that hon. Members have had ample opportunity to consider the arguments in favour of the measure, I will rehearse them briefly. First, every single road safety organisation tells me that the measure would save 80 lives on our roads every year, mainly among children under 15 and other vulnerable road users. If a transport disaster of that magnitude occurred in our country and the Government knew that it would happen every year-year in, year out-but proposed to do nothing about it, there would be a public outcry.

However, there remains a kind of race memory that the winter-only trial of GMT plus one between 1968 and 1970 led to increased road deaths, particularly among children going to school on dark winter mornings, as has been mentioned. That persistent myth has hampered the debate ever since, and it is simply not true. Extensive research by the Transport Research Laboratory found that, far from causing accidents-the view that, sadly, led to the experiment being abandoned in panic-the change resulted in an astonishing 1,120 fewer people being killed or seriously injured during the affected hours.

The principal reason behind those figures is that more accidents occur in the busy afternoon rush hour. There are currently three times as many accidents, particularly involving children, between 3 and 6 pm than between 7 and 10 am. In the mornings, we tend to travel directly, we leave just as much time as we need to get to our destination and the roads are less busy. In the afternoons, we make much more complicated journeys and people are much less attentive-children, in particular, feel liberated after leaving school. That is why moving an extra hour of daylight into the dangerous, busy peak time for travel would be beneficial for road safety. As I have said, that applies to an even greater extent in Scotland and, despite the conventional wisdom, I believe that Scotland stands to benefit the most from this measure.

And, indeed, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, produced a factsheet arguing that a switch to CET/EET would reduce road fatalities.

In November 2012, the House of Commons Library produced a further guide, while in July 2012 a report for the Government was published.

Having looked at all this, I have now changed my mind. I now support 10:10's Lighter Later campaign.

No Sense Of Direction

The ladies saw that I had a map in my hand and so decided I was the right person to ask for directions. So, I carefully use the map to show them the route.

Instead of being thanked, one of them points in almost the opposite direction, and says she is sure that it is along there, and walks off, followed by her friend.

Now, I admit I have no sense of direction - I have been known to get lost even when I have downloaded a detailed Google map - one where I have a printout which lists every turning to take, every path, every road name.

The best thing about having no sense of direction is that you come across loads of interesting places by accident. The worst thing is that you can never find them again.

When I was on Hawai'i for the transit of Venus last June and at the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy Visitor Information Station I bought maps of the Moon and Mars. As I put it, I never know how lost I will end up when going for a walk in Southampton, so it's best to be that prepared.

Ever been a passenger in a car where the driver ignores the map because they know a better way to a place they have never been to - a shortcut which sends you in the middle of nowhere and they sensibly avoid talking about how the car's engine work, just in case they mention the throttle and the passengers collectively think "don't tempt us"?

Just believing you know a better way is not enough for the chosen route to be one that gets you there. And if you are a driver taking passengers to the wrong location, other people are affected.

Getting the right route is so important. And surely it should also be important on how to get to Heaven.

For example, yesterday I was looking for a specific pub-restaurant that served proper food, and I had quickly looked at a map, and thought I had remembered the way. But got lost and asked for directions. And was sent on a wild goose chase.

The first person I asked had me being sent up in the direction of North Baddesley from Lordshill. "Less than a mile. You can't miss it". Half an hour later I had the sneaking suspicion that I had been sent the wrong way.

There are various reasons:

  • Someone might genuinely not know the way, but will hazard a guess. They might not know how to get to Heaven, but are sure that there's a way somewhere over there. Go to church, live a good life, and you'll end up over in that direction.
  • Or they might be mischevious. They know that there is one way to Heaven, but want to see you sent down the wrong paths, wasting time in your life that you could have been spending constructively.

Going back to near where I has asked for directions, I found someone and asked him for directions. He did tell me, but added that it was too far and suggested somewhere nearer. And this can happen - Heaven is too far, isn't it? Why not make it easier on yourself, find something nearer, which you might enjoy? You will find that sort of person around.

Then there'll be those for whom it's "Nah, never heard of it". Either because they haven't been told, or because they don't want to remember it.

But what did Jesus think? We have His viewpoint in John 14:1-6:

Now, I am sure some will respond that everyone makes their own way, that there are a variety of routes, that different religions and philosophies are just different paths leading to where we meet God.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."

Now, that would sound quite arrogant - someone claiming that they are the only way to God. But Jesus is God the Son so knows what He's talking about. The context is the promise of Him preparing a place for us in Heaven, in eternity.

There is no place in Jesus-focussed Christianity (and can there be any other? Remove Christ from Chriatianity and you're left with Ianity. And Ian can't save you) for any idea that Jesus is just one of many options. After all, why was the early Church persecuted if the Gospel is simply be-nice-to-people-and-find-a-place-for-Jesus-somewhere-in-your-belief-system-but-hey-even-if-you-don't-you'll-go-to-Heaven-whatever-you-believe?

Who Vets The Vetters?

One feature of our system of democracy is that anyone - as long as they get the deposit and the required number of signatures - can stand. Whether they can serve if elected is a different matter, with the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 setting out a list of roles that are incompatible with being an MP.

This is not a moralistic set of rules - they say nothing about someone's behaviour, whether before election or afterwards. The Representation of the People Act 1981 changed the law so that anyone imprisoned for more than a year in the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland was disqualified. If sitting as an MP when sentenced, then they ceased to be an MP and a by-election was held. If they were in prison when elected then the election is "void", in which case a by-election is held.

We do not ban candidates and/or parties, but now Crossbench peer Gus O'Donnell has suggested that candidates should be "vetted" before being allowed to stand.

No doubt this will be lauded as preventing extremists from standing, or ensuring a better quality of candidate, but this should send shivers down any democrat's spine. To prevent people from standing for election has no place in any democracy.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Electing The Prime Minister

Yesterday, I had a letter published in the local paper challenging the idea the the President of the European Commission was an unelected position, having already outlined the process by which the President is chosen.

The paper published under the heading More democracy in European presidential choices, which could be take more than one way. On one hand it could be a call for more democracy involved, or it could be interpreted as saying the system is more democratic than the way the Prime Minister is chosen.

There are sometimes calls for the Prime Minister to be elected by the people. There has been this curious trend of referring to someone having been "elected Prime Minister", with the whole idea that it has become a bit Presidential. But this is counterbalanced by the fact that the House of Commons is becoming more diverse in terms of the parties represented. Very odd that general elections becoming more focussed on the potential Prime Ministers has not been accompanied by the House of Commons returning to the 1950s model of just Conservatives (and allies), Labour, and a taxi-load of Liberals.

The problem here is that we are a parliamentary system, not a presidential-congressional system. In the latter, the Head of Government owes their legitimacy to the people without any legislative body in between. So, for example, the American President Barack Obama was re-elected in November 2012, while the elections to Congress were totally separate, and have no bearing - except if the Electoral College is unable to select a President - on who becomes President.

A Prime Minister owes their legitimacy indirectly via the House of Commons. But here's the thing - the House of Commons doesn't actually decide on the Prime Minister. In November 1990 and June 2007 there were changes of Prime Minister, without the House of Commons - beyond the relevant party's MPs - getting involved. Indeed, it is strange to think that if David Cameron were to resign as Prime Minister, a grassroots Conservative member would have more of a say in who was to replace him than a Labour MP would have.

It used to be said that the Queen had just two "personal prerogatives" - appointing the Prime Minister and dissolving Parliament. But, thanks to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011, she no longer dissolves Parliament on the advice of the Prime Minister. This Act allows for early dissolution though, if a motion of No Confidence is passed against the Government. So, the House of Commons can effectively sack a Prime Minister and dismiss a Government.

But there is an action which the House of Commons can take within a fortnight which prevents early dissolution - and that is to pass a motion of Confidence in a Government.

Now, it doesn't specify which Government the motion of Confidence can be in. It could be the sitting Government seeking to overturn a defeat. Something similar (although not identical) has happened before. In February 1992, the member states of the European Communities (i.e. the European Coal & Steel Community, European Atomic Energy Community, and the European Economic Community) signed the Maastricht Treaty to create the European Union, and attached to the Treaty were a set of Protocols. The important one here is the Protocol on Social Policy, often referred to as the Social Chapter, and it begins by stating:

NOTING that eleven Member States, that is to say the Kingdom of Belgium, the Kingdom of Denmark, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Hellenic Republic, the Kingdom of Spain, the French Republic, Ireland, the Italian Republic, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Portuguese Republic, wish to continue along the path laid down in the 1989 Social Charter; that they have adopted among themselves an Agreement to this end; that this Agreement is annexed to this Protocol; that this Protocol and the said Agreement are without prejudice to the provisions of this Treaty, particularly those relating to social policy which constitute an integral part of the acquis communautaire:

1. Agree to authorize those eleven Member States to have recourse to the institutions, procedures and mechanisms of the Treaty for the purposes of taking among themselves and applying as far as they are concerned the acts and decisions required for giving effect to the above-mentioned Agreement.

2. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland shall not take part in the deliberations and the adoption by the Council of Commission proposals made on the basis of this Protocol and the above-mentioned Agreement.

Basically, this Protocol granted the EU powers over employment and social security issues, but exempted the United Kingdom from its provisions.

The European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993 was the piece of legislation that brought the Treaty into British law, with Section 7 stating when it would come into force:

This Act shall come into force only when each House of Parliament has come to a Resolution on a motion tabled by a Minister of the Crown considering the question of adopting the Protocol on Social Policy.

And on Thursday, 22 July 1993, the then Prime Minister, John Major introduced the relevant motion in the House of Commons:

That this House, in compliance with the requirements of section 7 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993, notes the policy of Her Majesty's Government on the adoption of the Protocol on Social Policy.

However, John Smith, at the time the leader of the Labour Party, and hence Leader of the Opposition, proposed to amend this to:

That in the opinion of this House, Her Majesty's Government should not deposit the Articles of Ratification of the Treaty of European Union with the Government of the Italian Republic until such time as it has given notification to the European Community that it intends to adopt the Agreement attached to the Protocol on Social Policy.

Basically, Smith was saying that the Maastricht Treaty should not be ratified by the United Kingdom without the Social Chapter.

The vote on the amendment was a dead heat, with 317 for and 317 against, and hence Major announced a motion of Confidence in the Government's policy on the Social Chapter, which was the following day and the House did indeed have confidence in the policy of Her Majesty's Government on the adoption of the Protocol on Social Policy.

With that out of the way, there is different Government that the motion of Confidence could be in. And that is a new one. Now we are in the era of hung Parliaments and coalition Governments, it is possible that there could be a mid-term change in Government. So it is possible that a Government loses a motion of No Confidence, and decides to resign, with the Queen inviting the Leader of the Opposition to form a Government, which then faces a motion of Confidence.

The thing to note here is that the House of Commons would not be electing a Prime Minister - more a case of confirming or rejecting the Queen's choice of Prime Minister. And the new Prime Minister remains Prime Minister regardless of how the House of Commons votes. Either the motion of Confidence is passed, in which case the new Government can carry on until the normal dissolution date, or else it isn't, in which case there is an early general election, but the new Government is the Government. An incoming Prime Minister defeated this way does not have to resign - they simply face an early general election.

So, at the moment, all the House of Commons can do is oust a Prime Minister. Why should it be able to remove, but not choose, one?

There is a different situation in the Scottish Parliament, thanks to the mechanics of the Scotland Act 1998 covering the election of the First Minister, with a short guide being published. The Parliament needs to elect a First Minister within 28 days of one of these happening:

  • An election of the Scottish Parliament
  • The office of First Minister falling vacant; e.g. by death (Donald Dewar in October 2000) or resignation (Henry McLeish in November 2001)
  • The First Minister ceasing to be a Member of the Scottish Parliament other than dissolution - clearly either by writing to the Presiding Officer to resign as an MSP or by becoming disqualified (notice that one of the reasons for disqualification was becoming a "Lord of Appeal in Ordinary", i.e. a Law Lord - a post abolished by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005)

If the Parliament fails to elect within 28 days, then it is dissolved, and a fresh election is held. But there are two different types of election:

  • If it is held less than 6 months before the next election was due, then it replaces that election
  • If, however, it is held more than 6 months before the next election was due, it is an extraordinary general election rather than an ordinary general election and is effectively a super-by-election, with the next election occuring when was due

The May 2011 election to the Scottish Parliament saw the Scottish National Party obtain an overall majority, and Alex Salmond, the SNP leader and MSP for Aberdeenshire East was re-elected.

Could something similar apply to electing the Prime Minister? I see no reason why not. After a general election, the House of Commons votes on who should be Prime Minister, then the Speaker of the House of Commons informs the Queen of the identity of the Prime Minister-nominate, who is then invited to Buckingham Palace and asked to form a Government.

But what about mid-term changes? If it is - as in 2007 - a Prime Minister having declared their intention to resign, then the relevant party can proceed with its normal election process at a leisurely pace, and all that is needed is that once a winner is declared, the Prime Minister can resign and the House of Commons will elect the winner as the new Prime Minister.

A slightly different situation is that of 1990, with Margaret Thatcher being challenged as Conservative party leader, and then withdrawing after failing to win the first round. A quick process, taking about a week. These days, the Conservative leadership process is different, as a sitting leader can only be removed by losing a confidence motion (one of the Conservative MPs, not of the whole House of Commons), and then there is an election for a successor. A sitting Prime Minister could be encouraged to remain in office, albeit as a lame duck, while the election process is followed.

There is a third situation - a Prime Minister dies in office, or resigns suddenly before their party has elected a successor. In the Scottish system, if the post of First Minister falls vacant, then the Presiding Officer appoints an MSP to be Acting First Minister. On the two occasions this has happened, it has been during a Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition, with Jim Wallace - now the Advocate-General and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords - being Deputy First Minister, and therefore chosen to be Acting First Minister.

One benefit of this is that the new First Minister would be a Labour MSP, and hence Wallace, as a Liberal Democrat, would be ineligible to be chosen as leader of Labour's MSPs.

Currently we have a coalition Government, and in these instances it would be logical to choose an Acting Prime Minister from among the Liberal Democrats (presumably, Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, as Lord President of the Council) as none of them could become Conservative leader. Alternatively, no mainstream party allows a peer to become its leader, so in a single-party Government, the obvious choice for Acting Prime Minister would be the Leader of the House of Lords. If an MP from the sole or main governing party were chosen, then there is the possibility of them standing for leader and having the trump card of the incumbency factor.

A mid-term change could, of course, be caused by a change in Government. So why not replace the fortnight in the Fixed Term Parliaments Act with a fortnight in which to hold a Prime Ministerial election? The sitting Prime Minister could be re-elected, or the Leader of the Opposition could be elected Prime Minister and simply take over.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Day We Caught The Train

The train made its way through Dawlish Warren, the scene of annual family summer holidays when I was young, on its way to Newton Abbot, where I would catch a connection to Torbay, my destination, to catch up with an old friend who had moved there, whom I had last seen at his baptism earlier this year.

Stood outside Torbay station, having texted to tell him I was arriving. And waited. And waited. And texted again. No reply. Hmm, something was up, and for some reason he must be unable to meet me. So I got on the train and made my way home.

When I got home, a couple of text messages from him - where was I? The battery on his phone was low.

So, what has happened he had had to recharge the battery - and this can take time - hadn't received the messages from me, including the one where I'd said what time I'd be arriving.

There is a useful 0-10 scale for being paranoid, with former Prime Minister Harold Wilson at number 10 during his time at Number 10. Some people would have been up there with Wilson, wondering if they'd been stood up, had their time wasted etc.

But there was one thing that stopped me thinking that - I knew my friend's character. This would be just one of those things. And sure enough, we can meet up next year. Must remember to bring my bucket and spade.

And it can be like that as Christians. We cannot be sure what God is doing - and sometimes it leaves us feeling annoyed and disappointed. But the more we read the Bible, the more we become aware of His character, and from knowing this we can learn to trust Him more.

My Letters On Europe

There is one thing about the local paper - and that is the constant repititon of letter-writers from the UK Independence Party stream of political thoughts, with predictable letters. And I guess that as we approach the May 2014 European elections and the May 2015 general election, we will get more of the same.

So, here is my first reply (please note, neither of these have been published as yet):

Dear Sir,

Colin Hingston (letters, 16 October) asks whether there has been an election of the European Commission, and describes Jose Manuel Barroso and Baroness Ashton as unelected.

For the appointment of the Commission President (Mr Barroso) and the Commission Vice-President/High Representative of the Common Foreign & Security Policy (Lady Ashton), there is a two stage process.

Firstly, a candidate has to be chosen by the European Council - comprised of directly-elected Heads of State (for countries with a presidential or semi-presidential system) and Heads of Government who are accountable to their national legislatures (for countries with a parliamentary system).

Secondly, a candidate who is nominated by the Council can only take office if ratified by the European Parliament - which is directly-elected.

In addition, the Commission has to be ratified by the Parliament, and can be removed from office by the Parliament.

In 2010, the only people who had the chance to vote for David Cameron were the constituents of Witney. The House of Commons had no vote on whether Mr Cameron was to be Prime Minister or not, and a Prime Minister can chop and change their Cabinet without needing to ask the Hoúse of Commons for approval.

If Mr Barroso were to leave office mid-term, the whole process would need to be repeated. We can compare this when there were mid-term changes in Prime Minister, such as from Baroness Thatcher to Sir John Major in 1990 or from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown in 2007. In neither case did the House of Commons have the chance to vote on who the new Prime Minister was to be, and these were simply internal party choices. A mid-term change of Commission President needs the European Parliament's approval, while a mid-term change of Prime Minister does not need the House of Commons' approval.

I have no doubt that UKIP - with its concerns about democratic deficits - would applaud any attempt to enable the House of Commons to chose the Prime Minister and ratify Cabinet appointments.

Changes mean that prior to the May 2014 elections, the main European groupings will select candidates for the post of Commission President, which the Council will need to take note of when nominating a President. Hence, when we vote in May, we will be indirectly indicating which named person we would like to see become Commission President. I am sure that UKIP would welcome this move to make the selection of Commission President more transparent and democratic, and the EFD group are entitled to select their own presidential candidate.

Yours faithfully,

Graham Pointer (Dr)

And the second:

Dear Sir,

I was intrigued to read Ralph Prothero's theories (letters, 19 Oct) about how EU law is made.

I was especially interested to see his idea that Herman van Rompuy leads the Council of Ministers - I am sure this news would come as a surprise to the Lithuanian Government, which currently holds the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, a legally distinct body from the European Council over which Mr van Rompuy presides.

Mr Prothero states "The Council of Ministers, which meets in secret, must take account before voting of the opinion of the EU Parliament,but can ignore that opinion. That is how British MEPs 'help make decisions' - by having their opinions ignored."

As he is no doubt aware, under the Treaty of Lisbon, the majority of EU laws are made by the "Ordinary Legislative Procedure", under which they require the support of both the Parliament and the Council of Ministers. If they do not get the support of both, then the proposal doesn't become law.

Yours faithfully,

Graham Pointer (Dr)

Friday, 18 October 2013

A Dublin Meeting That Needs To Enfranchise The British Centre-Right

In Dublin next March there is an important meeting that could shape the European Union for the rest of the decade. And that is the European People's Party choosing its nominee for the post of President of the European Commission.

I have outlined how the Commission President is chosen, but what will be different after the May 2014 elections is that some of the Europarties will be choosing nominees for the post, with the aim that the European Council will take this into account when selecting a President-nominate to present to the European Parliament for its approval (or disapproval - this is democracy, after all).

We need to take a step back here and see what a Europarty is - basically it is a transnational party comprised of national parties in Europe and receives funding from the Parliament. They are (with British members in italics):

  • Alliance of European Conservatives & Reformists (Conservative; Ulster Unionist Party)
  • Alliance of Liberals & Democrats for Europe (Alliance Party of Northern Ireland*; Liberal Democrats)
  • European Alliance for Freedom (includes Godfrey Bloom, MEP for Yorkshire & Humberside, who lost the UK Independence Party whip last month)
  • European Alliance of National Movements (British National Party)
  • EU Democrats
  • European Christian Political Movement (Christian People's Alliance*)
  • European Democratic Party
  • European Free Alliance (Mebyon Kernow*; Plaid Cymru; Scottish National Party)
  • European Green Party (Green Party of England & Wales; Irish Green Party*^; Scottish Green Party*)
  • European People's Party
  • Movement for a Europe of Liberties & Democracy
  • Party of European Socialists (Labour; Social Democratic & Labour Party*)
  • Party of the European Left

[* No Members of the European Parliament]

[^ An all-Ireland party]

One thing to note is that these do not replace the national parties, which appear to remain single-nation ones. For example, within the European People's Party, there is Christian Democratic & Flemish, which is part of the Belgian Government. Also part of the Europarty is Christian Democratic Appeal, which was part of the Dutch Government. But these are distinct parties - there is no obvious move for Amsterdam-based parties to start contesting the Flemish part of Belgium (nor Paris-based ones the Walloon part).

Although there is scaremongering about a single European state on the horizon, there are no real attempts to replace national parties with transnational ones - which would surely be part of any attempt to create a United States of Europe - not even in obvious situations, e.g.German Chancellor Angela Merkel will have to sort out a coalition in Berlin soon, with her Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union probably going to form a "grand coalition" with the Social Democrats, but it's not a case of "well, we are already in coalition with each other in Vienna"; Prime Minister David Cameron is not going to have Teachtaí Dála as well as MPs.

In addition, Europarties are not restricted to EU member nations. The European People's Party is proudly declaring that their Erna Solberg has just become Norwegian Prime Minister, while the European Christian Political Movement has a few non-EU parties as members. The Alliance of European Conservatives & Reformists has Iceland's Independence Party as a member, and goes as far as having the Conservative Party of Canada as an associate member.

Conversely, not every party with MEPs is a member of a Europarty - for example, the Democratic Unionist Party, UKIP and Sinn Féin are not.

So far, the Alliance of Liberals & Democrats for Europe, European Green Party, European People's Party and the Party of European Socialists are intending to select presidential candidates - although, to be honest, it will be a choice between the European People's Party and Party of European Socialists candidates.

There is a distinction between the Europarties and the groups in the Parliament. The groups are (from largest to smallest):

  • European People's Party - the Europarty on the same name, together with Belgium's Christian Social Party
  • Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats - the Party of European Socialists, together with Cyprus' Democratic Party and Italy's Democratic Party
  • Alliance of Liberals & Democrats for Europe - two Europarties (the Alliance of Liberals & Democrats for Europe and European Democratic Party), together with France's Citizenship, Action & Participation for the 21st Century and Greece's Action
  • Greens/European Free Alliance - two Europarties (the European Free Alliance and European Green Party), together with Sweden's Pirate Party and a couple of Independent MEPs (Estonia's Indrek Tarand and Portugal's Rui Tavares, who is a defector from European United Left/Nordic Green Left)
  • European Conservatives & Reformists - two Europarties (the Alliance of European Conservatives & Reformists and European Christian Political Movement), together with Croatia's Party of Rights dr. Ante Starčević, Hungary's Modern Hungary Movement, Italy's The Right, and 3 Independent MEPs (Poland's Adam Bielan & Mirosław Piotrowski and Denmark's Anna Rosbach, who is a defector from Europe of Freedom & Democracy. Bielan and Piotrowski demonstrate that an MEP can leave their national party while remaining in their European Parliament group)
  • Europe of Freedom & Democracy - the Movement for a Europe of Liberties & Democracy, together with UKIP, Bulgaria's People for Real, Open & United Democracy, Italy's I Love Italy, the Netherlands' Reformed Political Party, as well as an MEP from Belgium's Flemish Interest (Frank Vanhecke - his sole party colleague, Philip Claeys, sits as a non-iscrit)
  • European United Left/Nordic Green Left - the Party of the European Left, together with Sinn Féin, Croatia's Croatian Labourists – Labour Party, Cyprus' Progressive Party of Working People, the Czech Republic's Communist Party of Bohemia & Moravia, France's Communist Party of Réunion (despite being off the coast of Madagascar, Réunion is legally part of France), Greece's Communist Party, Ireland's Socialist Party, Latvia's Socialist Party, the Netherland's Socialist Party, Portugal's Communist Party, Sweden's Left Party, as well as an Independent MEP (France's Marie-Christine Vergiat)

Then there are the non-iscrits, who do not fall into any of the groups. They come from three Europarties (European Alliance for Freedom, European Alliance of National Movements and EU Democrats) as well as from outside Europarties (e.g. DUP).

There is one thing you might have noticed from all this - where are the British members of the European People's Party? The United Kingdom is the only EU nation with no European People's Party MEPs, and the Europarty has no British parties in it.

At one level this is not a big deal. But the May European elections will help decide who becomes Commission President.

Imagine you are a voter in a major State in the USA. You go to the polling station to elect the members of the Electoral College who will elect the President. You see the Democrats, the Libertarians, the Greens etc. But you know the President is either going to be a Democrat or a Republican and there is no Republican name there.

In the United Kingdom we will be in a similar situation. We can use our vote to indicate we want the Council to nominate the Party of European Socialist's candidate as President. Or, er, we can't. If we want to see the European People's Party candidate become President, there is not a single positive thing we can do. All we can do is cast a negative vote (e.g. for any party other than Labour) and hope that this hits the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats hard enough so they get fewer MEPs than the European People's Party. But that isn't really much of a choice.

Those of us on the centre-right need to have a say. The European People's Party has to throw its Dublin meeting open to the Alliance of European Conservatives & Reformists and European Christian Political Movement, and have a joint Presidential candidate, with two British parties - the Conservatives and the Christian People's Alliance - having delegates who play a role in selecting the candidate. This is a win-win situation for the centre-right, as surely what will then matter when the Commission nominates a President is not whether the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats gets more MEPs than the European People's Party, rather whether it gets more MEPs than the combined total of the European People's Party and European Conservatives & Reformists.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Schools Out - And Here Come The Christmasians

I see there is a bit of a debate in the Metro letters pages of schools with significant numbers of Muslim students closing for Eid.

When I was young, my parents read the Daily Express and one of its examples of "loony left" (or "political correctness gone mad" as we'd call it now) was one of the teaching unions had produced a diary for its members for the academic year. It had the traditional holidays such as Good Friday, Christmas Day. But it also - and get the smelling salts for this one - had things like Eid, Diwali, Rosh Hashanah.

I lived for a while in Leicester, with its diverse ethnic and cultural population. And when I did temping work in factories I noticed one sign up informing us that people are expected to be in on Diwali - you practice your religion in your own time, not on company time. I wonder how I would feel if I saw a sign up telling me I needed to be in on Good Friday or Christmas Day (and I try, when possible, to have Maundy Thursday as a holiday).

My first office job after university led to me causing a bit of a stir. I refused to have my desk decorated for Christmas and chose not to attend the team Christmas lunch. My justification? - the staff handbook stated that this was a secular organisation, and religious festivals were not to be celebrated on company property nor on company time. But also, in the interests of being even-handed, I felt that people who were adherents of non-Christian religions should be treated equally - if tinsel can be put up for Christmas then why shouldn't a Jew bring in a menorah and light it for Hanukkah? Or a Hindu or Sikh decorate their desk for Diwali?

In any office environment, from late November till the end of the year you get the devout followers of Christmasianity, an interesting religion with its emphasis on tinsel and carol services (which have to be done "properly", i.e. have mulled wine and mince pies afterwards) and trees, with its adherents ramming their views down people's throats. For the Christmasians, nothing causes a scoffing laugh or a shout of "I've never heard anything so ridiculous in my life" than HR emails reminding that not everyone celebrates Christmas and that it can be a fire risk putting tinsel round electrical devices.

For Christmasians, everyone should be celebrating Christmas - after all "this is a Christian country" (an odd statement, especially when said by someone who rails against "religion" and "superstition") and "the Queen is Head of the Church of England" - and in addition, everyone should be celebrating Christmas in the way Christmasians do. Don't be a bah-humbug by saying that for you Christmas is a quiet religious festival. And never ever try to drag Christ into Christmas - other than the Little Baby Jesus (TM) who knows His place is on the sidelines.

If two of the three school holidays are focussed on Christian festivals, then is there space for closures based on non-Christian festivals? I think there is.

I have heard that some States in the USA have the concept of "snow days". If school is closed for, say, a week due to snow, then the summer vacation is delayed by a week. And the same principle could apply - either on a school-by-school basis or on an authority-by-authority basis. If there are a significant number of pupils from one religion, close for the relevant period time - and then postpone the end of the summer term to compensate. Parents will still have to find childminders for the same number of days and children will still have the same number of days of schooling.

With this, Hanukkah is the interesting one. In 2014, it is Wednesday 17 December. Should schools with a significant Jewish intake close then and come back for the Thursday and Friday before breaking up for the Christmas holiday? Or break up on the Tuesday and have the 3 days added on to the end of the Summer term (and let's face it, every year there is the controversy about the length of time between that and the start of the Autumn term)?

This is not forcing Eid or Diwali (which often coincides with the Autumn half-term anyway) down anyone's throats. No pupil is going to be dragged to the mosque for Eid. But it enables schools and/or authorities to be flexible with regards to schools which have a significant number of pupils from non-Christian religions, whilst keeping the major Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter as the spine of two of the three school holidays.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Electing The Deputy Speaker

Tomorrow sees an important event in Parliamentary history - the first by-election for a Deputy Speakership. The traditional practice of appointing Deputy Speakers was via the "usual channels", which are outlined in a report by the House of Commons Procedure Committee, which recommended that the House of Commons elects the 3 Deputy Speakers, and in a later report (which curiously appears to be misdated, as it's published February 2009 but refers to a Speakership election later that year) gave further details of how it thinks the choice should be made - that basically, the Speakership team should have 2 members drawn from the Government (i.e. MPs who are from the party/parties that form the Government) and 2 from the Opposition (by this, the Committee does not mean the Official Opposition - Labour currently, but the Conservatives at the time - but instead any MP who is not from the Government side).

Although the Speaker stands for re-election at general elections as Mr/Madam Speaker seeking re-election, in this system what matters is which party the Speaker represented when he or she was first elected Speaker.

This system does not extend to the devolved legislatures. In the Scottish Parliament, the first two Presiding Officers (the Liberal Democrats' David Steel and then the Scottish National Party's George Reid) both retired at the elections at the end of their 4-year terms of office (May 2003 and May 2007 respectively), but the third Presiding Officer, the Conservatives' Alex Fergusson, stood for re-election as a Conservative in May 2011, but did not seek re-election as Presiding Officer.

The Welsh Assembly is another case where there is a former Presiding Officer around. The first Presiding Officer, Plaid Cymru's Dafydd Elis-Thomas, simply stood for re-election as a Plaid Cymru candidate in 2003, 2007 and in 2011, while after the 2003 and 2007 elections the Assembly re-elected him as Presiding Officer.

Would there really be a problem with a Speaker declaring that they would not seek another term as Speaker, but would seek re-election as an MP under their original party's colours?

There is one misconception that has grown up around the Speakership, which is the "swing of the pendulum". If we look at the list of Speakers in the 20th and (so far!) 21st centuries we have:

Speaker Party upon election Date of taking office Government at time of taking office
William Gully Liberal April 1895 Liberal
James Lowther* Conservative June 1905 Conservative
John Whitley* Coalition Liberal April 1921 Coalition
Edward FitzRoy* Conservative June 1928 Conservative
Douglas Clifton-Brown* Conservative March 1943 National
William Morrison Conservative November 1951 Conservative
Harry Hylton-Foster Conservative October 1959 Conservative
Horace King* Labour October 1965 Labour
Selwyn Lloyd Conservative January 1971 Conservative
George Thomas* Labour February 1976 Labour
Bernard Weatherill* Conservative June 1983 Conservative
Betty Boothroyd* Labour April 1992 Conservative
Michael Martin* Labour October 2000 Labour
John Bercow Conservative June 2009 Labour

[* Deputy Speaker at time of election]

When Martin was elected Speaker there were objections that Labour had abused its massive parliamentary majority to install a Labour MP and had thus ignored the "swing of the pendulum". This is tosh. Yes, from Hylton-Foster to Boothroyd the Speakership had alternated, but the normal practice was for a new Speaker to come from the Government side, and this alternating had been no more than just a consequence of who was in power at the time the Speakership fell vacant. It was not Martin's election that was the aberration, but Boothroyd's.

Having a balanced team was less important in earlier days. Indeed, at the time of King's resignation, his 2 Deputies (and there were only 2 in those days) were Conservatives - Robert Grant-Ferris and Betty Harvie-Anderson - and Lloyd's election led to the last time the Speakership team was comprised of one party. This situation was rectified in November 1971 when a third Deputy Speakership position was created and given to Labour's Lance Mallalieu.

While the general pattern of 2 Conservative and 2 Labour MPs in the Speakership team has been the norm since then, there was a recent shift from this. Martin, naturally, had 2 Conservative and 1 Labour Deputy Speakers, and Bercow - as a Conservative who had been drawn from outside the Speakership team - inherited this, so for a few months there were 3 Conservative and 1 Labour MP on the Speakership team.

This brings me to one important principle - while the Deputy Speakership elections have to take into account the former allegiance of the Speaker, the reverse is not true. If Bercow were suddenly to resign, and replaced by a Labour MP from outside the Speakership team, then it would just be one of those things. Neither Labour Deputy Speaker would be required to resign and be replaced by a Conservative MP in the interests of balance.

Since the Liberals' Roderic Brown - as Deputy Speaker - lost his seat in the March 1966 general election, there has been no member of the Speakership team from outside the 2 main parties. John Hemming, Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley, did suggest a fourth Deputy Speaker, to be drawn from the Liberal Democrats or minor parties, but this has not been followed up.

There are 7 candidates for the Deputy Speakership, all Conservative MPs. If we look at the allegiance of their sponsors, we get:

MP Constituency Conservative Labour Liberal Democrat Scottish National Party Democratic Unionist Party Independent Liberal Democrat Independent Unionist
David Amess Southend West 4 3 2 1 0 0 0
Henry Bellingham Norfolk North West 7 2 1 0 0 0 0
Brian Binley Northampton South 5 3 0 0 1 1 0
Simon Burns Chelmsford 10 0 0 0 0 0 0
Nadine Dorries Bedfordshire Mid 4 2 0 0 0 0 0
Eleanor Laing Epping Forest 4 4 1 0 0 0 1
Gary Streeter Devon South West 5 4 1 0 0 0 0

When it comes to getting sponsors, it is clear that Amess and Laing have done the most to get support outside of the Conservatives, with both of them - as well as Binley - looking for sponsors from beyond the 3 main parties.

And by this time tomorrow, we shall know who has been elected.

Monday, 7 October 2013

If Any Blairites Consider Defecting, The Conservatives Should Tell Them Where To Go

I cannot remember whether at the time of the June 1987 general election my parents read the Daily Express or Daily Mail, but I recall one article about the consequences of a hung Parliament, with then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher driving to Buckingham Palace, crying for her country, as Labour leader Neil Kinnock was installed in Downing Street through the back door, aided and abetted by the Liberal leader David Steel and Social Democrat leader David Owen.

One idea that developed in popularity among some on the left is this idea of the "separated brethren" - namely that divisions between Labour and the Liberal/Social Democrat Alliance ensured that Thatcher achieved massive majorities in June 1983 and 1987. And, with logic similar to the let's-add-together-the-Conservative-and-UK-Independence-Party-vote, it is assumed that if only Labour and the Alliance had co-operated, then Thatcher's tenure would have been brought to an end and she would - at best - be remembered as a one-termer.

Around the time of the May 2011 referendum on the Alternative Vote, the BBC looked at what impact it would have had in the 1983 and 1987 elections, and we see that it hits Labour but is fairly neutral to the Conservatives. Surely, if the "separated brethren" idea was true, then AV would have led to a collapse in the number of Conservative MPs as Labour and Alliance voters give their second preferences to each other. And when you look at the data, you find that Alliance voters would be more likely to give the Conservatives their second preferences.

And consider the 1987 election. In Labour's Shadow Cabinet there were Roy Hattersley as Deputy Leader of the Opposition/Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Denis Healey as Shadow Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary, Stan Orme as Shadow Energy Secretary and John Smith as Shadow Trade & Industry Secretary. Outside of the Shadow Cabinet were John Morris as Shadow Attorney-General and Peter Shore as Shadow Leader of the Commons. All of these had served in a Cabinet with Owen. Orme - along with Michael Meacher, Shadow Health & Social Security Secretary - had served alongside Owen as ministers at the Department for Health & Social Security.

Also bear in mind that you weren't to know that the Social Democrats' Roy Jenkins was to lose Glasgow Hillhead to Labour. Healey and Shore had served in Cabinet alongside Jenkins, not only in the 1970s but in the 1960s as well. Brynmor John, Shadow Agriculture Minister, had been one of Jenkins' ministers when he was Home Secretary. And indeed, the period from November 1967 to October 1969 saw Jenkins as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Shore as Economic Affairs Secretary - with the Department for Economic Affairs having been set up as some sort of counterweight to the Treasury.

In Labour demonology there is a special place for defectors. To ask a Labour MP to take a post outside the Cabinet to ensure Steel can be a Cabinet minister is one thing - but to ask a couple of Labour MPs to do this to enable Owen and Jenkins to return would be a completely different kettle of fish.

There was a perceptive article in The Times by Philip Collins (£), where he notes:

The crucial fact here is that the Labour Party is a tribe with its own rituals, incantations and heresies. There is no crime worse than betrayal of the tribe and Labour enjoys the burning of the effigies of its traitors. The turncoats of 1931, Ramsay MacDonald and Philip Snowden, who joined a national coalition, cast a long shadow in a party that asks for doctrinal purity. The latter-day sinners are the Gang of Four who broke away to form the SDP in 1981. In Who Goes Home?, his fine memoir of the time, Roy Hattersley distils the emotional bond of his party when he says that even if he had known that Labour was doomed, he would have chosen to go down with the ship.

In this version of the loathing, Lib Dems are seen as the descendants of treachery — the very existence of the party is the product of an original sin. The SDP split the vote on the left and allowed free rein to Mrs Thatcher. That left Labour moderates angry that they were left to fight militant entryists while some of their talented colleagues set about failing to break the mould of British politics.

Today saw the Shadow Cabinet reshuffle and - as Dan Hodges notes in the Daily Telegraph - there is no place in Labour for the Blairites. I mentioned a few weeks ago that if you look at Labour now, it is hard to believe that former Prime Minister Tony Blair was once its leader.

If the Blairites feel that there is no place for them in Labour now, then there is one thing they could do - which is to consider another home. And if they approach the Conservatives, then they should be told where to go.

And that place is the office of Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip and Government Deputy Whip.

You may be asking what sense is there in the Conservatives telling potential defectors from Labour to see the Liberal Democrats instead.

There surely would be the short-term publicity in a former Labour minister declaring they are now a Conservative MP. And "short-term" is the operative word here. The Conservatives need to plan long-term. As Collins' piece noted, even over 30 years after the creation of the Social Democrats, the Liberal Democrats are seen as the "descendants of treachery". So, what would be the impact of fresh treachery? What would happen if former Labour ministers on the right of that party defected to the Liberal Democrats?

Principally, it would make the Liberal Democrats toxic to Labour. If a Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition had been formed after the May 2010 general election then - with the exception of Tom McNally, Deputy Leader of the Lords and Minister for Justice - there would be no former Labour MPs involved. But just imagine a hung Parliament after the May 2015 general election, where there were some sitting Liberal Democrat ministers who had once been Labour MPs. Who had fought re-election campaigns against their old party. Wouldn't that make a Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition just that bit harder to form, and leave no option for the Liberal Democrats - unwanted by Labour - other than keeping a Conservative-led Government in power?

The Referendum On European Union Membership Will Be In 2014

This summer has seen James Wharton, the Conservative MP for Stockton South, introduce his European Union (Referendum) Bill, and, as the text makes clear, if passed, it would require a referendum to be held on the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union by the end of 2017.

And this weekend saw Adam Afriye, the Conservative MP for Windsor, tell the Mail on Sunday that he intends to try to amend Wharton's Bill to bring the referendum forward to October 2014.

Now, the date I have heard is Thursday 23 October - just 5 weeks after after the Scottish independence referendum. Hmm, great move getting politicians campaigning simulateneously in two referendums.

Scotland does raise an interesting set of questions. If Scotland votes to become independent, then will the franchise of the EU referendum be altered to exclude Scotland? What if it isn't, and the outcome depends on the Scottish votes? - cue the cries of "England voted to leave, and we have to stay in due to the Scottish votes". There is the issue of whether a Scotland that becomes independent from a EU member nation is automatically an EU member nation upon independence - if so, then what if Scotland becomes independent from a nation that is in the process of leaving the EU, or even from one that has unilaterally left?

There is a political condition called oppositionitis - this can affect parties that form the formal Opposition, as they can make policies and promises that they will not be able to introduce, but which sound good. The Liberal Democrats have nearly been cured of this by the discipline of being in Government.

Oppositionitist can strike Government backbench MPs just as badly when they become an informal Opposition.

With that out of the way, I was surprised to learn via a letter in the local paper that there is a referendum next year:

As for the Euro elections next year, to us in UKIP, they are a referendum on leaving the EU.

Thus spake the Secretary of UKIP's Southampton branch.

Well, actually in May 2014 we are voting on who the 73 Members of the European Parliament representing the United Kingdom will be.

But let's take UKIP at their word. There are two positions - leaving the EU or staying in (which can range from wanting to be part of an "ever closer union" to a reformed, post-negotiation EU). Note that UKIP are not saying it's a referendum on what type of EU, but on whether to leave it.

Despite different visions on the EU's future, the main parties (which UKIPpers tediously refer to as "LibLabCon" on the comments section in the Daily Mail) are generally - with exceptions from some politicians - in favour of remaining in the EU.

Therefore, every vote for the Conservatives, for Labour, for the Liberal Democrats, as well as for the Greens, Plaid Cymru, the Scottish National Party and some other parties, is a vote to stay in. Remember, UKIPpers, you said this was a referendum.

So, as this is to be treated as a referendum, UKIP and others opposed to EU membership need to return 37 MEPs or more to have won the referendum. If they fail to achieve this, then - again as this is to be treated as a referendum - we can say that the people of the United Kingdom have voted to remain in the EU.

Sorry, you can't have it both ways. If you want it to be treated as a referendum, then you have to accept that whichever side of the EU debate returns 37 or more MEPs has won.

As A Christian, I Would Not Swear An Oath On The Bible

I see the Mail on Sunday is getting worked up about the idea that witnesses in court would no longer be asked to swear on the Bible. And to be blunt, it is meet and right that this practice ends.

Often a distinction is made between liberal and conservative Christianity. I would make also make a different distinction - between "core Christianity" and "shell Christianity" (aka Churchianity). If you ever speak to a shell Christian, or read papers like the Daily Mail (and to a lesser extent the Daily Telegraph) you find out what is important to them - the externals. Dressing up in one's Sunday best, doing things "properly" etc.

For the paper this is very much The End Of Civilisation As We Know It.

The forebears of these witnesses would have trembled at the thought of lying on oath. For them, perjury was a dreadful weight on the conscience. For many today, "perjury" and "conscience" are empty words. The clear threat of prison if they are caught in falsehoods will have a far greater effect on them – but only if they seriously believe they will be found out. This is precisely why it will matter, if we cease to be a Christian country. Conscience, reinforced by religion, reaches into the secret corners where CCTV is blind, and DNA testing useless. It is particularly good at restraining those crimes which are hard to detect and hard to prove. Do we really want this to be a society where outward threats must increasingly replace inward self-control?

Reading that it feels like God is reduced to being a bogeyperson in the sky.

It is actually possible to be an atheist and have a conscience.

Having a conscience, a moral sense of right and wrong, is part of what being made in the image of God includes.

If we open up the Bible, rather than keep it as a closed book to swear oaths on, we see Jesus' command in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by Heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the Earth, for it is His footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil." (Matt. 5:33-37)

Sunday, 6 October 2013

How Many Seats Did UKIP Cost The Conservatives In 2010?

As you may recall, the result of the May 2010 general election was:

  • Conservatives - 306 (including 1 Deputy Speaker)
  • Labour - 258 (including 2 Deputy Speakers)
  • Liberal Democrat - 57
  • Northern Ireland parties - 18
  • Scottish National Party - 6
  • Plaid Cymru - 3
  • Greens - 1
  • The Speaker - 1

One thing that is sometimes argued is that the Conservatives lost loads of seats due to the intervention of the UK Independence Party, with the argument that if only the Conservatives had been more Eurosceptic, UKIP wouldn't have been there, and we just need to add together the Conservative and UKIP vote to find out how many votes a more Eurosceptic Conservative party would have had. And therefore, we are supposed to find that as a result of Prime Minister David Cameron not being Eurosceptic enough, there were sufficient seats won by Labour and the Liberal Democrats to prevent a Conservative majority Government.

Sounds simple and obvious enough, but how accurate is it?

In May 2011, the people rejected a move to the Alternative Vote. Meanwhile, a paper was published looking at AV's consequences. Some of the valuable data in there is looking at what the second preferences of UKIP voters were - and so we can use these to model how UKIP voters would have voted if there had been no UKIP candidates. And doing this constituency-by-constituency we can model the 2010 election without UKIP.

And we find only 6 seats where UKIP's absence would have changed the winner:

Constituency MP Winner without UKIP's presence
Bolton West Julie Hilling (Lab) Susan Williams (C)
Dorset Mid & Poole North Annette Brooke* (LD) Nick King (C)
Dudley North Ian Austin* (Lab) Graeme Brown (C)
Hampstead & Kilburn Glenda Jackson* (Lab) Chris Philp (C)
Solihull Lorely Burt* (LD) Maggie Throup (C)
Southampton Itchen John Denham* (Lab) Royston Smith (C)

An asterisk indicates someone who was an MP prior to the election. Williams was in the list of working peerages announced in August 2013.

One interesting thing to note is that UKIP voters prefer the more pro-European Union Liberal Democrats to Labour, and UKIP's absence would have given the Liberal Democrats very narrow misses in both Oldham East & Saddleworth and Sheffield Central.

6 seats can make a huge difference. In both the October 1964 and October 1974 general elections, 6 more Conservative MPs would have led to a hung Parliament with Labour as the largest party rather than a Labour majority Government. At the February 1974 general election, 6 more Conservative MPs would still have meant a hung Parliament, but one where the Conservatives - rather than Labour - were the largest party.

Without UKIP, the overall result would have been:

  • Conservatives - 312 (including 1 Deputy Speaker)
  • Labour - 254 (including 2 Deputy Speakers)
  • Liberal Democrat - 55
  • Northern Ireland parties - 18
  • Scottish National Party - 6
  • Plaid Cymru - 3
  • Greens - 1
  • The Speaker - 1

Thursday, 3 October 2013

The Non-Homogenous Left And Why I Deleted A Tweet

I had a tweet which got retweeted a fair bit yesterday. And so I deleted it.

The problem is that it was clearly one of two - but no-one retweeted the second one, and the retweeting of the first meant it was out of context and made it seem that I was holding an opinion I didn't.

The past few days have seen the Daily Mail launch a vitrolic set of articles about Ralph Miliband, as a way of attacking his son Ted, the leader of the Labour party.

One thing which strikes me is a justification that comes from some (and that is the important word here) of those on the right, namely this:

But "the Left" danced on Margaret Thatcher's grave.

There is a "basic human being" test. And yes, some of "the Left" failed it by a long way when Thatcher died. But that is not a justification or excuse for descending to that level.

And the question is not whether "the Left" danced on her grave, but whether Ted did. And having known him at college, I can say he is a decent and honourable man. In no statements following her death was he nasty towards or about her. He is only responsible for what he says and does.

To condemn him for something in Socialist Worker is out-of-line. Ted is not the editor of it, he is not a contributor to it. The Socialist Workers' Party is not affiliated to Labour - its politics are those of Militant Tendency, which former Labour leader Neil Kinnock fought to get out of his party. Ted is not responsible for its views - in the same way as Prime Minister David Cameron is not responsible for editorials in the Daily Telegraph or the Daily Mail.

As for condemning him for not rebuking George Galloway, the Respect MP for Bradford West - I mean, come on! Galloway left Labour nearly a decade ago. That makes as much sense as condemining Cameron for not rebuking a Democratic Unionist Party councillor for something they say.

But The Guardian smeared Cameron's dad.

Indeed they did. Two wrongs don't make a right. And again, Ted never wrote that article.

Both these attempts at justifying the Daily Mail's actions make a simple assumption - there is a mass of people out there, called "the Left", who think the same and are responsible for each others' views and actions. We see this when the Daily Mail drags Josef Stalin's gulags into it - although surely, given their obessions, their biggest problem with Stalin would have been that his wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, didn't lose her baby bump fast enough.

So we see what people like Eric Hobsbawm thought - and you know what, Hobsbawm and Miliband were not the same person. Yes, Hobsbawm might have been a supporter of Stalin, but Miliband was a critic, so why use Hobsbawm's views as a stick to beat Miliband - and by extension, his son - with?

Because "the Left" are a homogenous group. Just as there are those who take what a liberal vicar says to be the "official Church of England policy" and assume all Anglicans believe that, there are those who look for what anyone influential on "the Left" say, and take that as what everyone on "the Left" thinks. It is so juvenile.

And before you fall into the tedious argument of some who have commented on the Daily Mail website - the comments assuming that those critical were paid by Labour Party HQ (oh, puh-lease. Spare us the "who paid you?" line whenever anyone disagrees with you) - let me ask this. Do you think Labour paid John Moore, of all people, to defend Miliband?

So, what had I said and why did I delete it? The first tweet acknowledged that The Guardian smeared Cameron's dad and that there were those on "the Left" who celebrated Thatcher's death. The second tweet stated that these do not - repeat do not - justify the Daily Mail's disgusting smear on Miliband.

Sadly, the first got retweeted and made it appear I was taking the "well 'the Left' does it" line, when I was taking the opposite stance.