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Taking a broader perspective…

The Tom Baldwin Letters Part 2….

The series of Tom Baldwin letters continues….this time one written by Darrell Goodliffe….

Dear Media colleagues,

I am writing to you on a matter of utmost concern to us here at Labour Central Command. As I am sure you are aware, we are not holding a Spring Conference this year as part of  our ongoing efforts to avoid having to talk to the membership of the Labour Party. Oh yes, and it saves us some money too. In its place we are having a nice meet n’ greet for Ed and the Shadow Cabinet with members of the public in Nottingham on March 25th.

Unfortunately, this leaves us in a bit of a bind as the campaigning period for local elections starts on this day. Now I know this means that your supposed to be ‘impartial’ and all that other stuff but we all know what rubbish that really is at the best of times. If you want to maintain this facade then how can you cover both Nick Clegg and David Cameron’s Spring shin-digs and not ours? 1000’s of people tried to intervene at Clegg’s do to point out what a lying little toad he is and you successfully blanked them. Just because they are prepared to at least appear in front of the membership of their parties and at least pretend they are listening too and care what they think, why should this entitle them to special treatment?

So, we are asking, gently and tactfully, that you quickly establish a ‘No Political Opponents Zone’ around this very special event of ours. All signs of Liberal Democrat and Conservative commentary on this event should be swiftly neutralised and any sound of dissent or difference of opinion should be edited out. In fact, this will in practice make it little different to your average Labour Party conference. Maybe if it goes really well then people wont notice a difference. What would happen if you don’t do this? Well let’s just put it this way….you really wouldn’t like me when I am angry….no more exclusives from the high-flying world of the opposition benches for you for starters! If that doesn’t deter you then nothing will.

Ta-Ta For Now,

Tom

Truth can be stranger than fiction….read details of the real letter Tom sent here.

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Brown, #Gaddafi and Megrahire…

Councillor Rupert Read has been a Green Party City Councillor in Norwich since 2004, to find out more about Rupert visit his blog and twitter. You can view the original post here and here .

Away from the view of journalists, Gaddafi is attacking his own people ferociously in Libya, to try to win back control over towns and cities which have been freed by acts of incredible bravery. It is time the international community acted decisively: at a minimum, we need a no-fly zone over most of Libya now, to stop Gaddafi bombing and strafeing his own people. This is what the many former Libyan diplomats who have resigned from the Libyan government are saying. The world needs to act on this now!

Meanwhile, I wonder if Gordon Brown is (now) regretting having taken the extensive actions that he did and his government did, as we now know, to get Megrahi the Lockerbie bomber released back to the care of Gaddafi. These actions by the British government basically sent Gaddafi the message loud and clear that all that Britain cared about was making money with Libya, not justice and the rule of law, let alone the fate of the oppressed Libyan people themselves. The heartrendingly unprecedentedly savage treatment that Gaddafi is now meting out to his own people who are daring to stand up for their freedom was in effect given the green light in advance by Britain, as soon as Brown started helping Libya to get Megrahi back.

It is time for Britain to decisively change course, and abandon its support for Middle Eastern and North African rulers (including also those of Bahrain, Djibouti, Yemen plus of course Israel) who fire on people. This process might be helped along if Brown (and Blair, who initiated the process of making friends with Gaddafi and who played a role it seems, according to the Wikileaks cables, in the dubious freeing of Megrahi:) himself were to speak out, expressing regret that the last government didn’t take a far stronger line against the oppresive, murderous Gaddafi.

At the moment, the signs that the British government is contemplating a serious change of course are limited, to say the least. Yes, Britain has now stopped certain arms exports to Bahrain (and Libya) – but recall that just a week before the Bahrain uprising began, William Hague was in Bahrain in effect pledging our support to the autocrats there, warmly shaking their hands, pushing for more economic and trade links, and making a few gentle noises about ‘reform’ to cover his tracks. Meanwhile, we have the astounding situation that LibDem peer Emma Nicholson is in Yemen to conduct trade talks, during the uprising there. I can find no record of Nicholson speaking out about what the government there is doing to its people (see here for example) right now. This really is a quite appalling, though not unexpected, state of affairs.

The British government needs to wake up. The world is changing. It is simply no longer acceptable to be complicit with the violent and provocative repression of peaceful protests abroad – or, indeed, at home…

Which brings us to the latest appalling event: Cameron’s trip to the MidEast to see dictators to do business with them and sell them arms. I kid you not. A cleverly arranged PR opp in Cairo, and its off to Kuwait to sell arms etc. to a genuinely autocratic regime…

You couldn’t make it up.

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A new proposal for a green future… How House of Lords reform should really be done

Councillor Rupert Read has been a Green Party City Councillor in Norwich since 2004, to find out more about Rupert visit his blogand twitter. You can view the original post here.

Introduction: House of Lords reform is next

Now that it is certain that the AV referendum will take place on May 5, coinciding with local election day and elections in Scotland and Wales (incidentally, this date is one which I first broke to the nation, scooping the BBC and everyone else), it is a good time to reflect on the strange beast that is the House of Lords, that almost scuppered this referendum (albeit not without some good reason!: see here).

There is of course a lot to be said for the House of Lords, at least as compared to the conduct of many of those who have won election to the House of Commons! In respect of this latest example, for instance, it is clear that in some respects they have intelligently improved the bill that will allow the AV referendum to go ahead, in particular by loosening the tightness of the strictures on constituency size.

But in the end, one thing is inescapable: the method of selection of the Lords – essentially, patronage – is just fundamentally unacceptable in a modern democracy. We need to have a House of Lords candidates for which are picked in some other, better way: either by election via proportional representation (which is Green Party policy, and seems likely to be the route that the Coalition chooses), or by lot (selection, that is, via the so-called ‘Athenian option’, argued for by OK’s Anthony Barnett: see this intriguing review).

Once the AV referendum has been won (or lost – please let it not be lost! #Yes2AV !), then the burden of constitutional reform will switch to the question of the House of Lords. This is not a ‘long-grass’ issue – Clegg and others in his Party are determined to make progress on it, and rightly so. It is in this context that I have been working on this issue.

For I think that we need to broaden our sense of what can be achieved in House of Lords reform. It is not enough merely to democratise the upper house; we ought to seize this opportunity to rethink its raison d’etre. Especially as, if we have elections for the Lords, there will be a greater need to distinguish the Lords more radically from the Commons. One way to do so would be to give it a new purpose, besides just being a revising chamber. And that is the purpose of this ‘thinkpiece’: to suggest such a new purpose.

 

A new, ‘green’ purpose for the upper house; and how best to select candidates for it

 

What if we were to make the House of Lords into the House of the Voiceless? A place where the interests of non-human animals and of future people (see my http://www.opendemocracy.net/rupert-read/last-refuge-of-prejudice ) were, by oath, the first concern of the senators (if such is to be their new names)?

This would of course actually fit particularly well, if the selection of all or some candidates for this chamber were to be done by lot. (You could for instance select most of the senators making up the new Upper House by PR, and the rest, those designated specifically perhaps as ‘guardians’ for the voiceless, by lot: that would be a ‘hybrid’ upper house that could achieve the tasks of revising legislation and of protecting voiceless people/beings, in tandem. See below…) For then it would make great sense, to think of those selected as being given a special vocation (as jurors have, in another context) to voice the concerns of the voiceless.

The idea that I had some years ago (here is one of the first places that I started to write it up), a proposal that I have been developing in my philosophical work recently, and that I have been speaking on in various fora (see here and here), is specifically that all or (perhaps better still) some portion of the new upper house should be constituted by ordinary citizens selected by lot to represent powerfully the voices of the voiceless, in the deliberations of the nation. I recently offered evidence to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (on which Green Party MP Caroline Lucas sits: see here for my evidence), along these lines.

It would be interesting to know what readers of Rupert’s Read think of this idea (or rather, more strictly speaking, of this phalanx of related ideas, for there are obviously various different ways in which the basic impulse here could be implemented, as I have already implied).

For those without time to visit the links, here is the idea is in a nutshell:

From the House of Lords to the guardians

Plato said we should be ruled by guardians. Habermas and other deliberative-democratic philosophers of course abhor the anti-democratic sentiment permeating Plato’s proposal, and rightly so. But… what if the guardians were selected democratically, for example by sortition? And: what if their deliberations became a high-profile model of what deliberation in a democratic society could be?

Still, there seems little case for substituting guardians for normal elected representatives, for decisions which can be made about us, by people who represent us. But… what about cases where the people, the beings who ought to be heard in or even to be making the decisions have no voice — even over matters which are life or death matters for them?

Future people are the most obvious case of such people. I propose therefore powerful guardians for future people / guardians of the future / guardians of future generations, either to take the place in our system of the royal assent, or to occupy part of the role of the upper house in the course of House of Lords reform.

Their most fundamental powers, besides standard revising powers, would be, on my proposal:

a) To veto in whole or in part new legislation that threatened the basic needs and fundamental interests of future people / of the voiceless.

b) To force a review, on petitioning, if appropriate, of any existing legislation or of administrative decisions that threaten the basic needs and fundamental interests of future people / of the voiceless

Conclusion: A path to a green future, via constitutional reform?

Everyone is agreed that our current democracy is failing to achieve a green future. Why not seize the moment offered by House of Lords reform, and consider some much more radical version of such reform than the Coalition is currently intending? Perhaps then, the time is ripe for thinking about helping to achieve a green future, by creating a new role, that of guardians, who would, in the context of radical reform of the upper house, become and then be an intimate part of our democratic institutions…

For after all: The people who would rule, if we simply move to selecting candidates for the upper house by PR elections, or by lot, without altering the raison d’etre of the upper house, are only the people (in fact, the adult, registered-to-vote, not extremely-infirm etc. people) who are alive now. But surely, ‘the people’ ought to be thought of in a far more temporally extended manner. Does a people only exist as a momentary time-slice? Surely not. A people, a nation-state, a community, a society, is something extended over time. It extends into the past, and extends indefinitely into the future.

Burke, in a passage clearly forgotten by supposed c/Conservatives in UK and USA for 30 years or more, says that society is a contract between the dead, the living and those unborn (with no limit specified on the generations ahead)… He is right…

It is clear that we need Lords willing to radically reform or to abolish themselves, if we are to achieve Lords reform, 100 years on from the Parliament Act. But I think, with ecological crisis looming or upon us, it is also high time to think about how such radical reform of the upper house can be dovetailed in with institutional reform to try to help assure a greener future.

Maybe undertaking such thinking would even make the Lords more willing to accept their own exit, in the service of a greater good…

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