The Strange Death Of Democratic England

Whilst Cameron is poncing about at the latest European Council meeting, trying to pretend to his party that his non-veto was a veto and he isn’t backtracking, Conservative Home has further evidence of the sharply declining Tory party membership.

Depressing reading I’m sure it is for most Tories (except Cameron), Adrian Hilton’s article is a rather apt analogy for the political process as a whole, as he lays bare the extent of decline in party membership.

Referring to Beaconsfield ” the Tory Premier League historic and prestigious seat of Disraeli”, he  illustrates the decline of membership by the graph above and writes:

This pattern of decline is in evidence in just about every Conservative association the length and breadth of the country. Beaconsfield can still glory in having the second-highest number of members of any association, but the fact remains that this represents a loss of almost 5000 paid-up supporters (76%) over the period I’ve been a member, and the reduction continues at the rate of about 100 a year. But more pressing even than the likelihood of extinction within a decade is that, on present rates of fund-raising and income, the association is projected this year to record its first ever financial loss. 

The flight of members then is so acute that even the ‘wealthy Beaconsfield Conservative Association’ is unable to cover its costs (other than by mortgaging assets). This crisis in membership therefore, argues Hilton, really ought to be a priority concern as the threat is now existential.

So what is the cause of the ‘alarming rate of decline’. Well Hilton has a theory which in my view not only applies to the Tories but the entire political system:

…there was a time when being a member of the Conservative Party was an active democratic pursuit – we could freely select parliamentary candidates, propose motions for conference and even participate in debates from the floor. It was a festival of genuine political participation: we didn’t all agree, and neither did we have to pretend to: democracy is messy…

Sadly, all of these processes are now controlled by the centralised oligarchy, and members are left with the façade of engagement. Candidates are imposed, selections are rigged, and the annual conference is no longer a vibrant celebration of democracy with halls packed to standing: it is a technocratic rally to demagoguery, and a poorly-attended one at that (at least by Party members). No contentious “big issues” are discussed or debated… It is little more than window-dressing and sophistry for mass media consumption….

Replace the words ‘Conservative Party’ with ‘Labour’ or ‘Lib Dems’ and you wouldn’t have to re-write much, if any at all, and replace with words like ‘MP’s’ or ‘government’ or ‘local councils’ etc and the sentiments still apply – in spades.

“Little more than window dressing and sophistry for mass media consumption” summed up the 2010 election perfectly, with contentious “big issues” not being discussed nor debated as demonstrated so clearly.

As the article makes clear ‘on the ground’ Tories are being treated with absolute contempt, yet that is a malaise which infiltrates everywhere.

Under Cameron, the Conservative Party has become increasingly centralised, top-down and anti-democratic… why would hard-working, intelligent and highly educated [sic] Conservative Party members put up with this?

Or indeed us voters in general. The article concludes that despite Cameron’s empty rhetoric of returning power…

“…from the state to citizens; from the government to parliament; from Whitehall to communities. From Brussels to Britain; from judges to the people; from bureaucracy to democracy”.

  Precisely the opposite has happened:

Under Cameron, the Conservative Party has become increasingly centralised, top-down and anti-democratic.

 And, more sinisterly:

But, as sure as night follows day, this will lead to the state funding of political parties. As I say, it appears almost purposeful.

Cameron’s party is the perfect analogy of our current political climate; centralised and contemptuous of those it supposedly represents. Interestingly the Tory grassroots’ reaction to it’s party’s ever increasingly anti-democratic nature has been one of apathy (my emphasis):

The vast majority seem passively content to permit their memberships to lapse, often citing (if asked) some generalised disillusionment with the lack of Tory ‘robustness’ – whether in government or opposition.

We are contending more with incremental indifference than forthright objection, and no number of polite letters or coaxing phone calls seem to persuade them to reconsider.

…members are left with an apparently unbridgeable epistemic distance between themselves and the Party Chairman, and so they fade away.

A mood reflected by the ever lower turnouts in elections, the electorate like the Tory members are retreating from a system that no longer reflects their views nor cares. But the sad truth is we simply cannot sustain a political situation where political views can no longer be expressed, in a purposeful (and peaceful) manner, indefinitely.

We live in dangerous times.

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I’m Not Sure Whether To Laugh Or Cry

“MP’s have little to do” wails Jack Straw (my emphasis):

“The government is running dry of legislation from its programme to put before MPs.

“So desperate have they been to manufacture activity that ordinary bills that could and should go into a public bill committee where they can properly be examined line-by-line are now to have all their stages on the floor – a procedure normally reserved for bills of great constitutional importance.

I can rarely recall a time when the business of the Commons has been so light…”

There’s, obviously, a very good reason why this is the case but neither, unsurprisingly, Jack Straw nor the BBC are willing to highlight it.

We Will Remember Them

The Telegraph reports that the EU wants the “digital right to be forgotten”:

Embarrassing, inaccurate or simply personal data will have to be deleted from the internet and company databases if consumers ask, under a new set of European laws.

The move will mean that social networks such as Facebook or Twitter will have to comply with users’ requests to delete everything they have ever published about themselves online. It will also mean that consumers will be able to force companies that hold data about them, such as for Tesco’s Clubcard, to remove it. 

Naturally it being the Telegraph and all matters EU this isn’t actually recent news. The EU have been keen to do this for some time. Eager to update the 1995 Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC), here’s the EU Commission’s paper in 2010 (page 9):

“…clarifying the so-called ‘right to be forgotten’, i.e. the right of individuals to have their data no longer processed and deleted when they are no longer needed for legitimate purposes. This is the case, for example, when processing is based on the person’s consent and when he or she withdraws consent or when the storage period has expired;”

And from a “EU data protection reform – frequently asked questions“:

For example, there should be a “right to be forgotten,” which means that individuals should have the right to have their data fully removed when it is no longer needed for the purposes for which it was collected. People who want to delete profiles on social networking sites should be able to rely on the service provider to remove personal data, such as photos, completely.

Similarly, users should know and understand about how their internet use is being monitored for the purposes of behavioural advertising. For example, people should be aware when online retailers use previously viewed web sites as a basis to make product suggestions.

It is also important that individuals are informed when their data has been unlawfully accessed, altered or destroyed by unauthorised persons. The Commission is therefore considering extending the obligation to notify personal data breaches beyond the currently covered telecommunications sector to other areas, such as the financial industry.

And the reason the EU is keen on this is relatively simple, it allows another power grab which leads onto more regulation of the internet, dressed up as ‘looking after our interests’, as well as another important persuasive factor:

The changes…also include a new EU power to fine companies up to 2 per cent of their global turnover if they breach the rules.

More potential coffers in the kitty, how convenient.

But despite this, going by the comments under the Telegraph article the EU move appears to be depressingly popular – “at last the EU does something useful” is a common one. The irony of complaining about lack of privacy on the internet by…er…posting a comment on the internet appears to be lost; epitomised by this gem (click to enlarge):

One wonders why you’d complain about internet privacy when voluntarily signing up to a ‘social networking’ website where the fundamental business model is based on sharing information.

Then there’s the practicalities – one man’s privacy is another’s free speech. What if you want to as an example, years later, erase a photograph of yourself on Facebook being embarrassingly drunk but the other chap in the picture finds it highly amusing and wants to retain it? Whose rights come first?

What if you’re on a protest and photographed by a newspaper who then advertises their story on Facebook. Should you be able to insist Facebook remove the picture? This would surely be tantamount to censorship. And we all know where these kind of ‘helpful’ laws’ eventually end up:

Wikipedia is under a censorship attack by a convicted murderer who is invoking Germany’s privacy laws in a bid to remove references to his killing of a Bavarian actor in 1990.

And there’s the technicalities. Is it possible to request that every bit of data that might identify you is erased? For example removing IP addresses, logs and timestamps? The list would be endless and is impossible to enforce. What about demanding that even your request for deletion gets deleted?

In summary, what we have is an unelected and unaccountable Government body wanting to regulate the internet, and thus by implication free speech, on the pretext of our own protection. That, history tells us, never leads to anywhere good.

Disability Benefits

Although I have a vested interest in the Government’s Welfare reforms (Mrs TBF is disabled), for various reasons I’ve been rather reluctant to comment on them here.

In the main though I agree with many of the sentiments expressed here by Oliver Lewis at the Spectator. Like him, I cautiously welcome them albeit with some concerns. The welfare system does desperately need reforming and Iain Duncan Smith appears to be trying to make a decent fist of it with due consideration to the disabled community:

In fact, despite Polly Toynbee’s claims, as far as I can see, the government has been cautious and sensible about making sure these reforms do right by the disabled community. Starting from 2013, it expects the process of examining every claimant to take up to three years. It has engaged with disabled groups, amended proposals and recently agreed to halve the time that seriously ill or disabled people will have to wait to receive PIP – to three months instead of six – a massive improvement, especially for cancer patients. The Welfare Reform Minister, Lord Freud, has also proposed an amendment allowing disabled people living in care homes to keep payments worth up to £51 per week. 

Undoubtedly, due to the nature of bureaucracy, some will be wronged – thus making the headlines, it’s inevitable. But a Government has a duty not only to look after the weakest in society but a duty also to spend taxpayer’s money wisely.

Such contradictions and subtleties though escape the likes of Polly Toynbee, which the Spectator, in its article links to. To her life is black and white instead of the shades of grey that it really is. It’s one of the reasons I’ve tried to leave this subject well alone – it’s an emotive subject which will reduced down to a narrative of ‘nasty cuts’ and ‘evil Tories’ and ‘right wingers’ against instead those nice cuddly Labour left wingers. Despite all their faults, I doubt very much any MP, regardless of party or political persuasion, is callous enough to want to deliberately send disabled children into abject poverty.

One wonders, reading Polly’s rather ironically hate filled article whether it even crossed her mind that Cameron knows exactly what it’s like to look after someone who’s disabled.

How Apt

According to the Telegraph, Parliament could be sold off as part of radical proposals to tackle the building’s subsidence:

Radical proposals are being considered as to how to tackle the long-term problem of the Palace of Westminster’s subsidence, which has already caused Big Ben’s clock tower to lean 18ins from the vertical.
Among the ideas is one for Parliament to be sold off to developers, possibly from foreign countries such as Russia or China, which could raise an estimated £500million.

There’s nothing more apt for the building that’s no longer fit for purpose in every sense than to sell it off to foreigners

A Waste Of Space

Underdogs Bite Upwards highlights a Daily Mail article showing (photoshopped) pictures of children smoking. But as one of his commentators points out the Daily Mail is 2 months behind – and depressingly that’s an improvement – only 2 months? We’ve been here before, sometimes it’s taken nearly a year.

Not just on news, but right across the board the MSM is failing. Seriously, what’s the point of newspapers?

Celebrating The Rebellion

One of the consequences of the smoking ban is that the gents’ toilets in sports stadiums, particularly football grounds, have become the equivalent of bike sheds at schools – somewhere to go for a ‘crafty half-time fag’. Completely illegal of course but often the stewards take the view that they would be significantly outnumbered in a confined space if they raised an objection, so they leave well alone.

Usually, in my experience, most who use the toilets are ok with the situation – probably because the reason for a large number of us being there is to empty our bladders as a consequence of a consumption of copious alcoholic beverages. A complaint on health issues would be highly improper.

But… you always get one. And so it proved yesterday – the classic father and ‘think of the kids’ complaint. Which would all be plausible if said kid didn’t look like he ate too much and also decided not to move about a lot. Needless to say the father was left in doubt regarding the general sentiment.

Anyway the point of this post is a tribute to classic British obstinacy. The Government may like to tell us what to do but the power resides with us – we only have to choose to use it.

Update: Just spotted this over at the Filthy Engineer’s blog