MANIFESTO OF A BENEVOLENT DICTATOR

1.    Our fragile democracy

1.1    Introduction

The British Parliament or Mother of all Parliaments as it is known throughout the world is in danger of losing its reputation, largely by its own actions and inactions.  Our Civil War established the supremacy of Parliament.  Such a war is of course unthinkable today, but the principle of supremacy over the Executive must stand.  Brave souls such as Gina Miller and our Supreme Court’s judges are ensuring the principal stands despite despicable criticism from the Press and key Government ministers, who should know better.

There is a difference between our Parliament and many of the parliaments that have followed it.  Whereas most others have a semi circular layout and are intended to be more consensual.  Ours is adversarial in layout, two swords lengths apart, and in style.  Our Parliamentary debates and especially PMQs are regarded as some form of robust entertainment in the United States.  There are now many parties and factions in the House.  It might seem strange for a Benevolent Dictator to seek consensus, but of course I do not agree with the woman who tried to be ours this year, the wrong Dictator is the worst form of Government.  It is not however rare, as Russia, China, Turkey and Egypt are already so governed along with many more in Africa and South America.

I have mentioned the UK – the United Kingdom.  Never in recent centuries has there has been such danger that the United will be no longer the case.  It will probably still be a “Kingdom”, but Scotland and now Northern Ireland may find that they are more at home with the EU than the UK.  With Scotland, it may be a case of the best excuse yet to break away, although the GE2017 in June put a dent in that intention.  To me Scotland seems currently to have substantial control, short of Independence, indeed as much as the German Lander.  I argue in several places in this document that the standard of local services should be debated, set and paid for locally.

With NI it may be expediency about an EU border, but the sectarian dangers involved are hard to assess and very unpleasant to contemplate.  The Irish Republic still yearns for a united Ireland.  But we, dissenting English and Welsh  have now to contemplate two land borders with Europe on our own islands.

We have got here because of 2 disastrous decisions by Conservative PMs looking only for the needs of their own party and not the Country as a whole.  David Cameron set us on a Referendum course not thinking that it would be lost, but he took part in a campaign that was ignorant and and untrue.  Then Ms May thinking she may get a better majority took the country to the polls and lost again.  Europe can be justified in thinking that the Government is not negotiating in Brussels on behalf of the British nation.

We could be on the verge of more socialist government that the UK has ever had, although deep down the voting numbers are not as good as the Labour activists may wish the nation to think.  Exposing the nation to the 2017 conference’s more radical speakers from the floor in precedence to senior MPs, may also work against them.

I would be better pleased with a united British Isles.  That is impossible for a century or two!  Indeed the pressure throughout Europe is the opposite and seems to be to break up into small historically tribal states rather than the “mega” groupings such as Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the UK.  The UK following devolution has pressure to have regional assemblies.  A guide to this is perhaps found in a post nuclear attack survival plan of the 50s when the UK was divided into 12 regional administrations.  Rather complex, but not impossible for normal peacetime.

1.2    The Civil Service

As an aside, thank goodness, that the UK does not have a politicised Civil Service and Judiciary as is the way in the USA.  The Supreme Court Judges and downwards to all Federal Judges are political appointments.  When the President changes, whole rafts of the US Civil Service go causing much loss in experience.  A factor in the chaos of the early days of the Trump Presidency.

In many ways, our State and Local Civil Servants are in a privileged position, their job security and terms and conditions of employment are usually much better than the equivalent level in private industry, although they have suffered a a period of pay restraint of late.  In part designed to thin out the numbers no doubt, but unfortunately it may be that it is the best who go first.  However, the policies outlined below will bring upon them a need for change such that they have never seen before.  They must be guaranteed no compulsory redundancy.  They must also be encouraged to re-train and to switch to other Branches and Agencies and especially toward local government as the burden of governing will move in that direction and so numbers in that sector will need to rise as those in Central Government will need to fall.  If there are jobs to be dispensed with, it raises the need for much better planning of the recruitment into and age profiles from this large combined workforce.

Any Civil Service employee responsible for an action which brings about justified public and media criticism must face enquiry and possible demotion or dismissal.  As should their Minister if he/she was directly involved.

1.3    Local Government Policy

The Government and this Dictator feel that more powers should be devolved to Local Councils.  Revenue raising powers should also devolve.  The Calman Report should be applied to more regions than just Scotland

Local Government funding has been dabbled with too many times.  Margaret Thatcher had the thought of spreading the burden more widely and fairly, but events showed Poll Taxes are fatally flawed in the public’s perception.  But the power to raise tax revenues for their services would have a favourable impact on the interest in local politics and turnout in local elections.  Central Government should provide funding for the basic service and regulation setting out the standards needed.  If more than that basic level is required then the local populace should vote for it and pay for it.  We know enough about the make-up of local populations from the 10 year Census to make any necessary adjustments for the variation in populations.  I say in section 3.2, above, that civil servants should be prepared to transfer to Local Government as centralised activity is run down.  It seems clear to me that local government managements may need an injection of new talent following Grenfell Tower.

I attended courses on the fundamentals of economics and do recall that the basic asset of a local government is the land in its area.  The area of land that you control the use of, as an individual or family group, should be proportional to the tax rate applied.  This would free up under-used and derelict land.  The tax would have to be phased in say with no more than a 6% increase per annum for any individual, but for a limit of 5 years, to give time to adjust and to protect the old for whom the thought of moving and leaving their memories is unbearable.  Progressively a nationally set multiplier could be applied to zone land use more effectively in the local interest.  Typical values would be:-

            Well maintained properties                        1

            Recreational & Leisure                               1.5

            Unmaintained                                              2

            Unused                                                          2

            Unhygienic                                                   3

1.4    Boundary Commission

The Boundaries Commission has the remit to establish, in terms of population, roughly equals sized constituencies, bearing in mind natural and social boundaries.  The current recommendations have become political and are not happening to schedule.  So at some point in the future they will be out of date.  This is a great pity and means the issue that there are too many MPs especially now considering the devolved legislatures, is kicked into the long grass again.  In the US, the gerrymandering of boundaries is a fine art meaning that very few seats ever change party representation.  The same is true here with too few constituencies being marginal and thus prone to the unseating the sitting MP or party.

1.5    Devolution & Constitutional Reform

The strength of Britain is its components and its traditions.  Tony Blair’s excursions into this area were never part of a fully thought through plan and, now added to the strains of Brexit, could prove to be the undoing of the UK.  As an ordinary individual I can hope that reason prevails, but as a Dictator I would stop it.

Clearly the MPs expenses situation needs urgent attention; it has already done considerable damage to their collective reputation in the eyes of the public.  What could be simpler than expenses being “Receipted and Reasonable”?  Even with a complex set of rules, judgments calls will still have to be made.  So let us have a powerful independent committee assessing all expenses and “second jobs”.  Lock the Party leaders into accepting the decisions taken on their “subordinates” calls on the public purse.  Far better than any recall system as it is hard to see how it could be guaranteed not to be used inappropriately.  Better instead to have automatic disqualification for certain misdemeanours.

Fundamentally we do not pay our legislators too much but we do have far too many of them.  Since I would wish to include MEPs and Regional Governments in any formula on the total number of legislators covering an area.  For example, as powers devolve to the Regions those areas should require fewer seats in Westminster.  And revenue raising powers should follow and central subsidies reduced.  Then such legislatures will have to tax for their money and be answerable for those taxes.  The same argument can be extended to the Metro Mayors.  The Calman Report deserves our support and to be applied beyind the borders of Scotland.

Fixed term Parliaments are also to be welcomed.  But the 5 year term was overturned the first time that it became inconvenient.  I would plump for SIX years.  I only wish to be a dictator for a while to straighten out the country that I love and then return it to normal democracy.

So the limited Devolution and Constitutional reform that there has been, has been carried out in a half-baked way.  They are both incomplete.  The powers of the three devolved assemblies vary from one to the other making the arrangements open to the leap-frogging of each Parliament/Assembly wishing for the same powers as their sister nation.  Further devolution has taken place with the creation of Metro Mayors.  This will not doubt create more local civil servants.  However, not so far the reduction in the number of MPs at Westminster.  The roughly equal populations of constituencies’ requirement of the Boundary Commission should settle that.  Parliament should be free to recommend the desired average population size.  However, their aim should be to reduce the number of MPs to the mid-400s not the 600 currently planned.

I indicate above that the Boundaries Commission recommendations should not be blocked by Parliament or its procedures.  We are over-represented by MPs, AMs & SMPs.  Their numbers should be reduced.  A declining number even as the size of electorate increases.  Although being anti-Brexit I am grateful to the SNP for a solid wedge of opposition to Brexit in Westminster.  We may yet all be very grateful for this.

 

Then there is the House of Lords.  The debate on an elected or appointed Upper House needs to be finalised.  The “heart” says elected, but the most thorough analysis that I have seen, from one of my students, who then worked in the Palace of Westminster for her Open University (OU) Systems Thinking project, indicates that appointed individuals would serve the nation best.  This was repeated on The Politics Show (BBC1 14 June 2009) by the then recently retired Black Rod.  The automatic 26 seats to the Church of England is archaic.  On the latest figure only 15% of the population say they are Anglican and it is far less when you select a young age bracket. 

Members should be appointed, but the method of appointment needs review.  One route could be eminence together with a willingness to put that eminence to use for the good of the country.  The other by appointment from published party lists (though the younger and most ambitions politicians, will opt for the Commons) in line with the proportion of votes cast in General Elections.  Why not have a mix of both.  Some may fear parties like the BNP getting a seat, but there can be a percentage threshold, but more exposure to their extreme views may encourage a few, but will deter the many.

One thing that can be said about the House of Lords, is that it works.  Several times in recent years, it has constrained the Government of the day.  However, its constitution cannot be defended.  Rather than being the last bastion of patronage by all party leaders, the qualification or experience of appointees should be defined and rigorously applied.

1.6    Electoral Fraud

This is a new or at least recent phenomenon in the UK.  Shades of a banana republic.  It is thought by many that one reason for the early Election in June 2017 was the potential prosecutions of 30 Tory MPs for not following the rules on election expenses.  In the end only one prospective candidate was charged.

The pressure to remove barriers to voting by making it progressively easier to register to vote is opening the door to voter fraud.  The Electoral Commission must do a better job here.

As I state in the second sentence of this Manifesto, apathy is a major enemy of democracy.  Apathy’s allies are corruption and lack of respect for societies “norms” and any obvious anomalies and unfairness.  So compulsory voter registration and voting with an “opt out” is needed.