Northernheckler's Blog

A Yorkshireman's adventures in the big Smoke

Much ado about nothing : e-petitions

The Daily Mail apparently will run this front page in the morning : MPs to vote on death penalty

The crowned portcullis, symbol of the Parliame...

Want to change the law ? With e-petitions you can. Or not. It depends

Perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that this is a little misleading.

You might be surprised to find out, just how wide of the mark it probably is.

The headline is a reference to the Government’s latest initiative – e-petitions.

This is an on-line method of petitioning parliament – you put a petition on-line, leave it for up to a year, and if it gets over 100,000 signatures, it becomes eligible to be debated in the House of Commons.

More specifically it’s a reference to high profile blogger Paul Staines, who “blogs” as Guido Fawkes, and his campaign to bring back the death penalty via an e-petition. Although clearly his intention is to embarrass parliament and increase his own notoriety as much as any desire to see criminals hung from Tyburn tree.

The Mail’s sub-heading is “MPs face being forced into a landmark vote on restoring the death penalty”

If the headline is misleading, then this statement is simply untrue.

Any petition placed on the site has to satisfy the conditions for eligibility

One of the conditions is that it’s not allowed to be a “joke” – well Guido’s petition might fall there, but hey ho …

It then has to get 100,000 signatures – sadly Guido will have little trouble.

It then becomes “eligible” for debate.

It might be worth considering that ANYTHING is already eligible for debate by the House, should the House decide to debate it.

Just because it’s eligible though doesn’t mean it will be debated. The same is true for a petition on e-petitions with 100,000 signatures.

So who decides if it WILL be debated ?

That job falls to the Backbench Business Committee – who I’m sure will be excited by being dumped with the job given the privilege of  selecting which petitions get to be debated.

Note that they don’t have to select any of them. They can ignore them, and will ignore many. They can’t be forced to debate anything.

Even if they do debate it, they don’t have to have any kind of vote, and it doesn’t have to lead to any change in the law.

Pretty much the same as if nobody had signed the petition in the first place.

Oh and even if they did have a vote, don’t forget that there have been a great many votes on capital punishment in the commons since its abolition, and all have soundly rejected the idea. The last was in 1994 when re-introduction was opposed by 403 votes to 159, and there is little evidence to show that any other result would occur if such a vote were to take place in the current parliament (source UK Polling Report )

So no change there then.

August 3, 2011 Posted by | idle banter, politics | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Calm down dear, or why I don’t like PMQs

Angela Eagle

Angela Eagle MP

To say I’m interested in politics is something of an understatement, yet I’m not someone who necessarily enjoys some of the more high profile political rituals we have.

Prime Minister’s Questions for example.

It drives me up the wall. Petty point scoring on both sides which leaves key issues completely unexplored, and commentators saying who “won” and who “lost”

To me that’s not politics. True political debates takes more than a few soundbites and glib put-downs to make an argument, and the strength of an argument, lies in just that – the strength of the argument – and not the smart arsed manner in which a party leader can make a joke at his or her opposite number’s expense.

Yesterday was a case in point.

I jumped in my car hurriedly trying to find somewhere to buy a sandwich for lunch before heading back to work. Along the way I chanced to hear on BBC 5 Live, a fair bit of Prime Minister’s Questions. On this occasion it was Ed Milliband‘s turn to have David Cameron on the ropes, belligerently grilling him on lack of economic growth, and rising hospital waiting times – among other issuess. To which David Cameron responds, by resorting to the time honoured tactic of not answering the question about the particular statistic he has been questioned about, but picking another more sympathetic statistic to present so that he can claim that the leader of the opposition is talking rubbish.

It irritates me. In a sensible discussion all of the different indicators could be discussed in an adult manner which attempted to shed some light on the issues at hand. Instead there are merely attempts to embarrass each other – which in David Cameron’s case are increasingly turning into opportunities to act like a smug condescending upper class former public schoolboy. Which I fear is what he actually is.

This was very apparent in the ‘headline’ incident of the session – when the Prime Minister told Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Angela Eagle, to “Calm down dear”.

I could scarcely believe what I was hearing, the ill mannered smugness and contempt with which he delivered this put down came across very unpleasantly indeed. He realised straight away what he’d said, and tried to pretend he’d been talking to Ed Balls – on the radio it seemed is if he could well have been – but on television it’s clear that he was not : David Cameron tells MP Angela Eagle: ‘Calm down, dear’ .

To me the remark was evidence of his deluded sense of superiority to the opposition members, and to female members in particular, and to women and people who do not share his priveleged upper class male background. It casts him in the role of the all knowing father speaking down to a naughty child. It’s a rude and obnoxious way to respond to an opponent, and if you’re asking whether it’s sexist, my answer is – of course it is !

Another reason why I don’t like PMQ’s

There are more reasons though – the follow up to this incident was all too predictable – the inevitable phone-ins on the radio – Was he being sexist ?, or can’t the Labour MPs take a joke ? The predictable comments – it’s PC gone mad ! etc etc ad nauseam.

On the BBC’s own website, comments seemed to give the impression that Ms Eagle got what she deserved since she had had the temerity to interrupt the PM : ‘Calm down dear’ Conservatives accused of sexism

and then today in the Guardian we have the former MP, and current GP Howard Stoate, who Mr Cameron was discussing at the time, weighing in with his claim that he was misrepresented Calm down, David Cameron – and get your facts right at PMQs and that “The prime minister distorted my views. He should stop using the health service as a political football”  – An article which has quickly been linked around the twittersphere to allow we Labour types to thumb our noses at the Tories.

In true PMQ fashion though we get scant dissection of the meat of the issues involved.

Mr Cameron chose to highlight Mr Stoate by referring to comments he had made earlier which he claimed supported the Tory plans to involve GP’s more in the commissioning and running of NHS provision. In his statement he said that Mr Stoate had ceased to be an MP because he had been defeated by a Tory candidate. Angela Eagle’s interjection was simply to state that this was blatantly untrue. He was NOT defeated in any election – he stood down as an MP – which in the context of the Prime Minister’s statement, was highly misleading. The Prime Minister knew why she was interjecting, he knew that she was telling the truth – but refused to correct the “error” – if that’s what it was, instead telling her to “Calm down dear”.

Mr Stoate for his part, seems unperturbed by the assertion that he was defeated – but more so by his feeling that the Prime Minister said that he had become a GP after he stood down. It’s very debatable whether the PM said this – certainly it’s not what I took from his statement, I think most people assumed that he’d been a GP all along. Which is the case.

Mr Stoate also is annoyed that he’s been misrepresented by the Prime Minister. Well that would fit the tabloid cycle of claim and counter-claim very well. Tit for Tat as it were. Except, read the article ! :

GPs do not fear the chance to reshape NHS services, they welcome it

As far as I can see Howard Stoate is saying precisely what the Prime Minister said, and it does make exactly the point that the Prime Minister wished to highlight.

Of course if  Howard Stoate had been defeated in the election as David Cameron said, than Labour could claim that this was in part due to his maverick ideas. He wasn’t though – which you’d think would work in David Cameron’s favour.

All in all, a fairly unsavoury and ultimately pointless crock of the proverbial.

So what is the point of PMQs ?

I’d like to see a political procedure which gives our politicians the chance to prove that they’re NOT pompous, ill mannered and sexist, rather than a routine event to reinforce the idea that they are

April 28, 2011 Posted by | Election 2010, news, politics, women | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Politics & the blogosphere – is it still about interaction ?

Richard Cobden

One of Steve Baker's heroes Richard Cobden - famous for having a pub in Camden named after him - and outside which one of the Gallagher brothers was photographed on Google Earth

It took a good while for me, and I guess many more people, to understand the power of the so called Web 2.0 phenomenon – which basically revolves around the notion that the internet is not a a broadcast medium – it is a medium which thrives and develops on the interactions of its users.

The potential of this idea for changing the way we think, and relate to each other is perhaps most apparent in the political ‘blogosphere’ and it’s attending social media platforms – such as for instance Facebook & Twitter.

I’ve found it a revelation that it’s possible to connect with politicians – who once seemed remote and unassailable – but are now ready to respond to questions, visit your blog, and publish and perhaps reply to your comments on their own sites. It can also lead to “real life” activity – In the past two years I’ve joined the Labour Party, visited Downing Street, met cabinet ministers, and conversed face to face with Members of Parliament. Without the interaction of the on-line communities none of this would ever have happened (a cautionary tale for some I guess !)

Some of this comes at a price though. Personally I’ve taken a decision not to pursue a mass readership for this blog – it ticks over nicely and has had 10,000 or so visitors – but if I were to receive that many every day – as some quite modest blogs do, I’d have great difficulty fitting in the management of comments, and the writing of posts with any kind of a real-life lifestyle. Imagine then how it must be for a Member of Parliament – the interest must be phenomal, and so also must be the risk of publishing something that will be picked up by the main-stream media, and used to make political mileage against you.

Certainly there are well publicised faux pas arising from Twitter – whether they be about skateboarding elderly ex-prime ministers, ill considered jibes against opponents, or hasty comments regarding ballot counts.

I’d suggest thought that although the greater scrutiny which the new media brings is difficult to negotiate, it is nevertheless a worthwhile activity for politicians – as it not only shows them to be open to communication with the electorate, but also to be confident in their convictions – and unafraid of speaking their minds.

Which is why I’m concerned that a number of politicians seem to be shutting down the channels of communication. It’s been well publicised for instance that Nadine Dorries MP has closed down her Twitter account (on which she was famous for blocking anyone who tried to respond to her), and has opened a new blog on which she opines freely – sometimes about individuals  – but leaves no method of replying. Comments are switched off, and the email address on the page, results in a message  (so I’m told – I’ve never tried it myself) which explains that Nadine may take several weeks to respond, and that she only replies to constituents. (Can anyone confirm this ?).

But I’m not going to dwell on Nadine Dorries – Although I do find her a little quirky I think her offensiveness has been highly exaggerated – Suffice to say that I feel it’s sad that she’s choosing not to interact with the rest of us mere mortals – in favour of  turning her on-line presence into a one way channel.

Another blog site I’ve viewed a reasonable amount over the past couple of years belongs to one Steve Baker – the Member of Parliament for Wycombe. I find his blog interesting because Steve’s not like most other Tories. Most Tories in my opinion base their political beliefs on very little other than a desire to get ahead, there are no principles in their politics. Steve Baker on the other hand has principles to spare – he’s evangelic about many aspects of politics – he waxes lyrical about the “Austrian School” of economics, and his beloved Cobden Centre. He’s clearly an independent thinker as his somewhat unorthodox statement on Hunting with Hounds shows Hunting with hounds | Steve Baker MP – ( and remember he’s representing a constituency in the heart of Fox Hunting country ).  So he’s very principled – I just tend to disagree vehemently with almost all of the principles he holds.

Give him his due though he’s responded to my comments, and engaged – and of course I haven’t been particularly complimentary – but he gives as good as he gets, and I even bought a book on his recommendation after reading this article – Clear thinking | Steve Baker MP ( Book available from Amazon here : Bad Thoughts: A Guide to Clear Thinking: Jamie Whyte: Books – I can also recommend it).

I don’t read his blog often but I do keep coming back to it periodically – but when I tried to leave a comment recently it appeared that the site had forgotten my password. After a bit of messing on with reminders and stuff I realised it had also forgotten my user name and email address. No problem – register again – except that “User registration is currently not allowed”. With a bit more scouting around it would appear that all of my previous comments (there aren’t that many actually) – and Steve’s replies to them, have been removed – in fact I couldn’t find any comments at all.

Of course Steve is still on twitter @sjbaker but if you read the contact information on his web-site :Contact me | Steve Baker MP it’s clear that  he will not answer any comments

“Follow me on Twitter (please note that I do not reply on Twitter)”

In fact there’s very little way of contacting him directly other than by post – and the form on the website is for users with a Wycombe post code only.

Of course he has – like every other MP, or for that matter every other member of the public – every right not to respond, and not to interact.

Wouldn’t it be so much better if they all did though ? Wouldn’t give them all so much more credibility – even if they used staff members to give them a hand ?

The posts on Steve’s blog I’ve looked at over the last couple of days have been his “quotes of the day”, and I found a particular irony in this one :

“Peace will come to earth when the people have more to do with each other and governments less” (attributed to Richard Cobden).

Quite ! Being a member of parliament doesn’t stop you being one of the people Steve – in fact I’d say it magnifies the fact that you are exactly that.

So if you do read this – please leave a comment and let us know if you’re going to interact with us again, and whether you’ll encourage other politicians to do the same ?

Stop Press – :

I’ve just discovered that the aforementioned Nadine Dorries MP has re-launched her Twitter account, which can be found here @Nadine_MP – so a special follow friday #ff for her.  I’m following her – I hope she doesn’t block me !

UPDATE ( 2.00 PM Saturday 16th October)

Steve Baker MP has read this blog, and responded via direct message on Twitter to inform me that there is a technical issue with his website which is preventing people leaving comments, which he is looking into. He tells me that the only problem he has is lack of time and that he prioritises his constituents. Which is a reasonable enough response – Thank you Steve. He’s also clearly reading his Twitter messages – and despite what his blog says he does reply. Keep interacting Steve !

What we need now is a comment from Nadine Dorries ! – Are you out there Nadine ?

UPDATE ( 3.00 – Saturday 16th October )

Following the response above Steve Baker has posted on his blog to clarify his comments policy and explain how his recent purging of spam registrations has caused a few problems, I’ve since commented on his blog and have received a response Comments and contact – constituents first | Steve Baker MP

Never let it be said that Northernheckler doesn’t give credit where it’s due, and nor do I restrict my praise to non-Tories. Thank you Steve Baker – the blogosphere doesn’t get much more interactive than that, it’s much appreciated. Now if you could have a word with Nadine … !

October 15, 2010 Posted by | blogs, politics, twitter | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Our union makes us strong

Time to decide...the future!

Image by Scootzsx via Flickr

Within seconds of the election of Ed Miliband as Labour leader being announced this afternoon, media outlets and the twittersphere began to complain that Ed had been elected not by grassroots Labour supporters but by the “Unions” – hinting at some terribly un-democratic process which somehow these terrible militant organisations had managed to wield over the Labour Party. (  David Cameron punches air as unions hand Labour leadership to Ed Miliband ( )

Well let’s get a bit of perspective on that …

First of all the only Unions that get to have a say in the Labour leadership election are those formally affiliated to the party – and there aren’t that many of them. My own union – the National Union of Teachers is not one of them.

Next – members of affiliated organisations know about their union’s affiliation before they join it – there’s no such thing as a closed shop any more – and can opt out of paying the ‘political fund’ part of the membership fee (although that would also lose them their vote in the leadership election).

There’s also no such thing as a block vote – every vote in an affiliated organisation is worth the same – whether you’re one of the 83 members eligible to vote in the Labour Party Irish Society or one of the 1,055,074 eligible members of Unite the Union – the largest affiliated organisation. Every individual vote counts the same – and goes to make up 1/3 of the electoral college.

1/3 of the college is made up of Labour MP’s

1/3 is made up of Labour Party Members.

This means that different votes have different values in each section. Effectively an MP’s vote is worth 0.12 per cent of the total electorate, a party member’s vote is worth 0.0002 per cent and an affiliated member’s vote is worth 0.00000943 per cent. ( see this Next Left blog for details Next Left: What Labour leadership votes are worth when they are counted) (This assumes 100% turnout btw – which is far from the case)

It’s all very clear – a little involved, but does manage to capture every aspect not just of the Labour Party, but of the wider Labour movement – which allows Labour supporters in affiliated groups to have a say even if they are not formally party members.

Note also that the party, and many affiliated organisations have been very open about giving new members a vote – in this way opening up the election to the general public should they take the plunge and join even up to a few days before voting closed.

The full results Votes by round | The Labour Party show that indeed sections 1 and 2 of the ballot, the MPs and the Party Members, placed David Miliband first, whilst section 3 – the affiliated organisations – of which the unions are the biggest part, plumped for Ed Miliband.

Just have a look at the numbers though – 211,234 returned votes from affiliated members, as opposed to just 126,874 from full members of the party.

Undemocratic ? Not in my book it’s not.

Compare it with the way that the Conservatives choose their leader Conservative Party (UK) leadership election, 2005 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia – in the Tory system, the rank and file party members don’t even get to vote until the MP’s have selected the last two candidates for them.  Even then they have to have been a fully paid up member for at least 3 months to get a vote. A distinctly less democratic approach in my own humble opinion.

Democracy is always flawed to some extent, but is an attempt to reach a difficult consensus, in the fairest way possible. I think the approach used in the Labour leadership election is probably the fairest that could have been achieved. I say that having voted David Miliband as first choice – yes I’d have preferred him to win – but Ed Miliband has been elected fair and square by hundreds of thousands of Labour members and members of affiliated trades unions and organisations. I have no complaints – and will support him as best I can.

If Labour were to look at difficulties in the electoral college by the way, they might want to consider the anomaly that a low turnout in any of the 3 sections means that individual votes in that section are given relatively more weight as part of the whole college as a result. Just a thought – maybe next time ?

In the meantime congratulations to Ed Miliband – please leave a comment if you happen to read this !

Ed Milliband MP speaking at the Labour Party c...

Image via Wikipedia

September 25, 2010 Posted by | news, politics | , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments


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