Friday, August 30, 2013

The morning after the vote of the night before

"I believe in respecting the House of Commons....I get that"

By any standard, the defeat of the Government's motion in favour of military action was a surprise.  I do not believe that the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition saw this coming, especially as the vote was whipped.  

For those of you unfamiliar with the British system, when a vote is 'whipped' it means that individual MPs' are expected to follow the party line and support their leaders.  It is rare to lose a whipped vote.

So why did the Government lose its motion in the House of Commons?

An excellent question, which unfortunately has more than one answer, and is surprisingly complex.  The simple reason is that the individual MPs' recognise that following the military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the public appetite within the UK for military action overseas is limited.  The reasons for this could be as follows:
  • Legality. The UK public is not as unsophisticated as our leaders and the media think.  The public are well aware that recent military action involving UK forces could be perceived as being illegal.
  • Emotional exhaustion.  There is a clear sense that the number of deaths suffered by British (and other) servicemen and women have shocked the nation, and put bluntly there is a feeling that there have been enough British deaths in wars that we technically should not be involved in.
  • Arrogance.  The Prime Minister, David Cameron undoubtedly tried to lead from the front, and until Wednesday evening the general perception was that the UK and US military forces should be ready to intervene BEFORE the report by the UN weapons inspectors and in advance of any formal sanction for intervention from the United Nations.  Unfortunately, he failed to take into account the fact that his own party would not follow his leadership.
  • Iraq and Afghanistan.  The UK public have had their confidence in the political leadership heavily damaged by the debacle over weapons of mass destruction, and many simply do not believe that we should ever have been involved in Afghanistan, a country where the British have not enjoyed any real military or political success over the last century or two.
  • Lack of clear objectives.  As I argued in my previous post, the objectives of intervention are staggeringly unclear, and the long term consequences of action without that clarity would potentially be very grave.
All of the above reasons are valid; taken inividually maybe each one is not sufficient, however overall the MPs' in the House of Commons are very well aware that military intervention was going to be unpopular.

There are however further reasons for the defeat, which I believe have little to do with the above, and are far more complex.

The Chancellor says something I agree with!

 This morning, the Chancellor, George Osborne said in an interview:

"I think there will be a national soul-searching about our role in the world and whether Britain wants to play a big part in upholding the international system, be that a big open and trading nation that I'd like us to be or whether we turn our back on that"

Here, he has actually said something which I think cuts to the heart of the matter.  There has been a quiet debate that has been going on for some time now about the role that the UK plays in the international system.  Traditionally, the UK has been willing to intervene overseas for a number of valid reasons:
  1. Hangover from empire.  The historical facts are that the British Empire disappeared not because the british wanted to give up on its territories, but because the evonomic cost of two world wars meant that they lacked the ability to keep its territories.  On the whole, the transition was smooth, but Britain needed to intevene on occasion.
  2. Great Britain has a permanent seat on the UN.  With that comes some tacit and implicit responsibilities.  Put simply, Britain intervenes because it is expected to do so in line with its political, military and economic status.
  3. Because they can. Very simply, Britain intervened because it had the means to do so; the political, economic and military capability to support a robust foreign policy
However, the world has changed.  Great Britain... well it is not as great as it used to be econeomically or militarily. A lack of economic capability has led to a steady reduction in our military capability.  The shift in economic power away from the west towards the Middle East (based on oil) and the Far East (cheap labour). has seen british economic strength eroded. Withe the erosion of its economic strength, its political strength is alo eroded. Put bluntltly, the UK lacks the ability to pay to support  robust foreign policy, and other countries are better able to exercise political influence than the UK.

The Great British Public, as I have stated before are not stupid.  We are well aware of the precarious economic conditions that prevail, and they are also aware that whilst the US profited economically from interventions in Iraq through its control of the oil resources, the UK has not.  The 'special relationship' does not extend to share the economic spoils of war I'm afraid! The general public are well aware that in reality, further military intervention would not be a wise investment.  The US government are very careful to maintain economic hegemony in the Middle East, and it is fair to say that from an economic perspective we have nothing to gain and plenty to lose from military intervention.

There will be a debate because many UK citizens want to see a change in the role it plays in the world.  The majority of people I would argue believe that we do punch above our weight politically and militarily, however we simply are not equipped to play the part of the world policeman and enforcer alongside the USA.  Speaking to friends and colleagues there is the perception that the UK needs to step back from some of its global activities, and there is the desire that actually it is time for other countries to play their part.  Syria, for example, is a member of the Arab League, and there is now the growing expectation that the Arab nations need to spend less money on fast cars and european football clubs and more on ensuring the stability of the region.  Put bluntly, there is a perception that it is time that the Middle Eastern countries grew up and take responsibility rather than expect Britain to and other countries to clear up the mess in their own back yards.

Is that all?

No.  There is one last factor to look at, and that is the Conservative Party.  The real surprise here is that it was not the Opposition which defeated the Government, it was the rebellion by 30 Conservative MPs' that led to the defeat in the House of Commons.

So why did the Conservative MPs' rebel?

A very good question.  Put simply, the Prime Minister is not popular within his own party, and some of the rebels would have voted not out of conscience, or representation of the views of the public, but because they wanted to give David Cameron a bloody nose and undermine his authority both at home and abroad.

So not for any other noble reason, just political in-fighting?

Sadly yes. No doubt they will claim otherwise, but frankly, nobody in their right mind should ever trust a Tory MP.  Feel free to disagree, but the self interest of the average tory MP is really quite frightening.

Conclusion

What I have tried to show is that the factors influencing last nights' vote are complex.  There are no simple answers as to why the motion to intervene militairily in the Middle East was defeated.  What is clear, and which surprisingly the Chancellor has clearly and correctly identified is that there now will be a debate of sorts into the role the UK should play in the global political system.  I wish I could trust our elected representatives to lead a rational debate on this, but, just like the debate on Europe, electoral reform, the ongoing banking crisis, education etc. this is precisely what we are not going to get. After all, why let the facts get in the way of ideological posturing and sound bite politics?

As always, feel free to disagree with me....



Thursday, August 29, 2013

Something must be done!

I am writing this blog post with a high degree of trepidation.  I have not posted for a long time; not because I don't have anything to say, but due to the pressure associated with work and daily life.  I am not cut out for the life of the daily blogger!

So why are you writing now?

Well, it is for a poor reason.  I am slightly annoyed and irritated, and irritation is not a good reason to write, and expect people to read and think about what I say.  However, it's not going to stop me; anybody that reads this can decide for themselves if what I have written has any value.  It's not as well written or cogent a piece as it could be, and it will strike many as being overly cynical.

So what's got you all worked up?

The source of my irritation is the current debate ( I use the term loosely) on whether or not the international community should intervene in the Syrian civil war.

"It's appalling" I heard one person on a radio phone-in say, "Something must be done"

This is a phrase which always sets my teeth on edge. It was uttered by a very nice, pleasant lady who clearly felt that the situation in Syria was intolerable. There is, after all, the slaughter of the innocents, the abhorrent use of chemical weapons and the sense that this horrible conflict surely cannot be allowed to continue
The problem is, the speaker did not explain precisely what the problem was that should be resolved.  Was it the slaughter of the innocent?  Was it the use of chemical weapons? Was it the whole conflict?

I am not going to go into the details of the conflict - there are reporters, bloggers and academics who have a far more detailed insight into the causes, the rights and wrongs etc. of the situation than I do.  
The purpose of this piece is not so much about what I think should be done, but the way in which we appear to be deciding what we should or should not do.

Oh dear, this is going to be a rant isn't it?

Yes.  I make no apology for this.

So what's the problem?

I'm glad you asked.  When I was listening to the radio phone in this morning, I was struck by the number of people who were arguing for and against intervention without actually being able to state a clear political or military objective.  Surely the big question that needs answering before we carry out any political or military action is what are we actually trying to achieve?

OK, I'm lost.  What do you mean? Surely the issues are clear cut.  Chemical weapons are being used, people are dying!

This is true.  However, my point is that the UK parliament is going to be having a debate today on whether or not to intervene without a clear idea of what they want to achieve  Just like that nice Mr Blair and Mr Bush Jnr. did in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The Western powers 'intervened' in Iraq and Afghanistan because of the outrage the majority of people felt over the 9/11 attacks and, in Mr Bush Jnr. case the completely unsupported notion that Saddam Hussein was responsible.  
It's easy to decide to DO something.  Action, can sometimes be cheap.  After all, there is the common view that it is better to be seen to be doing something, rather than nothing.  The problem is that taking action without having a clear idea of the end game leads to unintended consequences,  It is hard to make the argument rationally that the world is a fundamentally safer place because of the attacks on Afghanistan and Iran; in fact the opposite is probably true.

This is an academic argument.  Surely the fact that people are dying etc. is enough to justify taking action now?

No.  Military action may not be the ethical, correct thing to do as the consequences of taking action without clear goals will lead to unintended consequences, not just for the Syrians we purport to be acting on behalf of, or on the political and economic well-being of the UK.
To my mind there are some fundamental questions that need to be answered before we do anything else. 

Q: What are we trying to achieve?

This is the big one.  There are a number of options:
  • Regime change - get rid of the nasty Mr Assad
  • Stop the killing - get a cease fire in place and get talks started to resolve this crisis peacefully
  • Stop the use of chemical weapons
  • The development of a new western style democratic governmental structure for Syria
  • Create a state that will pose no threat to Israel
  • Expand the western sphere of influence against the rise of fundamentalist Islam
The issue here is that without more information it is difficult to set clear, unambiguous objectives that the international stakeholders in this conflict can buy into.What should also be clear is that the actions required to achieve one or more of the above will differ wildly.  The list of objectives is not meant to be comprehensive or definitive

What do we need to know then to help determine the objectives?


The following is a good start....

Q: Who actually used the weapons? 
Both sides in the conflict have claimed that the other is responsible.  The evidence to date appears to support the contention put forward by William Hague that the probability of these weapons being in the hands of the rebels is 'vanishingly small' but not impossible.  This is a key question, that sadly should be definitively answered, by the UN Weapons Inspectors - but their mandate it appears is so tight that all they are allowed to state is whether or not the weapons were used, not who used them.


Q: Who authorised their use. 
If it was the Syrian Army, was it a decision taken by the government (i.e. President Assad), or by the military command?  The answer here is key - we need to know who is actually responsible because that should help define what action the international community should take.  It also helps determine the political and military strategy - a military objective could be to wipe out the stores of these weapons, something that most people would find an acceptable objective.


Q: Where and when were the weapons used?
Again , proof of consistent pattern of usage.  This ultimately is information that is neeeded to help define the objectives

Q: What do the people of Syria want?
The killing to stop first and foremost I suspect would be the obvious answer.  The conflict came about through the desire to change the regime, but the unintended consequences of that desire and the subsequent actions means that this question is almost impossible to answer in a sensible and rational way, other than the desire to lead a normal life.  Any politician who says otherwise is mistaken. 

There are other important questions.... 

Q: Why should we intervene? Who gains from intervention?
This is a loaded question. Let's have a look at the key stakeholders....
  • David Cameron.  Ever since the Falklands, our political leaders have recognised that there is nothing like a nice little war to establish oneself as a heavyweight world leader
  • The Conservative Party (and David Cameron).  A nice, successful little war will probably win the next general election  - the Falklands effect again
  • The military.  After all, what is the point of having armed forces if we can't use them to right the wrongs of the world?
  • Industry.  Arms manufacturers love wars as this increases demand for their products
  • The petrochemical industry.  Fuel prices, and therefore profits will rise on the back of increased sales of fuel to the military, and world prices will go up in response to the political and economic uncertainty
  • Bankers.  Wars need to be paid for, and the bankers hav a chance to be politically useful and finance a conflict - in the name of patriotism of course....
  • The UK Government.  Military intervention in far off countries is what you do these days to show that you still matter on the global stage, even when you are economically insignificant.  It also distracts the attention of the public away from the difficult social and economic conditions at home
  • UK Citizens.  We can all sleep better for knowing that something is being done....

 Ummm...What about the citizens of Syria?

This may seem cynical, but I do not think that this debate is about the Syrian citizens.  Their lives are shattered, and there is nothing that military intervention can do at this stage to make the situation any better.  The political institutions are clearly non-functional, the economy is ruined and the infrastructure which people depend on largely wiped out. I fail to see how military intervention at this point is going to improve the lives of the Syrians.

The evidence of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts is that the lives of the citizens are not necessarily improved by western intervention and the destruction of the political and military capabilities.  The day to day lives of Iraqis remain worse economically today than they were under the nasty Mr Hussein.  Their are less jobs, the infrastructure of the country (electricity, water) remains dysfunctional.  Iraqi oil is under the sole control of the USA, with little economic benefit of their natural resources being received by any Iraqis.

The sad fact is that for all the platitudes, our political lords and masters care little for what the average Syrian citizen wants. The key stakeholders of military intervention within the UK have their own agenda.  

No, the interests of the Syrian people are not high on the agenda.

Q: How do we know if any planned intervention is successful?
You can only know if you have achieved your target by being clear on your objectives.  Once you know WHAT you want to achieve can you define measures of success.  Similarly, without clear goals, it is impossible to develop a coherent political, military or economic strategy.

To Conclude....

The point of this piece is simple. There is a lack of clarity about what the objectives of military intervention are.  It is clear that the conflict has escalted into a full scale civil war, and that the political goals of the participants vary widely from those who want a western style democracy to those who want to develop an Islamic state.  In these circumstances, it is tremendously difficult to plan to intervene without absolute clarity on the outcome that is wanted.  Without that clarity, developing the political, military and economic strategies to achieve the desired is not possible.  

Benjamin Franklin wrote: "Fail to plan, plan to fail".  Anybody who works in business knows that the failure to plan projects effectively leads to failure.  The former US Army Chief of Staff, General Sullivan wrote a book on the military titled 'Hope is not a method'.  In this he wrote about his experiences of planning from a military perspective.  We run the risk in the UK of trying to do what could be perceived to be the right thing but without a coherent set of objectives, and a clear plan of how to achieve them, we are almost inevitably going to fail.

"Something must be done!"
Be careful what you wish for.  The unintended consequences of intervention without the full support of the international community under the auspices of the United Nations (UN), without a clear agreement on what is to be achieved will only lead to an increase in tensions within the Middle East and mire us into a conflict that has the potential to be infinitely worse than Afghanistan and Iraq.  The goals and objectives of the nice Mr Cameron are not necessarily clear and they certainly do not necessarily reflect those of the Syrian people.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Arsenal transfers....

Arsenal transfers – an alternative perspective
At the end of last season it appeared that Arsenal was a club in crisis.  Injuries and a lack of mental strength, combined with some seriously flawed defending horrified fans, and even AW appeared to be promising major changes – including transfers in and out of the club.

With the season about to start, there is a palpable sense of anger and frustration amongst fans.  We have not bought the marquee signings that we appeared to have been promised by Arsene Wenger, and our defence has not been strengthened significantly – in fact it appears to be weakened by the sale of Clichy.  The majority of the internet blames AW for not signing, blaming his stubborn refusal to change tactics and youth strategy.  However, I see things differently – we are not the same club we were five years ago, for economic reasons. 

We have about £200M worth of debt, secured on our stadium.  This is being repaid at around £20M per annum.  Our property development business has injected funds into the club – but this is not sustainable income. The sustainable income comes from match day income and the commercial deals the club enters into along with prize money.  It appears from the clubs’ annual report that money from the property deals (approx £40 million) is ring-fenced for transfers.   It’s a good amount – but once it’s gone, it’s gone – so AW has to use it wisely.  The state of the European economy is horribly grim, with low growth and realistically, growing our commercial side is challenging, hence the Far East tour and the aim of tapping new markets.

Historically, AW has not been afraid to buy - Overmars, Ljungberg, Pires, Reyes, Campbell, Gallas, Arshavin et al.  The difference between five years ago and now appears to be two-fold:

1. The amount of time it seems to take to complete the deal now
2. Who actually negotiates on behalf of the club and is responsible for completing the deal.

In the last 2 - 3 seasons, if you believe all that you read, it seems that we regularly miss out on big players.  Transfers like Arshavin and Gervinho appear to take weeks, if not months to fully secure, whilst the transfers of clubs like Manure seemingly completed at high speed.  I would argue that this is not the fault of AW, but the Board.

Ivan Gazidis is reported to be the director responsible for negotiating and closing transfer deals.  Since he and Stan Kroenke joined Arsenal our financial, commercial and marketing functions have been revamped, with new American managers coming in to sharpen up what was perceived to be the disappointing commercial performance of the club.  With this, it appears that new financial controls and processes have been introduced, and I suspect that our lack of agility in completing transfers arises from this.  Transfer deals are financially complex, with deals being made in multiple currencies; and with sterling being weak, our £40M does not go as far as we might like.  For example, three years ago, £40M would have been worth approximately 70M Euros; now it is worth 46M Euros.  Obviously our financial strength in the European market is significantly weakened.

The financial implications of deals are modelled extensively so that the full impact on the club finances are understood before any deals are finalised.  I would also expect that this modelling has to be done not once, but a number of times so that there are no financial surprises, and the impact on the cash flow of the club is fully understood.  This is very important - if an organisation runs out of cash, it does not matter what assets you have, you will almost certainly go bust - see Portsmouth and Leeds for recent examples. 
So before blaming AW for the lack of transfers, remember the board and the corporate support staff have important roles to play, and they also have some responsibility for the lack of speed in completing our transactions. Gazidis I suspect is a hard nosed negotiator, determined to get the best deal for the club - and that will sometimes mean that he will not complete deals that he feels are not in the best financial interests of the club.  

So, I would argue that whilst the Board fully back AW, it is only if the financial aspects of the deal are fully analysed and the financial implications fully understood.  This takes time, and I suspect costs us on some players.  Also the financial aspects of deals will be scrutinised ever harder – if they do not favour the club, then the deal will not be done.

I think the evidence for this perspective exists, with the very robust attitude being taken towards the sale of Fabregas to Barcelona.  The hard line stance is very much in the club's interest; not only in trying to keep our best player, but also in terms of the potential financial damage such a deal may inflict on Barcelona.  Their financial difficulties are well reported; screwing the odd million or two out of them sounds petty, but will cause debt ridden clubs like Barcelona a lot of pain both now and in the future because they cannot afford him - and eventually that will show on the pitch when they are not able to compete financially with clubs such as Arsenal which have a far more robust and sustainable business model.  The battle for European and domestic supremacy is being fought not just on the Emirates pitch, but also economically, and this is a war that AW and the board appear to be determined to win.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What is the Alternative Vote system?

Rather than write about this system and try to explain it myself I have attached a link to the Electoral Reform Society leaflet which gives a much better explanation than I can!


http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/downloads/What%20is%20AVweb.pdf

Monday, April 18, 2011

Do I support the economic policy of the coalition government?



Can a social liberal support neo-liberal economic policy?

In my last post, I identified myself as a social liberal, and explained why I am a Liberal Democrat.

SO, as a social liberal, I must therefore reject the policies of the coalition government then? After all, surely it is not possible to be a social liberal and support the imposition of neo-liberal economic policies based firmly upon the monetary policies of Margaret Thatcher?

First of all what is neo-liberalism?

The main policy goal of neo-liberalism is to transfer the control of the economy from the state to the private sector, in the belief that the private sector is better able to deliver more efficient government and service delivery than the public sector.  That is, that having the means of production and government in private hands is more efficient and effective than in public sector ownership.

There are ten policy positions which neo-liberals propose and are broadly supported by major financial institutions e.g. the World Bank and the IMF. Please see this link (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neo-liberal)  

  • Fiscal policy Governments should not run large deficits that have to be paid back by future citizens, and such deficits can only have a short term effect on the level of employment in the economy. Constant deficits will lead to higher inflation and lower productivity, and should be avoided. Deficits should only be used for occasional stabilization purposes.
  • Redirection of public spending from subsidies (especially what neoliberals call "indiscriminate subsidies") and other spending neoliberals deem wasteful toward broad-based provision of key pro-growth, pro-poor services like primary education, primary health care and infrastructure investment
  • Tax reform– broadening the tax base and adopting moderate marginal tax rates to encourage innovation and efficiency;
  • Interest rates that are market determined and positive (but moderate) in real terms;
  • Floating exchange rates;
  • Trade liberalization – liberalization of imports, with particular emphasis on elimination of quantitative restrictions (licensing, etc.); any trade protection to be provided by law and relatively uniform tariffs; thus encouraging competition and long term growth
  • Liberalization of the "capital account" of the balance of payments, that is, allowing people the opportunity to invest funds overseas and allowing foreign funds to be invested in the home country
  • Privatization of state enterprises; Promoting market provision of goods and services which the government cannot provide as effectively or efficiently, such as telecommunications, where having many service providers promotes choice and competition.
  • Deregulation – abolition of regulations that impede market entry or restrict competition, except for those justified on safety, environmental and consumer protection grounds, and prudent oversight of financial institutions;
  • Legal security for property rights; and,
  • Financialisation of capital.
The ten policy positions outlined above are sourced from Wikipedia, but appear to be broadly accurate.

In all honesty, I would have to say that I broadly agree with the majority of the above principles, however the devil, as always, is in the detail. I do not think however that the private sector is inherently more efficient than the public sector; the private sector does not have the same concerns or pressures of the private sector; for a start the private sector has less meddling from politicians!


NHS Reforms
The NHS is an enormously complex, bureaucratic organisation which has helped save the lives of millions of people since it was established in 1947.  It is expensive - its annual budget is over £110 billion, or over 7% of GDP.  60% of its budget goes on staff costs - it employs 1.7M people.


The question we as taxpayers and patients ask is do we get value for money?  Does the NHS work? We all have horror stories about patient care and waste, however you also hear fantastic compliments.


The problem as I see it is one of scale.  The NHS is one of the largest organisations in the world, and managing such a large organisation centrally is close to impossible.  To become more efficient, decision making needs to be decentralised, and decisions about clinical funding needs to be taken by medical professionals, not Whitehall bureaucrats.  I would favour a radical break up, with accountability and governance handled at a local level, but procurement may benefit from being a centrally provided service so that hospitals benefit from economies of scale.


I am torn by the proposals - I can see benefits, but huge risks as well.  My main hope would be that the NHS becomes an independent body, free from the control of politicians and able to determine its own destiny, similar to the Bank of England.  One thing is for sure - the NHS must remain free at the point of provision to those in need.


What about the cuts?
tAs at March 27 2011 The national debt according to the Office of National Statistics, stands at £875.8 billion.  This represents 58% of GDP.


If all financial sector intervention is included (e.g. Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds) , the Net debt was £2,252.1 billion  or 149.1 per cent of GDP.


The bald figures speak for themselves.  The UK is horrendously in debt, and that debt is growing daily because of the interest we pay on what has been borrowed. This is approximately £43 billion per annum  In order to fund government spending (which includes Defence, NHS, Welfare etc.) the UK will need to borrow £149 billion.


We can all argue about the cuts.  We all have differing priorities, and views on where the cuts should fall. I personally do not envy the government's task of getting public sector finances under control. I do not feel qualified to comment further.


What I can say though is that in 2002, gross national debt stood at 30% of GDP.  In less than ten years our debt has increased from 30% to 58% of GDP, and the responsibility for that lies squarely on the Labour Government.

Why I am a Liberal Democrat!

Quite a few of my friends and acquaintances find the idea of being a Liberal Democrat somehow strange.  Pre-Coalition the Lib Dems were viewed by many as fringe party that had no chance of ever being elected, and no chance of obtaining real influence or power.
How things have changed.... or have they?  To explain why I am a member of the Liberal Democrats, an explanation of what a Liberal (or liberalism) actually is...


What does it mean to be a Liberal


A Liberal traditionally has believed in the liberty of the individual and equal rights. In believing in liberty, I mean the belief that individuals are capable of:

  • governing themselves
  • exercising free will
  • taking responsibility for one's own actions
As such, Liberals have traditionally believed in 'small' government.  I am not so sure that I agree fully with Thomas Paine who argued that 'government even in its' best state is a necessary evil', however I do believe that a state that involves itself too deeply in the lives of its citizens' on a day to day basis results in some unhealthy outcomes i.e.:
  • the erosion of civil liberties and the creation of a climate of fear through which central control by the state is both encouraged and desired
  • a diminution in the overall ability of the people to take responsibility for their own lives
Looking at the above, it is clear why I do not support Labour - the actions of the last Labour government with its strong centralised, statist instincts resulted in some of the most illiberal legislation the UK has ever seen, with a corresponding reduction in the rights of the individual.  All done in the name of the 'war on terror'.

Ah, I hear you cry, surely then you must be a Conservative?  They believe in small government as well....

As a Liberal, I believe in equal rights, however equal rights do not occur naturally in society; in order for people to have equal rights, there is a need for the state to provide a framework within which the rights of the individual are guaranteed.  In most countries this would be through a written constitution, however the UK does not have one of these.  Today, the principle of equal rights is embedded in legislation (Equality Act 2010 and its predecessors) and the much maligned and misunderstood Human Rights Act.  It is here that I diverge from the Conservatives.

As far as I can see, the Conservative Party is truly ambivalent on human rights. They talk about the rights of the individual, however they are remarkably unwilling to enshrine those rights in law - after all, if they truly believed in human rights, surely they would have introduced a Human Rights Bill sometime in the twentieth century?  After all, they were the dominant government for much of it!

Liberal also believe in free and fair elections and a multi-party democracy that reflects the fact that we live in a plural society (one within which there are many cultures and sub-cultures).  Again, Conservative philosophy and policy dictates against this - their passionate defence of the first past the post voting system (a system which is perceived to be the only way of producing 'strong' government) is a system which actively discriminates against multi-party democracy and does little to ensure the representation of the cultures existing in the UK today. 

At heart I am a social liberal; I believe that the state has a role to play in governing the way our society develops and changes.  Unfettered capitalism and rule by the markets is a philosophy I CANNOT bring myself to believe in.  There is no morality or ethics or justice in the market - to my mind monopolies are developed through market freedoms because there is no such thing as a perfect market.  The recent failure of the international financial services system indicate the need for real governance and regulation; the obscene levels of profit which are generated by the financial services industry illustrate a failure of the market which was eminently preventable by previous Labour and Conservative administrations the explosion in property prices and the escalation of prices of commodities are all indications of market failures, as perfect competition does not exist.


What about on the world stage?  Is Liberal philosophy relevant?


Liberals have always accepted the reality of war.  War is sometimes - some would argue often- necessary in  order to pursue the attainment of liberal objectives of democracy and free trade.  However, in the world we live in today, characterised by the forces of globalisation and interdependency, the unilateral use of force to achieve liberal objectives will mainly result in a cycle of violence that will be very difficult to break.  A perfect example of this is the outcomes of the war in Iraq and to a lesser extent Afghanistan, where coalition forces still remain and sustain losses on a regular basis.  Liberal thinking led to the creation of the worlds' major international institutions, creating a framework through which international conflict could be reduced and minimised.  This of course includes the European Union, which had its roots in the post war efforts to minimise opportunities for conflict through the management of strategic resources - coal and steel, as well as nuclear weapons.


SO, as a social liberal, I must therefore reject the economic policies of the coalition government then? After all, surely it is not possible to be a social liberal and support the imposition of neo-liberal economic policies based firmly upon the monetary policies of Margaret Thatcher? 


That is a question for my next blog.















Monday, May 10, 2010

The Electoral Reform Society

The ERS has published an interesting set of analyses about how Britain's political map would change under three main systems:

  1. First Past the Post (current system)
  2. Alternative Vote (PR for people who don't like change)
  3. Single Transferable Vote (The system the Tories told us would 'confuse the voters')