Power in the European Union and English regions

( with Sir David Steel's Edinburgh lecture ).

Section link: European Union will fail without individual freedom of consent.

English assemblies also given an undemocratic voting system.

In mid 2003, the deputy prime minister John Prescott announced that three English regions would be given a referendum on whether they wanted their own assemblies. These regions are the North-west, the North-east, and the Yorkshire and Humberside region.

These three regions are the furthest from central government in the south and the closest to Scotland, which has already voted in a referendum for its own assembly. Wales also voted for its assembly and it could be argued that its Keltic neighbor, Cornwall, in south-west England should have been up for an assembly, too. After all, Cornwall once did have its own parliament.

In march 2002, a BBC poll interviewed 2646 people. Almost two-thirds wanted regional government. The highest support, 73%, was in the West Midlands. Least support came from the regions nearest London.

As usual, the opponents to regional assemblies have roused real fears that three layers of taxes will be needed to pay for regional, as well as local and national government. At any rate, the county councils would be replaced by one regional council or assembly. Up till now, central government has always feared that regional governments would be too big a challenge to its authority.

This may be doubted from Canada's example. The federal government is dominated by the two most populous states of Quebec and Ontario. The western states are said to feel that they are 'consulted and ignored'. The western-most, British Columbia has embarked on a new treaty between governing and governed, with a Citizen's Assembly and popular referendum to decide the best electoral system. ( This question is discussed on other of my web pages. )

On the other hand, local government has feared that a regional administration would favor the main population centre, where it was situated. Thus, the most rural of English counties North Yorkshire fears its interests would be subordinated to the urban concentrations of West Yorkshire. Precisely this effect worked against the first attempt in modern times to re-introduce a Scottish assembly. In the referendum in the 1970s, the dense Clydeside region was heavily in favor but rural regions tended to be against.

In the 1990s, Labour gave up the idea of ruling Scotland as a one-party state, thru the first past the post system, giving them a majority of seats without needing a majority of Scottish votes. The government allowed so-called proportional representation by a method of their own choosing, the additional member system ( AMS ).

The government has also imposed this system for English assemblies.
In 2003, the public was invited to e-mail about the White Paper on Regional Governance.
My subject was:

Proper elections, please.

Thankyou for asking for our views.

The English regional assemblies option is spoiled by imposing an undemocratic voting system, AMS. This is not an electoral system worthy of the name but a safe seats system of monopolistic single members and oligarchic lists. It promotes place-holders subservient to its party appointers.

This will not make politicians less disliked. It will not promote the free enquiry and representative participation needed for the knowledge and learning upon which human progress depends.

I believe that the Kerley report offers a new deal between rulers and ruled, which should be applied to other levels of government. Namely, politicians are given qualification opportunities in office, so that they can do their job better and have an employment resource, if not re-elected. Equally, the elections should be genuinely elective, so it is worth voting. STV achieves this, and was recommended by the Kerley report and the Kilbrandon report.

My views on the scientific method of elections are to be found on my democracy website.

The official web site promised a reply, which was not forthcoming till prompted. Where-upon, I was told that AMS would be the system used. My answer follows, refering to a few points made by the government spokesman on the web:

Thankyou for your reply.

It exemplifies the problem with politics.
The government asks for our opinion, only to tell us what we are going to get. A White Paper is supposed to be a consultation document. An election is supposed to offer a choice.

The party lists system and party lists additional member system is already in use, because the government has set its own 'precedent' in imposing them on our country. When the public were listened to, as by the Kerley committee and the Sunderland committee, they prefered the system giving an effective choice between the candidates, namely STV. This was despite the AMS system's use in Scotland and Wales.

Party list systems and their hybrids only 'include' all-or-nothing partisans, people who are prepared to unquestioningly follow a party line, whatever the party -- maybe five per cent of the population? Party lists offer no personal choice of candidate. They are completely unrepresentative of anything but support for one party dogma rather than another even less liked.
And the single members are retained because they corral constituents into monopolies on representation of the most restricted sort.

Voters are more likely to 'identify' a representative, from among multi-member choice, they can identify with.
AMS politicans in their safe seats are 'encouraged' only to be party servants superceding regional civil servants. A regional expansion in party bureaucracies is all this exercise in regional assemblies is about.

The government's last point about different models for different circumstances is from the Plant report -- I criticised at the time, as recorded on my web site. The report's claim, that the rules of choice should be whatever the politicians choose to say they are, is completely wrong: scientifically nonsense. The logic of choice doesnt change for electing different bodies.

Peter Mandelson admitted as much, despite himself, in the Lords reform debate ( refered-to in my open letter to the Lords reform committee, again on my site ). He said, how long do you think it would take to become completely obvious to everyone that the two chambers on different electoral systems was completely untenable?

Yours sincerely,..

Sir David Steel's Edinburgh lecture.

This page has been up-dated to refer to Sir David Steel's National Library of Scotland Donald Dewar lecture, held at the Edinburgh Book Festival. The main theme was expenses and taxes. And there were several far-reaching recommendations for Scottish government. Of concern here, in relation to proposed English Assemblies, is Steel's renewed call to replace the Additional Member System, which has not been a success, with the Single Transferable Vote for the Scottish Parliament.

59 additional members, to 73 single member constituency MSPs, are elected from top-up regional lists, 'by less than truly democratic means' of the parties' own selection procedures. Lists create 'an unacceptable democratic deficit' in leaving the choice of those eventually elected to small groups of party activists. This led to tension with the constituency MSPs and 'a confusing and expensive proliferation of parliamentary offices.'

The decision to give publicly funded local offices to list MSPs, as well as constituency MSPs, had led to 'a thinly disguised subsidy from the taxpayer for the local party machines.'
'In my view they are a serious waste of public money -- and I do not exclude my own former regional office from that stricture.'

Steel regards the additional member system as 'an expensive mistake.' He advocates the single transferable vote, as in Ireland. Citizens could have ( proportional ) representation in a constituency and a choice of three or four MSPs to look after them.

David Steel, the former Liberal leader was at the heart of the British all-party campaign for Fair Votes that has been taken-up in other English-speaking countries. This campaign always held that the main thing was that elections be proportional, never mind the method. Experience, of a list system of additional members, has taught him otherwise.

During Steel's leadership, changing the first past the post system ceased to be a tabu subject. And the two big parties, instead of the little Liberal party, looked increasingly isolated. Steel, always courteous and collected, had much to do with the informal re-alignment, as well as the alliance and eventual merger with Labour's break-away Social Democrats.

Moreover, Steel was in the chair for the constitutional convention for a Scottish Parliament. This substituted the additional member system for the single transferable vote, recommended by the Kilbrandon report. The Labour government, in the nineteen seventies, simply ignored its own royal commission. Eventually, Scottish Labour came round to accepting the proportional method of undemocratically elected additional members from party lists.

Before retiring, Sir David was the presiding officer of the Scottish parliament. In short, he was just about as widely respected as it is possible for a politician to be. His has been the conventional wisdom of an electoral reform movement of fair votes that has spread round the English-speaking world. And yet experience of the Scottish parliament has taught him the difference between the good and the bad proportional system.

What a caution for English assemblies, for British Columbia's reform deliberations and those of other Canadian states fast following the route to electoral reform.

European Union will fail without individual freedom of consent.

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H G Wells recognised that science and technology put previously separate peoples much more easily within reach. Not only nation states but federations and ultimately a world state would be technically practical. Against these greater unities, the freedom of the individual had to be re-asserted. Near the end of his life, after the fashion of Tom Paine, he started a charter of human rights, which would become the Sankey declaration.

Wells also recognised the insular prejudices of the old local communities against each other, because they had little to do with each other. ( He discusses this as early as his 1908 novel The War In The Air. ) This insularity was not least true of Britain, which is after all insular as only islands can be.

Perhaps, insularity is not all bad. Insularity has offered Britain a certain freedom from the worst of the turmoils of Europe. To prevent the dominant European power of the day extending its power over its shores, England or Britain has been 'the counter-weight of Europe' tending to ally with the secondary powers on the Continent.

British politicians are divided between those who do or do not want closer political and economic integration with Europe. For convenience, they are called the pro-Europeans and anti-Europeans. This crude labeling does not do justice to the issue. The latter were stigmatised as 'little Englanders'.

A pro-European, like Tony Blair, betrays a certain impatience with those who cannot see that the British pound is as obsolete as some local currency of one of the thirteen English colonies in America. Greater technological power is relentlessly integrating the world. To pretend otherwise is to try to hide in a back-water.

On the issue of whether Britain should in principle join the single European currency, the Euro, the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, was reduced to ridiculing nationalistic prejudice against it. For himself and the prime minister Tony Blair, joining is a technical question of meeting the right economic conditions, as he so construes.

When a Britain referendum first ratified joining the Common Market, it is now known that the government was not frank with the British people. European partners were thinking all along in terms of a 'United States of Europe'. Tony Blair had to get that expression deleted from the 2003 draft of the European Constitution.

The real issue of Britain or any country in Europe is whether the conditions of individual freedom are being met with this greater political and economic organisation of mankind. Any greater union, whether of a nation, continent or whole planet, requires a corresponding greater power of consent granted to its individual members. Politicians are typically blind to the greater responsibility that goes with greater power.

The new EU Constitution plans to intimately affect people's lives: 'everything from pensions to passports and law and order to union power'. But the convention on the future of a European union of 25 member states does not vest power with the people. A president would be elected for at least two and a half years. He could only be a serving or former leader of one of the member states. And he could only be elected by member states leaders. That is comparable to the United States president only being elected by states governors. Some 'United States of Europe' -- with a president elected on a 'universal suffrage' of 25 people!

A European foreign minister would be 'elected' in suchlike manner. With this underwhelming privilege comes the requirement:

Member states shall actively and unreservedly support the union's common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty.

This is a statement of intent worthy of party politicians rather than world statesmen. It would be like putting Europe in the hands of a party boss. All regional, national and global ties and obligations would be subordinated to a so-called 'European' party line. It is a top dogmatist's fantasy.

The former Gaullist and French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing chaired the convention. Charles de Gaulle said of him: 'One day he will betray me... I hope he does it well.' This gallicism betrays the folly of trusting in blind obedience.

On 25 november 2000, The Daily Mail reported the European Commission's annual single market score-board showed that the nations most keen on integration failed most to implement and to obey Brussels 1,459 directives. The prime architect of European union, France received most disobedience warnings ( 89 ) followed by Italy ( 72 ). Germany had 66. Britain the 'black sheep' of Europe received only 34. And Denmark, which actually voted against the single currency, had only 16 'tickings off'.

The president of the European Commission, Romani Prodi said the draft constitution was in some ways a step back from avoiding bureaucratic gridlock. He also was unwilling to follow the route of blind obedience: 'We cannot let ourelves become victims or hostages of a text...that threatens to paralyse Europe...' He was disappointed at its lack of vision and ambition.

To anti-corporatists, a sinister decision of the convention was that the European Union should have a 'legal personality'. That is like making a political 'body' called Europe responsible for things that go wrong instead of its leaders being personally accountable for their actions. The same legal status of business corporations has allowed them to plunder the planet with impunity.

The Italian premier Berlusconi, becoming acting EU president, conveniently illustrates the situation. He controls much of his country's economy and media. A tv presenter, who no longer has that job, dared to criticise him. He was interrupted by Berlusconi brow-beating him like some feudal baron telling him to know his place.
The Independent on Sunday
( 13 july 2003 ) quotes him as saying: I'm the most persecuted man in Italy.
He is arguably the man most above the law in Italy, since his supporters pass a law to make the premier immune from continuing corruption charges.

This forthcoming EU president insults a German MEP compared to a Nazi concentration camp guard. He refused German chancellor Schroder's demand he apologise. Instead, an Italian junior minister denounces blond nationalistic Germans. Following the boss's bad example gets the junior minister, not the premier, sacked. The message is clear: one law for the top, another for those under them.

Schroder is known for his supression by law of the German media's claim that he dyes his hair, or indeed for daring to laugh at him at all. With unaccustomed restraint, Schroder refuses rise to the bait of putting himself in the wrong with his Italian counter-part, and merely cancels his usual Italian holiday.

Never the less, Schroder did try to use German law, as he has against German media, against a British news-paper, The Mail On Sunday ( report 19 january 2003 ), following the story of an alleged relationship with a political journalist.
After the second world war, German privacy law was intended to protect citizen's against state propaganda. It was never intended to be hi-jacked by politicians seeking to avoid bad news affecting their hold on power.
Leaders of the EU are creating 'a common legal space'. A Charter of Fundamental Rights 'will give more rights to governments and fewer to individuals.'

None of the European Union's plans includes the freedoms of Magna Carta, the presumption of innocence, habeas corpus or jury trial.

( The British Labour government continues to try to restrict trial by jury, and the ancient rule preventing re-trial for an offense. ) The Mail sums-up: 'All these moves pull Europe down to...state-controlled justice lending its support to power.'
Then, presumably, the power elite would have no one left to quarrel with but themselves.

H G Wells used to go on about politicians who conveniently talked about nations, as if they were individuals. It may be pedantic to be more precise. One wonders sometimes. The genial and likable former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt was invited to give a lecture in Britain, which turned out to be something of an eye-opener. He mentioned 'the political class' with no sense of irony. The term was coined by Clive Ponting for a self perpetuating oligarchy, in his eye-opener on British politics.

Somewhat unhelpfully to the pro-European cause, Schmidt chose to be blunt. He explained, from national histories, why 'France' is the leader of Europe.
If this politician thought of nations as if they were individuals, then one can see why he believed a choice of leader had to be made among them. But to someone of my mind-set, and perhaps most British people, it simply means the interests of one nation are put before the others.

From there, it is an easy step to a pecking order of nations in Europe, with Germany as the main supporter of France's 'leadership.' Indeed, France and Germany have agreed to make the same laws, and cast the same international votes, as if they were already one state.

On Europe's fringe, maritime nations had their fishing waters invaded, as a price for their belated entry into the Common Market. Greenland, most dependent on its fishing industry, was made in effect bottom of the European Economic Community pecking order, and sensibly voted itself out. A true European family of nations should not do that wrong to its historic relations. Such-like treatment remains a grievance in the UK, which has a significant independence movement.
At any rate, Romani Prodi said of the draft constitution that smaller states making up most of the EU were still powerless.

The British Conservative leader Duncan-Smith wants a federation of independent states, instead of a united Europe. The party wants the EU to do less and to do it better. Duncan-Smith wants a referendum on the European constitution. The Labor govermment most certainly does not want this proposed oligarchy judged by British democracy. Tony Blair was quoted as saying it offers a good basis for agreement.

A constitutional referendum would be more to the point than referendum on the single currency. Denied the constitutional referendum, the euro becomes the symbol of an all-embracing European state to vote down. That's what comes of politicians evading the real issue of power to the people rather than themselves. There is no reason why business should not conveniently use a uniform currency in Europe or ( as Keynes suggested ) the world.

Frederick Forsyth pointed out one of the conditions for joining the Euro is that Britain's gold reserves be moved to a central European bank in Germany. Should Britain wish to leave the single currency, the gold is non-returnable. Gordon Brown went half way to putting paid to that objection, by selling off half Britain's gold reserves, at depressed prices.

The two sides of the European debate in Britain are not coming together to work out a formula for liberty in unity, or for running a government by agreement with consent. The politicians do that badly enough in their own countries, much less on a continental scale.
Neither Labour nor Tory parties can agree even on a democratic voting system, merely prefering the systems that give themselves the best results.

Brussels bureaucracy has its critics as indeed does private sector exploitation of ordinary people. Reported in The Sunday Express, 1 June 2003, Tory MEP Christopher Heaton-Harris said:

In 1999 the European Commission resigned en masse because it was seen to be incompetant and unable to clear up fraud and mismanagement in the EU. Nothing has changed.

MEPs spent an estimated 3 million on a comic book heroine MEP called 'Irina'. Tory MEP Martin Callanan said:

The European Parliament has found its natural level with the publication of this comic book, stuffed full of self-congratulatory claptrap and Euro propaganda.

For eight years running, the European Court of Auditors has refused to accept the accuracy of the EU accounts, and has condemned the lack of proper financial accounts since 1994. The latest figures available, those for 2001 showed out of a 65 billion annual budget, 3 billion missing, which comfortably swallows up Britain's 2.2 billion contribution.

Sixteen per cent of the annual budget is wasted alone on moving the European parliament from Brussels to Strasbourg every month, tho the latter is used only 60 days a year.
In theory, the political parliament for community law could be left in Brussels. Strasbourg could serve as a parliament of economic democracy returning elected representatives from all vocations, professions, unions etc. ( That is with the all-purpose and effectively democratic voting system, so often discussed on this site. )
British politicians recently sabotaged over-due reform of the House of Lords, which is traditionally a chamber for the nation's interests.
Political and economic democracy, rather than bureaucracy and plutocracy, would give greater accountability to the general public in their communities and their work places, and damp the legal and financial expoitation of the masses.

Richard Lung
July 2003; 19 august 2003.

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