Saturday 27 July 2013

"Democracy Is A Minority Issue"

Both Autonomous Mind and Richard North have superb pieces on the arrogance of local councils, specifically Brighton and Hove, and their refusual to hold a referendum on any proposed council tax increase:
The referendum rule is mad. It’s not really workable and would cost about £300,000 to run.
As AM notes:
There you have it.  A sitting councillor who no doubt prattles on about ‘democracy’ and the ‘wishes of the people’ when trying to get elected, declaring that having to seek our democratic consent for a raid on our personal wealth, is unworkable.  In other words, the council should be allowed to demand what it likes and to hell with what residents think.
Quite. Though I guess there is one positive outcome - it is clear validation of at least one of the Harrogate Demands of "no taxes or spending without consent". Local councils would not be so vigorously against the idea of referendums if they did not work.

Arrogance and a sense of entitlement. Recently an acquaintance of mine has had a similar experience courtesy of Oxfordshire County Council via email albeit on a rather more modest issue than one of spending our own money.

As I noted in May the recent local elections saw the Conservatives lose control of Oxfordshire County Council which lead to one of the incumbent Tory councillors losing his temper at the count. Four Independents were elected but after the election three of the four opted to form a “Conservative – Independent Alliance” (Lynda Atkins for Wallingford, Mark Grey for Benson and Cholsey and former Labour Councillor Les Sibley for Bicester West), thus ensuing that the Conservatives would retain effective control of the council after a deal had been struck:
The alliance means the independents will support the election of Tory leader Ian Hudspeth on Tuesday and add their weight to the party’s budgets for the next four years, but they will not sit in the cabinet. 
Occurring as it did after the election had taken place meant the deal had no reference to the electorate's wishes and certainly had no mandate on which the independents were elected (interestingly the only independent who has remained so and upheld his promises is the one that represents me - but then I know where he lives).

The leader of this independent grouping (if that is not an oxymoron) is Lynda Atkins (from Wallingford) and she has publicly stated, in what is an attempt at some sort of a defence, the following (my emphasis):
It’s not an administration, it’s not a coalition, we’re calling it an alliance. We’re not joining the Tories. This is something which fits the current circumstances, something that will work right here and right now.

We believe that what we have done is very much in the best interests of our constituents and all the other residents of Oxfordshire. I think we always have to go back to our voters and explain our decisions, and this will be no exception.
A crucial element in explaining to voters decisions that have been made is to have the voting records of local councillors made as a matter of public record. I'm not sure how well known this is but there is no statutory requirement for councillors to record their votes. Conversely it is a matter of public record just how our MPs vote in Parliament (and indeed the EU Parliament as well) but there is apparently no such equivalent requirement for county councillors to demonstrate transparency to their electorates.

There is the option at county council for someone to publicly wish for their vote to be recorded in the minutes but crucially it is not compulsory - for most votes only the overall result is recorded. However, any councillor can ask for the way they voted to be added to the minutes. Similarly, if there's sufficient support among the councillors at a meeting, the votes of each member can be recorded.

As Oxfordshire County Council do not keep records of councillor voting records, not unreasonably due to the "deal" done, an enquiry was made via email to Lynda Atkins of which the following is an extract:
That in the interests of open, honest and transparent governance, you agreeing to the publication of your voting records is the only manner in which your electorates can have faith in your promises to hold the conservative minority administration to account.
After a delay in response and further promoting for a reply, Lynda Atkins eventually responded in a revealing manner (I publish her replies without permission in respect of her views of explaining decisions to the voters):
I prioritise emails and deal with non-urgent ones such as this when time allows, and am happy to take 3 or 4 days if that means I can focus on more urgent matters earlier.

The way in which County Council votes are taken is entirely different from that in Parliament, and recording who votes how is very cumbersome and time-consuming.  Yours is the only request I have ever come across (in 5 years on the County Council) for votes to be routinely recorded, so there does not seem to be a broad wish among residents for that to happen.  Given the problems of introducing a routine system of recording votes, I would not support it.
Intriguingly Atkins lets us know what she thinks are urgent issues as per the first paragraph, then makes assumptions on the "broad wishes" of residents (who actually may be unaware that votes are not recorded and would welcome them if informed that was the case), then with a flourish she decides that such a process would be "very cumbersome and time-consuming". Atkins presents no specific evidence of that of course and nor can she since she has no experience given Oxfordshire County Council do not implement such a system.

It's unacceptable that we have no public record of how councillors vote - using the excuse of cost to hide the workings of the council is simply arrogant, particularly in a public organisation with a budget of nearly £600 million. Ensuring transparency and accountability via voting records can be done relatively simply - for example recording such things in the minutes or by a method that the use of a piece of paper, pen and a pair of scissors cannot solve. The Ventnor Blog - Isle of Wight's local site - showed a possible low cost way in 2011:
We thought it would be helpful for you to know how your local councillor voted, so have built a system to let you know. We’ll endeavour to update it live as the votes are being taken.
Atkin's concerns therefore look suspiciously more like concealing her decision-making than a concern for public savings. Further reiterated by a subsequent email in response to one that pressed her on the above points:
All I can do is to repeat what I said previously, that you are the only person who has mentioned this as an issue.  I was not 'surprised' at your request, but I do believe that it is very, very much a minority view. 
Thus in the words of an "elected" councillor a moderate request for democracy becomes "very, very much a minority view".

Here we have a small number of councillors (three), holding the balance of power in Oxfordshire County Council who then refuse to let their electorates see just how they intend to support this failing council. Lynda Atkins' statement about “explaining decisions” is entirely worthless if she, and the rest, refuse to let the public know how they voted.

Friday 26 July 2013


Apparently on Monday Cameron waffled on about protecting "our" children on the internet, a policy that not unsurprisingly started to unravel rather quickly. Anyway I know this because Mr Cameron kindly sent me an email on Monday:
Today I gave a speech about how we protect our children on the internet. I want for your children what I want for mine: that they’re safe and that their innocence is protected.
So today we’ve announced big, new steps forward. In a nutshell, the internet providers have agreed to do much more to filter inappropriate images out – they are going to install family friendly filters automatically unless you, as a parent, say otherwise.
So why am I blogging about this on a Friday? Well put simply I've only just discovered the email 5 days later...because, with some irony, it ended up in my spam folder...

Wednesday 24 July 2013


Apparently Jane Austen is set to appear on a £10 note after an outcry that no bank note would have otherwise featured a woman.
Jane Austen is to become the face of the new £10 note after a public outcry that every banknote featured a man.

New Bank of England governor Mark Carney today unveiled the new design as a tribute to ‘one of the greatest writers in English literature’ which will appear from 2017.

The move comes after the Bank faced criticism that a plan for Winston Churchill to feature on the new fiver meant there would not be a woman on any English note.
Or as the BBC reports:
Author Jane Austen is to feature on the next £10 note, the Bank of England says, avoiding a long-term absence of women represented on banknotes.
Have I missed something? There was me thinking that the Queen was female. Oddly enough a similar outcry hasn't been made against the woeful lack of women on Euro notes (after all there are plenty of important women to choose from).

Tuesday 23 July 2013

A Future King Who Can't Rule In His Own Kingdom.

It's worth noting that the new born royal boy is not a subject of his great-grandmother but like the rest of us is merely a citizen as per the Nationality Act 1981 which came into force in 1983. Then in addition he is also, without choice, a citizen of the European Union as per the Maastricht Treaty 1992. The Queen has been relegated to being only a citizen of the EU as well.

A symbolic example of the impotence of our country was laid bare during Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding day in 2011 when they were photographed in a car with " Euro" plates.

Late this evening as the royal couple were preparing to show off their new born to the world's press, the BBC's royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell reiterated time and time again live on air that they would not be allowed to leave unless the hospital were satisfied that they had the appropriate child car seat. His frequent comments and references were summarised very briefly on the BBC website as follows:
1839: BBC correspondent Nicholas Witchell says the royal couple will come out with the baby between now and 7pm. They will answer a couple of questions - there is a microphone set up. They will then re-enter the hospital and put the baby in his car seat before departing for Kensington Palace.
And as a government website makes abundant clear the use of car seats is an EU competence, specifically EU Directive 2003/20/EC.

It's revealing that the little lad is hardly a day old but already he's subject to EU laws his parents have no say over.

Private Eye

Front cover, like it.

Monday 22 July 2013

Breaking News: A Woman Gives Birth

It was to be expected I guess that the impending birth of a royal baby would induce the very worst of media vacuousness but expectation doesn't make it any less nauseating or painful.

Naturally one would expect that the birth of a baby third in line to the throne is likely to be mentioned on the news, but the over-the-top coverage has gone beyond farcical. The Telegraph for over a week has been running "a live update" segment on its front page in anticipation coupled with a webcam that has shown nothing but a brickwall for days on end - as shown above. Revealingly it was one of its most read articles.

Given that the process of birth ("process" the word used by Nicholas Witchell) means that there isn't a lot news to report until the baby has been born has left broadcasters labouring the same points over and over again to fill the time.

A point inadvertently demonstrated by the BBC one o'clock news today. The conversation went something like this:
  • Nicholas Witchell: "We know Kate Middleton has gone into labour but I can't give you any more news until the baby is born and announced at Buckingham Palace".

  • BBC Reporter; "Ok, we'll go over to our reporter at Buckingham Palace where they're waiting for news. What can you tell us?"

  • Reporter at Buckingham Palace: "Well, we're waiting for the news to be officially announced...
Still, at least the comprehensive and saturated coverage allows stuff like this and this and this to be made public largely unnoticed.