Parliament of the People

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Parliament of the People?

Every day we hear stories of anger and despair, people destitute, dying, as a result of governments refusing to address the ever widening rift between the rich, and the rest of us, with the numbers falling into deep poverty rising alarmingly. Whether we classify ourselves as working class, middle-class, or just ordinary people, there is no doubt that in comparison with periods in history, the collective people have found a voice. Education, science and technology have provided us with tools of communication never seen before.

There are a number of ways we can make our opinions and needs understood today. We can communicate around the world in seconds. Tweeters, bloggers, marchers – we can all make our voices heard. We can write to newspapers who may decide to publish. The BBC may be selective in what is broadcast, but in comparison with agricultural workers or the factory workers in towns in the nineteenth century, people have higher levels of literacy and the means to communicate instantly around the world today.

Yet while communication today has increased,

power has diminished considerably.

The working class found a voice through the Labour movement and trade unionism, giving some influence and power to workers and founding a Labour Party which sought to being about change. How representative is the Labour Party today? How representative is parliament?

Government policies have led to a plutocracy, billionaires and corporations holding power over people as long as they hold a tight grasp on the very basic needs of water, food and energy. So many politicians today, obstentiously elected to represent people in parliament actually represent the interests of those who funded their election, who seek influence under the auspices of some Think Tank or collective groups.

If any one company has played a decisive role in the destruction of the NHS, it is the consultancy giant McKinsey. Partners and other McKinsey staff regularly senior take jobs inside goverment. Dr David Bennett, a former senior partner, became chief of policy and strategy for the Labour goverment from 2005 to 2007. Dr Bennett is now chairman and acting CE of Monitor, which regulate the new Health Care market and play a crucial role in offering NHS business to private companies.
Dr Penny Dash was the Department of Health’s head of strategy from 2000. Dr Dash was a key author of the NHS plan which set in train Labour’s privatisation agenda. She subsequently became a McKinsey partner and played a role in producing the Labour goverment’s two Darzi report, the first of which sought to radically restrict levels of provision and staffing in London. The second envisaged a system of private owned polyclinics across the nation.
Red Pepper (1)

Similarly, it is well known that the interests of the Insurance company Unum, are central to the controversial Welfare Reform Bill 2), and evidence of their involvement was documented as early as 1995. Policy and power no longer rests with our elected representatives , but with Think Tanks which seem to be ubiquitous these days and decide everything. ( see The Lost Democracy and the Role of Think Tanks 3. ). In this scenario, there is little point of having a parliament at all. Certainly, they do not formulate policies or strategies. Parliament is not the debating chamber as intended.

Recently we even heard that the Prime Minister declined to answer questions at Prime Minister Question Time (4) . The shift of role of our elected representatives from policy makers to tacticians is acknowledged by one of Margaret Thatcher’s own team , now in The House of Lords.

The Thatcherite former chief whip Richard Ryder (now a Tory Lord in the House of Lords) summed up this state of affairs when he said that “George Osborne isn’t a strategist at all, he is a tactician”. In other words, Tory economic strategy is all narrative and no substance.

How much experience do MPs have of the lives of ordinary people? What understanding do the majority of the Cabinet have problems working class people face every day, most of them having been privately educated and many behind the isolated, protected gates of Eton?

Ed Miliband,while still under pressure from Blairites on the right of the Labour Party (especially Progress which is separately funded 6.) , is acutely aware of the need to change the demographic make-up of a party founded to represent the working class:

It was heartening to hear Labour leader Ed Miliband admit there is an urgent need for more MPs from working-class backgrounds in Parliament.

Miliband was answering a question from Lachlan Morrison, a 23-year-old plasterer from Nottingham, at a Q&A at the party conference.

He praised Morrison, a Ucatt member, for his work as a Labour councillor and said: “We need more workers in Parliament. We need to have a more diverse Parliament, particularly in terms of ethnic minorities and working-class backgrounds – we have a responsibility to ensure not just people from middle-class backgrounds get into the election contest.”

Miliband also suggested that 50 per cent of MPs should be women, and conference passed a rule-change that requires selection panels to take class into consideration in the same way they already do for race and gender.

Morrison hopes this spells a new direction for the Labour Party. Report, Morning Star (7.)

Paul Kenny on the role of Progress (8)

Think Left’s analysis of the social make up of MPs, (Becoming a Member of Parliament, 9 ) took into account secondary and tertiary education, gender, and experience as council representatives, and unsurprisingly demonstrated how our representatives in The House of Commons has little “in common” with those they purport to represent.

A very high proportion of Conservative MPs have been educated privately , followed by Oxbridge. While it is important for some of those with power and influence to have technical and scientific knowledge, how many have any awareness at all of people’s lives which qualifies them to govern? Why, when most people are female is our parliament overwhelmingly male? What is liberal about a Liberal Democrat party, which is exclusively white?

We may make our voices heard, but who is listening? Have today’s politicians chosen a career or a vocation? Are they driven by a desire to change the world or themselves? Do they follow in the steps of Aneurin Bevan? Cameron knows and fears the truth might just come out if there were more MPs like Dennis Skinner. When he speaks against the Prime Minister in parliament, out come the jibes. And insults.

Regaining our democracy and attaining true and fair representation for the people is essential if we are to redress the imbalance in society. Apathy is not the answer, cynicism is understandable yet ineffective.

In order to convince people to use the vote so many fought hard for, then they have to be convinced that parliament can really be representative, and just.

Parliament needs committed representatives not careerists.

Parliament needs a greater voice for women.

Parliament needs more working class representatives

Parliament should ensure need a much fairer funding for political parties

Parliament must not permit lobbyists and Think Tanks to be invisible.

The idea of a parliament of the people and for the people might be an old cliche, but it is about time it was enshrined in fact.

References and Further Reading:

1. Red Pepper McKinsey’s Unhealthy Profits (Hat Tip, Paul Bowler)

2. Welfare reform and the US insurance firm Unum , Think Left

3. The Lost Democracy and the Role of Think Tanks, Think Left

4. Politics.Co.Uk : Furious Cameron Refuses to answer Questions at Prime Minister’s Question Time

5. Another Angry Voice, Blog All Narrative and No Substance :

6. Left Futures: GMB Congress to investigate Progress as a Party within a party

7. Morning Star: Where are the Working Class MPs?

9. With : Video Link :

Left Futures : Paul Kenny of role of the influence of Progress and the need for more working class MPs)

9. Becoming a Member of Parliament, Think Left

10 Women as Voters and MPs, Think Left

11. Women in the commons

Lobbyists are destroying the democratic process.

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As each new lobbying scandal is revealed, it becomes clearer and clearer that much of our so-called ‘democratic’ process is distorted by their hidden and insidious influence.  There should be general outrage at the manner in which vested ‘for profit’ interests are allowed to play such a large part in determining policies which have such potentially damaging, even life-threatening, consequences.  The conflict of interest in the energy companies’ hold over government, juxtaposed to peak oil production and dangerous global climate change, takes the activity of lobbyists into a different league of global nihilism.

Three months before last year’s election, David Cameron described commercial lobbying as the “next big scandal waiting to happen”. He said it had “tainted our politics for too long” and “exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money”.

But in spite of David Cameron’s assertion, there have been many extremely troubling disclosures about lobbying over the last 18 months….  private health providers being deeply involved with Andrew Lansley’s NHS reforms, employment protection insurer, Unum’s help in constructing the Welfare reform bill (1); Atlantic Bridge, Werrity, Liam Fox; and now the boasts of easy access to top Conservatives by PR company, Bell-Pottinger (The Independent 5.12.11).

Freedom of Information requests by Caroline Lucas MP, have also made public the disturbing links between the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and the big energy providers (2):

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/dec/05/energy-companies-lend-staff-government?intcmp=239

At least 50 employees of companies including EDF Energy, npower and Centrica have been placed within government to work on energy issues in the past four years, the Guardian can reveal. The staff is provided free of charge and work within the departments for secondments of up to two years.

… Consultancies with major energy practices also supplied expertise, including KPMG and Ernst & Young.

In a bi-lateral manner, civil servants are similarly seconded into energy industries, such as Shell and Horizon Nuclear Power (whose aim is to build nuclear power stations in the UK)… but notably not into the Renewable industries.

“Companies such as the big six energy firms do not lend their staff to government for nothing – they expect a certain degree of influence, insider knowledge and preferential treatment in return,” said Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP. “At such a pivotal time in the UK’s energy and climate change policy, as ministers must get to grips with the realities of climate change, rising costs and energy insecurity, the strong presence of vested interests is a real cause for concern.”

This is of particular currency, given Osborne’s catastrophic Autumn Budget Statement, which provoked a flurry of letters to the Observer (4.12.11) from a broad alliance of countryside campaigners, wildlife groups and green activists.  They accuse George Osborne of a “stunning disregard” for the environment (3).

Osborne told the Commons last Tuesday: “We are not going to save the planet by shutting down our steel mills, aluminium smelters and paper manufacturers. All we will be doing is exporting valuable jobs out of Britain.” … he wanted to ensure that “gold plating of EU rules on things like habitats” was not putting “ridiculous costs” on firms…..

 

With the government outlining cuts in solar energy subsidies, reforming planning regulations and introducing tax support for energy-intensive industries, the chancellor’s rhetoric has infuriated the green lobby. “Following the chancellor’s autumn statement, we can say that the coalition is on a path to becoming the most environmentally destructive government to hold power in this country since the modern environmental movement was born,” states one letter, signed by the green campaigners George Monbiot, Tony Juniper, Jonathon Porritt, Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party, and others.

A second letter, from the heads of the RSPB, Greenpeace and others, says: “The stunning disregard shown for the value of the natural environment not only flies in the face of popular opinion but goes against everything the government said in June, when it launched two major pieces of environmental policy – the natural environment white paper and the England biodiversity strategy.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/dec/03/new-green-alliance-savages-osborne

That the Conservative Party has again revealed itself to be the ‘nasty party’ only interested in profitability, over-exploitation of natural resources and the ‘redistribution of wealth upward… and offshore’, is of little surprise.

However, that it has such total disregard for the findings of climate change scientists is nothing short of homicidal, particularly for those populations dwelling in the climate-vulnerable low lying countries.

New data revealed at the UN climate talks in Durban, show that carbon dioxide levels have increased by 49% since 1990, and this significantly reduces the world’s chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.

Prof Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research said (4):

“We need to do something about the 80% of energy that still comes from burning fossil fuels.”

She said the problem was urgent, as the chances of holding global temperature rises to less than 2C above pre-industrial levels (which scientists regard as the limit of safety) beyond which climate change becomes catastrophic and irreversible, were dependent on emissions peaking by 2020 at the latest.

However, far from abandoning fossil fuels, it is clear that the Tory-LDs are intent on expanding our reliance on gas fired power stations, and ‘crowding out’ renewable energy sources.

‘The construction of new renewable energy generation capacity has fallen dramatically, as the big six energy suppliers pursue a “dash for gas” policy that could put the UK’s climate change targets out of reach and leave households with higher bills.

The number of new wind turbines built this year is down by half on last year….

The pipeline of new projects has also stagnated – this year, 2,058MW of windfarms were submitted for planning permission, compared with 2,080MW in 2010, and the number approved dropped markedly, from 1,366MW in 2010 to 920MW.

This contrasts with the 30GW of new gas-fired power stations that are at planning stage. These will require tens of billions of pounds of investment, coming mostly from the big six energy suppliers.

Although gas is cheaper than renewables at present, the cost of renewables is steadily coming down, and over-reliance on gas is one of the key factors behind high energy bills, according to the government. About 60% of rises in the past year have been the result of the higher cost of fuel imports.’ (5)

This seems to be under the direct influence of gas lobbyists, supported by research from Tony Blair’s favourite consultancy , McKinsey, who argue that ‘gas is green’ because it produces about 50% of CO2 that results from burning coal.  Needless, to say that after installation, renewable energy production of carbon dioxide is virtually zero.  Furthermore, renewable energy poses no security risks, and even with the huge government subsidies given to fossil fuels, it is estimated that they will quickly become cheaper even than coal.(6)

As Michael Meacher writes (7):

And now we learn that nuclear is crowding out renewables.   Total investment in UK renewable energy fell last year by 70%, the £200bn needed to create a low-carbon UK energy sector by 2020 is nowhere to be seen, and fossil-fuel gas-fired power stations are being given the go-ahead everywhere.   The addiction to fossil fuels, so far from being broken, is actually tightening, even though over-dependence on gas exposes Britain to big energy bill rises from high and unpredictable world market prices.

http://www.michaelmeacher.info/weblog/2011/12/greenest-government-ever-this-lot-are-deepest-brown/

Julia Steinberger, lecturer in ecological economics at the Sustainability Research Institute, University of Leeds, said (4):

“The economic crisis should have been an opportunity to invest in low-carbon infrastructure for the 21st century. Instead, we fostered a lose-lose situation: carbon emissions rocketing to unprecedented levels, alongside increases in joblessness, energy costs and income disparities. Surely the transition to a green economy has never seemed more appealing.”

And she could have added the one in four living in fuel poverty to her list. 

Next week on 13 December the European Commission will release its 2050 Energy Roadmap that sets up the signposts and the routes that are meant to lead Europe to a decarbonised future. EER’s Brussels correspondent Sonja van Renssen concludes ‘Despite all the modelling, it is the decisions taken by policymakers that will determine what our energy future will look like.’ (8)

And how do politicians determine their policies?  At least part of the answer is given by the journalist behind the Independent’s news story about Bell-Pottnger (9).

‘Although the PR industry claims that it is simply participating in the democratic process and contributing to the public debate it has to conceal most of its activities from public view if it wants to manipulate public opinion and government policy.’

 ‘The most important point is the behind-the-scenes influence. If PR companies are altering Wikipedia pages, manipulating search results to ‘drown out’ negative coverage, setting up fake blogs, writing addresses to the United Nations, that’s disturbing; if they have cosy, unpublicised access to politicians, that’s a scandal.’

For there to be a democratic process in government, there needs to be transparency, and to remove the lobbyists, the transnational consultancies, and the industry placements, completely or at least, much further away from government policy making.

The big six energy providers have government over a barrel, and they do not want to see their profits or power disappear with de-centralised micro-generation of renewable energy;  Hence, Exxons funding of climate deniers discrediting climate scientists; Hence, misinformation about the capacity and security of renewable energy production; Hence, the inflated claims for CCS (carbon, capture and storage).

The Centre for Alternative Technology have developed fully researched blueprints for rapidly de-carbonising the UK by 2030 but they are largely ignored by the political process (10).  ZCB 2030 demonstrates that nuclear, gas-fired power stations, oil and expansion of coal mining are simply not necessary, and, furthermore, are not financially justifiable.

The only purpose that continued use of fossil fuels, serves is in creating profits for, and maintaining the political power base of those, who pay the PR consultancies and lobbyists.

Green capitalism just ‘isn’t working’.. and it is certainly ‘hurting’ the global biosphere. We desperately need politicians who put the needs of people and the environment before the profits of vested interests.

(1)  https://think-left.org/2011/11/22/welfare-reform-and-the-us-insurance-giant-unum/

(2)  http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/dec/05/energy-companies-lend-staff-government?intcmp=239

(3)  http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/dec/03/new-green-alliance-savages-osborne 

(4)  http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/dec/05/carbon-dioxide-emissions-biggest-jump

(5)  http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/dec/04/renewableenergy-energy-industry

(6)  https://think-left.org/2011/10/03/‘clean-coal’-another-financial-device-for-the-city-2/

(7)  http://www.michaelmeacher.info/weblog/2011/12/greenest-government-ever-this-lot-are-deepest-brown/

(8)  http://www.europeanenergyreview.eu/site/pagina.php?id=3400

(9)  http://www.thethunderer.org.uk/2011/12/06/bell-pottinger-and-the-bureau/

(10)  https://think-left.org/2011/07/27/the-feasibility-of-renewable-energy-with-specific-reference-to-the-establishment-of-hvdc-power-grids/

https://think-left.org/2011/10/21/bring-me-sunshine-the-photovoltaic-phenomenon/

https://think-left.org/2011/09/25/the-black-stuff-was-our-heritage-green-is-our-future/

Postscript:  With all the sophisticated ‘smoke and mirrors’ that constitutes current political practice, it is little wonder that a psychiatrist in Ireland has suggested putting Lithium in the water supply to cheer us all up.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/shortcuts/2011/dec/05/should-we-put-lithium-in-water