Realpolitik (see also Political realism; from German: real “realistic”, “practical” or “actual”; and Politik “politics”) refers to politics or diplomacy based primarily on practical considerations, rather than ideological notions or moralistic premises. In this respect, it shares aspects of its philosophical approach with those of realism and pragmatism.
"Manchmal werden Leute den Wald vor lauter Bäumen nicht sehen."

Friday, 19 September 2014

041 - Opinion short: A Scottish "no" is not a "yes" for the status quo

The morning of Friday 19th September 2014. Unionists awake with a sigh of relief that Scotland has decided against going it alone for now. #RuleBritannia trends on Twitter networks in Great Britain and the talk is of the 'empire striking back' and 'common sense' prevailing.
Jim Murphy MP campaign for No, Thomas Nugent, CC-BY-SA 2.0
Yes campaigning at Kinross, William Starkey - CC Attribution Share-alike 2.0

But let's be clear on something Twitterverse and indeed the rest of the universe; a no result in this independence referendum, is by no means an acceptance of the status quo. To hark back to the vestiges of the Empire - which was based upon cultural and economic dominance - or to 'common sense', which is based on a half-baked, readily retractable form of self-determination, is to ignore the reason a third of Great Britain's land mass nearly sailed into the North Sea last night. Scotland continues to suffer from a lack of representation in Britain and the wider world. 

The odds have mostly been stacked against the 'yes' campaign for some time, save for a glimmer of hope, when a single poll stated that 'yes' had reached 51% to 49 % for 'no'. This forced the British government into overdrive, meting out a series of rushed promises about more powers if Scotland rejected independence, a deceptively loaded comment by Queen Elizabeth II on Scotland 'having to choose carefully' on the referendum –contrary to any 'conventions' on political neutrality – and a series of Scottish banks threatening to move (jobs) to England in the event of a 'yes' vote, it then became very clear that the Establishment had turned the screw to ensure they maintained the upper hand. It is very easy to defend what lies before you, however flawed, rather than instilling hope in a future you have the freedom to shape.

Fit for purpose?

Though the result was a 'no', on a turnout of 84% - which is though impressive, is disappointing due to reports of lofty registrations of over 95% of the eligible electorate - 44.7% of the Scottish electorate at this time of writing called for an independent state. So while status-quoists may bask in a temporary smugness about the result, it is worth bearing in mind that nearly half of Scottish society has rejected the current arrangement.  (And 660,048 people didn't bother to vote, the reasons for which I imagine would be varied.)

The result now changes how Westminster and Whitehall consider the distribution of power, but they will of course seek to amend this in a way which reduces any threat to the existence of the union. Though the three main parties have tentatively sounded out last minute promises of more powers in the event of a 'no' vote, as a consequence, they must now seek to placate the rest of the country, in what could hopefully be the catalyst for wider decentralisation. 

In the last 24 hours, a series of newspapers based in the North of England, have lead with front pages calling for devolved powers for the North.

West Lothian Question

UKIP's Nigel Farage has already thrown in his two pence worth, by stating that he is writing to Scottish MPs to ask them to abstain from voting on issues which only concern England (and Wales, I assume.) 

I believe that his steps are misguided. The West Lothian Question is a conundrum in the post-Scottish devolution political sphere, but I do not believe this is addressed by Scottish Westminster MPs abstaining from voting. After all, Westminister MPs serve the entire British state, and the curious constitutional anomaly of Scottish MPs being entitled to vote on issues which affect England (and Wales) only, is more to do with the asymmetric decentralisation offered in the late nineties, rather than an example of Scottish MPs wanting their cake and eating it too. I believe that Farage is fully aware of this, yet is instead choosing to cash in on Unionist antipathy towards Scotland for daring to break away.

We wouldn't have the West Lothian Question, had Westminster and Whitehall opted for a more symmetrical decentralisation model, in the form of national assemblies or parliaments for each of the home nations, with equal powers taken from Westminster. Perhaps even certain English regions could have been granted their own assemblies such as the big three metropolitan areas of Greater London, Greater Manchester and West Midlands County. 

It certainly isn't Scotland's fault that Westminster chooses to dominate England, though it can be argued that the British Parliament is the defacto English Parliament, with the devolved assemblies established as a way of balancing Westminster's Anglocentrism - which is inevitable, since England has 84% of the UK's population. 

Next steps

Far from many commentaries which condemn Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon and the rest of the independence campaign of fostering division, the entirety of the British nation can look upon this event as an opportunity to strengthen British bonds, by redefining the relationships within it. The current constitutional settlement of our country is not fit for purpose. We have a significant number of our citizens who have expressed dissatisfaction and their voices must be heard. 

The British government should now look at how to strengthen decentralisation, but considering a federal or confederal arrangement for Britain, which will would preserve the union, yet satisfy any agitation for self-determination in the same breath. For radical reform, Westminster and Whitehall's scope of power should be passed down to the Home Nations and even to English regions, ensuring that issues dealt with in London, are limited to issues which are of common interest to all Britons such as foreign policy, defence and economy. 

Above all, this new division of power should not be determined by a series of desperate soundbites and rushed legislation in the aftermath of yesterday's referendum, but it should be bound in an unambiguous, democratically sanctioned codified constitution, which renders all of Britain's people as sovereign, whilst laying to rest feudal Crown power and Parliamentary sovereignty. 

More reading:

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

040 - Opinion Short: Prince Charles' Letters Blocked

Tantamount to a conspiracy against the public, the attorney general's decision to block the revelation of the contents of Charles Mountbatten-Windsors' (Prince Charles) letters to various government departments, has been upheld by the High Court today. Not entirely surprising, even in spite of the excitement of those of us of pro-republican (anti-monarchist) extraction last October, when Elizabeth Windsor (the Queen) was revealed to have opined on the politically sensitive issue Abu Qatada's deportation and the initial revelation of the heir to the throne's political meddling.

All we know is that the concerned departments were Business, Innovation and Skills; Health; Children, Schools and Families; Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Culture, Media and Sport; Northern Ireland Office and Cabinet Office. (source: BBC News) And The Telegraph have gone for a more creative 'what might he have sent' approach in October last year, making seemingly benign queries and making a nod to perceptions of his 'meddling.'

As it stands, we can only speculate on content. What is apparent though, is that the frankly condescending assertions that convention inhibits monarchy from wading into day to day affairs, is a gross deception and anyone who believes in this self-imposed neutrality is to be frank, misguided at best.

If we are to believe in the so-called virtues of constitutional monarchy, the members of this elite cabal are to remain above day to day politics and to focus on ceremonial roles for the nation. They are however vested with the private ability to consult, encourage and warn, the degree to which is not measurable since such meetings are not open to public scrutiny.

The reality however is that Elizabeth Windsor can opine about British extradition policy in relation the ECHR conventions, and Mountbatten-Windsor can insist on homeopathy in the NHS (thus opining on Health policy), yet neither be accused of breaching their political neutrality. As members of the British Monarchy, and the living font of executive power in this country, it is dangerous to consider such behaviour as harmless.

Even in constitutional form, the monarchy remain a deeply undemocratic, unaccountable mechanism of the British state. Acceptance of monarchy is not demonstrated by a lack of popular pro-republican insurrections, or opinion polls conducted in the midst of royal weddings, Jubilees and births. Monarchy is simply unacceptable and incompatible with a liberal democracy, as it completely disregards the notion of representative democracy. Without being subjected to universal suffrage, one cannot presume a democratic mandate.

Additionally, positive perceptions of the character traits of members of monarchy - a hard-working Queen, a loyal Prince- cannot be allowed to absolve the need for constitutional clarity. By extension, that Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair enjoyed popular perception for a short period during their governance, would not ever be allowed to override the need for regular elections. It is of course, difficult to critique a position which so skilfully portrays itself as being separate from the mechanisms of state, when in actual fact it is entirely collaborative.

To monarchists, I ask where your exalted family was when the government introduced the unfair Community Charge in the 1990s? Where were they when millions marched against invading Iraq in the early 2000s? Why did they not refuse a rise in funding, against a backdrop of public service cuts? In a position to consult, encourage and warn and yet they never spoke for the nation. In fact, they stayed silent, only allowing opinion to slip when they felt it would put them on the right side of public opinion. Enter Abu Qatada and his deportation debacle; a perfect PR opportunity to posit oneself on the right side of public opinion (quite literally.) Just like many so-called career politicians, the monarchy serves itself. I take it a step further and suggest that the self-preservation tactics of monarchy, by extension encourage and legitimise the distancing of politicians from ordinary people; monarchy and parliament remain sovereign, whilst ordinary people are subjected to their will.

The situation is made worse by the lack of a single basic piece of legislation, that unambiguously delimits the roles of various state actors. Historical parliamentary acts have indeed curtailed the arbitrary power of monarchs, but such power has merely been conferred onto a self-selecting de facto executive, rather than checked and balanced amongst institutions. Add to this the insistance that dealings between the "neutral" monarch and the government remain outside of scrutiny, only add to the speculation that political remits are still unclear.

The demands are simple: curtail the power state actors with a clearly defined codified constitution; subject all fiscal and political business by state institutions to public scrutiny; instill universal suffrage as the sole legitimising mechanism for all ceremonial, executive and legislative power.


See More:

"We're sorry for telling the truth, ma'am." (Realpolitikblog)
Decision to block Prince Charles's letters upheld (BBC News)
Should the public be allowed to read Prince Charles's letters to ministers? (Poll)(Guardian)
High Court Judges refuse to remove block on publishing letters written by Prince Charles to Government ministers (The Independent)
Prince Charles's letters to ministers will stay secret, High Court rules (London Evening Standard)

039 - Opinion Short: Why Britain has a union-backed party.

Our nation has collective amnesia, or more accurately, we are very selective about the parts of social history we wish to cherish and promote, and those which we wish to forget.

Our grassroots socio-political history ranks amongst the most vibrant in all of the Western world, and yet we are systematically undoing all of the work our forebears have done, in the name of short term economic interests.

The Eight-hour work day (derived from a "Ten-Hour Bill"), Occupational Health awareness and the prohibition of Child Labour, are just three major achievements of British labour unions whose effects are felt around the advanced industrialised world.

These movements were spawned in the interests of ordinary men and women, who though composing the majority of society, were readily overlooked by political elites and owners of capital.

By disrupting the flow of money to those at the top through industrial disputes and strike action, those who ruled and managed, were forced to consider the needs of their workers and constituents and to legislate accordingly.

This is the historical overview of labour union movements.

In the contemporary world, the environments under which labour union movements thrived have long since been diminished. Coal mines have been replaced with call centres; factories with retail outlets.

Union membership remains highest amongst public sector workers, who typically work in comparatively better paid, safer environments. Perhaps their existence is testament to the work of union members of yesteryear. In the private sector, union membership is much diminished and though equally experiencing cleaner, safer and typically better paying workplaces, their workers are more exposed to the precarious state of market forces.

There are still workers who suffer the indignity of overwork or underwork. All the signs indicate that these shortcomings are on the increase in an age of austerity for all. So with the crushing of significant Union influence, following the demise of the Postwar Consensus, who still speaks up for the ordinary workers?

Source: BBC News (March 2012)
The answer is that it is hard to say. In Post No. 32, we highlighted the sources of income for the three major political parties, and how the equivalent of four fifths of the funding received from Trade Unions by the Labour Party, was provided to the Conservative Party via individual donations. This could potentially highlight a gulf in individual member wealth between the parties, demonstrating the type of economic demographic that typically supports each party. That's not to say that the non-conservative parties are devoid of wealthy individual donators - Labour's Cash for Wigs scandal in 2001 springs to mind. It would also be erroneous to suggest that only the wealthy support The Conservative Party.

The Labour Party - founded by Keir Hardie with the aim of representing the Victorian working class - owes its existence to union movements, as its first leader was heavily involved in establishing Scottish coal mining unions during the late 19th century.

This is a far cry from the Labour Party of today, which is still unsure whether to continue on a path of watered-down nationalisation, embracing of market-based service provision and interventionism (Blarism), or shift back to its safe left-wing roots (the exact opposite). (Instead, it has opted for a thinly veiled allusion to Benjamin Disraeli's One-nation conservatism, which on paper is a mix of the two.)

Blue - Conservatives | Yellow - Liberals/LD | Red - Labour

As more time elapses since the demise of the Postwar Consensus, the divergence of priorities between labour unions and The Labour Party, have become ever more apparent, resulting in a union movement which has (apparently) been exposed as enforcing its own special-interest agenda in the political sphere, and a political party which has increasingly tried to appear like the dominant party of the 20th century.

Elsewhere, UKIP appear as a one trick pony, playing on a subtle national bigotry towards anyone non-White English British, though being lead by a man with a history in an occupation so popularly reviled at present, whilst the Lib Dems do not merit any discussion, since they have turned back on/failed to deliver the majority of progressive policies they held in their manifesto prior to 2010.

“Last but very much not least, is the exemplary Falkirk. A seat where a candidate selection, to replace the disgraced Eric Joyce, is reasonably imminent…Using similar methods to Garston and Paisley, but at a much more intense level, led by the potential candidate, and very much supported by the local activist base, especially at Ineos [local employer] we have recruited well over 100 Unite members to the party in a constituency with less than 200 members.” 

So what's left? Apparently the labour unions, but it remains to be seen how much their power will be curtailed. There is talk of divorcing the automatic link to the Labour Party, with calls for a reversion to opt-in policy of Labour support. Perhaps this would go a long way to ensuring that Labour are not perceived to be pandering to a special interest group, although it is reported that they probably need such automated support as a matter of survival. Then there is the small detail that the very raison d'être of Labour is to be a special interest cabal - representatives of the 'working-class', don't forget.

Perhaps the idea of union influence being a negative state, are drawn from the idea that union executives tend to fair better than the so-called exploited workers they are purported to represent. In this condition, how can they truly be attuned to the needs of rank and file members?

That is a debate for another day, but the fact remains that labour unions remain the only voice left for workers who believe that change can only be delivered through collective action, irrespective of individual endeavour, action or wealth.

For those who prefer to seek change on an individual basis, then a party with union links is not for them. This certainly lends a hand to party support being an opt-in solution. How many non-Labour voting constituents refuse union membership because of the opt-out status quo?

It should be said that criticism of Labour for being 'in the pockets of the Unions', is nothing but hyperbole from a party which has preferential links with business and those in higher tears of socio-economic strata, whose wealth would not exist without the toil of lower-ranking employees.

The British political system will continue to be unresponsive to the needs of its people, if its political parties continue to converge in matters of policy. Government decision-making should be derived from hardened debate and subsequent compromises, not by failing to push the boundaries of the status quo. Since agitation for radical change has seemingly diminished, as a result of the disastrous demise of 20th century anti-capitalist movements/regulatory economic movements, political actors have become obsessed with preserving the current neo-liberal state of affairs, for fear of upsetting the apple cart.

Without a meaningful agitation for change, the populace have become disinterested in politics with voter turnout and party membership demonstrating the decline. Without individual support, political parties thus rely on organisations to fill the gap, with policy being prioritised towards the needs of lobbying/labour union groups, larger companies and wealthy individuals, leading to the accusation of following agendas beyond the public (or even national) interest.

In conclusion, labour union presence within a political party remains the only way for individual workers to have a voice in politics, as a counterweight to typically wealthier forces (at least in theory.) Minimal union membership rates, mean that union executives - much like their political party counterparts - are granted a wider birth for policy direction, often in spite of the needs of the rank and file. Labour unions will need to demonstrate that their actions are in tune with the needs and desire of ordinary workers, as well as showing they are capable of framing the worker rights debate within a contemporary setting, rather than relying on classical worker-employer condition imagery to garner support. Through this, they will remain relevant to the executive of the Labour Party, who will have less incentive to water down their influence further, if they can demonstrate that their agitations are relevant to ordinary people.

Falkirk is the manifestation of the current divergence of labour union and Labour Party ideologies and objectives.

For others who do not support labour unions, it would be in their interests to remember that a democracy does not thrive if all participants think along the same lines. Even if the majority of the public do not trust labour union influence on party politics, that people who support them exist is an argument against falling back to a tyranny of the majority. Ordinary worker interests to a greater or lesser extent, require a form of collective representation in a group-based advocacy system such as ours. It is for this reason that a union-backed party is a necessity in our liberal democracy.


Read More:

Summary of Factory Legislation 1802-1878(www.historyhome.co.uk)
Factory Acts (wikipedia)

Thursday, 4 April 2013

038 - For richer, for poorer..

In the week that Iain Duncan Smith and George Osborne defend the latest round of cuts to benefits and the privatisation of the NHS, Realpolitik questions the widening divide of wealth in the UK, divide and rule, and where our disaffections should really be directed.

April 2013 is an important turning point in British politics. As the vice of austerity tightens its grip, the NHS privatisation leads to one of the institution's biggest transformations of structure since its inception. Still, however, there is no sign of economic recovery, or reduction in government borrowing. Worse, such policies serve only to widen the gap between rich and poor in the UK.

Iain Duncan Smith: Photo from The Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk)

This however, has not prevented Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith from making the appallingly unrealistic claim that he could live off £53 in benefits a week, the amount market trader David Bennett claimed he was left to live on after cuts, and approximately equivalent to the lowest rate of JSA for adults under the age of 25. A claim, that saw an online petition calling for IDS to act on his claim. At the time of publication of this article, the petition - hosted by www.change.org - had gathered 410,258 signatures.

This concerning remark comes just days after IDS claimed that the government had 'given up' on cutting benefits, adding that all on benefits could expect to see increases in their respective increments in the following years of the current Parliament.
"(The) reality is that this country is not cutting welfare... ...all those on benefits will still see cash increases in every year of this Parliament." (Iain Duncan Smith, 29 March 2013)."
An increase, however, of 1%, which when inflation of 2.7% is accounted for, translates to a net loss of 1.7% per annum.

Nonetheless, placing his apparent indecision aside for one moment, his claims around the manageability of £53 per week JSA is dubious, especially when even only brief further research is conducted into Mr Duncan Smith's own personal financial circumstances. For instance, his food allowance alone accounts for £400 per week in taxpayer funding. This does not account for expenses claims such as £110 on a Bose bluetooth headset for his car, £12.42 on a USB cable, £5.30 spent on a trip within his own constituency, and a monthly phone bill in excess of £53 per month. This, not inclusive of a salary of £1,581.02 a week - in context, 97% above IDS' £53 per week threshold - hardly reflect an individual demonstrating a capability to live on a minimum income.

IDS has also claimed, in virtue of the so called 'bedroom tax' - a policy we wrote on recently - that families under-occupying houses they are not themselves paying rent for, should have benefits reduced accordingly. As a result, 660,000 social housing tenants will lose £14 per week in housing benefit. However, can Mr Duncan Smith provide accurate figures on the current number of available 1 bedroom houses under council control? In Hull for instance, 70 such properties exist, yet demand stretches to 5,500 people.

Successive governments have failed to invest in social housing, which has driven many into the hands of the private landlords, and higher rents. In context, private rents increased on average by £300 last year.  To add to the bad taste of this ill-thought out remark, Duncan Smith also presently lives rent-free in a country retreat worth £2m~, a residence which, by his own words, he is presently 'under-occupying.' This distinct lack of ability to relate to the harsh reality he is imposing on so many others is sounding ominous.

However, personal critique and analysis of hypocrisy is but one facet of this appalling manoeuvre. Mr Duncan Smith has justified the restructuring to the current benefits system under the guise that it represents a wider government effort to tackle the working culture in the UK.
"(Restructuring the culture is so) people find work always pays." (Iain Duncan Smith, 2 April 2013)
While there is little ground to argue that making the work system rewarding and a more worthwhile alternative wherever possible to a life on JSA, we can accept that this is hardly Duncan Smith's motive. The government's intense demand to get as many off benefits and into work demonstrates a shocking disregard of their personal circumstances and well being. Consider the man with a terminal brain tumour deemed fit for work, the ex-RAF serviceman Alex Smith kept alive by a heart machine, whose benefits were stopped, the suicidal bipolar patient Alice Traynor harassed by Atos, or Peter Hodgson, who committed suicide amid fears over his disability benefits.

 The sad reality however, is that the current abhorrent situation we find ourselves in, is not just the loathsome work of a self-interested coalition government, but the neglectful conjuring of successive government policies, which have contributed to an apathy towards the electorate, and Britain's gap between rich and poor being the fastest growing divide of any developed country amidst claims of the 'big society', and us all being.. well, you know the rest. The working culture, while not perfect, is hardly as corrupt as that of our political system.

Since the collapse of the UK's industrial heartland, finding the fabled 'job-for-life', or indeed stable employment of any kind, has been tough for communities that previously relied on the might of British production. In 1979, 7m people were employed by the manufacturing sector. This figure is now roughly 2.5m. When Costa Coffee advertised 8 barista posts, 1,701 people applied. Driving people out of benefits and into work, without continued reliance on the system for support, will be impossible so long as new jobs are not created. In fact, unemployment rose in the last month, and currently stands at 2.5m.

The attempted dissolution of the union movement in the late 80s-early 90s also succeeded in leaving many of the working class disenfranchised, without voice. Consider too the government cuts of £350m to LegalAid, and an altogether more worrying picture of the government's apathetic indifference towards the working classes emerges. Meanwhile, the Labour Party has also progressively abandoned its traditionally core values, for instance by refusing to reverse British Rail privatisation, and by themselves privatising elements of the NHS such as minor surgeries. Thus, with little to no means of retaliation or representation, many on the wrong side of the divide are now resigned to accept the savage austerity measures imposed upon them. 97% of those affected by changes to housing benefit have nowhere else to move to.

Osborne at a housing development in Marehay. Cheaper, more affordable social
housing could reduce what is lost to expensive private rents.
Photo Credit: Darren Staples/Reuters

Furthermore, divide and rule tactics utilised by successive parliaments serve to maintain such suppression. The perfect distraction technique, this allows for the perpetuation of rich/poor divides with minimal comeback from those negatively affected, by engaging their distaste elsewhere, and turning it inwards. This government has been resurrecting the Victorian notion of the 'deserving poor' since it came to office in 2010.

One such example of divide and rule is the magnificent PR tool that is the benefit fraud scandal. Claims that measures are necessary to reduce the deficit are laughably ignorant. The deficit inherited by the current Parliament in 2010 (35% of GDP) is no different, in real terms (accounting for inflation), to that inherited by Blair's Labour government when it came to power in 1997 (42% of GDP). Furthermore, were these claims creditable statements, then the benefits system is hardly the most fertile of ground for fiscal policy. Perhaps we should consider the £69.9bn per annum lost to the UK economy through tax evasion, rather than cutting 13,000 jobs from HM Revenue and Customs.

However, it is far easier for senior government figures to wage rhetorical war on some targets rather than others. Take for instance the loathsome 'journalism' adorning the front page of the Daily Mail yesterday (April 3rd, 2013). We are expected to believe from this disgraceful report, that Mick Philpott - found guilty of manslaughter of 6 of his 17 children - is the product of the UK benefits system, thus, tarring all those on benefits with the same sickening brush. George Osborne's subsequent hijacking of the case to validate his demands for cutting benefits, is a demonstration of vile opportunistic single-mindedness.

While Philpott's actions cannot possibly be condoned under any premise, the notion that the blame for his actions is in any way related to the benefits system or his social class supporting him is absurd, for the same reasoning that Dr Harold Shipman's actions were hardly representative of the middle class, or Stephen Seddon's murder of his parents were of inheritance. In fact, just 4% of families with at least one parent on JSA have more than two children. Only 1.5% of those on benefits have never worked.

Presenting these extreme examples however, as the tip of a kind of feral iceberg, becomes the easy option. Debate has, thankfully, been raised on this, but is dismissed by government agenda. After all, why let pesky statistics, such as the £5bn lost through benefit fraud - a crime committed by less than 1% of claimants - versus the £69.9bn tax evasion bill, stand in the way of ideological fantasy? Thus, the general public is distracted by attacking itself, rather than focusing on the real source of the damage to their livelihoods.

However, this generalisation is not limited solely to ignorant media. In 2007, Labour MP Margaret Hodge explained the rise of BNP support in her constituency by blaming the prioritisation of migrants' rights over British nationals. Her party also spent £12m in 2009 on projects for the white working class, to further the notion that issues relate more to ethnicity, than class, and the rich/poor divide. Regardless of ethnicity, the average British family is now £890 a year worse off than in 2010 as a result of government spending reductions.

The current government has also projected that the current deficit of £120bn will remain at its present level for the next 2 years. In that case, to what end are these cutbacks against the vulnerable achieving successful deficit reduction?

Mr Duncan-Smith's claims he could live off £53 per week speak of a man living in another world entirely. Reducing the amount available by 10%, then 'passing the buck' onto local councils, is a cowardly attempt at absolving the government of any blame resulting from the cutbacks. George Osborne has merely deflected criticism of his benefits scheme as "missing what people really want" and "ill informed rubbish."

While the benefit fraud that does exist is - quite rightly - tackled, and the wider benefits system is so viciously and blindly overhauled, it would be worth bearing in mind the state of social housing, the number of jobs available, and other more substantial drains on the economy to deplete our exaggerated deficit. That the UK economy is held to ransom by the 27% of income tax paid by the rich 1%, is deplorable. A better redistribution of wealth must occur to prevent the divide growing wider. Sadly, given the tax break of £100,000 per annum for high earners, a pay rise of £5m for the Queen from the taxpayer to increase her income to £36.1m per annum, and rumbled of a freeze/reduction in minimum wage, the gap will likely only continue to grow.

Britain is indeed broken, but the rot starts at the top.


Tuesday, 12 February 2013

037- Opinion short: A bedroom tax for one and all

I thought the idea behind this post would be original, but alas it is not. My fault entirely for staying out of the loop concerning the so-called 'Bedroom Tax' for so long.

In any case, I - like so many others it seems- have dared to ask the question about applying the 'Bedroom Tax' to every level of society, in the spirit of being "all in this together."

A reader's letter calling for the Royal Family to also be subjected to the "Bedroom Tax"
Dave Sainty of Chesterfield quite rightly asserts that the royal palaces are held in trust for the state by the monarchy, and so are in essence large council properties.

The Royal Family are at the top of the social pile as things stand, and as such, should be made to lead by example and be forced to downsize their accommodation, as so many other 'ordinary' people in social housing will be expected to do.

Failing that, their taxpayer-funded accommodation should be fully opened to the public à la Versailles, drawing maximum economic benefit for all; fully reflecting the blatant under occupancy of these national residences.

They certainly enjoy the second-home perks, with the added bonus of recession-proof excursions on the public purse.

For good measure, I would expect the same reductions to be dealt to our elected (and currently unelected) legislators, who also benefit from generous accommodation allowances, in spite of their significant annual salaries.

It is little surprise that such a "tax" is to be imposed. After all, what knowledge could rich executive legislators and obscenely wealthy (and secretly omnipotent) rubber-stamping royals, truly have of the economic plight of laymen?


Thursday, 18 October 2012

036- "We're sorry for telling the truth, ma'am"

On 25th September 2012, the BBC was forced into an embarrassing U-Turn over a decision to reveal that the Queen had breached royal protocol on political neutrality. It was reported that she had met with "the Home Secretary at the time," in order to express her dismay at the prolonged extradition process of Abu Hamza al-Masri.

At this point, there is neither value in becoming embroiled in the debate about deporting (foreign) "criminals," nor any worth in questioning the efficacy of a supranational judiciary to deliver a favourable judgement for the state. 

What is worth querying however, is why the Queen has (inadvertently) waded into the national debate on British extradition policy? Moreover, we ought to question why her commentary has been revealed- against a sixty year backdrop of (feigned) neutrality- and to what purpose this might serve in the light of expected future disclosures?

Royal Neutrality

Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant - Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Camilla, Prince Harry, Catherine Duchess of Cambridge
Credit: Andrew Wagg (2012) source: flickr.com

Any website dedicated to the Royal Family, is quick to emphasise the politically neutral stance of the Monarchy, and how this is fitting within the context of a constitutional monarchy arrangement for a parliamentary democracy: 
'As Head of State, The Queen must remain politically neutral, since her Government will be formed from whichever party can command a majority in the House of Commons.'
'Queen and voting' - royal.gov.uk (Sept 2011) 
It is a position which has been much vaunted throughout the reign of the current Monarch, and one which has certainly done the rounds, during a year in which it had almost become mandatory to state that "she has hardly put a foot wrong in 60 years."

This much is fairly easy to understand - if you overlook the fact that this neutrality is more of a customary than legally-binding position, or if you wish to delve into the nature of the weekly 'audience' between the Prime Minister and the Queen. It is here that we begin to find our doubts, about the great neutrality charade of the British monarchy.

No human is selfless, and it does not require much cognition to determine that fulfilling a role at the heart of a nation's political framework for six decades, is time enough for any initial feelings of selfless duty to cave in to personal ambition. Make no illusion that even the Queen has her vested interests. She is after all human, and will seek from life that which we all do; the best for herself and the best for her family. Being fortunate enough to have emerged into the world from the womb of someone, upon whom absolute social, political and economic pre-eminence is inherited and maintained by an entire state, it can be safe to assume that she would harbour no desire to relinquish such an advantage.

We know this, because whilst -up until the 25th- Elizabeth and her PR machine- had been very good at concealing any information about her interactions with the arms of the state, her eldest son - and heir to the throne- Charles, has made no secret of his desire to ignore traditional royal protocol on political issues:
Paul Richards, a former Labour special adviser between 2005 and 2009, told the tribunal, that the Prince’s letters were “put before the minister, effectively at the top of the file and treated with great reverence.
'Neutrality of Prince of Wales might be questioned if 'black spider' memos made public, former aide warns' - The Daily Telegraph (18 Sept 2012) 

Even if Charles behaviour defied convention, the final barrier would of course be our elected representatives, who have the democratic mandate to be able to reject any interference from non-elected members of the state authorities.

But of course, over half of the British parliament is already unelected(*1) and this year has demonstrated yet another collapse in political will to rectify this situation. In the light of this, why would anyone oppose the interference of a monarch-in-waiting? It is thus far fetched to even expect the monarchy to censor its own opinions, as demonstrated on 25th September.

It thus is apparent that the declaration of royal neutrality is nothing more than a gross charade, designed to dupe the British public into believing that monarchy is a harmless dressing on the often hard-to-stomach world of politics.

Opining or lobbying?

Following an outcry by the Scottish Information Commission and the ruling of a Freedom of Information (FoI) tribunal, we will soon be able to delve into the nature of royal lobbying and vetoing, to acts which have forever been reported as either being beyond the remit of the royals, or only exercised in 'extreme' circumstances.

Quite who determines what constitutes an 'extreme' circumstance remains to be seen, but we are now already aware that as head of the Duchy of Cornwall, the government has been presenting legislation to Charles before it is debated, so as to ensure that it does not affect any of his personal interests in that particular duchy.

This brings the position of the monarchy into a whole new realm, or rather, confirms the suspicions of democracy activists and British republicans. Suddenly, someone who has arbitrarily been placed at the head of the British political and social structure is being consulted on laws before the electorate. This practice begins to bring to doubt the legitimacy of the British democratic model.

It is beyond mere opining, if correspondence sent by the Prince, "is treated with great reverence" in comparison to correspondence from others. This would appear to be irrespective of the topic at hand, and thus suggests a shift towards the lobbying end of the spectrum. Charles would have been fully aware that his polite suggestions- given his position to the British "constitution" - will have carried a great deal of sway in the actions of MPs, in comparison to a lay constituent, who would have been politely ignored, if their query was not a vote winner.

Abu Hamza

So this brings us to #queengate - as so eloquently put by the Twitter realm on the 25th- with revelations by the BBC's security correspondent Frank Gardener OBE on Radio 4, about the Queen revealing that she had spoken to a former home secretary, about her concern about the inability of due process to expedite the desired expulsion of Abu Hamza, amidst his diatribe against the British nation.
Abu Hamza al-Masri - Source: BBC News (2010)

A subtle admission of having expressed an opinion, which quite naturally is a normal human act. But reconsider that revelation for a moment; the Queen, who has sworn to remain politically neutral as head of state, not only providing an opinion on a politically sensitive subject, but also going out of her way to convey this to a Home Secretary.

Some (such as Labour MP Keith Vaz), have claimed that as head of state, it is Elizabeth's right to question events in "her realm." But this revelation raises serious questions about where decision-making lies in our democracy, and to what extent our representatives are yielding power to the unelected core of the British political system.

This revelation can of course, also be considered as opportunistic. Perhaps Gardener - and conspiracists may even claim the Palace themselves- sought to reveal information about this private exchange, as yet another piece in the unrelenting royalist PR exercise in the year of the Diamond Jubilee. How convenient to posit the Queen as sharing populist opinion on a controversial matter! This of course, ties in with the trend of 'sixty years and not a foot put wrong' myth.

If this was the aim, then it is even more perplexing that the BBC made it a breaking news issue earlier in the afternoon, proclaiming that they had apologised to the Queen for having revealed the details of the conversation. They were essentially apologising for revealing the truth. 

There are two things which may have been the aim of this revelation; either the news was designed to pacify the public in the wake of future FoI tribunal revelations about dealings between the Queen, Prince Charles and Ministers, or it was designed to sway the public to condone this type interference, so that it may continue without arousing suspicion. For either, this particular opinion revelation meets both of those aims. 

The danger with this of course is, which other events has the Queen commented and lobbied on? And how do we the people, determine whether her influence is always in the public interest? It is a most conniving action, that the Palace has jumped onto the Abu Hamza bandwagon.

 Republic Campaign spokesperson Graham Smith is cited as follows:
“Usually the royals are very secretive about their involvement in politics, yet when there’s an opportunity to court public opinion the Queen makes her views known. Will she also be making her views known on Julian Assange or Gary McKinnon? Is she all the while meddling in the political process and demanding action from the courts?” 
'Queen must keep out of politics' - Graham Smith, Republic Campaign (25th September 2012)
Specifically, what more has the Queen- or even Charles- had to say on the hot topic of extradition and deportation? Perhaps her sweeping assessment of Abu Hamza, also applies to Babar Ahmad, who has been detained without trial since 2004, pending extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003.

What does she have to say on freedom of movement in the EU, the granting of visas to non-EU citizens or even the domestic demographic make up of post-empire Britain?

It all would not really matter, if she was just your average old lady with a political opinion. She would merely be exercising her right to freedom of speech. Instead, the present reality is that she is centrepiece of the current version of British democracy, is conventionally and legally bound to be politically neutral and must not divulge such comments so as not to interfere with due process.

If she wishes to have a legitimate say, she should do the right democratic thing and stand for election. 

  1. Parliament of the United Kingdom, Wikipedia (Accessed: 25 Sept 2012) 1,436 members of parliament. 650 MPs, 786 peers.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

035: The Royal Jubilee - Corruption, Sycophancy and Hypocrisy

The last four days should serve as a reminder to us all, that we still have a long way to go before Britain can be remotely termed as a 'democracy'.

Once the bunting has been packed away, souvenirs put neatly on shelves and the headaches of Jubilee excess eased and faded, we should ask some serious questions about the state of our country. The actions of some over the last four days have been nothing short of despicable, displaying to the world no joyous union of people as claimed, rather a tyrannical and sycophantic homage to 60 years of a non-democratic Britain.

At Realpolitik we have pondered corruption and the republican question before, especially given our supposed policy on unelected world leaders. The purpose of this article however is not to promote, instead to offer another perspective on our blind celebration of an unelected head of state and houses of parliament. I will gladly confess to being a republican supporter, but after all, if Elizabeth was elected by the people, she would have a mandate for her role, thus the republican question would be partly answered. Were she or her successors democratically elected I would have no qualms about her mandate to reign. I include the equally undemocratic 'House of Lords' in this as well.

Key points still remain however. For instance the UK economy returned to recession in April. Unemployment despite recently lowering still stands at 2.65 million with youth unemployment at 21.9% in March, gradually catching up on the rates of our European neighbours. Serving members of front line services on the Jubilee weekend will also receive medals for their cooperation and support. Between 400,000 and 450,000 of these medals will be produced, costing the UK taxpayer between £7m and £8m.

This amongst the £3 billion cost of the Jubilee weekend amidst £1 billion cuts to benefits then is an appalling reflection on our priorities as a society, another indication of our Tory led coalition's intent to widen the gap between rich and poor, and further drive our country to mass subservience. For instance, the cost of the four day Jubilee celebrations could have paid for 9,500 extra members of nursing staff.

Of all the various issues of the weekend however, some behaviours stand out as outright injustices to our own people, for the sake of celebrating 60 years of our sham democracy. A quick peek behind the facade reveals the extent to which we continue to malign sections of our society for the benefit of others.

One particularly shocking article from The Guardian revealed that groups of up to 30 long-term unemployed and 50 apprentices were shipped to London to work as unpaid stewards for the celebrations, forced to sleep under London Bridge to work on the river pageant, as part of the government's Work Programme. Two such individuals are quoted in this article as claiming they had no option but to dress in public, had no access to toilet facilities for 24 hours and were taken to a "swampy campsite outside London after working a 14-hour shift in the pouring rain on the banks of the Thames on Sunday."

Providing an opportunity for positive contribution is perfectly acceptable, worthy of applaud even, but to subject these people to humiliating an derogatory subservience without pay or accommodation - or even basic facilities - is a disgrace. That so many blindly lined the banks of the Thames to wave flags and watch the Royal privileged sail by on a £12m 1,000 boat flotilla spectacle while this happened all around them, makes me further consider the true meaning of David Cameron's speech after the English riots last year.
"There are pockets of our society that are not just broken but frankly sick." 
Unfortunately, 'pockets' seems to have been a rather underwhelming choice of word. The charity in charge of organising these placements, 'Tomorrow's People', have responded by saying they will conduct a review of the situation as a matter of urgency.

However, it may be too fleeting to judge those lining the Thames for their apparent complicity. What's more, is the manner with which any anti-Monarchist or protest was dealt with had more than an air of state control about it. A 'news blackout' was created to block any negative royal sentiment from gaining dominance. This, more than a passing reminder of the fabled arrest of the Sex Pistols for their indignant attempts to 'serenade' the Queen on her Silver Jubilee with a less than celebratory release in 1977.

One of our RP team was in London and observed first hand the demonstrations which had been organised to challenge our monarchist tradition. The BBC reported a group of '100 demonstrators' had gathered, however the true figure, as photos of the event demonstrate, was much larger. On Twitter, James Albury (@alburyj) tweeted:
"No megaphones, no leaflets. #jubilee flotilla was a "free speech free" zone: http://yfrog.com/o0jx9rlj #jubileeprotest @KevinJRawlinson"
"Free Speech Free Zone" preventing anti-Monarchist sentiment
Source: via @alburyj on Twitter

The Republic group also claimed that protesters had been prevented from joining the main body of the protest without any clear indication as to why this had happened, other than to preserve the sycophantic celebration of her majesty. After the kettling of students at tuition fees protests, arrests during 'Occupy' protests in London and the heavy handed evictions of peaceful occupiers of a Glasgow University building, one could be forgiven for questioning just how much 'freedom of speech' one actually has in Britain.

More than the reported 100 took to the streets to protest.
Source: Republic Facebook Group

Speaking of towing the party line, the BBC's 'impartiality' was also distinctly missing throughout the Jubilee weekend, as program after program ignorantly flirted with inherited privilege and a skewed history of our imperial overlords. Indeed the only time allocated to republican sentiments or monarchy-alternatives was a brief news clip of the aforementioned '100 protesters' lining the Thames. The coverage has since been heavily criticised for its inane and persistent crooning. The narrow-mindedness and tactlessly patronising and childlike tone with which any negative comments of their coverage were dealt with by an official spokesman - who interestingly chose to remain nameless - was a further indication of the BBC's true values, and state TV undertone.

We ourselves at Realpolitik have had issues with the BBC's commendation and pompous hauteur, having received several messages, been blocked or 'moderated' showing the BBC's disdain over our articles and comments. Indeed, expect the inbox to be rather overflowing with such warnings, should one be perceived to not to side with 'Auntie'. This is an insult given the BBC is a publicly funded organisation, thus with a responsibility to have no affiliation to one set of values or political leanings. When approached by TheOpinionSite.org, the BBC "declined to comment on how much their coverage of the royal weekend was costing the public in addition to money generated by the license fee."

The official statistics quoted by the BBC, suggesting an 80% majority in favour of retaining the monarchy, are also worthy of debate given both the regional variations and variations when political affiliations are considered. Also since any quick peek into the realms of open forums suggests apathy is the dominant response. We have attempted to question the BBC's research methodologies before with, unsurprisingly, a childlike and indignantly condescending retort.

The last four days have provided a sickening reminder that the Britain that millions turned out to celebrate still has a long way to go before it can consider itself a truly free nation. Those that lined the banks of the Thames to sycophantically wave by an economically ill-afforded appraisal of the monarchy were, by extrapolation, complicit in a small piece of their own oppression. The protesters that didn't make it to the banks, will attest to that.

- Realpolitik -