Posts Tagged ‘proportional representation’

Occupy Gandhi – Stop Fossil Fuel Criminals

Wednesday, May 4th, 2022

Occupy Ghandi - Stop Fossil Fuel Criminals

Occupy Gandhi – Stop Fossil Fuel Criminals – on Monday 4th May 2015 Occupy Democracy were on the fourth day of their ‘Festival of Democracy’ in Parliament Square “building a movement for real democracy: free from corporate control, working for people and planet!”

Occupy Ghandi - Stop Fossil Fuel Criminals

Occupy had come to Parliament Square in defiance of the law criminalising the use of tarpaulins, tents and other protection in the square, and were making six key demands:

• reform of party funding so that members of parliament act in the interests of those who elect them rather than the 1% who bankroll them
• major democratic reform of the media to break the stranglehold of vested interests
• a fundamental overhaul of lobbying and the way powerful economic interests inhabit the corridors of power within government
• the introduction of proportional representation so that everyone’s vote counts
• that MPs should not have conflicts of interests from either paid employment or corporate shareholdings
• a citizen-led constitutional convention for real democracy.

Occupy Festival of Democracy
Occupy Ghandi - Stop Fossil Fuel Criminals

On Monday 4th they began a rally and meditation at the foot of the statue of Gandhi, noted for his direct action civil disobedience, calling for fossil fuel exploration and investment to be made a crime. Donnachadh McCarthy laid out a large blue banner with the message ‘Criminalise Fossil Fuel Exploration‘ and a mock tombstone with the inscription ‘RIP – 300,000 Dying from Climate Crisis Every Year Said Kofi Annan UN Gen Soc‘.

Occupy Ghandi - Stop Fossil Fuel Criminals

People then brought tarpaulins to sit on around these on the paved area in front of Ghandi’s statue and began a series of short speeches, meditation and songs about climate change and fossil fuel use.

They took a small blue tarp to the statue of Gandhi and wrapped it carefully around him. After a short pause two of the GLC’s private security heritage wardens who had been watching the event with a few police officers came up and removed the blue tarpaulin. A replacement was brought up and carefully held by two of the protesters without touching the statue (much) and the meditation continued.

There was another minor intervention by the heritage wardens who objected to burning incense sticks being placed in the flower beds. The protesters removed them and instead held them.

Donnachadh McCarthy then produced a blue folding tent and erected it, announcing that he was going to defy the ban on tents and inviting others who wished to join him.

People climbed in and after posing for a photograph with the tent the protest continues, with Donnachadh joining them inside as police approached. The police warned those inside the tent they were committing an offence and warned them they could be arrested – and then walked away.

Some minutes later, at exactly 2pm a larger group of police returned and surrounded the tent.

They gave those inside a final chance to leave without being arrested. Three people remained inside the tent, holding each other tight.

Finally they were arrested, handcuffed and taken away to waiting police vans. The whole police operation seemed a massive waste of public money enforcing a ridiculous law. The real criminals are not a few protesters with tents and tarpaulins in public squares, but those who sit in boardrooms and continue promote and produce fossil fuels which are driving us towards extinction, plotting actions to derail attempts to make the changes the planet needs in order to increase their profits.

More pictures at Occupy Gandhi – stop fossil fuel criminals.


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We Need A New Party

Friday, April 29th, 2022

We Need A New Party: If you spend any time thinking about politics in the UK you are likely now to be feeling pretty depressed. We don’t really just need a new party, we need a new system and particularly a new system of voting. First past the post is long past its use-by date.

We Need A New Party
Class War arrive at Buckingham Palace for their 2015 manifesto launch

First past the post (FPTP) was designed to give stable government and also to provide a firm bond between the voters in their constituencies and parliament via their MP. But that is a bond which has in many areas been broken by the actions of the two main parties, particularly in the imposition of party candidates against local opinion. But FPTP has also led to the development of a political class whose experience, aims and interests are often very different to those of the people they supposedly represent.

We Need A New Party - Adam Clifford
Westminster candidate Adam Clifford speaks in front of Buckingham Palace gates

Our geographical constituencies also lead to inequalities in the representation of voters, some simply a matter of the ways that populations have grown up around centres of employment, but also the party influences on the drawing of boundaries.

We’ve also seen, particularly since the 1970s, a central government that has increasingly hobbled the activities of local government, with some disastrous effects, particularly over the provision of social housing. The abolition of the GLC was perhaps the most public expression of Westminster’s disdain. Devolution in recent years has done something to reverse this, though not in the English regions, and the introduction of directly elected mayors has largely been ineffectual (and sometimes poisonous.)

We Need A New Party - Ian Bone
Ian Bone of Class War

Attempts to form new parties to challenge the rule of Conservative and Labour have been largely unsuccessful, as although the Green Party may have achieved 2.7% of the vote in the 2019 it only ended up with one MP, rather than the 17 an equal election system would have given. There have been many proposals for a better voting system and some which better retain the link between the the elected representative and a local area. But perhaps we need to go further, taking steps that remove the idea of a political class. We should get the continuity of government that we need from a professional and non-political civil service, not from representatives who feel they have a right to continue in office year after year until they become senile.

Labour did offer the electorate a choice in both 2017 and 2019 – and came close to winning in 2017, defeated largely by the actions of party officials and right-wing Labour MPs. Since then the party has lost much of its membership income and has moved towards being a party financed by wealthy individuals, losing much of its connections with the grass roots. It seems to be aiming at becoming a Tory clone in order to win back voters who deserted it over Brexit in 2019.

Perhaps a new party will emerge from those Labour grass roots and others on the left for our next election, and there are some areas where it could become popular, particularly if Labour put up candidates in opposition to currently serving left Labour MPs as seems likely. But it seems unlikely to gain the kind of support that would allow it to challenge the system.

Possibly if Labour continue on their current dysfunctional path they will create a new ‘Livingstone moment’ by de-selecting their former leader. It might just shake him out of his life-long dedication to the party enough to stand under a new label, and given his popularity and record as a constituency MP he would almost certainly win. It could be the spark which ignites a new politics nationwide.

A new party won’t of course be Class War, who became a political party for the 2015 general election, standing in seven constituencies. As I wrote, “None expected to get many votes, but it was an opportunity to generate some interest in working class attitudes and issues. And Class War and its candidates and policies certainly attracted far more media attention than the various small left wing groups who stood candidates.”

Class War had a manifesto, with six simple points:

  • Double Dole,
  • Double Pension,
  • Double Other Benefits,
  • 50% Mansion Tax,
  • Abolish the Monarchy,
  • Abolish all Public Schools.

UK benefits are mean, and state pensions probably the lowest in Europe, so calling for massive rises makes a lot of sense. And if you want to tackle the class system in the UK then abolishing the monarchy and public schools is certainly a good start. The mansion tax may seem a little excessive, but what we really need is a land tax, though perhaps at a rather lower level. But somehow that didn’t come to mind when the manifesto was being written on the short walk from the pub to a Poor Doors protest.

Class War – and others including the Monster Raving Loony Party, Count Binface and Lord Buckethead – at least make our general elections more interesting, adding a little fun. And I sometimes think they would have made a better job – as Lord Buckethead claimed – at negotiating Brexit than Theresa May and particularly than Boris Johnson.

The manifesto launch took place at Buckingham Palace, where Westminster candidate Adam Clifford was refused entry to canvas the 31 voters registered there, and was filmed by a team from BBC News although I don’t know if any of it was ever broadcast. The event ended when police began to take rather too much interest in what was taking place.

More pictures at Buck Palace Class War Manifesto Launch.


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Barnet Spring – Save Local Democracy

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2022

Barnet Spring – Save Local Democracy. The pictures in this post are from a march in from Finchley to Friern Barnet Community Library on 23rd March 2013.

Barnet Spring - Save Local Democracy

Politics in the UK has always been a messy business, both at national and local levels and has become more so in recent years, particularly as the Conservative Party has been keen to promote anti-democratic practices honed in the USA as well as accepting large donations from wealthy sources of doubtful legality as recent controversies over Russian oligarchs have brought into public debate.

Barnet Spring - Save Local Democracy

The current problems have been exacerbated in particular by the Brexit debate, largely carried out through totally misleading promises and false information, which led to leaving Europe and an unhealthily large parliamentary majority in the 2019 election, with draconian laws now being enacted. As well of course as some rather large financial gains by some of those leading the lying.

Barnet Spring - Save Local Democracy

Corruption has always been at the heart of our political system, both at local and national level, and involving some members of all political parties. While we may have got rid of some of the more obviously dubious practices, those which are less obvious appear to have become industrial in scale, now no longer solely the province of individuals and families (particularly those royal and noble) but of companies, including the mega-nationals.

Clearly our electoral system – both at local and national level – has outlived its usefulness and this is reflected in low turnouts at polls as well as a general disillusion in the political system. We need to move to voting systems that more accurately reflect the people and away from one that effectively disenfranchises so many of us. Perhaps to a very different model of government which removes the idea of any permanent political class.

Reform in the UK has almost always been slow and piecemeal, when what we need are radical changes. After many years of debate we have just recently made minor changes to the system of leasehold, when what is needed is its complete abolition, with all leaseholders being granted freehold. Even probably the most radical change of the last century, the formation of the NHS was hamstrung at birth by concessions made – and has since been considerably nibbled and increasingly hollowed by creeping privatisation.

The march took place on a bitter day, where light snow turned into a small blizzard

The reorganisation of local authorities in 1965 was a muddled and half-hearted one, reflecting an unwillingness in national government to cede power to the regions while moving local government further from local people. The advances it could have brought were largely removed by Thatcher’s contempt for local authorities and in particular in London her abolition of the Greater London Council. It’s hard to walk or ride a bus across Westminster Bridge and not to feel rage at seeing the range of offices she sold off on the south bank.

Recently we have seen a backlash against the leader and cabinet model of local councils which gives control to the leader and a select group of councillors and in 2000 became (along with Mayor and cabinet for those authorities with a directly elected Mayor) the required method. In 2012 authorities were allowed instead to revert to the more democratically accountable Committee-based system which had previously been the practice.

As I wrote back in 2013, “Barnet Council in North London is widely seen as a blueprint for Tory plans to end local democracy and privatise nearly all public services, leaving the local authority merely as a commissioning body.” Barnet’s CEO Nick Walkley introduced the ‘One Barnet’ plans, known as “easyCouncil” in 2009 and negotiated contracts with companies such as BT and Capita worth around £1 billion.

As I commented:

This is a development that ends real local involvement in running local affairs, locking councils into lengthy contracts which seldom meet local needs, but which councils are powerless to change and which often involve huge legal costs for the councils when disputes arise. One contractor has already successfully sued Barnet for over £10m when their contract failed to deliver the anticipated profits, and another, running services for adults with disabilities is failing financially and is drastically reducing the level of service it will provide.

On Saturday March 23rd 2013 I joined with several hundred to march through freezing snow in Finchley against the privatisation of local democracy in Barnet and against cuts in public services . The march began in Finchley, with a number of speeches from an open-top bus, with speakers including Green Party GLA member Jenny Jones (now Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb), And Labour MPs John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn. The march ended at the Friern Barnet People’s Library, closed by Barnet Council in April 2012, but rescued determined by determined community action aided by squatters and reopened officially as a community library in February 2013.

More on My London Diary: Barnet Spring – Save Local Democracy


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Not My Prime Minister

Saturday, December 21st, 2019

I’ve long believed it was time to reform our voting system, and recent events have reinforced that conviction.

The total UK population is thought to be around 67.7 million, of which around 53 million are old enough to vote, but only around 47.6 million are registered to vote. The other 5.4 million either are not eligible for some reason or can’t or haven’t bothered to register. Only 32million actually voted – 67.3% or roughly 2/3 of those registered. The number who voted in what the media calls a landslide for the Conservatives was just under 14million. Just over a quarter of the adult population.

It was of course more votes than the Labour party, though the actual number of MPs hugely overestimates the difference because of the way in which voters are distributed around the seats. Labour’s seats roughly represent their 32% share of the votes, while the Tories got around 28% more seats than their vote would suggest.

While the Conservatives benefit hugely from our voting system, and Labour don’t fare to badly, the smaller parties in England lose out hugely. The Lib Dems got 11.5% of the votes and only 1.7% of the seats and the Green Party with a 2.7% vote share only have 1 MP rather than the 17 or 18 that a fair share would give. Added to this is the fact that many people who might well vote for the Greens or Lib-Dems in a fair system know that a vote for them is wasted and instead vote for one of the major parties.

On 24th July the protest was not about the results of a general election, but of a Prime Minister who had been selected as the result of votes by Conservative MPs and then members of the Conservative Party alone, less than a hundred thousand people in all. It was difficult to argue against the conviction of the protesters that he had no mandate from the people.

Among those who spoke was the then Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, and while I agreed with most of what he said, it was hard not to think that the reason we have such an unfair electoral system is that both major parties rather like its unfairness. It is rather harder for Labour to get MPs because of it, but it does mean that they have a better chance of an overall majority in those elections where they do well.

Of course the electoral system is only one factor that makes politics in this country unfair. We also have a system that allows the wealthy still to make huge political donations (and Labour benefits from the support of some trade unions, though on a smaller scale.) More important still is the way that we have a so-called ‘free press’ which is largely owned by a small group of billionaires who are allowed to get away with lies and misinformation about political parties, their policies and personalities.

It was Neil Kinnock, the Labour Party leader in 1992 who blamed The Sun as a major factor in his losing the 1992 election – it ended a long and relentless campaign of what he named as “misinformation and disinformation” with the famous election day headline, “If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights.” And at the following election when The Sun had changed sides to back Tony Blair, the paper again made its claim “It’s The Sun Wot Won It“.

And while it isn’t hard to think of fairer alternatives to the current electoral system – including some that retain a constituency connection for most MPs with a list approach to redresses most of the electoral imbalances, it is rather harder to think of some way to redress the irresponsibly used power of the press. It would be nice perhaps to have some kind of publicly funded media organisation (perhaps through a licence fee) which devoted itself to fair and unbiased editing and reporting! Unfortunately Lord Reith is long dead.

The rally in Russell Square was extremely crowded and I got very tired, and went home rather than face the march to Downing St, where the protest got rather more interesting (and certainly even more photogenic.)

I’d been to Downing St earlier and things had been very quiet, and protesters I’d expected to see there had already left. If I’d been thinking clearly I would have realised that they would return later and taken the tube back to Whitehall rather than missing out on the action there.

More at Boris J is not our Prime Minister