Monday, 25 May 2009

Letter published in The Times on need to reform Parliament

Sir, The calls for greater public involvement in the reform of Parliament should not end with proposals for citizens’ juries deciding on MPs’ expenses.

We often hear of the public disengagement with and suspicion of our political system. One way to counter this would be to install in Parliament a proportion of citizen MPs, randomly selected as with our jury system, who would serve for a year. They could perhaps comprise a third of all MPs and peers, thus placing a block on the power of parties to whip legislation through our supine legislature and forcing both Parliament and its masters to get better acquainted with one another.

Such a system might help to restore the sense, first developed in the Greek city-states, that citizenship bestows responsibilities over and above merely voting or paying taxes. It might also educate the public that legislating is not as easy as many believe.

Those who would dismiss this as impractical forget that democracy is what we make it, and as recent events have clearly shown, traditions themselves do not guarantee good governance.

John Slinger


Saturday, 2 May 2009

Politics of terror for the rich - letter published in The Independent

25 April 2009


Those who declare that the Chancellor's increase in the top rate of tax represents "class war" and the "politics of envy" reveal a more disturbing truth about the present economic crisis: the terror felt by the rich and powerful that the Government might take measures to limit, even by a fraction, their personal wealth. This is amid the backdrop of widespread suffering among ordinary workers and business people largely caused by the irresponsibility and greed of the super-rich casino bankers and their cronies in the media, among regulators and, sadly, in government.

I wonder what these people would be saying had the economy suffered the worst catastrophe since the Second World War as a result of action by the trade unions, terrorists, or organised criminals. I imagine they would be calling for at the very least punitive and wholesale legislative and criminal sanctions against the perpetrators of such economic destruction, and possibly the declaration of a state of emergency.

Marginal increases to the higher rate of taxation seem a very gentle and fair response in comparison to the devastation rained down on the unionised coal and steel industries by the Conservatives in the 1980s, when trade unions were viewed to have endangered the economy.

The bubble of invincibility that has surrounded the rich and powerful for so long has finally been pricked, and as the polls show, a public battered by economic misery not of its own making isn't feeling overly sympathetic to their shrill cries of outrage.

John Slinger

Rugby, Warwickshire

Friday, 1 May 2009

Why carry a moral compass if you won't look at it?

I am a public affairs consultant (PR adviser, lobbyist, communications person in other words). If I'd advised my client to behave in the way the Prime Minister has done over the Gurkhas debacle, I am sure I would have been fired by now. Just who is advising the PM? It's getting so bad that I almost feel like calling for the return of Damian McBride. The level of ineptitude, lack of foresight and lack of basic human empathy on display has been beyond belief. We are seeing the antithesis of Blair and it is not a pretty sight. Blair's Achilles heel was Iraq. He dug his boots in over a cause which was highly contentious and which grew in unpopularity. But he dug his boots in because he believed it was the right thing to do (and I commend him for that).

Gordon Brown has just shown what happens when you dig your boots into the ground in opposition to a cause which any sentient animal, let alone human being, could have told you would unite the entire population of Britain, if not the free world, against you. He dug his boots in, if not stuck his head in the sand, not for moral reasons, not for principles and rather obviously not for reasons of political expediency. No, the excuse he gave was that the Government couldn't afford the billion or so it might cost to offer the right of abode to men (and their families) who had risked their lives for Britain.

But don't let's forget the old maxim "money talks", for it is particularly relevant this day, even if in a slighty different formation: "lack of money talks". At a time when the Government has shown the population just how quickly it can magic up hundreds of billions to bail out banks which themselves have wrought ruin on our economy, the Prime Minister says we can't afford one billion for heroes. Hundreds of billions for greedy, profligate, economy-wrecking, tax-avoiding, Conservative-voting bankers, and yet we can't afford a few quid for some heroes. Repeat the mantra again and again and the sheer absurdity and injustice of it should make you scream with outrage. So he risked, and then lost, large swathes of his authority in Parliament, and large chunk of the remaining vestiges of personal popularity, all because the bean-counters at the Treasury didn't think they could afford to do the right thing by these brave soldiers. The Government has a track record in these matters. Cast your mind back to the disgraceful way they treated the Iraqi interpreters who had risked their lives assisting our troops and diplomats only to find that they would not be allowed to settle in the UK. They were brave, they assisted their country and ours, they then suffered death threats and many were attacked or murdered. Yet the bean-counters, led by their political masters, would not countenance letting them in.

The Gurkhas case is sad and tragic, for it is so totally unnecessary. It is a self-inflicted wound. And while a weakened Prime Minister will no doubt now be smarting, the lasting damage has been done to the Labour Party, and far more importantly to the reputation of this country as a place of honour. Someone once said that you can judge a nation by the way it treats its most vulnerable. At a time like now, we should add that we can judge a Government by the way in which it treats those who risk their lives to protect our freedom. Moral compasses only work when you follow them.