Friday, 24 May 2013

My Rugby Obvserver letter: Warwickshire Fire & Rescue school pamphlet doesn't provide female role-models & stereotypes women

Dear Sir,

Stereotypical

I was delighted to see that Warwickshire Firefighters had visited my daughter's school and that she had filled out the activity book they provided. However my delight turned to concern as it dawned on me that none of photos in the book depicted female firefighters. It is important that my young daughter and her classmates are shown, at every opportunity, that women can thrive in all manner of jobs, including serving as firefighters. My concern was deepened when I noticed that the colouring-in scene on the back of the workbook delpicted an apron-wearing housewife in her kitchen. It is important that Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service and Warwickshire County Council, which published the workbook, take more effort in future to challenge, not reinforce gender stereotypes.

Yours faithfully,

John Slinger


Tuesday, 7 May 2013

House of Lords reform: Rule by the people, for the people (using Citizen Senators) - my article in new 'One Nation, One World' pamphlet

The following is my article in the recently published pamphlet, 'One Nation, One World', published by 'revolutionise_it'.

House of Lords reform: Rule by the people, for the people























It also appeared on the Speaker's Chair website (see below).


House of Lords reform: Rule by the people, for the people

Parliament night
Debate Rating: MEDIUM
Reforming the House of Lords
The public regard politicians with a curious mix of indifference and contempt exacerbated by recent scandals. Reform of the House of Lords is an opportunity to find an antidote to this toxic brew. Failure to reform this key institution will leave the field open to those in the media and elsewhere who seek with malice to undermine trust in politicians and the political process. The previous front-running reform plan – a fully-elected House of Lords – is not the panacea claimed by many. It may satisfy the urge for reform, but will lead to contradictions, cronyism and constitutional crisis.
Rather than shroud ever more 'place people' in ermine, we require a new system that places more 'ordinary people' in Parliament. Radical reform is required, through which half of the Upper Chamber would comprise Citizen Senators, selected by lot, as with jury selection. The remaining 50 per cent would be Expert Senators. Such a system would overcome the weaknesses of the current Lords while engendering a new era of direct public engagement with the nation's democratic life.
Given that our legislature is primarily concerned with making law, a legal analogy is appropriate. Imagine the House of Lords to be a criminal standing before a court concerned not with punishing but reforming and redeeming. The jury has been made aware of the lengthy charge sheet, all of which derives from the over-riding crime - that the Lords are not democratically elected. From this original sin flow related misdemeanors: that it has no genuine legitimacy or mandate; is unrepresentative of and remote from broader society (particularly women, lower socio-economic groups, non-established religions and minorities); is largely a bastion of political patronage; has many members drawn from the class of former elected politicians, party cronies and donors; and is so old-fashioned and anachronistic as to alienate and baffle vast numbers of voters who might otherwise be more engaged with the democratic process. In the light of such crimes, there can be only one verdict: guilty.
This being a court concerned with restorative justice, the judge must now consider a sentence. While deliberating, they consider some mitigating circumstances, including the fact that the defendant didn't willfully conspire to commit these offences. Despite the periodic attempts of concerned relatives (the Commons) to help, most witnesses told the court that the Lords had always acted like this, and no matter what they said, wouldn't change. Character witnesses attested that the Lords carried out the role of scrutinising and improving often faulty Commons legislation impeccably, due largely to the many expert members who were the best in their fields. Under cross-examination, even prosecution witnesses conceded that a lack of a democratic mandate had the welcome side-effect of ensuring that the elected Commons enjoyed a clearly delineated constitutional supremacy over the Upper Chamber.
But these can only mitigate rather than overcome the negatives when sentencing. Given the charge sheet and the immediate threat which the unreformed Lords poses to democratic life, immediate release or a suspended sentence is out of the question. What alternative sentences are open to the court? The chief contender, proposed by most reformers at the time, including the Liberal Democrats and Labour, was a fully-elected House of Lords. But this would create a chamber with its own mandate and legitimacy, leading inexorably to a reformed Lords challenging the dominance of the Commons. The supposed improvement of electing the Lords by proportional representation using a party list system would actually entrench rather than eliminate the worst aspects of political patronage and cronyism.
'Electing the Lords by proportional representation using a party list system would actually entrench the worst aspects of political cronyism'
Rule of the people, by the people
These problems stem from a misguided over-reliance on the belief that a system which selects politicians through free elections is, necessarily, the best. This received wisdom obscures different conceptions of democracy, one of which is relevant in this case. With its genesis in ancient Greece, democracy literally means ‘the power of the people’. The rallying cry coined by Abraham Lincoln - “rule of the people, by the people, for the people” – elevates the broad idea to a challenging belief and call to action. But public outrage about MPs’ and peers’ expenses has come to fuel the belief that politicians are more interested in ruling for themselves, than “for the people.” Political parties understandably seek to prove this to be false. It is Lincoln’s second phrase, “rule by the people”, which offers us the best chance of diverting public outrage into improving our political system. To put it bluntly, we should inject ‘the people’ directly into Parliament, in the form of Citizen Senators, selected at random as with jury selection.
'The rallying cry coined by Abraham Lincoln - “rule of the people, by the people, for the people” – elevates the broad idea to a challenging belief and call to action'
There has been some limited interest in the role of citizens’ juries in our democratic life, with Patricia Hewitt , Guy Lodge of the IPPR, and Matthew Taylor of the RSA, having explored their use in improving policy-formulation and public engagement. Anthony Barnett and Peter Carty wrote the book ‘The Athenian Option: Radical Reform For The House Of Lords’. Even David Cameron’s erstwhile politics tutor at Oxford, Vernon Bogdanor, haschampioned the election of councillors by lot (although he defends the House of Lords as currently configured).
Citizen Senators have excellent antecedents, as explained by Daniel Lightman, when corresponding with the author in the letters page of The Times in 2009: “In Ancient Athens, the day-to-day business of government was entrusted to the Council of Five Hundred, which was chosen annually out of the whole citizen body by lot. The only qualifications were that one had to be aged over 30 and of good standing. The Athenians were not alone in recognising the value of using the lot to select a representative group of citizens. The Talmud records that Moses used lots to choose the 70 elders of the Children of Israel and the 22,000 designated first-born. “The ancients knew,” observed the renowned classical scholar Jowett, “that election by lot was the most democratic of all modes of appointment.”
Citizen Senators
How would our system of Citizen Senators operate? The renamed Senate would be composed half of Citizen Senators, and half of Expert Senators, drawn from across the broad panoply of British life (more about this later). Citizen Senators would be selected at random as are prospective jurors at present. They would serve for one year and be paid compensation for lost earnings. Initially, they would have the right to decline, in order to avoid having to attempt to force people to serve who are wholly opposed to this. However, over time, as the reforms bedded in and citizens saw ‘ordinary’ people excelling in service, the system would become compulsory, with a mechanism for people to be excused on certain grounds (as with juries). All Citizen Senators would receive specialised training in Parliamentary procedure and politics, perhaps given by the Institute for Government or similar.
This system would share the great strength of the jury ‘selection’ process of being truly representative of ordinary people. It would also apply those other fundamental responsibilities placed on jurors: to act in the public interest and deliberate only on the evidence before them.This sense of ‘civic duty’ could be extended to a requirement for Citizen Senators to vote on grounds of conscience alone. Clearly many would have strong party-political opinions, which would influence their judgment, but they would be required to renounce party membership for their term of service, and would be sworn to act as described above. Operating beyond the clutches of the party managers, their presence in Parliament would require the Government to convince Citizen Senators through argument rather than force majeure.
A House of Lords composed entirely of Citizen Senators would not provide the highly-desirable capabilities of expert peers currently sitting in the Lords. Therefore, a committee should be established containing MPs from each House of Commons party, as well as Citizen Senators, to consider competitive applications from the various professional bodies and stakeholder groups, and agree on a list of recommended Expert Senators. This committee would also monitor their performance. Final decisions on the appointment of Expert Senators would be made by a vote of Citizen Senators.
Such a radical change to our legislature is not without risk and clearly poses significant practical and procedural difficulties, but these could be overcome by a country committed to genuine democratic renewal. The advantages far outweigh the disadvantages and, as shown, this system would rectify the central weaknesses of the present structures and bring huge benefits, literally transforming political life.  The new system would, over time ensure equal representation on geographic, ethic, religious, gender and sexuality criteria. It would enhance the sense of active citizenship, so memorably captured by President Kennedy with the words: “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country”. It would force traditionally-elected MPs and the Government to seek the approval of a bloc of ‘real’ people. 
'The new system would ensure equal representation on geographic, ethic, religious, gender and sexuality criteria'
The system proposed would revolutionise the way we practise politics. It would place the Mother of Parliaments at the vanguard of modern democracies, admired not for its longevity and pomp, but its willingness to ensure that ‘the people’ are placed at the heart of the democratic system, rather than seen as an adjunct to an increasingly sophisticated game of focus group poker. Justice is well served through citizens being appointed at random to sit on juries. Why not have faith that democracy itself could be served just as effectively by incorporating the great principles and strengths of the jury system into parliamentary structures. It is time for Parliament to make space for rule by the people by welcoming Citizen Senators into its midst.
 About this post...
This article is part of a series of policy positions being published on Speaker's Chair from 'One Nation, One World', the first pamphlet from revolutionise.it, which is being hosted exclusively on Speaker's Chair over the next two weeks. Please join in the debate below, or submit your own views on this important topic by writing your own article in response by clicking here.
 Posted 02/05/13 by John SlingerWrite a reply

More on what I term "Citizen Senators":
  • Letter in The Independent, July 2014
  • A longer article in which I expand on these themes appeared in the revolutionise_it pamphlet "One Nation, One World" in May 2013
  • Letter in Financial Times in April 2012
  • Letter in The Times in May 2009.


Thursday, 2 May 2013

My Times letter - Our moral duty towards Afghan interpreters

Our moral duty towards Afghan interpreters

Sir,

Not only is it an important matter of principle to honour such sacrifice, but it is also common sense for the UK to welcome highly intelligent, brave and loyal foreigners such as these to our shores. It is deeply embarrassing for Britons, but more importantly, hugely dangerous for the interpreters, that our Government appears to take a different view.
John Slinger

Rugby, Warks

Webpage here (£).


My LabourList article: Labour is beginning to pass the "Pub Test" once again

Published online here.

Labour is beginning to pass the “Pub Test” once again

MAY 2, 2013 12:39 PM

Author: John Slinger

In Tony Blair’s apocryphal tale, he recounts how it dawned on him that the 1992 election was lost only whilst canvassing a former Labour voter who was polishing his Ford Sierra and asking what Labour would do for people like him. This story became the mythical 'Mondeo man' popularised by Blair at the 1996 Labour Party Conference. It’s clear that the party is starting to do what’s necessary to prevent Ed Miliband having a ‘Mondeo man moment’. Our messages, manner and modus operandi are starting to pass the pub/gym/cafe/cab/staffroom/sports field canteen/supermarket/church/mosque/temple/synagogue test (Pub Test for short). In a nutshell, the Test asks us to frame everything we do and say in a way which convinces people in the above settings that Labour is worthy of their support.

The Pub Test can only be passed by addressing both message and manner. Our manner must be outward, not inward-looking; welcoming of good, new ideas irrespective of their source; and we must value listening as much as speaking. We must focus relentlessly on the concerns of the majority of ordinary voters, not of sectional interests. We must remember that ultimately, how the public perceives us is far more important than our own self-image. In the past, we’ve held ‘Big Conversations’, we’ve ‘reached out’, yet all too often voters experience an echo chamber of incomprehensible, irrelevant and intimidating rhetoric, conducted in a language of ‘isms’, far removed from their everyday concerns. Thanks to the fantastic efforts of the Policy Review led by Jon Cruddas, the National Policy Forum led by Angela Eagle, the Your Britain web portal, individual Shadow Ministers, Parliamentarians and perhaps most importantly, ordinary members, this is changing.

In terms of substance, the Pub Test doesn’t mean pandering to the Daily Mail’s agenda, or tacking to the right, or left, but it does mean speaking about issues of greatest concern to voters in a way they understand. Voters are more receptive to us than they have been for ten years, so now is the time to achieve ‘cut through’ and ensure that our credibility rises on these key issues. The signs are very encouraging. Ed Miliband has already achieved more than many leaders of the Opposition, by shifting the terms of the debate and setting the agenda in many important areas. Under his leadership, the party is starting to put meat on the bone and the signs are that those at the top understand the demands of the Pub Test.

On the economy – perhaps the number one issue talked about by ordinary voters, we are meeting the Test. This week, Ed announced six economic Bills on the economy, each containing the substance and delivered in the style necessary to spark voters’ interest. Simple titles with huge impact were used: a ‘Jobs Bill’ to establish the Compulsory Jobs Guarantee; a ‘Consumers Bill’ to tackle rip-off energy bills and train fares. A ‘Banking Bill for once not focused on discredited elements of the City, but on creating regional banks of genuine relevance to the current and future SMEs which will employ most of our population. This is the fuel our activists need to win the next General Election.

Labour is also showing the confidence to speak about sensitive policy areas that some elements of the Party regard as off-limits, yet ordinary voters regard as central to their political views. Whilst significant parts of the Government’s welfare reform strategy is flawed and is harming the vulnerable, and of course we would do things better and ensure greater fairness, but we mustn’t allow ourselves to appear to be the pressure group at Westminster for benefit recipients. Equally, when we conduct a partial mea culpa over the mistakes we made in Government on immigration, we must not allow ourselves to be painted as the party which opposes the Government’s overall goal of substantially reducing net migration (which is a policy outcome supported by the vast majority of the population). In both these cases, the Party is moving in the right direction, with Ed’s recent speeches on immigration and Liam Byrne’s skilful navigation of the welfare reform storms.

Another reason for optimism is the superb overarching theme of One Nation, a message befitting our times and entirely consistent with the Pub Test, showing as it does that Labour speaks for the national interest, not for special interest groups. Yet like all straplines, this one will only be truly effective if the messages and policies sitting beneath, support and bolster, rather than undermine this powerful central theme. Thankfully, we are already starting to see some excellent policies come out of the One Nation agenda – on requiring public sector workers to speak English, on new technical education in our schools to meet our skills gaps, on limiting bank bonuses, to name but a few. There will no doubt be more in coming months.

How will we know that a nebulous test such as this has been passed? It is hard to measure, there are no clear criteria, and the proof will only come in May 2015. Yet most Labour activists will have experienced their own equivalents of Blair’s ‘white van man moment’ in past years. We can feel instinctively when our party’s messages are inspiring a broad enough range of voters to win. Passing the Test should result in more and more people asking for membership forms because they see the Party as relevant to their lives again. When there’s a new policy announcement, the whole Party needs to give more weight to the views of ‘average voters’ rather than those of the leading lights of the left-wing commentariat.

Each Party member has a responsibility to make sure that the Test applies to content and delivery; to our policies and the way we practise politics. This will help us win the support of the coalition of people whose votes are essential for outright victory in 2015. It is in throwaway conversations in pubs/clubs/staff rooms, cabs etc that the next General will be won, not on Question Time, Twitter, or indeed on the blog in which you are reading this article. The Pub Test is not a dirty phrase, it can help us plot our route to victory.

John Slinger is a Labour Party member and is a candidate in the County Council elections. He is Chair of Pragmatic Radicalism.