Posts Tagged ‘house of commons’

PointofViewIf the UK media can be believed the British public is clamouring for a greater use of referenda. People, they say, crave a direct say in determining the outcome of a debate or to dictate the direction of government action. Two issues dominate this thinking. The first is the UK’s continuing membership of the European Union and the second is the forthcoming vote on Scottish independence.

You may wonder why the media is behaving like this when they know as well as I do that we have a settled mature system of parliamentary democracy where decisions are taken by Parliament and the Government on our behalf. Every citizen is able to vote for their Member of Parliament and if they don’t like the way they have voted they can vote for someone else next time. However the reality is that a growing number of voters feel alienated or perhaps feel distant from the business of government and, God help us, politics!! In such circumstances a single issue referendum can appear attractive.

ReferendumDice1However, without being too condescending about it, most public issues are quite complex and few members of the public have the knowledge, expertise and in particular the time to get to grips with the pros and cons of arguments. That’s why, in theory, we have MPs appointed as government ministers who specialise in the affairs of a particular government department and who enjoy the support of experts and administrators of all kinds. Most importantly, ministers are accountable to Parliament, and MPs to the public who elected them, and they can be kicked out every five years in elections if we don’t like what they have done in our name. I contend that most people are busy enough with their own lives to be expected to additionally become experts in the pros and cons of, say, a parliamentary bill or a particular Government policy.

In my view referenda are a gift to obsessives and those with an axe to grind. They reduce issues to their bare essentials and ignore the broader consequences. I have no doubt that the death penalty would be brought back if the issue was subjected to a referendum. Would we really want that? Secondly the arguments for and against membership of the EU are extremely complex and in my view are impossible to whittle down to a simple yes or no answer.

ReferendumDice2There are exceptions of course, but rarely an issue does emerge that merits a referendum and I concede that for the people of Scotland the question of independence is one. However in my experience the media, and in particular certain ‘right wing’ print media, are greatly exaggerating the extent to which the public generally is clamouring for more referenda. Contrary to what they say there is very little evidence to support the assertion that public discourse in the pubs and clubs of the land is dominated by discussion on the need for a referendum on the EU. In fact the limited public surveys completed show that the European issue comes way down the list of subjects being discussed.

I do not consider myself to be an apologist for the status quo and I agree that politics in the UK is not conducted particularly well and certainly not in the interests of ordinary people. However I don’t believe a greater use of referenda is the answer as I fear that they would risk undermining the very principle of parliamentary democracy itself. This would be a perverse outcome when so many nations around the world are currently fighting to overturn unelected regimes in favour of parliamentary democracies.

Instead we should be considering steps to invigorate our parliamentary system to make it more relevant and accountable to the electorate and especially to younger voters, who if Russell Brand is to be believed, have given up on voting. Clearly this task is not helped by the low standing afforded to politicians by the public. There is a lack of trust and confidence in MPs that they can have any meaningful impact on our lives as UK citizens. Additionally many people are cynical and distrustful of all politicians believing them to be all the same and full of self-interest. The expenses debacle and to an extent the Iraq war, were clearly contributory factors. (more…)

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

spencer perceval, prime minister, assassination, house of commons

The assassination of the Prime Minister Spencer Perceval in the lobby of the House of Commons on 11 May 1812

Just over two hundred years ago, on 11 May 1812, John Bellingham, a Liverpool businessman shot dead the Rt Hon Spencer Perceval, the Prime Minister at the time, as he entered the House of Commons. Spencer Perceval is the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated.

At 5.15 on the evening of Monday 11 May 1812, it being a fine evening, Spencer Perceval walked from 10 Downing Street to the Houses of Parliament to attend a debate in the House of Commons. The debate was to rescind the ‘orders in council’ that prevented nations trading with France. These were the chief plank in Perceval’s policy for the defeat of Napoleon.

Outside of the lobby to the House of Commons Perceval handed his coat to the officer positioned outside the doors, but as he entered the lobby a man who had been sat near the fireplace, stepped forward, and without saying a word drew a pistol and shot Perceval in the chest. Perceval fell to the floor, after uttering something that was variously heard as ‘murder’ or ‘oh my God’. They were his last words. By the time he had been carried into the nearby office of the Speaker’s secretary and propped up on a table, he was senseless, although there was still a faint pulse. When a surgeon, William Lynn, arrived from Great George Street a few minutes later, the pulse had stopped, and Perceval was declared dead. The surgeon noted a wound three inches deep on the left side of the chest over the fourth rib where a large pistol ball had entered.

Perceval’s body was taken back to 10 Downing Street, and on the following morning an inquest was held at the Cat and Bagpipes public house on the corner of Downing Street, and a verdict of wilful murder was returned.

spencer perceval, prime minister, george francis joseph

Spencer Perceval
British Prime Minister
4 October 1809–11 May 1812
Born 1 November 1762
Painting by George Francis Joseph, 1812
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Spencer Perceval, the younger son of an Irish earl, was 49 at the time of his death and had been Prime Minister under George III (and the Prince Regent during the ‘madness’ of George III) since 4 October 1809. He was a follower of William Pitt (the previous Prime Minister but one), but described himself as a ‘friend of Mr Pitt’ rather than a Tory. Perceval was opposed to Catholic emancipation and reform of Parliament; he supported the war against Napoleon and the abolition of the slave trade. He was opposed to hunting, gambling and adultery, did not drink as much as most Members of Parliament, gave generously to charity, and enjoyed spending time with his wife Jane and their twelve children.

Perceval’s assassin did not attempt to escape from the House of Commons but calmly returned to his seat beside the fireplace. Sir Banastre Tarleton and Isaac Gascoyne, the two MPs for Liverpool, identified the man as John Bellingham, a merchant from Liverpool. The details of his story soon began to emerge. Bellingham had been imprisoned for debt in the port of Archangel in Russia in 1804 and had been held in various prisons for the next 5 years. The debt had been alleged by the owner of a Russian ship that had sunk in the White Sea, who believed that Bellingham had told Lloyd’s, the shipping insurers, that the loss of the ship was actually sabotage. During his time in prison, Bellingham had pleaded unsuccessfully with the British ambassador in St Petersburg and with British authorities for help with his case. On his release in 1809, he returned to England full of resentment. Bellingham believed the government was morally bound to compensate him for his loss of business. He petitioned the Foreign Secretary, the Treasury, the Privy Council, the Prime Minister, even the Prince Regent, all to no avail, the main reason being that Britain had broken off diplomatic relations with Russia in November 1808. Once again Bellingham felt that he was being ignored. Finally, he decided that the only way for him to get a hearing in court was to shoot the Prime Minister.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

It’s a company that supplies equipment to 45 of the world’s 50 largest telecoms operators and ships its products to 140 countries. It has 140,000 employees worldwide, and it has research and development centres in 20 countries including the United States, Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, and India. It’s turnover in 2012 was 220 billion yuan (roughly £22bn) and it’s profits were 15 billion yuan (roughly £1.5bn). In 2008, it was the largest applicant for patents in the world, and by 2011, it had filed 49,000 patents globally and had been granted 17,765.

huawei, headquarters, reading

Huawei’s new UK headquarters at 300 South Oak Way, Green Park, Reading

In the UK, it has 15 offices and 690 employees, with new headquarters in Green Park, Reading in Berkshire. Its customers include BT, Everything Everywhere, Sky, O2, Orange, TalkTalk, and Virgin Media. In September 2012, it announced that it was investing £1.3bn in expanding its UK operations in reply to which Prime Minister David Cameron said the investment demonstrated that the UK is ‘open for business’.

huawei, telecommunication

Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer, which signed a £10bn deal with BT in 2005

You may not see its logo plastered over handsets, but its products and services support the infrastructure of the world’s best-known mobile phone service providers through which phone calls and data flow around the world. It is the largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer in the world, having overtaken Ericsson in 2012.

It is the world’s biggest company that most people in the West have never heard of, and its headquarters is in Shenzhen, Guangdong in China. But Huawei (pronounced WAH-way) is at the centre of a debate about cyber security, and about how far western countries are willing to engage with the Chinese company.

The US Congress has done its best to keep Huawei out of the US infrastructure, the House Intelligence Committee describing it as a threat to ‘core national security interests’. In 2012, Huawei, along with ZTE (another telecommunications equipment supplier based in China, and the world’s 4th largest mobile phone manufacturer) faced allegations that some of their equipment had been installed with codes to relay sensitive information back to China. The US’s attitude though may mask the real reasons for their concern. They know from their own experience how imported electronics can be turned into a weapon of espionage and sabotage by the supplier, one notable example being their creation of the Stuxnet worm that was used to damage the Iranian nuclear research program. In any case this official hand-wringing neglects the fact that most electronic components, with the exception of certain high-grade chips, are manufactured in China.

However in the UK back in 2005, BT after consulting the government signed a deal worth £10 billion to purchase Huawei equipment as part of an infrastructure upgrade, a deal that saved the British company millions of pounds. Checks were put in place by BT and government to make sure there was no risk that the Chinese company would act on behalf of the Chinese state by installing back-doors. But in June this year, the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee in their report Foreign Involvement in the Critical National Infrastructure said it was ‘shocked that officials chose not to inform, let alone consult, ministers’ about BT’s use of Huawei equipment until a year after the contract had been signed, a deal in which security issues ‘risked being overlooked’. It also said that the self-policing arrangements by Huawei were ‘highly unlikely to provide the required levels of security assurance’.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

david attenborough, naturalist, overpopulation

Sir David Attenborough, Naturalist (b1926)
‘The human population can no longer be allowed to grow in the same old uncontrolled way. If we do not take charge of our population size, then nature will do it for us.’

Governments seem unable or unwilling to face up to the alarming consequences of an ever-increasing world population – projected by the United Nations to increase from 7.2 billion today to 9.6 million by 2050 (source) – and ever-increasing consumption. Climate change due to the burning of fossil fuels; water and food shortages; the destruction of forests, species extinction and loss of biodiversity; competition for dwindling mineral resources, as well as the inevitability of increasing human conflict.  Is this because voters in developed  (democratic) countries usually vote their governments in or out on the basis of whether they are able to deliver economic growth. Growth that has to be achieved at almost any price, and which at present relies on the exploitation of unsustainable resources?

So what chance is there that the governments of developing countries, with 5.9 billion people who like us will want cars and will want to fly to distant places, what chance is there that their governments will be able to act differently? For us as individuals, is it a case of out of sight out of mind? Are we expecting that technology will come to the rescue, that something will turn up?

This brings to mind the oft-quoted lines:

Who is in charge of the clattering train?
The axles creak, and the couplings strain.
For the pace is hot, and the points are near,
And Sleep hath deadened the driver’s ear:
And signals flash through the night in vain.
Death is in charge of the clattering train!

winston churchill, gathering storm, second world war, house of commons, nazi

The Gathering Storm, the first of six volumes by Winston Churchill on The Second World War in which he recalls warning the House of Commons in 1935, to little avail, of the growing threat from Nazi Germany

This short poem was quoted by Winston Churchill in the first volume, The Gathering Storm, published in 1948, of his six-volume history, The Second World War. On page 110, he recalls a debate in the House of Commons on 19 March 1935 on the air estimates (ie. money to pay for the production of aircraft) when as a back bencher he challenged the government’s assurances that the budget was adequate to meet the growing threat from Nazi Germany, who had reached parity with Britain in the number of aircraft. He wrote ‘Although the House listened to me with close attention, I felt a sensation of despair. To be so entirely convinced and vindicated in a matter of life and death to one’s country, and not to be able to make  Parliament and the nation heed the warning  … was an experience most painful’.

Reflecting on the debate, he said ‘there lay in my memory at this time some lines from an unknown author about a railway accident, I had learnt from a volume of Punch cartoons which I used to pore over when I was eight or nine years old at school at Brighton’. He then quotes the lines above, and ends ‘However, I did not repeat them’. In this clip from the 2002 TV film, The Gathering Storm, which stars Albert Finney as Churchill, and Vanessa Redgrave as Clemmie, his wife, Churchill angrily quotes the lines following his warnings being ignored by the government.

The poem was in fact taken from a much longer poem titled Death and His Brother Sleep which appeared in Volume 99 of Punch magazine published on 4 October 1890 and which was attributed to ‘Queen Mab’. The poem was written by Edwin James Milliken (1839 -1897) who, as well as being a poet, was an editor of Punch, a journalist and satirical humorist. The shorter poem is made up of the first two lines and last four lines of Death and His Brother Sleep, but how Churchill came to use only these lines is not known, though they do have a dramatic effect.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

ChurchillFuneral

The funeral procession of Winston Churchill at Ludgate Hill in 1965

The last state funeral was that of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965. Margaret Thatcher, like Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, and Diana, Princess of Wales, was given a ceremonial funeral in April 2013, but it was widely seen as a state funeral in all but name. And the chimes of Big Ben were also silenced for Mrs Thatcher’s funeral for the first time since the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill.

When Harold Macmillan, Conservative Prime Minister from 1957 to 1963, and who had served in government since 1940, died in 1986, 45 minutes were allowed for tributes in the House of Commons, two weeks after his death. On the death of Mrs Thatcher, Parliament was recalled the day after, and seven hours of tributes were allowed.

(more…)

Read Full Post »