Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Westminster

UK Parliamentary Election 2015

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday 12 May 2015

 

Colman's Column3

Neil Kinnock in 1983: “I warn you not to fall ill. I warn you not to be young. I warn you not to be old.”

 

What if the UK had PR?

It used to be received wisdom that a proportional representation system for parliamentary elections led inevitably to coalition government. The first past the post system in the UK for a long time meant that either the Labour Party or the Conservative Party governed because of having a majority of seats in the House of Commons.

In the 2015 election, the Conservative Party won a clear majority. Under a proportional representation system they would have had 90 fewer seats would have been forced into another coalition.

UKIP

 

Under PR, UKIP (the United  Kingdom Independence Party) would have been the third largest party in parliament. The Lib-Dems with their caring philosophy failed to soften their coalition partner’s policies. There is evidence that the Conservatives moved rightward  because of a perception that  UKIP’s xenophobic policies on immigration were popular. What kind of policies would emerge if the two parties were in government together? There is already the promise of stricter immigration rules, more cuts and a referendum on leaving the EU.

Coalition in 2010

In the 2010 UK general election, no single party achieved the seats required for an overall majority. A total of 326  seats  are needed for  an absolute majority, but because Sinn Fein MPs do not take their seats and the Speaker’s team does not normally vote, the real number has been 323. The Conservatives had most seats and votes in 2010 but were 20 seats short of the magic number. A coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats was established.

During the 2010 election campaign, Liberal-Democrat leader Nick Clegg was widely seen as a strong performer and his party achieved its largest popular vote since its foundation. Nevertheless, the nature of the electoral system meant they suffered a loss of five seats.

PR Voted Down

The Lib-Dems and their ancestor Liberal Party long fought for proportional representation in order to win seats in parliament that would more fairly match their votes. A referendum on proportional representation was a key feature of the coalition agreement. The 2011 referendum result was Yes 32.1% and No 67.9%.on a 41% turnout. Former Liberal leader Paddy Ashdown told the Guardian there been a “breach of faith”. He accused David Cameron of failing to disassociate himself from personal attacks by the No campaign on Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg.

Poisoned Chalice

The coalition has contributed to the downfall of the Lib-Dem party and its leader. After the 2015 general election, Clegg was one of three party leaders to resign. Although the Lib-Dems in 2010 presented themselves as being to the left of New Labour, they could not sustain that illusion while being complicit in austerity measures that hurt the poor while allowing the rich to prosper. The Conservatives claimed credit for what economic recovery there was and diverted any blame to the Lib-Dems.

Old-fashioned liberals might have hoped that with a long-delayed place in government the party might have restored Beveridge’s ideals in health and social welfare. The ideology of Ian Duncan Smith prevailed. The Liberal Democrats failed to make themselves heard in the row over tax avoidance, despite having pushed consistently to tighten the lax rules that Labour left behind. They were not able to defend the weak, the vulnerable and minorities, or to stop the privatisation of the health service. In his resignation speech, Clegg said “fear and grievance” had won, while Liberalism had lost.

Another Strange Death of the Liberal Party

Lib-Dem ministers came across as ditherers. This undermined the will-to-live of constituency organisers who had once been notable for their enthusiasm. In 2010, Lib-Dems won 57 seats; in 2015, this fell dramatically to eight. Under a PR system, they would have got 51. They lost their deposit in seven constituencies. Several prominent figures lost their seats – ex-ministers Ed Davey, Jo Swinson, Norman Baker, Vince Cable, Danny Alexander (beaten by the youngest MP since the 17th century – a 20-year old student) , David Laws,  Simon Hughes (who had served his constituency for 30 years and won 50% of the vote in 2010) and former leader Charles Kennedy.

 

High Profile Losers

 

Conservative minister Esther McVey was the highest-profile Tory loser, defeated by Labour in Wirral West. For Labour, Gordon Brown’s hatchet man Ed Balls lost (by one percentage point) to a conservative in Morley and Outwood. UKIP leader Nigel Farage failed to win the seat at Thanet South (although UKIP won control of the local council). UKIP retained one seat; former Conservative Douglas Carswell was re-elected to represent Clacton but with a greatly reduced majority.  The Tory candidate at Rochester and Strood soundly beat another Tory defector to UKIP, Mark Reckless. The UKIP leader had increased his party’s share of the vote in Thanet South by 27%, and nationally UKIP’s vote share was up by ten percentage points to a total of 3.9 million. The Electoral Reform Society has modelled what would have happened under a proportional voting system that makes use of the D’Hondt method of converting votes to seats. UKIP would have been a force to be reckoned with in the Commons with 83 seats.

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett lost to Labour in Holborn St Pancras but Caroline Lucas retains the Brighton Pavilion constituency she won in 2010 giving the Greens one seat in the new parliament. Under PR, they would have got 24 seats.

Whither Scotland?

After the referendum on Scottish independence, I warned a smug unionist against crass triumphalism. I said that, although the vote for Scotland to stay in the UK was decisive, the fact that over 40% of Scots wanted to leave the Union should give pause for thought. The SNP might have lost the referendum vote but they convincingly won the general election vote, gaining 56 out of 59 seats in Scotland. Under a PR system, this would have been reduced to 31. Gordon Brown’s once-safe Labour seat of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath fell to the SNP. The pro-Union Conservative party now has one seat in Scotland and the pro-Union Labour party has just one. The Lib-Dems also retained  one seat. The referendum was about a positive Scottish identity, rejection of the austerity that Labour had supported. The general election has confirmed a separatist move to the left in Scotland. The referendum did not seal the future of the Union. Resentment from Scotland at a Westminster government dominated by English Tories can only grow, as will English resentment at any preferential treatment given to keep Scotland in the Union.

Social Justice in the Future?



Cameron’s choice of personnel for the  new all-Conservative cabinet makes it clear the way the next five years will go and I am glad I have emigrated. Iain Duncan Smith has been re-appointed to achieve to find a further £12 billion in welfare “savings” and the Lib-Dems will not be there to stop him. While I am fully aware of the deficiencies of the Labour Party, I cannot imagine any circumstances in which I could vote for a Conservative candidate. There is much despair among my friends in the UK. They fear for the future of the welfare state and the forcing of poor people, the precariat, into poorly paid jobs with little security. Under the coalition, food banks increased from 56 to 445. More will be needed. Public services will continue to be handed over to incompetent and irresponsible private firms like G4S. The NHS will continue to be auctioned off to private for-profit companies.

Even former Tory prime minister John Major said: “We need to acknowledge the fact we have a pretty substantial underclass and there are parts of our country where we have people who have not worked for two generations and whose children do not expect to work. How can it be that in a nation that is the fifth richest nation in the world, that in the United Kingdom we have four of the poorest areas in Europe?”

Vintage Sleaze Part 1 The fox in charge of the hen house.

 

A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Wednesday July 9 2014.

 

Colman's Column3

 

Last week, I mentioned that I had observed a certain degree of masochism in some Sri Lankans who seemed to find a pride in what they perceived as the sheer bloody awfulness of their native land. One aspect of this is the firm belief that Sri Lankan politicians are the most corrupt in the world. I have repeatedly pointed out that, anywhere in the world, the kind of people who go in to the politics game are the type who are after personal gain and are often not very nice people. One response I get to this is that in other countries, corruption is properly investigated and punished. It is sometimes claimed that in the UK, for example, politicians who are caught out do the honourable thing and resign.

 

coulson

I have just heard the news that David Cameron’s former press secretary, Andy Coulson, has been jailed for 18 months for conspiracy to hack phones. Asked about the jailing of his former communications chief, the prime minister, who has apologised for hiring him, said: “What it says is that it’s right that justice should be done and that no one is above the law – as I’ve always said.” That’s OK then. The fact remains that Cameron employed the editor of a sleazy newspaper against all good judgement. Coulson did not own up to allowing his minions to hack the phone of a murdered teenager.

Labour MP Tom Watson was the scourge of Coulson and Murdoch. He is now campaigning for an investigation into long-running allegations that a senior Conservative cabinet minister and well-known celebrities were involved in a paedophile ring. Watson raised the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions on 24 October 2012. A journalist from the investigative news website Exaro passed the information to Watson. Rumours have been flying around the blogosphere for a long time and some of the blogs making allegations are somewhat flaky. There are allegations against many famous people including members of the Royal Family. These bloggers often follow the logic of Beatrix Campbell – stranger things have happened so why not believe this? However, journalists of repute, such as David Hencke, formerly of the Guardian, contribute to Exaro.

Peter McKelvie, a retired child protection officer, has spent more than 20 years compiling evidence of alleged abuse by authority figures. He helped bring the notorious paedophile Peter Righton to justice in 1992 when he worked in Hereford and Worcester child protection team. In a letter to his local MP Sir Tony Baldry last month, Mr McKelvie suggested that a further 20 MPs and Lords were implicated in the “cover-up” of abuse of children. It was as a result of information provided by Mr McKelvie that Tom Watson raised the issue of child abuse at Prime Minister’s Questions in October 2012. He spoke of “clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and Number 10” that arose from the Righton case.

Following Mr Watson’s intervention, the Metropolitan Police began Operation Fernbridge, an ongoing investigation into allegations of sex abuse at the Elm Guest House in Barnes, south London. At least one witness is understood to have told police in the 1980s that he was abused by a Tory MP at the guest house when he was aged under ten, but the alleged victim has so far refused to give a sworn a witness statement to the police.

When I lived in Putney in the early 1980s, I used to enjoy long walks on light summer evenings down across Barnes Common to the Bull’s Head pub to listen to jazz. Little did I know that Barnes Common was a popular gay cruising site after dark. In the late 1970s, the Elm Guest House on Rocks Lane was a safe, unthreatening meeting place for homosexual men free from the stigma of a sexual orientation  legalised barely a decade earlier.

elm

However, “It became a convenient place for rent boys to take their clients,” says one person familiar with the place. In 1982, the Met’s notorious Special Patrol Group raided the property on suspicion that it was a brothel. As many as 12 boys gave evidence to the police to the effect that they had been abused by men at the house. The police only seemed interested in pressing charges against Carole Kasir, who owned the place. Child-protection campaigners alleged that boys had been taken from a local council-run home and abused by politicians and showbiz entertainers. The real unlawful activity was underage sex, but the police only interviewed the boys a view to them being witnesses against Kasir, not as minors who were abused themselves. In 1990, at the age of 47, Kasir, a diabetic, died of an insulin overdose. Two Naypic (National Association for Young People in Care) employees told the coroner they believed she had been murdered, the victim of powerful people who feared she knew too much.

Kasir

Chris Fay, a social worker at Naypic, has alleged that a terrified Kasir had shown him about 20 photographs of middle-aged men with young boys, taken at what he said were kings and queens fancy-dress parties, attended by a number of powerful and well-known people.

In the early 1990s, I worked in the child protection field myself. I often attended meetings at the Home Office and came to know a young lawyer named Alison Saunders. She is now Director of Public Prosecutions and has often been in the news relating to the fallout from the Jimmy Savile saga and the subsequent investigation under Operation Yewtree. She is the first lawyer from within the Crown Prosecution Service and the second woman to hold the appointment. Tom Watson said he was writing to Ms Saunders to ask her to examine the evidence relating to an unnamed Tory politician.

dpp

A police investigation, Operation Fairbank, started in late 2012. This was a “scoping exercise” aimed at a “preliminary assessment of the evidence rather than a formal inquiry”. The existence of the operation was confirmed on 12 December 2012, after beginning in secret. The secrecy was such that nothing was even put on computers. Cynics say this was because so many of the culprits were police officers. A full criminal investigation, Operation Fernbridge, was launched in February 2013.

Geoffrey Dickens

Between 1981 and 1985, Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens campaigned against a suspected paedophile ring he claimed to have uncovered. In 1981, Dickens named the former British High Commissioner to Canada, Sir Peter Hayman, as a paedophile in the House of Commons, using parliamentary privilege so he could not be sued for slander. Dickens was an admirable fellow in many ways but he did allow his willingness to believe take him to the wilder shores inhabited by Beatrix Campbell and Valerie Sinason – he took on trust their fantasies about satanic abuse.

In 1983, Dickens claimed there was a paedophile network involving “big, big names – people in positions of power, influence and responsibility” and threatened to name them in the Commons. The next year, he campaigned for the banning of Hayman’s Paedophile Information Exchange organisation. Dickens had a thirty-minute meeting with Leon Brittan, who was Home Secretary between 1983 and 1985, and gave him a dossier containing the child abuse allegations. Dickens said he was “encouraged” by the meeting.

hayman

On 29 November 1985, Dickens said in a speech to the Commons that paedophiles were “evil and dangerous” and that child pornography generated “vast sums”. He claimed that: “The noose around my neck grew tighter after I named a former high-flying British diplomat on the Floor of the House. Honourable Members will understand that where big money is involved and as important names came into my possession so the threats began. First, I received threatening telephone calls followed by two burglaries at my London home. Then, more seriously, my name appeared on a multi-killer’s hit list”. Barry Dickens, the MP’ son later said that about the time when the dossier was given to the Home Secretary, his father’s London flat and constituency home were both broken into but nothing was taken.

Tom Watson asked the Home Office in February 2013 for Dickens’s dossier. A Home Office review in 2013 concluded that any information requiring investigation was referred to the police. Mr Dickens’s dossier was “not retained”. A Downing Street spokesman rejected calls to publish in full the 2013 review of paperwork, saying: “My understanding is that the executive summary reflects very fully the report.” The opposition said the work was carried out by just two officials and took just four weeks.”This is not good enough,” said shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper.

spit

Last year Brittan said he could not remember getting the dossier, but recently released a statement saying he could now recollect a meeting with Dickens. He said he had asked officials to look into the claims and could not remembering hearing any more about it. A Home Office review last year found Brittan had written to Dickens in 1984 saying the DPP assessed the material as worth pursuing and passed it “to the appropriate authorities”.

Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP who came to Sri Lanka to seek justice for a murdered constituent, said he had received a dozen new allegations naming the same politician. Danczuk is taking an interest because Sir Cyril Smith used to represent Danczuk’s Rochdale constituency. The late, “larger than life” Liberal MP has been the subject of rumours for decades that he was a paedophile. Liberal party leaders have consistently ignored Smith’s activities with boys in the care of the social services. Danczuk has been pressing Lord Brittan to reveal what he knew about the dossier’s contents.

smith

Barry Dickens said: “My father thought that the dossier at the time was the most powerful thing that had ever been produced, with the names that were involved and the power that they had… “I would like Lord Brittan to name the very next person he handed it on to. And where did it end up? There must have been a person who was the last to handle it.” Former DPP, Lord Macdonald, said the circumstances in which the dossier had gone missing were alarming and recommended an inquiry.

The Prime Minister told Mark Sedwill, the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, to “do everything he can” to clear up what happened to the file. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who worked for Lord Brittan in Brussels in the 1990s, said the police were in the “best position” to investigate the allegations and he did not want anything – such as a public inquiry – to “cut across that or disrupt that”.

Danczuk responded that another internal inquiry was merely trying to limit damage, and that a public inquiry was necessary to retain public confidence. “The Prime Minister knows that there is a growing sense of public anger about allegations of historic abuse involving senior politicians and his statement today represents little more than a damage limitation exercise. It doesn’t go far enough. The public has lost confidence in these kind of official reviews, which usually result in a whitewash. The only way to get to the bottom of this is a thorough public inquiry.” A public inquiry into historical child abuse in public life, has been demanded by 139 MPs.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism committed an embarrassing blunder when they named Lord McAlpine as the senior cabinet minister in the Thatcher government who had been abusing young boys. He received damages, which he donated to charity, for the false allegation. McAlpine said: “There is nothing as bad as this that you can do to people. Because they [paedophiles] are quite rightly figures of public hatred. And suddenly to find yourself a figure of public hatred, unjustifiably, is terrifying.”

 

The media are wary about naming names again. The Daily Mail is sending coded messages. I know who the alleged culprit is and have done for some time. The other day I received an e-mail from a friend who spent many years as a child protection social worker. He said, “At last, what to every 80s social worker was common rumour.”

 

Will the name be named or will the cover-up continue?

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