Julian Says…

Dear Rebecca,

Thanks for your full response, and I already see some agreement. There are also some areas where our views differ.

Clearly you and I are immune from the accusations surrounding MPs’ expenses, but not immune from the fall-out. I suspect that you, like I, have had some frank discussions on this issue on the doorstep.

You correctly pointed out that the immediate response on expenses dealt with the over-claims. However, I do not believe it fully dealt with the issue of confidence, and it does nothing to address the issue of accountability.

You have misrepresented my argument for change to the House of Commons voting system. I think you have come to the mistaken view that what I and the Government are advocating is the Jenkins formula, that is AV plus. Please be assured that I, too, believe in the importance of the constituency link and am also concerned about having two types of MP – hence my support for the Alternative Vote. This, I remind you, is the system where each candidate is ranked in order of preference, and where every MP will be able to claim that the majority of their constituents have voted for them.

The Alternative Vote is not truly proportional, and arguably leads to stronger government.

As to having some appointees in the second chamber – sorry, but as a passionate champion for democracy I can accept nothing less than a fully-elected body. Those wise heads you referred to should be able to secure nomination and election.

As for reducing the number of MPs – I confess to being happy to look into this. I worry that this will make each MP a little more remote, I would also like to examine the detail on your proposal regarding transfer of powers to MPs, which strikes me as an argument for more, not less MPs.

I am not a fan of hair-shirt politics, and want our MPs and ministers to receive proper pay. It may make a good headline to advocate ministerial pay cuts, but I do not see how it delivers better government.

As to referendums and your accusations of cynicism: I do not think this is the proper place for a discussion on the pros and cons of the Lisbon Treaty, but I do remind you that Conservative governments so far have given the British no referendums, ever.

Those with a passing knowledge of the origins of the American War of Independence will be aware of the rallying cry “no taxation without representation”. As sixteen-year olds can work and be taxed I subscribe to this two-hundred year old argument.

Sincerely

Julian Ware-Lane

Rebecca Replies…

Dear Julian,

Thank you for kicking this off, and thank you to Ted for giving us this platform. 

I agree that the expenses scandal did untold damage to public confidence in politics. I think the solution was making MPs with questionable claims pay them back and then moving to a wholly transparent system of pay and conditions. I don’t see how changes to the voting system will do anything to improve public confidence and it could even make matters worse.

Members of Parliament have two distinct roles. First, implementing national policy and holding the Government to account. The second is as the representative of their constituency at Westminster, a role the public really value. Moving to any system of proportional representation as the Government proposes, damages the links between MPs and their constituents, making the voters less powerful and the Party bosses more so.

The AV system you personally advocate is an odd compromise by keeping some MPs constituency-based and others elected on a “Regional List”.  It’s not actually properly proportional but it creates two different types of MP. 

The real issue is weak government.  PR leads to more small single issue parties each fighting to get their say.  I can’t see how all the resulting horse-trading behind closed doors to get a deal will bring politicians’ into higher esteem. 

Like you, I support a modernised House of Lords with a majority of elected members, but also maintaining some appointed members. I do not think we should lose those peers with the expertise and stature – many of them “Cross-benchers” – of people like ex-M15 Head, Eliza Manningham-Buller or some of our ex military chiefs, just because they were not willing to turn their lives upside down to run for election like us.

Better than either of the plans however are David Cameron’s plans to reduce the cost of Government altogether, by reducing the number of MPs, Ministers and Ministerial salaries.  I’d also like to see the huge number of powers currently exercised by expensive and unaccountable quangos transferred to local communities and MPs.

I know you’ve advocated electoral reform for many years, but I think the public may feel cynical about a party that’s become interested in changing the voting system after 13 years in power, just when they look like they could lose.

Proposing a referendum on the voting system when it’s not a public priority smacks of cynicism – especially when the Government didn’t stick to their promise of a referendum on the important issue of whether or not the UK should sign up to the Lisbon Treaty.

I don’t advocate lowering the voting age to 16. Many 16 year olds are probably quite capable of exercising this right sensibly, but there has to be a starting age at some point and I think 18 is about right. When I was 16 I certainly considered myself old enough to make decisions that affected me, but I am not so sure I was ready to make decisions that affected others, which is what voting is. Currently, too few in the 18 to 24 age group vote and it would be better to try to raise those numbers.

Overall, I think we can agree that it is time to clean up Parliament and make Government more efficient and accountable and this election gives us a chance for a fresh start. As always though, there are ranging views on how best to achieve it. I am grateful that we can have this exchange in the open and welcome further such correspondence.

Sincerely,

Rebecca

… (Julian Ware-Lane, 18/03/2010) – Julian Says…

Soap-box 2010

READERS WILL NOTE that this blog is now hosting a live election ‘conversation’ between Julian Ware-Lane, the Prospective Labour Party Candidate, and Rebecca Harris, the Parliamentary Prospective Candidate for the Conservative Party.

Perhaps undemocratically, I have not invited our local MP, Bob Spink, to take part (since the two Parliamentary Candidates have some catching-up to do with that MP’s coverage – both here and in the local press).

Bob Spink is free to make use of this blog’s comment section should he so choose, along with all other declaring PPCs and, of course, all readers.

It is envisaged that this ‘conversation’ will continue until the polls open, and both candidates will attempt to cover their respective positions on local and national issues that concern residents.

In order for that to happen: please keep all comments ‘on-topic’ so that the thread can progress…

Julian Says…

Dear Rebecca,

The Canvey Beat has kindly allowed us to debate some key issues on their forum, and I have been asked to kick this off. I shall begin with a subject that ought to be non-partisan, and we may even agree.

Last year’s furore over MPs’ expenses raised a number of concerns over the integrity of our democracy. The Government set in motion a number of measures to address the misuse of expenses and allowances, and have committed to some fundamental change and discussions on modernising Parliament.

Ours is the most ancient of Parliaments; a good look at how it works and how the voters engage is long overdue. Some, myself included, have argued that the MPs’ expenses row highlighted the lack of accountability in the vast majority of constituencies. The remedy is a voting system where all votes matter.

I am no Johnny-come-lately on electoral reform – this has been a concern of mine for some thirty-five years. I am a member of the Electoral Reform Society and the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform. If elected I will be pushing for change.

I accept that change cannot be rushed, and that change must have the buy-in of the electorate; hence my approval of plans for a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons. The result of the referendum will be a voting system that has the approval of the majority of the electorate, in my view a good way of not only achieving change, but also key in re-establishing trust.

Specifically, I favour the following three changes:

  1. A fully elected second chamber (House of Lords)
  2. The introduction of the Alternative Vote to replace the current first past the posts system for electing MPs.
  3. The voting age lowered to 16.

Do you agree that change is needed?..

Sincerely,

Julian Ware-Lane
Labour, Castle Point

… (Rebecca Harris, 17/03/2010) – Rebecca Replies…

… (15/03/2010) – Soap-box 2010