Saturday, 15 November 2014

Can vote / Can't vote. Who decides if I can vote?

Something is going wrong with our democracy.

It may be a little dramatic to say so, but last week the Government took another dangerous step on a slippery slope against a free and fair democracy in the UK.

Secretary of State for Wales, Stephen Crabb, allowed an amendment to the Wales Bill in the House of Lords which will allow the Welsh Assembly to decide if 16 and 17 years old can vote in a future referendum on tax powers for Wales.

Now, I am on the record of being sceptical about the merits of lowering the voting age, but whatever your view of the issue, the idea that the Government of the day can alter the electoral franchise for each election should worry you.

Clearly, following the Scottish referendum there is a debate that needs to be had about the case for votes at 16. A debate I would welcome. But, our stable, free and fair democracy is a threat if we allow politicians to chop and change the eligibility to vote whenever it pleases them.

It was a mistake to grant the vote to 16 and 17 year olds in 2014 Scotland and go on to deny those same people a say over who governs the UK just 8 months later. But it looks as if the Government will allow the Welsh Executive to make that same mistake. 

What we should never do, and what we seem to be taking dangerous steps towards with the Wales Bill, is allowing the Government of the day to set a different franchise for each election - in effect choosing who they allow to vote for their own re-election.

Democracy depends on people having their say, not the government hand picking the voices it will listen to. The franchise is universal and should be fixed as such. If we want 16 and 17 year olds to vote then we should have a proper debate and change the electoral franchise permanently, not mess about allowing politicians to decide the electorate on a whim each time a vote is called.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Why UKIP is wrong to target international aid to fund tax cuts

At their conference in Doncaster, UKIP are setting out their stall for the general election. They will no doubt want the headlines from their £19bn tax cutting promise to be all about helping 'blue collar' workers, but the reality is they plan to balance their books on the backs of millions of the world’s poorest (and even then the IFS says the sums don't add up).


This year, for the first time, the UKs aid budget rose to 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI). This meets a long-standing international commitment to the world’s poorest people, first agreed in 1970 at the UN General Assembly. I'm proud to live in a country, which even whilst running a £100bn deficit, spends a small amount of our income helping those in the world who are in the most desperate need. As the world’s 6th largest economy, surely that is our duty?


We owe more to fellow man-kind than to retreat to a domestic policy agenda that ignore the world around us.


To put the aid budget in context, this year (2014/15) the total UK aid budget is £10.3bn[1] – less than 50 pence a day, per person in the UK. A small price to pay for a mission that in the last 3 years has provided 43.1 million people with access to clean water; helped 10.2 million children, including 4.9 million girls, to go to primary school; reached 11.4 million people with emergency food assistance; helped 85.8 million people to hold their authorities through democratic processes.[2]


Yet UKIP are willing to throw all that away in a cheap and ill thought-out plan for an election giveaway.


British taxpayers’ money, through international development, is helping to build a strong and investable business environments in many developing nations. It is providing security and education to millions of people. Our aid budget is supporting the eradication of preventable disease across swaths of the developing world. It is supporting democracy across the developing world and in doing so underpinning security of our borders at home.


In what they claim will be a patriotic rally against the establishment, UKIP are willing to put at risk.


What matter in politics is your priorities. Unfortunately, UKIP are not only kidding themselves and the country about how to pay for their tax cuts, but risk damaging the UKs hard won reputation on the world stage by pulling back to a little-England mentality.


[1] Budget Red Book, Page 61

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Ed Miliband, Labour's fundraising and Amazon's tax avoidance

Ed Miliband and his Labour colleagues are very keen on attacking companies like Amazon over the amount of tax they pay in the UK. So why are they channeling their cash through them?

"We've got a situation where many British companies and many individuals are paying their fair share of tax and they look in horror at a system where multinational companies, some multinational companies from other countries, can make huge profits in Britain and not pay taxes in Britain. This is scandalous, it's got to change. The next Labour government will change it." Those we Ed's words on the Andrew Marr show just 18 months ago.With the General Election now 9 months away and Ed hoping to be able to put his words into action, you might expect Labour to be acting as they preach.

So why then have Labour actively choosing US based Amazon to host their fundraising website?

Accompanying a bizarrely airbrushed photo of Ed, the Labour party's website carries a helpful message reminding donors that cash donations are "NOT tax exempt" (unlike those in shares), but that is presumably not a subtle message to the website hosts, which the site also helpful inform us is "Amazon Web Services, P.O. Box 81226, Seattle, Washington 98108, USA" 

Not the first time the Labour leader's hypocrisy on the Amazon issues has been exposed.


Monday, 18 August 2014

Lambeth's response - In defence of taxpayer’s cash on local election propaganda

I recently posted about how Labour in Lambeth Splashed £7,000 of taxpayer’s cash on local election propaganda and promised to update when I had a response from the council. Here is that, rather unsuprising response:
Our findings

As stated in our previous response, the May edition of Lambeth Talk was in fact cleared by the Council’s lawyers who were satisfied that the May edition complied with the pre-election restrictions on Publicity (PERP).  The Council took care in this edition not to publish any items which related to any candidates standing for election nor did it refer to the Labour Group being the majority group in the administration.  The fact that the Council describes itself as a Co-operative Council is embedded in its Constitution, and refers to the Council as a whole. We have discussed and voted on this matter at Council meetings and  are fully satisfied that by talking about the Council in this way is not a political statement but simply describes the manner in which the Council is structured and operates, something that was voted on before the election and confirmed by councillors from 3 different political groups.

The objective of this issue of Lambeth Talk was not to encourage people to vote in any particular way. Of course we want people to vote, and we want them to be aware of what the council does, and we hope this publication helped with that.

Therefore we do not agree that it implied people should vote any particular way and have found no evidence to date to suggest that anyone was influenced in that way.  Some candidates may have identified themselves with the co-operative party but this did not appear on the ballot papers nor on any official election documentation.

Monday, 30 June 2014

David Cameron's response to Juncker

Friday was a bad day for Europe.

I made no secret of my opposition to the election of Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the EU Commission - and I stood firm in my opposition, because an important principle is at stake here.

His election hands power to the European Parliament and risks undermining the position of national governments.

This whole process has reinforced my conviction that Europe needs to change.

Securing reform is going to be a long, tough fight and sometimes you have to be ready to lose a battle to win a war.

But we have showed that we won't be put off from our task - we won't be cowed, we won't be silenced.

Because the status quo is not right for the EU. And it is certainly not right for Britain. It has got to change.

And at the end of 2017, it will not be me, it will not be the House of Commons, it will not be Brussels who decides Britain's future in the EU. It will be the British people with an in-out referendum on our membership of the EU - delivered by the Conservatives.

Help us secure that referendum - and deliver the change we need in Europe - by donating to our campaign today.


David Cameron

Donate 10 pounds today

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Labour Lambeth Splashed £7,000 of taxpayer’s cash on election propaganda

In the middle of the local election campaign, Labour run Lambeth council spent £6,995.40 on distribution costs for the latest edition of “Lambeth Talk” a monthly propaganda magazine published by the local authority.

Although leaving it until after the election to post the online edition a Freedom of Information request has confirmed the self-styled Cooperative-council paid staff overtime to the tune of £6,995.40 to deliver the magazine to 131,000 homes during the May Day bank holiday weekend, nicely in time for the local elections just 2 weeks later.

The magazine, which in this edition features stories encouraging people to vote, also highlights the work of the Council, with quotes from residents including “… From newly paved roads to the regeneration of Old Town, lately I've really been able to see tangible evidence of the work the council is doing.”
It also contains a full 4 page feature focusing on the council’s work in Clapham - a key battle ground ward in the Borough elections.

Having registered a complaint with the Electoral Commission, I have today been informed they have no responsibility over the purdah rules, but have advised me that the purpose of purdah is that a serving council cannot use the publicity during the election period to its advantage, and the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity under section 4 of the Local Government Act 1986 clearly states that “During the period between the notice of an election and the election itself, local authorities should not publish any publicity on controversial issues…” clearly Lambeth have breached those rules. But as the EC has no authority in this area it is instead for the Council itself to respond to complaints.

I have registered a formal complaint with Lambeth and DCLG and will update when I receive a response. In the meantime taxpayers in Lambeth are left with a £7,000 for Labour’s propaganda.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Is youth really wasted on the young?

My Budget comment, as published in the Western Mail (28/03/14)

Budget giveaways and the young

SIR – Last week’s Budget laid bare the failure of young people to engage with Westminster politics.

While the Government is doing a great deal for young people with the youth contract, boom in apprenticeships, help to buy, work programme, and more, there is plenty more that could be done.

But with a disengaged electoral constituency (less than 44% of under-35s voted in 2010, compared to 75% of over-55s) why would our political masters expend their political capital?

The whole Budget debate showed how failure of young people to engage can shift political priorities. Take just one example, the lively pre-budget debate about tax rates and 40p failed to even mention the marginal tax rate of 51p for young graduates (40% Inc tax; 2% NI; plus 9% student loan) or the criminal rates of 72p over £100k (accounting for allowance withdrawal).

All this means that while older people have done better in recent years than their younger relatives with the IFS last year concluding that incomes of those in their 60s and 70s rose after the recession, while the median income among people in their 20s has dropped 11%, it is the taxes of the young that will pay for budget giveaways to pensioners.

The granny-giveaway Budget was right for the time, but is a damning reflection on the failures of young people to engage with British politics and shape the political landscape.

The saying may be “youth is wasted on the young” but if my generation fail to make a stand we can be sure that “budget giveaways are wasted on the young” will be just as true.

Owen Meredith