Wednesday, 29 March 2017

WHITHER DEMOCRACY?

(Or is it too late?)


We do hear a tremendous amount about “our democracy” these days. For instance, we keep being told that Brexit is “implementing the democratic will of the people”, or that refusing a second Scottish Referendum on independence is “undemocratic” – but this country has never been governed by referenda – and nor should it ever be!

What we are supposed to have in the UK is a “Representative Democracy”.  That means that we elect MPs to represent their constituencies, just as we elect local councillors to represent their wards.  These people are supposed to represent everybody in their constituency, not just those that happened to vote for them.

One would hope that our MPs also realise that they have a duty beyond that – they should try to do what is best for the country, even if that might conflict with what is best for their constituency – and they should also try to do what is best for the world and for humanity as a whole, even if that might not be in the best interests of the country!  To put it more simply, we should really elect the people that we think or believe have the most wisdom, integrity and decency, regardless of any petty (or party) political interests or persuasions. However, the public is constantly being persuaded and propagandised, by all and sundry but particularly by political parties and the media, to vote according to a host of other, mainly spurious criteria.

Quite a while ago (1878 to be exact), W. S. Gilbert poked a bit of fun at the political establishment, in Sir Joseph Porter’s song in HMS Pinafore:-

“I grew so rich that I was sent
   By a pocket borough into parliament.
I always voted at my party’s call,
             And I never thought of thinking for myself at all.”

Now, we don’t have “pocket” or “rotten” boroughs any more – or do we?  There are certainly still some constituencies where a monkey might get elected if they happened to belong to the right party. However, it’s the last two lines that are more to the point.  “Party politics” is the biggest problem with our so-called democracy.

It is a fact, in this country, in all elections (apart from those for the European Parliament) that we actually vote for the person, not for the party.  A lot of people don’t seem to realise this – probably because almost all the media and almost every political party keeps on saying (e.g.) “Vote Conservative” or “Vote Labour” without even mentioning the actual candidate.

Of course, as a result, the great majority of people probably do vote along party lines and this has been the case for many years.  Just think about it. You do not need to belong to any political party to stand for election – and, if Fred Bloggs is elected as a Conservative but, after the election, he has a major bust-up with the Tories and is either kicked out or leaves the party voluntarily (yes, it does happen – Douglas Carswell is a good example!), he does not necessarily lose his seat, nor is there any statutory requirement for him to stand down, or for there to be a new by-election.  The seat belongs to him, not to the party – and that is how it should be.

I doubt very much if any politician actually agrees with absolutely everything that any political party stands for, or even everything in its election manifesto but, of course, in order to be selected by any party as “their” candidate, they have to convince the party that they do.  Inevitably, this leads to a certain amount of hypocrisy (or even dishonesty) and, once selected and elected, it then follows that the most hypocritical (or dishonest) politicians are the ones who are most likely to win favour and advancement within the party system.  Is it really surprising that “party” politics breeds corruption?

How many times, in interviews (especially on programmes like the BBC’s Question Time) do we hear senior politicians refusing to say what they actually think and merely spouting the party line on any number of important issues?  If we can’t find out what politicians actually believe, how can we possibly make any reasonable judgement about how to vote?  Is it any wonder that more and more people are becoming thoroughly disillusioned and frustrated by the way that politics is conducted in this country?

It is also quite illogical to suggest or to assume that any party winning an overall majority at an election actually has some kind of “mandate” to implement its manifesto.  Apart from the fact that things change over time, it may well be that a majority of the electorate simply do not agree with a particular aspect of a manifesto. To reiterate: it is the duty of all elected politicians to try to do what is best for the world, their country and their constituency, in that order, regardless of party politics. All we really want is for them to be honest about it.

The idea that a referendum constitutes a “mandate” to act accordingly is even more farcical.  Yes, conducted sensibly, a referendum might well indicate what the public want – but that does not mean that the public are right!  Surely, it is part of the job of politicians to lead public opinion, not merely to follow it.  One has only to look at the sheer hypocrisy (or dishonesty) of all those politicians who campaigned to remain in the EU and then changed their minds after the referendum (mainly for party political reasons) to see how stupid, undemocratic and corrupt the system has become.

Corrupt?  Yes, absolutely!  Just look at the recent scandal about election expenses. Why do parties (or people) spend so much money during elections?  It is because they think (they know) that it will buy them votes.  It does work.  If it didn’t, they wouldn’t do it.  As a result, it is the richest – those who have and are prepared to spend the most money – who are most likely to be elected. Is this “democratic”?  Is it surprising that we see so much corruption?  Surely, it should (must) be a fundamental tenet of our electoral system that every candidate be treated equally and fairly, and be able to compete on a “level playing field”.

In order to restore some vestige of true democracy in our country, first of all, we need a fair degree of electoral reform.  This is not a new idea.  For example, many people have been arguing for proportional representation for years – but this is definitely not the answer.  Proportion of what?  The problem with most forms of PR is that they actually strengthen the party system.  What we really need is politicians who actually say and do what they honestly believe to be right and in the best interests of us all.

Is that possible?  Will it ever happen?  I doubt it – but here are a few ideas that might just give some food for thought . . .

Our first-past-the-post, one-man-one-vote electoral “system” is actually pretty fair and straightforward.  There are certainly strong arguments in favour of a preferential voting method but that might become unnecessarily complicated.  It seems to me that it is not really our voting system that needs reform; it is the whole manner in which we conduct our elections.

What if . . . candidates in elections were not allowed to declare allegiance to any political party?  Each candidate simply prepares their own “manifesto” (let’s say 2 sides of A4 or about 1500 words) and this is published in all local press, on public websites and printed (at taxpayers’ expense), with a copy distributed to every household in the constituency.  That is all.

What if . . . it were to cost candidates nothing to stand for election.  Yes, we do need some measures to prevent stupid or pointless candidates from standing.  Perhaps we should increase the number of nominations required, increase the deposit and increase the percentage of the poll required to save the deposit. No great changes there – but, apart from this deposit . . .

What if . . . it were made illegal for any candidate (or party, or agent, or supporter) to spend any money at all in connection with an election.  No adverts, no posters, no notice boards, nothing!  Nor should it be allowed for any other person to canvas or to speak on behalf of any candidate.  Only the candidates themselves should be allowed to canvas door-to-door or to speak at public meetings or hustings.

What if . . . (during the period of “purdah”) the media, including the BBC, were required to give each candidate equal amounts of coverage and equal opportunities to speak to the public?  For example, if BBC Question Time were to be broadcast from York, the only people on the panel should be the actual candidates for the York constituency.  How else will the public even get to know who the candidates are, never mind assess their suitability?  Well . . .

What if . . . it were incumbent upon each returning officer to organise a certain number of public “hustings” meetings around the constituency, at which every candidate would have an equal amount of time to present themselves and to answer questions.

And then, what if . . . as a result of all these changes, we were to end up with a parliament that consisted of significant numbers of independent members, quite a lot of small parties, no party with an overall majority and little chance of forming any meaningful coalition? Would that lead to weak or ineffective government?

It’s interesting that even members of the government have a tendency to say that it is a good thing to have a “strong opposition”.  No it isn’t.  What is important is for there simply to be strong opposition.  The idea of coalition government isn’t so bad – lots of countries have them – and, in effect, this gives an element of opposition from within the government.  However, it doesn’t have to be like that.

Just as we, the voters, don’t elect parties, we elect people as MPs; similarly, we the electorate do not elect the government.  There is absolutely no reason why parliament shouldn’t simply elect its own “government”, including prime minister, other ministers, cabinet and other officers, along with select committees and other working parties. If we were to move with the times and adopt an effective, electronic voting system in the House of Commons, this could be done in a matter of hours, certainly in less than a day, on the first day of each new parliamentary year. Parliament could even elect its own “opposition” too!  (Electronic voting might also make the House of Commons much more efficient!)

What if . . . we didn’t have General Elections at all (except, maybe, in an emergency or a constitutional crisis)?  Why not have elections spread throughout the year?  Let’s say, if we had 600 MPs, we could elect each one for a fixed term of 3 years.  That would mean 200 “by”-elections each year, which amounts to about 4 each week – ideally in different parts of the country.  This would enable and encourage more consistency, fewer extreme changes of policy and a longer-term, less polarised and divisive approach to government and to politics in general.

What if . . . we were to completely outlaw the practice of “whipping” in parliament – and make it illegal to either threaten or to offer any incentive (=bribe) to any member of parliament to vote in any particular way?

We could go on forever with the “What ifs” – but what else could we do to clean up politics, to get rid of corruption and dishonesty and to allow the “people”, all of us, the chance to be heard, to feel that we can make a difference and that our views are properly respected in a truly “democratic” way?

Let’s start with the House of Lords.  There is a general and growing consensus now that our “second chamber” does need reform.  Many people would argue for a directly elected second chamber and they do have a pretty good case.  Do we really want even more elections? Well, it could be quite simple if we elected our “peers” at the same time and as part of the same process as when electing members of the House of Commons.  One elected peer for each constituency.  This would certainly get rid of the hereditary peers and the bishops and it would also get rid of all those undemocratically “appointed” peers. (Most of whom are “party” politicians!)

This would also be a good place to start getting rid of the inherently corrupt and undemocratic “party system”.  Let each candidate for a peerage stand as a complete independent, without any declared party allegiance. Ideally, they should be elected according to their expertise in a particular field and/or the contribution they have made to society.

It is always a good idea to work from the bottom upwards as well as from the top downwards.  If we are going to try to get rid of (or at least decontaminate) the party system, then the other good place to start would be in local elections – parish, town, borough, city and, in due course, county and regional elections.  Yes, quite a few of the “what ifs” listed above might very well sound like mere wishful thinking but there is already one part of the British Isles that actually uses many of these conditions and rules in their electoral system – the Channel Islands – and I don’t think that channel islanders complain much about any democratic deficit!  OK, the Channel Islands are pretty small but most parishes and many towns in the UK are even smaller.  Party politics and the power of money to buy votes are an abomination in local politics and the sooner we get rid of them the better.

The other major “democratic” issue affecting us all at the moment is devolution.  Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have each been granted their own assemblies, with tax-raising powers and a fair degree of autonomy. As a result, mainly because of the Brexit issue, there is a danger of all these three regions striving for independence from Westminster and the consequent break-up of the UK.  What about England?

In England, we don’t have our own regional parliament at all.  Projects like the “Northern Powerhouse” may be a half-hearted attempt to address this “democratic deficit” but will they work?  If we must have regional assemblies and more devolution in the UK (not at all a bad idea) then why not divide England into 4 or 5 equal-sized regions and give each their own regional assemblies on the same lines as those in Scotland and Wales?  “Federal” systems like this already exist in the USA, Germany and various other countries – why not in the UK?

I speak as a staunch Yorkshireman (born in Lancashire but conceived in the north of Scotland, with Greek, French, Scottish and mainly Viking ancestry).  I am quite happy to describe myself as British (or even as European) but the one thing I will never admit to being is English.  (Not because I dislike England or the English – but simply because I am definitely not English.)

However, that’s just me.  I hope we all abhor discrimination of any kind, but the world (including the UK) is, sadly, becoming increasingly nationalistic and intolerant of all those people who might be described as “foreigners”!  It is well worth noting that, under the Equality Act of 2010, according to the government’s own website, it is against the law to discriminate against anyone because of . . ."race, including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin”.

How is it possible that we have a government, political parties and many campaigners and activists who are not only breaking the law itself but actually encouraging and inciting others to do so as well?  Discrimination on the grounds of nationality is every bit as stupid, pointless and inherently immoral as racial discrimination!

Nationalism is one of the great scourges of modern society and it seems to be on the increase all over the world, notably and worryingly in the USA, the UK and in many parts of Europe.  The other “ism” (not entirely unconnected with nationalism) that is creating serious problems in our society is “populism”.  There may be many and various reasons for both of these insidious trends but there is really only one answer - and that is Education!

We have to teach our children to think!  As long as we have an education system that is obsessed with testing and examinations - requiring all our children to jump through the same hoops and focusing almost entirely on the regurgitation of facts and the demonstration of techniques – we are never going to teach people to think, to question, to engage in rational debate, to try to understand, to be considerate, to work together, to help each other instead of just competing with each other, to make the most of their natural and innate talents and, most of all, to respect and listen to those who might think otherwise.  That is the biggest threat of all to our democracy!

Xenophon Kelsey

(29/03/2017)



Sunday, 1 February 2015

TELEVISION DEBATES - WHY?!

Why on earth do we need televised debates between leaders of political parties?

Think about it!  Less than 0.02% of the population are actually able to vote for any of the people involved in the debate!  We all know what they are going to say because we've heard it before, ad nauseam.  All they ever do is blame each other for the state of the country and spout the old, familiar party propaganda – always trimmed to the most simplistic sound-bites possible, all carefully engineered to try to attract the populist vote.  Were told that the TV debates are intended to “engage” the public in the political process – but this kind of posturing charade is precisely what turns voters off and what brings politics and politicians into disrepute.

Elections should be fair!  Every candidate should have the same chance to get his/her viewpoint across.  Every candidate should have the same amount of exposure and publicity.  If we really want to have fair and genuinely democratic elections, then why can’t the BBC record a public debate in every constituency – involving all the candidates in that constituency?  With today’s technology, these recorded debates could be made available on a designated election channel in such a way that voters could view their own local debate as often as they like and at any time during the weeks prior to the election.  That way, we could all assess the qualities, views and policies of those candidates for whom we are actually able to vote.


Disenchantment and disengagement with politics, politicians and the political process are major problems in today’s society – and the media (including the BBC) are as much to blame for this as the politicians themselves.  It’s time for a new kind of politics!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

HOW “ORWELLIAN” CAN WE GET?

In no way would I dream of belittling or denigrating all the recent WW1 commemorations.  It is absolutely right that we should remember (we must never forget!) all the tragedy and sacrifice of that terrible war – and many of the commemorations were very thoughtful and moving – BUT . . .

Remembering is not enough!  Yes, it is good to see all those presidents, prime ministers and royalty from various nations laying wreaths and making speeches. Perhaps it might have been a bit more meaningful if these paragons of wisdom, all these great and godly leaders of our supposedly civilised world, had actually set aside just an hour or so of their precious time to sit down round a table to try to think of ways of preventing all the wars that are going on now and those that are likely to flare up in the future.

In today’s paper, after all the articles and pictures of candle-lit services and ceremonies at cemeteries, there appeared another article, telling us how the UK’s government is “reviewing” the sale of £8bn worth of tanks and weaponry to the Israeli government “in light of the conflict in Gaza”!

Am I really being too cynical?  Wars can be very useful.  They create a lot of employment and they bring in a lot of money.  The weapons trade is one of the world’s most lucrative industries. What would our economy look like without the income from the arms trade?  What would our unemployment figures look like if all our soldiers, sailors and airmen were out of a job? Wars are a useful political tool too – they keep the proletariat scared and submissive and deflect attention from issues that really matter, like climate change, food, water and energy supply, pollution, uncontrolled population growth and the effects of rampant consumerism.

The United Nations was a good idea at the time but, having been pretty well emasculated by Bush & Blair, it now has no teeth, no power and little authority.  It is high time it was either revived in a new and more effective form or replaced by something rather better.  Surely it is not beyond the wit of man to devise some kind of global police force to prevent wars from happening and to control the spread and use of weapons.  Do our world leaders want this?  Apparently not!

The European Union was never, originally, conceived as an economic or political union.  It was intended, primarily, to prevent war and preserve peace in Europe after WW2.  In that respect, for nigh on 70 years, it has been extremely successful.  That is what we should also remember at this time.

It is only by working together that we can hope to achieve and preserve peace, both in Europe and throughout the world.  The rise of “Separatism” and “Nationalism” across Europe and elsewhere is one of the most worrying trends of our time. Not just in the middle east and in Ukraine but also in Spain, France, Belgium – even in the UK and in Scotland – we see increasing support for Nationalist and Separatist parties.


Perhaps it is time for everyone to read (or re-read) George Orwell’s “1984”.  Is that really the sort of society we want?  We’re getting closer all the time!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

HAS ANYBODY SEEN THIS BEFORE?

I think it’s rather good – and the last two verses certainly have a message for today’s world!

The Devil Rejoices
(A Satanic Soliloquy)

When God ordained the sacrifice
Of His own Son on Calvary
To save mankind, it seemed the price
Might very well be paid to me.

But I survived. For man was base
And was, it seemed, so far depraved
That often he rejected Grace
And was not eager to be saved.

I worked on this, with willing aid
From Emperors and barbarians too,
I thought the onslaughts which we made
Would soon kill off that Christian crew.

We failed. I tried a subtler plan
And, saving monstrous doubts, I lied
That either Christ was just a man
Or else, being God, He had not died.

I split the Church, time and again
And, Hell’s below! It did me good
As block or noose or stake and flame
Helped Christians shed each others’ blood.

Yes even this did not provoke
The failure of my Enemy
And so I planned my master stroke –
Devilish good, even for me!

Each Christian talent, thought, idea,
God meant to make a harmony
I have distorted year by year
Into a fiend’s cacophony.

Forgetting they’re an orchestra,
Each played for self and, very soon
Some said that they alone should play
And all the rest were out of tune.

So, arguing round formality,
Preoccupied defining “We”,
They cannot see they all agree
On quite enough to ruin me!


(I discovered this poem recently, hand-written on a scrap of paper inserted in a old book.  I would love to know who wrote it – anybody know?)

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE SCOTTISH "NATIONALISTS"?

What is wrong with these Scottish “Nationalists”?

Is your “Nationality” an important part of your personal identity?  Does it really matter?  For some, obviously, the answer is “Yes”.

I’m only partly Scottish. (A pretty small part at that but I’m told I can trace my ancestry directly back to Mary Queen of Scots, the Colquhoun Clan and the Bell’s Whisky family!)  The rest of me is a mixture of Greek, a bit of French and a fair amount of Viking. I consider myself a Yorkshire man – although, by a twist of circumstance, I was actually born in Lancashire.  If that is ever held against me, I point out that I was conceived in Ross & Cromarty, so my heart is in Scotland!  I would certainly never describe myself as English but I am quite happy to be British.

What has this to do with anything? Well, there must be countless millions of people, all over the world, who don’t actually live in Scotland but who genuinely consider themselves to be Scottish.  If the so-called Scottish “Nationalists” succeed in their barmy and selfish campaign for an independent Scotland, do they realise that they will actually be depriving all their compatriots (and many of we British) of their true nationality and identity?

Why?  Well, if Scotland becomes an independent state (i.e. nation) then it will have to issue new Scottish passports to all its citizens. (What a waste of time and money!) Not only that – but the existing UK/British passport will also become defunct, because there will no longer be a UK or a “Britain”.  I have nothing against the Welsh or Northern Irish but there is nothing of those nations in my ancestry – and I’m certainly not prepared to be called English!

The “Yes” campaign will say that this is not really a problem.  They will say that there is no reason why all these millions of ex-pat Scottish folk shouldn’t be able to apply for Scottish “Nationality” and thus acquire their new Scottish passports.  If that is the case (and this is the crux of the matter) then why not let all these non-resident but truly “Scottish” people establish their Scottish nationality before the referendum, so that they can also cast their votes?  The answer to that is simple: if Alex Salmond and his so-called “Nationalists” did that, they know they would lose, by miles!

And what about the rest of we British?  We are also being threatened with a significant change to our own nationality – why do we not have any say in the matter?

The whole referendum is an ill-considered, immoral, unconstitutional and undemocratic farce!  Cameron should never have agreed to it and it should never be allowed to happen in this shape or form.  This is not Ukraine!  Anyone with any common sense will vote to keep the UK together!

Having said all that, there is, perhaps, an even more important point to make . . .

I was brought up to believe that Racism is wrong.  In fact I think most people would now agree that Racism is wrong.  If it is wrong to discriminate against people because of their race, why is it OK to discriminate against people because of their Nationality?  I think "Nationalism" is every bit as bad as "Racism" - and it probably causes even more wars than religion!

So - come on you Scottish "Nationalists"! Think again - all you are doing is losing friends and making enemies!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

SPECIAL CHRISTMAS ITEM FOR STRING PLAYERS!

A bit of Christmas jollity for string players – “EINE KLEINE CHRISTMAS MUSIK” – four fun-packed movements for String Quartet (or String Orchestra).  Click on the icon to the right of this blog to view the full score.

Do have a look at this piece of Christmas frivolity!  It's ideal for busking, or for light hearted Christmas concerts – you could even use a movement as an amusing encore during the festive season.  Even the page turns are fun!  Email me if you would like the parts – I can either send them to you by email or post you a full, printed set (with score).  All I ask in return is a small donation to the “Andante Project” (supporting musical charities and promoting music education in the UK).

I hardly need to explain that this is based on Mozart’s original, with countless subtle (and not-so-subtle) references to carols and Christmas music.  I arranged the first 3 movements years ago but only recently did I figure out a way to make the last movement work!

So – the complete 4 movement piece is finally published and available either in print - all four parts and full score for only £15 + £1.50 p&p (UK only) - or as pdf files by email for as little as £10 (or a bit more if you like!).  Please order by email – xen@xenmus.net

Happy Christmas one and all - have FUN!!!

Sunday, 28 April 2013

THE UK ECONOMY - A CASE FOR CHARITY?!


Amongst the hottest topics of the day are, undoubtedly, unemployment, economic growth and the welfare bill.  There might be at least a grain of truth in Ed Milliband’s latest pronouncements on these issues but, so far, all we have heard from both sides is, as usual, a lot of political posturing aimed, primarily, at attracting voters.

One of the charities I work for recently submitted an application for government funding for a project that would have created five new jobs – at a cost to the taxpayer of well below the minimum wage for each job.  We were refused on the grounds that our project wasn't of “high enough priority”.

Now, here’s a thought!  Surely it is not beyond the wit of man to devise a scheme whereby money is made available to registered charities to enable them to employ people who are on benefits.  Why give money to people for doing nothing, even when they want to work, when that same money could be paid to those same people for doing useful work for good causes and for public benefit?

We keep hearing that it is the private sector that must create all the new jobs that we've lost in the public sector and that we now so desperately need.  What about the third sector, the Charitable sector?  Without a doubt there is plenty of useful and beneficial work that needs to be done, throughout the country – and such a scheme could result in a massive reduction of unemployment.  Pay these new charity employees a “living wage”, incorporate strong elements of training into the scheme – we’re onto a real winner here!

Come on all you politicians, just think about it!  There is more to life (and more to the economy) than just business and growth.  Charities contribute immensely to the quality of all our lives and, in many cases, they are now being expected to do the government’s job.

It wouldn't cost the taxpayer a penny more to introduce such a scheme. It could actually save money – and all our lives, especially those of the poorest, would be so much the better for it.