Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Why is the Left so keen to be duped on renewable energy?

Because they are!

‘Lefties’ who can smell out the faintest whiff of capitalist propaganda when it comes to politics or the economy, suddenly become corporate whores when it comes to renewable energy.

And I can’t for the life of me think why.


The Social Injustice of ROCs

Is it necessary to rehearse again how renewable energy is subsidised?

The score is this: having made all sorts of promises about renewable energy at Kyoto etc., the government suddenly realised that it had to deliver on those promises.

What it SHOULD have done was to lob money at insulation and energy-saving, given tax incentives to improve energy efficiency, toughened up industry standards on petrol consumption, carbon emissions etc.

What it SHOULD have done was to pump millions into the development and spread of heat exchange technology.

But that would have involved costs, taxes, rules … everything that the rich hate, and we can’t upset the rich, can we?

So instead, the government hit on the ultimate con. It wouldn't improve our energy-efficiency, it would just arrange to produce more ‘green’ energy.

And it even found a way not to pay for it! It did a deal with the energy companies, let them collect ‘ROCs’ (which sell for more than the cost of the electricity produced) … and then allowed the companies pass on the whole cost of the ROCs to the consumer.

Thus, the cost of every Megawatt of renewable electricity is more than double the cost of ordinary electricity, and the extra sum is paid by every consumer as a hidden cost in his electricity bill.

Currently, about a tenth of your electricity bill is going in this way as a slush payment to the electricity companies to go along with this. If the companies meet their targets, by 2030, a quarter of every electricity bill will therefore purely and wholly be just to pay the government-agreed subsidy. The government has recently been negotiating with the companies to adjust this bonus – but to make it more secure, not to reduce it.

And who is hardest hit by this gratis gift?

Is it the rich, in their insulated, double-glazed houses with the new central heating system? Of course not – many people who can afford are already installing solar panels and wind turbines and not only producing their own electricity, but benefitting themselves from the ROCs! It is actually a money-maker for rich people.

No. It is the poor, with their two-bar radiators and draughty windows, who are going to be hardest-hit by a hidden tax which will cost the average household some £400 a year extra on their energy bills by 2030.

You would have thought it was an open-and-shut case for the Left, wouldn’t you – an unavoidable, highly regressive, 25% tax on the poorest members of our society.

But … not a murmur.


Where is the Left?

Why is this? Why are Lefties such willing dupes when it comes to renewable energy?

Global warming? I don’t know enough about ‘global warming’ to comment on whether it is true or false, man made or a solar cycle … but it seems pretty clear to me that if we all here in Britain turned off the electricity altogether and sat in the cold with the lights off it would have almost NO EFFECT WHATSOEVER on the global consumption of energy or the production of CO2. Some wag has estimated that every wind turbine delays the accumulation of CO2 by just two seconds.

What I DO know about global warming, on the other hand, is that it has been gleefully used by a variety of vested interests to justify a string of restrictions from stopping my free plastic bags at the supermarket to upping my car tax. If global warming is true, I can assure you that I’m already doing my bit to pay for it; if it isn’t, then I have been totally ripped off.

And surely – even if you believe in renewable energy – THAT is what we ought to be campaigning about … about the MISuse of the issue to bash the poor.

When the government suggested that we ask an extra £18,000 from students, the Left went on marches, rioted, chucked fire extinguishers off roofs. When the government consigns hundreds of thousands of old and poor people into fuel poverty, the ‘Lefties’ intone rather patronising lectures about how we ‘HAVE’ to move to renewable energy, along with a garbled rehash of electricity company propaganda.

Why aren’t we marching, writing letters, decrying the plutocrats, attacking the sell-out to private enterprise?

Instead, when Eon recently proposed putting the biggest wind farm in Britain literally on the other side of the road from Newton Aycliffe, some people who should have known better greeted them like returning saviours.

So no – the Left is silent, and it has been the Right which has attacked the wind farms on the grounds of financial waste, rather than the Left on the grounds of Social Justice.

It is beyond my comprehension – all I can think is that the Lefties are such suckers for a ‘green’ cause that they leave their brains behind.


Will there be a Renewable Future?

It’s not as though there is any future in renewable energy…

Because that is what I’m being told – that I have to think of the children, stop being selfish, and pay up and shut up to save their future.

But anyone with half a brain can see that there’s no future in most forms of renewable energy.


It is wind power, of course, for which I reserve my greatest spleen.

Forget shadow flicker and amplitude noise. Forget the visual impact of these monstrosities with which they insist on cluttering up every worthwhile view in Britain. Forget even that wind power costs THREE times as much as traditionally-generated electricity (once for the electricity, once for the subsidy, and once for the coal-fired station that has to be kept on standby for when the wind doesn't blow).

Let’s just face one single, unarguable fact – that wind turbines are not reliable as a producer of electricity.

So why is it government policy to make us increasingly reliant on wind power?

This isn’t a matter of a technology which may at the moment be imperfect but will improve. Wind generation will ALWAYS be unreliable because the wind is unreliable and no amount of technological advance or wishful thinking will EVER overcome this.

Surely this is an ‘Emperor’s Clothes’ moment for some people reading this?

Our government intends to rely on the unreliable!

Why – that’s as stupid as having an aircraft carrier without planes!

(Ooops. Sorry. Bad example.)

Why – that’s as stupid as buying an electric car that has nowhere to recharge when you get there.

(Ah. Sorry again. Another inappropriate example. I‘ll try again.)

Why – that’s as stupid as setting off on an hour’s scuba dive knowing you only have 30 minutes of air. Our government is knowingly and wilfully saddling our children with a form of power generation which IT KNOWS will not generate power for a significant proportion of the time.

So I’ll tell you what I fear most about wind power. No amount of technological development will ever make wind power a reliable form of generation. And they produce a piddling little whine of electricity into the bargain. The ONLY thing that makes them half worthwhile for the electricity companies is the MASSIVE subsidy,

What is going to happen, in the next 20 years, is that there WILL be technological advances that DO make some form of renewable energy viable. It won’t be wind power – we have established that. It may be photovoltaic or geothermal.

Whatever, as soon as that happens, the government will cut the subsidies to the useless forms of renewable energy (such as wind farms) – and as soon as it does that, then the electricity companies will lose interest.

And the turbines … well they will gradually fall into ruins.

I am continually told with renewable energy that I have to think of my grandchildren, and the world they will inhabit.

Well I do, and if we do not manage to stop this wind farm madness, I am predicting that our grandchildren will inhabit a world full of huge, rusting masts, which stand motionless and useless, which the local councils do not own and cannot do anything about, and which the electricity companies refuse to waste any more money on.


A Dead End?

And what about the other forms of renewable energy?

  • Have you seen the technology for wave-power? It will be centuries before wave-power is anything but a circus attraction.
  • Geothermal power is probably the main hope for the future, but is only just at the start of the initial phase of beginning to be developed.
  • Biomass stations at least work – there is one down the road from us which will produce as much electricity on its own as all 45 of the wind turbines across the road. But, really, is there any future in biomass? In a recycling world, do we really intend to incinerate vast and increasing amounts of waste to make electricity? Do we really intend to grow food … to burn it?
  • Photovoltaic cells DO have a future. I would make it a building reg. that every new build MUST have a south facing roof comprised entirely of photovoltaic cells. It is a technology that will improve, and the firm that makes them is based in County Durham, so there would even be a jobs bonus. The only drawback, of course, is that – of the major forms of renewable energy – photovoltaic cells are the only one NOT identified in the government’s renewable energy policy. Hopeless and useless.

So I am no further forward! If the Left had not inexplicably sold their souls to the corporates in this, they would be railing against the social injustice of the renewable energy subsidies, demanding that the government rationalise and humanise its energy policy.

Oh for the days of the Peasants' ReVolt.

? the Tolpuddle Meters.

? the Plug Plots.

? a new Generation.

?a current issue.


Tuesday, 20 September 2011

No to tax cuts!

I am told in the Daily Fascist that the government’s ‘Plan B’ – if the economy fails to grow – is a tax cut to ‘stimulate’ growth. Apparently, the intention is to axe the 50p rate.

We have to resist this. It would be a disaster.

To understand why, you only need the merest smattering of an understanding of economics.


Wealth and its Origins

What makes us ‘wealthy’ as an economy? Where does society’s wealth come from?

Personal experience suggests that it comes from making a profit. What did Mr Micawber teach: ‘Income £1, expenditure 95p, result happiness. Income £1, expenditure £1.05, result misery’. It is a homely, common-sense-approach-to-economics to which Margaret Thatcher appealed. It is also the basis for our current rush to reduce the deficit – common sense tells us that our nation cannot go on living on debt, because WE cannot go on living on debt!

This thinking was also, of course, the basis of the ‘mercantilism’ of the 18th century. Governments reckoned that, if you imported as little as possible, and exported as much as possible, then your country would – by definition – become rich. The same thinking inhabits the modern fears about our ‘balance of payments’, and the demise of our manufacturing industry – the worry that we don’t ‘make’ anything any more.

The only problem is that, globally, the economy doesn’t work like that!

Here’s something they didn’t teach you at school. You were probably taught that the Industrial Revolution was the result of the cash nexus – that it was caused by capitalism … by all those enthusiastic Victorian entrepreneurs rushing out, building factories and making money.

Rubbish, all of it.

The key to Britain’s industrial wealth was not production, but trade. It was a guy called Adam Smith who realised that mercantilism only made societies POORER, and that the way to make everybody wealthy was to free up trade.

I used to teach my classes this with a game. I would give a pupil £1, and get him to ‘buy’ something (e.g. a pencil) from his neighbour. ‘What is the wealth of that desk?’, I would ask. After a while, some pupil with insight would realise that it wasn’t £1; the wealth of that desk was £2 – £1 in cash and £1 in goods.

Next, I used to get the whole class to ‘trade’ in a similar way – each pupil would ‘sell’ some item, take the £1, and then in their turn ‘buy’ an item from the next pupil and give them the £1 in ‘payment’.

First time through, I would run the simulation for a minute, allowing pupils to trade only every 5 seconds; at the end of the time, the collective wealth of the class was seen to be £13 – £1 in cash and £12 in goods.

Then, however, I would run the simulation a second time, challenging the pupils to ‘trade’ as quickly as possible. Sometimes they managed to conduct 150 transactions in the minute! Individually, of course, there were winners and losers – some people ended up buying a pencil shaving for their £1, others got a designer watch! But, societally, at the end of a minute of mad trading, the wealth of the class was anything up to £150+.

The economist John Maynard Keynes called this ‘the multiplier’ – when it is used to trade, £1 can create wealth many times its own value.

Wealth is created by trade, and the amount of wealth trade creates is dependent upon the ‘velocity of transactions’.

Are we wealthier than our forebears? The economic history of the 20th century can be seen as a series of tricks to speed up our buying – Hire Purchase so you didn’t have to save up before you could buy; ‘Access takes the waiting out of wanting’; air mail; next-day delivery; self-service; internet-shopping... The faster we trade, the wealthier the world as a whole becomes.


Trade and the Origins of Recession

Did you think the current economic recession was caused by the banking crisis? I suppose you do, because that’s what the newspapers are telling you.

It’s a load of rubbish. There is no reason in this world why a banking crisis – or a slump in the stock exchange, or even the bankruptcy of Greece – should per se cause a recession.

What has caused the recession is that we have stopped buying stuff from each other. And when I don’t buy a pencil from you, you can’t buy a loaf from Tesco, and Tesco don’t buy the flour etc. etc.

We stopped buying because we all suddenly realised that we were in debt, that the future was uncertain, and that we’d better ‘draw in our horns’.

And thus the perception of recession caused the recession.

This was also of course why Gordon Brown’s ‘quantitative easing’ failed to work as he hoped. He released £ billions into the economy, hoping that it would ‘get things going’ – but people did not go out and spend that money, they just used it to clear their debts and prepare for a bleak future.

In Keynesian terms, the ‘propensity to save’ negated ‘the multiplier’.

That, of course, is the irony of ‘austerity measures’. At the moment, the governments of Europe are busy imposing ‘austerity measures’ – impoverishing their people to try to ‘address the deficit’. After what I have just said you HAVE to realise that this is not a solution to the deficit. All that happens when you take money out of people’s pockets – by sacking them, or reducing their pay – is that they stop buying things. Then this throws the economy further into recession, taxes fall … and the deficit gets worse.

And that, of course, is also the irony about China! China, at the moment, is becoming the creditor of the west – out of the billions they have in their reserves from their humongous balance of payment surplus. If the western governments do not implement austerity measures, the Chinese are saying, they will not continue lending that money to the west.

How stupid can you get!

Not only is it stupid because throwing the west into further recession will make the world situation worse, but because there is a strong argument that – by stacking up those huge reserves and not spending them on western goods and services – it is the CHINESE who have caused the global recession in the first place, by slowing up trade.

Because, you see, just as trade is the creator or wealth, SAVING is the destroyer of wealth. When I save, I don’t buy. I slow down trade. I create recession.


Taxes and the Origins of Growth

Finally, what has all this got to do with cutting taxes?

It is the argument of the Right that cutting taxes encourages growth because it encourages entrepreneurial activity. When taxes are high, they say, businessmen can’t see any point in working, growing – so they go elsewhere, don’t employ people etc., and the economy suffers.

Again, this has the ring of commons sense. EVERYBODY – not just the entrepreneurs – hates paying taxes! We all want to stimulate enterprise, and in our capitalist society we acknowledge that it is the cash nexus which motivates.

Again, however, the only problem with this argument is that it is rubbish.

Economic historians have proved that the Depression of the 1930s was not caused by the Wall Street Crash. The Crash barely harmed half a million people in a population of 123 million (i.e. less than half a per cent of the population).

What caused the Depression of the 1930s was the inequality in wealth that had crept into US society – the rich were too rich, and 40% of the population were living below the poverty line, and the Crash made the situation worse because the government immediately introduced austerity measures (which made the poor poorer still). It was not the ruin of 600,000 speculators which caused the Depression, it was the poverty (and lack of spending) by 50 million poor people.

It is just the same in Britain today. The gap between rich and poor has been growing; austerity measures have hit the poor even harder. And all those millions of people are having to stop spending.

So what effect will abolishing the 50p tax rate have? Will it encourage spending, and increase trade?

Of course not. It will just make people who are already so-wealthy-they-don’t-know-what-to-spend-it-on even wealthier. They will put that money into their savings … and the recession will get worse.

When you are in recession, you don’t want to cut taxes, you need to increase them!

You need to take money from the rich and give it to the poor.

But the poor are so fickle, you say – they just waste the money I had to work so hard to earn!

Well, firstly, yes – precisely. When you give the rich more money they just save it and wreck the economy. When you give it to the poor, they go straight out and spend it and – hey, a miracle – the economy gets going.

And, secondly, you rich entrepreneurs – you don’t need to be worried about paying taxes and giving the money to the poor. Because you’ll get it back in days. Those poor people will take that money, and they’ll spend it … fritter it away on beer, on cigarettes, on food, on rent, on heating, on clothes you think they don’t deserve, on stuff you resent them having. But whom do they buy those things from? FROM YOU, you idiot.

And even if you don’t make beer, cigarettes, food, clothes etc., the likelihood is that you supply someone who does. Somewhere down the supply chain, you benefit.

Even under the last Labour government, we became accustomed to the mantra that, in order to help the economy, we need to keep taxes low. Every government aspires to be a tax-cutting government.

Maybe in a booming economy, that worked.

In a recession hit economy, it’s the road to ruin.

Cutting benefits takes money away from the very people who will spend it.

Cutting taxes gives it to people who will save it.

Rich people and businessmen generally approve of tax cuts, but they have to realise that – in the long term – impoverishing the poor will bankrupt their own businesses, because people will stop buying what they produce.

We need a government which has the wit to increase taxes on the wealthy, and to increase benefits for the poor.

Increasing benefits for the poor gets the retail economy going again.

Increasing taxes on the rich will cut into their savings, releases the multiplier, and in the long term secures their businesses.

And what happens to the deficit?

Well – because you’re paying the extra benefits out of increased taxes, the deficit doesn’t grow.

And because the government takes its cut from every transaction, and from every income earned, in fact taxes can grow still further and the deficit falls.

And we have TAXED our way out of recession.


One last comment. How is that, in 1947, in the poverty of the post-war world, Britain could afford the Welfare State, but today – with all our wealth and technology – we are apparently too poor to sustain it?

Here is your homework. Find out what the Income Tax rate was in 1947.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The Boundaries Review - An Outrage Against Our Democracy

I am against the whole idea of the Boundary changes.

There is, of course, a strong chance that Sedgefield will lose the Labour MP it has had since 1983, but that merely exasperates me with the Labour Party, which I cannot believe seems simply to be lying down and accepting its extinction as a party of rule.

No, I oppose the Tory Boundary changes IN PRINCIPLE, as an attempt to emasculate our democracy.


We are told that the reduction of MPs will save £12million. Are they serious? £12m is exactly what it cost the country for the Pope’s visit last year. It is the cost of a second-string Blackburn footballer. It is the cost of Chris Evans’s most recent Ferrari … or the new Gwent Record Office. In other words, it is a drop in the ocean, and to trot it out as the justification for a complete rewriting of our democratic fabric shows the disdain with which the current government treats its public … and its tongue-tied, impotent opposition.


So what so angers me about the current Boundary changes?


A first objection

Well, for a start, it involves a cut in the number of MPs – 13 fewer in England, actually. On what basis, one wonders, are we proposing fewer MPs?

In 1861, when Britain was not even a democracy, and no women and fewer than a third of the men had the vote, there were nevertheless 466 MPs in a population of 19 million – one MP for every 40,000 people. By 1921, when Britain was more-or-less a democracy, a population of 35 million had 492 MPs (70,000 people per MP). By 1950, the ratio had risen to 1:80,000; today it is 1:97,000. Cameron’s changes will take it to 1 MP to every 102,000 people.

What was it about Britain in 1921 that could afford an MP for every 70,000 people which in our super-affluent society we cannot afford today?

I suppose you could argue that modern technology means that MPs nowadays have better access to their electorate, but, then again, it is hardly as though we are all feeling ‘over-represented’ nowadays. I don’t hear many people complaining that they can’t move without one MP or another asking if they can help them.

For doctors, of course, it is different. Textbooks see it as a sign that Britain is more ‘advanced’ because it has 1 doctor to every 440 inhabitants. Togo is supposed to be less advanced because it has 1 doctor to every 25,000 inhabitants. Apparently, politically, it works the other way – Togo’s parliament has 81 deputies at a ratio of 1 deputy to every 60,000 people. Britain, the cradle of the world’s democracy apparently only needs 1:100,000.

Well I think not. I think the steadily increasing ratio is a sign of the steadily increasing isolation of our lawmakers from their constituents. It may well explain the steadily increasing apathy of people towards politics. And I resist this attempt to disrupt my access to the legislature.


A second objection

Secondly, I resent the way it has been done. I am an historian. I know about the rotten boroughs before 1832. I am aware that, sometimes, population changes and it is necessary to adjust constituencies to accommodate those changes. But is this what lies behind the current boundary changes? Has the commission been consolidating communities, adjusting anomalies? Of course not. It has just been an exercise in number-crunching, as the Commission has sought to set a 75-80,000 figure of electors for every constituency. The guy on the News was boasting about it! I get the impression for all the world that they started in the top-right-hand corner and then just moved south, drawing a line round every 80,000 people, until they reached the bottom-right.

In County Durham, one constituency stretches from Haltwhistle by the Roman Wall to Gainford near Darlington; it’s not a constituency, it’s a province. It also includes, along with acres of moorland and scattered rural market towns, the industrial town of Consett. How can one MP meaningfully serve such a constituency? How can anybody in their right mind seriously suggest that that will give those people ‘representation’ at Westminster?

We study prisons, and the Nazi concentration camps, and regret how those systems reduced the people to mere numbers. But that is how the Boundary Commission has treated us. We are not people, with needs and a character to be accommodated – we are just numbers, to be shoved in anywhere convenient to make the numbers ‘work’.

Take our own proposed constituency of Sedgefield-and-Yarm. Newton Aycliffe was originally in Bishop Auckland; it stood at the south-east corner of a Dales constituency. In 1983, a reorganisation decided that we were not a Dales community at all – it put us in with Trimdon, Wingate, Ferryhill et al., and we found ourselves in the south-west corner of a mining constituency. We were like a fish out of water and, to be fair, it has taken us a quarer of a century to come to terms with the rest of our constituency.

Now, no sooner have we done so, than we find that we are to be the north-east corner of a Tees Valley constituency. Newton Aycliffe, then a large stretch of rural land, then the River Tees, and into North Yorkshire, and you will find our new stable-mates, Yarm, Eaglescliffe and Ingleby Barwick in South Stockton.

What have we in common with these places? Nothing. I’ve never even been to Ingleby Barwick.

We are being herded like sheep into convenient folds. We are being treated appallingly. And nobody seems to have noticed. Nobody seems to be questioning the morality of the exercise. They’re all going like sheep to the slaughter. We're behaving like the bland, voiceless unpersons they take us for.


A third objection

There has been no care or consideration for communities in this reorganisation.

Take, for instance, my own community of Newton Aycliffe.

We have just had a Boundary reorganisation – at local government level. In fact, the community took it very seriously. The town Residents’ Association held a community meeting about it. Local political groups lobbied. The Town Council threw in its weight. We formed a 'community' view.

One of the things that we argued was that boundaries should ‘make sense’. They should enclose communities which meant something to people. And we also argued that boundaries should be coterminous; people get confused when they vote with one ‘community’ for parish elections, but with another for county elections. When that happens, it destroys much of the point of voting – you aren’t voting for the health of your community, you’re voting to put some chap with a political label into a position of power … and there’s no wonder that people get apathetic.

To their credit, I have to say that the Boundaries Commission listened – they did a good job where Newton Aycliffe was concerned. Our town is now split into a number of sensible ‘divisions’, and the parish ‘wards’ sit within them. One of our great successes was that we finally persuaded the Boundaries Commission to match the western boundary of the town with the western boundary of the constituency. One of the anomalies of the previous system had been a ‘Shildon-and-Middridge’ division which returned a County Councillor for a division which was half in Shildon and half in Newton Aycliffe – so that the Shildon part was in Bishop Auckland constituency, and the Aycliffe half was in Sedgefield. It was a nightmare to organise politically, and the result was that sometimes we got a Shildon County Councillor who was a stranger in Newton Aycliffe, and sometimes we got an Aycliffe chap who was at sea in Shildon. Lately, the division has returned two councillors, one from each community, who rarely talk to each other, and treat the division as two separate divisions. Crazy. In June of this year, the Boundaries Commission cut off Shildon from Aycliffe altogether, and turned the faces of the division’s two halves to their respective ‘natural’ communities.

Until yesterday, that is. Because the latest Boundaries Commission proposal, of course, has re-jigged all the constituency boundaries and – wouldn’t you know it – ‘East Shildon’ has now been drafted back into Aycliffe to make up the numbers and, after barely three months of coterminous boundaries, instead of having a constituency boundary which ran through a County division, we now have a County boundary which runs through a constituency. Madness. And the people of East Shildon must be bewildered. Before they were in Bishop Auckland constituency, with a dog’s-dinner of a County division which paired them with Aycliffe. Now they have a sensible County division which unites them with the rest of their town … and are part of a dog’s-dinner of a constituency which pairs them back with Aycliffe.

What kind of scheme – what kind of people – can brazenly propose a boundaries review which purports to be fit for purpose … and yet splits the tight-knit community of Shildon down the middle for constituency purposes? These people have no shame or sense of justice.

You can see more of this chaotic thinking which has simply thrown disparate communities together, or split them asunder, in the mere name of my proposed constituency – ‘Sedgefield and Yarm’. It used to be Sedgefield, but so much has been lost in the north and west of the constituency, and so much added in the south, that the Commission has obviously felt that the name ‘Sedgefield’ – now merely a small village in the top-right corner of the constituency – would be deemed inappropriate. So they have tacked on ‘and Yarm’ (a small market town in the bottom left), to acknowledge the inclusion of the communities across the other side of the Tees in North Yorkshire. In fact, neither Sedgefield nor Yarm are the major population or economic centres of the new constituency – the biggest places are Newton Aycliffe and Ingleby Barwick. Presumably ‘Newton Aycliffe and Ingleby Barwick’ was thought to be too much of a mouthful – or perhaps they thought that maintaining the word ‘Sedgefield’ preserved an element of continuity … HA! They needn’t have bothered. This Bassett’s Allsorts of a constituency bears no relation to the previous constituency. It is a completely new Frankenstein of a constituency, and goodness knows how we’re going to breathe life into it when we try to make it ‘work’.


Because, you know, that’s the rub … making the unit ‘work’ politically. The Boundaries Commission has shifted communities here and there to make the numbers work, but they have forgotten that politics is about people working together. Where boundaries are sensible and coterminous, this is easy – you work in ever-widening circles, but the PEOPLE are the same. Where boundaries are not coterminous, it’s a nightmare, because you work with one set of politicians for one thing, another for another, and each group is discrete from the other. You spend a lot of time going to meetings with people, none of whom you know – they know each other, but when you speak, however sensible your comments, they look at you as if to say: ‘Who the hell are you?’

It’s all about ‘which way your face is turned’. By the new constituency arrangements, Aycliffe will look north to Durham for its County Council matters, but will now look south to Yarm and Ingleby Barwick for its Parliamentary matters. This is NOT a minor inconvenience. When you are trapped in a confusion of different authorities, it precludes joined-up thinking for your community, and it stultifies coordinated action … which I suppose is a wonderful thing for those who see government as imposing their own wishes upon us.


A fourth objection

And that brings me to my fourth rage against the machine, which is that I believe the new boundary proposals are a denial of democracy, and a deprivation of my rights as a citizen. They turn on its head the whole concept of ‘representation’ at Westminster.

Democracy is government by the people, for the people. Nationally, we cannot have a participatory democracy, of course – we have a representative democracy, and send our ‘representatives’ to Westminster to ‘represent’ us. I am aware that, by the British system, that man may not always share my political beliefs but, nevertheless, the principle is crystal clear – when he sits there in the House of Commons, our MP is NOT his own man. Theoretically – on principle – he is representing us in the highest body of the constitution, and thereby he is ‘our voice in the government’.

This is critical, because you have to realise, therefore, that the human being sat there in Parliament is NOT a person. He is the community which elected him. I don’t know if they still do so, but MPs never used to call each other by name in the House, but referred to each other as ‘the Honourable member for Sedgefield’ etc. – i.e. it wasn’t ‘Phil Wilson’ sitting there, but ‘the people of Sedgefield’.

Now of course all this is in theory. ‘The people of Sedgefield’ have voted in an election, but they represent a wide spectrum of political, social and economic interests. There is little 'community view' across the ‘constituency-community’ (as there can be, for instance, within smaller communities on many matters). So to be honest – even a quarter of a century after the constituency was reorganised – I don’t know whether we yet live up to our billing as a ‘constituency-community’!

Nevertheless, I do know that, for a quarter of a century, people from the different towns and villages in the constituency have been having to cooperate politically, if nothing else to organise the election campaigns, and I do know and respect people from Wingate, and Trimdon, and Bradbury and Mordon etc. Given a few more quarter-centuries, we might even begin to be ‘getting there’ as a political community!


And what I DO know is that this new boundaries reorganisation utterly ignores all the principles of community representation. Not only ignores, but overturns ... destroys. I know it sounds alarmist and overstated, but this Boundaries Commission has overthrown the principle of our democracy.

The new boundaries reorganisation has not been about creating meaningful ‘constituency-communities’! It has been simply and solely a number-crunching exercise, throwing towns and villages into different boxes to make the numbers work. Yarm has been thrown in with Sedgefield, Newton Aycliffe with Ingleby Barwick, not because they have anything in common, or any shared interest, or similar heritage, but purely because the numbers add up to c.75,000. The principle of a constituency-community sending its representative to Parliament has been lost.

‘Come off it’, I hear you say, people get new MPs all the time – when they retire, or when a different party is elected. The people of Aycliffe may be losing one MP, but they’ll get another, so what’s the difference?

But you’ve missed the point…

The new proposals treat the voter as an individual, whose democratic rights end when he has cast his vote; they have lost the perspective of an election as a mechanism by which the individuals-in-community select their representative.

And - further (and to a degree consequentially) - they incorporate an underlying assumption … they act as though … it is the MPs who run the government – ‘We need only 502 MPs to run the government, so we’re reorganising the boundaries to reduce the number.’

Indeed, it is easy to see why the MPs and the Boundaries Commission have lost perspective, and have come to see themselves as the people who run the government. But they are mistaken, and they have forgotten THE crucial principle of our democracy, that Parliament is not a group of important people who have been voted into power, but a coming-together of the different communities to determine their own destiny.

And to be able to do that meaningfully, those communities need an ‘identity’. And to have that they need continuity. You cannot just throw 70,000 unconnected people together and let them vote for the person who will make their laws ... and pretend that that is a democracy. It reduces our democracy to a ‘Britain’s-Got-Talent’ show – a day where we cast our vote and select our celebrity-to-be.

To work properly, democracy needs to be much more than a vote, and MPs properly should grow organically out of their community. And for that to happen the constituency needs to be a meaningful entity. Constituencies grow and develop; they need a history and a sense of shared destiny. They need time to grow their MP.

They need leaving alone.


Now I know that the Tories will argue that inner city constituencies are too small, and that they elect too many Labour MPs to be ‘fair’. To be honest, that is fair comment. I would counter-argue that inner-city areas have lots more problems, and that perhaps they need more MPs-per-person to care for them. But – as I said above – I also have to admit that communities wax and wane, and what is a meaningful community one century may very well not be the next.

So – yes – there DOES need to be some gradual organic change, to ensure that the constituencies-on-the-map match the communities-on-the-ground.

But is anyone daring to suggest that the current review is ‘gradual organic change’, and that it is trying to ensure that our constituencies are ‘meaningful communities’? I think not.


Where are the riots?

I am horrified at the Labour Party’s response to this proposed reorganisation. One MP in my local newspaper, facing the mutilation of her constituency and the loss of her seat, states cheerfully that some of the changes ‘make sense’ and that she will just have to work harder to recommend herself to the electorate. Other MPs are trying to ‘fiddle with the edges’, importing electors here and shedding electors there to try to restore the political balance.

Ed Milliband accuses the government of ‘gerrymandering’ (which it palpably is NOT), but promises to ‘work with’ the review (which he absolutely should NOT).

Why is NOBODY denouncing the review in principle? Why is nobody trying to overturn the whole exercise? We rioted about the Poll Tax, marched about university fees, but we're apparently going to roll over and accepted the dismantling of our constituencies without a murmur.

I suspect it is because all our MPs are from the Westminster village, and that they all naturally see themselves in the terms that this Boundaries Commission review casts them – as clever people elected by a vote to rule the country. And that is why they have missed the autocratic bent of the review, and the outrage to democracy it represents.


We beat AV. The nation rose up, and we voted to stay with what we’ve got.

And that is what we need to do again.

Every constituency needs to INSTRUCT its MP, whatever the party whip, to go down to Westminster and to do his job – to represent his constituency – and to decide in Parliament that our constituency will NOT be dismantled.