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Power 2010 Pledge

The Power 2010 pledge was set up as something to encourage parliamentarians to endorse the types of reform which voters have called for. This was done via an online campaign, and several targeted real-world events.

My own objection to Power 2010 is on record, and I’m not hopeful that it will change anything – and it does seem to have become just another pressure group at this time. That said, I am of course signing the Power 2010 pledge, as some of the measures are worthwhile, even if they won’t have the sort of effect aimed at by the group.

Clauses of the pledge are, in order of popularity:

1. Introduce a proportional system

2. Scrap ID cards and roll back the database state

3. Replace the House of Lords with an elected chamber

4. Allow only English MPs to vote on English laws

5. Draw up a written constitution

When signing the pledge, the site asks you to make clear why you are signing it, and which bits you agree and disagree with. Salman Shaheen has posted up his views over at Third Estate. On the Power 2010 site, I have written as follows:

“I support the POWER Pledge parts 1, 2, 3 and 5. I think the democratisation of the parliamentary system and the protection of the civil liberties of the British people are vitally important to ensuring a better degree of accountability when it comes to the government, both legislative and executive branches.

“I do not support English votes on English laws.”

As someone who lives in England, and is liable to be affected by English votes on English laws, I don’t think it’s a good idea. I see it as an expression of nationalism, and there’ll be more coming up on this in a subsequent post on Raymond Williams, George Orwell and “Real England”.

If you have signed the Power 2010 pledge, feel free to leave your own remarks below as to why, or why you won’t.

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  1. February 24, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    Glad you’re supporting the Pledge – I imagine a lot of people on the left will feel the same way about English votes but it’s positive the issue is at least being raised, as it’s a running sore. Only majority support is needed so people who disagree with it can still back the Pledge.

  2. February 24, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    I won’t be signing it, as I only agree with 0.5 of the proposals and disagree with 4.5 of them.

    I disagree with proportional representation as I think it leads to more consensual politics ahd a move away from the fundamental cleavage of British politics being class.

    I agree with scrapping ID cards but I don’t know what they mean by the “database state” – I agree for example with keeping the DNA of sex offenders on record.

    An elected chamber would be an improvement on what we have now, but I would prefer to abolish the second chamber completely.

    I agree with this post on “English votes for English laws”. It’s nationalist, reactionary and is not proper devolution – if we’re going to have proper devolution lets get rid of county councils, turn RDA’s into elected Regional Assemblies and split county councils’ powers between district councils and Regional Assemblies.

    I think written constitutions reify political culture so don’t support them, but if we are going to have a written constitution then it should at least be drawn up at a time when the mood is radical, not now!

  3. February 24, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    I am sure that PR can lead to consensual politics on the part of the main parties, but a short look elsewhere, or into our own past, shows that PR doesn’t alter the way things happen on the ground. The benefit is that it means socialists have chances to get people elected, on to a platform with which to castigate the consensus politics that FPTP and the whips mask.

    The database state is presumably a reference to the widened powers of the police as regards political protesters and so on. I support keeping DNA of sex offenders on record too – but barcoding people? The new form of house arrest? No thanks. I’m quite happy to oppose that, and having looked into the CoML and related groups, that seems to be what they’re against.

    An elected chamber, as you say, would be better than what we have. I am a unicameralist too, but I’d still prefer an elected House of Lords.

    Lastly, on the written constitution, I think a written constitution, stipulating things requiring parliamentary supermajorities (like war) and a bill of rights for British citizens that can’t be repealed by the next people in the door of Number 10, is a good thing. Not to say it replaces activism – it will never do that, and how each clause is interpreted will forever be contingent on political culture, but we should have clear limitations – visible to everyone – on the powers of the government and a written constitution is a good immediate way to achieve that.

  4. February 24, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    I’m very much looking forward to the forthcoming post.

    EVoEL, in my view, is a pretty pointless way of addressing the West Lothian question. On that I agree with Tim F. A genuinely democratic way of doing things would be to give the people of England what the people of the other two UK nations (and one province) have had, which is a referendum on how they are governed. My guess is that the English would vote for an English parliament. I certainly would. The kind of Balkanisation promoted by Tim here is the opposite of genuine localisation and is presumably designed just to put the wind up those dastardly English people. But I think we should let the people decide.

    I’ll be interested to hear why EVoEL is ‘reactionary’ and ‘nationalist’ however. There’s nothing inherently nationalist about it at all – and very few, if any, English nationalists would be seen dead supporting it. It’s actually a response to Labour Party-encouraged Scottish and Welsh nationalism, aimed at rebalancing the constitution after devolution. George Monbiot is rather good on this here:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/feb/17/britishidentity-constitution

    He’s on the ‘left’ as far as I know. Though probably the wrong bit of it for you, or seomething similarly Judean.

    Of course, if you agree with the executive overruling the peoples’ representatives using MPs bussed in from other nations, that’s your affair. But don’t go around slinging silly names at those who don’t, eh?

    • February 24, 2010 at 8:28 pm

      I don’t see how you can claim that there is “nothing” nationalist about “English votes for English laws”. There’s a question about whether it basically amounts to an English parliament – but even if it doesn’t, it’s nationalist in the sense that nationality is seen to trump other identities. Why not Yorkshire votes for Yorkshire laws? Glaswegian votes for Glaswegian laws? Why is nation the unit that matters.

      So too it posits that “England” is a thing in itself, and a thing that matters, rather than just a line on a map. It doesn’t matter to me that people from other nations vote for laws that affect me, where those nations are Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I don’t see myself as fundamentally different to a Welshman. A Scots elected representative still has to be elected by (roughly) as many people as my MP is elected by. And people I share a culture and a history with, at that. Culturally I’m not sure it’s possible to identify a point where England stops and Wales starts.

    • February 24, 2010 at 8:31 pm

      As for Balkanisation, I think it probably depends where you come from. In my experience (being from Yorkshire and now living in the South East), people in the South generally don’t want regional assemblies: if they could be convinced of the need for another layer of government, they’d opt for an English parliament instead. But if people from Yorkshire, the North East or North West could be convinced of the need for another layer of government, they’d opt for a regional variety. You can contest whether I’m right about that, but if I am then it’s basically impossible to reconcile those two things.

  5. February 24, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    What Tim said, and a whole lot of other verbiage besides, none of which will sway Mr. Kingsnorth so I’m not going to bother posting it.

    Just while I’m on the subject of you, PK, the “Real England” in question isn’t anything to do with you. It certainly isn’t your awful book I’m referring to.

  6. February 25, 2010 at 9:20 am

    That’s a terrible shame, Dave. I was hoping for some more free publicity from your wonderfully wide-ranging and broadminded site. I guess it must have been your misuse of capital letters that misled me. ;-)

    Tim – you miss the point. EVoEL is a national measure, not a national’ist’ one. Of course, it recognises the existence of England as a nation and as a political unit. If you don’t like this, don’t blame me – blame the Labour party. They chose to divide UK government along national lines. They chose to give the Scottish and the Welsh self-government on the basis that they are nations. I happen to support that choice, but it leaves a problem: England, too, is a nation (you can be a post-modern as you like about it but it remains a fact, even if only by default.)

    The point is a simple democratic deficit: Scottish and Welsh MPs effectively vote twice. I have yet to hear a good argument why the people of England – 80% of the UK’s population – should have to put up with, for example, student tuition fees and foundation hospitals, despite the fact that the majority of their representatives voted against these things. That is not democracy: that is the executive stitching up the system to push through their pet measures. There is a reason why both Tories and Labour will not address this issue: it gives them a nice little fix-up they can use to force their neoliberal crap onto us, even though in many cases our representatives don’t want it.

    If you think Wales and Scotland are just the same as England etc etc then fine: though there’d be plenty of people in those nations who would disagree, and I disagree too. If you don’t like nations, also fine; there are many good reasons to feel like that. But if you are going to divide the UK into nations, you need to ensure they all have an equal voice in terms of how their democracy works. The alternative is to abolish all the national governments and go back to a model in which Westminster runs the shop. The current halfway house is unfair, and there are plenty of people on the left who agree with that, whatever their jaded views about the English people.

    • February 25, 2010 at 10:39 am

      So wide-ranging and broad-minded we manage to attract people like you; go figure! Incidentally, I didn’t misuse capital letters; they are used that way in the document to which I was referring.

  7. Evan Pritchard
    February 25, 2010 at 10:12 am

    The recognition that there is currently a undemocratic anomaly in the fact that Scottish MPs can vote in the Westminster parliament on issues that do not affect Scotland , and are dealt with in Scotland by the Scottish parliament, is no more reactionary than was the (absolutely correct) view prior to devolution that it was undemocratic that the Westminster parliament could vote as a whole on issues that affected only Scotland.

    I can only understand socialists being dismissive of this point if either:

    They see parliamentary democracy as irrelevant full stop,

    They see national self determination as a reactionary demand full stop,

    They take the view that the English are a unique nation who, perhaps as
    punishment for the crimes of colonialism, slavery and imperialism (all of which
    carried out with as much if not more enthusiasm by people from north of the
    border) do not have the same rights of self determination as every other
    nation in the world.

    So it’s either ultra-leftism, economism or what I can only describe as national chauvinism, inverted in the case of so many English socialists. Or possibly a combination.

    In other words, part of the caricatured way in which socialists are seen by so many working-class English people.

    My current position is that I would like to see a full-blown federal republic with parliaments for the contituent nations and a separate federal assembly.

    If any of it’s to be in London by the way I think George Galloway is right that there should be no 2nd home allowance and they should stay in the Olympic village.

  8. February 25, 2010 at 10:59 am

    Evan, I’m pretty sympathetic to federalism, but I don’t see the point of adhering to the three-and-a-half “nations” concept. As Tim suggests, there are other and better ways to go about it.

    Democratic deficits of the type you describe will exist in every representative body – they exist in city and county councils, when councillors from other wards make determinations, or better still, when Executives none of whom are from the ward make decisions about the allocation of goods and services.

    I will agree that the more ‘local’ the government the less pronounced this is, and so I’m all in favour of the concept of subsidiarity.

    Yet (re) constructing the three-and-a-half nations is a bad idea, allowing space for the rise of national discourses that are by nature cross-class, and thus often useful to the political Right rather than Left.

    It has nothing to do with national chauvinism, and everything to do with, as an example, analysing under what pressures and processes in society the SNP have gone from being a small and irrelevant group to being the largest party in Scotland.

    If socialists are seen in the way you describe – and my own experience says that this is not the case – then it is probably because generalisations about “England” or the other nations and what the people there and their ways of doing things are like are so prevalent that it’s become embedded in ‘common sense’ attitudes.

    Of course the thing about common sense is, as with old wives’ tales, the basis in fact is often mistaken.

  9. February 25, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    I think socialists are most certainly seen in that way in my experience, on the right as well as the left, and this ‘discourse’ gives a pretty good idea why. If your brand of socialism actually had any attachment to or understanding of popular feeling on issues like national identity you might get a lot more purchase. But then you’ve been reading Orwell, so you obviously know that already.

    You may find you have more in common with some supporters of English votes than you would like to imagine, though. Your argument essentially boils down to saying ‘nations are bad.’ Fair enough; like the world itself, they’re hardly ideal. But they do exist, so you need to decide whether to empower them or to stifle them. It sounds like your solution to the English question would be to abolish the governments of Scotland, NI and Wales, yes? That would certainly answer the question at a stroke, though would fail to win you a popularity contest.

    What you can’t do, it seems to me, at least if you don’t just want to be seen spouting the brand of inverted Toryism that is so common on the left, is support national government for three nations and not for the fourth. Common sense, innit?

  10. February 25, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    I am indeed against devolution on its current basis; I’d abolish it, though I’d make the creation of regional authorities with definite powers – and preferably a written constitution – a condition of that abolition.

    Your editorialising about socialists to one side, Paul, what you’ve essentially said there – and why I do think you’re something of a political pygmy and easily dismissed – is “If you change your mind and agree with what everyone else thinks, they might vote for you”.

    Congratulations, you’re spouting political opportunism in the first degree.

  11. February 25, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    I always find it interesting that other people on this site are capable of having grown-up arguments with those they disagree with resorting to insults.

    But, your editorialising about ‘pygmies’ aside, Dave, the point I was actually making was not about principles – it was about communication and empathy. The fact that you didn’t pick up on that rather proves it.

    Incidentally, the phrase ‘spouting political opportunism in the first degree’ makes no grammatical sense. Take a tip from a writer of awful, opportunistic, reactionary books. ;-)

  12. February 25, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    Actually it makes perfect grammatical sense; assuming one can commit murder in the first degree, then can do virtually anything in the first degree. And since grammatical sense is changing all the time, we’re free to pick our own.

    But I always find it interesting that you’ve belittled the site, for its lack of readership at one time, for its narrow-mindedness above, and yet here you still are.

    On the substantive point, if your point really was about communication and empathy, then I fail to see what you’re driving at. Your vague challenge about my “attachment to and understanding of popular feeling on issues like national identity” is either not the issue or is indeed a statement of political principle (or lack of it).

    I am not attached to popular feeling about any issue as popular feeling is not a valid basis on which to judge the benefits and disadvantages of a given policy. If you are attached to the popular feeling (as opposed to being attached to the specific idea) then you are exactly the kind of opportunist I’ve outlined.

    My understanding of that popular feeling is not much different to yours; I don’t challenge that it exists. Quite the opposite; implicitly at the worst, I clearly acknowledge the rise of parties which view themselves and their mission through the paradigm of those national identities.

    If disagreement with popular feeling is enough to disqualify me from understanding it, then I am guilty as charged – happily so – but I don’t think it is.

  13. February 25, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    Most of my belittling, Dave, is a response to goodness knows how many insults sprayed in my direction by you over quite some time – which continue here. If you think my books are crap and you don’t agree with me, then fine. I’m sure you’re hardly alone there. Sneery insults are unnecessary though, and make you look arrogant.

    The point about empathy and communication is simple. Many people on the left – maybe you, maybe not, who knows? – are armed with a large amount of theory about how things are or ought to be, and little understanding of what popular feeling tends to be on the subject. The reason I mentioned Orwell is that he spends the last half of Wigan Pier ranting about this, entertainingly and at least partially correctly in my view, so it’s obviously not a new problem.

    It comes up very clearly when we have these discussions about nationhood. To react to a measure like EVoEL as ‘reactionary’ or ‘nationalistic’ is not a serious analysis: it’s a knee-jerk response. It’s just name calling (the word ‘reactionary’ counts for little else). EVoEL may be crap – it is crap, actually – but this common response is not a reflection of that; it’s a reflection of a widespread leftist contempt for nationhood, patriotism and the like.

    Fair enough – but these things are very popular, on an almost primal level. My point was not that because they are popular you should agree with them (if you think that’s how my politics works you’ve obviously not been concentrating: very little that I’ve ever campaigned or argued for has ever become popular enough to happen, more’s the pity) but that you need to be able to understand why that is, and empathise with it, if you’re going to discuss it or be able to argue about it.

    Far too often the argument I hear from the left amounts to a statement that England doesn’t even exist because nations are fictions, and if it does exist it shouldn’t, and nationalism leads to fascism anyway etc etc. This is a bit like seeking to convert a Christian to atheism by telling them they’re a moron and everything they believe is junk. Probably not the best way to go about things.

  14. February 25, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    You acknowledge it fair enough that leftists have contempt for “nationhood, patriotism and the like” – and it’s absolutely true that many of us do, myself included. Where we differ is the explanation for why these things are popular.

    I am not content with simply assuming it’s primal and leaving it at that. I contend it requires analysis, using the evidence to hand; how people talk about it to one another, how it is reflected in local and national publications and so on. Voting patterns and patterns of political engagement around identity-related issues, and the public statements and private debates of political parties which use this paradigm, and smaller groups within other parties that use it.

    If, at times, this gets complex, and utilizes language which can be described as theoretical, it’s because that language is analytically useful and carries certain inflections which can be unpicked by someone who wishes to read the analysis.

    This doesn’t mean all the Left has is theory. If on the ground Leftists use words which don’t fit into your personal idea of a popular lexicon, well I apologize that we haven’t made more effort to include you – but Leftists generally don’t approach people in the street and demand their obeisance before the Marx and Engels Collected Works, and Orwell can say what he likes. The failure of the revolutionary Left is little to do with this. It too is much more complex – and that should be evident from your own coverage of groups like the SWP.

    If, on a blog, I assert that England as a nation doesn’t exist, I am correct to do so. But I wouldn’t demand that someone agree with me before I co-operated with them on matters much more fundamental to my revolutionary worldview. I think that’s where the context of the blogosphere strains things; we get very caught up in our disagreements. For example, your most recent features piece on your website, I could spend a full essay taking apart – both historically and from the point of view of your own implicit assumptions – but this would actually obscure something we have in common.

    We both can see in the available historical evidence a dissenting tradition in English history, that we consider to be a vital part of our own individual identity. This is something we have in common with Orwell too.

    Since we’re not in an activist poise, however, since this is our reflection time, we can say what we like. Tim can be kneejerk and use the word reactionary because he’s talking to fellow Leftists, and when we read it, we’ll know what he means through years of having had the hours-long conversations into the wee hours of the night, as well as having fought against the use of national identity for political purposes on the doorstep and on campaigns.

    I think to derive substantive conclusions from that, or my ascription of nationalism to a national identity, is bad method.

    Some of this is by way of apologizing. Everyone seems to be in the spirit of sorry today, so I am sorry if some of my remarks have seemed aimed to hurt, or been personal and spiteful. I quite liked your first book – still have my copy. Since then I’ve grown a bit cynical and the optimistic, (forgive me) gushy way that it reads at times seems an easy stereotype for certain kinds of liberal professional types, with whom political disagreement is as inevitable as it is pointless, since they’re usually too busy with speeches and media campaigns to get down to the grassroots campaigning.

  15. February 25, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    Dave – well, thanks for being gentlemanly. I am more than capable myself of being insulting, and it is rather pointless and counter-productive.

    I’m sure if you were to ‘take apart’ my Idler piece (which is hardly intended to be an academic review of the subject) we could argue for hours, but of course we would both be picking and mixing from history to support our worldviews, and it wouldn’t get us anywhere really. I am not a socialist, or a ‘revolutionary’ in the sense that you are, and I view most Marxist theory with deep suspicion. There are plenty of good reasons for this, mostly based on having seen its advocates in action, and the results of its application on the ground. Having said that, I get a lot from Marx himself, and from Engels. Just not enough to base a religion on.

    As for liberals and ‘organising’; well, both of my books have been organising tools: especially, in fact, Real England, which I happen to know has made a significant difference at grassroots levels across the country to various local battles, and has also helped shift some worldviews a little. None of it would interest you, I’m sure, not being very revolutionary, but it has led to some real world improvements for working people, as it happens. For me (and I’m far from being a ‘liberal’; not being a Marxist does not a liberal make) a book like this is a tool of grassroots campaigning.

    One No was indeed quite excitable, but I was young and excited and I had an important story to tell. I too have grown considerably more sceptical since. Hence:

    http://www.dark-mountain.net

    But we all do what we can. I still believe England is a nation (and since a nation is little more than an idea made polity, the fact that most people also believe this probably makes it so). I believe peoples’ need for a group identity, their attachment to place and their attachment to an idea of history, of ‘who they are’, is a deeper attachment than their idea of class, which is doubtless one place we differ. I also believe ‘reactionary’ is a ridiculous and meaningless word. I guess it depends on whether a blog is a place for talking to those who agree with you or attracting those who don’t. But it’s your blog, of course.

    Cheers,
    Paul

  16. Pete
    February 26, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    I’m pretty anti-nationalist and yet I think that English votes on English matters would be an improvement. It’s simply a matter of accountability: Scottish and Welsh MPs are not held accountable for their votes on English matters, because their constituencies are not affected. You don’t need to have an ounce of nationalistic sentiment to see that that is not a good idea.

    That doesn’t mean that I think it should be in the top 5, just that I support it and think it would make matters better, not worse.

  17. February 26, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    I can’t see how that matters. What next, MPs for disabled people only? Or for mothers only? There’s an army of laws which don’t affect a great many people in our society, passed by MPs elected from the votes of many people for whom those laws have no applicability. I don’t see why one’s nation should be singled out as a special case.

    In actual fact the very complexity of an MPs job renders it practically impossible to hold them to account for any one thing. In very few cases – I can only think of a handful from the past three elections, say George Galloway vs Oona King – does this actually happen. MPs can get away with a great deal, based on the natural inertia of the current organisation of politics.

    There are other better ways to shed this than English votes for English laws.

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