Freesteel Blog » Change you can engage with

Change you can engage with

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015 at 1:24 pm Written by:

If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal — Emma Goldman.

So, if you want people to vote, they have to believe that it can change something.

The Labour Party is undergoing a sudden and spectacular revolution with hundreds of thousands of people signing up on the belief their vote will make a difference when they elect Jeremy Corbyn. No one saw this coming.

Just one month ago the former leader Tony Blair said that anyone who supported Corbyn should get a heart transplant.

Funnily enough, Blair only became party leader (and, by default, Prime Minister) because John Smith had a heart attack and died. Blair was then stupid enough to believe that he was there because of his awesomely crappy policies that caused so many people to quit the Labour Party he had to fund his 2005 election by selling seats in the House of Lords.

Voting in Scotland in a referendum was going to make a difference, and the turn-out there was massive.

But in the wider country there continues to be a problem with General Election where necessary change is not coming about and people are getting screwed.

Young people don’t vote because they know it doesn’t make a difference. The system is too skewed. The old people in the rural constituencies reliably root for the Tories and provide their base. The Tories return the favour by redistributing the wealth from the youth to their elders on a massive scale through rising house prices, tuition fees (after this older generation got educated for free), historically low wages, a rising retirement age, a declining pension (which doesn’t effect the current generation of pensioners), expensive public transport while car driving becomes cheaper, cuts in inheritance tax (how old are the “kids” when they actually get the money?), and huge bank bailouts to protect the savings of those with hundreds of thousands of pounds on deposit.

I met someone at a Citizen Beta event on Monday night who thought the real problem is that voting in the General Election is too inconvenient and can’t be done on-line. Others thought it was because Parliament’s procedures are too arcane and not user-friendly enough.

But maybe it’s the content.

Parliament is not relevant and it does not offer enough opportunities to change things that otherwise are not going to get changed.

Here’s how out-of-touch I am. I made a big proposal that Parliament should have an e-petitions site where, if we get a million electronic signatures, the motion we signed up to would be debated on the floor of the House and then be subjected to a binding vote by MPs.

I said that maybe an online petition site could perform this purpose of forcing Parliament to address matters of public concern that it prefers to ignore.

What good is petitioning them to do something they’re going to do anyway?

The essence of it has got to be antagonistic. It cannot be a matter for discretion. The Labour Party is going to get a new leader if he get the votes, whether they like it or not. It’s a numbers game. There is no discretion.

If you had a million signatures on a petition for a debate and binding motion to be held, then that debate — when scheduled — would begin with at least a million people interested in and engaged with the outcome of the process. They’re going to want to see that change is possible. If we’re only supposed to watch and take our medicine, why do they think we should bother?

Unfortunately, I have been so out of it that I didn’t realize that this official Parliamentary e-petitions site was already in existence and has been going for so long that there’s even been committee inquiries and reports into it!

My goodness!

There’s even been a reasonable review of its functioning by the Hansard Society from 2012.

One of the biggest petitions, which got 148,373 signatures in 2012, was CHEAPER PETROL AND DIESEL, BY ROBERT HALFON MP AND FAIRFUEL UK, which was effectively enacted. So we got higher VAT in place of fuel tax rises and therefore continued our dependence on private motor vehicles favoured by the old folk who already own their own home in the countryside which they enjoy driving to.

So what’s top of the petitions right now:


There it is right there, overwhelmingly supported by young people. Where is the promised debate? The MPs would rather not address this issue properly, so where is the organization demanding the debate be held, is properly conducted, and offers a real potential for change?

The Cheap petrol petition had its fairfueluk organization who presumably chased their thing up. What’s not going on here?

People don’t understand that Parliament is like a courthouse. It has huge powers, but it is institutionally reactive. It does not a will of its own. You have to use the procedures provided to take a case to it and drive it through.

The e-petitions are one such procedure.

The more these procedures get used effectively, the more they will work. They are like paths in the jungle. Paths are made by people walking on them. You build one short bridge across an impassable ravine in the middle, and the paths will be made by people traveling to it.

The cannabis issue has a very interesting recent legislative history. Read my blogpost from 2009 recounting it.

Short story version. Cannabis was on the road to decriminalization in 2003 by being downgraded to a Class C drug by vote in Parliament. The Daily Mail, read by angry old people, ran a sustained campaign against the policy backed up by deliberately false reporting (see blogpost for details). In 2008 Gordon Brown, one of our worst ever Prime Ministers, thought he could pander to this class of voters by suddenly changing it back to a Class B drug. It would have happened without a vote in Parliament had not one MP shouted “Object” at exactly the right moment when the speaker muttered the words “Motion number twelve”.

The issue still remains live. An Oral question in 2014 beginning with “What recent assessment [has the Minister] made of the potential medicinal benefits of cannabis?” received an unprecedented 8 public annotations on the TheyWorkForYou site.

This clearly is the issue that would make an excellent path breaker. The petition site is the bridge in the jungle. You’ve got 203,899 people signed up to cross it. All you need is to make them believe that by rights, morally, they should expect and be entitled to change on the other side.

Quite simply, they deserve to witness a debate and motion in Parliament to reclassify cannabis back to a Class C drug that would be binding on a vote.

If cannabis had this status for five years from 2003 to 2008 without any harm being done (aside from that which was made up and imagined by the Daily Mail), then we can have it again. And if a failed Prime Minister can reverse it on a whim, then it can only be fixed.

This is an easy battle, an early skirmish we should be encourage the generations to fight out right now on Parliamentary turf today. This one only has winners and the outcome doesn’t matter. It’s not a zero sum game. The youth can have their pot without going to jail, and old people won’t actually get their houses burnt down by imaginary paranoid schizophrenics who’ve smoked too many joints — no matter what the Daily Mail tells them to believe. They can just put up with it just like they’ve put up with other new stuff, like gay marriage.

The young have got to get out and fight on this one.

Once the youth get the expertise and the taste for victory, they’ll be able to move on to battles that really matter, like housing, education, environment and employment where we have got to stop the older generation pulling the ladder up after them and selfishly clinging onto these assets far beyond their needs and squeezing out the economic prospects for the next generation.

There once was exponential economic growth which provided the younger generation with room to exist. But since that’s not happening now, the older generation has got to be forced to start giving back. They don’t want to. They don’t know they need to. And the political tools to do it have to be made out of what is already there.

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