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Rene Kinzett

Off to Manchester

September 27th, 2010 by René Kinzett

Am en route to Manchester for my first Labour Conference since 2002. You will remember that was the Conference, in Blackpool, where Tony Blair made his stirring speech readying the nation for the prospect of a second Iraq War.

This Labour Conference will see a new Leader, the first to be elected in an open competition since Tony Blair in 1994, make his attempt to set a new course for a defeated and dysfunctional party.

I do not buy into the whole “Red Ed” stuff and object in the strongest terms to the Daily Mail trying to make something out of the new Labour Leader’s marital status. I also find news of the “cheering” at Tory HQ following the election of Mr Miliband a confirmation of the suspicion that I and a lot of ordinary voters think about the immaturity and blindly partisan nature of many of the people who spend their entire existences submerged in the political mire. Remember guys, “The Thick of It” is a comedy, not a “How To” guide for the political machine.

I do, however, regret the election of Miliband jnr to the position of Labour Leader, not least because I thought Miliband snr would have done a better job. And I mean “better job” as in he would have done a better job of being “Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition” than his younger bro. Many of my fellow Tories will shriek in horror at this and accuse me of rooting for the wrong side. Well, such people should pipe down and remember that the role of Parliament is to check the executive, hold HM Government to account and, on some occasions, to seek to defeat the Government or to make them think again about certain proposals.

It is in the absence of good opposition that Government’s find themselves bringing forward the worst policies and ideas – precisely because they can get away with what the hell they like! When Mrs T was at the height of her powers and Parliamentary Opposition was negligible, she brought forward the Poll Tax. I suppose I ought not to be too down-heartened regarding the lack of opposition from the Opposition Benches, as these days it is more likely going to be the delicate workings of the Coalition Agreement that will provide the necessary checks and balances. Indeed, it was opposition from within the Tory Party that eventually put the ultimate break on Mrs T’s power trip.

Regardless as to whether internal checks or the balance of a good Opposition Party is key to keeping Government on its toes (and thus ensuring better decision-making), the Constitutional role of the Leader of HM Loyal Opposition is still a crucial one and it remains to be seen as to whether Ed Miliband can fulfil the role with as much eloquence, passion and ability as his older brother possesses, as demonstrated at today’s session of conference.

AV or bust?

July 5th, 2010 by René Kinzett

At the time of Brown’s (political) deathbed conversion to electoral reform, I urged Conservative MPs, even those (admittedly very few) who believed in electoral reform, to vote AGAINST the Bill to bring about a referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV).

Let me be clear. I oppose the current First-Past-The-Post system and I suppose some people would say that I should welcome any reform and embrace the proposals to move away from FPTP as being at least a ”step in the right direction”.

But, I am afraid to say, my view remains that the proposals for a referendum on AV is a sham and a missed opportunity for real reform. The Alternative Vote is a sham of a compromise. It does not tackle the fundamental problems associated with the current FPTP system and indeed embeds them further. The result of an AV election is not proportional to the votes cast across the country and the system offers no more choice to the elector and instead still invests most power with the political party machine.

For those keen on the “first step” to real reform and who are minded to press their MP to vote for an AV referendum, they should remember that the 1911 Parliament Act, designed as a temporary measure to allow the passing of the ”People’s Budget”, before more radical reform of the Lords could be brought forward, has been with us now for nearly a century.

Let us not go forward with a reform we will regret. I want to see real pressure applied to the leadership of my Party to support fair votes and to be persauded of the case for electoral reform as part of a wider agenda to return power to the people. I am hoping that the Liberal Democrats will at least bring forward an amendment to the AV Referendum Bill and propose that the question posed to the people is at least a choice between FPTP and AV+, which will at least bring about a more proportional result and create a more pluralist House of Commons.

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The first cuts….

June 22nd, 2010 by René Kinzett

The short period of time between the General Election and now has been littered with “watersheds” and “political landmarks and today’s Budget has given us yet another “historic moment”. However, the now almost familiar sight of the LibDem Leader sharing the Front Bench with Cameron and Osborne makes one wonder when the Labour Party will themselves grow bored of screaming “but you are sitting with the TOOOORIES” at the Liberal Democrats.

Sadly, about the only consistent theme of opposition from the Opposition to today’s Budget has been just that – a tired and rather tiresome attack that seems to rely on the fact that the LibDems MPs don’t actually know that they are in coalition with the Conservatives and that if only Labour MPs can shout loudly enough and go on about it enough then the poor hapless dears will wake up, see a Tory and run for the hills.

Another tactic employed by Labour MPs today was the “but we’re nicer than them” argument, a wheeze designed to get under the skin of the leftist elements of the LibDems. This involved a parade of Labourites slamming the Conservatives’ record in govenrment (ummmm….I’m trying to remember back then, too….) and then rather unconvincingly painting a picture of the Utopian landscape of the toppled Labour Government. The vetran LibDem MP Malcolm Bruce did try telling Labour MPs that they had 13 years to put through progressive and radical budgets but instead chose, in 1997, to give the rich the largest single Capital Gains cut than any previous government.

Now that everyone knows that Brown and Darling cooked the books prior to the election in terms of fiddling the growth figures, the arguments against making public spending cuts and adjusting taxation now seem even more hollow and knee-jerk than before. A public sector pay freeze, an end to middle-class benefits and a war on waste in government spending are all welcome developments, as is the rise in Capital Gains Tax (something which I called for before the Budget), a banking levy (again something I supported and was much derided for by some fellow Conservatives) and the gradual increases in the income threshold for the lower-rate tax band.

The VAT increase from 17.5% to 20% has, of course, been seized upon by the ghosts of the old regime as an outrageous attack on the poor and destitute. VAT has always caused political rows and, of course, a tax on goods and services paid by everyone at the same flat rate regardless of income does not strike one immediately as a “good thing”. David Cameron himself, before the election, attacked VAT as a regressive tax and the LibDems said that they would not be looking to raise the current rate of 17.5%, but stealthily avoided making that a policy commitment. Given the state of public finances and the other options for income tax changes and other fiscal measures, the VAT rise of 2.5% seems like the lesser of several evils to me.

What strikes me about the Budget process as a whole is the collegiate and rather consensual way that the Coalition Government is working, not just internally but also in its outward-facing relations. Businesses, trades unions, local government, charities and other groups have been engaged with and will continue to be engaged with by a Government that not only commanded the majority of the support of the electorate at the last election, but which, by its very nature, must govern in the wider national interest as opposed to narrow sectional interests.

Unavoidably, there has been much talk and “analysis” (made up round the table at lunchtime by lazy journos) of splits and “challenges” for the Coalition at the time of its first Budget, but the LibDems and Conservatives are serious political parties, both want to be able to offer the nation a better future and to improve the prospects for our economy, jobs and society. This project, unlike others built on the shifting sands of focus groups and media headlines, will stay the course.

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The natural affinity of Liberal Conservatism

May 17th, 2010 by René Kinzett

This article originally appeared on WalesHome…

THE NEW Liberal Conservative Coalition Government has put forward its proposals for a far-reaching programme of constitutional reform and the restoration and protection of civil liberties.

Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have historically been opposing forces in British politics, disagreeing on issues such as electoral reform, devolution and House of Lords reform over the past 100 years or so. To observe some of the ways in which those who articulate the starkest differences between the two parties behave, one could be forgiven for thinking that the lines of conflict as drawn down by William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli are as relevant now as they were in the 1850s. Gladstone described the fault line in Victorian politics thus:

“Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear.”

For his part, Benjamin Disraeli could never resist the temptation to get under the skin of his more straight-laced opponent:

“The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this: If Gladstone fell into the Thames, it would be a misfortune. But if someone dragged him out again, that would be a calamity.”

But Disraeli also had a serious mission on his hands: to make the Tory Party electable, to seek new supporters among traditionally anti-conservative groups and to prove that the Party was capable of representing and understanding the interests of the whole of society. Sounds familiar? Much like the reforms, re-branding and ‘decontamination’ mission of David Cameron, Disraeli’s efforts were based in the basic principle of the protection of the vulnerable and the desire for both social mobility and improved conditions for the poorest in society. One of Disraeli’s most powerful quotes comes from his novel Sybil which studied the horrific conditions of the English working classes, published in the same year as Engels’ The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844. The novel was also known as “The Two Nations”:

Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets. The rich and the poor.

Sybil gave us the term ‘One Nation Toryism’ and Disraeli set his sights on transforming the forces of conservatism (which he had famously derided by describing the concept of a Conservative government as “an organized hypocrisy”) and creating the new movement of Refoming Toryism. His battles with Gladstone over the Reform Bills of 1866 and 1867 ended with Disraeli’s Government finally getting a Reform Act onto the statute book in 1867, a more radical package of measures than proposed by his Liberal counterpart. Disraeli’s social and industrial policies were also welcomed by the embryonic representative organisations of the working classes.

David Cameron has used his own journey to ‘liberal conservatism’ to press for a realignment in British politics and soon after he was elected leader of the Party, he reached out to Liberal Democrats in a speech in Bath, a call which I had already answered having made the switch myself from the Lib Dems to the Conservatives four years ago. Ironically, it was Tony Blair who had originally set himself up as the architect of a ‘new politics’ and set up a joint Labour-Lib Dem Cabinet Committee to look at issues like electoral and Lords reform. Blair’s dream of a Labour-Liberal Democrat realignment (wanting to make the 20th Century the “radical century”), based on his previous discussions with Lord Jenkins and others, was broken up on the rocks of Labour’s unexpectedly huge Commons majority in 1997 – he simply did not need the Lib Dems and his party told him so.

Cameron, for better or worse, is not in the same position as Blair in 1997 and needs the Liberal Democrats in order to provide the nation with a strong, secure government. However, I am somewhat taken with the idea that Cameron is not displeased with this situation as it really means that he can head the Liberal Conservative Government with the kind of policies and approach to the key social, political and economic questions he was promising as party leader. I note that my colleagues on the right of the party are keen for Cameron to nip this kind of argument in the bud, but I rather think there is a lot of truth in the assumption that the new Prime Minister can get more of his own agenda through the party as part of this coalition government than he could in a Conservative minority scenario. Simply put, the Prime Minister is not a prisoner of the right of the party and he is clearly relishing the prospect to be one of the most reforming national leaders in the last 100 years.

Thus far, the criticisms from the left have been obvious and predictable. To believe some of the worst cant and hypocrisy from left-wingers, one might imagine that the 1997-2010 Government was a paragon of reform and that the 2010 Labour Manifesto contained further steps towards a utopia. When, in the last 13 years of Labour government, was it acceptable to liberals or socialists that ID Cards should be brought in? When has it ever been in the Liberal handbook to extend CCTV and collect DNA samples for a national database from the innocent?

The Liberal-Conservative coalition can hold its head high with such proposals as the extension of the Freedom of Information Act, the ending of storage of emails and internet records without good cause, the protection of the principle of trial by jury and the restoration of historic freedoms for the right to peaceful protest. The erosion of ancient liberties and the encroachment of the surveillance state have been some of the worst aspects of the Blair and Brown years. Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are able to agree on so much with regard to civil liberties as we approach the issue with similar principles, centred around the rights of individuals, a rejection of top-down government and a recognition that society and the state are not the same thing.

Historically speaking, the partnership between Conservatives and Liberals in Parliament may at first glance seem odd, almost impossible. But a greater study of the development of the Conservative Party, a deeper understanding of the principle of reforming One Nation Toryism and the approach to politics and society taken by David Cameron over the past five years, clearly shows that this Liberal Conservative Coalition has every chance of making a lasting impact on British society and the body politic.

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Ken Clarke gets dressed up for top job

May 14th, 2010 by René Kinzett

The Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain

The Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke QC MP was today sworn in as Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain and boy did he look smart! Of course, Ken is more widely known for the somewhat casual nature of his atire, not being one to follow the sartorial rules of most politicians. But for one day, at least, the brown suede shoes, the pale blue/grey suit and distinctly NOT this season’s shirt and tie combo were ditched in favour of the robes of the second highest Office of State (the first being Lord High Steward…look it up if at all interested!).

The ceremony for all its pomp and circumstance (as much as I love all that!) is only really important in that we now have someone of huge stature and independence as our Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. A previous holder of the position of Lord Chancellor, Charlie Falconer, was generous and sincere in his tribute to Ken’s appointment when he stated that judges and lawyers across the land would be very happy indeed to see Ken in this vitally important job.

The previous Labour administration tinkered with the position of Lord Chancellor but failed to entirely abolish the title, sitting as it does in the centre of the venn diagram of the British Constitution – made up of the Monarchy (HM Government), the Legislature and the Judiciary. To abolish the office of Lord Chancellor would require a huge amount of unpicking and legislative changes that a Parliament could spend the next 5 years in that single task!

Facing Ken Clarke will be the job of running our over-crowded prisons, protecting the public from offenders, improving services for victims and witnesses of crime, continuing the modernisation of our judiciary, reforming the provision of legal services to consumers and helping the relatively new Supreme Court become more familiar to the public.

That is before we even consider new policy initiatives such as the referendum on changing the voting system or any abolition or reform of the Human Rights Act, legislation surrounding the restoration of many of the civil liberties eroded by Labour, a Bill to enshrine Fixed Term Parliaments, the creation of a wholly elected Upper House and the introduction of voter recall of Members of Parliament. Phew!

Well I am happy that such a huge job has fallen on the shoulders of one of the great Statesmen and born-survivor of post-war British politics. Good luck, Ken!

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