Wednesday 29 December 2010

Don't Neuter Simon Hughes

Not something that one reads every day. Nor something with which one could possibly disagree, I am sure.

Simon Hughes is a very great man. In 1983, he did one of the greatest ever services to British parliamentary democracy, by keeping Peter Tatchell out of Parliament, where he would now be campaigning to lower the age of consent to 14, and might even have achieved that evil end. Well into the 1990s, the word “straight” had no colloquial meaning beyond “honest”, except perhaps in homosexual subcultures, so that what is now its almost equally familiar use might then have been known to Tatchell and to Hughes, but would not have been to the general electorate of Bermondsey or anywhere else.

Light sentences and lax prison discipline are both expressions of the perfectly well-founded view that large numbers of those convicted, vastly in excess of the numbers that have always existed at any given time, are in fact innocent. We need to return to a free country’s minimum requirements for conviction, above all by reversing the erosion of the right to silence and of trial by jury, and by repealing the monstrous provisions for anonymous evidence and for conviction by majority verdict. And we need to return to proper policing. Then we could and should return to proper sentencing, and to proper regimes in prison. But only then. Simon Hughes, over to you.

The Liberal Democrats set great store by election, transparency, decision-making at the lowest practicable level, and opposition to political extremism. So one or more of them should put down legislative amendments that would require British Ministers to adopt the show-stopping Empty Chair Policy in the Council of Ministers until such time as it meets in public and publishes an Official Report akin to Hansard, and to nullify in the United Kingdom any action of the European Parliament not passed by the majority of those MEPs certified as politically acceptable by at least one seat-taking member of the House of Commons. And the Liberal Democrats are like Labour in that they, and their predecessor parties, voted against the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies year on year between 1979 and 1997. Those Policies are wildly at variance with any sort of historic Liberal principle, and the CFP hits Liberal Democrat-voting areas particularly hard. Simon Hughes, over to you.

Having already spoken out against David Cameron’s ignorant suggestion that social housing tenants be stripped of their security of tenure, let Hughes now go to the root of the problem: the sale of council housing. That policy compelled the State to make gifts of significant capital assets to people who were thus enabled to enter the property market ahead of private tenants who had saved for their deposits. And, as part of Thatcher’s invention of mass benefit dependency, it created the Housing Benefit racket, which is vastly more expensive than the maintenance of a stock of council housing. I am a good Chestertonian in this as in most, though not quite all, matters. I would dearly love every household to have a base of real property from which to resist both over-mighty commercial interests and an over-mighty State. But within the practicalities of these things, there is also a very strong case that each locality should have a base of real property from which to resist both over-mighty commercial interests and an over-mighty centre. Already, under New Labour, the powers that be apparently could not distinguish between the respectable working class and the characters from Shameless. So council and housing association tenants were to lose security of tenure so that Shameless characters could be moved in next door to them, or even in place of them. Those in that actual or potential position should contact Simon Hughes without delay. Simon Hughes, over to you.

Hughes should also use every parliamentary and other available means to call for a ban on anything paying any of its employees more than 10 times what it pays any of its other employees, with the whole public sector functioning as a single entity for this purpose, and with its median wage fixed at the median wage in the private sector, to which manual jobs would no longer be outsourced. The trick with the Conservatives is to make them think that it was their idea. In much that vein, there is the matter of holding Iain Duncan Smith to the logical conclusion of his position, namely for a unified system of taxation, benefits, pensions, minimum wage legislation and student funding to ensure that no one’s tax-free income ever falls below half national median earnings. (Some of us have been blogging away for years that there should be a single form of Social Security payment, called simply Social Security, and guaranteeing that minimum income universally.) Simon Hughes, over to you.

There is the need to renationalise the railways, uniquely without compensation in view of the manner of their privatisation, as the basis for a national network of public transport free at the point of use, and including the reversal of bus route and, where possible, rail line closures going back to the 1950s. Prescription charges, eye and dental charges, and hospital car parking charges must be abolished. Simon Hughes, over to you.

The television license fee should be made optional, with as many adults as wished to pay it at any given address free to do so, including those who did not own a television set but who greatly valued, for example, Radio Four. The Trustees would then be elected by and from among the license-payers. Candidates would have to be sufficiently independent to qualify in principle for the remuneration panels of their local authorities. Each license-payer would vote for one, with the top two elected. The electoral areas would be Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and each of the nine English regions. The Chairman would be appointed by the relevant Secretary of State, with the approval of the relevant Select Committee. And the term of office would be four years. You would not need to be a member of the Trust (i.e., a license-payer) to listen to or watch the BBC, just as you do not need to be a member of the National Trust to visit its properties, or a member of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution to be rescued by its boats. Simon Hughes, over to you.

That model could certainly be applied to everything from the Press Complaints Commission to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, and arguably even to the Supreme Court, although in that case with only one candidate per region elected and with a vacancy arising only when a sitting member retired or died. Simon Hughes, over to you.

We need to ban any person or other interest from owning or controlling more than one national daily newspaper. To ban any person or other interest from owning or controlling more than one national weekly newspaper. To ban any person or other interest from owning or controlling more than one television station. To re-regionalise ITV under a combination of municipal and mutual ownership. And to apply that same model (but with central government replacing local government, subject to very strict parliamentary scrutiny) to Channel Four. Simon Hughes, over to you.

With Norman Baker now a Minister, where is the Coroner’s Inquest that has mysteriously never been held into the death of Dr David Kelly? Simon Hughes, over to you.

These would be a start, anyway.


  1. Tatchell may have turned one down from this PM. But rumour has it that the next one has a little list of more distant/slightly estranged members of the Labour family to send up the corridor as cross benchers. As much to balance those Labour whip-takers loyal to Blair via the next PM's brother. Rumour has it that he reads this blog and is looking forward to other forthcoming publications well before 2015.

  2. Lord Stoddart of Swindon cannot live forever. Someone has to pick up the mantle.

  3. But he supported war crimes & genocide against Serbs, though he clearly knew it was evil & has refused, ever since, to express a word of regret, even following Dick Marty's report proving that NATO police have been guilty of crimes more obscene than Hitler's.