Category Archives: Political

Make Parliamentary Scrutiny More Accessible

The Free Our Bills campaign from mySociety is today encouraging supporters to ask their MPs to sign Early Day Motion (EDM) 2141.

The campaign aims to get Parliament to publish bills in a much better way which will allow software developers to come up with new and innovative ways to present bills to the public and build tools around them.

It’s another project from mySociety, a non-profit organisation, organised by volunteers who aim to “build websites that give people simple, tangible benefits in the civic and community aspects of their lives” and to “teach the public and voluntary sectors … how to use the internet most efficiently to improve lives.”

They are the creators of many popular democracy web sites including WriteToThem, TheyWorkForYou and the No. 10 Downing Street Petitions web site.

The EDM asks the House of Commons to acknowledge the need for this change and the need to work with mySociety to get it done.

If you would like to see more parlimentary scrutiny then please write to your MP and ask them to sign the EDM.

Who Should You Vote For?

I’m British and as such have no say in the US presidential election. However, it’s an election that affects the entire world. To that end I decided to do something I did for our last general election: use a computer to decide my vote.

Well, maybe not decide, but give an idea of who I’m most suited to.

And here are the results:

Who should you vote for?

Barack Obama     60
John McCain -87    

You expected: Barack Obama
Your recommendation: Barack Obama

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It’s The Economy, Stupid!

Barely a day goes by where we don’t hear about climate change. But what nobody is really talking about is the economic impact.

That’s why, for the second time, I’ve joined forces with Francis Irving to get people, business and Government motivated on climate change for the economy.

It’s called Serious Change and I invite you to join us.

Ethics and Corporation Tax

One thing that really bugs me is tax avoidance. I used to think it was a great idea until one day, whilst having an inner groan at the constant lack of cash in public services I realised that avoiding tax is, in fact, incredibly unethical and irresponsible. Taxes, whether you like them or not, are there to pay for all those things society needs. They pay for our health service, the roads, street lights and so on.

Just like as individuals we pay income tax, companies pay corporation tax – a tax on profits. Many corporations, including big household names, employ tax avoidance schemes utilising subsidiary companies in tax havens like Luxembourg. These schemes allow them to pay as little tax as possible on the massive profits they earn.

Billions of pounds are essentially being kept out of Government hands and in the pockets of wealthy shareholders, denying society of much needed cash to improve public services. So I was glad to read today that such practices have been outlawed.

Ever the sceptically minded, though, I can’t see it making a huge impact. Corporations spend hundreds of thousands on accountants to build these complex structures designed purely to avoid paying tax simply because the returns are so huge. Put simply, they’ll find another way because the financial benefit of doing so is so great.

But what’s the solution? Then I thought back to the income tax. With individuals, we are charged income tax at 20% (unless you’re lucky enough to be in the higher-rate tax band) with the benefits system helping those who don’t earn as much to get by. Corporations and individuals both earn money and have to use that money to pay their operational (or living) costs. Anything left over is then a bonus. However, we are taxed differently – corporations pay tax on anything left over while individuals pay on everything we earn (let’s ignore the untaxable allowance for simplicity). So why not tax corporations on everything they earn and then kick-back a little bit for every pound they don’t make a profit on?

It’s a nice idea, I think, but whether it will work in practice is something for the accountants and economists to battle out. My first thought is that avoiding that method would just be a case of making your accounts look like less profit was made. Probably not a hard thing to do. Yet, for big companies with lots of shareholders that would probably be a bad thing as the one thing shareholders want most out of their investment is a good profitable company.

I’d love to here thoughts on this idea, especially people who will be more well-versed in accounting than me.

Common Sense Policing

Yesterday I sent off my application to be a Special Constable for Staffordshire Police. I’m really excited about it but have been worried about how much pressure there is with all the paperwork that’s required so I was pleased to hear about this pilot scheme that is under way in four forces, including Staffordshire.

It allows officers to ‘use their own judgement’ more so that they don’t need to make so many arrests. It should hopefully free up a lot of time for officers. Sir Ronnie Flanagan, who’s recommendations in a report published in February have triggered the introduction of this scheme, said that it could potentially save at least five million man hours. That’s the equivalent of 2,500 officers!

One Vote Every Four Years is All We Get

A while ago I signed a petition on the Prime Ministers website asking for the government to introduce legislation that would empower ordinary citizens to call a referendum on important matters. According to the petition details a system, called Citizens’ Initiatives, exists in Switzerland, New Zealand, Hungary and 24 states in America.

The petition asks that a referendum be called on an issue when a petition is signed by 2.5% of the population. For national issues this would be the entire UK population, with 2.5% being around one million, and for regional issues about 3-4,000.

The governments response posted today states that powers already exist for local councils to hold referendums and have access to the full electoral register in order to do so. On the issue of national referendums, the response states that The Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000 allows government to call national referendums but “does not however set out any criteria for using referendums.”

The government is obviously guilty in this instance of not listening to the public. The petition clearly asks for “legislation allowing citizens to trigger referendums” not allowing government to trigger referendums. It’s about real democracy – giving the public the power to show they are unhappy and make sure something is done. All that the public can do at the moment is shout and even that has been limited by legislation like the Serious Orgnaised Crime and Police Act 2005.

Not only is it disturbing that the power to trigger referendums lies solely with government but that it is a government led by an unelected Prime Minister. I know many would say that we elect parties, not the prime minister, but how can we accept that we have no say in who leads our country especially when the new prime minister has already started undoing the work of his predecessor.

If you’re interested in this issue I suggest a trip to the site for the Campaign for Direct Democracy.