Independence is a state of real integrity


bellWhen Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless decided that they could no longer support Conservative Party policies in August and September 2014 respectively, and that they were going to join UKIP I wrote of their integrity in going to their constituents through the calling of by-elections. This is despite the fact that I personally disagree with the political position held by both men before and after their defection from the Conservative Party. I have watched the way in which certain members of UKIP have publicly trolled Carswell in recent months and frankly I think this behaviour shows up the party as being unsuited for any form of meaningful public leadership, whatever disagreements they might have with Carswell.

In his decision to leave UKIP which I understand and respect I find myself in fundamental disagreement with Carswell over his tactics which reflect an approach that I have found equally disturbing in the case of many ‘failed’ politicians in the past. Douglas said “I switched to UKIP because I desperately wanted us to leave the EU. Now we can be certain that that is going to happen, I have decided that I will be leaving UKIP.” he added “I will not be switching parties, nor crossing the floor to the Conservatives, so do not need to call a by election, as I did when switching from the Conservatives to UKIP. I will simply be the Member of Parliament for Clacton, sitting as an independent.”

Having stood as an Independent candidate in an election in 2012 and paid a huge price to oppose members of all parties I do not believe that the Independent Political label should be in the bargain basement for men and women who have been rejected from their parties or have turned their backs on a party which ensured they were elected. We have seen it on many occasions over the last 15 years as UKIP MEPs in the South East have been turfed out of the party due to disgrace, or indeed have chosen to leave the party of their own volition. It is also something that members of the main parties have done in recent years such as the Tories in Adur who fell out with their party or a number of Tories or Labour MPs who have had the whip removed because of their behaviour.

 

If Douglas was willing to treat Independence as a precious stone of great price, I would willingly sit with him on the same bench if I was an MP. He stated there was a “political cartel” in the UK and he wanted to be part of “far-reaching change” as an independent MP. Those are statements I fully agree with. As far as UKIP itself is concerned I find it deeply ironic that Arron Banks who was one of those who trolled Douglas, who himself recently left the party demanding the return of £200,000 of his ‘donations’ continues to speak about this as if he is still a leading member. If Banks believes that Carswell should go back to the electorate on this occasion, why did he not challenge MEPs such as Diane James and Janice Atkinson to do the same?  However I find myself in agreement with Banks that leaving a party should be a matter that triggers an election, even a party I feel has no real credibility. Forming the Independent bench in Westminster cost Martin Bell dear and set a high bar for others to try to follow, it seems very sad that Douglas Carswell is to join a tawdry list of men who have been thrown out of their party and attempted to sit on the same bench, rather than a much shorter list of people like Martin who submitted themselves to the full scrutiny of an election.

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The truth will out


paula-sussex“First, let me pay tribute to the extraordinary work charities do in Britain. We have 165,000 charities in England and Wales working to: improve our health, education and the environment; care for animals; support the arts or provide international aid. But they all strive to make our world a better place. Equally remarkable is the generosity of British people as donors and volunteers. 850,000 trustee positions are filled helping govern a sector worth nearly £71bn.”

As she prepares to leave the Charity Commission, the outgoing Chief Executive Paula Sussex spoke at the annual dinner of the Institute of Chartered Accountants England & Wales’s (ICAEW) and those words were the opening paragraph of her speech. Over a number of years I have read the speeches from various events, primarily those involving the Chairman of the Commission and none that I recall began speaking so plainly or indeed so honestly about the work of the charities in the UK and those who support them. Hats off to Ms Sussex, if only William Shawcross, the Chair was paying attention! Bearing in mind that Paul and William are both due to leave the Commission within the next 12 months let us hope those who get to select their successors are influenced by this sort of straight, supportive speaking.

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Silence is hard to achieve


imagesThe last few hours since the terrible attack on Westminster have seen a wide range of responses from people some of which are almost as appalling as the attack itself. Two public responses that have stood out came from Simon Jenkins who is a journalist and Katie Hopkins who is a minor celebrity and gets invited to spout her bile in newspapers and on TV to a disturbing extent. Simon appeared on newsnight arguing that focusing on the attack simply gave breath to the terror which the attacker was determined to achieve and that news media should focus on other things. Whilst I fully agree with Simon, the fact that he had to appear on a programme that was focusing on the attack to make his statement, led to the statement itself sounding a bit confusing to say the least. The least said about the crap out of Katie Hopkins mouth the better. The challenge is how do we say nothing in a context where news media demands people to speak up?

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Let’s end the relationship with dignity


untitled (21)Its hard to write about Brexit in a way that looks forward to the exodus which a majority of voters supported on 23rd June and a sizable majority of MPs voted for more recently. Its perfectly clear that our departure from the EU rather than a demand for the institution to be reformed is a terrible mistake and one that my children and subsequent generations will pay dearly for. However that is where we are. It is very difficult to separate the truth from the posturing coming from people like Theresa May, Liam Fox, David Davis and Boris Johnson. All four of them have changed positions on a number of things related to Brexit over the last year. Both Johnson and May have gone from promoting our membership of the EU to promoting our departure. All of the men have gone from saying that EU nationals would be allowed to remain, to denying this opportunity to my friends who are now feeling very unsure of their future. At various times some of this quartet have articulated for us to remain and then leave the single market, the list goes on. However as we prepare for Wednesday’s en-action of article 50 I believe we need to do so with dignity and that we should end the relationship with the EU member states well. Clearly we do have a negotiation to participate in and of course we need to get the best deal for the UK but I confess I am deeply concerned at the way in which this group of four and their many backers are attempting to argue for us not to pay our dues before we go. The exact sum and the benefit we might get from a more positive approach is hard to quantify but making stupid comments like Philip Hammond stating he does not recognise the figures being circulated by the EU, Boris Johnson urging the PM to resist a large payment Liam Fox dismissing the idea of a bill as absurd simply diminishes our status in a setting where we need to appear to be a state with integrity and which other nations can do business with, without having to count their fingers after every handshake. We may not want to pay a large sum, but the fact that we did not anticipate such a cost in our debates last Spring is a failure of the Government, and cannot be used to further damage our nation. After all the rest of society has already had to come to terms with the fact that £350M a week will not be used to fill the hole in the NHS accounts!

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Play the ball, not the man


mcgThe news yesterday that Martin Mcguinness has died led to expressions of joy and anger from some and sorrow and appreciation from others. The fact is that every time a terrorist lays down their weapons and tries to replace them with the actions of a peacemaker, all of society should be grateful. However that does not in any way make their actions as a terrorist any less evil or offensive and if we lose sight of their acts of murder and violence we are doing them, let alone the victims of their crimes a complete disservice. My one and only extended visit to Ireland took place in the late 1980’s when we stayed in Dunmurry a town between Belfast and Lisburn with armed soldiers patrolling the Streets on a nightly basis. I had the rare opportunity to visit the Maze Prison and to meet a prisoner in H block. He was a man who had planted a bomb under a prison officers car and later wrote to the mans widow to express his sorrow for getting caught up in a crime and a way of life that he was now ashamed off. This man happened to be from the Republican side of the dispute but our week long visit included the opportunity to meet men and women on the loyalist side of the dispute and other republicans most of whom were committed to the politics of the dispute but passionately opposed to the violence being meted out by men like McGuinness and others who did not seem quite so clear in their views. The fact is that the peace which is occasionally attributed to McGuinness and others, just like the acts of terror come from communities that are a good deal more complex than simplistic blogs or newspaper articles tend to reflect. I met some men and a few women who I would not have wished to spend five minutes with alone, and others who I would happily have stayed with for weeks on my visit. Most of those who have become peacemakers and peacekeepers will never be known by name and their actions, some which are just as brave as the decision taken by McGuinness to turn away from his weapons will never be known about outside of their home areas.

I totally understand the views of Norman Tebbit and he has every right to express his feelings. The fact is that all of us have the ability to damage or strengthen communities by our actions. I am grateful that we no longer have a war on our Streets and that the level of violence in Ireland is a great deal lower than was the case in the recent past. We need to do more to eradicate it altogether and that will require men and women on both sides of the sectarian divide continuing to take a courageous stance. I do not want to equate apples with bananas, but the damage that Tebbit and his colleagues did to many communities when in Government has led to some lives being damaged and destroyed as a consequence. There will be people who feel pleased when Norman dies, just as he is pleased to see McGuinness depart this life. It is telling that McGuinness was critical of those who rejoiced at the death of Thatcher. Let us hope that at in the future we can get better at acknowledging the hard work of those who we may not know the names of, but whose actions are just as significant in ending violence in our streets or damaging division in our politics. We might then move the focus onto what each of us can do to improve our communities rather than look for people to blame.

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We need the right to recall, now!


recallIn a Parliament that claims to be responding to the will of the British people it is time that all constituents are given the opportunity to express their will on matters that go beyond our decision to remain or leave Political Unions. As we hover over the precipice of departure of the EU, it is clear that in our life times we will never again be given a referendum on such a matter, or at least that any referenda in the future will not be handled so badly. That clarity comes from the various comments, discussions and decisions being taken over new economic agreements which are being promised as replacements for the partnership we have had with the EU nations. None of these will have the same level of political linkage that we have had with the EU, but realistically none will give us the same gains that we have had from the EU on wider matters such as peace and security. However as we await the 29th March for the next stage in this process to begin it is vital that the will of the British people is not simply consigned to the pages of history books. The actions of George Osborne in taking on yet another major role, particularly one that is focusing on matters 190 miles away from his constituency, without any attempt to gain the consent or support of his constituents who in effect are his employer and pay his wages shows a total disregard for democracy. He is not alone in holding a second or third or fourth job, although few MPs are so brazen to taken on a role that is so demanding and so disconnected from their constituents. Of course George Osborne could do what MPs like Mark Reckless and Douglas Carswell did when they changed parties and force a by-election and seek re-election having offered his constituents the opportunity to reject him due to his extra curricular activities. This would not however be something that any of the main parties would welcome, as it is a costly affair and if each time an MP was to take on an outside interest they were to trigger a by election, these by elections would be happening on a weekly basis. My personal view is that we need a mechanism such as right to recall which could be triggered by a substantial number of constituents, or by an MP which would act as a check or balance on the actions of an MP. This could be triggered in settings where a local area had supported a decision to remain in the EU, and their MP was unwilling to support it in Parliament. The same could be true in a setting where an MP had voted to send EU nationals back to Europe, despite local support for the opposite point of view. It must be possible to come up with a mechanism that is relatively simple and cheap to operate that would test the support of constituents for their MP. If the support fell below a certain threshold either the MP could change their response or resign from their job or else a by-election would then be triggered. A time limit could be set on how regularly such a process could be triggered to avoid this becoming a regular occurence. However I believe we need some way of raising our voices and being heard when MPs  act in an inappropriate way such as George Osborne has done.

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Housing for young people


download (1)The following article focuses on the crisis in Youth Homelessness and the need for powerful advocates, it is published this morning in The Argus newspaper: There are few people who have the privilege of living in a Palace, particularly one that can trace its history back to the end of the 12th Century. Martin Warner as the Bishop of Chichester lives in the Bishop’s Palace in the Cathedral Close at the centre of Chichester City. Despite its history and an array of features it is also a very comfortable home. To willingly exchange a palace to sleep in a car-park, even in Hove, in a shelter the Bishop will have to make for himself out of donated cardboard boxes takes some guts although the Bishop points out on his website, it is no act of heroism. Nevertheless some of those who look up to him as leader of their Church may find his decision hard to understand and there may even be some who feel it is demeaning for him to participate in the event. He is participating in Sleep Easy organised by YMCA Downslink Group which is taking place this Friday simultaneously in Horsham and Guildford as well as Hove. One of the targets that the YMCA had set for this year’s event was for 100 people to participate and along with the Bishop there will 99 other people sleeping in not so easy places on Friday night. The event is intended to draw attention to the impact of youth homelessness. The YMCA houses some 300 young people every night who would otherwise be homeless, and recent decisions by this Government to deny housing benefit to people under the age of 21 will undoubtedly lead to many more young people facing this situation and indeed it will create a financial challenge for the YMCA as it seeks to fund their work. As well as raising awareness of the plight of homeless young people, the YMCA aims to raise funds for their good work, last year they raised £24,000. However the problem of homelessness will not be solved by one night spent under cardboard or by a few thousand pounds.

Dr Warner will be joined in his adventure by Martin Lloyd Williams who is the Archdeacon of Brighton and Lewes and the two men as key leaders of the largest Church organisation in Sussex will hopefully use this evening to reflect on other ways in which the Anglican Church in Sussex can continue to assist in addressing homelessness. The Church of England is well known as a significant landowner and whilst much of this land is controlled by the Church Commissioners and represents the pensions of church workers, there are ways in which this land could be used to ensure that low cost housing is constructed in areas where the need is greatest. Martin Warner is in a good position to advocate for such approaches. We also need the Church Commissioners to act in a way that challenges other institutional landowners such as the MOD to use their land in an effective way. Even in the local setting in the Diocese of Chichester, there are ways in which the land around some of the Churches or the buildings themselves could be used to help address homelessness. The actions of Alan Sharpe as vicar at St Patricks Church in 1985 which led to the conversion of parts of the church to provide permanent housing for vulnerable people is one example of how historic buildings can be used to assist people in need. Another example was the closure of St Wilfrids on Elm Grove which was converted into flats and more recently the conversion of St Augustines on Stanford Avenue. In settings where the Church itself is beyond repair such as St Saviours redundant sites can be replaced with housing. Finally as leaders of the Church of England, Dr Warner and his colleagues are in a position to advocate for housing to be constructed in sensitive ways across the Diocesan area. The need for more housing in the South East is self evident. There are many groups of people who have seen their role to challenge the building of new homes and whilst charities such as the YMCA and BHT have sought to advocate for homeless people, their voices are sometimes ignored in ways that a Bishop and Archdeacon will not be. We need to hear the church raising its voice on such issues here in Sussex as local MPs and Government Planning Inspectors are seen to come to loggerheads over housing numbers. We also need to hear these voices raised nationally as a challenge to this Government. A hallmark of the Church is that it is intended to be an agency which will speak out on behalf of those without a strong voice of their own. The homeless community is clearly one such group of people without a public voice and advocates for their needs are vital.

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