Mike Swadling of this parish is Vice Chair of Governors at Winterbourne Nursery and Infant School in Thornton Heath, Croydon. Many of us have found lockdown hard, too many of us have failed to put the time to good use, but one local school has used this period to good effect.
“Founded in 1906, Winterbourne Nursery and Infants School sits on a site with separate Junior Boys and Girls schools. The last remaining single-sex, state-funded junior schools in the country. Whilst the schools often cooperate they remain very much independent schools, with their own staff, heads, budgets and governors”
“ensure compliance with required regulations and the good governance of public resources. Following much hard work over the previous year the school received a commendable ‘Substantial Assurance’ audit”
“Teachers provide a warm, nurturing start to each day with a live online session. They give clear guidance and support to pupils and parents about the day’s learning tasks.”
“This past year has been a challenge for everyone, some of us have used the time to set goals, many of us have failed to achieve them, but one local school, Winterbourne Nursery and Infants, can rightly say, its whole community should be proud of its journey of self-improvement”
The TaxPayers’ Alliance have published an update on Croydon Council written by Mike Swadling of this parish.
“Ambitious for Croydon” was the Labour Party’s motto when they were duly elected to run Croydon again in 2018. Certainly, the plans have been ambitious; as has the spending that went with them. Whilst the budgets that underpinned these goals have largely received cross-party support, things quickly spiralled out of control, as many had predicted”
“makes it all the more galling that the council was forking out vast sums of local residents’ money on things such as solar panelled bins – and now they need to close rubbish tips, which will no doubt lead to more fly-tipping!”
“Croydon’s councillors voted to reduce £300,000 from councillor pay from April 2021. Better late than never, but this will still likely leave Croydon’s councillors in the top 20 per cent best remunerated in the country and top six in London. Is this really fitting for cabinet members who oversaw only the second council bankruptcy this century?”
“Against this backdrop, Croydon’s hard-pressed taxpayers are bound to ask what has changed. Highly paid executives and well-remunerated councillors oversaw a fiasco that has left local households to pick up the tab for many years to come.”
Did Brexit get done? We have clawed back a fair degree of sovereignty, but the government’s hands remain tied in important ways. For me, this is a “minimum Brexit”. The Full Brexit’s full analysis of the deal is here: https://www.thefullbrexit.com/uk-eu-deal
How do you hope the U.K. will use the new found freedoms? Two main things. First, we need wholesale reforms to increase democratic control over economic, political and social life. Brexit has exposed the UK constitution as fundamentally broken. Second, we need a proper industrial strategy capable of developing economic sectors fit for the 21st century, de-financialising the economy, and spreading prosperity beyond the Southeast. We will also need to develop a strategy for maximising our room for manoeuvre under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement and for defying it where necessary.
What constitutional reform would you like to see happen next?
Abolish the House of Lords, the royal prerogative, the monarchy, and the Supreme Court.
Increase the size of the House of Commons to one Member for every 50,000 voters, elect MPs by proportional representation, and permit recall of MPs.
Outlaw corporate donations to political parties and limit the maximum individual donation to £1,000 per annum.
Abolish all restrictions on political speech (except that which directly incites a specific criminal offence).
What do you think is next for the EU? If the UK makes a real success of Brexit, this will revive desires for leaving the EU, which have dampened during years of stagnation and difficulty. Possibly the “two-speed Europe” we are seeing emerging (between Eurozone/non-Eurozone) could further intensify in a formal bifurcation. The TCA seems to offer better terms than EFTA/EEA membership, so it may be that more semi-detached countries like Norway, and maybe even non-Eurozone members like Sweden, see it as a better option. The Eurozone part could then integrate further. But I also think the fundamental economic contradictions of the Eurozone will persist – it simply doesn’t work as a monetary union without a fiscal union. We’re seeing some efforts to fudge this with some new taxation powers for the Commission and the COVID-19 “fund” (which is really just a permission to rack up national debt). But it doesn’t overcome the basic contradiction, and Germany simply isn’t willing (or really able) to take on the costs and responsibility of centralised fiscal policy for the whole EU. So, all the basic contradictions and tensions will persist, and the EU’s neoliberal constitution will continue to curtail economic growth and exacerbate social inequality. In 20-25 years I doubt the EU as it currently exists will still be around.
James Bradley local Brexit Campaigner.
Did Brexit get done? Bill Cash believes it truly makes us an independent country and I have trust in him, so yes. I do, however, really regret the painful unnecessary ‘long and winding road’ we have had to go through but onwards and upwards now!
How do you hope the U.K. will use the new found freedoms? To become the wealthiest, most successful, inventive, happy and free major country in the world.
What constitutional reform would you like to see happen next? Reverse Tony Blair’s disastrous devolution, reduce MPs to about 200-300 and Lords to have time limited terms, not for life. Lower taxes.
What do you think is next for the EU? Initial greater centralisation, then resistance from the east and then eventual scaling back of the organisation when the price becomes too high for the Germans to justify, possibly to a level we could have been comfortable with in 2016 (or am I a dreamer?).
Did Brexit get done? Yes, take the win. It’s not perfect, but nothing is. We have faced a huge fight to ensure our country remains a democracy, after much of the political class, judiciary, and media, lined up to overthrow our vote. It’s been a hell of a 4 years, but most us would have taken this position 4 years ago, let’s enjoy it now. My main concern now is over Northern Ireland, and we need to work to ensure that the UK not just GB fully leaves the EU.
How do you hope the U.K. will use the new found freedoms? On trade, lets use this opportunity to ensure we have the lowest possible tariffs with the developing word. We should trade more with the growing economies, this will allow us reduce costs of basic foodstuffs, and other products for the poorest in our country, and through trade help grow the economies of developing nations spreading wealth and freedom to those most in need across the globe.
Domestically we should:
Undertake a massive set of deregulation to allow jobs to grow.
Reduce or remove green taxes to help industry.
Start an immediate rollout of free ports
Undertake a phased withdrawal of the Common Agricultural Policy subsidies.
What constitutional reform would you like to see happen next? I’d like to see much more devolution, with powers residing at the most local possible level (when they can’t be held directly by the individual). We see locally with Labour’s bankrupting of Croydon Council and nationally with the ineffective Scottish and Welsh governments, devolution in this country hasn’t work well. The reform I’d like to see is tax raising as well as spending powers moved locally. The authority that has to spend the money should also need to raise it, critically with this change we need to the ability to borrow money for anything but the strictest criteria removed from all except central government.
The Scottish and Welsh governments, and local councils will suddenly be forced into a position of justifying their poor spending decisions no longer able to hide them by taking on debt or by blaming central government for a lack of grants. In the case of Croydon if the people wanted to buy a hotel or shopping centre the council would need to raise taxes to do so (I suspect that would have stopped these ridiculous schemes). In the Scotland and Wales the governments would be forced into building more business friendly environments if they wanted to raise the taxes for their spending plans. We would see governments compete for their tax base, benefiting businesses and us as individuals.
What do you think is next for the EU? The Euro simply doesn’t work. Southern European economies locked into the single currency, can’t currently compete with the productivity levels of the a Germany or the BeNeLux countries. They can’t grow their economy and skills base, in part because they can’t lower the value of their currency to encourage export led growth. They can’t flout away some their government debt through inflation, to allow the tax burden to be reduced. Worst of all, their young and least skilled workers don’t have their opportunities for entry level work to gain skills, stopped by mass unemployment and limited opportunities in economies that operate with what is frankly the wrong currency. I don’t know how or when the Euro will break but it has to, as the breaking of the Euro is the best hope for millions of Europeans and many countries future economic prospects.
Sean Finch former Libertarian Party Parliamentary Candidate.
Did Brexit get done? No. It was a BRINO. Boris & the Conservative Party were never going to deliver an independent Britain. It would always be skewed where the EU would have more authority in some parts. This is because the Conservatives have always been a pro EU party. Remember, they were the party which entered the ECC in the first place and also the party to sign the Maastricht Treaty creating the EU.
So the logical question to ask is; why would a party which campaigned for years to remain in the EU, has more Remainers MPs & CCHQ officials in it than Leavers (including the current Cabinet), only gave the 2016 Referendum not because out of the kindness of their heart or that the Tories were die-hard Brexiteers but because of pressure from UKIP, ever be trusted to deliver a true Brexit? The logical answer is of course; they can’t be trusted and they won’t deliver it.
How do you hope the U.K. will use the new found freedoms? They will do nothing. I believe they will at minimal attempt to mirror almost all laws to the EU and at maximum will quietly campaign to re-join the EU, as they are a pro EU party. In fact, it is ironic to think that the old party emblem of the Conservative Party was the liberty torch. It is right they no-longer use it as they as the governing party (as well as with the assistance from all the parliamentary parties) have currently robbed us of our liberties in this current expired pandemic.
What constitutional reform would you like to see happen next? A full written civil liberty focused constitution detailing the individual citizens are sovereign, not Parliament or the Monarch. Preferably this document will be an updated version of the Bill of Rights 1688/1689.
What do you think is next for the EU? It’s market and GDP will continue to decline. It will essentially quietly crumble due to mainstream media outlets not properly reporting on it due to political bias.
In summary it presents Mike as ‘a Brexit campaigner for many years before and after the referendum, that tonight he is cheering with a glass of French champagne, with some of your campaign friends on zoom… that he is happy with the result but also relieved to move on’.
Mike: “I have never been so tired… As a nation it will make us good to put this behind us.. coming back to more normality where we can disagree on policies, but not on fundamental structures… also if you listen to a football or gardening podcast Brexit will be mentioned. It has been relentless”
“Early Brexit activist in his commune of Croydon, South London, Mike Swadling plans to toast on Thursday night… “With a glass of French champagne,” he says with a smile. The United Kingdom officially left the European Union on 31 January. But for this computer scientist, who has been committed to the cause of Brexit since the referendum campaign, 1 January 2021 is also a date to celebrate: “We will finally regain our sovereignty. During the transition period, we had become a vassal state of the European Union, still under its laws, but without a voice. »
Mike is pleased with the agreement sealing the new relationship between the UK and the EU: “Certainly this agreement is not perfect. Big concessions have been made to the European Union on fisheries and Northern Ireland (which remains in the single market and customs union), but I am happy to put it all behind us”
Mike would like to note his local Aldi had a good deal on French champagne…
Mike Swadling opposed the debate, and below is his speech delivered to the society via Zoom. As always with this friendly group the debate was good natured, very well proposed and drew out some great views from the audience.
“This time next year life will be back to normal” – Opposing motion
What a year we have had, and expect to have for a good few months to come. We have lost too many people, lost too many freedoms, and will continue to suffer from the economic consequences and health care losses of lockdown.
Meanwhile new ways of living have become part of our new normal. Many people who had never held a conference call or video conference, now do so daily. Millions have worked from home all year.
The knock at the door of an Amazon delivery is now a familiar sound, and if you’re lucky enough to get a slot, we have become used to home deliveries for our food shopping.
Now much, as I would like it to be so, I don’t believe this time next year, life will be back to the old normal. Nor do I believe, we will be living fundamentally changed lives, but the way we live has seen a step change, and will continue to evolve.
First let me offer some hope, the pandemic levels of death ended in June, when death rates thankfully returned to the 5 year normal. Life with Covid became endemic. Predictions of a second waves of deaths have proved thankfully untrue, even as cases have risen. Treatments are getting better, the NHS was not overwhelmed at the peak, and won’t be now. We also have the prospect of a multitude of vaccines to build up further immunity in the population. We can look forward to the future, where the true threat of Covid 19, is seen as no more serious than threat of a normal seasonal flu.
But the absence of Covid deaths does not mean an immediate return to a year ago. For instance let us look locally for examples of how things are changing.
Most of us have gone a year without visiting a department store. Debenhams in Croydon has closed, John Lewis, a flagship store for the new Westfield development, has closed its Purley Way outlet. Arcadia, which includes Topshop, Burton and Dorothy Perkins, based out in Valley Park is reported to be on the brink of collapse. The Westfield shopping centre unlikely to happen before the first lockdown, is now almost impossible to believe.
With retail on the life support from furlough schemes, it’s hard to imagine the Whitgift centre ever truly reviving. No doubt we will see something new in our town centre, but online shopping has ensured it won’t be the kind of all-encompassing retail centre, we have seen for all our lives.
Aside from retail, Croydon has been for many years a major office centre. These offices have now largely stood empty since March. Offices that cost millions to run are now being run from peoples spare rooms, dining tables or sofas. Why would a business want their staff to return, to reincur those costs?
Now I don’t believe the world of work will fundamentally change so much we will never be back in the office. Distant relations work in part because we have built up trust and connections from having physically meet.
But I wouldn’t overplay that fact, I like many now work with teams all over the globe, I have never meet the people I work with in the US, Malaysia, or Italy, yet we get on, we laugh and joke, and importantly we get the job done.
People are sociable, it would be handy to meet-up with my local colleagues from time to time. Frankly it would be good to get out of my house. I’ve not seen much evidence you can fully train people to do a job remotely. Some office jobs require a higher degree of physical interaction, and of course away from offices there is a whole world of world that requires a physical presence.
But what does this mean for Croydon?
Well my prediction, and hardly an original one, is that we will move from a world where many work from home 1-2 days a week, to a world where people go into the office say 1-4 days per month. Offices will have less desks and more meeting rooms and breakout spaces. I firmly suspect enterprising coffee shops will be adding ‘work pods’ you can hire to get together with a few co-workers.
What happens to the plethora of office blocks in central Croydon? Their use, can only reduce. What will we need? 80% of what we have today? 50% maybe, or even just 20%? I don’t know, but I do know the twin engines of our town and indeed our city of Offices and Retail have both fundamentally changed.
Now what to do with all these office blocks? We are already building a large number of housing blocks in Croydon. Many people have concerns about this making Croydon a dormitory town, and that these homes are not suitable for families.
With people traveling to work less and working from home more, needing space in their homes, and dare I say it, maybe even a garden, these home are not suitable for todays’ let alone tomorrows living requirements.
With a need for housing people will no doubt be cramped into converted office blocks, even with the problems that will bring.
This does however offer one possible future for the Whitgift Centre. Conversion to a much needed central park for those living in the new high rises around it.
Our town will not be the same this time next year, although I’m sure things will feel far better than today, they will be far from normal.
From the local changes let us look at some national changes. Great Frost of 1709 was the coldest European winter during the past 500 years. It caused widespread crop failure and economic devastation. We are now facing the worst economic failure since then. Let’s just put that into some perspective.
In the intervening years we have faced Jacobite revolution, a global 7 Year war with Louis XV’s France, fought in and lost the Americas, seen off Napoleon, fought two World Wars against Germany, seen massive economic changes with agricultural and industrial revolutions, introduced and repealed The Corn Laws, seen global economic depression in the 1930’s, formed a Union with and given independence to Ireland. Gained and lost the world’s largest ever Empire, Yet none of these lead to the economic crisis we now face.
To put it simply, Lockdown has caused more damage than the Luftwaffe.
The Office of Budget Responsibility forecasts the economy will shrink by 11.3% this year, and we will borrow £394bn the equivalent of 19% of GDP. We are in a hole, and with new tougher Tiers in place, we have just ordered new digging equipment.
We don’t know how bad unemployment will be, how many shops will shut down, how much the transport industry will contract, or how little of the hospitality sector will remain after furlough ends, and economic realities kick in, but we do know it will be devastating.
Recovery from an economic shock this size won’t come quick.
The income tax was first introduced in the Napoleonic Wars as a temporary measure and is still with us today. Blanket restrictions were applied to pub opening times during World War One, and left largely unchanged until 1988. Rationing stayed in place for 9 years after the end of the second world war, and we didn’t pay off our war debts until 2006.
This economic shock is bigger than any of them. It will take far, far longer than a year to get us out of this hole.
We also see health consequences. Pre-lockdown a 1000 people a day were diagnosed with Cancer. That has largely stopped for the last 9 months. Many minor operations have been postponed and will become major operations. The consequences a year from now, of the shutting down of large parts of our health service don’t bear contemplation. On top of that the coming unemployment and lost prosperity, is a health crisis of its own.
Worse than all this I believe, and likely to have far longer consequences, is our loss of freedom.
I hope you all agree, Everyone has following the rights
The right to liberty
To not be subjected to arbitrary interference with privacy or home
freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state
freedom of religion; ….either alone or in community with others and in public or private
freedom of opinion and expression
freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
the right to work, and to free choice of employment
to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts
What I have read to you there are extracts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Articles 3, 5, 13, 18, 19, 20, 23 and 27, of which, are being broken right now by our government. This is not a partisan point, as our opposition parties are arguably even more enthusiastic about the Covid Laws
Since 1215 with Magna Carta, through the 1689 Bill of Rights, to universal suffrage, freedoms have been hard won. Those in power always want more, and by necessity will sacrifice your liberty to take it.
If you believe these freedoms, all these freedoms, will be back with us, and life will return to normal in a year from now, I have a bridge to sell you. Only under the current law I’m not allowed to trade, you’re not allowed out to see the bridge, and shaking hands on a deal will see us both severely fined.
Some genies have escaped their bottle, and won’t be put back. The economy will take many years to come back, the NHS will be dealing with the health consequences of this year for much of the next decade and who knows, when we will simply be allowed to do what we used to think of as normal interactions.
Life won’t return to normal by this time next year, but we should do our damnedest to make it as normal as possible.
It has become something of a cliché to say George Orwell’s 1984, was meant as a warning of a dystopian future not a how to guide for government.
In the book criticism of the state is forbidden, there is no organised religion, you are under constant surveillance, and intimate relationships are strictly controlled.
We have no right to protest, the churches are closed, drones were following hill walkers and police ask you to report those breaking the rules, and government literally banned couples who live in separate houses from meeting up.
These will be temporary measures, just like we’re still in last March’s 3 week lockdown, to flatten the curve.
A year from now we will be in the midst of a very real economic crisis. Many shops, pubs and restaurants will be boarded up. Hotels will be closed, tourist attractions behind shutters. We will have empty offices being converted into the troubled high-rises of the future, and we likely see a massive reduction of choice of public transport. Things will not be normal.
The human spirt will however prevail. The economy will bounce back. We will push to regain our lost rights, or much like we are seeing in this lockdown, many will just ignore those in authority. Life will return to normal but it will be a struggle and one that sadly will take us well beyond next year.
External Auditors are under a duty to issue a report in the public interest when a significant matter comes to their attention which they believe the Council should consider or the public should know about i.e. it is in the public’s interest to know about this.(Source)
Croydon Council’s external auditors Grant Thornton have issued a damning ‘Report in the Public Interest’ on Croydon’s “deteriorating financial resilience”.
“There has been collective corporate blindness to both the seriousness of the financial position and the urgency with which actions needed to be taken”
“Had the Council implemented strong financial governance, responded promptly to our previous recommendations and built up reserves and addressed the overspends in children’s and adult social care, it would have been in a stronger position to withstand the financial pressures as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic”
I have written many times over recent years about what I saw as the council waste of public funds, be it on BoxPark, Cultural events or the Surrey Street Market refurbishment. But these are political disagreements. When the council has run out of reserves and is threatened with a Section 114 notice it is mismanagement, but still working withing the guidelines of the system. With an Audit report, with the statements that follow, it is unclear if the council took notice of guidelines:
“Having a company dissolved by compulsory strike off is a failure of governance and we have not identified evidence that the dissolution of London Borough of Croydon Holdings LLP has been reported to Cabinet or the General Purposes and Audit Committee”
“Minutes of the Scrutiny Committee noted that the paper (explaining the Council’s proposed decision-making matrices) was produced after the first bid had been lodged and with this paper it would not have been possible to judge the soundness of the acquisition. Whilst opportunities can arise at short notice, good governance would require the strategy to be approved prior to the first purchase”
The full report is well worth reading, it makes 20 recommendations which we should all hope the council fully implement. A number of themes come out in the report of systemic failure in the councils actions, which I have grouped as follows:
Lack of oversight
“The reports were accepted by Members without an appropriate level of challenge to continued service overspends”
“There was insufficient challenge from Members on the financial risks in the budget, credibility of the planned level of income from third parties and deliverability of the savings plan. The Council’s governance over the budget setting and monitoring has not been good enough.”
“In our view this was a failure of governance and showed a lack of understanding of the urgency of the financial position.”
“The strategy for investing in properties was approved at Full Council using guillotine procedures meaning there was insufficient time to discuss and challenge the strategy and the first purchase was made two months prior to approving the strategy”
“There has been collective corporate blindness to both the seriousness of the financial position and the urgency with which actions needed to be taken.”
“The budget was approved without evidence of challenge on whether the revised level of reserves was appropriate or whether the history of delivering services within the budget or delivering savings as planned had impacted on setting the appropriate reserves”
“it is difficult to determine how Members reached the view that the savings plan within the budget being approved was achievable. We do not consider the Council’s governance over the setting of the original 2020/21 budget to be good enough”
“Members of the Scrutiny and Overview Committee accepted the responses received and did not refer the matter to Full Council. In our view this did not demonstrate an understanding of the urgency of the financial position.”
Masking the problems
“The impact of the overspends has been masked by both the accounting treatment of the Dedicated Schools Grant deficit (which we disagree with) and the use of the flexible capital receipts. The Council has failed to deliver real savings in children’s and adults’ social care.”
“In 2018/19, the Council chose to account for the deficit amount as a debtor at the end of the financial year which we disagreed with as the Council’s approach was based on the view that the Government ought to refund the excess spending rather than any evidence that this would be the case.”
“When UASC service costs were seen to exceed the funding available, the Council’s response was to lobby government for increased funding”
“The 2019/20 Quarter 3 financial position reported to Cabinet in January 2020 reduced the in year overspend by £8 million. This is an unusual movement and there was limited explanation in the report and no evidence of challenge to understand the validity of the adjustments to achieve the revised position”
Lack of control of spending
“In the past three years, the Council has reported significant service overspends of £39.2 million within children’s and adult social care”
“the Council focused on: improvements in service delivery without sufficient attention to controlling the related overspends”
“the Council has not demonstrated that it can take effective action to either manage the cost pressures or establish appropriate budgets within Children’s and Adult Social Care services.”
“The Council failed to address the underlying causes of service overspends which during 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20 had a combined overspend of £59.3 million. The overspends were reported in budget monitoring reports but there is little evidence of Member challenge or holding officers to account for the underlying reasons for the overspends or for taking action to address and mitigate the impact in future years.”
“The 2019/20 Quarter 2 financial position reported to Cabinet in November 2019 showed an in-year overspend of £10.4 million. There was no indication that Members understood the implication of using the remaining general fund reserve on in-year pressures and this in our view contributed to the lack of urgency”
Brick and Brick and Investments
“The Council’s approach to borrowing and investments has exposed the Council and future generations of taxpayers to significant financial risk. There has not been appropriate governance over the significant capital spending and the strategy to finance that spending.”
“Despite heavy investment from the Council, the Council has not yet received any significant return.”
“The savings plan in February 2020 included additional income sources that were in our view optimistic including £3 million dividend from Brick by Brick, a company the Council has already lent almost £200 million to and for which the Council has yet to receive any dividend or any interest owing on loans”
“The interest receivable amounts continue to increase however the outstanding debtors indicate that Brick by Brick has not made any interest payments with £5 million owing at 31 March 2019.”
“The investments in The Colonnades and Croydon Park Hotel were not grounded in a sufficient understanding of the retail and leisure market and have again illustrated that the Council’s strategy to invest its way out of financial challenge rather than pay attention to controlling expenditure on core services was inherently flawed.”
“The Council has established a complex group structure and we found little evidence that the complexity and associated risk to the Council’s financial position is understood by members or officers”
“Based on our review of the loan agreements, £110 million of those loans were due for repayment by the date of this report and had not yet been received by the Council”
“At the Cabinet in July 2020, the Council made a decision to incur an additional £30 million of borrowing to purchase properties from Brick by Brick to increase the affordable housing supply available. This is not in line with the original business case for Brick by Brick approved by Members in March 2015.”
“The increasing complexity of the group structures, the interaction between different subsidiaries, the longer-term financial impact for the Council and how to safeguard the Council’s interests is not clearly understood.”
“London Borough of Croydon Holdings LLP was dissolved by compulsory strike off due to a failure to file accounts. The facts or progress in remedying the situation have not been reported to Members or subject to scrutiny”
The above are by no means all of the adverse comments in the report.
Where does this leave us?
We have a new Council Leader, a new cabinet and a new Chief Executive, all of which are to be welcomed. All of those at Croydon Council, both Councillors and senior officer need to ask themselves how we have got into this position. Within the new cabinet the 6 (of 10) members who are long standing cabinet members really need to step up and explain their part in these debacles.
No doubt much blame will be moved to those who have left and to the council officers. Here I am reminded of a speech to house of commons by Diane Abbott. Back in May 1998 the house was debating government policy towards Sierra Leone. Ms Abbott was questioning the Labour Governments Ministers actions, and went onto say:
“In the tit for tat and media frenzy about the issue, a number of questions have been asked over and again. What did Ministers know and when did they know? I would ask a third question, which is why did they not find out?”(Source)
As the repercussions of this report become clear and further questions are raised from the newly published draft 2019/20 Annual Accounts, I expect we will see a focus on new changes, not the past problems.
To have confidence, to believe that Croydon Council will do better, what we need to know from the Councillors in office during this period and now serving in a new cabinet is simply – If they weren’t told about these problems, why did they not find out?
The Libertarian Listener is a UK political podcast reviewing the week’s major news stories, current affairs and events whilst providing original insights, public opinions and perspectives from the nation’s freedom lovers and liberty seekers.
For the 21 October 2020 episode they spoke with Mike Swadling about – Lockdown Rebels, CHIS Bill, NZ Labour Election, Croydon Constitutionalists.
As Croydon Council’s financial crisis grows Mike Swadling writes for the TaxPayers’ Alliance about Croydon Council, a tale of mismanagement.
“Northamptonshire in 2018 when they faced a £10 million shortfall and debts of around £1 billion. Croydon has just over half the population of Northamptonshire, and yet still managed to exceed this”
“Given all this overspend, Croydon’s contribution to the Town Hall Rich List seems utterly obscene. The latest report showed the council has 23 staff on over £100,000 a year and 3 who earn more than the Prime Minister”
“it’s clear the financial challenges predate the crisis. Too much money has been squandered on schemes that have not paid off. Anyone can see that too little value has been provided for the people of Croydon”
“The Growth Fund, together with the Community Ward budgets awarded by councillors, gave over £35,000 to Croydon Pride in 2018, and over £59,000 the following year. They are great events, but is it really taxpayers’ job to fund my weekend entertainment?”
Growing up in the 80s it was common to hear “I can say what I like,, it’s a free country”. This has not felt true for some years. We have seen growing control from the state over what you can say, the business you can engage in, the food you eat, and what you can stop your children being taught at school. This gradual encroachment on liberty from governments, universities and Big Tech, has been little preparation for the tsunami against freedom we have seen in 2020.
Whatever you think of the initial 3 week lockdown, it was as an understandable response to a pandemic, and was imposed to simply protect vital health services. 5 months in, health services were not overwhelmed. The introduction of further requirements for facemasks seems only to happen because politicians and advisors have too much power and too little willing to give it up.
When the Coronavirus Bill was passed giving sweeping powers to the government to lockdown society few other than Steve Baker MP showed any concern at what was happening saying in the House of Commons “For goodness’ sake, let us not allow this dystopia to endure one moment longer than is strictly necessary”.
Since then we have seen advisors, the mainstream media, celebrities, big business, Big Tech and politicians of all parties, complain the lockdown wasn’t imposed soon enough, wasn’t harsh enough, and that people mostly stuck indoors weren’t taking it seriously enough. We’ve even had the police already given unprecedented powers, make up rules to tell people they can’t stand in their own front gardens. There are notable exceptions in the media like Toby Young with his excellent Lockdown Sceptics site, but there is no mainstream objection or leading politician questioning the erosion of liberty.
What can we do about this? How can we reclaim liberty?
The Green Party with foundations in 1975 (as the Ecology Party), hit a high point in 1989 with 15% of the vote in the European elections, has never had more than 3.6% of the vote in a General Election and never had more than 1 MP. Yet all main parties are committed to net zero emissions and have we have a Department of Energy & Climate Change.
UKIP / Brexit Party whilst receiving 12.6% of the vote in 2015, and twice winning the European elections, managed only 2 MPs. Yet we had a referendum and have left the European Union (and let’s hope we fully leave at the end of the year). The SNP and Plaid Cymru were never major parties prior to the devolved assemblies in both nations. The reason I point this out? You don’t have to win general elections to exert influence. If you can gain some support in the polls the major parties will take note, you will empower sympathisers in them, and make strategists look for opportunities to win back your support.
Imagine we had a group, even small group of major politicians who were vocal about liberty. Politicians who could be invited onto mainstream media or write columns opposing new rules. Politicians who make speeches on liberty in the House of Commons. Mainstream figures who could be shared on social media. This would start to make a difference. It might not have stopped lockdown, but might bring about a quicker opening up, might stop further lockdown rules and bright ideas on advertising, or buy one get one free offers.
Scared politicians are compliant
It would be great to be able to write that I believe a classical liberal party could start up tomorrow and with a little bit of advertising could capture 30/40% in the polls and be viable to form a government. I’d even like to be able to write that I think they could get 15% and really shake the establishment to taking on their policies. Nothing I have seen before or during lockdown makes me believe that. But 1%, and up to 5% with the right issues in some areas. Yes that’s possible.
Imagine we had a broadly libertarian party running at 1% in the polls and able to stand candidates in most of the country. At 1% (about 500 votes per constituency), 12 MPs with majorities of less than 1% would know their seats we’re at risk. At 3% a number quite achievable with some targeting of resources, 40 MPs would be at risk. At 5% (again possible with targeting), 35 Conservative (almost half their majority) and 20 Labour (almost 10% of their MPs) would be at risk.
Whatever one of these numbers could happen, a small group of MPs wanting to see off a threat from freedom focused candidates would likely be opposed to the governments next imposition on us. They would garner supporters in the mainstream and non-mainstream media, and be champions for the cause. Long before anyone mainstream was talking about a referendum to leave the EU, we had a multitude of opt outs from the EU and never joined the Euro, in no small part due to a small number of eurosceptic MPs. Imagine what a similar group could do for liberty.
Is this possible and if so, how quickly is this possible?’ At the 2019 General Election the Yorkshire Party proved to be the biggest of the small parties, running 28 candidates and receiving over 29,000 votes. The Liberals (an actually liberal party unlike the LibDems) managed to run 19 candidates averaging over 570 votes per constituency. Whilst economically more collectivist, strong on personal liberty, the Christian Peoples Alliance (CPA) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) managed 27 and 20 candidates respectively and the Libertarian Party managed 5 candidates averaging 356 votes a piece. These relatively unknown parties, who all respect personal liberty managed a respectable 72 candidates (all of whom did and would have expected to lose their £500 deposits) and an average of 316 votes (about 0.6%) between them.
Based on the numbers above, and keeping in mind 2019 the Brexit Party took 2% of the vote, people who are likely to sympathise with this cause, it should be more than possible for a well organised party to run say ~200 candidates, get registered in polling, and make MPs take note.
We have a Libertarian Party, a Scottish Libertarian Party, and a UK Liberty Party. The Brexit Party is broadly libertarian, UKIP is by its constitution libertarian. The Foundation Party, 5 Star party, and Time Party are all largely classically liberal. Whilst more economically collectivist the Liberals, SDP and CPA all agree with many of the core values of freedom, run decent number of candidates and reach communities most libertarians don’t.
Too many parties chasing relatively few votes is a problem, and one very difficult to resolve. People fighting for liberty are by their nature free spirited. It may be over the next few years the parties shake out and we see one or two clear leaders, or as an alternative we might see parties work either formally, (realistically needed to register in polling) or informally, together.
Away from the parties what might be the platforms they agree on? I believe they all agree on the following:
rule of law
devolution of power from the centre
value for money from what government does spend money on
Here you have the basis for domestic liberty, government spending (at all levels), constitutional reform, and a preference for democracies in foreign policy. Not a bad start. The Stockport Declaration written by a group of former Brexit Party candidates is a good overview of much of this. We saw in the 2019 election the benefit of a small manifesto for the Conservatives (62 pages), and even then almost no one can remember anything beyond ‘Get Brexit Done’. A few simple ideas, well publicised, get votes.
How to make progress?
As someone who has run for office 3 times without making much impact on the outcome I feel a little presumptuous writing this but please bear with me.
If the goal is to get support, copy the parties you are aiming to get support from. What does your local Conservative, Labour and even Green Party do? Do the same or similar. Major parties build up support from local councils (from Parish to County and every type in between). Down to just 11 MPs, you might wonder how the LibDems keep going, but when you know they have 2527 Councillors, and run 19 District councillors it’s less of a surprise. District councils have limited but real power, and influence how we live.
To get elected you firstly need to run for election. Council seats are free to run for and only need 10 signatures (2 for Parish) to stand. In many parts of the country elections are held annually, and may include Parish, District and County elections for the same area. There is an annual opportunity to run for election, sometimes multiple elections, all free. All requiring just 10 signatures from local residents to run. 5000 leaflets (colour, double sided, A5, decent weight of paper) are £100 (not cheap but not generally unaffordable) from my local printers, it can be less online. 5000 leaflets would cover most council wards, and depending on the area you live in, give you about 40 hours of delivery exercise!
Granted not so possible at the current time, but once back to normal street stalls in a busy high street can be an effective way to get your name out there and speak to people. Leafleting on public land, outside a primary school when parents collect their children or in the morning at a train station are great ways to get seen by many people and get a leaflet straight in their hand.
As Jordan Peterson says first ‘clean your room’, get to know your local community, if you can, volunteer locally.This improves name recognition for you, builds knowledge, builds your CV (political and professionally), is living by the rules you are proposing, and can be personally rewarding. As a school governor for many years, it is mostly an apolitical role, but I have found on occasion I have been the sole voice for parental choice, or stopping a ‘bright idea’ that isn’t as apolitical as the proposer thinks it is.
When you have an event, issue a press release, local reporters emails are normally on their website. The press probably won’t publish it (they might) but you can publish it and people are more likely to read an article titled ‘Press Release’ than one titled ‘street stall’.
Use social media as an add-on not substitute for physical activity. A street stall where you hand out a 100 leaflets, speak to 10 people in some detail, get seen by a thousand, and followed-up with a Facebook post on the local residents Facebook group, or maybe advertised to the local area (normally about 1p per person reached, £2=200 people), backed with a few tweets to #nameoftown, is a really effective add on to your day, and reaches out to new support. The Facebook post or tweet alone will simply speak to the echo chamber. Public Facebook groups work best when they speak to the public, about real issues relevant to them, rather than ways to share in jokes, or the talk about the least mainstream ideas to the committed few.
If you do all this will you get elected? Probably not, no. Unless you live in an area with a Parish council where it’s quite possible you can stand unopposed. You probably won’t win the first or even the second time you stand. As a minimum, each time you stand you will raise awareness. You may deliver or hand out some thousands of leaflets with a simple message supporting free speech, supporting free choice. You might organise events, get more local Facebook or Twitter followers, get one of many press releases published, the key thing is, you will be building support for the cause of freedom.
And what if you are elected, even as a loan voice on a Parish council? You get the opportunity to implement polices at a local level. You get to build support for ideas. You can write to you constituents, the press, or more widely as a Councillor. An elected Councillor speaking for liberty, that would be a big improvement on what we have today.
Elections generally happen once a year. Many of these parties are very small and the next member may live a few towns away! It can be a hard slog when a few of you are out campaigning let alone doing it by yourself, but why not work together?
Often the main enemy of most small parties is a lack of name recognition, the main enemy of personal freedom, is I think, lethargy. Why not work with other local parties to organise a debate or a local protest, an event, to jointly support a petition etc. Anything that gets your name/s and the cause out there.
Find something your local council is doing to restrict freedom and work with others to make that an issue to campaign on. Even simply organise joint drinks with another group as a bit of moral support and to share ideas. When parties are running at 5% they can campaign against each other when they are running at 0.005% they gain more working together.
Right now we do have restricted freedom (a potential campaign issue) but unless under local lockdown you can leaflet. If you have a local issue you can issue a press release or write a letter (and mention your party) to the local paper, and if they don’t publish it – you can. You can write an article for a site like this or better still this site! And most of all, if there are elections in your area, you can stand for election next May!
We shouldn’t give up on Lords reform. The current home for failed politicians is simply not good enough. I believe the proposals below would control costs, whilst providing a separate chamber closer to the people and widen representation in our democracy.
Possibly the very best solution to resolve the challenge of how to complete House of Lords reform is simply to reverse the clock. For all its faults and failings the undemocratic house, full of hereditary peers, frankly worked quite well. Under it we extended the franchise for men and gave women the vote. Passed multiple Factory Acts improving working conditions, legalised trade unions, had agricultural and industrial revolutions, and built and started giving up, an empire. We won two world wars against Germany, and arguably two more against France. It wasn’t democratic but it was a system that, albeit sometimes rather slowly, worked.
Of course we aren’t going to return to a hereditary second chamber, but what should we do?
Article 3 of the United States Constitution starts “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.”
The Legislature chose the Senators to make them accountable to the state government rather than a party or other grouping. Whilst in the US this has been amended with people voting directly for their Senators, as a model I like the idea for an overly London centric UK giving true regional representation in its legislature.
Alas the UK does not have the regional bodies in place to provide those senators. The mixture of assemblies and parliaments we do have (Welsh, Scottish, Greater London, etc) are not exactly universally popular or respected.
Perhaps for all their faults we could use these bodies as an example of what we can do to build out a new house. The Green Party and UKIP / Brexit Party whilst being diametrically opposed groups, have consistently performed well for the past decade but neither have managed more than 2 MPs. Nationalist parties do better, but with the exception of the SNP in recent years tend to be under represented, and running or functioning as an independent candidate or member is a mostly hopeless task. This is not so true in the regional bodies of the UK. For instance Wales has;
10 Plaid Cymru,
4 Brexit Party,
1 Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party,
1 Welsh National Party,
assembly members as well as the usual members from the Conservatives, Labour and the LibDems. The Scottish parliament manages 6 Greens and 2 Independents on top of the SNP, Conservatives, Labour and LibDem members. In Northern Ireland in addition to the main Unionist and Republican parties there are 7 Alliance, 2 Green, 1 TUV, 1 PBP, and 3 Independent members. Finally in London the assembly includes 2 Green and 2 Brexit Alliance members. In all these cases, the local bodies have managed more representative models of governance. Why couldn’t we do the same for the House of Lords?
Our most recent general elections have been fought in large part on the basis that you have to vote for the Red or Blue team to block the other side, rather than because you agree with them. After 10 years of coalition, small majority or even minority government I see no desire for a form of proportional representation for the Commons, and indeed in 2011 we rejected changes to the current system.
I propose for the House of Lords to elect members on a proportional system. I believe this will be more popular for a revising chamber as it would not interfere with the requirement for stable government. Importantly it would give the opportunity for more minor parties to have national figures, buildout a base, and democratically represent the people.
The new Lords would be elected using something similar to the modified D’Hondt allocation used in London. London has a mixture of geographical super-constituencies with further members elected from a party list to make the total Assembly Members from each party proportional to the votes cast for that party. In London a party must win at least 5% of the party list vote in order to win any seats. That same measure could be kept for regional groupings or a lower national number could be used. A consequence of this would be sizable groupings for the Green Party and Brexit Party. You would also likely see a small number of Lords representing the Yorkshire Party, Christian Peoples Alliance, UKIP and even the Independent Group for Change (if you can remember them). This would be great for democracy. These parties have support, even when running in almost impossible first past the post elections, why shouldn’t they and others have the opportunity to build a national base?
An elected second chamber then raises at least 3 major questions.
How would an elected second chamber differ from the House of Commons?
Would it not feel it had its own mandate?
How much would it cost?
All three can be tackled by making the role of Lords quite separate from that of the MPs. The Lords today has 777 members. A new chamber similar in size to the commons at say 600 members would reduce what we have today, stop individual Lords being too powerful, and allow for a reasonably large grouping of Lords for smaller parties. A party getting 1% would have ~6 members, a party getting 5% (attainable regularly by the Greens and revised Brexit Party) would have ~30 members. These groups would provide a professional backbone to these parties, that could start to compete with the 3 main national parties.
600 Lords would be expensive, so I propose we make them part time. Pay them half of what an MP is on, and reduce their hours accordingly. A revising chamber needs time to study legislation and debate, but this is not the amount of time needed in the commons. Have regular hours and sittings, and encourage the Lords to have outside work. This way they will more closely represent us by working with us. Have no expectation of constituency work. MPs have become one part parliamentarian and one part social worker. We don’t need Lords to undertake the same role. They can be parliamentarians, working to set regular hours and have part time day jobs around that.
To reflect this legislative role, Lords would not need the expenses of MPs. No local expenses beyond that to cover a home office, some travel and minimal costs for some public meetings. Staff can work centrally and be attached to the grouping rather than individual Lords. Additional specialist knowledge on legislation should also be available much as it is today. Members would need to be able to claim reasonable expenses for staying in London but with dates fixed in advance these can be kept down and must not include paying for second homes.
I also propose the Lords do copy one idea from the US Senate. That they be elected on fixed dates and terms, every 6 years with one third elected every two years. This will ensure they reflect the changing nature of UK politics over time, rather than one snapshot. It will give Lords time to learn the role and elections to multi member constituencies, with regional top up lists, could be held to coincide with the main local election dates to keep costs down. Regular elections also keep parties more in touch with their voters and allow small parties opportunities to build support.
These proposals would end much of the cronyism and see a new House of Lords with elected members. Members focused on parliamentary legislation, members who reflect the electoral wishes of voters and in doing so allow new parties and ideas a chance to grow. The members would not be overpaid with many having second ‘normal’ part time jobs. Expenses and overall costs would likely go up but be kept in check, and we would retain the strong government model the House of Commons generally (if not so much recently) delivers.