Independence...Integrity...Value

Blog 21st November 2019

Nov 21st 2019, 13:09

Blog 21st November 2019

In this week’s blog, I refer to: The General Election, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn, Tactical Voting, UK Parliament, House of Commons, Electoral Reform, Michael Gove, Mail on Sunday, National Health Service, European Union, Queen’s Speech, Spending Review, Welsh Local Authority Housing Finance, Service Charges, Seminars & Training.

The United Kingdom’s General Election will be held on 12th December 2019. But, in my view, this will not be a democratic exercise, even though millions of people will be voting. The United Kingdom electoral system is now so flawed that it is unlikely that it will deliver a government that has much democratic legitimacy whether it is led by Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn or anyone else.

The current electoral system means that:

  • Most constituencies are ‘safe seats’ meaning that whoever is nominated by the dominant party will be elected. Voters may be free to express a view about which candidate they prefer, but this has no effect on the outcome.
  • Many voters will not vote for the candidate they prefer and will instead vote for another candidate on the grounds that they are not as bad as their least preferred candidate. This is called ‘tactical voting’.
  • Many voters will not be able to vote for the party that they prefer because their party has withdrawn them as part of an electoral deal.
  • Many voters will find that voting for the candidate they prefer has the effect of helping the election of a candidate they disapprove of. Politicians even make a virtue of this aspect of the electoral system by pointing this out to voters.
  • Many people who are entitled to vote are not registered to do so.
  • While it is often said that there should be no taxation without representation, people aged between sixteen and eighteen can work, join the army and pay tax but are barred from voting.
  • Elections are expensive which favours candidates with wealthy backers and, despite there being limits on election expenditure there is a lack of transparency about the funding of political parties.
  • Political parties increasingly use social media to campaign but on social media there is an absence of safeguards about accuracy, balance and transparency.
  • There are concerns about external interference. For example, Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee has expressed concern about possible Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum and 2017 general election as discussed in my blog last week.
  • The mainstream media, rather than providing voters with accurate information about the election and providing a challenge to politicians, is all too often guilty of spreading misleading and inaccurate information itself.
  • Candidates can be elected as Members of Parliament with the support of fewer than 30% of the voters in their constituencies.
  • It is more than likely that a party that receives fewer than 40% of the votes will receive most of the seats and go on to form a government with powers that the late Lord Hailsham (a former Conservative Lord Chancellor) described as an ‘elected dictatorship’. They would then implement policies that would not necessarily have widespread support. Since 1945 no party has ever received a majority of the votes cast but, in almost all elections, a single party has received a majority of the seats in the House of Commons.

The process is clearly not democratic. However, despite this, I would urge all readers of this blog to vote. I would also urge them to support electoral reform.

I am not impressed with the standard of campaigning. For example, Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Conservative) wrote in the ‘Mail on Sunday’ that:

“It’s unfair that people coming from European countries can access free National Health Service care without paying in while others make significant contributions.”

I found this statement strange for several reasons:

  • The United Kingdom and other European Union states have reciprocal arrangements with each other, so that citizens of all states can receive free health care in all other member states by holding European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC). In return for Britain offering this to citizens of other European Union states, British citizens get the same benefits if they need medical care while in another European Union state.
  • 145,000 British pensioners get free healthcare in other European Union countries; and 27million British citizens have European Health Insurance Cards.
  • Citizens of other European Union states make a bigger contribution to Britain’s public finances than both non-European Union citizens and British people. This is because they pay more taxes and use the National Health Service and other public services less.
  • European citizens make a net contribution of £2,300 more than the average British resident while non-European Union citizens take out £840 more than the average British citizen each year, according to analysis done for the government’s own Migration Advisory Committee. The £400 contribution made by non-European Union citizens covers only half the cost.

I really think that Cabinet ministers should check their facts before writing articles for newspapers. Inaccurate information of this sort has the potential to fuel the xenophobia that is becoming increasingly evident in Britain.

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Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield, West Yorkshire

This week we have published the November 2019 edition of the AWICS Housing News. It includes items on:

  • Queen's Speech 2019: The Implications for Housing
  • Spending Review 2019: The Implications for Housing
  • City of York scrutinises its Housing Revenue Account
  • The Sheerwater Regeneration scheme in Woking
  • Update on Impact Housing Association and Riverside Housing Association
  • Housing Revenue Account Balances
  • Social Housing Green Paper and Capital Receipts
  • Warm Homes Eden
  • Housing Development in Scotland
  • Housing Development in Wales

To view or download your copy, please click here.

This week also sees the publication of ‘All You Want to Know about Welsh Local Authority Housing Finance 2019’. This book runs to a hundred pages and is a useful introduction and overview of this important subject. For further information or to order a copy, please click here.

Social housing is becoming increasingly important in Wales at a time of rising demand for affordable housing and constrained resources. Councils in Wales face significant challenges. The economic background is one of austerity. The United Kingdom government is ‘reforming’ the welfare system. The Welsh Government has introduced self-financed Housing Revenue Accounts and a new rent policy that includes the de-pooling of service charges. They have also abolished the ‘right to buy’. Councils (encouraged by the Welsh Government) are starting to build new council houses again. Business Planning and Risk Management are becoming increasingly important.

At the same time Welsh councils have strategic housing responsibilities including producing a housing strategy, supporting housing associations and administering housing benefits.

Next week I will be in Wales to present an in-house training session in Local Authority Housing Finance for a local authority. I am looking forward to it. For more information about in-house training in Welsh social housing finance, please click here.

Our first seminar of 2020 will be on ‘All You Want to Know about Service Charges in Social Housing’. This seminar is a very useful introduction and overview to this important subject.

For further information about ‘All You Want to Know about Service Charges in Social Housing’ or to make a booking, please click here.

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