25 February 2011

The Politics of Going Beyond Politics

I very rarely speak in the Council Chamber. It is not the place for honest exchange of views. Last night I spoke in the two debates: the Corporate Plan (the plan for the city) and the Budget. It was difficult to condense my thoughts in 2-3 minutes, which is what might have caused the consternation, confusion and support from across the benches. On the other hand, it might have been quoting Aristotle in the original greek :)

What I meant to say was that the role of government has changed radically. This should not mean that ‘there is no such thing as a society’, nor should it mean privatisation of services. It means that we need to create society anew.

We need to think of what people value rather than what services we are used to deliver. In my research, I see churches providing many services for the local community, which are paid and delivered by church members. I believe the Council should assist those efforts. I also believe private donors should help too.

When I said that I don’t want my party to assume what I value and what my constituents value, I meant that I don’t want them to think of services as they are delivered today but of what is actually needed and valued. We need to think of services as activities which might be delivered in a different way and in different places.

I said that we should forget our party lines because I can see the valuable work that happens in committees where councillors of all parties sit together. The job of rebuilding society anew is too big and too important for political point scoring.
Our most important allegiance is to the people out there, not the party.

It shouldn’t be about cutting costs or simply sharing the costs with others. It needs to be about re-framing public services together with people out there, together with organisations, individual citizens and businesses. I’m calling for councillors to work in cross-party groups, or task & finish groups, or whatever other way, leave their colours aside, and start thinking for real.

That is the zoon politikon, the political animal, of Aristotle.

(I'll try to upload the webcast when it becomes available)

24 February 2011

Human rights are British values

Good for Ken Clarke for avoiding to take the populist stance. Instead he focussed rightly on how to make the European Court of Human Rights work properly. This doesn’t mean pandering to the worst sentiments of the population.

My grudge with MPs is that they don’t understand that their populist rhetoric (see last post) harms us all, even them. When governments lack popularity, they blame somebody else. So our enlightened government blame the judges and Brussels. They reclaim sovereignty without having clear what sovereignty actually means. If sovereignty is of the people then the people should decide, which makes the foundations of representative democracy shake. Beware of what you wish; it might just come back and bite.

The point of a representative democracy is to allow the building of consensus instead of the fragmentation of interests pursued with no regard for the interests of others. Decisions need to be taken at the most appropriate level. There’s no point in talking tough or soft on immigration, the environment and the economy on your own. These things don’t stop at our borders, therefore, close co-operation is essential. One of the most important factors in bringing the economy down was the lack of transparency and the low level regulation across Europe and especially in the UK and USA. The global economy is a fact; we need to make it work properly. No country subsists on its own.

Politicians blame Europe and, yet, we all like the fact that EU directives ensure the safety of our food. Indeed we demand better labelling of products. We like competition rules that are fair on consumers rather than favour specific companies (which is what nation states tend to push for!). We all like the fact that, if we have an accident, or we fall ill, or we need treatment for a chronic illness, and we are abroad (within the EU), we have free access to healthcare. Yet, we want Europe ‘off our backs’. I don’t. I want Europe to do more.

We might think the NHS as a ‘national treasure’, but there are differences between the health system in Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland. People have been travelling across Europe shopping for better health treatments for sometimes. We need a set of patients’ rights that would apply across Europe.
There are people who commute regularly across countries. We need legislation to guarantee that they are not penalised. According to research, there are people counting the days they can spend in their country of birth meeting families not to incur into a change in the tax system. Legislation is for citizens, to protect them and enable them to carry on with their lives. It is not a badge of national pride.

This is because we have rights that derive from the dignity we give to being human. Human rights are not a kind concession of nation states, but a claim in front of any other party. Nation states exist in our minds and they might serve some purpose, but human beings exist in concrete reality. There will always be instances of plaintiffs who are vexatious and trying to make a point in court. There will be instances of judges getting it wrong and making uninspired or controversial decisions.

This is human nature. It does not invalidate the importance of human rights. It reminds us of our duty to make it work, not to brand it as foreign. This is where Blair and Cameron have been wrong when talking about ‘British values’. British values are European values and human values. If our own government can't grasp human rights, what hope have we got of delegitimising terrorism?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was born out of the ashes of the millions who died in the Second World War. They perished largely because of nationalism. Their deaths cause the international community to draft a declaration for the recognition of every one’s rights. Did they die in vain?