What is the point of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act?

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Britain will go to the polls on 8 June following the spectacular failure of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act to justify it’s existence.

I know I’m a little late to the party with this article (planning a wedding while working a full-time job makes blogging a little difficult), but it’s clear the Coalition Government’s flagship electoral reform is of little practical use.

Prior to 2011, the Queen could dissolve Parliament at any time simply upon the request of the Prime Minister, allowing the government of the day to opt for an early election if the polls appear to be in their favour – or to force a second election if the first resulted in an unstable hung parliament.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act was first introduced to Parliament in July 2010 by the then Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg as part of a package of constitutional reforms championed by the Liberal Democrats, including a referendum on changing the voting system to Alternative Vote, reducing the number of MPs and making constituency sizes more equal. At the time, Mr Clegg said:

The coalition government is determined to put power where it belongs – with people. You will decide how you want to elect your MPs.

By making constituencies more equal in size, the value of your vote will no longer depend on where you live, and with fewer MPs the cost of politics will be cut.

And, by setting the date that parliament will dissolve, our prime minister is giving up the right to pick and choose the date of the next general election – that’s a true first in British politics.

The Alternative Vote system was roundly rejected by the electorate and, partly as a result, the Liberal Democrats withdrew their support for reducing the number of MPs and redrawing the electoral boundaries. Fixed-term Parliaments, setting 5-year Parliaments in stone unless the incumbent government loses a vote of no confidence and cannot regain the confidence of the House within 14 days or a two-thirds majority of all MPs vote for an early election, was the only meaningful constitutional reform to make it onto the statute book.

The Act was meant to provide stability, almost guaranteeing a five-year timetable for governments to carry out their manifesto promises, whilst stopping Prime Ministers from holding an early election for political gain. To (mis)quote Captain Blackadder:

Blackadder

In the current Parliament, 434 MPs were required to vote in favour of an election. The two largest parties, the Conservatives and Labour, hold 330 and 229 seats, respectively, or 559 MPs in total. The 2010 election resulted in 564 MPs for the top two parties. In 2005 they had 568 of the then 659 MPs, 579 MPs in 2001 and in 1997 the Government and Main Opposition accounted for a combined total of 583 MPs.

It would take an Opposition in an extreme state of dysfunction and disarray to refuse the electorate the opportunity to vote them into power and, when the Fixed-term Parliaments Act was first called upon to stop what appeared to be a clear attempt by Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May to capitalise upon an almost-constant 20-point poll lead over a disunited Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn, it failed miserably.

Even the desperate state Labour presently finds itself in was not enough to persuade more than a handful of it’s MPs to vote against an election, with the motion passing by 522 to 13. The only real opposition came from the Scottish National Party, who decided to abstain (which is, in reality, no different to voting against an election when the motion requires a positive vote from two-thirds of members to succeed).

Granted, the present political reality was not envisaged when the legislation was drawn up seven years ago; Britain is leaving the EU, the country is bitterly divided and the Prime Minister has a weak majority and no personal mandate from the electorate, having been anointed without so much as a vote of her own party members following the resignation of her predecessor.

That notwithstanding, if the decision to go to the country were so easy for MPs to take in such turbulent circumstances, it is incredibly difficult to imagine a scenario in which any bid for an early election would fail, calling the fundamental point of the Act into serious question.

Like it or not, we are heading for the polls on 8 June – and one of the first acts of the new government, whichever flag they fly under, should be to reform or scrap a pointless and redundant Fixed-term Parliaments Act!

Rainham North councillors begin fight against new Gillingham Football Club stadium

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Rainham North’s Conservative councillors appear to have begun their fight against a new football stadium being built in their ward.

Gillingham Football Club Chairman Paul Scally called on fans to write in support of the Mill Hill site being pencilled in as the location of a future 25,000-seat stadium during Medway Council’s Local Plan consultation.

The consultation document itself is relatively mute on the subject of a new stadium, referring to the club only three times over its 132 pages:

The regeneration area would extend beyond Gillingham to include a modern football stadium for Gillingham Football Club at Mill Hill, supported by a mixed development of apartments, shops and wider leisure facilities. An iconic building would establish the new character of this area and mark the extent of the regeneration zone. – p23

Gillingham Football Club was established in 1893 and is based at Priestfield Stadium, Gillingham with a capacity of around 11,000. The stadium is within 0.5 miles of Gillingham Railway Station and is located in a predominantly residential area. The club has aspirations to upgrade its stadium and has actively been contemplating moving from its Priestfield site, developing this site for housing. The club has made representations to the council as part of the Local Plan process, promoting its interest to develop a new site at Mill Hill, Gillingham, that would involve a major new stadium supported by wider leisure, retail and residential development. – p86

Gillingham Football Club
The Council will work alongside Gillingham FC to develop an appropriate strategy to secure the club’s future development in Medway. – p89

Following Mr Scally’s decision to ask fans to write in support of the club, two local councillors, whose ward includes the Mill Hill site and surrounding area, have written to local residents, on Council-headed paper, urging them to make their own representations to the Council before the 18 April deadline.

GFC Councillor Letter

Vaughan Hewett, then a UKIP councillor for the area, presented a 400-strong petition of local residents against a stadium in 2015 and promised to continue to oppose any such plans in that year’s local elections, which he lost.

Now it appears Councillors David Carr and Martin Potter, whilst striking a conciliatory tone in their letter, are ready to take up the mantle of a fight against both the ground and its enabling development.

The councillors’ letter comes as Mr Scally has written to selected households in Gillingham with free tickets for the Gillingham v Fleetwood match on 22 April, in what appears to be the start of a PR campaign in support of his future plans for the club, their new ground and the site of Priestfield Stadium, the club’s home since it’s formation in 1893.

Anyone who wishes to respond to the Local Plan consultation, whether on the stadium or any other matter, can do so either by email to futuremedway@medway.gov.uk or by post to Planning Policy team, the Planning Service, Medway Council, Gun Wharf, Dock Road, Chatham, Kent, ME4 4TR. The consultation closes at 5pm on Tuesday, 18 April.

If Theresa May’s Brexit were on the ballot paper, I’d have voted Remain

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When I left the Conservative Party four years ago and joined UKIP, I always envisaged returning to being a Tory voter (if not a member) after the EU referendum had been delivered – which, let’s face it, is the main reason why people voted for UKIP and why that Party is now on a slippery slope to oblivion.

EU Referendum duly delivered, I left UKIP and began to keep an eye on the direction of Theresa May’s new government to see whether the damage done by David Cameron to the Conservative Party I had joined would be undone. Despite some promising words at the start of her reign, unelected Queen May is now bent on pursuing Brexit at any cost in the hopes of reuniting her party and proving that, whilst a remainer, she is committed to delivering the will of the people – while the wedge between leave and remain voters is gradually creating a deeper divide across the country.

What irks me, irritates me, angers me even, more than anything else this government without a mandate is doing, is the continued insistence on playing political poker with people’s lives. On 23 June 2016, the British people voted for a departure from the EU – but not a destination. The choice voters made was to leave the EU, narrowly outnumbering those who wanted to remain in the EU, but they were not consulted on what that would actually look like. In a referendum campaign filled with so many contradictions and plagued by misdirection, it was impossible to know, from the perspective of either side, what Brexit would look like.

Like 17 million other Brits, I voted Leave on 23 June 2016. Like many (though, admittedly, not all) I did not vote against immigration, as the Britain I want to live in is an open Britain. Like many (though, admittedly, not all) I did not vote against non-Brits, as the Britain I want to live in is a tolerant Britain. Like many (though, admittedly, not all) I did not vote to stick two fingers up to the establishment, as the Britain I want to live in is a united Britain, not one in which an “us v them” mentality defines discourse.

I voted to leave the EU because I have spent the majority of my life campaigning against an organisation which seems bent on subverting nation state democracy in the pursuit of a federal European superstate; an organisation which has almost single-handedly crippled several Mediterranean economies through a failed pan-European currency; and an organisation which seeks to apply a single standard upon a continent of half a billion people of vastly different histories and cultures. I voted to leave the EU because of a lifelong ideological opposition to the EU and, like 17 million other Brits, I voted to leave without knowing what leaving looked like. It was, I admit, a risk, but one I eventually took after much agonising consideration – and, eight months on, here’s the new headline:

If I had known on 23 June that voting “Leave” would result in Theresa May’s vision of Brexit, then, despite my deep and long-held opposition to the EU, I would have voted “Remain”!

Does that mean that I regret voting to leave? No. Categorically not. What I regret is that the terms of our departure are being decided upon by a government with no electoral mandate beyond leaving the EU. And what I regret, perhaps more than anything, is that this unelected government is now playing games with 3 million people’s lives. And yes, that includes the woman who will later this year (on 8 July, in fact) become my wife.

It has often been said that the UK leaving the EU is like a long and unhappy marriage finally coming to a divorce. However, before the divorce can be finalised, the two parties need to decide what their lives will look like after the legal separation – and that involves negotiation and compromise. What angers me is the way the government is so casually placing so much stress and uncertainty on 3 million people who not only did not vote for this government, but also did not get a voted on whether their country of residence would be leaving the EU at all.

The government’s approach to EU citizens living in the UK is not dissimilar to that of a bitter parent arguing over custody of the children, particularly in the context of extracting as much “compromise” from the other party as possible. It makes for a compelling emotional argument but, ultimately, the children become mere pawns in their parents’ violent game of chess while their best interests are continually ignored by the warring parties. In their “love” for their children, those parties end up doing more damage in the long-term.

This government is effectively saying to EU citizens “we care about you so much, but actually not enough to guarantee your right to remain living here”.

As for my family, the situation is complicated enough without Queen May tearing it down the middle before it’s even begun. My bride-to-be is unable to move to the UK until we get married (for reasons I will not go into here) and, like the open-minded optimist I am, I assumed that, as the UK must continue to respect its treaty obligations for free movement of people until the date we actually leave the EU, the government would not be so cold-hearted as to remove the right to live here of anyone who had made the UK their home before that date. Silly me! It seems the government is more concerned with the Faragist scare-tactic that half of eastern Europe will move here in the next two years than with taking a pragmatic (dare I say, human) approach to the workers this country needs to survive.

Now, I don’t blame Queen May for my family situation but I will squarely and firmly blame her if my wife and I are ever forced to live in separate countries because of her own heartless immigration policy. And if that situation ever occurs then I swear, as long as there is blood pumping through my body, that I will never vote Conservative again. Ever! And, yes, you can quote me on that.

In the meantime, Queen May needs to stop playing politics with people’s lives and provide some certainty to the 3 million people currently worrying whether they will still have a home in two years’ time. As Sarah Ludford, the Lords Shadow Minister for Exiting the European Union, said:

EU citizens need to be given clarity on where they stand … It would be shameful if the Government were to leave them in limbo, lining them up as bargaining chips in the forthcoming negotiations.

Until then, I cannot help but wonder whether my decision to vote Leave was perhaps the worst decision I will ever make in my life…

Catalan National Assembly website “dangerous” with 45 security risks

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Formed in 2012, the Catalan National Assembly (Assemblea Nacional Catalana, or ANC) is a grassroots organisation promoting Catalan independence.

Boasting 80,000 members, the ANC is one of the largest pro-independence civil society organisations whose founding president, Carme Forcadell, is now the President of the Parliament of Catalonia.

However, despite a budget in excess of €5.2 million in 2015, their website has a look and feel that seems to predate their March 2012 formation. It also has no mobile-friendly alternative (have they never heard of Bootstrap?) – and any idiot with a smartphone knows how painfully frustrating it is to try to navigate a drop down menu from a mobile device.

assemblea website

The greatest concern for visitors to the ANC’s website, though, is the number of potential security risks contained within its pages. In fact, users of Norton Safe Web are blocked from accessing the site with a menacing warning that it is a “known dangerous website”.

assemblea blocked

According to Norton’s Safe Web Report, the website contains a worrying 45 computer threats, including 28 instances of viruses and 17 security risks. There is no evidence of any identity threats on the website.

The ANC’s web presence does, however, contain a number of “Fake Jquery Injections”, which are malicious scripts which can download potentially damaging elements onto visitors’ computers. The presence of this kind of threat often indicates that a website has been hacked – and is flagged by Norton as posing a serious security threat.

There are also a number of “Malicious Script Redirections”, which are just as malicious and are also scripts which can download potentially damaging content. These scripts could also be a result of a hack.

It is not clear how long the ANC’s website has been compromised. However, until the organisation’s tech gurus fix the numerous security issues, visitors without effective antivirus protection could be putting the health of their computers at risk.

Thanks for the memories, Justin

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As birthday presents go, it was perhaps one of the most bittersweet, but when I woke up to the news this morning that Justin Endinburgh had been relieved of his duties at Gillingham, I couldn’t help but raise a smile.

When Justin was appointed Gills manager in February 2015, the style and approach he brought to the team provided entertainment and promise. Becoming one of the dominant forces at the top of the league by the end of that year gave us fans hope that we could find ourselves back in the Championship, for only the second time in our history.

Then, when I returned from Barcelona that Christmas, everything started going downhill. It’s impossible to say with certainty what triggered our collapse from top to an ultimate ninth-placed finish, but an injury to our star-player Bradley Dack, a confidence-collapsing loss at Wigan Athletic and a seeming inability for Edinburgh to change his tactics after teams had worked out how to beat us all played a part.

Nobody with a heart would act with malicious glee at somebody losing their job, but when this season started in the same way as the last had ended, it was clear Edinburgh was on borrowed time. I became a convert to the “JED out” cause in October, but was less vocal than others, believing the most important thing is always to support my team.

Edinburgh’s time was perhaps extended by virtue of our Chairman’s major heart operation, an assumption all the more feasible by the fact that today is Mr Scally’s first day back at work. He did not hold back in his assessment of our performance:

I don’t believe that the players weren’t trying, I just don’t think they felt comfortable with the way we were trying to play, or how we were trying to play. I am not sure they even understood exactly how we were supposed to be trying to play.

Yesterday, I was sat in the block next to the Directors and immediately glanced at Mr Scally at full time. I had a hunch, just by the expression on his face, that Edinburgh had managed his last game, something I mentioned on one of the Gills forums on Facebook.

Now that Edinburgh has gone, I would like to thank him for his hard work at Gillingham, and for some special memories, but hope that a new manager can turn our form around permanently and help us start pushing towards the top of the table again.

Next manager

Mr Scally has said that he started working on the new management team last night, and does not want to have a drawn-out interview process (like the five weeks it took to appoint Edinburgh). With no game this weekend, he has some time to find the right man before the next match at Oldham.

The Sky Bet odds on the next manager, as at 12:30 today, are:

Ady Pennock 1/3
Dennis Wise 10/1
Kenny Jackett 10/1
Nigel Adkins 11/1
Steven Pressley 12/1
Steve Cotterill 12/1