Democracy Denied By Kelly Grehan

On Friday, as on so many other occasions, we saw evidence that our democracy does not function properly.  As is now well known a tory MP, Sir Christopher Chope was, singlehandedly able to stop a bill which would have made taking photographs up womens skirts a crime in its own right from progressing.

According to Gina Martin, a campaigner to bring about this new law, Chope told her shortly afterwards he did not know much about ‘upskirting’ but objected to it ‘on principle that it had not been debated.’

So Parliament’s archaic procedures have allowed one man to prevent progress in protecting women, despite his having no real knowledge on what it was about.

Whilst the upskirting bill got all the headlines yesterday, he and his gang also blocked bills making tyres more than 10 years old on a public hire bus or coach an offence, stopping paid for parking in Hospitals and extending FOI requests to public contractors and Housing Associations – a successful days work for them then.

Chope, who has been awarded a Knighthood for services to Politics, has a long history of sabotaging Private Members’ Bills – sometimes by talking at length, known as filibustering, and other times by shouting his opposition as the bill is called.

Other indefensible political decisions he has made include:

Raising an eleventh-hour objection to the Hillsborough debate taking place because he believed a debate about MPs’ pensions was more important;

Objecting to the second reading of the Alan Turing (Statutory Pardon) Bill in the House of Commons – causing the Government to use the royal prerogative of mercy instead;

And blocking revenge evictions being made illegal.

Sir Christopher Chope has tried to claim his actions represent some kind of moral crusade against private members bills.  I think this is nonsense.

If he disagrees with private members bills why did he support one attempting to give employers the right to opt out of paying the minimum wage?

It is apparent that Sir Christopher Chope is a vile man, and it is very unfortunate that by representing the safe Tory seat of Christchurch it is unlikely he will ever be held accountable for his voting record, despite experiencing the wrath of his fellow tory MPs on Friday.

But what is surely ridiculous is that all MPs present at the second hearing of a bill are allowed to block the progress of a bill, simply by shouting ‘object’.

This debacle is just the latest of numerous examples of one or two MPs being able to prevent bills that would make life better for ordinary people.

For example in  2015 Labour MP Karen Buck introduced the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill intended to ensure residential rented accommodation would have to be provided and maintained in a state of fitness for human habitation.  The bill was ‘talked out’ meaning that it was not put to a vote and dropped.  In fairness the proposals were reintroduced in 2016 as an amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill when 312 tory MPs voted against it and the amendment was defeated.

Then there is that beacon of non-democracy – the House of Lords.  

Now, I’m in favour of a revising chamber, but the House of Lords needs reform.  It  is the largest parliamentary chamber in any democracy, surpassed in size only by China’s National People’s Congress (2987 members).

Following 13 new peers being appointed in May there are now 785 peers, none of whom have been elected by the public – they are there either because of the family into which they are born (92 hereditary peers), or because they have been appointed.

It is therefore another area of our ‘democracy’ ripe for undemocratic processes.  

It also costs £93 million per year, of which £20 million is paid direct to the Lords themselves.  It is also noted that the chamber only seats 500!

Despite half of Britain’s now following no religion, 26 places in the House of Lords are reserved for Church of England Bishops – the UK being the only democratic country in the world to give seats in its legislature to religious representatives as a right.

The presence of the Church of England in the House of Lords entrenches a privileged position for one particular branch of one particular religion.

The House of Lords Appointment Commission was established in 2000, to appoint non political peers, but most of the life peers were appointed by Prime Ministers – so inevitably we end up with career politicians continuing their career – often after being rejected by voters not long before.

Then we have the ridiculous situation of the UK government being propped up by the DUP; a party whose values are so at odds with the majority of UK citizens that it is hard to fathom that they exist at all.

In a ludicrous twist of fate, their measly 10 seats have left them as Kingmaker of the UK Parliament, with power over our democracy not deserved by their voting share.

Further threats to democracy come from the fact the arrangement between the tories and DUP mean that the potential of favouritism towards one Northern Ireland party is sufficient to undermine the government’s insistence that it is impartial and  it appears to introduce a political bias which may breach the terms of the Good Friday agreement.

No one in England, Scotland or Wales voted for the DUP, but yet they now take centre stage in deciding what bill will be successful in the House of Commons in return for Northern Ireland receiving an extra £1 billion over 2 years (So there is a Magic Money Tree).

Then we have the strange situation brought about by privatisation of various industries which mean corporations keep any profit they make, but any losses are bailed out by the taxpayer – who had no say in the decisions that led to the loss in the first place – the railways are a prime example.

The UK is already one of the least regulated economies in the developed world, with little or no scrutiny or democratic debate, the policy-making process has been brought under an unprecedented level of control by private economic interests.

The very essence of democracy is that all decisions should be in the interests of the common good.

Private companies primary purpose is to generate profit for shareholders and this is often in conflict with the common good, so companies, often receiving money from the taxpayer such as those running the railways, care contracts, health contracts, refuse services and countless others often act contrary to the public good.

Up until recently the public were fed the nonsensical line that ‘regulation was bad for democracy’ and those being paid by public money (Serco, Carillion etc) acted pretty much as they liked despite their profits coming from the tax coffers.

Where will this all end, who will draw a line in the sand to protect the principles of democracy: ‘for the people, of the people, by the people.’

So all in all, our democracy needs some amendment as power spreads further and further away from the people, undermining the very principle of it.

A View From Kurdistan By Cllr Karen Constantine

By Cllr Karen Constantine 

It seemed to me that there was scant coverage in the UK on the critical situation emerging in Kurdistan.

This was a surprise given its global importance and that independence referenda are a current ‘zeitgeist’ issue (Brexit, Scotland, Catalonia, etc ). 

By contrast, here we were, in Kurdistan, post referendum as part of the UK election monitoring delegation saturated in news, digital media and surrounded by people of all nationalities intensely absorbed and totally preoccupied with every twist, turn and nuance of this moment of political and social history. 
My companions, other delegation members, were a mix of MPs, MEPs, Peers, political analysts, trade unionists, Kurds, reporters, and more. 

A substantial number from around the world were evidently deployed across Kurdistan to ‘monitor’ the referendum to see if it was free and fair. Our League of Kurdish Nations delegation comprised 18 people. 

It’s an often overused hyperbole, but this really was the ‘trip of a lifetime’. Not just for the obvious thrill of discovering a captivating country – Kurdistan is mesmerising – but the immersion into the referendum was like nothing else I have ever experienced, nor frankly, do I expect to again. 

We were divided into several teams in order to cover as many polling stations and areas as possible. My own team, which included seasoned political activists that know election process inside out, spent an arduously long day observing 6 polling stations and monitoring the close of the vote and the beginning of the count on 25th September.
We were a formally accredited group, registered and carrying credentials. We were assigned a protocol car* and driver, a polling station list and after that we were absolutely free to go as we pleased. We joked Python-style “no one expects the independent monitoring team”. Nor did they. Our arrival at each station was unannounced. We swept in. Of course we were looking for obvious signs of a well run polling station, no coercion of people, a regular and systematic process, an adherence to key polling principles and conformity across the piece. This we found. 

With regard to unfettered participation of citizens we noted, women with children, young and old, refugees, Yazides, Muslims, Turkmen and Christian’s. Kurds leave you in no doubt of their pride of being peaceful and inclusive. They are proud of their religious tolerance and inclusivity. 
At the IDP polling stations (displaced person camps – there are 240,000 refugees in Kurdistan in 52 camps, 41 are from Iraq and the rest are from elsewhere in the Middle East) we came across those people who have refugee status, mainly from the camps of Mosul. 

These polling stations were overwhelmed

Demand had not been adequately calculated, resulting in far, far too few staff to cope. This meant that what had started as optimistic and patient queues were becoming increasingly fractious in the face of 5-6 hour wait in the slowly snaking queues. A late afternoon decision to extend polling station hours was wise. As far as I’m aware all those that wanted to vote and who were registered to vote, voted.
As a substitute delegation for the UN, who could not facilitate this unrecognised referendum, we enjoyed unprecedented political access. We were invited to all the key forums and meetings with High Commission, Electoral Commission and the Governor of Erbil. I met with and questioned Hushar Suwaley of the KDP and the Head of the foreign relations bureau for the PUK. I also met and questioned members of the KRG (A Turkman MP Dr Mohammedali Yaseen Taha ) and KRG staff member Rezan Kader currently ‘acting’ as Consulate equivalent. We even had an opportunity to meet with the Bazarni foundation which provides support to 17,000 orphans among other amazing work. 

A mix of formal and seemingly informal gatherings gave adequate opportunity to share observations and ask occasionally thorny questions. 

What are the Thorny questions? 

Was this a ‘proper’ referendum? 

Well, no. Under the control of Iraq, at odds with the will of the Iranians and clearly incurring the wrath of Turkey’s Erdogan, it was ‘all but’ a legitimate referendum. Well conducted, sincere and overwhelmingly precise in its outcome. 93% of the vote, some 72% of the population voted ‘yes’ to independence. 

However the legal status of such a quasi legal process is analysed it cannot be dismissed. 
The will of the people is clear. 

Will Turkey now cut off its nose to spite its face? 

The threat to starve the Kurds by withholding £8-10 Billion of trade from Turkey to Kurdistan seems at best ill thought though as its this line of business and trade, including facilitation of the lucrative oil pipeline which feeds Ceyhan 550,000 barrels of oil per day the KRG’s main source of income. But clearly also revenue stream for Turkey. 

Iraq’s threats to close down air space have manifested with Erbil and Sulaimaniya closed. But for how long? 


Meanwhile UKs Foreign policy is a joker card in Boris Johnson’s clumsy hands.
Those of us that support the Kurds, both politically and emotionally – because it feels like the right thing, must do what we can do to apply political pressure. 

The patience of the Kurds throughout their decades of oppression is remarkable. They are the last group in the world without a ‘state’. This has been a battle of hearts and minds. Despite stating otherwise I wonder if they will move to a unilateral Declaration of Independence. After all, if it’s good enough for the Catalonians…

There’s an old Kurdish saying ‘Soup cannot be eaten at the same temperature it’s cooked at – you have to let it settle down.’ We’ll all have to wait … and hope…

*’protocol’ was the support team put into place to facilitate our fact finding. 


Karen is a Labour Councillor and was in Kurdistan for the elections.

For more articles like this please visit our Facebook page :

https://m.facebook.com/theavengeruk/