This paper contains a summary of some of the political positions and arguments I have supported over the years. As always, please let me know if you think I have missed something significant in any of these areas.
While at school, I read a booklet on electorial reform, was convinced by the argument at the time, and have yet to hear an adequate counter-argument.
For me, the basic reason why I support electorial reform is that the present system discourages many people from involvement in the political life of our nation, and a great many people are effectively disenfranchised.
If you live in a 'safe seat' - whichever party holds it - what is the point in voting? If you know before you start who will win, why bother holding an election?
The main arguments against electorial reform are that it would break the link between the constituency and the Member of Parliament, and it would break the link between the MP and the whole consitiuency.
The first one does not seem to me to be a problem. The constituency would be larger, and if I wanted to contact 'my' MP, I would have a choice of people. This is certainly a break with tradition, but I don't see it as a problem.
The second is more serious. At present, the MP represents all the people in the constituency, whatever their party allegiance. If a new constituency elected - for the sake of argument - one Conservative, one Labour and one Liberal Democrat MP, they would certainly tend to see themselves as representing their own party: the Labour MP would represent the Labour voters in the constituency, and so on.
But the principle would have to be retained, nevertheless. The constituency would contain people who have never voted and people who voted for another party. They would still have to be represented. It would be the job of all the MPs in the constituency to represent all the people, whichever parties or minority groups they may belong to.
One small (and easy?) modification to the present voting system: to every ballot paper, add one final option: 'None of the above'.
At present, if you do not like any of the candidates, all you can do is stay away from the polling station, or spoil your paper. It means nothing. We cannot distinguish at present between apathy and voicless opposition.
Perhaps it would make no difference, but what if we were allowed to vote for nobody? What if nobody won? I suggest the election would have to be re-run in that constituency in, say, six weeks' time. There could even be a rule that none of the former candidates would be allowed to stand in the next election. This might produce a little more local interest in the election - and would certainly enable us to distinguish between apathy and a genuine dislike of all the candidates on offer.
Britain is too small, and our economy is too weak, for us to survive alone. The choice is between America and Europe, and - despite all the problems we face in Europe - we are much closer in culture to our fellow Europeans.
I have spent many years talking with people about this one, and have reached a simple but profound conclusion:
People who talk about 'national sovereignty' generally don't know what they are talking about.
Please, would someone who believes in national sovereignty tell me what this phrase means?
I am not asking you to list examples, but to offer some sort of definition, so I can recognise a nation when I see it. Are the Scots a nation? The Welsh? The Cornish? The Kurds and Basques? Where do you stop? What would prevent Yorkshire - or even Ealing! - from declaring UDI?
The only useful definitions I have heard of a nation define it in terms of sovereignty - a group of people in some place whose rulers have some power or powers - over an army, or tax rates, or laws, for example.
You cannot usefully define nations purely in terms of geographical boundaries - wars have changed these too often in the past. At what date in the past should we regard those boundaries as being fixed? And why should that one date be regarded as magical?
Neither can you define nations in terms of the people - they move, and have always moved. Geographical and ethnic origins do matter to people, but they cannot define the nation.
So if nationality is defined in terms of sovereignty, the phrase 'national sovereignty' is rather a tautology.
When people talk with me about 'sovereignty', they generally seem to mean something which has not existed for a century or two.
No nation in the world has complete control over what happens within its borders any more, even in theory. The world is too complex and inter-connected for that. International trade means that nations cannot set their own tax rates and interest rates as they wish. International treaties limit and determine the laws which nations may and may not make or enforce.
Certainly, Governments have considerable power. But it is nowhere as great as it used to be. Some people blame our lack of national power on 'Europe', but in reality it is a feature of the modern world and we would be subject to many of the same restrictions whether we were a part of the European Union or not.
In the old days, it was clear who had power. The boss could do what he wanted, and everyone else could do what the boss wanted. Or else.
Governments have very little power. They can set tax rates, and decide how to spend the money they raised (but only within very careful limits).
The real power these days lies with the super-national organisations such as the World Bank and the major multinational corporations. This trend has been continuing for maybe two hundred years, and it doesn't show any signs of change in the near future.
So, in brief, we can't lose sovereignty to the EU: we have already lost it to Microsoft.
I've had numerous interesting conversations around this theme.
On many occasions, I have heard people say something along the lines of: 'this would be wrong, because it would restrict our liberty.'
But our liberty is always restricted. I am not at liberty to murder or steal, to slander or trespass. There are many things I do not want other people to do to me, and when the law protects me from you, it can only do so by restricting your liberty.
If we assume that each person should be treated equally by the law, then if I want the freedom to walk the streets without fear of attack, I need to accept a limit to my freedom to carry knives or guns. I have not heard any argument from the 'Gun Lobby' in the USA which begins to make sense.
I have no objection to the police storing a copy of my 'DNA fingerprint' for matching against samples taken at the scene of a crime. It seems to me that if the DNA fingerprint of every resident and every visitor to this island were to be stored, we would all live in a much safer society. We would all be more free - apart from the criminals, that is.
My main concern about such a database is on the practical level: how would the security of such a massive system be protected? But this is a technical issue which can be addressed in a number of ways.
Such a database would also provide the basis of a sensible approach to the issues of Social Security and Taxation which face our country, as I have described elsewhere. The most important way to prevent benefit fraud is to ensure that people really are who they claim to be.
I hate to say 'I told you so' but...
In the build-up to the first Gulf War, I kept on asking people what the war was supposed to achieve. From memory, there were around a dozen different answers being given by the various politicians and people I talked with.
Two popular answers were: to gain peace in the region, and to get rid of Saddam. To all the answers but one, my reply would be: and how is the war going to help us achieve that? And they were never able to answer me.
The only answer that made any sense, but hardly anyone gave, was: to get the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. We could do that. Of course, it didn't really make sense, in that the only reason Saddam invaded Kuwait was because we and the Americans effectively told him we wouldn't mind if we did it. But, given that we changed our minds, in the new political climate it made sense, and was achievable. Sadly, almost nobody thought it was our goal. So we ended up with the present mess. (20 March 2003)
In all the discussion leading up to the present Gulf War, few people are talking about the only two topics that are really important.
Firstly, the practical question. After we win the war, what happens next? Does anyone really believe we can impose a Western-style democracy? Is there a single country in the world where that approach has succeeded? For the record, I fear the most likely outcome of the war will be that we replace one insane tyrant with another tyrant who is even worse. Please, come back to me in two years and tell me I was wrong.
Secondly, the legal question. The United Nations was set up to protect national sovereignty (see the discussion above) but the moral case for getting rid of Saddam lies in the way he treats his own people, and especially the Kurdish minority. International law gives no basis for interfering with the way rulers behave in their own country. International law, particularly as it is enshrined in the policies and procedures of the United Nations, fails to address this key question. It's a really hot potato, but but until we have a legal framework for addressing this issue, problems like the present one with Iraq will continue to plague the international community. (20 March 2003)
I admit to being surprised.
Before the fighting started, I told people the only outcome I would believe would be if we invaded Iraq and then the authorities told us there weren't any 'Weapons of Mass Destruction' ('WMDs') after all. I assumed firstly that Saddam did not have them (of course he never proved this: who would want to prove that they were incapable of defending themselves properly?!), and secondly that the experts who followed our fighting forces would rapidly 'discover' something they could hold up as a justification for the war. It never occurred to me they could still be looking after all this time - as if anything they discover now could make any difference to the ethics of starting the war.
I am pleasantly surprised, and relieved, to know that we didn't plant some fake WMDs to make life easier for our politicians. Yes, Bush and Blair lied to us about the threat Iraq posed to our countries, and the links between Iraq and international terrorism. They are politicians, after all. But, for once, it's good to know it was only lies. (30 September 2003)
My problem here is that I'm not aware that I have ever heard an argument from the people defending our 'civil liberties' explaining why we should not carry identity cards. I have heard them claim the costs would be too high, or they would not work for a variety of reasons, but those are different issues. If we should carry them, then we need to find ways to make it work as well as possible.
Since most people on the continent carry an identity card, and they don't seem to have any major civil liberty problems, I have to conclude the issues are primarily practical.
My guess is that any card we introduce will essentially be a smart card with a photograph. Of course, they can be forged, but the key thing is to make the cost of forging them high enough.
Sensible use of an identity card could reduce a number of other costs, both to employers and to the country as a whole - simplifying procedures and reducing fraud.
And when we think of the current reported problems with asylum seekers, I can't see any plausible alternative. We either lock up all asylum seekers, or accept that many with no valid claim will simply 'go missing', or introduce an identity card system. On balance, the benefits seem pretty clear to me. (30 September 2003)