Big Ben goes quiet and the commentators go wild

Is it just because it is silly season?  Why else get all worked up about Big Ben being silenced – temporarily and except for important occasions like Remembrance Sunday and New Year’s Eve?

Also, it’s good to know the Prime Minister has been keeping up with the news.  The story was covered first in 2015 but I guess she wasn’t Prime Minister then and didn’t need any more jobs to do.  That is slightly unkind of me, bitchy you might even say, but, seriously, Rt Hon Teresa May MP, don’t you have a few more important topics on which to spend your time and on which to ask your fellow MPs to spend time?

I suppose I’m a little biased here as the news this weekend left me unmoved.  The Today programme ran a big story on Monday 14 August 2017 and the tenor of the debate was, “Oh, no, we won’t hear the live bells!”  Frankly, I was more surprised that the BBC still takes the “bongs” live for their 6 p.m. and midnight news signals.  I just assumed they played a recording.

For the rest of the Benmoaners, I am sorry if the bongs are an integral part of their daily lives and that they will miss them.  However, I can’t help but think that this is a Westminster Bubble issue since these days, outside the Westminster Bubble, few of us can hear the bongs live.

Actually, when the story broke in 2015, I did think it might affect me.  However, I then decided that what I was hearing – from my roof when the wind was in the right direction – was not Big Ben but Great Tom, the main clock bell of St Paul’s.  Since I have a clear line of sight to St Paul’s, 1.4 miles away, compared to Big Ben 2.6 miles away behind a screen of buildings, it seems more likely.  So maybe it’s simply a case of I’m Alright Jackie and I should have more sympathy with the Westminsterites.

However, it’s hard to overlook the return of the all-too-easy attacks on the “elf ‘n’ safety” dictators.  There are even experts to ignore if you wish, Mr Gove.  Serious people have been working for several years to devise the best plan to tackle the work needed to the tower itself and the clock mechanism.  The project has considered the detrimental effect on workers of having the bells tolling.  Experts have even considered how much it would cost in real money (that can be better used elsewhere, remember, like making other towers safe for human habitation) to re-mantle and dismantle the mechanism every day.  They’ve thought about these things carefully, not winged off a soundbite in the midst of a trip to a warship.  Let’s show some respect to our fellow citizens and recognise that, as Rt Hon Jeremy Corbin MP said, “It’s not a national disaster or catastrophe.” (Quoted from the Times, News Section on 17 August 2017).  It is the implementation of a well-thought-out plan that takes steps to mitigate the risks as well as to achieve the aims at the least possible cost.

And, maybe those who live and/or work in the Westminster area will have the opportunity to hear other bells around London.  Or, if desperate for a fix, try YouTube or download an app.


Post Election Reaction #GE2017

It is the first time for a while that an election result hasn’t left me despairing so that’s nice!  This blog meanders through some of the reasons why.

I’m happy it is not a Tory landslide but I recognise there are difficult times ahead.  The result will create uncertainty and have politicians dividing their attention between the serious issues and commitments facing the country and the opportunities and threats to their own political careers.

Of course, we are still committed to investing time and energy leaving the safe haven of a large economic union to flounder in the high seas of a volatile world, having to accept help from whatever brigand and pirate stops to offer it.  That’s not good.  Whatever the rights and wrongs of whether we would be better off in or out of the EU, the process of leaving is going to eat up the money, parliamentary time and energy of politicians and civil servants alike.  That reduces the chances perhaps to zero that other problems in our society will be tackled and improvements made be.  Is it really going to be so much better outside the EU that we will make up for that lost progress?

Also, the British system is incapable of dealing with the plurality of mind.  The first-past-the-post clear majority focuses solely on the winning ideology.  Rather than dealing with the plurality of thought, this system ignores it between elections, while it has no power.  The anger and frustration of the other points of view build up and build up until, well, until a night such as this.  So, yes, the system doesn’t work to reflect the real feelings of the country and to weave our different threads into a harmonious tapestry.  But it feels like it is working to those in power who see no dissent.  Until they get laughed at – judge us on our record, said Amber Rudd – and the people did!

If Theresa gives enough to the Democratic Unionist Party she has a working majority – just – but it is a long way from the extra authority she thought she was going to get.  Meanwhile, the knives are out for her in her own party.  Just how much is everyone looking forward to another Conservative leadership contest followed by ANOTHER general election in the Autumn, which is what some people are predicting?  The trouble with politicians they never seem to consider the possibility of defeat and the catastrophe for themselves and for the rest of us if they do.

On the plus side for Jeremy, (the unelectable, they said), not enough people voted for him to have to meet his pledges.  He’s played a blinder: turned the tide of a labour decline (which commentators predicted was so bad that Labour might become a minor party) while not having to form a government or govern.  Yet.  The question is can he create a meaningful Progressive Opposition to the Conservative and Unionist government, and do so in a way that shores up his image and builds more support in case of that possible Autumn poll?  Since the Northern Ireland parties are suddenly so important, is he even the man to persuade the Sinn Fein MPs to take their seats?

Which brings to mind another sober thought.  The results of this election, added to the potential consequences of Brexit, could spell trouble on the island of Ireland.

In Scotland, well, there’s a couple of years until the next Scottish Government elections so time for the SNP to rebuild but also time for Ruth Davidson to consolidate the Scottish Conservatives’ and her own position.  Can the Conservatives even get her into a Westminster seat and closer to the leadership of the party?  For the lost Nationalists, Alec Salmond was yesterday’s man to a certain extent but Angus Robertson is a great loss to Parliament.  Will the SNP focus on getting him back in?

And, thinking of someone coming back: Nigel Farage, anyone?

Two Thirds Majority Needed, eh? #ge2017

In the event, the vote (in the UK House of Commons to call an election) passed like a damp squib.  I supposed politicians can’t resist the chance to go out and campaign on doorsteps, rallies and debates.  However, when the Prime Minister first mentioned it on Tuesday 18 March, the irony of the need for a two-thirds majority made me smile, ruefully.

The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011 was introduced to the House by Nick Clegg, when he was Deputy Prime Minister in the Liberal Democrat – Conservative coalition and was hailed as a remarkable modernisation brought about by that coalition and by the Liberal Democrat influence on policy.  It took away the ability of a Prime Minister of the day to call an election whenever he or she wanted, taking advantage of a fair wind for the government’s Party.  It was expected to make it easier to govern when the biggest party doesn’t have a huge majority.  It reduced the ways that parliament could be dissolved and created a new normality that governments should last the full five-year term for which they had been elected.

Reinforcing the principle that this should be not easily overridden, the Act contained only two exceptions to the full term, both involving votes in the House of Commons.  In the first, the House must pass a vote of no-confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.  The second is what has happened today, 19 March 2017: the House has passed a motion that there should be an early parliamentary election.

Neither exception is a simple first-past-the-post, one-off vote.  If the House passes a vote of No-Confidence in HM Government, MPs then have 14 days to think a bit more about it and pass a vote of Confidence in HM Government.  Only if that fails is parliament dissolved.  And, for the motion for an early parliamentary election to pass the House it must have the support of “two-thirds of its total membership”, not of those voting but of the total membership.

So, when it comes to having a regular election, which can be repeated again if the right terms are met and, in any case, in five years’ time, there are special rules and higher than usual bars to clear.  But, for a one-off referendum that would radically change the direction of the UK and the individual rights of its citizens, a simple majority of those voting was considered appropriate.  Fiddle-di-dee!

“The country is coming together..”? Pull the other one, Prime Minister! #ge2017

Oh, Mrs May, I know you have developed the politicians’ habit of saying something with feigned conviction in the apparent belief that saying it will make it so, but I’m not too keen on a leader who lives in fantasy land.

The country is divided.  The referendum demonstrated that half the people think one thing and half the people another.  Nothing has happened since to change that.

The referendum also uncovered an underground reservoir of bile and hatred that has since inundated the landscape of political discourse and not yet receded.  It showed that none of us has the resources to debate the differences between us and to forge solutions around which we can unite.

This General Election campaign seems like to make that worse not better.  Even in announcing the decision to call an election, Mrs May demonstrated that.  Instead of acknowledging that members of parliament, Commons and Lords alike, have a constitutional job to challenge the activity of the government to improve the quality of legislation and decision making, she cited the actions of the other political parties and of the lawful upper chamber as examples of their failing to come together and, thereby, of their doing the wrong thing.  Who’s playing the game of politics now, Prime Minister?

Shame on you, Mrs May.  You set the scene for the Daily Mail’s use of the word “saboteurs” on their front page on Wednesday.  I applaud that, when asked on BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme about the tone of that, you said you “absolutely” did not agree with it and are quoted as saying: “Absolutely not, politics and democracy are about, of course, people having different opinions, different views.”  But we, the people of the United Kingdom, need you to do more than protest after the event.  We need you to lead.  We need you to demonstrate that you truly believe what you say.

We need you, and everyone else in public life, to stand against the flood and to debate the substance of what people are saying rather than attacking their right to say it.

International Women’s Day

This post is a “big shout out” to everyone marking International Women’s Day 2013.


IWD has been around for many years. The United Nations started celebrating it in 1975.

In many countries, IWD is a public holiday – sometimes only for women, which is an interesting thought: is that right? That makes it a day to benefit only one part of the human race. Perhaps it is better when it is there for everyone to celebrate and work together to improve the position of women which, research tells us, improves the position of everyone in society.

South Africa, meanwhile, has a National Women’s Day but it is on 9 August, to commemorate the day in 1956 when women participated in a national march to petition against pass laws.

IWD is always quite close to Mothers’ Day in the UK because that falls in Lent. The roots of Mothers’ Day or Mothering Sunday lie in an old, church holiday when people went back to their Mother Church. But, to be honest, that’s just a random fact and has nothing to do with IWD really.

So, back to IWD 2013.

Google had a Google Doodle for us: a collection of women’s faces from around the world. If you look at this website you should be able to see it even if the day has already passed. Or, of course, if it is still 8 March where you are, just go to Google!

There is a ribbon to wear and that is what is in the picture. I bought it. I’ve been wearing it. But, given that I’ve not been out today, I’m not sure if I’ve really made the most of it. So, I’ll publicise on the blog instead!

Also, for the first time, the UN released a song for IWD. Called “One Woman”, you can buy it from all the usual outlets. It is a catchy number. Find out more about it here.

Happy International Women’s Day 2013. Remember, we shall shine!

For more information about IWD and its older roots, see these websites:

Punish not prevent, is that Australia’s stance?

Australia has lots of anti-corruption commissions and commissioners, ombudsmen and tribunals to investigate complaints and wrong-doing.  Australia doesn’t seem to have organisations that focus on creating good behaviours.  It seems to me that the country is spending lots of money on punishing what it doesn’t like, instead of on preventing it.

I make this statement in some trepidation.  I don’t want to criticise my hosts.  I am offering it merely as an observation – and in the vague hope that someone will “set me straight”!

There are anti-corruption commissions in most states.  In New South Wales, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, ICAC, is currently conducting a very news-worthy enquiry, so is much in the media.  Held in public, the enquiry into relations between the Obeid family and state politicians and the awarding of mining-related licenses.  Read all about it here.

Citing this example already puts me at odds with my proposition.  The ICAC web site has a whole section on preventing corruption.  Find it here.

Also, if you look at the websites of the ombudsmen, they have an educational role in addition to their responsibilities to look into complaints related to public sector administration. If you take the Queensland Ombudsman’s Office as an example, you will see that they provide training as part of their “commitment to improve public sector administration”.  The main topics are making good decisions and ethics, with courses on the “ethical compass” and scenario-based training.  Their web site is here.

This shows that the complaints-handling organisations can make a difference and contribution to preventing the bad behaviours they investigate.

This leaves me questioning my own proposition.  Why do I think it is all punish, not prevent?

I suppose it has struck me most in regard to industrial or workplace relations.

There is a national workplace relations tribunal, called the Fair Work Commission (FWC) from 1 January 2013, “with power to carry out a range of functions relating to:

  • the safety net of minimum wages and employment conditions
  • enterprise bargaining
  • industrial action
  • dispute resolution
  • termination of employment”.

This in itself is not that much different from the situation that I’m used to in the UK, where there is an Employment Tribunal.  The difference is that there seems to be no companion organisation that is equivalent to ACAS, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.

In the UK, ACAS provides the dispute resolution services and, more importantly, provides simple-to-use guidance for employees and employers not just how to prevent actionable behaviour, but also how to set up a “model workplace”.  I specifically asked FWC if they provide guidance and support like ACAS – and they said no.

If you look on-line for guidance on employment, the government websites providing business advice are very legalistic.  They don’t look user-friendly for business people.  Maybe this style is why there is the impression that there is so much red tape.

At the same time, much of the general commentary about industrial relations in Australia sounds antagonistic to me.  There seems to be knee-jerk position-taking with the “bosses” and “workers” moving straight to battle lines, rather than working together.

I know the UK isn’t perfect in this regard by a long shot but I wonder if a shift in focus to how we build more constructive, creative and positive workplaces might go a long way to reducing the need for all the commissions and tribunals.

Anyone out there have any thoughts on that?


Fair Work Commission in Australia –

UK’s Employment Tribunal –