Saturday, 20 March 2010


I was in Brussels last weekend, celebrating the 20th birthday of an environmental organisation I helped to set up in 1990. Chatting with the various people from a couple of dozen different countries, one thing became very clear – almost all of them come from countries where more than one party is currently in government.

Contrast that with the situation in this country where some sections of society are getting hysterical about the prospect that we could on 7 May have a hung Parliament. What is normal in most other countries appears to be a recipe for national disaster here.

So what’s the difference?

The difference is that we’re not used to different parties cooperating in government. This is not strange, when you think we haven’t had a formal coalition since 1945, or a peacetime coalition since the late 1930s. We had some cooperation between Labour and the Liberals in 1977-78, a short-lived arrangement that served the country well, even if it was disastrous for Liberal fortunes at the polls.

But it’s strange in another way. We have never had a government elected by a majority of those who voted! Maragaret Thatcher’s thumping majority of 144 seats in 1983 was achieved with 44% of the votes. Labour got in in 1997 with a 179-seat majority on 43% of the votes, and won last time with a majority of 66 on under 37% of the votes. This is the true scandal that needs to end.

With the polls suggesting neither Labour nor Conservative will have an overall majority this time, much speculation is put on us as to which party we would support. This question totally misses the point.

The point is that we tell the electorate what we stand for, and then, if there’s a hung Parliament, we look at the maths and see if a majority can be formed involving us and a party that is willing to embrace our four core policies: fair taxes, a greener economy, reform of education, and a new political system.

Yes, I want a hung Parliament, but not because it will help the Liberal Democrats – I’m not entirely sure that it would help us. I want a hung Parliament because it will be best for democracy and may lead us to a new era of cooperative government rather than the elective dictatorship we have now.

Yes, the City and the markets may go into panic mode the morning after an election that offers up no single-party winner. But that will focus the various minds, not just on the need to cooperate, but on our need for a properly written constitution so we have a stronger framework in which to work.

No wonder the latest opinion polls are saying there is popular support for a hung Parliament. The people appear to have a better sense of how the country should be run than the vested interests in the City whose concept of ‘a clear mandate for government’ is very different to mine.

Friday, 5 March 2010


I’ve never listened to either 6 Music or the Asian Network, so if they’re axed I can’t say I’ll miss them. But I’m very angry about their impending demise.

The BBC is clearly keen to show it can cut back, which is good. I’m not going to argue the case for those two stations, because I don’t know the full picture, but it angers me that stations are being axed when the BBC is failing to deal with its core problem: the amount it pays on executive salaries and expenses.

The recent report into BBC pay showed 137 BBC executives are on £100,000 or more. That strikes me as a remarkably top-heavy organisation. The money being paid for ‘celebrity talent’ is another worry, though I won’t go down the Jonathan Ross road as I think even the BBC have realised that £6 million a year is too much.

And the expenses that are paid within the BBC are a scandal. I don’t know if the report that Alan Hansen is paid a taxi each way from his home in the north-west to London to be on ‘Match of the Day’ is true, but the trouble is it’s believable.

It would be wrong to have a go at the BBC alone. Bankers and Premiership footballers are on the kind of silly money that makes them lose touch with the real world. A former colleague of mine, writing in the Daily Telegraph, recently told of a meeting with the chairman of a prominent football club suffering financial woes. When asked why the club had got into such trouble, the chairman said he really wasn’t sure because they weren’t paying their players more than £12,000 a week. That’s well over £600,000 a year! If he thought this was prudent, no wonder he’s not sure why his club’s in difficulties.

There’s a section of society that has simply lost its connection with what it costs to live – and it’s dragging the rest of us down with it.

The average salary in this county is £30,000, and there are plenty who have to live on that. Of course we all want a bit more, and for most of us, hitting £50,000 by the time we’re 50 is a sign that we’re doing reasonably well. Unless you have an exceptional amount of responsibilities, £50,000 is the kind of salary we can all live on, with a couple of luxuries thrown in.

If some businesses can justify paying much more than that, then fine. But it must be justified! The problem is that pay increases have gone up in the good times and not come down in the bad. It has led to a situation where people’s salary is not what their job warrants but what they think they’re worth, which are two totally different things.

We need to stop, take stock, decide what is a reasonable salary for people in responsible jobs, and say that anything more than that has to be justified in terms of money they can bring in. If we fail to do that, we’ll never get properly out of recession, whatever the economic indicators say.