This is by no means a complete philosophy - it is simply a list of ideas, some serious, some less so. I feel that my life would be enriched if these ideas were made reality. Perhaps yours would too?
I find it somewhat baffling that we can claim to live in a country where elections are fair and right, and yet run an elective system where so many people's votes are irrelevant. Let's take an example:
Let's say I live in a constituency where 40% of voters vote Labour and 40% of voters vote Conservative. (To an approximation.) - regardless of my actual political opinion, it doesn't make sense for me as a voter to vote for anyone other than the Labour or Conservative party. I might be a Lib Dem at heart, or a Green, or really like that independant guy with fresh new ideas, but it doesn't matter. The only influence I stand any chance of making is helping decide which of the two majority parties get into power. As such, I'm strongly encouraged to vote for someone I don't believe in, because I think they're less bad than the alternative, because I'm politically savvy enough to have opinions on all the parties involved.
Because this system exists, the vote proportion of smaller parties is artificially reduced. It's a wonder that the Green party managed to get a seat at all, even though their nationwide support is quite broad. Politicians like to say that "people make their opinions known at the ballot box" - but in actuality they're often better off if they don't - and of course this only goes to increase the vote share of the bigger fish - who then use the voting figures to claim that there's no support for the other opinions. With PR - you're always incentivised to vote for the party you actually want, and that's at least a more honest system.
Of course, PR is a very tricky thing to implement. The most likely consequence is an increase in the number of seats held by the Lib Dems and the Greens, and yes, this means we're more likely to get coalition governments - but coalition governments are far less likely to make radical and fundamentally stupid decisions, due to every proposition getting internal scrutiny from people likely to be critical. The other reason we're unlikely to ever see it is that the Conservative and Labour parties have quite a lot to lose by changing the system. As we saw with the AV referendum (which is a significantly less representative system, but still likely to lose Con/Lab some seats) our leading politicians are not above spreading misinformation in order to safeguard their dominance over the political arena. And who wouldn't?
The current e-petition system is pretty simple. You stick a petition on the government website, and people can vote in favour of it. When a petition reaches 100,000 signatures, they have to debate it in parliament. Simple, but flawed.
Let's say that someone puts up a petition to bring back capital punishment. I'm guessing this happens fairly regularly - but for once this petition reaches 100,000 votes. Should MPs debate it? Yes! 100,000 people is a lot of people and it's worth considering what they have to say. However, the current argument that seems to be presented is that anything you can get 100,000 people to sign is "the will of the people." and MUST be taken seriously.
I don't think this is really sensible. You can only know if something is the will of the people if you poll properly - i.e. you invite everyone to vote "yes" or "no" to every petition. If 9/10 people are strongly opposed to a petition, then by the time it has 100,000 yes votes, it should have 900,000 no votes. I still think that MPs should debate the proposal, it's just their debate will be better informed by the information that significantly more people oppose the idea than support it.
I think that it's a worrying indictment that I'm very easily able to inform people on the internet that I dislike "Piano Cat" but not that I dislike capital punishment or the abolition of human rights.
There was a lot of acrimony over the MPs expenses scandal - and while I think people do often have a habit of overreacting, and I believe that the amount of money involved was largely irrelevant, I do think people have a point.
I agree that being an MP isn't easy work, and that having to commute to London is expensive, but we have many other difficult critical jobs that don't get any form of recompense - like Doctors, to pick one example from many. I do think we want to make it easy for MPs to get to London and do their job, and I'm prepared to admit that they need two houses to do their work efficiently.
I don't see why the money spent on a second home for an MP should stay in their pocket once they move on to other work. If they change jobs, they no longer need the house, and if the taxpayer paid for it, then surely the taxpayer should be the one who keeps it?
I don't see how the government can "encourage people to use public transport", while paying fuel expenses for travelling to London by car. I don't see how "food" can be an expense at all? Do MPs need to eat more than the rest of us when they're in parliament?
My proposal would be to remove the MPs expenses system entirely. No expenses at all. For housing, there should be a "halls of residence" style building, where each MP has a small apartment with a bedroom, a small sitting area, a bathroom and kitchen. The place has all the normal amenities including TV, internet and regular paper deliveries. While in London, it gives them a comfortable place to stay, without them needing to profit to the tune of a large expensive house on the public purse. We could even arrange the rooms by party, and have special common rooms where they could get together to thrash out ideas in the evening if something suddenly came to mind.
For travel, I'd suggest replacing all travel expenses with special travel cards, allowing MPs to use buses and trains for free. If they're incentivised to use public transport, they might actually have some understanding of how frustrating it can be.
If anything, it'd cut down on the amount of paperwork that needs to be done.
Always a divisive one this.
It's my opinion that, once you have a certain amount of money, that any extra money you accumulate doesn't accomplish much. My opinion of how much this is varies a lot, but at the moment, it's resting on about £250K per year. Once you're earning that much, you can buy a lovely house, and wonderful cars and all these things, and still have enough left over to have some fun. I often see celebrities and people who earn more than this showing off on TVa bout how they have a garage with eight cars, and all I can think is "why would you need eight cars?"
I'm not really saying that excess annoys me, or that people don't have a right to be massively better off, I just think that the extra cash isn't earning them much by way of happiness, and a lot of it is spent for little sake other than spending it - or hoarded and never touched again.Many people have proposed the possibility of a "maximum wage" - that is, a cap on earnings. There are several proposed schemes I've seen, but the one I like best is "10x the average earnings of the company" - that way, a CEO operating a more successful company can raise the wages of the employees, and thus boost his own wage in the process.
The best counterargument I've seen (and this crops up a lot) is that good CEOs will simply move away if you cap their wages. Ideally I'd solve this by introducing it internationally, but that seems difficult. What I would say is that we can probably get damn good CEOs who are happy to be paid £250,000 per year. Another coutnerargument I've seen is that such a policy doesn't encourage bosses to expand their business, as it drives the average down. Perhaps a way around this would be to increase the size of the multiplier with more employees (up to around 20x average pay for the massive corporations.). A third argument against this idea is that many rich businessmen contribute towards charities and philanthropic endeavours with their hard (or not so hard) earned cash. To that I'd say that any money earned over the cap by the CEO can be donated to a non-profit charity or organisation in their name, although there'd have to be some measures to ensure that the charity wasn't, say, the Adam Werrity Holiday Fund.
I think such a thing would increase the average quality of life for ordinary people. I don't have any particular arguments in favour of it beyond that though, and I'm prepared to accept that it's a massively flawed proposal on many levels.
There might be something like this already in place, I don't know. The media I see generally reports that the money given to the banks "for the purpose of lending to small business" ends up not being parcelled out, and that our money has instead gone to line banker pockets. If this is true, it's pretty nasty, so I'd recommend the following:
When banks are given a package of money by the government, for a specific purpose, they should be required to provide accurate records of how much they currently spend on that purpose, and then show that they have lent that much plus the amount given them by the government in future years. Any shortfall should be doubled and refunded to the taxpayer.
The purpose of patents is to safeguard an inventor, to ensure that they can profit from their invention without others simply stealing their hard work. It's a good system in general, because it encourages new endeavour and progress - there's profit in new ideas. You want some kind of patent system so that it becomes financially viable to try new things - otherwise nobody would ever invent anything (a large company would just steal their idea whenever they did.)
Like 'Origami made simple', The problem with patent law is twofold. Firstly there are companies that patent ridiculous things like the for-loop and "turning off the screen if the computer is idle for half an hour". It's not particularly helpful that some patent offices allow these things to be patented in the first place, and I view this largely as an implementation problem, rather than as a problem with patents. The second issue is more worthy of investigation. Many companies patent things, nto because they're immediately relevant or useful, but simply because they might be in the future. You build up a pile of patents for "anything you can get" and then sue the pants off people who infringe. Every company does this - because if you don't someone will do it to you. THis leads to massive patent disputes across the world, because Samsung have made a product that "looks a bit like" one of Apple's products. This seems frankly silly. Worse, some companies exist purely to patent anything that looks like it has potential, and then sue for infringements. "Patent trolls" have no intention of ever developing these "inventions" - they just want to make money from them if someone else tries to do so.
In this regard, patents don't encourage growth, if anything they stifle it. Companies are often constrained from performing entire branches of research or development simply because another company holds a patent that makes it worthless to try. In these cases, the purpose of patents (to encourage innovation) is completely reversed.
I propose a simple solution: All patents must expire within 5 years. I've picked the number out of the air, you might want it to be 10 years or so, as some products really do take that long to research and produce. After that time, the patent expires, and anyone can use the technology listed. This means that you still get the protection to make and sell your invention without someone stealing it, for long enough to make some decent money, but after that time, anyone else can further your research and work. It would mean that companies were encouraged to patent things only when they thought they could make money from them, rather than because they thought it might be useful one day - or at least if they did patent something, to at least move on and do something about it before the patent got old and worthless.
Reputable news companies and organisations frequently use "weasel words" to justify a claim. Weasel words are phrases like "scientists say that..." or "leading experts think that..." etc. There are many examples of such phrases being used to cover a crackpot idea by one insane unqualified "expert" in the pretense of getting a news story, and I would expect better of those who claim to be "informing the masses". It is my opinion that the media should not be allowed to report weasel words without also listing the appropriate sources, so that their readers can judge for themselves the worth of the information.
You'll note that I've not provided any sources for my claims in this proposal. Scientists say that's a cause of hurricanes.
There is no such thing as Libel within Science. If you challenge someone's results or theory, that's scientific enquiry, not libel. If you're shown to be wrong, you should amend or retract your statements publically, not go to jail. Science is about finding out the answers to questions we don't know, and if you can't challenge a theory for fear of being sued, then that's a very bad thing.
Selling Homeopathic remedies as cures for anything should be legally classed as fraud. I'd expand upon this idea, but it's 100,000 times more effective if I only write a little bit.
I once spent eight months on JSA between jobs. It's worth noting in this time that I could live quite happily of housing benefit and JSA - the money was more than my outgoings. During this period, nobody once checked whether or not I applied for a job, or suggested any jobs to me. Now, I admit, I approached the fortnightly interview in quite an articulate fashion, and assured the interviewer that I was looking for jobs, even going so far as to name some that I'd been looking into, but without requiring me to actually apply for the jobs, the system was pretty much allowing me to claim money without incentivising me to do anything about my situation. Free time is valuable to me. I could write stories or practice my art in that time, as well as reading and generally having fun. My anecdata set is larger than just me in this case. I've seen the same thing happen to multiple people in the past - it's just... easier to sit at home and do nothing than it is to look for work.
The Jobcentre system is a little flawed in this regard - maybe just in implementation, but they'd be better off holding interviews less often, but taking the time during those interviews to go through CVs with the candidates, and actually send them off to relevant jobs, than they are just nodding and moving onto the next person.
In ages long past, many households would operate off one working adult, with another staying at home to look after it. This is becoming less and less common in the present day, as more people aspire to careers and work. I don't see this as a bad thing, but the service industry seems to still base it's operational hours off the premise that people will be able to come in on a regular basis. I work 9-5:30, and often stay in late. If I'm away for a weekend, then I just can't go to a shop and buy anything. About once every two months, I see a news report where shop owners and company owners complain bitterly that "online business" is taking away all of their customers, and that they'll have to close stores or lay people off - but is it any surprise when there's such limited opportunity for a growing proportion of their potential customers to even visit the stores?
I would move to any bank that operated from 12:00 - 8:00. Except maybe Santander. I prefer shopping in stores to online, so perhaps if the industry decided to keep different hours than business, they'd get back some of that lost custom?
Finally, I don't understand why we still operate with Sunday trading laws. Anyone?
Whenever my bank changes something, they send me a leaflet. This leaflet is full of phrases like "In parageaph 3 of page 47 of the customer transaction agreement, remove the word "explicitly" and replace it with "immediately". I'm usually given a leaflet with several hundred of these notes in it. I'm usually given the impression that the document serves to do something like "change my interest rate from 3% to 0.01%" (not that this has ever happened in the past without a clear notification. Santander.)
I'm of the impression that if a bank changes something that affects your finances, they should not only be required to inform you, but also inform you in such a way that it's clear what the change actually does - Specifically the document should be clear enough that a normal person reading it can tell what it means without needing further references.
If I can get a refund when a pizza is late, why can't I get a refund when a train is late? If a train is more than half an hour late, you should get half off the fare at the other end. If it is replaced by a bus, you should get a significant discount. Given that a train is a lot more expensive than a bus, it seems downright cheeky that your train can be replaced by a bus, without a refund being expected.
Newspaper retractions are usually small and tucked away somewhere in the middle of the paper, where nobody notices. It is downright wrong that a paper can print "THIS PERSON IS A CRIMINAL" in giant letters on the front of the paper, and then two weeks later say "sorry, we were wrong" in tiny letters in the middle. It shows a complete lack of integrity and disregard for the damage caused by the original article.
Newspapers should be required to print retractions and corrections on the front pages of the publication. They should contain headlines at least as large as the original story, and dedicate the same number of column inches to the apology.
Participation in the national lottery has been steadily dwindling since it was introduced, the excitement and buzz generated around it has given way to the realisation that you're pretty much throwing money away when you play. I remember a while ago that Camelot's contract to run the lottery expired, and the government had to decide who was going to run it in the future. Camelot were opposed by Richard Branson, who wished to run the Lottery as a not-for-profit organisation and donate all the earnings to charities.
The government at the time, of course, chose Camelot, who keep about 50% of the cost of a lottery ticket for themselves. Given the existence of a company that'll run it for charity, I don't see why you would ever say no. I think tax had something to do with it. That or a "brown envelope full of used oncers under the door of a toilet cubicle".
I write this in November 2011. In the last three weeks, I have seen police cars stop to give way to; cyclists ignoring the right of way rules of roundabouts and junctions, cycling at night without lights, riding on the pavement and jumping red lights into oncoming traffic. In one case, a police car mounted the kerb to make room for a cyclist travelling the wrong way down a 1-way street.
I commute by bicycle, and it infuriates me that I watch cyclists putting themselves at risk and breaking the law for the sake of a few seconds saved, but when the police watch it and do nothing about it? that's just mad. Without actual punitive measures, this will not change. I propose that any cyclist breaking rules be subjected to a spot fine of, say £5. If they can't pay, the bicycle should be confiscated until they send the money in.
You may think this is a little harsh for cyclists, so I'll add the following: A similar spot fine should be administered to any motorist that parks their car in a cycle lane, or stops in a red "cycle box" painted on a junction. Finally, pedestrians who step blindly into the road without looking at the oncoming traffic first should simply be mown down.
The majority argue that we need Trident for our national security (although they rarely say why). I think we should ditch it. Here are my arguments:
As I write this at the start of February 2012, people are arguing on Question Time about whether or not we should give aid to India. The news tells me that much of the money we give to India in aid is "lost" before it reaches the people who really need it. Corrupt officials for aid organisations pocket the money and the people who really need it see a small proportion of what's offered.
But the thing is, India offers a massive amount of aid to other undeveloped countries too. And it's likely that some of that money gets sieved out too.
Regardless of how true these claims are, doesn't it make sense for us to negotiate with the Indian government, and take on their external aid and also reduce of the aid we offer them by the same amount. The fewer organisations that this money bounces around, the less opportunity there is for it to go missing before it gets into the right hands.
Terry Pratchett wrote a very good lecture about this that was delivered by Tony Robinson. I found it immensely moving, and it really helped me develop a view on this.
At the moment, these tragic situations can be resolved with assisted dying, but only for those with the money to afford it. A trip to Swizerland and some cash can buy you this in an entirely legal fashion. I don't think it's particularly fair for the rich to be able to do this while the poor are left to suffer.
There's the issue of inheritance. The biggest worry with this is that families will pressure people to ake their own lives to free up inheritance. I don't have the perfect answer, but perhaps you could say that in these situations 50% of any inheritance above £10,000 must be donated to charity. This is proposed as a vague suggestion, rather than a firm plan. If you make it financially worse for the estate when assisted dying is involved, then it'll only happen when the family really think it should be done, rather than for financial means. You might argue this way around that families would pressure people to "hold on" rather than potentially lose some of the estate, but recall that this only results in the legal situation that we have right now anyway.
There's got to be better ways to do this, but I think it's worth throwing into the mix just to get people thinking about it.
In the wake of the Cruddas scandal, hastily swept under a pastie in March 2012, I formed the opinion that we should publically fund political parties.
It doesn't seem right that large companies or unions can donate significant funds and gifts to political parties, or that our parties rely heavily on these people for support. Any government we form has an obligation to support its backers, rather than the public on the whole - and when there's a market for meals with the prime minister for £250,000 a pop, you can't honestly say that no influence is gained from these gatherings. After all, why would big companies pay such large sums of money if they had nothing to gain?
Fundamentally, the government doesn't make policy for the people who elected it, it makes policy for the people who fund it - and that's not exactly representative. We can fix this by funding political parties out of the public purse. Notably, if the unions and corporations are profiting from funding the politicians, we can recoup that profit by doing it ourselves.
David Mitchell on 10 O'clock live said something along these lines: "Some estimate that publically funding political parties would cost as little as 50p per taxpayer, in which case we should do it, because it's a small price to pay for closing off one of the biggest sources of corruption for our political governors. Others say it will cost much more than that, in which case we should definately do it, because anything big corporations are willing to pay that much for isn't something we should be selling."
There is the question of how to split up the money. To be honest, I don't really care that much, but a simple solution would be to split the pot by voteshare in the election. Any party earning less than a particular threshold can be funded to any level by private backers - because 1) you want to get new parties up and running, and 2) small parties without many seats don't make government policy anyway.
Occasionally I hear some moron express the opinion that 'you can never get to a stage of gender equality in the workplace, because there are lots of women who go off to have babies rather than work'.
Personally, I don't hold much truck with this: Firstly, you should always try to hire the most qualified or experienced candidate from your application list if you can. If two candidates are close enough that you can't decide, your fallback should be whichever candidate increases the diversity of your employee pool, as a range of opinions and perspectives is a healthy thing to have.
Nevertheless, hearing this viewpoint expressed does suggest that there are employers (most? some?) who deliberately or subconsciously bias against female candidates in their applications process.
Why not take this whole issue out of consideration by requiring that employers grant new fathers the same number of days of Paternity Leave as new mothers get in Maternity leave?
I suppose a good counterargument is that during these times, the Mother goes through quite a lot more stress and pain and exertion than the Father does, and the time away from work is thus more necessary. This is very true, I can't really claim that new Fathers really "need" time off work in the same way: But perhaps getting new Fathers to spend more time with their newborn children would be valuable too?
I once bought a packet of mini cakes from a shop. Within the outer layer of plastic wrap was a cardboard tray, containing a hard plastic moulded inner tray covered in transparent plastic celophane-like wrap. Within this each miniature cake was individually wrapped.
Germany has an excellent law in this regard. Whenever you buy anything in any store, you may remove as much of the packaging as you like and leave it behind at the checkout. The store then returns this to the manufacturer with the next delivery lorry, and the manufacturer has to pay to dispose of the packaging themselves. German packaging is a lot more efficient than ours...
Neat idea, I think. We should also ban blister packaging outright especially on scissors, which always seem to be the worst offenders.
At the time of writing (Feb 2013), the secretary of Education in the UK is Michael Gove, and he has just performed yet another spectacular U-turn on government education policy. Once again he announced policy, faced a massive backlash of criticism from the Teaching profession, then backed down. Gove has no background in education, his only work before politics was in journalism. Conversely, Jeremy Hunt (the health secretary) has worked in teaching (in TEFL). He then moved onto PR, before politics. Our Health secretary sadly, believes in homeopathy, and I mean he actually believes in it. He thinks it's a good thing.
I remain astonished that policy decisions for the government of the country can reside in the hands of people with no background in their chosen area. Sure, they have advisors, but they ultimately make the decisions, and advice is no substitute for experience.
We should mandate that cabinet posts may only be filled by MPs who have at least 5 years experience in their chosen field. If no MP can be found to fill a post, the post should be held by a technocrat, with an MP as an advisor.
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