Parliament does have to be reformed. W e should adopt a military approach to Westminster
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"Well, ma'am, I'm just a plain and simple soldier," said the cliché colonel, "so I see things in a plain and simple way." And that is what you could have heard in many Hollywood movies in the 'thirties, and read in many novels throughout the first half of the last century, for simplicity was often the best approach to military problems when the fog of war had ensured that the battle plan had not survived the opening shots. The value of simplicity was accordingly appreciated in civil life too when returning soldiers talked of their experiences.
Waste: Simplistic approaches to war used to be valued, which is not the case in the modern day. The complex war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq could have been fought and won at one-tenth of the price the United States paid
Today it is not so. Complexity costs money, justifies high prices, and creates greater profits. The war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq could have been fought and won at one-tenth of the price the United States paid. Aircraft for the RAF needed for the job for which the Eurofighter Typhoon was bought could have been manufactured for one-third of what that aircraft is now costing the nation. And the way in which the campaign in Afghanistan has used and continues to use NATO's air superiority defies logic, for it is both inexcusably ineffective and incredibly expensive.
Some sixty years ago a history student researching the Great War looked ahead to the situation he thought was developing, examined the cost of the new aircraft the RAF was buying, looked at their black boxes and discussed the performance of the next generation then in development, and predicted that a hundred years hence the RAF would have only one aircraft, stored in a warm hangar, and available for the public to see on public holidays. He then began to think about a different way to fight air wars, starting from the end of the Great War and developing along a line separate from that which had led to the RAF's Meteor fighter and Canberra bomber, and was promising new aircraft that might eventually fly faster than sound.
This new idea needed a name and for a good reason he called it the Dragoon Concept – which is still its name today. And because it had to be simple he decided its essence should be capable of description in one single sentence, which later movie producers would call a logline.
His logline was this: the successful prosecution of prolonged armed conflict requires a simple systems approach disciplined by effects-based finance. With "Effects-based Finance", today known as "EBF", as the key principle he recognised that conflicts beyond blitzkrieg length had in the past been shaped by financial factors and that this would increasingly be so in the future.
Strategy: The idea that successful prolonged armed conflict requires a simple systems approach and effects based finance, or the ‘Dragoon Concept’, was quoted at the NATO conference 3 years ago as a reason for American difficulties in Afghanistan
The Soviets surrendered in the long Cold War because they eventually recognised they could not outspend the Americans, and America is losing the war in Afghanistan because it cannot afford the financial asymmetry which sees the cost to the Taliban of one NATO soldier killed equalling a miniscule fraction of the cost to NATO of killing one insurgent. A speaker at a NATO conference three years ago quoted the Dragoon Concept and predicted exactly this, as those with access to NATO's website can read still today.
When the Rules of Engagement will not allow a bomb to be dropped, the Tornados of the RAF will fly across the Taliban position in an attempt to frighten the insurgents away. Many will remember the MoD publicity featuring an all-female Tornado crew when they frightened a rocket team, but won't recall the MoD stating that it was at a cost of £33,000 per hour because no one thought it necessary to explain this. The Dragoon Concept's EBF principle would insist on a much less expensive aircraft being used, perhaps at £200 per hour, in which case four aircraft used simultaneously would be much more frightening and yet still at less than two and a half per cent of the Tornado cost.
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As might be imagined from this small amount of detail, the Dragoon Concept and the current Afghan campaign are a long way apart. As a speaker at another conference explained, the Dragoon Concept insists that the approach to the Helmand operation was not even wrong, that it was so bad it did not even qualify for a classification. So it might be worth examining again in another article, but here today we ought to be looking at how its fundamental simplicity and its insistence on value for money and on the optimum use of existing assets may be applied to the future of Parliament.
Of course, it is the Deputy Prime Minister's madcap scheme which prompts our interest and once again mystifies us with the paradox that for the last couple of centuries British politicians have boasted to the world of having at Westminster "the Mother of Parliaments" and of having given Parliamentary Democracy to the world — yet regularly raised the "necessity" of "reforming" what, compared with the governance in so many other countries, has until now worked so well for the British.
Does Parliament have to be reformed? Not everyone yet sees the compulsion. Can its functions be improved? Probably. Should we try? Well, should we try with the plain and simple military approach of the Dragoon Concept? Right, then shall we first ask what is wrong with the present system?
The first criticism is that we do not have a democratic government. It is demoncratic. No, that is not a misprint. We are living in a demoncracy. As just a plain and simple soldier I know little of these matters, but I am told that in some constituencies, when the Returning Officer says, "… and I now announce that …" and gives the name of the newly elected Member, a fairy taps the happy MP on his shoulder and offers him all the knowledge in the world. It's an offer difficult to refuse. Now we cannot see that happen, of course, and be keeps it secret. Then later, when his party leader honours him with an appointment, the fairy returns, still invisible to the rest of us, and offers him all the wisdom in the world, and the Faustian pact is sealed.
You were unaware of this? But you have seen the toothy grins and the morose scowls that mark such men, and wondered how they've escaped the consequences of their sins and then have been reelected, or have moved on to make fortunes overseas. The fairies are, of course, demons, and their influence on the MPs who now have all this knowledge and wisdom is so profound that often we, who voted them into the House of Commons, but don't have the benefit of their knowledge and wisdom, do not understand them and seek, usually unsuccessfully, to control their worst excesses. They are in theory our representatives, our servants, yet they behave as if they believe they are our masters.
Change: The House of Lords should be reformed with the simple strategy of the Draggon Concept as should the rest of Westminster
The demons are our true enemy, and they must be controlled lest we suddenly find we are at war, or selling our gold at the bottom of the market, or dishing out billions of pounds to help other countries pay for their nuclear missiles and aircraft carriers, or transferring our sovereignty to foreigners. (This is known as the Blair-Brown-Cameron-Clegg or BBCC syndrome.) But the tool we have for this control, "The Upper House", has been losing its power to the extent that even many of those who wish its powers had remained undiminished now agree it should be "reformed" or, at least, repaired. But how?
The Dragoon Concept requires us to look at the whole of Parliament, not just at the Upper House, and in the context of what has to be achieved, effective government, this approach suggests that Westminster Palace should be the home of three Houses, the House of Commons ("the Commons"), which as the direct representative of the sovereign people should retain its primacy, the House of Lords ("the Lords"), and the House of Senators ("the Senate"). "Lords Reform" thus becomes a redundant phrase, to be replaced by "Westminster Reform".
The Concept's emphasis on EBF requires an examination of what the Commons has been achieving for the money it costs, and with so much of our lawmaking now done for us in Brussels it appears that the membership of the Commons could be reduced easily to 400 with no loss of productivity and a substantial financial saving. Modern communication systems will continue to improve the access of constituents to their representatives, so there should be no objections on that count, and a lot of routine enquiries could be switched to the Lords.
Reform: The phrase ‘Lords Reform’ should be redundant as all of Westminster, including the Commons, should be looked at. There should be three Houses, including a house of Senators.
The Concept's approach to the Lords section of the Upper House must acknowledge that the nostalgic views of those who regret the passing of the old ways have a point. A system that could govern a quarter of the world, rule its oceans, and oversee the development of the industrial revolution cannot have been all bad. The membership of the Lords was not confined to rich landowners, for in the last two centuries the vicissitudes of ancient families produced representatives of most sections of society. Early in the 19th century those attending great balls in Edinburgh would buy their gloves at the entrance from an impoverished earl whose later presence among the guests was never questioned. Such aristocratic egalitarianism has increased substantially in more recent years with the destructive effects of penal taxes and calamitous investment.
Accordingly, recognising the advantages of having in the Upper House a body of men and women selected by the lottery of birth, drawn from a fairly broad spectrum of society, and raised within families that respect an ancestral tradition of public service, the Concept, following its principle of using existing assets where practical and financially sensible, would retain in the Lords the present and future life peers plus all those hereditary peers who register their wish to receive a writ of summons.
Elected members: The Deputy Prime Minister’s confidence in increased power appears to be based on the ‘new legitimacy’ of the Lords owed to its members being elected
The Senate would be the Concept's principal contribution to the current debate. The motivation of those politicians who have been active in the various campaigns for "Lords Reform" has ranged from those who wanted the Lords abolished, such as the erstwhile Lord Stansgate at the Labour Party conference in 1980, to those who want the power of the Lords increased, such as the present Deputy Prime Minister, who believes his party would hold the balance and thus allow him to control its operation. (He has described the Upper House as "an affront to the principles of openness which underpin a modern democracy." The irony must have been unrecognised.)
The Deputy Prime Minister's confidence in increased power appears to be based on the "new legitimacy" of the Lords owed to its members being elected, but thus the fundamental problem surfaces, expressed in this form – to be democratic in the 21st century sense of that word its members "must" be elected, but if they are elected they will rival the elected members of the Commons and challenge its primacy.
This need not be a problem. The election for the 400 members of the Commons should be as now, based on universal suffrage, but the election for the Senate could be based on a more limited franchise such as, for example, by registered electors who are aged forty or above and have a British university degree. The wider franchise for the Commons electors will allow the primacy sought, and the reformers claiming greater democracy as their motivation will have the satisfaction of Senators being elected.
The role of the Senate would be that traditionally exercised by the Upper House, providing a mature voice, expert knowledge and long experience to Parliament's proceedings, and amending, revising and approving legislation. Its 400 members should be elected from the national list of candidates selected by a Senate Selection Committee (SSC) from the candidates proposed by anyone on the current electoral roll who can collect 1,000 supporters, together with those candidates members of the SSC themselves believe should be on the national list. The SSC should be chaired by the monarch's nominee and consist of independent peers first chosen as SSC candidates by the Lords and then elected as SSC members by the Lords. It should not contain active politicians other than those who are genuine Independents.
Much of the Senate's work would be done in committee, and full debates would be in plenary sessions perhaps for two or three consecutive days twice per month. Debates in the Lords would tend to be conducted on the Internet, usually in writing, and on camera only occasionally, with full debates in Parliament perhaps only once per month. The unbalanced sharing in this dual use of the Westminster facilities reflects the difference between the work of the two Houses – the Senate is needed for the introduction of legislation, doing the work of the present Upper House, whereas the work of the Lords will be advisory only, detached from legislation and concentrating on national policy affecting the matters that most concern the public as expressed in the letters and emails the public sends to its members.
Plain and simple soldiers will quickly recognise the advantages this tripartite proposal brings to the "Lords Reform" discussion. The Commons will continue its work, but with a reduced membership, in a more cost-effective manner, and with much of the routine interaction with the public diverted to the Lords. The elected Senate will consist of eminent and successful people willing to contribute to the nation's governance as Senators, many being independent of political parties and most, ideally all, having independent minds. Although certainly elected, they will not challenge the primacy of the Commons. The Lords, with the hereditary characteristic retained, will continue the historical element and redevelop its ancient feel for the public mood by using modern communications systems both to accumulate essential knowledge for the improvement of Parliament's work, and to advise public interest groups on the matters that concern them.
Three Houses?: Westminster should include a House of Senators. Senate¿s work would be done in committee, and full debates would be in plenary sessions perhaps for two or three consecutive days twice per month
The Dragoon Concept's insistence on Effects-based Finance would be satisfied with the Commons remuneration and expenses arrangements remaining, for the smaller numbers, much as they are, but with their supervision passed to an independent Lords committee. Remuneration and expenses for the Senate will probably be determined by individual contracts, for some extremely successful Senators may waive what they could be due, whereas others may wish to be compensated with the equivalent of what they would earn if their time was spent elsewhere. This issue must be resolved whatever the solution to the reform question.
Effects-based Finance for the Lords can be efficiently managed by computer, with the work of each member measured by the contributions to Internet debate and to email responses to the public's questions. Physical presence in the Palace of Westminster may be compensated with remuneration and expenses agreed on a per diem basis, but the new Lords should be primarily a virtual 'old House of Lords' with almost all its activities online.
Well, that is a military approach. Marking the difference between the Commons, the Senate and the Lords does not complicate arrangements – rather it simplifies them by defining what effectively has existed already, the MPs in the Commons, the hereditary peers in the Lords, and the life peers plus bishops and law lords who, in one sense it might be argued, were the forerunners of the Senators.
So, it might be said, this is not much different from what might be produced from, for example, an academic approach. That is true, but the military approach highlights one aspect other approaches might neglect – the need to examine reform in the context of all Westminster, in the context of the "dodgy dossier" (a cosmetic term for a fraudulent fabrication), in the context of unsurrendered sovereignty, in the context of external laws being imposed internally without debate or explicit Parliamentary approval, and in the context of the change in the nature of time and the political consequences of that change becoming evermore dangerous.
Overhaul: A military approach to reforming our governing system, echoing the simplicity of the Dragoon Concept that has been so successful in warfare, is the most appropriate
During World War II it was possible for a new bomber to move from the first sketch on a drawing board to use on operations over enemy territory in eighteen months. Today that could be eighteen years. The first contract for what is to become the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter ordered for the Royal Navy was signed in 1996, and the initial operational capability date for the simplest F-35 variant is currently 2016 – twenty years! (and more delay is expected). What was once a minor investment for delivery within a parliamentary term has now become a major investment for delivery four parliamentary terms later when the responsible ministers are retired, perhaps buried and forgotten.
Early Spitfires cost less than £10,000 each and early Lancasters less than £25,000 each (in World War II money, of course). The F-35B strike fighters are predicted to cost us in 2018, if they are ready then, £115,000,000 each. (The official forecast last year from the American Department of Defense was that the whole through-life cost of the full F-35 programme would be $1.1 trillion – $1,100,000,000,000 – but the unofficial forecast has since risen to $1.35 trillion.) Twenty-odd years ago, when the Typhoon was in early discussion, a very senior RAF officer predicted that it would "bankrupt the Air Force" (as arguably it has), but when this was quoted to an American audience it produced the boast – "That's nothing. We've got an airplane that will bankrupt the whole f*ck*ng country." That is the F-35 of which the last government ordered, and the present government confirmed, the most expensive and least capable version.
And the point of this dissertation is . . . ?
We have allowed the governance of this country, supposedly controlled by Parliament at Westminster, to develop slowly to the state where decisions with potentially catastrophic consequences several parliamentary terms later can be nodded through by men and women who understand neither the decisions nor their consequences. That is why all Westminster needs reform, why a strong Senate with intellectual authority is needed to control the ministers in the Commons, and why the Lords are needed, with the Internet's help, to ensure with wider discussion that the crucial issues are debated in a public forum, that the public's views receive the attention they merit, and that the public knows its views are being heard.
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