Questions for my candidates
I've just sent the following email to all my candidates except Labour, Tory and UKIP (because I am not considering voting for them) through this handy website.
This got long.
I'm a Tottenham resident and political campaigner who's been following this election very closely. I am still deciding how to use my vote, and I wondered if you could answer some questions to help me decide.
My desired outcome for this election is a hung, balanced or coalition Parliament. I remember the Conservatives too well to want them back in power, and I have no trust in their manifesto pledges. On the other hand, over the last three terms I have felt disenfranchised and betrayed by New Labour, and appalled by their increasing tendency towards authoritarianism, invasive Government and vaguely-worded, ill-thought-out, repressive legislation. Specifically, I have been deeply disappointed in David Lammy as an MP. My letters have been answered late or not at all, and he has been two-faced about replying sympathetically to letters about issues, and then voting the other way in Parliament.
In general, my feeling is that the two-party system has failed our democracy. The party whips ensure that MPs put the wishes of their party over those of their constituents; career politicians are more interested in climbing the ministerial ladder than representing their constituents. I am therefore looking to the small parties and Independents in this election for a way to disrupt the corrupt stability of Parliament, break politics open and vote in more MPs who are serious about representing their constituents in Parliament, even if this makes them unpopular in the Commons.
It seems to me as if several of the candidates in Tottenham have very strong local policies, and great ideas for ways to improve our community. I admire that, but it isn't my only concern. As my MP you will also represent me in Parliament, and if I am campaigning on a single issue which I care deeply about, you are the person I will turn to. I therefore need to know firstly, to what extent you intend to represent your constituents in Parliament on single issues, regardless of whether you agree with their concerns; and secondly, what your personal stance is on the issues I care about.
I realise you are very busy with your campaign, but if you could find time to answer as many of the following questions as possible, I would deeply appreciate it. I will probably post the answers on a public blog or wiki to help other Tottenham residents with their choice - please let me know if you would prefer not to be quoted.
A. Civil Liberties
1. Do you support the introduction of ID cards?
2. Do you think that police are abusing stop and search powers, and anti-terror legislation?
3. Do you think that police violence is justified in public order situations, such as against peaceful protesters blocking a highway, or football supporters in a crowded stadium?
4. Do you agree with the European Court of Human Rights that the retention of innocent people's DNA on a national database is illegal and unjustified?
5. Do you support calls for greater regulation of surveillance powers, including the number and use of CCTV cameras?
6. Do you oppose government powers to track and store communications data from private emails, text messages and telephone calls?
7. Do you support the Human Rights Act in its current form - or if, not, the need for a constitutional document laying out the unassailable rights and liberties of the citizen?
8. Do you support the detention of terror suspects without trial?
9. Are you in favour of a public inquiry into allegations of British involvement in torture?
10. Do you support a review of New Labour's legislative programme in order to identify and then repeal those laws which are found to have curtailed individual liberty?
B. Digital rights
1. Do you support the recent Digital Economy Act 2010? If not, which bits concern you?
2. Do you support reform of current copyright laws to bring them up to date in the digital age? If so, do you have any thoughts on the best way to balance public fair use rights with intellectual property rights?
3. Do you support reform of patent law, especially pharmaceutical patents which inhibit the development of generic, affordable drugs, and thereby the availability of needed medication in the UK and abroad?
4. Do you support the introduction of stronger data protection laws, requiring companies and governments that hold personal information to give consumers more information about their rights, to apply a reasonable level of security to data, and to be clear about their policies on data retention and amendment?
5. Do you support a full review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000?
6. Do you support increased governmental transparency and accountability, i.e. that all available information that could be released through a freedom of information request should be made public by default, that all international treaties be passed through the UK parliament as a standard bill requiring the full approval of both houses, and that minutes of all meetings of officials on government business to be accessible through freedom of information requests?
7. Do you believe that government censorship of the Internet should be disallowed for anything but the most extreme reasons (such as military secrets or images of child abuse)?
8. Do you support the open source movement, and think that the public sector should make use of open source software, or collaborate with grassroots or third sector services, wherever possible?
9. Do you support the right of citizens to take photographs and film in public places without fear of police harassment or arrest?
10. Do you believe that public services should have a strong Internet presence, to facilitate outreach and interaction and encourage feedback, constructive criticism and support from users? Do you agree that making such online content especially accessible to disabled people is an absolute priority?
1. Do you support raising the current time limit on abortion, lowering it, or keeping it as it is?
2. Do you believe that a time-limited, carefully considered programme of all-woman shortlists will help lower the glass ceiling and raise the standard of politics and business?
3. Do you support the Equality Act in its current form? If not, do you think it went too far, or not far enough?
4. Do you support the right of gay couples to marry or get a civil partnership, and adopt children?
5. Do you agree that Section 28 should have been repealed?
6. Do you support close scrutiny of our immigration system, particularly the conditions in which asylum-seekers and their families are detained, and the resources and support available to them? More generally, do you believe that immigration makes the working class stronger or weaker?
7. Do you believe that change is needed to stop people of colour being unfairly targeted by police? Do you have any thoughts about how to enact that change?
8. Do you believe there is a problem with how our justice system approaches rape cases, and particularly how those cases are reported by the media? If so, do you have any thoughts about how to address this problem?
9. Do you believe that parents of either gender should have equal rights to take paid leave from their careers in order to give primary care to their child?
10. Do you support reform of the welfare state to offer improved services to people with physical disabilities, mental health issues and chronic illnesses, making it easier for people in need to claim benefits, and easier for those who want flexible, part-time, or from-home work to do so without it disproportionately affecting their access to benefits?
D. Political reform
1. Do you believe that FPTP should be replaced by one of the proportional voting systems?
2. Do you believe we should replace the House of Lords with a new model of second chamber - perhaps a house of nationally elected representatives, a focus group taken from a cross-section of society, or elected representatives taken from different sectors?
3. Do you believe our society would be improved by developing a written constitution which all future Governments must adhere to?
4. Do you support the introduction of fixed term Parliaments?
5. Do you believe that MPs should be held to a higher standard of accountability than unelected citizens? Do you believe constituents should have the right to force a by-election in the event of loss of confidence in their MP?
6. Do you believe that party whips should be abolished?
7. Do you believe that Members of Parliament should also be able to be Government Ministers, or do you believe that the job of Parliament is to hold Government accountable, and therefore needs to be separate?
8. Do you believe select committees should be strengthened, their membership weighted less towards the party in power (if there is one), and their role in advising legislative debates increased?
9. Do you support a reduction in the use of Statutory Instruments?
10. Do you think the voting age should be lowered to 16?
I realise the above list is very long, but it will have the biggest impact on how I vote on May 6 of anything else I have seen. I very much hope you will be able to take the time to answer and let me know your position on these crucial issues.
I look forward to reading your reply.
Regards, Helen Lambert
Feel free to nick any/all of the above questions - the observant among you will have noticed that I've cobbled together most of them from the Liberty Central list, the Power 2010 leaderboard, and the Pirate Party UK manifesto.
I'll be surprised if any of them answer all of the questions, but Denny tells me he'd be delighted to receive an email like that, so here's hoping.
I'd previously thought that Neville Watson, as a high-profile Independent and POC, stood the best chance of ousting Lammy in Tottenham, but as time passes I'm less convinced. I got a leaflet from TUSC (the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition) through the door which was surprisingly credible, so I'm considering going along to their election rally next Tuesday to see what they have to say. Their candidate Jenny Sutton is on twitter (the only one I've found so far apart from Lammy) and seems very sound. I've heard absolutely nothing from the Green or Lib Dem candidates so far - in fact I'm wondering if there are any Lib Dems in Tottenham - so the answers I get really will be a significant factor in who I decide to vote for.