All square?

Lord Tyler

We’ve had some unusually positive discussions this week, in some of which I have pleasantly surprised to find an unexpected degree of consensus.

On Tuesday, it sounded as if Members on all sides were keen to make progress on the ‘working practices’ recommendations that we had from a specially appointed group.  I had anticipated that there would be the usual procrastinators, arguing that ‘we can’t do anything about this until we have sorted out the big issue of our composition’.  Fortunately, both Lord Strathclyde (Leader of the House) and his Labour opposite number (Lady Royall of Blaisdon) seemed to think that we could get on with this urgent job, not least because we are about to elect a new Lord Speaker, whose role is one of the issues at stake.  You can read our exchanges here, and a note I prepared at the time for Epolitix here.

That same afternoon we got a remarkable degree of agreement on the need to find every possible way of improving the integrity of the electoral register.  This not just a question of making sure that those who are entitled to vote are all on the list, but also making sure that there’s no double-counting or fraud.   The Guardian that morning reported that there had been a slight upturn in registration in 2010, with notable improvements among younger age groups.  I suggested that this might have been due increased interest running up to the 2010 election rather than any improved efficiency in the system.  All the other participants in the debate seemed to be heading in the same direction, and we agreed to some useful pilot exercises in data-sharing to try and improve the accuracy of the register.  You may like to have a quick look at this debate too.

But today (Friday) I have a wonderful opportunity to ride another hobby horse.  If you have been anywhere near the Houses of Parliament recently, let alone taken part in any demonstration in our area, you will be aware that we suffer from a double nonsense.  On the one hand, Parliament Square is a mess, but on the other we have some ludicrously heavy-handed regulations about the rights of our fellow citizens to express their views to parliamentarians.  It is particularly absurd that the previous government included these in the overblown “Serious Organised Crime and Police Act”, as though reading the names of Iraq invasion victims at the Cenotaph could fairly be described as a “serious, organised crime”.

I have some positive suggestions to make about how we can use Parliament Square better.  It looks as if others may agree it’s time to act. I hope you may be interested to take a look at Hansard later and see if you agree.

6 comments for “All square?

  1. MilesJSD
    10/06/2011 at 8:19 am

    The title “All Square” is an inviting one; especially since Lord Tyler has included the malfeasant-mess of Wars with the confused-conglomeration of Work-practices, over-all.

    When one views on the one hand our Human Race’s excesses and on the other It’s shortcomings, the obvious “scenario” explanation that comes to mind to explain why our Economic and Mathematical Equations have a serious flaw in them somewhere is that of

    “Multiple ET Interferences”.

    There is evidence that this Earth, and in particular this Human Race upon it, has been not merely “visited” by Extra-Terrestrial-Intelligent-Beings-and-Technologies, but in some sense “force-farmed” by those ETs.

    So it is also possible that more than one kind of ET visits Earth; and that our Human Race is being competitively “force-farmed” by such ET Competition.

    Whether there is anything we can do to alter that, might also be recommended to be fairly high on the agendas that Lord Tyler has now intimated through this Blog need to be worked-up and worked-through ?


  2. danfilson
    10/06/2011 at 12:33 pm

    The simplest improvement that could be made to Parliament Square would be to make its centre accessible by pedestrians without them risking their necks trying to get to it. I worked in a building overlooking it for half a decade but it was never easy getting to the centre without scampering. I recall the unveiling of the Mandela statue (and also the Lloyd George statue which for some reason, the colour of the metal probably, I dislike) and seeing many people unable to look it at close to as there were no pedestrian crossings. Had the public been readily able to access all of the central area, I doubt a ragged so-called peace-camp could have been established there with such ease. I also fail to understand why there is that enormous pavement (on the central site) on the Parliament side. Many years ago people would eat their sandwiches in the square – a lot more peaceful activity than bellowing through a megaphone.

  3. Twm O'r Nant
    10/06/2011 at 6:28 pm

    The closest call I ever had was at the pedestrian crossing on the corner of Whitehall, when I aquaplaned on my pushbike in front of an accelerating bus, but for a car driver who saw my problem, and encouraged me to lean on his car at about 15 miles an hour I would have been completely dead meat.

    A completely anonymous driver who saved my life.

    What goes on beneath the road outside St Stephen’s entrance Dan?

    • danfilson
      11/06/2011 at 11:23 am

      I’m aware there’s a huge multi-storey car park for MPs et cetera down there, but don’t tell me, let me guess, a nuclear bunker? That would be a supreme irony with Brian Haw atop!

  4. Gareth Howell
    12/06/2011 at 8:50 pm

    One of the worst regs of recent years for voting was the postal voting changes in about 2003. I was delighted because I thought it was a move to e-voting from the comfort of an armchair at home! Then I discovered.
    Many people now vote by post who are at home on the day of the vote.

    The problem with parliament square is that it would be difficult to prevent people having picnics there! How would the furniture be re-arranged to allow pedestrians to use it without risking their necks, leaving the central ‘island’, large as it is.

    The least used side of the rectangle is outside the Middlesex/Law Lords courts,
    and it might be possible to organise traffic effectively, for entrée from there, but then OTHER people would risk their necks getting
    across to it, from any part of the Square, seeing others in the middle.

    There is no real possibility of replanning
    a main A trunk road of the UK, just because it passes an important building, and goes through its square.

    The road is far more important than the
    buildings, and any perceived or prospective beauty of the square.

    I saw Lord King walk across from St Stephens some years ago, without so much as look in either direction, whilst heavy traffic beat down on him. He seemed to have some magic powers, which I once enjoyed in Piccadilly circus, a copper acquaintance having a particular skill with a high pitched whistle,
    which brought the traffic to a complete standstill, for me to walk straight across the circus from one side to the other in comfort at mid day.

    If everybody had the same magical powers as the noble Lord King and myself,(probably different reasons) it would be a fine thing!

    • danfilson
      13/06/2011 at 2:33 pm

      Maybe Lord King was flying BA, coasting above the plebs!

      The issue that Lord Tyler raised was electoral registration rather than postal voting, although on the latter it is to me worrying that in some areas (SW6 comes to mind) the % of postal votes already in the bag by polling day is so high that it distorts the nature of the election campaigns, with the drive being to get the postal voters to vote being by different means to ordinary campaigning. Spookily empty polling stations belie a turnout that is actually rather high.

      On electoral registration, there’s no doubt that accumulated experience in a well-run E.R. office can spot the areas where a revisit should be directed. I don’t know how effective are E.R. canvassers at addresses where nobody is in or answers the door. But there should be a statutory duty to publish an effectiveness report annually, copied to the Electoral Commission, which should be accompanied by comments by the usual suspects (the local parties), and those E.R. teams that fail to register an appropriately high % of their local adult residents should be publicly castigated with a “Could try harder” and possibly even a fine to focus their minds. Registration in urban areas with high turnover is a nightmare. Some E.R. offices got lazy and may have relied on a default of renewing public housing voters automatically (I don’t know if they still do this) unless they knew of a change of tenancy (I put this thought up though it is, I suppose, anecdotal).

      I regret the absence of published registers from public libraries. The pretext of their removal was the privacy issue, data protection and all that. But the idea that some firm would scan the registers from the hard print versions was laughable, likewise wife-beaters etc. Those registers in the public library were a safeguard against fraudulent registration or over-registration, and conceivably at stupid registration of dogs and minors below the 16+ years point. There’s always one case reported at every election of a poodle or tortoise getting a voting card. Bring back the published registers.

      Incidentally, I see no reason why peers should not forthwith be granted general election voting rights. The exclusion from voting may have made sense in the Old Sarum days but the average peer is more than outnumbered by other voters these days. As it is they are classed, perhaps not without reason, along with felons and lunatics.

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