Restore our democracy, not just the buildings

The home of our democracy is falling apart and it is plain for anyone to see. We have buckets in the corridors collecting drips, dregs and sometimes even gushes. Sometimes water even mixes with electricity – as happened with a leak in my office – and yet we have become so conditioned to these things that no one bats an eyelid and we just get on with it. Sadly, the same can be said of our democratic processes.

Brexit is many things, but more than most it is a rejection of our politics and a longing for a new constitutional settlement. The myth that “the public will lose faith in politicians if we don’t honour the referendum” is based on the false premise that anyone trusted politicians in the first place. Brexit is happening precisely because people don’t trust politicians nor the way that politics is done. If there is to be any hope at healing the divides in this country, we must fundamentally change the way that politics is done and is seen to be done.


The Restoration Bill going through Parliament tries to ignore the political earthquake that we are living through and aims to spend several billion pounds keeping everything pretty much the same. The Houses of Parliament were designed and built before women were allowed to vote, and when the franchise was restricted to land owning men. It was in the time where Prime Ministers were Lords and the Commons was seen as subordinate – long before the conventions that underpin our still fledgling democracy came to be. It is a Palace designed for wealthy men to continue their Old Etonian ways, while the two main parties take it in turns to run the Government. This year’s elections and current opinion polls are an indication that the two party system is on the verge of collapse. The seating arrangements in the Commons will be chaotic if the next general election splits the vote four, five or even six ways. Plus, the introduction of PR at a future date would make two rows of opposing benches a redundant approach to running our democracy.


The current draft legislation makes absolutely no attempt to engage with the future of our political system, and will instead spend millions of pounds turning the temporary accommodation into a perfect replica of the dysfunctional House of Commons chamber, complete with replica division lobbies where MPs waste days of their working lives queuing up to vote. We live in an age of smart phones and interactive democracy – can’t we save money on the architects’ fees and just press a button to vote? No longer will every vote take fifteen minutes or even longer for hundreds of very highly paid people to shuffle down a corridor, sometimes many times a day. No other democracy in the world indulges such silly ideas, why should we?

This Bill dodges any public consultation or engagement with the project – leaving it all but guaranteed that this project will be seen as a huge waste of money with politicians spending billions on themselves. The Bill does nothing to consider how our political system might, or should, change over the coming years decades and beyond. And the Bill misses the opportunity of using the temporary parliamentary chambers as testbeds for improved ways of working, which might save millions of pounds in even a very short period of time.

To ensure that we restore and renew our democracy, to make it fit for the twenty first century and beyond, I will be proposing amendments to this Bill. These amendments will require the Sponsor Body to effectively consult with the public, to use the results in their plans, and to consider the desirability of different ways of working in the temporary and future parliamentary chambers. The current plans waste billions of pounds on maintaining a state of total obsolescence.

Podcast. Neil Woods “Ending the war on drugs”

I talk to Neil Woods, one of Britain’s most successful (ex) undercover police officers. 

Neil has authored two fascinating books about his experiences as an undercover cop turned whistle blower “Good Cop, Bad War” and “Drugs Wars”. 

Neil’s personal experience as one of Britain’s most successful undercover officers deserves our respect and attention; he has played a key role in putting away numerous dealers for a collective total of over a 1,000 years. He survived the grave personal toll that brave officers can suffer in their losing fight against drugs gangs.

Having a knife to your throat, or being stripped naked at gunpoint can take a personal toll on the undercover officers who have tried to fight a war on drugs that can’t be won. Neil suffers from Post-Traumatic Street Disorder. Year after year the trade becomes more violent, as the police are more successful. The drugs war is an arms race. Police develop new tactics and drug gangs push back. Neil realised that the escalation by the gangs was a reaction to his work as an effective police officer.

County lines is the latest reaction by the gangs to that success.  Use of children is another innovation – a result of police success. Not so easy for police to infiltrate using established means. Gangs see the children as very disposable.  That is why some of the police want to increase the use of juveniles as police informants – child spies. Exposing this has been one of my big campaigns and is now the subject of legal action by a children’s charity.

Two things changed Neil’s personal view of the war on drugs. He got to know drug addicts and started to understand the traumas (often childhood abuse or neglect) that turned them towards drugs. He also realised that it was a war the police can’t win, despite all their success. In fact, the successes made things worse in the longer term.

Police now talk about ‘disruption’ not reduction. A stable market is less violent. Police often gather the low hanging fruit of dealers on streets, which thins it out, makes easier to create monopolies.

Drugs money has caused escalating violence on the streets and supports other forms of crime. It also provides the resources to finance endemic corruption within the authorities. Neil talks about how his instincts saved him from being betrayed by a fellow officer who had been planted into the police by a powerful gang.

Since prohibition started, the banned drugs have become stronger and cheaper. Neil had to take drugs on occasion as part of his cover.  One packet “smelt like urine from a glue sniffing cat”. Legislation from the 1980s onwards has moved away from harm reduction towards a moralising agenda of criminality.

It’s no coincidence that Brixton Riots happened ten years after Misuse of Drugs Act. The police were given a war chest of powers that government Ministers expected them to use. Persecution of black people was driven by drug policy and a clamp down on cannabis. 90% of stop and search has been for drugs.

The police have been lumbered with this war on drugs. It’s a huge drain on resources. For example, it’s a big impact on murder detection rate since declaration of the war on drugs. Despite scientific and forensic advances, the murder clear-up rate is down.

Society is paying a big cost for the war on drugs. People in prison cost money. Authorities are damaged by the corruption of drugs money.

The way to win the War on drugs is to stop fighting. Regulate them. Treat each drug differently, so for example with Heroin you go to the doctor.

A recent survey shows that 59% of people want to decriminalise or regulate cannabis use. That shows how public understanding is running ahead of the politicians from the two main parties. A big change is urgently needed.

Crowdfunder: referendum law breakers

For democracy to work fairly and effectively, all campaigners and parties must operate on a level playing field; no one can be above the rule of law.  Whichever way we voted in the referendum, we should all agree that wrong doing needs to be dealt with.

That is why I have joined with other concerned politicians and ex-politicians, Tom Brake MP, Ben Bradshaw MP and Fiona Mactaggart who believe in accountability and that is why we are asking for your support in our legal action. Continue reading “Crowdfunder: referendum law breakers”

Letter to Minister about systematic use of child spies

Dear Minister

Thank you for your positive response to my Oral Question on 18th March when I raised the issue of juveniles being used as Covert Human Intelligence Sources. As I mentioned during my question, I have information provided by a whistle-blower that there appear to be formal targets being set for regions to increase the use of juvenile CHIS to help in the tackling of county lines’ drug gangs. Continue reading “Letter to Minister about systematic use of child spies”

HS2, Colne Valley and the threat to London’s water supply

The chalk hills of the Chilterns act as a giant reservoir, with water slowing seeping down into streams in the Colne Valley and onwards into the Thames Valley to London. The crowded South East often has periods of being low on water and with the area around the Colne Valley supplying 22% of London’s water, the threat of water pollution is a major concern. There is an obvious danger to drilling down 70m near a landfill site in the Colne Valley, which has been declared a special site of pollution. Despite previous leaks from this landfill site leading to the contamination of a local river and the permanent closure of a pumping station, HS2 think it is worth risking London’s water supply.  Local people, such as Green Party campaigner Sarah Green, disagree strongly. Continue reading “HS2, Colne Valley and the threat to London’s water supply”

The Heathrow question

The government can’t push ahead with Heathrow, unless they reject the latest advice from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). In 2016, the Airports Commission used evidence from the CCC to state that Heathrow expansion was OK if we stayed within national limits for carbon emissions, but the CCC now want the UK target changed to zero emissions by 2050 and have stated that aviation expansion will have to be curbed. Continue reading “The Heathrow question”

Green win: rights for Property Guardians

It’s not often that a Minister starts a sentence by thanking a political opponent for introducing an issue and then says “How right she was to raise it in the way she did in October. I’m grateful for her for that and our subsequent meetings.“ The Minister then promised action to address my concerns over the exploitation of thousands of people who act as Property Guardians. These are people who protect a property by living there with the agreement of the owners, but have none of the legal rights enjoyed by those paying rent. Continue reading “Green win: rights for Property Guardians”

Podcast: Sian Berry and green achievements

Elected greens always tend to punch above their weight. Whether it is a local council chamber, the London Assembly, or Parliament itself, a Green in the room will change the dynamic of most conversations. Sian Berry has a string of successes from her time as a member of Camden council and the London Assembly. This podcast (on Podbean) talks about some of the key changes Sian has achieved and gives a taste of what will happen in the 2020 Mayoral campaign. Continue reading “Podcast: Sian Berry and green achievements”

Question to Minister on protecting the right to protest

Today around 3pm I’ll be raising the issue of freedom to protest with questions to the Government in the House of Lords about the Court of Appeal’s striking out an injunction obtained by INEOS in a secret court. The successful appeal was brought by two individuals and Friends of the Earth, representing an enormous victory for the right to protest. It will hopefully pave the way for more successful appeals by peaceful protestors who have had their human rights restricted by the frackers and other environmental vandals. Continue reading “Question to Minister on protecting the right to protest”