Taken Liberally

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Azerbaijan: A long road to democracy

Seen through the bullet-proof windows of the multitude of Foreign Embassies in the country, Azerbaijan is a very simple country. Ruled by a reliable but slightly autocratic President, Azerbaijan’s new oil and gas pipelines provide resources to the west in a stable environment where the population doesn’t suffer from any of the unrest or Islamic fundamentalism seen in neighbouring countries.
The recent LYMEC Election Observation Mission to the November parliamentary elections presented the country in an entirely different light. Quite apart from its abundant natural resources, this country is one where Islam sits peacefully in a secular political system, where civil society is strong despite obstacles and where the generosity of the people is matched only by their optimism. The Azeris clearly have a lot to offer the world, but it is the foreign policy consensus of the international community which is playing at least a part in hampering them from doing so.
As liberals we cannot only look at a country as a tool in the functioning of the world economy, but also a reservoir of knowledge, of experience and most vitally, of individuals. With 33 registered international observers making up one of the largest missions in the country, young but motivated political activists descended upon the mountainous northern border region near Dagestan to do their bit in encouraging free and fair elections in Azerbaijan.
Life in Azerbaijan is not an easy one, especially if you are a liberal-minded political activist, young or old. Endemic corruption seeps into every aspect of political life, and the local authorities under direct Presidential control are totally unaccountable in their influence. Unfortunately this general state of affairs was very much in evidence in the elections themselves, with the mission reporting that “despite the count being an accurate statement of the ballots cast in our region, there were serious shortcomings throughout the electoral process which have to be urgently addressed by the appropriate courts and electoral commissions”.
Even concentrated in just three of 125 districts, the mission found evidence of widespread voter intimidation and coercion, direct involvement of local administrative power and a variety of other shortcomings which were documented in a formal report. Digital evidence thanks to cameras and audio-recorders helped present a compelling and unique insight into events which helped the results get coverage in media as varied as Radio Free Europe, the BBC and the New York and Moscow Times.
Our clear, loud and unambiguous contribution as election observers was just the beginning for our involvement in Azerbaijan and our new friends in the orange opposition still have a lot of work to do. As international attention wanes, the job will begin to further develop their capacity in advance of the Presidential elections.
Maybe Azerbaijan actually is a very simple country. Simple because it is a case where the people are ready for democracy, but where the state is not yet ready to grant the privilege. It is in these countries where our commitment to build up civil society and to support liberal movements is at its most critical, and it is in these countries where we must let our actions speak louder than our words.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Our European Future: Direction, not Directives

The current debate about the future of Europe, even more than usual, is taking place within the confines of the Brussels village at a level which excludes anyone without an active interest in the topic. The first question is immediately of institutional reform, despite the polling across Europe showing clearly that it is not an issue high on the priority of European citizens. The second issue under discussion is of how to communicate the detail of Europe's institutional arrangement, this despite even nations being unable to captivate its citizens by arcane details of constitutional law.

In this artificial environment, the task falls to liberals to engage with citizens about issues that matter to them. Europe does not and should not transcend the principles of needing popular support in order to move forward; neither the EPP plan of trying again or the socialist solution of enacting "grands projets" for Europe have the support of the European people or meet any of their needs.

The challenge therefore is to identify policy and initiative areas where only Europe can deliver against our expectations and aspirations for the political community. We must maintain a complete focus on what is effective for the European Union to do, thereby demonstrating the legitimacy of the European Union by action, not attempting to do so by mere words alone.

The current Commission seems to understand part of this, with Barroso's focus on the Lisbon targets as a tangible and clear project for his administration. Sadly, he has ignored the federalist teachings of his predecessors and appears to be under the impression that he holds the key to solving Europe's economic malaise which is domestic in nature and over which the Commission has little to no policy tools. It should therefore not come as a surprise to any of us that we will not be meeting the Lisbon criteria in 2010: This is not a failure of Europe but a failure of political understanding. It is unfortunate for all pro-Europeans that the people will understandably not see it as such.

Back to the real world, it is no coincidence that the largest mass non-party political movements in Europe are on issues where national governments are relatively powerless and where the EU has so far neglected its responsibilities. From environmental issues (e.g. Greenpeace), to foreign policy ("Stop the War" in Iraq), to economic/trade policy (Jubilee 2000, World Development Movement, Live 8) and to poverty reduction and water availability (Water Aid), nation states are unable to act effectively and the European Union is unwilling to do so.

Europeans liberals therefore have a very different vocation to those discussing amongst themselves in the Brussels village. We have to create a progressive, international and cross-party consensus on the need for action on issues such as the above where Europe can act to make a real difference to the lives of Europeans - and other people in the world. The European Liberal Democrats were able to effectively unite around the constitution, but this time the party needs to unite around a number of named, targeted and achievable issues that our member parties and MEPs can raise awareness of and start to turn into programmes of action high on the agenda of parties, national govts, the European Parliament, Council and Commission.

Europe undeniably has structural and institutional problems today, but we are fooling ourselves if we believe these are the root cause of the concern with the European Union today. What is needed is political will to act together and act as one on the great transnational political questions of our time. Europe will then exist through its actions and achievements rather than through the rhetoric alone of its leaders.

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Revolutionary Rainbow

Freedom is on the march

George W Bush

Freedom is indeed on the march, though Dubya was a bit optimistic all those months ago if he thought that Iraq would soon become a liberal democracy. Not too far away and much closer to the European Union, the shadow of oppression has been lifting from countries at an increasing pace over the last few years. This hasn't come about by an invasion of foreign armies as the neo-conservatives often yearn for, however neither would it have come about by just turning our back on the dictatorships around us and leaving the oppressed to their suffering.

In Serbia, Georgia and then Ukraine, foreign NGOs and governments had been active in training civil society and supporting the democratic resistance. A particular brand of youth-led civil society movement was active in each, spontaneous, often leaderless, but rapidly capturing the imagination of those fighting for freedom. OTPOR are perhaps the most famous and the first amongst the new arrivals to our free world, but after last weekend in Warsaw and the chance to hear Lech Walsea (the founder of Solidarity) speak at a small seminar, I can't help wondering if OTPOR and their like are today's equivalent. Bumping into Saakashvili (and his suspiciously CIA-like bodyguards) in a small jazz bar that same evening, I mused on how the individuals grew to fit the solution, rather than the other way around. The path to democracy in Iraq is costing $80 billion a year for the occupation. A pervasive rumour has it that Ukraine is already a lot of the way there thanks to a $100 million investment from the United States in the civil service and then on the logistics for the revolution itself.

Like it or not, the logistics of the free world will be occupied in Iraq for the forseeable future, but in the meantime there are other opposition movements who with our support could see their countries turn around from the ranks of the not free to the free. I've long argued that the mainstay of our long-term support should be in building up civil society in Belarus, Europe's last dictatorship, however we should also take be looking at countries where a revolution could be more imminent.

I believe that the next county on the "Europe United 200x tour of freedom" will be Azerbaijan, with a real chance of coloured revolution at the upcoming elections in November. The current clamp-down on the opposition is largely unnoticed by popular media in the aftermath of much more violent occurances in the nearby (and much less promising) Uzbekistan. Amongst those arrested include the leader of YOX ("No" in Azeri) which is styling itself as the Azeri version of OTPOR and appears to be growing in influence.

The clampdowns and protests are undoubtedly linked to the opening of a new pipeline on Wednesday, which will see numerous heads of state fly into the country to shake hands with the dictator. We should stay attentive to these happenings as a guide to how the country will be shaped in the months leading up to the elections. The government may well have arrested enough leaders to avoid mass protests (that much, at least for now, has yet to be proven), but we wait to see whether people are freed immediately after the media circus has moved on, or whether the political prisoners will remain, as in Belarus, under lock and key until after elections.

The Azeri opposition are brave in their defiance of the regime and deserve whatever support we can offer them. LYMEC - European Liberal Youth will organise an election observation mission to the elections where I hope we will see another colour join the rainbow of revolutions. Until then, those of us caring about the welfare of those with less freedoms than us should take up the battle-cry of Gene Sharp and work to facilitate what I hope will be a defining moment in Azeri history.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

We Propose

As Mankind becomes more liberal, they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protections of civil government.

George Washington

With just hours to go until polling opens here in the United Kingdom for the General Election, the rhetoric is mounting as we apparently just have days to Save the Pound, the Third World, the N H S or whatever else it is we are meant to believe that one of the three main parties is against.

The good news is that in absolute terms, we have a political system where the three main parties largely agree on the important questions about the role of the state in our lives. The main exceptions include the belief by the Tories in a European Union which they unilaterally will declare to be run only under rules that suit the British Conservatives and their disgraceful policy on sending asylum seekers back to their home country to be tortured. Nice. Political activists in particular should be heroes to all of us, and no civilised democracy could send these leaders back to the dictators they have escaped from.

In Belarus, Europe's last dictatorship, prominent political leaders and journalists either suddenly go missing or are seized and taken to prison on trumped up charges which are obviously politically motivated. We should make this country, in the words of someone I know, “this generation’s South Africa”. The fight for freedom of the Belarussian people should be made our own.

A fight that already is ours and that we should fight much more intensely is against the unique dangers that another Labour term would pose. Whilst the Tories would send these heroes from Belarus back home, Labour has passed legislation to allow them to be tortured in Dictatorships we prop up, before being put under house arrest without trial or appeal based on the evidence extracted from them under torture.

Dictators across the world are realising this and don’t know whether to offer Jack Straw consultancy or to point out that their own local attacks on their citizens are actually pretty similar to what we now have in the United Kingdom. Even for those of us staying in the United Kingdom, another four years of Labour would continue to chip at our civil liberties at the most rapid rate since the justified state control in World War II. If Labour return to power, we must be more effective this time at defending ourselves. Nobody else will.

Thousands of activists will take to the streets tomorrow across the country to milk the last few votes. This in itself is a freedom which is not enjoyed by many of my colleagues in Belarus or even Russia and at this moment, some Ukrainian and Belarussian colleagues remain under arrest in Minsk. “LYMEC – European Liberal Youth” have issued a statement after some persistence in raising the issue, but after this election in the United Kingdom, we will have a duty to back up those words with actions.

Tomorrow, if you care about your own freedom, you must go out and vote. If you also care about the freedom of those around you and those further afield, then you must go vote for the Real Alternative, the Liberal Democrats.

Monday, April 25, 2005

It's a Brave new Britain

Well, we've managed to have someone or other bring up the issue of fake marriages, allowing economic migrants entrance to the country, but because it's an election the Home Office isn't going to comment.

I guess that with 2 weeks left until the polls, all the other scare stories about how immigrants get themselves onto this island have been exhausted.

Well, we should all be very happy that Labour are currently in power, because they've decided that any non-EU citizens who want to get married have to get (and I'm not kidding) a "certificate of marriage approval", meaning that the state generally approves of your choice of wife or husband. Aren't you the lucky one!

Those of us who have read 1984 (or those of us who are not EU citizens) will undoubtedly find this less amusing than others - The state deciding who is allowed to marry with who is one of the most scary elements of the totalitarian state described in Orwell's book. When you look at it in the context of some of Labour's other ideas such as ID cards, robbing us of personal privacy, spying on everything we write and of course electronically tagging us, you've got to figure that Blair and co have also read 1984 but reached rather different conclusions about the desirability of the envisaged dystopic world.

So is this a power play at total control? Not at all. We can rest assured that the power of the state is limited by the power of the state Church, as for some reason Anglican weddings are exempt. The Home Office aren't going to be fooled into attempting to justify the unjustifiable, and hence have come out with this in response to criticisms:

If anyone who goes along to their local Church of England parish minister, and if they live in that parish, then, as we understand it, the minister cannot refuse to marry them. If you're Muslim or a Hindu, this is not an ideal situation and it's arguably discriminatory.

So, let's not type-cast anyone, but if they're decent god-fearing (preferably white?) people getting married in a decent Church then fine, but if they're foreign fuddy duddies with some strange religion then they have to ask Charles Clarke's permission?

This kind of poorly thought-out, discriminatory and authoritarian law should never have made it past its first reading. It's only by voting for the Real Alternative on May the 5th that we will get back a Parliament which is able to perform its role and hold the executive to account.

No sex please, we’re American

I was doing some research today on the rate of teenage pregnancy in the good ol’ US of A and ended up with a rather interesting website. The site, 4parents.gov, was recently published by the current administration in the hope of encouraging bashful parents to talk to their teens about sex and encourage “healthy behaviors”. All well and good so far; it’s only when you start reading the site in more depth that it gets more interesting.

In the section of the site that suggests ways in which parents can start a conversation with their teen about sexual health:

I heard a commercial on the radio about always being prepared by having condoms.
Do you or your friends think that condoms really make sex safe?

Other sections of the site include these pearls of wisdom:

The only sure way to avoid STDs is to wait until marriage to have sex, choose a partner who has also waited or who is uninfected and share a faithful life together.

Your teen son or daughter needs to know why you don't want them to have sex now. Tell them why waiting for sex until they are married is the healthiest choice.

Be sure to tell your teen that having multiple partners in their lifetime can be one of the biggest threats to their physical and emotional health. Tell them it's not too late to stop having sex, that it's never too late to make healthy choices.

I feel incredibly sorry for any teen who grows up exposed to this sort of rhetoric; not because the message itself is necessarily “wrong” (although I certainly wouldn’t advocate it) but simply because it’s a complete contradiction of the society these teens are growing up into. Modern America isn’t a seamless world of Girl Scouts, popped collars and eventual identikit picket-fenced house in the suburbs; it’s so much messier than that. Aren’t we supposed to prepare our children for the challenges they’re likely to face, rather than selling them fantasy world after fantasy world?

It worries me that people think a simple abstinence policy is enough to protect their children forever. I’ve seen the fairytale go sour too many times now; the 21 year old who needed counselling after her college sweetheart didn’t ask her to marry him even though (gasp!) they’d had sex, and she thought that meant they were soulmates; another who broke down in floods of tears after kissing someone for the first time at a house party crying “I feel so used! I'm such a whore!” – oh, and the feminist who refuses to use tampons because she thinks they will destroy her virginity. Nor are these the inhabitants of some sleepy Southern backwater; they're students at the number 1 small public university in the country.

I used to get annoyed at abstinence campaigns; I've seen so many now that all I'm left with is an abiding sense of sadness. It isn't fair to promise that perfect marriage and perfect family and picket fence, even though it may be at the heart of the American Dream. At some point, reality has to intrude - and when it does, isn't it best to be prepared?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

A Reclining Tax

The tax system in the United Kingdom of today is one that works. It works for the government where taxes can be raised without anyone noticing, it works for the civil service where new jobs in admin and audit can always be guaranteed, and it works for the accountants who we pay to see how much we can gain from the government.

Shame about its impact on both citizens and businesses, both of whom pay vast amounts of tax for the priviledge of getting some of it back from the Chancellor. The system of today is not only completely arbitrary, but also so confusing that the government budget can rely on many of the handouts not being taken up by people too confused about the reams of paperwork. Labour's new Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit are especially good examples: Tax even the poorest of society and then hope that not too many of them will notice that you'll give it back to them afterwards (that's if the system is actually working).

The Liberal Democrats have come into this election with some good, tactically directed proposals around the top rate of tax and a local income tax. This could well win the party a few votes, but to move to a party of government, it will need to offer a much more radical and comprehensive review. We are in a peculiar situation today where all the major parties agree that taxation policy should be progressive where the richest pay a higher proportion of their income to the state, yet where it is the poorest that actually pay the highest proportion.

It is for this socially-liberal reason that I think that we should revisit and make our own the free marketers’ proposals around tax simplification. The Flat Tax is this year’s right-wing policy fad of choice, after being adopted last year in Romania and this year in Ukraine. The Flat Tax as foreseen by purists replaces volumes of taxation policies with a simple and low (15-25%) rate of taxation. Government interference in the economy decreases as it no longer needs to employ a city full of accountants, and people understand their contribution to government. In Western Europe there is a clear consensus against the Flat Tax – it would in practice be regressive due to VAT and other considerations. I agree, but in my view a Flat Tax wouldn’t be any worse than we have today – the greater challenge is to come up with a set of proposals that would genuinely result in a progressive system of taxation where markets thrive on their attractiveness to capital and individuals, rather than on the political priorities of social democratic governments.

My proposal is that a Liberal government should aim at reducing the number of taxes by one third within one term of government and by three quarters before the end of the second term. The free-market idealists who visualise an instant decrease are kidding themselves: Few taxes are obviously useless, and for the state to withdraw from such an intricate system without constant engagement with business and employees would result in a needless hostile shock to the economy and to the lives of millions. I’m no accountant, so I couldn’t even begin to estimate the impact on the government’s administrative costs, but by focusing on “returned” benefits and means testing, money should be available both for investment in public services and for cutting the rates of taxation for the poorest in society, those earning under £12,000 pounds a year who are forced to pay tax on over £7,000 of that.

Far too much of this country’s taxation is collected at a central level and so much greater levels of taxation should be devolved to council level where a local income tax would be equally progressive. The Councils of today are reduced to taking away rubbish: power itself should be devolved and in accordance with the principles of fiscal federalism, the money needed to fund those services should be transparently and completely funded locally.

Lastly, over 1% of this country’s total tax take gets siphoned off to the European Union, where much of it is spent on projects without any clear support from the British parliament or from the British people. A tax to fund the expenses European Union should be transparently and separately included as part of our national income tax, and we should gradually move to a system where it is the European political parties in the European Parliament who propose programmes and levels of spending which the citizens can select from. Transparency in this way is not scary, nor does would it lose us power. In fact, it’s only through precisely this level of democratic accountability of the European Union budget that we could ever move to put in place the proper spending controls in the EU members states and abolish or renationalise the Common Agricultural policy, still today responsible for 50% of the EU’s spending.

The Liberal Democrats have successfully positioned themselves as the Real Alternative to Labour, albeit as much through the lack of vision and leadership of the Conservative Party as from leadership on their part. The Conservatives will not lie dormant forever, and it will take a set of radical and unique proposals next time around for the Liberal Democrats to finish off the Tories forever.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Towards Universal Sufferage

Ask any American neo-conservative their strategy on global security and the answer they will give will be straight-forward, focused and well thought out. It involves American military, financial clout of of course, full spectrum dominance. The reality is that PNAC have been a lot more successful than liberal thinkers in offering and putting into action a comprehensive policy for remaking the world in their image. They are completely right about the need to do something about the world's dictatorships and promote the spread of democracy. It's just a shame they're wrong about how to do it.

Liberals need to respond with equally brave but this time liberal, practical and tolerant approaches to the question of how promote freedoms and democracy globally in a world where around 50% still live in dictatorships. "Wouldn't it be nice if the US obeyed the UN" and "I'm quite pro-European, I don't want to go to war with Luxembourg" are not good enough and are easily outflanked by twin assaults from PNAC and the world's dictatorships.

I'm going to propose three strategies that liberals should develop and promote. Because we've been lacking any credible direction since the end of the cold war, these approaches may seem dangerously radical. In this case, as so often, the danger lies instead with conservatism and not having a strategy at all.

Firstly, democracies and democratic regional blocks must acknowledge that they have a strategic interest and moral priority in attacking the dictatorships within their fields of influence. With the European Union this is most obviously Belarus, and some countries in Africa. For the US this includes Central Asia particularly amongst many others. Winning these countries over is not done by isolation - free trade and economic interdependence spreads democracy, and there should be significant and long-term investments in civil society and business in those countries. Teaching market economics, parliamentary democracy, organisational and change management as well as democratic organisation to as many as possible of a country's middle class or elite creates an internal interest group who will organise themselves to promote democracy in the country. There are some organisations who are already active in these fields. There need to be a lot more.

Apathy is only half the reason why this has not yet been done. For many countries, most notably the United States, having a stable dictatorship next door or supplying one's power is often seen as preferable to an unstable democracy. We must develop a consensus where democratic development of their neighbours is the political priority of all democracies and where there is action taken against any democracy which breaks from the consensus.

Working locally within countries is a long-term process, and in the meantime we place our trust in the United Nations as the ultimate adjudicator of international law. It is an organisation which has eradicated whole diseases, yet has not managed to stop genocides, most recently in Rwanda and Darfur. It is an organisation where democracies can do great things, but where dictatorships have equal power to democracies. The first step is therefore the creation of a permanent UN Democracy Caucus - a standing committee open only to full members of the Community of Democracies.

As what would be the world's most legitimate body for decision-making, the UN Democracy Caucus should gradually take over the budgets and influence of the ECOSOC committee as well as developing its own funded political activities, all within the framework of sustainable activities which promote democracy and defend against its opponents, in whatever shape they take. Incentives to move in the direction of the community would be in terms of diplomatic, trade and aid agreements. Armed with such tools, democratic countries actively working against the promotion of global democracy could be equally encouraged to think geo-strategically instead of purely in a national frame.

The final proposal addresses both the urgent questions of democratic development as well as climate change. Liberal democracies quite rarely attack each other, but in an inter-dependent world, quite rarely is not good enough. Global trade and movement has created a truly interdependent world, which has in turn spawned the WTO and the IMF as undemocratic but effective organisations to facilitate that interdependence and protect against shocks.

It seems obvious that we are equally interdependent when it comes to the state of the world's environment, and the Kyoto protocol was a hesitant first step towards addressing that. Kyoto should be celebrated for being that first step, but small steps are not enough, and even a successfully implemented Kyoto would barely make an impact on the world's climate. The European Union should seek partners for its emission's trading scheme and expand its scope to trading in a variety of pollution commodities on a country as well as corporate basis. Any such organisation conducted through secretive diplomacy would have the same issues with legitimacy as the WTO and the IMF, as such the organisation should develop into a global parliamentary assembly, following the model of the European Parliament.

As the assembly gains both members and legitimacy, it will inevitably pick up new powers, and tools with which to incentivise active membership and participation. In a not so far distant future where both energy and pollution become equally tradeable liquid commodities with
floating values on the global market, access to energy and markets could be limited to those democracies taking part in the assembly. Domestic political pressure would ensure that adequate and sophisticated human rights become a requirement, and priviledges from the body could be granted on a sliding scale based on the level of democratisation of any non-members.
Democratic development and environmental responsibility can be made an explicit priority of all countries and is a lot more likely to save the environment than any amount of organic cauliflower.

Political party membership in the United Kingdom is today vastly outnumbered compared to those signing up to causes as disparate as war, genocide, climate, poverty and inequality. These movements are significant in highlighting problems, but they do not have coherent solutions.
A liberal consensus is urgently needed on the geo-strategic direction of our democratic civilisation. We cannot hide behind abandoned cars and potholes at the same time as asking people to put their faith in us to look after their wider interests.

In defence of democracy

Liberalism is an ideology with democracy at its heart. Liberalism can only survive where there is universal sufferage and liberal parties are only sustainable when their internal processes are genuinely representative.

Unfortunately for us all, democracy does not have such a place of priviledge in socialism, nor in the Labour movement itself in this country or elsewhere. The objective is for the state to have enough control to bring about the utopia. Letting people get their own way, and allowing counter-revolutionary/reformist/grass roots ideas to gain a degree of influence is seen purely as a threat.

This downgrading of democracy to a "nice to have" permeates all levels of socialism and social democracy, and is a malaise that is impossible to seperate from the wider movement. From the beginning of the movement to today, organisational structures, constitutional arrangements and political debates are designed in an environment where getting the right result is the most important, rather than getting the outcome that is the most desired.

Such values were always bound to drip down to the grass-roots, and it's inevitable that they crop up time and time again from vote-rigging to campaigns of physical violence and intimidation. The ends justify the means, after all. You have to give credit for Labour Students for showing them all how it's really done by electing as National Secretary someone who was caught illegally reading his local branch chair's email. Isn't that a terrorist offence nowadays? In other organisations these individuals would be rapidly removed. In Labour, they are promoted.

I'm pretty much content to let the Labour movement activists continue to knife, cheat and backstab each other, but the rest of us have a duty to stop them when this cavalier attitude comes to impinge on our nation's democracy, when they try the same tricks on us. The recent case of a whole local Labour party being involved in systematic vote-rigging in Birmingham makes me wonder how much this goes on. It's not like this hadn't happened before.

It surprises me that nobody has commented at the fact that we have relatively influential people in the Labour party caught red-handed, rigging the votes thanks to a system that was pushed through by the leadership of the same party, despite strong opposition from the Electoral Commission and the effective opposition. The government assures us that our voting system is actually perfectly secure - but wait a moment - isn't this rather a case of poacher turned gamekeeper? Here's what a judge had to say in response to the govt:

Anybody who has sat through the case I have just tried and listened to evidence of electoral fraud that would disgrace a banana republic would find this statement surprising. The system is wide open to fraud and any would-be political fraudster knows that.

Perhaps I'm just a wooly liberal idealist, but I regard it as unacceptable that political games should be played with the integrity of our democratic system. The old Militant tendancy from Labour might be gone, but you only have to scratch the surface to see much of the danger still lies within. Disagreements on policies aside, we have to each be vocal in defence of our democracy
and attentive to these attempts by the Labour movement to subvert it.