Lessons from Netanyahu's coalition government

Has proportional representation killed off the two-state solution?

Amid the increasing debate about proportional representation as a deal-breaker for the Liberal Democrats in the likely event of a hung parliament -- the central demand of the much-hyped "progressive" politics -- it is worth pointing to the suffocating role that the system is playing elsewhere in the world, namely the Israel-Palestine peace process.

With talk of "time running out" on the two-state solution, as meetings between the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US special envoy George Mitchell failed to secure any real concessions from Israel, arguably it is Israel's electoral system that has a stranglehold on change.

After the 2008 resignation of Ehud Olmert, his successor Tzipi Livni failed to build a coalition, triggering the 2009 election. Though Livni's Kadima party finished with the highest vote and most number of seats, the electoral spread left Netanyahu's Likud free to build a coalition with the "centre-left" Labor Party of Ehud Barak.

The Netanyahu government, from just 22 per cent of the vote last year, has the peace process on its knees. As for Barak, now defence minister and said to be "joined at the hip" with his boss, it is worth remembering his words at the time:

I will not be anyone's fig leaf... we will be counter-weight (sic) that will ensure we do not have narrow right-wing government.

Of course, it could be argued that Israel simply does not possess an effective political left. Still, it is hard to see how such a polarising and confused figure as Netanyahu could hold such an office without the vagaries of the proportional system. Beware the green grass.

Getty
Show Hide image

You may call me a monster – but I'm glad that girl's lemonade stall got shut down

What's wrong with hard-working public servants enforcing perfectly sensible regulations?

Who could fail to be moved by the widely shared tears of a five year old whose innocent lemonade stall was brutally shut down by evil bureaucrats? What sort of monster would not have their heartstrings tugged by the plaintive “I've done a bad thing” from a girl whose father tells us she “just wanted to put a smile on people's faces”?

Well me, actually.

There are half a million cases of food poisoning each year in the UK, and one of the reasons we have stringent controls on who can sell food and drink, especially in unsealed containers, is to try to cut those figures down. And street stalls in general are regulated because we have a system of taxation, rights and responsibilities in this country which underpins our functioning society. Regulation is a social and economic good.

It’s also pretty unfair to criticise the hard-working public servants who acted in this case for doing the job they are no doubt underpaid to do. For the council to say “we expect our enforcement officers to show common sense” as they cancelled the fine is all very well, but I’m willing to bet they are given precious little leeway in their training when it comes to who gets fined and who doesn’t. If the council is handing out apologies, it likely should be issuing one to its officers as well.

“But these are decent folk being persecuted by a nanny state,” I hear you cry. And I stand impervious, I’m afraid. Because I’ve heard that line a lot recently and it’s beginning to grate.

It’s the same argument used against speed cameras and parking fines. How often have you heard those caught out proclaim themselves as “law-abiding citizens” and bemoan the infringement of their freedom? I have news for you: if you break the speed limit, or park illegally, or indeed break health and safety or trading regulations, you are not a law-abiding citizen. You’re actually the one who’s in the wrong.

And rarely is ignorance an excuse. Speed limits and parking regulations are posted clearly. In the case of the now famous lemonade stand, the father in question is even quoted as saying “I thought that they would just tell us to pack up and go home.” So he knew he was breaking the rules. He just didn’t think the consequences should apply to him.

A culture of entitlement, and a belief that rules are for other people but not us, is a disease gripping middle Britain. It is demonstrated in many different ways, from the driver telling the cyclist that she has no right to be on the road because she doesn’t pay road tax (I know), to the father holding up his daughter’s tears to get out of a fine.

I know, I’m a monster. But hooray for the enforcers, I say.

Duncan Hothersall is the editor of Labour Hame