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Exclusive Interview: Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society

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Katie became Chief Executive of the ERS in 2010. A campaigner and barrister with a background in human rights law and immigration, she served as a Commissioner on the Independent Asylum Commission from 2006-2008, where she helped to conduct the biggest ever independent review of the UK asylum system leading to the government’s commitment to get rid of the detention of children in immigration centres.

She has worked as a lobbyist and campaigner for several third sector organisations including Age UK and Citizens Advice and spent five years as Director of the British Institute of Human Rights. Katie has delivered lectures, seminars and courses on campaigns and public affairs the UK for a range of charities, public bodies and lawyers. Her first book Beyond the Courtroom: a lawyer’s guide to campaigning was published by Legal Action Group in 2005.

Katie is also on the Board of Fair Vote, a US organisation campaigning for electoral reform. She speaks to Blue & Green.

In 140 characters or less what is the mission of the Electoral Reform Society?

The ERS campaigns for a better democracy, where every vote counts. We push for fairer votes and real reforms to forge a 21st century democracy.

The ERS was founded in 1884 as the Proportional Representation Society. Proportional representation (PR) seems to be a distant development in the UK, especially following the 2011 AV referendum. Do you think we’ll see PR ever adopted for Westminster elections?

Absolutely – it is becoming clearer that Britain’s voting system is completely bust in the multi-party reality that is here to stay. Last May we saw five major parties come together to call for proportional representation, alongside petitions representing half a million people.

And now, Labour – alongside the trade unions following a TUC vote last year – are starting to talk about electoral reform, which is a hugely welcome development. An open debate about how First Past the Post currently works among people from all parties and none is a crucial first step towards reform. With Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the London Assembly and the European elections all using proportional systems, Westminster is looking increasingly out of date and isolated. It is only a matter of time – and hard work – before PR is used in Westminster too.

You recently ran two Citizen’s Assemblies in Southampton and Sheffield. What were the key take outs from those assemblies? And any plans to do more?

The Citizens’ Assemblies were a joint initiative between several universities and the Electoral Reform Society, supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

What we saw with the gatherings of local residents – broadly representative of their area – was a real appetite for more engagement in the devolution process. When people learnt about the devolution plans, they wanted to be involved and have their say. People want strong devolution for their areas, but they also want a say in what that devolution looks like – which powers they should have, whether they want an elected mayor or local assembly, and what areas they should cover. There is a danger that without public involvement, these devolution deals simply aren’t sustainable. Politicians need to let the public in.

Voter registration and turnout is low and/or falling across the developed world. How do we arrest and reverse that trend?

There are many things that can be done to improve turnout and registration. We need to be looking at innovative ways to boost engagement – from weekend voting, to allowing citizens to vote wherever they are, to extending citizenship education. Research shows that countries with proportional voting systems typically have higher turnouts, as people feel their votes actually count.

We also need a registration revolution in this country. Many countries have automatic registration, and while it’s a welcome development that citizens can now register online, we need to be looking at ways to increase the opportunities to register – from getting drivers’ licenses to passports and benefits.

We have low turnout, a disproportional electoral system, corporate/media influence, an unelected second chamber, messy and unequal devolution and massive economic, social and environmental problems to address. How are we going to create a “representative democracy fit for the 21st century” What key reforms would make our democracy more representative and more sustainable?

Firstly, we need a fair voting system for Westminster and local elections in England and Wales. The Single Transferable Vote used for Scottish local elections allows you to rank candidates in preference order, and produces far more representative results than First Past the Post (Ed. We used this system for our recent Marbles awards). The number of voters whose first preference choice was elected went from 52% in 2003 under FPTP to 77% in 2012 under STV, while the number of candidates standing for local wards doubled – voter choice has massively improved and voter satisfaction has improved massively too.

We also need to bring the House of Lords into the 21st century. It is completely broken – packed full of party appointees instead of people chosen by the public. Just 10% of the public think that the House of Lords should remain a fully-unelected chamber, while the vast majority want major reform. It’s understandable why – in the last Parliamentary session alone, over £100,000 was claimed by Peers who did not vote at all, while it is increasingly stuffed with former party staff and cronies.

Alongside these two essential changes, we can revive our democracy with a cleaner system of party funding, votes at 16, and a UK-wide citizen-led constitutional convention.

Do you think direct democracy, e.g. referendums, will play a greater role as elected representative pass big decisions back to the electorate?

The public certainly need more of a say over how decisions are made. Referendums are often a blunt instrument – we need a deepening of democracy across the board, with active participation to influence decisions open to all through greater use of citizens’ assemblies and other democratic spaces. , public debates

What’s the immediate priority for the ERS this year?

This year will see a huge focus on the May elections and the upcoming EU referendum. The May elections will be a chance to point out the fact that First Past the Post is looking increasingly archaic and alone – all the devolved elections will be using proportional systems. We’ll be looking closely at the elections and pushing for a fairer voting system for local elections in England and Wales – especially with Wales getting control over its own voting system over the coming year.

We’ll also be campaigning for a well-run EU referendum, one that is transparent, open and positive. This should be a spirited debate about Britain’s democratic future, not a slanging match, so it’s essential that the public get a decent debate.

On top of this, we’re stepping up our calls to make devolution truly democratic, and to have an upper chamber fit for the 21st century.

How can people get involved and support the work of the ERS?

If you care about building a better democracy in the UK, you can join the ERS from just £12 a year. Becoming a member means you can support the work of the ERS, get involved in the organisation, and keep in touch with the campaign for reform. There are also petitions to sign, and there is plenty on our website and social media to share. Every person spreading the word is important to the push for a fairer democracy.

Features

What Kitchen Suits Your Style? Modern, Classic or Shaker?

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shaker kitchen designs

A kitchen is the centre of the home. Your kitchen ranges between where friends and family gather, talk about their day, cook meals, have drinks, to somewhere you can just enjoy each other’s company. The kitchen is the heart of the home. But, everyone’s lifestyle is different. Everyone’s taste is different. So, you need a kitchen that not only mirrors your lifestyle but matches your taste too. Whilst some prefer a more traditional design, others want a modern feel or flair – and it’s all down to personal taste.

When it comes to redesigning your kitchen, what style would you go for? It’s a difficult one isn’t it. With so many different styles to go for, how can you know exactly what you want until you’ve seen it in action? Leading kitchen designer, Roman Kitchens, based in Essex, have provided three examples of bespoke kitchens and styles they specialise in, accompanied with beautiful images. This design guide will get you one step closer to picking your dream kitchen for your home.

1. Modern

New home in the city centre? Or even a sleek new modern build? You want a trendy and modern kitchen to reflect your city lifestyle. In modern kitchen design, colours are bolder and fresher, with sleek design and utilities that are distinctive and vibrant.

modern kitchen designs

This modern kitchen is sleek and smooth with flawless design and beauty. Minimalism doesn’t stop this kitchen standing out. Featured walls of wood and vibrant mint green draw the eye, whilst the white surfaces reflect the light, illuminating every nook and cranny of this kitchen. This kitchen features products from Rotpunkt, innovators of modern kitchen design. Made with German engineering, a Rotpunkt Kitchen is the ultimate modern addition to your home. Rotpunkt Kitchens have timeless design and amazing functionality, they work for every purpose and are eco-friendly. Sourced from natural materials, a Rotpunkt kitchen uses 37% less timber, conserving natural forests and being more environmentally conscious.

2. Classic

Prefer a homely and traditional feel? Classic kitchens are warm, welcoming and filled with wood. Wood flooring, wood fixtures, wood furniture – you name it! You can bring a rustic feel to your urban home with a classic kitchen. Subtle colours and beautiful finishes, Classic kitchens are for taking it back to the basics with a definitive look and feel.

classic kitchen designs

With stated handles for cupboards, Classic kitchens are effortlessly timeless. They convey an elegant but relaxing nature. Giving off countryside vibes, natural elements convey a British countryside feel. The wood featured in a classic kitchen can range between oaks and walnut, creating a warmth and original feel to your home. Soft English heritage colours add a certain mood to your home, softening the light making it cosier.

3. Shaker

Any kitchen planner will tell you that the meeting point between traditional and modern design, is a Shaker kitchen. They have a distinctive style and innovative feel. Shakers are fresh, mixing different colour tones with stylish wood and vinyl. The most important feature of a Shaker kitchen is functionality – every feature needs to serve a purpose in the kitchen. Paired with stylish and unique furniture, a Shaker kitchen is an ideal addition to any home.

shaker kitchen designs

The ultimate marriage between Classic and Modern kitchens, this Shaker kitchen has deep colour tones with copper emphasis features. All the fittings and fixtures blur the line of modern and tradition, with a Classic look but modern colour vibe. Unique furniture and design make Shaker Kitchens perfect for the middle ground in kitchen design. Minimal but beautifully dressed. Traditional but bold and modern at the same time. Storage solutions are part of the functionality of Shaker kitchens, but don’t detour from conveying yours as a luxury kitchen.

Whatever you choose for your new kitchen, be it Modern, Classic or Shaker – pick whatever suits you. Taste is, and always will be, subjective – it’s down to you.

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Features

Ways Green Preppers Are Trying to Protect their Privacy

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Environmental activists are not given the admiration that they deserve. A recent poll by Gallup found that a whopping 32% of Americans still doubt the existence of global warming. The government’s attitude is even worse.

Many global warming activists and green preppers have raised the alarm bell on climate change over the past few years. Government officials have taken notice and begun tracking their activity online. Even former National Guard officers have admitted that green preppers and climate activists are being targeted for terrorist watchlists.

Of course, the extent of their surveillance depends on the context of activism. People that make benign claims about climate change are unlikely to end up on a watchlist, although it is possible if they make allusions to their disdain of the government. However, even the most pacifistic and well intentioned environmental activists may unwittingly trigger some algorithm and be on the wrong side of a criminal investigation.

How could something like this happen? Here are some possibilities:

  • They could share a post on social media from a climate extremist group or another individual on the climate watchlist.
  • They could overly politicize their social media content, such as being highly critical of the president.
  • They could use figures of speech that may be misinterpreted as threats.
  • They might praise the goals of a climate change extremist organization that as previously resorted to violence, even if they don’t condone the actual means.

Preppers and environmental activists must do everything in their power to protect their privacy. Failing to do so could cost them their reputation, future career opportunities or even their freedom. Here are some ways that they are contacting themselves.

Living Off the Grid and Only Venturing to Civilization for Online Use

The more digital footprints you leave behind, the greater attention you draw. People that hold controversial views on environmentalism or doomsday prepping must minimize their digital paper trail.

Living off the grid is probably the best way to protect your privacy. You can make occasional trips to town to use the Wi-Fi and stock up on supplies.

Know the Surveillance Policies of Public Wi-Fi Providers

Using Wi-Fi away from your home can be a good way to protect your privacy.However, choosing the right public Wi-Fi providers is going to be very important.

Keep in mind that some corporate coffee shops such a Starbucks can store tapes for up to 60 days. Mom and pop businesses don’t have the technology nor the interest to store them that long. They generally store tips for only 24 hours and delete them afterwards. This gives you a good window of opportunity to post your thoughts on climate change without being detected.

Always use a VPN with a No Logging Policy

Using a VPN is one of the best ways to protect your online privacy. However, some of these providers do a much better job than others. What is a VPN and what should you look for when choosing one? Here are some things to look for when making a selection:

  • Make sure they are based in a country that has strict laws on protecting user privacy. VPNs that are based out of Switzerland, Panama for the British Virgin Islands are always good bets.
  • Look for VPN that has a strict no logging policy. Some VPNs will actually track the websites that you visit, which almost entirely defeats the purpose. Most obviously much better than this, but many also track Your connections and logging data. You want to use a VPN that doesn’t keep any logs at all.
  • Try to choose a VPN that has an Internet kill switch. This means that all content will stop serving if your VPN connection drops, which prevents your personal data from leaking out of the VPN tunnel.

You will be much safer if you use a high-quality VPN consistently, especially if you have controversial views on climate related issues or doomsday prepping.

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