Archive for August, 2015

George Bernard Shaw

george bernard shaw2

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Why is it okay to do nothing and then bemoan the fact no-one is doing anything?

Too many people it seems passively accept injustice – whilst complaining no-one else is doing anything about it. The solution is surely simple – if you want something done and nothing is being done – start the ball rolling yourself!

The fact Homer Simpson won a landslide election, on the slogan ‘can’t somebody else do it?’ is actually a very good parody of politics. Surveys showed in 1992 that 50% of people would vote for the Liberal Democrats – but only if they’d win (remarkable doublethink). How many people don’t sign online petitions, claiming it won’t achieve anything? The idea that doing nothing will achieve something, but having a go is futile is something I have never been able to understand.

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The reality of money in a nutshell

money as summed up

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The need for electoral reform for the House of Commons

PR#

The United Kingdom currently uses the first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system to elect members of the House of Commons. Under this system the country is divided up into over 600 areas, called constituencies. During elections, the voters in each constituency are given a list of candidates to vote for. Each voter gets one vote. Whichever candidate gets the most votes wins. The winning candidate needs just one extra vote to win – any others are discarded.

In the 2015 general election, UKIP and the Green Party received nearly 5 million votes between them, but only seat each, whereas the Conservative party won just over a third of the vote and a majority of the seats.

Defences of FPTP examined

1. “I think that one of the very important things is getting rid of a government and therefore I think the ability to vote out a government is as important as the method which the government comes there.” Baroness Hayter

I agree entirely with Baroness Hayter. However I am not convinced that FPTP is the most effective way of doing this. From 1979 to 2010 (31 years) a grand total of two governments were voted out of office (and none of the winning parties received a majority of the popular vote). The Kensington and Chelsea Council has been controlled by the Conservative Party since 1964 (in the most recent election the turnout in some wards was less than a quarter).

There are seats in Britain which have been held by the same party since the 1960s – and some since the reign of Queen Victoria. Because of this it is very easy to predict the outcome in safe seats, during a general election – in 2010, the Electoral Reform Society, correctly predicted the winning party in 380/382 seats.

However AV (which Hayter was criticising) does not offer this situation either. Australia (which uses AV) was governed by the Labour Party from 1983-1996 and then the Liberal Party from 1996-2007. Both John Howard and Tony Blair were Prime Ministers of their respective countries for over a decade. Other systems do not offer this either: the Additional Member System (AMS) used in Scotland did not prevent Alex Salmond’s lengthy tenure – nor did Mixed-member proportional representation stop Kohl from governing Germany for 16 years.

In fact if you want a system of government that results in a regular removal of governments it is clear that the Italian voting system (which has resulted in four Prime Ministers in five years) is the way forward.

‘The voting system is simple, people understand it and they know how to make it work, to get the result they want’ Margaret Beckett

There is evidence to suggest voters in Scotland find AMS confusing but the single transferable vote (STV) ‘relatively easy’. Obviously there is a need for straightforward voting systems – it would not be difficult however to research the numerous voting systems used in the country – and in other parts of the world, in order to establish which ones people understand.  The electoral commission also found that people “have a limited knowledge of what the first past the post system is and almost no understanding of the alternative vote system”.

“[A] major strength of First-Past-the-Post is its effectiveness. Throughout history, it has risen to the demands of the time, often with a brutal decisiveness. That’s what happened when it brought in the Thatcher government in 1979. The British people recognised it was time for change – and the electoral system didn’t let them down.” David Cameron

‘Brutal decisiveness’ could be used to describe a one-party state. The Thatcher government was an extremely controversial one – that never polled more than 43% of the vote, yet won three general elections – and twice had a majority exceeding 100.

“We will respect the will of the British people, as expressed in the 2011 referendum, and keep First Past the Post for elections to the House of Commons.” Conservative Party 2015 manifesto

There are two flaws this statement:

1) The question in the referendum was: “At present, the UK uses the “first past the post” system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the “alternative vote” system be used instead?” The no vote did indeed win, but that simply means the electorate rejected AV. David Owen himself promoted ‘No to AV, yes to PR’.

2) The turnout was 42% – 67.9% of those who participated voted against AV. That means 28.5% of the ‘British people’ endorsed the voting system. If we had used a two round referendum (like New Zealand did in 1991) and the first question had included a straightforward ‘yes/no’, pertaining to the status quo, then I would feel this statement had more weight.

The voting system is unfair, undemocratic and wasteful. It needs to be replaced with proportional representation (PR).

How to bring in proportional representation

Don’t vote Labour or Conservative

Voting for the status quo will result in the retention of the status quo

The labour party have been in government for over 33 years out of the last 91.

They have never once introduced PR.

It is simply not in their interests. They initially supported it, but have not made any attempt to scrap FPTP, since 1931. Some would argue that the landslide victory of 1945 (they garnered 47.8% of the vote and 61.4% of the seats) was enough to convince them of the merits of FPTP.

The Labour government of 1997-2010, did in fairness introduce the closed party list system for elections to the European Parliament, and proportional systems to the newly created legislatures (the additional member system for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh and London Assembly, and the single transferable vote for the Northern Ireland Assembly). They shied away from the House of Commons though. Blair would never have won two landslides with PR. In 2010, shortly before a general election he was expected to lose, Gordon Brown offered a referendum on the non-proportional system of AV (Alternative Vote). Milliband himself later endorsed AV (collectively the Labour Party remained neutral). Scores of Labour MPs opposed AV. There was no reference to electoral reform in the Labour Party 2015 manifesto.

If the Conservative Party have ever introduced PR in Britain, I am unaware of it. There are Conservatives who support electoral reform – but the only ones I can find are Douglas Carswell (now UKIP) and Daniel Hannan – a man whose personal views differ heavily from the conservative leadership. Carswell unsuccessfully campaigned to have STV added as an option in the 2011 referendum. They agreed to a referendum on AV* with the Liberal Democrats – but campaigned against it being implemented and where criticised for their tactics during the campaign. The Conservative Action for Electoral Reform doesn’t seem to have updated their website in years. The Labour Party has a similar organisation (with equally sporadic updates).

The Minor Parties Need to Unite

I was impressed to see Bennet and Farrage put aside their differences in support of reforming the voting system. I could never vote for either party (too extreme) but agree they should receive seats in proportion to their votes.

All political parties that favour electoral reform (SNP, Liberal Democrat, Green, National Health Action Party, UKIP, etc) need to unite on a new voting system. One obstacle to electoral reform has been division over which new system to bring in – in the last general election, the Green Party’s manifesto proposed Additional Member System, UKIP (‘a proportional system’), Liberal Democrats proposed Single Transferable Vote, oddly the National Health Action Party made no reference to it and the SNP, like UKIP made a vague commitment to ‘proportional representation’. This will make it too easy for the opposition to divide and rule them.

Online petitions

I personally would endorse this petition. Whereas the 2011 referendum offered an unsatisfactory choice between a plurality voting system (first past the post) or a non-proportional system (alternative vote). This petition is calling for a referendum, similar to the one used in New Zealand in 1991.

A referendum on the voting system should offer two questions.

Conclusion

The two party system and the voting system are both on borrowed time. However, they are both man-made and man-made entities – however flawed in conception and execution, never die a natural death and can be prolonged, if those who hold all the power, have a vested interest in them.

*I still do not understand why the Liberal Democrats, having spent years supporting proportional representation, agreed to the ‘miserable little compromise’ of AV.

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Labour should stop trying to be trendy

Politicians should fight for what they believe in. Keir Hardie’s maiden speech promoted concepts that are now taken for granted such as free education and the right to claim a state pension. I do not criticise Jeremy Corbyn for his failure to be on the ‘centre ground’ or ‘extreme left’; I criticise him because a lot of his policies are simply unworkable) I would urge him to abandon these policies because they are bad, not because they are unelectable.

The two main parties invariably act like that they are two major high-street chains, engaged in a fierce price war. All of the unpopular products are hidden at the back of the shop and all the loss leaders are advertised outside. The Conservative Parties pre-election refusal to discuss their Welfare CutsReforms equates with the Tesco horse meat scandal. The Conservative Party knew that if people found out the full extent of their legislation it would deter people from voting for them. Unlike major chains however, we can only vote against political parties every five years – with businesses you vote with your feet every day.

The suffragettes, Gandhi and the African National Congress all promoted ideas which differed from the established ‘centre ground’; votes for women, ending British Colonialism and the abolition of apartheid.

The centre ground also does not mean retaining the status quo – therefore in order to keep up with the centre ground, opposition parties have to keep moving the goalposts – in 1998 the centre ground favour University tuition fees of £1000 a year – now it supports £9000 ones.

One  reason I am drawn to minor political parties is they are indifferent to personal power – they want to shape the agenda, nothing else. Minor political parties can inspire government policy – it’s hard to imagine the conservative party introducing a referendum on EU membership, without the rise of UKIP – and the mainstream parties only became interested in the environment following the green party surge in the 1989 elections to the European Parliament.

I am amongst the third of the (participating) electorate that neither vote Labour nor Conservative (myself included). Personally speaking I do not vote Conservative as they have become too harsh on welfare recipients. The idea I am deterred from voting for the labour party because of them being insufficiently right wing, is a very strange one (after all if I wanted a right wing, pro tax dodgers, anti-poor people party I would just vote Conservative or UKIP).

I never voted for Blair and I would not vote for Corbyn (I consider Blair too harsh on welfare, a euro-fanatic).

One reason I support proportional representation, is that it would lead to smaller parties – if we had proportional representation Corbyn would not be fighting for the leadership of the Labour party – more likely a socialist party. A post election socialist party led by Corbyn and a post election labour party led by Burnham would work together and find common ground – as senior members of a single party they cause the party to implode. Arguably smaller principled parties could have a role in government with bigger parties who whore themselves to Murdoch and the Daily Mail.

I understand the need for compromise – but compromise should be based on reality – government bills should be thrashed out based on what would be a good idea for the nation, instead of what the government thinks it can get away with. Cabinet Ministers should not be bound by collective responsibility and no MP should have to kowtow to whips.

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More coalitions

I do not support the Conservative Party or Liberal Democrats. I was however a supporter of the concept of the Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition.

1. Restraints

Within days of forming the first Conservative-only government since 1992, Osborne unveiled laws which clearly reversed every concession won by the Liberal Democrats. A junior party in a coalition is effectively the internal opposition.

2. Democratic mandate

The collective share of the Liberal Democrat-Conservative vote was more than a majority.

3. Coalitions tend to be more ground breaking

A referendum on the voting system (Cameron), negotiating with the IRA (Major), a referendum on a Scottish parliament (Callaghan). All these things were achieved when the governing party were dependant on a smaller party. Smaller parties tend to support issues which the main parties ignore

How to bring about coalitions?

Formal coalitions are unusual under our voting system – Cameron led the only coalition government since Churchill in 1945, but confidence and supply arrangments happen more frequently (Callaghan and Major both relied on these). With a negligible majority of 12, the odds of the Conservative party surviving for five years, without turning to another party for support are slim to none. In order to lose that majority he needs to lose a mere 7 MPs via by-elections or defections (Major himself lost a majority of 21 MPs in four years). By 2020, whoever leads the Conservative Party will (in all probability) have a minority government. If Corbyn wins the leadership election, they don’t need to worry. If however someone more electable wins (and last time I checked David Cameron’s cat wasn’t a candidate), the prospect of a hung parliament is great. I personally hope that whoever forms the coalition introduces a proper voting system other than first-past-the-post or AV.

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What will Lord Janner’s trial achieve?

On Friday 14th August, an 87 year old man with dementia stood trial for crimes committed in the 1960s. I do not for a minute condone Greville Janner’s alleged crimes. But we have to consider the effects of trials, which are in real terms pointless. At the moment the average defendant spends over ten weeks on remand. Is it hardly surprising considering the volume of elderly and infirm defendants – some of which have to be taken out of nursing homes to stand trial?

The judgement seems to accept that Janner is ill (“Drs Poole and Warner are agreed that his dementiais so advanced as to preclude his understanding of or contribution to legal proceedings”). Yet “We are not persuaded that the Defendant failed or failed adequately to consider an alternative.” In other words – yes he is ill, but we’ll work round that.

This case, is yet another example, of why we need statutes of limitations – I do not for one second condone child abusers – but at a time when courts and prisons are swamped, it seems a simple step would be to stop hounding the elderly.

The trial is to be a ‘trial of the facts‘. Like Lord Lucan, Janner will be tried in his abscence and no sentence will be passed. Stretched resources – such as the Police, courts and CPS, will be have to spend time on what is little more than a glorified mock trial.

Janner is unable to defend himself. He is not able to make informed decesions based on advice from counsel, let alone get in the dock to account for his actions. Everyone is entitled to a fair trial. This trial, makes a mockery of justice.

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