Archive for category Politics
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.
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.
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.
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.
I do not support the Conservative Party or Liberal Democrats. I was however a supporter of the concept of the Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition.
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.
Personally speaking I have never identified as ‘left wing’ or ‘right wing’. Whenever I fill in a survey, to try to identify which party I should support, I am usually left none the wiser. In the 2015 General Election, I went onto an online website, selected the four issues I felt the most strongly about and then selected four statements I agreed with the most; I identified with four different political parties. Ultimately I blanked my ballot paper.
One reason I could never side with either the left or right (apart from ideology) is the level of hatred that is apparently acceptable. Supposedly tolerant and caring lefties threw parties in 2013, to celebrate the death of an 87-year-old grandmother with dementia, who had not held political office for decades.The right of course are not immune from bigotry – Osborne and IDS talk about a negligible chunk of disability claimants as if they were the norm. Presenting all disabled people who claim social security, as being drug users, alcoholics and con artists, is in the same league as claiming all Muslims are terrorists or all gay people have HIV.
One London Mayoral candidate recently revealed he had more trouble outing his support for the Conservative Party than for being gay. There is plenty of evidence to suggest this reflects a wider trend – the ‘shy voter Tory’ factor lead to erroneous opinion polls in both 1992 and 2015. Conservative voters it seems are all tarred with the same brush. The idea that 11.5 million people all vote for the same reason is ludicrous. This is in the same league as making sweeping statements about Catholics or Italians. I’m sure there are a lot of Conservative supporters who fit into different groups – there will be some people who are simply misinformed – and I do not mean this to sound patronising – we are bombarded on a daily basis by misinformation that the establishment and mainstream parties seldom (if ever) challenge.
Daniel Hannan faced a backlash on Twitter from SNP supporters. What did he do? Promoted fiscal independence for Scotland. Yep, he was criticised for agreeing with the SNP. Why is this? Did ‘lefties’ criticise Douglas Hogg for voting against the Iraq war, David Davis taking a stand against detention laws or John Redwood voting for the abolition of the House of Lords?
My point is – attack the policy not the person. Agree with the policy – not the person. Just because you disagree with someone, that does not give you the right to bombard them with abusive twitter messages.
Recently Norman Tebbit ate some ‘humble pie’. After attending a food bank, he conceded that they were not a source of free food. Anything he had said prior to that, was based simply on misinformation. By engaging with him, the foodbanks made him realise his mistake and shared it with his readers in the Telegraph (some of which may have eaten humble pie themeslves). If the foodbanks had decided to tweet abusive messages to Tebbit or simply blocked him, he would have continued promoting the misinformation.
We talk about out of touch politicans (and rightfully so) but what about out of touch activists? How many people were genuinely shocked when Cameron scraped past the finishing post in May 2015? After all, no-one they followed on twitter intended to vote for Cameron – given the high concentration of Green supporters, they followed, surely a green party majority was inevitable? Yes, I generalise and exagerate here – but my point is – know your enemy and engage them. This is not an attack on either side – there is anecdotal evidence to suggest Britain First block anyone who disagrees with them.
Know which battles to pick
Of course there are some people – die hard rightwingers who refuse to even discuss it with you. I recently saw a tweet, which declared Osborne to be a ‘genius’ and the ‘best chancellor since world war 2*’, I politely pointed out that Osborne has doubled then national debt, increased the deficit, cost the UK our AAA credit rating** and wages had stagnated for the longest on record. Obviously I did not expect a lengthened response; after all people have a 140 character limit on twitter. I did not expect however ‘you lie’, ‘you lefties lie, no wonder labour lost’ or a photo of Ed Milliband with the word ‘loser’ below it. He then showed me two links to his blog (which amongst other things complains about homosexuals hijacking the word ‘gay’). I tweeted back, but already had resigned myself to this being a lost cause. Someone rejecting facts that are contrary to their political perceptions, and immediately pigeon-holing someone in a group of people they dislike, is the equivalent of attempting to reason with a 7-year-old who puts their fingers in their ears and starts singing, when a friend tells them Santa does not exist. People like this (in either party) stifle political debate. If someone responds to facts with insults and mud-slinging it is pointless to try to engage with them.
There are plenty of surprises of course – Enoch Powell (a former Conservative leadership candidate) announced his decision to vote Labour in the 1970s. In the 1990s Emma Nicholson defected from the Conservative Party to the Liberal Democrats. Neither of these decisions were career motivated. People often make decisions about which party they support at a very young age – and their political allegiance can later change – either shaped by their life experience, or they no longer identify with their party.
So next time a friend reveals their blue colours, don’t unfriend them on everything, just engage with them about politics; who knows you may help them see they have been misinformed on key issues. Or alternatively don’t let it spoil your friendship – if people as politically opposed as Ian Paisley and Martin Mcguniess can be friends and Her Majesty The Queen can be friends with Robin Cook and Micheal Foot (both of which wished to abolish her), I’m sure the average labour supporter can find some common ground, with their Tory friends.
*Given Second Lord’s of the Treasury have included John Major, Norman Lamont and Jim Callaghan, there is hardly any competition for this nominal title anyway.
***Previously he had staked his reputation on saving our AAA credit rating.
MPs are very good at finding ways of justify their salary. The most popular one was recently outlined by former Prime Minister/ wanted war criminal, Anthony Blair:
“Only an ex-politician can say this – politicians are not really well paid by the standards of the private sector. This restricts the attractions of a political career, at exactly the time when we most need the gene pool of our politicians to be varied, vibrant and vigorous.”
Interestingly enough Blair reputedly declared that the fireman’s requested pay rise (back in 2003) was ‘Scargillite’. The implication of course being that yelling during PMQs requires a special breed of person, but anybody can put out fires. During the many weeks of the year that Parliament doesn’t sit, the country functions perfectly well, yet when firemen strike the consequences are all too clear.
This argument of Blair’s is flawed and based on the false premise that money attracts the skilful instead of the greedy. Success in the private sector is not achieved by merit or hard work – but by nepotism (the worst example of this being the Rothschild family’s dominance in the banking sector).
The amount of MPs is, thankfully negligible and the competition for each post is fierce. If the post was advertised, at a job centre this is how it would read:
Salary: Starting level £65,000 (plus expenses and subsidized bars and restaraunts)
Experience required: None
Holiday time: 84 days a year
Candidates must be over the age of 18 and not a member of the House of Lords or have been sent to prison for over a year
Can you imagine a situation where any job like that would be short of applicants? Captain Smith was paid $6250 (roughly $150,000/£95,000 in modern money) yet that did not stop him from crashing the Olympic, the Republic or the Titanic. Fred Goodwin’s salary of £4.2 million in 2007, was not a safeguard against the collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland.
At the moment the House of Commons is (mostly) full of greedy, ruthless and independently wealthy people. Increasing their perks and salary would just simply exacerbate the situation.
If politics was about talent then the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be someone with experience in the financial sector, or had demonstrated economic prowess, rather than simply being someone who happened to attend school with the PM. One of the few cabinet posts in history, which has required experience is the Lord Chancellor. However under the Blair government the requirement for the Lord Chancellor to be a judge was removed, Charles Falconer – the last Lord Chancellor to sit on the Woolsack even suggested that judges should stop trying to be politician’s – as if to imply that someone with a university education was not capable of reading out a speech prepared by a civil servant, or answering sarcastic questions in parliament. Chris Grayling is now Lord Chancellor, he is not a trained lawyer and his lack of expertise shows. It is hard to imagine Quentin Hogg attempting to ban books in prisons or claiming that the UK could leave the European Court of Human Rights, whilst remaining in the EU (one of which has been declared illegal by a court, the other of which has been questioned by legal experts).
If we want to attract talented people to politics, then requiring them to have actual talents or relevant experience would be far better. Over the last 30 years or so career politicians have become the norm; Cameron himself started his ‘working’ life as Norman Lamont’s joke writer. Yes, you read that correctly.
Cabinet posts at currently handed out at the whim of the Prime Minister, reaped from a pool of MPs who are in their party, although, to paraphrase Sir Humprey, a third are too old, a third are too young, so the PM is forced to use the remaining third. Prime Minister Monti of Italy appointed a technocratic cabinet in 2011. Would appointing a senior doctor as Minister for Health be such a bad thing? Would an experience headmaster, do more damage than Michael Gove ever did? Would this be democratic? Well yes it could be – the winning candidate could stand in a by-election – or parliament could simply ratify the appointment in a free vote.
In short – don’t require MPs to be more greedy – require them to know what they are doing!
Dan Hannan, made an excellent video about Citizen Legislators.
Activists are being criticised for questioning the legitimacy of a single party government with a 24% mandate. The idea we should hand Cameron the right to rule by decree, and meekly accept everything he does for the next five years, shows a basic contempt for the concept of democracy. The Prime Minister does not cease to be accountable to the electorate, simply because he scraped into power. We should not let the Government do what it likes unchallenged for the next five years – especially when we lack the right to recall MPs or bring about votes of no confidence.
The overwhelming majority of this country are not represented by this government. Protesting, writing to MPs, signing petitions, organising boycotts, promoting positive alternatives; all of these things are an acceptable form of redress.
Rather than crush the need for reform, the election has painfully exposed it. I do not support UKIP or the Green Party, but I do not consider it acceptable that they have 2 MPs between them – despite getting 5 million votes between them. At the same time Cameron required 34,255 votes for each of his seats.
Political engagement goes beyond voting every five years. On the face of it, there is nothing to stop the Conservative Party being in power until 2025. However a government can be forced into ‘u-turns’. Opposition to the poll tax resulted in the end of poll tax and Mrs. Thatcher’s resignation. In opposition the Conservatives campaigned successfully to keep Britain out of the disastrous Euro. Successful protests from such organisations as DPAC and Black Triangle, contributed towards Atos hastily withdrawing from their contract with the government. So don’t give up or despair. There are plenty of things you can do, for only a bit of time and effort:
- Write to your MP or councillor – rather than moan about stuff to your loved ones – direct your grievances to your elected representative.
- If you are amongst the economically active, join a union – research has shown workers in unions get a better deal (and the non-employed are allowed to join too).
- Join a political party – and if you support a party that does not have a branch in your area (such as the National Health Action Party or CISTA) than see if you can help set one up.
- Boycott tabloid newspapers – as they exist only to spread ignorance.
- Join protest groups.
- Volunteer at food banks or homeless shelters.
For just a few hours a week, we can all make a hell of a difference!