Meh to AV?

“I don’t vote, there’s no point.”

“Voting never changes anything”

“The same bastards always get in”

Does that all sound familiar? It does to me. I know a lot of people with the view that voting is pointless and changes nothing. I believe this view is extremely common. But why do they think this? What is the problem really?

Why do people feel that they cannot vote for the main parties? Well as I explained recently, Labour and the Conservatives are actually very close together on the political spectrum. Although claiming to be centre-left and centre-right respectively, I think both are really quite right-wing in their views. Both share the same urge to transfer most public services into the private sector, either through direct privatisation, or through contracts such as private finance initiative. (PFI) Even voting LibDem will not fix this, as economically the LibDems are actually very similar to the Conservatives. As such, their coalition makes a lot more sense when you realise this. (The LibDems are at least different to the others in their policies on the social spectrum, even if no different economically.) These three parties all seem to want to make public services make a profit for private investors, despite the fact that a public service exists to benefit the public, not investors. They also are very biased towards the banks and the financial sector, allowing them to gamble with and profit from our economy without contributing much back through taxes or through providing help to people at the bottom of the pile.

Government economic policy seems geared towards maintaining high house prices to keep middle-class home owners happy. Many people are finding themselves unable to afford their own accommodation as a result, often living with their parents into their 30s. Even after moving out, they are finding that they rely on support from their parents. When a reasonable house costs £150k and up, and a mortgage requires a 30% deposit, what chance has a 20 – 30 year old got of owning one? Younger generations are being told that the money is all gone, (Much of it spent on keeping banks going) and that jobs must be cut, services privatised or cut, the NHS destroyed, education priced out of range, pensions reduced, and retirement age pushed back so far it might as well not happen. Meanwhile, older generations have their houses, their pensions and their early retirements. Pensions and retirements that the young are expected to pay for, despite the fact that there are no jobs. It seems no surprise to me that older generations tend towards voting conservative, they have a lot to lose.

Given that many people would like a change from these main parties, why are they still in power? Here in England our voting system for general elections is a first past the post system. Historically we have only really had two parties vying for power, with a third peripheral party. It may surprise you to know that the two top parties were once the Conservatives and the Liberals, but the Labour party was formed in the 1920s and displaced the Liberals, who later merged with the Social Democratic Party to become the Liberal Democrats. Although we have a number of other parties, such as the Green party, they are often ignored because the voters know that one of the main parties will win, and they want to make sure that the winner is the least-worst option for them. Such “tactical voting” perpetuates the situation where the two main parties maintain most of the power.

Many of the people that don’t vote are apathetic about politics and will largely ignore what happens in elections and government except to complain when they are directly affected. Some of the non-voters are of the opinion that since voting is pointless, the answer is to protest instead. Of course politicians ignore the protests as unrepresentative of voters views because these people didn’t vote! This seems to be a never ending circle. There is a good argument that if people really feel that none of the parties can represent them, or that their party has no chance, they should spoil their ballot paper instead. Although I don’t think spoilt ballots are counted at a national level, the numbers are announced with the results in each constituency. It is possible that if a large number of people spoiled their ballot, it might draw enough attention to these problems.

I think it is obvious that we need a change to our voting system in order to boot out the entrenched political views, and equally obvious that the established parties would not want this change as it would threaten their power. These figures showing share of vote vs share of seats show the problem.

  • Conservative share of vote: 36.48% Share of seats: 47.2%
  • Labour share of vote: 28.99% Share of seats: 39.7%
  • Liberal Democrats share of vote: 23.03% Share of seats: 8.8%

There is clearly something wrong when receiving 23% of the votes means getting only 8.8% of the seats. The problem is really much worse than this since many of the votes for Labour and the Conservatives would have been tactical votes which might not happen if the system adequately represented people.

One of the solutions, and the one many people talk about, is Proportional Representation. PR would change the make-up of Parliament to represent the votes more directly. One of the downsides is that it would break the direct link that we have between MP and constituency. At the moment MPs are an essential last resort for people encountering problems with government and elsewhere. I have personally seen my MP intervene in a situation on two occasions and be very helpful, even though his political views are the opposite of mine. If we were to adopt PR I think we would need to think of some system to replace this very useful feature of our system.

Unfortunately, the Conservatives are absolutely opposed to PR and so offered Alternative Vote (AV) as a compromise to the LibDems when forming the coalition. AV is not nearly as good as PR at evening out the balance of power in parliament, but I believe it is a step forward from FPTP. AV allows the voter to specify a second choice, and more if they wish. Note that it does not force a second choice to be made, and voters are free to only vote for one candidate if they wish. But AV will allow all those people that currently vote tactically to specify their preferred party as their first choice, and their least-worst party as their second choice. Because of the nature of first past the post voting, England contains a number of “Safe Seats” where the MP is virtually guaranteed to always be from the same party. The main parties can for the most part ignore these areas when campaigning. People with opposing views in safe seats feel that their vote is pointless if there is no chance of their preferred candidate winning, and many don’t vote as a result. AV will to some extent address the problem of safe seats by making them require a much larger majority.

I believe that AV will encourage a great many more people to vote since it can potentially add a lot more weight to their votes. In the end, I don’t think it even matter whether AV is really better than FPTP or not. If introducing AV encourages more people to vote, I don’t see how it could be worse than FPTP. I’ll be voting Yes to AV.

Party Politics: Green is where it’s at

I first voted in 1997. I voted LibDem. The LibDem policy of increasing income tax by 1p and increasing education funding made sense to me. I didn’t really know any other policies! By 2001, however, I had been outraged by Labours RIP Act 2000 and the issue of personal freedom had become the focus of my politics. Added in to this was my thoughts on making sure that society looked after everyone fairly and equally, with all shouldering their fair share. I soon realised that Labour would continue to destroy civil liberties, and that the Conservatives would not look after everyone equally, and so I continued to support the LibDems. I joined the Liberal Democrat party in 2005 and got involved in campaigning locally. By 2008 I was disillusioned with the party as I had come to realise that although I agreed with a lot of their policies I definitely disagreed with quite a few as well. I am not sure why I didn’t join the Green party at this point. Probably through a perception that they could not succeed. I was convinced to rejoin the LibDems at the start of 2010 and the only reason I did not help campaign for our local LibDem candidate for the general election is that I was too ill and all my energy was going towards starting an IT business.

We all know what happened next. Complete betrayal by the LibDems as they joined a coalition with the Conservatives. Make no mistake here; the LibDems put the Conservatives in power. If it were not for them, we would not have a Tory government now. In fact I should not have been surprised that they could choose a coalition with the Tories. It took until 2010 for me to find out about Orange Book LibDems, who I should have known about a lot earlier. It turns out that the Orange Book tells us of many policies that we are seeing happen now, including the destruction of the NHS in favour of private providers, and other policies such as implementing environment polices through the free market, and stepping back from Europe. If I had known of the Orange Book, I would never have voted LibDem.

We can see this economic alignement through a test called the Political Compass which presents party policy in a different way, by splitting out a party’s social scale from the traditional Left-Right economic scale.

UK Political Parties 2010
UK Political Parties 2010

Viewed on this test, you can see that the LibDems are actually quite similar to Labour and the Conservatives in being right-of-centre, differing mainly in being less authoritarian than those two. My own test results, however, put me in the bottom left quadrant, making the Green party the nearest one to me on both economic policies and in personal freedom. Also interesting is the three main parties position over time. I could have supported the Labour party in 1972 if I had been around then.

English party positions over time
English party positions over time

This video illustrates just how similar the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are.

So what do I want in a political party?

  • Respect for personal freedom and civil liberties – no using terrorism as an excuse!
  • Clamping down on abuses of people and society by private business
  • Nationalised rather than privatised services
  • Everyone looked after (Health, Education) out of general taxation
  • Everyone paying their fare share
  • Respect for the environment, before we all drown or starve

What don’t I like about the others?

Conservatives

  • Believe in privatising everything – NHs, local services
  • Ruthlessly cutting public services
  • Targetting disabled and sick people by scrapping mobility, time-limiting ESA and scrapping DLA for PIP
  • Introducing the Welfare Reform Bill before the DLA consultation even finished
  • Lying about the deficit and the debt
  • Endlessly blaming everything on Labour – “The mess we inherited from Labour”
  • Cutting taxes for big business and creating a tax haven
  • Scrapping legislation

Labour

  • ID cards, and worse, the ID database
  • Brought in ESA to replace Incapacity Benefit and gave the contract to ATOS
  • Destroyed civil liberties – control orders, RIPA, 30 days detention without trial
  • War in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • Censorship of internet connections with the Internet Watch Foundation
  • PFI – paying for decades, paying much more, paying £300 to change a plug

Liberal Democrats

  • Chose to put the Conservatives in power
  • Orange Book LibDems are economically aligned with Conservatives anyway
  • Destroying public services
  • Many broken election promises

Green

  • Anti nuclear

BNP

  • Fascists and racists. Need I say anything else?

UKIP

  • Anti EU
  • Anti Immigration

I have arrived at a conclusion that I should have accepted years ago, that the Green party are the only party that I can vote for. The only thing I disagree with them on is their opposition to nuclear power, and I’m coming to the conclusion that no business can be trusted with this even if we do need it.

UK Uncut has chosen its targets well

David Allen Green (Who I otherwise respect greatly) has written a quick note on his blog at New Statesman to say that UK Uncut are protesting against the wrong targets. He says “The UKUncut protesters should campaign for more funding for HMRC and improved tax legislation. If they should be protesting anywhere on a miserable day like today, it should be outside the Treasury.”

He is wrong, and here is why. Shouting at MPs achieves nothing. David Cameron recently said “It will make me unpopular. I recognise that. It’s my duty.” I don’t know what motivates our MPs (Well I have some idea, but that’s for another day) but one thing we know is that they never change their minds.

Making life hard for big business, on the other hand, makes things happen. Shutting down Vodafone shops and embarrassing Barclays makes things happen. HMRC is briefing its staff on UK Uncut. Boots, Vodafone, Barclays and other businesses have been forced to respond to negative press coverage with hasty press releases. Protesting in high street shops has made more happen than tens of thousands gathering in parliament square has.

Green argued that UK Uncut needs to campaign for better tax legislation and policy. They are campaigning for precisely that! You could argue that they are protesting indirectly by going up against business, but given that those businesses all have very large amount of influence over our tax policies, I say it’s a direct protest.

Green also suggested that protesters should target Labour since they got us in to this situation where companies can avoid so much tax. Well yes, we know Labour were just as bad as the Conservatives, if not worse, but they aren’t in power right now, are they.

The financial giants own you

Many have argued that the only hope for the British economy is to prop up the financial institutions. I have been told that since the UK no longer has a manufacturing industry and cannot compete for work against the likes of China and India, we must focus on being the financial centre of the world as our only hope for our future economy. I strongly disagree. The financial industry is insular and self serving. It might account for a vast percentage of the GDP, but ordinary people do not gain any benefit from that.

It may be true that safeguarding our financial system will keep the GDP of the country up and will keep safe all those investment funds and pensions. People that have had well paid jobs for many years have an interest in keeping “the city” and all those banks going so that they can receive their pension for the next 20 years of their retirement. Unfortunately it does very little for anyone else. It does nothing for those that can’t get jobs, can’t afford to save anything for a pension, can’t buy a house, that perhaps are even struggling to pay for rent and food. Giving tax money to the banks does not result in loans for small business, it results in multi-million pound bonuses for bankers. It was certainly not right to prop up financial institutions at a cost that hurt millions of people.

The government argues that high taxes will drive business away from the UK. I say let them go. Big businesses do not look out for the interests of ordinary people. Imagine if our banks were replaced by credit unions. If our supermarkets were replaced by co-operatives and by small shops on the high street once more, and they purchased their food from local farms at decent prices and did not toy with farmers livelihoods.

Adding to the outrage about the tax changes for the largest companies, the City of London works directly for those financial giants. The City is, astonishingly, independent of the crown and is not governed by parliament. It has a £900 million investment fund. It is not a democracy; instead it is governed by a council of Aldermen. Only a  freemen of the city may stand for election to the council, and someone can only be granted that position by a city Livery Company. You can’t stand for election just by living there.  The City has a Lord Mayor whose stated role is to travel the world to promote the financial industry.  Above all, the City does not work in your interests. It exists to serve the rich financial institutions, and it doesn’t even hide it. Source: www.taxresearch.org.uk

It is not surprising that the government is making these changes, especially in light of this information:

A study by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism has found that the City accounted for £11.4m of Tory funding – 50.79% of its total haul – in 2010, a general election year. This compared with £2.7m, or 25% of its funding, in 2005, when David Cameron became party leader. Source: The Guardian

I am not an economist, and I could well be wrong in my opinion of the importance of the financial industry. But I don’t think I am wrong in this: big business pay for the Conservative party. They control the committees that advise the government. It might be conservative ideology to sell us all to their big business pals, but the Liberal Democrats gave the Conservatives the power to do what they are doing and Labour was no better. Democracy has been hijacked and capitalism has failed us.

How to be an MP: two-faced politics

A few days ago I was bored and joking around with people on Twitter. My thoughts went off on a tangent and I coined some rules on how to be an MP. Here they are.

  1. Always answer a different question to the one that you where asked.
  2. When confronted with a good argument, claim that your policies have not been understood.
  3. Make any promise you like during your election campaign. After election you can claim things have changed.
  4. Choose a political party based on your chances of making it to the top, not on policies.

These aren’t actually rules, of course. They are observations of the way that our politicians behave.

Evading the question

We have all seen and heard politicians evading questions during interviews. Some radio and television presenters have become well known for pressing hard for an answer, but on so many occasions the politician will try to deflect attention away from giving one. The sad thing is that politicians feel that they can’t answer so many questions. I would put it to you that if they are ashamed or afraid to give the public the real answer, then they are doing something wrong. A policy that has to be kept secret is not a policy that belongs in a democracy. Sometimes giving the correct answer can be damaging to a reputation or a policy simply because the public do not have all of the information behind a decision – once again this is a failure to be an open government.

“I’m just misunderstood”

Nick Clegg insulted a lot of people during the recent protests against increased tuition fees by suggesting that they had not read and understood the policy on tuition fees, because otherwise they would agree with him.

“I make just one request of those planning to protest – examine our proposals before taking to the streets. Listen and look before you march and shout.” (From The Guardian)

This tactic of insulting the opposition by suggesting that if they read your policy, or were just a bit cleverer then they would agree, seems to be horribly common.

Promises, promises

The most famous promise broken by a politician has to be Nick Cleggs anti-tuition fee pledge. He won many votes after he and most of the other LibDem parliamentary candidates signed a pledge stating “I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament.” When it came to the time to vote, though, he voted for the increase. Being in a coallition does not give an MP a mandate to go back on an absolute promise like that and the LibDems would not have won so much of the vote if the pledge had gone on to say “except if we are in a coallition government.”

David Cameron was asked on many occasions during the last election if the Conservatives would increase VAT. He gave the same answer over and over again. “We have absolutely no plans to raise VAT.” He also said “You could try, as you say, to put it on VAT, sales tax, but again if you look at the effect of sales tax, it’s very regressive, it hits the poorest the hardest. It does, I absolutely promise you.” It is clear that he knows that VAT hurts the lowest paid. While this is not the same thing as promising not to raise VAT, he mislead people when he said these things.

The promise to get rid of control orders is another one that the LibDems are likely to break. Instead of clearly opposing them, as they promised to do, they are considering various options, non of which are scrapping them. According to the BBC it looks likely that they will be replaced with slightly less restrictive, but still disgustingly illiberal “Surveillance orders” – another name for nearly the same thing.

It’s my party and I’ll change if I want to

MPs switching party in protest does not seem to be uncommon. I find it as baffling as Anglican priests becoming Catholics.

In 2007 Quentin Davies  moved from Conservative to Labour.

In 2004 Jane Griffiths threatened to leave Labour for the Conservatives but didn’t go through with it.

In 2001 Paul Marsden went from Labour to the Liberal Democrats and back again in 2005!

In 1977 Reg Prentice left the Labour party for the Conservatives because Labour had become too left wing.

Just for fun, here is an interesting allegation that Nick Clegg was once a member of the Cambridge University Conservative Association.

Compromise

It seems that no matter what you believe before an election, actually getting into power means compromising your beliefs. Some argue that it is inevitable, but I don’t think it has to be. I think the current system requires a politician to become two-faced, to make promises that they don’t mean or can’t keep. Once in power, hiding the truth from the public becomes imperative. Things have to change.

I will leave you with this quote from Baron Acton (1834–1902).

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

Broken government: where next?

Millie Kidson asks on her blog where we will go when the coallition government ends. (Suggested reading before you continue here.)

This question has been perplexing me too. I was a member of the Liberal Democrat party for a few years and I had intended not only to get involved in the local party, but also potentially to stand for election at some later date. That isn’t going to happen with the LibDems now. The LibDems were never really a good fit for me anyway, my membership was a compromise since I fit in to that lower left square on the Political Compass that no party except the Greens seem anywhere near.

I dislike the party whip system where legislation is decided strictly on party lines. I dislike having one party in a majority that can force through stupid law after stupid law. What I would like is a parliament where new legislation has to convince a majority of MPs, not a party leader. Basically, I want a hung parliament. Forever. A lot less legislation would make it through but what little did emerge ought to be good because it has won the support of a majority of MPs. Many will argue that this would cripple the government but I don’t think so. I think it would force MPs to come up with decent laws instead of knee jerk reactions.

The ideal situation as far as I am concerned is for Proportional Representation to be brought in and for government to be composed of a variety of different party and independant MPs to produce the situation that I described above. Unfortunately that isn’t going to happen. What we are being offered is AV which is a poor relation to PR, although better than First Past the Post which is what we have at the moment. With AV the makeup of parliament will change slightly, but not that much. I think if the coallition were to fail and an election be held now or even after AV, it would be a straight fight between Labour and the Conservatives. The LibDems have squandered their support and won’t be back for a long time. I couldn’t in a million years bring myself to vote Conservative, so I guess we’re left with Labour or Green.

I think I would quite like to support the Green party, their policies on social responsibility and on spending are quite in line with mine. (See the Political Compass again to see where you stand.) but just like the LibDems in the past, they lack the critical amount of support to give even a possibility of getting into power, and so people stay away from them. The traditional “wasted vote.”

So where can those that want caring social policies, help for those that need it, support from the rich and the big business, go? I predict that the bulk of the anti-cuts movement will never vote Conservative, will never forgive the LibDems, and most will not think that the Greens have a chance, so they won’t have. Most are likely to vote for Labour or not vote at all. I think that’s a shame. We need to fight for full Proportional Representation, and then we need a complete mix up of views in power to provide us with a balanced and rational government.

Guest post: Lobbying your Political Representative

This is a guest post by Puffles the Whitehall Dragon Fairy. Puffles is a Whitehall insider who tweets under the name Puffles2010. This post was first published on the website of UK Uncut and is reproduced here with permission.

Puffles the Dragon Fairy notes that everyone found out the hard way what happens if we do not keep tabs on our elected representatives: they end up doing stupid things, like claiming expenses for duck houses or moat cleaning, rather than holding central and local government to account.

As you may be aware, Puffles buzzes around Whitehall and keeps tabs on a small but friendly group of public servants. They have helped Puffles come up with this guide for people who want to lobby their MPs and Councillors. Continue reading “Guest post: Lobbying your Political Representative”