Why I’ll choose division over supporting Labour

When people tell me that I should not criticise Labour because I am being divisive or that I must vote Labour to get the Tories out it’s a kick in the guts. I’m being offered a choice between a party that will rob and beat us or a party that will rob and beat us a little less and sometimes give us cookies afterwards.

https://twitter.com/Cadoret/status/313397860425162753

“Today in Liverpool, and in many other cities across the UK, Labour attempted to capitalise on the anger and fear surrounding the bedroom tax by holding their own rallies. It’s worth noting at this point that, much to the anger of people who have already started organising in their communities, Labour did fuck all to try and contact the aleady existing grassroots tenant groups – you know, the people who will be on the front line when bedroom tax hits hard.”  – Quote from Magic Zebras: Labour can’t co-opt our anger

(Note that I am aware that the bedroom tax protests were organised by Labour Left and not Labour. I include the above quote as an example of the anger and sense of betrayal held against Labour and the obliviousness of some Labour activists.)

Labour are better than the Tories, but the bar for that is not high. I have no confidence that Labour will actually undo any of the devastation that the current government are inflicting on us. I have no confidence that Labour will actually bring provision of the NHS back under state control, restart local services, or rein in the banks. I have many good reasons not to trust Labour.

Don't blame me, I voted for kodos
Before I was angry with Tories, I was angry with Labour. Very angry. Labour destroyed rights and civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism and people we don’t like. Labour introduced the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act which gave extensive powers to government to spy on electronic communications, led to local councils spying on people over school places, litter dropping and dog poo problems, and made it a crime punishable by two years in prison to refuse to incriminate yourself by handing over encryption keys.

Labour gave us control orders that let them keep people under house arrest forever because the evidence against them is secret or non-existent. Labour gave the police the ability to put people in prison for 28 days without charge never mind trial, and they wanted it to be 90 days.

Labour gave us ASBOs which let a judge make something a crime punishable with prison where before it was legal but merely annoying. Labour gave us dispersal zones which let a power-tripping police officer order people to leave the area on a whim. (I had one outside my house.)

Labour gave us war in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the face of protests by millions.

Labour changed the law to attack the right to protest outside of Parliament because one anti-war protester irritated them.

Labour tried to bring back ID cards, and worse, an identity database that would record numerous trivial details about each of us that added up to a massive intrusion by the state.

Labour replaced Incapacity Benefit with Employment Support Allowance and gave the contract to Atos to assess everyone that claimed it. It was Labour that decided that the medical expertise of your own doctors and consultants was not worth as much as some jumped-up Atos employee ticking boxes on a computer while ignoring what you tell them.

Labour are neoliberal – they support privatization, deregulation, decimating the public sectore and outsourcing everything possible to the private sector. Labour bailed out the banks at vast expense – some £800 billion. The bulk of our current national debt, in fact.

Labour introduced competition to NHS providers. Labour brought in the purchaser-provider split, commissioning, and competition rules, and PFI, all of which made the current destruction of the NHS possible. Labour handed over our hospitals to Private Finance Initiatives which allowed private companies to run the hospitals while charging incredible amounts of interest and extortionate fees for the simplest of maintenance tasks.

Sure, Labour did some good things too. Labour got the deficit under control before the bank bailout. They actually ran a surplus for a few years. Labour fought for social justice and against child poverty. Labour fought for inclusion and equal rights. Unlike the Conservatives, Labour has members I actually consider to be decent people and who fight for justice and for good. But Labour has a great deal more members who stand for all of the bad things I just mentioned.

I am not telling anyone not to support Labour but these are the reasons why I can’t vote for them. There are good people working to change Labour from the inside and I salute them – MPs like Michael Meacher, activist members like Sue Marsh. But I cannot give my vote to Labour, and the LibDems took my vote and handed it over to the Conservatives. If Alternative Voting (AV) had been voted in then Labour would have been my second choice on every future ballot but as things stand If I can’t vote Green or Independent in future elections then I will spoil my ballot rather than vote for everything that I saw Labour do. That may be divisive, but so be it. I can’t endorse Labour’s past or risk endorsing what they do in the future.

Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos.

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.